John-Michael Gariepy

Archive for the month “May, 2012”

Session Impressions: Catan Junior (aka Pirate Catan)

In our recent podcast for Catan Junior, we discover that I can’t really do a pirate accent.  It sounds easy, sure!  Anyone can spit out a “Piece of Eight!  Aaar!!”, but now that you’re acting grizzled and surly for a sentence, it will occur to you that ‘Pirate’ isn’t really an accent. It’s a way of talking.  It’s a speech pattern, with clear defined lingo.  A good pirate accent has another accent sprinkled ontop of its grog-swigging surliness.  This I discovered as I floundered between ‘Russian Space Pirate’ and tipped a bit into ‘Lucky Charms Pirate’.  I wish I could have had more takes to do that right, but we aim for spontaneity, not realism.  Aaarg.

So how is Catan Junior?  The consensus of the group is that we like it, with Brian Tully’s lone dissension of “I’ll never play it again, unless you force me to.  Cruelly.”  So, yes, it’s fun, but I suppose you should be careful who you buy this game for, and who you pull this game out to play with.  We spend a good chunk of the podcast talking about the branding of this game, since the game is a fun way to play a simple game of Catan without getting mired into too many details.  Had this game not been tied to the Catan brand, it wouldn’t need to call itself a game for kiddies, since there’s no reason why adults can’t enjoy it.  It just happens to be simple enough for kids in Junior High ton enjoy as well.

Of course, the devil be in the details.  Beware, scallawags!  If ye dinnae be a clan of sopping landlubbers, and think ye man enough to hornswaggle Ol’ Davie, then straighten yer monkey jacket, ready yer cockswain and click on this link.  But be ye warned!  Ye set sail for Spoooky Island!

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Three Dragon Ante: Emperor’s Gambit: When the game I’m reviewing has a colon in it, I get confused what to do with the article title…

This week I’ve spent too much time writing short fiction, and ran out of time to put in a proper article.  I suppose you’ll have to make do with this two year old article pulled forward from my old stomping grounds, Guilt Free Games.  I made a quick check on Amazon, and found that Three Dragon Ante is still selling at, or below, its original retail price of $15.  Spectacular.  I know few other games that retails for so little, yet yields such consistent entertainment.  Though, I admit, Cover Your A$$ets comes very close.  Here’s hoping that Wizards stretches their brains one more time and gives us a third installment of this great game.  That’s bound to take some time, however… I doubt they’d spend time off from designing Fifth Edition to work on evolving a supplementary product.

Want to know a secret? I don’t got a lot of money to throw around.

I know what your thinking: “But, John-Michael, how can that be? You write such awesome articles for Guilt Free Games! Surely, a side effect of all these wonderful game reviews is that you are rich beyond your means!” Alas, this is not true. I’m a poor struggling sop who happens to love games and writing. No, no, it’s okay. You can put your wallet back in your pocket. I’m not looking for a hand out. Most of the time, I’m just looking for an affordable, yet fun and replayable game that I can show my gamer friends, and not look like I’m shirking my duty to add to our mutual collection.

If you don’t count the occasional steal at yard sales and thrift shops, fifteen bucks doesn’t buy a lot of game nowadays. This domain Read more…

Session Impressions: Cover your A$$ets

This game was a pleasant surprise.  Grandpa Beck’s Cover Your A$$ets looks generic as card games go.  I don’t think our group expected much from this game when Dan came back from the GAMA Trade Show with this little number in his hands, and a broad smile on his face.  We popped it open, and poked inside.  It’s clear why Dan had high hopes for the game.  The rules are simple and the gameplay is fast.  The majority of the conversation we had, while playing this game, was about and around the game itself.  The Myriad Games Playgroup plays a lot of games, so we sometimes come off as jaded and picky when about the rule, artwork and choice of mechanics.  When we played Cover Your A$$ets, though, we were just six people who found this great game, and we had an excellent time.

Grandpa Beck also has a game by the name of “Grandpa Beck’s Golf”.  On the podcast, Dan alludes that we’ll have to have another podcast about Golf when we get the group together to play that game… but that may take a while… we have a lot of games to move through.  I did talk to Dan, afterwards, and asked him if he had a chance to play Golf yet.  He has.  He said the game was fine, but it’s clear that Cover Your A$$ets is the superior game.  I’d suggest getting your hands on Cover Your A$$ets first then, even if you’re big on golf, the sport.  I’d hate for someone to play a good game based on something they like, instead of play a great game.

I did some snooping on the internet, because I wanted to find a price point on this game.  It turns out that, not only is the game not sold on Amazon.com, but among the online vendors, this game is selling out fast.  Even Grandpa Beck at www.grandpabeckgames.com has run out of copies.  I guess that makes sense.  The game looks generic… most retailers stocked their shelves with this to get impulse buyers, and won’t consider raising their price when their inventory runs short.  How would they know this is a secret winner?

The game retails at $12.  I would gladly pay $20.  Talk to your local game store owner, and tell him he should get his hands on a few copies if he can.  Offer to fork over more than retail if he says his distributor has hiked the price.  If you like the game, stock up for Christmas; there may not be any copies around by then.  I don’t know what G-pa Beck’s plan is.  I’d love to see him make a second printing of this game, and I’d love to see more games from his coffee table.  In the meantime, why don’t you have a go at our podcast?

Dungeons and Dragons Random Encounters: Levels 25 and 26

For an explanation and introduction to Random Encounters, go to Why would anyone make a giant chart of Random Encounters?

Roll once for each adventurer in your party.  Whenever you roll a Brute, or a Soldier, add two of that creature and roll one less time total.  If the last creature you roll is a brute, or a soldier, your players will have to suck it up.  There will be more experience for them anyway.  Whenever Minions are rolled, add the number of minions shown to the encounter and count them as one creature for the purposes of generating an encounter.  Whenever an Elite creature is rolled, count it as two separate creatures for the purpose of generating an encounter.  When a Solo creature come up, stop rolling, since a solo monster by itself is a good challenge for characters of that level.  If you’ve already rolled up three creatures before the solo joined the party, you may want to indicate to your players that now would be a good time to run…

01- 05 Roll again in the Level 23 and 24 Random Encounter Chart.

06 – 10 Roll on the Random Hindrances Chart.

11 – 12 (Solo Artillery) Primordial Naga

13 – 16 (Elite Brute) Death Titan (Giant)

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Session Impressions – Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin

Hey, Myriad Games podcast review of the new Thunderstone expansion is up!  Well… Towers of Ruin is a relaunch of the Thunderstone core product.  For those of you who love Thunderstone and are freaking out about AEG making a new edition, you can calm down.  Advance works with all previous versions of Thunderstone, cleans up a lot of iconography and adds a few things to the game without taking anything away.

This podcast only has three people on it: Dan, Sara and myself.  So unlike a lot of our cafeteria table-style, scatterbrained, pinballing podcasts, we rammed through every talking point imaginable in the new version.  We ride Thunderstone a lot, it’s true.  But we’re critical of a lot of little things in Thunderstone because the game hovers on the edge of great.  It certainly is the sort of game that I would like to play night, after night, after night, if our game playing scheduling allowed us to do it.  Whenever a new Thunderstone expansion comes up, I’m happy to see it, since that means I’m going to get another chance to play Thunderstone, and I like Thunderstone.  (It’s an interesting phenomenon.  I used to look forward to Dominion expansions, and was hesitant about  Thunderstone expansions.  Now I’m happy to see Thunderstone expansions, and am hesitant toward Dominion expansions.  Hmm…  there’s an article in that.  Think I’ll save that for later.)

But that’s an article for another time.  Right now you want to here a bunch of people get happy-angry about a game they love-hate, right? Click here to Advance to the podcast!

Two Books – At the Mountains of Madness: A Graphic Novel and Jack of Fables, vol. 8: The Fulminate Blade

Fantasy.  If there’s one thing that these two books drip, it is far flung ideas that define and rejoice in the strange.  For “The Fulminate Blade”, the fantastic is a source of whimsy, and, for “At the Mountains of Madness”, the fantastic is a source of terror.  Both books seek to reach beyond the curtains of the world we live in, pluck what lies beyond and frame it.

Jack of Fables, volume 8: The Fulminate Blade, written by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges with art by Tony Akins is a complete departure from the main story arc.  It tosses Jack Horner out of his own book, along with Jack’s supporting cast, and focuses exclusively on Jack Frost, son of Horner, a naive hero living in a world where feudalism meets laser guns.  Nearing the end of his run on Jack of Fables, it’s like Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges grew tired of their usual protagonist, the conniving bastard you love to hate: Jack Horner.  Horner forces those he squares against to be either nasty villains bent on control, or personifications of true evil.  Without Horner in his own book, suddenly we’re tossed into a tale of alchemy, space elevators, power blades and magical talking owls.  The world isn’t vindictive, but wondrous, as seen through the eyes of a young Jack Frost, with a touch of help from the imaginative stylings of Edgar Rice Boroughs.

How odd, then, that, in the same journey to my local library, I happened to pick up “At the Mountains of Madness: A Graphic Novel”, adapted and illustrated by I.N.J. Culbard.  By chance, I had two different author’s interpretations of the beginning of the fantasy genre.  At the Mountains of Madness is one of H.P. Lovecraft’s seminal works, tying together much of his mythos into a scientific expedition and arctic adventure which, by accident, unearths terrifying evidence that we are very small in the face of our universe.  Instead of an homage, however, Culbard is tasked with the very difficult job of boiling down a novella into a graphic novel.  He does so through very liberal use of dashes – reducing large swaths of text to a simple line.  Instead of Lovecraft’s twisting turns of phrase to percolate the mind of the reader, Culbard lets his art deliver mood, while the basic plot of the story remains intact.

That’s quite the trick.  In Two Books:  ‘Tale of Sand’ and ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, Century 1910‘, I mentioned that, when I read a graphic novel, I’m here for the story, not the art.  In order for me to appreciate the art, it needs to be impossible to tell the story without it.  The art must convey volumes of emotion, endemic to the narration, to the point that extracting it and replacing it with, say, stick figures, would destroy the story in question.  Culbard does an excellent job of fusing Lovecraft’s words with his art.  This doesn’t feel like art for the sake of making a story easier to follow; there is a definite sense that Lovecraft’s original work is made better because of the art.

Culbard, however, is trapped by his subject matter.  I know I’ll lose geek cred for saying this, but a lot of Lovecraft’s work is just silly.  I mean, have you taken a good look at Cthulhu?  Culbard uses the common imagery of Cthulhu, and his sharp lines lend to cartoonery.  Other Lovecraft horrors get similar treatments… they suffer from Culbard’s beautiful vivid style of solid swooshing lines, which while it lends well to drawing ice drifts, men, dogs and buildings, it could use a lot more abstraction when dealing with the unknowable.  Or, instead, I would have also accepted an interpretation of the creatures based upon Culbard’s art style, and not based on the culturally accepted standard.

Don’t read too much into that diatribe, though.  I’m only coming down hard on one aspect of Culbard’s interpretation because his work is solid; this is only a minor criticism.  It’s a beautiful book, and it isn’t fair to compare it to what is intended to be a throw-away story in the Jack of Fables universe.  The Fulminate Blade couldn’t possibly outbox this book.  The two books aren’t even in the same division.  The question I’d pose to The Fuliminate Blade, however, is “Do the fantastic elements of Jack Frost’s story achieve the same level of fascination that Lovecraft’s arctic expedition holds?”

Willingham/Sturges hit a lot of beats with their story, presenting a number of twisting plot elements and bringing their own touch of strange science to the workbench.  We get odd glimpses into the contrast of magic and science.  In one scene, specifically, The King’s Alchemist dissects an animated wooden owl, ignoring the owl’s pleas that he was carved from a tree in a magical grove.  The alchemist doesn’t care what the owl has to say… he assumes there must be some science behind this and is willing to carve his way to the truth.  We don’t need many scenes like this to establish the sort of world we’re in, how it functions and what to expect from it.  Willingham/Sturges, however, give us very little to work with.  People ride giant centipedes, swing swords and shoot lasers.  Kingdoms have access to fabulous technology, but the houses that people live in represent medieval Europe.  The story infers a fall from technological grace, but, according to the narration, took place a long time ago relative to our own time.

If the author is attempting to create a fascinating world where anything can happen, should we expect an explanation as to why things happen the way that they do?  Maybe not always, but most times, I think we should.  I don’t want to give off the impression that I ‘don’t get’ what the authors are going for.  I understand their desire to both entertain and flummox their audience using classic fantasy conventions.  But, like a good detective novel, I think the author fails some if the reader can’t piece together why things happened the way they did after the fact.  Confound your audience – sure.  But leave some hint as to why you chose to tell your story this way.  After all, Edgar Rice Burroughs may have been off his rocker with some of the crazy sciences he imagined, but everything had an internal logic.  When Burroughs went forward and introduced new crazy inventions, you didn’t need to question it:  you trusted that the author had his reasons, and accepted it until something resembling an explanation was provided. In The Fulminate Blade, the plot is great, and every strange thing that happens has a point.  Is it too much to ask for the world it takes place in to stand up to the same standards as the plot?

In the end, The Fulminate Blade is a good book (with a great plot for Dungeon Masters looking to steal some ideas), but it can’t stand up to At the Mountains of Madness, or, for that matter, many other volumes of The Fables series.  Read it because you’ve read Jack of Fables volumes 1-7 and plan to read 8 to get to volume 9.  Either way, pick up At the Mountains of Madness.  It’s one of those books that, when you put it down, will stick with you.

Session Impressions: Toc Toc Woodman

I was not around to record this podcast.  How unfortunate.  Toc Toc Woodman is an excellent game.  I’ve discovered that it takes a special game to tear serious Magic: the Gathering players away from their tournament, and Toc Toc has that in Plains.  The game is such a great distraction, that, shortly into this session impression, the group becomes fascinated with Toc Toc, start to play and cheer, then realize that they have to back up and explain what the heck it is they’re doing.

What they’re doing is taking a plastic axe and slapping it against a plastic tree in an attempt to knock all the bark off the tree’s side.  For each piece of bark you collect, you get a point.  Unfortunately, for each core you smack out of there, you lose five points.  It’s a cross between Jenga and Don’t Break the Ice.

At one point, the Myriad Cast mentions the ‘John-Michael Method’.  For those of you who are wondering, that involves turning the ax head around so that the flat of the ax is facing the tree, and smashing the top of the tree.  The core stays solid, since you’re hitting the tree right in the center, but the edges of the tree vibrate, sending any loose bark to the ground.  Don’t do that too much; players will accuse you of cheating, since there’s little risk involved, and the whole point of playing games like this to mess up and have fun.  Wait until someone is running away with a victory, then try to steal it away with this maneuver.  😉

There isn’t much to talk about when playing Toc Toc except for how much fun you’re having while playing.  This podcast entry is mostly a bunch of people giggling and having a good time.  That’s the rough equivalent of a four star review around here.

The Top Ten Most Reviled Magic: the Gathering Cards, According to Gatherer – Part 2

Ladies and Gentleman, Boys and Girls!  Step right up and see design so terrible, so strange, so singularly miserable, that I urge those of you with a weak constitution and a penchant for fainting to avert your gaze and engage in a less thrilling amusement, like the roller coasters further into this park.  In part one of this two part series, you were exposed to some of the basest card in Magic the Gathering, as voted upon by the fine folk who glean Gatherer.  Today, however, we step beyond the merely horrible, and launch ourselves into The Design of Darkness.  For those men and women among you who are manly enough to gaze into the maw of madness, I peel back the curtain to reveal…

Number Five: Bog Hoodlums

Community Rating:  .776

Hoju and I are both in the Myriad Games Podcast and participate in the same Magic: the Gathering league.  We open a pack a week and add it to our collection, making decks based on what we opened, and reset every season.  Hoju likes Lorwyn, and has opened a disproportionate number of Bog Hoodlums, opening one in every other pack.  The card makes him furious, and his hatred of it only grows over the years.  Whenever someone attempts to convince him there are worse creatures in Magic, Hoju rejoinders with “Sure, that’s a bad card.  But at least that card can block.”

It turns out that, although you win Magic by attacking, being unable to stop yourself from losing because you can’t block is very frustrating.  The fact that this card pretends to hide it’s terrible power to toughness casting cost ratio behind a fun mechanic only annoys people even more.  When you win the clash, instead of getting a 4/1 that can’t block, you get a 5/2 that can’t block.  Whoop-de-frickin-doo.  That’s like going to a concert, paying twenty bucks for a bottle of water, and getting to play a little side game to win a package of peanuts.  You already insulted me.  Stop making it worse.

Best comment, made by Demonic_Math_Tutor: I think they just dont know how to do anything but zerg rush with other bogarts…

Number Four:  Sorrow’s Path

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