Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Last night we finished the My Life with Master game, with suitably apocalyptic results. Ted's character was killed by the mob, Christina's character destroyed herself, and only Roy's simpering Minion was integrated back into society. Running this game again two and half years after I discovered it (and three and half years after its initial publication) was interesting, as my gaming has changed quite a bit in that time. At the scene level, I think the game is still state of the art. Both the way it handles scene-level resolution and the way it paces individual scenes work so well and mesh very smoothly with my style of gaming. I also really like the larger game pacing mechanic, though I don't think I run it as well as I should. I tend to let the players control their own fate too much, which sometimes gets in the way of smoother development and thematic consistency. I don't think that the endgame mechanics work as well as the rest of the game, however, or at least I don't see how to make them do so. It seems like the Minions have every incentive to team up and aid the Minion in conflict with the Master right away, as they only get weaker and worse off as the endgame continues. Last night, the pre-endgame grab for Love was actually more frantic than the actual endgame itself.

My Life with Master is a tremendously innovative and influential design, and I'm very glad we decided to take a look back at it. Even if it doesn't completely mesh with my GMing style, it's a great change of pace that continues to teach me about gaming.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Creating Monstrosities

That’s what this week’s roleplaying games shared. On Tuesday we continued the downward spiral in My Life with Master, with the Master gradually commanding the Minions to do more and more horrible things in order to create his “perfect menu.” This session featured the eventual retrieval of the priest’s foot, saw somewhat of a recovery for a despondent Minion, and ended with a truly monstrous scene about stealing a baby from its mother’s womb. Based on the amount of Love the characters have, I suspect the game will go two more sessions. This week was a bit less serious than I think I originally intended, as there was a lot of reveling in being evil. If I want to downplay that element, I’ll need to take a stronger hand in guiding things. Of course, we’re all enjoying it right now, so I’m not sure if want to.

In the Iron Kingdoms game, the horror being constructed was steam-powered. We had a bit of a downtime session, and the Professor took that opportunity started building the steam armor he’s been talking about since the beginning of the game. After realizing what his stats will be once he gets it done, we started to get a bit scared. It’s going to result in a very interesting chance of pace in the game, which isn’t a bad thing, I think. I spent some time during the game planting plot seeds for the GM to potentially grow and spring on us later, which also ought to be fun. Our play schedule looks to be a bit erratic for the next few weeks, but I’m hoping we can get together again soon.

Monday, January 22, 2007

War. *HUH*. What Is It Good For?

Apart from a filler game of Clans on Saturday, the last few days have really been about war games. On Saturday we did a five-player session of A Game of Thrones, Fantasy Flight’s medieval war game with color from George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series of fantasy novels. I’ve never read the books, but the game certainly stands on its own. It’s a lighter war game, with distinct Euro elements, like the periodic auctions to determine turn order, tie-breaking, and special powers. I particularly like the hidden order placement mechanic. The scary thing is that it feels to me like a streamlined version of Dune (my current favorite game), albeit without some of the diplomatic strategy. With players who don’t dally it moves right along, fitting nicely into the two to three hour space.

On Sunday I went over to Ted’s for our first monthly “long games” day. Our intention is to set aside time for those games that don’t make it to the table very often because of their length. This primarily means war games, but certainly heavier Euros like Die Macher (a copy of which Gwen just picked up) qualify too. As it was the just the two of us this time, we opted for Rommel in the Desert, which I had picked up for cheap at BGG.con but had never played. This is very much a game about mobility and supply, which makes sense, given the subject. It also has a fair degree of uncertainty to it, as you don’t know exactly what units your opponent has (due to the fog of war created by units being represented by blocks), you don’t know how long your opponent is going to be able to keep doing stuff (due to the presence of dummy supply cards), and you don’t know what resources you’re going to get next turn (due to variable buildup points and the possibility of early reinforcements). We played three games: the introductory 1940 scenario and two runs at the 1941 scenario. The first of these latter two ended prematurely due to a daring run into the Axis base, and the second was called on account of a fairly inevitable Allied victory. Playing it revealed a few non-obvious features of the game, and I’m glad I own it. It really does need to get played more often.

On Monday we finished up the mobilization scenario of Paths of Glory that one of my co-workers and I had been playing at work. We were able to leave the map set up, so we’d been playing a turn each day at lunch. He’d never it played before, and I hadn’t played the Central Powers yet, so it was a learning experience for both of us. Next week we’re going to start a full game of it, which ought to be fun.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Meld This One, Split That, And Then *Urk*

I have a fondness for games that are conceptually simple but then develop an emergent complexity that breaks my brain. The latest of these that I've encountered is Rummikub, which draws its basic rules from the card game Rummy. You try to play numbered and colored tiles in sets and runs, allowing you to get rid of all of your tiles. What I love about the particular ruleset we've been playing with (there are apparently a reasonable number of Rummikub variations) is that you can rearrange existing sets and runs on the table if it allows you to play a new tile. This leads to lots of chained analysis of the form "I can play my blue six if I pull the blue five off the set of four fives and split the blue seven from the run over there which means I need to put the blue eight into the set of eights over here and the nine can go. . . hmm. . . well, I could grab the red nine from that set and. . ."

Like I said, it tends to break my brain. I like it anyway.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Let The Parade Of Delicacies Begin

Tonight we began our game of My Life with Master in earnest. As I described last week, in this particular instance the Master is an exiled chef seeking his revenge upon the nobles who shunned him. The session began with the Master announcing to the Minions that, due to the incompetence of the recently dispatched fourth member of their company, the Prince of Moravia would be dining with the Master sooner than he had intended. It was thus imperative that, in order to avoid being strung up by their own entrails as Sebastian had been, they work quickly and efficiently to gather the required ingredients. This session was relatively laid back, with little pressure being applied directly to the Minions. This allowed the players to get a sense for how the system worked and for all of us to develop a feel for the structure and flow of the scenes, something that is very important for My Life with Master. Each of the players ended up taking a slightly different approach to their characters based on those first few scenes. Roy became very fond of invoking Desperation, Christina developed enough Self-Loathing to cause a Horror Revealed scene, and Ted ended up wallowing in Weariness. I started to ratchet things up a bit at the very end of the session, when I ordered Ted's character to cut out his own tongue (he failed), and sent Roy's Minion out to bring back the foot of a priest, who happens to be someone's Connection. It'll be interesting to see the tension level go up next week.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Calling It A Mini-Con Makes It Sound Small

How much do I love gaming? So much that I'm willing to drive for five hours to play three games, then turn around and drive home. To be fair, Endgame (the host of this event) has other attractions, but it really was mostly about the gaming.

Saturday morning I played The Esoterrorists, Robin Laws' new game about investigations. We had a little bit of a rough time of it, for several reasons. First, the scenario we played (which is in the rulebook) is explicitly not intended as an introductory scenario. Instead, the book is very specific that it is an example scenario. I think part of our trouble with it was caused by unfamiliarity with the system. Second, I think both the GM and the players made a few mistakes, which compounded each other. Because we were constrained by the four-hour time limit, we really didn't have a chance to get out of the problems we got into. Perhaps most importantly, however, I don't think a good game of the Esoterrorists is about the investigation. A good police procedural isn't about detective work. I think what the system that the Esoterrorists brings to the table allows you do is stop worrying about the investigation, and instead focus on what the game is really about.

In the afternoon, I played a classic: Macho Women With Guns. It was quite tactical and very tongue in cheek. I had a good time with Sister Madison "Mad" Maxine, a Renegade Nun on Wheels. With our trusty H&K G-11's we were able to put a stop to the nefarious plots of the Dip Ones and their unearthly masters, Isaac Azathoth and Harlan Nyarlathison.

In the evening I was finally able to try out Best Friends, a game about girlfriends and all of their petty hatreds. Our game ended up getting the title of "Catholic Schoolgirls in Trouble," and that's certainly how we ended up. There were a lot of "I will kill you all" moments, but I knew we had all bought into the game when, at the end, after we had all pretty much ruined each others' lives, the GM asked if our characters were still friends. Without missing a beat, we all said "Of course." I don't think I'd want to make a steady diet of it, but Best Friends was definitely a refreshing change of pace. I also don't think I want to drive to Oakland every weekend, but I'm definitely glad I did for this one.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Fun with Hugin and Munin

Gwen and I had played a game of Odin's Ravens at BGG.con last year, but that was the extent of our exposure to it. We both liked it, so I got it for Gwen for Christmas, and last night we broke it out of the shrinkwrap to give it another try. It is a neat little racing game that turns out to be very efficiency-based. You only have a limited number of movement cards you can play each turn, so you want to get the most bang for your buck. I realized last night what the store of face-down cards really does for you: It helps to keep from having to burn through pairs of cards to get through land types you don't have cards for. You can save up the cards you can't use right now in order to make efficient use of them later. I expect this game will see a fair amount of play in 2007.

"It sounds like a cheap place to sleep. Someone's always getting robbed or stabbed there."

Undercover city missions are always fun. In the Iron Kingdoms game, we reached our destination in the mining town of Rynyr, which turned out to be a much bigger and more industrial city than I realized. This session I pretty much took a back seat to the other players, mostly by choice as I had plenty of opportunities to get in trouble. This session focused on the Mikes' characters. Mike M.'s gun mage had to make some tough choices about protecting the innocent or preserving the secrecy of the mission, while Mike S.'s Umbrean arcane mechanic got to deal with some of his countrymen who were serving in the Winter Guard. I tried to stay quiet. We did manage to convince the dwarf we were "rescuing" to come with us, and half of the group got to go off on a bit of a side quest involving destroying someone's apartment. Perhaps best of all, we managed to make it out of the city with a minimum of fuss. We're off next week, so I suspect the fuss will come the week after.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A Dish Best Served Cold

The regular Tuesday roleplaying group got together tonight for the first time this year, and the order of business was planning our My Life with Master game. I've run this once before, about three years ago, and it was my introduction to "non-traditional" RPGs. It will be very interesting to see how it's different this time around.

We decided on a Beast-Collector Master, an exiled French chef known only as "Monsieur" who Wants revenge upon the nobles who spurned him. He intends to take it by creating the perfect menu, albeit by using decidedly unsavory components. He Needs both ingredients and, ahem, test subjects from the townspeople, and his Minions are ready to do his bidding. There are three of these unfortunates. The first is Gregor, a tall and unusually joined man who can hide from anything except vermin but cannot move faster than a walk (except by moonlight). Next is Cosette, who has appeared strangely pregnant for these last five years. She has an exceptional sense of smell except around flowers but she cannot eat with others (except on Sundays). Finally, the muscle of the group is Asa, a hulking brute of a man who can lift anything, except children. He also cannot touch the flesh of any living human except those who love him. These three will do the Master's bidding in a small town on the shores of the Black Sea. . . when we return next week.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Better Late than Never

This should have been up earlier but, well, you can read the title.

On Friday night we dug into the "games to be played" shelf and pulled out Betrayal at House on the Hill. This is a flawed but fun game about exploring a haunted house. We have the revised version which corrects some of the problems, but we still fell prey to the "how does the underground lake end up on the second floor?" problem. I definitely want to play it again, as I'm curious how the other scenarios work out. (For the curious, we ended up playing number 33, Creature from the Lake). In general, I think the game gets the atmosphere right, even if there are some rules problems.

On Saturday we went an engagement party for some friends and ended up playing Wits and Wagers, a great trivia game that I have played a bunch of but haven't had a chance to talk about on the show yet. Gwen describes it as a trivia game for people who aren't good at trivia, which seems pretty accurate considering she's beaten me several times. She wasn't playing this time (she was instead distracted by a fascinating little geometric game called Tantrix), so I was able to win. The amusing thing is that it wasn't even our copy of the game; Brian just happened to know one of the creators through a friend of a friend and had picked up a copy.

So, with two new games played through the end of the first week, I'm on pace to hit 100 new games in 2007. We'll see how long that keeps up.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Guns and Snow

Tonight was a relatively low-key installment of our Iron Kingdoms game. For those of you following along at home, this is a campaign about the remnants of a mercenary company that was nearly wiped out during the Khadoran invasion of Llael. We're playing with the Escalation timeline as a backdrop, so as we're taking small jobs trying to rebuild our company, the war is raging on around us.

This week's session picked up right where last week's left off, with the four of us making our way through the winter landscape of northern Llael to slip behind the Khadoran lines. Our goal is to rescue the nephew of a dwarven arcane mechanic who has agreed to help us construct the steam armor one of our party members is working on. Last week we had been attacked by Cryxian bonejacks, so we were understandably a little jumpy to start out. This week we had two encounters with victims of the war. The first was a group of Menite pilgrims being escorted to safety by a Paladin of the Order of the Wall, which proved to be a little tense due to my character's bad history with the Menites. Fortunately, nothing much came of it. The second was a young woman who turned out to be the recently orphaned daughter of the Archduke of Esmynya, whose father had died when the Khadorans had taken Riversmet. Unfortunately for her (and us, I suppose), she had come into possession of a Fell Blade, an ancient magical weapon that drives its wielders insane. (The Khadorans chain them to convicts and use the resulting madmen as shock troopers.) Thankfully we were able to subdue her and rid her of the sword. With her help, we were able to find a way across the river that didn't involve getting too close to the Khadoran army, and now our target is in sight. We should be able wrap this section up in a session or two.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Back By. . . Er. . . Popular Demand

I decided at some point in the fall of 2006 that I wanted this blog to focus on the minutiae of my play experiences. Over on Have Games, Will Travel I tend to get caught up in the 10,000 foot view of gaming so much that I often forget about the little things. In 2007, I intend to use this space to counter that trend by touching on every game (board, card, or roleplaying) that I play, starting with today.

This afternoon was spent cleaning out the game closet, figuring out what stays, what goes, and what needs to played and evaluated. We managed to fit all of the "to be played" games on the top shelf, and now our goal is to go through all of them as quickly as we can. Tonight, we checked Ark off the list. Ark looks like it's a game about trying to fit lots of animals onto a ship, but really it's an area control game with a complex placement mechanic. Whenever you put an animal on the ark, you get credit for it in one of five scoring pools. You win by controlling these pools, but in order to do so, first you have to draft a card (which is tied to a specific pool), and then place it, but only according to strict and complex conditions. It's a little fiddly, but at points it reminded me of El Grande, one of my favorite area control games. It's a deceptively interesting little game, and it's terribly cute as well. It's definitely staying.