Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Solo Games: Battle Cards

 It looks very rough. If I get through this one I will be very lucky.”

Major General James Gavin

After last week’s piece on solo games something new came across my gaming radar to remind me of one recent game I’d missed...and an opportunity to get more like it. I spotted Battle Card: Market Garden a few months ago over on’s “Postcards from the Front” game jam. As I’m an aficionado of solo games of all kinds – even wargames – I downloaded it and a few others that seemed to cater to the intersection of my historical interests and rules preferences. Market Garden was the first I tried and I instantly loved the concept. And now I just caught wind the creators are designing five more similar historical solo wargames set in World War II...and I managed to back the project on Kickstarter before the campaign ends on Oct. 1. Five print-and-play solitaire wargames with innovative mechanics and WWII historical themes for $5? An excellent opportunity for anyone interested in any of those elements.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Solo Play: My Own Worst Enemy

I’ve always enjoyed solitaire games since I first discovered the adventure gaming hobby back in 1982. Purely solitaire experiences helped me engage with my gaming interests when other players weren’t available: titles like Avalon Hill’s B-17: Queen of the Skies, solo gamebooks from the Fighting Fantasy series, and, of course, solitaire roleplaying game modules like BSOLO Ghost of Lion Castle and XSOLO Lathan’s Gold. I also embarked on other solo endeavors where I played all the sides against myself, usually for board wargames like Kingmaker and occasionally in non-programmed forays into solo roleplaying. I’ve admired and authored solitaire tutorial adventures for roleplaying games as a means of introducing both game mechanics and theme to new players. Over the years more games – primarily board games and wargames – have integrated solitaire play into their rules, especially with the relatively recent development of cooperative games. I’ve indulged in them as much as I’m able. Although these “solo only” games offer exciting experiences crafted for a single player, they’re sometimes more frustrating and less satisfying than busting out an old favorite to play against myself.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Kind People Make Spaces Safe

 I discovered me in the library. I went to find me in the library.”

Ray Bradbury

The library where I grew up; not my
current public library....
Every few months something inspires me to consider the issue of safe spaces, specifically public libraries as safe spaces. It’s become one of those perennial issues emerging in discussions about our society as a whole and our smaller communities of gamers. Paramount among these prompts was Wil Wheaton’s moving keynote speech at the Southern Kentucky Book Festival, The library is a safe place,” about how books and his local library helped him find his way through his difficult childhood. It’s long but worth reading. Go and read it now...I’ll wait. I gleaned other tidbits from my social media feeds demonstrating how public libraries offer a place where the homeless, out-of-work, and troubled can find refuge, however temporary. The main event, however, was closer to home; this past spring our local public library hosted a convention celebrating graphic novels, movies, even games with fandom followings. After some reflection on all these perspectives I reached a realization. As merely places filled with books and other media to engage our interests and momentarily distract us from our real-life woes, public libraries fulfill only part of their role; what brings the safe place to life is the confluence of the media and caring people in one location. People matter. They make the difference in how we experience places and events...for good or ill. I regret that, while games might serve as one aspect helping to make libraries a refuge, exclusive game spaces do not always make for safe spaces...people, civility, and kindness make the difference.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Be Prepared Teaching Games

Fortune favors the prepared mind.”

Louis Pasteur

I wasn’t in Boy Scouts very long, probably about a year, but I learned a few things (many of them not well). How to use a pocketknife safely. How to tie knots. How to navigate using a map and a compass. How to endure the mistreatment inevitably coming your way as the shortest, scrawniest kid. And, of course, the importance of being prepared. I’ve tried to keep that lesson in mind as I’ve stumbled through all the challenges life has unexpectedly dumped on me over the years. I’ve found having a mindset of preparedness has helped me introduce new games – or the new experience of games – to a host of people. Sometimes I’ve done this with a few friends in the comfort of our home. Other times I’ve prepared for games in more public venues like museums, libraries, and conventions, often for strangers. I’ve learned from experience...both successes and failures. In a world where “overthinking things” still retains a societal stigma (though more of us admit and accept it), it’s nice to know being well-enough prepared can pay off. Especially when teaching games to new players.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Reflecting on Our Game Experience

We do not learn from experience...we learn from reflecting on experience.”

John Dewey

We can learn a lot from games if we take the time to look beyond the mere momentary entertainment they offer. Like real life, we often finish a game, make some cursory judgments about whether we liked it, and then head home to our daily toils, temporarily restored by some brief respite of play. Too often it seems we stumble through life like this, careening from one crisis to another on various fronts (home, work, school, friends), muddling through the tedious daily grind, and finding passing relief in our hobby interests before succumbing to sleep, all while rarely taking time to look back at our experiences, reflecting on them to see what we might learn, what we might change as we move forward. Games, especially those we play for some educational value (however shallow), can help teach us to analyze an experience, reflecting on what we hated and liked, how our choices affected the game, how we interacted with other players, and what we might do next time to achieve a more favorable outcome. Reflecting on the play experience remains a paramount exercise when using games for learning, in both formal settings and in our own casual gaming.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Summertime Gaming

Cannon at Drewry's Bluff.
My son’s school year begins tomorrow, an early start that puts an end to the carefree days of summer. I don’t get as much done since I’m busy with yard duties, household projects, and entertaining my son with a weekly day trip and other diversions. We’re both looking forward to getting back into some kind of somewhat productive routine. We found some opportunities for gaming during the summer, with some engaging games we really enjoyed. I’m hoping we can sustain our gaming momentum into the more structured part of the year as I tempt him with themes that interest him.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Design Choice: Rumors

 Gossip is what no one claims to like, but everybody enjoys.”

Joseph Conrad

I’m working in fits and starts developing my Mage-Blight Hills fantasy roleplaying game setting (system-neutral) and making various design decisions in both what I develop and how. I’ve decided, for a number of reasons, to write to the page, working within the layout to keep my writing on each setting element concise. It also helps me manage my own perception of how much I’ve completed. Compartmentalizing my work helps me focus. Nothing seems so discouraging as looking at the existing page count and realizing how far one has to go; but when I finish a one-, two-, or even four-page section on a particular location, person, or concept, I gain some small sense of accomplishment. It forces me to work to make sure every aspect of the setting I write about has the most important and useful information. This work/design choice caused me to re-think how I present and use an important element of many settings: rumors.