Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Leacock Brings Chariot Race to Tabletop

I’ve been reigning in my spending on Kickstarter projects the past year or so. I’m supporting only the really outstanding roleplaying books or board games: those that cater to my interests with mechanics suitable for my young son yet intuitive and innovative enough for me, all at the right price. So I was pleasantly surprised to learn of Matt Leacock’s Chariot Race, even more so after I looked at the Kickstarter page and read the rules posted there. The game distills elements of a classic theme I enjoy and mixes them with some innovative mechanics for an exciting yet “casual” chariot racing board game.

I say “casual” in that it’s not serious fare like the classic Avalon Hill title Circus Maximus, which infused the ancient chariot racing theme with wargame-complexity rules. I don’t own a copy of that venerable game, but we’ve played it before at the friendly, regional game conventions in Williamsburg, VA. Someone usually brings their immense, 25mm-scale game mat, architectural embellishments, and detailed chariot models; each player gets a laminated sheet for chariot, horse, and charioteer stats, with a dry-erase marker to note stats and changes during the game. The Little Guy joined a game earlier this year and though he was a bit timid in his racing tactics, he seemed to enjoy the spectacle, especially when chariots overturned and crashed. Ancient history remains one of my many interests, so Circus Maximus intrigued me. Yet the complexity of the rules – even those probably simplified for more streamlined convention play with a knowledgeable referee – left me yearning for something more accessible. Certainly the spectacle of a huge 25mm-scale set-up at the convention impressed me, but I didn’t have the patience to track down an out-of-print wargame and then immerse myself in its intricate rules...or try to teach them to an easily distracted six year-old.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

SGAM Celebrates Solo Play

November is Solo Gaming Appreciation Month (SGAM), an annual, month-long celebration of solo gaming promoted primarily by the Lone Wolf Roleplaying community on Google+. Started by solo gaming enthusiast John Fiore in 2011, the movement receives less emphasis than various other game-focused commemorations like the birthdays of gaming pioneers Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, Free RPG Day, GM’s Day, and International Tabletop Day. Yet to me it remains a key celebration of an under-appreciated aspect of gaming.

Solitaire play has a place in the adventure gaming hobby. Some gamers came to the roleplaying game hobby through “interactive fiction” like the Choose Your Own Adventure books or TSR’s Endless Quest books or even solitaire tutorial adventures in later editions of the Basic Dungeons & Dragons rulebook. SPI founder and prolific writer James F. Dunnigan has asserted that wargamers prefer solitaire play to explore the nuances of various simulations and prepare their own strategies for head-to-head play. More games push the bounds of “traditional” gaming concepts: along with innovative “cooperative” board games comes the concept of games designed for a single player (or with single player options). Even BoardGameGeek.com hosts an annual solitaire print-and-play design contest that generates a host of innovative solo games.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Maps: Invitation to Exploration

The roleplaying game hobby can be visually stunning. As gamers we find inspiration in amazing artwork – the cover of our favorite version of Dungeons & Dragons, line art that fits our favorite character, iconic monster illustrations, the portrait of the perfect villain for our campaign – and fantastic maps enabling us to navigate wondrous fantasy worlds. This becomes even more significant considering the action envisioned in roleplaying games takes place in everyone’s imagination (albeit sometimes with the assistance of miniatures, game mats, and terrain). The graphic elements of a map – whether for a roleplaying game supplement or a fantasy novel – invite the viewer to explore that place, providing a visual medium for the quest and incentive to investigate its mysteries.

Maps remain one of the core elements of the roleplaying game hobby. They’re a visual medium that – unlike pages of adventure or gazetteer text – can make an immediate impression on gamers and quickly engage their imagination. Their prominence in roleplaying games – especially the earliest efforts – evolved from maps in the literature that helped stimulate the hobby. Maps of lands like Tolkien’s Middle-earth and Howard’s Hyborian Age setting continue inspiring gamers with their ties to rich literary resources. Dungeon floor plans scrawled on graph paper served as visual guides to the earliest D&D adventures. Show some gamemasters a blank map and they start scheming how to integrate it into their own game, populating it with monsters, treasures, and traps and developing a theme for an entertaining dungeon delve. Show players a wilderness map and their curiosity comes into play: where does the party start, what features should they explore, what’s in those ruins over there?

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Minecraft Card Game? Ideal for Families

We recently bought the Minecraft Card Game? for our son, the six year-old “Little Guy,” because he’s immersed himself in the Minecraft universe. I don’t pretend to know much about Minecraft; I’ve accepted it as one of those fads I’m aware of yet encourage my son to explore. At his insistence I bought Minecraft for his tablet and many of his first-grade friends are into it, so it’s his “thing” now (having set aside Star Wars, Doctor Who, and Godzilla for the time being). So he now wants any associated Minecraft toys and, when he saw it, the card game. I was skeptical at first, thinking I was just pandering to his fad de-jour, but upon playing it several times with our family, discovered the Minecraft Card Game? did a nice job of merging an interesting theme with easy yet engaging mechanics.