Apr 232015

Higs Renuion 2015Friday, April 17th – Halifax Indy gamers gathered at Josh’s house to fritter away our lives. Sam Fraser of Grow Giant Games (yes that’s a plug Sam), offered up a chance to play-test a project he’s had on the back-burner of an old decommissioned wood stove hidden in a shed at the old homestead.

The Clam Farmer

The Dog-eared Super Hero doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with super heroes.  In our iteration it featured a beleaguered clam-farmer trying to hold her family together on the shores of Nova Scotia while exploiting her supernatural connection to the tasty bi-valves.  Sam has done a lot of experimentation with story-building games.  Working at all levels of granularity – I recall him testing a game that worked on a word by word scale.  What I think really works well with this one is that the players get to actually write. Instead of role-play or drama, the players simply write out an event or scene or 2-3 lines of dialogue on an index card.  Each round the cards are read out and the table votes on which one becomes canon.

This gave everyone a chance to experience the pleasure of uncompromising creativity while tending to create a mostly coherent story.

 Posted by at 12:14 pm
Oct 222014

I totally failed to print this review in time to have any impact on Sam Fraser’s awesome Kickstarter campaign.  Never the less for the sake of closure I’d like to sheepishly finish it out now (in October). 

— Draft circa sept 2, 2014 —

Summer break is done and its time to start taking gaming seriously again!  I can’t think of a better way than to joyously promote my friend Sam Fraser’s excellent project:  Rogues to Riches.

I first played this game with a group of strangers at an open game night at Quantum Frontier on Robie Street in Halifax. Sam was teaching people to play with a simple prototype deck of beautifully illustrated cards. But besides the cards, it was still pretty bare bones.  I think, to keep score, we were using a bowl of roasted almonds.  This proved to be a serious handicap for someone with my will power since I couldn’t stop my self from eating some of my points before the game wound up – thus severely impacting my final ranking.

The premise is simple: Each player is a wealthy dilettante burglar in a steam-punk toned alternate Victorian era  city.   The burglary is motivated by pride and bragging rights more than any other reason.  The game play is even more elegant.  On a turn a player describes how they would use certain arbitrary equipment to assist in a heist at a location ‘guarded’ by another player. The group then decides whether the attempt succeeds or fails by voting – the votes are added to a die roll and fate decides!

Sam introduced this to me as a story-telling game.  I was originally skeptical of his usage as my views were constrained by conventions of the “story-games” crowd of game design (many of which are discussed on this blog).  But I was wrong.  Story-telling is exactly what Rogues to Riches is about.  Or perhaps telling tall tales is more accurate.  Since in order to convince other players to vote in your favour and allow you to get the loot, you have to pitch a fairly far fetched explanation of how you would totally be able to subdue a hungry tiger with an umbrella.  Or traverse a barbed-wire moat with only a bear costume and a collection of mechanical beetles.  It’s a challenge of advocacy and facts and logic are not on your side.  Terry Pratchett in his Discworld novels describes a an element frequently left off the periodic table called ‘narrativium’.  It’s the element of the universe that causes “million and one chances to crop up nine out of ten times”.  Rogues to Riches oozes narrativium.  A good session of this game consists of a group of players competitively cooperating to goad each other into coming up with outlandish fallacious but irresistible arguments.

I stopped to think about something there that I’ll have to talk to Sam about soon.


Back to the review.

I think R2R is an important game because Sam is deliberately challenging the division between competitive and cooperative gaming.  There are points (in the form of gold coins) and loot and there will be a winner a  lot of losers at the end of the game, but without beating you over the head, the game is very clearly nudging players to practice ‘giving’ in the sense that improv actors and comedians use the term.  In lots of modern role-playing games there is talk about shared authority and stuff suggesting that GM’s and players subvert the goal of winning to the value of a narrative . In R2R this proposition is right out on the table.  Once the story telling starts, everyone enters into a negotiation.  The player whose turn it is makes a pitch.  The defender counters, and then the rest of the players are pulled in as their vote is sought.  Being an ungenerous and unreasonable defender taints the pool from whom you’ll be seeking votes on your turn.  Giving in too easily, or voting too liberally in favour of feeble stories, gives away points to your competitors.  So its got a fundamental prisoners dilemma at a subtle level.  All these considerations teach people to be more fun to play with and therefore teach people to play games better.  The skills / attitude demanded by R2R can make people better at playing all games!



 Posted by at 5:22 pm
May 022014

Thank you, thank you!   Let me take a break to introduce the members of our Trio:  First the’res  me Willem Wilson on base… then of course our front:  Octavia the Brave, free lancing paladin of all that is good and just, wielding her Halberd of fairness in her mailed fists of righteousness…  and finally, in the back we have….  er … well never mind the man behind the curtain.  So is everyone glad to be here!??

Last night Nat lead Owen Alissa, and Josh on a fine dungeon delve courtesy of Dungeon World – a “powered by the apocalypse” reboot of the dungeon crawling fantasy genre.

Character creation is pretty fun and fast.  It’s awfully fun to grab a character sheet and simply make a few simple choices.  Owen chose the thief sheet, I chose the bard, and Alissa the paladin. We all filled in some blanks to describe our bonds (history) with eachother.  The premise became that Octavia was a notable hero.  Willem  was an entertainer and musician who had convinced Octavia to let him join her on some important mission for the purpose of gathering material to compose a great ballad about her deeds.  Derek was an old comrade/rival of Willem who had some history together. Willem thinks Derek stays with him out of genuine affection and loyalty. Derek claimed that Willem was so flashy he provided great cover for Dereks more nefarious hobbies.  Pickpocketing and looting I suppose.

The adventure began with the three waking up in the depths of a cavern far far from the surface.  Observations suggest that they are standing on a dry (at least for now) subterranean river bed .  Should we go  upstream or downstream?  Before making progress in any direction we get attacked by a small swarm of giant rats from upstream.  After gnawing on Willem for a while, and getting bashed by Octavia the rats decide to move on.  Derek scales the wall of the cavern — the river bank— and discovers a crevice leading up and away.  Goblins attack.  Glowing mushrooms are gathered.  A cloaker constricts the paladin and is defeated. Diplomacy with underground nautically inclined dark elves ensue…

It looked like we were all having fun.  We probably only played less than two hours all told.  I’m pretty sure we could have gone longer – in terms of still having fun – had we more time.  So I’d give the game, and Nat, a high recommendation for being good for quickstart adventure fun.


 Posted by at 2:22 pm
Apr 282014

reposted for Geoffrey McVey who sent it to me on March 31  (Sorry I’m so damn slow about this) 

A Quartet for Ravens, Session Three

Tonight in our game, Derek, Joan, and Odette emerged from choosing their faerie patrons to go rescue Odette’s brother Travis from what they thought were the clutches of the Unseelie Court.

As it turned out, they were right. Going to Odette’s place, they found him looking slightly more out of it than usual and explaining that the Unseelie had promised that they would make his wishes come true if he served them. He also brought out two more of the Unseelie champions from St. Collens: Edie (“the town’s only Goth”), who had apparently been given a bow and told that she would be rewarded by having Derek notice her; and Dionne, a dancer not quite as good as Odette, who had been promised to take her proper place as a dancer once the Unseelie won.

Combat ensued, taking up most of the evening. Odette faced off against Edie with a combination of acrobatic kicks (thanks to the goatlike leaping powers granted by her patron, Father Mountain), Joan grabbed a lamp and tried to tangle Dionne’s legs in the cord, and Derek hid behind a couch as Travis’ shadow grew to menacing size. The battle ended with Derek conjured a soothing flame in his hand that caused the Unseelie to stop their violent attacks and retreat.

Afterwards, the heroes retreated to Derek’s home to check on his father, only to discover that someone had left a saucer of milk outside the door. Upon entering, Derek heard sounds of scuttling feet and spotted a group of tiny, white-haired men hiding around the house. They spoke to him in a language he couldn’t understand, but seemed friendly (and had tidied the place), so he withdrew to bring in Odette and Joan. Neither of them could understand the men, either.

Eventually, they all decided that whoever the men were, they didn’t mean any harm to Derek’s father, so the group all decided to sleep for the night. That’s where we paused.

 Posted by at 11:22 am
Mar 062014

March 6th saw Alissa, Geoffrey, Jennifer, Joshua, Nat and Sam gather at Joshua’s house.  Festivities included a quick but satisfying game of Coup and some stimulating playtesting of some of Sam’s current prototypes.  First we played his story telling game that pits competitors against each other in an attempt to move objects and characters around a map through narrative force. One fun outcome was that the winner, didn’t even get to play the winning move.  Someone else, in the midst of telling their story brought about the other player’s victory condition. In Uncooperative Dungeon Crawl, the players once again showed great cooperation… but to no avail.

 Posted by at 10:43 pm
Feb 172014

A week ago today about a score of board and card game designers and enthusiasts congregated at The Board Room.  Sam Fraser had this report (originally posted on Google+)

Last night I hosted the first Halifax Board and Card Game Designers meetup at the Board Room Game Cafe. It was a big success! 19 people showed up, and 1 person more couldn’t get in, so an even 20 people made the effort. That’s a great turn out.

Beforehand, I was worried that I would be the only one with a prototype to work on, but there were at least 5 people with a playable prototype, so that’s awesome. There is a 4x civ-building/exploration game, a deckbuilder set in the French Revolution, a bluff-based nuclear war card game for 3-5 players that takes under an hour, my uncooperative dungeon crawl, plus one super secretive proto.

We agreed that we would meet on the second Monday of each month at the Board Room, while designers would sign up for their weekly Open Gaming night to try out their protos and get feedback from the public. The monthly meetings would be a chance for a show & tell session, and to dig into some of the deeper challenges.

There were a lot of good discussions about things relating to game design too. Which print on demand service has the best quality components (The Game Crafter beat SuperiorPOD), best Kickstarter strategies, and using using games for social change. We even talked about creating an official society that would enable us to send a “Nova Scotia delegation” of designs to different conventions, thereby minimizing costs and maximizing exposure. Cool idea.

So if you are in Halifax or not too far away and want to join us, send me an email at sam@growgiantgames.com or join the FB group athttps://www.facebook.com/groups/halifaxgamedesigners/. It’s gaining lots of momentum!


 Posted by at 11:31 am
Jan 242014

Jochi Khan, Tsolmon and Bainer… are the names of three important figures in the tragically short history of the Bronze Horde.  As a contemporary of Ghengis Khan, Jochi struggled to make a name for himself and his 100 followers (and their families).  Camped outside the Silver City he cherished visions of glorious conquest.  Alongside of him, his faithful Capt. of the Guard Bainer swore to make this a reality.  However, their aged Shaman, Tsolmon (Bainer’s mother) warned an ignominious fate awaited her people if they did not turn their eyes from the corrupting allure of ‘civilization’ and return to their pure and savage roots to the North.  Half-heeding her advice Jochi’s horde half-sacked the silver city plundering only its farms and fields before turning northward. This half-measure yielded equivocal results.   It wasn’t long before waning morale lead Bainer to turn upon his liege and seek to take control  of the piddling horde.  At the moment of greatest confusion, Ghegis Khan and the one true “Golden” horded descended upon them swallowing them up completely.  In sadness, Tsolmon departed this material plane through self-immolation.  Jochi-Khan chose to die in a makeshift arena providing sport and amusement to the Temujin’s greatest warriors.  I’ll be dammed if I haven’t somehow completely forgotten what became of Bainer. But I’m sure it was equally tragic.

This was my first time to play Kingdom with veterans Alissa and Nat.  I enjoyed it, but I’d like to play again with stricter adherence to the rules and procedures.  I find one of my chief pleasures in the collaborative creative activity of these style games is interacting with the constraints imposed both by the procedures of play as well as by the divisions of authority between players.  When the rules are too loose, either by design or non-observance I feel like I’m just a member of a story-writing committee. (And that’s about as fun as it sounds).  I think we had plenty of fun because as a group, we’re getting more and more used to each other. We know each other well enough to know that everyone’s sincere about creating good stories.  I feel all we need is games that give use licence to push hard in order to ramp up dramatic conflict.

Comments?  Please!

 Posted by at 2:08 pm
Dec 202013

Sam, Geoffrey, Jennifer and Joshua formed the scene of the boardroom tonight. I was hosting and was almost but not completely prepared to run the quiet year. So after some discussion we settled on playing the final girl.

We let fate choose the premise and ended up with something about spelunking and man eating monsters. Jennifer had the brilliant idea that the excavation construction for a big new library opened up some ancient tunnels. It doesn’t characters from various walks of life all found themselves there for different reasons. My memory is poor but let me think. there was a police officer trying to service summons on homeless person. There was Nina a late on a city employee moon lighting by running tours in the newly discovered tunnels. Screen. A pair of bickering academics and a Polish exchange students were the first victims. Their senseless deaths serve the purpose of revealing to the audience that hundreds of years ago Polish immigrants were imprisoned and starved to death here. Very soon it became apparent that they’re hungry ghosts prowled the catacombs. In some large storm sewers which somehow connected to the same system a service to enter patient sought to confront phobias by subjecting themselves to the  labyrinth. Let me see there was also bank robber believe the stuff that money was hidden in the depths, are young man seeking friendship and a few others I think.

Early on the killer seem to manifest itself as chops and automatic mechanical nemesis. Later it became more spiritual and organic. Ultimately the patient, by the name of Laszlo seem to become possessed by a cannibalistic spirit. As he survive more encounters with the supernatural he became more and more attuned to the dungeon. Ultimately in my interpretation he internalized its murderous essence and became the thing itself.

It was a terrific play experience. Sam and I were the only two who have played this particular game before. But Jennifer and Geoffrey we’re clearly very comfortable with the style and form of role play. It was delightful to see the scene  expand ever so slightly with their arrival. I’m very excited about what marvelous stories we will all create an experience together the new year.

 Posted by at 12:36 am
Dec 072013

“The Sundered Land is a series of 5 single-page games plus 2 supplements set in the Sword & Sorcery ruins of the future.”


I’m a warrior seeking peace and an end to bloodshed. I’m on
pilgrimage to the Temple to No Gods in the distant City of Gulls. My pilgrimage
has brought me to the Jungle of Bones, inhabited by followers of a grim torturer-devil. My goal is to pass safely through and continue my pilgrimage.

You, my friends online, play the world. Your goal is to see me to my doom, instead of safely on my way. You’re allowed only to directly answer my direct questions, though, so you might not be able to do it.

The rules:

  1. Only answer my questions.
  2. If you don’t already know the answer, make something up.
  3. Keep your answers short.
  4. If your answer’s disruptive, I’m allowed to delete it.
  5. Otherwise, I have to go with the first answer somebody gives. I’ll +1 it.
  6. You may “subscribe” to this thread if you like. Please use the sentence ‘no gods watch over you’ to do so.”

(Play will begin in the comments to this post.  Please stand by for my first question)

 Posted by at 6:17 pm