Designers & Dragons by Shannon Appelcline

It is not often that I’ll call a book ‘fascinating’. If I’m reading fiction I’ll usually say ‘cool’ or ‘really cool’, this book is different and it fascinates me. Actually, it would be more accurate to call this a series because that’s what it is: a four book series of the history of gaming. Shannon started this as a labor of love, and he’s done an amazing job. It’s being published by Fred Hicks and the folks at Evil Hat Productions, and for $15 you can get an ebook edition of the entire series (epub, Kindle, PDF, etc.), higher pledges will get you physical copies. Each volume covers a decade: the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s and current, I don’t know how late the last volume goes.

The first volume is available immediately with your pledge, and I’ve been reading it for a couple of weeks now. The first third of the book is the story of TSR and Dungeons & Dragons, and it is an amazing story. The second chapter is my proverbial alma mater, Flying Buffalo, followed by Games Workshop and GDW. I’m maybe half way through the book, and though I can’t say ‘I can’t put it down!’ or ‘It’s a page-turner!’, I think it’s an amazing retrospective on the gaming industry.

If you’re a gamer, and I don’t know why you’d be reading my blog and Twitter feed and weren’t, and are interested in the history of the gaming industry, this book is a must-have. I started gaming at the dawn of the industry in the late ’70s when TSR released the white box 3-book edition of D&D, along came Traveller and Tunnels & Trolls and others. I worked for Flying Buffalo during their hey-day in the early ’80s, and what was cool about that was that the owner, Rick Loomis, approached me and asked me if I wanted a job. He needed someone with good typing skills, and he’d seen me with my TRS-80 Model 100 doing some coding or editing or whatnot and needed someone to enter literally thousands of addresses in to his mailing list. Good times for many values of good. I’ve played an uncountable number of games and met a lot of great people, many of whom I’m still in contact with and are still friends.

Obviously this series has a lot of personal resonance with me, and the stories are quite interesting. If you have any interest in this history, this is a fantastic value for $15.

The Kickstarter is running for another 22 days and is already fully-funded, they were seeking $7,500 and are over $70,000. In fact, they launched the Kickstarter some 12 hours before they announced it via email etc., and made their funding goal before the announcement. They’re now busily blowing through stretch goals.

And for those who enjoy it, they’re also crowd-sourcing the editing of the project, so you can participate at yet another level if you have the time, skill, and inclination.

Game review: Carcassonne South Seas

The Carcassonne series has been around for a long time, first published in 2000, and it’s long been a favorite of mine, including being the first serious game that I bought when we got an iPad two years ago. I don’t have all of the expansions, but I have found that, overall, I don’t care for expansions (Flash Point being the notable exception).

So what is South Seas? It’s largely what you’d expect, instead of land-based things to build (cities, roads, monasteries) you’re building little islands from which you harvest bananas, lagoons that provide fish, walkways that let you gather sea shells, and markets. Experienced players of classic Carcassonne should have little trouble making the transition.

What makes this game unique is the scoring method. In the classic version, you score points by completing cities or roads, in this version that’s just the first step. To score points in this game, you must supply ships, and each ship is worth points. For example, a 3-point ship might want two fish and a banana. If you have those goods on-hand at the end of your turn, you can trade them for that ship. Bananas are harvested from completed islands, much like completed cities in the classic. Sea shells are gathered from walkways, analogous to classic roads. Fish are different. Fishermen are played like farmers, with the typical hard work to infiltrate someone else’s lagoon, but they’re reusable! Walkway tiles will have water, but they may also have one or two fish, or maybe a boat. As you build a lagoon, the number of fish icons is the number of fish that you harvest when the lagoon is (a) completed (completely encircled by walkways) or (b) a ship appears. At that point it’s harvested, you recover your fisherman, and a fishing boat icon covers one two-fish icon, or a one-fish if a two is not available. Thus the lagoons deplete over time but are reusable.

One interesting change is that you can remove fishermen at any time to recover a meeple if you need to.

The markets in this game are the monasteries in the classic: play a merchant meeple and fill in the eight tiles around it, when completed you get the highest value of the four ships sitting out, so it could be strategically advantageous to hold off completing your market to get a higher value ship. The first time my wife and I played this was pretty unusual in that I got the first market fairly early, and it was so late before the following market tiles appeared that it wasn’t worth the effort to try to complete them. That’s random distribution for ya.

The end-game is just like the classic version: when the last tile is played, everything is scored. Award goods for partially-completed features, total up the points for the ships that you collected, then get an additional point for every three goods (per type) that you have on hand.

I picked this game up from Dave & Patty at The Game Depot in Tempe, AZ back in March and finally got a chance to play it last week with my wife. The observatory was shut-down due to weather, so she had time. We had lots of fun playing it, it works quite well for two people and it should be fine for more. This will probably bump Tsuro from our ‘traveling milk crate of doom’ that lives in the back of my car.

So basically, it adds sort of a Cataan-like resource gathering aspect that is key to the scoring mechanism. I thought it was a nice improvement to the classic design. It’s similar to the classic’s expansion where you add hops and wheat and such to cities, but I prefer how it is expressed in South Seas to how it works in the classic.

Definitely recommended. I’m curious to see what expansions they might have in mind for it.

How Gary Gygax lost D&D and TSR in one 90 minute meeting

A sad and interesting article giving a profound story of knowing what you’re doing when it comes to running a corporation. Gygax had, without a doubt, an amazing creative genius when it came to creating D&D and all of the material that he spawned over the years. But he was not educated or skilled when it came to running a corporation, and TSR became a study in how not to grow a business. I was a little surprised to find out that Gygax never finished high school.

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I hope this doesn’t become Kickstarter’s final funding use

In other news, my wife finally noticed the Throne of Gamers sign that I posed on the guest bathroom door. Much mirth ensued.

New Flash Point Kickstarter just launched!

Happy, happy!  Joy, joy!  The new expansion is AN AIRPLANE!  I’ve been waiting for this and thought a jet would be totally doable after they went to a 12-sided die for the submarine and splitting the d6 into the front and back halves of the map.  Also included is a new role, a Fire Prevention Officer.  It’ll be interesting to see what they do.  The flip side of the board features a subway station, that should prove interesting.  As an exclusive for Kickstarter, a mini-map is included that adds another basement and attic level for last year’s Extreme Danger expansion.

I received the email  an hour ago and they’re already over 70% of their funding goal and I’m confident they’ll hit it by the end of the day.  The Kickstarter ends July 30 and they’re projecting a ship date (get it?  ship?  the Dangerous Waters expansion?) is estimated for November.  I don’t remember when last year’s expansion was promised for, but it did arrive in time for Christmas.

One VERY important note: the Kickstarter is limited to 3,000 copies, so order now!

The Throne of Games: Water is Coming….

Though I haven’t read the books and am leaning towards not reading them until the TV series is finished, we’re really enjoying the HBO production.  And John Kovalic is nigh unto infallible as far as I’m concerned.



I’m low on toner on toner for my color laser, so I sucked it in to Photoshop and inverted it.  My wife hasn’t noticed yet that I’ve put it on our guest bathroom door.  I hope John doesn’t mind.


Dynamite Comics Humble Bundle

Humble Bundle is doing a collection of comic books from Dynamite, the home of lots of good titles like Dresden, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, etc.  This bundle gives you 22 titles, some are singles and some are collections, of lots of good stuff for $15.  They’re available in PDF, ePub, Mobi: all at the same time.  Takes a little time to download them all, but I’m looking forward to it if I can squeze ‘em all in on my Nook HD+ for our trip to Phoenix and Vegas starting tomorrow.

The package is available for another five days.

And Happy Fourth of July!  Even if you’re not in the USA, you’re allowed to have a good one.  Just don’t start too many grass or forest fires, please.

John Kovalic’s Game Alignment Chart

Board games categorized along the full RPG alignment spectrum, from Lawful Good to Chaotic Evil.  I think I can agree with this.


Click the picture to embiggen, or click on the link to go directly to the Dork Tower site (highly recommended).

Ryan Macklin on GMs Listening and Celebrating

A very good post on RPG GMs applying some improv comedy skills to listen to the players and also to celebrate their achievements.  Excellent stuff that all GM should use.

(see, I can actually post things that aren’t Kickstarter!) ;-)

Backstory Cards, now live on Kickstarter!

These are pretty cool.  They’re used mainly when starting a campaign with new characters and are intended for the players sitting around the table to draw cards and, through narrative, create backstories that link the characters closer together as a group.  For example, someone might draw “You and PC worked to undermine or directly combat one of GROUP’S machinations.  What did that conflict cost you?  What did it cost GROUP?”

So we know that you and another player character worked together in the past, in this case the card (as seen on the Kickstarter project page) has an arrow pointing to the right, so it’s the person on your right that you fought GROUP with.  The arrow might also point above, indicating the person opposite you.  So it might not be the person that you’d like to do something with, and it might not be the character with the skill set that you want, but that’s what you need to work with.  As you create an impromptu story with the other PC, you’ve deepened both character’s backgrounds, added some lore to the game, and possibly added a skill to your character.  You’ve also deepened the story of GROUP, which might just be the group that you’re working with…

The cards work with ANY role-playing game because you’re just making background stories.  I first learned of this from Ryan Macklin’s blog ( who provided me with an early beta of the cards.  I immediately fell in love with them, unfortunately I haven’t had the opportunity to get a group together and test them out.  The concept really appeals to me, I think any RPG is improved by having the characters more interconnected than ‘You meet in a tavern.’

The Kickstarter was created by Tim Rodriguez of Brooklyn Indie Games ( and Ryan Macklin, it’s already reached its goal of $5,000 and will be open until Friday, July 18.  $15 will get you a printed set of the cards, lesser amounts will get you the PDF for print and play.  You can also download the beta if you’re a contributor.


Kickstarter page


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