Monday, 28 May 2012

The Watch List...

As a lover of cinema might watch the titles of upcoming movies with interest and a certain level of excitement, so to a gamer has an eye on those games just published or slated to be published with a similar relish.

As my impulsivity to purchase every game that looks mildly interesting has passed, and my shelves are already groaning to burst - so that ‘where is this going to go’ is of more concern than ‘will I enjoy this’.  And as the number of games published every year has spiralled so high that it is nigh impossible to keep abreast of them all, I have, instead of a ‘wish-list’ of games I want to get, a ‘watch-list’ of games that I like the look of.

The fact that I really need to downsize my collection notwithstanding (that is a potential subject for a future post), I have a new policy in regards to the buying of games.  While I never reached the point where the fervour of game buying outstripped the need to get bread for sandwiches, I certainly used to have a ‘buy it, consequences be damned’, Captain Nemo style, mentality.  Nowadays I am much more measured, if I like the sound of a game I’ll wait, if I still think it will add to my collection in whatever form a couple of weeks later - I’ll consider buying it.

All that said, here are some of the games on my watch list, as it stands at the moment:


What do I like about it?

Dinosaurs.  Yes, I am that shallow.  This is a game that has stood the test of time to some extent; an older game re-published in recent years.  The various mechanisms sound interesting, and I like the fact the new edition has multiple boards for different numbers of players - including a two-player board (important for its chances of actually hitting the table).

What holds me back?

There are people and dinosaurs.  Yes, I am that shallow.  While the art is wonderful, I find the juxtaposition of people and dinosaurs to be somewhat jarring.  I could just let go - it is obviously a fantasy style setting a-la dinotopia... but nonetheless, I find it difficult to gloss over a missing 65 million years.


What do I like about it?

It’s a miniatures style combat game about gladiatorial contests in ancient Rome.  The ‘character building’ aspect sounds interesting, and the card driven nature of the game also seems interesting.  The thing I like most however is the theme of the game.  And as someone who is slowly getting back to painting miniatures, this game, with its four gladiators, just looks appealing.

What holds me back?

In any of these sort of player vs player games the ideal number of players seems most often to be 2.  With 3 the chance that the game can be wind up being won by the player that manages to let the other 2 weaken one another is always present.  Nonetheless, Gladiatori seems to have a team system that looks intriguing.  The other concern is whether, as a dyed in the wool fighting game, I’d actually get to play it all that much - what with my main gaming partner being my wife.  I shall have to decide soon however - as there is a discount going for pre-ordering...

Mice and Mystics

What do I like about it?

The art and the theme.  There seems to be a trend with what has attracted me to these games.  The story driven nature of the game play also sounds intriguing, with each game creating a narrative.  I also like the fact that it is an adventure game that is cooperative.  The pieces and art look pretty amazing from what pictures have been released so far.  I quite like the Mouse Guard comics, and this game seems to channel that visual style.

What holds me back?

Do I need another adventure game?  

Sekigahara: Unification of Japan

What do I like about it?

The game is set during the warring period of Japan.  I’m not that knowledgeable about Japanese history, but this period is one I always enjoy reading about.  The game also has a striking and thematic design, the art of the board and cards is very nice, and for some reason I have a real love of block games - even though I have played relatively few of them.  The multiple uses of the cards in this game is also something I like the sound of.

What holds me back?

As a longer playing 2-player war game I am not sure how often this one would actually hit the table.  My main gaming partner for such 2-player games is my wife, and I’m not sure she would be overly keen to play this game.

Song of Splintered Lands

What do I like about it?

I have some of the miniatures this game was designed to use.  I also rather like anthropomorphic fantasy worlds - if they are done well, and the miniatures are very nice. I know the Song of Blades and Heroes system this game modifies, and they work very well for a short playing miniature war game.  I bought the minis specifically to play Song of Blades and Heroes, so playing Splintered Lands seems the natural progression.  Also - the rules are cheap!

What holds me back?

Do these rules really add all that much to the Song of Blades and Heroes system?  Would I play this game setting over creating my own?


What do I like about it?

The idea of placing historical inventions, events and so forth in order is something that appeals to my general love of history.  I can imagine I would gain some enjoyment out of looking through the cards on their own never-mind playing the actual game.  Also the game is extremely well priced.

What holds me back?

Not all that much to be honest.  It’s cheap enough that I think I’ll add it to my next order...


What do I like about it?

Game Sarl and Dominique Ehrhard have both demonstrated their worth in my eyes.  Game Sarl has produced some fantastic light family games like Animalia and Water Lily, while Dominique Ehrhard has designed some games I really enjoy.  The theme of the game also sounds a lot of fun, with just enough of a twist between each round to make things interesting.  From what I’ve read players are playing numbered cards in order to win the round - though each round exactly what is required to win changes.  It sounds like it requires some hand management, some double-guessing and luck to make it through - and these are all elements I like in a short fun card game.

What holds me back?

Do I need another short card game?  With my shelves already groaning from a surfeit of games - do i need another?  In the end I think I probably will get this, the publisher and designer have proved themselves to me before - and I tend to follow designers like other people follow authors.

Well - those are some of the games on my ‘watch list’.  Some have been released already and some have yet to come out.  All of them have managed to pique my interest in some form or other.  Now I have to decide whether any of them seems interesting enough to warrant the purchase, and the limitations on shelf space and the quantity of games I already own will delimit me from just getting them all (as I might have done a few years ago).  Ultimately I am looking for games that sound fun to play, will add to my collection, and most importantly - will hit the table.  We shall see.


Friday, 25 May 2012

Bruno Faidutti's Website

Over at Bruno Faidutti's wonderful website he has commented that he is looking to close his website and start a blog.

Bruno, in all his glory (from

Bruno's Website:
This website was originally designed like a small game encyclopaedia, and this concept has become largely obsolete, for at least two reasons. First, there are more and more new board and card games every year, and I play fewer of them every year, which makes the ideal game library much less relevant. Second, the internet also has changed, and encyclopaedias are now collective stuff. There is more even about my own games on the Boardgamegeek than on my own website. 
This is why, in a few weeks, I plan to shut down this website and replace it with a more modest, more standard, but also more actual blog, with only short descriptions of my games and the occasional op-ed, not necessarily always about games.
Well, this won't happen at once. I must first learn to use Wordpress, and this will probably take one or two weeks. My first blogpost, however, will certainly be about the ludopathic gathering.
Of course it is completely Bruno's choice as to what he does - and I'll read his writing whether it be on his website, a blog or even just scrawled crayon on lolly wrappers.

However, I've always considered Bruno's website to be something different than what he describes as being a small 'encyclopaedia of games'.  Bruno, as a game designer, a passionate game player and a vocal member of the game community (for far longer than many) has a strong and personality rich voice.

Yes, Bruno's website is a wonderful online resource, but more importantly, he reviews games with an idiosyncratic set of tastes and a way of anatomising why a game hits or misses the mark that is all his own.  I may not always like the same games as he (more often than not I do), but it has been through his website that I have had the opportunity to encounter many great games.  His reviews are candid and often manage to highlight wonderful games that all too often fly under the radar or disappear in the haze of new releases.

Some of my favourite and most well-played games have been purchased based on his reviews of them, including Fairy Tale, Neuroshima Hex, Manila, Condottiere, Midgard and others (and all of these I regard as games that would have passed me by had his voice not convinced me to give them a look).

I won't sign a petition asking Bruno to maintain it, if he is ready to move on and wants to do so, I wish him all the best (and look forward to adding his blog feed to my reader).  So here instead is a simple short note; a comment on what a wonderful site is.  Most certainly more than a small encyclopaedia - it has personality as well.


Tuesday, 22 May 2012

There's a Dragon in Space!

SpaceX has become a world-wide trending topic in the twitterverse with the triumphal launch of their Dragon module into space.  While the #dragonlaunch will come and pass like a proverbial moon-phase, the real victory is in the latest successful launch - being one of several meant to demonstrate the readiness of SpaceX as a viable option for supplying the International Space Station (ISS).  After some two days of tests and maneuvers we will all see the Dragon module successfully dock with the ISS (all going to plan), and in so doing boldly announce the arrival of commercial space-faring.

There are, of course, many private companies currently working on technologies that will support various commercial uses of space; Branson’s Virgin Galactic being probably the most well-publicised.  With all of that as noise in the background to tonight's successes, SpaceX has managed to ascend to a new level of legitimacy with the accomplishment of tonight’s launch.  

While it is not ‘history making’ in the same way we might think of Sputnik, Yari Gagarin, or NASA’s Moon Landing, it is most certainly representative of a paradigm shift in the potentials to be found in the exploitation of low Earth orbit.  If SpaceX manage to make a viable business out of supplying the ISS, delivering satellites and so forth they will be helping to pave the way to a fascinating future.  

As much as I might hesitate to suggest that tonight’s launch is a historical watershed moment, it is nonetheless, absolutely representative of a huge step forward in the legitimacy of commercial space flight.  Such steps forward will take us to those watershed and historically defining moments.  SpaceX is currently the vanguard of the commercial space future.  It is exciting; we are counting the measured steps by which we have the opportunity to assail a universe of future potentials.

To Elon Musk and all of SpaceX - congratulations on your successful launch tonight, and here’s hoping for many more such successes in the future!


Monday, 21 May 2012

Miniature bases...

A couple of posts ago I was in a quandary: attempting to fill the bases of my Splintered Light miniatures to give a natural look, and to conceal the little moulded bases they come with.  The dichotomy of choice I faced was whether to use a wall poly-filler, or whether to use air-dry clay.  Both had their advantages – clay was easier and quicker to get on, while the filler dried harder and was better to cut and chisel afterwards.  They both also had their disadvantages: the filler was harder to put on, and I was concerned the clay would just break away from the base. 

Sadly and happily I was right, the clay did just break away from the bases – making it next to useless.  This was sad because it had seemed the easier option, and not being desirous of too much work I was thrilled with that.  That the clay failed so dismally turned out to be a happy occurrence however for one key reason: and that key reason came in the shape of a little artist’s trowel.  The little trowel of mine turned out to make the process of getting the filler onto the base (and in the right places) a very easy and quick process.  In all it took about 30-40 minutes to fill in the bases of all my minis – about 20 or so.  I also used the end of a wooden skewer to flick any extra bits out of the way and to roll the edges of the filler where they met the miniature’s moulded base.

All in all I am very happy with the result, the bases are uneven, with little bumps and ridges and so forth, but this is exactly how I had hoped they might look.  In all honesty – it’s probably a level of detail that will get erased as I add grass and other bits to them – but hey – I’m happy – and it’s been an interesting process.

My last act, before dusting my hands off contentedly, was to add a few little rocks here and there while the filler was wet – other thematic detritus I’ll add after the painting process has been completed.  Voila! Done.  Now all I need to do is undercoat, paint and base the miniatures and they’ll be ready for whatever anthropomorphic conflict I can throw at them.


Saturday, 19 May 2012

Field Commander: Alexander

In 2009 (yes that long ago) I received a game from the Boardgamegeek Secret Santa program: Field Commander: Alexander, by Dan Verssen Games.  Field Commander Alexander is a wargame that seeks to recreate some of the more important campaigns in the career of Alexander the Great.  It’s a game that is designed specifically to be played solo, which is one of the reasons it has taken me so long to get to the table.  I’m not completely averse to solo games, though when I do take the time to set one up and play it through I usually go for American Megafauna, or Origins: How we Became Human (both by Sierra Madre Games) - I enjoy the storied arcs of both those games, and the themes they recreate.

I do, however, also have a soft spot for the history and story of Alexander the Great, and have enjoyed reading many books about his life and campaigns.  The 'Field Commander' series of games contains a variety of titles that recreate the exploits of some of the great generals from history, though Field Commander Alexander is the first of the series I have played.

So far I’ve really only dabbled with the game - I’ve played two of the four scenarios that come in the box; Chaeronea/Granicus and Issus (the game also includes the siege of Tyre and a campaign including the battles of Gaugamela/Hydaspes). So far the net conclusion is that I like it.  As a solo game there is a serious risk that a player’s choices will be a simple veneer over an essentially random game engine - but in Field Commander Alexander it feels as though the myriad of choices you make have a lasting impact on how well you do in any given scenario.

There are multiple aspects to consider, glory from winning battles and taking over strongholds can be used to purchase once off special abilities or advisors who provide a lasting bonus of some sort.  Gold earned from territories conquered and armies defeated can be invested back into building a larger army or for building monuments - but is crucially also required to move a large army from territory to territory.  The armies one buys need to be carefully considered as well - units are rated not just on their ability to cause damage, but on their ability to take damage and the speed at which they attack - with faster units hitting earlier in a battle round.

Combat is resolved through simple dice rolling, but choosing when to use special abilities, and who will take the hits that come your way are crucial aspects of winning a battle and preserving your army for future battles.
It might seem an obvious thing in a solo game - to expect the player to make the choices about what damage the enemy takes - but it adds another layer of choice to the game as damaged units are usually slower and less effective - so do you spread the damage and weaken the enemy army - or do you concentrate that damage and destroy chunks of the army, but potentially leave intact units that can cause serious damage.  

All these various currencies, systems and sub-systems are neatly and simply encapsulated in a scenario that drives a coherent and engaging narrative. As the game progresses you feel a tension between wanting to push on and disallow the enemy too much opportunity to reinforce (handled by the game engine), or wanting stay put and consolidate your forces before engaging with an enemy that may outmatch you.

All in all Field Commander Alexander is an interesting and engaging game - the scenarios provide each session with a different flavour, and optional starting conditions make each even more replayable.  The game is also very nicely produced - with solid and well made mounted boards for each of the four scenarios.  On reading the rules through first time I thought it might be more involved than it in fact turns out to be.  It is, in my humble opinion, a good solo game that doesn’t take up a huge amount of space, is easy to set-up and play, and most of all is enjoyable and fun.  I look forward to pushing on to Tyre and the Persian and Indian empires that await beyond.


Saturday, 12 May 2012

Breadth of experience

Living, as I have, a life largely free of the verisimilitude of ills that exist in this world, it is an interesting and humbling experience to work in a job that puts me in contact with such a breadth of life experiences.  Any teacher will be able to rattle off a list of personal tragedies and harrowing life experiences they have encountered in their time.  It is a simple truth that for every statistic one reads or hears about in terms of tragedy, abuse or ill-chance, one will encounter more of those personal contexts the more people one interacts with.  

It is certainly humbling to consider that these depths of experience have been a part of the life journeys of the children, as young as they are, that I teach, have taught, or know.

With Mother’s Day a focus of late I had cause to stop and consider what this may mean for any given person.  Any class of 25 or so children represents 25 or so different sets of life experiences.  Some wonderful, supportive and affirming, some tinged with tragedy, some darkened by abuse, illness or some other force.  The sum life experiences of any class runs the gamut.  From refugees who have seen family members killed or worse, to kids who live with loving parents that support and affirm them.  There are children who have lived through terror and darkness the likes of which I cannot fathom, and kids who have never had the unlucky chance of encountering such things.  Kids whose lives have been irrevocably transformed by illness, death, abuse or tragedy.  Kids who arrive in the class from stable homes, from abusive homes, from never knowing one or other of their parents.  I can only imagine how confronting and emotionally draining encountering such experiences is for nurses, welfare agents and so on.

Any class (or more correctly - group of people) may represent such a wide breadth of tragic or varied life experience.  As much as the tragedy sticks most easily in our minds it is as equally important to consider those positive experiences.  The notes tucked hidden in lunch boxes, hugs given, reading listened to, work marvelled at, art on fridge doors, the love and nurturing, the education and gentle admonition.  

Mothers Day (and all such days) can mean many things, and can draw upon and tap into a range of life experiences, from the negative to the positive.  For all the variability, for all the differences, for all the adversities, if you have family or friends that love, support and affirm you, you are, as the old saying goes, wealthy.


Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Tempus fugit...

How time passes.  I had meant to have several blogs written between the last and this one.  Searingly insightful works of prose they would have been, plumbing the depths of human experience and taking the unwary reader on a dizzying journey through the splendour and hapless chance surrounding our existence.  Sadly those opportunities have passed.

Beyond the veil of our dining room curtains, where I sit typing this, a vast assembly of silent clouds pass overhead - like ghostly islands - and peering through their pallor a moon reaching the zenith of its fullness.

I had, in all seriousness, planned to write about several note taking taking apps I’ve been using on my iPhone.  I also wanted to post an updated progress report on the miniatures I blogged about last time (in short - the clay was as disastrous as I had anticipated).

Over the last week, which has flown by, I’ve been busy instead getting things prepared behind the scenes for a podcast Donald Dennis (of On Board Games fame) and I have been recording - called Games in Schools and Libraries.  We plan for this to be a short-ish podcast about board, card and digital games, and the place they can find in schools and libraries (as you might not have guessed from the opaque name we chose).  I’ll blog more about this in the future - but if you’re interested in such a show at all I’d love to read what you think, what you’d like to hear, and any ideas or suggestions.

I’ve also been madly downloading apps for our school’s bank of iPods, general apps, games, literacy, math, art, music, puzzles, and reference material.  It astounds me how great the variety of applications is, of course this variety is also a double-edged sword, as weeding out the good from the not so good can be an arduous process.  Nonetheless, I am happy with the range we have so far - I might endeavor to blog about this as well in the near future.

In any case, this is a simple update, in the next few days I hope to add something of a little more interest.

In any case, I leave you with a picture of the unfinished parasaurolophus my lad and I were glueing together tonight:

Is he too young for such a challenge? The broken ribs and pelvic bones repaired with wood glue would suggest a ‘yes’.  Does he love dinosaurs? The menagerie of dinosaurs we take with us everywhere we go would again suggest a ‘yes’.  The fun of watching him ‘oh’ and ‘ah’ and ‘para-saw-a-lot-u-lus’ over the parasaurolophus far outweighs my concerns for the dinosaurs health I’m afraid.

Till next blog...



Wednesday, 2 May 2012

A test in miniature

I've said on some previous posts that I am slowly (very slowly) getting back into miniatures gaming.  I have my eye on playing (and painting some miniatures for ) Song of Blades and Heroes, a neat and short skirmish style game.  It has simple but enjoyable rules, plays quickly, and doesn't require a million miniatures.

To this end I was lucky enough to get some Splintered Light miniatures for Christmas.  I've been reading up on the process of painting on different forums online - I used to do this quite a bit, but wanted to also get the bases looking good - and so I read a few things about what to do to prepare the bases, when to undercoat, etc.

I've glued one of the two sets I got to bases - the Splintered Light minis are around 15-18mm tall - all anthropomorphic warriors because... well, they looked fun.  I've decided to use 30mm round bases - to give them some presence on the battlefield.  It should also allow me to give the bases some personality - which will either be fun, or a headache - the jury is still out on which.

I can't just have the miniatures glued onto these bases though - they'd all look like they were standing on little mounds.  So I'm filling in the space around the moulded metal with 'stuff'.  This is the stage I'm up to at the moment.  

I'm trying two different materials - a plaster filler - the stuff used to fix small holes in walls, and I'm also trying some air-dry clay.  

The filler is much harder to manipulate, it sticks to everything I don't want, and assiduously avoids sticking to the base - which I do want. Nonetheless, when it dries I think it will take a small chisel to remove it - which is fine as I don't expect to be taking a chisel to my minis any time soon.

The air-dry clay on the other hand is much easier to manipulate; however, I'm worried it won't stick to the base - and that it may just break away once it's dry.

To find the better of these two options (and the best option is probably one I haven't selected), I've done a couple of minis with each.  Tomorrow or so I'll have a look at how they've dried and what they look like - I'm hoping the clay is stuck fast, because it's easier to use it'll make this part of the process go much more smoothly.  We shall see though - I may end up having to spend too much time with white stuff all over my hands, trying to get the filler to stay where I want.  

Fingers crossed it all works out as planned - the morrow will tell!

Clay on the left, filler on the right...