Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The most popular games of 2013

Last Friday saw our the last Windsor Gaming Resource event of 2013: our Boardgame Bash! I wanted to take a moment to thank every single one of you who came out to one of our events and made 2013 our best year ever. We've gotten more events in than any year in the past and I've met a ton of new wonderful gamers. Thank you!

The other thing I wanted to do was take a look back at 2013. After every event I gather a list of all of the games played and enter those plays over at www.boardgamegeek.com (awesome site BTW). This lets me see; not only what's been played, but how often each game was showcased at one of our events. Here's the results of that data collection:

The 10 most popular games at WGR events in 2013:

1. Munchkin

I will admit that I'm personally not a big fan of this but if this year's events are any indication, I'm in the minority with that opinion. This one and the next one tied, showing up at 11 different events.

For those who haven't heard of it (I'd be surprised if that's anyone who follows this blog) Munchkin is a pretty simple dungeon crawl parody game full of back stabbing and one upmanship. Kick in the door, kill the monster and steal it's loot. You will have to ask for help along the way but expect a knife in the back from those same friends as you approach level 10 and the win.

2. The Settlers of Catan

This one doesn't surprise me at all. There's a reason The Settlers of Catan is the most well known "Eurogame" in the world - it's a great game. It also introduces a lot of mechanics that players only familiar with traditional roll and move games may not know.

Catan really is a great gateway game and has been the doorway to hobby gaming for many people, myself included. I expect this one to remain popular for years to come.

3. King of Tokyo

The first time I tried King of Tokyo I wasn't a big fan. Yet another push your luck Yahtzee game but with giant Kaiju monsters. Eventually one night at one of our events at Villains Beastro I gave it another shot and found I loved it. I'm  not sure what changed, I think it may have been the expansion that added power ups and differentiated the monsters. Whatever it was, I was glad I gave the game another shot as I've found it to be one of the best filler games out there. I'm always happy to see it come out at our events.

4. Race for the Galaxy

Race for the Galaxy was hugely popular at the beginning of the year. I would receive requests from players week after week to bring this one out. For some reason that popularity died off as the year went on. I don't think this is any reflection on the gameplay of this great game, but rather the amount of great new games that came out in 2013 and people's desire to try new things.

"Race" continues to be one of the most popular card games out there for good reason: it's a fantastic card based 4x game. There's a bit of a learning curve but once you are past that you've got a great strategic game with no one right way to win.

5. Ca$h 'n Gun$

What's not to love about a game where you point foam guns at the fellow players in a virtual Mexican Stand Off?

This one is great for public play events as it's quiet the spectacle. It always gathers a crowd and is responsible for getting the non-gaming public to join in the fun at some of our events. 

You've just completed the bank job of a lifetime. Now it's time to split up the cash. There's no way this is going to go smoothly. The only problem with this game is that it's been out of print for some time.

6. Love Letter

One of the hottest new games of 2012, Love Letter continues to be a WGR event favourite. 

There's a new trend in tabletop gaming and that's a trend towards micro games. Small games that are very portable and easy to explain. The best of them don't sacrifice strategy and gameplay and currently Love Letter may be the best of the best. Though it's looking like Coup may usurp the throne in 2014.

Love letter is a deck of only 16 cards but involves a solid amount of risk, deduction and just a bit of luck.

7. The Resistance

I've always enjoyed the group game Werewolf. We've seen versions of it at a few of our events over the years with Do You Worship Cthulhu? seeming to be the most popular version. That was until The Resistance came out.

This brilliant big group game can handle 10 players. It's a hidden role game that pits The Resistance against the Imperial Spies. The Resistance is trying to complete missions and the Spies are trying to make those missions fail. 

One of the best parts about this game over the Warewolf games is that no moderator is required, so all players get to actually play and enjoy the game.

8. Magic the Gathering

I think we can blame the Cards & Coffee events hosted by Hugin & Munin for this one showing up on the list. Magic has been very popular since it first came out in 1993. The fact that it's on this list 20 years later (oh man I'm getting old), showcases that very well. Magic continues to be the driving force in card gaming and it doesn't look like it's slowing down any time soon.

Build your deck, summon some monsters and cast some spells to defeat the opposing player trying to do the same for you. Over the years this one has evolved a lot of cool and interesting ways to play besides the traditional head to head.

9. Quarriors!

One of the biggest innovation in tabletop games in the recent years was the invention of the "Deck Builder" games where the drafting of cards isn't something you do before the game, but rather it becomes the game itself. 

Quarriors is an interesting twist on this mechanic. Instead of drafting cards you collect dice which you put in your dice bag and pull from every turn.

10. Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age

This one surprised me. I don't remember seeing it out all that often but I guess it was there and I missed it.

Roll through the ages is a very solid Yahtzee like dice game. You roll and then use the resources rolled to build cities, craft wonders and upgrade your technology level. For an even better experience you can download the free Late Bronze Age expansion.

If anyone is interested in seeing all of the games we played at events in 2013 you can check here:

Did your favourite game make the list?

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The 11 best new games I played in 2013

With the time of gift giving very fast approaching (far too fast if you ask me) I thought it would be a good time to look back and see what new games I enjoyed playing the most in 2013.

Note these aren't necessarily games that came out in 2013, they are games that were new to me this year. Also note: these aren't in any specific order. I wouldn't say the first game on the list is better than the last.

I tried Core Worlds as I kept hearing it listed as various podcaster's favourite deck building game. Many of them ranking it well above Ascension which was my favourite deck building game. Note "was" The podcasters were right. This is a great game and is now really the only deck builder I've been playing. I really enjoy it. It reminds me of a mix of Race for the Galaxy and Dominion, which is a really good mix. This seems a lot more strategic and less random than many other deck builders. I've heard, but not yet proven, that it's even better with the expansion.

I got into the Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game at the start of 2013. I even wrote up an X-Wing Buyers Guide that has ended up being the most popular post on this entire blog. I still think that this is an awesome game. Besides having the best looking pre-painted miniatures you will find on the market, the game play is excellent. Though I see quite a few people complain about the price, it's still one of the cheapest miniature games to get into. It really does bridge the gap between boardgamers and miniature wargamers. If you haven't tried this one out yet check with your FLGS as demo events and organized play are common.

I picked up Quarriors! with a gift certificate I received for my birthday this year and I've never regretted that choice. Quarriors! takes deck building to a new 3D level. Instead of building a deck you are building a dice bag full of dice representing spells and monsters. The basic game is quick to learn and fun though a bit broken (buy the biggest thing all the time and the first one to get a big monster often wins). There are some advanced rules that really make this game shine though. Plus, what gamer doesn't love dice?

The best big group game I found this year was The Red Dragon Inn. This game is all about the party after the fantasy adventure. What the group does with their loot after they've saved the kingdom and killed the dragon. This is fantasy RPG themed screw your neighbor last player standing card game that is at it's most fun when the players get into character. Now the base game only plays 2-4 players but each stand alone set ads 4 different characters and they can all be combined. Right now with all the sets out there you can play with up to 14 players. This one has proved to be very popular at Windsor Gaming Resource Events.

I was leery when I heard Wizards of the Coast was going to put out a D&D based Euro-Game. It's not really their niche and I'm not sure if it's their market either. I was pleasantly surprised when I finally got to try Lords of Waterdeep though. I immediately went and bought myself a copy. This is a very light worker placement game with a very solid D&D theme (as long as you can convince the players to say Fighters instead of orange cubes). The core game is easy to explain and is designed in such a way that the final scores are usually very close with no run away winner problem. I personally find the base game a bit light for my taste, but all you have to do is toss in the Skullport expansion and the game goes from good to great.

Primordial Soup is an old one. It's from 1997. I first got to try it at a friends birthday part this year. He noted it was his favourite game and I can see why. You start off this game just playing single celled creatures floating in the soup. At first you have very little you can do besides just flow with the current and eat food cubes. As the game progresses though you buy evolution cards. Maybe you gain mobility being able to go against the current, maybe you grow armor to protect you from other evolving animals, etc. A very unique and rewarding game.

One of the things I've done more of this year than in the past is play more boardgames with my kids. They are now getting old enough to really grasp how to play a variety of different games, even getting good enough to beat their mom and dad sometimes. I picked up Catan Junior based on some very positive reviews, reviews that were dead on. This is a great game to introduce kids to hobby gaming. It teaches the basics of resource management and trading and planning ahead. It's a simplified version of Catan with a pirate theme. The great part being that it's not overly simplified. It's still actually quite fun to play even as an adult. If you've got a growing little gamer in your life I can't recommend this one enough.

2013 seems to be the year I discovered Stronghold Games. Maybe it's due to how often Stephen Buonocore shows up on various podcasts. Space Cadets is a very unique game that attempts to capture the chaos of being a starship bridge crew. Each player takes a different station like Helm, Engineering or Weapons and then has to play a mini game while on a 30 second time limit to get their station ready and hopefully follow the captains orders. The games vary from dice games to dexterity games from puzzles to memory. This one isn't for everyone though, some people really dislike it. Personally I'm a fan. Now I've heard the new Space Cadets Dice Duel is better. I'm going to have to check that one out in 2014

A new toy store opened up here in Windsor: Mastermind Toys. For their grand opening they had 50% off any one item: Qwirkle was the item I chose to buy at that sale. I had recently listened to an interview with the designer and the game sounded solid. Since then Qwirkle has become my favourite abstract game. Pretty much replacing Ingenious for me. I love the simplicity of the rules combined with the rather deep strategy of play. Even better: the rules are simple enough even kids can get this one. Play a set with one thing in common shape or colour: get points based on how many tiles are in the complete set. Get a bonus for completing a set of 6. That's pretty much it.

La Boca was the surprise hit of our Extra Life charity gaming event. It was donated by the awesome people at Z-man Games and gathered a crowd every time it was played. La Boca is an interesting dexterity game that has players teaming up to try to assemble a stack of coloured and oddly shaped blocks to a pattern shown on a card. A timer is started each time and both players get points based on their combined time. The interesting bit is that the card is different from each side and only shows one player's viewpoint. Each pair is timed and the game is played round robin so that you team with every other player twice. The player with the most points at the end wins.

This is another one that we are playing with the kids and they are loving it. In Mice and Mystics you take on the role of medieval fantasy characters who have been turned into mice and despite their diminutive stature must save their kingdom from the evil sorcerer queen. The game is a highly thematic dungeon crawling game reminiscent of classics like Heroquest or Descent. Mice and Mystics is completely co-op though with no Zargon hiding behind his screen. The combination of richly detailed story, amazing components and very thematic mechanics makes this one a must buy for anyone with kids. Added to that the game is actually good enough that there's no reason you have to save it for the kids. I know plenty of adults that love this game.

So there you have it. Eleven of the best games I tried for the first time in 2013. What new games did you get to try out this year? Which would you recommend as great gifts this holiday season?

Monday, 2 December 2013

December 13th - Holiday Boardgame Bash

Join us at the Green Bean Windsor Star Cafe at 6pm on Friday December 13th for our first ever Holiday Boardgame Bash!

What better way to celebrate the holidays than by playing some games with friends? This is a free all ages open gaming event. It's an excuse to get together one more time before all the craziness starts. It's a chance to try out some new games and find stuff to add to your wish list. It's a great chance to discover the perfect gift for the gamer that has everything.

Door Prizes

Besides the usual open gaming we are also going to have door prizes. Some of which have been donated by our FLGS Hugin & Munin and also by the awesome Jason Russel. To be eligible all you have to do is show up and play at least one game!

Hidden Gaming Gift Exchange

Bring a sealed gaming related gift to join in the Gaming Gift Exchange.

Here's how it's going to work: Everyone who wants to participate brings a wrapped gaming related gift. These will all be put out on display at the Cafe. The exchange will take place at around 8pm (we'll let people in the middle of games finish up if possible). At that time everyone will receive a random playing card. Then we will draw one card and the first person will pick one of the gifts and open it. Then going forward every subsequent person will have an option: open a new gift or "steal" one of the gifts already opened. If your gift is stolen you then get the same choice, open a new gift or "steal" one that's already opened (but no stealing back what was just taken from you). 


The Green Bean Windsor Star Cafe is located at:
300 Ouellette Ave - 3rd floor
Windsor, ON N9A 7B4

6pm - 11pm on Friday December 13th

Monday, 25 November 2013

Cards & Coffee at Hugin & Munin on December 7th

December 7th we return to long time FLGS Hugin & Munin for a night of cards and caffeine. The event will run from 5pm until 11pm. Through the entirety of the event all Tassimo coffee will be half off.

This event has proved to be very popular so you may want to show up a bit early as the place gets packed and we run out of chairs quickly. To help alleviate this problem Ian will be putting up a table for us to store our games on so that there's more room to actually play.

Yeah it's called Cards & Coffee and yes some people dig playing Dominion or Magic or Munchkin but you don't need to stick to card games. It's just an excuse to spend a Saturday night playing some games, any games.

This is an all ages event that is open to anyone and everyone. Bring your favourite game or play one of ours. No XP needed, we'll teach you what we have.

Hugin & Munin is located at 1664 Tecumseh RD. E. in Windsor Ontario. Parking in back or on side roads and free out front after 6pm.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Boardgames Are Really Fun Thursday November 28th - Party Time!

B.A.R.F. - Boardgames Are Really Fun
Theme: Party Games!

The Windsor Gaming Resource and Villains Beastro are proud to announce another awesome free gaming event scheduled for Thursday November 28th from 6pm until Midnight.

The Villains Beastro is a unique, funky, weird, mystical, fun, serious, laid back, Viking-feeling, pub-looking rock n’ roll type place that has offered to open their doors for us. It’s the perfect spot for a group of gamers to hang out and play some games. There are plenty of tables of all sizes, a well lit stage area, some great beers on draft, a selection of harder beverages and a some great tasting sandwiches. Villains has agreed to give us the space for free and I encourage everyone to support the venue by buying some food and enjoyed a drink (responsibly of course). One bonus of moving these events to Thursday is that it's also SWAMP night - so enjoy a Steam Whistle and Mouthwatering Panini at a discounted price.

The theme that night is Party Games! We're expecting to see games that play a large number of people and don't take themselves too seriously. Expect games like: Red Dragon Inn, Telestrations, The Great Dalmuti, Black Spys, The Resistance and more.

This is an open non-competitive gaming event that anyone is welcome to attend. Any form of game is welcome: board, card, rpg, miniatures, whatever you want to bring we are willing to have you. We aren't rule lawyers. You are welcome to bring your own games or share in some of ours. Everything we bring we are willing to teach and no experience is necessary. The goal is to get as many local gamers out as possible to enjoy some good food, some good company and some good games! We are not a private club. Anyone and everyone is welcome to come out and join in the games. If you see someone playing a game and it looks interesting, ask about it. If you see a game on a table and you want to try it out, ask around and see if someone will teach it. Note: even though this is an adult only event, please keep your choice in games tactful. No RaHoWa or Cards Against Humanity please.

Villains is located Downtown at:
256 Pelissier
Windsor, ON N9A 4K3

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Detailed Review: Odyssey The Complete Game Master's Guide to Campaign Management

Far too long ago over on Google++Martin Ralya put up a post asking if there were any bloggers out there who were interested in reviewing +Engine Publishing's newest book: Odyssey The Complete Game Master's Guide to Campaign Management.

Back in December 2012 I had the pleasure of reviewing Never Unprepared: The Compete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep (You can see that review here). I found that book very useful and use some of the tools presented in it to this day. So I jumped at a chance to read something else by +Phil Vecchione and the rest of the +Gnome Stew team.

Martin sent me a PDF copy of the book for review so all of my thoughts here are based on that version of the book. I know there's a print version out there, as well as other eBook formats.

The first thing that caught me about this book is the cover. Is that a non-white GM I see? Why yes it is. What you can't tell from the cover is that it's a non-white differently abled GM. I have to commend Engine for this move. It's good to see.

Odyssey is 209 pages with a full colour cover and back and black and white interior. The art is solid and very evocative of the text. All of the art features the same gaming group either in person or in character and shows them progressing through two different rpg campaigns: one fantasy and one sci-fi. The PDF is well hyperlinked which is something I really like to see.

After an intro from +Kenneth Hite we get to meet the two primary authors of Odyssey: +Phil Vecchione and +Walt Ciechanowski. Phil's work I'm familiar with both from Never Unprepared and the wealth of game advice he shares online both through Gnome Stew and social media. Walt's name is new to me. Phil's background as a project manager really shows through in his writing. It's almost technical and presents things in a "This is how you do it" kind of way that I know others have found a touch pedantic. I personally don't see this but then again I work in Quality in the auto industry and have been involved in many projects and launches. Walt is much more casual both in his writing and his approach to gaming. It's rather cool to see these two poles highlighted in one book.

After the author intros there's a "How to Use this Book" section. Something we often see in RPGs but not support books. It explains how Odyssey will take you through three things: starting your campaign, managing your campaign and ending your campaign. It asks why we need a book like this and talks about why campaigns die.

Chapter 1: About Campaigns is written by Phil and well talks about what campaigns are. He provides the following definition:
A campaign is a series of gaming sessions focused on a group of characters which maintains a sense of continuity.
He dissects this and then goes on about campaign management. The emphasis here is that you don't run your campaigns you manage them. He talks about why we host campaigns (to entertain and have fun, to create a story, to grow and develop characters and to develop a connection) and how campaigns evolve.

Chapter 2: Management is also written by Phil. This chapter deep dives the actual management of a campaign. He explains why we manage and not run a campaign and talks about why we should manage our games. Campaigns are broken down into layers and each is discussed. The ideas of Risk and Change are introduced and there is some talk about the start, middle and end of of a campaign.

Chapter 3: Starting Campaigns is probably my favourite chapter of the book. In it Phill talks about a whole slew of things I never even considered. This is the chapter that, upon reading, instantly changed the way I approach a new game with a new group. Phil provides another good quote:
The goal of starting a campaign is to create a shared vision for the campaign that is mutually agreed upon, interesting to everyone, and sustainable.
The big thing for me here is the "mutually agreed upon" part. I've always started a new game the traditional way. I'm the GM here's the game I'm running so lets make characters. Sure maybe sometimes I will ask the group what they feel like playing next, but we are always just talking about system. I've never sat down with my group ahead of time and asked "what kind of tone would you like in our next game" "What types of genres would you like to explore?" It's always been "I want to run Gamma World Next, who's in?"

Phil dissects his quote and breaks down starting a new campaign into four phases: concept, framework, creation and the first session. In all of these steps he strongly suggests the entire group be involved. The book takes a look at the gaming group itself and the role of the GM and the players. Note: this is the role of both sides of the screen before the game has even started, before the first session. In this chapter Phil even takes the time to give us a short lesson on negotiation, a very important skill when involving your entire group this early.

Chapter 4: Campaign Concept continues the pre-game discussion. Phil talks about who's going to GM, who's playing, what system to use, where you will play, what the story will be, etc. His project management background comes into play here as he talks about different ways to answer these questions using a few tried and true methods: exploration, spitballing, the pitch and the short list.

I also found this chapter fascinating as most of the ideas were very different from how I've done things. I've always just used a pitch or short list and even then didn't really listen to player input. I've been stuck in an old school: I'm the GM you play what I want to play mentality without even realizing it.

Chapter 5: Campaign Framework has Phil telling us about the things we should do to start building our campaign. This is a very mechanical chapter in my mind. It's getting to the meat of the game as opposed to the high level story. You are deciding what rules to use, what books are allowed and, what roles and characters the players will play. Yes, story is discussed as well, but more as a guiding hand. Here group interaction is again emphasized with everyone being on the same page before the game starts. So everyone knows what is allowed, what is not and what to expect once the game starts.

This is one of the longest chapters in the book and has a ton of great info. Phil has the GM asking a lot of questions that I think are often overlooked when starting a new campaign. Here you will decide on all of the how and why of the campaign. You will decide if you are running a serial and if you world has no Dwarves and why. Will you be playing in a sandbox or riding the rails? All of the details are figured out: before you have had your first session.

Chapter 6: Campaign Creation is where Phil talks about the GM finally getting down and writing down the details of their campaign. Taking the framework established before and building upon it.

He talks about a GM's campaign material, what should be in it as well as some suggestions for organizing it. There's talk of your GM shopping list and what you should go shopping for. Phil also spends some time talking about a "What's Really Going On" document. Something he got from +Fear the Boot. While I really dig this suggestion I wish the document was included here in Odyssey, instead of just providing a link.

This chapter also talks about one of the most important topics to players: character creation. In his typical fashion Phil breaks this down into four requirements for characters: that they be believable, fitting, mechanically sound and satisfying. There's some talk about group cohesion as well.

Chapter 7: The First Session had me wondering if Walt actually wrote any of the book at all. It would have been nice to have seen another voice by now. Not that Phil's doing a bad job here at all, it's just that I know there are two authors and I'm starting to wonder when I get to hear the other one.

In this chapter Phil takes us through some actual session prep. There's a bit of overlap here with Never Unprepared. He highlights the important things that a first session should do: introduce the setting to the players, introduce the PCs to the group, start the first story and make it fun. Each of these is looked at in detail with some great suggestions on how to make the most out of them. Phil also presents his suggestions on how to run your first session. Some of these match my personal method of teaching a new game, which I call the Super Mario Bros way and some do not.

Chapter 8: Campaign Management finally introduces Walt as lead writer. In this chapter Walt re-introduces us with the concept of campaign management then looks at exactly what a GM has to manage. This is broken down into five things: story, PCs, people, risk and challenge. He talks about being flexible and looks at railroading vs. travelling on foot.

Chapter 9: Story Management continues where chapter eight left off with Walt now talking about creating sessions for the campaign. This chapter has a lot in common with Never Unprepared. There is a detailed look at story arcs and being proactive vs. reactive. It includes some great suggestions for keeping the story on track and for dealing with when it goes off in an unexpected way. A few different story structures are presented and the three and five act model is discussed.

Walt also presents some good suggestions for redundancies, reminding GMs never to leave a dead end in their stories and having back ups just in case one comes up unexpectedly. I personally dug the concept of "Bookends" which is not something I had heard before. Here's how it is presented in the book:
Another technique I like to use when designing adventures is to bookend them with colorful scenes that aren’t necessarily related to the main plot. The opening scene or scenes might simply provide a window in to the PCs’ lives, possibly sparking a sub-plot or two, while the closing scene returns the PCs to normalcy with a final wrap-up (possibly tying up sub-plots as well).
Pacing, maps and the supporting cast all get a few paragraphs each followed by a section on continuity. Continuity is followed by a brief discussion of the passage of time.

Chapter 10: Character Management. This was another chapter that, to me, turns the tables on the traditional. Just like the earlier chapters on campaign prep had players involved where usually only GMs tread, this section has GMs involved where things are often left to the players.

Walt looks at how characters change over time and how to manage that change. He looks at players that have fairly static characters and those who change dynamically after almost every session. There's a touch of the player types made famous from +Robin Laws's GM book here, looking at how different players made different types of characters.

Character growth both in story and mechanically are looked at with good suggestions on how to foster it while still keeping the overall campaign under control. Things like niche protection are discussed and mechanical changes in characters and the impact that can have on the campaign is looked at in good detail.

Chapter 11: People Management looks at the players (and games master) themselves. We're all people playing these games with real lives and commitments and Walt takes this into account while offering suggestions on how to manage all of it. Timetables, what do to when a player misses a game, what's the minimum needed to play, etc.

This is a topic near and dear to my heart as I game with adults, most of whom have kids and all of which have many non-game related obligations. In my personal Monday night game, the rules are: we play every week on Monday, the game starts at 8pm, if two players can't make it we play boardgames. When players aren't there we hand wave their characters: they fade into the background.

It was cool to see Walt included a section on kids, as this is something that affects any games I run at home. I've already realized the need to make sure my wife's character isn't the most important part of the story as I know she may need to step away from the table from time to time and it's nice to see this written down as a suggestion in Odyssey.

Again I'm reminded of Robin Law's book as I get to the section of common problem player types. Here Walt takes a really good look at the most common types of problem players and gives some very solid suggestions on managing these types of players. He also spends some time talking about player relationships, something that I've personally seen ruin more than one campaign.

There's a good look at keeping player and GM interest in the campaign. I had to laugh when I saw the paragraph heading: "The Dreaded Shiny". That is something that I personally have to fight with constantly. I'm always wanting to move on and try something new, much to the chagrin of my players.

Walt also suggests something I've tried before: the alternate campaign. This is something you use when you have some players that won't be able to attend regularly. Something that you and the other players can play on the 'off week'.

This rather long chapter ends with a look at getting player feedback and a talk about safety nets and social contracts. This second part seems to be a hot topic lately in the RPG scene. Here Walt is pretty sensible just suggesting that you all sit down and talk about what is and is not allowed in the game before starting play. That works for me.

Chapter 12: Risk Management, not surprisingly, sees the return of Phil to the table as risk management is pretty much the main job of a project manager. He first defines risk and then sets some targets for managing it. Risk management is a huge topic and Phil does a good job of giving the readers a crash course. He breaks the process down into four steps: identification, likelihood, mitigation and contingency. The chapter ends by bringing it back to the game table looking at common risks in campaigns. Things like PC deaths, new players, loosing players, etc.

Chapter 13: Change Management starts off with Phil explaining the difference between risks and changes. He clarifies that all risks are changes but that not all changes are risks. Goals are set and four steps are given to manage change.

The most important part of this chapter to me was the bit about communication. Again the authors stress player involvement. If you are thinking of making a change to the campaign, talk about it with your players. If Bob is quitting the game in a month and you are thinking of ending the game at that point, let your players know. It's also a two way street, the players should let you know as well, not only of pending changes but how they feel about any changes proposed.

Phil takes time to talk about changes in story, PCs, players and system. Each is looked at in detail with many suggestion on managing the change without killing your campaign. There's an important bit that brings things full circle at the end. When changes like this happen you should look back to your campaign framework and see how the change affects that.

Chapter 14: When It's Time to End Your Campaign. The final chapters of the book, starting with this one are all about ending your campaign. Something that happens to all of us and is often managed poorly. This is one of the chapters I was really looking forward to reading.

Walt's back to talk about how campaigns end and makes us all feel better by explaining that it happens to the best of us. Heck he's even got a side bar titled "Why Can't I Finish a Campaign? I Must Be a Bad GM!" where he goes on to say that that is most definitely not the case.

One of the most important things I read in this chapter was knowing the signs that your campaign is coming to an end and that you should act on those signs. Walt lists eleven signs all of which I've seen many times over the years. After listing the signs he goes on to talk a bit about good ways to end a campaign. These are talked about in more detail in the later chapters.

Chapter 15: Killing a Campaign starts with Walt re-iterating that it's okay to kill a campaign. Sometimes they just don't work. A ton of advice is given on ways to properly kill a campaign. Four methods are discussed in details: walking away, wrapping up the current adventure, the movie and the TPK.

I personally found The Movie ending to be rather fascinating. It's not one I had heard of before. It basically suggests that you run one (or a few) final session(s) in which everything ramps up to an exciting climax. Tie up the important loose strings and amp everything up. You are looking to go out with a huge bang while resolving the important questions and not worrying about all the little details.

Probably the most important part of ending a campaign is discussed last. That is learning from your mistakes. Analyzing what went wrong and making sure you don't make the same mistakes next time. Walt looks at many things that could have gone wrong and walks us through each. There's lots of good stuff here about figuring out what the true cause of the game ending was.

Chapter 16: Suspending a Campaign. I don't think I can count the number of my personal campaigns that are 'on hold.' This is usually how my campaigns end, with the promise that we will get back to them some day. To this day I don't think I've ever actually started up a suspended campaign again. Which is kind of sad, come to think of it. Walt talks about this, and other things in regards to suspending a campaign.

The advice I probably need to take to heart is the fine line between when you should suspend a campaign and when you should instead end it. There's some good advice on shortening a campaign rather than ending it that, combined with the last chapter, will be my plan for the next campaign of mine that comes to an end.

Assuming you do want to suspend your campaign, this chapter goes on about how to do it effectively through one of three methods: cold turkey, finishing the adventure and the season finale. After this is a good discussion on how to start things back up. I found this rather interesting as it talks about dropping whatever had happened last and starting up fresh. Almost like a totally new campaign but with ties to the campaign put on hold. Personally, before reading this I would have probably just started an old campaign back up right where we left off. Relying on my memory and that of my players to recall where we were and what was going on. There's some great suggestions about jumping the timeline ahead and starting fresh I'm sure I will use.

Chapter 17: The Managed Ending is the last official chapter of the book. It's all about finishing things off properly. Starting with re-iterating why your campaigns should end and then going into details about how to do this effectively.

There's some good stuff in here reminding GMs to give every PC a chance to shine and ways to leave the players wanting more by sowing the seeds for future campaigns. The one thing that caught me as a cool idea was the idea of throwing an end of campaign party. A real life thing, with cake and drinks and such. I think this is a brilliant idea.

The book finishes off with some closing thoughts by both authors and then talks about the artwork in the book. As I mentioned above, all of the artwork shows either players at the table or their characters following the story of a specific gaming group. What I didn't mention before are the wealth of examples given throughout the book using this group. Every chapter starts off with an example from this group showcasing the topic at hand. Many of these examples are very negative at the start of the chapter, showing the reader how not to do things. The examples at the end of the chapter are at the opposite end of the spectrum, showing how things can work out if putting the advice therein to good use. I found it to be very effective.

In addition to these fictional examples the text is also filled with real life examples both from Phil and Walt's tables. There's a mix of amazing success and crushing defeat here. Some examples being cautionary tales and some being highlights of the methods suggested in Odyssey being put to good use. I thought these examples really humanized the authors, reminding me that they are just another GM like me and make just as many mistakes as the rest of us.

While most of what I talk about above is pretty high praise, I will admit that the book isn't all roses. Phil's writing style does take a bit to get used to. His text often comes off as preaching the 'one true way.'  Now I know that's not that case, and that every section is just a suggestion and a showcasing of how he handles things but that is not always evident.

Sections of the book I also found a bit dry at times and I would have liked some more examples or artwork to break it up. It reminded me of that place you get to in every 300 page rulebook where you are just reading skill after skill. It's nice to have a picture to look at to take your mind off of skills for a bit. Most of the artwork is saved for the beginning and end of chapters and I think I would have preferred it being spread out a bit more.

One of the things I really liked in Never Unprepared were actual tools Phil provided for use while planning your sessions. Things like the Blank Free Time Inventory Map, the Creativity Heat Map and suggestions for various templates for scenes, sessions, etc. Along with this were lots of suggestions on tools for managing your notes. It's through that book that I found Evernote and why I purchased a good pen for writing my notes. I would have liked to see some more of these down to earth practical physical tools and tool advice in Odyssey.

My last complaint is an odd one. One thing that is not currently a problem with the book but something I worry will be a problem with books like this and other modern game supplements is that it is not evergreen. I'm not just talking about the hyperlinks and web addresses, though that's part of it. What I'm talking about is referencing tools that can only be found online. Sure, right now I can go to the Fear The Boot website and grab their "What's Really Going On" document. But what if I happened to pick up this book five years from now as new old stock on a game store shelf? What if at that time Fear The Boot is long gone as is their website? Heck five years from now there may not even be a web as we know it now. While it's great to suggest such outside resources I would have much preferred if the authors or Engine had gotten permission to include copies of these documents instead of providing links.

Alright enough with the negativity. As I'm sure you can tell if you managed to make it this far in the review, despite some minor complaints, I really dig this book. When I first agreed to Martin's review request I had some things I wanted to get out of this book. I wanted to have it make me think about how I run my games and how I run my campaigns. I also wanted some concrete advice that I could start using right now to run those campaigns. Lastly I wanted to be inspired.

Well first off, it made me realize that I shouldn't be thinking about how I run my campaigns but rather how I manage them and how I can manage them better. I immediately started to ask myself what I actually do to manage my games and what I could do better. Second it most definitely gave me some things I can use right away. After starting the book I spent some time at my next session of D&D encounters, where I'm running Murder in Baldur's Gate, asking the players what they wanted out of the session and if they were enjoying how things are going. For a public play event like that I would have never thought to even ask. Lastly, in regards to inspiration: much to my current players chagrin I really want to start up a new campaign, but having finished Odessey I realize that what I really need to do is properly manage finishing up this one with a fantastic ending first, and I  now have all the tools I need to do that.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Boards & Bits @ Brimstone - November 23rd

The Windsor Gaming resource returns to Brimstone Games on Saturday November 23rd from 6pm until Midnight. This is our first time back to Brimstone after we raised $1400 as part of the Extra Life event. Brimstone has a huge gaming area with tons of tables, chairs and great lighting. I'm told by the owner Sean that we could fit 60 of us in there.

This is an open, all ages, themeless gaming event. Just a bunch of us getting together to play some games. Magic the Gathering and Warhammer are popular at Brimstone along with the usual mix of card and board games.

You can find Brimstone at 3298 Walker Rd. Parking is available on the south side of the building and on the street around back. Note for those who haven't realized it yet, this is the new location in Windsor, not the old one in McGreggor.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Games & Grub at the Green Bean - November 15th

November 15th Windsor gamers will be gathring at the Windsor Star Cafe. The event officially starts at 6PM and runs until 11PM

The cafe is located right Downtown Windsor, in the 300 block of Ouelette in the new Windsor Star Building, which used to be the Palace Theater. The actual address is 300 Ouellette Ave - 3rd floor. You can either take the elevator to the 3rd floor or you can take the flight of stairs up from the old palace entrance. If you take the stairs the actual cafe is around the corner.

This is a free open gaming event that anyone is welcome to attend. It's all ages as well. There's no theme for this event, just bring whatever you feel like playing. If you don't have very many games don't worry the regulars always bring lots of great stuff and all of us are willing to teach the games we bring.

The Green Bean offers a wide variety of sandwiches, soups, salads and more and even has a bottomless coffee option.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Cards & Coffee November 9th at Hugin & Munin

Hopefully by now everyone has recovered from our Extra Life Event! We raised $1400 for the Children's Miracle Network and played a ton of games.

November 9th we return to long time FLGS Hugin & Munin for a night of cards and caffeine. The event will run from 5pm until 11pm. Through the entirety of the event all Tassimo coffee will be half off.

This event has proved to be very popular so you may want to show up a bit early as the place gets packed and we run out of chairs quickly. To help alleviate this problem Ian will be putting up a table for us to store our games on so that there's more room to actually play.

Yeah it's called Cards & Coffee and yes some people dig playing Dominion or Magic or Munchkin but you don't need to stick to card games. It's just an excuse to spend a Saturday night playing some games. It also happens that Tassimo coffee is half off.

This is an all ages event that is open to anyone and everyone. Bring your favourite game or play one of ours. No XP needed, we'll teach you what we have.

Hugin & Munin is located at 1664 Tecumseh RD. E. in Windsor Ontario. Parking in back or on side roads and free out front after 6pm.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

We are going to game for 25 hours for the Extra Life charity gaming event

November 2nd members of The Windsor Gaming Resource will be gathering at Brimstone Games to play some games. Sure that's not unusual, we have events at Brimstone every month. The difference is this time we are going to do it for 25 hours straight and we are doing it for an amazing charity event!

What is Extra Life?

Extra Life was started in 2008 by the Sarcastic Gamer Community as a tribute to one specific leukemia victim: Victoria Enmon. The group created a 24-hour long video game marathon to raise money for the hospital that treated and fought beside Tori. 100% of the funds raised went to the local Children's Miracle Network. 

Now thousands of gamers have joined in this annual event. In 2009 the event spread allowing participants to donate to the Hospital of their choice and now hundreds of websites and tens of thousands of gamers will take part in this charity event this year.

What is the Windsor Gaming Resource doing for Extra Life?

As many members as possible are going to head to Brimstone Games at 10:00am on Saturday November 2nd. Once there it's simple: we game, and we game for 25 hours straight. We'll be going until 11:00am on Sunday. We will be playing board games, miniature games and maybe even some pen and paper roleplaying games. A couple truly awesome game companies have even donated a few games for us to play.

At this time of this post we have already raised $475 of our $1000 goal. Thank you very much to all of you who have already offered your support.

What can you do?

Well if you are a local gamer, you should come join us on the 2nd and play some games! Even if you can't come out for all 25 hours it would be awesome if you could stop in and say hi, bring us some caffeine and/or play a game or two. We would love the support and encouragement. 

You can join our team. Extra-Life lets groups of participants make a team page and we have one for the WGR. Even if you aren't going to actually come out to Brimstone and play with us, but you are going to participate at home or at your own FLGS we would love to have you on our team. Click here to join up!

You can sponsor a Windsor Gaming Resource member. Any amount helps, and they have a wide variety of payment options even including a monthly donation deal. They also offer the option of getting the appropriate charity receipt. Support me directly by clicking here.

A special thank you to Stronghold Games and Z-Man Games

While organizing this event I sent out emails to a variety of game companies asking if they would be willing to support the WGR in this effort. Both Stronghold Games and Z-Man Games were the only two to write back. Not only did they acknowledge my emails but they both agreed to send us some of their awesome games to play. Stephen Buonocore of Stronghold even went beyond that and made a cash donation to the group. A huge thanks to both companies for being awesome and supporting their fanbase.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Level Up! 2013 - a Windsor Gaming Resource RPG event.

Level up with the Windsor Gaming Resource on October 26th!

The Windsor Gaming Resource is known for hosing fantastic board gaming events around the city of Windsor almost every week. In addition to these events we've also hosted the Great Canadian Board Game Blitz five years in a row. We also put on book swaps and painting clinics. The one thing we have never done though is an RPG event and that's about to change.

October 26th the WGR will be hosting a day long RPG experience. The great folks at the Green Bean Windsor Star Cafe have offered us some great gaming space from 11am until 11pm. That's 12 full hours!

There will be two different sittings. A early sitting starting at 12 noon and a late sitting at 6pm. Each sitting will have a variety of RPG games you can choose to play in. Each individual session should run between 4-5 hours. Doing the math you can see that there will be a 1 hour gap between sittings to give our GMs a break and give time for everyone to grab some food (I personally recommend staying in and supporting the venue by buying your dinner at the Green Bean).

We will be taking sign ups for the each individual game. The number of slots will vary by game and details of this can be found on the Facebook event page for Level Up! You can sign up by commenting on the event wall post for the game you want to play in. Walk ins are also welcome but we can't guarantee you a spot at the game you want to play. If there's a game you really want to try I suggest signing up on the Facebook page. If you don't use Facebook comment here and I'm sure we can work something out.

This is an awesome opportunity for non-roleplaying game players to experience this wonderful gaming hobby. It's also the perfect chance for RPG fans to try out a new system.

Facebook Event Page for Level Up! - https://www.facebook.com/events/660560770643506/
The WGR on Twitter - @windsorgaming

The Green Bean Windsor Star Cafe is located at:
Windsor ON N9A 7B4

Monday, 23 September 2013

An interview with Emil Larsen, the man behind Burning Suns

This weekend I got the chance to do an email interview with +Emil Larsen of Sun Tzu Games about Burning Suns, a tactical sci-fi board game currently up on Kickstarter.

Burning Suns caught my eye for a few reasons. For one I really dig 4x Sci-Fi board games. Stuff like Twilight Imperium and Eclipse. I was addicted to Masters of Orion back in the day and it's great to see that board gaming has finally really started to capture that feel. Burning Suns looks to do some new things in the genre. There's currently over 700 possible factions in the game (possibly more to come with stretch goals), that totally blows away any other game I know. There's also some really cool looking miniatures that integrate dice into their design. Emil calls them Diceships. There's also a neat alignment system worked into the game.

Personally I found this rather long but detailed review by Undead Viking to really showcase what makes this game stand out:

Anyroad, enough of other people talking about Burning Suns, lets here it from the man himself:

Moe: First off, thank you very much for giving me this opportunity. I remember when Burning Suns was on Kickstarter the first time around and I fully remember being firmly on the fence about backing it. What I don't remember though is why exactly I decided against backing at that time. Obviously I wasn't the only one since you ended up doing a do over, which this time around has already hit your funding goal. Congratulation on that achievement.
Emil: "Thanks a lot Moe, and thanks for taking your time to interview me - I really appreciate that :)"
M: So my first question is: what's different this time around? What did you do wrong the first time, what wasn't right and what did you do to fix it this time around?
E: "It's an interesting point you raise, because I believe I did a lot of smaller errors that together made the campaign fall short of it's funding the first time around.  
To make it easy for your readers to go through, I'll just point out the things that might have kept you from pledging on my first campaign.

  • Include the rules of the game (in a nice layout).
  • Use pictures/illustrations of the available pledges.
  • Include shipping in the pledge and streamline the amount of available pledges.
  • Do an engaging trailer (that makes people want to read a bit more of your page).
  • Don't put all your cool USPs (unique selling points) like minis into stretch goals, you need some initial pull on the campaign.
  • Make sure to build a "substantial" fanbase before going live.
  • Use your Kickstarter preview option as a correction and optimization tool, not a cheap last minute marketing tool. 
Yea, it's been great and we hit the goal quite fast - Which is definitely a testimony to me learning from my mistakes ;) Plus people have been very supportive and helpful all the way!"
M: I personally thought your three tiered stretch goal system is brilliant. Rewards based not only on how much money the project has raised but also the amount of social media attention it has generated and the actual number of backers. I love the fact that even someone contributing $1 is helping to unlock new things for the game and make it better for everyone. This question was also asked by one of my google plus followers: so how well is this new style stretch goal system working for you?

E: "It's working VERY well, so well I'm positive a lot of new project creators will be using the same formula.  
Burning Suns is much more established on both Facebook and BoardGameGeek after this Kickstarter, mostly due to my very loyal and helpful backers who really wanted to help. And I gave them some tools to make that help visible.

I used the amount of backers as a promo goal, since the amount of backers would determine how important my "Print'n'play" options would become. These were combined with my stretch goals that made it financial possible to upgrade many of the components in the game.

One thing I made sure was that to calculate that these goal wouldn't overlap, but instead come up as a kind of stair, since that makes a world of difference always being able to spot the next goal ahead."
M: One of my Google Plus friends +Eric Franklin was a bit worried about this stretch goal system. He asked the following:

"My only concern is that all three categories of stretch increase the cost of production and two of them add minimal money to the project. The "Viral" goals, for example, add zero money to the project but have the potential to significantly increase its cost to produce (art isn't cheap)."

Would you care to address that Emil?

E: "[He's] right, at a glance it may look like that.  
But I'm making sure that my artwork isn't "just" used for a single purpose. It can both be used on components and as high resolution wallpapers etc. So when I'm structuring the different artwork, I'm always making sure we start out with something big and have the opportunity to use it several places.
Furthermore - I don't really believe in "free", people should get something for their effort, so giving them cool stuff like artwork for spreading the word, is a worthy expense on my project - and viral always add value :)"

M: 700 empires! Sorry over 700. That seems insane. I thought Cosmic Encounters was the Space game with the most factions but you have them beat by a mile. Obviously this number comes from the very unique three part player board. Where each player gets a race, an ideology and a structure, I've got two questions in regards to this: first off how the heck did you get up to over 700 and second, how is it that you can keep that many variables balanced?

E: "Haha, yea - in that regard I got most space games in existence heavily outnumbered ;) 
The concept of the 3 part empire building provides a strong multiplication factor, and since you can find a lot of factors on each component (ideology, race and structure) that can be tweaked, it means that I'll be able to keep designing new stuff for quite a while. 
It all started out with 6 x 6 x 6 different components in the first game, and for this campaign I added 1 extra of each, since then the backers have unlocked 2 more, getting us to 9 x 9 x 9 different empires (729).
There are several answers to [keeping things balanced]. You can find some of my pointers on this topic in one of my updates (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/suntzugames/burning-suns/posts/598623) related to a talk Richard Garfield held in Copenhagen a few weeks ago.  
Another thing is how my campaign and final development phase have been structured. Together with my backers I'm going to arrange a lot of beta test activities on the game (hopefully with over 400-500 gamers), tournaments and more. Things to really polish the game before launch. I'm really using the "crowd" in crowdfunding, unlike make Kickstarter campaigns, which is more or less pre-order pages."
M: You seem to be very dedicated to making your fans and backers a part of the game. Having their impact help shape the game and it's world. You not only stress this in your video and backer levels but also in your updates. I've seen very few designers willing to let their backers vote on which artwork to use for example. Can you talk more about this, what your plans are and why you think it's so integral to the project that your fans are involved?
E: "I think it's pivotal to the concept of a crowdfunding project, that you're looking for more than just funding. Otherwise you could argue that a business angel is just as good. But with the backers of my Kickstarter project, it allows me to gain access to a lot of great minds and thoughts about the project, the stories, the mechanics - practically everything.

It's of course important that you state the general directions and that you remain true towards your concept and ideas. But tweaking it to the appeal of your backers, and polishing based on their feedback is immensely important if you want your product to be more than just a flash in a pan. And that is exactly my goal with Burning Suns, I want it to last."
M: I'm a big fan of organized play programs, especially ones that reward the organizers and participants. I'm often running release events and demos at the FLGS and it's always cool to have something to show for it. Things like laser cut tokens, special dice and oversized cards seem popular this year. I see you are really hoping to have public play support for Burning Suns. What type of program do you imagine there being for Burning Suns?
E: "That's a tough question. As of now the sky is the limit. 
I'm still just dipping my toes when it comes to organized play and programs. Hopefully a lot of backers will come up with good ideas. I've also had a lot of great suggestions from backers, and a handful have already announced that they would love to promote the game and do some presentations here and there. 
I think it's important that the community develop this part, and make demands based on those needs. I shouldn't go and dictate what people should do, just like I'm not going to dictate any tournaments. I want my game to be tournament friendly and balanced, but it's the community who will ultimately make the demand. 
Hopefully it'll be high in many regards :)"
M: You seem very interested in publishing not just a game, but a world, a fiction for Burning Suns. Between the newly launched burning-wiki http://www.suntzugames.com/burning-wiki.html and things like writing contests on Board Game Geek, almost every backer update gives us another peek into the Burning Suns world. A few questions on this. What came first, the world or the game? Just exactly how big are your plans for this world, do you expect it to spill out past the board game into other games or possibly novels? As most people know I'm not just a big boardgame fan but also a huge pen and paper RPG fan and when I see someone creating a world like this I can't help but ask: will there be an RPG in this setting sometime in the future?
E: "You're not the first to ask - so as I said, maybe the demand will rise to a level were it can/must be developed. 
The game came first, and slowly developed into something almost too big to comprehend in one game. In that regard I've also been contacted about plans to maybe share the IP with other designers/creators. 
I would love the universe to expand further - which is also why I did the writer's contest on BGG and why there's going to be a couple of short-stories taking place in the Burning Suns universe. 
The idea is that the Burning Suns game will create the pillars for other great articles to stand on, inspired and developed by backers around the world :)"
M: My last question: one of the things I saw on your project page that made me cringe was this: "Money Back Guarantee" You are willing to pay people back if they don't like it and will ship the game back. Isn't this highly risky?
E: "I've been inspired by Jamey Stegmaier who has been a great support during the project, and I thought that it was a good idea to put a Money Back Guarantee like he did, simply because it's an offer I believe they are entitled too. Furthermore, I believe very strongly in my game being of great value in game play AND in components. I would be surprised if people really would want to send the game back when you take into consideration of what they are getting for their money."
M: That's all I wanted to ask, do you have anything you want to add?
E: "We're entering the last phase of our Kickstarter campaign (http://kck.st/1d2sRN6) - and there's still some cool stretch goals that I know we would all love to reach, getting more minis to the table! So when you read this - be sure to go and help us out with a pledge, and become part of the final development of Burning Suns :)"
M: Well Emil, thank you very much for your time and the opportunity for my readers and I to learn more about Burning Suns. I'm really looking forward to seeing the game and bringing it out to a Windsor Gaming Resource event and giving it a shot.
E: "Thank you so much for having me in this interview Moe, I really appreciate that! And I'm looking forward to sharing Burning Suns with you and all our backers, it's going to be awesome! :)"

So there you have it. It sounds pretty sweet to me. Sound good to you? Well go back it right now! The kickstarter ends on October 5th!