Another Humble Bundle science fiction/fantasy collection!

While a lot of this collection is from authors that I don’t follow regularly or don’t know at all, there are three standouts for me: The Jack Vance Treasury, Barry Hughart’s The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox, and John Scalzi’s The Mallet of Loving Correction. Master Li and Number Ten are excellent stories set in medieval China, very cool stuff, and I would buy it just to have that one book as an ebook.

Other books in the collection are: Brayan’s Gold by Peter V. Brett, The Top of the Volcano: The Award-Winning Stories of Harlan Ellison (did he register his name?), The Ape’s Wife and Other Stories by Caitlin R. Kiernan, Jacaranda: A Novella of the Clockwork Century by Cherie Priest, Muse of Fire by Dan Simmons, Inside Job by Connie Willis, Black Hat Jack by Joe R. Lansdale, The Hunter from the Woods by Robert McCammon, Academic Exercises by K.J. Parker, Amityville Horrible by Kelley Armstrong, Tortured Souls: The Legend of Primordium by Clive Barker, The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate by Ted Chiang, The End of the Sentence by Maria Dahvana Headley and Kat Howard, Nobody’s Home: An Anubis Gates Story by Tim Powers, and the ever popular More Books Coming Soon!

The sale is up for another eight days, and again, are multi-format ebooks and DRM-free! This sale supports the charity Worldbuilders, with which I am not familiar.

Exploding kittens! Star Wars! Brainy ebooks!

Wow. So first, let’s talk about Exploding Kittens. This is a game by the creator of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal’s creator, Elan Lee. And it is nuts. Pure nuts. You take turns drawing from a deck, and if you draw an exploding kitty, you blow up and are out. But if you can distract them with a laser pointer card, or wear a cheetah butt, etc., you avoid the blast. I just hope they weight the deck so you can’t have an exploding kitten as your first card.

Anyway, the Kickstarter for this one sought $10,000. It has five days to run and has currently brought in $6.2 MILLION. The video is fantastic and I’m really looking forward to it. They say they’ll have a ship date of July ’15, so they must have the pre-production almost totally complete.

Next, Star Wars computer games. Man, talk about memories! I remember playing these things back in the ’90s when good game graphics were pretty new. This is a Humble Bundle that packages Knights of the Old Republic, Jedi Academy, Dark Forces, Empire At War, The Force Unleashed I and II, and more. For $12. And the bundle is supporting UNICEF, so it’s a pretty good charity. This deal is good for another 3 days.

And in the ebook department, Humble has a brainiac bundle that teaches programming, electronics, Lego construction and robotics, and other cool stuff. 16 ebooks, DRM-free, for $15. Funds are supporting the EFF, definitely a worthwhile org, and it’s available for another four days.

Sorry about the short notice: my wife had the flu four weeks ago, I caught it three weeks ago, worked last week and now a sinus infection knocked me down this week. Such fun. And I only found out about the Exploding Kittens today.

Grimtooth’s Traps, collected and funded via Kickstarter!

Back in the ’80s, Flying Buffalo published an amazing book called Grimtooth’s Traps. Grimtooth the Troll has been a sort of mascot for Buffalo since time in memorial. And now five or six of the books are being republished! The traps are systemless: you decide what it takes to detect and disarm or avoid, you decide how much damage they do. And a lot of the traps are just pure brutal: there was one, I believe it was by Liz Danforth and in the first book (which I have an original cover of), that was called the Cup of Golden Mead. It’s a cup of mead. And if you drink it, the mead transforms in to molten gold as it goes down your gullet. Good luck with that one!

That’s the sort of thing that you’ll encounter. Not all of them are massively lethal, some of them you wish they were.

The publisher is not Buffalo, they’ve authorized Goodman Games to collect them in to a single volume. And here’s the best part: not only is the project fully funded, Goodman has FINISHED ALL THE WORK. They have to work on the stretch goals, but that aside, they’re pretty much ready to go to press. They’ve blown through all their stretch goals: they started asking for $17,000 and they just blew past $142,000.

Here’s the bad part: the Kickstarter ends at 2am MST Wednesday morning, so about 32 hours from now. I apologize for not posting this earlier, the last couple of weeks have been weird and my wife was really sick over the weekend. And now I’m getting sick. So I’m blaming her.

But I have ordered the hardback for myself as I have material in a couple of the books. It’ll be cool to see them again. Now what I want to see is collected reprints of the Citybooks and Maps books!

Who knows. It could happen.

Update on Dr. Who Audiobooks and a Flash Point: Fire Rescue game report

First, Dr. Who. I downloaded several of them before we headed home from Colorado after Christmas, up to the limit that I could put on my iPad, and found that they weren’t classic audiobooks, they were more like full radio dramas: lots of sound effects and multiple actors. Pretty cool stuff. I should download the rest of them soon and then figure out what devices I can put them on to listen to. So if you were able to take advantage of the audiobook Humble Bundle, you’ve got lots of good stuff ahead of you!

Next, Flash Point! I got the most recent expansion that contains maps for a subway station and an airplane. On the first Saturday of the year I took my car in for some moderately extensive (and expen$ive) work and dropped off my set at my workplace to entertain myself while my car was being mended. (the repair went just fine, then something else broke on my car on my way in to work on Monday to the tune of an additional $300. sigh.)

I set up the airplane and took three roles: Driver/Operator, HazMat, and the Captain. There are two interesting characteristics with the plane. First, the fuselage runs the full width along the bottom of the map. The wing runs the full height, and there’s only the starboard wing, apparently the port wing was torn off in the crash. The wing has two hazmat spots with the engine between them, and you can’t move across the engine: you have to get off the wing then get back on it with a movement penalty. So it takes a fair amount of movement to go between the two points.

There are a couple of new rules for the plane that are interesting. First, if an explosion causes fire beyond the board border, you lose a structure cube permanently. Second, hazmat must be removed beyond the board border, but since I used the hazmat role to neutralize it, no biggie. And foam…. I’ll talk more about that shortly!

The setup is designed to start fires all over the place and with all three initial POIs on the plane. I don’t remember if there was a special starting rule for the additional hazmats.

I started with the fire truck and operator on the bottom right of the board, and they just sat there spraying the plane with foam. Foam is really cool, and the driver/operator (or whoever is operating the fire truck) can choose between foam and water. Foam turns fire to smoke and extinguishes smoke, but deposits foam wherever there wasn’t fire or smoke. And if fire were to advance on to a foam square, it eliminates the foam but doesn’t spread more fire!

This setup worked pretty well. The captain and hazmat entered from in front of the wing tip, took out some fire in the area, then the hazmat went to work on the wing while the captain headed in to the plane while dealing with fire and smoke. By the time he’d gotten in and identified some people needing rescue, the fire was pretty well contained. The driver/operator changed to the rescue dog and started hauling people out. After all of the hazmat had been neutralized, the hazmat guy became the structural engineer and started removing hotspots and repairing damage that could be fixed. Eventually the hotspots were all removed and repairable damage had been repaired, but the fire had gotten a little out of hand in the top right corner of the board, away from the plane, so it looked like a job once again for the driver/operator.

All in all, this was a very effective strategy for dealing with the plane. The rescue dog had to wait a couple of turns for fire to be beaten down to effect a rescue, but overall, the fire never got ahead of me though it came close.

So I rate the airplane as a very good map, and at least this time, no where near as difficult as I’d anticipated. I’m hoping to get to play the subway with my wife next weekend, it has some interesting characteristics.

This is the thing that I love about this game: you never know how a fire will spread. I was lucky in this game by bathing the airplane in foam, it really helped to control the flame and rescue people. But any player of Flash Point has seen maps go from ‘close to winning’ to ‘everybody dies!’ in very little time. And that’s what gives it a great replayability if you’re a fan.

Dr. Who Audiobook Bundle

Humble Bundle is selling many, MANY hours of Dr. Who audiobooks, voiced by David Tennant, Colin Baker, and I’m not sure who else. A donation of $15 opens everything with some more content yet to be announced. This particular bundle is helping support Doctors Without Borders, who definitely can use the funding after fighting the Ebola outbreaks in Africa.

I’m personally not a big audiobook fan, but we have a 600 mile drive home tomorrow and this will be a good way to supplement what I already have lined up to listen to.

The more things change, Thanksgiving, etc.

Over here in the United States it’s Thanksgiving weekend, right there along with Black Friday and more. And I have a really big thing to be thankful for: I got a job that started in early November. That’s one change in my life, and a major one at that. And major changes tend to disrupt all sorts of things, for example, travel plans.  It’s an excellent job doing database development helping a school for the blind and visually impaired, so it has a high social satisfaction quotient for me, which is something that I really like in a job.

But in this case, having a job will bring good changes for me and Spare Brains Games. Two+ years ago I was working on making a revised edition of Zombie Cafe, the first game (and only game, if I’m honest) that I sold. I was working with an old friend Steve Crompton, staff artist of Flying Buffalo (web site and blog) to get ZC illustrated, we were probably half way or more through the project when I became unemployed and had to put the project on hold. Well, now that I’m employed again, we’re going to restart the project!  And once we get ZC finished and re-launched, I can work on other projects, such as Copts & Robbers and maybe make a go at Karaoke Screams, plus an unnamed supervillain/spy game that I really want to do.

I’m not going to make any statement saying that the new edition of Zombie Cafe will be available on a specific date, it’ll be done when it’s done. I want to test some changes, and that’s going to take some time, plus having to redo the card layouts to make the art look better. It’s possible that we’ll be done by the end of 2015, but I think early ’16 is more realistic.  And the new edition will be in color and printed as regular playing cards with rounded corners.

And to provide a teaser, here’s a couple of pieces of Steve’s art that I really like:
72 Hitler's Brain

45 Phrenology Brain

I hope you had a good Thanksgiving or whatever and have a non-negative holiday season!

EdX Game Design Question: What is a game?

Wow. What a deceptively simple question. What is a game? Can you come up with a simple way to describe a game that could apply to poker, Chutes & Ladders, basketball, D&D, World of Warcraft? All of them?

The week 1 class lecture video was discussing this, not with these specific examples, and a challenge was put forth to come up with three words or short phrases that best describe a game to you, a word cloud was built out of the submissions. My words were: rules, strategy, and goal, the cloud was made up of 2800 words, and my percentages were 8%, 1%, and 2%, respectively. The biggest (highest occurrence) words were fun, rules, and challenging. Lots of synonyms and variations on phrases were used, victory conditions are roughly the equivalent of goals, etc. And if you combined goal and goals, it might be larger than challenging.

Thinking about the top words, arguments can be made in many directions. Is ‘fun’ a characteristic of a game? A game certainly should be fun, otherwise what’s the point of playing it. Life is too short to spend your recreation time doing things that you don’t enjoy. Walking the dog might be fun and is certainly not a game, though perhaps the dog might think it is. Maybe there’s a dog-walking game, I haven’t seen it and don’t know that I’d want to (chances are I’ll start designing one in my mind tonight, it’ll probably include ninja attacks). But can you design ‘fun’? Is interesting the same thing as fun? Does a desire to replay a game mean that you thought it was fun? Is enjoying playing a game the same thing as considering it fun? Can you have an enjoyable experience playing a game that is not fun? Can your perception of whether or not a game is fun vary during play if you go from winning to losing?

And is ‘fun’ the same between different cultures who speak different languages? I studied a little sociology and I can see how that word might not track.

One major problem is that two people may not agree that a given thing is fun or funny: some people don’t think Monty Python’s Flying Circus is fun while others do, so a game that goes deep in to Python humor is not going to be fun to a person who is not a fan. So ‘fun’ becomes a targeted goal of the design of the game: I want my theoretical game to appeal to Gamer Fanset A, and I realize that this means that people who are mainly Gamer Fanset B are probably not going to be interested in playing my game. As long as I accept that, that’s OK: I might end up with a much weaker game were I also to orient it towards Fanset B, or it might simply not be possible.

Speaking personally, I know that the game designs that I produce will not appeal to the classic grognard hard-core strategy gamer, because I try to design light and fast rules that don’t require deep strategy. This is something that I accept because it’s what I want to play, and if I don’t want to play the games that I design, why am I doing it?

Thinking about ‘challenging’ can take a lot of faces. A computer game can provide different levels of challenge by changing how accurate the cursor placement for a shot must be, or by giving enemy targets more life, or by reducing the output of resources, etc. In a balanced board or card game, the challenge is going to be your opponents or random chance or random allocation of resources. When I posed this question to my wife, she used the word difficulty. I think this is a characteristic that can be expressed in different ways. The difficulty could be the opposing team (enemy strategy), terrain/movement choices, random chance. They’re all challenges, though I think my brain wants to think of difficulty as having a more physical/tangible manifestation.

Then again, it’s 1AM where I’m at and I’m tired, so I’ll blame it on brain fade and go to bed, I’ve got five hours in an airplane later today.

If you’re an American, please vote!

One thing that I find really sad is the drop in voter turnout in non-Presidential election years. I also find it amazing that a number of people don’t realize that there are these mid-term elections, and they are important. No, you’re not voting for the President of the United States. But you are voting for the entire House of Representatives, a third of the U.S. Senate, lots of local officials, state constitution amendments, and bond initiatives.

These are important things! And yes, voting is sometimes inconvenient, but there are ways of getting it done. First, your employer is required by law to give you an opportunity to vote. You also have options when it comes to voting in advance. My wife and I voted today because she’ll be working 15 hours or so all night next Monday and sleeping all day Tuesday, so going to the polls would be difficult for her.

I’m not going to say ‘Vote For Candidate X or Party Y’. I have my political opinions and you have yours, and I don’t want to discuss them here on this blog. Here I want to talk about games, though it could be argued that there are some amazing displays of gamesmanship going on in D.C. I just want people to vote. If you search for your county’s chapter of the League of Women Voters, you can probably find a decent analysis of what is happening in your local election. Your state’s Secretary of State’s office should also have a good breakdown of the various referendums that will be on the ballot.

A lot of people will argue that ‘I don’t vote because I’m fed up with the current system.’ I agree, totally. We have a bunch of idiots in Washington, but if you don’t vote, then you’re agreeing with the status quo. If new people go to Congress, then we have a chance for change.

The problem is that change is certain, progress is not. But we’re not going to get progress without change, so please vote.

Dead Men Tell No Tales: a cooperative pirate game on Kickstarter

This looks interesting, it’s a game where you’re pirates trying to recover treasure from a burning ship, which conveniently is inhabited by a cursed crew. Wouldn’t want it to be too easy, would we? The game is both cooperative and tile-laying, so the game should change from session to session.

The video for the game looks good, and the fact that they support two players is a definite bonus. Here’s the bad part: the Kickstarter ends in 7 hours. I assume they sent me an email when the project launched, I must have glossed over it. Regardless, I’m backing it. The minimum level to get a physical copy of the game is $39.

A free MIT course in game design

MIT, yes, the Massachusets Institute of Technology, is providing a free online course via EdX that states:

A practical introduction to game design and game design concepts, emphasizing the basic tools of game design: paper and digital prototyping, design iteration, and user testing.

The three people presenting the course seem to have good bona fides. I’m signed up, and it will be interesting to see how they divide the course between computer programming and cardboard game design. Should be fun!


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