Friday, January 24, 2020

Gaming this week: Book of the Underworld, Wingspan, Cypher System

The wonderful car-web photo above was taken by Lisa Eschenbach, and I'm using it to acknowledge that I finished the development phase on Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan's Book of the Underworld earlier this week. Yeah, it took a few weeks longer than I expected. The book is now with the editor. All the art is coming in on schedule so it won't be too long before it's in layout.

Also this week, I made huge progress on two new designs. The secret card/boardgame I've been designing for my own personal satisfaction has achieved harmony. Players have been enjoying it for awhile, and now I'm also simply having fun rather than seeing things that need fixing. Notably, I'm no longer winning every game. There's a specific type of imbalance when the designer's advantage in knowing what might be unbalanced pays off too often. Happily, I'm losing now, so that development phase is over.  I'll be looking for a publisher soon.

Meanwhile on a different unannounced boardgame project that has a publisher already, I solved the last of the design problems that was bugging me and am making a pass through the cardset and other components to live up to the new solutions. I'm looking forward to playtesting next week.

I also enjoyed a couple first-plays this week. I've only been able to find the European supplement for Wingspan, but friends Brittany and Miguel brought over the core game. We all loved it. Lisa used the Audubon app on her phone to accompany turns with the calls of the newly played birds. Brittany arranged a ridiculous combo and stuffed what she called a 'Christmas goose' with 20 VP, so curses accompanied the bird calls.

I also got to play my first game of the Cypher system, in a highly diverting fantasy genre session run by Bruce Cordell. I had fun as a Resilient Speaker Who Keeps a Magic Ally. Specifically, I'm playing a priest of a war god that died in apocalyptic fashion (the god I mean), and now I get my spells from random deities, changing every day, who are using me as an experiment, or a bet, or something. More or less a One Unique Thing that will definitely make for fun prayers. Also: I'm a kite-fighting and bocce ball aficionado. My comrades are considerably doughtier (more on them next time), so all shall be well.

And though we didn't play The Gods War this week, it launched a Kickstarter with Gloranthan gods of War, Secrets, and Magic, and I'm pretty sure I never shared this method-acting photo from our Gods War game. From right to left, Sean pulled faces as Chaos, Jonathan was a stickler-for-rules Solar, and I was a Storm player who never rolled a 6 after mistakenly using a wargaming plan in an area control universe. The sword was an attempt to compensate for 6-less-ness. Paul, the Darkness troll photographer, ate us all.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Wingspan: Vote of Confidence

For about 36 hours, I owned a copy of Wingspan. I taught the game to a nine-year old who coincidentally shares his name with a bird. That's his younger sister on the left, she realized the game was too much for her and instead she gleefully punched out birdfoods. When the nine-year old loved the game as much as I did, he took it home to his nest.

Friday, December 6, 2019

13th Age Update

Here's an update on the first wave of 13th Age books that are in production. And if you haven't picked up earlier books, now could be a good time at the Bundle of Holding, which has the core 13th Age books as a bundle here, and more recent sourcebooks and adventures here.

Book of the Underworld
We're nearly finished developing Gareth Ryder Hanrahan's Book of the Underworld. John-Matthew DeFoggi finished his development pass and I'm midway through my own devpass. Today I'm designing some new fungaloids and troglodytes. I think the book will be headed to the editor by the middle of December, and we have more art to commission as it's being edited. Artists' timelines will influence the publication date, but my guess is that editing and art will be wrapped up close to the same time.  Pelgrane likes to put books on pre-order when editing is complete, so look for the pre-order sometime early next year. 

If you missed the origin story for the cover of the book, painted by Lee Moyer using some pencils from Rich Longmore, look here

Gar's work is endlessly inventive. I laughed out loud several times reading through the book and what Gareth doesn't know yet is that other people are looking to follow up his book by writing a full adventure based on something he tossed off in a couple paragraphs. The except that follows is not that specific inspirational paragraph, but it is another chunk that got me thinking. It's the first of the thirteen Secret Ways into the Underworld. 

1.      The Unraveled Dungeon: A few feet to the left, and this living dungeon might have been one of the infamous horrors of the age, a fiendish labyrinth of monsters and traps sprawling out beneath the skin of the world. Unfortunately for the dungeon, something snagged it in the depths of the underworld as it climbed towards the surface. As it rose, the dungeon unraveled, leaving a thread of corridors and chambers behind it, a long linear path stretching down behind it. When it finally broke through to the surface, there was almost nothing left of it—it now looks like a small dungeon of a few rooms, only one door leads to stairs that goes down and down and down forever . . . . 

Elven Towers
We don't have the cover art for Cal Moore's new adventure yet, but given that Cal turned over the manuscript yesterday and John-Matthew started development today, I'll be working on the cover art assignment this weekend. 

Shards of the Broken Sky is the story of how the Archmage fumbles protecting his secrets. Elven Towers is the story of how the Elf Queen tries to avoid a similar disaster. The campaign-tier adventure's usual assumption is that the PCs are more or less on the Queen's side, but there are options for working against her. 

Depending on how your campaign paces itself, there's material for at least 1.5 or two levels of play, and with a bit more attention paid to the Court of Stars (possibly borrowing ideas from Robin D. Law's writing in 13 True Ways), the adventure easily handles three levels of play, all of champion-tier. 

Crown of Axis
The impetus for this experiment is that The Strangling Sea, a first-level adventure, is finally out of print. Crown of Axis is an entirely different approach to a first-level adventure. Instead of being published as a print-product, it's going to appear as PDF-only. We gave Wade Rockett free rein to create an introductory adventure and he's chosen to take us into the arenas of the capital city. Further plot details would count as spoilers, so let's just leave it at this: Crown of Axis isn't just a reference to the Emperor, it's also the name of the venerable-but-fallen-on-hard-times arena that's the main setting for the adventure. It's in this list of first-wave products because Wade will finish the first draft quite soon and the fact that's it's PDF-only means it may zip past other products into publication.

Monday, November 18, 2019

New 3DA ability and archetypes for tournament play

WizKids is running Three-Dragon Ante tournaments on Friday and Saturday of PAX Unplugged in Pennsylvania, December 6th and 7th. They had the fun idea of having people play in-character using the roleplaying rules for meshing 3DA with D&E 5e!

I thought a bit about how the current roleplaying rules would work in a casual-but-still-competitive tournament. My feeling is that the Ante Manipulation abilities (page 26 of the rulebook) aren't right for tournament play. They're OK in a home setting where players are accustomed to picking on each other week after week, but they're both vindictive and distinct from the way the game usually takes players' money, so no Ante Manipulation abilities in this tournament.

To help the fighter/barbarian types who are most likely to have the Threats & Promises ability we just ruled out of the tournament, here's a new Card Draw ability that's for characters with muscles. Like the other Card Draw abilities, Getting Angry Now lets you draw two cards when it triggers.

Getting Angry Now
Pre-requisite: Strength 16+
Trigger: You just lost a gambit with the second-strongest flight, or tied for second.

I'd say it makes perfect sense to let it be used if you're the second weakest when the Druid has awarded the gambit to the weakest. You're gonna be angry. 

If you bring your own character, the folks running the tournament will help you you select abilities that are right for the tournament. If you're showing up to play and you don't have a character ready, here's the short list of possible character archetypes I put together for WizKids to work from. These archetypes use the abilities as printed in the rulebook, with one exception: the Desperation ability is fine, but could get irritating if used too many times in a game, so for tournament play I'm suggesting that each player with the ability can only use Desperation once per game. Since it's therefore one of the weaker abilities, characters with Desperation will also have another ability that's on the weaker side, so they'll never be entirely out of options. 

3DA Archetypes

Drow Rogue
Card Draw: Versatile Trickster

Dragonborn Fighter
(Player chooses their color!)
Card Draw: Draconic Ancestry
Card Draw: Desperation [[but only usable once per game]]

Gnome Bard
Card Denial: Cutting Words
Card Draw: Fast Hands

Half-elf Paladin
Card Draw: Inspiring Leader

Half-Orc Barbarian
Card Draw: Getting Angry Now
Card Draw: Desperation [[but only usable once per game]]

Halfling Rogue
Card Draw: Gambling Background

Human Cleric
Card Draw: Blessing of the Trickster

High Elf Wizard
Card Denial: Mystic Discouragement
Card Draw: Practice Counts

Wood Elf Ranger
Card Draw: Desperation
Card Draw: Practice Counts

Other heroes…

The halfling rogue’s ability is fine for any player character who has a lot of experience gambling.

The half-orc barbarian’s abilities work for any strong fighter-type.

The wood elf ranger’s abilities work for any character who otherwise doesn’t belong at these tables!

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Three-Dragon Ante Designer's Diary

Three-Dragon Ante: Legendary Edition should be on sale on Thursday, September 18th! For a bit more of a preview and notes on a couple of the game's origin stories, check out the Designer's Diary that came out today on Boardgame Geek

I saw the finished cards and the sturdy new game box for the first time yesterday. That's me above, squinting in Seattle's single moment of sun yesterday afternoon, timed perfectly to celebrate the arrival of the shipment from Wiz-Kids. 

And in what looks like a smoky tavern but is actually just a photo taken with my fuzzy phone-camera in my garage studio, here are friends Rob, Michael, and Sunga playing our first gambit with the actual cards. We played three games in the style that the game terms 'among friends'--playing with ten random cards secretly selected from the thirty mortals and legendary dragons. You find out which special cards have been added to a particular game by playing the cards or having them played against you. As our trash-talking and brutal ambushes revealed, among friends could be a dangerous style in a world where everyone is armed with daggers and lightning bolt spells. To emulate the games  played by gamblers in D&D worlds who want to reduce their chances of being slashed or electrocuted, maybe you'll want to play show 'em style as explained on page 14 of the rules! 

Monday, September 9, 2019

Fun to Watch: NWSL Soccer

We’ve loved following the National Women’s Soccer League in the USA the last four or five years. It’s presently a nine-team league, which is small, but the quality of play is excellent and games can be watched on yahoo or on some of the ESPN channels.

There’s about a month left in the regular season and then there’s a four-team playoff before the championship game on October 27th.

Without going into too much detail, I’m going to write a paragraph on why each of the teams in the league is Fun to Watch. This first installment features the three teams on the bottom of the league. They’re not making the playoffs this year.

Orlando City FC
Honestly . . . the first half of the season they weren’t much fun. Superstar forwards Alex Morgan (USA) and Marta (Brazil) both played like they were conserving their energy for the World Cup. Defender/midfielder Alana Kennedy was the team’s high goal scorer, managing at least one ridiculous bicycle kick, but when you have two of the best international strikers on your team and only your defenders are scoring, you’ve got trouble. The best things they had going for them were that midfielder Dani Weatherholt wasn't being dragged down like the rest of the team and that defender Ali Krieger and goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris are engaged, a sweet romance in the middle of a hard season.

So, the reason they’re fun to watch now? Marta came back from the World Cup inspired and passionate. Yes, she quickly collected a red card for her passion, but watching Marta play now is like watching angry-Michael Jordan cut through fools. It’s too bad this a sport where being Michael/Marta isn’t quite enough to take over games completely and win, but it’s gasp-worthy entertaining.

Sky Blue FC, from New Jersey
I love watching Sky Blue because they feature two talismanic players, stars who pushed their countries to win World Cups. Unlike Marta and Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd did NOT conserve her energy before the World Cup, she played to prove she belonged as a starter on the national team. Also unlike a lot of her USA national teammates, Lloyd didn’t spend weeks celebrating the win, she got back to work and has been either lethal or great fun to watch or both at the same time.

The other national talisman, Nahomi Kawasumi of Japan, hasn’t been getting as much playing time this year. Shewas on the Seattle Reign for years and is one of the best passers in the game, maybe she is on the downside of her career, but she hits the ball sweetly and enjoys Beckham-level fame in Japan. She’s always worth watching. (Actually, there's a third highly skilled national talisman on Sky Blue, but Raquel "Rocky" Rodriguez is famous for scoring Costa Rica's first World Cup goal rather than for pushing her team to win the whole thing.)

Houston Dash
They haven’t lived up to expectations, so this is another team that’s features an extremely talented player trying to push her team towards the playoffs. Or a win or three, just-maybe. Rachel Daly, of England, is a striker or midfielder when she plays for Houston, and if the USA’s Crystal Dunn wasn’t in this league, Daly might qualify as the NWSL’s most versatile player. England played Daly a little as a defender in the World Cup, at first, and later let her sub in at midfield. I think they would have been better off to play her from the start. For Houston she’s a constant threat, no matter where she is on the field. Like Marta, she’s not taking sh*t from anyone and has the recent red card to prove it. Also like Marta, and like the aforementioned Michael Jordan, Daly does seem to play better when angry, so who can say what she'll throw into the last few games?

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Three-Dragon Ante Legendary Edition Preview: A New Archmage

Today we’re looking at one of the mortals from the original 3DA that always struck me as a missed opportunity . . . and how it has changed now that I got the opportunity to revise the cards that were the least fun.

The Archmage

Here’s my honest assessment of the Archmage’s power in the original 3DA set: I can’t remember it. I remember every other card. I can never remember what the Archmage did unless I had the card in front of me. When we published the Emperor’s Gambit expansion for 3DA I started playing with custom decks and the Archmage hasn’t been invited to my table for years.

So I have to look at the original cardset again. OH. Right. It used to read, “Pay 1 gold to the stakes. Copy the power of an ante card.” Let’s count the ways that was bad.

First: The Mortal Tax

Why did mortals cost 1 gold to play in the original set? It wasn’t for play balance. Back when I came up with 3DA I had the notion that it was meant to a game all about dragons. Mortals, I thought, might have wild powers, or might not, but there needed to be an expected cost for playing them. The same reasoning originally led me to rule out color flights of three mortals.

By the time I designed Emperor’s Gambit, I understood that forcing a 1-gold cost for playing a mortal was a silly/meaningless game mechanic with no story payoff. The mortal tax went away and it hasn’t been missed.

Second: Oddly Weak Power

But speaking of story, what was I doing making an Archmage, a powerful wizard, so dependent on ante cards that are by definition almost always cards that someone has decided aren’t worth playing? Maybe the card offered a hint of a gambit-opening tactic: “I could put a high card in the ante, make everyone ante a lot of gold, and have a good chance of using that card’s power through the Archmage as the first player in the round.” Maybe, but so what? That tactic seldom qualified as the smartest use of good cards. Even when it triggered its power, the original Archmage was usually reduced to stealing a few coins or cards from the ante. It rarely seriously affected the game.

the new Archmage

New Arch-Magic

The first goal with the new Archmage was to live up to the card name with a power that feels magical. The second goal was to change the power into something that can affect the way you play. Playing the new Archmage early in a gambit may paint a target on you for your foes’ Red Dragons but it’s also going to ensure that the high or middling cards you plan to use to challenge for the stakes will trigger their powers no matter how puny the flight of the player to your right.

As powerful magicians who generally favor the side of Law, it’s not surprising that Archmagi would rather not team up with Copper Dragons! If you play a Copper Dragon after triggering the Archmage, you must want to throw a little Chaos into your flight.

Three-Dragon Ante: Legendary Edition should be on shelves in about a month!