Sunday, October 15, 2017

Game mechanics: Role Selection

Today, I'm going to look at the Role selection mechanic in boardgames. Now Boardgame Geek has no specific entry for this, but rather has a Variable Phase Order entry, which is more broad, and not quite suited for a good discussion of the workings of games. The games I'm going to consider have something along the lines of a lead/follow mechanic with relation to actions.

Puerto Rico and San Juan- These two games are heavily related, and the role selection works the same, so I'll lump them together. The games are played in rounds, with the first player rotating each round. In turn order, each player will choose a role to take, which others can execute as well, but the active player gets a bonus. That role is not an available choice again until the next round. The roles are slightly different by game, but both include captain, builder, and merchant.

Race for the Galaxy- This game is also related. The designer of Puerto Rico asked the designer of this to work on a card game version. They eventually split projects, and this one came later, but has a lot more options. There are 3 expansion arcs for the interested, each of which take the game past 4 players. I won't detail those here, but before anybody tries: the arcs are not supposed to play together! Besides, the card pool gets HUGE.  The roles here are similar to San Juan's, but here, there are two major differences: simultaneous action selection, and role modification.  Each player has a set of Role selection cards that they choose from simultaneously, then execute phases in order.

Both Race and San Juan also build tablueas of cards for each player. In Race, the cards in tableau also let you take actions based on the symbols you have, letting you do more than just what you selected. Cards pay your costs in this game(and San Juan), and are also your goods(shown facedown below).

Related to Race for the Galaxy is Roll for the Galaxy, a dice game with tiles set in the same universe. Each player has a pool of dice, rolled behind a screen and assigned secretly. One die chooses an action that WILL happen, while the rest line up as rolled, and may execute based your choice or those of others. Your dice let you find planets/tech to settle/conquer/develop, sell goods,and are goods.

Glory to Rome is a near mythical game now, due to project mismanagement. But, it is a great game to discuss here. Like Race for the Galaxy, cards perform a lot of functions. Here, they have your role on them, are patrons to improve you action, are material, are buildings, and points, all dependent on where they sit in relation to your player board. The other players could follow the action by playing a card of the role as well, or decline and draw. (pictures of the 2 most known versions below)

I would be remiss if I did not mention the last game I reviewed here. Villages of Valeria has a lot in common with many of these games. You're building a village and hiring adventurers. There's less multifunctionality here, and that will make the game feel closer to Puerto Rico and San Juan. But, the role chosen has no effect on what is eligible for the next player to choose.

As usual, none of these are just that mechanic. The mix of ideas, player interactions, and cost/benefit analysis makes each of these a different creature.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Injustice Book Review: Sea of Fire by J F Holmes

Cower not, fierce reader!  This day we take a look at a seaborn fantasy. And there's a bit to talk  about, not all good, unfortunately. Let's take a look. Warning: this will have some spoilers, as this is going to have a lot more critique than usual.

Fantasy races: We've got dwarves, elves, half-elves, and dragons. The unfortunate thing with this is that the elves and dwarves are about as generic as they could be. There's currently a war of racial purification going on where the elves are trying to exterminate the half-elves. Not really a big deal, I've seen it in D&D before. The elves do have a penchant for eating humans, characterizing them as less than human. The scene isn't even graphic, it's just a conversation. There are some interesting implications in there, but I won't discuss them here. Dwarves, I didn't see anything remotely unique or interesting.

The dragons are also mostly nondescript, but they do have a bit of personality, separating them from the bulk of the cast in the book.

Fantasy religion/magic: There's a moon cult, and that has some of the more interesting pieces here. Honestly, I wish there were more of it present, though I can understand that the setting and plotting avoided that. The priests have access to magic, but it is powered by the moon, so they are weak during the day, and on moonless nights.

There are brief mentions of a couple of other religions, one on land based, and one followed mostly by sailors. This is interesting, but it's only a casual mention, more in laying the fallen to rest than anything else.

There's also a couple of magicians on the ship, and magic does not travel well across water. Interesting. Very little in the way of mechanics of magic, which I appreciate at times. Worldbuilding can be excessive.

Action: This is one thing the book does very well. I do commend the fights here, for being a good mix of tactical portrayal, and sweeping action. There's not too much detail, and yet, there's a clear knowledge of formations and techniques.

Language: I know, there's a good middle ground between being accessible and realistic. This veers too far to the modern accessibility side of things. The word "fanboy" should not appear in a world where THERE ARE NO FANDOMS. And while I've given some authors a measure on their copyediting, I have to do so here again, and it's easily avoidable.

IF YOU DON'T KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TO AND TOO, DON'T USE THEM. USE ANOTHER ADVERB AND PREPOSITION. OR HIRE A DECENT COPYEDITOR.  "Where too?" shoves me out of the story faster than a lot of homophone misuse.

Now that I'm done with taking the book apart, I will say that overall it was a fun and fast read. I just wish there were more to separate it than the sea, and putting a dragon on the ship. The worldbuilding is fast, and happens with the story, rather than aside from it. 6 of 10 fell deeds.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Well, I tried a couple new DC titles this week...

Something I haven't done for quite awhile. DC lost me with New 52, and I hadn't bothered to check out Rebirth or even the Chuck Dixon Bane story(loved his Green Arrow work, though I didn't get into the Bat-books). But, seeing a lot of talk that DC is doing better these days, I thought I'd give it a try. My results? Mixed.

So, the two books I picked up were Ragman and Michael Cray(links are to DC preview pages). In both cases, I will say the artwork was fine. Nothing I found spectacular, but far above a lot of the art we've seen from Marvel of late.

First, I'm going to talk about Michael Case. We've got a covert government ops group dedicated to taking out "bad people". Unfortunately, they're playing politics here. They made Oliver Queen the target, saying he's selling weapons to less than legal organizations. Also, he hunts veterans. Cray's father is an angry black man with an added touch of New Age hipster, drinking kamboucha, and talking about toxicity. Oh, and he doesn't care what they do to Queen as long as they don't make him President.

Yeah. The authors played that card. Now, I don't have a problem with the DCU having extralegal government ops. That's fiction. Going after an industrialist based on lies is another thing. And clearly equating him in some way to our current President is way out of line. I state the equivocation, because there's no other reason for Presidency to have been mentioned. Oh, and Queen's origin(as well as Bruce Wayne's), of losing his parents is now treated as a little pain(from Cray's father).

Now, onto Ragman. This is not classic Ragman, but a new take, bringing it seemingly more in line with the Egyptian origin(as far as aesthetics). We have a PTSD discharged soldier who was a sole survivor of his team. He brought back something else, and has to learn to control it. Oh, so far, no real measure of politics.

Of the two, I will say Ragman will continue to get a chance. Michael Cray, I will not recommend. As I said, I have no artwork complaints on either, but the story, well paints a different picture.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

It's the anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto

One of the great turning points Western History. This battle turned away the Ottoman Empire from its invasion. Now the war continued for another century, but this was also a great mark of the unity of Catholic Europe amidst the wars following the Protestant Reformation.

In commemoration, let us look at GK Chesterton's poem Lepanto(no worries, it's in public domain)

White founts falling in the courts of the sun,
And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard,
It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips,
For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross,
The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;
The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass;
From evening isles fantastical rings faint the Spanish gun,
And the Lord upon the Golden Horn is laughing in the sun.

Dim drums throbbing, in the hills half heard,
Where only on a nameless throne a crownless prince has stirred,
Where, risen from a doubtful seat and half attainted stall,
The last knight of Europe takes weapons from the wall,
The last and lingering troubadour to whom the bird has sung,
That once went singing southward when all the world was young,
In that enormous silence, tiny and unafraid,
Comes up along a winding road the noise of the Crusade.
Strong gongs groaning as the guns boom far,
Don John of Austria is going to the war,
Stiff flags straining in the night-blasts cold
In the gloom black-purple, in the glint old-gold,
Torchlight crimson on the copper kettle-drums,
Then the tuckets, then the trumpets, then the cannon, and he comes.
Don John laughing in the brave beard curled,
Spurning of his stirrups like the thrones of all the world,
Holding his head up for a flag of all the free.
Love-light of Spain—hurrah!
Death-light of Africa!
Don John of Austria
Is riding to the sea.

Mahound is in his paradise above the evening star,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
He moves a mighty turban on the timeless houri’s knees,
His turban that is woven of the sunset and the seas.
He shakes the peacock gardens as he rises from his ease,
And he strides among the tree-tops and is taller than the trees,
And his voice through all the garden is a thunder sent to bring
Black Azrael and Ariel and Ammon on the wing.
Giants and the Genii,
Multiplex of wing and eye,
Whose strong obedience broke the sky
When Solomon was king.

They rush in red and purple from the red clouds of the morn,
From temples where the yellow gods shut up their eyes in scorn;
They rise in green robes roaring from the green hells of the sea
Where fallen skies and evil hues and eyeless creatures be;
On them the sea-valves cluster and the grey sea-forests curl,
Splashed with a splendid sickness, the sickness of the pearl;
They swell in sapphire smoke out of the blue cracks of the ground,—
They gather and they wonder and give worship to Mahound.
And he saith, “Break up the mountains where the hermit-folk can hide,
And sift the red and silver sands lest bone of saint abide,
And chase the Giaours flying night and day, not giving rest,
For that which was our trouble comes again out of the west.
We have set the seal of Solomon on all things under sun,
Of knowledge and of sorrow and endurance of things done,
But a noise is in the mountains, in the mountains, and I know
The voice that shook our palaces—four hundred years ago:
It is he that saith not ‘Kismet’; it is he that knows not Fate ;
It is Richard, it is Raymond, it is Godfrey in the gate!
It is he whose loss is laughter when he counts the wager worth,
Put down your feet upon him, that our peace be on the earth.”
For he heard drums groaning and he heard guns jar,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
Sudden and still—hurrah!
Bolt from Iberia!
Don John of Austria
Is gone by Alcalar.

St. Michael’s on his mountain in the sea-roads of the north
(Don John of Austria is girt and going forth.)
Where the grey seas glitter and the sharp tides shift
And the sea folk labour and the red sails lift.
He shakes his lance of iron and he claps his wings of stone;
The noise is gone through Normandy; the noise is gone alone;
The North is full of tangled things and texts and aching eyes
And dead is all the innocence of anger and surprise,
And Christian killeth Christian in a narrow dusty room,
And Christian dreadeth Christ that hath a newer face of doom,
And Christian hateth Mary that God kissed in Galilee,
But Don John of Austria is riding to the sea.
Don John calling through the blast and the eclipse
Crying with the trumpet, with the trumpet of his lips,
Trumpet that sayeth ha!
      Domino gloria!
Don John of Austria
Is shouting to the ships.

King Philip’s in his closet with the Fleece about his neck
(Don John of Austria is armed upon the deck.)
The walls are hung with velvet that is black and soft as sin,
And little dwarfs creep out of it and little dwarfs creep in.
He holds a crystal phial that has colours like the moon,
He touches, and it tingles, and he trembles very soon,
And his face is as a fungus of a leprous white and grey
Like plants in the high houses that are shuttered from the day,
And death is in the phial, and the end of noble work,
But Don John of Austria has fired upon the Turk.
Don John’s hunting, and his hounds have bayed—
Booms away past Italy the rumour of his raid
Gun upon gun, ha! ha!
Gun upon gun, hurrah!
Don John of Austria
Has loosed the cannonade.

The Pope was in his chapel before day or battle broke,
(Don John of Austria is hidden in the smoke.)
The hidden room in man’s house where God sits all the year,
The secret window whence the world looks small and very dear.
He sees as in a mirror on the monstrous twilight sea
The crescent of his cruel ships whose name is mystery;
They fling great shadows foe-wards, making Cross and Castle dark,
They veil the plum├Ęd lions on the galleys of St. Mark;
And above the ships are palaces of brown, black-bearded chiefs,
And below the ships are prisons, where with multitudinous griefs,
Christian captives sick and sunless, all a labouring race repines
Like a race in sunken cities, like a nation in the mines.
They are lost like slaves that sweat, and in the skies of morning hung
The stair-ways of the tallest gods when tyranny was young.
They are countless, voiceless, hopeless as those fallen or fleeing on
Before the high Kings’ horses in the granite of Babylon.
And many a one grows witless in his quiet room in hell
Where a yellow face looks inward through the lattice of his cell,
And he finds his God forgotten, and he seeks no more a sign—
(But Don John of Austria has burst the battle-line!)
Don John pounding from the slaughter-painted poop,
Purpling all the ocean like a bloody pirate’s sloop,
Scarlet running over on the silvers and the golds,
Breaking of the hatches up and bursting of the holds,
Thronging of the thousands up that labour under sea
White for bliss and blind for sun and stunned for liberty.
Vivat Hispania!
Domino Gloria!
Don John of Austria
Has set his people free!

Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
Up which a lean and foolish knight forever rides in vain,
And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade....
(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

Friday, October 6, 2017

I'll just shill this: Gravity of the Game by Jon Del Arroz

Cower not, fierce reader!

My good friend Jon Del Arroz released  a new novella a couple of days ago. I was most fortunate in being one of the early readers, due to a conversation at a convention. He didn't really think it would work, but both Russel Newquist and I encouraged him. We thought it sounded cool, putting baseball on the moon. Quick point: neither Russell nor I care for sports.

Thankfully, an appreciation of baseball is not needed for this story. In many ways, it evokes a lot of the feel of some of the better movies involving baseball. That is, the love of the game and what it means to the people that care about it is tangible.

Jon has don some posts online about how the book has no action, sex, or swearing. This is true. It is not an action filled conflict with a space princess to save. This story is instead, tender and compassionate. There is a measure of political conflict, and well portrayed as a struggle between groups of owners, overall management, and players.

Oh, yeah, if somehow you haven't seen it, it has this beautiful cover:

And as clear as that image is, the characters are just as vivid. Not just Chairman Ichiro, who we follow, but his friends, a few of the owners, and other players in the drama.

This book provides a clear picture of why Jon Del Arroz is going to be a big part of the future of sff.

Ah, I better give it a rating, I suppose. 10 of 10 fell deeds.

When you play Social Justice, the wold loses.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Is anybody currently doing comics right?

And I mean stuff that's available RIGHT NOW. At the publisher level, I'd have to say it looks like a resounding NO. Thanks to the Diversity and Comics channel on YouTube, I don't even have to talk about Marvel. I've already mentioned a few things with DC.

Dark Horse? Well, they've lost a lot of books with Star Wars going to Marvel. They have a few things of interest, like Mignola's Hellboy line, and maybe Eric Powell's The Goon. Jeff Lemire's Black Hammer MIGHT actually be a start for a more popular universe for them. The horror books don't move that much anymore.

IDW. Don't make me laugh. Crossover every 6 months turns people off. Yeah, they do some interesting things on occasion. Right now, they've got Locke and Key, Wynona Earp, and Diablo House for their wholly originals, and almost everything else looks like licensed properties. Sure, they have their archival line, but they've fallen a lot from the horror kings they used to be.

Dynamite- Well, they also bank a lot on others' properties. They have very little consistency in writing and art vision, though. There's not much to really draw people in across titles. Sure, they do some cool things, but there's no universe of books that are uniquely Dynamite.

Image- There's a big smorgasbord here. Most of the titles are not part of a single universe,  and Image keeps trying to bring back some of their one time heroes. They do have a few titles really propping them up right now: Invincible, Savage Dragon, Walking Dead, Saga, and whatever Top Cow productions gets out.  A book ends, well, maybe it comes back, maybe not. And reprints? Not likely.

Boom! Studios bought Archaia, and now a lot of stuff they did is gone. Boom! has a couple of cool originals with Mouse Guard and Mech Cadet Yu, but they're living on Adventure Time and Steven Universe, with a hint of Henson properties here and there.

Valiant- My friend Jon Del Arroz basically should get commission for his promoting their books, though I haven't taken that plunge yet. Our friend jimfear138 did a good post on their lack of editorial vision for their universe. Character designs mostly look pretty cool, so I'll give them that.

After this, we go to smaller companies, like Avatar, American Mythology, and more. The problem here, is that you're already looking at companies small enough that store might not carry them. Oh, a really big store will, and any store will order subscriptions for you. But there's not the shelf space for these on a consistent basis, so even if they are good, only a few will find out.

Back to DC: They brought Chuck Dixon back to write a Bane story, so maybe they'll turn around a quit doing idiot moves like Batman: White Knight and Batman and the Human Target Signal. Oh, and Gordon as Batman was a dumb idea. As was putting Babara Gordon back as Batgirl. The best thing about Alan Moore's The Killing Joke was that it resulted in the creation of Oracle. If they quit the replacement heroes act, they could come up with new and interesting characters. Bring back some great forgotten characters. TELL STORIES.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Some boardgames for that October mood

A couple of days ago, I posted a list of older TV shows to help set the mood for the crowd that loves Halloween and harmless thrills and chills.

Today, I've got a partial list of boardgames for that same effect.

We start with one of the big ones, even if it's expansion is junk. Betrayal at House on the Hill from Hasborg's(they assimilate anything they encounter) Avalon Hill division is really more of an experience than a balanced game. Oh, yes, there are rules, but part of the whole thing is that the game is cooperative until it isn't. Players are exploring a haunted mansion until one of them gets taken over, and then the game is all vs. one.

Perhaps you want zombies instead. Well there is ZERO shortage of games with those, from Twilight Creatiions' Zombies!!! to Dead of Winter to Zombicide. At any rate, these games all have things to kill, some have individual goals, and there's a very wide selection of other stuff in this part of the genre.

Of course, we can't ignore the Shuggoth in the corner. There are also an abundance of Lovecraftian games, from two player card games to Elder Sign(aka Cthulu Yahtzee), Arkham Horror, and a lot of stuff that doesn't even come from Fantasy Flight Games(they've got a lot of  the market).

And of course we can't forget vampires. The best choice for this is Fury of Dracula. Good luck catching him, or if you're playing as him, you've got other victory conditions.

Then there are also games a bit closer to reality, like Mr. Jack, a two player game set in whitchapel, and The Bloody Inn, based on a case of over 50 murders at a small village inn in France.

And there are tons of other games, from Gloom(for the Ed Gorey aesthetic) to Nightfall(werewolf deckbuilding fight) to postapocalyptic and alien invasion games.  And if you want something else, well there's always RPGs.  I've heard tell that Dread is a great choice to play in low lighting.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.