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Tag: James Nettum (page 2 of 4)

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Simon’s Cat

Sometimes you just need a simple, silly game. Maybe you have friends or relatives over who aren’t habitual gamers. Maybe you need to kill time while half your gaming group finally finishes that. Damn. Game. Of. Agricola. ALREADY. Maybe you just need something to pay at the restaurant while you’re waiting for your order to show up. For all those instances (and undoubtedly many more) we have our Day 8 suggestion, the Simon’s Cat Card Game.

Yes, it’s that Simon’s Cat straight from the YouTube series. The card game is another one that follows trick-taking mechanics, but adds a few unique twists to it. For starters, none of the games’ six suits are the same length, and some don’t even have the same value. (For example, the pink Cat deck goes from 3-10, but the green Gnome cards only have a 1 & 2!) Secondly… well, let’s get into that as we discuss the play.

Shuffle the 36 cards together to form a deck of Mischief. Deal an equal number of cards to each player. How many? As many as you want. The bigger the opening hand, the longer the game. Any leftover cards are set aside face up, public knowledge to every player. During the game, players must play a card by following the same number or color of the last card played. If a player can’t do either, they are forced to take the trick.

The round ends when everyone has played all of the cards from their hands. Whoever has collected the most tricks has made the biggest mess, and therefore gets one Simon card. The first player to collect three Simon Cards has lost.

That’s just about it. If I gave any more details, I’ll have copied all of the game’s rules. So why am I recommending this game? Because like I said above, sometimes you just need a simple, silly game. Have you had fun with games like Love Letter, Yam Slam, or Zombie Dice? Then you’ll probably enjoy Simon’s Cat.

The Simon’s Cat Card Game is by Steve Jackson 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 – Sentinels Comics RPG

I’m breaking yet another of my very-much-not-long-standing traditions with Day Seven of my 12 Days of Holiday Game Recommendations because I’m going to recommend a game that just came out. Step right up, Sentinels Comics RPG Starter!

“But, James,” protests some voice that definitely isn’t just in my head, “everyone knows about the Sentinels of the Mulitiverse card game. It’s a best-seller everywhere!” While that’s absolutely true, the followup Sentinels Tactics board game didn’t share nearly the same success after its Kickstarter. (Which is a shame because it’s a great game but we’re not talking about it right now focus James!) So please loan me a few moments of your time, and let me tell you about the Sentinels Comics RPG Starter.

(And for my own sake, I’m going to talk about the RPG Starter without referencing Sentinels of the Multiverse. For my fellow Sentinels fans, just know that this story takes place after the OblivAeon Event.)

The Sentinels Comics RPG Starter takes place on an Earth that is being rebuilt following a global disaster, one that could have been total extinction event had it not been for the world’s superheroes. Up to six players will step into the spandex of the most famous superhero team, the Freedom Five (plus their former intern), while one takes on the traditional GM roll. Over the course of six adventure booklets, the players will lead the Freedom Five through a series of events that will set the state of the world for the full release of the Sentinels Comics RPG.

The Sentinels Comics RPG is a world of brightly colored superhero shenanigans. The closest “real world” parallel I can think of is the old DC Animated Universe. While the tone of those shows varied from the gloom of Gotham, the urban utopia of Metropolis, the fantasy of Atlantis and Olympus, and even the blighted hellscape of Apokolips, there was always a positivity and optimism over the stories. So too is the world of Sentinels comics. There will be highs and lows, emotional stakes, and the threat of death, but the players are Capitol H Heroes.

The mechanics of the game reflect this by supporting a play style that’s more about storytelling than number crunching. At the system’s core is a unique mechanic that uses three dice, ranging from d4s to d12s. When a player wants to accomplish something, they pick a die associated with one of their character’s powers, a die associated with one of their character’s qualities, and a status die. The three dice are rolled, and usually, the middle result is used. (Individual abilities will often modify which die is used, but will always be three dice for the PCs.) This could be an attack, or it could be…

– An OVERCOME action to remove an obstacle, or narrative danger. (Tachyon the speedster using her scientific knowledge and inhuman quickness to override the guidance system of multiple missiles.)
– A BOOST or HINDER to modify someone else’s roll, be it a player or the GM. (The ninja-like Wraith using her gadgets and stealth to lay down a series of smoke bombs.)
– A DEFEND action for when the player wants to focus exclusively on protecting more than just their hero. (The cold-based Absolute Zero creating a wall of ice to shield his team from an incoming gout of flame.)

The emphasis on action type and broadly defined powers and skills gives players a feel of narrative influence, while still allowing for the dice to dictate a degree of randomness beyond the outcomes of success or failure. Additionally, the initiative system is completely under the player’s control! After a character gets an action, that player decides who will go next, even if it’s the GM’s villains. This streamlines in-game conflicts, by focusing on teamwork, and doing away the need for prepaid or held actions.

To a veteran RPG enthusiast, I would say that the Sentinels Comics RPG Starter is much more freeform than D&D or Pathfinder, much less straightforward than Savage Worlds, but not nearly as open-ended as FATE. It shares a designer with the Marvel RPG published by Margaret Wies Productions, and probably is most likely that game more than any other.

A final note in case you’re wary of starter products or prepackaged adventures because you don’t like linear stories. Of the six story booklets, only the first two and the final one have to be done in order. The first serves as an introduction to the heroes and the setting, while the second sets up the state of the world and the story. The next three are up to the players; how they arrive to the final showdown (and in what shape things are in at that point!) is up to them.

Bottom line, if you’re an RPG fan of any sort, get the Sentinels Comics Starter. Better yet, buy it from a Friendly Local Game Store that’s part of Bits and Mortar. You’ll get all the PDF of the whole bundle for free if you do!

The Sentinels Comics RPG is by Greater Than 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 – Grifters

We’re halfway through my 12 Days of Holiday Game recommendations! Now over the last two years, my first nine picks were in no particular order, and I saved any ranking for my top three. I’m doing something different this year. Today may be day six, but this game is not only my Number Three pick of the year; it’s also a teaser for my overall Game of the Year.

Today’s game is Grifters, and it feels weird to have to shine a light on this one. Grifters exists within the same world as the incredibly popular Resistance and Coup card games, but seems like it’s become to be their forgotten sibling. (The William Baldwin of the group, if you will.) But Grifters is an excellent game, and it deserves way more credit than it gets.

In Grifters two to four players take on the role of rival criminal organizations, competing over a limited supply of money, jobs, and specialists. When any one of those three supplies run out, the game is over. At the beginning of the game, each player will start with a hand of six cards. Three of those cards will be the game’s three ringleaders (Mastermind, Thief, and Pickpocket), and three will be randomly drawn from the specialist deck. Players will recruit additional specialists throughout the game either by drawing from the deck or stealing them from other players.

Specialists in Grifters either work solo or as a team. If a card is played by itself, follow the rule text on it. (For example, playing the Mastermind would allow a player to add more specialists from the deck to their hand.) To complete a job, multiple specialists are played as a team. When this happens all of a card’s printed rules are ignored in favor of what suit it is. Each job requires a combination of one or more of the game’s three suits (red, green, and blue) to be completed. (For example, when played as a team the Mastermind simply counts as one blue card.) Players can choose to either play a single card, or as many as they need to complete an available job.

My favorite mechanic in Grifters is in its player boards. Each player has a hideout with a multistage discard area, representing the time their specialists are laying low after an assignment. When cards are played, they go into the “Night One” space. At the beginning of every turn, players will move any cards from Night One to Night Two; from Night Two to Night Three; and from Night Three to the Refresh area. At the end of a players turn, they put any cards in their refresh area back into their hands. The heat is off; time to get back to work.

Much like Honshu, and Bad Beets, Grifters is a small box game that’s easy to teach. It’s also a game that does a great job of merging mechanics and theme. Between assembling the perfect team for a job, and having that team lay low for a few turns afterwards, it feels like a heist game. Having to race against the other players for the perfect team and the perfect score—all the while stealing specialists and resources from each other—definitely gives the whole experience the cutthroat feeling of rival crime families carving up a city. If you’re a fan of quick to play, highly competitive player-vs-player games, you should check out Grifters.

Grifters is published by Indie Boards and Cards.

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 – The Others

Day four’s Holiday Game Suggestion is going to be a bit different from the rest. Nearly all of my past (and upcoming) choices are meant to cast a wide net in terms of interest. But much when I recommend the Dread RPG last year, it’s time to focus on people who like their games a bit creepier. Step out of the light with The Others, a one-versus-many, dungeon-crawl board game set at the beginning of a potential Apocalypse. Up to four players take on the role of the Heroes who will fight save the city of Haven. Opposing them is the player who takes the role of one of the Seven Deadly Sins!

The Others begins with a lot of player choice immediately. First, the players decide who will be the Sin. The Sin player then choices their sin (Pride or Sloth in the core game, more in expansions), and their acolytes (three choices in the core game, more in expansions). Then the group will decide which scenario they’ll play, and which of the map options of that scenario they’ll use. The Hero players then each pick their one starting characters from a team of seven choices, each with different strengths and focuses. The Heroes win in different ways, always dictated by the chosen scenario. The Sin may get other victory options, but one never changes: if they eliminate all of the heroes, they win.

This game oozes atmosphere in its every component, so much so that I could gush about for way too long. Instead, I’ll attempt to do it justice concisely. The Others is a game of both gothic horror and science fantasy, and every part of its presentation merges those two aspects. The map tiles depict a range of buildings like sterile medical centers, towering cathedrals, and decaying warehouses; all of them unified by a gloomy style. The monsters have a visceral, body-horror design that may call to mind the works of Clive Barker, David Cronenberg, or H.R. Giger. There are a lot of extra teeth and tentacles on the likes of zombies, medical workers, astronauts, hobos, and things that were clearly never humanoid. So it’s only fitting that the heroes include a trained marksmen, a vampire, a werewolf, and a mind-controlling mutant. Monster and hero are all depicted in highly detailed miniatures that come fully assembled.

The atmosphere is supported by the game’s mechanics, which help convey a sense of inevitable doom to the Heroes. When it comes time for the Hero players to make roles in the game they can choose to corrupt their heroes to gain a quick boost. The more corruption a Hero takes, the bigger the boost they get. Naturally the more corruption a Hero takes the closer they get to a grizzly end, but they will not succeed without it! It is a question of when, not if. When a Hero dies (and they will die), the player picks a new one from the reserve. If there are no Heroes left in the reserve when one dies, the Sin wins.

The Sin player also has difficult choices to make, but the one most unique to The Others is when they will act. Unlike most one-versus-many games, the Sin player doesn’t have a spot in turn order. The Sin player gets a turn by spending a reaction token after a Hero has completed their turn. The Sin begins the game with a small supply (usually only two tokens), and can only send monsters after the Hero that has just acted, so they must pick their moments to strike carefully.

The Others is one of the most unique dungeon crawl board games I’ve ever played and is one of the best-looking games I’ve ever owned. (Corruption, decay, and eldritch horrors can be beautiful no you shut up!) As a bonus, the massive amount of expansions for both Sins and Heroes means that it will be a long time before this one gets stale. If you enjoy games like Zombicide, Decent, Imperial Assault, or Castle Ravenloft; and you have a taste for movies like Hellraiser, Alien, or Event Horizon, you should check out The Others.

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 Gaming – The Dragon & Flagon

It’s Day 3 of my Holiday Game Recommendations, and after two card games, I feel like doing a board game. And I’m on a self-imposed deadline so let’s skip the preamble: Today’s/yesterday’s game is The Dragon & Flagon, by Stronghold Games.

The Dragon & Flagon is a massive bar fight simulator set in a Dungeons & Dragons-style tavern. Two to eight players pick a character from a roster that includes the likes of a paladin, a monk, a pirate, and a druid. Each player gets a deck of cards, cardboard pawn, player board, and tokens unique to their character. The tavern board is set up using 3D tokens representing tables, chairs, flagons, barrels, and rugs. (The game has a suggested format for the first few games, but players can customize the board however they want once they have a some playtime under their belts.) The game’s maguffin—the bar’s signature Dragon beverage—is set up in the middle of the board. The goal of the game is to have the most Reputation at the end.

Then the chaos of a bar fight can begin! The Dragon & Flagon use a time-track system for turn order; a checkerboard-style grid system for character movement; and players use their cards to program their character’s moves. Players put a token representing their character on the first space of the time track. When the “current round” token is on the same space as their token, it’s that player’s turn. (In the event of a tie, all of the tokens on that space are shuffled and drawn one at a time to determine order. This means the first turn is once giant tie!) Player actions are chosen in secret by selecting from their deck of cards, and placing two of them face down on their board. The first card is then turned face up, revealing the action, and how many spaces along the time track the player’s token must be advanced. The second card stays face down, and is moved to the first space on of the player’s board; it will be their action their next turn. (This is an action system very similar to the game Flag Dash, which I reviewed two years ago and still highly recommend.)

“Wait, James” you may be thinking. “I thought you said ‘chaos of a bar fight’. That sounds like Robo Rally, which isn’t that chaotic.” First off; it’s like Flag Dash. Didn’t you read the last sentence of the previous paragraph? And yes, I said chaotic. And this is where all those nifty 3D tokens I mentioned come into play because everything on the board can be used by the characters. EVERYTHING. Flagons can be used either to make a drunk boast from the top of a table, or as makeshift throwing weapons. Chairs are great for smacking opponents with. A kicked barrel will roll across the floor, plowing over everything in its path. A pulled rug will knock over anyone unfortunate enough to be standing on it. And of course characters can swing from the tavern’s chandeliers. Each time a player successfully hits someone else’s character, they take renown from that person’s supply and add it to their own.

The cleverness in the design of The Dragon & Flagon is how the tokens and the programed actions interact. To swing from the rafters, for example, a player must first spend one action to move their pawn onto a table, then a second action later to perform the swing. This means another player could—upon seeing a tempting target atop a table—decide to program their action to throw a flagon to where they think that target will be swinging to. Or shove a third character in the way of the swing. Success hinges on anticipating what ones opponents are doing, and planning around that.

I strongly recommend The Dragon & Flagon to any groups who like their gaming silly, a bit unpredictable, and very competitive. Rules options like team play, and two pirate ships on the other side of the tavern board, give the game an expanded lifespan beyond the bar.

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 – 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.

Exclusively Bad for Customers – A Dark Alliance Indeed

Friend of the Chicago Geek Guy, James Nettum returns to offer some thoughts on a recent shift in the game industry.

[OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER: The following is my opinion alone, and doesn’t reflect that of places I work, or the people I work for. I’m writing this on my free time, after all.]

Here’s a thought experiment:

Pretend that the Walt Disney Company makes a deal with AMC Entertainment that gives AMC theaters exclusive screening rights to all future Disney movies and re-screenings shown in the United States. Naturally, this would affect all Disney holdings, like future pictures by Lucasfilm, Marvel, and Pixar. I think that getting tickets to see the next Disney Animation/Star Wars/Avengers/Incredibles entry would get a lot harder. AMC may be the largest theater chain in the USA, but they aren’t everywhere. Wikipedia says that AMC has 7,852 screens, but that won’t nearly be enough to seat everyone who wants to see Episode 8. A deal like this would make Disney’s distribution a lot easier, and would definitely make absolute bank for AMC. And just as definite would be how much worse it would make life for everyone who wanted to go to the movie theater.

Here’s my thought process on that last part: Want to see a non-Disney movie at your local AMC? Too bad

Here’s my thought process on that last part: Want to see a non-Disney movie at your local AMC? Too bad, all screens are currently showing Toy Story 4. Don’t live near an AMC? Looks like you’re going on a road trip. (Hope you got your tickets in advance.) Want to make a complaint against some really bad customer service you got from AMC? They aren’t going to listen, because Disney, Marvel, and Pixar movies sell themselves. Your ticket money won’t be missed. This imaginary arrangement is seriously anti-consumer!

Thankfully, the above is just a thought experiment. (And as side note: I only picked AMC because they’re the largest theater chain in the United States. I don’t actually have anything against them. They’re okay in my book.) Unfortunately, something similar actually happened in the gaming industry today, when Asmodee North America announced an exclusive hobby distribution deal with Alliance Games Distributors. (ICv2 has a good summary here: https://icv2.com/articles/news/view…) Asmodee North America handles all North American distribution for Asmodee, Catan Studio, Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight, Plaid Hat Games, Space Cowboys, and Z-Man Games. Alliance, meanwhile, is the hobby games distribution arm for Diamond Comic Distributors, Incdistributor to that part later.) My initial thoughts on this pairing are fluctuating between “this isn’t good” and something comprised of 90% obscenities that I will not type out.

I feel that both the Friendly Local Game Store, and the end user are going to suffer a lot under this arrangement.

Given how my mind isn’t currently stuck on the obscenities, I’m going to explain why I think this is a bad thing. And I’m speaking both as a lifelong gamer, and a ten plus year employee of a brick-and-mortar game store. Because I feel that both the Friendly Local Game Store, and the end user are going to suffer a lot under this arrangement.

Let me start off by addressing exclusive distribution deals in general (at least in terms of the gaming industry): I don’t like them. Currently brick-and-mortar stores have several distributors available to them. If one distributors is out of an item, a store isn’t out of luck because they have other options. If a high-demand product is going to release soon and shortages are anticipated, a store can put preorders in with multiple distributors who will carry the product, helping to ensure availability. But when one distributor has an exclusive, that flexibility is gone. Every store in the nation now has the same one option, and if that distributor can’t help them, the store is screwed. Which, in turn, means its customers are screwed.

Speaking of highly demanded product, in my experience exclusive deals don’t actually help shortages at all. When multiple distributors are putting in orders for a hot item, more options open for the manufacturer. They have a better idea how much of a product to make; they have multiple warehouse to store the product; they have multiple sources of income to fund the printing, and shipping. If a manufacturer goes though one distributor only, the paperwork probably goes down. But they also lose multiple buyers, multiple warehouses, and multiple sources of revenue. Less product gets made because less product can be stored and distributed effectively. Which, in turn, means customers are screwed.

Of all the distributors I’ve worked with, Alliance has been the biggest source of trouble.

This brings me to Alliance. Of all the distributors I’ve worked with, Alliance has been the biggest source of trouble. In the interest of fairness, will first say everything nice I can about them: All of the sales reps I’ve worked with have been extremely friendly. … That’s it.

As for the troubles, I will attempt to be brief. Rarely have I checked in a shipment that isn’t damaged somehow due to poor packing. Only slightly more rare are the shipments with incorrect quantities or flat-out incorrect items. Fixing all of those problems in a long process. It takes days to get a call tag to ship out the incorrect/damaged goods. It can take weeks to get the credit applied to your account. Hope you have more money to reorder the items you didn’t get, or didn’t get in salable condition. Hope your customers are forgiving and don’t demand refunds.

Now imagine combining the problems with exclusives with the problems with Alliance. Actually, stop imagining it because it’s happening now, has happened before, and will happen again. Alliance has the exclusive deal on Attack Wing, Dice Masters, HeroClix, Mayfair Games, and others. They used to have (and soon will again) the exclusive deal on Days of Wonder, and Z-Man Games. (In a painful twist of coincidence, it was originally Asmodee who broke that exclusivity when they acquired Days of Wonder, and Z-Man.) Now that list is about to grow on August 1st. Supply problems were bad for Star Wars Destiny in the past. I can’t see them getting any better now that every store in North America only has one distribution channel to get it through. Combine this with Alliance’s history of damaged and/or misshaped product… Hello once again, customers getting screwed.

You cannot run a comic shop without dealing with Diamond.

And this leads me straight to Alliance’s parent company, Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc. For those of you who don’t know, for years now Diamond has been the exclusive distributor to the comic book specialty market for Dark Horse, DC, Image and Marvel. You cannot run a comic shop without dealing with Diamond. And if you want to know about Diamond’s customer service, sit down with a roomful of comic store owners and ask about their experiences with them. I can practically guarantee that you’ll far more complaints than praise.

After all, why should Diamond change? Comic stores have no choices besides dealing with them, or going out of business. And now Alliance has just taken a big step into holding that same threat to any hobby gaming store. I cannot imagine running a store without Catan, Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, Splendor, or the myriad of Star Wars games that FFG makes, among other products that have become staples of the industry. Therefore I cannot see Alliance’s customers service to those stores improving any time soon.

And once again I see the end user, the final customer, the gamer, getting screwed the worst. I hope I’m wrong, but my experience doesn’t leave me feeling positive.

And now the obscenities are creeping back into my brain. I’m going to vent them on video games now. Friday the 13th is the likely choice.

 

[REPETITION OF OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER: The following is my personal opinion, and mine alone. It does not reflect that of places I work, or the people I work for.]

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.

 

 

 

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Vampire: the Masquerade

And we’re at the end of the line for my 2016 Holiday Gaming Suggestions! I hope people have appreciated these three bonus days of more complicated games, because we’re ending with a seriously complicated one: The newest edition of the Vampire: the Masquerade Live Action RPG, by By Night Studios.

Vampire, and all of the other World of Darkness LARPs, use a ruleset called Mind’s Eye Theatre (or MET). Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of my LARPing experience has been with the MET system, I wasn’t actually a big fan of the previous editions. (For the sake of brevity, I’m not including the nWoD/Chronicles of Darkness MET rules in any of this.) While the original rules were undoubtably revolutionary in the early 1990s when they were first published, by the beginning of the 2000s they had become a hot mess. Too much content had been added without really reexamining the system’s roots, in part because the World of Darkness setting was in a state of rapid expansion across its myriad of titles. Ultimately I felt like MET had too many vague rules, exceptions, and downright contradictions in it. This turned the Rock/Paper/Scissors mechanic into a slog that easily broke the flow of the game when narrative tension should have been getting to its highest. MET had started as a yacht, and through a series of jury-rigs was trying to perform the job of an ocean liner. It really wasn’t working out.

Somehow, By Night Studios has managed to do what I thought was nearly impossible. They have taken that hot mess and turned it into something grand. This is the facelift MET needed. Not only is it relevant again, but it’s a reminder of why, for a long time, it was the industry standard for Live Action rules.

Here’s where this suggestion gets tricky: It would take way too much time to describe all of the differences between the old MET system and this one. So I’m only going to provide the most bare bones description below. If it sounds interesting to you, check out the free quickstart guide. I highly recommend that anyone who’s every tried previous editions of MET give it a once-over, too. (http://pegasus.rpgnow.com/product/132185/Minds-Eye-Theatre-Vampire-The-Masquerade-Quickstart-Guide)

At its core, the MET system has become simpler than ever. Characters have three different attribute sets rated 1-10: Physical, Mental, and Social. They also have a series of skills rated 0-5, and a pool of Willpower that fluctuates from 0-6. When a character attempts to do something, they play Rock/Paper/Scissors (against the game’s Storyteller, or sometimes against another player) rather than rolling dice. If they lose, they fail. If they tie, they compare their relevant attribute + relevant skill against the difficulty. If the character has a higher number, they succeed. If they win the R/P/S check, they succeed. If they win and their relevant attribute + relevant skill is higher than the task’s difficulty, they get an exception success.

Willpower provides an avenue of hope for the loser of a R/P/S check. At the cost of a Willpower point, the loser can force a retest. This can only be done once per challenge. Given that Willpower also provides a defensive bonus against certain attacks, players must use this limited resource very carefully.

You may be wondering why, at the opening of this review, I wrote that this was going to be a seriously complicated suggestion, then I went on to praise how simple the rules had become. That’s because the complexity is in everything else the book provides. This is simultaneously the newest MET rules, tailored for the Vampire game; a history of the various vampire political movements; an update of the state of the world since the start of the new millennium; the player’s guide for Camarilla, Sabbat, and Anarch chronicles; and a write-up of nearly every vampire clan and bloodline that White Wolf has published since 1991. This book has over 20 years of content; revised, updated, and streamlined! While it is a truly Herculean feat, it also means that the book is incredibly intimidating to new players. There’s just so much stuff! And while the above quickstart guide is nice, it’s a really big of leap from it to the full book. An intermediate resource would be a welcome addition.

To be completely clear, I love this 440 plus page book. I’m amazed by the work that went in to updating both the rules and the fiction of the Vampire: the Masquerade world, and I’m very excited to see what By Night Studios does with the other World of Darkness lines, especially with this kind of quality. (Changeling, please!) But there’s no way I would recommend the book to beginners, not unless I knew they had a strong community of LARPers who would guide them through the steep learning curve.

Good thing I live in a city full of great LARPers.

(PS/Shameless plug: If you do find yourself wanting to buy this book, please consider purchasing it from the Pegasus Games sub-store of DriveThruRPG Thank you!) — with By Night Studios.

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. 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 – Ravingspire

And now the second bonus day of my Holiday Game Suggestions is here, and it’s a doozy! Today’s bonus game is Ravingspire, by Vorpal Chainsword Games. And yes, I know the game designer on this one. No, I’m not getting a whole bunch of money for raving about it. (Hahahaha… sorry.)

Much like Mystic Vale, Ravingspire takes the idea of a deck building game and does something new with it. Actually, it does a few new things with it. The biggest is that it merges deck building with dungeon crawl board games. This game is–by one of the creator’s own admission–Dominion meets Talisman.

The dungeon crawl feel starts at the beginning of the game, when each player picks a their own character. Each character’s starting deck is a different mix of the game’s three currencies: Fight, Skill, and Charm. Additionally, each character gets a unique special ability, and a personalized mix of card types they can hold in between turns. Hello, varied playstyle right out of the gate!

This being a dungeon crawl, of course there are multiple levels to the dungeon and mat. (Three, to be exact.) Each level will have its own group of cards, which are items to be acquired, monsters to be killed, and traps to be overcome. Where your character is on the map affects what they can interact with.

Cards are acquired or defeated by paying their cost in one (or more) of the game’s three currencies. But most cards have an optional cost that’s much higher, but can be paid with a mix of any of the currencies. It’s a great rule that helps speed up the deck building process.

And the dungeon itself is always changing, thanks to a rotating board that the players can fight over control of.

And there are deadly foes that will chase the characters all over the dungeon.

And there are sanity mechanics, which serves not only as each character’s hit points, but also the timer for the game as a whole.

And the end game is determined randomly by drawing one of five possibilities at the start of the game. And for maximum intrigue the endings are sealed. No peeking!

In case it’s not clear enough, Ravingspire is a game with a lot of crunch! This one is for experienced gamers, no two ways about it. But here is no other game quite like it, so if you need to get a game from someone who seemingly has all of them, here’s a great choice.

Special praise must be made for how the game is being sold. It was funded on Kickstarter, and is only available from a few brick-and-mortar stores across the US because it’s not at distributors yet. So it’s also being sold on Amazon… for the same price most FLGSs will be selling it for. It’s a nice gesture that deserves to be called out.

Tomorrow, the last bonus game and the real end to my 12 Days of Holiday Game Suggestions

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. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.

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