Monday, 30 January 2012

Play in Public

If you're none too observant, there's now a big old picture over there on the right sporting a link to the Play in Public campaign.  No, further down than that.  Yeah, the one with "Where my meeples at?" on it.

This is such a good idea, I wish I'd got there first.

Not the amusing tagline, the idea.  I've discussed this with some friends before now, about how games and the social interaction generated by playing them is something society could benefit from, and how I'd like to bring it to more people.  The masterminds behind this campaign had that idea first (or did something with it quicker).

I'm not much of one for taking photos and throwing them up on the internet, so while the campaign actively encourages boastfulness, I'm unlikely to jump in on that action.  But now I know that when I'm taking my favourite games to play with my favourite gal in a drink-serving establishment that there are people doing similar all over the world, I'll feel like I'm part of something bigger, which is nice.

My top recommendations for games to carry around to play in public?  I have two:

  • Devil Bunny Needs a Ham, since it's free, can be printed off cheaply and only needs some generic counters and is really easy to pick up, and;

  • Hive because the pieces are robust and easy to clean spilled drinks off, you don't need a board, and there's a lovely new travel version that's just been announced.

Both of these games attract attention from passers-by, albeit for different reasons.  In Hive's case, it's because it looks so different from games most people are familiar with.  In Devil Bunny's case, it's because to the outside world it looks like you're making the rules up as you go along (at least, that's what I've been told).

Sunday, 29 January 2012

FLGS not just LGS

There's an acronym I sometimes see thrown around various bits of the internet, and it's FLGS.   It stands for Friendly Local Game Store (or some minor variation thereof).

I'm going to take a minute to get on my soapbox about my local game store, and how the friendliness has been sucked out of it by the looming spectre of sales people.

This probably isn't going to be unfamiliar to anyone that's been in a Games Workshop in the last decade, since they've gained somewhat of a reputation for pushy sales people.  I'm not talking about them; the last thing I'll invite on myself at this point in my life is being cornered by an overenthusiastic redshirt demanding to know what army I collect.  Instead, this is a local, independent stockist of board, card and roleplaying games, which until quite recently held a fair chunk of my esteem.

polyhedral dice d10 d12 d20This unnamed shop (I don't want to harm their sales, as if I actually wielded that ability) is the result of the closure of another that once stood close by a few years ago.  The old shop was everything the new one isn't — it was poorly lit, stock was piled on shelves to alarming capacity, you had to hunt for what you wanted, staff would ignore you as you entered (or at best grunted their acknowledgement of you).  Doesn't sound very inviting, and I'm sure it wasn't.   The shop that has sprung up to replace it is bright, stock is clearly visible, and you are always greeted upon entry.  So why do I long for the former establishment?

It's down to the way the staff view their customers.   Upon entering yesterday with two friends, the person on duty started inquiring after why we were there, and if there was anything we were looking for.  Perhaps this is good practice.  In this instance it felt like I had to justify my presence.  After we gingerly explained that we just wanted to look around, he insisted that he was there if we needed him.  It was a positive relief when two more people entered the shop so he could speak to them instead of monitoring our activities.

Wizards of the Coast D&D manuals and corebooksThis isn't the first time I've felt doubtful there.  Before Christmas, my lady took me to the shop to see if there was anything I wanted for a present.  At that time, we were surprised to find out that the most geeky items had been removed from the shelves to make way for the mainstream Christmas-crowd-friendly boxes that would sell better.   I felt a bit abandoned.  Moreso when the staff member there (a different one from above, whom I thought would have remembered us from previous visits) issued the same line of inquiry into our purchasing needs.

A quick trip a little while before that saw yet another member of staff (how many people do they have working there?!) trying to insist on us buying a game suitable for 6 players instead of a 6-player expansion to a game we already owned.   In this case, the staff member may have had a point, but we had people visiting that all wanted to play that specific game, and the game without expansion was unable to cope with the numbers.

Settlers of Catan boxed eurogame boardgameAnyway, back to yesterday.  Feeling like the pressure was off when the staff member was focused on others, I took the opportunity to browse in relative peace.   When I heard him pushing supplements on the two he was speaking to, I actually took a bit of interest... so, congratulations to him on that, at least.  He was suggesting two mini-supplements, both quite cheap, and knowing I had a very limited amount of cash on me I was pleased to think I could afford one.  Y'see, the aim of my visit was more speculative than anything — I suppose I was hoping something would catch my eye, and I could fantasize about purchasing it until I could afford it.  At the culmination of my visit, I picked up the cheaper of the two supplements (for those interested, it's the Great River expansion for Settlers of Catan).   No surprise, the staff member suggested I buy the other one as well.  Sadly, it was only upon me insisting that I had insufficient physical funds to buy both that his enthusiasm waned.

I feel quite let down by the place.  When they first opened, I undertook a quick round of texts to everyone I thought might be interested to promote the shop.   I now feel significantly less inclined to even visit it myself, even though I usually love the charm of bricks-and-mortar hobby shops compared to the stark, efficient designs of websites.  I'm very interested in promoting modern gaming, and I really wish I could feel confident that I could direct people to this shop and they'd have a positive experience.   I feel almost bad for those non-gamers I've already sent there.   Ultimately, I have no choice — there's no other game shop anywhere near as local.

Ah well, that's my rant.  Any suggestions (even if it's just "suck it up and cope") gratefully welcomed in the comments.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Printable Senet Boards

As part of my quest to play more Senet, I mentioned last post that I'd make myself a Senet board to play on.  As such, I've thrown together a few printable boards that I think are worth sharing, and if they're not to anyone's taste I guarantee a full refund.

The first one is based on how, if I made a board from wood, it would look in my head before I ended up ruining a small pile of good wood and gluing my fingers to anything and everything in sight.  (All the images are clickable, so feel free to do just that.)

printable senet board

The next one is the board I'll actually be printing off for myself.  It's image conscious.  It's sleek and professional.  It's printer friendly.

print friendly senet board

Finally, just for the lulz, is one that isn't so much styled after ancient Egypt as a forgotten spaceborne race who left behind their own game that just so happened to be just like Senet.  Only made of alien rock and glass, obviously.

senet board game

Feel free to use these and let me know how you get along with them in the comments.  Likewise, shout out if you've got any requests.

Sunday, 15 January 2012


The Forgotten Egyptian Game

So, yesterday, my wife and I found ourselves unexpectedly visiting Cyfartha Castle.  "So, what does the industrialisation of Merthyr's iron and coal industries have to do with games and diversions?" you'd be correct to ask me.  Patience, young Padawan.

The museum had a small section dedicated to ancient Egyptian artifacts that the Edwardian and Victorian peoples took a great interest in, and that was excuse enough to have a kiosk running a touch-screen recreation of Senet, a curious little game that, apparently, we don't quite know the rules of.

The version we played was surprisingly polished, with a smooth and satisfying response to our tactile stimuli on the screen, and the computer did all the messy bits like throwing the sticks for us.  To explain that last part, the Egyptians didn't have dice.  Instead, they threw a bunch of sticks that could land one of two ways, giving a result between 0 and the number of sticks thrown, so in this case we got 0 to 5.  As my wife acutely observed, this meant a result different to just hurling a standard six-sided die, as the results would skew towards the middle results, with 0 and 5 being significantly less likely.

Senet plays quite like Backgammon, and despite the rules being a "best guess since we can't ask a dead culture", it plays to a reasonably satisfying standard.  Wikipedia — always a good standby to make me look more learned than I actually am — tells me both Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation and TV's Lost made reference to the game, but that doesn't incline me towards playing the former or sitting through the latter again, because if I missed it the first time, I guess it wasn't worth noting.

I can't find the exact version we played online, but if you want to give the game a try there's a fine page right here that demonstrates things pretty well.  Also, many modern publishers have jumped at the opportunity to produce their own versions, sometimes under names like King Tut's Game and Passing Through The Netherworld.  Personally, I think I'll see if I can tempt my good lady into a few more games on a mock-up board — it's not hard to make, being just three rows of 10 squares with 5 pawns apiece.  If that proves a hit, who knows?  I might just try making myself a set out of something more substantial.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Review: Zombie Dice

Title: Zombie Dice
Publisher: Steve Jackson Games
Players: 2 to any number (but between 3 and 10 is probably optimal)
Play time: Depends on players (about 3-8 minutes per player)
Prerequisites: Some paper and a pen, or something else to keep score

For theme, I really should have done this review yesterday (Friday the 13th).  Can we all just pretend it's yesterday?

Zombie Dice is a short-form play-almost-anywhere game of pushing your luck to impress your zombie pals.  The premise is, you're all zombies, competing to become the one true Zombie King, because, y'know, zombies need strict hierarchies or their society falls into chaos.  One of the most appealing things (and what eventually persuaded me to buy the game) is that I don't need to describe how to play.  There's a Flash demo that stylishly introduces you to the concepts and rules in a matter of minutes.  Find it hither.

Cool.  You done enjoying that?  I like the way the zombie talks.  Reminds me of me in the mornings.

So, you've seen the virtual game, how about the physical version?  For your monies, you get a short, reasonably sturdy tube (which doubles as a dice shaker) full of 13 six-sided custom dice.  When I first saw the game in my friendly local gaming shop, the first question that popped into my mind was: does everyone need to buy their own dice to play?  The answer is a very reassuring "no".  Everyone involved in a game plays with the same 13 dice.  And the number of players is really only limited by the number of people you can persuade to play.

Steve Jackson's Zombie Dice game
My slightly tattered Zombie Dice
That said, I can see that as the number of people increases so does the tendency to lose focus, as well as the impracticality of maintaining scores.  Likewise, boredom might set in the longer a particular player has to wait for his or her turn, so I'd cap the number of players at about the same level as how many people you'd generally be happy carrying out a conversation with at any one time (for me, that's about 10).

There's strategy to be had in the game, but it's mostly limited to "should I push my luck?"  The dice in the game come in 3 different colours, clearly indicating whether a die is likely to come out as favourable or not, and cunning players will obviously take account of how many favourable dice remain to be rolled.  Since the game mechanics allow for only one winner, the way it's played will change depending on how ahead or behind other players' scores one is -- think like a multi-player version of darts.  There can be only one Zombie King, so if one player is very close to getting the prerequisite 13 brains, other players will start to take risks just to catch up.

Does hilarity ensue?  Mostly, yes.  I don't think Zombie Dice will suit everyone, and it's a lot more fun if you get into the moment (putting on your best zombie drawl, pretending that 3 red dice are a group of survival nuts with double-barreled shotguns, etc.).  Since it's short-form, it's better played in a very casual setting, or as a filler between other games.  It's self-contained and doesn't require much table real estate, so it's perfectly suited to play in a pub*, and apart from losing the dice themselves, there's no risk of coming back missing any small parts.  Zombie Dice has a pretty good chance of ending up in a bag if I'm meeting up with people of the gaming persuasion, and that sounds like a recommendation to me.

* US followers, please read: bar.  Medieval followers, please read: tavern.

New Blog

Hey, new blog.  Well, this is my first time doing this, so I've got no set plans about an update schedule or anything.  We'll just play it by ear, and help each other out along the way, okay readers?

I think it might be super-groovy if I throw out a review first, so I'll set to writing that ASAP, but in the meantime, maybe you should enjoy this picture of a kitten, because this is the internet, after all.

This kitten owns more polyhedral dice than you.  Fact.