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A Review of Don’t Turn Your Back

03 Mar

Evil Hat is bring to the table a new board game via Kickstarter, drawing upon their Don’t Rest Your Head Mythos, to create a well conceived, mechanically interesting and down right enjoyable experience.

Quick Look Under the Hood
For 2-4 players, Don’t Turn Your Back is a deck building, worker placement game. You take turns allocating workers from your available hand to various locations on the board. The different zones have limited numbers of locations and effects. At the end of the round, once all players have passed, you score based on the various zones, clear cards as instructed, and buy more cards before starting again. Its a deceptively fast and simple mechanic that quickly builds in strategy as you buy more and more powerful cards, with better and better effects. All the while, there is an endgame to consider which is a double edged sword.

The Window Dressing
If you are not familiar with the world Don’t Rest Your Head, don’t worry. While the game is certainly true to it, it’s not going to put you at a disadvantage to have no idea who the Wax King is. If you’re a fan of the Literature, which full disclosure I am pretty partial to, its rewarding to return to the mad city. For first time Visitors, if the game moves your needle, there is plenty out there.

Breaking it down
First and foremost, the video instructions are wonderful. Its not that the rules were particularly complex or dense (a respectable 12 pages including flavor text), it just provide a clear and simple walk through of the rules that all players could watch simultaneous. Very handy… Although some confusion about your “Favor” Deck being called the “draw” deck in the video.

The Cards
Each player’s decks are made up of the same cards  and so the only real fight is who wants to be the gun, knife, magic and what might be tentacles? Anyway, cards all have a Cost, how much influence it takes to buy the card) and Pain rating, which is a measure of how powerful it is and how useful it will be out in the Mad city. A couple of Nice Icons and color coding keep this potential confusion in check.

As to the cards themselves, they are very clear, with wonderfully Creepy ary. That said, they are a little dark (in actually color pallete) against the bold colors of the deck and the text. While the bold colors certainly helped when clearing the board, the awesome art is almost completely lost.

Scoring
Over the course of the turn and the game, you will collect Candles, which are score with which you win. Simple, but deceptive. Players who race to the end, and fail to pay attention can find themselves outpaces.

All of this is tracked by The Candle Tally card, and is surprisingly mediocre. It serves its purpose, but its total of 50 points is almost always insufficient. It is a separate sheet though, rather then a part of the main board, which is a good call.

The Board
The board is broken down into several zones, the City Slumbering, an influence generation zone; The Bizarre Bazaar, a “Special” zone where certain cards have additional effects; District 13, which has a different law each turn that determines how you can gain points Candles or some other effect; the High School, which is a quick way to gain candles, but with a good twist; and the Wax Kingdom where you can sacrifice cards in the hopes of a long term score.

This is where the game shines. The areas are really supportive of a diverse range of strategies. The use of Laws as a dynamic scoring element and a play tracker is great. The balance of the cards in hands to places to play is pretty slick. Each location is mechanically interesting and unique, and leave some really fun combos on the table.

That said, A few more laws wouldn’t hurt. There is a Kickstarter stretch goal for more, but as is, they do come up again and again. They are interesting enough and challenging enough to not be boring, per say, but they lose their wow factor after a couple games.

The End Game
The Wax Kingdom is, as previously mentioned, a double edge sword and can make or break your game. Early on, it is a quick way of getting less useful cards out your deck. Later on it’s a source of a huge supply of candles. But to win it, you need to put your best cards into it, the question is when do you do this? That Is the key question.

Summary
Don’t Turn Your Back is a fun, fast game for an evening of dark fun. Its got enough flavor text to interest those who want it, solid mechanic variance to please the long time boardgamer, and an easy point of entry for new players. The Evil Hat Kickstarters are well known for the reliability, not to mention their extras, so if if kickstarting is your thing, it might be worth it.

 

On the Death of a game

03 Mar

When a game ends its sorta a sad point for me. I find myself pondering ways to stretch it a little longer. To run one more adventure with these players. But sometimes its time.

I had been running a Modern setting, occult adventure with a dash of Horror since 2011. Same group, once a month. We missed a few games here an there, sometimes two or three in a row… but we always bounced back. I had a pretty ambitious plot, with players origins tied into the world, monsters tied to each, with villains who aren’t that bad, good guys who aren’t that good, a metric ton of foreshadowing, and even an apocalypse.

Its over now. The worst part is the death of the game was the not the merger of the spirit world, or an unexpected TPK in the depths of the ocean, but time. People moved, players dropped, and eventually it was at a point where I felt out of gas.

But its unsatisfying. In my head I know what was brewing, but the touch of the players gives it life. and now that’s gone… and it feels weird.

I don’t really have a solution for this. it just sorta is

 
 

American Quidditch

26 Apr

Hands down the most popular sport in america is Quiditch. However, The Game of Quiddich in America is drastically different the what passes for Quiditch, or Snitch ball, in the rest of the world.

Players are divided into 2 teams, each with a broom, helmets and pads. Is only one ball, called the Quid, and it’s played in a large sphere.

The Sphere is subdivided into 10 even sections. Gravity is inverted in one half of the Dome, and goals are placed at the top and bottom. Gravity increases each section, or zone, and so by the time you are in the 5th Zone, it is very difficult to fly.

There is an offense and defense, the offense tries to score the Quid into the Goal while the defense tries to stop them. They have 4 tries per possession (Or downs), and then the sides switch. It is full contact, with the goal is to knock the ball loose or an opponent off their broom where they fall to the Mid Line due to the Gravity inversion.

The Quid is a special oblong ball that is Null Gravity, so when it is dropped it stays wherever it was, which is the end of the attempt, and the origin of the term down. Some leagues even use a Color Changing ball to indicate when possession has been lost. However, Being knocked off your broom does not indicate an end of the down, though often a falling player will drop the ball to avoid returning to the Mid line.

The game had 3 20 minute, though the play clock stops when the ball is not in play.

 
 

The Corvus Academy For Wizards and Witches

05 Dec

Welcome students to the Corvus Academy, founded by the Great Cornelius Corvus. This auspicious institution of arcane arts is america’s premier residential early occult education institute. Here students will aspire to heights beyond their dreams and prepare themselves to become fine and upstanding witches and warlocks in today’s wizarding world. Read the rest of this entry »

 
 

I learned something new

29 Nov

So I installed a forum the other day for a game. This was fairly new territory for me, but very fun to do. I own a bunch of space here on technical foul that sits kinda fallow, so why not. Plus it was a challenge.

Now it turns out to be stupid easy to install, followed by a rather in depth delve into the depths of options… which was not BAD per say, just tedious. Interestingly before I had even finished I had two guest requests from IP addresses in Africa… This is probably residual to when I got BOMBED with spam a while back when I wrote about chocolate covered strawberries (Which, incidentally, I have a better way to make now).

Anyhow, the Forum is a nifty thing given the game is set in a boarding school but is and of it’s self nothing to write home about as forums go… but the idea of bring alternate media into story telling is resonate with me. As technology expands and more people are sitting at the table with smartphones and tablets, it seems crazy to not try to tap that not just on the down time, but in game.

A while back I ran a Cyberpunk style game where I tried to have everyone at the table have a device that let me chat with them. It failed for other reasons, but that stuck with me. Instant note passing… Private Messages .. This is bringing the interesting elements of MUSHs and MUDs to the live table in really interesting ways.

That’s it for me for now. Just pondering the uses of technology at the table, maybe for a future post.

 
 

A promise to myself

09 Nov

This summer, for the first time in a while I busted out my Rollarblades and went for a ride around my neighborhood. It had been a while, probly years, since I actually did anything more with my skates then move them from one apartment to another. So it was at first GREAT to be out again, that free feeling of skating on fresh asphalt, that promise to myself I should do this more often, and the wind blowing when I hit a downhill. I expected the burning, that feeling of lactic acid building up in my legs and I actually liked it.  My muscle memory was carrying me pretty well, as I used to do this almost every day.

And then I fell.

I was skating up a small hill, going slow listening to some archival This American Life, when a little rock just got in the way and I went down hard. I wear wrist guards, and sometimes a helmet, but these things were utterly useless on this day. I fell so fast and hard I couldn’t get my arms up in time, mashed my fingers on the concrete and smashed my chin on the ground.

After a beat, I ran my tongue over my teeth (Good to go), took a deep breath (No broken ribs), Flexed my fingers (only scratched and stubbed)  and as I slowly stood noticed the fountain of blood pouring out of a Jagged cut on my chin, which was also a bruise. Slowly i skated home covered in my own blood, what I looked like to folks on the street I can only guess.

I ended up with a little scar, but more importantly I realized it happened because I hadn’t been out in a long while and rolarblading is a special skill. It doesn’t matter if you are in good shape, or that you used to do it, you need to practice that specific skill.

This brings me to writing. Right now, I write a lot of words… E-mails for work, amazon reviews, game highlights, etc. Sometimes these words even work well together, and that like being in shape. But Writing  string words together for a bigger purpose? I do that less often then I would like and when I do its an EVENT. Like write X words for a game design or write a Play, and I LOVE those and (I think) I do well by the people who ask me to do it. But I think practice will make opportunities even better.

And so I am going to write stuff here. Not for you, though I hope the few readers I get enjoy it, but for me. In the same way that I have started a fitness regiment (30 minutes in the AM m-f), I’m gonna write three days a week.

I  won’t promise I’ll stay all in the topic of gaming, but that’s my Bailiwick so expect that as the lion share. I am currently interest in the flip side of game design, the art and science of building a good game experience at the table (or wherever you play) so expect some more thoughts on that.

Later

Johnoghue

 
 

Wide Open spaces, Revised

24 Sep

Welcome to our little slice of heaven, Ascend. Most folks round here just call her Ass End. You’re in what the shmucks in the Commonwealth call the frontier, the lost colonies, the edge of space and a lot worse. Folks already here, we call it home.

See for a long time there was this Empire. It linked the galaxy together with the Trains, terraformed planets, and generally ruled supreme. Rich got richer and the poor stayed that was, which was all Hunky Dory for the upper crust, till the people got fed up. They rose up and tossed out the cake eaters, and in the process the Galactic hub got itself blowed up, which of course put the galaxy all outta sorts.

The end result was pretty much every map being crap. Most of the planets were left to their own devices for a good long time. Some banded together, some stuck it out solo, and then along came the Unified Democratic Commonwealth. Really they had been around since the fall of the empire, seeing as they were the folks who overthrew it, but it took them awhile to get rolling. They were just reaching the “frontier” now and some colonies met them with open arms, others not so much.

The Commonwealth, ripe with manifest destiny, filled the skies with colonists. If your colony joined up, had your own Trains, and were gonna be a productive member of the commonwealth? *GASP* all land rights seemed to stay intact. If you were on the edge of space, gave trouble, weren’t big enough to have your own trains… or the Commonwealth just didn’t feel like dealin’ with ya, well then there are problems. Just ask the folks of the Confederated Planets of the Imperium for what happens when you stand up to the Commonwealth.

But their expansion has hit a down swing, their resources pushed to the limit and whatnot. Everything was all Lock step in line till folks discover our little slice of heaven… or Hell. YOu see Ass end has a Black Star. Never heard of one? Neither had anybody else, not Imperials, not Commonwealth not Nobody. Cept here it was, a with a gravity force greater than even the Binary Blue Giants of the old core, an massive asteroid field, and one lonely little planet.

Out here at Ass End, we got us an equilibrium of sorts. See all the land is shit, so when the colonists showed up, they got the same as us. The Commonwealth is stretched too thin chasing the remnants of the Confederates and keeping their new planets in line to even to have much of a presence, and frankly there ain’t much of value to be found. But there are some Veterans of the Commonwealth’s actions fled here, so tensions remain a little high.

Whats that? Why does all that matter? Kid, the Black Star means you can hit Ass End from near abouts anywhere. Its mass is so great you can hit it from across a galaxy, and its far enough away from the cluster fuck that was the Galactic hub that you can hit it from some of the lost worlds, or hit worlds untouched by man. Its could be the most important thing in the universe, and this little planets right on the edge of it.

So watch yourself, this is a rough place. Good luck to ya.

Wide Open Spaces

Wide open spaces is a game set in the far flung future. A democratic commonwealth has risen from the ashes of a massive galaxy wide empire and has begun trying to pick the pieces up. Meanwhile the worlds left to their own devices for generations are not all happy to step in line. Many have joined or been crushed under the wave of Democracy, but the reach of the Commonweath is only so long, and several systems have proven to stubborn, to remote or just not worth the effort to be incorporated.

Now the Commonwealth’s active military expansion has ceased, but many systems have begun to feel the economic and political pressures, mostly through the introduction of Trains carrying colonial goods and services… all the while wondering if the military is just laying in wait.

The Mass Bridge Isolator Transit System
The universe would not be so overpopulated with people without the Mass Bridge Isolator Technology, which basicly acts upon the bonds between Stars to form a bridge between two stellar bodies. A ship can utilize this bond to Travel faster than light between these two points, with the mass of the Stars Involved effecting the travel times.

Trains
The ships required to make such a bridge are called Trains. They are massive, by virtue of the requirements of both creating the bridges and surviving the trip and are able to transport large quantities of people, smaller ships, materials, whatever from system to system. Each Train is crewed by a slew up engineers, officers, and support staff as well as, in most cases, an AI.

In the Commonwealth, most trains are own by the Government and run on a standardized time table. the further out you go, the less that frequent those times are. Instead on the frontiers, there are several companies which run trains of their own, some with many trains, others with only a few.

Travel on these Trains is based on how much you pay. The rich buy private cabins and style, while poor travel in bench seats and misery.

The Old Empire
The Old Empire was a longstanding galactic empire that collapsed. It was once a republic that evolved into an empire that blossomed for many centuries. It rewarded scientific achievement with nobility, and noble Lines were inseparable from the companies they controlled. It made tremendous scientific advances, fueled by an incredible statefinaced education system that encourages creativity fueling development and giving hope that new developments grant nobility.

It valued humanity as the pinnacle of achievement and technology as a tool. As such Genetic modifications were limited to removal of disease, birth defects, and other DNA “Cleaning” the like, and cybernetics were almost unheard of.Artifical Intellegences were created to become the servants of the Empire, and with their help the vast majority of humanity was lifted to new hights.

The Empire was based at the Galactic Hub, the site of an incredible rare Bianary Blue Giant system. This unique combination gave the Empire the ability to form a bridge to almost any star. It also proved the be the keystone that held the empire together.

The Collapse
The Empire began experiencing a rise in Union activity, and the civil unrest was turning against the empire. SOme beieve it could have been resolved, concessions made, deals struck, Unions Busted, or what have you, but conjecture is moot as something caused one of the Central Hubs Binary stars to collapse.

There are a lot of theories about why it happened, some say the empire did it as a last act to stop a government take over, some say it was a poorly timed science experiment, still others say it was the Union forces performing a Terrorist act. Whoever, or whatever happened remains something of a mystery as anyone in that system, if they didn’t die, was forever trapped there by the newly formed black hole’s infinite mass.

The Commonwealth
The Galaxy was in Chaos, without the Galactic hub, Trains couldn’t run effectivly and worse, the new massive black hole in the center of everything prevented many bridges in the core systems from being formed.

The Commonwealth was formed around a Blue Giant pulsar, the second largest star in the known universe, and the site of many of the Empires industrial complexes. Over the course of years it expanded and brought the light of democracy to much for the empire it was able to reach.

Life in the commonwealth is different the empire. They believe strongly in democracy and freedom, and this manifests in interesting ways such as cybernetics flourishing, Gene mods about. At the same time big government has their fingers in a lot of peoples business, For example you can get said gene mod… as long as you register it. Almost anything is techncially  Legal, if you have the proper permit sign sealed and delivered (after the appropriate waiting period) by the commonwealth.

 
 

Wide Open Spaces – A campaign setting

20 Sep

Welcome to our little slice of heaven, Ascend. Most folks round here just call her Ass End. You’re in what the shmucks in the Commonwealth call the frontier, the lost colonies, the edge of space and a lot worse. Folks already here, we call it home.

See for 1000 or more years ago there was this Empire. It linked the Galaxy together with the Mass Transit, terraformed planets, and generally ruled supreme. Rich got richer and the poor stayed that was, which was all Hunky Dory for the upper crust,  till the people rose up and tossed out the cake eaters… which of course put the galaxy all outta sorts..

The end result was most of the planets were left to their own devices for a good long time. Some banded together, some stuck it out solo, and then along came the Universal Democratic Commonwealth. Really they had been around since the fall of the empire, seeing as they were the folks who overthrew it, but it took them a while to get rolling. They were just reaching the “frontier” now and some colonies met them with open arms, others not so much.

The Commonwealth, ripe with manifest destiny, has been filling the skies with colonists. If your colony Joined up, had your own Terminal, and were gonna be a productive member of the commonwealth? *GASP* all land rights seemed to stay intact. If you were on the edge of space, gave trouble, weren’t big enough to have your own terminal… or the Commonwealth just didn’t feel like dealin with ya, well then there are problems.

Out here at Ass End, we got us an equilibrium of sorts. See all the land is shit, so when the colonists showed up, they got the same as us. We’re too far for the military to have much of a presence, and frankly too small for folks to care too much about. But there are some Veterans of the Commonwealth’s acquisition of Gatsby, so tensions remain a little high.

All in all, thats Ass End, Good luck to ya.

Wide Open Spaces

Wide open spaces is a game set in the far flung future. A democratic commonwealth has risen from the ashes of a massive galaxy wide empire and has begun trying to pick the pieces up. Meanwhile the worlds left to their own devices for generations are not all happy to step in line. Many have joined or been crushed under the wave of Democracy, but the reach of the Commonweath is only so long, and several systems have proven to stubborn, to remote or just not worth the effort to be incorporated.

Now the Commonwealth’s active military expansion hasceased, but many systems have begun to feel the economic and political pressures, mostly through the introduction of Trains carrying colonial goods and services… all the while wondering if the military is just laying in wait.

The Mass Transit System
The universe would not be so overpopulated with people without the Mass Transit Technology, and it’s Univeral Solar transportation units, or Trains. These massive crafts are able to transport large quantities of people, material, whatever from solar system to solar system, exceeding the speed of light, using the power of the sun. Systems with the resources are equipped with Terminals, space stations that serve as staging areas for the trains. In remote systems, older Trains make the runs with frequent delays, but its said the trains run on time in the commonwealth.

The trains themselves are a Marvel of imperial science. Designed to have suffienct mass to Break Space and enter FTL without being crushed, the earliest models could perform the task on their own. Later models rely on the Terminals to launch them, a much cheaper alternative. The older trains still serves the colonies without Terminals.

Travel on these Trains is based on how much you pay. the rich buy private cabins and style, while poor travel in bench seats and misery. Cargo space is often full of anything you could imagine. Food stuff, tanks, other spacecraft, livestock, whatever.

 

More soon.

 
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My Shameless Exiles Rip off Setting

11 Jul

The House

Setup:

Each character is a Hero from one of the multiverses, be it 616, 620, 519, Etc. The Kicker is that in each of them they died.

The Beginning:

Each hero wakes up in a stately, if dated, Victorian mansion, each in a different room. After some brief exploration, the house is empty but well decorated with art that just doesn’t quite seem familiar but at the same times makes you think of the great masters. The Curtains are drawn, and when pulled back they reveal Nothignness. Light shined into it vanish, and the windows do not open and are in fact part of the wall. The front door is the same, more decorative then functional.

Those wishing to extend senses or smash through a wall/door/window may roll against the doom pool along with The House’s dice. Success removes or bypasses the veneer of the house, revealing the Nothingness.

The House – 3D12

SFX – Remove a die from the doom pool and have the house rearrange itself

The Nothingess

The Nothingness Is not darkness, or absence of light or the like. It is Nothing. It might be perceived as “Darkness” but it is unlike anything anyone has ever seen. It does not have any traits, it simply is. Any player who attempts to pass through it takes stress equal to the effect die they use.

 

Dinner is Served

At an appropriate moment, an old Phone rings, on the other end it is announced dinner is served. Upon entering the dining room, the Heroes favorite meal sits laid out on the table and in short order a Butler appears to explain the situation in vague terms.

The Facts:

  • You are dead on your world.
  • If you do what is asked of you, you will be given a chance to return to your world
  • If you fail, or die, you will be dead for good.
  • You are welcome to try to leave
  • If you choose not to participate, you may do so and you stay will be extended.
  • There are devices in the sitting room to aid you (One for each hero)

The Panopticon

This device is a bracer sized wrist device with a crystal display. When put on, it conforms to the costume of the hero. That hero may remove it at any point, but otherwise removal is vs the Doom pool and the House. Attempts to “Hack” the device or Sense are vs the Doom pool Plus the House dice. Success access the Unlockable effects (One per effect)

D6 – Cryptic Plot Device

Limit – The Clue becomes incomprehensible

Unlockables:

~Information: It’s a Cosmic Channel of some sort. Mostly one way for Observation
~Raise d6 to a D8
~SFX – one Plot point to change its shape

 

The Mission

Heroes are given a Mission, with a cryptic message such as “Find the Four and Release the Sky” – Find the Fantastic Four and release the Silver Surfer “Avenge those who can not avenge themselves” – The Avengers were killed by Ultron, Take him out! Or the like

Then in a Flash the house is transported to where ever it is needed. Light streams in from the front window, the front door works, and the Heroes embark on whatever world they are on, each with its own slight twists.

 

Milestones

1XP – Discover a Secret about the House

2XP – Solve the Mission

3 XP – Solve the Mission in a creative way (Superseeds 2XP)

 

Unlockables

5 XP – The house is very… Out of Date. For 5 XP you can pick a room and redecorate it and it will stay that way for the duration of your stay in the house. You can have the finer things in life, or a grunge pad, whatever makes you happy. If its useful though, see Useful Space.

5XP – Bigger on the inside. You Unlock the porential if the house and expand a room to a much greater size.

10XP – Useful Space! For 10 XP you can add a useful space to the house. This can be a sever farm, a Mystic Library, a Science Lab, a Garage or what have you.

5/10/15XP – Transportation. You acquire Permanent transportation that is stored in the house. For 5 XP, it is a simple ground vehicle such as a car or motorcycle. For 10 it is a powerful ground vehicle or a simple flying vehicle. For 15 It is an AMAZING ground vehicle, a powerful flying vehicle or a basic space vehicle. You might want a Useful Space first though…

15 XP – Time to go home. You have completed you time in The House. The next mission will be your last… and it might even be a mission on your world.

 
 

Building a Town

18 Jun

So I am building a generic town for a game project I am working on. The basic idea is an backdrop where I can run several games in the same town and reboot it each time. Each iteration something might change, perhaps the Spooky mansion is now a Museum, or the Factory is making Strange White Stuff. I wanted to built the base town, and then on any given adventure something would be modified, but still recognizable.

On top of that, I built 20 prebuilt characters who are iconic, but generic, who populate this town. There are other folks of course, but these are the “Active” or available characters, at least for the start.

The adventures will be varied. Aliens land, Zombies rise up, Vampires are real, Revelations, etc etc etc. Each time a different location or two will be modified, and afterwards the city reboots. Each time the PCs Reboot as well (and can change characters if they feel so inclined). I’ll be adding and subtracting players based on availibilty as well, trying different combos of players.

Its 1 part gamer mixer so I can cross pollinate my gaming friends on a trial basis and do different combos, and one part project that has more going on in the background that I may or may not ever do anything with.

Anyway, so here is the town so far and I would love some thoughts:

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