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Yet another new years list...

John Paul Messerly
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Sherman Oaks
California
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I didn't really want to do a top 10 list for 2016 because there are already too many of them but I do find that I like looking back at what I was playing each year and how I felt about those games. This makes it very easy to see trends and be reminded of how much garbage I buy each year...

So this year I've looked for a better way to rate games. Instead of giving them a number of stars I've rated them based on categories of future play. The BGG rating system is supposed to represent how likely you are to want to play a game but I find most people use it to rate how much they respect the design or how hyped they are so using that rating system the way it is meant to be used is confusing. This system is a modified version of the BBG rating that doesn't rely on numbers at all. I've also only really commented on the games I'm unhappy with letting the games I love speak for themselves.

...

Will never play again

Battledexx - looked like a great concept but the rules for how all the powers interact made it far too difficult to learn or teach. It also never resulted in the interesting decisions all those unique powers promised to provide.

Japanese: the game - more of a teaching tool than a game and not really fun or challenging. I think this could make a great educational app... the core concept is strong and the card UI is great.

Star Trek frontiers - yuck. Wizkids have the worst rulebook in the industry. I should have loved this but after spending 2 days learning the rules I just found the whole thing clunky.

TMNT heroclix - wizkids horrible rulebook and dials with numbers far too small to read. How has heroclix been so successful? I bought this for the miniatures and decided to give it a try but yuck. I like the idea of abilities changing as you take damage but everything else about the rules are just horrible.

Dungeon Saga: dwarf kings quest - a co-op where the activation rules and super narrow corridor make it impossible to coordinate your actions so only the guy in the front of the narrow corridor can do anything! No character advancement because each scenario is preset... it's Conan with worse components and no push your luck multiple activation system.



Might play again just to be polite

Spyfall - hidden info bluffing games were a huge hit with our gaming group but I prefer ones where you are in character (room 25) this is just too abstract and random.

Anomia - this one was so unmemorable I had to do some research to even remember what it was. I barely remember being forced to think up names if things from different categories and not finding that fun.

Witness - cool idea but very cold and abstract. Didn't feel like we were cooperating or competing... it just doesn't feel like it knows what it wants to be.

Quadropolis - some interesting decisions but no excitement or passion... maybe it's too much to expect a game about city planning to be thrilling but it felt like uninspired unchallenging work. I won't spend my professional time doing that kind of work... why would I want to spend my leisure time doing the same?



Love the idea but not the reality

Human interface nakamura tower - the theme and components are great but the rules just don't work. I plan on trying the game again when they update the rulebook but it will need a lot of work to make it into a great game.

Jim Henson's labyrinth: the boardgame - miniatures are great and there are some great thematic moments but not deep enough for serious gamers. I wish what they released had just been the intro rules and the game came with a more advanced version!

Grimslingers - This was actually fun but very difficult to learn and in the end it didn't live up to the hype. The world is so rich and so full of personality. The game needs more quests, more encounters, and more interesting opponents (that you run interact multiple times). I want to explore this world more but it needs a richer and a more meaningful personal ending to the stories. This may be asking too much for a small card game but the game has so much promise...



Would like to give another try

Mansions of madness: 2nd edition - not a game I want to own but I want to try again. Every time we play we have new players and have to keep replaying the first scenario?!

Warhammer quest silver tower - I've enjoyed this solo and my gaming group enjoyed it co-op. I really like it and would like to finish a campaign. My only concern is that when they release new content they will do it with a totally new mechanic instead of making it a connected game system.

Dungeon solitaire: labyrinth of souls - I really liked the base game but the other versions become to hard to keep track of what all the cards do. Why make a custom card deck for this and not add he rules to the cards. It's too much work to figure out all the custom rules for the cards. I would play again if I could get my hands on custom cards with all the rules.

Mercs recon - I really like this game but the setup time and game length means it doesn't get played often. Need to fix this for 2017.

Myth: journeyman - I played most of Shores of Kanis and really liked it. I will probably wait till the second wave arrives before digging deeper.

Thornwatch - we playtested the PNP edition and really liked it. It's become a challenge to keep up with all their constant cGanges to the PNP components so I will wait till the final release before playing more. Super excited... though I'm hope they find ways to add more RPG elements... even if just background and conversations for NPC's.

Deathwatch: overkill - didn't like this when it came out. I like the mechanics and hidden info but it just wasn't what I expected or wanted so I reacted badly to it. Now that I've had time to accept it for what it is I'd like to give it another try.



I love this game but...

Project elite - this is always a hit but something is missing. The theme is vague, I don't like the characters, and the equipment card rules are confusing. I hope another company takes this idea and does it better!

Dragon tides - a great action game with some of my favorite mechanics but the kickstarter failed to deliver to many backers and the second wave never happened. This is a great game that seems to have no future! The only hope is that another publisher picks it up but with the way the way the industry works someone would be more likely to just copy the mechanics than buy out the franchise.

Song of Arthur and Merlin - this was one of my favorite games of the year but it's been replaced by Rogue Stars for small skirmish and Saga for larger skirmish.

Tanks: panther vs Sherman - I really enjoyed this game but so far my gaming group has shown no interest. I would love to play more of this but there seems to be no scene for it and it doesn't play well solo so it may be dead.

Warhammer Age of Sigmar - The changes to that old bloated system are great and much needed. The constant releases keep the world alive and interesting but for skirmishes I'd rather play SAGA and for my fantasy fix I prefer Silver Tower.



Played it. Enjoyed it. done with it.

Shephy - cut fast little solo game that I've really enjoyed. It's good but not enough depth or interest to keep me coming back.

No thanks - this is our go to filler game while waiting for players to show up but I don't really enjoy it any more... it's become a rather soulless endeavor.

Zombicide: Black Plague - I really enjoyed the scoobie door style chaos chess but after a few games the newness is gone and every mission feels the same.

Deep space D6 - fast dice placement solo survival game. Interesting to learn but nothing to keep me coming back for more.

W1815 - simple and elegant system but not much replay value.



Playing now. Hope it keeps my interest

Thunderbolt Apache leader (1991)

Conan

Pub battles: brandywine

Karen and the pirate island

Rogue Stars



Amazing game - give me more!

The walking dead: all out war

Kingdom Death: monster

Room 25: season 2 (will get replaced by new edition)

Okko

SAGA
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Mon Jan 2, 2017 2:39 am
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Gaming adventures in Japan - 2016

John Paul Messerly
United States
Sherman Oaks
California
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I'm in Japan again for the holidays and looking for new games to discover. Last year I made several rash purchases that didn't end up being very good so this year I decided to do research before making purchases.

- adventure planning service - thumbsup
Shephy / Karen and the pirate island

This company makes lots of small mini games and recently they have been making solo friendly games that include English rules.



Both of these games remind me a lot of Friday. One has the survive on a desert island and eventually defeat the pirates theme and the other has you going through a deck of bad stuff thinning it out and modifying it with each round.

Of the two I'm currently more excited by Shephy -it has difficult decisions (both short and long term) and it's extremely efficient in its component design. Like any good solo game it's quick to setup and hard to master.


I was tempted to pick up the 2 new expansions for Durasure but the game hasn't gotten enough play this year to warrant any more expansions.


- Big league campaign deck - thumbsdown

Yes I bought some English game components while in Japan and I regret it. This is the first time I've seen this set of cards and I got over excited and purchased it without doing any research.

I have to admit I'm not a fan of guildball (too many tokens and to much hit point tracking) but I bought this because I love campaign style bloody sports games! I assumed this deck of cards would bring something new and exciting to the world of miniature sports games that I could use elsewhere... nope.



- 9 square Shogi (image above)- thumbsupthumbsup
so many ways to Shogi

I'm a huge Shogi fan. It's probably my favorite game of all times BUT I don't love traditional Shogi. The static setup and huge board size (much like chess) makes the game too reliant on book knowledge and results in the game overstaying it's welcome. For this reason I'm always excited to see what new approaches to Shogi appear each year.

9 square Shogi is not a new idea. There are 4x4 and 5x5 Shogi variants already but where this game shines is in the cards. Each card has a unique setup (much like tsume Shogi - chess puzzles) for both sides and a difficulty rating. This allows the game to start in a unique way each time and allows you to pick a difficulty that matches the skill difference between players.

This reminds me a lot of a campaign storytelling variant of tsume Shogi I've been working on...

I love the variety of tsume puzzles but am sad that I can't share them with my wife. This allows us to play out a unique puzzle style challenge is a cut throat vs style game.


....... geeky goodness in Japan

My favorite spots to shop for board/miniature/RPG games in Japan are Koenji and Shinjuku areas.

Shinjuku has the Yellow Submarine Hobby shop that has everything from boardgames to RPG's and always has a great selection of out of print games. It's mesmerizing to look at all the classic Japanese out of print games I've never heard of before...

Koenji is very unique in that it has a shop that specializes in miniature wargames (extremely rare in Japan). The shop is called Giant Hobby...



This year I explored the shop a little more and discovered a second floor that was all miniature gaming tables (lots of Age of Sigmar being played) and a large miniature painting area.

There is also another boardgame shop down the street called Sugorokuya that specializes in more euro style boardgames. I tend to not buy anything here because their selection overlaps so much with the Yellow Submarine.



...

I hope you were able to get out and discover new games wherever you are...
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Wed Dec 28, 2016 7:26 am
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Close Air Support system for TAL

John Paul Messerly
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Sherman Oaks
California
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The goal of this mod was to try and get close air support missions back into TAL (Thunderbolt Apache Leader). The original version had friendly battalions that showed up on the sector map but never on the tactical/mission map.



The initial idea here was to try mixing systems from TAL and Tiger Leader to get CAS missions working on the tactical map. Above you can see a friendly infantry squad about to be overrun by enemy ground and air forces.

...

AI logic-

TAL already has the concept of troop movement and has a simple AI system in the 'enemies going to cover' chart. To keep the system simple I'm working with a modified version of the chart that decides how aggressively the AI focus on the secondary target vs the CAS aircraft.

AI damage vs allied ground forces-
For this I'm using the damage markers from Tiger Leader. One of the interesting ideas is to have the effectiveness of the communication between ground and air units suffer as the ground units come under fire...

Stress added to ground units and commander KIA results greatly reduce their ability to coordinate attacks.

Exposed results will keep the ground forces from making use of terrain and building defenses while casualty or mowed down results result in the destruction of the unit.


... playtesting

Before the close support aircraft arrive on the scene the friendly squad comes under fire from enemy attack helicopters. In this initial attack the commander is killed and the squad is suppressed. At the same time the largest enemy battalion gets alerted to our aircraft in the area and scramble for cover in the hills.



Moments later Rock and Rebel appear on the horizon and open fire. A sidewinder from Rock's apache takes out the enemy chopper while Rebels A10 takes out the biggest threats... the SAM and tank units.

The enemy commander ordered his forces to advance and they moved into position to assault the fort. The friendly ground forces take an exposed and stressed result. They now no longer get the effects of being in the fort and now CAS pilots have another negative modifier when coordinating with the ground forces. The enemy commander and his ground forces open fire on our aircraft... but don't do any major damage to either.



Rock takes out the enemy command and infantry in the eastern valley and Rebel opens up on the infantry assaulting from the south. As the dust from Rebel's rocket attack clears he sees a surviving enemy squad overwhelm the friendlies below.





... thoughts

Target priority for enemies - this seems to be a key element. When do they focus on the secondary target and when do they focus on the aircraft. In order to give the CAS pilots a chance to distract the enemy it feels like they need to always be priority. So by simply flying by the enemy they can draw fire from the ground forces.

In this test game I made a special defensive rule for the fort but it didn't work well... instead I should have just treated the unit there as with the normal ridge cover rules.

New fort rule - treated as in cover (can only be attacked from same hex) plus yellow attacks are weaker... for each yellow attack draw 2 chits and defender picks 1 result.

Friendly fire-
Using the cover rules to make the enemy get close to attack ground forces should make for a more dramatic CAS fight. When friendly and enemy units are in the same hex then friendly fire is likely. This is where the negative modifiers from stressed or confused ground forces come into play. Attacks on enemies in the same hex as friendly ground units are modified ( 1 for each stress, 1 if commander is wounded or dead) so the pilots are more likely to miss the target and make devastating mistakes.

I will need to test how far I want to take this... do all misses automatically hit friendlies or do you simple make an attack roll against a friendly for each missed attack.

...

This was fun and really didn't add a lot of complexity. I felt like there was more at stake than usual. It could be interesting to see how ground units recover from wounds and stress over time.

Next time I want to try a helicopter insertion mission.
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Wed Dec 14, 2016 8:05 am
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The Roundtablers and other strangeness...

John Paul Messerly
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Sherman Oaks
California
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Over been trying to play many games lately to focus in on a few games that will be the core of my gaming collection before I start getting rid of the rest. The sad reality is that there are far too many games created out there for me to keep chasing the new hotness especially since (thanks to kickstarter) the new hotness isn't usually that good.

My recent great finds have been games like SAGA and OKKO but today I want to look at one the one game that was never in danger of getting cleared out of my gaming collection....

Bloodbowl

Replay ability is the pot of gold at the end of the game designers rainbow and this game hits gold like no other. Looking through my gaming collection it's definitely one of the oldest but more importantly (despite its age) it still feels fresh and new.

I could spend hours talking about all the things I love about the game but I feel like I've done that so many times in the past... my last post seemed to obsess about how great "song of Arthur and Merlin' was mainly because of its similarities to bloodbowl. So instead let me share with you my new team.



The game does so many things right from dynamic game balancing every match to complex conflict resolution without a ton of math, counters, or even health tracking. The one thing the game often does poorly is make it clear what each figure represents... unfortunately this edition does this worse than many previous editions. In search of more varied and dynamic posing and detail GW lost the read between many of the positional... like the difference between linemen and blitzers being little more than the size of their helmet fins?

So with this team conversion I set out to fix this. Welcome to the stadium the Brionne Roundtablers!

I've used bretonnian knight helmets and their exaggerated crests to help differentiate the linemen from blitzers and help make them feel larger and more threatening. I then added bretonnian heads to most of my catchers, throwers, and the team captain (the guy holding his helmet and shouting). The goal is to eventually name all the players after characters from Arthurian legend.

Bloodbowl encourages playfulness...

There is something about Bloodbowl that encourages people to play with the rules and make it their own. Building teams and watching your players grow and then either retire or die makes the gaming experience very personal... but it's more than that. I've played many scenario based games where players progress and sometimes die but none have inspired me quite like bloodbowl.

Bloodbowl is what inspired me to share my game ideas. From a very young age I started redesigning the games in our house to be what I wanted them to be going so far as to redesign tactics 2 to be a fast paced GIJoe themed wargame with custom tank and helicopter counters. I spent most of my childhood making games like this but never felt the need to share them with anyone until Bloodbowl came along...


There was an early version of Bloodbowl called Kurrunch that had a skill based (dexterity) dice system that was perfect for a sports game. This was probably the first dexterity game I remember playing and found the connection between player strategic skill and motor skill advancement and learning breathtaking. The game looked ugly and the rules were a mess but there was a core idea there that was beautiful. I redesigned the game to work on a traditional chess board and play with 8 players per side and taught the game to my girlfriend. It was a hit! I'd tired to share game areas with people as a kid and the ideas were too random and disorganized to make sense to anyone else... but with this modification of Bloodbowl I finally discovered the joy of sharing game design with others. Since then I've shared several games and spent a few years working with famous game designers in a local playtesting group. It's been an interesting journey to learn how to create games, how to share them, and finally realize that I don't care about being a pro... selling my babies. The rerelease of Bloodbowl has really reminded me of my journey and how Bloodbowl has been there with me through most of it... inspiring me with it strange characters, simplicity, and hidden depths.

............

Random stuff

Shieldwall - I haven't felt like designing games in a while but last week a game popped into my head and I had to get it down. I spent a few minutes scribbling down the ideas as they came and then spent a few hours playtesting them. The idea was to quickly capture the dramatic push and pull of a shieldwall style battle. The game uses only a deck of playing cards and has some nice chances to bluff and push your luck. It has a simple mix of hidden and open information and is about shifting your strength around to anticipate your opponents weakness or to use their strength against them. Unfortunately I started too get to caught up in card layout and art (not necessary) so I've put the idea aside to germinate. I may playtesting it some more while traveling. This was interesting because it's been a while since an idea really forced its way out like that... for too long I became obsessed with becoming a published designer and tried to force the ideas out by my own strength of will. I much prefer this approach.

Sherman Leader - one of my favorite designers is Dan Versen and he has an new Kickstarter coming soon. To my horror I haven't been excited about any of his games recently (I really want to support him) and I'm disappointed because he keeps avoiding the game I really want him to make. A few years ago he announced Huey Leader and I got super excited. I don't really want a game set in Vietnam but I do want a game that captures the drama and difficulty of air and ground units working together. I don't know if such a game will ever get made so I've decided to start working on my own variant... a combination of Thunderbolt Apache Leader that actually has ground troops on the map as well. Air strikes would need to take friendly positions into account and come in under fire to pull out ground forces.

Sometimes you have to stop complaining that someone isn't making your dream game and just make it yourself...
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Tue Dec 13, 2016 6:10 am
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Skirmish campaign showdown - SAGA vs SAM

John Paul Messerly
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Sherman Oaks
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I've been searching for the ultimate skirmish rule system for a long time. In order to narrow the search down I decided I was looking to play skirmish campaigns in the Arthurian period (with options to play mythic or historical versions of the time period).

I've been playtesting SAGA dark ages (the Arthurian suppliment isn't out yet) and SAM ( the song of Arthur and Merlin). Both have very simple but deep rule systems and both have campaign modes added in later supplements.

SAGA adds campaign rules in - the age of the wolf
SAM adds campaign rules in - Talespinner issue two

...

What do I like and dislike about both systems...

...



Song of Arthur and Merlin
SAM is bloodbowl with swords in half the time!
Scale 5-12 miniatures

Overview-
Ok that sounds like a strange way to describe a skirmish wargame but just listen. There is no wound tracking... a single good hit could kill any mortal character but it rarely does. The usual result is that the winner either pushes them backwards and may follow up or they knock them down. Once knocked down they become much easier to kill. The game does this in a simpler way than bloodbowl deciding on the outcome based on odd/even results rather than using custom dice. You need to have 2x the damage output as the victim to kill outright and 3x gives a gruesome kill (causing moral tests).

The activation system is like bloodbowl in that it is "you go I go' with the chance of turnovers cutting your activations short. Each character rolls 1-3 dice to activate and can do an action for each success. A failure gives the opponent a chance to do an interrupt action and 2 failures causes a turnover.

Lastly the campaign system has injury and upgrade systems that feel right out of bloodbowl from the stat upgrades to the inevitable deaths. Yes I know mordheim had this two but the balance and speed really makes it feel more like bloodbowl.



Best-
Every action is extremely tense because of the turnover/interrupt rules. The game is rich in theme but very simple in mechanics and stats. Each character only has 2 stats... quality and combat. Characters will have special abilities that make them unique (much like bloodbowl). Another important distinction is that combat is a single roll... there is no to wound or armor save! The game does a great job of offering mythic, historical, and Hollywood versions of the setting and the campaign offers lots of interesting quests and challenges.

Worst-
The combat system is very exciting and simple BUT also awkward in a way. It feels a lot like bloodbowl but is more mathy than I like. You roll a single d6 and add your combat skill plus modifiers. That's not a ton of math but because you do that every time it distracts from the epic action and mood. Mathy combat resolution is the norm but I find that it really annoys me. I ended up making these...



My solution to this is to make cards for all the characters with squares that show their strength in pips and a square to put the rolled dice... this means I don't have to hunt down the characters stats after rolling because everything is right there. While I said the resolution system is simpler than bloodbowl I prefer the bloodbowl system because you do the math (compare strength) at the start and then only look at dice results at the end. I like resolution systems were you know the result the instant you see the dice results compared to ones where you get the dice results then look up stats and modifiers to eventually learn the outcome.

While units can act both individually and in groups the group movement and activation rules feel unfinished. They work well until you try and do more complex actions like shieldwall behaviors.





Saga dark ages
SAGA is a bloody resource management game!
Scale 20-50 miniatures

Note - Saga is usually played with 28mm individual figures so SAGA and SAM will normally look almost exactly the same. They only differ in number of models. I'm using 10mm units as proxies and that makes them look like completely different styles of game. Visually they are indistinguishable from each other normally.

Overview-
In a way it reminds me of the new Conan game because you are very focused on juggling limited resources dice/activations. This sounds like a big distraction from the theme of crazed Vikings hacking at each other with large axes but it really helps you to feel like a warlord instead of just a gamer.



Ok. This is also "you go I go" with a very rare chance at an interruption happening. In general you will still not get to do everything you want to in a turn because you rarely have enough activations and this gets worse as you take casualties. The resource mini game has you rolling custom dice (think bloodbowl dice again) and using the results to either activate units, use special abilities, get different custom dice results or more dice. So in order to use your epic abilities you will usually need to activate less units.

Best-
The combat is once again very simple with all troops of a certain type rolling the same number of hits and having the same armor value (this is the die result the attacker needs to hit). This makes combat very quick and there are very few modifiers to worry about. Also the resource mini game is very fun and sells the theme of warlord juggling many things under heavy time constraints.

The factions are so similar in stats that you rarely need to look anything up and the real flavor comes from the dice and the ability boards. This is brilliant and adds tons of flavor. Because of this stat simplicity and the fact that most characters have no name or personality... they are just generic warriors in special units... the campaign system takes a unique approach. Your troops (both individuals and units) don't really advance in stats or abilities. They will get replacements and new units will join but it's only the leader that changes and gets better during the game.

Much like SAM all characters only have a single hit point so there is little to no tokens or bookkeeping. The one token type necessary is the fatigue marker... more about this later.



Worst-
I really do like the way battles unfold but it requires you to get into the Saga mindset and really focus more on the custom dice than anything else. The drawback is that the combat system can often end in draws if you don't put all your dice into custom abilities. This allows you to have epic results that aren't just the result of a lucky die roll but at the same time give little opportunity for the underdog to make a surprising comeback.

The game lacks the ability to bring much myth or magic to the game. There is an undead expansion that I plan on trying and some of the dice abilities are names after mythic characters so I guess you could treat them as literal intervention of the gods but the system lacks the ability to quest for a mythic item or in any way pursue the treasure of Britain or its mysteries.

Lastly I have to talk about fatigue. I like how it is used to punish having the same unit activate over and over again and it's great expression of how exhausting such battles were. It also adds a great little mini game where each warlord decides how to spend the opposing units fatigue. The downside is that it requires you to rest and inactivated units don't rest for free. Like I've said I like all the things fatigue adds to the game but I never find the decision to rest a fun or interesting decision. Making resting an action always forces the designer to set hard time limits that put too much emphasis on rushing through the game (imperial assault!). SAGA is designed around fatigue but I'm not convinced it's necessary... SAM would be a much less dynamic and interesting system if it had fatigue.

...

I've only just started playing both systems in campaign mode so it will be a while before I can say more about how well those campaigns ramp up. SAGA is definitely laser focused on the warlord while SAM allows all your characters to come alive and grow.

To me the biggest unknown is which is the more satisfying way to deal with multiple activations because these are key to epic battles. Do you punish a unit by giving them fatigue or do you have them risk a turnover.

What am I leaning towards? The storytelling in SAM is great... any character can come out of a battle as a hero with great stories to tell but while the game system is super simple and stays out of the way for the most part it still constantly reminds me that I'm playing with toy soldiers. SAGA on the other hand doesn't have the same depth of storytelling opportunities and quests but does a great job of making me feel like I am the hero leading my warbands rather than a grown man playing with toys. Honestly neither is exactly what I'm looking for but I've yet to find anything better. At this point I may try and convert some of the quests and mythic content to SAGA and see if I can make that work.

...

Aetius and Arthur - is the name of the upcoming SAGA supplement that will really fit the time period I'm wanting to explore. This will hopefully come out early next year and I pray that it adds these elements. I've found myself playing the Irish warlord a lot because they let you break off 2 characters from your units to act independently and this really allows you to have more named characters you care about. Hopefully we will see more of this in upcoming releases.
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Mon Dec 5, 2016 4:29 am
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Game publishers: biggest winners and losers

John Paul Messerly
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Sherman Oaks
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I haven't updated the blog in a while because I've shifted my focus from slaving away making my own games to focusing on enjoying existing games instead. I still have lots of ideas for games bouncing around in my head but I'm much more critical... less quick to go into full development on a iffy idea. I have a few older game ideas that I still plan on finishing but right now I'm more interested in looking at how and why I play the games I do and learning something useful from that.

We are reaching a point where there are so many great games out there that unless an idea is spectacular then it's not worth doing. Who is doing the best at creating memorable games in this new environment. You could look at sales numbers or game rankings to get the stats but here I'm wanting to look at my own gaming experiences for the last two years and compare them to see which developers are winning me over.

The list of winners is based on which devs had the most games in my list of most played games this year. And the list of losers is based on the devs who's games that were winners last year but are gone almost completely this year.

...

Biggest winners in 2016

-Gale force 9
Sparticus is one of my favorite backstabbing games but it never gets played anymore. GF9 made a name for themselves as great devs with that game but what have they done since then?

Tanks- This was one of my new favorite games this year. Great models simple rules and its flow is somewhere between Wings of War and X-Wing but better than both. The game is easy to setup, easy to learn, and has a steady release schedule. Their organized play events have added new rules (trenches, bunkers, etc) and I'm sure they will continue to add more depth to the game over time.

Superstar Showdown- I'm not a wrestling fan but I love this game. Great components, variety of play styles, simple but deep rules. I love "rock paper sissors' mechanics in games but this game has done it better than anyone else... the graphic design used to show what element beats what is build into every card and I love that one of the elements is movement. Too often movement is treated as a given instead of forcing players to chose between movement and something else.

Why are they winning?
Simple clear rules that allow me to lose myself in the moment instead of struggling with the rules and mechanics. In both of these games I feel like I'm thinking and acting in character.


-Games Workshop
I'll admit it I was a GW hater for many years. For so long they just couldn't do any right and now I'm surprised to find that they can't do any wrong? Maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration... The redesign of Lost Patrol and Deathwatch Overkill were a bit disappointing.

Warhammer Quest Silver Tower- great solo and co-op play with easy rules and a fresh theme... A living laberyth that shifts and changes around you... I'm sold! New releases all the times and tons of variety make this a real keeper. It needs a new villain and a new story/even book but it sounds like they are on their way. Like most of the new GW board games the key to really getting into the game and it's universe is to read the associated novel.

Warhammer age of Sigmar- Simple modern rules... no more comparing stats on a chart! Narrative play! Ability to interact with terrain and buildings! Getting to buy and play with the minis you like instead of spending all you time on boring base units you hate!

Horus Heresy- 40k without rulers or the outdated stat comparison gameplay. Rich conflict and characters (need to read the novel) and scenarios that bring the struggle to life in a way that isn't the same 'two armies run straight at each other' battle over and over again. That is my problem with 90% of all mini games... There's so much potential for epic conflicts but they always just go back to armies charging right at each other time and again.


Why are they winning?
They are giving us everything we asked for... from Warhammer Quest to Bloodbowl and so many exciting new games. Even more important than that they are supporting all these games with new content. The latest White Dwarf had new content for all my GW games. Lastly what I buy for one games works in several other games... This interconnectedness between all their games is key to getting players to try new games. This plus the new content makes me always want to replay older releases and makes them always feel new.

The spectacle is amazing. No other publisher makes being a fan so entertaining. There are exciting new releases, announcements, and leaks every week. They make being a fan very exciting and entertaining these days!


Upcoming devs

Artipia Games- project elite
The Kickstarter fulfillment was an absolute disaster but the game is addictive and it works extremely well both solitaire and co-op! I look forward to what they make next...

Adam Poots- Kingdom Death
This is not one of my most played games even though I love it. The setup time and bookkeeping make it a bit of a chore. I hope Mr. Poots finds a way to make his next game much quicker to setup and run but allows for us to reuse all the great bits from KD.

...

Biggest losers in 2016

-Fantasy flight games
I have a garage full of old FFG games collecting dust. I used to drool over their new releases and bought the monthly LCG expansions for multiple systems regularly. So what changed?

I don't think I changed, I think they did. They looked at the success of Magic and focused too much on copying its release scedule and competitive focus. Their games are riddled with overly complex timing rules and too much content to keep up with. You can't play their games casually anymore... You must study every months releases and memorize all the card contents for the games to even flow well.

Imperial assault- I love the theme and the promise of campaign play but my players were horrified when they realized each mission was such a mad dash to beat the clock that they weren't allowed to enjoy the universe. That is the problem with allowing players to heal at any time... You must give them a hard time limit (dungeon saga had the same problem). Once again this is a game that seems to shine in competitive play. I was worried when they announced that the game would be both co-op and competitive... It means a split in focus and possible a lack of faith in the story/character progression.

Netrunner- I loved this game. I loved it enough to find a way to make an engaging solo variant... But the scene is so competitive that I will never play anything but my solo version. I love the tension, the bluffing, the cold sweats but if you don't live and breath only this game then you can't play it anymore. Is this FFG's fault or the fans? Many computer games have similar problems, the competitive environment can become to toxic that new players or casual players can't enjoy it. There are creative solutions for this but the question is do they care? At some point the player base will be so small that this great game will die. For me all FFG's LCG's have died under their own oppressive weight. Too mathy and convoluted in their timing timing.

In the end I stopped playing all their games because each game always resulted in a moment where we had to stop the game to look up how two cards powers worked together on some forum or FAQ. There were always strange overlaps in rules that didn't make sense... this is the result of always adding new rules (breaking old rules) in endless new releases. This is the obvious outcome when you copy Magic the gathering too closely.

-Dan Versen Games
I consider so many DVG games as classics that I will always keep in my collection but I don't play any of them anymore! Thunderbolt Apache Leader and Warfighter are great works of art but are they really fun? DVG has created some of the most unique and challenging solo game experiences but his system for layering stress on your commanders in these games can make them oppressive.

This oppressive weight (who says war should be fun) and some serious miss steps in rule balance and production has made me very unwilling to buy or even get excited about his new games.

I respect Dan so much, for me he is the ultimate Indy developer, so it's hard to stop supporting him. I hope he finally finishes Huey Leader some day...


Problem devs

-Mantic
Everything they have released recently has been a nightmare (except Mars Attacks). Bad rules, tiny uninspired miniatures, missing items. I won't buy anything from them that is their own creation. Why was Mars Attacks so much better than everything else? My guess is that the liscence holder held them to a higher standard than they hold themselves to. For this reason I'm excited about their Walking Dead game but won't touch their Space Saga upcoming game.
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Mon Sep 26, 2016 4:41 am
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Happy new year from the far side of the world...

John Paul Messerly
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New Years dinner - sushi and sukiyaki

New Year's Eve countdown at the Shinto temple


...

As well as being a New Years greeting this post is a reminder to myself of another set of New Years resolutions...

- draw and sketch more (especially for my own games)
- finish my last solo game project Rescue Missions... soon to be renamed 'The Far Side of the Galaxy'.
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Thu Dec 31, 2015 11:28 pm
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Looking back - My most played games of 2015

John Paul Messerly
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I'm not going to make this a normal top 10 list but more a hit list of items that surprised me...

1 - the biggest surprise is what ended up being my number one most played game of the year...

Age of Sigmar with 17 plays! I like Age of Sigmar but not nearly as much as other miniature games in my collection like the next entry.

2 - the second biggest surprise is that my favorite miniature game only got played once this year....

Mantic's Mars Attacks only got 1 play all year. I spent a lot of time with the game painting miniatures and building more city scenery but I didn't do much playing. I will need to fix this next year.

3 - the next surprise is how much I played games I don't expect to ever play again....

Codenames got played 13 times (I think I must have tracked number of cards rather than matches) I've begun to hate this game... It's competitive but lacks any balance what so ever. It would be a much better game if it didn't focus on competition... Cards Against Humanity works because it's just about laughing with friends. For some reason when this gets to the table there seems to be more focus on winning than laughing.

Tiger Leader (15 plays) was a favorite of mine for a while. Great random layouts and surprising AI movement... But in the end I'd rather play other DVG titles.

Lord of the Rings LCG got 13 plays and I spent a lot of time and money reorganizing my collection to make it easier to set up. This game is dead to me now that I have Warfighter and the Warhammer Quest card game.

4 - epic fails. These are games I was so sure I would love (many were kickstarters) that I spent countless hours daydreaming about them but in the end they barely got played...

Rise of the Kage (5 plays )
Airborn commander (3 plays )
Arcadia Quest (2 plays )
Blood Rage (2 plays )
Dragon's Ransom (1 plays )
Scribe's arena (1 plays )


5 - bright futures. This is my best guess of which of the games I played this year will get lots of plays next year...

Myth (13 plays this year). The game needed a tighter story line and I'm hoping the new content delivers. Either way the combat/activation system has great tension and it always leaves me wanting more.

Incan Gold (12 plays this year) and No thanks (11 plays this year). fillers used to kill time as people show up for game night.

Dungeon Saga; dwarf kings quest (9 plays this year). This game is not perfect but the random dungeon layout, trap, and loot system are great for solo dungeon crawls so I expect to wear this game out next year. I played a ton of Space hulk with the random layout cards back in the day and this takes that system and improves it in every way.

Kingdom Death monster (6 plays this year). Wow, the AI in this game is amazing. I make my living bringing video game AI to life and this blew me away! The game is so heavy (theme wise) that I may not get around to playing it as much as I want but I really look forward to fighting more monsters and meeting new nemesis'sss.

Horus Heresy; betrayal at calth (5 plays this year). I liked Execution Force (more great AI design) but the lack of new content really hurt it. This game is everything I've always wanted from GW. It's like the stars have aligned and for once everything is right with the gaming world again... The only thing that could make it better is a solo AI system!

6 - AI fetish. Strangely enough the games I'm most passionate about all have one thing in common... Artificial intelligence systems. I don't obsess over social, coop, or vs games in the same way I do for games with rich and surprising AI.

...

This brings me to my New Years Resolution. No more Cool Mini or Not kickstarters! I've been disappointed by every one. I don't consider any of them bad games... they just don't get played.

The big problem is that they produce so many extra minis and expansion content that each game takes up as much space at 10 normal games and I can't afford to waste that much space on games that don't get played. I will donate all my old CMON games to my office to free up space for games that matter.
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Wed Dec 30, 2015 6:00 am
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Gaming adventures in Japan...

John Paul Messerly
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It's been a while since my last post but that's because my animation job has kept me so busy. When things are super creative at work I don't need a creative outlet at home so I stop working on my personal projects. I'm in Japan on vacation for a few days and thought I'd share what games I've discovered...

The legendary miniature game hub:

I've always been disappointed by the lack of war gaming and miniature war gaming in Japanese hobby stores. Card games and RPG games are huge and micro games and traditional board games also have a decent presence. It's disconcerting to go into dozens of game shops and never see a single miniature or miniature board game.

I've always heard about a store way off in Koenji (not actually that far) that had the ultimate miniature collection but never got the chance to look for it. This year it was my goal to find it....


Giant Hobby!

I wasn't disappointed when I finally located Giant Hobby. To be honest I was speechless... I wandered around the store in awe. All my favorite mini games were there.




The selection of hobby magazines and tools were great as well. I picked up new plastic cutters and a set of tiny metal plates used to magnetize small miniatures.




Giant Hobby is best known for their own miniature games (some of the very first from Japan) like Durasure. The owner told me it's pronounced durasueh... su and re with the r mostly silent. I picked up the latest map pack for Durasure while I was there.



After that I stopped by another big board game shop in Koenji but didn't find anything that interested me. They had a large selection of euro games in several languages and a few Japanese games.

I returned to Shinjuku next to visit my favorite hobby shop... The Yellow Submarine. Most people think of Akihabara as the center of hobby and gaming in Tokyo but I always find better stuff in Shinjuku. The Shinjuku store focuses on RPG's and board games. It has a great selection of rare Japanese micro games and a huge wall of out of print games including lots of war old games! I discovered a cool Nausica war game that tempted me for a while. I'd planned on picking up a copy of Shinobigami (a Japanese RPG) but decided I didn't want to deal with the amount of translation involved... I kickstarted the English edition.

So here's what I did pick up. I stuck to smaller games because I'd be stuck carrying my purchases around with me all day on one of the busiest and crowded shopping days in Japan...

A few new Japanese card games



Maiden Island is a small solo survival game. It's a mix of puzzle game (slider puzzle) for action selection and a strange mix of worker placement and dating game. You are trapped in a desert island with 5 maidens that are all in love with you. You must try and make a raft (puzzle slider) and keep the maidens from getting too jealous and killing each other. You can reduce the jealousy of a maiden by going on a date with them. Yes it's a strange mix of concepts but it's also intriguing.


Kiss My Ass! Yes you heard me right. This is a competitive card game where each player commands a division of German forces attempting to break through the Russian lines and rescue allied forces that have been surrounded. The artwork is amazing and it's based off one of my favorite Japanese comic artists. I picked it up for the art but I really like the game as well. Lots of reactions, surprises, and take that moments. It handles fog of war well and really encourages backstabbing. Even though you are all on the same side (Germany) you are competing to come out of the conflict with the most honor and glory to be the one to gain the battlefield promotion.


Story Mode fighting cardgame ー ikki tousen themed
This is a lot like the old Lost World combat books but in card game format. In reality it takes a lot from the newer Japanese editions called Queen's Blade... down to the concept of having clothing destroyed to show the player avatars health. Yes it's a card game with 'fan service'. Picked these up because they were so cheap... $5 each.


More Shogi goodness! I love Shogi and always buy tons of Shogi books when I visit Japan. My shelf at home is so full of Shogi books I'm limiting myself to only one book this year. I picked this book up as inspiration for a Shogi based animated short film I plan on making this year. While the film is inspired by the comic '81 diver' I find the art in that comic too rough and wanted some better reference for story staging.


Last but not least is a bar. No this has nothing to do with gaming but it was so inspiring I had to include it. My trips to Japan are not about acquiring games but about finding new inspiration. This bar is run by one of the most famous bartenders in the world and must be experienced. He's won the top contests for so many years in a row that he's stopped competing. We sat in front of him at the bar drinking and talking to him... trying to absorb everything we could from him. I can't wait to return home and try to recreate some of his masterpieces.
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Wed Dec 30, 2015 3:43 am
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Slowing down

John Paul Messerly
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Last year was a mad rush to finish my new PNP game Escort Missions. I'm still working on the game but I've decided to slow down and take my time to really let ideas evolve at their own pace. I like to take ideas to their obvious conclusions then let them firment for a while and see if I still enjoy the flavor when I return to them.

Escort missions has been going thru that aging process and I returned with a greater appreciation for it. I hate the name and will change it before I make an official BBG entry for the game... (Suggestions welcome) but I'm really getting excited about new ideas for storytelling in the universe. I've finished the last of the random missions and I'm moving on to preset mission developed in 3 mission story arcs. I believe the mix of scriped stories and random quests will give the most replayability while still keeping things simple.

This is the last of the random quests...



... Inspiration ...

My biggest inspirations for this storytelling approach are games like myth and Star Wars imperial assault. I was super excited about the campaign system in imperial assault but found that my group lost interest almost immediately. I wish I understood why... Yes the timed missions can feel a little forced but they still had a lot of great high five moments. In the end the biggest flaw keeping it from getting played is the limited player count.

This leads me back to the other game... Yes the one whose name has become an infamous 4 letter word in the gaming world. Myth. I really like the way stories flow... Yes killing the same spawners over and over again can get repetitive but the moment to moment gameplay is great. I never feel like I'm just rolling dice and hoping the dice don't hate me. As someone who likes to mod games and tell my own stories this game is just magical.

Here's a shot of me playing myth using Kingdom Death heroes and GW hobbit goblins...



The strange thing is that both Myth and Imperial Assault use the same storytelling trick - unlock new quests and add them to your story deck so you create linked stories as you go - but for some reason it works better for me in myth.

... Slowing down ...

There are more new games releasing everyday (or at least there will be once the west coast ports open up again) but in the mad rush to keep up with all the new hotness we lose sight of the classics sometimes. I've been trying to spend more time going back and studying older games by my favorite designers...

Across 5 Aprils is my new hotness right now.


It's an old Eric Lee Smith game that plays out 5 civil war battles in a very small but dynamic scale. I don't play many hex and counter wargames these days because the setup/playtimes are too long. A5A uses very few counters and really focuses on assymetrical battles where one side is constantly trying to delay the other. It plays out very quickly and is always surprising.

Lost Patrol - Jake Thornton has become one of my favorite new designers. The scenario balance in Mars Attack is the best I've ever seen. I was really excited to find that even his earliest designs were filled with great ideas.



Wow just wow. This is an old GW game that plays like space hulk but in a fraction of the time and has far more intereting decisions. The magic to the game is that tiles are spawned only when you can see them and enemies spawn at the end tiles and race towards you. The cool design element is that as you move forward the tiles behind you disappear making it possible for you to backtrack into new territory! This makes the game far more dynamic than space hulk or its many clones.

... What's next ...

I'm trying to ignore the urge to start a new design project. I've done several early playtests for ideas that pop into my head but nothing has lasted past the first playtest. After a few years of putting some serious development time into PNP games I've developed a much higher standard for how great an idea needs to be before I give it any traction. i try to playtest every idea that keeps returning but never spend more time on an idea than it deserves.

The only idea that is really exciting me right now is for a deck building wargame themed on the jacobite revolution but uses the set matching/ push your luck mechanics of Hanafuda (koi koi)! I hove Hanafuda and its core concepts have never been used in a modern game. The idea is that you collect sets from the center each turn (keep collecting as long as you get matches) and then you will draw from this deck for battles. After battles the loser adds junk cards to his deck and continues the drafting process. One of the main challenges is in deciding when to hate draft a card that is better for the enemy AI... In this way it's a lot like Friday where you have to make a sub optimal draft now to keep a dangerous card from coming back and destroying you later.
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Fri Feb 20, 2015 7:32 am
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