Friday 31 October 2014

Wyntercon - A new convention

And so we've spent the whole of the day at the first day of Wyntercon, a new multi-genre convention on the south coast of England.

We got there yesterday and helped to set things up, with a little get together in the evening with some of the guests at the All Saints Chapel, which is a place that needs to be seen to be believed.

Set at the Winter Gardens, the venue is from victorian times and suits well the general theme of steampunk that the convention is set up for.

Most of the original fittings are in place and it's always nice to hold a convention in a place with a little character, the floors may not be all level and whoever did the layout was either a certified genius or an authentic wacko, but it all adds to the flavour of the place.

Trade hall was busy enough, I only got photos from before the action started and after it finished, too busy working the rest of the time (this is the price you pay for helping every convention), but it's been a really good atmosphere and everyone's been having a great time.

We're back early from the Halloween masquerade ball at the Atlantis Nightclub, one of the special events arranged for the weekend, everyone (Except me it seems) in costume and the whole pier somehow restored to a useable condition after the horrendous fire from a few short months ago.

It's rare I upload videos to the blog, but things were that good in there that I felt compelled to, if only so I can sit there and stare at it, wishing I wasn't working the next day...

But I am...

So more on this tomorrow...

However, really strong start to what promises to be a great convention going forwards.

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Full Steam upon the Sunless Sea

I mentioned a short while ago that I liked things that were evocative, particularly when they inspire me to create other places, other worlds, and even more so when they seem to have been crafted by people who share at least some of my inspirations.

Last year I backed a kickstarter for a game called Sunless Sea, billed as a roguelike game where you’re sailing the seas around the port of Fallen London, trading, exploring, and when all else fails, fighting your way through the waters to make sure you get back to port in one piece.  I backed this when it was a kickstarter and it introduced me to the game of Fallen London itself which I have been playing on an irregular basis since that point.

The mechanics of the game are fairly simple, you have a ship that’s not tremendously well equipped to begin with and you have to keep it fuelled and supplied while you go delivering things and seeking your fortune.  Added to this you have the mechanic of Terror, and this for me is where it gets interesting.

Given that the game is about sailing around on a dark ocean underneath the world above, there are terrors out there to be faced, and the longer your crew are running around in the dark, the more scared they get, the more they long for the bright lights and safety of home, so your terror rating goes up the more you’re out in the dark and goes down (slowly) when you’re in the bright lights of the light ships and ports.

I’ve been playing it since it was first put out there, and when the first version of the game turned up, it was unplayably difficult, the supplies got eaten so fast you couldn’t get to the ports beyond medium distance and the terror went up so fast with no way to bring it down so that even if you made it through a few runs, you ended up with a crew mutiny and then failure shortly afterwards. 

Frustrating was not the word that described it.

However, if there’s one thing that Failbetter do, it’s listen, so from all the feedback from people who’d been playing it, they started changing things, with the first things being the terror mechanics so that just leaving the harbour didn’t cause you to have a heart attack and then fall off the side of your ship, then the hunger, so that your crew weren’t the biggest bunch of fat b’stards to ever sail the sea.  Then they started adding other locations and the thing that has always made Fallen London the most interesting...


The ship has you, your crew, and a number of officers, each of which has a backstory and skills that they improve the statistics of your ship and by extension, the chances you have of making it back from voyages in one piece.  More importantly, the officers aren’t treated as expendable, and as you journey further, so you find that those stories inspire you to go further, to seek out new ports to get the goods you need that you can’t find in the places close to home waters.

It’s two dimensional exploration on an ocean of dark nastiness, the things you’ll find close to home are not well equipped pirates and giant crabs that present no real threat, even to the underequipped small ship you start out with.  As you complete commissions and find new ports, you start to build up a chart of the places you’ve been, so when the admiralty asks you to retrieve strategic information, you know where to get it from and don’t waste tons of fuel and supplies trying to find it.

The other thing about it is that the places you find out there are stunning, each of them with their own particular feel and character, each of them unique and not just unique, crafted to look and be interesting.

As an example, take the Mangrove College, where various plants and herbs can be found, but it’s also possible to search the wildlands upon the island for rarer things.

Take the Iron Republic, where all manner of engineering can be found for those willing to pay the prices.

Take the Salt Lions, where you can earn a very handsome living ferrying sphinxstone back to Fallen London as long as you have the cargo space to carry all that stone.

And then, on the far side of the world, Khan’s Heart, the rival to Fallen London, where possibly an invasion force waits to be unleashed upon the ocean, where you find that your every move is watched and waited for, and you have to constantly find a way to be diplomatic and lower the Khaganates suspicions of you.

As time goes on, you’ll amass enough money to get more equipment and weapons to make your ship more lethal.  Eventually (although I haven’t got there yet), you’ll have enough to get new ships that are larger, stronger, and faster than the steamer you start with.  I have to say I’ve got my eyes on a particularly nice Dreadnought, but I’m some distance from being able to buy it.

As you manage more, so your list of accomplishments will increase and you’ll find that more people seek you out to manage commissions, you’ll have to decide which jobs you want to take, whether the risk of trafficking in contraband and souls is to your tastes, or whether the ethics of the job need to remain level. 

The combat system was originally static, with two cards, one to represent you, one your enemy, and you picked moves to try and defeat them.  In the latest version of the game, that’s changed, it’s now a dynamic combat system where you try and outmanoeuvre your opponent long enough to bring your guns to bear. 

In the example above, taking on a lifeberg (that’s a mobile iceberg loaded with zombies), all you have to do is keep out of the way of it, it doesn’t have guns, but it does have a hell of a rush attack.  You encounter other things, like Lorn Flukes (huge floating spider bstards), enemy frigates, and somewhere to the north, Mount Nomad, the Black mountain that eats ships...

And while these things are dangerous, watch out for the eastern ocean, deep in the dark, because when you look out there, sometimes something looks back...

Not that that’s going to stop me going back out there, but when you encounter something that can make the world tremble, you have to ask if you should be going out there to have another go. 

The game is still being updated even now and it’ll be some time before the map is completed (and for the record, the chart I’ve posted might not be as useful as it looks, because every time you get sunk (and it’ll happen the first few times you’re out there), the map changes unless you keep the chart, and if you keep the chart, you don’t learn anything new from discovering things that you already know about. 

There’s no rules presently for multiplayer, and to be honest, the area which the game takes place on is too small for hundreds of people to be running around on, but it’s an interesting game, loads of character, and has enough already in there to keep you playing for more than most commercially available games.

Saturday 25 October 2014

Cinelinx – A game for those who like Movies

I do like movies, they were always the big treat for me when I was a kid, partly because there was so little else to do, but mostly because they were that gateway into a shinier world where the good guys won and I’ve always been a sucker for that J  Over the years I amassed a good knowledge of films, actors, quotes and other things about films, and it’s only now that I’ve found a game where all that knowledge can actually come in useful...

Many of you will have heard of the game that this is based on, where you pick two different actors and then try and link them through the films that they’ve been in and the other people they’ve starred with, this takes it one step further and goes some way towards levelling the playing field from those that know all manner of things about films by giving you a particular set of actors and films to play with.

The idea is a simple one, the game starts with a single card in the middle depicting a Genre, then you build around that, either by placing a film that’s from that Genre, or an actor that’s been in a film of that type. 

From there you build on each link by taking one of the six different card types, being Actor, Genre, Movie, Director, Quote, and Character.  As long as you can link some element of one of your cards to the cards already on the table, you can play a card.  If you can’t play a card, you draw a card.  First person to use up all their cards wins.

In theory it’s a fairly simple game, and if you’re playing with the entire cast of Hollywood in your head, it really is, but when you’re limited to the cards that are in your hand and those alone, the game becomes a lot more about stretching out your knowledge of films in general.  Before long, the board will resemble something like this, until someone finds the one link that lets you start playing the rest of the cards in quick succession.

Got it this morning and played it a few times so far, one of the games went very quick, got all the right links and the game was done in five minutes.  On the next one, we just couldn’t get a break on the cards and we ended up running around the set of cards just trying to make a link on the thing, the key point being that even that game didn’t take more than ten minutes because of the speed of play.  It gets a little slower towards the end as you get so many different links to keep track of, but it’s still fast to play and easy to pick up.

RPGgate - When Gamergate spilled over into Tabletop...

The whole Gamergate thing has been going on for some time now, and it shows no sign of dissipating any time soon, to the point at which it’s spilling over into RPG’s and tabletop games and people are asking what we need to do about it.

I have little experience in online gaming, I enjoy playing games, not seeking with lunatic intent to kill and win against the other players, or building unassailable positions so I can sit behind the shields and laugh, or camp in a tower fifteen miles up so I can snipe at people and send “Lolz” down the comms at them, so I’ve stayed out of Gamergate because I don’t really have the perspective with which to talk about it. 


I’ve been involved in Tabletop and RPG for years, and I do have a singular perspective when it comes to the games I play and the hobby I love.  A lot of the problem with Gamergate seems to be the anonymity with which people can throw nasty comments and stupidity around, if you get banned from a server, you make a new identity and you’re back on in minutes talking the same shit, and you can keep doing that as long as there’s letters in the alphabet.  There’s IP banning and other things that can be done, but for the most part, short of some ethereal Banhammer I don’t know about, the idiots preaching the idiocy can keep coming back (and if there is some ethereal Banhammer, why isn’t anyone using it...).

Not so much the case with Tabletop games, particularly those where you’re all at the same table, because the point of bullying is that you’re going after an easy target, something weaker than you, and you’re not expecting it really to fight back.  Or even better, you’re expecting to say whatever you want and get away with it because no one really knows who you are...

That’s not so easy at a tabletop game when the whole table can see you...

I went to Gencon last year, ran a few games, played in one, and came to the conclusion that gamers are gamers the world over, there wasn’t really too much difference in how people played, only different accents around the table.  When I went to Worldcon, same thing, just more Europeans than Americans, and to be honest, none of us was having a problem, people of every gender, race, and creed all playing together.  In all the years I’ve played, I’ve never seen someone cause a problem at a table by being sexist or racist, I’ve seen people cause problems by being idiots, such as turning up drunk to the table and falling off their chair a few times, or just turning up and being a howling arsehole, but that was to the whole table, not any one person in particular. 

Stupidity exists, but for the most part, it’s like orbital artillery, it lands on everyone and lands equal, doesn’t matter who or what you are, it’ll land on you along with everyone else.  Targetted maliciousness, which is what I feel we’re dealing with here, is something that (for my own experience) doesn’t appear at the table much because a smack in the mouth often offends, and if the person being offended doesn’t do the smacking, someone else at the table or the GM usually does because what we do in Tabletop Gaming is a social activity, and social activities are no fun when there’s an atmosphere at the table.

I’m told by many that there are problems in the RPG world, and given that I’m white and a man, it could be that I don’t see them because my skin colour and gender has blinded me to them, but I don’t think that’s the case (but then I would think that, wouldn’t I?), but when I ask if I can help, I’m told no, that people have to sort these things out and not have me charging in there to “Rescue” them.


I’m lying if I say that, because it’s not fine for people to have problems and not have others on hand to help them, I was brought up in the shadow of the Coal War, when my country was split into factions and everyone was at each others throat and the only thing that we had was our community. 

Our next door neighbours organised a village fair every year and the streets around all came to it and had a good time because that’s what communities do, and I learned that you should help all the people you can when you can, because there may come a time when you can’t, and you’ll be looking to them for help.  This in turn fostered in me a need to help others, and I didn’t always get it right, sometimes I did it for them when what I should have done was just help them to do it themselves, but I was younger then, and I didn’t know enough to know that sometimes people just needed to get on with it by themselves, and stand ready to help them back up if they fell.

Sometimes today I still don’t, because the need to help people is strong for me, it’s one of the guiding principles that I live by, and I can’t just turn that off like a switch.  I was bullied my whole school life, and I can’t stand by while the same is happening to others, even those I’ve never met before.  I suspect the same is true of many who started playing when they were younger, particularly those of my age group, who would have encountered the same sorts of bastardry that I did and in the same quantities because there was no one there to stop it happening to them.

So here’s my quandary, I don’t think there’s too much of a problem in Tabletop, but perhaps I don’t have the whole picture.  I can’t make a good plan without a whole picture, but I’m in a position to make things better at the biggest tabletop convention in England, I can make things better at the biggest RPG convention in London, and as I take on more conventions, I can make things better at them too.

What I need from everyone else are the things that could be improved, I’m not saying I can immediately do them all, I’m saying that if I know about something, I can try to do something about it.  I don’t want to know what’s happened in the past unless people want to tell me, I don’t want to probe into painful memories, that’s just pouring iodine on open wounds, I want to know what would have improved things, what could have prevented it in the first place, I want to know what would have made it better.  I can’t do anything about anonymous idiots, but in the places where I work, I can make that difference.

I will make that difference

I’ve been hearing about this for weeks, and I want to do what I can, because what I see are a lot of people shouting about what’s wrong and very few asking what they can do, and I can stand here and call the idiots out all day long, but they won’t go for me because I’m no longer the easy target I once was, and because they won’t go for me, it makes it difficult for me to see the problem that everyone else faces, so help me understand what the problems are, don’t look at my gender or my skin colour and tell me that it’s not my problem to solve, give me the same courtesy that everyone else is after, treat me like just another human and let me help...


Wednesday 22 October 2014

Game Review - Samurai Spirit

Next on the list of games from Spiel was something that struck a chord with me, I’m very fond of the Seven Samurai (both as a film and a concept), and I have a strong interest in werecreatures in general.

So a game that allowed you to recreate the Samurai’s defence of the Village but having all the samurai as a variety of werebeasts...

Well, there could be nothing but win involved...

A swift word on the production values before I cover the game, it’s full colour throughout, all good solid counters, the boards for the samurai are thick card, with wooden samurai pieces to represent the health track of the samurai in question.

Two to seven players, optimal obviously being seven, but not required.  The game follows a simple mechanic, with a deck of Raider cards to represent those looting the village and the samurai themselves.  Each turn the samurai take it in turn to take on those attacking the village, with each samurai drawing cards in turn until they feel they can handle no more.  For each card drawn, the samurai has the option to Fight, Support, or Pass.

If fighting, the samurai chooses either to Confront the enemy, in which case they place the raider card to the right of their card and at the end of the round, applies any penalty listed in the bottom left of the raider card.  

Or they choose to defend if they have the relevant Icon available on the left hand side of their character. 

The second option is to support, at which point, they pass their special ability token to another samurai for them to use as they can, with the final option being to pass and play no further part in the combat from that point forwards.

As more cards are drawn, so the odds against the samurai stack up and they have to watch out for going over their health level, at which point a wound is scored.  The point just below it is the one to aim for, at which point they can use their own special ability (Kiai) for their own purposes.

If they go over the level of their special ability, they sustain a wound, if while wounded they take another wound, they flip to beast form which gives them increased health levels and a more powerful Kiai ability.  Another wound at this stage will kill them and lose the game for all the players.

The game is played over three rounds, with the basic raiders being used in the first round, the slightly more powerful in the second, and the Bosses in the third (at which point things get really difficult), because the turn only ends when the raider deck is run out completely.

On first glance, it does look like a game of complete chance, where drawing the wrong card can wound you and then get you killed even faster.  To be fair, the first times you play the game before you get the intricacies of it, that will be happening, and it will be happening a lot.  If the samurai are used to try and play as lone warriors, then they’ll have no chance to beat the raiders except with blind luck, and that’s never a good strategy.


If the Samurai work together, lend support all the time and ensure that they all watch out for each other, then the game is difficult, but not impossible.  There’s a warning in the book that the game is very complex and that victory in the first few games will be elusive, but there’s no warning that you really need to play as a team (perhaps because the designers presumed that the game would be played as the film was written, with everyone helping as they should), and it’s that that makes the interesting part of this game.  Played as a group, with a reasonable number of players, it’s not difficult to get a victory, and then you move on to the hard game, where it’s difficult to get through a turn without people getting done in.

Overall, I like this one, it’s a fast moving game that draws well upon the idea of a skilled few taking on a mass of mooks, and it evokes the feel of the film well.  It’s frustrating to begin with, particularly if you don’t have a group that’s used to co-operative play, but give it a chance, it’s worth working through those first few problems to get to the excellent game underneath it.

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Game Review - Ancient Terrible Things, actually neither Ancient, nor Terrible...

On the back of the post about Essen, I thought to review the games that I had on my list when I went there.  Some of them were things I’d been looking at for a while, some were just things that I’d seen on the boardgamegeek list and thought to take a look at.

Ancient Terrible Things I’ve had my eye on since it was a kickstarter that I just couldn’t put in on at the time (too much invested in other projects to justify the cost).  But when I found it was at Spiel, it was top of the list.

And was it ever worth it...

Ancient Terrible Things is the game of a doomed expedition up a river to the dark secrets found at the top of it.  Players take the role of one of four different characters, the Captain, Journalist, Prospector, and Heiress, as they make their way up the river to see what they find there.  There’s no difference in the characters beyond what they start with, so everyone has an equal chance to make it.

The first thing to look at is the production values of the game, and there’s no other way to describe it, but excellent.  The board and pieces have a matt finish to them which lends itself well to the nature of the game, everything being shiny wouldn’t be appropriate to a game with such a dark subject.  The dice and counters are all good and there’s enough counters to play a four player game and have spare left over. 

The mechanics of the game are simple, each turn the players start at the Riverboat (bottom of the board), and choose which one of the encounters to take a go at.  Their character token is moved to the relevant square and they take the bonus from that square which varies from square to square and will influence players decisions on what they go for. 

Then they have to take on the encounter that is on that square, encounters are drawn from a deck on the board and range in difficulty from the Green, through the Orange and the Red, being easy, moderate, and difficult.  All the easy encounters are drawn first, then the moderate, then the hard, and with good reason, which I’ll come to in a moment.

Each encounter has a victory condition in the form of a dice roll and a number or series of numbers that have to be met to eliminate the card.  Players get three rolls of the regular green dice, but must reroll all dice at the same time unless they have a feat card or piece of equipment that allows them to hold dice, roll additional dice, or reroll only a few.  If they succeed in the encounter, the encounter card goes into their stash and becomes a part of their victory points.  If they fail, the encounter goes into the rumours pile on the deck and they take one of the river tokens on the right of the board. 

The game ends when all encounters have been played through or the river runs its course to the end...

Whether the encounter is won or lost, the character then moves to the Trading post and has the option (if they have sufficient treasure cards) to buy some of the goods on offer there before play passes to the next player.  When all characters are at the trading post, everyone moves back to the riverboat and play begins again, with the character who possesses the map going first in that round.

To help them in their endeavours, the characters have four attributes that  can amass tokens at the base of their character boards, being Courage (Purple), Feats (Blue), Focus (Green), and Treasure (Yellow). 
Courage tokens can be used to buy your way through an encounter for the same cost as the victory points on that encounter, this may seem an easy way out, and in the early stages of the game, they can be used that way, but those using their tokens early in the game may find that they don’t have enough courage later in the game when they really want to be buying their way out of the difficult encounters.
At this point, courage tokens would be really useful...
Feat tokens are used to play Feats (surprisingly enough), with the cost in tokens listed at the top of each Feat card.  Feat cards are automatically replenished when they are used, but Feat tokens run down quickly as well, so sometimes holding on to them till you really need to use them is the best policy. 

Focus tokens are used to reroll single dice from the pool, one die for each token used and you can use as many tokens as you like but when they’re gone, they’re gone, and very often they’re far more useful at the end of the game.

Treasure tokens are exactly what it suggests on the tin, they’re used to buy things at the trading post, no treasure, no swag, simple... 

Five minute set up and you’re good to go on this game, it plays within an hour no matter how many players you’ve got and once you’ve got the hang of it, it plays even faster.  The feat and equipment cards make the game different every time, and there are two levels of difficulty that the game can be played at for those who want more of a challenge.  The dice mechanic is an easy one, the numbers on the cards range from one number at a certain level to rolling five of a kind on a single roll, but if you score the card, you can still do something with the dice left over as indicated below.
After rolling the small straight, the two dice left over could either buy two more focus tokens (Two times the bonus for a high single die) or two more feat tokens (the bonus for a pair)
This allows you to build up resources, especially when you fail the encounter and can use all the dice to amass resources, which will give you a greater chance to buy things or get the tokens needed to beat the harder encounters.

All in all I’ve played this a number of times since I got it, everyone who’s played it has enjoyed it, and while the aims remain the same, the way in which the mechanics are put together makes every game fresh, with no one particular way to win the game that can’t be defeated by other cards. 

It’s produced by a South African company called (Ironically enough for the game) Pleasant Company Games, and they’re going to be producing an expansion to it in the near future.  I met the people behind it on the stall at Spiel and they’re interesting and enthusiastic in the way that people making games should be, they’ve having other ideas and if they all turn out to be as good as this game, there’s a bright future in it for them.

The game can be found on Amazon for everyone apart from England, who can find it at

There is a website for the game at