Category Archives: Games

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

Game Pile: Son of Xenon

There are, officially, six Space Quest videogames, released in order from 1986 to 1995. They follow the adventures of Roger Wilco, a hapless janitor whose adventures started on the Arcada, a science vessel transporting a super-science doohickey that could be turned into a weapon, where everyone was killed but Roger, who avoided certain doom because he was sleeping in the closet. Each game ramped up the stakes and adjusted the setting a little, with Roger going on a series of adventures that were mostly about trying to survive extremely hostile situations in which he’d been flung by the machinations of someone else, or in some cases, great coincidence.

Mostly the Space Quest games were defined by a particular sense of humour, which in some cases doesn’t age great (of the six games, fully three of them pass before there’s a single woman character who says anything), and a gameplay system that’s much more about being a very ordinary person trying to construct solutions to things because of your limited expertise.

But the technology of full-time professionals in 1985 has long since passed into the skillset of the hobbyist, and so the Space Quest franchise, which has been dormant so long the company responsible for it has been dead for years, is mostly continued by fan games.

Like this one, Son of Xenon.

Son of Xenon is a 16-colour, 320-200 pixel resolution Space Quest fan game that is, ostensibly, about Roger Wilco before he became the janitor of the Arcada, before the sun of Xenon was dying, before the Star Generator was ever made. If you want to check out Son Of Xenon before I go on about it, here’s a link. It’s pretty good. I got stuck at a few points, but it didn’t feel nearly as unfair as the genre normally is, and you’ll probably get through it in a few hours on your own.

No spoilers after the fold, but rather, a consideration of Roger Wilco, and his place in gaming, and why we get fangames like Son of Xenon.

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Prototype 22.09 — Lane Chase

Every month of 2022, I am trying, as part of both my PhD project and my all-purpose general game development, develop if not a whole game for game development, a project start, such that I can make playtest prototypes. This is a sort of report of the process throughout the month.



What I started with this month was this:

This little Y unit that creates, in a player space, and in the process created lanes.

I didn’t get much time to work on this prototype this month. Honestly, I didn’t really get any time — this project hit a wall early on because this month had other demands. I’m embarrassed by it but I’m also just admitting it. This month has to marking crushes and a pressure point on the non-fun bits of the PhD (you know, all the paperwork that is meant to build off this design).

But still, this idea yielded some thoughts.

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How To Be: Lalo Salamanca (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 authoritative 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.

There’s a real challenge in translating anime characters to other forms of media, and that’s why once again, we go back to the most successful anime of the last five years, which had its grand conclusion just last month. Yes, people love Better Call Saul, and Breaking Bad and then maybe they’ll mention El Camino and maaaybe they’ll mention Slippin’ Jimmy, but no matter how you enjoy it, we all know one of the greatest anime villains of all time stands tall, possibly while murmuring the name Werner… Ziegler…

It’s Lalo!

Spoilers but kinda? For Season 4 and onward of Better Call Saul.

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4e: Deploying Monster Types

Hey, have we already spoken about the monster system in 4th Ed D&D?

Back in 3rd edition, D&D used what we called the ‘challenge rating’ system, a system that treated each monster as a sort of amorphous blob with a generic personality and the option to pick its own feats and do a lot of possible things. It was a system that I’ve talked about somewhat negatively.

But people say that 4e D&D was ‘only good for tactical combat,’ which I don’t agree with, but I can understand the feeling when you consider it was the first time that it made the combat system kinda work (and obligatory ‘ew there were math problems in the first monster manual’ yep, and they found them and addressed it, thanks).

Part of how it worked was that rather than treat monsters as if they were all generic spots on a continuum, monsters were balanced based on general formulas of things they could do and ways they could be represented, and part of that was recognising that some types of monster were best suited to particular types of role.

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MTG: The Force Check

In Magic: The Gathering‘s oldest formats, Legacy and Vintage, one of the most important spells that exists is a card printed originally all the way back in Alliances from 1996, Force Of Will. What the card does is pretty simple; it counters a spell, but it costs one point of life and a blue card out of your hand to do it, and, crucially, no mana.

I’m going to say some nice things about Force of Will here, but I want to make sure you understand I don’t think that the card’s a good thing. It’s more that, like the many diseases of Montgomery Burns, older formats have enough broken nonsense going on in enough broken ways that Force of Will fills an important part in the ecosystem. It’s one of those funny things about big enough games that grow over time; the mistakes sometimes can cancel each other out.

It’s also a namesake for an effect (multiple other cards are called ‘force of’ something to represent they can be cast for free), and the phenomenon known as a Force Check.

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3.5: The Archivist

Hey kid, wanna read some dirty books?

Original Art by Julie Dillon

D&D is a game of nerds, and therefore there is always some degree to which it will reflect the vision of the kinds of nerds that made it. By default, there is an idea of power that lends itself towards the obvious, with mighty barbarians and fighty fighters plunging onwards into the fray, but it almost seems too obvious that a game that for thirty years was seen as the domain of the kind of dorks who boasted about their test scores just so happened to land the majority of the powerhouse play options in the lap of the characters visually represented by being physically unathletic and carrying a big book everywhere.

In a game full of busted stuff, it’s well known that in D&D 3.5 the most busted stuff comes from the host known as the ‘full spellcasters’ – characters whose power derives directly from their spellcasting as the primary thing they do, and who get nine levels of casting spread out over seventeen levels, eighteen if you suck and pick a sorcerer. And amongst those, the typical top tier are the Wizard, the Cleric, and the Druid.

The Archivist is the rare example of a character class presented in the 3.5 D&D expansions books that manages to not just exist alongside those three, but in a way, exceed them.

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Eberron and the Dawn of Magepunk

When you give a thing a name, you give it a life.

Eberron is a Dungeons and Dragons setting that first launched in July 2004, for Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, and much ink has been spilled about it, not the least of which is in their official books. It’s a great setting, and it has a bunch of fun things put in it, including shapeshifting genderqueer cuties and mechanised robot people, and oh yeah, an entire country that’s got cursed fog rolling through it. Eberron is a fun setting and I like it.

Eberron is also the first time I ever encountered the word Magepunk.

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CoX: The 49th

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.


Nearly ten feet of solid, ice-cold, star-hot Canadian battle goddess, the woman known as The 49th remembers a world almost like, but not quite like, the one she’s in. Where she’s from, Canada was the dominant empire of the North Americas, not the USA. Where she’s from, humans tapped the power of stars to create champions. And where she’s from, things were a lot more polite and liberal on some topics.

In the event she knows as the Great Collapse, her world is gone – not only that, but it seems it never existed. A portal incident that has echoes throughout time. Still, she survived it, endured it – and now she’s here, on her own, building in her own time and space in this familiar-but-not-quite world.

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Bill Of Elf, Part 2

Yesterday I talked about the world building I have explaining the basic foundation of elves in the setting, and in the process, described a set of different ‘elves’ that players have access to for building their own characters. But that was more a sort of top-down cladistic vision of them. What are those elves like, what does it mean to be a member of those elven cultures? How do they view one another and what kind of characters do they allow?

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Bill Of Elf, Part 1

I’ve written about elves in Cobrin’Seil, but it was writing that was largely about addressing them as an origin. What I wanted to address is the question of why elves can make half-elves, when they’re not quite like half-orcs. I even established there that elves are less a heritage and more a group of heritages, all drawing from the same singular space.

Of course, the language around this is complicated. After all, I call these things elves, but one of those types of elf is called elves. And I’m not doing this in the vein of Moon Elves and Sun Elves and Sand Elves and Dust Elves and Song Elves and Wood Elves and Winged Elves and I only had to make up one of those. But the general fantasy of ‘elf’ is something players love, but also it means a lot of different things. The distribution of ‘elves’ is a whole question unto itself, and I kind of needed to decide what I wanted them to do and what character fantasies are enabled.

Plus, that creates a question of how the world relates to the idea of the Elves, and well…

That’s a world building question.

Art by Randy Vargas
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Game Pile: Exalted, The Infernals, and Dreadful Favourites

Back in 2019 I wrote a pair of articles about Exalted, and The Infernals and the challenges of grappling with a book I don’t recommend but still has in it stuff I like in an interesting, vibrant, wild setting. Apparently 3e Exalted is now ending and a new game is being made in its wake, so what better time than to complain about books that are sixteen years old?

Exalted the Infernals and Dreadful Favourites

If you wanna see the thumbnail, here it is:

Switch Stances Update

Yeah I know I gave you the main post on this a week ago. I’m still thinking about it. Mainly I got thinking about how once you have the combinatorics done, this game creates a huge number of unique game pieces with only a small number of pieces.

Okay, so the game is basically a trick taker; you’re all playing skateboarders hanging out at the skate park, and you have multiple areas you can chain tricks from. This means you can use weak cards to try and build combinations nobody else can match or exceed, and you can try and goad people into trying tricks that they can’t do yet. Particularly, everyone has a unique deck of cards, with each card showing two suits. When I was working on prospective designs I belted out a draft and hated it and then, today, spent some time working on a draft I don’t hate.

Here are some examples of what the cards ‘should’ look like – each of these being from a different player’s deck:

There’s some strategic depth here created by knowing that your options are not the same as your opponent’s. See, here, if you’re the second player, you can use your F4 as an A to bait another player’s best D card. They have to follow suit, so if you’re willing to give up a 4 in F, you can get rid of an opponent’s 6 in D, and know that they won’t likely be able to oppose your own 6 later.

These cards are however, really simple once I realised I was overthinking things. Each card is made up of three simple parts:

Note that the rotational divider is entirely aesthetic, if I was feeling really fancy I could leave it out, but I like it. I’m not good at skateboard aesthetics.

Anyway, all of this is just standin filler components; the suits should probably not be letters, and if I was a more authentic skateboarding fan rather than a fan of it as a hypothetical, I could imagine each of those suits representing a common move that can be used to chain into more, complicated moves. The card art is also a filler piece, gained from a DuckDuckGo image search.

See, thing with this, the thing that lingers in my mind and why I kinda wonder about finding an artist who can breathe another layer of depth into this, is because with this handful of components I’ve managed to solve eighty cards in this game’s design. And once I have that suddenly proxying it up and practicing with it looks more simple, more feasible.

Asset Brainstorm #9 — Moba Lanes

As a matter of practice, it’s important to me that I keep demonstrating different ways to engage with games. Making games is a practice, and when you can look at game assets and consider ways to apply them, you’ll begin to see how much of game design is stuff you can do. Therefore, on this blog I’m making it a project to regularly grab some game assets I couldn’t make myself, that are made for game designers to work with, and see what ideas they inspire.


This time I don’t have art assets to look at. Reiner Knizier has said that when you work on games, you start with an aesthetic, a mechanic, or a device – and in this case I’ve been thinking about a device for some time. I’m not sure where I saw it, but I’ve been thinking about MOBA games for a long time. A long time ago, a friend of mine and I were toying with the idea of a management game about running an eSports team, and that meant spending time thinking about… well, MOBAs.

Anyway, here’s a diagram.

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Game Pile: City of Heroes Homecoming, Page 4

Oh snap, what’s that? That MMO everyone is always talking about with the cool looking characters, that’s free to play up to level 50 and beyond, has gotten a recent update?

That’s right, mother-havers and non-mother-havers, it’s another City of Heroes Homecoming Page, a content update for the sweatiest of weirdoes!

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Prototype 22.08 — Switch Stances

Every month of 2022, I am trying, as part of both my PhD project and my all-purpose general game development, develop if not a whole game for game development, a project start, such that I can make playtest prototypes. This is a sort of report of the process throughout the month.


This month I got to the outline stage of designing a trick-taking game which is now firmly at the ‘make a prototype and see how it plays in person.’ And it’s about skateboarders, and I have a challenge now about aesthetic choices.

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How To Be: Bridget (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 authoritative 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.

You don’t have long on this earth. THE FASTEST SINNER WILL EDIT THE TEXT. MISSION ONE. WHATABURGER! A MIDNIGHT MEAL WITH THE DEVIL

THE CARBUNCLE ATE ITSELF! FIRST HOWDY!

LET’S GET THE MONEY. GODS PLAY DICE WITH THE UNIVERSE, WHY DON’T YOU GIVE HER A CALL. FIRST SHOWDOWN ATTACK, Crank it To 11! WORLD IS A FUCK

Round the first: Grind!

It’s Labor Day.

Let’s talk about Guilty Gear.

Content Warning: I’m going to have to put some disclaimers up for some political information around Bridget and trans identities before I get into the meat of things, so if you’re not interested in that and you’re already aware of this situation just jump three paragraphs.

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Game Pile: Skatebird

I gotta tell you, this was hard, because the game is hard and I’m not good at it, but it’s also really good and I don’t know how to tell you that because I don’t know how long the game stays good or if I’m even misreading it and man, you know, games are hard.

Admitting Defeat & Skatebird

And here’s the thumbnail if you wanted to see it:

MTG: Traps

There are, in Magic: The Gathering, an absolutely overwhelming number of subtypes. Subtypes are ways for the game to make meaningful mechanical information on the type line of the card, and, if you’re wondering, by volume, most of those subtypes are creature types. It’s how you get Humans and Wizards and Orggs and Kor and Brushwaggs.

But it’s not just creatures with subtypes; artifacts have them as well, with subtypes like blood and clue for the widely available tokens, but equipment is probably the best known. Enchantments similarly have Auras, as their most common subtype representative, but they also have things like Backgrounds, Shards, Sagas and Curses. Lands, well, the subtypes of lands are widely known, what with Plains, Island, Swamp, Mountain and Forest.

When you look to the instant and sorcery, subtypes are much less common. There’s Arcane, the Kamigawa era mistake, Adventures, which are from the mistake Eldraine, Lessons from Strixhaven about which I have no hot takes, and finally, the subtype Trap.

Traps are a little orphan subtyle from Zendikar and Worldwake, and that’s it. There are twenty trap cards, distributed almost evenly across the colours, and the mechanic is, to say the least, unsupported. There are two cards that relate to traps, one that tutors one up and one that makes your opponent discard them, and they’re both blue, which seems a foolish thing to me, but whatever.

If you’re not able to intuitively glean it looking at it, traps are a card that do something, and have an alternate, reduced cost, based on your opponent doing something that makes the trap even more effective. One of them, Mindbreak Trap is a legacy sideboard card because it can protect you from storm decks going off on turn one, and storm players will often delay an explosive turn to check for it (or any of a number of other possible explosive solutions). Beyond that they’re a category of card you’re most likely to see as someone’s pet.

Trap is almost what I’d consider a dead subtype; there are only so many applications of the flavour, and the mechanic, while nice, eats a lot of space on the card. Plus, the more complicated the trigger, the less room you have for the effect on the card. They want to be responsive, as well — it’s not like Guerrilla Tactics where the card is a basic burn spell that can also punish an opponent doing something to try and stop you.

Still, there’s a lot of room for flavourful play around the whole question of them: there could be creatures that react to traps, or that can be sacrificed to counter traps. There could be trap cards that recur themselves when their conditions are met, and there could be trap cards with an entirely different structure, and all that needs to link them together is ‘being a trap.’ Consider a Foretell card with rules text like ‘Foretell 4RR. This costs 4R less if an opponent gained life this turn.’ It’s still sitting out there, you did foresee the problem, but the spell itself doesn’t necessarily need to consume a ton of space on its alternate cost because a lot of that rules text is shuffled under Foretell. Then, the only thing that you need to do to make the card work with the other trap cards is to have the subtype.

3.5: Use Magic Device

The most comically, hilariously, overpowered skill in 3.5 D&D was a skill that very few classes got, could only be used trained, couldn’t be used reliably and had a drawback if you ever rolled a natural 1. It was also something that wizards didn’t tend to care about having, clerics could almost never take advantage of, and if you had access to it, would take over your build because of what it let you do.

It had a stupid name too.

It was Use Magic Device.

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Game Pile: Kiitos

Kiitos’ rules are so simple explaining them doesn’t really give you a feel for the game as it plays. The simplest explainer is that it’s a trick taker version of scrabble. You have a hand full of cards with some letters on them. You put down a card with a letter on it, then you say a word that starts with that letter, and then pass it to the next player. If they have the next letter in their hand, they have to play it into the word. In so doing, everyone builds on this word until it’s done, and when that happens, the person who set the word originally says ‘kiitos,’ meaning ‘thank you,’ and then takes the cards and they won that round.

If you can’t continue the existing word, the default assumption is you then take the existing letters in front of you, and put them in front of you face down as your negative points – a ‘great job, loser’ pile of cards that indicate you’ve just hecked up in the worst kind of way, great job. Is there some way to escape this fate, though?

Why, yes — if you can’t continue the word with the cards in your hand, you might be able to add a letter and say a new word. And now suddenly someone may have started with the word BURP and you’ve elbow-shoved the table into BUDGET and what’s more, now they’re bound by the same rules – they have to continue the word if they can. They can’t just shove the word back when they get the chance because the word’s been deformed by definition.

And… that’s it! You play rounds until you stop. The game is incredibly simple, and yet brain-expandingly difficult when you understand the rules system.

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4e: The Yakuza Theme

There’s a chance if you played 4th edition, you never even knew Themes were a thing. They were introduced in a campaign sourcebook as a way to flesh out characters under level 10, to give more of that kind of granularity you might want if you say, belonged to a particular organisation, or had something that just made you a bit different to every other character in your class. Themes are great because what they often give you serves really well in offering a bit of a mechanical variety to builds without necessarily making things worryingly more powerful. The idea is very sound.

Art by Remy PAUL

The execution on the other hand, phew, the execution, well, let me tell you.

I have talked in the past about how themes are a problem because there are only a few of them that are as strong as one another; this creates a smaller pool of possible options. Melee combatants usually take the Guardian, which gives you a way to get a free extra basic attack and a bunch of other powers you’d never bother taking. If you follow my How To Be series you might have seen the commonality with which I bring up the Werebear and Werewolf as ways to open up a build’s options. Also, almost all builds that have no better reason to be anything else are going to benefit from the Fey Beast Tamer.

These themes are good because they give you something robust, consistent, and reliable in all situations. The greatest failing of themes are when they break these rules, and when they do it, it is often in service of 4th edition’s worst habit, which I’ll just shorthand as fiddly bookkeeping bullshit. As an example, let’s check out the Yakuza theme.

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CoX: Robyn Hoodie

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.


“Fun things to do on a date? Crimes.”

The Etoile’s society is fundamentally a sequence of parasites; very small groups of people produce useful work, and other people steal it. In the process, that theft sheds value onto other people, the traders and thieves and fences and snitches that lead to Superscience Flange Coil getting from point A to point B.

There aren’t a lot of public work projects, especially when all the money is moving valuable super science stuff to the University in Cap Au. That’s what got Robyn started – robbing from the rich and scattering their ill-gotten gains in the street. It’s simpler: No need for a fence when a thousand people are holding the stolen goods.

Where did she get those wonderful toys? Well, she stole them.

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Legal Systems in Cobrin’Seil

Let’s talk about the complicated way people in a D&D setting find justice.

Understand that a body of this thinking is a byproduct of watching this Burgerkreig video. I’m summarising some points and his overall structure, and I’m trying very hard to not just copy his metaphors and jokes. This kicked me into realising that I had, in fact, actually done this for part of my setting, which meant I had something useful, a default.

Having the Eresh Protectorate as a central setting component is very handy, because they help to standardise things across the entire vast continent of Bidestra. Not that they impose a singular standard per se, but because when there’s one cultural marker spread across a region, other cultures can point to it and say ‘we do it that way’ or ‘we don’t do it that way.’

Art by Santeri Soininen

What I like about it in this case specifically is that when we look at the legal system of the Eresh Protectorates, it is ridiculous and full of uneven, inadequately distributed systems for stupid reasons. But those reasons are all to some extent realistic and create points of tension for when I run the game, and give players a meaningful relationship to the systems in the world.

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Game Pile: Stunts

This game is complicated to discuss. Not because the game is complex or there’s some problem with the provenance or a complicated word in the title, but rather, because most people I know who knew the game knew it only as stunts.exe, but depending on what part of the world your copy came from, it could have been known as 4DS, Stunt Car Racer, Stunt Driver, or Stunts.

We were, however, all well aware that this game was great.

For reasons that are tricky to explain.

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Asset Brainstorm #8 — Tricked Out

As a matter of practice, it’s important to me that I keep demonstrating different ways to engage with games. Making games is a practice, and when you can look at game assets and consider ways to apply them, you’ll begin to see how much of game design is stuff you can do. Therefore, on this blog I’m making it a project to regularly grab some game assets I couldn’t make myself, that are made for game designers to work with, and see what ideas they inspire.


A different approach this month. See, it’s Tricks month, and I realised last year that hey, it’s weird that I don’t really do much with trick taking considering the month. Plus, 2021 was the year I was reminded of a youthful fantasy about the idea of being a hot cool skateboarder boy, for some reason, even if I never had any means or plan on acting on it, and when I saw a skateboarding game being previewed on AwShux, I was seized with the realisation that it should be a trick-taking game.

And it wasn’t.

And that’s dumb.

Art by Betty Cheong

I’ve had the note on my list to try and make a skateboarding-themed trick-taker game at some point, and here in tricks month that’s what I’m going to try and do.

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