Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Games in Schools and Libraries Podcast

Games in Schools and Libraries is a podcast by Donald Dennis and myself that covers all things to do with board games, card games and digital games, and the place they can find in schools or at the local library.  We’ve been busily recording episodes and posting them over at the Games for Educators website, but we’ve also had a fair share of technical glitches and difficulties that none of us (at Games in Schools and Libraries or Games for Educators) expected.

There were RSS problems, authentication issues, a lost episode (if you happen to spot an episode on the history of computer and digital games let us know!) and so on.  All in all it meant that our intended release schedule was interrupted, and that listeners were bound to have trouble finding us on iTunes, and subscribing via their favourite podcatcher (I use Downcast on my phone, and love it).

So this post is here to make the bold statement that these technical issues are done and over.  Our RSS seems to be working perfectly, and our podcast has (finally) been authenticated by iTunes - so you should be able to find it there in the next day or so.  Much thanks to Pat over at G4Ed for working solidly on the issue and getting it solved!

Episode 8 has just been posted, and all seems well with the world.

So here are some quick links and information on the state of our show so far:

Our RSS can be found here.
Our page on Games for Educators can be found here.
Our guild on BGG can be found here.
Our website (bare bones at the moment) can be found here.

If you punch our RSS address into your podcatcher of choice, you should be able to see our episode list, this is what we’ve covered so far...

Episode 0 - Welcome and Introduction - Don and I introduce ourselves personally and professionally, and talk about what we hope GSL will grow in to.

Episode 1 - Board Games - A short discussion on the modern era of board games.

Episode 2 - Digital games - The lost episode, we shall not speak of it...

Episode 3 - What Makes a Good Game - In which we consider some of the aspects of games that make them solid choices for schools or libraries, including durability, easy set-up and play etc.

Episode 4 - Considering Rules- In which we talk about how the rules of a game can make a game more or less suitable for a school or library environment - as well as some of the things we look for in games.

Episode 5 - Game Spaces - In which we discuss making a space ready for playing games, as well as some of the physical considerations worth taking note of (at least in our experiences).

Episode 6 - Themes - Part 1 - Can themes help make a game easier to digest? We talk about themes that tie into curriculum or topics, and how games can be used as a window to a subject.

Episode 7 - Themes - Part 2 - What themes aren't suitable for a school/library setting.  What are some of the things worth considering when getting a game for such a setting.

Episode 8 - Accessibility - In which we discuss physical accessibility issues, from games with kids to physical disability to colour blindness, games that have a high reliance on written text or even where card/board text is too small.

So that is Games in Schools and Libraries so far, we hope that people find it a useful and interesting podcast, and occasionally entertaining as well.  We have a collection of other topics already recorded, and a list of those we have yet to record.  If you have any comments or feedback - we’d love to hear it! Comment here, in the guild on BGG or over at G4Ed - or drop us an email (schoolsandlibraries@gmail.com).



Monday, 29 October 2012

Cult of the Old...

Episode 92 of On Board Games aired recently, and I was lucky enough to fill the third chair for the roundtable discussion.  In the episode we discussed the cult of the old - older games that retain their polish and allure despite the intervening years and the number of newer, more shiny offerings available.  One of the interesting discussion points was on what actually constitutes an ‘older’ or ‘classic’ game - how old does a game have to be to hold the vaunted position of not having been replaced by something newer.

In the board game consumer market of today the pace of new releases seems to be increasing at a massive rate.  Games released now need to be marketed, or capture the imaginations of the community, sufficiently to gather the attention required to clamber high enough to be seen.  Ten years ago it was absolutely within the realms of possibility to know what games one would see from an event like the Spiel or GenCon, but now it seems, to me at least, that a vast number of individual titles disappear in the haze of releases.  The signal to noise ratio is drowning out a great many titles.

Fairy Tale - my go to filler even after several hundred games...

Perhaps this is a subjective experience, perhaps I am taking less note of the titles, designers, publishers, kickstarters and so forth that appear each day.  Perhaps the consumer market is large enough to support this explosion of releases, with games now less often becoming the popular title, and more often appealing to niches within the broader community.

The old edition of Condotierre - a wonderful game...

Whichever way you anatomise it, I think it is apparent that the market is booming.  Is there room for all this growth? Perhaps, but that is a discussion for another time.  What does all this mean for the On Board Games topic? What then, in an industry where a game can hit its most popular before it is released and be almost forgotten by the time the boxes are shipped, makes for a game that is ‘old’?

Starfarers of Catan - my favourite of the Catan variations, best enjoyed with Daft Punk playing in the background.

For the sake of the On Board Games round table we did our best to provide some temporal yardsticks: 10 years, even 5 years. In truth I think the answer is highly subjective.  Of course some of the games I have loved are new to me but old in terms of publication date.  Some games are hot from the minute word gets out of the Gathering, or from the Spiel or BGG.con, but then fade into obscurity almost immediately.

Castle - Still one of my all time favourite card games, thematic, zany and a whole lot of fun.

I think ultimately the answer, for me at least, must be in the length of time I’ve owned and known them for.  A great older game for me is one that has been in my collection for years, in some cases from the start, and are nonetheless sitting front and center on my shelves.  These are the old favourites, the games I’ve played many times and yet haven’t wearied in my eyes.  These are the games with boxes worn by continued removal from the shelf; that have sat in the collection for a long time, and are yet still some of the least dusty.  

For me these games have stood the test of time, they have sat next to new boxes on the shelves and remained when the new have been put somewhere dusty and less accessible.  The rules stay unreferenced, the pieces familiar and known.  When it hits the table we all, in idle chatter, set up our familiar stacks or decks or patterns of bits, rather than reading through to see who gets how many of which one was it again.  These are the classics, and every game shelf, every cupboard, every gamer's old gems are idiosyncratically different.  So what is the cult of the old? It is, in a word: subjective.


Friday, 26 October 2012

Star Wars: X-Wing

Today I managed to play a couple of quick games of Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars: X-Wing.  I realise that getting too involved in discussing Star Wars is likely to tarnish my reputation as being quite geeky, but a quick glance over the last few posts here on the Castle, where I discuss painting miniature anthropomorphic warriors, should demonstrate that I am currently on an upward trend (geekiness wise).

From www.fantasyflightgames.com

Star Wars: X-Wing is a miniatures game of sorts, it is a game for two players (more with more sets) where each will take the roles of the Rebel and Imperial forces from the later (or earlier) Star Wars movies (later or earlier depending on whether you rather the chronologically by release date or setting).  Of course movies IV, V and VI are the ‘real’ Star Wars as far as I am concerned, episodes I, II and III are all toy commercials that I will hurl invectives at till I weary of the joy of it (not anytime soon).

But back to the game - it is really all rather simple, players run through phases of planning, movement, combat and end of turn clean up. Unlike many FFG games this one is clean and simple.  There are no teetering piles of hundreds of cards nor mountains of special tokens.  Planning is simultaneous, with each player selecting the move they want to make on a special dial.  This is neat and simple, allowing different ships access to different moves, and also keeps all the players doing things rather than waiting for others to finish.

All the ships from the core-set - very nice miniatures

Movement is also simple - each move is represented by a different length card board token, place this in front of the ship, pick up the ship and move it to the end of the token, and movement is done.  Of course, the fun of trying to visualise where exactly any given movement piece will land you, especially when the play area is congested with asteroids and other ships, can be a challenge for the visual-thinking impaired among us, but it is a lot of fun.

Set-up and ready to play, you can see the movement tokens on the right.

Combat doesn’t add any significant complexity to the game, if a ship is in range you may shoot it, with both players rolling dice to see what will happen.

Of course there are also a bunch of additional rules that can be added as the players learn the game or desire more complexity.  With everything mixed in together this remains a straightforward and highly enjoyable game.  The focus of the game is obviously on maneuvering your ship into a position where it can shoot without being shot.  It’s a game that doesn’t take long, is enjoyable, and also light enough to break out and play without having to pour over the rules book in order to remind yourself of the minutia involved with playing.

The dog-fight is on!

There are two negatives as far as I can see them, firstly the box is one of the worst ever created for the purpose of housing a game - like a net bag for carrying spaghetti. And second, it is quite possible that if you fancy collecting all the bits and pieces released and to-be-released by FFG, this will become a very expensive game.  Oh - and I suppose another negative is that there should be a special rule whereby any TIE Fighter that contacts an asteroid immediately explodes in a fireball of carnage.

One TIE Fighter is about to go BOOM...

Wings of War - a similar and earlier game.

There are obvious comparisons to be made between this game and Wings of War (published now by Ares Games).  They are indeed similar, and X-Wing could easily be seen as an evolution of Wings of War.  Personally I find the games different enough to enjoy both, they are indeed as different as say Fairy Tale and 7 Wonders - both games where playing drafted cards is a core mechanism.  I also think the movement system in X-Wing is better, if by the simple physicality of the pieces (Wings of War uses cards rather than thicker cardboard tokens, the latter allow, in my opinion, for a little more flexibility as well as being actually easier to use).  My favourite of the two games is clearly X-Wing, not only does it have a theme I enjoy more, but the game has both a simpler mode of play (great for my classroom) and a more thematic and complex version (great for home) than does Wings of War.

All in all I think Star Wars X-Wing is a neat game - I’m not sure if I’ll be rushing out to buy extra ships and more core sets, but it’s certainly a game I’ll relish getting to the table again.    A solid and fun game.

The last note is a simple word of advice: It would be best if you avoid playing with people who like to make the sound of TIE Fighters as they move their ships - this can start to wear at ones sanity after about turn 1.

Despite my best TIE impersonations - MWWWWOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMM - this was the final moment for my last TIE Fighter this evening. My wife flew back to base a heroine, and the rebels counted another victory (Rebel Scum!)

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Looking to the horizon...

My current painting project is not quite half-way done, there are still squirrels, shrews, foxes, weasels and a wolverine from Splintered Light miniatures to paint, and yet I am already looking to the horizon, looking to what my next project will be.

My finished miniatures so far...

This is the trouble with miniatures gaming, something avoided in the board gaming hobby by the simple fact that everything one requires for a game can be found within the box.  With most miniatures games you get a set of rules you like the look of, and are then left with the job of finding the pieces you'll play the game with.  Of course, this is also a fantastic thing about miniatures gaming, you can also find some wonderful miniatures and then locate or modify rules to accomodate them, the flexibility and personalisation of a game is hugely enjoyable.

So, my conundrum: I have the rules I want to collect minis for, now the job of finding the minis I want to use with them.  The game is the most excellent looking Dux Britanniarum, by the Too Fat Lardies, a set of dark age miniatures rules that has an in-built campaign system that reads like it will be a lot of fun.  The question now is what figures do I get to play the game with?  The Too Fat Lardies sell sets of 28mm miniatures from Gripping Beast, but I really feel like I want to run with a smaller scale, for all of the reasons that it takes less time to paint them, they take up less space when stored and of course, they are cheaper.  This leaves me with an interesting couple of choices I have been see-sawing over the last week or so.  I think I've finally come to a conclusion, but for the sake of this blog post I'll run through the two choices that have been gnawing at my inner-most, miniatures related, thoughts:

The choice over scale comes to two options, either 15mm or 10mm.  I love the look of the 6mm Baccus Miniatures, but I don't think they'd really suit the Dux Britanniarum look (at least the look I want).

Of those choices I've singled out an option for both, Splintered Light sell sets for Dux Britanniarum, containing everything required for one army in one set.  Now, I'm currently painting some Splintered Light minis, so I can easily vouch for their quality.

Splintered Light Saxons...

The advantages here are multiple:

  • They are available in sets that supply exactly what you need to start.
  • They are good quality.
  • They can also be used to serve double duty in Song of Blades and Heroes if the mood takes me.

The other option was to run with a 10mm, and I liked the look of the figures from Magister Militum.

One of the Saxon figures from Magister Militum...

The advantages of 10mm are also multiple:

  • They are cheap for a large quantity (I'd not need to buy more)
  • The look reasonable quality
  • They 'should' be quicker to paint
  • They could serve multiple duties (Dux Britanniarum, Dux Bellorum, Song of Arthur and Merlin)

There are of course downsides to both as well, 15mm are more expensive per figure, and I'd need more figures than the base sets sold by Splintered Light require.  10mm are, obviously, very small!

At the moment I am really swinging on the 10mm end.  The reasons are quite simply that I think I could get them painted quicker, they would be easier to store, I'd get as much as I need in short order (more in fact), and I can use them for multiple rules sets.

As much as I think the Splintered Light figures I have are wonderful, and as much as I like the look of the sculpts for their Dark Age range, I really like the idea of having a bunch of 10mm figures for use.  Sure they'll be small, but their size and the quantity I'll get will mean I can use them for Dux Bellorum as well, without the need to bolster the numbers by additional purchases.  I also think I'll be able to paint them more quickly - ha! We shall see.  So for now, 10mm are the victors in this stouch, we shall see how I feel when the time comes to place an order!

The various rules I'm hoping I'll be able to play at some point:

Some links:


Monday, 8 October 2012

Reconditioning roads...

Under moonlight here in the Castle, while the smaller denizens have slept fitfully, there hasn't much blogging, but there has been a fair amount of painting.  Over a week has passed by since my last blog, I really do intend to blog more regularly, but I've also been swept up by the desire to get all my Splintered Light miniatures painted for Song of Blades and Heroes - the skirmish style miniatures game that has really caught my imagination of late.

In between painting mice and otters and various other anthropomorphic warriors, I've been trying to make some various pieces of terrain to pretty up the table top as a game is played.  Last blog I wrote about some of the forest and wall pieces I made, this blog I'll look at reconditioning some old roads and rough terrain.

Back in the dim reaches of my gaming history I was a big fan of DBA, this is a small and compact historical miniatures wargame.  For this I made various bits and pieces to go on the board, including some roads and a piece of rough terrain.  Originally these were simply made and decorated, I used pieces of linoleum, and cut them into strips for the roads, and a roundish piece for a bit of rough terrain. I spray painted them a gloss dark green and scattered some dirt from a nearby garden bed on them for effect.  At the time I was overjoyed with how they looked, and while they would certainly still have been perfectly functional now, they didn't exactly match the aesthetic I've been trying to hit with my miniatures and other bits and pieces.

In order to recondition both I spray painted them with a white undercoat (I could have used black, but wanted them to match in with the bases of the miniatures I've been painting, which are undercoated white).  Using some old folk art paints I painted them in a dark brown, then successively drybrushed them with three other layers - the final being a light drybrush of a skin-tone.  After sealing them, I added some pieces of twig painted up, some flock, and a few Army Painter tufts of grass.  Voila!

I don't have any single shots of the originals, but you can see them in this in-play shot I posted a while ago from a game of Song of Blades and Heroes:

The road is running the length of the board, and the rough terrain is top left.

After the undercoat and paint:

Rough terrain...

And here they are with a very little bit more detailing...

Road... (obviously)

Rough terrain (with complimentary mole)...

In addition to fixing up the roads and rough terrain I've also painted up some mice and otters... nearly finished the first set I bought from Splintered Light!

So here's what i've managed in this painting project so far... the full motley crew (well, the 'not-quite-full motley crew):

Victory will be ours... and cheese, but certainly VICTORY, and once victory, even more certainly, CHEESE!