Trumps, sheep, and old dice

P.D. Magnus' ruminations on gaming, along with shrill promotion of his own designs.

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Five years of six suits

P.D. Magnus
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Five years ago tomorrow, I released the Decktet. I had finished the design years earlier, but I wasn't sure what to actually do with it. It was just the basic deck, the illustrations weren't in color, and there were only a couple of (mediocre) games. So I offered the deck under a Creative Commons license, inviting people to make their own.

Some people did, and things got rolling. More (better) games followed. As I other people got excited about it, so did I. I coloured the illustrations and added the extended deck cards. I eventually wrote a book and then a revised and expanded book.

I continue to be surprised but happy that people are as interested in the Decktet as they have been. Thanks!



Since the anniversary of the Decktet happens to coincide precisely with International TableTop day, you might be leaving your hermitage and meeting up with other people to play games. Hermit would be a fun but ironic choice.

I've posted the rules for Hermit at the Decktet wiki. The game was previously only in The Decktet Book.

It's a hurly-burly trick-taking game about in which you're a hermit who tries to avoid having people follow you home. Here's what somebody said about it:

Clark D. Rodeffer wrote:
A fantastic avoidance game in the vein of Hearts and The Bottle Imp. You know it's a good game when you're having a wonderful time despite losing badly. Such a game is Hermit.
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Fri Mar 29, 2013 9:25 pm
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The magical mystery box

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Several years ago, when I started to use BGG regularly, I was an active participant in the Chain of Generosity. This simple idea is that someone offers to give away a game, people indicate they are interested, one interested party is randomly selected to receive the game, and that person offers another game so as to continue the chain. I ended up trying a lot of different games which I wouldn't have tried otherwise.

The Mystery Box Chain is similar, except that the offer is more mysterious. One randomly selected interested party will get a whole box full of stuff, with some of the stuff being games. Although they will have been given a clue about some of the contents, they won't know for sure.

Like most of the chains, the Mystery Box Chain broke more than once. There used to be a monster totem that was passed along with every incarnation of the box, but it was lost when the chain was broken.

Recently, Angry Duck (aka Gordon Yu) decided to relaunch the Mystery Box Chain. I was an interested party, and I was the one randomness chose. So this week I got this box in the mail:

From gallery of pmagnus


The contents, spread out on the table:

From gallery of pmagnus


Double or Nothing, Newshound, a Mutant Chronicles Collectible Miniatures Game start set, an X-Bugs set, and a Darth Vader charm to serve as the new Mystery Box totem.

But wait, there's more!

From gallery of pmagnus


Inside the larger boxes were some Basic D&D manuals, The Isle of Dread (strange, because it's the module that came with the Expert D&D boxed set), a deck of Mah Jong cards (a year of the snake promotional item from Home Depot), Mattix (with instructions only in Japanese), Bowling Dice, Werwölfe: Schnupperpack, a set of chinese-style dominoes, some Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, some walkie-talkies, a USB camera, a pedometer, a book of baseball statistics, and an odd promotional item for Time's Up!.

From gallery of pmagnus


Times Up! branded condoms.

And that's what was in my mystery box.

Now I need to summon up a mysterious box of my own. You can chime in, if you are interested, over on the Mystery Box Chain list.
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Fri Mar 15, 2013 9:54 pm
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The Sentinels Scenario Generator

P.D. Magnus
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As I mentioned in the last post, we've been playing a lot of Sentinels of the Multiverse lately. At first we worked systematically through the villains, pitting them against their nemeses and other heroes most likely to face them, setting the battles in environments where the villain was likely to strike. Eventually, though, we had done all of the obvious conflicts and beaten each of the villains at least once.

So we started to shake it up, using Spiff's randomizer webpage. Unfortunately, the webpage is pretty clunky on my iPhone. So I wrote my own randomizer app. I made it as a tool for my own use, but I thought I'd share:

The Sentinels Scenario Generator

Here's a run down of its features:

sauron It is designed as a webapp, to display nicely on a smart phone screen. On an iphone, you can add it to your homescreen and it will run like an app.

robot It caches the content of the page, so you can use it even when you don't have a network connection. (In order to make it small, I went for text instead of graphics.)

goo You can reroll specific choices without resetting the whole scenario. If it gives you a villain you don't have or a hero you've played too much, then tap 'again' to change just that bit.

ninja Because you can bump specific choices, it doesn't require you to enter which things you want to have included. It knows about everything released so far, but you can nix things manually as required.

zombie It includes alternate versions, for heroes and villains that have them. For example, if it randomly selects Baron Blade as the villain than it tosses a coin to decide between original recipe and mad bomber.
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Mon Mar 11, 2013 4:19 am
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Sentinels Express

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I started to write an introduction which explained the trope of making Express versions of longer games and how Cristyn and I have been playing a lot of Sentinels lately, but the following really speaks for itself.

SENTINELS OF THE MULTIVERSE EXPRESS


Sentinels of the Multiverse is a superhero card game which, although it is great fun, uses cards rather than dice and also takes more than two minutes to play. Sentinels Express solves both of these problems.


COMPONENTS

Use standard six-sided dice:
one white die for each hero
one green die for the environment
one red die for the villain


GAME PLAY

Each player rolls the die for their hero. The player who is doing the record keeping rolls dice for the environment and the villain.

The environment disables any heroes who rolled the same result as the green environment die. Remove those heroes from play.

If any of the remaining hero dice show the same or greater number than the red villain die, then the heroes defeat the villain and the players win. If all the remaining hero dice are lower than the villain die, then the heroes are defeated and the players lose.

For example: Legacy, Haka, Wraith, and Tachyon are battling Plague Rat in Rook City. The heroes roll 3, 5, 2, and 1 (respectively). The green environment die comes up 5, and the villain die comes up 4. Haka is disabled by something in the city, because he and the environment both rolled 5; Haka's die is removed from play. None of the remaining dice are 4 or higher, so Plague Rat defeats the heroes.


NOTES

After a large number of games, playing with a total of four heroes per game, we have won a little more than 4 out of 5 games. I calculate that, in this Express version, heroes will win about 83% of the time. So it gives you about the same odds, but in much less time and without all the card shuffling.

If you wanted to add a bit more complexity, you could represent different villains with different kind of dice. For example, Baron Blade is a push-over and could be a red four-sided die. The Chairman could be a red eight-sided die.
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Sun Mar 3, 2013 10:26 pm
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Generally, climbing games; specifically, Fifteen

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I've been thinking lately about climbing games. For those unfamiliar with the label: In a climbing game, one player leads a card or set of cards. Each subsequent player either plays a higher card/set or passes. This continues until everyone passes. Then the last player to have played scoops the cards and leads a new round. Players want to get rid of all their cards, but there may also be points for cards scooped during the hand.

Examples include The Great Dalmuti, Frank's Zoo, Tichu, and Clubs.

As far as I can tell, the name 'climbing game' is due to John McLeod at Pagat. Some people think of them as trick-taking games, but the fact that players run out of cards at different rates makes them different. And even though some of them do reward taking particular cards, like point trick-taking games, the goal of card-shedding is really the more central feature of the genre. I've even heard them treated as rummy games, because players put together sets and try to run out of cards, but (unlike rummy) players don't draw or discard in climbing games. So it's handy to have a different term.

Surprisingly, climbing games are relatively new. When I introduce Clubs to other gamers, most of them either have no familiarity with climbing games or know just one of the packaged-game examples that I listed above. If the lore is to be believed, they originated in Asia during the second half of the 20th century. They are absent from Sid Sackson's classic Card Games Around the World and from my 700-page Complete Hoyle (revised 1991). The first one I learned was Rich Man, Poor Man in the early 1990s, when it was presented to me as being of Japanese origin.

This recency interests me, because climbing games are a template in much the same way that older traditional card games are. It is easy to invent your own, and people who play them are often quick to suggest variants and house rules. Even if the prepackaged ones are obviously recent productions, it seems as if card players must have known about games like this for a long time. But they haven't.

bacon Here are the rules for a climbing game I recently devised. It's very much a work in progress, and comments are welcome.

FIFTEEN

a climbing game of furious bombs for 3-6 players

Objective: To score points by playing out all of your cards.

Components: A 96-card deck with six cards of each rank, 0 through 15. For example, a Rage or Proxy Suits deck.

Zeros are considered low. Suits don't matter.

You'll also need either paper and pencil or chips for scoring.

GAME PLAY

The dealer shuffles the entire deck and deals a fifteen card hand to each player. The remainder of the deck is set aside. The player on the dealer's left leads.

A player leads by laying down cards in one of the following patterns:

d10-1 Singleton: Any single card

d10-2 Run: Two or more cards in rank order; for example: 2-3-4

d10-3 Of-a-kind: Two or more cards of the same rank; for example: 7-7-7-7

The player to the left may either play a higher pattern of cards or pass. Play then continues clockwise.

d10-1 A singleton can be followed by a single card of higher rank; for example, 12 could be followed by 13, 14, or 15.

d10-2 A run can be followed by another run of the same length and ending with a higher-ranked card; e.g. 2-3-4 could be followed by 3-4-5, but not by another 2-3-4 (not higher) or 3-4-5-6 (not the same length).

d10-3 Cards of-a-kind may be followed by the same number of cards at a higher rank; for example, four 7s could be followed by four 11s.

Players may play when it comes to them even if they passed earlier. When all players pass after a specific play, the cards are cleared away, and the player who played last leads.

If a player has run out of cards and ought to lead (because everyone passed after their last play) then the player on their left leads.

F-BOMBS

Here's the extra wrinkle: Any pattern may be followed by an f-bomb, where the 'f' means 'fifteen'.

An f-bomb is a set of cards with ranks that add up to 15 and consisting of exactly one more card than the previous play. It is played in usual turn order, but may be played to follow any pattern.

Example: A singleton 15 could be followed by an f-bomb 13-2. A run 9-10-11 could be followed by an f-bomb 6-5-3-1.

An f-bomb can only be followed by another f-bomb, although the subsequent f-bomb will need to be one card longer.

Example: An f-bomb 13-2 could be followed by an f-bomb 8-4-3, which could be followed in turn by an f-bomb 11-4-0-0. The four-card f-bomb could not be played to directly follow 13-2.

A player may not lead an f-bomb, although the cards may be lead as another pattern.

Example: 7-8 can be led as a run and 5-5-5 as three of-a-kind, but if led they can be followed by a higher two-card run or three of-a-kind. An f-bomb 7-5-3 cannot be led.

SCORING

When you play your last card, you immediately score one point for each player who still has any cards left. Play continues if there are still two or more players left with cards.

Once there is only one player remaining, the hand ends. The player on the previous dealer's left deals the next hand.

The game ends immediately when a player has scored 15 or more points, and that player is the winner.

DESIGN NOTES

The thing that distinguishes Fifteen from other climbing games is the f-bombs: They are sufficiently easy to put together that every player might be able to pull together a few of them. But they are simply added up, so putting together the cards to form one probably tears apart runs and of-a-kinds. They make it unclear what a good hand looks like, since low cards are best for stitching together f-bombs and high cards are best for non-bomb play. They are situational, because you can only play an f-bomb that is exactly one card larger than the previous play and because you cannot lead an f-bomb.

The game has been only fleetingly playtested, and it needs something else.
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Tue Sep 18, 2012 9:48 pm
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Ice weasels: How colors and trains became thawed weasel trios

P.D. Magnus
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"Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flips over, pinning you underneath. At night, the ice weasels come." [Friedrich Nietsche, as told to Matt Groening]

Board Game: Ice Weasels

Ice Weasels, a game about chipping frozen weasels out of ice floes and defrosting them, was designed and developed by Tom Kiehl and me. I cannot entirely disentangle who came up with which part of the game, but the original idea was Tom's.

Tom is one of the hosts of Spielbany, a quarterly meetup of game designers in the New York Capital Region. One morning at Spielbany a couple of years ago, before anyone else had arrived, Tom shared an idea. When his kids eat freezer pops, they always just want to eat their favorite flavor. There are half a dozen flavors in the box, though, so he and his wife came up with a rule which assures that every flavor gets eaten. The pops come stuck together in a line, and the rule is that the kids can only pick a flavor that is at one of the two ends of the line. Tom's idea was to make this into a card game.

Using a Coloretto deck, he dealt out a line of cards, and off we went. We added the option to split the line of cards in the middle, rather than taking a card from the end. The choice only matters if players have incentives to seek out some colors rather than others, so we did two things to accomplish this: First, we dealt each player cards to indicate one colour they loved and another they hated. Second, we said that players could meld sets of matching cards for extra points and an extra turn. The catch is that you can only meld one set per turn, so you could miss out on the chance to score all your sets if you waited too long. The game did well at that first Spielbany, and some people even asked to play it later in the day.

I didn't own a Coloretto deck, so I made my own prototype with hand drawn monsters of different kinds. When I playtested it with friends, they were not exuberant. Tom started to playtest using the small train cards from Ticket to Ride, and he was thinking of it as the rail yard game.

Freezer pops are known to some folks as Flavor Ice, but to other folks as Otter Pops. So I had called it the Otter Pop game from the beginning. Over time, 'Otter Pop' became 'Ice Weasel'. When I was procrastinating on another project, I began doodling weasels frozen in blocks of ice. I finished art for all seven varieties of weasel, and I ordered a couple of decks from The Game Crafter. I sent one copy to Tom and took the other copy to game night with the same friends who had been luke warm on the game in its stick-figure monsters incarnation.

To my surprise, those same friends loved the game as Ice Weasels. With that crowd of casual gamers, the cute furry weasels got them to give the game a chance. If the game had been a dud, then I don't think the pretty cards would not have been enough. But the cards plus the game play was a successful package, and now they regularly request the weasel game.

From gallery of pmagnus


There was other playtesting and rules tuning which had to be done along the way. For example, early versions often led to some player loving the same variety of weasel that another player hated. This gave both of them an unfair advantage, because the former had an easier time getting those, and the latter had an easier time avoiding them. My dad actually suggested the solution, which was to have everybody hate the same kind of weasel. In the base rules, it is always the three-headed, green monster weasel which people want to avoid.
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Fri Sep 7, 2012 4:12 pm
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Christening the blog

P.D. Magnus
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There was a time when almost all of my ruminations on gaming could be posted in the Decktet forum, but I released a number of other games over the summer. I wanted to keep the fragments all together somewhere, and a blog seemed like a suitable canister.

So it goes.

Or... so it begins.

I don't know if I want a Kurt Vonnegut or a Lord of the Rings vibe for the blog. Hard choices.

Excelsior?

Huzzah!
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Fri Sep 7, 2012 4:10 pm
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