Thursday, October 9, 2014

Monster Mansion

Monster Mansion, a quick-moving cooperative dungeon romp for two to eight players, is currently on Kickstarter.  The game got fully funded in just two days, but the stretch goals are worth a look, so be sure to check it out and back it if it appeals to your monster-battling side!

The game plays like a better, much streamlined version of Betrayal at House on the Hill; you control a character with unique abilities, strengths and weaknesses, and explore a creepy, fantastical house and its dungeon level, finding fancy gold coins along the way and using them to purchase wondrous items you'll use to help in your battles with legendary creatures.  Much attention was paid to the coins - the ones you use in the game have a nice heavy feel.  The game is quick to learn but requires some real thought on the players' part if they are to win - you'll want to always keep your character's unique traits in mind, and will definitely want to avail yourself of the fancy items you can buy anywhere along the way (you can buy or sell items at any time - even on other players' turns - to keep the game rolling briskly along.  The game rulebook explains that the shop works by magic.)  In our first game, a mystic hourglass granted us five extra minutes of game time, which was crucial and gave us just enough time to escape the Mansion.

Monster Mansion is good fun for most anyone.  I advise you to check it out - IF YOU DARE...



Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Interview with Douglas Morse, "The Next Great American Game"

Mr. Morse is currently wrapping production of what looks to be a truly excellent documentary film about the industry and one man's quest to publish a game. To order The Next Great American Game, you can visit www.tabletopmovie.com.  A review should be available on this blog once the film is released around December 2014.

Tell us something about yourself.

I’m a filmmaker. At this point, it’s a compulsion really. I don’t have to do it, but I’m driven to do it. The creative process really is a joy most of the time. But sometimes the process can be so grueling, so draining, that it doesn’t seem worth the stress and hassle. On my last film, an adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s Renaissance era drama The Jew of Malta, I turned to my costume designer in a particularly difficult moment and confided “I don’t think I can do this again.” And she replied, “You all say that.”

What inspired you to make a film about the designer game industry in general, and at what moment did you narrow your focus to tell the specific story the film ultimately tells?  Looking at your Kickstarter updates, it seems initial shooting looked at the process of game design, then you began to follow one hopeful designer in specific.

I’ve always been a tabletop gamer. It began in earnest with Dungeons and Dragons when I was a teenager and continued off and on with tabletop and role-playing games. And then Settlers of Catan -- back in ’95 when it was only available as an import -- blew my mind. I spent the next five years or so fully immersed in the burgeoning Euro-game hobby. So the idea for making a documentary about the tabletop game industry has been brewing for quite a while. But I didn’t have a subject. When I saw "Caine’s Arcade," I knew I wanted to make a film about the designers. The people who played with bits of cardboard would be inspiring. After The Jew of Malta, I didn’t have a plan. But coming off a large scale period piece managing 50 or so cast and crew, the idea of a one-man-band documentary was appealing.

So for nearly six months, off and on, I started to interview designers, known and unknown, attending PAX East, the New York Toy Fair, Origins, and Alan Moon’s Gathering of Friends. In terms of the main story, I had several false starts as I searched for a subject and a way to tell the story. I interviewed well known designers like Alan Moon and Richard Launius, as well as publishers and developers from Hans im Gluck and Abacus Spiel. I attended the announcement of the Spiel des Jahres. During that time, I reconnected with someone I knew in passing growing up in New Hampshire: Randall Hoyt. He is a professor of graphic design at Keene State University and he's back in New Hampshire after having taught at the University of Connecticut for many years.

He had a prototype of a game, Turnpike, that he'd been working on for five years. I invited him to Origins with me. He couldn’t make it, but he did come to Gen Con with me. I filmed him as he tried to figure out how to pitch to publishers. I continued to interview designers, publishers, and others in the industry. After Gen Con I went to hang out with Richard Launius for a couple of days. He was a lovely host and I learned so much about game design. However, when I got back to the editing room to see how the story might take shape, I kept coming back to the footage of Randall. His intensity, naiveté, and raw talent were intriguing. He is loquacious to a fault and I loved his pontifications on creativity, process, and the gaming culture in general. I started to see that as the film took shape, he could be our Virgil, our guide through the industry.

Is this your first film project?  And are you a game designer as well as a filmmaker?

This is my seventh feature film. Although I did catch the design bug from making the movie, I quickly realized that like any craft, it takes years and years of dedication and failure to achieve success. That said, I am noodling around with some ideas. My focus, though, will remain filmmaking. It’s all I know how to do, really.

You got interviews with quite a few superstars in the game design world.  Was that difficult to pull off?  What surprised you most in making the film - either something that happened over the course of making it, or something that was revealed in talking to these fine folks?

The industry is remarkably open. People are so supportive. They are a very, very smart group. So approaching the superstars was relatively easy. You also have to remember that super-stardom in the game design world means someone is big fish in a very small pond. Games, especially the hobby games market, are dwarfed by movies and video games. So demand on a superstar’s time in this world is smaller than any sort of film star. Ultimately, people enjoy telling their stories. I like to think I’m a good interviewer. I was able to chat with Rick Loomis about the history of Flying Buffalo, play by mail games and computer punch tape. I will make as many of these interviews available as extras on both digital media and digital download.

It helped that I'd known Alan before he shot to fame based on Ticket to Ride. And it turned out Knizia and Teuber were just as easy to approach. They understand how this works: they want to sell their games. At the same time, we all share the same passion for games. I was thrilled when Antoine Bauza, Steve Jackson, and Alan backed the Kickstarter along with Scott Alden and Tom Vasel. That was all unexpected.

What are some of your favorite moments making the film?

One of the highlights was visiting Mike Gray, former head of acquisitions for Hasbro. He also worked at TSR for a time, and he knows and is respected by everyone in the industry. Randall and I visited him in his "lair," somewhere in Massachusetts. It was truly like meeting Yoda with his wall of thousands of games. Our main still comes from the scene we shot at his house. His advice to Randall (and to all budding game designers) is invaluable; I don't want to give that away, as it anchors a key scene in the film.

Your Kickstarter for the film was a great success, collecting over 400% of your relatively modest initial goal.  Will that extra funding have any effect on the finished product?

Absolutely. I was able to hire a second cameraman for several days of shooting, including the one at Mike’s house, NY Toy Fair, and ChiTAG, as well as a couple of other events. I have recently hired a sound editor and I am looking to hire a composer. Money also went towards travel (mine and eventually some of Randall’s) and equipment. My initial Kickstarter goal was to get me through a few more months of shooting. However, my actual goal was 300% of the stated goal to finish the film and as you point out I exceeded 400%. I haven’t crunched all of the numbers, but I am likely still in the black. That said, manufacturing the physical media and shipping the rewards will take thousands of dollars. It would be nice to have a little bit left over to cover expenses promoting and screening the film. If the film starts to generate a profit, that would be fantastic.

On the one hand, as artists, we shouldn’t feel bad about actually making money from our work. On the other hand, The Jew of Malta certainly put my company deep into the red and that film will never make its money back. You can never predict the success of a creative endeavor, artistically, professionally, financially. My tiny documentary about hikers on the Appalachian trail has enabled me to continue work as an independent filmmaker funding projects that break even, eventually squeak out a profit, or others that lose money. If The Next Great American Game finds an appreciative audience, it will help fund works that may not be as lucrative. (See below.) (smile)

What's next for you?  Do you intend to make another film, and if so, on what topic? 

I am preparing my fourth adaptation of a classic drama. The first was The Summoning of Everyman (the medieval morality play), the next was filming a stage production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, and then more recently The Jew of Malta. Next up is The Second Shepherd’s Play. It’s another medieval tale (yes, gamers tend to love the medieval and Renaissance milieu) about a group of shepherds trying to recover a stolen lamb. It’s a comedy that was performed as part of the nativity cycles popular in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The play is often taught in drama survey courses, but students rarely have the opportunity to see it in performance. As an educator (I teach Screenwriting and Script Analysis at The New School in New York City) I want drama and English students to experience performance rather than just reading the text.

Many thanks to Douglas for taking the time to chat with us!  The Next Great American Game, with hours of extra interviews and digital content, is available at www.tabletopmovie.com. The filmmaker’s main website is www.grandfatherfilms.com.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A$$et Management

Back in 2001 - long before Cards Against Humanity came along and twisted Apples to Apples, turning the party game world on its head in the process - Forrestt Williams and Jason Main started work on an unapologetically "adult" game using old-school game mechanisms.

A$$et Management is a game that answers the question, what would the child's game of Life be like if it were set in a grimy urban underbelly of crime and prostitution?  Well, all right, perhaps that is not a question you were asking, but the game is amusing with the right audience.  Let's take a look.

An interesting aspect of the game is despite its adult theme, it plays much like the games you played when you were a kid - remember "roll the dice, move your mice"?  Here, it's roll the dice, indulge your vice as you build your crime empire and hire ladies of the evening.  To do that, you'll need plenty of street cred, which you'll get as you collect bling along the way.  The object of the game is to have the highest net worth at the end - you increase your wealth in several ways:


  • Landing on a SCORE square, which gives you a SCORE card (score cards are worth money and have other benefits - weapons to help you in a fight, bling to impress the ladies)
  • Rolling doubles on the dice, which also gives you a SCORE card
  • Landing on an action square that gives you money (however, some will have negative effects)
  • If an opponent lands on a square controlled by one of your ladies


The "landing on someone's square" mechanism works similar to Monopoly in that the controller of the square intends to collect payment, but unlike Monopoly, if you choose to you can "fight" the owner of the square and steal away the call girl named on that spot if you win.  Fighting isn't always the right move, and you have to pick your battles carefully.

The tactical part of the game is choosing when to fight and how many of your limited resources to put towards a fight.  You get weapons on some of your SCORE cards, and can use them in a fight, but once used, they are gone.

The rest of the gameplay is pretty random, but results in funny effects.  With one die roll I narrowly avoided another player's space occupied by her attractive Asian employee, Qum Li (presumably prounounced "comely").  "Whew," I said, "I didn't want to land on Qum Li."  Without missing a beat, my friend said "You got somethin' to say about Qum Li?!?"  You had to be there to see how ironic and incongruous it was to see my friend role-playing a pimp - she's very unpimplike outside of the game.

Finding the right audience for A$$et Management might be tricky.  The creators of the game say they have found it's been a hit with casual gamers, the sort who enjoy Cards Against Humanity but also like Ticket to Ride.  Since it's pretty quick to play and funny with the right perspective, I would think it could be fun with different groups of adult players (only), even outside of environments like bachelor parties or frat houses.  The women I played with found it amusing, though they wondered about replay value after you've landed on all the spots and seen all the girls.

Thinking about it after the game was over, I wondered if it wouldn't be good for the creators to include some attractive males on the cards as well. You know - something for the ladies.  Also, it would create an interesting tension for some male players to have to "land on" a male provider. Perhaps this can be part of an expansion.

The world's oldest profession is an unusual choice for an old school board game, but somehow it works.  Check out A$$et Management on their web site, www.assetmgmtgame.com.  A crowdfunding campaign is coming soon.

Monday, September 8, 2014

5Pax - 10 quick and light dice games in one small paxage

An interesting trend in the game world these days is "micro games" - the game equivalent of flash fiction, those super-short short stories of a few hundred words.  One game I reviewed last year plays in just one minute (SNAFU). Micro games are very quick to learn and play and generally can be played by almost anyone.

Galliant Games' 5pax is something of a misnomer, as the pack of games you get in their new kickstarter project now contains 10 games, not 5.  But 5Pax is just plain catchier than Tenpax, so 5Pax it is.  Galliant plans to create a total of 25 micro games if funding of the kickstarter is successful.

So what do you get when you back the project?  There are many options, from a single game board sent to you as a postcard (you provide your own dice) to everything and the kitchen sink.  The standard Pak includes 10 games, complete with game boards, dice and markers, as shown here:


The games are varied in type, and break down like so:

Light strategy games - You'll have decisions to make but won't sprain your brain... Save the Princess, Morph Chess, Trapped, TwentyOne

Sporty games - Games with a sports theme. Dodge ball, Horse racing, football

Dexterity games - Use your magic touch to win.  Toss, slide or flick the dice. Bowling. Marbles, Tennis

The 5Pax collection aims to provide something for everyone in a compact convenient package. I enjoyed the casual nature of the games and they provide a nice counterpoint to the lengthier strategic games that are so popular nowadays. The friend I tested the games with liked them and said she'd take a look at the project.  I hope you will too. The kickstarter is at the following link: 5Pax - Fast Dice Games

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Spoils

If you were playing games in the 1990s you probably remember games like Magic: The Gathering, in which you'd lovingly customize your deck of cards over time then go head to head with other players to do battle. Magic was so popular, in fact, it spawned a new genre: Collectible Card Games, or Trading Card Games (TCG).  The Spoils is a TCG with some aspects in common with Magic, but as you'll see, it handles things differently and fixes a lot of the gripes players have had with other CCGs.  Let's take a look.
The Spoils TCG

The game unfolds in the unhinged and chaotic realm of Luridia, "a fantasy world gone horribly wrong".  Some of the themes are adult in nature, so the publisher recommends that everyone who plays be at least 13 years of age (the game is fairly complex, so little kids probably wouldn't be drawn to it anyway).  I found the cards to be of good quality stock and the imagery didn't bother me - I found the violence more comical than disturbing, and in the box I received there were alternative "staple resources" cards for those who might wish to replace the regular ones, which depict beautiful (and strategically draped) women.

You'll start the game with a card representing the Faction to which you belong - you're a member of a like-minded group who share common goals. Each Faction card gives unique abilities you can use during the game, on your turn or even sometimes on your opponent's turn.  You build your deck using the cards of the five professions, or "Trades" in the game: Warlord, Banker, Arcanist, Gearsmith, and Rogue. You play cards by spending resource cards. Card types are as follows:
  • Character cards: you use characters to attack your opponent's faction.
  • Location cards: locations and items stay in play and confer specific advantages.
  • Tactics: tactics cards are one-time-use and cause a powerful effect to surprise your opponent and hopefully turn the tide of battle.

So what's new about The Spoils?  The luck of  the draw will be a  factor in any card game, but The Spoils has some good ideas to keep you in control.  Here are some of the innovations that make it more strategic and less random than other TCGs:

  • You always start out with two resources in play. In other games you could find yourself screwed from the outset and unable to play a card - this alleviates that.
  • Players can use any card and play it face down as a resource, so even if you do not draw actual resource cards, you can still build more resources to play more cards.  You always have options.
  • The game employs a partial "mulligan" system to "recycle" worthless cards with no penalty (As a one-time action, you may take any number of your opening hand cards, place them on the bottom of your deck and draw back up to a full hand).
  • A “Threshold Icon” system is used to unlock the ability to play cards. This system makes it easier to play the cards in your hand and opens a lot more room for deck building options.
  • There is no maximum hand size.  Hoard as many cards as you think you will need.
  • You do not lose the game if you cannot draw a card.
Your mileage may vary, but I enjoyed The Spoils' madcap aesthetic of anthropomorphic animals, semi-comical violence and off-beat humor.  This combined with a gameplay system that improves how this type of game works, makes for a game that any fan of collectible card games.should definitely take a look at.



Tuesday, August 19, 2014

God Hates Charades

God Hates Charades is a game launching on Kickstarter today.  The creators bill the game as "A chance to act out the vile and despicable in all of us."  The premise is easy to pick up - draw an ACTOR card (will have a celebrity or character written on it) and a SCENARIO card (will have a ridiculous situation or action on it) and try to get the other players to guess both.  It's fun, it's edgy, and it's perfect for those who love - or think they might love - inappropriate behavior.  Learn more at godhatescharades.com or in the interview below.

What was the impetus for God Hates Charades?  Do you guys actually hate Charades, and if so why?  Where did this idea come from and how has it evolved over time?
God Hates Charades came from the idea that we thought too many party games focused too much on mechanics and not enough on your friends acting and joking around like idiots. What evolved over time is the guessing and acting mechanics. The actual experience of playing the game was something we captured pretty early on in our play test and made sure to maintained as rules changed.

Your animated videos are very impressive.  How'd you make them and where did you get the music?
So I play music in the band Giggle Party. Some of the music I wrote and some of it is bands whom we are friends with. I felt like the art, music, and game itself all had to match. I think we did a good job getting those things to aligned. If you check out Giggle Party's art work you'll see I've had a long history of working with artist Damien Weighill as well.

In the example video, in which Batman is banging away the pain, he says the word "pain".  Shouldn't he get gonged for that?
Good catch. I did get gonged for that. During editing we left it in because we thought my act out was funny. Bad job at playing the game. Good job at "Batman banging away the pain." I love that combo by the way. It's just so perfect and explains why Bruce can just never get over it.

After the release, what are your plans for God Hates Charades?  Are you going to release a whole series of God Hates games?  Perhaps a game show on premium cable with celebrities doing charades and impressions of each other and other shocking things?
God Hates Charades is going to be our primary focus for the next couple of years. I think lots of companies have made it a habit of continuously going to Kickstarter, which I can see the appeal of, but we don't really want to do that. We just want to see GHC continue to work with the community of fans we've already had success with.  We announced a voting feature on our  our site and in the first seven days we received 81,000 votes. That was pretty shocking. So we can really imagine getting the community involved in helping evolve the game into something better than we could have ever imagined.

Any word yet from God on what he thinks of the new game?  Should we expect a release of "God Hates 'God Hates Charades'"?
God has his/her hands full. I don't think it's spending much time thinking about our game.

Describe a day of game development with your team.
We start each day off by playing a game and breaking it down into what we liked and didn't like about it. We then usually pitch ideas for other mechanics and games just to get the creative juices flowing. We usually prototype that out to some degree. And once we feel real good and loosened up we start work on God Hates Charades. We are a very modern gaming company, all of us have worked on games or computer software in the past, so we usually scrum and get to work building out new game content, website features, or mobile versions of our game.

The rules seem to say it's ok - but not recommended - to simply describe the actor and the scenario.  Any tips for motivating players who might be a little shy about actually acting out some of these things?
We find if you start acting out the scenario before you start acting out the actor you can get more into character. The most important thing to keep in mind is that everyone looks stupid acting like "Nick Cage trying on pants that are too small," so just have fun with it. That's the best thing about the game. It's not serious. So get over yourself. Let out some giggles. And if all else fails, drink.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Tapple

Tapple is a fast and fun party game of shouting out words.  It's a sort of real time "Scattergories," where your goal is to think of words that begin with a certain letter, but instead of writing them down, you're tapping a letter on a device, saying your word, then passing the device, a la "Catchphrase."



What makes the game fast?  You have only 10 seconds to think of a word that fits the category (Pizza toppings, cars, laundry detergents, things that get wet, etc) and as the round progresses it gets harder - each letter can be used only once.  (For example, if someone before you said "pepperoni," you can't say "pineapple" - the P has been pressed down and stays down until the round is over.) If you can't think of a word that works, you're out for that round, but rounds end quickly enough that you won't get bored waiting to jump in again.

What makes the game fun?  Surprisingly, there was relatively little arguing over what constituted an appropriate response - always the Achillies' heel of this type of game.  The rules specify that in answering you may use specific brand names (Jeep, Jetta) as well as related, more general terminology (junker, jalopy.)  This makes it possible to be creative in your response without getting dinged by the other players.  It's challenging and a little stressful - in a good way - to think of something with the time constraint and the loud ticking of the device.

Though the stack of category cards is small, it does fit nicely inside the device, and is color coded so you can play with easier categories for younger players.  It's also quite fun and easy to make up your own categories.  The categories are nicely varied so that everyone will eventually have a chance to do well.

If all the letters get used, a new round begins, with a new category, and everyone who has not been eliminated now must tap TWO letters and say two words.  If more than one player survives that round, a THIRD round begins and players must now tap three letters and think of three words!

Tapple is a simple and quick game that many people will enjoy.  It's as accessible as older possibly played-out games like Apples to Apples, and it's quicker and more challenging too.

One caveat: you will need to purchase batteries or pillage them from a remote control (as I did), as they are not included.

Tapple at USAopoly's web site