Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Magazine Daydreams & A Side-Trip to Egypt

Lately I’ve been daydreaming about establishing a kids magazine featuring historical articles with an appropriately themed game in every issue. The grandparents had been asking us what to get our son, the Little Guy, for his birthday and Christmas, which, unfortunately, sit frightfully close on the calendar. One set of grandparents got him a subscription to National Geographic Kids, which he enjoys mostly for the cat features. His new-found interest in various historical periods coupled with Dad’s collection of games with historical themes and my own advocacy for using games for learning (especially with kids) got me daydreaming about a magazine concept. What if kids could get a bi-monthly magazine filled with articles on a specific historical subject complete with a small game bound within its pages? (In yet another daydream I’m employed in my chosen career field with a salaried position at a non-profit group advocating the use of games for learning with both children and adults....) Alas, in this Internet Age where everyone’s plugged in, staring at a screen, and doodling away at some solitaire online time-waster game there probably isn’t much of a market for a print magazine, let alone one geared toward kids (probably more plugged in than any other demographic), and one focused on history with an analog game inside. But it was a nice daydream before reality dashed it to pieces, one that inspired me to develop a very simplified solitaire game about ancient Egypt.

[Editor’s Note: And how timely that, as I prepare to post this, archaeologists in Sakkara, Egypt, have just discovered an undisturbed 5th Dynasty tomb of a priest from 4,400 years ago....]

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Battle Ravens Looks Ideal for Kids & Newcomers

I rarely feature games in active Kickstarter campaigns (though I’ve looked at a few after release); but when I happened upon Daniel Mersey’s Battle Ravens: The Shieldwall Board Game I couldn’t resist both backing it and offering my perspective. Battle Ravens pits two players’ Viking-age armies against each other across the field of battle. Each side gets to place tokens (representing ravens) behind different sections of their line, then spends them to maneuver and fight with their warriors, hoping to break through the opponent’s line and send them running from the field. The battle game format works well for simulating warfare of this age; the rules provides plenty of historical context. The designer has released several recent and popular miniatures rules that work well for beginners. The mechanics seem basic yet offer players some careful choices to make. These elements can satisfy wargamers looking for a quick yet fulfilling tabletop diversion and tempt kids and newcomers to give the wargaming hobby a try.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Orc Ambush in Rohan

Almost three months ago I found an online deal through a game trade community for a host of Lord of the Rings miniatures. They were originally produced for a Play Along Toys line released shortly after the popular feature films. I was particularly keen on these for a number of reasons. I love large-scale 54mm miniatures – I’m a huge fan of Armies in Plastic’s historical lines – because they’re just the right size for introducing kids to miniature wargaming. This particular line came pre-painted, a huge bonus considering the time to get most miniatures onto the wargaming table usually includes a huge investment in painting. And, of course, I’m a fan of Lord of the Rings, and cavalry in particular: this lot included six warg riders and 17 Riders of Rohan, including Eomer. The package finally arrived and I set about basing the infantry on fender washers for stability, matching the weapons and other accessories, and crafting several rock formations similar to those seen in Rohan scenes during The Two Towers (giving the pine bark mulch technique a try). I have a copy of Daniel Mersey’s Dragon Rampant fantasy miniatures skirmish rules that seem perfect for this kind of engagement (I’ve enjoyed his other rules, The Men Who Would Be Kings for Victorian engagements and Lion Rampant for medieval fights, and am looking forward to his Battle Ravens board game currently in a Kickstarter campaign). With everything finally complete I thought I’d set everything up on the basement wargaming table and take a few photos in advance of having folks over to give the skirmish rules a try.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

We Are More than A Blurb

Humans love blurbs, especially in this age dominated by electronic devices constantly vying for our attention. To me a “blurb” can be any short bit that offers a brief summary of something: a news story, a company overview, a teaser for a book, a game description. It offers enough information to garner our interest and invites us to learn more...but usually we make a mental note of the blurb and move on to more pressing matters in lives with too much to do and not enough time. Often we overlook something quite worthwhile. In many cases – especially regarding other people – we should take the time to stop, look, and learn beyond the blurb.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Streamlined Combat for OpenD6 Solo Gamebooks

I’m developing a solitaire D6 Space gamebook, a programmed adventure in the spirit of the numerous solo “tutorial” scenarios I’ve written over the years and have enjoyed in other games. I’m having fun with it, incorporating science fiction tropes I admire, going off to explore entertaining tangents, offering a few seemingly outrageous options, and (hopefully) providing an engaging adventure with plenty of meaningful player choices. Along the way, however, I’ve discovered a particular drawback to using OpenD6 in this programmed solo gamebook format: the combat system isn’t really conducive to providing players with an adversary’s stats and letting them resolve the fight on their own...a staple of many gamebooks and solitaire adventures. It’s not as much a factor in the scenario I’m writing now – it’s not particularly combat-heavy, though it contains a few fights at pivotal moments – but it’s given me cause to think about and develop a better system for more combat-oriented solo gamebooks using OpenD6.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

A Game that Will Live in Infamy

I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant
and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

Admiral Yamamoto

In my spare/parenting time I’m preparing a Wings of Glory scenario for Pearl Harbor. My son, the Little Guy, now eight years old, has discovered that his ability to read means he can explore different books that interest him, both fiction and non-fiction. Earlier this year he and a friend developed a fascination for books about the Titanic disaster they found in the school library. I shared with him a few Titanic books from my own library. Then he discovered a book about Pearl Harbor. He started asking me questions. I encouraged his curiosity and we both undertook some research, exposing him to some historical events for the first time and allowing me to revisit them. Ultimately it led him to ask me if I had any games about Pearl Harbor we could play, one in which he could play the Japanese. I took it as a challenge, one to enhance his knowledge and fuel his curiosity. And I’ll admit it’s put me in an odd bind I’ve faced before: how do we feel about wargaming events in our nation’s past that evoked – and still evoke – deep feelings.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Evolving Periodical Content

In a world where everyone is a publisher, no one is an editor.
And that is the danger that we face today.”
Scott Pelley

The announcement of Google+’s eventual demise prompted many users to migrate to other social media platforms, a movement I explored in my last Hobby Games Recce post. Some have re-dedicated themselves to blogs – some faithfully maintained, others neglected over time – instead of or in addition to their engagement in social media. Part of my satisfaction with Google+ came from others sharing links to blogs to further inspire my own interest in adventure gaming. I likened my Google+ feed to old-style gaming magazines, like Dragon or Challenge, beloved print publications whose passing I frequently lament. Although I’m still building and exploring contacts through my MeWe presence, I find the platform lacking in providing easily noticed updates to my old favorites and interesting possibilities for new ones to follow (understandable in this period of nascent gamer communities there). So I’m focusing on re-evaluating my current browser bookmark folder for game blogs, combing my old Google+ feeds for interesting blogs to add, and reorganizing it for more efficient access.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

(Re-)Forging Gamer Communities

We fear change.”
Garth, Wayne’s World

The announcement that Google is shutting down Google+ by August 2019 has sent shock waves through the gaming communities that found refuge and flourished there in recent years. Many users are migrating to other platforms – MeWe seems to stand out for me, and I’ve joined – but others seek to retreat to their blogs and no doubt some might withdraw from this kind of social media engagement altogether (goodness knows I’ve considered it). Amid all the social media turmoil I look back and examine how essential platforms like Google+ have been in forming gamer communities that share inspiration, give us voices, and connect us through a common hobby.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Playing at the Fair

We recently visited the Maryland Renaissance Festival and it brought back memories of how much I used to enjoy the playful immersion in the renfest environment. My adventure gaming hobby stands at the confluence of many inspirations during my youth. I’ve discussed the role music, books, films, and even family vacations played in fostering in me an appreciation of elements that would fuel my gaming activities (“Early Fantasy Gaming Inspirations” and “Early Musical Influences on My Gaming”). Although I went to my first renfest well after I’d discovered Dungeons & Dragons, the experience enhanced my appreciation for roleplaying games, history, music, and literature. Our recent trip back to the Maryland Renaissance Festival reminded me how renfests still provide inspiration for gaming. I also realized how closely renfests mirror roleplaying games (or games in general) in that they provide an immersive experience and a relatively “safe” space in which to play.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Boxed Worlds & Focused Locales

I peer over at my wall-spanning bookshelves (well, one wall of them, anyway) and see a chunk of my Dungeons & Dragons shelf occupied by several thick boxed sets crammed with fantasy world settings. Their names ring boldly in the annals of fantasy roleplaying games: Dark Sun, Raveloft, and Forgotten Realms. Lately I’ve been thinking about getting rid of them. Virtually unseen nearby sit several thin, saddle-stitched D&D modules, some of which provide more localized settings for fantasy adventures beyond the actual scenario material. Some of their names – notably B2 The Keep on the Borderlands and X1 The Isle of Dread – also stand tall in the annals of D&D. I’ve spent more time adventuring in these smaller locales than the vast expanses of the boxed sets and their numerous support supplements. Perhaps these more compact modules offered a young gamer both examples of solid settings as well as the invitation and inspiration to expand upon them. Perhaps I didn’t immerse myself in the larger boxed settings because by the time they were released I’d moved beyond my carefree, younger days of after-school and summertime gaming into a professional life that put a premium on free time.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Boldface Highlights Adventure Essentials

Tim Shorts tried something different with his recent, Patreon-supported micro-adventure, Into the Ruins. He used bold type to highlight “things of note” within scenario entries. Certainly boldface type has its traditional place in paragraph formatting, most notably as an introductory paragraph subhead labeling the subsequent text: “Chamber 3: Guard Post. Five orcs cluster around a wooden table, tossing dice and drinking ale....” But reading Tim’s micro-adventure and then perusing some classic modules from my youth demonstrated that peppering adventure text with notable boldfaced words has been a layout convention since the beginning of the roleplaying game hobby. I suppose I’ve always been subconsciously aware of this, but it took Tim blatantly pointing this out to bring it to my attention and kindle my interest in how it was used in other published work, particularly modules supporting my earliest immersion in Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons and Advanced D&D.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Reflections on Recruiting Gamers

I’ve always sought to recruit new players to roleplaying games. My earliest efforts included drafting neighborhood kids, though eventually I happened upon a few like-minded friends who occasionally gathered for games. (Alas, I discovered Dungeons & Dragons at the tail end of junior high school, which, for a brief time, sponsored a D&D club before overly concerned parents shut it down). Although I discovered several kids on my high school bus route played D&D, none really wanted anything to do with an overly enthusiastic freshman. I can imagine many gamers in the early to mid 1980s tried finding other players, balancing the social stigma against the potential reward of expanding their player base, all with the cloud of the anti-D&D hysteria looming overhead. In those days my blind enthusiasm drove my clumsy efforts to find and lure new recruits to the adventure gaming hobby. But by the time I got to college I started more consciously to consider strategies to involve people in my (admittedly limited) social circles in gaming.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

20th Anniversary of West End’s Demise

Every year as July approaches I get a little glum about the summer of 1998 when West End Games filed for bankruptcy and pulled the rug out from under numerous employees, creative freelance writers and artists, and fans of the company’s groundbreaking Star Wars roleplaying game. “Consider yourselves unemployed,” was how the company’s owner initially broke the news to the puzzled editors, graphic designers, and sales personnel unexpectedly summoned to his office. These annual, bittersweet recollections send me into a spiral of memories from which I can usually extricate myself by focusing on the positive aspects of that time. During my five years at West End I worked on many projects that still make me smile with a proud sense of satisfaction: certainly The Official Star Wars Adventure Journal; Platt’s Starport Guide; the revised and expanded version of the game’s second edition; the Star Wars Introductory Adventure Game (and similar products for the Men in Black and Hercules & Xena game lines); numerous solitaire tutorial adventures (including the standalone book Imperial Double-Cross); and a revision of the roleplaying game’s Star Wars Style Guide that helped authors with all aspects of the submission and writing process (which notably resurfaced a few years ago on the interwebzes as the guide George Lucas supposedly ignored when making the prequels, certainly not its original intention). It was a dream job, despite constant anxiety, vicious office politics, and what I expect are the general idiocies that plague any modern American workplace. But the occasion also gives me an opportunity to reflect on the many good things West End brought into my life and other people’s lives.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

“Vanilla” Ready for Toppings

I’m in the final stages of bringing my latest project to publication, meaning the self-doubt is really kicking in. The Greydeep Marches is a short (34 pages), system-neutral, OSR-suitable setting sourcebook for fantasy roleplaying adventures. The setting flowed from some initial brainstorming that first appeared in one of my old Hobby Games Recce pieces – “The Importance of the Setting Bible” – with development enabling me to dabble in some new concepts and techniques from various influences. On the surface it looks like plain “vanilla” medieval fantasy: a kingdom, knights, villages, elves, dwarves, halflings, dark forests, ruins, etc. “Boring,” one might say. Yet, like a serving of vanilla ice cream, it offers gamemasters the chance to add toppings to suit their own tastes, a foundation on which they can build a particularly tasty treat.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Rogue-Like Games Demonstrate Grinder/Heroic Dichotomy

In my need for escapist entertainment lately I’ve fallen back on computer games, including several in the “rogue-like” genre. Yes, those solo, dungeon-delving games based on Rogue from 1980 with dungeon elements defined by ASCII characters. Seems like everyone’s making their own version (much like the Old School Renaissance); I happen to like Pixel Dungeon for its upgraded graphics and interesting magical item uses. Just a few clicks and I’m exploring a random dungeon with monsters, magic items, and plenty of opportunities to meet a horrid end. I don’t care, it’s fun, caters to my interest in fantasy gaming, and doesn’t require me to invest too much time, energy, or focus. I juxtapose this play style with the kind of tabletop roleplaying game session that satisfies my needs in my middle-aged years: heroic characters taking on epic challenges in my favorite genres, where they stand a decent chance of survival despite seemingly insurmountable odds. This illustrates to me the vast differences between “grinder” style games and heroic play, and reinforces why I prefer the latter in my full-fledged roleplaying game endeavors.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Returning to the Solo Adventure Format

I’m wrapping up one project – finalizing layout and waiting on artwork for a system-neutral, medieval fantasy setting – so I’m starting to look toward the next concept to bring to publication. I have a long, oft-revised list of gaming ideas for development. I prioritize these on a number of qualifications, including their level of development and completion, size of expected complications, ease of acquiring artwork and other graphic elements, and suitability for various gaming markets. But I’m easily diverted from what might seem the next logical project, preferring to channel my immediate enthusiasm for an unexpected, exciting idea rather than slog away at something that doesn’t quite engage me at the moment. Right now I really should be reviewing and polishing material for an Infinite Cathedral Patreon (something I’ve considered for quite some time). So I’m naturally disappearing down the rabbit hole of an entirely unrelated project to capitalize on my immediate interest: a science fiction D6 solo adventure. Where the heck did that come from?

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Hermitage at the Edge of Oblivion

I’m stepping away from Hobby Games Recce for a while to concentrate more on long-neglected game projects that require the time, focus, and energy regularly sapped by the blog. I’ve been blogging weekly from November 2010 until 2017, when I cut back to posting every other week or so. Unfortunately it has distracted me from other gaming endeavors, though I suppose it’s kept me more visible among and engaged with a small segment of the online gaming community. I’m grateful for readers who’ve stayed with the blog faithfully all this time and those who’ve discovered it later and followed anyway. In my absence I’m leaving the blog in public mode for now so people can read my past missives about various aspects of adventure gaming, a few of which might offer some small measure of entertainment or enlightenment. At some point I intend to post again – though not on a regular basis – as the muse and my own interests inspire me; I’ll cross-post to my Google+ followers and Griffon Publishing Studio’s Facebook page when I do.

But right now I need a break, so it’s off to the Hermitage on the Edge of Oblivion to meditate in cloistered seclusion and immerse myself in work on other gaming projects.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Resisting the “New Hotness”

Some gamers thrive on industry news and the acquisition of new releases that engage their interests. Others remain content to explore games of whatever type at their leisure, trying a new game now and then, returning to old favorites, even exploring older releases discovered in newly remastered PDFs or used bookstore shelves. The more we stay attuned to the gaming industry and community the more we’re exposed to the excitement of new releases, especially when reinforced by gaming friends, convention promotions, and activities at the Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS). The concept of getting the “new hotness” as soon as it releases is a cornerstone of marketing, one further reinforced by the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) cultivated in our faster-than-light Internet Age. Some find resisting the new hotness easier than others; I’ve occasionally succumbed to it but find it easier to hold out and be my own gamer as I’ve aged (matured?) and changed my gaming group.