Sunday, 6 November 2011

News:// Solo Tabletop Gaming Appreciation Month

I'd completely forgotten about the November Solo Tabletop Gaming Appreciation Month being promoted over at Solo Nexus. Been really very busy with the family so I've not been keeping up with my feeds.

Anyway I'm a little late to the party so I'm going to have to have a think about what to do. I've just received a cheap copy of Avalon Hill's Blackbeard which I've been wanting to try for ages so maybe I'll have a little pirate fun and wrestle with those scary looking rules. Or maybe a B-17 Queen of the Skies campaign, that could be fun. On a bit of a vintage board game kick at the moment so it'll probably be something along those lines.

Meanwhile there are some links over at Solo Nexus as to what other people have been getting up to.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Listen:// Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Published By: Random House Audio

Just finished listening to this one and it was very entertaining. It's nothing particularly deep or ground-breaking, but it is a wonderful, fast-paced ride through 1980s pop culture and geekery. If you grew up in the 80s watching films like Wargames and playing arcade machines and Dungeons & Dragons, then you need to give this one a read or listen.

The audiobook is narrated by that geek favourite Will Wheaton, and he really is a top class narrator. I hope he does some more audiobooks, very easy to listen to, giving each character a distinct voice without descending into over the top caricatures like some actors do.

The story reads like YA fiction which is no bad thing, and stuffed with so many references to things I loved as a child that I'd find it hard to hate it even if the plot was non-existent. It's light cyberpunk stuff, with a worldwide virtual reality game inhabited by the usual hackers, geeks, and evil corporations.

Loved it.
At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, READY PLAYER ONE is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut—part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed.

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them.  

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved—that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life—and love—in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready?

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Initial Impressions:// Mytherian Heroic Fantasy & The Goblin Skullkeeps of Rendaria

Have been incredibly busy lately but life appears to be returning to normal so hopefully I'll be getting some more reviews and things up here over the next few weeks.

First up is just a few initial impressions of Mytherian Heroic Fantasy, a pen and paper RPG for 1-6 players along with the first adventure setting for it, The Goblin Skullkeeps of Rendaria.

I first spotted this over at the solitaire gaming Solo Nexus blog, and I'm always interested in RPGs with solitaire mechanics, so I bought a copy as soon as it was available as a PDF.  I'm only now finding a little time to look into it and hopefully I'll get a play in and review or session report up. The author Erik Goodwyn has kindly released everything required as reasonably priced PDFs, and you can find those plus the hard copies over at Lulu

First is Mytherian Heroic Fantasy: Rules of Play, Perils and Treasures weighing in at a hefty 211 pages, you really do get plenty to read for your money. It has to be said the sheer amount of detail and data contained within is pretty impressive for product like this, there are some extensive tables and lists which leads me to believe that there is a fair amount of replayability to be had here.

The general layout and design is great too, it's clear, well written and the illustrations whilst mostly public domain are well chosen, and help set the mood for heroic adventure. Actually I really like some of the illustrations and I'm going to have to hunt some of them down, Erik has done a great job on finding and editing suitable stuff.

It looks like character creation is a straightforward affair, with a number of takes on classic fantasy heroes 
from the pious Sylmaran Paladin, to the boastful
Brendanian Blackwolf Knight, to the deadly Avithainian Ronin, the crafty Velian Ranger, the mysterious Londruinic Knight, the proud Sathenite Warrior and the mighty Svoedic Viking. 
Each comes with a small history, starting stats, items and one of those previously mentioned extensive lists of skills to choose from. It's great detail and Erik has obviously been working on this world for a long time, it really helps to create an interesting world to play in. The damage system is nice and simple too with everything having six wounds, but obviously some things are much harder to wound than others. As the author points out this makes wound tracking easy since a single die can be used for each character in combat.

Next is a section on magic or sorcery which Iv'e only skimmed over, and I don't have much to say on it yet. It does again have a nice long list, this time of spells available. I'm starting to think this game could really benefit from some cards to replace those lists, something I may look into if I enjoy it.

After that we have an explantion of how the adventure is played. On a brief read through it plays out like an RPG board game. You can move, explore new tiles, search for treasure and hidden exits, and of course encounter enemies and engage in combat. There is a neat looking system for wandering foes, using a number of warning dice which track enemies which might be getting closer until they attack.

The combat section is pretty meaty and I've only skimmed it, but it looks like there are a number of choices that can be made.

There is also a section on winning or losing and what happens next, like character advancement. Plus rules for a confrontational version of the game where one player takes on the role of an 'evil GM' and controls the enemies in order to beat the other players.

The second half of the book 'Perils & Treasures' contains what look like a set of campaign rules for stringing adventure together, and providing a load of city events and items to buy, plus some huge tables to roll on for random treasure.

The second PDF The Goblin Skullkeeps of Rendaria contains the setting for the first published adventure. This is required to play the game and contains the tiles to print, though you'll need to supply your own dice and miniatures or tokens. It's a shorter PDF at only 85 pages but it's pretty packed with events and enemies for the adventure. The board pieces could be more printer friendly, some contain large areas of black and they are quite big and one per page too. I've been doing a little photoshop work to try and create something a little smaller and I noticed they are not all the same size either.

Anyway this is all much longer and rambling than I intended. I think I'll give it a play and get some sort of session report up which will probably be more use than a review retreading the same ground.

Initial impressions...looks good, but I need to get it on the table and see how it plays. Great looking product for an independently produced game though. I really do think this would do better on RPGNow/DriveThruRPG though, Lulu isn't the best marketplace for this sort of thing.

Not Dead....

...just busy.

Service will resume shortly.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Bought:// Victory Point Games

Look what arrived along with my wife, following a business trip to the US...

In case you are wondering, that's the boardgames Legions of Darkness, and Nemo's War plus it's expansion, both from Victory Point Games.

Victory Point Games are a small desktop publishing games company based in California, who do a great job of getting new designers and games published. No big boxes with tons of plastic, it's all bagged like those old wargames you could pick up pretty cheap. They make a lot of solitaire games which both of these are, and I've been meaning to try them out for some time. A business trip, great exchange rate and opportunity to avoid Royal Mail's handling charges was too tempting so I managed to get these ordered.

My thanks to Alan and Terry at Victory Point Games for helping to get these to the right place at the right time. Just about to put one on the table, hopefully I'll get some reviews up soon.

Pictures:// Dalek Daughter

I'll make a geek out of her yet...

Monday, 25 July 2011

Listen:// The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold

Buy From: Iambik Audio
I've been working my way through some audiobooks I bought recently from a fairly new (at least to me) company, Iambik Audio. They sell everything DRM free at really good prices so it's worth having a look around. They also provided some excellent support when I had some issues which were probably my fault anyway, so I'll definitely be buying from them again.

First up is The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold. Not someone I'd heard about or read before, but it turns out he wrote the 'Trouble with Tribbles' Star Trek episode so I guess I am familiar with at least one piece of his work. It tells the story of Daniel Eakins, a not particularly motivated college student who inherits a 'time belt' after the death of his Uncle Jim. Daniel discovers he can travel backwards and forwards through time, and shortly after this does the obvious thing and starts placing bets on horses accompanied by a future version of himself. He's soon jumping all over the place, visiting historical events, changing the past and the future, and creating paradoxes all over which are explained away with a multiple universes idea. As the book progresses there are more and more versions of himself, interacting in all sorts of ways, until both Daniel and the reader start to question his identity.

It's hard to say much more about the plot without giving away too much, but it is a wonderfully convoluted yet neatly resolved plot. So the time travel probably doesn't make much sense, as time travel rarely does, but it can be such a great concept to explore if done well, and this is among the best examples of it in my opinion. Gerrold looks at both practical issues such as the restrictions of travel due to languages and customs, and also things like sexuality, and identity, topics that rarely enter into the majority of wish fulfilment time travel stories. It's short and sweet like many of my favourite novels, we seem to be living in the age of the epic tome, and I don't think novels are any better for being five times the length they need to be.

Narration of the audiobook is by Charles Bice, who does a great job, nice clear reading without tons of crazy voices, yet enough personality to keep things interesting. If I can forget about the narrator and just enjoy the tale, then I consider it a success.

It's not for everybody, and it's likely to offend some people with the exploration of sexuality, but I'd recommend people interested in time travel tales at least give it a try.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Watch:// Pulp Fiction - The Golden Age of Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Adventure

Spotted this at the always interesting Black Gate Magazine blog...I'll have to get a review up of one of their issues as they are well worth a read. It's a documentary about pulp fiction and the golden age of science fiction, quite interesting in places, and streaming free on youtube.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Play:// With Myself

I can still remember the joy of playing with myself as a young boy.

Sorry I really couldn't help myself. I am of course talking about solitaire gaming, solo gaming, whatever you wish to call it. See whilst this is a rather new obsession for me, I was always interested in gaming as a child but it kind of morphed into my interest in computer and video games, and it's only now that I'm rediscovering the joy of fondling cardboard.

Board games were for a long time, something my family did at Christmas when we'd run out of other things to play, and had nothing left to argue about. I loved playing them, the rest of my family were not so keen. Still I remember playing a lot of Monopoly (with a lot of bad rules) and I still have my much loved 'Deluxe' edition along with my copy of Scrabble that I never did seem to convince my family to play. I loved playing board games, and I'd play pretty much any board game with anyone who asked. I always wanted games as Christmas presents but they were never played as much as I would like as my family and friends simply were not interested most of the time. So apart from looking longingly at those ridiculously expensive wooden monopoly sets, my interest in board games died for the first time.

It was the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks which rekindled my interest in gaming. I loved the idea of role playing games, and once again finding myself in the position of wanting to play them and having nobody to play them with, gamebooks provided me with the next best thing. I still read RPG books and at the time there was a little hobby store in my home town and it was browsing here that I came across a board game I could play by myself...

That game was Curse of the Mummy's Tomb by Games Workshop. It really wasn't a great game but I played that thing until the stupid cardboard pyramid was practically falling apart. I wish I still had it but I think it made it's way to a charity shop and is probably sitting on ebay right now for some ridiculously inflated price. I don't think it was long after this that I got an Amiga 500 and once again board games became a distant memory.

Until now that is...and it just happens that my reintroduction was via another solitaire game, Zombie in My Pocket. It didn't take me long to find out there are now loads of options for solitaire gaming, and not much longer to realise that I still really enjoy playing solitaire games. I'm probably going to write a post soon going into more detail about why I play and love solitaire games but I just wanted to post this little introduction because I think it's a theme that will appear regularly here. I have more options for playing board games with other people now, hell I'm raising a couple of future opponents, but like a good book or film I really enjoy spending a few hours absorbed in a game by myself so I'll be sharing some of my reviews and thoughts on the topic here.

Try it out. It really won't make you go blind.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Reboot:// The New Dummies and Death Rays (Now With Added Dice!)

Like the vast majority of new blogs, this one died a quiet death. I didn't mean to let it die, I started with good intentions, had a lot of ideas for interesting content, and was generally enjoying the whole process. Things change though and towards the end of last year I found myself reading less and less and so there seemed less and less reasons for me to keep a blog active that relied on me reading constantly. There are a number of reasons behind the lack of reading, I think I just burnt out a little, my youngest daughter's lack of sleep didn't help with my concentration in the evenings, but the biggest reason was another, newer interest that was slowly pushing many others aside.

So what was this new interest which had surreptitiously crept into my thoughts, and slowly grown to push aside my love of reading? Well it was gaming... not video games, I've been playing those regularly as far back as I can remember. I even found the old console I started on recently, one of those old pong/racing/tennis things where every game involved a number of white squares on a black background and the controllers were two little knobs you could turn on the console itself.

No the games that have been consuming my thoughts are board games, and not just those old traditional games of Scrabble and Monopoly that everyone seems to have played growing up, but a whole plethora of games that I had very little idea existed. Sure I knew a little of strategy games and wargames, and I had dipped my toes in the gaming waters back in the Games Workshop years, but I was largely unaware of the huge number of interesting games available until I stumbled across something last year which would lead me on to this fascinating new obsession...and I call it an obsession with good reason.

That little something I stumbled across was Zombie in my Pocket. I'm not sure where I found it or how, it might have been a Boing Boing post or just the result of a random search but somehow I found it, this game about zombies I could print...and play. That in itself blew me away, that there were people creating games that I could then print out and play, but the fact that the game was actually fun was the tipping point. I had to know what else was out there and it wasn't long before I found myself poised on the edge of the rabbit hole that is BoardGameGeek. I fell in and some eight months later I'm just climbing out, blinking at the sunshine and coming to the realisation that my life will from this point on always contain board games. Actually my wife came to this realisation a lot quicker, after opening a cupboard containing my exponentially expanding collection and exclaiming "by Jove don't these boxes consume a large volume of space" but perhaps in slightly more colourful language.

So like a not particularly impressive Phoenix rising from some barely cold ashes, I'm resurrecting Dummies and Death Rays. The themes here remain fairly similar, I still love science fiction, horror and fantasy, I still love the pulps, comics, and b-movies, but I will be shifting my focus from mostly books to include board games and gaming in general. I'll still be reading and reviewing when I can but I'm expecting this new interest to play a big part in the content available here. I'm not going to make any promises I can't keep about updating this blog but I'm hoping to at least keep the old thing active.

Thanks for reading, more to follow shortly.