Chicago Geek Guy

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The Search for My Next Campaign – Star Trek (Mis) Adventures

It’s time for me to start a new campaign. While I greatly enjoyed Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies, the group had lost too many members and finding new players for a relatively unknown game posed challenges. Our group had decided on the system on the fly when we reached an ending point of our last story. This time, I wanted to take some time and find something that really suited me in terms of genre and system.

I launched a plan to play a new system every other month. I wanted to explore current offerings and see what would attract players. This month, I brought together four players to try out Modiphius’ recent release, Star Trek Adventures, and their living universe scenario, Tug of War.

Vulcan BeckieOne of my regular players dug out her Star Trek uniform

The game generated a lot of excitement among my stable of players and group of friends. One person came out of a two-year role-playing hiatus and the session convinced a longtime friend to finally join me at my table. One of my regular players dug out her Star Trek uniform and dressed up her ears to play a Vulcan science officer.

Tug of War puts an away team in position to investigate the mutual destruction of two interlinked species. Ancient weapons complicate the story when the crew and their starship attempt to break orbit. The adventure offers a fascinating puzzle without combat encounters. It struck me as a module in the spirit of Star Trek and I looked forward to giving the story and the system a try.

While we had a great time together, I don’t think I’ve found a new campaign in Star Trek Adventures.

It felt like the system played against the narrative

Star Trek Adventures describes itself as a narrative system, allowing players to add to the story with their descriptions and actions. The system allows a party to build momentum through the being of a session to match the building of dramatic tension present in an episode of the famed science fiction show. In general, especially at the climactic moment of the second act, the system worked well. However, at times, it felt like the system played against the narrative, especially when making rolls for ordinary tasks and what I considered unnecessary complexity. The structure of this particular adventure did not suit my players particularly well.

The party builds momentum by achieving additional successes on rolls. To build up a pool for use later in the session, the system encourages players to make rolls for zero difficulty tasks. Instead of just describing an action, players will interrupt the flow of the game to make a roll.

Honestly, I’m still not sure I got it right.

From the character sheet to receiving damage, Star Trek Adventures the party found itself confused by different, similarly named game elements. The system defines characters with attributes, disciplines, focuses, talents, and disciplines. Each of these items interact in different and confusing ways. Figuring out damage to a starship looked so intimidating, I decided to figure it out in advance of the session to prevent a major interruption to the flow of the game. Honestly, I’m still not sure I got it right. Figuring out personal damage looks just as puzzling.

The game also requires a sense of dramatic timing more akin to a television episode than gaming “reality.” Divided into three scenes, my players and I struggled with the pacing Tug of War. From a story perspective, the first scene serves as exposition and a set up for main conflict. If watching it on television, it would last until the first commercial. The first scene engrossed my players and extended much longer than subsequent acts. Quick thinking by our Vulcan science offer rendered the third act completely unnecessary. Great timing and action for a gamer, but not really fitting a three-act story.

(Don’t worry about us. We used the extra time to play a game of Flashpoint.)

My search will continue. Not as smooth as many of the narrative games out there, such as FATE or PDQ#, nor as easy to understand as something more simulationist, with an adventure structure out of sync with my player, Star Trek Adventures will go back on my shelf.

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Honshu

On to day 2 of my Holiday Game Recommendations, and we’re sticking with small box card games with simple rules but deeper strategy. Today’s recommendation is Honshu, by Renegade Game Studios. And hey, nothing to disclose about this one so let’s get right into it!Honshu is a card-drafting, map-building for 2-5 people. Players start with a random starting province; one resource cube related to that province; a hand of six cards; and a randomly-determined turn order. (You will not be going around the table in this game!) Nearly everything in the game is done with the 60 card map deck. Starting with the first player, everyone plays one map card face-up into the central play area. Each map card has a value on it from 1-60. Once all the cards are placed turn order is reassigned, with the player of the highest-value card going first, the second-highest going second, etc.

Once turn order is reassigned, players will get a chance to pick any one of the face-up map cards to add to their province following the new order. (So yes, the last player gets stuck with the last card.) Map cards have six spaces with a mix of six different features: Forests, towns, production squares (in one of four colors), factories (in one of the same four colors), lakes, and deserts. To add a card to a province the player must either cover up at least one feature with the new card, or cover at least one feature on the new card with a previously played card. Placement is important, because lakes and towns need to be connected to score big at the end of the game, and resources don’t score if they don’t have a matching factory to be delivered to.

Once everyone has added their new card to their province, they pass their cards to the player on their left. Map cards are once again added to the central player area, turn order is reassigned, and provinces are expanded. After the sixth turn, players are dealt a new hand one six cards, and cards are passed to the right for the second half of the game. After the 12th turn, players add up their points to determine the winner.

Honshu feels somewhat derivative of Between to Cities in its map building, and 7 Wonders in its drafting and scoring mechanics. This is in no way a bad thing because both of those games are fantastic! However, both of those games really work best with a larger number of players, and for various reasons take longer to play. Honshu—as mentioned above—only plays up to five, and its leaner rules mean the game is faster to teach and play. It’s a great way to test to waters for Between to Cities, or 7 Wonders, or a game to play with a group who likes those games but is short on time. It’s family friendly, it’s easy to set up and tear down, and fits into a small box. It’s a perfect game for the holidays.

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 – Custom Heroes

Friend of Chicago Geek Guy, Jame Nettum, returns with some suggestions for the holidays!

Time for another round of 12 Days of Holiday Game Recommendations (or whatever I randomly decide to call it on a daily whim). Some quick points before we start: I focus on games that won’t necessarily be on a “best of” list, but are still quality titles that are worth your time and money; I’ll make sure to disclose personal connections to the games in question; Lastly, these games are not in any particular order other than my top three.

And on that note we’ll get started with Custom Heroes (by AEG), and those disclosures. I got Custom Heroes for free at GenCon, but that’s because everyone who attended AEG’s Trade Day seminar did. I’m also gaming buddies with an AEG employee, but to my knowledge she didn’t work on this title.

Custom Heroes is a card game for two to six players. Its core mechanics are those of a simple trick-taking game, though the goal is to get rid of your cards rather than collect tricks. Cards come in a set of 1 through 10, with one set per player. The deck is fully dealt out at the start of each round. The lead player starts of stack of cards of any value and quantity they choose. The next player must play the same number of cards with an equal or higher value, or pass. Play continues around the table until everyone has passed, at which point the last player to have contributed to the stack starts a new one. The round continues until only one player has cards left in hand. The first player out of cards gets 5 victory points, and points diminish for each player out after that. The first player to reach 10 or more points, and be the first one out the next hand is the winner.

What sets Custom Heroes apart from other trick-taking games is that it’s part of AEG’s Card Crafting System (like Mystic Vale, which I reviewed last year), meaning that during play the individual cards will be modified. In Custom Heroes they’re through “Card Advancements” which are printed on transparent plastic, and sleeve right into the normal cards. The Advancements have a variety of effects, from changing or modifying the value of a card, or causing a stack to count down rather than up. They are used at a player’s discretion, always before contributing to the stack. Players don’t have to use their Advancements, or they can use all the ones they’ve managed to save in one big play. Since the entire is deck dealt out each round the changes made by the Card Advancements will effect the rest of the game. This is a great mechanic, because players need to remember that when they use their Advancements for a massive play, those cards could be used against them next round!

While the Card Advancements are a very clever twist that makes Custom Heroes stand out above other trick-taking games, the artwork on them also deserves a special note. The game’s art is a rather bombastic anime style, and each of the numbered cards features its own hero character. The Card Advancements modify the artwork of those heroes, giving them various weapons or power effects. The game would still be solid fun without this cool feature, but its inclusion gives a unique visual flair to the end product (and various visual shorthands once cards get heavily modified).

I greatly enjoy Custom Heroes. It scratches the same itch I have for the likes Wizards, The Great Dalmuti, or Gang of Four. But the Card Advancements add unique features that aren’t in those other titles, such as providing a handicap for people who got dealt lousy hands (the loser of each round gets to draw the most Card Advancements), and changing the depth of each value. I’ve always had a new experience each time I play. And I know that some people have adverse reactions to anime-style artwork, but if you’re a fan of any sort of trick-taking game you should give Custom Heroes a chance.

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.

Flood at Bucket O’Blood

Never underestimate the damage of a possessed washing machine. After owners Jennifer and Grant McKee closed up Bucket O’Blood Sunday night, the malicious spirit set to work. The foul device leaked bucketfuls of water through a crack in the ceiling to wreak havoc. When the owners returned to open the Avondale book and vinyl shop on Monday morning, they returned to disaster. Water had inundated the store during the night, soaking brand new and used records in tons of water, decimating the retailer’s collection of 7″ records, soundtracks, jazz, punk, and part of the metal collection.

Jen and Grant set to work drying out records and sleeves, mopping up the floor, and assessing the damage. It took three days before they could re-open. Support from local fans poured in. People offered to come by to help clean or to just drop off food and beer for the owners. They finally opened their door after three days of lost sales and a tremendous loss in inventory.

“The best thing people can do is come in and shop. We’ve lost a lot of money and we need to generate new inventory.”

“We’ve gotten a lot of warm wishes and offers to help,” Jen told me. “The best thing people can do is come in and shop. We’ve lost a lot of money and we need to generate new inventory.”

Bucket O'Blood Beer Raffle

3 Floyds Brewpub has donated a wood-aged Baltic porter created for Corrosion Of Conformity for the raffle.

This Friday, fans of Bucket O’Blood will have their chance to help the store at a massive Flood Sale and Party. “What we need most is cash to buy more inventory,” Jennifer explained. “We were closed for 3 days (i.e. not making money) and we lost a lot of inventory that we have to reorder. We’re hoping people come out Friday and buy the discounted records so we can recuperate some of our losses and move forward.”

From noon until 9:00 pm, customers will have the opportunity to purchase deeply discounted items damaged in the flood. The vinyl is fine! It’s just the sleeves that got trashed. Cheap Kiss Records has donated a room full of records to help Bucket O’Blood get back on their feet. This is the chance to get some choice records at rock bottom prices.

The shop will also raffle off some amazing artwork, rare beers, signed collectibles, and rare vinyl. And, like nearly any Bucket O’Blood party, local brewers will have samples on hand to share for a small donation.

Come on down to support local business and get some great music!

Bucket O’Blood Flood Sale and Party, Friday, September 22, 12:00 pm to 9:00 pm. Bucket O’Blood Books and Records, 3182 N Elston Ave, Chicago, Illinois 60618

Bucket O'Blood

There’s some really great records getting marked down for Friday.

Orion Couling: At the Intersection of Geek and Activism

His name is Orion Couling.

Orion CoulingHis very first memories are of The Empire Strikes Back. His hard working, often absent, police officer father tried to make up for lost time with a string of presents: Star Wars toys. He spent his childhood in the boondocks of Michigan looking for a lost father figure he knew was fighting for justice. As he grew, so did his love of sci-fi: A Wrinkle in Time, Narina, Ray Bradbury, Star Trek. The genre provided excitement the rural area where he lived lacked.

At college, he discovered activism. He learned he could use this love of science fiction and theater to help drive social change.

His name is Orion Couling. On Saturday, September 2, he’ll combine his love of all things geek and his activism to lead Hope and Light: A Chicago Nerd Vigil Against White Supremacy. The Chicago Geek Guy had a chance to chat with Orion about the intersection of nerd and social justice.

CGG: What is it that you do now and how did your love of sci-fi shape your day job?

Orion: I run a mid-sized, not for profit theatre company in Chicago. Our focus is on marginalized communities, primarily differently abled people and kids to learn in alternative ways. This work is augmented by our semi-professional troupe who performs to raise money for our educational work. I also run a cosplay company that works in libraries and a children’s hospital. You see a sci-fi theme in all of this work. From our Star Wars Shakespeare MacSith to Peter and the Starcatcher, we are the company embracing the imagination. I am blessed that this is my day job. So, whether I’m teaching light saber at a library or writing a play about Minecraft with homeschoolers I get to live my dorkiness.

Orion Couling“I’m always honored to play Captain America.”

CGG: What’s been your favorite cosplay experience?

Orion: Oh wow. I’m not sure. I love doing Bumblebee from Transformers. It’s stilted so I’m 10 feet tall. I’m always honored to play Captain America. The kids love him so much; him and Spidey. But I’m premiering a book based cosplay at the renaissance faire next week that I’m thrilled about. The character is an Abhorsen from Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom Trilogy

CGG: Can you remember a moment when you really made an impact with cosplay?

Orion: Nothing surprising. But when a 5-year-old looks at you and sees their hero in real life, it’s pretty amazing. When I get to teach nonviolent crisis resolution at a library while doing a light saber workshop I feel like I’m making a difference.

“Becoming a nationally recognized stage combat instructor gave my resume the boost needed to justify someone hiring me to teach wand or lightsaber.”

CGG: How did you make the transition from fan to a professional fan?

Orion: A combination of a really good network of friends and a lot of hope. Learning the history that was the foundation for my fandoms was essential. Becoming a nationally recognized stage combat instructor gave my resume the boost needed to justify someone hiring me to teach wand or lightsaber.

CGG: What can you tell me about the path to becoming a nationally recognized stage combat instructor? What have you worked on?

Orion: I am an instructor through Dueling Arts International. It’s an international stage combat organization. I have been a recognized instructor since I was 26 (I think). I’m 39 now. I have over 50 professional production credits in mostly stage and some very limited film work. I have nearly 100 youth productions that I’ve worked on. Sci fi highlights include Predator-the Musical, Tammy (a coming of age story about a girl who was part T-Rex), Star Wars of the Roses, and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

CGG: I first “met” you through the feminist Facebook group, The League of Ordinary Gentlemen. What drove the transition from fan to activist?

Orion: I started my journey as an activist during my sophomore year in college at Northern Michigan University. I took a class on the theater of cruelty. It focused largely on Central and South America. It basically used the theater to advocate for social change. I’ve been actively involved in that process since.

The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere, an album by Utah Phillips and Ani DiFranco from the 90’s, also spoke to me. It dealt with excepting the responsibility of privilege and action

“I felt it important to help push the cultural boundaries and responsibilities of Geekdom.”

CGG: When and how did you realize you could merge the two? Geekdom and activism?

Orion: That key element is relatively new. I’ve been thinking about this for a while. The proceeds from MacSith allowed me to support educational efforts. In some ways, that play was a soft sort of activism. Looking at Chicago’s growing geek culture and its organizations, like the inspirational Raks Geek, I felt it important to help push the cultural boundaries and responsibilities of Geekdom.

Orion Couling“Use light sabers instead of swords. Embrace the world of sci-fi but stay true to the script.”

CGG: Tell me a little bit about MacSith. Where did the idea come from and what challenges did you face implementing it?

Orion: MacSith sounds farcical. In reality, it was hard hitting Shakespearean action. It started out as a project to get kids excited about Shakespeare, about 10 years ago. It evolved into a professional production that received critical success. It was a simple concept: Use a very tight cutting of the play (75 minutes) without changing any of Shakespeare’s language. Use light sabers instead of swords. Embrace the world of sci-fi but stay true to the script.

CGG: After MacSith, what happened next in terms of geek activism?

Orion: Not enough. I continue my work in marginalized communities but this situation has really spoken to me about the need for much more.

I am in the process of planning a Wonder Woman styled workshop and all the proceeds will go to a local battered women’s shelter.

“…we are set into this world with all the elements that we need for fulfillment. We are like seeds. We must water the seeds of compassion and dialogue…”

CGG: What drove you to create The League of Ordinary Gentlemen?

Orion: I felt that men needed a positive community to discuss the transition from the version of masculinity most men I know grow up with, to a more supportive and equal place with women. I feel that important changes need nurturing. I hold to the Buddhist philosophy that we are set into this world with all the elements that we need for fulfillment. We are like seeds. We must water the seeds of compassion and dialogue and not water seeds of privilege. The fact is, I mess up, relentlessly, all the time. It has become a place where I can take my losses and stumbling blocks and seek advice from a group of people sworn to uplift the same values.

CGG: How do you think it’s working out?

Orion: It’s definitely been good for the sharing of resources and fellowship but I’d like to see us offering free workshops and lectures.League of Ordinary Gentlemen

CGG: Where and how did the idea for the Nerd Vigil emerge?

Orion: I was attending a candle vigil for Charlottesville and two quotes really stood out.

“Let our light of peace (candles) shine brighter than theirs of hate (torches)” -I put in the parenthetical words- but it got me thinking. What could I lift in peace that we shine light? Wands and light sabers were the clear answer. Who could I lift them with? My nerd sisters and brothers whom I care so dearly for in Chicago.

The other quote was “love is an action word.” It’s not enough to passive stand by or comment on social media. We also need time to grieve and grow.

I have three very dedicated speakers who will offer their peaceful perspective. I’m hoping to act on love

“If we even do one of those things it will be a success. If we do all of those things, it will be incredible.”

CGG: What are you hoping to achieve from the vigil?

Orion: Just as the description states. A peaceful resistance to white supremacy. To remember the fallen of Charlottesville and those who died before in this struggle. Finally, to encourage the nerd community to broaden their horizons in multicultural characters. If we even do one of those things it will be a success. If we do all of those things, it will be incredible.

CGG: What’s next for you after the vigil?

Orion: The Wonder Woman workshop! Most likely in October. Just got all the shields and swords!

Literally fighting for social change. Mixing high energy stage combat and stunt while raising money for women who have been put through hell.

Hope and Light: A Chicago Nerd Vigil Against White Supremacy occurs Saturday, September 2, 2017 at 7:30 pm at 50 W Adams, Chicago, IL 60603.

So… You Want to Build a Character in D&D

Turns out, there’s help for that. Christopher Green put his knowledge of Graphics Arts into good use to come up with a handy chart for those new to the experience. This graphic walks a reader through character creation in an interesting, thought provoking, and meaningful way. Meant for folks brand new to RPG’s, I think it will help those with a lot of experience in the game.

You can find more useful resources like this over in the Facebook Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition group.

 

Come Get Some! Midwest Convention Schedule

Earlier this week, a friend asked me if, as the Chicago Geek Guy, I knew of local gaming conventions scheduled for the near future. I had to confess. I didn’t. Undaunted, I reached out to groups on Facebook and Reddit to compile a convention schedule of events in the Midwest.

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

October

  • Dan’s Con of the Vale, Brookfield, WI – http://coldironconventions.com/
  • Mini-Hoopla, Janesville, WI – http://www.gaminghoopla.com/mini-hoopla.html

November

I consider this a work in progress. Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below.

Anime Midwest Cosplay – Day Two!

Some more astounding work and creativity from #AnimeMidwest.

Anime Midwest 2017

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Anime Midwest Cosplay – Day One!

I saw some great work on the first day of Anime Midwest. Here’s just a small sampling.

Anime Midwest 2017

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Back at Anime Midwest!

Trinity and I have made it back to Anime Midwest for another year.  I’m looking forward to the convention as an attendee as opposed to a presenter. I want to see what other people are doing and the information they’re sharing with others:

My first-day schedule looks like:

  • Linkara and the Geek Talk Comics
  • Worbia workshop
  • Cosplay Creeps and How to Handle them
  • Con Parents
  • V is for Villians Concert

Trin and I also brought two costumes each. We’ll be out on the floor getting seen. I promise lots of pictures for the social feeds and future galleries.

If you see a WWI Pilot Batman or Pirate Deathstroke, be sure to say hi!

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