Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Archive for October, 2010

Reading the text: an interview with Janice Hardy (pt. 2)

Posted by Randolph Carter on October 25, 2010

Here is another interview I did with Janice Hardy, author of The Healing Wars trilogy.  Her second book in the series, Blue Fire, has just been published and she’s currently in promotion mode.  I was happy to be one of the stops on her impressive blog tour.

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Last time we crossed paths you had just published your first book, The Shifter, which also happened to be the first book in The Healing Wars trilogy.  It appears now the second book, Blue Fire, has just been published.  Would you mind explaining what this latest entry happens to be about?

The story picks up a month after The Shifter ends. Nya and her friends are on the run, hiding from soldiers and the Duke’s trackers, and they realize the best way to stay safe is to leave Geveg. They get out, but not in the way they’d hoped and wind up in the enemy city of Baseer. Nya discovers that the Baseeri aren’t any better off than her people, and she gets pulled into the growing rebellion there. 

And where are you with the final book in the series?

It’s complete and with my editor, and I expect to get my revision letter to start on edits any day now.

You also have a story included in the recently published anthology, Eight Against Reality.  Would you mind giving us a synopsis of this tale and how you found yourself included here?

It’s called Man’s Best Enemy, and it’s set in a post-apocalyptic Atlanta after a viral outbreak kills off most of the county. Mutant dogs now rule the cities, and people are struggling to survive. The hero, Shawna, is a teen girl who steps in to take her brother’s place when he falls ill and can’t hunt the dogs anymore. And then of course, things go horribly, horribly wrong.

The anthology is a collection of stories by my critique group. We self published it as a marketing piece, and something fun to do. Almost everyone in the group is published (novels or short stories) and we thought it would be cool to have something we all contributed to.

Are there any other writing projects you’re currently working on that you wouldn’t mind telling us about?

I’m in the very early pre-planning stages for my next project, a YA fantasy about an undercover teen spy. I hope to start that one in January, but it’ll depend on when Shifter 3 is finished.

In your infinite spare time, what games are you playing these days (from the plugged in our even unplugged variety)?

Just finished Settlers 7, and I’m eagerly awaiting Fable 3 (I’ll have to fight my husband for the controller). I’m currently playing Civilization 5 — when I have time. It’s been very busy with the new release. I still play WoW on occasion, and have gotten addicted to the card game Munchkin. I’m not sure which is more fun — playing or just reading the cards.

Are there any online games that have their hooks in you, or at the very least, you’ve got your eye on?

Nothing grabbing me at the moment, but I’m looking forward to DC Universe. The preview trailer looked amazing, and I hope the game is just as good. I could really use a new MMO to dive into.

Last time you provided us with a wonderful story from your EverQuest days. Would you happen to have another gaming anecdote up your sleeve you wouldn’t mind sharing?

Let’s see… I think all my best stories are from my EQ days. One night, we were with the guild doing a raid in Howling Stones. I was playing my enchanter, and the guild was trying really hard to get me this beautiful green robe off one of the bosses there. We’d been at it a while, and were in between spawns medding up and taking a much needed break.

Our tank had to log out for a minute to fix a glitch. My husband came up with the great idea for everyone to run around the corner and hide so when the tank came back, he’d be all alone in a room about to pop nasty skeletons and undead. I think we even had to clear the hallway to do it, so we were rushing to kill off the baddies before he could reboot.

We make it and the tank logs back in practically seconds later. It’s quiet, then we see…”uh guys? Helllllooo? Where’d everybody go!” We all come charging around the corner and for just a second he thinks he’s being mobbed by a train. He was about ready to kill us. I wish we’d had Vent back then, because hearing him actually call out for everyone would have been hysterical. 

He eventually forgave us. And I got my new robe! Even if our tank kept pretending to loot it just to get back at me. But we kinda earned that.

Is there anything else you’d like to leave us with? 

Blue Fire is in stores now, and the paperback of book one, The Shifter, is also out. You can order both through my website or visit any bookstore on or offline.  You can even read an excerpt from book one here.

Thank you, Janice.

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Valhalla unplugged: an interview with Matt Drake

Posted by Randolph Carter on October 14, 2010

Matt Drake is the author of the board game blog, Drake’s Flames.  Not exactly one to mince words, Matt discusses his blog, the board gaming hobby, his life-long affair with it, and the variety of gaming he tends to enjoy these days.  This interview reads like one big Hallmark greeting card.  Enjoy.

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Would you mind describing what your blog, Drake’s Flames, happens to be about?

I started writing game reviews around 2000, mostly because a friend of mine was scoring free White Wolf splat books for writing crappy reviews for RPG.net, and I figured that if he could do it, I could. After a few years of grinding out reviews for scraps, I thought writing for a print rag would make me legit, so I wrote for Knucklebones Magazine for the entire time they were in business.

But the thing I discovered as I was writing for money was that it sucked to have an editor (though I’m sure some of my readers would maintain that I could use one now, especially the anal-retentive jackholes at BoardGameGeek who come down with bouts of chronic constipation every time I use the word ‘retarded’). I wanted to write my way, no holds barred, entertaining and readable and a little bit crass. There are enough dry, mechanical, antiseptic reviews out there already. I wanted to have something fun.

So that’s what I did with Drake’s Flames. Granted, my kind of fun includes whiskey, fistfights and women of low moral character, but I like it, and if nobody else does, well, there’s no gun to their head. I figured that if there were people out there like me, at least a few people would follow along and we could have fun together.

That was three years ago. I’m still having fun. Sometimes I write about other stuff I’ve done, like playing paintball or visiting a botanical garden, and sometimes I just rant about things that irritate me. I try like hell to update three times a week, and I review a lot of games. I don’t always get them for free, and there’s a good-sized stack of publishers who hang up if I call them (don’t call a game a transvestite if you’re not ready to get a little bit blacklisted). But as long as I’m still having fun, I don’t see a reason not to do it.  And I am having fun.

With the huge variety of gaming experiences to be had out there, why board games?

Board games are fun. You can hang out with your friends, stretch the ol’ brainpower, and sometimes play out a story. There are thousands of games to choose from, so unless you have the mental acuity of a carrier pigeon, you can find something you’ll enjoy. Of course, just because I like board games doesn’t mean that’s all I play. I play traditional card games, sports every now and then, bar games, video games, and even the occasional roleplaying game. I like everything. So why play board games? Hell, why not?

What was your introduction to the genre?

My old man was a gamer from way back. I have been playing games since before I can remember. I learned how to play chess before I finished first grade (though I didn’t beat my dad until I was in junior high). I can’t remember a time when I didn’t like games. I cut my teeth on Risk and Space Invaders. My introduction to games started before I learned how to walk.

Would you say there was a pivotal moment or perhaps a game that turned you into a board game enthusiast?

No, there wasn’t one single event, outside being born to a family that played a lot of games. We played Canasta and poker and Monopoly, and I picked up all the wacky hobby-style games I could get my hands on. I used to play wargames with my old man when I was in high school. No one thing made me a game nerd. It would take a lynchpin event to make me give it up, though.

What happens to be your favorite genre of board game and could you mention some of your favorite titles?

I once got a few hundred game nerds riled up when I said that real men play games where people die, but just because it made some people a little menstrual doesn’t mean it’s not true. I like games that recreate violence, though my favorites are dungeon crawls. These aren’t always fantasy games, either – Mutant Chronicles: Siege of the Citadel had cybernetic commandos storming demon HQ with machine guns, and Space Hulk is all about a team of armored marines taking on hideous aliens in a derelict starship. But games like HeroQuest and Warhammer Quest are definitely ripped right out of a bad D&D novel, with orcs and wizards and very angry barbarians, and those are some of my all-time favorites. You get to kill a ludicrous number of bad guys, and tell a story at the same time (though it does tend to be a rather short and brutal story).

Of course, the games I just mentioned are out of print and hard to find, but there are still people making cool dungeon crawlers. Incursion has Nazi zombies in an underground lab, and Claustrophobia brings back the demons with a very non-standard hunt through the tunnels of Hell. In Last Night on Earth, the dungeon is the whole town, and you spend the game battling the mindless walking dead in a game that plays out like a B-rated zombie movie. You can score all of those right now, and if you shop at the right stores, you can get them way below retail.

Who do you tend to play with and how often do you play?

I have two teenage kids and a wife, and we break out games all the time. We’ll spend one night taking turns playing console games (my wife is playing Fable II, my daughter likes Animal Crossing, and my son and I are playing Midnight Club: LA). Then the next night we’ll break out Defenders of the Realm or Dominion or whatever else we’re enjoying at the time, and spend a couple hours completely unplugged (unless I get an email on my Blackberry or my daughter is busy texting her friends).

I also have a group that meets every Saturday, created for the exclusive purpose of helping me play the games I have to review. One really good friend is my go-to guy for two-player games, but everyone in the group is a really good sport. We have played some absolutely horrible games, and aside from the profanity you might expect when playing a game so ugly and boring that you would rather have a colonoscopy than play another turn, everybody just takes it in stride.

Do you happen to collect board games? If so, roughly how many do you have in your collection?

Well, I have a lot of games, but I don’t exactly collect them. They show up at my house and I play them, and then they stay there because I don’t get around to donating them to the Boys & Girls Club until I start having to store them under the sofa. I probably have a few hundred games in my office right now, but that’s just because I haven’t purged in a while. I don’t collect games, exactly. I just keep the ones I like.

Do you ever supplement your board gaming with video games (console or PC)?

Supplementing is kind of an odd choice of words. It sounds like I take a regular dose of board games, and sometimes use video games as a suppository. It’s not like that at all. I play whatever I want. I like board games, and I like collectible card games, and roleplaying games, and basketball and baseball and video games. In fact, I’ve reviewed several video games for Drake’s Flames, including GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption.  If I had to choose one kind of game over all the others, I would find the guy making me choose and punch him in the kidney until he peed blood. Then I would play whatever the hell I want.

Would you say there is any guilt involved in doing so?

Why on Earth would I feel guilty? It’s not like I’m cheating on board games. If I start banging hookers, I’ll feel guilty for cheating on my wife, but games don’t give a crap. You can’t hurt a game’s feelings. Play what you like, and if anyone gives you grief for it, tell him to blow a goat.

Do you see any reason why a gamer needs to choose between one or the other?

There’s no reason I can imagine why anyone would have to choose one form of entertainment over another, unless one is wicked expensive or illegal. Like, if your ideal good time is an eight-ball and Swedish twins charging $1000 a night in a motel that charges by the hour, that might be a good reason to stick with board games. But if I want to spend Saturday playing in a softball league, Saturday night sniping chumps in Halo, and Sunday afternoon playing Cosmic Encounter with my family, I can’t see a downside.

If you were surrounded by a group of diehard video gamers at a cocktail party and they discovered your board gaming tendencies, what would you tell them about the genre in its defense as you were dangled head first over the balcony?

I would say, “If my Blackberry falls out of my shirt pocket and breaks, one of you assholes is going to take a beating.” Then I would tell them to mind their own business.  That, or they could come out on Saturday and play a game with me. I don’t defend board gaming because I don’t see a reason I should. I don’t like watching football, but it doesn’t mean I have a problem with grown-ass men who paint their faces and throw bowls of popcorn when overpaid, felonious strangers in shoulder pads manage to catch a pigskin on television. If that’s their bag, it’s none of my business.

In an age where so many children are brought up on a steady diet of electronic games, do you see board gaming in danger of becoming a lost pastime?

a flaming Matt Drake

I’m not saying board games are as good as sex, but for the sake of argument, let’s say people all over the world suddenly have free access to USB-connected vibrators that interact with their online porn. Would the human race suddenly quit having sex? No! It just means there would be a jump in the sale of water-based lube and antibacterial soap. People don’t quit doing what they like just because there’s something else they like.

There are literally hundreds of board games released every year. Just counting releases from the top ten publishers, you’re looking at a steady release schedule of 10-20 games a month, and if you add in the small press entrepreneurs and the up-and-comers, that number more than doubles. GenCon and BGG Con attract larger crowds every year, and both feature an astounding number of board games. The hobby isn’t in any danger.  Board games are fun. Just because you like playing Final Fantasy MCXXXVII doesn’t mean you can’t still get a kick out of a game of Agricola.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to give the board gaming hobby a try?

Most of America already plays board games. Try and find someone who never played Monopoly, or Sorry, or Risk. Everybody knows Chutes & Ladders or Candyland, even though both of those are horrible games. If someone really wants to try board games, they probably already have. Find some games and play them. That’s a good place to start.

Summary

Pros:

Matt tends to speak his mind.

With his knack for colorful language and countless sexual references, Grinding to Valhalla should benefit quite nicely from increased traffic due to keyword searching.

Cons:

Matt tends to speak his mind.

Not for those who don’t enjoy whiskey, fistfights and woman of low moral character.

If you’re easily offended and made it this far, chances are you’ve already read the entire interview and are scarred for life.

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Valhalla unplugged: an interview with Mike Betzel

Posted by Randolph Carter on October 12, 2010

Although his roots are more in video games, Mike Betzel is very much an avid board gamer these days.  His board game blog Beware the Gazebo is certainly a testament to this.  Here Mike discusses his blog and answers a range of questions about the board game hobby and the gamer culture surrounding it.

Would you mind describing what your blog, Beware the Gazebo, happens to be about?

Beware the Gazebo is my personal dumping ground for thoughts on board games.  I first started in January 2008 after a game of Die Macher when I realized I had a lot of thoughts on the game rattling around in my brain.  I’ve always enjoyed writing and thought starting a gaming blog would be a great way for me to work on my writing skills while organizing my thoughts on board games.

My main goal with the blog isn’t to teach you how to play a game but to explain what I think works and doesn’t work in a game’s design.  I summarize rules or frame them in the context of a mechanic or design principle that I enjoy or dislike, which I find far easier to digest than verbose rules explanations.  As you read you’ll hopefully get a feel for my gaming preferences which helps you further frame my opinions, letting you come to your own conclusions on which games are right for you!

I can’t say I’ve ever had a run-in with a gazebo before—at least not sober.  Why should we beware of them?

Gazebos are dangerous, unassuming creatures.   They will lure you in with their inviting shelter and beautiful architecture, then BAM they catch you and eat you.

You’ve been warned.

With the huge variety of gaming experiences to be had out there, why board games?

Board games offer a type of experience you often don’t find elsewhere in entertainment.  First, board gaming is often a social hobby.  You can find solo games – particularly in the war game genre – but most board games are designed to be played with others.  It works for families, friends and for meeting new people.  At the same time there are plenty of fantastic solo games for those that don’t have an outlet for gaming or prefer to play by themselves.  Second, the tactile nature of board gaming is undeniable.  Loads of artwork, wooden cubes, plastic miniatures, cardboard tiles, buckets of dice… there’s something very satisfying about the physicality of board games.  Finally, board games generally engage your brain, something often lacking in today’s world of entertainment.

What was your introduction to the genre?

As a child I remember playing many of the standard games others played in their youth: Monopoly, Battleship, chess, checkers, Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, Balderdash and the like.  I have fond memories of playing several week-long games of Monopoly with my older brother.  At the end of the evening we’d tape all the pieces down and resume the next day.  My favorite game growing up was Stratego; I loved the tactical play and mind games with your opponent.

I never would have considered myself a board gamer growing up, though, and once I went off to college my board gaming mostly stopped.  There were a couple of games of Axis and Allies on my dorm room floor and I often walked through Games by James in the mall thinking the board games looked interesting but it wasn’t until later that I really discovered modern board games.

Would you say there was a pivotal moment or perhaps a game that turned you into a board game enthusiast?

Heroscape.  2005.  There was a Toys R’Us I frequented that had an awesome Heroscape display.  Every time I walked past I would stop and stare; it was one of the coolest-looking things I had ever seen.  Modular hex-shaped terrain, sweet pre-painted miniatures of all types… it was a thing of beauty.  I’m not quite sure why Heroscape’s look resonated with me as I didn’t even really know what miniatures games or modern board games were at the time.  I’m a big fan of fantasy and science fiction, though, and Heroscape certainly melds those two genres together.  Eventually I broke down, bought it and introduced it to a friend I thought might enjoy it as well.  We instantly fell in love and dove in deep.

While exploring the online Heroscape community I discovered BoardGameGeek and the wider world of board games.  Not long after I found out one of my co-workers regularly played board games with some friends.  It was all down hill from there!

What happens to be your favorite genre of board game and could you mention some of your favorite titles?

I’m a sucker for big, long epic games filled with theme and cool components.  Runewars, Twilight Imperium and Britannia are three of my favorites.  I really enjoy the feeling you get of building up, watching the face of the map change as armies battle and exchange territories and hoping for a little bit of luck in the dice.  Unfortunately it’s not easy to get four to six hour games on the table on a regular basis.  If we have the time, though, I’d never pass up playing any of those.

When it comes to slightly less epic experiences I often enjoy games heavy on tactics and a touch of luck.  Railroad Tycoon (with the Europe or England maps), El Grande, Homesteaders, Dominion, Shogun and Ra are all fantastic.  I’m also a huge fan of cooperative and semi-cooperative games like Battlestar Galatica, Saboteur, Pandemic and Defenders of the Realm.

Who do you tend to play with and how often do you play?

I have two groups I play with regularly and was introduced to both through friends.  One group plays pretty much every Monday, the other usually gets together later in the week although we usually don’t play every week.  We’ll also get the occasional weekend game in and I’ll get together with a buddy for some two player games from time to time as well.  I’ve met lots of great people and made some very good friends through gaming!

I’ve lived in Madison, WI for the past six years and there’s also a fantastic board game community here.  Outside of my main game groups there are plenty of opportunities to play games with others.  I don’t do much gaming outside of my group of friends due to time but it’s great knowing I’ll have no problem finding people to play with!

Do you happen to collect board games?  If so, roughly how many do you have in your collection?

I certainly have a healthy board game collection – 111 not counting expansions according to BoardGameGeek – but I wouldn’t consider myself a collector.  I’ve done a fair amount of trading games via BoardGameGeek; if I haven’t played a game in awhile I’ll likely trade it off for something else.  I don’t see value in keeping games around that aren’t hitting the table and I don’t have the desire to seek out hard-to-find games simply for the sake of owning them.

However, I am a little crazy when it comes to organizing my games.  I think I may be single-handedly keeping the plastic baggie industry going and I love Plano boxes.  Time spent setting up and tearing down games is time not spent playing so I like to organize as much as possible.  My friends now refer to organizing your games as “Betzel-izing”.  Most game inserts are useless for actually keeping the components so I toss most of those out.  That probably makes most collectors cringe.

Do you ever supplement your board gaming with video games (console or PC)?

Absolutely! Video games were my first true love. I have faint memories of playing our Pong machine when I was very little, but the Atari 2600 and Apple //c were my real introductions to gaming.  I’m not sure there are words to describe my excitement when we got the Atari 2600 for Christmas; Pac-Man never looked so good or played so well, even though that was such a terrible port!

I certainly spent a lot of time with Pitfall, Yars’ Revenge, Night Driver, Boxing, Dig Dug, Space Invaders and many more on the Atari 2600, but The Bard’s Tale series of RPGs on the Apple //c really cemented my love for video games (and all things fantasy).  I was probably around 7 years old when I first played the original Bard’s Tale and was instantly hooked.  It not only showed me video games could have a level of depth I never imagined but also got me interested in programming.  I spent hours with hex editors and modding tools giving my characters all the best gear and maxing out their levels!  That soon led me to spending hours coding BASIC programs from Byte Magazine and teaching myself Pascal in middle school so I could make a breakout-style game.  Video games are really the reason I pursued a career as a computer programmer.

Now I still play plenty of video games.  I own all the current generation consoles and recently put together a new gaming PC.  My video game time is a little more limited these days but I’m always trying out the newest releases and love following the industry.  Right now I’ve been spending a lot of time with Civilization V and Red Dead Redemption and am really looking forward to Rock Band 3, the Ico/Shadow of the Colossus high-def remakes and The Last Guardian.

Would you say there is any guilt involved in doing so?

Certainly no more than participating in any other hobby.  The only thing that has changed is I tend to avoid MMOs these days.  I was massively hooked on the original EverQuest during and after college but now I don’t enjoy that level of time sink.  I don’t like games that are difficult to walk away from at a moment’s notice when I’m at home so MMOs generally don’t fit my lifestyle any more.  I still dabble in them from time to time but just can’t get myself to dive in again.

Do you see any reason why a gamer needs to choose between one or the other?

Not at all!  I think there’s a lot of common ground between video games and board games.  They share some commonalities while filling completely different niches.  In fact, if you are currently only into one or the other I highly recommend checking out the “other side”; there’s almost guaranteed to be something for you.

If you were surrounded by a group of diehard video gamers at a cocktail party and they discovered your board gaming tendencies, what would you tell them about the genre in its defense as you were dangled head first over the balcony?

Yikes!  Remind me to never go to the same cocktail parties you do.  Seems like you hang with a rough crowd!

I’d tell them that many video game mechanics and designs owe a lot to board games.  Sid Meyer may have never created Civilization were it not for board games.  Fantasy roleplaying games may have never seen the light of day without Dungeons and Dragons which was born from classic historical war games.  Even today video games draw inspiration from modern board games; I know the designers of Sins of a Solar Empire specifically mentioned Twilight Imperium as a source of inspiration.

Also, as mentioned before, the two have much in common.  If you like deep strategic video games there are many board game equivalents.  Fans of twitch shooters may get a kick out of fast dexterity games or highly tactical games.  RPG enthusiasts will find many adventure style board games to be right up their alley.

Finally, platforms like the iPhone are boosting the popularity of digital board game conversions.  The Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Roll Through the Ages, Kingsburg, Medici and many others are finding much success with their digital versions.

In an age where so many children are brought up on a steady diet of electronic games, do you see board gaming in danger of becoming a lost pastime?

Not at all.  Board games are seeing great success recently as popularity grows and higher production values become more feasible at lower cost.  There’s something about the tactile and social nature of board games that I think will always hold appeal.  Humans have been playing board games for thousands of years and I see no reason for that to change.

If anything I think we’ll start to see further convergence between the two.  The Microsoft Surface is a great example of technology that can enhance board games.  I see a future where it will become increasingly difficult to draw the line between video games and board games, which I think is very cool.  There will still be plenty of room and demand for classic styles of both but over time I think it’s inevitable the two will come together.

I also think that board games may engage your mind in ways video games do not.  They help strengthen critical thinking skills and I think the tactile nature of board games more strongly reinforces that for certain types of thinkers and learners.  I fully believe that keeping your brain active is critical to mental health as you age and I think both video games and board games are great ways to stay engaged.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to give the board gaming hobby a try?

A pensive Mike Betzel

Go for it!  BoardGameGeek is one of the greatest online resources.  Spend some time there browsing different styles of games and get a feel for what looks interesting to you.  Once you’ve seen a bit of what’s out there, find out if if there are any local game hobby stores in your area.  There’s certainly something to be said for seeing game boxes in person and maybe even getting a chance to get a demonstration.

Many people feel they have nobody to play with, but I’d challenge them on that.  Start by asking your friends!  You may be surprised how many people love gaming but never discuss it.  Find a game that looks to fit your common interests and give it a shot, you may be pleasantly surprised.

If you are struggling to get enough friends on board, head back to that game store and see if they have a board game night.  I’ve discovered there are far more people than I ever imagined out there who love board games.  Do a little bit of research and you are bound to find a great group of people to game with.

Still struggling?  Start looking up regional gaming conventions (that list is certainly just a starting point); there’s probably one closer than you think.  Don’t forget to look at local video game or comic book conventions as they often have associated board gaming.  No luck?  See if you can find the time and resources to head out to one of the larger conventions like Origins, GenCon or PAX (where apparently board gaming is huge).  You’ll have no problem meeting all sorts of like-minded gamers.

I was leaving work one day, had just received some new board games and got on the elevator with games in tow.  There was a man already in the elevator, probably from one of the law firms on the floors above based on his attire.  He looked at the stack of board games under my arms and commented on how he plays games with some friends.  I asked what games and he responded with Agricola!  Here’s some random guy in the elevator who knows about one of the hottest modern board games on the market.

Seven years ago I couldn’t have named a board game designed in the last ten years.  Now nearly every week I hang out with friends, have a cold beverage and engage my brain with some cardboard on the table.  Does a hobby really get much better than that?

Thanks very much, Mike.

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Twitching toward cardboard

Posted by Randolph Carter on October 8, 2010

Imagine if you will a room with a computer.  On this computer’s desktop are icons for World of Warcraft, Age of Conan, Lord of the Rings Online, Runes of Magic and Risen.  The computer is on but idle. Directly across from the computer is a shelf full of PC games—a makeshift shrine devoted to a hobby that has spanned countless years.

Now imagine also in this room the owner of the computer, a middle-aged man, balding and wearing glasses, hunched over a card table, rolling dice, drawing cards, and flipping through a rulebook as he navigates a plastic figurine around a hexagon board all by himself.

That has been my evening’s entertainment more than once this week.  And here’s the kicker…it’s been fun.

For whatever reason, I’ve found myself lately gravitating toward board games.  Yes, board games.  No, not Monopoly, Clue or Risk.  These are fantasy RP-themed games that have more in common with Dungeons & Dragons than anything else.  And they all offer surprisingly satisfying solo variants.  

Unlike firing up a PC and instantly loading up a PC game, board games often take a bit of preparation.  I don’t see this as a bad thing.  In fact it gives me a few minutes to focus my thoughts as I set things up and come up with a game plan on how to approach this gaming session.

Don’t get me wrong, there can be some disconnect when you try going from years of a steady diet of video games to throwing in the occasional board game.  For me it’s been like using muscles I didn’t know I had (or at least forgotten I had) to make the gaming experience come alive.  But as I’ve said, it’s been a lot of fun and I’m finding myself looking forward to my next board game session.

If you are interested, here are a few of the games I’ve been playing and enjoying:

Runebound

You play as a hero of Terrinoth tasked to stop the vile necromancer Vorakesh from finding the ancient Dragon Runes and resurrecting the High Dragon Lord, Margath. This “RPG-lite” adventure is less of a dungeon crawl and more of an overland encounter-based scenario.  The sense of impending doom this game generates is quite impressive effective.

Number of players: 1-6

Ages: 12 and up

Setup time: 5 min.

Playtime: 1 hr. +

Thunderstone

Thunderstone is a fantasy deck building game where you play as a hero who has been commissioned by the town of Barrowsdale to retrieve the coveted Thunderstone lying deep within the dungeon of Grimhold. In order to accomplish this mission you must enlist the help of other heroes and townsfolk, while acquiring weapons, armor and magic in order to vanquish the evil minions spilling forth out of the dungeon.  For the Thunderstone , at all costs, must be kept out of the hands of the Doom Knights.  Don’t let the deck building mechanic scare you away from this one.  All the cards you need to play are included in the box.

Number of players: 1-5

Ages: 12 and up

Setup time: 10 min.

Playtime: 1 hr.

Ghost Stories

You play a Taoist monk whose job it is to protect a village from a seemingly never ending stream of ghosts and other evil spirits inspired by eastern mythology.  You must rely on the special powers of various village tiles to stay alive and ultimately defeat the formitable spirit of Wu-Feng.

Number of players: 1-4

Ages: 12 and up

Setup time: 5 min.

Playtime: 1 hr.

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