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Jeff's Gameblog
Saturday, 3 July 2004

Topic: Books
I finished reading Chase into Space today and I'm starting to figure out some of the reasons this trilogy seems so bland. The only real conflict in these books is Us vs Them, all of humanity versus the insectoid alien menace. Without a Darth Vader figure the overall conflict has no villain to boo. There's no real person-to-person conflict. Nora and Cris reunite without Cris showing any anger over being abandoned as a child. The only real interpersonal conflict, between John and the fatass major, is brief and basically played for laughs. And there's very little intrapersonal conflict. Nora manages to just stop being an alcoholic. Cris's anger management issues never jeopardize a mission. The whole trilogy seems to be hinged entirely on the alien threat, there's nothing else under the surface. That must be why these books are such a fast read, they're about the most shallow sci-fi I've ever read.

Posted by jrients at 7:37 PM CDT

Topic: Board Games
Last Wednesday when Pat was over at house he handed me a copy of a great book entitled The Games We Played: The Golden Age of Board & Table Games. I haven't had a chance to flip through it yet, but it looks interesting. Here's the Amazon info on it. When Pat hands me stuff like this it isn't always clear to me whether he's giving it to me or lending it. Sometimes I end up trying to return a "borrowed" gift. Of course, if he lent a book to me and I kept it forever he might not say a word about it either.

Posted by jrients at 9:50 AM CDT
Friday, 2 July 2004

Topic: Video Games
With my daughter in bed and my wife at the grocery store, I managed to play my new gamesticks some more. I got through one game of everything on the Namco stick: Pac-Man, Galaxian, Dig Dug, Rally-X, and Bosconian. Bosconian continues to impress, while Pac-Man and Dig Dug stand the test of time when it comes to great gameplay. Twenty years later and I still gasp when the ghost monsters on Pac-Man's tail inexplicably reverse course. Galaxian is a great Space Invaders descendant, right up there with Gorf and the Atari cartridge Phoenix. The one thing I take points off for on both Galaxian and Gorf is that the setting for the game is deep space. Defending Earth, visible at the bottom of the screen, seems incredibly important to me with regards to the psychology of Space Invaders style games.

I got in three games on the SpongeBob stick before Amy got back from the store. Super Chum Bucket is a great single screen platformer in the tradition of games like Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., and Wizard, a great C64 jumper. I got a little farther into the sidescrolling shooter featuring Sandy the squirrel. The Sandy game develops very nicely, adding terrain, foes flying in formation, and power-ups that give you more raw firepower. Patrick and the Maze involves running around an undersea labyrinth, using items, collecting treasure, and dodging baddies all while searching for a way out. Overall, I like the SpongeBob games. The graphics have a little too much white in them, making some items look like an overexposed photo, and the stick is very touchy in Super Chum Bucket, but I still had loads of fun.

Posted by jrients at 9:51 PM CDT
The Hard Truth About Collecting Stuff
Topic: Collecting Games

(Shamelessly ripped-off from Lore Brand Comics. I heartily recommend reading the entire archive.)

Posted by jrients at 5:17 PM CDT

Topic: Chess Variants
I'm not normally a fan of completely abstract chess pieces, the kind that depict how a piece moves. I prefer some sort of variant on the traditional Staunton design that is used in serious chess play, not because it is used in serious chess play but because I like the way the pieces look. Still, there's something to be said for the ability of purely abstract designs to carry useful information in an uncomplicated manner. Among other reasons this is why board wargames often use NATO military symbols on their pieces instead of little graphics of infantry and tanks.

I'm thinking about making up some abstracted Shogi (Japanese chess) pieces for the large variant called Ultimate Shogi or Taikyoku Shogi. This is one of the largest chess variants I've ever seen, comparable in my experience only to the chess variants that led directly to the first military wargames. Ultimate Shogi is played on a 36 x 36 board (1296 cells) with 402 pieces per side. The reason why I would use abstract pieces is because there are about 200 different types of pieces on the board at the start of play! As per normal Shogi, almost every piece can promote, some to additional piece types past that 200. Without systematic abstract piece design, this variant would be a bugger to play. Heck, even with good piece design it would still be a huge undertaking. Although you can find lots of wargames out there that use bigger boards and more pieces, some grognards might even balk at Ultimate Shogi. After all, board wargames generally allow you to move most or all of your pieces in a single turn and most wargames involves less differentiation among piece types. A wargame might have a thousand pieces, but if 500 of them are the exact same type of infantry piece then learning the game looks a little less daunting. And I think the 'one move per turn' aspect of Ultimate Shogi might drive some wargamers to madness.

Which of course only motivates me more to build a set and try it out on some wargamers. Mu ha ha ha!

Posted by jrients at 11:27 AM CDT

Topic: Chess Variants
I have decided to go ahead and call my large chess variant 6 Islands Chess. I'm going to create two subvariants of 6 Islands Chess. Both variants are played by the elves of the 6 Islands. The elves of the Islands are basically united culturally but divided politically. There are two courts, the King's court and the Queen's court. Although these two monarchs are by local elven law to be considered lawfully married spouses, they in fact run two rival separate governments. This arrangement can result in quite acrimonious and petty bickering between the two courts.

The human of the 6 Islands introduced chess to the King's Court first, so that variant is called Elven Chess. It would not do to have the queen be such a powerful piece in the court of the Elven King, so in Elven Chess the movement and capture abilities of the king and queen are swapped. The king is still the Royal piece and must be checkmated.

Queen's Chess, as the other variant is called, makes the queen the Royal piece. The king becomes a court piece. The pawn of king promotes to another king. The pawn of queen promotes to a princess, wich has the powers of an amazon (queen plus knight) and is considered a court piece.

Or at least that's how those two variants work at this moment.

Posted by jrients at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Friday, 2 July 2004 7:51 AM CDT
Thursday, 1 July 2004

Started book 2 of the Cyborg Commando trilogy today. These novels are so light and fluffy that I've gotten past page 60 tonight, even though I got home later than usual, made supper, picked up the living room, vacuumed, and put my daughter to bed. I just wish I could bring myself to finish reading the Cyborg Commando rpg. The basic premise is sound (good guy cyborgs vs. the alien menace) but the execution of that premise is just plain not working for me.

Posted by jrients at 9:06 PM CDT

Topic: RPG Actual Play
Last night was Dave Hoover's "Avatars" campaign, using the Savage Worlds system. I had a great time as usual. Although it delayed starting the game, we all had a great chitchat before the roleplaying starting, mostly chewing the fat about videogames. That was a lot of fun. Even more fun was the total slobberknocker of a fight we had with some more of the dreaded ant riders. Those guys are a great foe. We very nearly lost two PCs and Count Dante's horse. At one point things looked so bad I thought we were staring down the barrel of a Total Party Kill. I love it when rpg combats get that scary. We also hooked up with some non-dead friendlies (thanks for reading the blog, Dave!), so hopefully we can get some information from the locals next session. I had a really good time despite the fact that I had a bout of indigestion for much of the night. (Too much pop + too much food + not as young as I used to be = boo-boo tummy.)

Later I noticed an error in my revised advancement plans for my PC. I tried to slip Power Surge onto the ladder before its prerequisite. Power Surge is a nifty little edge that gives you a slew of extra power points whenever you get a joker for initiative. Considering that both my and Loren's spellcasters were depleted by the end of the fight, I think an edge like Power Surge could be beaucoup handy. Anyway, so I moved Power Surge further along the advancement track and finally buckled under and bought some Fighting skill for my little wussboy PC. Now I might actually hit my foes regularly. Of course, I still only get a d4+1 damage with my low Strength score. But them's the breaks.

There was a general consensus that everyone at the table would like to play the "Necessary Evil" campaign when it comes out. This is an official SW campaign book in which an alien menace invades and defeats the superheroic defenders of Earth. The PCs are the supervillains who must now step up to the plate and stop the bug eyed monsters. Sounds like a great concept, though I'm unsure how well Savage Worlds can be tuned for superheoic play. One problem with "Necessary Evil" is that everyone at the Wednesday night game would like to be a player in it. As far as I can tell it may well turn out to be one of those really cool games that no one wants to GM. I've seen this problem before. I might enjoy running NE, but I'm pretty darn certain that I would have a blast being one of the players. Especially with Pat at the table.

Posted by jrients at 4:54 PM CDT
Wednesday, 30 June 2004

Topic: RPGs
Tonight is another Savage Worlds session and I'm already getting all jazzed up for another fast and furious session. Hopefully there will be plenty of trouble for us to get into tonight! I'm going to try really hard not unnecessarily poo-poo any dungeon crawling tonight, no matter how insane the plan. Its obvious that other players really want to go down in some tunnels.

Posted by jrients at 11:18 AM CDT
Tuesday, 29 June 2004

Topic: Chess Variants
Well, I've decided that at least as a temporary measure I'm going to call my large chess variant Better Late Than Never 100. I'd really prefer something more poetic than that, some name that would allow me to use the variant in a fantasy setting in the same manner as Gary Gygax's Dragonchess, S. John Ross's Mastery or Peter Aronson's Gothic Isles Chess. I suppose I could call my game 6 Islands Chess and make it the variant unique to that setting. Calling it such invokes Gothic Isles Chess, which certainly inspired me with the idea that every fantasy setting needs its own chess variant. The fact that there are no Islands involved in the game certainly could cause a bit of confusion.

Posted by jrients at 4:13 PM CDT

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