Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Category Archives: Games

Stuff I’m Actually Playing

Space Rumsfeld threw down the gauntlet today with this:

Sorry, Rummie. That’s not how we do things around here! I mean… who has the time or even the shelf space for stuff they’re never even going to play?!

Here are five games that I’ve worn out this year, in order of total time at the tabletop!

1. Illuminati with the Y2K expansion set from Steve Jackson Games — My son and I play this one to death. It’s not even designed to work well with two players, but we don’t care. Playing an Illuminati organization using guile and subterfuge to take over group after group? It never gets old! Pushing piles of cash along the pipelines of your tentacles of power? Pure bliss! Action that comes straight from the pages of The Weekly World News? Still hilarious even thirty years later. Those rare occasions that we do get a third or fourth player into the mix…? There’s always some first-rate backstabbing involved. (“Hey, if you do this thing that looks like it would benefit you more than me, I’d totally help you do it!”) Steve Jackson calls this one of their “evergreen” titles because it has never dropped from the top seller lists. Fifteen years ago it would have been on the higher end of the complexity scale, but with the advent of heavy Euros and Living Card Games, it’s now dropped down to being relatively straightforward in comparison. Finally, the inclusion of blank cards allow you to keep the game up to date by adding in Gamergate, Sad Puppies, File 770, and DiGRA to the gameplay. A classic.

2. Wizard Kings with two Heroes & Treasures expansions — Columbia Games is known for the exquisitely well-crafted block wargames. This is not one of their designs that pulls down rave reviews while soaking up tournament slots at the big game conventions. If you’re looking for a quick playing fantasy-themed battle game, though, this is the one you want! The Stratego-style fog of war means you have to make gutsy moves to win. The geo-morphic maps and the seven factions means no two games ever have to be alike. And the game design mojo of the Columbia crew means that there are paths to victory that require you to be very, very evil. Yep, this game is insane for applying “collectibility” to an old school wargame. And you won’t get a substantial amount of play out of this one unless you go ahead and buy a couple of expansions. But I think you’ll find that the excitement involved in planning out how to dole out the stickers to each faction is exactly the sort of insane fun that’s been missing from your life. (Note that I have more notes along with a complete scenario here, here, and here.)

3. 7 Ages — This is the monster game to end all monster games. I played this one with six other people for seven sessions straight and let me tell you… it was epic. Each player typically plays two empires at once. They spring up all over the world and grow and fight and collapse and break apart. All sorts of technology is in play at once. There are special leaders, special units– and the cards are all used for a half dozen things. Players build the seven wonders of the world, trigger acts of god, raid, pillage, burn, usurp, and invent. It’s insane. This game is more like a role-playing game in some ways because players end up coming up with their own personal objectives rather than simply playing for a straight ahead win. Some people do things just because they might be incredibly awesome. Other people spend the game punishing anyone that crosses them. The complexity level is high and it will be a rare group that decides to actually bust this one out, but those that do are in for an unparalleled gaming experience. (Note you can find extensive documentation of my 7 Ages game over on the Castalia House photo stream.)

4. Adventurer Conqueror King System and The Sinister Stone of Sakkara — A lot of people ask me what version of D&D I recommend, and yeah… I feel pretty strongly about the classic Moldvay Basic sets with the Erol Otus covers. ACKS takes those D&D rules that are the arguably most played of all time and develops them further. Here you’ll find extensive rules for the domain game that was only given cursory treatment in AD&D. You’ll also find a diverse range of character classes that accommodate modern sensibilities without sacrificing the old school aesthetic. And with the Sakkara adventure module, the line now has something to fill the niche that Gary Gygax’s Keep on the Borderlands established. The variety of beasties populating this dungeon makes sense and there is a wild situation brewing that has some awesome weird horror angles. Finally, there are a couple of encounters here that don’t tend to end up in most peoples’ introductory modules but that really ought to be done. There is the potential for true gaming glory within these pages. (For more in this see my posts here, here, and here.)

5. Sea Kings by Lewis Pulsipher — This one is a light board game that’s easy to teach, easy to set up, and quick to play. I had no problem getting my son (age 13) and his friends to play it. I even got a six player game together with some kids that were even younger. Unlike a lot of euros, there is an element of direct conflict in the advanced rules. The inclusion of rules that allow players to settle without using a card in order to take over over players settlements makes the gameplay much more dynamic. There’s also just enough history baked into the game to inspire young people to do some further reading about the world the Viking raiders lived in.

And there you have it! There are some lovely games that have come out this year, but none of them quite had the staying power of these five. Check ’em out! (And if you pick up a copy of your own, please purchase them through the links on this post in order to support my blogging efforts.)

What’s Going On

Okay, the blog here has mostly been taken up with answering my critics lately. The thing that sticks in my craw from all of that is Justinian Herzog’s feeling that game bloggers such as myself are getting distracted by the culture wars. So I think maybe people are missing out on where the action has shifted to in the past few months.

  • First off, I’ve just got done playing the most monstery of monster games: an eight session long game of 7 Ages played with a full table of seven players. I have not written this up, but you can find pics of this over on the Castalia House media feed on Twitter.
  • On that same feed, you’ll find numerous pics from playtests of Seven Years War: Frederick’s Gamble. This is a great game that typically runs about six to eight hours and that allows for players to drop in and out between sessions if need be. Developer Fred Schachter used to work with SPI and I have to say… seeing first hand how these games come together has been a treat.
  • A lot of my “spare time” goes into editing Castalia House blog lately. A lot of stuff that would have been run here is now getting posted over there. Blog Watch has turned into Sensor Sweep, for instance. If you have a yen for more “Appendix N” type writing, but from a somewhat more scholarly standpoint… you gotta check out Morgan Holmes’s epic series on Building A Weird Tales Library.
  • All throughout last year people were asking me to (a) read something written after 1980 and (b) identify someone that was writing “Appendix N” type literature today. Well I finally addressed that. See the retrospective here and the link roundup followup here. (Full disclosure: the author is published by Castalia House and has given positive endorsements for my stuff.)
  • I occasionally get requests that I go back to doing something along the lines of my session reports and analysis of ACKS and Dwimmermount. Well something like that is in progress as well: a new series on first edition AD&D and Oriental Adventures.

If you want more of what we did last year… well hey, I think we have most of the bases covered here.

So what’s up with this idea that I’m being distracted by politics and so forth? Eh, my theory is that it’s coming from people that read my social feed and ignore what I’m doing over at Castalia House. Don’t do that! Heck, my Google+ page has been called “Drudge Report for Nerds”. Only my closest friends and worst enemies follow it. If I start following a story from the media there, I will likely keep looking at it long after you’ve stopped caring about it. So please… do yourself a favor and don’t look at it, Marion!

Oh, but there is one more place to look if you want to see where all the effort that used to go into game blogging has ended up. It’s in Cirsova:

And if you look at the line-up for the rest of 2016, you can see that I have a piece queued up to appear there that would have in times past simply been posted to the web for free.

Wind is changing!

Yes, it is…. And one of those changes that’s coming along here is the rice bowl is about to come out. I never got around to getting a Patreon set up. I never did a Kickstarter. I never put those adds up for the “guys only” MMORPG games. I just wrote a whole bunch of blog posts. And then… Rhinestone Cowboy style, people I don’t even know started sending me vintage games in the mail. I’m not quite sure how the next phase will shake out, but I’m looking at how the Amazon Associate program at the moment. If I’ve set it up right, when you purchase Cirsova via the link in this post, I will get a kickback for spreading the word. It’s a little tacky, maybe. But for the people out there that want to get all “here, take my money!” on me… there it is.

And that about covers the highlights of what’s going on. See you around!

You Don’t Get to Rewrite History

The drama continues on this one.

I did try to leave a comment over at Anna Kreider’s blog. She replaced it with a meme and then took to her Twitter account to rant a little.

I’ve already demonstrated that Jessica Price is at the very least being extremely disingenuous in how she’s playing this. But now she’s gone beyond insulting people that really do have a history of significant contributions for not recognizing “activists, critics, academics, and community managers” and on to an entirely different level.

She’s gone… er… well I’m not sure where she’s going with this:

*sigh* at white men claiming we (women, POC, etc.) are “invading” the games industry they created. We’ve been here the whole time, jackasses

Hell, we fucking BUILT it, and are still building it today. Even though it was built *on* us and *for* you. You don’t get to rewrite history

I really don’t think very many people would have begrudged Price or Kreider a place on the GenCon lineup. I think most people are super nice and would even have backed the idea of expanding the definition of “industry insider” to include “indie LARP designers” and so forth. (And who wouldn’t want to pay big bucks to go to a giant convention to hear Alex Roberts talk about sex?) The whole thing would have been justified as being an important move, a chance to hear about things from a fresh perspective, and a great victory for diversity and all that is good and holy.

But at this point I have to wonder… can someone this stupid really have anything to say about games, gaming, or the games industry? I mean I know SJW’s always project, but this is ridiculous.

Insiders and Activists: Jessica Price’s Double Think

The announcement of GenCon’s Industry Insider Featured Presenters for 2016 left more than a couple of people scratching their heads. Some of the more, uh, zealous-minded were quick to whip people into line, however.

For instance, John du Bois commented on Twitter:

Maybe if you recognize only 1/25 people on the GenCon Industry Insider list, you don’t know the industry as well as you think you do.

And Paizo’s Jessica Price amplified the point:

Yup. No time for fake geek boys who don’t know who’s who in tabletop.

Who is she referring to? Well, check her previous tweet and it turns out it’s Mike Mearls and Lewis Pulsipher.

.@mikemearls @lewpuls Not clear why you couldn’t have done that without slamming your industry colleagues. But sure.

Meanwhile on her Tumblr, she concedes the very point she’s insulting these two men over:

Historically, a lot of the focus of the Industry Insider slate emphasized long tenure in the industry, and a history of significant contributions. That’s great, and there are still representatives of that group of people present among this year’s Insiders. However, that sort of focus also tended to ensure that the people being featured as Insiders were people everyone already knew about (and exacerbated the problem of newer people getting recognition).

(Emphasis mine.)

That’s right. The fact people have no idea who these people are is the entire point of this little crusade, isn’t it? And then Jessica pretends to be shocked, shocked that actual “industry insiders” would not recognize a bunch of “indie tabletop publishers, indie LARP designers, event organizers, activists, critics, academics, and community managers” that are– weirdly– being lumped in with them all of a sudden.

Maybe these interlopers aren’t colleagues to these men by any stretch of the imagination. I’m sure Jessica Price disagrees. Either way, her two-faced cattiness is out of line and I think she owes these gentlemen an apology.

My Games Writing at Castalia House

On the off chance that you’ve missed my games writing over at Castalia House, here’s a complete run down. I am not shy about pointing out how happy I am with how this is shaping up. I cover the full range gaming topics: vintage stuff, current releases, role-playing games, wargames, everything! I write in such a way that you can get something out of a post even if you don’t buy or play the game in question. I put things into the wider context of gaming history and touch on the literary antecedents of the games we play. And yeah, I occasionally get esoteric, but I try to stay readable and comprehensible to people that aren’t gamers. No matter what, though, I never stray from the voice of someone that actually knows how to articulate how these things work in actual play… and that just freakin’ loves to play the heck out of these things.

I have complained about how games are covered in magazine articles and so forth in the past. I am just so rarely satisfied with how “journalists” and commentators portray games and gaming in general. Voicing that sort of concern almost invariably summons a smarty pants type that sneers back, “oh, you’re just complaining; the best answer to this sort of thing is to go out show us the right way to do it.” Well listen here, bucko… I’ve done it now.

If you dig this stuff, by all means… link and comment and talk this up. God willing, we’ll serve up a good deal more in the coming year. But hey, your best bet on making sure this sort of thing keeps coming is for you to explain to all the publishers out there how they need to offer me big piles of cash in order to get the right to carry my column in their newspaper, magazine, or on their website. Besides, you know you want to walk into a Barnes & Noble and see my stuff on the shelf instead of stuff by that other guy. You know… that sort of writer that doesn’t understand gaming the way that we do. You know what I mean.

A pipe dream? Maybe. I still think this about the most interesting thing around. Not just the games themselves… not just the innovations in game design techniques… but the close connection that gaming has with classic works of science fiction and fantasy that are now unaccountably obscure. There’s a huge story here and we’re only beginning to uncover it!

Here’s to the new year… and thanks for sticking with me.

RETROSPECTIVE: Warriors of Mars by Gary Gygax and Brian Blume

REVIEW: Domains at War (Battles) by Alexander Macris

REVIEW: Space Empires 4X

REVIEW: Adventurer Conqueror King

REVIEW: Space Empires Close Encounters

Bonus Rant: “So are you the author of this article?”

REVIEW: Dwimmermount by James Maliszewki, Alexander Macris, and Tavis Allison