The NYC Arcade – A Sheep’s Meow Production

Sheeps Meow Icon

The Sheeps Meow
Image Copyright:The Sheep’s Meow LLC

One can only imagine the amount of overlap among participants of table-top gaming and video gaming that exists. With the exception of big-box events like PAX and, well PAX, most cons and events are fairly delineated between analog and digital gaming.

Enter NYC Arcade— the birthchild of three (or two?) local New York game designers operating under their production company The Sheeps Meow (named after one of the founders animal companions: Sheep) .

Predominately a console/installation and generally digital gaming event, NYC Arcade also hosted a few table-top games for its 300+ attendees (judging by Facebook guests and a non-scientific head-count).

The diverse crowd at the first Sheep's Meow NYC ARCADE

The diverse crowd at the first Sheep’s Meow NYC ARCADE

Overall it was a very diverse and well attended event. The first of what looks to be a potentially reoccurring phenomenon thanks to the team at Sheep’s Meow– an LLC formed last year in 2014 by founders Brian Chung, GJ Lee and … Sheep. Promoting themeselves as a games studio as well as event planning service, I headed out to this first NYC Arcade event, along with a copy my own table-top game Grifter and got a chance to speak to some of the handful of other, local, table-top designers in attendance.

First up: Henry Brown and his game, Splatterbomb.

Splatterbomb is a simple enough game for 1-4 players. It’s creator, Henry Brown, explained the rules before the two of us ran through a simple one-on-one.

Henry Brown

Henry Brown
Creator of Splatterbomb

In the game, players have small sprites or characters placed on a simple grid. Still in the prototype phase, the grid we traversed over was a simple sheet of plastic eraser board. Along the top of the board was the name of the game, along with its creators info while the bottom contained the rules for ‘attacking’ your opponent in simple detail.

The newbie friendly, level 1 board to Splatterbomb

The newbie friendly, level 1 board to Splatterbomb

These rules are fairly simple. On a players turn, you get to move through a total of six squares on the board. Players can at any point ‘attack’ squares or opponents through ‘splattering’ them with pixels– the phrasing includes Splattercapping, Splatterbombing and Splatterarrowing, among others.

At the end of a round, players add up the number of squares they splattered, and get bonus points for reverse splattering an opponents splattered square, and for knocking down an opponent.

It was a simple, quick and enjoyable game, still very much in the prototype phase. It was a game well suited for the venue considering console gaming was the dominant species of presenters in attendance.

Splatterbomb is definitely a game of anticipating your opponents plays, but with only a limited number of spaces to go leaves little room for advanced strategy which gives at obvious appeal towards more casual gamers.

In speaking about the future of the game, Henry, who is also an author and sometimes musician, mentioned expandability along the lines of adding more involved game boards and monsters and items, giving the game an even more console-like feel down the road.

splatt minions

Splatterbomb future development– Minions!

 

The other local game designer I had a chance to speak with was Jeff Lyon. Contrasting sharply with Splatterbomb’s development-phase look, Jeff’s Magnets:The Game was a slick, well-polished, and long-historied affair.

 

Jeff Lyon and his Magnets:The Game

Jeff Lyon and his Magnets:The Game

 

Conceived of over a decade ago by a handful of Brooklyn collegiate friends in a run-down factory, Jeff’s game comes from a most unlikely source of inspiration– shower curtains.

The small, oddly shaped magnets found at the bottom of your typical bathroom drapery served as the basis for a game designed around collecting their odd pairing into groups of four or more.

In Magnets (a simple and straight-forward enough title) players toss a magnet, from one of the over two dozen that make up the game, into a simple area cordoned off by the only other component of the game– a simple belt.

 

Magnets The Game: Setup

Magnets The Game: Setup

 

The magnets, specially designed, weighted and manufactured, either get locked together with other magnets already placed in the area or they don’t. If you lock together four or more, you collect the set. When there are only 3 left, the winner is the player with the most magnets.

Simple. Fast. Fun.

 

Magnets: The Components

Magnets: The Components

 

It is definitely a game that goes in the category of Pet Rock for simple ingenuous obviousness, but with quality production, presentation and an appeal to the collector mentality (something any gamer worth their salt has in abundance) the game has a special niche, especially with a nod towards the budding gamer tot in your life.

Overall the NYC Arcade was a positive experience. Aside from the gamers I got a chance to speak with there were a few more locals in attendance and I myself got a chance, multiple chances actually thanks to the turnout, to play a few rounds of my own game–Grifter. The feedback and reactions I got were great–the year+ long slough has definitely turned out a great product (you can check out the games page here, if you are so inclined).

Following the event I reached out to the presenters for a possible collaboration in efforts considering my own gaming venue and the Sheep’s Meow’s goal as:

Our mission is to support local developers,
make game creation inclusive & accessible,

I’ve yet to hear back– Such is life.

But if the first event is any indication, then their next one, happening only a few weeks from now in Jersey, should be as much fun as the last. So if you are in the NYC metro area, find yourself in need of a console, or table-top fix, check out The Sheep’s Meow Hudson Arcade and,

Game Forth!

 

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Anonycon 2014 Wrap-up & An Interview with a Volunteer

AnonyCon 2014, December 5-7 Sheraton Stamford 700 East Main St, Stamford, CT 06901

AnonyCon Convention Yearly: December 5-7
Sheraton Stamford
700 East Main St, Stamford, CT 06901

These days Gaming conventions are clearly something of a cottage industry.

Hardly a week goes by where I don’t hear about a new con kicking-off somewhere nearby (who would have guessed those plastic ponies I grew up with in the ’80’s would become such a cult among middle-aged males in the early 21st Century?).

But in the Game of Conventions, it takes a special breed of gathering to be able to slug it out over the long haul and persist despite the ever evolving landscape that is Gamerdom. One such Con is Connecticut’s largely homegrown, Anonycon.

With it’s inaugural debut in 2001, Anonycon is one of the longest running gaming conventions in the North East corridor (older even than the vaulted PaxEast: c.a. 2004). Anonycon also boasts one of the catchier slogan’s for a Con; “Games so Good they Turn Undead” and has the dubious honor of being one of first gaming conventions I myself attended not too long ago. (Check out my first tip-toe into the Undeadery Anonycon waters here)

Anonycon's Signature Motto

Anonycon’s Signature Motto
One of Anonycon’s Classic Tee’s
Image Copyright: Anonycon LLC

 

Since my first Anonycon I’ve witnessed my share of cons and meets in the gaming world. But it was with an especially warm and fuzzy feeling that this past December I got the chance to return to one of the first  gaming getaways I ever experienced.

This time around though I went with a bit more focused intent as well as the welcoming grins of some familiar faces. I was also able to get a peek behind the scenes at some of the goings on of the con as an official Anonycon Adviser: a title graced unto me by the con organizers for some financial tips I gave the founders during the year and which included some insights into the convention and its unique place in the world of gaming.

Anonycon, like many cons and unlike many cons, doesn’t simply have a long history of running traditional games, but also has a rich and involved repeat fan and customer base, many of whom return year after year for some of the home-brewed RPG gaming sessions put on by the con’s organizers.

With heavy doses of Cthulhu themed RPGs mixed in alongside organized play systems like the ever-present Pathfinder and budding D&D Next, my first outing to the Con definitely taught me that Anonycon embraces divergent systems.

Long-standing designers and writers the likes of which include Kevin Kulp (A recent Kickstarter champ with his TimeWatch game) and Jason Stevan Hill (A wordy original Anonycon GM), and the perennial con-vendor and author Max Gladstone (Craft Sequence), bring their own systems to the con as well as run variant rule-systems arguably less familiar than the big-red-box brands.

 

Max GladstoneProlific and well-known yearly contributor and author usually in attendance at Anonycon

Max Gladstone
Prolific and well-known yearly contributor and author usually in attendance at Anonycon
Image Source:MaxGladstone.com

Some of these systems delve into less traditional gaming territory such as the Scooby Doo Mystery-Comedy games that took place this year under the Gumshoe system and run by one of the originators and co-founders and influence-rs of Anonycon: Anise Strong.

Thanks in large part to the cons guiding principal and organizer, Max Saltonstall, Anise was gracious enough to share some of the elixir of success that contributes to Anonycon’s year-after-year appeal.

***

(paraphrased, a good deal)

    Anise Strong     One of Anonycon's Founders and a yearly Scenario Runner     Image Source:WMU

Anise Strong
One of Anonycon’s Founders and a yearly Scenario Runner
Image Source:WMU

1. Who is Anise Strong and what is your relationship with Anonycon?

I am one of the founders of Anonycon. Anonycon was founded in 2001 by Max, myself, Rebeca, Si and Adam Morse, my husband. We were all Yale Grads.

2. What was the inspiration for Anonycon?

Seeing the success of ConnCon and wanting to create a Fall-Winter convention with high-quality games and a friendly environment open to all.

3. What type of scenarios do you run?

Bubblegum- light and fluffy with humanoid monsters. Also horror games.

4. What type of games appeal to you?

Immersive, dramatist, less combat heavy more emotional or comic. I am system-neutral and not really into dungeon crawl. For genres I like horror and comedy– hence bubblegum.
 
5. Other than bubblegum games, what other systems do you run?

My homebrew- Aalterdam which is a themed fantasy setting. It is a year-to-year evolving setting that deals with specific themes and regions similar to historical periods but with a mythical bent. I have authored 14 scenarios for it and have run them for many years at Anonycon–almost every year.

6. What kind of themed setting is Aalterdam?

One of exploration– for example the Lost City of Gold deals with dwarves, but there was also a themed year with evil vampires who tasted like chocolate. It’s not medieval per se, more modern but with flavors like Aztec, Chinese, Icelandic. There are issues concerning political and social colonialism, and historical references like the Fountain of Youth.

7. What system does it use?

All the basic D&D ones– 3.0, 3.5, 4.0 and Next.

8. Are there any modifications to the core ruleset?

There are. For instance there is a magical Painter class- where a character can paint with a brush in the air– and create illusions and other magical effects with spell components.

9. Aside from the theme and mechanical differences are there any other items about Aalterdam you are especially proud of?

It is a diverse world with gender representation and scenarios and modules designed around real-world issues. Like marriage equality. That was something we tackled in the 2003 modules for the game setting– family trees for nobles. The princely families of Aalterdam had to deal with same-sex marriages and I felt it was important that people in Aalterdam could marry people of the same sex despite problems of biology. We solved that with surrogate parents.

10. Aside from a Convention founder, what else do you consider yourself?

A writer, a runner of games and scenarios and a history professor.

 

***

Anise and the other con organizers where very welcoming throughout the event and helpful with some of the Con background and kind of embody the Anonycon experience.

I did attempt to score some further gaming insights from other home-brew DM’s in residence at the convention but upon such requests for interviews I was handedly rebuffed and/or ignored–such is life.

But once again, overall the con, with its exuberant and warmly mellow hosts was a homely experience, very definitely the con I remember, and the one folks seem to enjoy returning to year after year. So if the winter months seem a bit chilly next year perhaps you can warm up with some good gaming vibes with the folks up in Connecticut at next years Anonycon and experience some Scooby, some Cthulhy or maybe some Aalterdamy and their home-brew magicks yourself and

Game Forth!

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Kickstarter Reviews: Five Moons RPG

Five MoonsKickstarter by Sean K. Reynolds & Gerald Lee

Five Moons
Kickstarter by Sean K. Reynolds & Gerald Lee

If you are like most Gamers of the RPG-variety and you have at least a couple of years experience under your gaming belt then you are probably familiar with the concept of Vancian magic.

Named after Jack Vance and his Dying Earth series, who many consider the grand-daddy of fantasy progenitors, Vancian magic is a system device used as a way of limiting traditional spell-casting classes in the D&D and other derivative rule-sets used in the gaming world.

Through daily ‘memorization’ limits, Wizards and other spellcasters have certain amount of slots or prepared spells they can cast each day or between rests, depending on your system. While this works for beginning adventurers, Wizards still typically dominate these sand-box worlds once they hit higher levels.

Enter systems like the Five Moons.

Five Moons Game Design Goals

Five Moons
Game Design Goals

What is Five Moons you ask?

In part it is a Kickstarter by veteran and legendary Game designer Sean K. Reynolds (yeah, THAT guy) of Wizards fame and Pathfinder boards.

But Five Moons is also a role-playing Game billed by its creator as one of those rare breeds that seeks to dismantle the limits inherent in troupes like Vancian magic, power-creep and counter-productive GM-versus-Player table-talk that can too often dominate a session. A great example Reynolds gives describing this uber-fixation on rules, and one I myself have pointed out at times can be found in such august works as the Pathfinder Core Rulebook which goes into the difference between Supernatural and Extraordinary abilities.

Check out Reynold’s beef with that mechanic here.

It’s a nuanced approach common among rule systems with as much specificity as Pathfinder whose procedural feel often requires such distinctions. Further instances of this word lawyer-ing can also be seen in the need to clarify differences like Natural weapons versus Manufactured weapons, Moral bonuses versus Insight and Competence bonuses, et. cetera, et. cetera.

Five Moons Iconic CharacterArt by Gerald Lee

Five Moons
Iconic Character

Art by Gerald Lee

Reynold’s Kickstarter, an RPG-rules-set currently in funding mode through the end of the month, attempts to shift the focus away from this crunch and saunter into the world of fluff (or munch if you will).

Based on preview videos and the plethora of informative blog posts and discussions the designer has given on the system, whose gameplay looks heavily like D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder, the major differences to the system are additions with things like Boosts, which expands spell memorization and character themes. But the system clearly seems to stay close to its obvious roots with rules most Gamers will find reassuring: things like Initiative feats, Power Attacks, Charge bonuses and Rogues who need opponents to lose their AC bonus to make the game familiar enough to players migrating from these other systems.

Overall the main focus of the game seems to be on re-distribution of power amongst the classes, chiefly making sure that martial characters are power-competitive with arcane and/or divine (primal, mental, ad. Infinum) as characters level. This ties back into the Supernatural vs. Extraordinary analysis, with the work around apparently being to remove the uber-specific and limiting work-salad of rules.

Thus much like 4th Edition, Five Moons clearly asks the question: Why can’t a level 12 Fighters be as badass as Level 12 Wizard?

The answer given by the Five Moons RPG: emphasis on class themes over fantasy physics.

It’s an answer that has already successfully funded the campaign and clearly resonates with Gamers. It’s also an approach that comes with it an intriguing world pre-made to suit the Five Moons rule-set. Check that world out here.

One the other intriguing things about the Five Moons setting is the artwork.

Done by Gerald Lee (yeah, THAT guy), an industry titan whose other works include Ninjak, Magic the Gathering Comics and Iron Kingdoms, so far the style appears to have a definite Pathfinder flavor with a gritty and incredibly inclusive bent. In fact the two main or in D&D/Pathfinder speak, Iconic characters, appear to be a dark-skinned wizardly type and fair-skinned womanly rogue type—not your typical showcase characters.

Iconic Characters of the Five Moons RPG Kickstarter Promo Images Art by Gerald Lee

Iconic Characters of the Five Moons RPG
Kickstarter Promo Images
Art by Gerald Lee

Lee was gracious enough to answers some questions concerning his collaboration with Reynolds, the Kickstarter itself and his own myriad of gaming chops.

***

1.    Why Five Moons and why Sean K. Reynolds?

— “Why me?” was what I was thinking when he originally invited me to come aboard the Five Moons project. I’ve been working with Sean for quite a few years now, illustrating for many of his projects and publications, and before then I was enjoying his writing and game design as a player.

2.    How did Sean come to meet you and at what point in the relationship did the idea of collaboration come to each of your minds?

— An old friend of mine, let’s just call him Matthew, was actually doing some projects with Monte Cook, and had heard SKR was looking for some artists, and somewhere in the mix my name came up. Emails were exchanged and then the next thing you know, we’re signing contracts and publishing art. That was about a decade ago. I’ve actually only had the pleasure of physically meeting SKR once, while he was living in NYC. I gave him free movie passes to see Batman Begins…fitting I think.

As for the idea of collaborating on Five Moons RPG? He just came to me one day and asked me if I’d be interested in a secret project and I said yes. Everyone wants to be part of a secret project and we both have a long running history working together, know what to expect even if we sometimes exceed those expectations, and most importantly trust each other to get our jobs done. The rest of the details were just gravy…really good gravy.

Five Moons Monster Art Art By Gerald Lee

Five Moons Monster Art
Art By Gerald Lee

3.    What about the Five Moons campaign intrigued you the most from an artistic and design viewpoint?

— From a design viewpoint, being able to build it from the ground up was very exciting, not having the limitations of an existing system that has been already published and adhering for the sake of seamless compatibility. After reading much of the beginning mechanics and hearing the direction it was going to go, I was pretty convinced I would have no problems taking the plunge and trying out a new gaming system…which tbh, I generally like to stick to one system and migrate only when the support for it is all but dried up.

Most times artists are brought aboard after it’s been conceptualized so in a way an artist is recreating someone else’s vision. While we’re all inspired and influenced by others we admire, being able to get art direction of not so much how the monster should look but more where they thrive, their behaviors and type of community they live in was both a challenge and refreshing. When it’s more, “they should be a cross between a this and a that…but I’d like to see what you come up with.” That makes every project, every illustration, like tasting something new for the very first time.

4.    The iconic characters depicted on the Five Moons core—do they have stories behind them and who created their appearances?

– They all have stories, Five Moons has a lot more going on behind the scenes that most might think. I mentioned earlier part of the conceptualization for the races and monsters were based on how they live, where, along with some relation to a particular type of animal or element. SKR said, these are the iconics, here are their classes, here is the secret ingredient that makes them tick, and their ethnic background…make it happen. I know what I know and what I’ve discussed w/SKR. I don’t know however if I can reveal anything more than what’s been shown in his blog and the KS page. I am guilty however of giving the iconic warrior and rogue their names along with designing the current look for all the iconics so far based on the original ideas when we designed them.

Paizo Character Copyright: Paizo Publishing Art by Gerald Lee

Paizo Character
Copyright: Paizo Publishing
Art by Gerald Lee

5.    Would you say that Five Moons is similar to your previous work and style or a radical departure?

— Five Moons really pushed me to another level both artistically and responsibly. I had to take a few days to just practice inking to prepare myself for the many pieces to come in the Five Moons RPG. Normally I would just pencil sketch a drawing then digitally manipulate it so it would appear as inked or at least inked enough. I’m also happy to say I’m cranking out the artwork faster than I used to, meeting deadlines with time to spare, and all this whilst raising a family and my day job. 🙂

6.    What has some of your other work included? What would you say your previous work emphasized?

— I’ve done some commercial art. I did some illustrations and ads when I worked designing fashion accessories and jewelry… graphics for web pages, wedding invites, trading cards, greeting cards, package design, storyboards, logos, costume and character design for comics and video games… more or less everything that could involve an illustrator somehow. The majority of my previous work emphasized what the client wanted.

Someone told me it must be cool to be an illustrator, I asked why? He said because you can wake up every morning and say “Today, I think I’m going to be a painter or a designer or etc…” Yeah.

7.    Who or what are some of your influences and inspirations?

— …a long time ago…I had the privilege of apprenticing with Tony DiTerlizzi. I was his 1st apprentice. I learned a lot about myself and the direction of where my art could go. I’ve also worked in the comic book industry and met with a lot of artists and editors, was given a lot of critiques, and encouragement. So there’s a special place for those ppl at Valiant. Inspiration? My family, my friends, and everyone who hasn’t given up on their dreams.

Pathfinder Character Art Copyright: Paizo Publishing Art by Gerald Lee

Pathfinder Character Art
Copyright: Paizo Publishing
Art by Gerald Lee

 

8.    What are some the Gaming genres and settings you have played in? Which are you most passionate about?

— Mostly fantasy AD&D all the way to 4E and now Pathfinder Society, for a stint I tried steam punk (Iron Kingdoms because I had done a few projects for them) and modern/future (Shadowrun) rpgs but it didn’t keep me, since decking into a main frame wasn’t too far off from hearing about someone hacking into a computer, and there’s something more visually appealing drawing/playing a hero/ine fighting a horde of monsters w/a sword and shield than with an automatic weapon. I’ve also likely spent a small fortune playing Magic & Pokemon. I have a Mox emerald if anyone is interested.

9.    What part of Five Moons appeals to you the most from a Gamer’s perspective?

– It encourages out of the box thinking and even rewards them for creative solutions. There’s also a big mechanic on team work. If you want to build the single most powerful character in the system, that’s fine…to play one though, you might be better off just playing videogames though because there are leaderboards for those. Gaming has gained quite a bit of popularity recently along with momentum, it’s not just old skool gamers playing RPGs anymore, gaming is enjoyed and accessible to everyone now. Five Moons has fun for both the seasoned veteran and the curious new comer. No more 20 minute long rules dispute on how to resolve a grapple attack because two players couldn’t agree on how the wording was interpreted. Less time rules lawyering means more time playing and having fun.

10.    What do you hope Gamers and art fans get the most out of your contribution to Five Moons?

– I just hope they like what I’m putting out there for them…and if they want to dig deeper, find the story behind each illustration.

***

    Five Moons     Iconic Character     Art by Gerald Lee

Five Moons
Iconic Character
Art by Gerald Lee

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RPG Review – How We Came to Live Here

Brennan Taylor's Anasazi-like RPG How We Came to Live Here Copyright: Galileo Games

How We Came to Live Here
Brennan Taylor
Copyright: Galileo Games

Despite once being nearly wiped off the face of the planet, the Native American culture of the early Americas has a flavor that if nothing else offers a unique experience to Gamers. Brennan Taylor’s How We Came to Live Here is a role-play heavy RPG that ‘takes its inspiration from the mythology of the people native to the American Southwest’—specifically the Anasazi.

The Anasazi, which in the Native American dialect of Navajo means “Ancient Ones” (or “Ancient Enemies”) were a groups of people who resided in present day Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. They’re known culturally for constructing cliff dwellings: rock, stone and adobe mud built homes that were carved into the vertical faces of cliffs and that were sometimes only accessible via rope or by rock climbing. (They’re also famous for having their very own X-Files episode, “Anasazi”– one that implies that their entire culture just might have come from aliens, instead of course being spectacularly indigenous)

Cliff Palace, at Mesa Verde Public Domain

Cliff Palace, at Mesa Verde
Pueblo People cliff dwellings
Public Domain

The world of How We Came to Live Here (HWCH) is therefore set in a distinctly and obviously non-Eurocentric setting that has a hugely different approach to the concept of role-playing.

Similar to Brian K Vaughn’s Saga comic which chronicles a family instead of a superhero, HWCH places its emphasis on the village, community and relationships that exist inside the shared world that players create at the table instead of simply a single party of random adventurers.

The (Game Play) Goals

The unique thing about How We Came to Live Here, like most indie games, is that there is no ultimate character leveling that players strive for.

Instead, players work to create a shared experience with one another at the table: again something no different than any other RPG out there. However the emphasis in HWCH is on creating and building a community full of relationships while at the same time balancing their characters own unique and individual Ambitions. Ambitions are positive or negative experiences within the game world that impact their character on a personal level. The game chooses to define these conflicting goals through its rather interesting Village Web (explained later).

Through relationships and Ambitions, How We Came to Live Here focuses on creating tales, and myths—memories of these shared experiences that are developed through game-play. These memories or stories all take place within the context of this pseudo-Anasazi culture the game is based upon, and overall the game does a pretty great job of facilitating this process throughout.

Player Characters

How We Came to Live Here - Character Sheet Copyright: Galileo Games (Fair Use)

How We Came to Live Here – Character Sheet
Copyright: Galileo Games (Fair Use)

How We Came to Live Here starts and ends with a village. From the outset the game stresses a communal mentality and the very first thing you do in the game is come up with this concept of a distinct and common village from which all characters come from.

The source book, available in-print and via digital download, goes into great length on how to construct a village name that fits within the unique world view of the Fifth World, the pseudo-Anasazi setting of the RPG. Nouns and verbs are the building blocks of naming conventions within the game with Sky Village, Yellow Plains Village or Raging River Village expected iterations meant to embody a village concept. Likewise, PC-names are given descriptive parameters as well.

Following the village name, players choose their clans. And this is where character differentiation first comes into play, and also where the mythology, culture and world-immersion starts.

In the Fifth World mythology of How We Came to Live Here, a make-believe fable crafted by the designer to describe a creation story, clans are given the equal of traits most gamers would identify as racial abilities from games like your standard fare of D&D. Instead of Human, Gnome and Dwarf, you have clans like the Wolf Clan, the Sweet Water Clan, the Sparrow Clan and the Red Earth Clan. Through these unique family lineages, players take on traits, for example famous warriors, spiritual leaders, warm and caring caretakers and others, all of which lay the groundwork for what a player has as a starting concept for their character.

The emphasis with these clan traits is again, the village. Players are asked how these adopted traits will come into play with others within their village. There is no emphasis on magic, ranged weapons, immunity to sleep or other crunch material. Instead there is an explicit description of how clans are viewed within the context of the communities around them: leaders, warriors, spiritual elders and the like.

Following clans, players next decide on gender. Notice gender, not sex.

Unlike traditional gaming, How We Came to Live Here places a great deal of emphasis on gender, with characters being allowed to do certain things within the context of their gender as opposed to their biological sex. While the traditional roles of gender are largely followed, with women being caretakers and cooks, tasked with raising animals and the like while men are focused on dog training, fighting and wrestling, within the game there is a nod towards the transgendered and players have the option of playing a specific sex, but then playing towards a gender that could in fact be the opposite of this, recognizing the differentiated binary of the two, clearly based on historical traits that in some respects were centuries ahead of their time in terms of equality, and unsurprisingly entirely non-Euro-centric in formation– see Two Spirits.

A Male two-spirit engaged in weaving, or as the English and Spanish settlers colloquially refered to them as 'sodomites'Source: FirstPeople.us

A Male two-spirit engaged in weaving, or as the English and Spanish settlers colloquially referred to them as ‘sodomites’
Source: FirstPeople.us

Despite this openness, gender is a pretty important character element in the game and defines specific activities that player characters are allowed to do without consequence in the game world. These activities affect how their village views them, either favorably or as Criminals. Crimes are transgressions the game defines as ranging from as small a thing as lying to outright murder and rape. Crimes themselves are one of the games core mechanics in terms of plot devices and storytelling and one of the most developed things in the overall system itself.

Once this character groundwork is done, ability scores, what the game calls Pools are chosen next. Unlike your standard Strength, Dexterity or Intelligence traits, How We Came to Live Here relies on amorphous groupings of descriptive ones like Skill, Strength (well, obviously Strength is included), Spirit and Faith being the primary ‘stats’ which are then broken down into descriptive terms within these like Household, Motherhood, Kinship and Fidelity. The Pools are shorthand for the games other core mechanic, the Dice Pool (explained later).

Names are chosen next, with nouns and verbs being the standard: so Running Leg, High Laugh and Catches Wolves are the expected variations (likewise, X-Files Cancer-man or Smoking Man plays a nice homage to the native culture, some four-hundred years after the beginnings of eradication). As interesting as the other bits about characterization are this is actually the first chance for uniqueness in the game in terms of character development simply for the fact that it is the first open-ended choice that players must make, but one that can heavily define their gaming experience.

For instance, the character in my current How We Came to Live Here campaign is called, Makes-Good-Arrows (or he was anyway—explained later). The implications in the name are obvious, but somewhat more ambiguous and thought-provoking are the other PCs: Hits the Mark, Loves the Strange and Raging River. Here for the first time the true beauty of the game begins to be felt as players look to really embody a concept for their character, rather than a way of simply playing a rote concept (i.e. the dwarf cleric). It’s a subtle difference, but one that is highly individualistic per player.

How We Came to Live Here - Medicine Kiva Copyright: Galileo Games (Fair Use)

How We Came to Live Here – Medicine Kiva
Copyright: Galileo Games (Fair Use)

Once you have a name your next step is choosing a class—or rather which Kiva Society or Societies you belong to. Kivas are specific membership groupings within a community and are the games equivalent of classes. Their closest European counterparts would probably be Guilds.

However, rather than a warrior guild, mage guild or thieves guild,  the Kivas in How We Came to Live Here correspond to more humanistic duties that these societies perform within their villages.

For example, good hunters can be found in the Dog Society, clerics and wizards correspond to the Ghost Kiva (if they are males) or the Bone Kiva (for females). From the outset you have these Societies full of individuals who are good hunters, metalworkers, holy members, caretakers of the dead and warriors, with rankings within individual societies serving as the traditional and ubiquitous ‘class levels’.  While most of these societies are open in terms of membership and duties, others are secretive and even nefarious in purpose, giving the game the perfect vehicle for conflict.

The next and most important part of character creation is crating the Village Web.

How We Came to Live Here - Village Web Copyright: Galileo Games (Fair Use)

How We Came to Live Here – Village Web
Copyright: Galileo Games (Fair Use)

Players take turns placing their player on a sheet the game provides called the Village Web. They each proceed to create either positive or negative personal relationships with each other character or non-player characters that are created by the players themselves and that exist in the village they created in the first step. And here is what the creation process has really been building up to.

The entire process up to this point has been largely created within a vacuum in terms of character genesis. But what the village web does is force (lightly of course) players to develop not simply their characters motivations, but also how their view of the community will ultimately affect their play style and their characters place in the world.

It is through this Village Web that the entire setting being created takes shape, one that stresses rather some nebulous disconnected hero that exists solely in the minds of the individual players, one that must incorporate the goals, aspirations and connectedness of the other players and non-players in the game itself. It is a great way of inducing shared community building and what really makes the game stand out from other indie games in that players, even before playing are equally responsible for crating the world their characters are going to inhabit and how they will ultimately interact with that world.

The last step is to assign character Ambitions. These are motivations their characters will pursue over the course of the game, things like achieving a higher rank in a Kiva Society, repairing a relationship on the Village Web or even investigating outside threats to the village.

The Mechanics

How We Came to Live Here - Scene Resolution Copyright: Galileo Games (Fair Use)

How We Came to Live Here – Scene Resolution
Copyright: Galileo Games (Fair Use)

There are three principal mechanics that the game uses to implement its system: dual Story-tellers, Dice Pool and Conflict Resolution and Corruption/Crime rankings.

The first mechanic, dual Storytellers is perhaps the best and most unique story mechanic of the game. Unlike most other games, How We Came to Live Here has two story-tellers or Game Masters running a session: an Inside and Outside Story-teller. These roles correspond to events taking place either within the village or outside it, with threats being either village elders, food shortages or other intra-community conflicts and outside threats being monsters, other villages and droughts.

While this sounds simple enough, what it really does is force players and the story-tellers to embody the concept of ‘shared’ story-telling head-on. Rather than a single individual being in charge of the main storyline and in fact the actual outcome of the game, the passing over of the story to someone who may or may not share your view of how things will happen is an immensely unique and jarring take on role-playing. It really decentralizes who is in fact in charge of the game, and does perhaps the best way of creating a truly egalitarian table-top setting. There is no single man in charge, there are two (or perhaps two women even?), who may or may not disagree on everything and the fact that your in-village story may lead in a wildly different direction once players leave the village is both, from a storytellers viewpoint terrifying and liberating at the same time and makes the game incredibly distinct.

The next mechanic, the Dice Pool and Conflict part of the game, the central point of any RPG is both incredibly frustrating and like the dual story-telling incredibly liberating. Rather than relying on numbered outcomes, How We Came to Live Here lies on interpretive results: you roll a set number of dice, special die that the game promotes called Fudge dice, d6’s with faces of ‘+’, ‘-‘ and blanks used in what the game calls Scenes. Scenes are perceived points of conflict where story-tellers describe specific attacks or challenges and must be responded to by players either in kind, defended against or escaped from. These Scenes can be as simple as a conversation to as dramatic as a fight with a Grizzly Woman.

The difficulty in this system is its open-endedness. Dice pools are composed of a limited number of dice based on the Skill pool players choose to interact with the Story-teller with who alternatively composes a Threat Pool. The pools can be influenced by either more dice or dice changing via players Traits, Failings and Corruption points. For example, if you are speaking to a village elder and wish to deny a marriage proposal from their son or daughter, the Inside Story-teller may decide a scene is justified and you must engage in an actual conversation, with dice pushes like “He’s lazy” (Presumably an attack) to which the Village Elder may respond (“So are you”—Interpreted as yet another attack perhaps).

While this sounds simple enough, the difficulty is the emphasis the game places on Victory Points or Victory Dice that players and story-tellers amass during a Scene through either stealing or exhausting them. With uncertainty in the rules over what constitutes an Attack, Defense or Flight combined with what happens to dice within the pool after each attack (is there unlimited number of Attacks/Counter-Attacks allowed; Do you steal Dice from Opponents Pool by choice, random or not at all?) and the openness of story-telling itself combine to make the system entirely circumstantial: In the previous example with the Village Elder, is their response of “So are you” an Attack or a Defense? The seeming in-consequence of this decision carries with it real and lasting mechanical outcomes within the game.

Because once a Scene is over, Victory Points establish things as minor as earning favors from other players to outright killing characters off—hence the importance of getting Victory Points and properly interpreting their results. For example in my current How We Came to Live Here campaign, our group tried climbing a cliff to get to a stone haven whereby the dice leaned so heavily in favor of the outside Story-teller they ended up winning the Scene and were subsequently able to amass 5 Victory Points- result, my character fell and died (Last words: “Smells Like Lillies”—in-game reference).
While this sounds like a harsh system, the likelihood of this outcome happening very often is small, considering that storyteller and player dice pools are so. Similarly in the same game, our characters also encountered a witch high in the Bone society, but due to bad rolls, the interaction didn’t end up in heavy conflict, which is somewhat the point of the game itself- solving conflicts creatively and progressing the story.

The Hunger People - Villains in How We Came to Live Here Copyright Galileo Games (Fair Use)

The Hunger People
Villains in How We Came to Live Here
Copyright Galileo Games (Fair Use)

How We Came to Live Here achieves these goals by focusing on fulfilling your ambitions and avoiding Corruption Points. In the setting, characters are motivated by their individual goals but affected by their communities’ values.

These values involve the consequences of characters performing things as minor as performing a task assigned to another gender to something as heinous as casting harmful magic on another person. It is through giving out Corruption Points and forcing players into situations where these points may be gifted that the Story-tellers provide more than simple conflict but also consequences. It’s an interesting system, one that doesn’t shy away from real world subject matter like Adultery, Sex with Monsters and outright Murder, so the game may not be entirely suitable for younger audiences.

However the Corruption system, with Points as low as 1 to as heavy as 5, synergizes well with the Story-teller concept and the conflict mechanic overall. The game has clear and not so clear designs towards pushing players into thought-provoking and unique, but still challenging Scenarios, short of setting up a land of purely happy beginnings, middles and endings (who would want to play a game of Happy Bunnies doing Happy Things on the Plains of Happiness? Well actually that sounds like an awesome game!)

Immersion and Setting

Fifth World Creation StoryHow We Came to Live HereGalileo Games

Fifth World Creation Story
How We Came to Live Here
Copyright: Galileo Games (Fair Use)

In no small part thanks to its mechanics, How We Came to Live Here is incredibly immersive. From the moment characters are created, it subtly and bluntly forces players to rethink the boundaries and what it is they are seeking to get out of the gaming table.

The book itself is lavish on mythologies, with each chapter started off with a ‘Story of My people’—a quick fable meant to get you thinking in terms of the game and what it is and how it is to be played. There are no clear-cut solutions in any of these myths; rather the emphasis is on communication and courage in solving disputes and conflicts, some that invariably must be dealt with by force, but many that display the folly of such decisions. And this is really how the game should be played.

The monsters, mostly simply other People in the Fifth World who have gone astray and who have become wild, cannibalistic or simply bad ‘magic’ users, all have an indication that they can be reasoned with first instead of being dealt with harshly. More importantly, they all have the subtle implication that they themselves represent how player characters just might end up if enough Corruption Points are amassed. As Harvey Dent famously said “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain”, How We Came to Live Here really embodies this concept, and does so within the context of an unfamiliar but deeply relatable universe.

The Verdict

Apart from its difficult at first to grapple with dice pool mechanic, How We Came to Live Here is an excellent indie story-telling game. It has enough character uniqueness to give the framework of traditional concepts like class, leveling and maximizing to cater to your hard-core gamer but really pushes you to rethink the concept of why we game as a hobby in the first place.

So if your looking for something highly different, highly immersive and highly engaging, why not order a copy of how we came to live here and,

Game Forth!

How We Came to Live Here official website

And for something entirely political:

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A L.A.R.P. by any other name – ABC’s The Quest

ABC's The Quest - Reality LARPingCopyright ABC*

ABC’s The Quest – Reality LARPing
Copyright: American Broadcasting Company*

Quite by accident the other night I found myself staring at a television set tuned to a channel of which I did not know and was presented with the opening scenes to a show of which I was not familiar with.

As the scenes unfolded, with contestants introducing themselves, their names in flowery almost Celtic-like patterns on the bottom telling personal stories of their earlier years, at first I thought this had to be a History channel snippet about Medieval times. Researchers perhaps? Historians or even, dare-I-say-it, Mythologists?

But as the scenes switched into talk of fantasy and the unknown world around us I began to suspect it was perhaps a behind-the-scenes look at the latest Hollywood fantasy flick I was not even aware as being in production.

Wrong on all accounts.

The show, which became apparent to me after watching a few minutes, was a reality series where contestants vied to become the Hero of a group of Paladins in the Kingdom of Ever-Realm.

Heroes in the Lands of Ever-RealmABC

Heroes in the Lands of Ever-Realm
ABC

Wha-?!

Upon seeing this I can only suspect that you would have immediately jumped to the same conclusion I did about the show—the people are LARPing!

And indeed that is the unspoken premise behind ABC’s reality television show, The Quest.

In this new series, twelve contestants venture into the mystical world of Ever-Realm to become the Last-Hero-Standing as they battle it out against the evil forces of Verlox in the kingdom of Saenctum. All of this action takes place in a fully immersive and completely constructed landscape around a castle and populated by costumed Medieval citizenry as well as witches, wizards, monsters and more.

The expanded canon of the world includes the Fates, three mystical beings who banished the historically nefarious being of Verlox, a cross between Middle Earth’s Sauron and Harry Potter’s Voldemort, with the help of an original group of heroes, a dozen Paladin’s from ages past, testing them through various Labors (like Hercules) until a Legendary True Hero emerged. And every time this V’lox fellow returns, the search is reset, with new pallys sought out by the three Fates to do battle with the Sun Spear against the evil Verlox.

The Evil Verlox

The Evil Verlox of the Ever Realm
ABC’s The Quest

The show itself follows the typical format for reality fare: contestants vying to become the-last-man-standing through a series of challenges. The twist to The Quest however, is the blend between fantasy and reality- or as ABC bills it:

“from the producers of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, paired with the producers of “The Amazing Race,” “The Quest” will be a fully immersive experience. In and around this castle, our fantasy realm will come to life with state-of-the art projections, animatronics, prosthetics, real-time motion capture and art direction. The narrative and mythology of “The Quest” is deep and fully imagined, and it has been designed to incorporate seamlessly with the unexpected actions and decisions of our contestants – fantasy comes alive as it never has before in this genre-bending series.”

And as for the folks behind it:

‘“The Quest” is executive produced by Bertram van Munster, Elise Doganieri, Mark Ordesky, Jane Fleming, Rob Eric and Michael Williams. It was filmed on location in Austria.’

In the first episode, which was in all, a rather timid beginning, the contestants entered the Kingdom of Saenctum hounded by horsemen and were given their first challenge which turned out to be, get this:

Firing ballista’s into wooden dummies.

Ballista Challenge

Challenge: Ballista Practice
ABC’s The Quest

That’s right; they suited up in Medieval gear, got behind wooden barricades and fired FRIGGAN  ballista’s!

How medieval is that?

Can you get anymore LARPed out than firing a FRIGGAN ballista?

I’ve been to LARPS and I’ve never fired a ballista, let alone did so in a challenge, let alone did so against wooden dummies, let alone did so more than once– Have you?

Aside from firing FRIGGAN ballista’s, the real intriguing things going on with the show however, and unfortunately it is not the shows chemistry or super engaging contestants themselves or camera-work, is the backgrounds of these ‘contestants’.

Self-professed dreamers and superhero fans, the contestants are, so far as has been revealed anyways, not exactly cut from your typical Gamer cloth.

The Paladin's Assembled

The Paladin’s Assembled
ABC’s The Quest

They are regular people, and by regular, I mean non-RPG/LARPers: i.e. non-Gamers. They are waiters, real-estate folk, teachers, an MMA fighter (that’s right a Real-life FIGHTER, (Level 4+ I imagine)), assistants and other non-gamers galore.

Now given this, I’ve already come across a review about the believability of these folks’ commitment to their roles.

Which reminded me of the mild outcry over Porn Stars playing D&D as being a horrible representation of the hobby to the public at-large, which was simultaneously seen as  disingenuous all-the-same (never mind the creators own inflammatory history within the community itself).

The issue is really though, and always is, about the legitimacy of the ‘non-gamer’ who engages in Gaming culture.

The World of Ever Realm

The World of Ever Realm – Non-Gamers as LARPers
ABC’s The Quest

This is a reoccurring and thorny issue amongst any group that prides itself on exclusivity and uber-competence. But for me what is so potentially exciting about the show is the fact that it is precisely because it is about non-gamers adjusting to a fantasy setting that makes it something worth consuming and encouraging.

There are always the two sides to this issue of non-Gamers entering the Gaming sphere, those who wish for the hobby to remain exclusive and purist, and those who believe it should be more inclusive and welcoming—I believe it isn’t too hard to imagine which part of spectrum of that argument I stand upon, firmly.

Which, despite the lackluster excitement of the show itself, leads to the biggest and coolest thing about the show that I saw (aside from the ballista’s of course)—the FIGGAN diversity!

Take a look at some of the paladins, i.e. the shows Contestants (Heroes):

The Quest - ChristianThe Quest - BonnieThe Quest - ShondoThe Quest - LeticiaThe Quest - AdriaThe Quest - Lina

The show is set in a fantasy realm modeled after the Middle Ages in Europe. But these don’t exactly typify the images of people ripped from settings of this standard archetypical D&D world (well maybe some D&D Worlds)—yet here, on one of the biggest Networks in the world, they pushed aside all the historical ‘sameness’ of Europe and went for contestants who looked like this:

10540550_345387275615062_7129412516023520582_n

What can I say? Awesome; that’s one thing I could say. And I will say it- Awesome. (Care to give it a try?)

But it wasn’t just the Paladins who were of eclectic origins, I also noticed Non-European stock in the extras too (apologies, Background Actors), and check out the three Fates of the realms, the mystical women, more than likely modeled after the Greek Fates and transported Ever-Realm and the ones responsible for overseeing the original Heroes who triumphed over Verlox in the first go-round:

The Three Fates of Ever-Realm

The Three Fates of Ever-Realm
ABC

Notice the ethnicity of the one on the left and of the one in middle (at the highest podium I might dare add. Well La-de-da!)  I wonder who is clearly leader of the group? Can you say, INCLUSIVE? (No seriously, say inclusive—come on now, I know you can)

It was astounding to see, not just see, but how little the show seemed to give a damn about portraying these folks in a medieval setting according to ‘historical’ notions. It immediately reminded me of a website I’ve recently been pointed towards, called People of Color in European Art History—a site that explores how apparently ingrained and pervasive (yet ridiculously ignored) people of color were throughout European history.

Don Miguel De Castro, Ambassador from Kongo to Dutch Brazil(c. 1637)

Don Miguel De Castro
Ambassador from Kongo to Dutch Brazil
(c. 1637)
People of Color in European Art History

But unlike actual history, ABC didn’t stop simply with representations; they seemed almost gleefully joyous at the idea of promoting female stars as the main draw, with over half (seven) of the twelve contestants not just being women but women of various backgrounds.

In fact one of the coolest and most interesting and candid moments of the Pilot episode was when the contestants were discussing their motivations for coming and one of the female paladins said she hoped that one of the ladies ended up winning, just to show that it could be done (paraphrasing)—What!?

Bonnie Gordon

One of the Paladin’s hoping to wield the Sun Spear
ABC

For all this talk recently about inclusion in the gaming world and community, what amazes me is that mainstreaming execs of the show didn’t even blink at the discomfort these icons might cause. The reason? I suspect because unlike the real Gaming world, ABC realizes that they aren’t catering to a select group of folks who may or may not dominate a particular past-time: the past-time of tv watching.

Rather by simple profitable design they are clearly seeking a broader fan base than the traditional Gaming industry caters to, i.e. the actual landscape of the American population and not some rapidly shrinking minority group who for the moment still holds the majority.

Right now though, there doesn’t seem to be much discussion out there about the show. But I imagine if the series continues it just might start showing up on the radar big-time in the hobby, more than likely controversially so on both sides, for and against the depictions, and of course for and against the mainstreaming of LARPing in general and for and against [insert minutia by which Gamers will inevitably find to pick the show apart].

The World of Ever Realm

The World of Ever Realm
ABC’s The Quest

For me though I can think of no greater spearhead than such a show as a wedge for the hobby to gain further traction into the consciousness of the world beyond the Gaming community itself.

Game of Thrones made medieval cooler, even as Lord of the Rings made it cool in the first place. Take a look at the new movie Hercules which stars Dwayne Johnson as the Son of Zeus; you have a mixed-American male playing a European historical Icon and folks didn’t even seem to raise a Rock-like eyebrow (even as they vociferously howled over Idris Elba’s Thor).

If the folks out there interested in widening the tent in Gaming really wanted to show off their gaming pride, and especially those LARPers out there, why not mention the show to everyone you can, inserting subtle little questions in the conversations like “Wouldn’t it be cool to be on vacation in a castle like that?” or “Imagine if Halloween was more than once a year, and you could dress up like a Knight?” These questions and discussions aren’t’ so far off from nudging them ever so slightly into “So I’m heading out to this medieval festival this weekend, you wanna’ go?” If the gaming hobby needs more of anything, it’s that it needs more Gamers.

So when you get a chance, why not tune in, download, stream or just pirate (don’t pirate- say no to pirates, they have Beards) ABC’s The Quest and

Watch forth?

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Game Review : Hunter’s Guild

Hunter's Guild by Robb De Nicola

Hunter’s Guild by Robb De Nicola

A card-game modeled after your typical Vampire-slayer mindset, Robb De Nicola’s successfully funded KickStarter Hunter’s Guild pits players against one-another in a race to compete and be the first to take down one of those pesky sun-deprived, eternally manic, blood-drinking fiends that stalk your neighborhood mischievously throughout the night. You know– your in-laws.

Mildly competitive and a heckuva lot of fun the game takes course over several turns with players equipping themselves with the best weapons, armor and various other types of Special items to go on the most holy of missions known to man- Vampire slaying.

The Goal

Hunter’s Guild is a turn-based card game where Players win by collecting a set of Vampire repellant cards, things like Holy Water & Stakes and mill through one of two separate Decks, Day and Night, until they reach a Vampire Lord. Vampire Lords are found in the Night Deck. The first player who encounters a Vamp Lord and has the requisite set of Vampire-killing tools wins the game.

Components

Vampire Lord's - The Goal of the Game Epic Scale Games

Vampire Lord’s – The Goal of the Game
Image Copyright: Epic Scale Games

  • 7 Hunter Cards
  • 100 Day Cards
    • – 24 Repel Cards
    • – 10 Armor Cards
    • – 12 Shield Cards
    • – 14 Weapon Cards
    • – 40 Special Cards
  • 100 Night Cards
    • – 12 Vampire Lord Cards
    • – 44 Event Cards
    • – 44 Creature Cards
  • 1 instruction set
  • 1 Backer Sheet
  • 1 twenty-sided die

Set-up

Players separate the two decks into the Night and Day decks. Players then either randomly pick their Hunter class cards or choose which ones they wish to play. Classes include the Knight, Ranger, Thief and Warrior and each player has one card corresponding to their Player Character which also lists their total number of hit points (4 Max). Following this, players are dealt four cards from the Day deck to their hand and play begins with the player to the left of the dealer.

    Hunter's Guild Ranger     Image Copyright: Epic Scale Games

Hunter’s Guild Ranger
Epic Scale Games

Game-Play

Game play is divided into turns, with each player getting a ‘turn’ and the entire group going through a Day Turn and a Night turn. These Day Turns or Night Turns correspond to which deck players draw from, either the Day Deck or the Night Deck.

So for example in a three-player game, each player gets 1-Day turn going around the table: player A draws a card from the Day deck, equips, uses items then play passes to the left, where player B draws a card from the Day deck, equips, uses items then play passes to the left and so on. Then each player gets one Night turn, again going around the table with each player drawing, this time face-up, one card from the Night deck. This cycle repeats throughout the game although Day/Night can change based on Event cards. The mechanic is basically Munchkins kicking down the door and looting, except separating it into two phases and with a bonus card draw before you go marching to your doom.

Hunter's Guild Weapons & Armor Cards

Hunter’s Guild Weapons & Armor Cards
Epic Scale Games

As explained, on a Day Turn, players draw 1 card from the Day deck. These cards consist of Weapons & Armor cards, Event cards or Vampire Repels cards. Players can equip Weapons & Armor cards at any time during their Day turn, but not during a battle– again closely following Munchkin‘s mechanic. Players can also play any special Event and Special cards anytime they are able; like Holy Water etc.

Its the Night phase however, when things get interesting.

Night Deck Event Cards Epic Scale Games

Night Deck Event Cards
Epic Scale Games

The Night Deck consists of Event cards, creature Cards and Vampire lord cards. Event cards are one time instantaneous events like loose armor, Swap a card from your hand with another player (blindly) or miraculously turn day into night (think Blade with his awesome tech gear).

creatures-HG

Night Deck Creature Cards
Epic Scale Games

Creature cards are the main focus of the game and are drawn from the Night deck and are what the entire game is designed around. They come in two varieties: Solo and Team.

When a player draws a Creature card form the Night deck they must fight it. Depending on a small icon, (A/S) the player must either face the monster alone or the entire party must face it.

Card Rotation MechanicEpic Scale Games

Card Rotation Mechanic
Epic Scale Games

Each monster has a number of Hit points denoted by Red Blood diamonds symbols or gems. Hit points come in maximum of 4 and proceed down to zero, the same as for players. To designate damage, monster cards are rotated to face the current player with the corresponding number of Blood Gems, or health points it currently has. So a monster or creature with 3 starting health would have the side of the card with 3 Gems facing the player who drew it from the Night Deck.

Monsters also come with a Level. This is the attack roll score needed to damage a monster. So a level 13 monster needs to have a 14 or higher to do damage to it. A roll equal to the monster level on the die face itself completely kills the monster: so in this case a d20 roll of exactly 13 destroys the monster outright (i.e. a Critical Hit).

Attacking a monster consists of rolling a die and adding any weapons you have equipped to the roll, but you may also play event cards during or after a roll to affect the die.

Creature Card with LootEpic Scale Games

Creature Card with Loot
Epic Scale Games

The player who lands the killing blow on a creature, that is drops its hp down to zero or below, can win the loot, if any, associated with that monster. Monsters have loot represented by icons and are either non-existent, i.e. no loot, solo loot, that is only the killing blow lands it (in a solo that’s only 1 player) or full party loot, where the killing blow gets extra loot and the rest of the party gets some loot for their assistance (yay back of the party help!).

Infected players (see below) also have the option of feeding from some Creatures, which entails gaining health back.

Each time a creature card is drawn from the deck either the current player or the entire party will fight until it is destroyed.

Fighting is a d20 roll with Equipment and Special card modifiers added.

A hit reduces the monsters Blood gems by a damage equal to the Players Weapon damage, while a miss hits the Player for 1 Point which they can, if they are wearing armor or have a shield, choose to reduce that item before taking 1 point of damage themselves. Like Monsters and Players, Armor and Shields come with Gems, these denoting durability instead of Health. They can be repaired and swapped but only one of each is equip-able, just like weapons.

If a Vampire card is drawn, a player is either Infected, or can use Repel cards to repel the vampire, thus staving off infection. An Infected player turns over their Class card to the Infected side. Infected players get a bonus to attacks (+3) but take damage during the Day phase if they choose to draw from the Day deck or can remain ‘slumbering’ and not receive a card. If an infected player draws a Vampire card while being infected and is unable to destroy them or to Repel them, their Hero is killed. If a player has a complete set of vampire Repel gear in their hand when they draw a Vamp Lord, they win the game.

Vampire Itchy-ouchy ItemsEpic Scale Games

Vampire Itchy-ouchy Items
Epic Scale Games

Verdict

The game is really enjoyable. It’s a light, semi-cooperative game that has all the hallmarks of a dungeon-crawl without the dungeon.

The Gem mechanic, which is used for all creatures, Hunter’s, Armor and Shields is very well thought out and easy to implement. It’s got a great visual and tactile sense of feedback during game-play with everyone at the table acknowledging your level and your current abilities. It has that immediate input as to where you are, resource-wise but is very simple to manage.

There is enough variety in the types of weapons and monsters and with bonus and special items so that choices don’t feel limited and you don’t feel you are milling through the deck.

Over the course of play the game definitely ramps up in favor of the players, with early rounds feeling particularly brutal unless players are fortunate enough to get the best weapons and armor due to the fact that creature cards are random and a 17+ monster can be especially hard versus an ill-equipped party. As the game goes on though, and more cards are drawn players have more resources to throw at the threats they face, however card hand-size management then becomes a key issue, with Repel cards competing for slots in your 8-max hand size with Buff cards and other helpful plays.

There are definitely investment trade-offs with the save-ups being geared towards finding a Vampire-lord and positioning yourself to land the killing blow against a creature that the entire party must face, which is where the competitiveness of the gameplay comes in.

The game, at first seems deceptively cooperative, until draw after draw of All-party creatures comes in, and players start factoring weapon damage and Loot mechanics to position themselves to land the killing blow on a creature. Here is one of the minor chinks in the game-play as it can become slightly frustrating when you draw a creature with great loot and realize that your pull is not going to help you in anyway because you won’t be able to land the killing blow simply by not being the last person to roll, or because your weapon is too underpowered. In this respect, the game tilts towards those with better gear easily racking up the booty off of All-party monsters, and thereby getting more and better gear, etc.

Random Item Drops from the Day DeckEpic Scale Games

Random Item Drops from the Day Deck
Epic Scale Games

The tipping balance is the randomness of the draws which also can be somewhat of a disheartening experience as some cards allow your best management to randomly cause you to loose items and gear. This is inherent in a card game and adds to the flavor, but the major drawback is that the winning condition of the game, drawing a Vampire Lord from the Night Deck, is completely random. Which makes winning, when everyone at the table has a full set of Repel cards, completely random, taking it down a notch for strategy. But, considering this is a light game that seems inherent to the design. Play can also drag once players are over-equipped and creatures are no longer a challenge making the game turn to a random, who-draws-a-vampire-Lord-first fest.

Lastly, the game has some minor issues with how card effects happen, and the order by which they happen, which is a typical Stack effect problem for light-games and is really more of an advanced Gamers take-away than anything else.

The artwork is good, with the three-dimensional-like visual giving you a CGI-like flavor. The card stock is glossy and appears durable enough and the box itself its well designed, slick and definitely market-ready.

It’s a solid, light-hearted card game that comes with great art.

Tweaks

Considering its light-hearted feel, the game functions as its meant to. It’s not a strategy heavy game, other than drawing and keeping Repel cards and there is not a lot you can do to invest in tactics.

Given its nature, the only adds would be ways in which to preempt Killing blow steals, other than the Rogue abilities and cards, and some way to ‘peek’ ahead into the Night deck so that you could control the win condition a little more and make it less random.

Otherwise the game functions great as is.

So when you get a chance, feel like staking some night-bumping vampers, pick up a copy of Hunters Guild and

Game forth!

Hunter's GuildEpic Scale Games

Hunter’s Guild
Epic Scale Games

 

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Independent Game Designer Spotlight & Interview: Tom Tiernan

Tom Tiernan Vice President, Everything Epic Games Demoing his successful Micro-game Raiders of the Lost Tomb

Tom Tiernan
Vice President*, Everything Epic Games
Demoing his successfully KickStarted micro-game
Raiders of the Lost Tomb

For the seventeenth year in a row, Double Exposure hosted  DexCon, what many consider the premier table-top, role-playing and LARP convention in the North East this past July 4th weekend.

In attendance were a bevy of Gamers, vendors, authors, developers, artists, LARPers, organizers and all manner of creative minds.

One such mind among those Gamers present belonged to Tom Tiernan, Vice President* and Lead Writer *for his gaming company, Everything Epic Games.

Tom, an author, self-professed blogger, entrepreneur, traveler, scratch cook and general all-around good guy was there promoting his company along with its table-top Games.

I had the chance to speak with Tom while I was at DexCon this year, my second outing to that particular Convention. He and his team were showcasing their newest Kickstarter success, Raiders of the Lost Tomb, a micro-game that was successfully funded back in April. Along with this mini-game they were also tweaking their premier board-game, Secrets of the Lost Tomb (of which the micro-game is based on and which was also successfully funded thru Kickstarter) through several rounds of play-testing by eager fans of the game along with a host of new players.

Despite his busy Con schedule, Tom was gracious enough to answer a few questions and show me his wickedly fun micro-game Raiders of the Lost Tomb while also offering up some inspiring glimpses into the mind of one of Gamerdom’s newest Publishers to the industry.

(Excerpts and paraphrasing from our conversation)

Everything Epic Games Main title:
Secrets of the Lost Tomb
Image Copyright: EEG

1.    So where you are from and what are brings you to DexCon 17?

  •  Woodbridge & Montclair (New Jersey) and soon to be Woodbridge and Kenilworth (Also New Jersey). And Dexcon is the place to be for Gamers.

2.    What do you have to show here at Dexcon?

  • Two games—our main board-game, Secrets of the Lost Tomb, a game similar to Betrayal at House on the Hill but with an expanded universe that includes Cthulhu, aliens and pulp themes from the early 20th Century. Also our micro-game, Raiders of the Lost Tomb.

    Raiders of the Lost Tomb Everything Epic Games Mini-Game Game-play includes tiles and coins

    Raiders of the Lost Tomb
    Everything Epic Games Mini-Game
    Game-play includes tiles and coins

3.    How is the micro-game played?

  • It’s a simple game that only requires some change from your pocket, quarters, nickels, pennies and dimes, and the boards that come with the game itself. The whole thing can fit inside your breast-pocket. The game-play is simple; players ‘roll’ their movement scores with pennies and can spend nickels, called Audacity, to increase or decrease their roll all while trying to get out of the tomb and not be chased down and beaten up by the Tomb’s boss monster.

4.    Why did you guys at Everything Epic Games decide on a micro-game?

  • We felt enough time had gone by that folks were ready and interested in a new iteration on our main game, Secrets of the Lost Tomb—also to give folks who hadn’t heard about the game, we felt the micro would be a great introduction for them.

5.    What kind of genres are the games about?

  • 1930’s pulp adventures, Lovecraft and his Cthulhu mythos and stories and movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, King Kong and Pirates of the Caribbean. High adventure stuff set in the 1930’s, between the World Wars, when there was still a lot of high adventure around and before the Modern World set in.

6.    What kind of design process went into the micro-game?

  • Designing something simple and easy to carry. Each space is a single card, and we shrunk it down from the main board-game but included enough tiles to make a fairly large size dungeon.

7.    Who is the target market for the micro?

  • Everyone! An easy game, introductory level from 10 years old and up. It’s not too hard but also is difficult enough for your serious gamer out there too—we like to consider it a ‘gateway game’.

8.    What do you hope gamers get out of the game-play?

  • Tons of fun and replay-ability. You can play it 5 or 6 times in an hour with different outcomes each time.

9.    Describe the artwork.

  • Done by Jim Samartino, our Staff Artist, without who we wouldn’t have anything. He gives the game a great pulp feel.

Raiders of the Lost Tomb Mini-game Logo
Copyright: Everything Epic Games

10.    What types of games do you personally play?

  • Card-based, beer-and-pretzel games like Fluxx, Betrayal on House on Hill, Ticket to Ride and Quarriors.

11.    So what does Everything Epic Games have on the horizon?

  • That’s a secret—however I can tell you we are working on a simple board-game with a deck-building mechanic. After Tomb we wanted something simple. We also have Gaming systems for other products of adventures in different genres, and that you can find at our website everythingepicgames.com

***

Well there you have it, the mind of another busy Game designer and publisher!
When you get a chance, check out the Everything Epic Games website and,

Game Forth!

 *EDIT: As of this post, Tom Tiernan was former VP of EEG and at the time Free-lance Writer and Play-tester. His design credits included only Secrets of Lost Tomb and not the micro-game

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