Category Archives: Uncategorized

Reboot the Suit: A Kickstarter to properly conserve Neil Armstrong’s moon suit

There’s a Kickstarter going on to preserve Neil Armstrong’s suit that he wore on the moon, apparently the Smithsonian’s budget is mainly operational and special projects like this are not funded except through independent sources like grants or Project Kickstarter. The Kickstarter sought to raise $500,000 and has made that goal and are looking for more to extend preservation to other space suits, like Alan Shepherd’s.

One of the backer rewards is the files to 3-D print a replica of the suit’s glove. A lot of gamers are also science geeks of one sort or another and I thought that some of you might be interested in participating.


1996 edition of Deadlands Collection available from Bundle of Holding

It’s a heck of a collection, we had a lot of fun hours playing this game. Very interesting dice mechanics.

Here’s what’s bundled:
For just US$7.95 you get all six titles in our Starter Collection (retail value $30):
Weird West Player’s Guide (retail price $7.50): The core book for players, with the original rules and setting that started it all. [Note: Deadlands has been adapted to several rules system. This revived offer re-presents the 2004 revision of Pinnacle Entertainment’s flagship 1996 game and its supplements.]
Marshal’s Handbook (retail price $7.50): The Game Master’s guide to the Weird West of 1876.
Fire & Brimstone (retail price $3.75): The Blessed folks of the Weird West — Baptist Bible-thumpers, frontier rabbis, soapbox evangelists, and wandering Buddhist monks.
Hucksters & Hexes (retail $3.75): The soucebook for magic (and poker) in the Weird West.
Rascals, Varmints, & Critters (retail price $3.75): Scores of Deadlands desperadoes, abominations, and freaks.
Smith & Robards Catalog (retail price $3.75): A full range of weapons and equipment, plus New Science gizmos and rules for fantastic devices and the madm– um, geniuses who create them.

And if you pay more than the threshold price of $15.63, you’ll level up and also get our entire Bonus Collection of seven more titles (retail value $25.50):

The Agency: Men in Black Dusters (retail price $3.75): One of the highest-rated Deadlands supplements, this training manual documents secrets the Agency (a secret service of the Weird West) doesn’t want you to know.
Book o’ the Dead (retail price $3.75): The secrets of those who have passed beyond the veil — and back. New rules for generating undead heroes, as well as over 50 new mystical Harrowed powers.
Canyon o’ Doom (retail price $3.75): The native peoples call it the House of Stone and Light. In its shadowed depths, unnatural things wait. An epic 128-page adventure.
The Collegium (retail price $3.75): The intrigue-filled association of mad scientists in the Great Maze boomtown, Gomorra, and their newest, least stable steamtech inventions.
Ghost Dancers (retail $3): The sourcebook for Native American Shaman characters, their powers, and the Happy Hunting Grounds where mad spirits dwell.
Law Dogs (retail $3.75): About law enforcement, and the enforcers who have to be as ruthless as the outlaws they pursue.
Lone Stars (retail $3.75): The Texas Rangers sourcebook!

The bundle is available for another five days.

The Gumshoe System: Mutant City Blues and Ashen Stars

Gumshoe is an RPG system developed by Robin Laws and used in several games. Robin is an award-winning designer, I first came to know about his work with his Shadowfist CCG and Feng Shui RPG from 20 years ago.

Gumshoe strongly diverges from other games in that it assumes competence: anyone can drive, but if you have one point in Driving, you can pull off trick manouvers. Obviously it’s a lot more complicated than that, but it serves as a decent base example.

Mutant City Blues is sort of a superhero world. A virus struck and a certain amount of the population later gained superpowers. But you’re not a superhero, you’re a cop. Specifically, you’re on a special squad because of your mutant abilities. It’s CSI X-Men. I can’t claim to be an expert because I’ve only been reading the rules for a couple of days, but it’s quite intriguing. A professional skill costs only one point, and as someone who was always massively skill-heavy when it came to designing Champions characters, I like that. And while I’m mostly not a fan of police procedural television, this game really intrigues me. One thing that I particularly like is the Quade Diagram: a map of superpowers and how they relate. They have an excellent example of finding at a crime scene both prehensile hair and lightning blast evidence. You now know that you’re dealing with at least two suspects because those two abilities are too far apart to be from the same person.

Also, You can’t be horribly unbalanced as your second-most powerful ability has to be at least half the value as your most powerful, I like that design balance mechanism.

I’d suggest taking a look at the Wikipedia entry for the Gumshoe system, it does a very good job of illustrating it.

Anyway, this is a Bundle of Holding offering with two levels and three games, the three being Mutant City Blues (superhero CSI, Ashen Stars (Gumshoe in space), and Night’s Black Agents (spies vs vampires). The funding has another three days to run and part of the proceeds go to Womenkind Worldwide.

With great sadness and great respect, RIP: Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett, the second best selling author from the UK, passed away early this morning from an unusual early onset Alzheimers, he died in his sleep.

J.K. Rowling is, of course, the number one UK author, and she’s written not quite a dozen books. Terry wrote 70.

I had the honor and privilege of meeting him at the Tempe Discworld convention a few years back and he autographed my limited hardback of Good Omens, I’m hoping I can track down Neil Gaiman for his.


I LOVE IT when inspiration strikes!

There’s been a game design that’s been sitting in the deep dark corners of my mind (and as a file on my iPhone) for several years now. This morning, at about 3:30, it popped its head up and said “Remember me? Here’s a way to begin!”

I started recording ideas, and I also started a database to see if a thought I had for printing the terrain tiles would work. And it works perfectly….

And conveniently, I am at a break between classes, so now is an absolutely perfect time to work on it!

If things go well, I might have a alpha test set ready when we go to Phoenix at the end of the month. I’ll talk more about it later, I’ll only say now that playing Betrayal At House On The Hill, and Alhambra, are significant inspirations.

Be fwightened, be vewy vewy fwightened!

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.

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.

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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