Saturday, 31 August 2013

J is for Jawa

Whilst it's not likely to be kicking off for a few months due to D&D Next playtesting I am starting to plan what I want to do with Star Wars Edge Of The Empire.

As I've said a number of times this game has been a contributing catalyst to this 2nd Chapter and I want to look at how best to develop my ideas for it.  Critically though I want to do that with the players so that the setting is by their design.

Before I do any of that though I need to make the time to read the book more thoroughly as there seems to be a fantastic amount of GM style resources in there particularly around how you establish the "party origin".

To help with things like that I've been searching for additional ways to flesh out the background of the players and indeed the nemeses I plan to use.  This is where the internet really comes to your aid as there's always someone who's blogged about what you're looking for, you just have to know where to look for it.

One of the best blogs out there on EotE is Triumph & Despair not just because it has some great homebrew material but it has a funky EotE Alphabet which they use to generate scenario templates.  Now this is really nothing more than a collection of random encounter tables with additional fluff.  The beauty of it though is that fluff.  Now it might get a bit repetitive over time and to help with that I've come up with a different Alphabet, ok so maybe not come up with it and more a case of discovering.

There's a Flickr album out there with a Star Wars set of Alphabet Cards and I'm sorely tempted to write a companion to the Triumph & Despiar EotE Alphabet using these cards as the trigger.

Just remember that J is for Jawa!

Friday, 30 August 2013

Setting vs Context

One of the things that comes up when I'm working on a plot or setting for a game is source material.

There's a lot of inspiration out there within media in general not least of which is the Science Fiction and Fantasy section of your local bookshop or library.  If you're going to re-use a published setting or indeed take inspiration from it there are some ground rules to consider.

Will you use the setting as written?
Will the protagonists and antagonists from that source material appear in your game?

These 2 questions have already surfaced in my plans for a Star Wars EotE game.  Now it is Star Wars so most people relate to the characters in those films and in many respects the canon that the timeline represents.  So do you stick to the canon?

You can play a Star Wars game that plays on the outskirts of the story from Acts IV, V and VI of Star Wars and indeed you can play a game where that story is rewritten based on the actions of the player characters.  I've done both and something in between where the canon of the stories was practically irrelevant other than to set some setting specifics e.g. status of the Rebellion, how strong is the Empire's grip on the galaxy etc.

I suppose it comes down to what you want the game to be about rather than where the game is situated.  Or to put it another way - Setting vs Context.

Having a Fantasy scenario set within The Shire from Hobbit/Lord Of The Rings is a great setting.  The context of that scenario will define where in the timeline the scenario is occurring.  Assumption there is that it will be part of the canon timeline.  You could run a game set in The Shire using a "What If?" approach e.g. What if Bilbo didn't go on his unexpected journey?  I'm not entirely sure what you'd do with The Shire in that context but at the same time I can imagine how it could provide a great setting when looking at it in that context.  Choosing to retcon an existing setting to provide new options for play can result in some interesting stories.

Putting that context spin on a variety of established settings can make for a very different game.
Call Of Cthulhu is predominantly set during the 1920s and has a few context spins out there already. Spin it further and you could have it set during the Roman Empire with Cthulhu's agents working within the senate and having some sort of link with Neptune (God of the Sea).

Taking the context and skewing it can be fun but I suppose you have to go back to those original questions and then add - What do the other players want? - into the mix before deciding on a context.

After all being the Rebel Alliance strike team that helps to rescue Han Solo etc from a plan gone wrong sounds like fun too.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Real life situations. Fantasy worlds.

This idea is something that came to me through a variety of sources; many of which really don't add up when I write (type) them.  In the interest of getting to the point I don't plan on breaking it down but if you really want to know the inspirational elements let me know.  A condensed version would be "when magic is not enough".

So.  This is D&D focussed as I'm kicking off a D&D Next playtest game just now so a lot of my game ideas are going into that bucket.

  • Setting:  Fantasy city.  Something the scale of York in England but coastal.  Thriving fishing economy and busy port for traders of all kinds.
  • Situation: Disease / Plague.  Over the past 2-3 months an illness has spread amongst the people of the city.
  • What's unusual?: The disease is only affecting Humans and only those under the age of 40.  The more unusual element however is that it's starting to spread across race with Elves, Dwarves and other races starting to experience similar symptoms...
  • What's been tried?:  The Clerics of a variety of churches have called upon the Divine power to cleanse the city of the disease.  Spells work but only on individuals.
  • Why didn't that work?:  The disease is spreading quicker than the Clerics can heal.  For every 50 people healed another 60 are infected and that ratio is getting worse for the Clerics.  Despite more coming to heal the disease continues it's march through the residents of the city.
  • How do the players get involved?:  TBC.  I have a variety of ideas but given that I actually plan to use this as a kicker for a game I'm going to hold fire on revealing too much.  Ultimately though the situation is dire and it doesn't look like it's going to slow down any time soon so it'll be a race against time to do something...
  • Who's behind it?: The immediate problem of the disease has been perpetrated by someone with strong ties to the city.
  • Who do they work for?: Someone who has a vested interest in seeing the city fall but also more importantly certain individuals to fall along with the city.
  • Who do they work for? 2: Ah yes, there's always a big bad right?  Well maybe not always but in this case, that'd be a yes.
  • What's the answer?: Essentially this question is "What is the macguffin?"  Again because I plan on using this in-game I'm not going to give it all away here.  Ultimately though the answer to the disease is to find a cure. What form that cure takes though may be a surprise...
The options around this are quite large but the key to the plot is that the clock is ticking so the party need to get their act together and quickly.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

My name is Inigo Montoya...

When creating a new character in a RPG whether that be one used by a player or as a key non-player character a lot has to be considered.
Extending the storyboard approach I've talked about before you have to look for a hook that either connects the character to the ones used by the players.

If this is a new Player Character then the immediate questions that spring to mind are -
How do they know the PCs?
Why would the existing PCs be happy for them to join the party?
What reason does the new character have for joining the party?
Why is the new PC only now looking to join the party?

Each of these takes a different look at the background not just of the new PC but also of the existing PCs.
Yes a lot of them can be brushed over and in some respects you could just ignore all of them "for the sake of the game" but choosing to skip these questions doesn't help unless the game is simply a series of one-shots. If this is a story driven campaign then it makes sense to ask these questions.

Not only does this give the players a chance to write some of their own history it also allows them to shape the setting and gives the party a reason for being beyond the simple "heroes needed to stop big bad" approach.

In parallel to the party cohesion this can build it also gives the GM a chance to look at elements of the plot that previously may have been overlooked.
Does this new character have a background plot point that connects to the overall plot?
Will the villain be prepared for this change in the party?  If not how does that change their plans?

Or maybe the villain killed his father and he now needs to prepare to die...

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Value Checkpoint - August 2013

I'm not planning on doing a month to month value analysis of my hobby but I will from time to time produce something that gives you a view of how I measure it and where I might not be getting as much value from my hobby as I would like.

As I've said before value for money is something that really is down to the individual to determine whether they think they're getting it or not.

For me it's measured by number of plays and number of players that take part in the games.

So my value tracker looks something like this -

Game Spend Plays £ / Play Ave Players £ / Player
Star Wars RPG £90.96 8 £11.37 6 £1.90
Sentinels £79.99 12 £6.67 4 £1.67
Star Wars LCG £79.95 2 £39.98 2 £19.99
X-Wing £53.97 4 £13.49 2 £6.75
Bang £24.99 4 £6.25 5 £1.25
Resistance £16.99 2 £8.50 6 £1.42
Zombie Dice £9.99 3 £3.33 5 £0.67
Straw £12.99 3 £4.33 3 £1.44

This isn't a complete list of the games I own, more a list of games that I've bought as part of the 2nd Chapter.
Now from that list you can see that there are some games that I need to play more of to get that value for money with Star Wars LCG being the one that stands out the most.

As I've mentioned previously I don't expect the stats on X-Wing to change as I plan to sell my copy of the game, not because I don't like it more down to it just not being my sort of game.

I'm also not listing D&D Next here largely because it's free to playtest plus we've only just started to play it.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Introducing Tabletop Games to Kids

As part of my rediscovery of my hobby and in relation to one of my objectives that I'd posted previously one of the things I want to do is introduce my daughter to tabletop games.

She's about to turn 7 as I write this and tabletop games are nothing new to her having been surrounded by my hobby for all of her life and of course she was part of what led to the end of the 1st Chapter.

To help in my attempts to introduce her to games I have over the past few years bought some games appropriate for younger gamers.

Catan Junior - The parent version of this game is seen by many people as the gateway game for the board game hobby.  I don't necessarily share that opinion but I do see why it has that reputation.  That aside the game is a great introduction to the hobby as a whole and I plan to play it with my wife and daughter soon.

Hey That's My Fish - It's a game about penguins trying to catch as many fish as they can before the ice falls apart below their feet.  We've played this a few times, actually played might be too strong a term.  The structured play (albeit limited) is something that my daughter hadn't quite grasped when we played it previously.  I plan to re-try the game now that she's a bit older (she was 5 when we tried it before so definitely a bit young).

Straw - I've mentioned this in another post and the core of the game is arithmetic.  Something my daughter has a very strong grasp of.  It's one of those games that is quick to play and is very simple mechanically so an excellent candidate to use in a family environment.

Alongside these there are a plethora of other games that can work in the family environment not least of all are roleplaying games.  Rather than me listing a whole bunch of them here I'll link to a post by WJ Walton of The Escapist.  For now though I think I'll stick to board games with my daughter and see how that goes before trying out some of the RPGs listed.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

GenCon 2014

GenCon next year might be something extra special.

In 1974 Dungeons & Dragons was published for the first time and I fully expect that in 2014 we'll see the release of D&D Next / 5th Edition.

With that in mind I'm contemplating going to GenCon in 2014.

Now this isn't just for D&D's birthday but I do think that will add something a bit special to the event.  After all the next big milestone would be it's 50th birthday and I'm not really wanting to wait another 10 years before deciding to do this.  Plus who knows what the tabletop landscape will look like by then.

I've always wanted to go to GenCon and I've been to 3 of the UK iterations of the event back when it existed in the UK.  With my new found resurgence of interest in the hobby as a whole though I'd be looking at trying a variety of things whilst there and not just D&D Next.

This year's GenCon saw a unique attendance level of 49,000 people over the "best four days in gaming".  That's up from 41,000 at GenCon 2012 which makes it an almost 20% increase!

There are several logistical challenges with getting to GenCon though...

Flights - Getting flights to Indianapolis isn't that hard but with most things like this it all comes down to price and while the event isn't until August 2014 the prices are currently all over the place.

Accommodation - A variety of options here but given that according to Visit Indy all hotels etc within 40-50 mile radius of the Indiana conference centre were fully booked for GenCon 2013 it would seem that the hotel choice will be key so that we're not too far out.

I'll post as we get further down the line to this, if I've people to convince that this is a great idea.  Not least of all my wife!

Saturday, 24 August 2013

How do you decide?

When making your choices about what games to buy there are usually a few routes in.

Community : This could be a friend or someone you know at your local games club or indeed anyone who's opinion you value.
People play a variety of games and so your immediate community is usually a great source for what to choose.  Starting a new game which is played by others in your gaming community has the added bonus of giving you a ready made group of people to play with and of course means you can try it out before you buy.

Retailer : Staff at your Friendly Local Game Store have to by nature know about the games they sell.
By understanding what you like to play today or indeed what interests you in general and the environment you want to play that game the FLGS can provide advice on what games fit that bill.  In some cases they can also offer a demo of game to help you make your choice.

Online : Now as I said in my previous post Opinions aren't as important as knowledge and experience you have to understand the context of the information you're getting.  Whilst this can apply to Community and Retailer I personally feel that it's more prevalent online.
The primary benefit for online is the sheer amount of info available to you, filtering through that can be a challenge unless you know what you're looking for. Actual Play and Review videos help you to see the product before choosing to buy it which is great if you don't have the chance to demo it first.

These routes are all fairly standard routes to do anything in the hobby whether that be buying something new or whatever else.

The other factors that people incorporate into their decision making -

Publisher : There's logic in the this as if a publisher releases 1 game that you like then there's a good chance that you'll like other games they produce.  I think Fantasy Flight Games and Cubicle 7 are great examples of this.

Licenses : Star Wars fan?  Ok so it's probably a safe bet that you'll like one of the Star Wars games out there.  Same goes for a variety of other games and licenses.  A game like Heroclix really maximises it's DC and Marvel comic book licenses and has added many others to really broaden the appeal of the game.

Creator : Within the hobby there are some creator "celebrities" who have a strong enough fan base that having their name on a game is enough to drive the marketing.  Alessio Cavatore is a recent example of this but board game and RPG creators have also been a draw for players.

How do you decide?

Friday, 23 August 2013

Board Games I've bought but never played.

In my previous post I talked about 2 RPGs that sit on my shelves remaining unplayed.

In this post I talk about 2 Board Games that unfortunately suffer from the same lack of love and attention.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

RPGs I've bought but never played.

My recent post about what I'd bought got me thinking about those games that you buy but never get round to playing.

Now this could be an impulse purchase or it could be a nostalgia purchase or it could be simply down to the game looks cool and you just know you'll find players for it.

I have a number of RPGs on my shelf that fit into this category and in all honesty I've not idea why I've not run them.  I also have a few Board Games on my shelf that fit into this category but I'm hoping to rectify their unplayed status soon.

I'm going to list 2 of those RPGs here and answer 3 questions - Why did I buy it?  Why have I not played it? and Will I play it now?

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

First Session : D&D Next

So we went through Character Creation, sorted out equipment etc and dove straight into a pre-written scenario that I had where all I had to do was pull some monster stats out of the Bestiary.

We were using the most recent packet for the Beta of D&D Next (2nd August 2013) and the first thing I noticed was that as a DM the rules were very simple.

In this packet they've removed Skills and in the main removed Feats too.  So it's probably fair criticism to say that the mechanical character variation options are somewhat limited.  This didn't seem to bother the players though as they all went down different paths with their characters.

The character choices were -

Forest Gnome Druid
Rock Gnome Barbarian
High Elf Cleric
Halfling Ranger
Dwarf Monk
Human Paladin (unfortunately the player had to cancel at short notice so wasn't able to play).

The players all got into character in the main and brought their character's to life very easily without any problems.

So how did it play?  Well it reminded me a lot of Basic D&D and 1st Edition AD&D in many respects although it is fair to say that my memory of these 2 editions is fading so the connection between the current incarnation of D&D Next and those earliest of editions might be incorrect.

Ultimately though the mechanics, particularly around Advantage/Disadvantage, were simple and didn't get in the way of the play. Characters were able to do everything they could do in 4e and 3.5 albeit the lack of skills put greater emphasis on "general ability" associated with Attributes as opposed to any granular focus.  For those players looking for more detailed rules will likely be confused or even perhaps underwhelmed.  e.g. All agility/physical/alertness style checks fall into Dexterity and Strength checks depending on the situation in which they are called upon.

That's not all bad but what it does mean is that your Attributes have significantly greater sway over the effectiveness of your character than in 4e and 3.5e.  It brings more suspension of disbelief around a character with a high Attribute being good or bad at every applicable focussed use of that Attribute but then again it largely makes sense.

It also seems to speed up play for players new to the game.  No more checking lists of skills to determine which is the most appropriate one to use.  You want to do X, Y or Z?  All you need to determine is which Attribute is the best match and roll.  Use of Advantage/Disadvantage can be used to bring some balance to situations that don't "feel right" based on character backgrounds and in several occasions we had vastly different rolls on the 2 d20s that were rolled demonstrating the impact of those rules.

So, in summary.  So far I like it.  I'm keen to see what they do with the next release especially to see if they re-integrate skills/feats or any other form of granular focus into the rules.  It would make sense to me for the introduction of a "focus" on specific types of Attribute use which would bring bonuses to specific uses.

More as we go.  I can see us playing this semi-regularly so will need to look at what the group wants to do setting wise...

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Hobby Objectives

To progress my journey through the 2nd Chapter I've been thinking about some objectives I'd like to achieve in my hobby.
  1. Sustainable and regular gaming.  At the moment I'm averaging twice a month and want to increase this to three times a month if not more.  I think more is really only achievable through gaming on nights other than Fridays though.
  2. Play more with more.  Connected to 1 but really about playing more games with more people.  Essentially expanding that gaming network.  Plus there are people who I haven't gamed with either at all or in a very long time and I'd like to resolve that.
  3. Home based gaming.  Again connected to 1 but all about gaming at home.  I've been talking about this on and off for the past few months but I want to actually make it happen this year.  Now whether that's through playing games with non-gamers (family etc) or through having a gaming night at the house I'm not that fussed.
  4. Play something new at least one in every six gaming sessions.  This is as much about expanding my knowledge of the games that are out there as it is about increasing the fun!
  5. Visit more game shops.  For this year that'll be UK based game shops.  There are a few specific shops that are on my "must visit" list and I hope to visit at least 3 of them before the year is out.
These are all achievable this year and I'm already thinking of some longer term ones but that'll be a future post or indeed posts.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Gaming Accessories

The thing about tabletop games is that it's not just about the games themselves.

It doesn't matter which format you play there will always be accessories that you can buy to improve, complement and protect your games.

For Roleplaying Games the perennial accessory is more dice.  You can never have enough dice.  With dice comes methods of storing them and there is a variety of dice bags out there whether it be the plain velvet to being adorned with logos to custom dice bags made to order from websites like Etsy.

When it comes to any game that uses cards the accessories available are significant.
At the very least you're talking about card sleeves from manufacturers like UltraPro, FFG and MAX Protection.
If we're talking about CCGs then the selection expands into deck boxes, playmats, folios to display rare cards for trading and much, much more.

If you're a wargamer then the obvious accessories are paint, brushes, glue and basing accessories.  Companies like Army Painter focus entirely on these accessories whilst the games manufacturers like Games Workshop and Privateer Press have their own ranges of paints and other accessories.  For transporting your figures you'll also look at cases from GW and specialists like KR Multicase and Battlefoam.

The variety of accessories out there is much wider than what I've put here. What did I miss?

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Tabletop media

TableTop.  That's the You Tube show hosted by Wil Wheaton.  You have heard of it right?  No?
Ok.  Go here - TableTop Playlist - and watch a few of the videos and then come back.  Back?  Cool.  Now where were we?  Ah I remember now.

There's been a real growth in recent years in using media to talk about, review, promote etc the hobby. Shows like TableTop are an evolution of podcasts like those created by the good people at Pulp Gamer.
The promotion of the hobby through "celebrity geeks" first occurred when Penny Arcade and PvP got involved in promoting D&D 4th Edition through a variety of podcasts.

This evolution or whatever it is seems to be happening at the same time as wider awareness of the hobby; whether that's coincidence or as a result I'm not sure.

So.  Why the post?

The exposure that shows like TableTop give the hobby is fantastic.  The show uses high profile geeks to promote Tabletop Games, primarily of the board/card game variety.  Those same high profile geeks promote the show through Facebook, Twitter and a variety of other social media routes.  This in turn drives more traffic to TableTop and has resulted in some serious improvement in the sales of the games.

This is a good thing.  Right?

Absolutely it is but I worry that rather than broaden the exposure of the hobby that the success of TableTop will instead only build the profile of specific games rather than the market as a whole.

Now this might be a false worry and in many respects I trust Wil Wheaton to enable a broaden exposure to the hobby as a whole.  Indeed he's gone so far as to post a video about games that they can't use on TableTop due to the limitations of the show here - Not The Flog.  Go and watch it then come back, we'll still be here.

That's great stuff and I hope if nothing else that they continue to have some sort of "we can't play this game on the show but we wanted to tell you how awesome it is" coverage.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Gamer bias / snobbery

A lot of the things that divide the tabletop gaming community frustrate me.  This division is something that acts against the promotion of the positive image of the hobby as a whole especially when the hobby and the community are more diverse than they've ever been.

What do I mean?  Gamers who look down on some formats due to stereotypes associated with gamers of those formats.  Indeed it doesn't even need to be other formats, it can be different games within those formats.

The most regular one that I hear (indeed I heard it last night) is aimed at players of Magic: The Gathering. Magic, like all CCGs, is a game where the cards used to build your decks are have different rarities and as such some of those cards can become valuable. Yes I know it's just a piece of cardboard with something printed on it but the value status is generated because of the rarities involved and the in-game abilities associated with that specific card.

Magic players are portrayed as obsessive and obnoxious moreso than any other part of the community in my experience.  So much so that when someone who doesn't fit that pigeon hole is encountered the defence given seems to be "Ah but they're not a Magic player, they're someone who plays Magic." which makes no sense and is just a form of selective snobbery.

I'm choosing Magic to cover this not because it has the largest amount of snobbery against it but because it's probably the most popular Tabletop Game out there.  As I said in my last post there are more than 12 Million people worldwide who play Magic.
Evidence of player bases for other formats is virtually non-existent.  Anecdotal numbers for Games Workshop products has it around the 1-1.5 Million mark with the overall Wargames format supporting 4-5 Million players.  No idea about other formats.

The pattern seems to be to label a format or game as "bad" because of an experience with individuals who play that game rather than through playing that format / game. Players make up a community not the games those players play. Is it bias / snobbery or dare I say elitism in some cases?
I have to admit that in my experience it is all 3 of those things and is usually rooted in a problem between players rather than an actual problem with the games in question.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Tabletop Transition

Throughout time as a gamer I've experienced a lot over negativity aimed at the hobby and the community around it. Most of that is due to the continued stereotyping of geeks as the overweight, socially-challenged male sitting in a basement with friends of a similar ilk playing games.

One of the things that bothers me is how whilst that stereotype continues to be allocated to tabletop gamers; the population that makes up the category of geek has changed over time and doesn't appear to be as tarred with the same brush.

Video Games are recognised by the mainstream media as a product that "normal" people play.  Is it because of the cultural shift of video games away from the "geek in his bedroom" stereotype to "entertainment for everyone"? I'm sure that the transition of video games into that "entertainment for everyone" zone has helped to reduce the negative connotations of the word geek, at least in relation to video games.

Will Tabletop Games undergo a similar cultural transition?  Or is it already happening?

In 2011 Activision Blizzard announced that World Of Warcraft had lost almost 10% of it's player base and as such now only had 10 Million players worldwide.  10 Million!  Yep that's a lot of people.
Interestingly in the same year, Wizards Of The Coast announced that there were now more than 12 Million players of Magic: The Gathering.

So, just think about that for a minute.  There were more Magic players than WoW players in 2011.

Not only that, since 2011 Magic has (according to WotC) continued to increase it's player base whilst WoW has (according to Activision Blizzard) continued to lose players.  So today, there are more than 2 million more Magic players than players who play WoW.

Is there a mainstream transition pending for Tabletop Games and is Magic the trigger for that transition?

Maybe.  I think alongside the growth of board/card games over the last few years and shows like Big Bang Theory covering more tabletop elements maybe that point is getting closure; at the very least they're helping to increase the exposure of the hobby.  This is further developed through online shows like TableTop and the sheer volume of review shows like Shut Up & Sit Down and The Dice Tower.

I'm not looking for the hobby to become mainstream as such, just wanting the barriers of entry to the hobby to be knocked down and have those who currently see it as an obscure pastime to be educated otherwise.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Crowd Funding

So this is about Kickstarter, IndieGoGoCommunity Funded and no doubt there's a whole host of other crowd funding websites out there.

With the recent controversy over the highly successful funding but failure to deliver of The Doom That Came To Atlantic City on Kickstarter I felt it appropriate to post on what I think crowd funding is doing to and for the hobby.

There are positives and negatives for the hobby with the use of this source of funding.  Let me see if I can break it down...


  • This method of funding is great for self publishing games that a company has rejected for whatever reason. Particularly effective for recognised creators of games.  It's also a less risky way for a company to bring a new product to market that they would normally not get made.  Plus it plays to the fanbases of products where a reboot/relaunch/expansion can happen 
  • Products that a company would potentially opt against under normal circumstances.  Using crowd funding to reduce risk of taking to market.
  • Fan rallied expansions or reboots for products with a small / core player base.  Builds momentum for that product where the fan base is particularly active and can exercise that momentum through a variety of means.


  • Your spend is speculative and is hedged on the basis of eventually getting what you've paid for.  It's very different from the normal retail experiences for both brick & mortar and online (unless the online seller is really bad at shipping of course...).  To quote GeekDad - "Kickstarter is not a pre-order platform. It’s not like seeing a pre-release DVD on Amazon and reserving a copy."
  • After a successful funding many companies revisit this source of funding time and time again.  Thus making this route of supply almost exclusive.  Now that might be a good thing from some perspectives but I think it limits the routes to market that a product has and also saturates a core market resulting in game stores (online and bricks & mortar) being unable to a) get the product in a timely fashion and b) find a market for the product as the core market has already bought it.

In summary - I get why it is popular and why it works but at the same time I feel that some relatively established publishers are becoming more risk averse when it comes to launching new products.

The latest for "TDTCTAC", Cryptozoic have since picked it up and will fulfill all pledges for the game that fans made.  Pretty awesome of them to do that seeing as they had no obligation to do so.  Interesting to see what the MSRP is of the game though as they'll need to recoup that "marketing" expense somehow!
I played an early version of the game when Keith Baker came to KoA on our opening day and whilst it was still rough around the edges I am pleased to see it finally make it to print.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Winning isn't everything. Fun is.

So in my gaming principle post "Is everyone having fun?  Including you?" I touched very briefly on the competitive side of the hobby. That sparked a conversation with a friend - Just how important is winning?

The thing is that all formats of tabletop games tend to involve "winning" and "losing" of one form or another; including in cooperative games where the players win/lose together.  This is fairly obvious I suppose given that if it's a game surely there has to be a winner and a loser.  Right?

When I first tried out Magic I knew I was never going to get into the competitive element of the game.  By that I mean I never expected nor intended to enter competitions other than during the latter stages of the 1st Chapter which was only to even up the numbers at Friday Night Magic or whatever.  To play any game that is by design a competition you have to consider whether winning is important to you or simply playing to have fun is enough.

I won't deny it, I don't enjoy losing and when playing in a competitive game I am trying to win, after all that's a large part of why you play competitive games.  Where the balance lies is in whether you're equating "the need to win" with "having fun".  If these are one and the same for you when it comes to playing tabletop games then I think you're missing out on what makes tabletop games great.

Playing tabletop games is about having a shared experience with other players and to quote a friend of mine "it's all about telling stories together".  Ok so that's maybe a little highbrow but I also think it's true.

"I don't want to play X because I'll never be able to win." This is something I used to hear a lot, not just with respect to Magic but in relation to pretty much all of the formats of tabletop gaming including cooperative style games.  The fun comes through playing, if you win then that's simply an added benefit.
Whilst the emotional experience of losing, especially if that's losing more than winning, isn't likely to be pleasant the only true way to learn and improve your game is through playing and the best way to learn what's not working is to lose.  So chalk it up as a learning development opportunity and learn from your mistakes.

As I've said before, not every game is for everyone. I'll go further and say that not every environment for gaming is for everyone. Me?  I'm never going to be a good Magic player because I don't have the deck building skill to do it.  I don't see the best card combinations that can be used to create a great deck. In some respects that may also be why I've steered clear of wargames too.  When I play Magic I create a deck that I think looks cool and be fun to play. That places me in the "casual gamer" camp for Magic which is entirely accurate. I've played many many games over the years where I've lost and played RPGs where all the players have lost (total party kill type events) but each of those games have been fun for a variety of reasons.

All I'm saying is that winning isn't what should be driving you to play tabletop games, having fun is what it's all about.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Recent purchases.

So in the run up to my birthday I worked out what I was going to buy here's that list.  Plus some extras...

Star Wars : Edge Of The Empire RPG + GM Kit + 2 sets of dice
Obviously this was on the list and had been sitting in the game store I frequent for some weeks as I couldn't make it in due to other commitments.
Production value is fantastic as ever for FFG stuff with the book itself full of fantastic art, the GM screen is board game card stock quality which is a pleasant surprise as my experience of these over the years is that they tended to be flimsy things.

The Resistance
I'd been looking at this game for a while.  It'll serve a few purposes I think, not least of all acting as a great pickup game for my regular gaming group but I also think it could be a great game for introducing people to tabletop games.

I've said in a previous post that I didn't own this game.  That has now been rectified and I plan to use it soon.

This was an impulse buy.  I knew of it and had read/seen good reviews of it but it wasn't a "planned purchase."  So why did I buy it?  Combination of the shop staff saying the right things about it (sales pitch) and it's different from the other games I own.

Assault On Echo Base Force Pack for Star Wars LCG
The latest force pack is the fourth in the Hoth cycle and I'm really keen to play the game again soon.

FATE Accelerated Edition
Not exactly an impulse buy but more a taster for something that's coming later.  Atomic Robo is a comic book character I'm a huge fan of and there's a RPG coming out later this year based on that character which uses the FATE engine.  I know there will be variances between the FAE rules (given that it's a tiny wee book) and Atomic Robo RPG but I wanted to get a taste for what's coming.  So will I play FAE?  Unlikely. Will I play Atomic Robo RPG?  Hell yes!

Sentinels Of The Multiverse - Rook City and Infernal Relics Expansions
Through the power of the internet I managed to learn that a bricks & mortar shop in another part of the UK had these in stock.  Awesome find given that none of the online retailers I could find had them in stock.

Magic 2014 Deck Builders Toolkit.
Ok so this is almost definitely something I'll not use actively so fails the "Only buy it if you're going to use it." principle test.  Why buy it then?  I like Magic and enjoy playing it even if that's something I only do very rarely.

So, a sizeable haul I think it's fair to say!

Monday, 12 August 2013

GenCon 2013 - Board & Card Games Part 2

As with yesterday's  post there are more Board Games coming out at GenCon than you can imagine!  I'll likely need to do a follow up post on the games that I personally find tempting.

Games after the jump!

Sunday, 11 August 2013

GenCon 2013 - Board & Card Games Part 1

It is either a sign of the times within the hobby or I've really not played as close attention to GenCon as I thought I did previously.

The level of Board / Card Games being released this year is huge.  I'm fairly certain that in comparison to the RPG releases this list is disproportionate and as such I'm not going to do this justice.  So to try and give a reasonable coverage I will split this into 2 posts to give a breakdown of all the ones I know of.

These posts will be long so go beyond the jump if you want to read on!

Saturday, 10 August 2013

GenCon 2013 - Why no D&D?

Wizards Of The Coast don't have an exhibitor stand at Gen Con this year.  Something that has caused a bit of a stir to say the least.

Now whilst I can understand that this might be seen as a strange move by WotC at the same time they do have a whole bunch of events planned and do have a special Gen Con exclusive product available from the Gale Force 9 stand (GF9 are representing them to some extent at the show).

That Gen Con exclusive product is called Ghosts Of Dragonspear Castle and it is a D&D Next Preview product.  Essentially an early view of the D&D Next ruleset with shiny graphics and typefacing in place.

To get this product you have to pre-order it and collect it from the GF9 stand.  Why GF9?  Simple.  Gale Force 9 produce some high quality accessories for D&D players.  Not least of which are their D&D Collector's Series miniatures.  Not only do you get the book if you pre-order you also get a limited edition miniature from GF9 along with it.

Ok so they are represented and they have talks with the designers and other stuff but why don't WotC have a stand at this year's GenCon?  The outrage!  Imagine perhaps the largest publisher not having their own stand!  Again the answer is simple.

What are they going to show?  D&D Next in Beta?  Hardly.  4th Edition products?  Why?  They're not supporting it going forward so why have a stand to promote / sell the products?

In my view WotC have made the correct decision.  It's not like they're snubbing Gen Con, after all they are one of the sponsors of the event and have a number of events planned to meet with fans and talk about D&D Next.

Still the internet wouldn't be the same if there wasn't some outrage...

Friday, 9 August 2013

GenCon 2013 - RPGs

Every year at Gen Con there's a slew of new RPG products released and announced.

This is by no means a complete listing and as ever these things are subject to change but from the various forums and blogs out there I have identified the following RPGs.  Long post after the jump!

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Opinions aren't as important as knowledge and experience.

This principle is about trusting yourself and not listening to the opinions of others to the exclusion of other information.  Pretty deep for a gaming blog huh?

I'd say I'm fairly opinionated about gaming, in some respects that's a given with my starting a blog about it. Alongside that though I think I'm also open minded and not someone who will impress my opinion as factual.

The principle involved here is around taking your own counsel on things in relation to the games you play.

How you decide what game to buy next shouldn't be decided by reviews or ratings or the opinions of others including friends.  These factors should educate your knowledge in making that decision yes but just because a review gives a game 3 out of 10 and someone you know says bad things about the same game (which of course might be based on a review they've read/watched rather than through, you know, playing it) doesn't mean you shouldn't choose to try it.
Knowledge is what gives you the ability to choose a game.  Now if there is a reviewer who you trust as they seem to like the same games as you then that's educated information which increases the likelihood that you will enjoy that game.

Does that mean you should ignore ratings on websites such as Not exactly.  What it does mean though is that the people who are applying the ratings on that website might not be looking for the same thing you are.  They might not play the same games that you do.

Let's choose a game that I own. Straw is a game by Alderac Entertainment -

The game was recommended to me during the 1st Chapter by someone who works for the publisher. Initially I looked at the BoardGameGeek page for the game and decided it wasn't something I wanted to stock based on the score it was given (6.10 currently).  The publisher representative offered me a demo of the game and (quite rightly as it turns out) told me that BGG is not the audience for Straw; at least not it's core audience.  Straw is a game which retails at £12.99 and is a fun, simple, light hearted family friendly game.  I played the demo and immediately saw that it was all of those things and knew who the target audience was.
It fits into that category of game which is usually dubbed as a "gateway game".  By that it means that if someone who is new to Tabletop Games likes Straw then they might be interested in trying something a little less mainstream like Ticket To Ride or Settlers Of Catan.

Really what this boils down to is be open minded about the hobby.  Remember not every game is for everyone but at the same time any game could be for you and those you play games with.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Change is a good thing and is necessary.

I believe that change is something that is good for the hobby and has been necessary to in keeping me interested in my hobby.

So what do I mean by change?  New rules, new versions of games, new expansions for games, new players of games, different players in the play group and everything around that.

A new edition of the core rules for any game is something that is usually received with negativity from the player bases of that game.  This is normally down to the belief that this is being done by the publisher to extract more money from the player base.  Whilst that may be the case, these are commercial companies after all, there's also another much simpler reason.
Change invigorates a player base.  Without it a game can become stagnant and dare I say it players can lose interest in a game.  A new edition of a game gives players a reason to take a fresh look at it and to try something new.  Now that's not to say that they will like the changes but it will give the players that impetus to check them out.
The same can be said for expansions to games that add new rules or change the way the game can be played.  These expansions bring additional variety to the hobby and usually result in some form of additional expenditure to take advantage of that variety.  Without getting into the value debate around expansions it's important to remember that these are just that, expansions, and are by their very nature optional.

A change around the play group itself is something that can be disruptive, especially if there are personality conflicts between the players.  That aside it is important to retain a level of freshness both in terms of the games you play and the people you play them with.  I'm not saying that during that RPG campaign you've been playing for the past year that you should parachute a new player in.  What I am saying is that to develop your play style for each game there are benefits in mixing up who you play those games with.

There's also that other change you can have in Tabletop Games.  The new game.  A game that no-one in your play group has tried before but someone decides to pick it up and give it a try.  For me this is about Board & Card Games in the main as I continue to try more and more of them.  For others this could be as simple as trying a new RPG or new War Game or trying that other game format for the first time giving you something "different" from the normal gaming routine.

So as a principle it's about embracing change and trying new things to keep my interest in my hobby fresh and also about introducing new games to new people.  Or at least games that are new to those people.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Accept that you're going to be the GM.

*Note this is written from the perspective of someone (Me!) who prefers GM based games as opposed to RPGs where the GM role is more fluid or indeed non-existent.*

So, you're going to be the GM.  It might only be a one-shot game or it might a multi-year spanning campaign but what does that mean and how do you embrace this role?

Being the GM does not mean -
You're writing a story.
You're in charge.
You're there to entertain the players.
You're responsible for the game.
You do all the work.

Being the GM does mean -
You develop the initial concept / environment.
You adapt to how the others play.
You are a player too.
You encourage interaction between players and with non-player characters.
You will have more work to do than the others.

So why does this warrant being a principle?  Simple really.  Remembering that you are only 1 person in the play group who participating in the same game as everyone else is very key to ensuring that all the players (including the GM) round the table are having fun.  To embrace the role you have to understand it and so do the other players.

This is especially key for those people who are GMs almost all of the time.  To ensure that you are enjoying that experience and that the other players are sharing in the creation of the overall story you have to be mindful of the elements of this principle.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Is everyone having fun? Including you?

The title says it all really.

Tabletop Games are just games that are played on a tabletop.  Games are an activity providing entertainment or amusement and as such should be fun.  So how does this turn into a principle rather than just happening by default?  Well...  Not all games are for everyone.  Just as not all foods are for everyone or all cars are for everyone, fun whilst playing games is a matter of personal taste.

Across the spectrum of Tabletop Games you have a lot of different formats and within those formats you have a lot of different styles of play and indeed themes for the games in question.  Given the sheer variety of choice on offer you will find that not everyone will want to play game X or indeed what to play game X the same way as everyone else.  In Robin's Laws Of Good Game Mastering there are a number of Player Types defined which help with to understand this but without reposting all of that I'm going to give examples from my own experience.

e.g. Magic The Gathering (and I suspect the majority if not all CCGs) has a variety of play styles and also has a variety of players.  Some play styles will be "aggro" based which really just means beating your opponent quickly and efficiently.  Some players will also only play that style.  Now in a competitive environment you might think that having fun isn't really part of the deal and that's where I'd say you're wrong. Yes I know the game is competitive but it's still a game and therefore should be about having fun.  If you're finding that your only reason for playing Magic is to win rather than playing it to have fun but also trying to win then I think you're missing the point.  The same goes for other competitive games and I'd suggest moreso for cooperative games.

Why moreso for cooperative?  Well if there are 5 of you playing a cooperative game and only 3 of you are having fun then the game isn't a success.  Your individual play experience might be but the overall game isn't. This can lead to people not wanting to play game X or Y or whatever simply because they see it as "Not Fun".

This principle also dips into things like "giving everyone their time on camera" which is really just about ensuring that everyone has a chance to play and isn't just sitting there with the game going on around them.

Ah but you also said "Including you?" in the title.

Yeah, I know.  I've played many games many times over the years and my focus is usually on ensuring that the other players (particularly RPGs) are having fun.  During the start of this 2nd Chapter I was reminded that I also have to have fun otherwise it kinda defeats the whole point of this being my hobby.

What do you do if the other players are having fun but you aren't?  Try something else.
Whether that be a different game altogether or if you're the GM in a RPG then try a different game style. e.g. if your players seem to enjoy "combat heavy" games over anything else but you find them uninteresting then you have a problem. This can really only be addressed through working together with your fellow players and through mixing up the styles of play even to the point of having a hybrid to give those who want "combat heavy" what they want and those who want something else get what they want including the GM.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Only buy it if you're going to use it.

When my gaming was going through a drought I still bought games and expansions and scenarios and magazines (when such things existed) and and and...

A lot of this was down to me trying to keep my toe-in as it were.  Keep in the loop of what was happening in the world of Tabletop Games or more specifically in RPGs.  I also used websites like ENWorld and to broaden my knowledge and would visit the FLGS that was local to me at that time and browse the shelves without actually having any tangible reason to do so.

What this did was drive me to buy games that I had no expectation of ever playing.  Now whilst this isn't necessarily a bad thing it did however prove to ultimately be largely pointless.

When we moved home I decided to have a massive cull of my gaming collection most of which went on eBay or was given to my FLGS for minimal store credit in return.  Store credit which ultimately just led to more stuff that I wasn't going to use.  When I then found ORC in Edinburgh I had to very very strongly resist the urge to buy lots of games and that's where this principle really started to take shape.

So.  Only buy it if you're going to use it.  It's fairly simple really and applies to most things in lives really but when it comes to my hobby I knew I had to curb my enthusiasm a little to ensure that I got the most out of it.

To focus on the "if you're going to use it" bit for a minute as that's really the crux of the principle.  Using something when it comes to Tabletop Games and in particular RPGs really has a wide range of meanings.  Reading a book is using it and for a long time that was my excuse for buying what I did. How that changed was to ensure that I was actually going to use it in a game.
So no new supplements for D&D/whatever unless I planned to use it in a game.
No new RPGs unless I planned to run a game.

This has since extended to include other formats of Tabletop Games that I play so e.g. I won't buy a board game unless I want to play it and am confident that I will be able to do so.

As ever there are exceptions to this principle.  I know that in the modest collection of Tabletop Games that I currently own that there are games that I a) will likely never play and b) bought for nostalgic or other reasons. I also know that this will forever be the case and that's obviously perfectly fine so long as it's not the majority of stuff that I own.

This has a parallel to the value for money element that I've touched on elsewhere too but that's likely a whole other post entirely.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

My Gaming Principles

I touched on this in a previous post and these really aren't anything scientific but act more as a guide to what I look for and get from my hobby.  This is probably the first time they've been "documented" so a lot of this is brain dump information so take it as that.
  1. Only buy it if you're going to use it.
  2. Is everyone having fun?  Including you.
  3. Accept that you're going to be the GM.
  4. Change is a good thing and is necessary.
  5. Opinions aren't as important as knowledge and experience.
Each of these warrants it's own post but I wanted to give some insight into how these principles came about and why I try (stress try) to stick to them.

When you start out in any hobby you tend to go in eyes wide waiting for the awesomeness to unfold in front of you.  As your experience and investment in that hobby grows over time your wants and desires for it change and develop as do your expectations of how the awesomeness will be experienced.

Tabletop Games have been my hobby for what's approaching 30 years.  Like Star Wars and comic books it's been a constant part of my life and in particular my social life.

To help me get the most out of my hobby and ensure that I am enjoying it as much as possible I started to think about how I wanted to ensure that my hobby would continue to grow.  Alongside that I have to balance my hobby with the limited free time that is available to me.  So these gaming principles act as a guide to how I develop my hobby and how I play the games I own.

As I said this is a bit of a brain dump and I'll be posting more details on each one in turn.  These principles are my checkpoints to ensure that I'm getting what I want out of my hobby.

What principles do you apply to your hobby?

Friday, 2 August 2013

A fresh look at D&D.

I've been playing D&D since the Basic Red Box was released in the UK thanks to my brother Allan.
When 1st Edition Advanced D&D came out I jumped onto that and never looked back.
2nd Edition Advanced D&D never really clicked with me or my players but I did buy into it, albeit minimally.
3rd Edition D&D I picked up at the UK Gen Con which was held in Manchester.  Well I picked up the Player's Handbook there anyway.  It and the 3.5 revamp were versions of D&D that I never really played as the 3rd Edition books came out during a gaming drought for me.  That was at least until I found ORC Edinburgh and the first rediscovery of my hobby happened.  At ORC I launched headlong into my homebrewed "Kilranthia" campaign using 3.5 and I never looked back.
When 4th Edition D&D came out in 2008 I knew I was going to like it as I felt it offered a number of simplifications over the previous versions.  The main challenge was convincing players and others that the game could be played without miniatures/grid-based combat.

When the 1st Chapter closed I looked at D&D given how it's been a constant throughout my hobby and decided that I didn't want to start playing it again.  At least not in it's current format anyway.

With the announcement of D&D Next (5th Edition in everything but name) I was initially reluctant to take a good look at it as I was still in the throws of ending that 1st Chapter.  Now though I have a different view.

Having reviewed the most recent playtest version of the D&D Next rules I have to admit I'm really liking the approach taken. 4th Edition in many respects was a "roots up rebuild" of D&D but one of the things that polarized it from fans of earlier editions was that it was too different.
D&D Next is also a roots up rebuild of a game but it re-uses a number of elements from earlier editions and seems to blend them with the perceived simplicity of 4th Edition.
How does it play?  Well at the time of writing I haven't ran any sessions yet but that's due to change shortly. I've gone through the rules and have created some characters to test the mechanics out but until I've actually ran a game it's not going to be clear how it performs.

Given that the game isn't due to be released formally until 2014 I know that the development of the rules will continue at least until Jan/Feb 2014 to give Wizards Of The Coast time to get the books ready for printing. It will be interesting to watch how the playtesting helps to shape that.  I look forward to seeing the finished product and to see the reaction of the RPG player base as a whole.

If you're interested in seeing the playtest rules then go here - D&D Next Playtest - and let me know what you think.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Plan for a plan...

In the world of Project Management there's a phrase that normally sends shivers down my spine.  Actually there are MANY such phrases but the one I'm referring to here is "Plan for a plan".  Essentially this means that you can't build a full project plan so you build a skeleton plan in the hope that over time things become clearer and you can actually develop a plan worth following.

In writing this blog I've come up with a rough plan of what I want to do here.  Now it most certainly is a plan for a plan mainly because I'm not really sure what I want to say as yet and what topics I want to cover.  This blog is about A 2nd Chapter and so I want to steer clear of anything from the 1st Chapter where possible.  I also want to try and sustain a 1 blog post a day regime and I'm future posting as much as I can to support that just now. Accepting that this might not be possible I've come up with the plan below to help steer my content.

So.  Here is my plan for a plan.
  • Coverage of Gen Con and how that relates to my hobby and the hobby in general (likely multiple posts).  Maybe do the same for SPIEL to a lesser extent.
  • D&D Next.  Not a review per se, more tracking my experiences with it and how the players take to it given that some of them are new to RPGs in general.
  • More posts on SW:EotE as the players develop their fully formed characters and begin life in the Outer Rim.
  • Posts on other games played over time and how I see the longevity of their play in my hobby.
  • What do things like Kickstarter, Geek & Sundry and other changes to the hobby market mean for the future of the hobby.
  • My buying patterns and what I see as tempting me but where I resist the urge to buy.  Alongside that I'll do a post on my gaming principles, one of which is "Only buy if you're going to use it."  This ties in with the value for money theme.
  • Gaming principles.  I have a number of these that I've never written down as most of them are just "common sense" to me but I will look to cover these under the my hobby section.
You'll notice that there are no dates around any of this.  That's because it's a plan for a plan and the schedule may be rejigged based on my whim rather than because I'm trying to achieve anything specific.  These are the topics I plan to write about and some will be date specific e.g. GenCon is in August so I suspect that there will be a flurry of GenCon related posts during this month.

Is there anything you want to read about that I haven't mentioned?