Chicago Geek Guy

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Going Deep with Clockwork Depths

An avid board and card player her whole life, KK Blazek didn’t start role-playing until after she graduated high school. She started playing in a Vampire: The Masquerade LARP and before too long found herself running a tabletop D&D campaign out of her college dorm room. Once paired with husband David, the two combined their experience with world building and game design to create Girded Rose Games and work on their first project: the modern day, underwater, Steampunk inspired Clockwork Depths rule set for both tabletop and LARP play. Together, KK and David now fill the roles of Vice President of Operations and Head of Product Development, respectively, at the small company.

I had a chance to play a tabletop session of Clockwork Depths at the Midwinter Gaming Convention and sparked a conversation with KK about the game.

Clockwork Depths takes several Steampunk tropes and turns them sideways. It’s set in the modern era. It primarily occurs underwater. Can you speak to how you and David wanted to develop the concept in these directions? How did they occur to you?

When we were first working on the game it largely took place in the sky as opposed to beneath the waves, but we found the result a little dull. We love the thought of airships and soaring through the skies, but we wanted to include a healthy dose of fantastic creatures and a dollop of the horror genre. Both of those were easier to include by setting the game in an environment that is, even today, largely unexplored. Doing this allowed us to bring in different sentient species which gives players a greater range in character choices and sets the stage for people of vastly different cultures having to be inclusive and accepting of each other for the greater good (We’re really big on being inclusive in our house). It also opened the door for us to bring in creatures both malicious and benign, wonderous alchemical substances and magic to add flavor to the game. Besides, David loves the ocean, especially sharks as anyone reading the game will quickly see, so it was natural for him to set the game there, even if it did lead to a lot of extra work figuring out how the game mechanics were affected when the PCs are under water and not in a dometown.

The modern element was initially due to a random idea David had wherein he pictured a proper steampunk gentleman decked out in top hat, goggles, frock coat, trousers, boots and a Chicago Cubs t-shirt. Where the thought came from I have no idea, but it led us to explore the possibilities in a world where technology, culture and fashion were mostly steampunk, but continued to grow and evolve in certain areas. We quickly saw that setting the game in a world like this allowed us and our players greater freedom in some areas. Costuming for the LARP would be less expensive if players could incorporate parts of their modern clothing, for example. More importantly, while we love the civility, manners and poise of the Victorian era, the attitudes towards anything not “normal” held by most people in that time had no place in our game, or, as far as we’re concerned, gaming in general. Setting it in the modern era as we did, allowed us to move past those pitfalls by saying that while technology hadn’t changed, other aspects of culture had. Also, given his strong dislike for computers, cell phones etc, any time David can make a world where such things exist but are rare and illegal makes him do his happy dance.

What were the considerations you needed to keep in mind while designing for a LARP and table top RPG?

KK Blazek GMs a tabletop game of Clockwork Depths at Midwinter Gaming Convention.

The two main differences between LARP and tabletop are the method you use to resolve challenges and the number of players. Most tabletop games have four to six players and tend to use dice in some way. A LARP generally has anywhere from 10 to 50 players on average or more and tends to use rock, paper, scissors to resolve tasks and conflicts. In its heyday, it wasn’t unusual for me to walk into a Vampire LARP with 100+ people in attendance.

To solve this, we first started with submersibles and businesses. because the average crew of a submersible or business, at least at the beginning, is two to six. This gives you your own little group you can work within that can be its own entity in a tabletop, or one of any number of others in a LARP.

The system for resolving challenges was another brain child of David’s. Instead of dice or RPS, we have a blind draw system using colored tokens. It’s nice because it’s simple making combat and such super-fast and easy for even first-time players. Since a pouch can be worked into any costume and you don’t need to rely on a table to do a draw, the system is easily transferable between the two.

What drove the decision to design for tabletop and LARP at the same time?

Clockwork Depths supports both LARP and tabletop games with the same rules.

We’re opening with a message that says we support your personal preferences, and you’re more than welcome to come hang over here with the cool kids. 🙂 We are what we are up front, no excuses or apologies.

We wanted to give people choices when it came to playing our game. David and I love LARPing, and the costuming, make-up and gadgets that pervade steampunk in general, and in this game in specifically. That made LARP a natural choice for Clockwork Depths. However, LARPing is not for everyone so we didn’t want to exclude anyone. Plus, David had been playing and running table top RPGs for two decades before even hearing about LARPs, so his brain naturally thinks in those terms first. There also seems to be a desire to do this. There are, for example, a lot of D&D home brew LARPs running at conventions, but the d20 system does not lend itself to LARP.

The key was to make it possible for people to play either style without having to go through character conversions and such. That way if a game starts as a tabletop but, after increased interest the Gamescaper (the game specific term for GM) decides to turn it into a LARP, the existing players can just use their same character sheets with the rules they already know. Plus, there have been countless times when I was running a LARP where a few of the players wanted to do something like a dungeon crawl in downtime. Since the game is playable as both a LARP and table top, this is very easy to do.

How did you go about prepping the Kickstarter and what went into the decision to go that route?

We tossed around a few ideas for funding, but Kickstarter was the most appealing. It lets you get the word out. Being a small, family run company just starting out, the most important thing we can do is find ways to get our name and product out there. Since we have self-funded up to this point, we really needed that extra boost from the crowd funding to get things completed.

Prepping was interesting. We went through, I don’t even know how many versions of the video before we finally settled on the one we ended up with. One of our founders, Craig, did a lot of research and spends a lot of time on Kickstarter, so he and our Marketing Director, Robyn, have been our point people for that.

Do you have a backup plan?

We do, when we choose Kickstarter to get us the rest of the way, we had toyed around with three other plans for funding laid out, everything from a traditional business loan to other ways of getting backers.

How do you plan to market the game? Hitting the con circuit?

A lot of Cons, yes. We’re also working with local gaming shops to run games with their regulars. I also have some friends in various parts of the country, some of whom I introduced to gaming, who are excited to try to get some games running near them.

In addition, we’ve been talking with groups in the LGTBQ+ community. The two biggest messages in this game are inclusion and working together. We have a whole species built into the game, the Mechis, where you can pick what your Chassis looks like, male, female or neutral. Our Kumugwei are a matriarchal society, and the Merrow are ruled by their King and his husband.

That’s great to see in a game, but it’s rarely so overt. What’s behind that decision?

Initially, it wasn’t an overt decision, it’s something that happened naturally. We practice what we preach as far as being inclusive goes. Many of our friends and some family fall into LGTBQ+, as do I. We tend to gear things in such a way that it’s friendly to that lifestyle without thinking about it. It was our marketing director, Robyn, who read the book and wanted to know why we weren’t pushing that aspect harder. It was a bit of an eye opener for us that outside our little world. People won’t be aware that we’re accepting and welcoming unless we say so.

Similar, and some would say smaller, efforts have been made by RPG giants like Wizards of the Coast and faced some blowback from players. Do you have any concerns about maintaining such a vocal message of inclusivity as a small company?

I feel like, as a small group, we almost have an advantage. We aren’t trying to tell anyone how to think or play, it’s about opportunities and options. You can play a straight Merrow or be male and play a male Mechis. In our current tabletop test I’m playing a female Mechis.

Being small and starting with this message, we don’t have established fans who aren’t ok with it and might push back. We don’t have to shout because you know up front, we accept everyone. I also feel like with a larger, established company, unless the push is hard and loud, it doesn’t get to enough people.

I Get Anxious When I Run a Con (RPG Session)

As I searched for a system to run a new campaign, I ran several one-shot RPG adventures for small groups of players. The concept is not new to me and the players and I had a good time playing together. This week, I’m running a game of Tales from the Loop of a group of six at Midwinter Gaming Convention. I’ve got to say, this effort’s got my anxiety kicking into high gear. Something about trying to entertain and engage six strangers for four hours that causes me to lose a bit of sleep at night. In an attempt to figure out why, I thought I would put down a couple of my concerns and make a plan for addressing them.

I’ve boiled it down to three ideas: I am used to a comfortable gaming space. I’m not used to a low tech set up. I don’t know most of the people who plan to sit down at the table with me on Friday.

Playing somewhere else means literally playing outside of my comfort zone.

Since moving two years ago, I’ve been able to create a very comfortable space for gaming. Twelve people can sit around a custom table I built myself. Players can recharge their phones and plug in their laptops at built in outlets. Shelves of games line one wall and my collection of comics, the other. We’re in the basement, far enough to laugh and play without bothering other residents of the house. Playing somewhere else means literally playing outside of my comfort zone.

I know very little about the space I’ll use for the game this week. It’s table six in room Wright A. That room will host five other games at the same time of our session. I’ve got a few plans to help make our group more comfortable.

Hostess can save the world!

Scheduling the game for day two of the convention provides me with a chance to scout the location in advance. I’m even playing in a game in that space the day before. I’m also packing a few items that might help: a power strip, portable speaker to play some mood music (quietly), and a collection of alternate 80’s treats. (If we learned anything from Captain America in the 80’s, it’s that Hostess baked goods can save the world.)

I guess I’ve got to go back to “gasp” paper and pencil.

My game space at home allows for me to run a pretty technical game. A built-in monitor provides me a virtual tabletop where I can project maps and images for everyone to see. I keep my notes electronically in a searchable notebook. Lugging my 5′ x 5′ table from Chicago to Milwaukee is not an option. I guess I’ve got to go back to “gasp” paper and pencil. Well, maybe laminated sheets and wet erase markers.

This isn’t as bad as it may seem. Taking some time before a session allows me to find just the right images I want to use for flavor and what elements from the adventure the players really need to see. I’ve had a great time searching through old 80’s magazine covers to find images that strike the right tone. A member of the TftL Reddit community offered up these beautiful icon item cards, that I believe open up a great tactile experience for players. With laminating machines going for $20, I’ve been able to create game resources I can reuse for future adventures.

A $20 laminator makes sturdy handouts.

Going a bit lower tech may work out better for me in the long run. It offers me more time to plan out what I show to the players, instead of what I just find in an instant internet search and provides me with tangibles I can use for other sessions. I’m still going to use my tablet for reading my notes, though. It’s just way too convenient.

Overcoming this anxiety requires action on my part.

For someone usually considered an extrovert, meeting and working with new people often fills me with dread. Running a session when people expect to enjoy themselves for four hours, even more so. Teenage insecurity still haunts me and, like every time I’ve ever been on stage in my entire life, I know I will need to take that one nervous pee before we start.

Overcoming this anxiety requires action on my part. I’ve emailed the folks who will participate to provide a quick overview of the rules and setting. I’ve written down an outline of what to say when we first start the session. In my head, I’ve practiced greeting each player while extending a handshake.

A different space, using new tools, with people I don’t know. I hope to reduce my anxiety and increase the enjoyment for everyone by increasing my general level of organization; making sure I have all the information, props, and outlines I need ready, and taking advantage of what technologies and other resources I have available. I will also do my best to ensure I’m well rested and fed. I can’t GM at my best if I’m tired or hungry.

No. I can’t bring my cozy geek cave up to a convention, but I can certainly do my best to carve out a comfortable environment for myself and the players for our game.

Featured Image credit: NASCRAG

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Azul

One of my goals with the 12 Days of Holiday Game Recommendations is to talk about the games that don’t get enough press. While Board Game Geek’s Hotness list is a great tool, it’s not nearly as perfect or omniscient as many people treat it. But on occasion a popular game merits all of the praise it gets. And for that reason, on Day 8, we’re talking about Azul by Plan B Games

Azul is an abstract strategy, tile-laying game. It is also a very visual game, to the point that it’s challenging to describe the gameplay with just text! Therefore I’ll give a brief summary, and link the rulebook below in case you’re curious. I’ll also attempt to explain why the game is great.

Azul starts by giving each player their own board (more later on that), and setting up the center of the table. The table’s center will have a number of coasters (called “factories”) based on the number of players, and each factory will have four randomly chosen tiles on it. There are 20 tiles of each of the five colors.

At the start of a player’s turn they will pick a color of tile they want to take from a single factory, or from the center of the table. They must take all of the tiles of that color from the chosen location. If they take their chosen tiles from the factory, all of the other tiles are moved from the factory to the center of the table, increasing the options at that location.

After a player has take all of the tiles of their chosen color, they have to assigned them to their player board. A player board has five Pattern Lines on it, running horizontally with one atop the other, starting with one spot on the top, and five spots on the bottom. Players assign their chosen tiles to Pattern Lines, filling them from right to left. Pattern Lines can only hold one color, based on which color tile a player first places there.

After all of the tiles have been chosen from the table, players check to see if they have filled any Pattern Lines. If they have, a single tile of that color is assigned to the Wall space on the player board. Points are updated live based on how many tiles are touching, and the game ends if at least one player has completed a horizontal line of five tiles on their Wall.

If that sounds intriguing, give the rulebook a look. It’s only 6 pages, and has visuals describing every step of the game. (Including the ones I left out for simplicity sake.)

Azul is a game that earns its praise in ways that aren’t completely obvious at first. The mechanics are rather unique, but the gameplay is elegantly simple. It’s a game that’s easy to teach to kids, but it isn’t a “kid’s game”. The theme is fitting with the gameplay (players are Portuguese tile layers), but isn’t overwhelming to casual or new gamers.

But more subtle is the design of the tiles themselves. Because Azul’s central mechanic is all about color, it would have been easy to make them all plain, single-color. But other than the red and blue tiles, they have a pattern on them unique to each color. (The player board also has the same pattern for each color.) It’s extra details that doubtlessly took up extra resources, but it means the game can be played by people with various forms of color blindness.

It should also be noted that the tiles are very durable. Not only will they survive a lot of play, but they’re just fun to handle and place. Azul is both visually and tactilely engaging!

It’s these last points that really elevate Azul to being a fantastic product. Because the gameplay is so simple, the game itself could have been made out of cardboard tokens with minimal artwork and still have been great. Instead, the designers took the extra steps to make a beautiful game with components that make it accessible to a wider audience. So yes, Azul absolutely deserves its hype. Ask your local game store if they have it!

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday in 2016. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.


12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Massive Darkness

Back to my 12 Days of Holiday Game Recommendations! One of my favorite types of board games are ones that fully and competently embrace the visual aesthetics of the medium. (Mind you, there are phenomenal games that take a minimalist approach in their presentation. Don’t take this as a sly condemnation of that approach.) I also really like games that give you components that can be easily repurposed. So for Day 7 I’m enthusiastically propping up Massive Darkness, by CMON.

Massive Darkness is a fantasy board game by several of the creators of Zombicide. At the start of each play session players will pick a scenario that will tell them how to build the map, what their objectives are, and any additional rules they should keep in mind. Then players will choose their character, and their class. The characters get a few abilities unique to them, while their class determines how they can progress over the course of play. Mixing and matching the character and classes is one of the fun parts of multiple playthroughs!

Enemies and treasure in Massive Darkness are determined by card draw. As players progress through a scenario, they’ll reach more difficult parts of the dungeon that will spawn stronger enemies and better loot. Enemies are represented by miniatures (more on those below), and will either come as a horde, a mini-boss, or a boss monster. No matter the type, they will also spawn with a random magic item that the player who strikes the final blow gets to keep.

Combat in Massive Darkness is very basic at its core. The game comes with unique six-sided dice that are either for attacks or defense. Fights are simple matter of gathering the dice pools for the attacker and defender, and having a roll-off. Outcomes can be modified by a creature’s special abilities, a character’s traits, or an item’s powers. But combat is still meant to be a faced-paced affair.

The gameplay experience of Massive Darkness reminds me of the old Gauntlet video games, but with more customization. Players are going face swarms of baddies, trade loot with amongst the team, and have to choose on the fly which ability to unlock. It’s a casual “beer-and-pretzels” experience for as many as six, or for solo play. It’s easy to teach, and has great replay value out of the box that can be tweaked with expansions and crossover packs that integrate Zombicide.

Now enough about the gameplay, let’s talk about the visuals! The artwork embraces that sweet spot between “simple” and “unique”. The wizard has a staff and pointy hat. The thief has a cowl and two daggers. The barbarian’s muscles are as comically oversized as his ax. Meanwhile it’s easy to tell which monsters are the orcs, goblins, or dwarves with a simple glace. But everything is depicted in such a unique style that they couldn’t come from anywhere but the world of Massive Darkness (or Zombicide). Just as it’s easy to tell a Warhammer Ork from any other orc, the various pieces from Massive Darkness couldn’t be from anywhere else.

This absolutely translates to the miniatures, of which there are over seventy! Massive Darkness is a fantastic purchase just for the miniatures alone. It’s a great supply of monsters for any game of D&D/Pathfinder/13 Age/etc. And at less than $2 a mini, they’re cheaper the various Bones or WizKids options. (And of much higher quality, in my opinion.) It’s a great gift for the GM or painter on your list, and they get a cool game in addition to all of the plastic toys.

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday in 2016. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.


12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Deadpool vs the World

We’re halfway through my 12 Days of Holiday Gaming Suggestions for 2018, and I realized I haven’t done anything for the Naughty List. Put the kids to bed, because for Day 6 I’ll be working blue. And by “blue,” I mean “red”. And by “red,” I mean “dead.” As in “Deadpool”. We’re talking about Deadpool vs the World by USAopoly, okay?

Deadpool vs the World is a “mature” party game for three or more “adults”. Players will take turns being the Judge. The Judge draws a card from the WTF card pile, and places it face-up in view of all the players. Each WTF card depicts Deadpool in some situation typical only for the Merch with a Mouth. (Such as walking on crutches while carrying his own leg, trying to drink while being riddled with bullet-holes, getting chopped in half in mid-stride, or having his own mini-me burst through his chest Alien-style.)

After seeing the WTF card, each non-Judge player picks a Caption card from their hand of five. Each Caption card features an incomplete phrase that’s a potential bit of Deadpool dialogue. (“So this is what being [blank] is like”, “Say hello to my little [blank]”, and “Is [blank] a pre-existing condition” are all possible Captions.) Each player will use a wet erase marker to complete one Caption card, then place it face down by the WTF card. The Judge will read all of the Caption cards, and decide which one best compliments the WTF card. The player who submitted the Judge’s favorite Caption cards claims the WTF card as a point.

If the above sounds familiar, then congratulationson playing some of the most popular party games since Apples to Apples! But unlike other games derivative of Apples to Apples, Deadpool vs the World tweeks the formula beyond the novelty of playing the “largest, darkest phallus” card. The pairing of a randomly-chosen visual with the Mad Libs fill-in-blank mechanics means players must try to merge their creativity with their lack of shame. Adding in Deadpool to that formula instantly sets the tone, and provides the game with a perfect mascot.

Deadpool vs the World comes with six wet erase markers, 100 WTF cards, and 300 Caption cards. Dirty mind, twisted humor, and Brad Pitt cameo not included. If you like those other party games with “shock value”, but wish they didn’t wear out their welcome a few hours after the latest expansion gets cracked open, then get Deadpool vs the World.

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday in 2016. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.


12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Werewords

Welcome to day 5 of my 12 Days of Holiday Gaming Suggestions. Let’s briefly talk about a game I don’t like. I’m not a fan of Are You a Werewolf aka Mafia aka Ultimate Werewolf (among many, many other names),which some people might find unusual of me. After all, I really enjoy hidden traitor games, and games with asymmetrical player roles. The above games are best known for those features. A feature nearly unique to those games that I really like is how the traitors aren’t able to directly communicate with each other even though they know each other’s identities. But there’s one deal breaker for me: I don’t like games where players are eliminated without getting to do anything, and quick elimination of clueless players is critical for the Werewolf/Mafia/etc experience.

So imagine my surprise when I played a game that manages to capture a good chunk of the Werewolf experience without the player elimination. And I should mention that it’s a party game that’s easy to breakout at those family gatherings that include non-gamers. And it integrates an app for an experience that can’t be replicated without the physical components.Today’s game is Werewords, by Bezier Games, Inc.

Werewords is a party game for 4 to 10 players (or more with the Deluxe edition). I’m going to talk about the basic game, which breaks the players down into four roles:

1: The Mayor. The person playing the Mayor gets to choose a Magic Word from the game’s app, and has to get the Villagers to guess it before the time runs out. But there’s one complication; the Mayor can’t speak!

2: The Seer. The person playing the Seer gets to see the Magic Word, and can help the Villagers guess it before the time runs out. But the Seer must be careful to not be too obvious who they are, because if the Werewolves find them out the Villagers lose.

3: The Werewolf. The person (or people in larger games)playing the Werewolf gets to see the Magic Word. They can then try to sabotage the Villager’s attempts to guess it. But if the Werewolf is too direct in their deductive vandalization, the Villagers can suss them out at the end of the game for victory.

4: The Villagers. Everyone not assigned to the above three roles is a Villager. Villagers can either win by guessing the Magic Word, or the identity of one Werewolf.

The game begins by randomly assigning roles to all of the players. Once everyone knows what they are playing the Mayor (and only the Mayor) reveals their role, and starts the app. Everyone else puts their heads down while the Mayor selects a Magic World. Then the Mayor puts their head down,and the Seer gets to see the word. Then the Seer puts their head down, and the Werewolf gets to see the world. (In games with multiple werewolves, this is where they get to see who their teammates are.)

Now the guessing game begins. Players ask the Mayor yes-or-no questions in an attempt to figure out what the Magic Word is. Because the Mayor can’t speak, they give Yes or No tokens as answers. (They can also give a Maybe or So Close token when needed.) Villagers (and the Seer) are trying to guess the Magic Word before the game’s timer runs out, and the Werewolf is trying to stop them.

If the Villagers guess the Magic Word, the Werewolf must show themselves. They now have 15 seconds and one guess to figure out who the  Seer is. If the Werewolf identifies the Seer, the Villagers lose. Otherwise,there Werewolf has lost.

If either the game’s timer, or the Yes and No tokens run out, the players get one minute to try to figure out who the Werewolf is. (The Mayor is now allowed to speak.) After one minute, everyone points to who they think the Werewolf is. The person with the majority of the vote reveals their role. If they are a Werewolf, the Villagers win. If that person is anyone else,the Villagers have lost.

There’s one more complication that I didn’t mention above:The Mayor themselves could be the Werewolf! To find out how that works, as well as reading about all of the other optional roles, check the link to the game’s full rules below. (I’ll link to the deluxe version, because that’s what I’ve played.)

Werewords is an excellent game that does a great job bringing together people with different tastes in gaming. It’s a great compromise between the full Werewolf/et al experience without the player elimination. It’s easy to teach to fans of casual party games, and could be used to bring them into more complicated games. And the app integration makes it a truly unique experience, and makes it a potential combo gift for anyone getting a smart device over the holidays. If you’ve been at all intrigued by my suggestion, give the full rules a look over.

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday in 2016. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Squirrel or Die

There’s always a demand for games that are good for stocking-stuffers, White Elephant exchanges, or office parties. I’ve been making an effort to put at least one on my list each year, so for Day 4 of my 12 Days of Holiday Gift Exchange I present Squirrel or Die.

Squirrel or Die is a memory/press-your-luck game for two to four players. Players take the roll of Squirrels preparing for Winter. There are two distinct phases in each game, which I’ll discuss below. Hope you like your games with a touch of black humor, because the goal of the game is to seed the Yard with Food for you, and Death to your fellow fuzzy animals!

Cards in Squirrel or Die are either Food, Death, or Special. In the Autumn phase, players start each game with three secret cards in hand. The grid (aka the Yard) starts with one card face down, and three cards face up. On a player’s turn they take a card from the draw pile, and add it face up to the Yard. Then the same player swaps any face up card from the Yard with a card from their hand, which will go face down. Eventually all cards will be face down in the Yard, which signals the start of Winter.

When Winter comes (shush, I don’t watch the show) players will take turns drawing a card from the yard, publicly showing off their choice. Each Food card drawn contribute to that player’s victory while making the Yard more dangerous for everyone else. If a player collects three Death cards, they’ve been eliminated from the game. The winner is either the last player standing (most likely outcome), or the player who finds the most food once the last card is drawn from the Yard. Special cards have a variety of effects; such as forcing you to take another turn, or sending Death to another player.

Squirrel or Die is a great small-box game. It’s easy to teach, plays in about 10 minutes, and has a good replay value. Just be aware that the semi-bleak humor won’t be for everyone, though the theme could definitely be used in a classroom to teach students about winter survival in the animal world.

Squirrel or Die is by Fight in a Box, and distributed by Atlas Games.

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday in 2016. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Last Days: Zombie Apocalypse

Welcome to Day 3 of my 12 Days of Holiday Gaming Suggestions, and hopefully the start of me writing at a faster pace now! Night of the Living Dead turned 50 this year, so we’re gonna talk about zombies.Today’s game is Last Days: Zombie Apocalypse by Osprey Games.

Last Days: Zombie Apocalypse is a miniature game that manages to stand out in a gaming market over saturated by the undead by doing a few key things. Firstly, all of its rules are in a single book. It’s a slim book (by the standard of other minis games); barely passing a hundred pages.Nearly all of that space is devoted to the rules of the game. There’s no need write a bunch of fluff about a world overrun by the undead when so many movies,books, shows, and comics have already done that!

This isn’t to imply that there aren’t story elements to the game despite its relatively small book. On the contrary, Last Days knows that the most interesting zombie stories are about the human conflicts that the undead just make worse. Therefore, it’s completely designed continuous,campaign-style play. Zombies are governed like nearly-mindless obstacles rather than controlled by a single player. The human narrative, meanwhile, starts right when a player designs their group of survivors. Will their leader be selfless, or selfish? The choice affects what kind of followers can be recruited. Where does the group take refuge? The abandoned prison presents a strong start with fences and an infirmary, but it can’t be customized much in long-term play like the more initially-vulnerable farmhouse or mall can.

(And yes, leaders, followers, and bases all improve over the course of play. And zombies are always the same.)

Last Days actually uses the overwhelming number of other zombie games to its advantage by being completely miniature agnostic. In other words; “USE WHAT YOU WANT” is part of the rules. (This is a great feature of nearly all of Osprey’s miniature games.) If you know someone who already owns games like Zombicide, Last Night on Earth, or Zombies!!!!!, then Last Days will work with what they already own! (And if that person is you, mention the book to someone who needs a gift idea for you.)

Check back soon (hopefully tomorrow) for a non-miniatures gaming suggestion.

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday in 2016. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Fallout Wasteland Warfare

Day 2 of the 12 Days of Holiday Game Recommendations, and only [*checks notes*] four days after the first. Oof. (Don’t worry, I’ll be done well before Christmas.) Today I’m going to get an obvious game out of the way with Fallout Wasteland Warfare by MODIPHIUS.

(But first, let’s be obvious about my biases. Yes, I’m a big Fallout mark. Yes, I’ve been hyping this game most of the year. Yes, I clearly want the community around the game to keep growing. Proceed with all of that in mind, because I still think this is a great game!)

Fallout: Wasteland Warfare is a miniature game based around the Fallout video game series. But you will not need to be a Fallout fan to enjoy the game, nor do you need to be an experienced miniature gamer. I’ll be talking almost exclusively about the game’s starter box, which was designed to be as accessible as possible for the beginning miniature player (while still providing enough content for people ready for a more complicated experience).

Given that I’m talking about a miniature game, let’s start with the minis themselves. Everything in the starter box is fully assembled, and manufactured out of colored PVC plastic. (Humans and their dog in grey plastic; mutants and monsters in green.) Each of the 12 miniatures are also on their own decorative base, giving the each model a nice visual pop.

Having fully-assembled miniatures is a nice step for the beginning player, but the Fallout Starter Box doesn’t stop there. It also has an 8 page “Getting Acclimated” guide written specifically for someone who’s never played a miniature game before. The guide walks new players through the basic ideas of playing, and includes simple scenarios after each concept to help reinforce them.

The Rules of Play guide continues the teaching trend. Here rules and concept are introduced in greater detail with plenty of examples and more involved tutorial scenarios. Fallout is a game with a lot variables, and they are introduced a bit at a time to avoid overwhelming players.

“Enough of why it’s a great product for the beginning gamer, how does it play?” you may be wondering. At its core, Fallout Wasteland Warfare is “skirmish” miniature game rather than an “army” miniature game. Players typically will use 6 to 10 models per team, rather than dozens upon dozens of miniatures. Additionally, most games will be based on a scenario with a goal other than “beat up the other team”. A victory condition could be to hack terminals (or lock people out of them), search for the best loot, or keep invaders out of your settlement. The game also features a detailed “A.I.” system which can put any number of models under the control of dice. This allows for cooperative player, or scenarios where two opposing players have to avoid monsters while battling each other.

There’s lots more that I could get into (like the myriad of free content online, the resin minis, or the campaign play), but I won’t yet. Suffice to say that Fallout Wasteland Warfare Starter Box is a great miniature game for the absolute beginner, especially if they’re a fan of the Fallout video games. And if you’re not yet convinced, head over to Modiphius’ webstore and download the rules for free!

And for those miniature gamers who aren’t beginners, come back after my 12th entry for a detailed breakdown as to why Fallout Wasteland Warfare is a great choice for more experienced players, too!

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday in 2016. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.

A Klingon Christmas Carol Delivers Geeky Fun!

A Klingon Christmas Carol takes a holiday classic into decidedly geeky territory. Not withstanding some shortcomings in terms of costuming, EDGE of Orion Productions and director John Gleason Teske have delivered an interesting and entertaining view of the holiday season’s good spirits.

Predating the Dickens version of the tale by several hundred years, as we are told by a Vulcan Narrator (Elise Soeder), the play follows SQuja (Scrooge, played by Tony Bunnel) through the events of the annual, Klingon winter solstice celebration, tlhIngan ram nI’ bom (Klingon Long Night’s Song). A cowardly money lender, the ghost of his old partner, marlI’ (Marley, played by Kent Joseph) and three Spirits of Kahless lead SQuja through an exploration of his life and the discovery of his courage, passion, and honor.

Tony Bunnel as SQuja,

Tony Bunnel as SQuja,

Returning for his second year at the titular character, SQuja, Tony Bunnel delivers a transformation the role deserves. The character seems small at the beginning of the play, shoulders hunched, gestures small. A money lender who cheated during his ascension ceremony, SQuja stands empty of honor and all too full of spite, apathy, and jealousy. Bunnel, under the direction of Gleason Teske, slowly grows the character as the Ghosts of Kahless guide him through his life. By the last moments, SQuja stands larger, full of Klingon passion, without the cowardice the character displays at the beginning of the production. He has not yet claimed the full honor due to him, but ritual fights with his nephew, vreD (Justin Blankenship) and his guests, and a commitment to train along with tImHom (Liam Walsh) leaves the audience with a sense that SQuja will make a warrior, yet.

Justin Blankenship’s portrayal of vreD (Scrooge’s nephew Fred in the Dickens’ version),  delivered with exuberance and enthusiasm, provides a solid yardstick against which to measure SQuja’s progress. The effervescent vreD dominates the stage with his boisterous laughter and swagger, and never-ending confidence in his uncle.

The entire company of performers, each cast for “heart,” deliver solid performances, deftly negotiating around the Klingon language. Coach Dr. Jeremy Cowan spent extra time with the actors to ensure their understanding of this fictional language; pronunciation and syntax. It was not enough to merely recount the words phonetically. The cast honed their Klingon to speak with knowledge of words and often deliver meaning through gestures and reaction. For those who don’t speak conversational Klingon, the production also projects super-titles in English.

In this third year with EDGE of Orion, the costuming and makeup efforts disappoint. Compared to the Commedia Beauregard production from 2010 to 2014, outfits look amateurish, not quite the level of common con cosplay. I heard another member of the audience refer to the Klingon ridges worn by the actors as “Looking like a flesh toupee.”

It provides a stark contrast with the well designed, minimalist set. The sparsely appointed stage, and excellent if unobtrusive light design, draws the audience’s attention to the characters and the action.

Director John Gleason Teske stressed the cross-cultural appeal to the work when I had a chance to talk with him at the press preview. “Star Trek fans should come. Christmas Carol fans should come. People who want to see something different should come. Fans of staged combat should come. It’s an old story told in a new way.”

Language coach Dr. Cowan added, “It’s a show for the people that always get dragged to the nerdy stuff. Even they will have a good time.”

Having seen a preview of the show, I’m inclined to agree. By the end of the show, I was ready for some blood wine! (But I will pass on the gagh!)


A Klingon Christmas Carol runs November 29th-December 16th at the Edge Theater. Purchase tickets at edgeoforion.com/purchase-tickets/ for $22.

On December 15, Star Trek fan band Five Year Mission will visit The EDGEfor a pre-show concert. Learn more about the group at  http://fiveyearmission.net/.

Photos courtesy of Jennifer Photography and Photography with Heart.

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