Category: Games

I write about games! I write a LOT about games! Everything I do about games is here, in this tab, in some way.

5 Alternatives To Classics

In literary circles it’s not uncommon for core texts to be seen as fundamentally important, perhaps because of their long-term impact, or their origination of important ideas to a particular grouping of texts. This is seen as one of those ideas that can legitimise a field – it’s not so much that videogames have been waiting for their Citizen Kane as much as is that they’ve been waiting for their advocates to be taken seriously inside and out of academia.

In board games, this conversation about a ‘canon’ is even harder to manage – it tends to be not about games as critically meaningful units of culture, because that’s… that’s real hard. Typically instead we get sales numbers, and that can create the idea that the gaming marketplace is itself fundamentally rational and never elevates anything bad and there’s no such thing as a distribution network.

Now, I think some of these ‘classic’ games aren’t… really interesting to me. And for me, as long as I have some games in my collection, I feel replace or displace other games in the same general field. Don’t think ‘I have to get these classics,’ just give them a play and see if you like them. There are almost always good alternatives, and now I’m gunna talk about some.

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Minecraft: XP Furnace Design

Back in the days of Minecraft’s 1.15 patch, I shared this picture on Twitter:

This is something I was working on in a creative world for a collaborative server space. What I wanted to make was an XP Furnace system that could be used for players who needed to repair their mending equipment conveniently, something that just worked on its own over time. This design was made to be tileable, where each piece could be put directly next to one another without interfering with one another, and to be user approachable. I didn’t want a user to have to do anything with it – just let them take the stuff out of the furnace and get the XP that the furnace had in it was the ideal.

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Bidding for Second Place

I have this game idea where it’s a bidding game, but the second place is the one that wins it.

That’s it, that’s the whole of the idea.

There are a couple of games that already work on this principle. The idea that you want to avoid overdoing your efforts to hit a target is something that’s been in games since, well, Snakes and Ladders, where you have to land on the last tile with the exact, correct roll. Curling and Bowls are both games about getting as close as possible to a target without actually touching it, which implies the same vision of doing ‘exactly enough.’

In the case of the auction game, though, you aren’t sure about what you’re trying to do; you aren’t just expending resources that you want to save, but you’re also trying to hit just behind the player who bids the most. I think there’s interesting tension there, in the form of being second.

The problem I’m wondering about is what kind of theme can fit this?

In an auction, the idea that the first place loses the thing somehow is confusing. I can’t imagine why someone would do this, unless the auction was deliberately set up to be unfair. Blind auctions in the real world sometimes have rules like buy-in, so you have to place a bid in the hopes of getting something and you may not even get all the money you bid back,  which is a great swizz for people engaging in these kinds of nonsense trades.

The problem is that auction games about auctions are… weird? They need something to justify the mechanics, why they’re not just, you know, an auction. Consider that many auction games rely on expending resources that are limited – like cards. In the real world, money’s fungible – so you can just make change and bid the amount you want. Once you start introducing game mechanics to auctions, you need to introduce enough that they explain why the auction is being run like a real mickey mouse outfit.

Here then are some thoughts about what this ‘hit second’ auction may be all about:

  • You’re bidding on religious iconography, and the church keeps identifying the richest person based on the high bid, swooping on them to demand tithing
  • You’re extremely exciteable idiots, meaning that ‘winning’ the auction results in you throwing a huge party immediately, and forgetting to pick up the item
  • You’re raiding hackers, and the first person to break a server are the people who are immediately driven away – you get prestige, but not resources
  • You’re all contingents of a raiding army – the highest value represents the biggest army, which is put to the task of destroying enemies, while the second biggest must do the work of developing the land
  • You’re Canadian, and too polite to take the thing if you win
  • You’re artists working in a fragile medium like ice, and the person who tries to do the most has their artwork collapse
  • You’re dealing with rallying Australian voters, and Tall Poppy syndrome syndrome means the top position loses
  • You’re cultists rousing Cthulhoid horrors – and the cult that gets too much attention gets eaten
  • You’re smuggling stuff past cops, and the people who move the most product are the ones who get caught.

What about you? Got some ideas?

Game Pile: Syndicate Wars

The rain rattles down against endless shimmering towers of silver and glass, black sludgy water, stinging on the way down, even the treatments making it ‘safe’ leaving it bitter, acrid, and faintly radioactive. No-one who knows better would be about in weather like this.

But nobody knows better.

The people mill around you, chips on their necks keeping them docile. What are they seeing? Do they even see the rain and the lines it leaves on the glass around them? Probably not. Every city runs its own sim, its own explanation for the world around them as the citizens move about, processing information and doing jobs and not noticing the world as it really is.

Imagine keeping a labor force like this in pods.

A world sized prison for humans, plugged into a vast wireless network of perception manipulators? Unnecessary. After all, if there’s ever a serious problem, they solve it with agents. Heavy, boot-and-coat wearing walking battle platforms, with no personality and big scary fuckin’ guns.

Agents from one corp, agents from another corp, they clash, and everyone else is left dead. More now we got the cult weirdoes, and the gangers who fell out of the network trying to stage an uprising.

This is the world now.

You fell out of the system, after that virus hit. And you get to see the world, as it is – as it tears itself apart.

This is Syndicate Wars.

Content Warning: Drugs.

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4e: The Ardent

I write a fair bit about 4th edition D&D. There’s at least one article a month, with the How To Be series, and I think they’re lots of fun. They’re exercises in character construction, working from a character aesthetic and trying to find a way to make that fit in the power boundaries and existing options of 4th edition D&D. Part of why I like to do this is to attack the idea that character creation in 4e was boring.

Stil, there are some things that are just… very much from D&D. They’re just things that fit within the universe of D&D as it is, and don’t really translate well to other sources. One such class is the Ardent. The Ardent is a psionic leader; it does team support, healing and buffing and positioning, but powered by the power of the mind.

Psionics in D&D has a weird place, because for some people (like me) it feels like a clear intrusion of science fiction into the fantasy landscape of D&D and therefore makes all the arcane and divine importance of magic as a discipline less important, and for some people (like me, now) that’s 100% correct and rules. Complaints about psionics from back in the day tend to be about how the system was broken not about how the system broke the fiction of the universe after all. Psionics has come to be a favourite system because it tends to be contained in a way that magic isn’t. Magic gets expanded constantly, while there’s an understanding that the psionic system is going to get a limited amount of space, and the psionic classes tend to get a small number of tools they need to make hte most out of. That creates a depth of mastery, where you want to make choices that give you a toolkit you then have to maximise, rather than the disappointing feeling of a wizard’s infinitely wide toolkit, or a sorcerer’s maximally efficient one. It strikes a middle space – and it stands apart from the wizard.

The Ardent takes this idea space and looks at psionics as a way to express the self. It is literally a romantic class (though no Ardent I’ve played has ever had a successful romance) – a class who can use their feelings, their love, their rage, their will to succeed, their excitement at avoiding an attack, and turn that into a tangible force where they can use it to punch an enemy in the face. I love this stuff – I love the idea of a literal avatar of your own feelings. It’s like the thrill of a cleric, where your ideology drives your actions, but you don’t have to have a Dad who is also a Cop on hand.

Ardents use weapons; Ardents wear armour. I like that. These are both things that will cost your character somewhat, but they get you to have a big physical expression of what kind of person they are in their aesthetic. Robes tend to be robes – but armour can look like a lot of different things. Using an axe or a hammer or a polearm or a sword – they also express different ideas. Plus, weapons have a big space of fun synergies that you can pick up if you want to find something interesting to do with your feats, but also don’t demand it.

Ardents are a Charisma-first class. That is, you make attack and damage rolls with your charisma. I wrote about them a while back, about how you can be hot and hit people with your hotness, which I still find fun. Charisma as a way to express a driven character who, whether or not they have social anxiety or stress out over public interactions, can use the force of how they feel to change the world. That’s cool!

Also, it’s a leader. I like playing defenders, because they get to be tough and I can make a big, tangible showing of what good I am contributing. I like protecting my friends. I get some of the same with the leader’s job – making people better at what they do, contributing to their wellbeing, and, with the right build, absolutely wielding the strikers in the group like a bloody blunt instrument.

They get this power? Forward thinking cut. You can fire it off in three versions:

  • Hit someone. Your ally next to you gets a bonus to hit rolls. You can do this when you charge.
  • Shift 1, charge, then you can hit someone, and an ally next to you gets a bonus to hit rolls.
  • One or two Allies you can see can each charge creatures other than the target as a free action, with a bonus to damage equal to your con mod.

Now that, that escalated quickly.

Being able to charge in quick for free, as an at will power? that’s grand. The boost being until your next turn means you can charge next to a tank, stand in their defensive space, and watch as the bonus applies to all their attacks of opportunity or mark punishment. That power, on its own, is fine. The second version lets you shift away from someone holding you in place, and then charge off away from them, to join another ally. That’s also great, a tool you want in the toybox.

The third version is fucking nova gas.

It can be hard to concentrate these attacks – you may notice this means you, the Ardent, charge at a minion or buddy next to the villain, and you throw two of your allies at the villain as a free action so they start their turns mixing it up with them. You can use this to deploy a defender into the middle of a bunch of enemies.

Oh and did I mention that you give pepole a bonus to damage rolls based on how many attacks of opportunity they provoke?

And that this is one power?

And that you have other stuff you can do, including a conga line power where you pinball an enemy around between all your allies and let them all get an attack in?

I think about this a lot when I think about this class. It’s very D&D, but it’s also this very beautifully Tactics Game at the same time. It’s a game that lets you play out the fantasy of being a battlefield commander, inspiring and invigorating your allies. It’s so perfect for a lot of things I want out of characters I play.

Oh, I have no doubt that I’ll be able to find some builds in the future that use the Ardent. I like it a lot, and there are some characters who can probably be represented by a physically violent but emotionaly driven, armoured weapon wielder. I mean if she didn’t have such a loud ‘hit it harder’ theme, Chandra Nalaar could have done it.

Game Pile: Ai The Somnium Files (Again!)

Last year, I did a video about Ai: The Somnium Files. That video was mostly about the game as a top-down experience, and what you can learn from making that kind of game, and how it was deliberately unsubtle. I didn’t spend much time just talking about how much I love it and the things in it. Because I like it so much, I wanted to spend some time talking about it again and also platforming a beloved friend, Nixie!

In the video, Nixie mentions this video by Dr Cullen PhD, so there’s that link. Nixie has her own Twitter, and her own Patreon you can check out.

If you want a full size version of the thumbnail, here!

How To Be: Rock Howard (In 4E D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritive but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

It’s April, it’s Talen Month, and that means we’re going to talk about a character I’ve wanted to talk about for a long time, and a character who I have a deep appreciation for. There’s not a lot of characters that fit in that mould and work well with 4th Edition’s heightened adventure reality, but when I had the idea to tackle this character, I did so with full and wholehearted knowledge that damnit, I wanted to take care of this character in my month.

We’re going to talk about how you can become Rock Howard.

NesTea

Time to time I’ll go back and look at classic Real-Time Strategy games, like Gene Wars or Krush Kill N Destroy and I’ll walk away with the twofold message that those games are badly made, but also, which I don’t put out there on screen or anything, that I am really mediocre at playing them. Mediocre is overstating it, really, because when I play an RTS where I know the game is well-regarded and skill-tested, I am regularly overwhelmed.

There was a time, though, around 2010, when I wasn’t actively bad at playing RTSes. Or one RTS, really. One specific RTS – Starcraft 2.

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CoX: Carcer

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.

In this case, this character’s backstory requires some Content Warning for parental abuse, and themes of mental health and trauma, as well as uh, Death Gods?


The vitals; Poor and poorer for it. Born in Croatoa. Raised in Kings. Single father. Bad father. Empathy powers, started in high school. Got hurt. Got insular. Had to deal with his feelings, and everyone else’s feelings.

Then Mot happened, and he had to deal with nothing but Mot’s feelings.

Carcer, only name given, has done some dumb things to try and deal with his situation. Ink black skin, a death god’s powers, the damage persisted after the sealing of Mot. A damaged, surly, aggressive boy, he’s been trying to use what he’s got to do some good. Continue reading

3.5 Memories: The Complete Adventurer

Before I go on to bang about something big and complicated in this book, I want to note, up front, that this book has Wraithstrike, one of my favourite 3.5 D&D spells, and which introduced the idea of spellcasters spending spell slots for short-term, immediate impact in combat, something I love and which always thrilled me when I got to play with it. If I only got this book for that one category of spell, I’d be pretty okay with it.

Just some uncritical, unvarnished, un-preambled praise.

Going back through my old 3.5 books is sometimes an exercise in wondering, in hindsight, just what exactly justified the book’s cost. At the time I was actively playing 3.5 D&D, the books were purchaseable research tools, things to leaf through and read and cross-reference. It was like getting a complex box of lego, and you could share your creations with other people.

Most of these books, I look at the spines and I have a warm thought or two. It tends to be something like oh yeah, remember how this lets you do that or that. Most any given book has an absolute dogshit class, one really embarrassingly weak thing, and one really busted thing in it. There’s always some stuff that’s, you know, decent, or stuff that becomes decent when you know what you’re doing. Basically, these books were themselves, even if never used to build a character, fun to play with.

Sometimes you’d find a book that had in it something that resisted play. Something with an obvious allure to it, but something that was hard to see how to make it work. These were often a bit like Finger Traps, kind of like Rubiks Cubes – puzzles where the impracticality of solving them was the point. Character options that asked an interesting question.

For the Complete Adventurer, the question was the Fochlucan Lyrist.

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Gods of Cobrin’Seil: Faces Of War

I spoke earlier in the year about ways to view gods in Cobrin’Seil, and the story mechanisms I used to consider them. I said, at the time, that I wasn’t planning on talking more about the gods in my setting, unless there was interest. Then there was interest.

This involved digging up the text I had on these gods – the historical information for comparison. Obviously, looking back on your old writing is going to come with some problems. In this case, some of it just basic assumptions, some if it is awkward phrasing, some of it is indelicate language, and uh,

also,

I cut a title from this text for Adeblen. The original title was unremarkably edgy, and I would normally leave it in, but it uses a Content Warningy word, and there’s nothing really, like… related to it. I would normally leave the text as is and use it as a teaching moment? But like: Don’t give characters titles that include words you’re not comfortable saying at the gaming table any more. Seems pretty easy teaching.

Now, with that, here’s the old text presented for the gods Palescai and Adeblen. This text is presented as is and I’ll workshop it on the other end.

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Kaede

Let’s talk about scope.

Let’s talk about game mechanics.

Let’s talk about difficulty.

Let’s talk about mythology and the remix and symbolism and men’s failure to communicate and the way queerness spreads to fill empty space and the absolute nonsense that is SNK worldbuilding.

Let’s talk about Kaede.

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Star Control 2: The Thraddash

In the classic science fiction DOS game, Star Control 2, you’re a human captain asked to contend with a variety of different alien cultures, who have a host of different possible reactions to the things you do and a fairly interesting broad range of wants and ideologies. My normal go-to example of the work done to make these cultures interesting is the Ur-Quan, who basically are two cultures engaged in a literal war over who’s got the better unhealthy way to reckon with their personal trauma.

And like, Star Control 2 is still at its root a game which is basically giving you individual people to chat with, with a slightly slack memory. Like, these aren’t cultures cultures. They’re a single surface of a culture that it sometimes implies that there’s degrees within that culture, with individuals that don’t necessarily comply with the standard you’re presented. The Vux have Admiral Zex, the Spathi have the Black Spathi Squadron (and Fwiffo, to an extent), and the Zoq-Fot-Pik show the way their culture varies within itself just by their constant bickering.  The Slylandro talk amongst themselves right in front of you, showing they’re not all these vast monocultures.

This isn’t true of all cultures, though. In this space bursting with life, you have cultures that just don’t get that much variety, so they’re kind of ‘lesser’ cultures. The Supox barely get any screen time. The Druuge are just capitalists. The Umgah are Ettin.

One of these ‘lesser’ cultures – who you can still bully into joining your alliance, mind you – is the infinitely pugnacious Thraddash.

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Game Pile: Final Fantasy VI

Oh hey, it’s Talen a PC gamer who didn’t have a console through the 90s talking about a classic of the form in a genre he’s normally pretty condescending towards and it’s an iconic masterwork of the genre so there’s a checklist of things you kind of have to talk about on the way through before you get to talk about whatever it is you want to talk about well guess that means we gotta blaze through the outline.

  • Brilliant classic
  • Inventive mechanics
  • Iconic music
  • Lively cast of interesting characters
  • Innovative MODE SEVENING
  • What’s the DEAL with how the first half of the game was a JRPG and the back half, a WESTERN RPG?
  • Did U Kno The American Release Was III?
  • Girl Hot
  • Other Girl Hot
  • Other Other Girl Hot
  • Boy…? Hot? Maybe?
  • Playstation port bad!
  • Steam port bad!
  • GBA port okay, really!
  • Suplexing A Train

With that list of the key and important details that are necessary to cover I have hopefully cut down a chunk of the mandatory word count for this article. After all, where will we be if I treat Final Fantasy 6 as something that you may already know about, or as some subject that you already probably can find other sources to explain?

I intend to spoil things about this game but I don’t imagine I actually will? Like, you may view it as a spoiler to mention ‘there’s a character named Effuzio in the story’ and that’s fine, but I don’t particularly plan on talking about the main thrust of the plot. Besides, if it helps you at all, the story of Final Fantasy 6 isn’t really that important, or even that interesting. Not the single, big, core narrative that runs from instigating incident to attention arrival to conclusion to denoument, no, that isn’t important. What’s important to me is the sequences of smaller stories that make up the whole of experience of this multi-hour JRPG mammoth of a story, the characters that are Final Fantasy VI.

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MTG: March’s Custom Cards: Boros Blessings!

March is over, and as I’ve been doing so far this year, it’s time for another round of custom cards! Despite what you may think if you’ve dealt with me on the subreddit, I am not against white getting good stuff. In fact, I’m a firm believer in white’s weakness in Commander presenting an exciting area to put new and interesting things rather than just recoloured Concentrate. It goes even moreso for Boros, where I see their flavour space as full of interesting potential, that largely goes untapped as people just try to fix their problems with the same simple tools of ‘but what if blue,’ and ‘what if I make something overpowered?’ Thus, this month, I’m back to the ‘what about white in multiplayer?’ hobby horse, and we’re looking at Boros Cards. Some quick rules on this front:

  • Not overusing mechanics. There are a lot of good mechanics for making colours with mixed colour identities, like infusing spells like Boros Fury Shield, but I didn’t want to overuse anything. Most keywords are used once, some are used twice.
  • No new keywords. I’m rarely a fan of inventing a keyword when existing keywords are here for exploration.
  • No cycles. These are individual cards for adding to commander decks.

The most popular of the cards, at this point is the Crownbreaker Partisan, a card I was worried was a little weak. I think the complain I found the most ridiculous this time was sniping about the Solimancy Forgecrafter, a white card that improves efficiency, and needs red to copy things.

How To Be: Edelgard von Hresvelg (In 4E D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritive but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

Now this month, we’re going to return to How To Be’s roots, and once more we’re looking at a character from Fire Emblem: Some Number Of Houses. Yes, it’s the gal who’s Horny For Priest Murder (And For Other Reasons), the Look Up Other Reasons People Like Her, the One, the Only: Edelgard von Not Pronouncing That!

Game Pile: Gene Wars

Genewars is a 1996 videogame release from games industry innovator and technology boundary pusher Bullfrog, at the height of their heady, genre-establishing, world-shaking PC gaming juggernaut status, overseen by the pandimensional fish-hoarding gamer genius explorer boy and repeated game revolutionary Peter Molyneux. After inventing the God Game genre with Populous, the RTS genre with Powermonger, perfecting the spatial management game with Theme Park, redefining flight simulator games with Magic Carpet and creating the fantastically engaging real-time squad based strategy dystopian cyberpunk offend-em-up Syndicate, but just before all-purpose warm-fuzzy-feelings inspiring Dungeon Keeper, Bullfrog announced a new RTS game called Genewars.

The premise of Genewars up front was that you weren’t going to buy units from a list, like some kind of plebian, Commanding and Crafting. You were going to create your own units, based on stitching together the DNA of species on the planet, and the possibilities were endless.

And from this perfected and extremely shiny forehead of Peter Molyneux, what could spring, but excellence?

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4e: The Hindren

Hindren are a type of cervitaur (‘part deer, part-humanoid, with four legs and two arms’) people you can meet in the indie videogame Caves of Qud. They’re originally a fan creation by indie bespoke curio crafter Caelyn Sandel, before they were implemented in the game proper in part thanks to the efforts of new Caves of Qud writer Caelyn Sandel, which meant they were present in the game to be streamed by Grahu-Rubufo, the Caves of Qud vtuber (voice acted by Caelyn Sandel).

Here, in this article here, is a version of the Hindren that you can bring to the table in your D&D games, as long as you’re playing 4th edition and have a DM that’s understanding about gay deers. Why now? Why am I doing this? Because it’s someone‘s birthday soon, and she’s lovely, and I like what she does.

Art Source: Phineas Klier. Don’t like the watermark? Go check out his work, it’s clean and big there!

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Iteration on Experience

I play Picross pretty regularly. It’s a simple little game that my computer can pull up in a browser window and then I can belt through a game, or fail at it, very quickly. It’s something I’ve been doing pretty much on and off since Fox got me into the game in a waiting room at a doctor’s.

Picross, or a nonogram, is something I’ve written about in the past. The tool I use generates random ones within a particular difficulty grade, and you can ramp it up or remove elements that make it easier whenever you feel you need to. For me, this means that my personal limit on picrosses is around 15×15, no-mistake wins, with the occasional exception for unwinnables. I’m not amazing at them, but they’re functionally infinite and I don’t find myself holding onto great examples so I can share them around.

Though maybe I should.

Chances are if you’re on youtube, you’ve seen some of those specialised channels for dealing with particularly dense, high-potential games like Chess, where there are dozens and dozens of chess channels that want to break down famous games, or explore potential games, or just talk about games in progress as puzzles. In this space, there’s the fairly well known Cracking the Cryptic, which does Sudoku puzzles (and other things, they promise, but, I mostly see Sudoku puzzles).

I haven’t picked up Sudoku as a skill, mind you: I’ve just been observing it, from this other channel, and something I find most interesting is the ways that the people involved get very familiar with making intuitive leaps that they then explain. They’re not guessing – they just see solutions, and then they have to back-fill the explanation, to bring you along with them on their path of logic.

When I start on Picross now, I tend to see how quickly I can get the basics laid down – I know the numbers that matter the most to the kind of things I can do, I’m familiar with certain patterns that reach further than you think, and that means that I have tools that make approaching a Picross puzzle a little bit quicker. Not fast by any means, but it gets some of that initial friction out of the way.

Tonight, as Youtube brought on another Cracking the Cryptic to me, the puzzle involved ‘thermometers’ and that yielded someone describing the way you can slide numbers forwards and back, but you have limited space, and that gives you information you can work from. It was a small detail, but it made me sit up and go: Oh, like 4s in those regions.

And just like that, I was seeing the way these skills translate. I didn’t study Picross, I just played it a lot. Playing it a lot resulted in familiarity. Familiarity made it easier to play a lot. The systems of games feeding one another, and only when you put that in a different context do you see the way that familiarity can be turned into actionable, practical, pragmatic result.

CoX: Brambles

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.


In the fey realms, there are courts; courts overseen by great powers, lords of realms or even of ideas themselves. The greatest and vastest powers, strange and incommunicable, are overseen by the Great Courts, with the fey royalty, the names people know, the names so important that they slip through even into the mortal’s realms.

But one court, the Court of Voids, lays hidden and secret, ancient beyond even the knowing of the Fae. A mystery of mysteries, with its Secret Queen, She Who Touches As Iron. Precious and few are the fey of this court, paying fealty to this secret queen, with blessings of stealth, secrets, combat and healing for the maimed.

His name, he says, is Brambles, and he lays fealty to this Secret Queen. But the Secret Queen wants secrets and justice – and where better to find those than the City of Heroes? 

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The Games of Orcs

In Homo Ludens, Johan Huizinga argues that it is not that games are a byproduct of culture, but that games represent the defining aspects of the formation of culture. That is, ‘making games’ and ‘playing’ are things you do before you get to the stage of having ‘a culture.’ And that’s exactly as much as we should listen to Huizinga about what and who counts as having ‘a culture,’ because it gets a touch yikesy with all the colonialism.

Nonetheless, Huizinga does argue that games are part of the formation of culture, and he suggests the way that animals with proto-cultures play games is itself a step on that path towards creating a culture. Wolves and birds play with one another to learn, and that implies that there’s a connection between playing and learning, and learning, the assumption runs, turns into civilisation and waistcoats and brandy eventually.

I don’t think that Huizinga was a furry, but I’m saying he’d see top-hat wearing waistcoated werewolves and go ‘yes, that.’

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MTG: It’s Tough To Be Competitive (When The Format Doesn’t Want You To Be)

Everyone plays Magic in their own way. The game serves as a platform for players to find one another, but even the people who engage with that platform in ways that seem the same are still approaching it in different ways. Players are simply too complex, motivations to play are too varied, and the game itself is too complicated for two players to sit down and truly want and expect the exact same thing out of the game as they play, and formats and rules and social responsiveness are tools we have to make sure people are at least engaging with one another on a reasonably equal level. The utility of the game is that the game sets rules and boundaries that players can use to meaningfully communicate their own parameters, making it easier to dial into what they want out of the experience.

Knowing that, it’s got to be rough to be into Competitive Commander, or, as it’s known, CEDH.

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Writing Up Die Rich’s Rules

Die Rich is a card game I developed… I want to say early 2020, late 2019. The idea comes from a long time ago, and it’s built around a design I used for referencing a thing in a RP space, of the Carthaginian General Hannibal.

The thing is, something happeend in 2020 (like, all of 2020), and that meant I never developed the rulebook for it. I’d played the game, before I ever made any of the cards, and I’d tested it, I knew the game worked… but I never wrote down the rules.

Now I don’t know if I remember them, exactly.

But I do have a deck of the cards, so I can play the game, and see the problems, and reconstruct what I generally know. Then I’m going to construct what I need the rules to cover, and you can read that. This is how these rulebooks kinda got made.

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Game Pile: Root

In 2018, the board game Root was released by Leder games, to a sort of confused, but very enthusiastic ‘hooray!’ Based on earlier successes by the same developers (and some weird, contentious ‘hey, you copied my notes’ complaints), Root is an asymmetrical war game, where in the base box, you have four factions competing with one another to try and take control of a nonspecific woodland glade. Each faction, the game promised – and delivered – are different; not the same rules with a few different units, but entirely, meaningfully, complicatedly different in how they relate to one another.

Lauded for its emergent complexity and its charming aesthetic, Root is one of those games that quickly became institutional; multiple expansions, fan merchandise, an RPG in the setting, all that stuff that signalled people are into your game, the base board game Root is probably one of those recent classics.

I never wanted to buy Root, though.

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