PAX East 2012

I am blogging from the road! This is a unique experience but I wanted to type up our yearly PAX roundup before forgetting the details. Hopefully my formatting doesn’t suck.

The Good:

  • Diablo III – The console free play area this year not only was enormous – necessary for the huge League of Legends tournament going on – but for showing games in beta. We never did get to play Torchlight II but we did play Diablo III. My complaints about the game are still the same with the dumbed down skill tree and the always on DRM. But man. Blizzard, shut up and take my money.
  • XCOM – I was worried 2K would turn XCOM into some first person shooter. Nope, it’s a squad combat tactical RPG vs. aliens. Now with exploding environments! And on XBox! All good.
  • MC Frontalot – I thought my knee was going to disintegrate after standing for hours to get to the last act of the concert but powering through to MC Frontalot was worth it. The dude has so much energy on stage he might have exploded. The song ‘It is Pitch Dark’ is awesome live. Sure, Jonathan Coulton was fun but Frontalot was better.
  • Lords of Waterdeep – Yeah, okay WotC just take my money. Game is great board gamey fun. Just a well designed game.
  • Cards Against Humanity – With great embarrassment I admit I was introduced to this horrible game by WotC reps. Where they got it from who knows. It’s Apples to Apples for adults. And hilarious. The Cards Against Humanity guys sold out completely. At one time we walked past the tables in the Westin Mezzanine and there were 3 games going.
  • Rob’s Cortex Plus Tactics Hack – In which we had fun playing the Marvel Heroic Role Playing system as base classes from Final Fantasy Tactics with a bit of Two Guys With Swords.
  • Soul Caliber V – Bought and en route to the house.
  • Gazillions of friends – Holy crap PEOPLE! HI PEOPLE! I think I got to everyone!
  • The End of the Omegathon – They played…. Crokinole. It’s Canadian bar shuffleboard. At first we were like… What the hell is this? Then we got into it. We started cheering and commenting on the turns. The match went for an hour and a half! I was so happy Eric suggested we watch it from a theater instead of standing in the grand ballroom. YAY CROKINOLE. It was epic.
  • Bastion – The guys who made Bastion were manning the booth including the composer for the soundtrack and the kid (!!!) who did the VoiceOver. I felt the need to give them more money but I have the soundtrack so I bought a Bastion bandanna.
  • Playtesting Race to Adventure – It’s a super fun game and you will love it when it comes out. Trust me.
  • Celebrity Pictures – Rumor is that I made some squeeing noise on meeting Margaret Weis. That might be true. I have good pictures of Eric with MC Frontalot and Jonathan Coulton.
  • The Boston Westin – We will never stay anywhere else. They set up the Mezzanine for continuous overflow tabletop play. Service was great. Attached to the Conference Center. Only ~ $10 a night more expensive than the Marriott.
  • Getting Mark to play Magic – Rumor is this happened. Sadly no photographic evidence.

The Meh

  • Rock Band Blitz – It hurt my hands.
  • Nintendo 3DS – Finally played the 3DS and I had to turn off the 3D because the game was so fuzzy. I’ll stick with my XL.
  • Torchlight II – I got a good look at it in the PC Freeplay area and it’s Torchlight with multiplayer. Yeah I know it’s what we want…
  • Eminent Domain – Card game that is a cross between Dominion and Race for the Galaxy. Two games I like very much, yeah, but Eminent Domain lacked a personality of it’s own.
  • Zillions of MMORPGs – EVERYONE has an MMO and they all look the same. the SWTOR booth was so big it had its own lounge.

The Bad

  • Guy at Battlefield Booth – Felt the need to explain D&D to the girls. Note, I had no such issues with the WotC reps, who were infinitely cooler.
  • Missing all the Panels – Went to a convention and went to no talks. Sigh.
  • Too many people! I did not get to everyone. 🙁 Sorry peeps. Also, I am super bad with names… As many people learned.
  • PC Freeplay shutting down Dungeon Defenders. Meh.
  • Worn Out – We overdid it a bit and now we are trashed.
  • Expensive Boston food – Christ, I felt fleeced.
  • Bizarre survey guy in the Nintendo booth – He felt the need to take a survey about the 3DS before I had a chance to play it.

So that’s my roundup! Bye PAX East 2012 – you were awesome.

PAX East

We’re heading up to PAX East for the third year in a row.  We’re in the hotel attached to the convention center meaning — yes!  Booze!  The plan is to drive up on Thursday and drive home on Monday so we won’t miss the opening remarks this year.  Also, I will get another scarf because PAX scarfs are important.  And swag.  I need swag.

The only work I’ll be bringing with me is a) my phone which will die trying to pull work mail in a convention center with no coverage and b) my work branded bag as it makes an awesome con bag.  I might also wear my work logo t-shirt maybe.  I will not talk to you about work or my job other than yeah I have this bitchin’ bag maybe I stole it.

If you want to hook up at PAX East give me a shout.  Otherwise, we’ll wander around aimlessly until we run into you in some weird uncomfortable awkward way in a hallway and go all “OH HEY YOU’RE HERE TOO” and “WE’RE GOING OVER THERE” and “YOU ARE GOING WHERE WELL SEE YOU LATER MANG” and then we don’t see you again and we complain all over twitter about not getting together and how that sucked so say something.  Also, a bunch of Folks I Know are On Panels so We’ll Be Attending Some Panels and Yes We Are Stalking You.  And Eric has made noise about attending the concert.

So, there’s the haps.  You can find me either playing board games until my eyes bleed or in the check out and play video game area or watching the Street Fighter tournament.  

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game

While I’m not a big fan of the Leverage TV show, I am a fan of the Leverage RPG and the unfathomable malleability of the Cortex Plus system.  In the hands of a mad post-it note-er, the game is a fast, wild ride through the rampaging dark caverns of a gamer’s id.   Yeah, it’s a damn fine game.

I come to the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game thinking hard about ways to make it do things it shouldn’t.  When I introduce my list of nerddoms, my affinity for comic books lists ahead of video games or RPGs; comics predates any of those pithy things.  I have comics in my bookcase I bought when I was 10 years old (Ambush Bug vs. Superman!) so ragged and torn they hardly look like books and identifiable only by their iconic Hostess advertisements.  

I’m not primarily supers fan.  The last book I read was “Joe the Barbarian” by Grant Morrison a whole two days ago.  Vertigo is my go-to imprint 80% of the time.  But I do confess… when I reach for supers, I reach for Marvel.  X-Men first, mostly, then Avengers, then Spider Man, then everything else.   

In this framework, knowing Cortex Plus is putty in the hands of the overly imaginative, I read Marvel Heroic RPG and found it… more a comics roleplaying game than a pure Supers game.  I’ve played, much to my eternal sadness and stains upon my soul, certain Supers games and they… were Super games trying valiantly to keep the comics unbalance in powers, relations and cosmic silliness.  Marvel Heroic RPG waggles its hands at this problem and says hey, look, you can play all kinds of Marvel and to hell with worrying about if Kitty Pryde is on an equal level as Captain America in the comics.  Everyone on a level playing field!  We’re going to roll some dice and punch things!

I start thinking… could I use it to play Fables? Could one fight off incursions into Fabletown? How about more abstract? Could one do one’s own version of a new current fav of mine, the Unwritten and stat up dice for characters from literature? Or even more abstract — The Walking Dead? Here’s the thing — Cortex Plus is malleable and adaptable.  These rules for comics.  I think so.

What about the game?

The Cortex Plus system, as a stand alone system, is fast and simple.  Roll some dice, pull out the 1s as HORRIBLE DIRE CONSEQUENCES, add up the top two dice and pick a die as the “size” of the result and compare on a contest.  That’s about it.  One can do fun tricks to add dice to one’s pool to juice the result (including tossing in d4s to encourage horrible dire consequences).  The system is stunt driven — the more a player tosses in wackiness, the more dice they roll, the crazier the result.  

As a pure Marvel game, while I haven’t played yet and only read the examples, my gut tells me Marvel Heroic RPG works.  The new Cortex Plus mechanics of the Doom Pool took a few passes to get the gist of how consequences compound, and I worked through the stress tracks a few times, but I cannot find any obvious gotchas or breakdowns.  I’m struck how the game solves the worst problem plaguing Supers games, the “Superman and Batman” problem, by simply saying Hey, They Have Their Strengths, Let’s Play Them Up and Move On.  Game feels simple, lightweight, and fast.  All good things in my book — I get frowny at games heavy with their own importance.  

The meat of my post — a good things/bad things comparison.

Good Things:

– Cortex Plus is fun! 

– Operations Manual’s layout is sane.  It progresses from basics to Doom Pool to consequences, stress, resources, et al and ends with a helpful “how to play” chapter with a lengthy example.  Only after the book explains the game does the book meander off into how to run the game, how to write scenarios, example scenario, and goodies.

– Game is light, fast and cinematic.  Everything for a character is on a single sheet; no need to paw through stacks of source books to figure out how one stat or power works.

– I found the Cyclops and Emma Frost examples running through the book helpful, despite having no love for Cyclops.  The examples are in blue call out blocks directly after the demonstrated rule.  I did end up reading some examples several times. 

– Dude, one of the two example scenarios is Avengers vs. Dinosaurs.  While yeah, I know this comes from a Bendis run, it’s still Avengers vs. Dinosaurs.  With stat blocks for dinosaurs!  I admit: I didn’t read the Avengers punch mobs of Bad Guys scenario. I did read Avengers vs. Dinosaurs.  Dinosaurs are awesome.  

– Book is quite nice upon the eyes, for lo, it is a nice looking book.

– On finishing reading the book, I knew how to play (if not run).  Victory for the good guys!  A technical manual that conveys information to the reader!  A mark of a superior product!  How many RPGs have a I read and had no clue?  Answer: most of them.

Bad Things:

– The Doom Pool is a tad confusing.  Another example crammed into the book would have done me a world of good.  It’s my “oh god a new mechanic WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE” instincts kicking in a bit.

– This book will not please the diehard Supers gamers for so many reasons it will take another 1300 word post to fill.  (I’m not one, so all good.) 

– The mix of Marvel PCs is real off.  I understand the need to sell future supplements and give a broad taste of the Marvel ruleset but we’re left with a handful of Avengers, Cyclops and Wolverine with no Jean Grey, etc.  I chalk up the extensive Emma Frost to someone’s fanboyness of the Grant Morrison New X-Men run.  I felt like I bought a Magic starter set and now had an eclectic mix of half-made useful sets and combos.

– References to Characters Not Appearing In This Book in Rule Blocks and/or Art:  Mystique. Ghost Rider. Dazzler(!!). Professor X.  To name a few.   Game is clearly not a contained game but the core rules ala the nWoD core rules with expectations one will buy the add-on packs.  “If you like this you will LOVE the Civil War Expansion!”  This is unbelievably awkward but unavoidable with the architecture of the core book and planned expansions.  The core book has to have all the core “stuff” but needs to sell expansions.  It cannot be a compendium of the top 100 Marvel characters. So we end up with, say, half of Quicksilver’s stats in a random example.  Quicksilver isn’t that useful in the first place and half of him is pathetic.  This left me with the feeling of editorial sloppiness and some poor choices.

NO DOCTOR STRANGE.  -10 points.  As a huge Mighty God King fan, this is unforgivable.  My tiny fist, it shakes!  Seriously, the lack of a Dr. Strange is sad.  I would have dumped any of the example PCs for Dr. Strange.

– The MWP website for the game is tragic.  Yeah, okay, not a game thing, per se, but honestly: the website is tragic.

LOOK, A CONCLUSION!

May be a little skinny on meat and substance for some die hard Supers gamers to get going right off the bat and will become more interesting with later supplements but for $13 at Drive Thru RPG, I can think of no rational reason not to buy the game.  It’s ridiculously cheap so go buy it.  I like it and I feel it has some deep, untapped potential.  It’s a more accessible gateway into Cortex Plus than Leverage or Smallville.  

So yeah.  Excepting a few small quibble, it’s a great game. Good job, guys.

Reverb Gamers 2012 #10

Atlas Games is hosting “Reverb Gamers 2012“ with 31 question prompts about gaming and gamers and games.  I’m going to answer all 31 questions for good or for ill.  You can do it, too!  And check out @ReverbGamers on Twitter or Facebook.

REVERB GAMERS 2012, #10: Have you ever played a character originally from a book/TV/movie? How did the character change from the original as you played? If not, who would you most like to play?

Nope. Playing other people’s characters is not my thing.

Although…

If the Atomic Robo RPG (by Evil Hat! Of course!) has a stat block for Carl Sagan? It may persuade me to relent so I could say a very ponderous “billions.

Reverb Gamers 2012 Post #9

Atlas Games is hosting “Reverb Gamers 2012“ with 31 question prompts about gaming and gamers and games.  I’m going to answer all 31 questions for good or for ill.  You can do it, too!  And check out @ReverbGamers on Twitter or Facebook.

REVERB GAMERS 2012, #9: Have you ever played a character of the opposite sex. Why or why not? If yes, how did the other players react?

Yeah.  Anyone who knows me knows that 90% of my characters are male.  I have a two pronged answer to why this is.

Story #1:

By time I started gaming in earnest in college I was busy climbing to the crest of a grand and beautiful wave of open-throated misogyny.  The sand kicking in the face started back in High School with small but poignant reminders of the Harsh Reality (“you cannot take the AP Computer class because there’s only one slot and, well, you’ll never do computers anyway…”). In college it began to reach that glorious crescendo of assholery.  I’ve told these stories before so I shant rehash them again. Suffice they are legion and they are tiring and, back then, I made the mistake of living with it instead of doing what I do now, calling the bullshit to the carpet and not standing for any of it.

When it came to Fun Time Pretendy Games which were, above all, supposed to be fun, I had little interest in bringing all the baggage to the table.  So I made male characters.  In my world, men weren’t questioned why they wanted to be engineers or physicists or Starship Engineers in Starfleet or Jedis or Deckers.  Men didn’t have to justify why they were picking up a sword and going off to adventure or throwing around fireballs.  And to me, who had grown up on a steady diet of novels starring almost exclusively men in science fiction and horror, it was just easier.  It was an escape from having to deal with the stupid all the time.  

To all of their credit, my long suffering friends have put up with my quirk for many years.  

I prefer female characters in precisely two settings: one-off con games and Cthulhu.  At a con, I will not force random strangers to deal with my weird psychological hang-up from years of a faceful of crap.  

Story #2:

Online is different.  I will never play a female character in an online game unless it is in a private, closed chat room. I know the Internet. I know it is an open sewer. This is one of many common sense protection measures, like firewalls and anti-virus and using non-Windows machines.  I’m on to it, I know its tricks, and I take proper procedures to protect myself and others from the jerks.

In 1992, I was exposed to the wonderful world of MUDding.  Hey, I was on the University of Michigan Engineering UNIX boxes!  They could talk all over the world!  I just needed to type:

telnet blahblahdyblah.net 12345  

Bingo! Midgaard!  The game in question was a Diku.  It was named Alpha.  It was hosted in Finland.  This was miraculous.  I could go play a game in Finland.  With crazy Finnish people.

I made a female character and it was ~ two days before the propositions began.  And they were constant.  I suppose at the time they assumed, and rightly, female characters were men looking for online hookups and TS.  Why else would anyone make a female character?  I logged out, logged back in, made the exact same character with a different gender and… presto!

I achieved Enlightenment.

I played Alpha for a little while but, like all Dikus, it got boring real quick, especially in the face of LPMuds.   And MUSHing and MOOs.  And chatroom-based games, my very favorite.  We grow.  We evolve.  The Internet is what it is — the home for arguments and cats.

When people do meet me in person I guess it’s a bit of a jolt.  But hey, it’s the fucking Internet.  Here’s your beanie — it has a propeller!  For all you know, I’m a well-designed bot who spews out random blog postings via scraping up bits of this and that from other blog postings and rearranging them in mildly readable ways. 

Or, more likely, I’m a sentient can of Folger’s Crystals.  How could you tell otherwise?

Reverb Gamers 2012 Post #8

Atlas Games is hosting “Reverb Gamers 2012“ with 31 question prompts about gaming and gamers and games.  I’m going to answer all 31 questions for good or for ill.  You can do it, too!  And check out @ReverbGamers on Twitter or Facebook.

REVERB GAMERS 2012, #8: What’s the one gaming accessory (lucky dice, soundtrack, etc.) you just can’t do without? Why?

Two objects must come to the gaming table: the iPad and post-it notes.  

Post-it notes come from Rob, from whom I’ve seen it in action.  It’s a pretty simple system: during a session, when a player or the GM invokes a noun (person, place or thing), the noun goes on the post-it and the post-it sticks to the table.  As the players reveal new information or arbitrary attach new information to the noun, the post-it note gets a note with the update — a new Aspect, a note about a relationship, dice, some fact, etc.  Everyone sitting at the table can see what nouns are in play without having to remember them or make frantic notes.  When players use up the noun or it becomes irrelevant, the GM pulls the post-it and throws it away, or hands it to a player.    It’s a great system.

The iPad has on it:

– Goodreader for gaming book PDFs

– Note software like Penultimate or Note Taker HD

– Various dice rollers

– iKeepScore, a fantastic die rolling/game score keeping app

We use iKeepScore for a bunch of board and card games.  It can sit in the center of the table and everyone can reach forward to update their scores as they take turns.  It’s great.

There you go.  Two items I could not live without: post-its and iPads.  It’s gaming…. in the future.

Reverb Gamers 2012 Post #6

Atlas Games is hosting “Reverb Gamers 2012“ with 31 question prompts about gaming and gamers and games.  I’m going to answer all 31 questions for good or for ill.  You can do it, too!  And check out @ReverbGamers on Twitter or Facebook.

REVERB GAMERS 2012, #6: Describe your all-time favorite character to play. What was it about him/her/it that you enjoyed so much?

I lean heavily toward nerdy dps characters — wizards, shamans, deckers, nerdly smart people who use their brains to do massive damage to the enemy through overly-complex plans.  I also create artistic non-combat sort of characters: bards, artists, musicians and the like.  I enjoy taking role-playing games and figuring out the singular most useless and/or goofy and/or idiosyncratic build imaginable and making that character because, why not?  Anyone can win with a mini-maxed out tank (fighter, street samurai, your big one-on-one damage dealer) but it takes work to be effective with a D&D 3rd edition bard all the way up through 20th level — which, to be honest, I never did.

I was never completely satisfied on the answer of the perennial and fundamental question: Could a bard could use Summon Monster IV, summon a whale, and drop it on someone from 100′ up?  Ever had a whale drop on your army?  Because that would rule.  

Favorite character of all time: Ezekiel Moonstartulip (it sounds better in Elvish), Ship’s Engineer and Navigator of the Royal Flush, Half-Elf, Mage, and AD&D 2nd Edition Spelljammer Character.  Wearer of a Fabulous Coat, Snarker of Snarks.  He was completely out of tune with nature.  Zeke once watched FRITZHOLM HAMMERMILL eat 50 pancakes in one sitting!   

Here’s an image of Zeke in attractive LEGO form navigating the Royal Flush through MAGIC. And a mighty battle on the deck with skeletons!

Second favorite character of all time (but only by a single amazing hair): Terry “Teraphim” Jackson, an NPC for my In Nomine game, the Balseraph of the Media, consumed completely by greed and burning need for good shoes, whom I did play a bit on a play-by-post board for a while.  He was the demonic partner of my demonic PC Daimon Lightner, whom I played in Fiat Justitia, run long ago by the lovely Genevieve Cogman. (Daimon comes in at a cool #3, beaten out by Terry because that’s how one rolls when your best friend is a giant serpentine sunglasses-wearing demon.)

Sadly, it looks like the Fiat pages have been lost through time and the dissolution of io.com.  

Reverb Gamers 2012 Post #5

Atlas Games is hosting “Reverb Gamers 2012“ with 31 question prompts about gaming and gamers and games.  I’m going to answer all 31 questions for good or for ill.  You can do it, too!  And check out @ReverbGamers on Twitter or Facebook.

REVERB GAMERS 2012, #5: Have you ever introduced a child to gaming, or played a game with a young person? How is gaming with kids different than gaming with adults?

Katie beating us all at Dixit

Katie (age 7) plays Dixit, 7 Wonders, Blokus, Castle Ravenloft/Wrath of Ashardalon, Fluxx, Ascension (paper and digital version), Ticket to Ride, and a host of card games like Uno and Crazy-8s. One of her perennial favorites is Magic Labyrinth. Last weekend she played Forbidden Island. She regularly plays at the table with the adults during board game night.  We haven’t tried Settlers of Catan yet but that’s due to my not owning a hard copy. We are planning to try Pandemic.

We have tried straight-up role-playing games. In our experience with multiple attempts, we learned the games designed “for kids” are too simplistic. The dull rules result in bored children after a while.  After abandoning the for-kids games, we tried the D&D Red Box Starter Set. That turned out to be too complex even with the simplified ruleset. We have a copy of the beautifully crafted Mouse Guard Box Set — and it is gorgeous (a birthday gift from Rob) — we are itching to try.  Reading through Burning Wheel, it holds promise.

We’ve learned a couple of important factoids while teaching Katie how to game:

o Board games and card games are a big win because they’re contained and social.  Games need a good beginning, middle and clear ending to keep interest.

o She easily can play any game rated “Ages 8 and Up” and try any game “Ages 10 and Up.”

o Rule sets can be complex (see 7 Wonders) but she’ll keep up fine with adults if the rule sets are clear and concise with clearly stated objectives and winning conditions.  

o She is a fiercely competitive card player who likes to shark opponents. (You have been warned!)  

o Kids come up with crazy ways to win games you, an old and boring adult, never imagined.

o A typical RPG session of 3-4 hours is too long for a 6-7 year old.  A good session is 1-1.5 hours.  After that, she loses her attention span and gets fidgety.  This is completely normal.  It’s the same with board games: if Ravenloft is dragging on, she will leave the table at the one hour mark to go do something else.    

o RPGs need streamlined and easy to understand rules with enough flexibility to be fun but simple enough to get playing immediately. A kid needs to understand how to roll the dice to kill d00ds in about five minutes.  This is a hard balance to find.

o Stabbing orcs is lots of fun.  Getting stabbed is not so fun.  Power balance is less important with kids than you think.  Also, trying to “role play out” scenes more complex than a dungeon crawl tend to be failures.  Condensing games down to their essentials and planning for minimum time yields a maximum result.

o Dungeon crawls/missions/games with clear goals work much better than opened ended games.  Kids need goals or boredom sets it quick.

o Kids make awesome playtesters for board and card games.  If the kids find the rules boring, the game has structural issues.  If the kids play through one game, it’s a pretty good game.  If kids play two games, the game is a winner.  If you’re making a card or board game, find a kid to beg, borrow or steal and make them play.  What you learn about how the game is played and how well the rules work will surprise you.

o Rory Story Cubes fit in a bag or purse and create RPGs on the fly.  Buy a set.

And the big one:

No one has yet successfully produced a good kid’s RPG.  The rules are either too simplistic or too complicated for kids, both which bore kids in the first few minutes.  This opinion may change after we playtest through Mouse Guard but, so far, none we have tried have hit that 1st-3rd grader demographic well.  

What shocks me is the lack of a kid’s supers game.  No one loves supers the way kids love supers and they get supers.  Kids toys, kids comics, kids video games, kids tv shows, kids movies — supers!  The ruleset for most Supers games are too complex (even for me).  The thought of playing Champions or GURPS Supers or Hero with a 7 year old gives me the Fear.  Mutants and Masterminds isn’t too bad but it has that D&D 3rd Ed flavor.  Silver Age Sentinels may be slimmed down to a core BESM set but the book, being out of print for ages, is now hard to find.  The new Marvel RPG might come close with a simplified Cortex system but I don’t know.  Can you make a character in under five minutes?  Does it have a spot to draw the hero on the character sheet in crayon and marker?  Does one have to know the universe?  

A good kids easy-to-play goal-based supers game is the Holy Grail.  

I’ll post a lengthy follow-up to this question when we finally play Mouse Guard.