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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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A Very ‘Unconventional’ Convention – A Very Familiar Tactic

failI grew up with half a tongue.

A couple months ago I decided to implement a long-term goal of mine that had been a dream since I first became a Gamer.

It was a dream that entailed the creation of my own public Gaming group, open to all members but with a special focus on bringing into the fold of D&D and table-top games individuals like myself and other, potentially disenfranchised folks who might have felt a bit out of place within the larger Gaming Community.

Granted, this is a lofty position to take, but it was a sentiment in tune with comments I’d heard from other Gamers I‘d played with. By sight alone, I saw how frequent certain individuals came and went in the gaming community, with little impetus by other Gamers to keep them in the mix.

And so it was, with the generous and grateful help of my group of campaign players who, I cannot ever express the gratitude I have for their support that this idea and dream of mine was able to come to fruition.

I successfully launched this brand-spanking new Meetup.com group for Gamers in the New York City area this past September. (You can find the page here.)

With the title of Alternative Gamers, and a moniker for our Members that was an extension of this very commercial brand, Black Coyotl, I gave our members the title of ‘Inclusive Gamers’.

In all honesty, I didn’t know how the Meetup would fare in the marketplace; there are literally dozens of gaming groups operating in the Tri-state area, all of which are geared towards a specific niche, neighborhood, or type of Gamer (Female/V:TM/Old-Timers etc.)

Which is why I decided to create a group where I, and others like myself could feel comfortable playing in, and more than that, feel welcomed. It was my attempt at creating a ‘safe place to play’ for Gamers who might not be the most welcomed at your traditional gaming scene.

In the months since, I’m proud to say that my Inclusive Gaming group, with the gracious help of my Gaming friends, has been a success.We have had over a dozen successfully organized Meets, and have brought in a slew of new players to the mix. 

What’s more, it was rewarding to see that the idea of an Inclusive Gaming group could not only attract members, but could do so repeatedly and retain them.

Now, what is rather interesting is the development of this idea of Inclusive and Alternative Gaming that has suddenly sprung up in the area.

As a Gaming hobbyist, I keep an ear to the gnomish railroad of this world (as evidenced by my blog) and came across another Meetup group in the city, a Gaming group, around since 2012 that surreptitiously about a month after our launch this year had the following on their homepage:

It’s interesting considering the phrasing, but what I find more interesting is the disclaimer about its non-competitive nature; as if there is some implied competition in quoting this new addendum to their site, almost as if the presence of this disclaimer were expected to be challenged in some way. In what way I can only wonder (does this blog constitute a challenge?), but I do find its sudden appearance more than coincidental.

(I also find it amusing, as a consequence of a mechanical and hence numbers crunching mindset, that their apparent Inclusive bent is rather, at least seemingly, exclusive, as evidenced by the makeup of their apparent members.

I also mention this group because in a prior incarnation, it was organized by a member who was a PoC [with a name similar to my own actually] but evidently because he was too ‘combative’ he was replaced– you know, how the President sometimes comes across as an ‘angry you know what person’)

I want to stress that I am not calling out the group, simply pointing out an obvious appeal to head off a label of exclusivity. But there has also been another very interesting development in the larger gaming community:

Image Copyright:   Double Exposure, Inc.

Image Copyright:
Double Exposure, Inc.

This past week I received an invite to Double Exposure’s Maelstrom Convention via mailing list. What I find incredibly interesting is how this particular con is being billed, according to some of the following sections on its main page:

Image Altered & Reproduced from:  http://www.dexposure.com/ms2014.html

Image Altered & Reproduced from:
http://www.dexposure.com/ms2014.html

Image Altered & Reproduced from: http://www.dexposure.com/ms2014.html

Image Altered & Reproduced from:
http://www.dexposure.com/ms2014.html

Now, I’m not exactly a man given towards providence, however, I do see something of a pattern emerging here. Well, that’s not true exactly, what I actually see is a pattern emerging from a design that I created, and implemented- successfully.

It’s a design that as I said had been a dream for a long time, one where I sought to create a space of safety and comfort for individuals who, well quite frankly: felt marginalized (Wow, where have I heard that before?) Strange that these ideals and goals sound so closely similar to the stated goals of my own group: altgamers So having learned about this Inclusive Gaming outlet I contacted them, and set about asking them if, as they seem ready, willing and able to “set the bar for inclusivity” and to “research” and “outreach”, they wouldn’t mind sponsoring or helping out, or at the very least, responding to  our group’s existence, and thereby embracing such a collection of Inclusive Gamers. As for a response I received none. Which, sadly to say, is exactly the response I expected to be given; not even a rejection, I expected complete and utter silence.

Expectations: Met.

(So much for outreach and research..)

It’s a reaction I’ve gotten more than once since launching this Meetup, as when I mention its goals, I invariably get no response.

For instance, the Emerson College professor Eric Gordon, who runs the Engagement Game Lab, billed as an organization designed to turn gaming engagement into political and civic action and has sponsored games designed to bring water to African’s, and incidentally whom I met at a lecture for inclusion and informed about the group, seemed entirely disinterested in hearing about it, or its members. It’s a general hands-off approach I’ve received in quite a few venues. Unpub, a gaming organization for play testers and whose events I have attended (here for instance) I reached out to as well and inquired if there may be any interest in the possibility of PoC and other Inclusive gamers version of their play-testing model, was silent on the possibility: I received no response from them either. Zilch. Nadda. Nothing. The Con or Bust program, which sponsors trips for minorities to go to Sci-Fi Conventions ( i.e.the burden of helping out the ‘Other’) I also reached out to, looking to engage them in the possibly of being a perk sponsor- and was politely told that their finances didn’t really align with our goals, those of course being getting more minorities involved in the fantasy genre and table-top world. (Obviously D&D isn’t really speculative stuff).

I realize of course asking for endorsements is a tricky and complicated idea, and more doors will be shut than open, but what is amazing is the similarity of goals for the organizations I’ve reached out to, and their complete disinterest in even acknowledging our presence. It’s a paradigm that is wedded to the idea of helping out the ‘Other’ from afar rather than actually engaging with them on an even level with full parity (Give them soup, but for God’s Sake DON’T HIRE THEM!).

I mention these examples also as another pattern I see, one that unlike my Gaming group, is one I did NOT have a hand in making. It is a convenient side-stepping around a certain topic; one I dare not state the Card I wish to play, as I will be accused precisely of playing it– tsk, tsk, we allow you here don’t we- good grief what more do  you want?!?

It does seem however that the goals of my group are ones that clearly need to be addressed. One that is a quaint idea, and clearly a new avenue for exploitation; similar to the appearance of the Blaxploitation film genre of the seventies:

Image Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Black_caesar.jpg

Image Source:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Black_caesar.jpg
He’s Caesar, but wait he’s not just Caesar, he’s black Caesar- Whaaa?!?

Clearly Inclusive Gaming is a concept that can be run and implemented by anyone. Of course the goals of this concept should encourage not simply the attracting of diverse gamers, but also seeing them in decision-making positions and given free agency.

What is even more amazing is that at the very inception of a concept like Inclusive Gaming, before the scene is even fully formed, the Gaming world is already trying to co-opt and consume it, but in the most capitalist way possible. So even when a group like ours tries to exert its agency and differentiation to what is already in place, it seems that outright stealing and re-branding this desire is the only option available by the wider culture.

This tactic of paying lip service to the idea, wait, sorry “outreach and research”–  and doing so purely for profit, or worse to head off charges of exclusivity falls under the realm of false appeasement and exploitation. It’s an argument that has been far better elaborated on by far more eloquent writers than myself when the great RaceFail of ’09 happened.

RaceFail was a backlash against the perception that there were institutional factors at work within the speculative fiction world that prevented certain ‘types’ of writers from achieving successful careers in the genre (for further details check out this blog here).

Essentially what it boiled down to was that while efforts to appear inclusive could be implemented and hence self-evident, in actuality, this appearance was just that: an appearance. There was no genuine desire to engage with these other types of Writers, at best there was only the desire to write about them in purely abstract form (the magical ‘Other’ and the exotic ‘Other’).

The attempt was seen as not only flawed but completely dishonest and was really only addressed by certain writers who wished to avoid appearing Exclusive (which DexCon seems to backhandedly acknowledge with its Dual Headline of Inclusive Gaming Experience / Exclusive Event Schedule—you can’t get much more disingenuous than this).

What’s more, DexCon is trying to shoot down the fact that the Gaming world is inherently Exclusive– not simply inherently, but systematically Exclusive.

This is an acknowledgement that the Gaming world, and Geek culture in general denies on its face. It is the reason why RaceFail happened. It is the reason why such eloquent and heartfelt appeals to this fact were written by bloggers like Avalon Willow and Deepa D. when they wrote the following:

Unfortunately with DexCon’s upcoming ‘Inclusive Gaming Bar’ being set, there’s a preemptive attempt to display an openness in the community which clearly does NOT exist, otherwise groups would not have to give disclaimers, organizations wouldn’t have to host ‘inclusive’ conventions, and my Group would NEVER have had to have been created.

What it is then, is an attempt to co-opt the argument, and the critique of the culture, from people who have been the very reason for its bias.

And so it’s interesting knowing that while I and the members of my group are clearly not worth the time to deserve even a response, our dollars are certainly desired and even courted.

It’s also interesting to note that while I am personally NOT welcome at a lot of the events I go to (in fact my presence is actually often times greeted with outright hostility and ridicule), my IDEAS clearly are.

So, in an effort to maybe demonstrate just how, non-inclusive this upcoming convention really is, if you’re in the area, and were interested in going to this or any of the DexCon conventions, I would like to encourage you NOT to go– and unlike my usual foot-forward saying I think given their clear appropriation and disingenuous appeal towards ‘inclusion’ as an effort to appear open, is really nothing more than a disingenuous money grab.

I would suggest quite simply not going to any of their events all together: I know I won’t be anymore. In fact, why not create your own truly Inclusive Group, one where inclusive means engagement and cooperation, not co-opting and profit, and

Game True!

Edit: Since this post, I’ve been in communications with the organizers for Double Exposure and have received nothing but support and assistance in both promoting an inclusive mindset within the Gaming community and in allowing for a discussion concerning changing the representations of those depicted in the industry.

They have also provided financial assistance in the form of discounts to members of the Incusive Gaming group of which I am the Organizer, as well as providing spaces to have talks with other gamers as to how to effect change within the community itself.

Towards this end, I would like to state that the Double Exposures organizers are clearly forward-thinking members and backers of a diverse and inclusive future in the Gaming industry and I personally wish others within the community were as proactive in their efforts as they were.

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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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Independent Game Designer Spotlight & Interview: Clance M. Morring – BATTLE THIS!

Image Copyright: Clance M. Morring

Image Copyright: Clance M. Morring

With the rise of Kickstarter, strategy, card and board game designers have been given access to a pool of potential customers and funding that spans the entire  globe.

This shift in public awareness has fundamentally changed the way independent companies can bring their ideas to the market, allowing everyone from sole operators to experienced creators the chance to showcase their ideas at game design.  But even with tools like Kickstarter at their fingertips, there are still some creators out there who are doing things the old-fashioned way- with boots on the ground, personal demos and play-testing.

This is the case for Clance M. Morring, whose board game is a unique take on Chess. His design fuses figurines and tactics from the  world of war-gaming with one of the oldest games around to create a particularly engaging product he calls BATTLE THIS!

Promoted as a military version of Chess, the game pits two players against one-another on a traditional Chess board with three differing types of pieces: an infantry-man, a tank and an airplane. Set-up in the classic two column starting formation of Chess pieces, BATTLE THIS! proceeds in the same turn-based order with the modified pieces of this variation each having their own methods of defeating other pieces; planes fly diagonally, infantry ‘run’ forward and creep back and sideways, and tanks target diagonal squares while moving forward at a slow pace.

At first sight, the hand-painted miniatures, which are surplus plastic army-men, tank miniatures and planes mounted on clear-colored bases along with the sparsely designed board itself carries with it a  rugged workshop feel that lacks the polish of a professionally made product typical of your average Kickstarter fare. However, what was surprising about the BATTLE THIS! was that after the about the fifth move the Gaming zone in my brain seemed to switch on and the tactical aspects of the Game jumped out at me.

The unique moves of the pieces, essentially a variation on Chess, infused the game with what I felt was a distinctive feel for the chaotic aspects of military campaigns; the fact that infantry and planes could move back and forth across the battle-field and conquer squares with lighting speed or through slow marches really gave the game individualistic flavor.

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Mr. Morring demonstrated the game itself to me recently and during the session I had the chance to ask him a few questions and get some insights into its history, and the challenges he faced as an independent designer with his first game:

Mr. Morring, when did you begin production on your game?

“I start producing my games in the months of February through May of 2012 and then I released them to the public for sale in June of 2012. So far I have made 500 games, sold 434 and is now left with 66 games to sell.”

What’s the process for getting your game, BATTLE THIS! to your customers, do you use outside manufacturers or do you do everything by hand?

“I self-publish. The entire BATTLE THIS! Board Game is hand-made and I manufacture, package, shrink warp, box and ship them from my home. My buyers are receiving the original Inventor’s copy, that may one day become a classic collector’s edition. This is one of the many reason why I am able to market and sell my BATTLE THIS! Board Game so well.

Production time: It takes me at least two days to make one set, that’s because I have to hand paint all the Brown playing pieces brown and then touch them up the next day after it dries and I have to glue all the Soldiers and Airplanes onto their bases. So instead of just hand producing one game at a time, I try to average about 50 games a week; it’s much easier and quicker.”

Where did you get the idea for BATTLE THIS!?

“My BATTLE THIS! Board Game came to me in a dream I had 20 something years ago. It was a dream about two creature like entities pitting us humans against one another; to them it was just a game but to us it was real life war. The entire rules and concept and unique strategy was given to me in this dream, thus “BATTLE THIS!” was born. Till this very day there’s no other game like it on the market and I own all exclusive rights.”

What markets have you sold your game in, what type of web presence do you have?

“The market that my board game is selling in are: Toys and Games, Board Games and Strategy Abstract Board Games. Since I had 20 something years of researching the Toy Industries and savings, it was not difficult for me at all to get into the market, it became a matter of when to get into the market, not how. After gathering all my resources for the supplies I needed to produce my BATTLE THIS! Board Game, myself, the 1st thing I did was design my BATTLE THIS! Website and BATTLE THIS! Blog Site in 2012, then I started selling my board game on my job, in my neighborhood, on the streets, in the parks, at board games meet ups, on Amazon and now on eBay. Form June of 2012 till now, I have hand produced 500 games.”

What were some of the challenges you faced as an independent game designer?

“I didn’t experience any difficulties getting my board game to market because they are originals, the problem I did encounter was how to hand produce the games. After a few trials & errors and wasted materials at a costly expense, I did manage to work it all out. Nobody was willing to help me financially and physically take on this project; I had to do everything all by myself. I received no support what so ever from my family, certain neighbors and close friends that I use to hang out with. The woman I loved made me choose between her and my game, so she ended up leaving me as well in 2011. She made it very clear, she never wanted me to start this project. Those around me said that I am 24 years late and that no one plays board games anymore. They told me that I’ll be just wasting my time, money and effort, that I’m living in a fantasy world, selling people a dream. Those who I gave so much of myself to and thought was for me, were honestly, spiritually against me. A year later, my BATTLE THIS! Board Game sales and the contacts I have made, have proven them wrong.

This has been a very lonely journey for me, I was surrounded by negative thinking people who had been praying for me to fail. What keeps me going, is my love for my board game, my belief in myself and the BIG picture I’m chasing after. I’m a very focused and  disciplined person who has learned to use the negative vibes as the match to light my fire and push me into my blessing.

The feedback I received, once my BATTLE THIS! Board Game has been released, are very positive. People are so impressed with the product, how it’s put together and packaged. They love the fact that the rule book is only two pages, the game is easy to learn and not complicated but challenging. For a home-made game, my customers are getting a really good quality, package fun play board game.”

What do you see as the next steps in promoting and distributing BATTLE THIS!?

 “My goal for 2014 is to have BATTLE THIS!  made as an app and into software, also to have the board game itself professionally manufactured by a Toy company. For more information about me, my journey and the Battle This Board Game, please visit my website http://battlethisboardgame.com “

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Given the hobby’s humble beginnings, its great to see that independent, self-made creators are still out there in the Gaming world, so when you get a chance, why not head over to the BATTLE THIS! website, support an indie designer by purchasing a copy of BATTLE THIS! and

Game Forth!

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Player Loss / Opportunity

It happens to the best groups, it happens to the worst groups- eventually every Gaming crew has a loss of a player or two, or three or, even all of them.

It can be a tough thing even assembling enough players at a table on a regular basis, but once a solid and reliable group has formed, any loss to consistent players can feel like a threat to the continuation and the future of the campaign. Despite these losses there is an interesting opportunity that this event can provide to a gaming group, provided there are enough players to make a table still viable.

In my weekend home-game we’ve had our share of player adds and player…deletes? But through it all there’s been a core group that has been around from the beginning. This continuity has provided stability and also reassurance I think to the players and to myself as the Game Master.  It has given both myself and the group license to try all sorts of ventures in the gaming world that a less predictable group might not have done for fear of keeping the player base content.

One of the things that it has allowed us to do is run a separate party within the larger Fourth Edition Campaign that we are engaged in that is comprised of these ‘lost heroes’. Calling themselves the Helm’s Heroes (after a particular deity’s lost keep in the fantasy world of Faerun), the group is a conglomerate of players who over the years we have been playing together, came and went with the passage of time.

Some of these Heroes were veteran members of the group who due to job or family had to leave the group, others were one or two session dilettante’s- as one of our resident comedian’s humorously dubbed a particular stop-over PC, ‘two-session Sam’.

What we created with this second group of Player Characters was an entire party, with a much less serious, much more comical tone that incorporated the remembered aspects of these wayward former members and interlopers. To me, this provided the group a few things that I really wanted to incorporate into the group.

Chiefly, it expanded on the concept of continuity; player’s got the sense that their characters had a place even if they had to leave the campaign, not just any place, but a sort of hallowed remembrance status, where other players would take up their characters’ mantle long after they left the group. This may not be an appealing idea to some players, they may prefer to control the destiny of their characters from start to finish, but so far we haven’t run into any players who’ve objected to the idea (because they aren’t around!)

Secondly this party of Heroes also gives a bit of reinforcement to the original party and to the members who show up week in and week out. Its a bit of a positive affirmation as to the importance of the group and to the dedication of its members. Helm’s Heroes may be off doing their own thing that may be every bit as adventurous and awe-inspiring, but the real campaigners keep chugging along, building up their repertoire and experience.

All in all its a different approach to dealing with player loss; instead of delegating one-time or a few week members to the mists of forgotten memory, Helm’s Heroes provides a good concrete way of coping with the real-world challenges in getting a good mix of players together on a consistence basis.

So if you’ve had a player loss due to a move, a job change, or just wander off, rather than never speaking about them or their character again, why not let one of your current players inhabit them for a session or two? If you’ve suffered enough change of seats over the life of your campaign group, why not compose an entire party of these Lost Heroes, and have some fun by giving the players a chance to put a new take on a familiar personage, and above all let them,

Game Forth!

  • Player loss can come from without as well as within, check out this humorous approach to how the Gaming world suffers from player stealing and edition indigestion: Edition Wars.

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Game Review (Sort-of) : Evil Baby Orphanage

Image Copyright: Wyrd Miniatures

Image Copyright: Wyrd Miniatures

A little over a year ago one of my weekend Gamer’s showed up with a card game he bought through Kickstarter. The cards were stock, the quality of the ink wasn’t the greatest, and the concept behind the game was a little odd: players had to acquire a certain number of evil babies, babies who just so happened to be historically notorious individuals, most notably among them, a baby Hitler.

To put it bluntly, the game was quite quirky.

In the time since then, in all the sessions of Evil Baby Orphanage (EbO) I’ve have a chance to play, the details of the game may have changed a bit and there may be a few expansions, special cards and supplements added in for special favor, but the overall mechanics themselves have remained principally the same (a few less babies to acquire).
Image Copyright: Wyrd Miniatures

Image Copyright: Wyrd Miniatures


It’s a light, competitive game where players are dealt a hand of cards that include toys, disciplinary actions and play-time activities for the evil tots. Up for grabs in the game are these evil babies that players are trying to accumulate. These babies are a slew of historically evil personalities like Hitler, Idi Amin, Elizabeth Bathory and Kim Jong Il.  There are more mechanics to the game but essentially the play is one of competitive de-resourcing of your opponents’ baby pool through turn-only cards and interrupts cards.  For those familiar with Munchkin, as a gaming buddy of mine once astutely pointed out, the game breaks down towards a ‘use-only-against-winning’ mentality in that it becomes apparent that players should generally keep their best cards only for the moment when it seems that another player is going to win.


The interesting thing about this game, for me anyways was that in looking back at its Kickstarter story, Wyrd Miniatures, the company behind the game, succeeded with unbelievable and remarkable gusto. From an original funding target of 5K, Wyrd managed to get over 100K!


Now, perhaps I’m a little late to the party in talking about EbO’s meteoritic success, but I’ve always been a big fan of perspective. It helps in my view to take a cumulative approach to how things transpire.


So in looking at the Kickstarter for EbO, and comparing it to the actual game-play it’s interesting to note the relative disparity between the two.


Although the game is enjoyable, there many other, more competitive and more challenging games out there, and on Kickstarter. What Wyrd Miniatures had was an interesting combination of hype and presentation. As one blogger puts it: “The concept is quirky and the art is great.”


While the merits of the game are valid, what the game really had going for it, Kickstarter wise, seemed to be the already produced artwork, the already designed game-play and the backing of a legitimate company that had been in business for a few years and thus a proven track record.


But a lot of KickStarter games have that going for them.  And a lot of them have more developed systems. The real question is, what did EbO have that the others didn’t?


In my view what they had were fans, legions of them. The idea that sparked the EbO game came from the minds of two well-known video blogging brothers: John and Hank Green (the following video is from their site):



Piggy-backing on their internet personas Wyrd Miniature designer Justin Gibbs and then fresh recruit Mack Martin built upon the concept, forming it into a wacky, quirky card game around babies who basically bit, wandered, bullied and creepily sulked their way into the minds of the fans. Spruced up with great artwork, the concept closely matched the wacky nature of the vlogging brothers and what’s more, it was built up around the idea of promoting not just the vloggers themselves, but their philosophy too.


Nerdfighters which the brothers coined, is their concept of not simply being ‘Nerds’ but taking their nerdiness to the streets. In their words, fighting against World Suck, by being composed of Awesome.


It’s a quaint idea, one that is emblematic of many of the personalities within the Gaming community. And one that clearly has business-side benefits; for instance the groundswell of fans support for a new game, the concept of which is theirs, while the implementation can be left to others. It’s a great tactic, one that crosses all industry’s; remember the 50 Cent Stock fiasco a few years ago, a little bit of personality and lot of bit of profit courtesy of celebrity. Hence the ever expanding idea of Nerd Celebrity (Will Wheaton, watch out). Ask any first year marketing major, I’m sure they’ll tell you all about this.


Basically what Wryd Miniatures did was turn a concept brought forth by the mind of a celebrity (or two) and turn it into a finished and polished product, with resounding success. And as much as Kickstarter is seen as a collaborative site by many, the steps that Wyrd did in bringing the game to market, chiefly the name brand approach, the promotion, timing of the launch (right before GenCon2012), all were a great recipe for success, and were primarily, as many have noted about Kickstarter, an early order product showcase.  I guess the real question one should ask themselves is is that in the interning year, with the amount of hype and the polish that Wyrd put in, and the results they obtained has Kickstarter, is the site any different from the larger world of already established markets at all?


Question & Game Forth!


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