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Five days with Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons

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At age eight I was rummaging through a book stall at an agricultural fair, and I found a book that would change my life. It was “What is Dungeons & Dragons” and it stood out like a monstrous thumb among the worthy tomes on seed rotation. If I hadn’t bought it, it’s unlikely you’d be reading this column right now.

I haven’t played D&D in 20 years. I gave up at the advent of third edition, deciding it wasn’t worth re-learning the rules all over again.

Now, fifth edition is out. And my eldest daughter is eight, the age I was when I discovered the game. The co-incidence felt like a sign: it was time to teach the game to my kids, and rediscover it myself, too.

So I picked up a copy of the Starter Set.

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Cracked LCD- Reiner Knizia, Master of Theme

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Over the past year, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and re-thinking about what makes a game “thematic” versus “abstract. I reached a certain impasse, a level of dissatisfaction with games that were regarded by gamers with the dreadful “dripping with theme” appellation, which almost always means that a game has plentiful artwork, nomenclature and lore regardless of the relative interchangeability of mechanics derived from a stock list of routine processes and procedures. I’ve argued in the past that there are levels of theme occurring at “executive” (illustration and fluff) and “conceptual” (mechanics and contexts) levels. But a few games that I’ve been revisiting of late have caused me to completely rewrite the Barnes Position on theme in games- where it exists, what generates it and what it should be doing as part of a design.

It may surprise many readers, who have bought into a certain online gamer forum party line, that all of these games were designed by Reiner Knizia. For as far back as I can remember- going back to rec.games.board newsgroup at least- the general consensus was that Dr. Knizia was the case study for the pasted-on theme, a layer of pictures and text to impart a post facto sense of meaning or setting to colored, numbered cards or auctions.

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Why the Internet is Full of $#!t About Destiny’s Story

Destiny-Logo-XBox-One-PS4Like many of you, I’ve been playing Destiny. I’ve mostly retired from playing AAA video games for a number of reasons documented here at NHS and elsewhere, but a new game from the creators of Halo was compelling enough to get me to go to Gamestop- for the midnight release, no less- to pick up a copy of this big-budget blockbuster. Because Bungie understands video games better than many other developers. They understand play, and the Halo games have always excelled at providing players with lots of ways to engage their content. Their mechanics are impeccable and their games are thankfully free of the kinds of negative, hateful “let the bodies hit the floor” style violence so common in other popular action games.

But one thing Bungie has never been good at is telling a story.

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I Wrote the Wrong Post (on Misogyny and Gaming)

Civility

A few months ago I wrote a piece that was ostensibly about maturity in the game industry, but that was really about trying to define what is and isn’t sexism and misogyny in games. Yes, I uncategorically condemned online harassment. Yes, I absolutely supported the idea that the gaming industry desperately needs to grow up and become more inclusive. But I also wrote that the mere appearance of sexism doesn’t make something inherently sexist. I wrote that it’s impossible to avoid stereotypical pitfalls 100% of the time and that its surface appearance, which absolutely should be open to analysis and criticism, also shouldn’t come to define the entirety of the work. I wrote that we can better see the real problems the industry has with inclusion by looking more at the aggregate than the specific.

I was making the wrong arguments…

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Cracked LCD- Eurogames Reclamation Project #3: Bohnanza

bohnanza

It’s 1997, I’m at Dragon Con in the gaming area at a random table I sat down at, and I’m dealt a hand of cards with German words on them and cartoon pictures of these bean characters. Beans. I start rifling through the cards and the guy teaching the game stops me. “No no no! You have to keep the cards in the order you get them, don’t change the order of them in your hand!” Right off the bat, this game is making a bad impression with the silly bean-people and this bizarre rule that defies the natural instincts of anyone who has ever played a card game of any type. My shirtless, leather bracers-wearing friend that fancies himself a modern barbarian leans over and says “Mike, I don’t know about this one.” I promise him that we’ll play Dungeonquest afterwards. I don’t want him to leave me alone at a table of strangers playing a game about bean farming. An hour or so later, we’re in the dealer’s room forking over the bucks for a copy of the game from a vendor that had some import copies. Continue Reading…

Ivor the Engine Review

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British people of a certain age tend to regard children’s animators Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate as minor deities, so totally did their wonderful conjurations dominate the world of kids TV in the 70′s. Dizzying edifices of imagination and storytelling, built on Firmin’s instantly recognisable art and Postgate’s incomparable animation, they remain a colossal founding pillar of my childhood.

Now here there is a game, a modern game, based on my most cherished of all their creations: Ivor the Engine. It’s here, in my hands. This is going to go very well, or very badly.

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Maturity, Inclusion, and the Game Industry in 2014

Microsoft E3 Presser

So, E3 is happening. Over Monday and Tuesday there were pressers and demos and a Brinks truck loaded with video. There’s always one or two things to stand out to me from these events, but the topic that’ll stay with me for awhile is maturity and the strange dichotomy in which this industry (fans included) needs more of it yet sometimes fails to recognize it when it appears. There are two catalysts for this post. One is the all too predictable trolling of Danielle Riendeau’s 100% on-point and valid piece on the lack of female presenters during the major press conferences. (Hat tip to the excellent work Danielle is doing at Polygon. We miss her a ton!) The other is a post from “Ashelia” on her Hellmode blog, defending the teaser trailer for the next Tomb Raider game against attacks that it’s made a victim of Lara Croft. (Apologies that I don’t have a real name to attribute to Ashelia.)

Originally, this post was mostly about Tomb Raider and a bit about Brothers and not laying charges of sexism where they don’t exist because it does disservice to those examples of brilliant work this industry is capable of producing. I can’t, in good conscience write on this topic without first calling attention to this sort of abhorrent behavior and state outright that when someone like Danielle speaks out on this topic and meets an ill-considered, reactionary response like this that it is all of our responsibility to condemn it in no uncertain terms. I don’t want these troglodytes, these soulless imbeciles, carrying the torch for who we are as gamers. I know we’re better than this. You know we’re better than this.  But unless we slam the door on this sub-human behavior we’ll remain defined by it. And in case you think I’m overstating, enjoy this piece of human filth:

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Eight Minute Empire Review

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Of all the lies that are told in the context of board gaming, the biggest and most odorous are those printed on boxes alongside the legend “playing time”. Yet even amongst this exalted company, Eight-Minute Empire reaches new heights of outrage. Whatever it says on the box, the rules inside freely admit that it’s probably three whole times as much as claimed, and my experience supports that.

Of course, that’s still only twenty to thirty minutes. So I might be over-egging this pudding just a little.

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Rivet Wars Review


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Hot off the back of a successful kickstarter campaign, I really wasn’t sure what to make of Rivet Wars. It channels a first world war theme, yet presents you with a wildly incongruous steampunk theme, rendered in a weird, chunky anime style. It claims to be a board game representation of a real-time strategy game but has no resource control. What is this bizarre oddity?

Well it turns out to be a pretty streamlined two player game of tactical aggression. You pick a scenario, assemble a board out of modular components then use an allowance of resources each turn to purchase from a selection of units and march them up to the front line to contest control of critical objectives with your opponent. To spice things up a bit, both players have secret missions to fulfil for extra points, and action card that allow units to do unexpected things.

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Cracked LCD: Simpler Times- Nostalgia for the Wooden Boot

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I recently picked up a second hand copy of Origin, a game that Asmodee released last year that didn’t really have much of an impact in the face of the countless deckbuilders, Kickstarter zombie miniature games, worker placement titles and LCG add-ons that crowded it out. It just came in the mail and I popped open the colorful box, depicting a friendly scene of some folks playing the game. Inside were all of these wonderful people pawns laid out in the insert each engraved with primitive detail, mimicking the kind of early sculpture the expanding civilizations depicted in the game might have made. For the first time in a long while, I was charmed by the contents of a game box and the presentation of them. Continue Reading…

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