Dwarven Smithy: Kickstarter Recommendation


Dwarven Smithy is game for 2-4 players, from Flatworks Gaming, in which the players try to earn the most gold by selling minerals, runes, and gems, as well as powerful items they crafted from those resources.  Players must make the most efficient use of the limited space in their Workshop, Market, Apprentices, and Tool areas while also managing their hands and staying aware of the warehouse inventory.  The game continues until one player crafts their fourth King’s Item or either the Guild or Resource deck is depleted.  Following end game scoring, players compare their gold with the player possessing the most being declared the winner!

 

Rather than go through an in-depth rules explanation here, I will give more of a gameplay overview and explain what it is that I like about Dwarven Smithy and why I think it is a project worth backing!  For a complete look at the rules Flatworks Gaming has put together some excellent tutorial videos on YouTube.   Just follow these links for those interested in watching the videos: https://youtu.be/e_tcZvDtS10 for part one and https://youtu.be/WYjSh2Mwxqg for part two.

 

 

Game Play Overview

By far the most important key to understanding how to play Dwarven Smithy is to familiarize oneself with the player card that each player will have in front of them.  All players receive an identical player card and place it in the center of what will be their personal game space.  Each area comes with its own rules and spatial limitations and how each player manages these conditions will play a large part in whether they are successful or not.

Understanding the player card and the four areas it indicates: Workshop, Apprentice, Market, and Tools are the key to learning the game.

During the course of the game each of these areas will only be allowed to contain a certain number of cards at any given time.  The Workshop may have up to seven cards in it at anytime, the Market four, two Apprentices and two Tools.  Managing the spatial restrictions of these areas is one of the main challenges and an interesting feature of Dwarven Smithy.  The game would be easy with unlimited space, but as it is quite limited, and careful planning is required to be as efficient as possible while pursuing your goals.

Once everyone has a player card, they also receive 15 gold coins and draw their starting 6 cards.  The cards in the game are divided into two decks: Resource and Guild, and players draw four resource cards and two Guild Cards.  Play begins with the shortest person going first, although I assume that a randomly determined starting player would be ok as well.

A player’s turn consists of the following phases:

Refine:  Any unrefined resources in the player’s Workshop are turned to their refined orientation.

Complete:  Any Guild in a player’s workshop that have been placed atop the needed resources are now completed.

Action:  Players may take and repeat a number of actions during this phase:

  • Play a Card – Place a card from hand either in the Market or Workshop.
  • Discard a Card From the Market – Place a Guild Card in the discard pile from the player’s Market.
  • Move/Swap a Card – The player can use this action to move cards within their play area.
  • Sell a Resource Card to the Warehouse – Place a card from your market on top of the Warehouse and take its sell price in gold coins from the bank.
  • Buy a Resource card from the Warehouse – Pay the desired card’s buy price plus one coin for every card on top of and place the card in the player’s Market or Workshop.
  • Buy a Card from a Market – Pay the buy price of the desired card to the player in whose Market it resides and then place the card into your Market or Workshop.
  • Craft or Hire a Guild Card-  Place the Guild Card on top of the required resources in the Workshop (remembering it counts towards the limit of seven cards) with the intention of completing it next turn.

Draw:  The player draws up to four cards in any combination from the two decks without exceeding the hand limit of six cards

Play continues until one player completes their fourth King’s Item or either deck is depleted.  Players then sell everything left in their Markets and gain bonuses for having the most valuable King’s Item in each category.  The player with most gold coins wins!

The goodies you get in the box!

 

 

My Thoughts

I really enjoyed Dwarven Smithy as did all those with whom I played.  It was a little tricky at first to pick up some of the intricacies involved in manipulating one’s tableau, but once we grasp it play accelerated dramatically.  I would also say that it is a game that players will get significantly better at with more plays.  As players become more familiar with the contents of both the decks it will become much easier to create strategies with a proper understanding of each card’s value.  I am fine with this. To be honest prefer games that cannot be mastered in a single play.  As such, I am happy to report that Dwarven Smithy has sufficient depth to allow players to grow into the game.

While I liked Dwarven Smithy overall, there were two mechanical standouts that I thought really made it special.  The first being function of the Market in player areas.  Not only can a player sell resources from it for cash or discard Guild Cards to free up space, but cards placed there may be purchased by other players.  This is interesting for a couple of reasons.  Given that space is so limited, players will occasionally find themselves forced to move things into their markets to make room.  This offers an observant opponent the opportunity to sabotage that player’s future plans by purchasing the resources and placing in their Workshop.  Even if a player does not buy the item for vindictive reasons it is still a tough decision what to expose to purchase by other players just to make temporary space in one’s Workshop.  In addition to this, players store each of their completed King’s Items facedown in one of their four Market space permanently.  This slows down any run away leader syndrome as the closer a player gets to winning the less space they have available to work with.  These two factors cause the Market in Dwarven Smithy to create a great deal of tension and difficult decisions that add greatly to the overall experience!

Secondly, the Warehouse aspect of the game is great!  This could have easily just been another discard pile from which players could pick the top or any card and pay the cost to do so.  However, the fact that every Resource card in the game that is sold off by players is stacked there and the increase to their cost creates some very interesting decisions as well as a thematic feel.  Adding one to the buy cost of a card for each one on top of it can make one think very carefully about the order in which they place cards in the Warehouse after selling them.  Perhaps, you only sold them for short-term cash flow or to free up space on your tableau with the full intention of using it later.  Do you want to bury it under other cards you maybe selling in the current turn to discourage other players from buying it, but in doing so increase the future cost for yourself should you want it back? Do you buy something sold by another player that you don’t even need right now in anticipation of using it later before the cost increases from it being buried under more cards?  Tough decisions and really good stuff!  On a side note, I found the massive spread of cards in the Warehouse to thematically simulate mining as players dug through it looking for the resource they needed.  This is obviously thematic in a way that anyone considering a game called Dwarven Smithy can understand!

In conclusion, I found Dwarven Smithy to be an enjoyable and reasonably strategic card game accessible to mid weight gamers.  It takes a little while to play, but that accelerates as player become more familiar with the system and I am sure it moves even faster as players gain a better understanding of the strategies.  Given the skill level the game seems able to support, players should have plenty of room to explore and grow with multiple plays, which certainly adds value to buying a copy.  If you are in the market for a fun game that will test your ability to manage both a tightly constricted tableau as well as the cards in your hand Dwarven Smithy will likely be a hit for you!

 

Path of Light and Shadow: Kickstarter Recommendation

Path of Light and Shadow is a new game designed by the trio of Travis Chance, Nick Little, and Jonathan Gilmour in which players engage in a struggle to dominate the realm as the heirs of once great houses.  The methods by which each player attempts to achieve this goal are largely up to them, as they may be as merciful or cruel as they wish while reaping both the benefits and drawbacks that come with either. Do you have what it takes to crush your enemies and claim the realm by right of conquest?  Choose your path, but choose wisely as only one will lead to victory!

The Kickstarter campaign for Path of Light and Shadow begins on Tuesday May 9th and is being run by the well-known publisher Indie Boards and Cards.  This should reasonably remove any concern potential backers may have about the reliability of the people running the project, as it is a first-rate operation.  Rather than give a full rules explanation, I will instead give an overview of the mechanics and gameplay that make this such an interesting game.

Game Overview

The realm over which the players are battling!

The Path of Light and Shadow is played over the course of three years(rounds) with each round being made up of four game turns.  At the end of each year players will earn points based on the current state of the board position.

Each player gets one turn during each game turn, that is made up of their main phase, when most of the action takes place, and an end phase during which recruiting occurs.

During a players Main Phase they may move their leader, build a structure (advance on the tech tree), use and action ability(shown on cards), recruit an ally if the conditions are met cull cards from their deck and gain cruelty, promote a card, and attempt to conquer a province.  These actions may be performed in any order to the player’s best advantage, and some may be performed multiple times.

 

During a player’s End Phase they resolve any end of turn abilities they may have and then recruit.  The player must recruit a card from the deck that matches the type of province their leader is in and may recruit a second one from the same deck to increase their merciful rating by one.

That is the basic turn structure.  Pretty standard stuff in many ways, but the standouts are the impact of the culling in regards to cruelty, the recruiting and its effect on mercy, and a very interesting combat system.

As the name of the game implies there are two major paths that players may pursue in the game.  One of those main paths is cruelty and it is done by culling cards from one’s deck.  Most cards have a strength value and it may be used to cull (remove) other cards from the player’s hand or discard pile.  Each card culled increases the player’s cruelty by one.  Mechanically this thins a player’s deck and improves their draws.  Thematically, this represents a cruel leader who only keeps the strongest and most fanatically devoted to the cause.  Taking this path allows the player to push their cruelty to a level where certain cards grant benefits for such behavior!

The other primary path is that of the merciful leader.  While there are a number of ways to boost a player’s mercy, the most straightforward is to recruit an extra card during the End of Turn Phase.  Much like culling for cruelty, this is interesting both thematically and mechanically.  Mechanically, the player grows their deck and weakens the average strength of their draws, but as many cards provide end of game victory points it can improve their chances for victory.  Thematically, it shows a leader who accepts all who flock to the banner and attempts to rise to power through creating as large a coalition as possible.

Both of these features are integral to the game and a player should commit to one or the other as the middle is a terrible place to be.  As Machiavelli said you can generally be loved or feared and it the Path of Light and Shadow either is effective, but you must choose one!

Lastly is the unique combat system which is also linked with the terrific 3D towers that represent the strength and value of the castle in a province.  Unlike most area control games an empty province is not free for the taking.  Each province already has an existing stronghold and its strength and value are determined by the number of pips on the tower pieces in the province.  Even if it is not controlled by another player, it must be still be conquered to bring it under one’s sway.  Even more interesting is that doing so may very well result in damage being done to the towers and reducing its future strength and value!  This is awesome! I have never played a game that employed such a mechanic despite it being such an intuitive and realistic outcome of a battle.

Not destroying the province one conquers is important not only for its eventual point value but also for the defensive value it provides should another player try to take it.  This is because an attacking player declares it chooses a number of cards from hand, places them facedown, and declares the number of cards that are being used to conquer.  If the defender has any cards in hand capable of a defense they may now be declared.  Both players, resolve any battle abilities on their cards, calculate their strength and roll a number of battle dice to modify their strength.  The defender also adds in the number of pips on the tower in the province being defended and the player with the highest total wins.

This is just a brief overview of the combat system, but I assure you it is great!  There is a sense of unknown on the part of both players that creates tension.  The attacker has to worry about going too strong and potentially causing damage to the prize, but also deal with the danger of attacking too weakly if the defender has enough cards in hand to react.  Mix in the custom die rolls and there is an opportunity for some wild outcomes depending how much risk you are willing to take.  I say risk you are willing to take, because despite the number of unknowns a player can be cautious and almost guarantee victory if they want to wait for the right conditions.  However, time is tight and fortune favors, and sometimes crushes, the bold and a well-timed gamble can really pay off!

At the end of the 12th turn players once again score the pips on their castles and receive bonus for controlling multiple provinces of the same type, as well as any influence value on cards in their decks, influence for their allies, any points for structures they have built.  The player with the highest point total is the victor!

My Impression

I am a big fan of this game!  Path of Light and Shadow is fascinating because it is full of new takes on familiar mechanics.  It is absolutely an area control game, or as those of us who love them like to say, “a dudes on the map game.”  Yet, each player will only ever have one actual dude on the map!   All players begin the game with a near identical deck of cards that will be augmented over the course of the game as cards are mercifully recruited or cruelly culled.  Yet, it is in almost no way a traditional deckbuilding game.  It is more of deck and hand management game, where a player’s deck is representative of his civilization/faction and the strategy it is pursuing towards victory.  There is a tech tree through which players are able to enhance their faction and customize the strategy they wish to follow.  Yet, this is no run of the mill civilization building game that takes countless hours to play and effectively renders itself unplayable in the process (more on this later).  It is most certainly a game about conquering lands and battling the other players.  Yet, unlike many such games the players will be forced to choose a moral path where they will either mercifully renew the lands that they liberate and seek to defend or cruelly and wantonly destroy everything leaving a wake of destruction for all to contend with. This is a game about decisions and the consequences that a leader must face as a result of those decisions.

 

Merciful or cruel…Which will you be?

I mentioned earlier, as the name implies, it is game with two primary paths.  However, there are numerous ways to pursue both of those paths creating many different ways to play.  The word that I think best describes it is…room.  There is so much room in this game to explore that it calls to a player like me!  I love games that allow players to experiment with a wide array of play styles and Path of Light and Shadow completely delivers in this regard.

Another great thing about the game, and one that makes my previous observation possible, is that it plays in a very reasonable amount of time.  You can have as much “room” in a game as you want, but if it takes 10 hours to play no one will dare to explore creative strategies as time invested is too great to take such chances and possibly ruin your experience.  The Path of Light and Shadow plays in about 90 to 120 minutes, and I felt engaged the entire time.  It is possible they have achieved one of the Holy Grails of game design…a civ game(sort of) with a with manageable play time!

Promote weaker cards into stronger ones!

Players simply have so many options from the factions on which they focus, the structures they build, promoting their weaker cards or cruelly culling them, and whether to defend powerful castles or watch the world burn that the Path of Light and Shadow will demand many plays to even begin unlocking all of its secrets!   I would advise caution to those who dislike direct conflict or games of a hardcore nature, as it can be quite punishing, but for all others it is a must have!  It is because of this that I give it my highest recommendation and urge those with tastes like mine to back it on Kickstarter or seek it out when it reaches retail!  It is a great game that offers an epic experience and tons of fun for those brave enough to conquer it!

 

Game Design: Family Think & Make Workshop


I recently gave a presentation about tabletop game design at Perry Meridian Junior High School as part of their series of Think and Make Workshops.  These events are run by their wonderful librarian, Leslie Preddy, and with the help of a few dedicated volunteers.  One of the school’s math teachers and resident gaming expert, Doc Rissel, also took part in the presentation by teaching the audience about strategy and tactics as well as how to make variants of existing games.

 

 

For my part, I gave a short speech about my personal background with gaming, game design, and powerful lessons I have learned that I believe can help aspiring game designers or creators in general.  I followed this up by creating a basic board game template and then allowed the students to customize their own copies thematically so each student left with unique copy of a game they played a part in creating.

I began my presentation with some background on how I became a gamer, which is of course the foundation of how I wound up designing games.  I explained that it all began by angering my grandpa!  The first game I can remember playing was Checkers with my Mom’s father.  He taught me when I was about 5 years old and much to the surprise of all, but especially his, I crushed him!  Pa was not pleased.  In fact he displeased enough that he not only never played Checkers with me again, but to the best of my knowledge never played Checkers with anyone ever again!  While he may have done a poor job teaching me sportsmanship, he had awakened my love and talent for games that endures undiminished to this day!  Thanks Pa, who knows what would have happened if you never taught me Checkers!

I explained that Checkers led me to learn Chess, Poker, Chinese Checkers, and countless other games at a very young age.  I discovered Rpgs in my teens and played more advanced board games like Axis and Allies and true hobby games like Battletech until the bomb dropped.  The bomb in question was Magic: the Gathering which, aside from Poker utterly dominated my gaming life from 17 until nearly 30.  I explained that the near decade and a half of Magic was my doctorate in learning iterative design and understanding the interactions of game mechanics, even though I did not yet know it to be the case.

It was only after I had given up Magic and discovered modern board games in around 2006-2007 that I slowly began to feel the itch to design a game of my own.  After playing modern classics such as:  Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Puerto Rico, Power Grid, Ticket to Ride, and so many more I began to believe that it might be something I could do.  For the next few years I played at being a game designer, but did not really put in the work needed to actually accomplish my goal.  I would test once in a blue moon and make countless changes, but never really got down to business.  That is until I saw a video that made it all so clear to me exactly how I had to proceed!  This video, and its message, was the first piece of advice to my young audience.  I recommended they watch it.  I recommend you watch it.  I recommend everyone who thinks they might ever try to make or do anything creative!

 

Fail Faster

This the most powerful advice I have ever received in my life!  It made it possible for me take the partially formed Legacy Wars game idea I had and mercilessly pound it into the ground with my testers and eventual publisher V3G until it emerged as Strife: Legacy of the Eternals and realize my dream of becoming a game designer!  This helped me to overcome my fear of showing people something that wasn’t ready by allowing me to understand that doing so was the only way it ever would be ready!  It seems obvious, but it is not.  Apply the concept of failing faster to your creative endeavors, games or anything else, and they will start you moving down the right path!

“You can do anything, but not everything.” – David Allen.

This was my second piece of advice/wisdom to the kids.  During the run-up to Strife, their were a number of friends and some even in the industry who strongly advised me to self publish and run the Kickstarter myself.  While considering my options I remembered this quote and helped me make up my mind.  I realized that the extent of my game industry talents were working on a game and applying the fundamentals of iterative design and that was it!  I knew nothing of art direction, producing a product, running a Kickstarter campaign, graphic design, shipping a product globally, warehousing or any of the other important skills/knowledge sets that going into making a game or any product for that matter.  Now I am a smart guy, and I believe that I could learn how to do any of these things or at least how to hire out to skilled people who could, but I did not think that trying to do so on the fly while also designing my first game was the right time to do so.  Yes I could do anything, but not everything and I had to prioritize my goal to match with the skills I possess.  I wanted to design a game.  Out of all of the aforementioned skills this was the one that I felt I most possessed.  I knew that I would be best served focusing on that goal alone and that having a publisher handle all of those other concerns was the way for me to go.  I may someday run my own Kickstarter, as I have learned, and continue to learn so much from the great people with whom I have worked, but I truly do not know, as all I really want to do is design games.  I have no doubt that my design would suffer or at least my pace would be greatly reduced if I had to juggle everything else at the same time.

“Haters gonna hate.”

I am the furthest thing in the world from a fan of rap or hip-hop, but this saying is an absolute truism that all creators need to understand.  So much of what stands in the way of people creating a game or whatever their dream may be is tied up in the fear that someone will hate it.  I want to put your mind at ease…someone will definitely hate it!  Think of your favorite food…someone hates it.  Think of your favorite movie…someone hates it.  Think of anything in all the world that you think is wonderful and amazing…someone out there hates it!  So, given that there is a 100% chance that someone will hate what ever it is that you create there really is nothing to fear is there?  People are going to hate what you make for legitimate reasons in that it is simply not to their taste, which is fair.  Unfortunately people are also going to hate what you make for completely illegitimate reasons because they don’t even understand what is, which I find somewhat less fair.

To illustrate this point to the audience I read to them some of the most interesting reviews of my game Strife:  Legacy of the Eternals. It is designed to have a very low amount of luck and is as a result almost entirely a game of skill.  Some reviews back this fact up by referring to it as, “Card Chess” and “A challenging game with virtually zero luck.”  While some of the reviews and ratings are from people who simply do not enjoy that kind of game, which is a perfectly valid opinion, but there were also others.  Others who said things like, “This game is totally random with no skill at all,” and “Strife is a game that seems like it requires skill, but is really all luck.” The vast majority of the people who did not enjoy Strife fully acknowledged that is was a low luck high skill game, but not their preferred type of game, but as you can see some people did not even recognize what the game was about, but they knew they hated it.  This will happen no matter what you make and rather than worry about it you should embrace it and be freed from your fear.  After all, no matter what you do haters gonna hate!

Clackasaur vs Ninja Squirrels

My second part of the presentation was to help the kids in attendance make a game that they could take home with them.  During the week leading up to the event I designed a simple battle game where a “Big Monster” would be trying to steal the “Valuables” of “Type of Small Animals.”

This is the picture of the board and set up.

In my case I used a crab token that my step-daughter Katie gave me as part of a Christmas present full of prototyping materials as inspiration for my monster, Clackasaur.  Ninja Squirrels are my small animals and they are trying to defend their valuable, cotton candies, from the rampaging Clackasaur.  Obviously, this is ridiculous, but that was part of the point of the exercise.  It allowed the kids to use their imaginations when filling in the theme they wanted the game to be and understand that a game can really be about anything.  The Fail Faster video mentions this when it explains the silly concepts some of the world’s most iconic games have, such as:

Mario Brothers: Is about plumbers on drugs.

Sonic the Hedgehog:  Is about a blue hedgehog in sneakers that can run really fast.

Gears of War:  Is about linebackers fighting bugs with chainsaw guns.

They even go on to explain that Angry Birds, launching birds at pigs in castles, made a billion dollars!  It is about perfectly implementing your concept in an entertaining manner instead of coming up with the perfect concept.

The kids really enjoyed this part of the presentation and I will list below some of my favorite titles and valuables they came up with:

  • Locoraptor vs Elven Bunnies for the pieces of the Scepter
  • Big Joe  vs  Tiny Lizards for the Crickets
  • Ronster vs Flying Mice for the Cheese
  • Hydrasius vs Invisible Chipmunks for the Golden Strawberries
  • Giant Raccoon Vs Armored Turtles for the Iron Ingots
  • Dragonzilla vs Ninja Wasps for the Divinity Logs

 

A game in progress!

There were several others, but as you can see they let their imaginations run wild and we got some unique takes on the game from these young minds!

After customizing the attack cards in their battle decks to thematically represent the creatures they had chosen, everyone played their games.  I am happy to report that the results were reasonably balanced, as I heard stories of both animals and monsters winning, but most of all everyone having fun.

As the event came to a close four Gen Con passes, that had been generously donated, were awarded two at a time by random drawing.  I was given the honor/curse of drawing names, and as such was able to both fulfil and crush the hopes and dreams of the attendees.  I answered any questions the departing crowd had, with the most interesting coming from a young man who first told me I was awesome, always good way to get my attention, and then desperately pleaded to do some playtesting for me in the future.  When I told him to subscribe to this blog so I would have his email if I needed to reach him for testing he was super excited!  Leslie, thanked me profusely and told me the kids loved it and that I had been elevated to hero status.  She also gave me a little card containing a present I had not expected.

All in all, it was quite an evening.  A presentation like this is exactly the sort of assignment I would have skipped when I was in school, as I have long had terrible fear of public speaking due to my extreme introversion, and now here I was volunteering to do it as an adult!  Young me would be shocked to learn of such a future, but as the say, “What long strange trip its been.”  I must confess that most of my encounters with the education system as a step-parent and in general have left me disillusioned and cynical about its current state.  However, it must be said that Leslie and Doc are incredible educators, who are passionate about bringing unique experiences to their students that will broaden both their knowledge base and their minds!  It was inspiring to see such dedication and a great pleasure to help them in the small way I was able.  We need more like them!

In closing, I am glad to say that it was a positive experience for all involved including myself.  I originally offered to volunteer as a favor to a friend who teaches at the school, but after meeting Leslie and Doc found myself becoming more excited about the event.  It was truly a case of stepping out of my comfort zone, and although it made me nervous I feel the better for it.  You should try it sometime.  You may find it an excellent opportunity to learn something even as you teach others!

 

 

Remember to share and subscribe if you liked this article.  Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

How to Win New Games By Playing Like My Wife

What is the only thing better than trying out an exciting new tabletop game?  Winning the first time you try out an exciting new tabletop game!  “Easier said than done,” you might say.  After all, depending on the complexity of a game it can be quite challenging to form any sort of coherent strategy with such a limited understanding of it.  This would seemingly result in a relative crap shoot as to who will win if the entire group is made up of novices.  I am here to tell you this notion is wrong!  By carefully observing the behavior of an expert new game winner I have solved this riddle for the ages by copying her method.  Who is this nigh unstoppable force of nature at winning new games you might ask? It’s my wife…the one and only Mrs. Heather Hamm!

Frequent readers of Life in Games will have surely heard me talk about Heather and some may have even read one of her occasional guest posts that can be found under the heading, Wife in Games.  For those of you not familiar with her it is important to realize she is a skilled, but relatively casual gamer who tends to shy away from the heaviest games or those with too much direct conflict.  Despite being more casual and drawn to somewhat less ruthless games or styles of play she has an incredible track record of winning, or nearly winning games that all of the players are playing for the first time.  How can this be?

First, a little background on the topic.  Heather and I have been married since September of 2008 and she has gone to every Gen Con with me since that year, while we were just engaged.  Every year I make a list of new or new to us, games that I believe we would both enjoy and try to seek out as many as we can during the con.  It is not uncommon for a few of our friends, often some of my very hardcore gaming buddies, to join us in these games.  When this same group plays games at home, ones we have played many times before, she is often competitive, but seldom wins.  We tend to simply be more familiar with the game and due to that greater understanding we are able to form optimized strategies that usually results in one of us winning.  However, a year or two ago, she and I noticed that she was winning about half of the new games we played every year at Gen Con even though we were with the same four or five people as at home.  Even if you account for the unfamiliarity with new games as a balancing factor, a 50% win rate year after year against people who usually beat you is quite surprising and more than just luck.  I have often thought my own win rate to be somewhat suppressed in this situation because I tend to be the rule reader and game teacher.  Having to constantly reference the rulebook for myself and others takes my attention from the game and hampers my ability to play.  This generally does not bother me, as Gen Con represent a rare occasion where I play with a much more casual attitude and focus more on having a good time then trying to win at all costs.  Still, I knew there was no way that this was the only explanation, especially since it only applied to me, and not the other players at the table.

 

Heather implementing an aggressive strategy during our first Gen Con together!

 

The answer  came to us one day when she and I were discussing the difference between tactics and strategy.  I am very strategic by nature.  I formulate a specific strategy and then employ the necessary tactics to implement that strategy.  She tend to be more of a pure tactical thinker.  Excellent at making the best decision in the moment, but not as strong at the long-term detailed planning.  As such, she usually picks a very basic strategy, that may very well be far from optimal, and then focuses a 100% of effort on that one plan.  It turns out that this is incredibly effective for winning games being played for the first time by your group, even if the rest of the group tends to be more hardcore than you.  In fact, their own hardcore nature may even work against them!

The most hardcore players are prone to trying to create an optimal strategy even when they are too unfamiliar with a game to do so.  This natural urge can cause them to make a number of mistakes that they would not make after a few plays.  Whether a result of ego or the force of habit, this often places these hardcore players at a disadvantage when playing games for the first time.  This provides exactly the opening Heather’s style of play requires to have a very high success rate!  Rather then fumble about trying to act like she knows the game perfectly, she picks an element of the game that offers decent value and applies laser-like focus to it and often wins as a result!

 

The Stone Age board being setup.

 

After considering her track record of success, I decided to give this play style a try in a recent game of Stone Age in the Indy Gaming Series.  I had never played, and neither had one of the other players, with the third having only played three times over a number of years.  After a shortened practice game, to familiarize ourselves with the rules, which I lost terribly, I activated the Heather Plan!  I proceeded to play a very low risk, highly focused strategy that virtually ignored entire elements of the game.  I felt really good as the game was progressing.  I had a sense of comfort from not trying to over think something I did not fully understand and when the final scores were totaled, I had won!  Eureka!  Not only had I won the game, but I had successfully field tested our theory regarding her tremendous success playing new games!

So, if you and your group are all trying out a new game, and you want to win, I strongly recommend giving the Heather Plan a go.  It is officially my new strategy for such occasions and I expect that I will racking up quite a few more first time wins!  Even though it might cost me a few extra dirty looks from Heather for stealing her move, it’s totally worth it!

 

 

Don’t forget tell your stories in the comments, subscribe to Life in Games, and follow me on social media for more gaming content!  To learn more about the Wife in Games herself, checkout Heather’s blog Story of a Better Me!

What’s New and What’s Coming.

Hello everyone!  It has been far too long since I have posted here, but that is all about to change.  I have not written as I have been giving a lot of thought over the past few months about the direction that I want to take with Life in Games.  When I started this site, I covered all aspects of my gaming life, but transitioned heavily into the world of reviewing games.  I reviewed both games in my collection and games that were to be released or Kickstarted in the near future.  Before long this became the primary source of my content and I like to think I provided objective information about all the games I have reviewed.  I was never anything but honest, and even in the event I disliked a game it was my goal to inform as to why rather than to be cruel.  However, as my gaming life has changed more and more over the last couple of years my time and interest for doing reviews has greatly diminished and as a result so has my content production.

I still play a ton of games for recreation, but the time once spent on reviews has now been filled more and more with designing games of my own.  Having a full-time job and a family only leaves so much time for game playing and that is filled with gaming with friends and playtesting.  I simply do not have the time to review games anymore and especially those reviews that come with a deadline from the publisher.  This is ok.  I have accepted it and am now ready to move on in a new direction with my articles.  Given that the site is called Life in Games, it only makes sense that the content would change as my gaming life does as well.

Going forward, much of the content here will be directed toward game design, stories about gaming, events that I attend, or super cool projects that I am aware of and want to spread the word about.

The articles on game design will range from updates about my current projects, methods and processes I use, and helpful resources that I discover.  It will be a mixture of excitement for my games and a resource that I hope will help other aspiring designers!

 

The box for my upcoming game, Legendary Creatures!

 

 

The stories about gaming will remain much the same as they always have.  The occasional tale from the IGS (Indy Game Series) to which I still belong and any cool story that occurs while playing games with friends or strangers alike!

For events that I go to, I will report on those I attend in a formal capacity for Life in Games or as game designer as well as those where I am simply there to play games and have fun!

Lastly, as part of my adventures in the game industry I have met and reconnected with some amazingly creative people and if I am made aware of a great project I will write about it.  These will not be reviews in the cold analytical manner I used to write, but the musing of a fellow gamer/fan who cannot wait to see these games get made.  I will still be completely honest regarding such games, an will never engage in shilling, but if I am writing about a game now it will be because I am genuinely excited for its release!

I am very excited to start posting here again and sharing all of my experiences in the gaming world with all of you!  Feel free to find the Life in Games page on Facebook, hit me up on Twitter, or comment on this site.  I would love to connect and hear all about your gaming stories as well!  Happy gaming and stay tuned for big news!

May 23

Dwarven Smithy: Kickstarter Recommendation


Dwarven Smithy is game for 2-4 players, from Flatworks Gaming, in which the players try to earn the most gold by selling minerals, runes, and gems, as well as powerful items they crafted from those resources.  Players must make the most efficient use of the limited space in their Workshop, Market, Apprentices, and Tool areas while also managing their hands and staying aware of the warehouse inventory.  The game continues until one player crafts their fourth King’s Item or either the Guild or Resource deck is depleted.  Following end game scoring, players compare their gold with the player possessing the most being declared the winner!

 

Rather than go through an in-depth rules explanation here, I will give more of a gameplay overview and explain what it is that I like about Dwarven Smithy and why I think it is a project worth backing!  For a complete look at the rules Flatworks Gaming has put together some excellent tutorial videos on YouTube.   Just follow these links for those interested in watching the videos: https://youtu.be/e_tcZvDtS10 for part one and https://youtu.be/WYjSh2Mwxqg for part two.

 

 

Game Play Overview

By far the most important key to understanding how to play Dwarven Smithy is to familiarize oneself with the player card that each player will have in front of them.  All players receive an identical player card and place it in the center of what will be their personal game space.  Each area comes with its own rules and spatial limitations and how each player manages these conditions will play a large part in whether they are successful or not.

Understanding the player card and the four areas it indicates: Workshop, Apprentice, Market, and Tools are the key to learning the game.

During the course of the game each of these areas will only be allowed to contain a certain number of cards at any given time.  The Workshop may have up to seven cards in it at anytime, the Market four, two Apprentices and two Tools.  Managing the spatial restrictions of these areas is one of the main challenges and an interesting feature of Dwarven Smithy.  The game would be easy with unlimited space, but as it is quite limited, and careful planning is required to be as efficient as possible while pursuing your goals.

Once everyone has a player card, they also receive 15 gold coins and draw their starting 6 cards.  The cards in the game are divided into two decks: Resource and Guild, and players draw four resource cards and two Guild Cards.  Play begins with the shortest person going first, although I assume that a randomly determined starting player would be ok as well.

A player’s turn consists of the following phases:

Refine:  Any unrefined resources in the player’s Workshop are turned to their refined orientation.

Complete:  Any Guild in a player’s workshop that have been placed atop the needed resources are now completed.

Action:  Players may take and repeat a number of actions during this phase:

  • Play a Card – Place a card from hand either in the Market or Workshop.
  • Discard a Card From the Market – Place a Guild Card in the discard pile from the player’s Market.
  • Move/Swap a Card – The player can use this action to move cards within their play area.
  • Sell a Resource Card to the Warehouse – Place a card from your market on top of the Warehouse and take its sell price in gold coins from the bank.
  • Buy a Resource card from the Warehouse – Pay the desired card’s buy price plus one coin for every card on top of and place the card in the player’s Market or Workshop.
  • Buy a Card from a Market – Pay the buy price of the desired card to the player in whose Market it resides and then place the card into your Market or Workshop.
  • Craft or Hire a Guild Card-  Place the Guild Card on top of the required resources in the Workshop (remembering it counts towards the limit of seven cards) with the intention of completing it next turn.

Draw:  The player draws up to four cards in any combination from the two decks without exceeding the hand limit of six cards

Play continues until one player completes their fourth King’s Item or either deck is depleted.  Players then sell everything left in their Markets and gain bonuses for having the most valuable King’s Item in each category.  The player with most gold coins wins!

The goodies you get in the box!

 

 

My Thoughts

I really enjoyed Dwarven Smithy as did all those with whom I played.  It was a little tricky at first to pick up some of the intricacies involved in manipulating one’s tableau, but once we grasp it play accelerated dramatically.  I would also say that it is a game that players will get significantly better at with more plays.  As players become more familiar with the contents of both the decks it will become much easier to create strategies with a proper understanding of each card’s value.  I am fine with this. To be honest prefer games that cannot be mastered in a single play.  As such, I am happy to report that Dwarven Smithy has sufficient depth to allow players to grow into the game.

While I liked Dwarven Smithy overall, there were two mechanical standouts that I thought really made it special.  The first being function of the Market in player areas.  Not only can a player sell resources from it for cash or discard Guild Cards to free up space, but cards placed there may be purchased by other players.  This is interesting for a couple of reasons.  Given that space is so limited, players will occasionally find themselves forced to move things into their markets to make room.  This offers an observant opponent the opportunity to sabotage that player’s future plans by purchasing the resources and placing in their Workshop.  Even if a player does not buy the item for vindictive reasons it is still a tough decision what to expose to purchase by other players just to make temporary space in one’s Workshop.  In addition to this, players store each of their completed King’s Items facedown in one of their four Market space permanently.  This slows down any run away leader syndrome as the closer a player gets to winning the less space they have available to work with.  These two factors cause the Market in Dwarven Smithy to create a great deal of tension and difficult decisions that add greatly to the overall experience!

Secondly, the Warehouse aspect of the game is great!  This could have easily just been another discard pile from which players could pick the top or any card and pay the cost to do so.  However, the fact that every Resource card in the game that is sold off by players is stacked there and the increase to their cost creates some very interesting decisions as well as a thematic feel.  Adding one to the buy cost of a card for each one on top of it can make one think very carefully about the order in which they place cards in the Warehouse after selling them.  Perhaps, you only sold them for short-term cash flow or to free up space on your tableau with the full intention of using it later.  Do you want to bury it under other cards you maybe selling in the current turn to discourage other players from buying it, but in doing so increase the future cost for yourself should you want it back? Do you buy something sold by another player that you don’t even need right now in anticipation of using it later before the cost increases from it being buried under more cards?  Tough decisions and really good stuff!  On a side note, I found the massive spread of cards in the Warehouse to thematically simulate mining as players dug through it looking for the resource they needed.  This is obviously thematic in a way that anyone considering a game called Dwarven Smithy can understand!

In conclusion, I found Dwarven Smithy to be an enjoyable and reasonably strategic card game accessible to mid weight gamers.  It takes a little while to play, but that accelerates as player become more familiar with the system and I am sure it moves even faster as players gain a better understanding of the strategies.  Given the skill level the game seems able to support, players should have plenty of room to explore and grow with multiple plays, which certainly adds value to buying a copy.  If you are in the market for a fun game that will test your ability to manage both a tightly constricted tableau as well as the cards in your hand Dwarven Smithy will likely be a hit for you!

 

May 09

Path of Light and Shadow: Kickstarter Recommendation

Path of Light and Shadow is a new game designed by the trio of Travis Chance, Nick Little, and Jonathan Gilmour in which players engage in a struggle to dominate the realm as the heirs of once great houses.  The methods by which each player attempts to achieve this goal are largely up to them, as they may be as merciful or cruel as they wish while reaping both the benefits and drawbacks that come with either. Do you have what it takes to crush your enemies and claim the realm by right of conquest?  Choose your path, but choose wisely as only one will lead to victory!

The Kickstarter campaign for Path of Light and Shadow begins on Tuesday May 9th and is being run by the well-known publisher Indie Boards and Cards.  This should reasonably remove any concern potential backers may have about the reliability of the people running the project, as it is a first-rate operation.  Rather than give a full rules explanation, I will instead give an overview of the mechanics and gameplay that make this such an interesting game.

Game Overview

The realm over which the players are battling!

The Path of Light and Shadow is played over the course of three years(rounds) with each round being made up of four game turns.  At the end of each year players will earn points based on the current state of the board position.

Each player gets one turn during each game turn, that is made up of their main phase, when most of the action takes place, and an end phase during which recruiting occurs.

During a players Main Phase they may move their leader, build a structure (advance on the tech tree), use and action ability(shown on cards), recruit an ally if the conditions are met cull cards from their deck and gain cruelty, promote a card, and attempt to conquer a province.  These actions may be performed in any order to the player’s best advantage, and some may be performed multiple times.

 

During a player’s End Phase they resolve any end of turn abilities they may have and then recruit.  The player must recruit a card from the deck that matches the type of province their leader is in and may recruit a second one from the same deck to increase their merciful rating by one.

That is the basic turn structure.  Pretty standard stuff in many ways, but the standouts are the impact of the culling in regards to cruelty, the recruiting and its effect on mercy, and a very interesting combat system.

As the name of the game implies there are two major paths that players may pursue in the game.  One of those main paths is cruelty and it is done by culling cards from one’s deck.  Most cards have a strength value and it may be used to cull (remove) other cards from the player’s hand or discard pile.  Each card culled increases the player’s cruelty by one.  Mechanically this thins a player’s deck and improves their draws.  Thematically, this represents a cruel leader who only keeps the strongest and most fanatically devoted to the cause.  Taking this path allows the player to push their cruelty to a level where certain cards grant benefits for such behavior!

The other primary path is that of the merciful leader.  While there are a number of ways to boost a player’s mercy, the most straightforward is to recruit an extra card during the End of Turn Phase.  Much like culling for cruelty, this is interesting both thematically and mechanically.  Mechanically, the player grows their deck and weakens the average strength of their draws, but as many cards provide end of game victory points it can improve their chances for victory.  Thematically, it shows a leader who accepts all who flock to the banner and attempts to rise to power through creating as large a coalition as possible.

Both of these features are integral to the game and a player should commit to one or the other as the middle is a terrible place to be.  As Machiavelli said you can generally be loved or feared and it the Path of Light and Shadow either is effective, but you must choose one!

Lastly is the unique combat system which is also linked with the terrific 3D towers that represent the strength and value of the castle in a province.  Unlike most area control games an empty province is not free for the taking.  Each province already has an existing stronghold and its strength and value are determined by the number of pips on the tower pieces in the province.  Even if it is not controlled by another player, it must be still be conquered to bring it under one’s sway.  Even more interesting is that doing so may very well result in damage being done to the towers and reducing its future strength and value!  This is awesome! I have never played a game that employed such a mechanic despite it being such an intuitive and realistic outcome of a battle.

Not destroying the province one conquers is important not only for its eventual point value but also for the defensive value it provides should another player try to take it.  This is because an attacking player declares it chooses a number of cards from hand, places them facedown, and declares the number of cards that are being used to conquer.  If the defender has any cards in hand capable of a defense they may now be declared.  Both players, resolve any battle abilities on their cards, calculate their strength and roll a number of battle dice to modify their strength.  The defender also adds in the number of pips on the tower in the province being defended and the player with the highest total wins.

This is just a brief overview of the combat system, but I assure you it is great!  There is a sense of unknown on the part of both players that creates tension.  The attacker has to worry about going too strong and potentially causing damage to the prize, but also deal with the danger of attacking too weakly if the defender has enough cards in hand to react.  Mix in the custom die rolls and there is an opportunity for some wild outcomes depending how much risk you are willing to take.  I say risk you are willing to take, because despite the number of unknowns a player can be cautious and almost guarantee victory if they want to wait for the right conditions.  However, time is tight and fortune favors, and sometimes crushes, the bold and a well-timed gamble can really pay off!

At the end of the 12th turn players once again score the pips on their castles and receive bonus for controlling multiple provinces of the same type, as well as any influence value on cards in their decks, influence for their allies, any points for structures they have built.  The player with the highest point total is the victor!

My Impression

I am a big fan of this game!  Path of Light and Shadow is fascinating because it is full of new takes on familiar mechanics.  It is absolutely an area control game, or as those of us who love them like to say, “a dudes on the map game.”  Yet, each player will only ever have one actual dude on the map!   All players begin the game with a near identical deck of cards that will be augmented over the course of the game as cards are mercifully recruited or cruelly culled.  Yet, it is in almost no way a traditional deckbuilding game.  It is more of deck and hand management game, where a player’s deck is representative of his civilization/faction and the strategy it is pursuing towards victory.  There is a tech tree through which players are able to enhance their faction and customize the strategy they wish to follow.  Yet, this is no run of the mill civilization building game that takes countless hours to play and effectively renders itself unplayable in the process (more on this later).  It is most certainly a game about conquering lands and battling the other players.  Yet, unlike many such games the players will be forced to choose a moral path where they will either mercifully renew the lands that they liberate and seek to defend or cruelly and wantonly destroy everything leaving a wake of destruction for all to contend with. This is a game about decisions and the consequences that a leader must face as a result of those decisions.

 

Merciful or cruel…Which will you be?

I mentioned earlier, as the name implies, it is game with two primary paths.  However, there are numerous ways to pursue both of those paths creating many different ways to play.  The word that I think best describes it is…room.  There is so much room in this game to explore that it calls to a player like me!  I love games that allow players to experiment with a wide array of play styles and Path of Light and Shadow completely delivers in this regard.

Another great thing about the game, and one that makes my previous observation possible, is that it plays in a very reasonable amount of time.  You can have as much “room” in a game as you want, but if it takes 10 hours to play no one will dare to explore creative strategies as time invested is too great to take such chances and possibly ruin your experience.  The Path of Light and Shadow plays in about 90 to 120 minutes, and I felt engaged the entire time.  It is possible they have achieved one of the Holy Grails of game design…a civ game(sort of) with a with manageable play time!

Promote weaker cards into stronger ones!

Players simply have so many options from the factions on which they focus, the structures they build, promoting their weaker cards or cruelly culling them, and whether to defend powerful castles or watch the world burn that the Path of Light and Shadow will demand many plays to even begin unlocking all of its secrets!   I would advise caution to those who dislike direct conflict or games of a hardcore nature, as it can be quite punishing, but for all others it is a must have!  It is because of this that I give it my highest recommendation and urge those with tastes like mine to back it on Kickstarter or seek it out when it reaches retail!  It is a great game that offers an epic experience and tons of fun for those brave enough to conquer it!

 

Apr 29

Game Design: Family Think & Make Workshop


I recently gave a presentation about tabletop game design at Perry Meridian Junior High School as part of their series of Think and Make Workshops.  These events are run by their wonderful librarian, Leslie Preddy, and with the help of a few dedicated volunteers.  One of the school’s math teachers and resident gaming expert, Doc Rissel, also took part in the presentation by teaching the audience about strategy and tactics as well as how to make variants of existing games.

 

 

For my part, I gave a short speech about my personal background with gaming, game design, and powerful lessons I have learned that I believe can help aspiring game designers or creators in general.  I followed this up by creating a basic board game template and then allowed the students to customize their own copies thematically so each student left with unique copy of a game they played a part in creating.

I began my presentation with some background on how I became a gamer, which is of course the foundation of how I wound up designing games.  I explained that it all began by angering my grandpa!  The first game I can remember playing was Checkers with my Mom’s father.  He taught me when I was about 5 years old and much to the surprise of all, but especially his, I crushed him!  Pa was not pleased.  In fact he displeased enough that he not only never played Checkers with me again, but to the best of my knowledge never played Checkers with anyone ever again!  While he may have done a poor job teaching me sportsmanship, he had awakened my love and talent for games that endures undiminished to this day!  Thanks Pa, who knows what would have happened if you never taught me Checkers!

I explained that Checkers led me to learn Chess, Poker, Chinese Checkers, and countless other games at a very young age.  I discovered Rpgs in my teens and played more advanced board games like Axis and Allies and true hobby games like Battletech until the bomb dropped.  The bomb in question was Magic: the Gathering which, aside from Poker utterly dominated my gaming life from 17 until nearly 30.  I explained that the near decade and a half of Magic was my doctorate in learning iterative design and understanding the interactions of game mechanics, even though I did not yet know it to be the case.

It was only after I had given up Magic and discovered modern board games in around 2006-2007 that I slowly began to feel the itch to design a game of my own.  After playing modern classics such as:  Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Puerto Rico, Power Grid, Ticket to Ride, and so many more I began to believe that it might be something I could do.  For the next few years I played at being a game designer, but did not really put in the work needed to actually accomplish my goal.  I would test once in a blue moon and make countless changes, but never really got down to business.  That is until I saw a video that made it all so clear to me exactly how I had to proceed!  This video, and its message, was the first piece of advice to my young audience.  I recommended they watch it.  I recommend you watch it.  I recommend everyone who thinks they might ever try to make or do anything creative!

 

Fail Faster

This the most powerful advice I have ever received in my life!  It made it possible for me take the partially formed Legacy Wars game idea I had and mercilessly pound it into the ground with my testers and eventual publisher V3G until it emerged as Strife: Legacy of the Eternals and realize my dream of becoming a game designer!  This helped me to overcome my fear of showing people something that wasn’t ready by allowing me to understand that doing so was the only way it ever would be ready!  It seems obvious, but it is not.  Apply the concept of failing faster to your creative endeavors, games or anything else, and they will start you moving down the right path!

“You can do anything, but not everything.” – David Allen.

This was my second piece of advice/wisdom to the kids.  During the run-up to Strife, their were a number of friends and some even in the industry who strongly advised me to self publish and run the Kickstarter myself.  While considering my options I remembered this quote and helped me make up my mind.  I realized that the extent of my game industry talents were working on a game and applying the fundamentals of iterative design and that was it!  I knew nothing of art direction, producing a product, running a Kickstarter campaign, graphic design, shipping a product globally, warehousing or any of the other important skills/knowledge sets that going into making a game or any product for that matter.  Now I am a smart guy, and I believe that I could learn how to do any of these things or at least how to hire out to skilled people who could, but I did not think that trying to do so on the fly while also designing my first game was the right time to do so.  Yes I could do anything, but not everything and I had to prioritize my goal to match with the skills I possess.  I wanted to design a game.  Out of all of the aforementioned skills this was the one that I felt I most possessed.  I knew that I would be best served focusing on that goal alone and that having a publisher handle all of those other concerns was the way for me to go.  I may someday run my own Kickstarter, as I have learned, and continue to learn so much from the great people with whom I have worked, but I truly do not know, as all I really want to do is design games.  I have no doubt that my design would suffer or at least my pace would be greatly reduced if I had to juggle everything else at the same time.

“Haters gonna hate.”

I am the furthest thing in the world from a fan of rap or hip-hop, but this saying is an absolute truism that all creators need to understand.  So much of what stands in the way of people creating a game or whatever their dream may be is tied up in the fear that someone will hate it.  I want to put your mind at ease…someone will definitely hate it!  Think of your favorite food…someone hates it.  Think of your favorite movie…someone hates it.  Think of anything in all the world that you think is wonderful and amazing…someone out there hates it!  So, given that there is a 100% chance that someone will hate what ever it is that you create there really is nothing to fear is there?  People are going to hate what you make for legitimate reasons in that it is simply not to their taste, which is fair.  Unfortunately people are also going to hate what you make for completely illegitimate reasons because they don’t even understand what is, which I find somewhat less fair.

To illustrate this point to the audience I read to them some of the most interesting reviews of my game Strife:  Legacy of the Eternals. It is designed to have a very low amount of luck and is as a result almost entirely a game of skill.  Some reviews back this fact up by referring to it as, “Card Chess” and “A challenging game with virtually zero luck.”  While some of the reviews and ratings are from people who simply do not enjoy that kind of game, which is a perfectly valid opinion, but there were also others.  Others who said things like, “This game is totally random with no skill at all,” and “Strife is a game that seems like it requires skill, but is really all luck.” The vast majority of the people who did not enjoy Strife fully acknowledged that is was a low luck high skill game, but not their preferred type of game, but as you can see some people did not even recognize what the game was about, but they knew they hated it.  This will happen no matter what you make and rather than worry about it you should embrace it and be freed from your fear.  After all, no matter what you do haters gonna hate!

Clackasaur vs Ninja Squirrels

My second part of the presentation was to help the kids in attendance make a game that they could take home with them.  During the week leading up to the event I designed a simple battle game where a “Big Monster” would be trying to steal the “Valuables” of “Type of Small Animals.”

This is the picture of the board and set up.

In my case I used a crab token that my step-daughter Katie gave me as part of a Christmas present full of prototyping materials as inspiration for my monster, Clackasaur.  Ninja Squirrels are my small animals and they are trying to defend their valuable, cotton candies, from the rampaging Clackasaur.  Obviously, this is ridiculous, but that was part of the point of the exercise.  It allowed the kids to use their imaginations when filling in the theme they wanted the game to be and understand that a game can really be about anything.  The Fail Faster video mentions this when it explains the silly concepts some of the world’s most iconic games have, such as:

Mario Brothers: Is about plumbers on drugs.

Sonic the Hedgehog:  Is about a blue hedgehog in sneakers that can run really fast.

Gears of War:  Is about linebackers fighting bugs with chainsaw guns.

They even go on to explain that Angry Birds, launching birds at pigs in castles, made a billion dollars!  It is about perfectly implementing your concept in an entertaining manner instead of coming up with the perfect concept.

The kids really enjoyed this part of the presentation and I will list below some of my favorite titles and valuables they came up with:

  • Locoraptor vs Elven Bunnies for the pieces of the Scepter
  • Big Joe  vs  Tiny Lizards for the Crickets
  • Ronster vs Flying Mice for the Cheese
  • Hydrasius vs Invisible Chipmunks for the Golden Strawberries
  • Giant Raccoon Vs Armored Turtles for the Iron Ingots
  • Dragonzilla vs Ninja Wasps for the Divinity Logs

 

A game in progress!

There were several others, but as you can see they let their imaginations run wild and we got some unique takes on the game from these young minds!

After customizing the attack cards in their battle decks to thematically represent the creatures they had chosen, everyone played their games.  I am happy to report that the results were reasonably balanced, as I heard stories of both animals and monsters winning, but most of all everyone having fun.

As the event came to a close four Gen Con passes, that had been generously donated, were awarded two at a time by random drawing.  I was given the honor/curse of drawing names, and as such was able to both fulfil and crush the hopes and dreams of the attendees.  I answered any questions the departing crowd had, with the most interesting coming from a young man who first told me I was awesome, always good way to get my attention, and then desperately pleaded to do some playtesting for me in the future.  When I told him to subscribe to this blog so I would have his email if I needed to reach him for testing he was super excited!  Leslie, thanked me profusely and told me the kids loved it and that I had been elevated to hero status.  She also gave me a little card containing a present I had not expected.

All in all, it was quite an evening.  A presentation like this is exactly the sort of assignment I would have skipped when I was in school, as I have long had terrible fear of public speaking due to my extreme introversion, and now here I was volunteering to do it as an adult!  Young me would be shocked to learn of such a future, but as the say, “What long strange trip its been.”  I must confess that most of my encounters with the education system as a step-parent and in general have left me disillusioned and cynical about its current state.  However, it must be said that Leslie and Doc are incredible educators, who are passionate about bringing unique experiences to their students that will broaden both their knowledge base and their minds!  It was inspiring to see such dedication and a great pleasure to help them in the small way I was able.  We need more like them!

In closing, I am glad to say that it was a positive experience for all involved including myself.  I originally offered to volunteer as a favor to a friend who teaches at the school, but after meeting Leslie and Doc found myself becoming more excited about the event.  It was truly a case of stepping out of my comfort zone, and although it made me nervous I feel the better for it.  You should try it sometime.  You may find it an excellent opportunity to learn something even as you teach others!

 

 

Remember to share and subscribe if you liked this article.  Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

Apr 13

How to Win New Games By Playing Like My Wife

What is the only thing better than trying out an exciting new tabletop game?  Winning the first time you try out an exciting new tabletop game!  “Easier said than done,” you might say.  After all, depending on the complexity of a game it can be quite challenging to form any sort of coherent strategy with such a limited understanding of it.  This would seemingly result in a relative crap shoot as to who will win if the entire group is made up of novices.  I am here to tell you this notion is wrong!  By carefully observing the behavior of an expert new game winner I have solved this riddle for the ages by copying her method.  Who is this nigh unstoppable force of nature at winning new games you might ask? It’s my wife…the one and only Mrs. Heather Hamm!

Frequent readers of Life in Games will have surely heard me talk about Heather and some may have even read one of her occasional guest posts that can be found under the heading, Wife in Games.  For those of you not familiar with her it is important to realize she is a skilled, but relatively casual gamer who tends to shy away from the heaviest games or those with too much direct conflict.  Despite being more casual and drawn to somewhat less ruthless games or styles of play she has an incredible track record of winning, or nearly winning games that all of the players are playing for the first time.  How can this be?

First, a little background on the topic.  Heather and I have been married since September of 2008 and she has gone to every Gen Con with me since that year, while we were just engaged.  Every year I make a list of new or new to us, games that I believe we would both enjoy and try to seek out as many as we can during the con.  It is not uncommon for a few of our friends, often some of my very hardcore gaming buddies, to join us in these games.  When this same group plays games at home, ones we have played many times before, she is often competitive, but seldom wins.  We tend to simply be more familiar with the game and due to that greater understanding we are able to form optimized strategies that usually results in one of us winning.  However, a year or two ago, she and I noticed that she was winning about half of the new games we played every year at Gen Con even though we were with the same four or five people as at home.  Even if you account for the unfamiliarity with new games as a balancing factor, a 50% win rate year after year against people who usually beat you is quite surprising and more than just luck.  I have often thought my own win rate to be somewhat suppressed in this situation because I tend to be the rule reader and game teacher.  Having to constantly reference the rulebook for myself and others takes my attention from the game and hampers my ability to play.  This generally does not bother me, as Gen Con represent a rare occasion where I play with a much more casual attitude and focus more on having a good time then trying to win at all costs.  Still, I knew there was no way that this was the only explanation, especially since it only applied to me, and not the other players at the table.

 

Heather implementing an aggressive strategy during our first Gen Con together!

 

The answer  came to us one day when she and I were discussing the difference between tactics and strategy.  I am very strategic by nature.  I formulate a specific strategy and then employ the necessary tactics to implement that strategy.  She tend to be more of a pure tactical thinker.  Excellent at making the best decision in the moment, but not as strong at the long-term detailed planning.  As such, she usually picks a very basic strategy, that may very well be far from optimal, and then focuses a 100% of effort on that one plan.  It turns out that this is incredibly effective for winning games being played for the first time by your group, even if the rest of the group tends to be more hardcore than you.  In fact, their own hardcore nature may even work against them!

The most hardcore players are prone to trying to create an optimal strategy even when they are too unfamiliar with a game to do so.  This natural urge can cause them to make a number of mistakes that they would not make after a few plays.  Whether a result of ego or the force of habit, this often places these hardcore players at a disadvantage when playing games for the first time.  This provides exactly the opening Heather’s style of play requires to have a very high success rate!  Rather then fumble about trying to act like she knows the game perfectly, she picks an element of the game that offers decent value and applies laser-like focus to it and often wins as a result!

 

The Stone Age board being setup.

 

After considering her track record of success, I decided to give this play style a try in a recent game of Stone Age in the Indy Gaming Series.  I had never played, and neither had one of the other players, with the third having only played three times over a number of years.  After a shortened practice game, to familiarize ourselves with the rules, which I lost terribly, I activated the Heather Plan!  I proceeded to play a very low risk, highly focused strategy that virtually ignored entire elements of the game.  I felt really good as the game was progressing.  I had a sense of comfort from not trying to over think something I did not fully understand and when the final scores were totaled, I had won!  Eureka!  Not only had I won the game, but I had successfully field tested our theory regarding her tremendous success playing new games!

So, if you and your group are all trying out a new game, and you want to win, I strongly recommend giving the Heather Plan a go.  It is officially my new strategy for such occasions and I expect that I will racking up quite a few more first time wins!  Even though it might cost me a few extra dirty looks from Heather for stealing her move, it’s totally worth it!

 

 

Don’t forget tell your stories in the comments, subscribe to Life in Games, and follow me on social media for more gaming content!  To learn more about the Wife in Games herself, checkout Heather’s blog Story of a Better Me!

Apr 09

What’s New and What’s Coming.

Hello everyone!  It has been far too long since I have posted here, but that is all about to change.  I have not written as I have been giving a lot of thought over the past few months about the direction that I want to take with Life in Games.  When I started this site, I covered all aspects of my gaming life, but transitioned heavily into the world of reviewing games.  I reviewed both games in my collection and games that were to be released or Kickstarted in the near future.  Before long this became the primary source of my content and I like to think I provided objective information about all the games I have reviewed.  I was never anything but honest, and even in the event I disliked a game it was my goal to inform as to why rather than to be cruel.  However, as my gaming life has changed more and more over the last couple of years my time and interest for doing reviews has greatly diminished and as a result so has my content production.

I still play a ton of games for recreation, but the time once spent on reviews has now been filled more and more with designing games of my own.  Having a full-time job and a family only leaves so much time for game playing and that is filled with gaming with friends and playtesting.  I simply do not have the time to review games anymore and especially those reviews that come with a deadline from the publisher.  This is ok.  I have accepted it and am now ready to move on in a new direction with my articles.  Given that the site is called Life in Games, it only makes sense that the content would change as my gaming life does as well.

Going forward, much of the content here will be directed toward game design, stories about gaming, events that I attend, or super cool projects that I am aware of and want to spread the word about.

The articles on game design will range from updates about my current projects, methods and processes I use, and helpful resources that I discover.  It will be a mixture of excitement for my games and a resource that I hope will help other aspiring designers!

 

The box for my upcoming game, Legendary Creatures!

 

 

The stories about gaming will remain much the same as they always have.  The occasional tale from the IGS (Indy Game Series) to which I still belong and any cool story that occurs while playing games with friends or strangers alike!

For events that I go to, I will report on those I attend in a formal capacity for Life in Games or as game designer as well as those where I am simply there to play games and have fun!

Lastly, as part of my adventures in the game industry I have met and reconnected with some amazingly creative people and if I am made aware of a great project I will write about it.  These will not be reviews in the cold analytical manner I used to write, but the musing of a fellow gamer/fan who cannot wait to see these games get made.  I will still be completely honest regarding such games, an will never engage in shilling, but if I am writing about a game now it will be because I am genuinely excited for its release!

I am very excited to start posting here again and sharing all of my experiences in the gaming world with all of you!  Feel free to find the Life in Games page on Facebook, hit me up on Twitter, or comment on this site.  I would love to connect and hear all about your gaming stories as well!  Happy gaming and stay tuned for big news!

Aug 01

The Lords of Rock: Description and Review

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The Lords of Rock, by Dave Killingsworth of SolarFlare Games, mixes the unlikely thematic duo of mythology and a cosmic battle of the bands.  In this game, 2-4 players will take control of a mythological Pantheon of gods and attempt to out rock the others for control of the universe!

 

The review copy that I received is a late stage prototype that appears to have much of the final art and fairly complete rules.  Some rules may change before the end of the upcoming Kickstarter, but this review is based on this version alone.

 

Game Overview

 

In Lords of Rock, players will select a mythological pantheon (Greek, Aztec, Norse, or Egyptian) from which to create their band.  Each pantheon has two band leaders, one male and one female.  A player must select one of these no matter what.  After selecting a leader, players select the rest of their band from the available gods as they wish, but must have exactly four band members with each having a different primary skill: Vocals, bass guitar, lead guitar, and drums.  When selecting the make-up of their band, players will also want to consider the secondary skills of their performers as these can come into play depending on where the gigs are played.

Venues

Prior to choosing the gods in their band,  all players will be given four random venues, two of which they will use during the course of the game.  Each venue has a size, a list of the skills to be used, a set of reward based on the where players finish, and some even have an additional bonus for the winner.  Players must consider the venues they have in hand when deciding which gods to choose for their band.

 

Gods

As mentioned earlier, each player will have a band made up of four gods.  Each god has a primary skill and a secondary skill that may be used if they are applying the other during a gig.

 

Set Lists

Each player will take 7 set list cards at the start of the game.  These will be played during shows at the various venues during the game.  They generally consist of positive modifiers that players play face down in their own area, negatives that are played face up on other players, and roadies that can help to deal with negatives a player has been targeted with by another player.  The use of these modifying cards is to help players raise their strength or lower that of their opponents as the total will determine the winners at each venue.

 

Game’s End

After all players have selected and resolved their second venue, the player with the most souls is the winner.  In the event of a tie, the players involved in the tie have one last battle of the bands at a random venue with the victor being the winner of the game.

My Review

 

The Lords of Rock is a light and fun game that perfectly integrates its unique thematic combination of mythology and rock music!  The art of the mythological figures as “Rock Gods” is perfect and really adds to the flavor of the game. While The Lords of Rock is short on strategy it is long on fun.  Clearly, it is designed as a filler game, but there is still room for some clever decisions and sneaky moves.  Although many players dislike “take that” mechanics, and The Lords of Rock certainly has that element, the game is short enough and humorous enough that it adds rather subtracting from the game.

Screenshot_2016-08-01-21-11-44-1

I have very little in the way of negatives to say about The Lords of Rock. Obviously, it is lighter than my normal tastes in games, but it is exactly what it is trying to be.  If you are looking for hardcore strategy look elsewhere, but if you are in the market for a humorous game this will not even be a negative.  It can also be a little heavy on the mathematic computations, as each battle of the bands is essentially a sum of modifiers and skill totals.  I do not generally have an issue with this, but people often do, and thus it is worth mentioning in a review for potential buyers/backers.  That being said, these are minor details and The Lords of Rock will be a big hit for you and your group if you are its target audience.

 

Overall, my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed The Lords of Rock.  It is very much in the vein of other products from SolarFlare Games that I have played, having a tweaked sense of humor, simple rules, and quick play time, but is their best to date in my opinion!  If already a fan of their games you will not be disappointed, making this a must back/buy.  If you are not familiar with their work, but like social games that are funny and easy to play chances are that you will have a good time with The Lords of Rock as well!  The Lords of Rock hits a perfect note for the type of game that it is trying to be, and that is all any game can try to do!

 

 

Let it be known to all readers and government officials alike, that Life in Games received a free copy of this game for the purpose of providing an objective review.  No further compensation of any sort changed hands between myself and the publisher.

 

 

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