Monthly Archives: August 2014

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!

D&D For Free

The 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons is in the process of releasing, and you can download a starter set of rules of the player handbook as a free PDF and check it out!  It’s 100 pages(!).  How is 100 pages a ‘starter’?

The blurb states “…the Basic Rules for Dungeons & Dragons is a PDF (over 100 pages, in fact) that covers the core of the game. It runs from levels 1 to 20 and covers the cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard, presenting what we view as the essential subclass for each. It also provides the dwarf, elf, halfling, and human as race options; in addition, the rules contain 120 spells, 5 backgrounds, and character sheets.”

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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