aka pastor guy: the gaming stuff

The really good gaming stuff from my personal blog, aka pastor guy... if you want the non-gaming stuff, you'll need to find your way to http://akapastorguy.blogspot.com.

Archive for Thematic Games

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The Best Diplomat I Know is a Fully-Loaded Phaser Bank...

Mark Jackson
United States
Goodlettsville
Tennessee
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...my review of Star Trek: Fleet Captains is live on the Opinionated Gamers website:

http://opinionatedgamers.com/2011/09/23/the-best-diplomat-th...

a couple of highlights:

- "I know I sound like a broken record – but the theme comes through so strongly from every element of the game. This is especially true for the power adjustment mechanic, which allows you to vary your stats to send power to Sensors, Shields, Weapons or Engines… which makes me feel like I’m sitting in the captain’s chair myself."
- "I think that Fleet Captains does what it sets out to do and does it well – the game gives you a great big Star Trek sandbox to play in and fills it with a truckload of thematically appropriate “toys”: ships, encounter, crew, etc."
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Fri Sep 23, 2011 6:54 pm
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I Was A Teenage Dungeon Master: Too Much Of A Good Thing

Mark Jackson
United States
Goodlettsville
Tennessee
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Video may have killed the radio star, but for me, it was Road to Legend that killed Descent: Journeys in the Dark.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that the already long playing time for Descent was a strike against the game. Back when I was young, single & collecting 1000+ comic books (why, yes, I wasn't dating anyone at the time - how did you ever guess?!), I could happily spend 5+ hours playing a dungeon crawl. Now, as a semi-responsible adult who (a) likes being married and (b) likes being a dad and (c) likes being gainfully employed, it's really tough to carve out that kind of time in addition to my regular gaming group.

But what really put a knife in my enjoyment of the game was the over-complication of a perfectly decent game system. Simply put, unless I was willing to devote a lot of time & energy to the game outside our playing time, I simply wasn't going to understand the rules and/or really be able to make intelligent decisions about the long-term effect of our dungeon-crawling choices.

The Road to Legend sapped my will to push through the "wow - this game can run a bit long" barrier... and I found myself making excuses to play other games when Steve Cates brought it out on game nights. (Sorry, Steve - who, btw, is a great guy.)

I think there's an art to expanding a game - probably something I should blog about down the line. The base credo of a game designer messing about with expansions is lifted straight from medical ethics: Primum non nocere - "First, do no harm."

Now we're sliding into the realm of "what if" (not "what is"), but I think that increasing the number of monsters while creating shorter scenarios would have (a) made the game more interesting while (b) increasing the potential fan base. It certainly would have helped me stick with it.

Anyway, haven't played Descent since 2007... and that doesn't seem likely to change any time soon.
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Thu Apr 7, 2011 8:28 pm
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I Was A Teenage Dungeon Master: The Adventures Begin...

Mark Jackson
United States
Goodlettsville
Tennessee
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Over the next week (or so), I'll be chronicling my journey through the world of fantasy role-playing... and how that impacts the board games I play today.

Plus, I'll say some things that will make you laugh & some things you'll want to argue with me about - stay tuned!


I must start this post with an admission about my sordid gaming past: I Was A Teenage Dungeon Master.

That's right... for roughly three years "back in the day" I ran a rag-tag group of adventurers through a variety of dungeons & forests set in a fantasy world of my own creation. Armed with the board from AH's Outdoor Survival (the map of "the world") and the 'blue box' edition of the D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) basic rules, I spent most of my free time (and some of my class time) drawing dungeons & creating stories in preparation for marathon Saturday gaming sessions & quick one-shot adventures on weekdays after school.

Our crew never got into miniatures - I think because of economics rather than my current excuse, "the fear of painting." Similar reasons kept us from playing too many of the "official" modules - the primary ones I remember are The Village of Hommlet (T1) and the Giant trilogy. (I'm still cheesed off that TSR didn't publish T2 - The Temple of Elemental Evil - until years after I'd stopped playing D&D.) I vividly remember spending my hard-earned allowance money on the first Monster Manual, Player's Handbook, and Dungeon Master's Guide... and using the information in those books to dream up even more diabolical adventures.

Then, sometime in the spring of 1981, I stopped playing D&D. I kept playing Traveller (a sci-fi RPG - that's "role playing game" for those you playing along at home) and a little bit of SPI's Dragonquest, but you could stick a fork in my time with Dungeons & Dragons. (The story of how this happened will have to wait for a later post about D&D... see, I've given you something to look forward to!)

But I continued to enjoy fantasy games... particularly those that captured some of the flavor of D&D. For a while, we played Talisman (2nd edition) on a regular basis. Then there was Warlock of Firetop Mountain... and even Space Hulk, which always had a bit of a dungeon crawl meet Aliens feel to the game. Another favorite was Dungeonquest, which I foolishly sold (along with both expansions) back in the mid-90's. Thanks to the generosity of Keith "I Used To Be A Neutral Good Monk In Mark's D&D Game" Monaghan, I have the base game back in my collection... and another good friend enabled me to acquire copies of the Heroes & Catacombs expansions. (There's another post I need to write... the joys of pre-FFG Dungeonquest!)

In the early 90's, I bought the entire 3rd edition Talisman set... and we spent many happy hours chasing around the board, attempting to defeat the monsters & avoid getting turned into a toad. (Weirdly enough, I never actually played Heroquest and/or Advanced Heroquest. I wonder how that happened?)

Most of those are gone now... Warlock, Space Hulk & Talisman (2nd AND 3rd) all sold at hopped-up E-bay prices to enlarge my oddball collection of "German" games. Every once in a while, I get a hankering to play them, but not enough to give up the pile of other games that they financed. (Dungeonquest, OTOH, is still here... and gets played on a pretty regular basis, thanks to my 9 year old son. I also managed to math trade for Warlock, but it has definitely fallen behind the game "tech" curve since it was published.)

In the last couple of years, the same "wish I could level up a character" impulse has led to my complete & total enjoyment of Return of the Heroes (and the expansion, Under the Shadow of the Dragon)... and, to a lesser extent, my sort-of enjoyment of Klaus Teuber's Candamir: The First Settlers (which is a weird cross between The Settlers of Catan & an RPG.) The release of Knizia's Lord of the Rings didn't feature "leveling" but did include great variety through the use of expansions and an abstract design that wore the "Tolkien" costume with style.

Over this series of posts, I'll discuss some of the newer entries into the field of RPG board games (everything from Catacombs to Castle Ravenloft!)... as well as revisit some old favorites. Come back tomorrow as I talk about my wonderful first experience with Descent: Journeys in the Dark.

BTW, a version of this post originally appeared on my personal blog, aka pastor guy (http://akapastorguy.blogspot.com) on June 11, 2006.
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Mon Apr 4, 2011 12:30 pm
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I Love Me Some Good Color Text

Mark Jackson
United States
Goodlettsville
Tennessee
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Set the Wayback Machine for the late 1980's. I lived in Ft. Worth, TX, going to seminary & basically being a very lonely guy. (This is the time period where I started collecting comic books - amazing how much disposable income you have when you're not dating.)

Most Fridays, I got out of class around noon and hopped into my little blue Honda Accord and hightailed it across the metroplex to go spend with the weekend with my best friend from college. Tim & I spent most weekends of my first year in seminary like this:

* I arrive at his apartment around 5 pm, usually a little ahead of him. I sit in my car & read game rules.
* Tim arrives around 5:30 pm. We head out to eat dinner & play some mindless video games in an arcade.
* By 7-8 pm, we're back at his apartment, playing a game. OK, a lot of games. (There's also a time period in which Tim insisted that I learn how to juggle so we could pass clubs together... this worked out well when we were playing wargames with some serious downtime - while he'd work on his turn, I'd practice juggling.)

We'd pretty much spend Friday night & Saturday playing a variety of games... then I'd head back to Ft. Worth late Saturday night so I could get up & go teach 5th/6th grade boys Sunday School at the little church I attended.

We played a LOT of Gamemaster games (Axis & Allies, Fortress America, Shogun) as well as some oddball wargames (GDW's Operation Market Garden, Ambush: Shell Shock, A House Divided, etc.) and the whole raft of Games Workshop bookshelf box games that were coming out - Block Mania, Blood Bowl, Chaos Marauders, Dungeonquest, Kings & Things, Warlock of Firetop Mountain... and, FINALLY, the subject of this post, The Fury of Dracula.

It wasn't a perfect game - there were holes in the system that you kind had to spackle in yourself with some house rulings & the endgame could drag on forever. OTOH, it was a blast to play and just dripped with theme. I don't know how many times we played - 4 or 5. Not as many as we would have liked, but we managed to waste at least a couple of nights on Rogue Trooper.

Then life intervened - I moved to SE Texas to be a youth minister, then a year later back to Arlington to actually be Tim's roomie (and finish seminary). Oddly enough, living together actually meant less "wargamer-y" gaming, as we both had lives outside of geekdom by then. I started dating Shari Jo the same weekend he took Kim to Baylor Homecoming - and Fury of Dracula just sat on the shelf in our "game room" (the walk-in laundry room with no washing machine or dryer) while we went on with our lives.

In 1990, we both got married & went our separate ways - and we were each other's best man. I was the first to leave TX (heading to Arkansas), but since Tim had bought the game, Fury went with him... to Dallas, then to Tyler, TX, then to Providence, RI... and finally, sometime last year, to a rural area of Maine. As far as I know, Tim still has it.

So it was with a mixture of trepidation and excitement that I approached the new Fantasy Flight version of Fury of Dracula last Monday with my regular gaming group. John (CapAp on the Geek) is our "buy it/try it/trade it" guy - so he provided the game. After about 20 minutes of rules & set-up (much of it feeling familiar), we started playing.

Wow. 3 hours later, as the hunters cornered Dracula in Leipzig at midnight, we managed to pull out a win with Drac only one point away from taking over Europe. We were all ecstatic... it was an incredible gaming experience. The changes Fantasy Flight made were all positives - the game works like a charm and doesn't degenerate at the end like the old version. The color text on the cards is primo... as is the artwork. The playing time may seem a bit much, but I think we could do it in two hours now that we've got a game under our belt.

I do enjoy Eurogames... but it's nice to play something that's theme-o-licious every once in a while. (And Monday was the night for it - we also played Sindbad.)

BTW, I never was good enough at juggling to do clubs on my own, let alone with Tim. He, OTOH, learned enough to juggle torches. My job was to stand there with buckets of water, ready to douse him if he set himself on fire.

This post originally appeared on my personal blog on April 29, 2006.
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Fri Mar 18, 2011 11:00 am
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