Tag Archives: game

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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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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Independent Game Designer Spotlight & Interview: Paul Roman Martinez

Paul Roman Martinez Indie Artist/Novelist and Game Designer Image Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Paul Roman Martinez
Indie Artist/Novelist and Game Designer
Image Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Success on Kick-starter is an elusive beast.

With only 43% of all projects reaching their funding goals and Gaming projects even lower down the scale in terms of hitting their targets, some Project Creator’s have nonetheless figured out the secret elixir to success on the crowd-funding site.

One such alchemical master of the world of Kick-starter is Paul Roman Martinez.

Paul has launched not just one successful Kick-starter campaign but managed to spark the imagination of enough admirers to fund four completely unique and varied Kick-starter projects that have consistently bounded past the goal of each endeavor.

Starting in 2012 with the Graphic novel The Adventures of the 19XX: Montezuma 1934, Martinez began the first in his series of Kick-starter campaigns. The comic, a first printing of his successful web-series that he started in 2009, follows the exploits of a band of adventurers, explorers and scientists in the aftermath of the Great War as they try and change the course of history.

Adventurers of the 19xxIndie-pulp styled Web-comicImage Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Adventurers of the 19xx
Indie-pulp styled Web-comic
Image Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Fused with a mix of pulp, magic, and history, The Adventures of 19xx is a world-spanning mash-up of influences as varied as Duck Tales, Aleister Crowley, Montezuma and Indiana Jones that captures the exuberant futuristic expectations of the world in the beginning of the early twentieth century with a heavy nod towards Steam-punk.

Adventurers Circa 19xxThe Heroes of PRM Web-comicImage Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Adventurers Circa 19xx
Some of the Eclectic Heroes of PRM Web-comic
Image Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Following this initial success, Martinez delved further into the world of Kick-starter with another Graphic hardcover novel compilation of his Adventures 19XX web-series. Soaring far past his target funding, Martinez next moved into the world of game design with his Assault:19XX Game.

Assault 19xx GamePulp-styled game between the Black Faun Order and the Adventurers 19xxCopyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Assault 19xx Game
Pulp-styled game featuring a conflict between the ancient Order of the Black Faun and the heroic Adventurers 19xx.
Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Set in the world of his pulp comic Adventures 19XX series, the semi-cooperative tabletop game pits 2-6 players  on either the side of the good-guy 19XX Adventurers or as members of the ancient Order of the Black Faun who seek to start the next Great War through mystical means.

Martinez’s most recent Kick-starter campaign, a Bicycle playing card deck set in the thematic style that Paul has perfected over his career was successfully funded this past April and like his previous runs, demonstrates Paul’s ability to set achievable targets and spur enough interest to see that his goals are fully realized.

This continued success has allowed Paul the ability to speak with confident authority to other would-be Kick-starter aspirants. Whether talking about difficulties over Mailing, or his recently and already legendary 11 Things All Failed Kick Starter Projects Do Wrong post, Paul is definitely an artist with a pulse on the Kick-starter beat.

PRM Kick-starter AdviceImage Image Copyright: BleedingCool.com

PRM Kick-starter Advice
Image Copyright: BleedingCool.com

Yet even with all the projects he has going on, Martinez is ever the consummate respondent to backers, fans and Kick-starter aspirants. Taking some time away from his hectic schedule Paul was gracious enough to provide some insights into his inspirations and the processes that go into producing the awesome work that a Kick-starter champ has going for him:

(1) Do you consider yourself a gamer? If so what type?
I love games, but I hate labels. I don’t know why, I just can’t put a label on myself! But I do love games. Boardgames, video games, sports, death races, whatever.

(2) What lead you to being an artist?
Aaaakk! Another label! I don’t know if I consider myself an artist. I just spend too much time doing pre-press and searching for suppliers to feel like an artist. But I’ve always drawn. I still have my first drawing book I received in first grade. I never wanted to be an artist, I just couldn’t stop drawing. No matter how many times I tried, I always kept picking up a pencil and drawing.

(3) Was there a specific moment you considered a career in art?
I’m still considering a career in art, ha! Most people ask, “how can I break into comics or games?” But really the question is, how do you stay there? With every drawing I do I try and get better and develop my style. I will have a career in art as long as it keeps making people happy. As soon as it doesn’t, I will do something else!

(4) What led you to developing the Adventures 19XX series and is the era and motif your favorite genre?
A few years ago I finished college and I was considering getting a masters degree in graphic design. But I thought, what if I just came up with a master’s level project. I figured I could learn just as much and have a great portfolio to show for it. So the 19XX series just started as an experiment. I knew almost nothing about the period and I knew nothing about pulp stories. When I started doing research I didn’t even look at those early pulp comics. I wanted to read books and biographies from the 1930s and see what came out. I don’t think I have a favorite genre. Just like labels, I hate being confined to one thing!

Adventures 19xx Web-seriesPanel from the online comicImage Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Adventures 19xx Web-series
Panel from the online comic
Image Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

(5) What other genres’ would you like to create in? Game in?
Sometimes I think of doing something strictly for kids. My book is fun and appropriate for younger people but to do something only for kids would free me up to do something truly positive and magical I think.

(6) Do you have a specific mythological setting/world that you most feel a kinship with, and why?
Right now I feel a strong kinship to the religious/lovecraftian/historic world my comic is set in. I’ve always been fascinated with world religions and how they interconnected thousands of years ago with a handful of prophets wandering around the Earth. And I’ve always loved the epic sense of scale that Lovecraft imparted with his tales of the older gods and the races before mankind.

(7) Are there any specific cultural histories of your own that you bring to the mix that you feel are different from the standard pulp comics out there?
There is an epic story that is unfolding in my book series that is unlike anything I’ve ever read. And part of it is simply that my books take place in a realistic chronological time. Each book takes place in a different year and the characters will actually age as the series progresses. And just like in life, some of the best loved characters won’t make it to the end of the series. Most comic books take great pains to make sure no one ever grows or changes. My whole goal is to watch these characters grow and change. Because to grow and change is life. And how can you truly capture life if nothing changes?

(8) What projects/styles do you currently follow? What emerging scenes most intrigue you from an artistic standpoint and a gamers?
I like this atmosphere in tabletop games that is leading to a lot of truly unique voices creating their own games. These are games that never would have made it to market 10 years ago. Games like mine! Even independent comics have always had a way to produce a few issues cheaply to see if a series was going to work. Now with Kickstarter, the truly independent board game maker now has that same chance. I am fascinated by the way all media forms can connect now. That’s why I have a tabletop game that ties in so closely with my series. I’m trying to create something new. I want to create an entire world and story that you read and play through. I know the big corporations have done this on a larger level with hundreds or thousands of employees and dozens of executives each adding input along the way and lawyers making sure all their IP is used properly. But I’m one person. I’m one person who has control over everything. I’ve drawn every single page of my comic, colored it, wrote it, and I produced the board game. I drew every single card, play tested the game, and found a factory to produce it. I don’t know of any other single person who has done so much in such a short time by themselves. And the result is a truly cohesive vision across all my books, games, shirts, prints, and whatever else that comes along.

Paul's Most Recent and Successful KickstarterAviator themed playing cardsCopyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Paul’s Most Recent and Successful Kickstarter
Aviator themed playing cards
Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

(9) Do you have any upcoming projects you’re working on?
I always have upcoming projects and I keep a list of projects that could potentially sidetrack me. I make a list so I can keep moving forward with the 19XX and come back to those ideas later.

But right now I just finished my Flight Deck aviation playing card project and I’m now throwing myself back into finishing the third graphic novel in the 19XX series. The book will be coming out at the same time I release an expansion for my game that will correspond to the book. When that happens the game really will become something more. A serialized story that you play through as a group. The story will become something you experience with your friends, not just read in your room by yourself. I can’t wait for that moment because it’s something I’ve pictured since the series first began in 2010. That’s when I will be able to look someone in the eye while handing them my book and say, “you have something really great here.”

***
So there you have it, some thoughts from the creative and trailblazing mind of a successful Kick-starter artist, novelist and designer.  Why not head over to his unique corner of the web, take a peek at his ongoing series The Adventures of the 19xx, pick up a copy of his Assault 19xx and,


Game Forth!

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Game Review – Boss Monster

Image Copyright: Brotherwise Games, LLC

Image Copyright: Brotherwise Games, LLC

Like most things in the table-top world these days, Boss Monster, the card game put out by Brotherwise Games made its grand entrance to the world via Kickstarter.

Packaged in a slick box adorned with digitized artwork of a giant green-skinned bloated king, the games mascot known as King Croak, Boss Monster is a competitive four-player bash I had the good fortune to experience not long after its first edition got shipped out to primary Kickstarter backers.

What first catches your eye about the game is how its box is a tribute to classic Nintendo styled games from the eighties.

With the simplicity of a black background and a single crude display of gaming goodness along with the ubiquitous golden standard of approval, the box ported me back to my many hours spent jumping over mushrooms, slashing through dungeons and firing off blasts of energy trying to rescue princesses, save the world or simply get to the top of a very very tall ladder.

The 155 cards of the game continue with the motif of an eighties time warp, with pretty much blatant lampooning of traditional characters from games like Zelda, Metroid and Super Mario Brothers. But rather than limiting themselves solely to the world of console gaming, the creators of Boss Monster, Chris and Johnny O’Neal, also spruced up the look with elements from Dungeons and Dragons to create cards with table-top affections as well.

Image Copyright: Brotherwise Games LLC

Notice the Dungeon Master Room on the left…
Image Copyright: Brotherwise Games LLC

The thing that really separates Boss Monster from other games however is its play mechanic.

Continuing with the console theme the goal is to build the ultimate side-scrolling dungeon. Players do this by placing Dungeon room cards each round in the play area in front of them, constructing lairs from left to right filled with either monsters or traps.

These monster or trap room cards contain damage points that adventurer cards are dealt when they are lured to a player’s lair.

Sample Monster RoomImage Copyright: Brotherwise Games LLC

Sample Monster Room
Image Copyright: Brotherwise Games LLC

A common pool of these adventurer cards are placed face up each round, and when a players combined rewards listed across all their dungeon cards are totaled at the end of a round, denoted by icons for loot, magical power or holy relics, the player with the most of each type becomes a huge beacon for adventurers seeking specific fortunes and glory. Adventurer cards are then placed outside a players constructed lair at the end of the round.

Sample Hero card. Notice that he is drawn to lairs with magic (denoted by the book in the upper right corner) Image Copyright: Brotherwise Games LLC

Sample Hero card.
Notice that he is drawn to lairs with magic (denoted by the book
in the upper right corner)
Image Copyright: Brotherwise Games LLC

These pesky little hapless interloping adventurers then proceed to ‘wander’ through a player or Boss’ dungeon cards and are flayed, burned, beaten or booby-trapped to death. Their deaths however add to the total score a player needs to win the game.

A Boss Monster Image Copyright: Brotherwise Games LLC

A Boss Monster
Image Copyright: Brotherwise Games LLC

It’s quite a different theme, one that reverses the concept of the hero and villain most games are designed around.

It reminded me of mechanical elements of James Ernest’s Totally Renamed Spy Game (1996) where players again take on the role of arch-villains hoping to defeat (kill) as many heroes (spies) as possible to win. From a literary perspective it also reminded me of the opening scene in Joann Sfar’s Dungeon Volume 2, where Herbert the Duck’s father is opining about the loss of adventurers “dressed in their best armor, carrying all sorts of precious weapons and magical tailsmen” who are no longer visiting their dungeon and subsequently meeting their demises; i.e. revenues are dropping.

Image Copyright: NBM Publishing

Dungeon Volume 2
Image Copyright: NBM Publishing

So in this respect, Boss Monster follows a proud tradition of allowing players to compete as nefarious overlords turning on its head the traditional concept of saving the world, and prompts players to loot the bodies of those they are more than likely accustomed to portraying.

Overall the gameplay is great; it allows players the tactical satisfaction of designing different types of dungeons that maximize outright damage but that also ‘stack’ with spells and ‘dungeon upgrades’ that must be planned for over the course of several rounds.

What makes it really stand out mechanically to me though is that after all the low level heroes are defeated, the game suddenly goes into ‘epic’ mode and the wandering adventurers are suddenly beefed up in terms of attacks and life points. The game thus shifts from wanting to grab as much attention of these would-be adventurers to diverting them towards one of your opponents in the hopes that they destroy one of your competing Boss Monsters before they destroy you: Grow too fat and you start to attract the best heroes around.

Epic HeroNotice the higher hit points. You DO NOT want to take on these heroes. Image Copyright: Brotherwise Games LLC

Epic Hero
Notice the higher hit points. You DO NOT want to take on these heroes.
Image Copyright: Brotherwise Games LLC

So overall the game is a strategic ‘dungeon-building’ blast. The artwork, along with the entire concept holds your attention from start to finish and it offers unique and intriguing gameplay that combines elements in a perfect balance of pace and strategy. The only drawbacks I saw were not getting in on the original Kickstarter roll-out and thereby gaining some of the promo cards

So when you get a chance, feel like having an eighties flash back (who wouldn’t?) why not head out, or on-line and grab a copy of Boss Monster and,

Game Forth!

Another hip-retro icon of the Eighties- The Cosby's! Image Copyright: NBC

Another hip-retro icon of the Eighties-
The Cosby’s!
Image Copyright: NBC

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Game Design! – 54 Card Challenge

Image Copyright: Dice Hate Me Games

Image Copyright:
Dice Hate Me Games

If you’re anything like me and the idea of contributing to the world of Gaming leaves you feeling all a-glow, this December is your chance!

Dice-Hate-Me Games, the one man company from Chris Kirkman, in connection with UnPub, the nascent play-testing organization by John Moller, has announced a joint contest where Gamers the world over have the opportunity to test their mettle in the ring of Game Card design.

Applicants in the contest are asked to design a 54-card game that has a minimum of other bells and whistles and submit their one page (front & back) ideas directly to Kirkman himself. Dice Hate Me, a company I am familiar with by way of their enjoyable game Carnival, has the full details of the contest listed on their website here.

Image Copyright: \br Dice Hate Me Games\br One of DhM Games enjoyable set-building games.

Image Copyright:
Dice Hate Me Games
One of DHM Games enjoyable set-building games.

So why not reve up your creative juices, break out some pens and paper, gather a bunch of friends and,

Game Forth!

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Drow – The Other Elven Meat

Image Copyright: Marvel Entertainment LLC

Image Copyright: Marvel Entertainment LLC
The fair-skinned evil Dark Elves of Thor.

Last month I went and saw Thor: The Dark World, the latest in the Hollywood onslaught of Marvel films that have graced the screen since their re-boot with the X-Men franchise way back in 2000.

It was a decent film, one that delved further into the conflict between Thor and his brother, but also brought in other elements of the fictional Thorian universe, notably the appearance of Malekith the Accursed and his race of Dark Elves as villains. As a Dungeons & Dragons Gamer, the appearance of these ‘dark elves’ immediately brought to mind their role-playing equivalents: the Drow.

When it comes to specific villain’s and monsters that litter the Dungeons & Dragon’s canon, I have always had a particular fondness for the race of evil, magic-using, dark-skinned  subterranean elves that inhabit many of the worlds that make up the fantasy realms of my games. My own weekly D&D campaign is in the midst of an ‘Underdark’ arch that features several of these beings- though their purpose in the plot is far more dubious than their traditional bent at best.

One of the traits of these Drow, or dark elves, which has always intrigued and in all honesty upset me, is the singular fact that these evil elves are gifted with dark skin.

Image Copyright: Paizo Publishing, LLC

Image Copyright:
Paizo Publishing, LLC
A dark-skinned, female drow; the standard, eroticised ‘evil elf’ as the ‘Other’.

As a monster race, the Drow were created by one of the originators to the D&D world, the one and only Gary Gygax, who is said to have crafted both the name and existence of these alternative elves from a blend of Norse mythology and his own imagination. The word “drow” is an alternative of the word “trow”, or its cognate “troll” and comes from the Gaelic dialect of the Scots. The actual appearance in myth that the drow are based on are their Norse equivalents, the Dökkálfar, or ‘dark elves’ who live underground and are described in the Prose Edda, a compilation of Norse myth penned in the 13th century, as ‘blacker than pitch’. They are the counter parts to the Light elves, who were said to be fairer than the sun to look at.

Based on this description, Gygax went on to create one of the most iconic and ubiquitous villain’s of the fantasy genre. Unfortunately one of the lasting hallmarks and most indelible fact about the drow was and is their dark skin.

drowwords

Original Drow description from
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual (1977)

This trait has been brought up over the years around various tables as somewhat perplexing. The fact that the drow are subsurface dwellers should mean that rather than having dark-skin, they should be completely pale; the absence of sun light should make them look something more like albinos (similar to the cave-dwelling cannibals in Lion Gates 2005 Descent), where there is no longer a need to have protection from harmful ultra violet radiation, which is the main benefit of tonal differences in melanin, or skin pigmentation. At the birth of their inclusion into the world of D&D, I’m willing to believe that the science behind subterranean life and the effects of sun deprivation were at best a murky topic, and fantasy references served as the basis for the fleshing out of their general appearance.

Image Copyright: Lions Gate Films.   The underground dwelling evil albino cannibals from the 2005 Horror Film The Descent.

Image Copyright: Lions Gate Films.
The underground dwelling evil albino cannibals from the 2005 Horror Film The Descent.

This observation may at first seem overly critical of made-up villains in a fantasy world, but it is a topic that has evidently been raised elsewhere, time and again. And as a Gamer, who also just so happens to be a Gamer of Color, I am indisputably afflicted by a gene that causes me to explore things that interest and confound my understanding of the various systems that surround me.

One of the main problems with their skin tone is the historical rationales that sometimes accompany its presence in the fantasy settings; that it is part of a curse they received for being ‘evil’ and coincides with their subsequent expulsion into the underground. This mythology has an all too familiar and chilling parallel in the real world.

The Mark of Cain, a Christian concept as to the branding curse of the fabled first murderer in human history has at times over the centuries and very believably been attributed to dark skin. It was a defining rationale behind slavery and segregation in the United States from a religious standpoint, and was wholly integrated into the Mormon faith, something that the Church only divorced itself from in the later-half of the 1970’s. The idea of cursing an individual, or even a group of individuals with any easily identifying mark, such as a Scarlet Letter, is a concept old an ingrained into the human psyche, the dangers though of such a racial deliminator are easy to see.

These dangers are addressed in a scene from another Hollywood film– in the 1992 movie, Malcolm X, Denzel Washington who plays the civil rights leader speaks to the power of language and the importance of choosing ones words for the implications and imagery that it can not only conjure, but perpetuate out into the world beyond the self. The tropes of dark skin seem as rooted in our subconscious and across cultures as the ideas surrounding darkness itself seem to be: evil, ugliness, danger, shadows, monsters and above all, the unknown. By associating these terms and ideas with physical manifestations of our fellow human beings, people effectively charge interactions with these individuals with notions of perceived specificity: hence we get the stereotype. Which is why the idea of drow, or dark elves, being evil, malicious, dangerous and predatory have been a point of issue for some of us in the Gaming world. Add to this the expanded universe where the drow through editions of D&D canon have been expanded upon with facts that include how their society is matriarchal (a subtle implication about the dangers of female empowerment and agency) and ironically, big traffickers of slaves (quite the inversion).

All of this was bouncing around in the recesses of my head as I watched Thor: The Dark World. It wasn’t until I was thinking back about the film though that I could appreciate the comportment of its evil characters. The ‘dark elves’ in the world of Thor, based on their Marvel comic book origins (who have a mix of purplish-white skin) were in fact pale skinned individuals. At long last it seemed, the ‘dark’ sunless and nihilist evil elves of the universe held a glimmer of a more plausible appearance. I also reflected on the controversy over Idris Elba’s donning of the mask of Heimdall in the original and in the sequel to Thor and wondered if the film-makers wanted to treat the subject with a more encompassing brush-stroke concerning their Dark Elves.

Image Copyright: Marvel Entertainment, LLC

Image Copyright: Marvel Entertainment, LLC
The African-Nord.

All the elements of fantasy speak to a reflection in our broader understandings of the world and how we perceive the elements that move about us, even and especially in Hollywood blockbusters. By infusing these worlds we create with preordained concepts, we are not really leaving behind or escaping anything that persists in the world, and even more, we are limiting our ability at creating truly divergent universes that might imagine a more fantastic world than our own. Of course, Games are as much about perpetuating our myths and symbols as they are about creation and interaction. Still, by challenging the ‘rules’ of what has come before, Gamers themselves are typically graced with a mindset towards breaking these very truths, and what better rules to break, than some of the most ingrained and harmful ones around. So when you get a chance, why not challenge some rules you see concerning language and descriptive iconography, and above all,

Game Forth!

  • Most of the historical details in this article were culled from Wikipedia.

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Game Review : Story War

Copyright: Cantrip Games

Copyright: Cantrip Games

My Gremlin fires off his laser at you and you die!

No wait, my goblin is way too dexterous to get hit, and he fires off his laser at you and you die!

Please-my Gremlin’s way faster than your goblin and your laser, he dodges, fires again, and you die!

[Repeat, ad infinitum]

That about sums up the final round that my gaming group completed over the weekend for the Kickstarter funded, Story Wars. Its a tense, no-holds barred ostensible card-game that allows players the chance to use their creative talents towards nefarious and ultimately lethal ends in destroying their opponents at the table.

Put out by Cantrip Games which consists of the duo Brad O’ Farrell and Tom “Frezned” McLean and who are in theory based in my own backyard neighborhood of Astoria, New York, Story War is a game of geek story-telling. In it, players work off of three decks of cards composed of locations, creatures and equipment in the basic Kickstarter set. The equipment and creature cards form a players hand that replenishes each ’round’, and is overseen by another, non-competing player for the round who is a ‘judge’ for the current match-up who draws and places a location card.

This location card determines where the ‘battle’ between players, and their creatures and items, happen. Players play their creature(s) and item(s) and create stories how their creature(s) and item(s) kill/maim and ultimately destroy their opponents. These descriptions must match the mythological and fairy-tale oriented cards like the Philosopher Stone, a Gremlin, a Wishing Star or a Kraken that a player plays during the round. It’s a completely open-ended battle with the player who convinces the ‘judge’ with the best plausible and ‘coolest’ way they kill their opponent and also most believable way, winning the round. The game admittedly has its roots in Apples-to-Apples and other third-player decider mechanisms.

Image Copyright: Cantrip Games

Image Copyright: Cantrip Games

The crux of the game comes down to the levels of competitive testosterone imbued at the table that it is played at. As my group is generally rules aware but also incredibly great at role-play, the game quickly degenerated into mechanical lawyering the minutiae of what was displayed on the cards as applicable to the outcome of a fight, along with obvious traits of creatures and items that clearly could and couldn’t be applicable in the game; obviously for instance an invisibility ring is metal and is drawn to a magnet, even if a ghost is wearing it. Duh!

It’s a tricky game because it is so open-ended but boils down to being a basically competitive, argumentative procedural affair. Creature does X; Creature 2 does Y; repeat. It has appealing traits in that players combine stories into a unified whole similar to Once Upon A Time, but without the mechanical foundation of a game like Gloom that gives a fixed goal-post towards a win. With the right people its a great game. For Gamers? It’s an exercise in rules-lawyering.

Overall it’s a great concept, something that appeals to the story-teller in me, as well as the role-player– the chance to don a new character every round with new items. The cards themselves are illustrated in a campy anime-crossed style by Vondell Swain. Their appeal is surely a means to lean players towards a light-hearted feel, however, the combative nature of the game itself somewhat undercuts the approach.

Still, if you’re able to get a few folks together who like a competitive game, without being competitive about it, I suggest picking up a copy of Story War, and sitting down so you can,

Game Forth!

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