Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day - A Note On The Military And News Of The Day

Memorial Day - Remember The Fallen And Those Who Remain

First, let me say that I come from a long, long line of warriors. My father and brother are Air Force vets, my adopted father was a Soldier, as was his only biological son and one of his daughters. My mother's father was a soldier as well, and many of my uncles were soldiers. These are the guys and gals that keep us safe. No matter how you feel about the current fucked up state of the world, remember that these folks are doing it for the same reason a guy wants to become a firefighter and the same reason that a guy wants to go to seminary and become a priest: It's a calling. Respect and admire the commitment to their country and its inhabitants, and know that while you may or may not like the commander-in-chief, the congress that sends the soldiers off, remember that the soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and guardsmen of our nation's fighting forces are out there in the mud and sand trying to keep some semblance of peace throughout the world so that your kids can sleep well at night without the spectre of air-raid sirens or the fear of being blown up at a shopping mall.

Today, let's remember those who sacrificed their lives for our country, going back to the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, the World Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and current wars, police actions, and conflicts. Take a moment to remember that while the person who was killed in action is now resting in peace, their families, children, mothers, and fathers miss them terribly and are the true casualties after the flag has been folded. If you know a military family who has lost a love one, maybe say a prayer for them, give them a call and tell them you love them, or just think about what you can do to help them out in the future.

Black Dog Painting Studio- Incredibly Good And Incredibly Inexpensive Miniatures Painting

I was recently introduced to a guy on the web, Euen, who not only has a cool name, not only is a proud Scot, but is one hell of a good guy and a very talented painter. He posted some services on the web, and I jumped all over it because the price he quoted was ridiculously low. His site is, where you can check out his work and see for yourself whether or not it's worth it to you or not.

He painted 16 miniatures, all Fantasy Flight, from Runebound and Fury of Dracula. They are superbly painted and he only took a week to do it. I asked him to basecoat and detail them, but not clearcoat or dip them because I wanted to see them in person before "sealing in the goodness", so to speak. Here's some imagery of my figures that I snatched from his website:

So, head over to his site, check out his stuff, and do some business with him! He's saving the money for college, I'm sure, not using it for drugs and hookers.  He's a good dude, and I am positive you'll love his work.


Gamewright Flips for Knightweaver’s Patchwork Game
Inks exclusive world-wide publishing deal

Newton, MA 5/27/2010 – Gamewright recently signed an exclusive agreement for the world-wide publishing rights for Knightweaver Games’ popular independent card game, Patchwork. While the game play will remain the same, Gamewright will change the title to FlipSide and launch it in late 2010 / early 2011.

“We’re excited to bring this fantastic family game into the Gamewright family”, says Jason Schneider, marketing and product development manager for Gamewright. “It’s a title with the rare combination of a uniquely challenging game play that appeals across the ages. I look forward to building upon its success and introducing it to a wider audience.”

FlipSide is a light family strategy game of pattern matching and never-ending surprises. In the game, players draw cards and rearrange them to get four, five, or six of the same pattern in a row. However, each card has patterns on both sides, and anyone can take, and use, any card they can see. The game has won a variety of distinguished awards from such organizations as The Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, Dr. Toy, and Creative Child Magazine, and has been gaining strong sales momentum in specialty toy and game stores throughout the United States.

"I'm honored and thrilled that Gamewright has added my game to their catalog of great games,” says inventor, Daniel Weaver. “Gamewright has a sterling reputation as a producer of high-quality, fun, family-oriented games, which makes them an ideal licensing partner. I look forward to seeing FlipSide grow and flourish in their capable hands over the coming months and years, and working with them to ensure that all the current Patchwork customers and retailers are well supported through this transition."

About Knightweaver Games
Knightweaver Games, LLC is dedicated to designing and publishing “gateway games”: games that are fun and readily accessible for traditional board game players but novel and interesting enough to encourage them to explore the wider world of wonderful games. Dr. Daniel Weaver, the founder and owner, draws upon a lifetime of gaming experience and a decade of exploring game theory and design in introducing the company’s first commercially available games: Patchwork™ and PatchWord™. Knightweaver Games, LLC was founded in 2008 and is headquartered in Boulder, CO. The company’s products are available online at and at independent toy and game retailers throughout the U.S.

About Gamewright
Gamewright, a leading manufacturer of family games, is best known for such household hits as Slamwich®, Rat-a-Tat Cat®, In a Pickle™, and the Scrambled States of America™ Game. Gamewright prides itself on making games that foster laughter, learning, friendship and fun. Kids, parents, grandparents, and educators all agree that Gamewright makes some of the best games on the planet. For more information, please visit

The Final Word

I just returned from 3 days in Mexico, hence the reason for the lack of a new article.  Internet was OK down there, but I was so busy at work that I didn't have a spare moment to format and publish a new article.  This coming week will have A Touch Of Evil, Last Night On Earth, and Ghost Stories reviewed along with a couple of stories and photos from Tijuana and Puerto Nuevo, Mexico.  Good stuff, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Dungeon Twister - If It Was Whiskey, It Would Be 1926 Macallan

Two words describe the first two plays I had after buying Dungeon Twister from Asmodee Editions, and those words are, “Game Crack”. I am a huge fan of the dungeon crawl genre to begin with, so perhaps I am biased, but this game has all the dungeony goodness of tromping through a mad wizard's lair paired with a dash of The Running Man, and it rocks. Correction: It fucking rocks. Any game that is not only a phenomenally well designed dungeon crawl, but one that doesn't have me rolling handfuls of dice and screaming out, "Forsooth, I have smited you mightily with my +3 Axe of Reaving" like some socially maladjusted ne'er-been-laid, well, that's just awesome sauce. Hell, it's the Colonel’s secret recipe for awesome sauce. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love a good dicefest, but my persistent rotten luck is such that if I can play a combat game where I can actually have some element of control of the outcome beyond just rolling all skulls and hoping my enemy doesn’t roll all shields….that’s a breath of fresh air.

There are no weapons, armor, or items to keep track of with pad and paper, no statistical knowledge required that would make an actuary slit his wrists, and there's not a single instance of having to come up with some retarded character name to try, and fail, to sound cool, like "Ugnaught Drowslayer". It's just a mano-a-mano adventure through a randomly created dungeon where your party has one single goal, which is to escape alive or stop your opposition from doing so. It is, simply put, a masterpiece.

No, I didn't get a review copy, if you were wondering. I bought this just like you did, and I also bought four of the five expansions available. The money I spend on games, unlike taxes, goes towards something I chose to fund, and in this case, actually went toward a designer who I hope wins an election, somewhere, and passes a law making bars that do not have game rooms a criminal enterprise.

Let's get back to the review, shall we? The game's premise is that some random, astonishingly rich and powerful wizard got bored and decided to make some really groovy dungeons with rotating rooms and then randomly selected two teams of adventurers to magically transport into the bowels of the dungeon. Their only hope of survival is to escape the dungeon before being carved into slices like a Christmas ham by the opposing team. It's brutal, adversarial, and there is literally not a single element of luck that affects the game, which makes this, essentially, like a really bad ass game of Chess.

Cracking the bookshelf sized, cool looking box will find you looking at some components that are a bit underwhelming; I'm not going to lie. There are two player screens, complete with rules summaries printed within for easy access, two starting lines, eight room tiles, 28 player and item tokens, some character standies and their bases, a bunch of reversible portcullis tokens, and finally, a whole slew of cards of different varieties. All the tokens are well illustrated, as are the dungeon rooms, and the cards are well illustrated and effective. The rulebook, though, is the real star of the show because it is one of the clearest, most well organized rulebooks I have yet had the pleasure of reading. It is sixteen pages, loaded with images, examples, and even two Golden Rules that make the game incredibly accessible and quick to learn.

One of the really slick elements in this game is the rooms themselves, because they come in pairs. Within every set of rooms you select, there are spaces that are capable of twisting the matched rooms or themselves when a player lands on the space and uses actions to twist a room. This can help your own folks move more quickly and can also be used to deny an opponent movement. Another slick feature to the game is the characters themselves. The characters are quite varied in what they can do, with the Thief being able to open portcullises for their party and cross pit traps, the Warrior being able to destroy portcullises, the Wall Walker being able to pass through any walls like a ghost. In short, all characters are unique, and have abilities distributed in such a way that they really feel like a party of trapped adventurers that must rely on one another to survive.

Items within the game are also interesting, and although they’re not anything incredibly special, the game mechanics implement them in quite interesting ways. Characters can carry only one item at a time, and cannot end a movement with more than two items tokens beneath them. This means that one cannot have armor, sword, and a rope to both buff their combat values and be immune to pit traps. Finally, there are special items such as the wand, which kills anyone within line of sight immediately upon activation, but it can only be used by the weakest of all the characters, the Wizard. It was simply a well thought out game, with respect to items, character abilities, and the interactions between them.

Now that you’re familiar with the stuff in the box, let’s move on to getting the game ready to play. Setup takes all of about five minutes, and is fairly straightforward. First, each player takes their deck of cards, with each deck being identical aside from the card back’s color. Then, you randomly select the boards and place them face down in a pattern of four long by two wide, and cap the ends with your start zones. Next, place your four starting character tokens face down on your starting line. Finally, take turns with your opponent placing your item tokens face down on the tiles along with four of your eight characters, to be discovered and placed as the rooms are revealed, and you're ready to go. It's that simple.

The game is played in rounds, and within the rounds are three phases that each player takes on their turn. In the first phase, the Action Card phase, the starting player selects and reveals an Action Card, which determines how many actions you may take with your characters on your turn. These are numbered two through five, and these must all be used before recycling them, so in every game that lasts at least four rounds you will have used each card once.

The second phase of a player’s turn is the meat of the game, the Action phase. The number of actions you are allotted via playing the Action Card may be used in a variety of ways, such as moving a character token, using an object, attacking someone, using abilities, playing one of your three Jump cards to jump over a pit, rotating a room in the direction indicated on the tile, revealing a face-down room if you’re adjacent to the new room and have line of sight on it. Each character has a movement and combat rating on it, and so using one action point to activate a character will allow you to move up to the amount of spaces allowed by that character. Further, using special abilities like opening a portcullis with the thief or passing through a wall with the wall-walker costs one action point. Rotating a room can only be performed if the character you activate is standing on the rotation device, and each ¼ rotation costs on action point to all characters except the Mechanork, who may rotate a room ¼ turn as well, but is the only character that can rotate a room in the direction of their choice.

Using items also costs one action point, and these items vary from a key that can unlock portcullises or swords that increase the character’s combat value through the wand that is the only ranged weapon in the base game and the one-time use potion which, upon use, provides players extra action points. As I mentioned, items are placed by both players initially, but any player may use them irrespective of who placed them or their player color. The placement of these items is crucial to think through because if you end up putting a powerful item like the rope near your opponent’s start line, you may lose use of it for the balance of the game. There are limits on how many items can be in a room at the game’s start, and therefore you must choose wisely.

Combat is simple for single combat as well as group combat, and is likely one of the single most interesting combat systems that I have ever had the unprecedented pleasure of using. Each character has its own combat rating, and each player has in their hand of cards nine combat cards with a number that denotes an additional amount to add to that combat rating. Both players choose one card to play, and then reveal the cards simultaneously, with the highest value winning. The bad news is that once a combat card is played, it’s gone forever with the exception of the zero card, which is persistently in your hand. Group combat is the same, but you simply add up the combat scores of all adjacent characters and play the card on top of that score. Once combat has been resolved, the player who lost flips their token over to indicate that their character is wounded, leaving them completely defenseless. If they are attacked on a later turn, they have a combat value of zero, but the owner may still play a combat card to save their skins, potentially.

The game is played on the basis of victory points, where you get a point for mercilessly slaughtering an opponent’s character, a point for getting a figure across the finish line, and other bonuses like getting the Goblin across the finish line, which awards two points instead of the normal single point due to his useless nature. The game is won when a player earns enough victory points to win, and this value is decided at the beginning of the game. The rulebook even has handicap rules in the back so that experienced players can be on par with new initiates, through removing specific cards from their hand or starting with fewer characters. There is even a tournament scene out there for people who want to get into phallus-measuring if that’s your thing.

I should mention that there are ample expansions to the game which add new rooms, new characters, and new special rules to the game as well as a three-to-four player expansion that allows up to four people to duke it out to the death in this dungeon of horror. You can also elect to buy some very nice miniatures if you prefer plastic to paper, and there is a set of miniatures that you can buy for each expansion. Finally, there is a follow-on game, Dungeon Twister 2: Prison, which truly re-boots the franchise, yet is backward compatible with Dungeon Twister and its expansions, making every expansion you buy a truly versatile addition to an already exceptional game.

Things I Thought Were Twisted, But In A Good Way:
*The combat mechanic is simply the best one ever designed outside of Heroscape
*There is absolutely no luck in this game aside from the tiles that are randomly selected
*The art is really quite nice and theme drips off of every single aspect of the game
*The game’s balance is as perfect as any game ever made

Things That I Got My Knickers In A Twist About:
*There weren’t very many room tiles in the box, making the game a little less replayable
*I would’ve liked to see more items included as the stock set is truly augmented by the expansions
*There is absolutely no luck in this game aside from the tiles that are randomly selected (yes, I put this as Pro and Con, depends on what you like)

If you like dungeons, competitive games, and an absence of any luck in a game, you’re a fool if you haven’t bought this. It’s a bit like a really, really sadistic game of chess, but where the Queen doesn’t always trump the Knight. I truly enjoy this game, and with the expansions building the franchise into a world-class gaming system, this is a no brainer for anyone who likes games like this.

4.5/5 Stars

Learn more about the Dungeon Twister game system and Asmodee Editions, check here:

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Score Some Free Stuff!!

One of the sites that I syndicate my articles on is having a huge contest, and you have great odds as it's a smaller site with a small but ravenously maniacal following! The less users, the greater the odds.  I figure, based on their last contest, that you have a 1:75 shot at winning one of three big Wizards of the Coast prize packages!

Eye Of The Vortex Online, an entertainment and gaming news site that is focussed primarily on CCGs like Magic: The Moneypit and Battle Spirits (honestly, I have no clue what the hell Battle Spirits is...) but they're tied into Wizards pretty deep, providing advance information on all kinds of stuff from Magic, D&D, and Heroscape.

So, don't wait and lose like an idiot! Get over, sign up, and maybe win!  Worst case scenario, you took 5 minutes to sign up for yet another site that you'll never visit again, best case, you love the site and get both a chance to win some groovy stuff AND were introduced to a cool little site by yours truly.


Just for the record, I don't have a dog in the hunt in this contest and I just wanted to bring you some news and a chance to win!

In other news, I will be publishing some reviews on two bad-ass Flying Frog Productions games, Last Night on Earth and A Touch of Evil, as well as a Eurojizz review of  Tikal. Last but definately not least, the third entry in my "Conversation with an Innovator" series, with Andrew Parks, the brain behind the very, very cool Camelot Legends.

I've reached out to Zev at Z-Man games for an interview, but as I figured, he's avoided me like sandpaper on a hemmhoroid.  I'm hoping he'll get back with me, but I'm sure he's a busy guy so I'm not holding my breath.  Well, that and I'm a fucking nobody, but I'm not counting that as a reason, right?

Game night tonight at Chez Superfly, and it's going to be a 6-person DUEL TO THE DEATH with Heroscape and some Touch of Evil!

Happy Gaming!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Prophecy - The Magic 8-Ball Says: "This Game Is Brilliant"

I am a sucker for a fantasy-adventure game, with some of my favorites being Magic Realm, Talisman, Return of the Heroes, Runebound, and finally, Dungeons and Dragons Fantasy Adventure Boardgame. Recently I traded a good soul one of the games I'm not particularly fond of for Z-Man's latest adventure game, Prophecy. I, just 2 nights ago, played my third game of Prophecy, and I am here to tell you that it is hands-down one of the most fun adventure games I've ever played. It's ridiculously simple, but there are still "moment of truth" decisions to be made that affect you not only immediately, but down the road an hour. It's just brilliantly designed, and is almost precisely what I was looking for; a game that bridges the gap between Talisman and Runebound. Put simply, this is a must-have game for anyone who likes these types of games.

When you crack the nicely illustrated box open, you'll be happy to see that there's two well-designed and organized rulebooks for varying game difficulty levels, a hand-illustrated monopoly-sized game board, two D6 dice, a bunch of cardboard character sheets that are nearly as thick as a pencil and five player references of the same material, standies of the same material that act as pawns, oodles of chits, and finally, a bunch of half-sized cards. The art is quite good, although not Boris Vallejo quality, and I'd definitely say that the art, combined with the theme, make this game look absolutely wonderful. The single most impressive thing about this game's components is that the box insert is the best that I have ever seen. The cards go in a slot that's perfect for their size and you can use the standies as separators, so that when setting up or putting away the game it's quick and painless. The big cardboard character sheets all stack neatly inside the cavity with the references, and the bits bin holds all of the chits and whatnots in perfectly. Bravo, Mr. Prophecy, apparently you had foreseen the need for this type of insert and acted on it. Finally, although there are no plastics in the box other than the dice, the components are all of good quality and, in my experience, are surprisingly durable.

The premise of the game is that in a land apart, a great king died, left his four sons to fight over succession and the artifacts of power that kept the peace for many millennia, leaving both a power vacuum as well as evil and anarchy. This fall from grace is mainly due to the dumbest of the Princes, who thought it prudent to open portals to the Astral Planes in order to summon really, really nasty critters to help him win the war of succession. Guess he never played Arkham Horror. The good news is that in bad times, religion always seems to come to the rescue, and thus enters the game's namesake, the Prophecy. This prophecy foretells of one of royal lineage who will get the groovy little magical artifacts and prove themselves worth to be the new King/Queen, bringing peace, happiness and joy. There are five of these artifacts that can be won in the five Astral Planes by going to the portal and defeating their two guardians of increasing strength. The player who owns X number of artifacts first becomes the Billy Badass of the universe, King of the world, and all that jazz.

The players start out pretty much without much money, with no skills or power to speak of, but as you defeat wandering monsters, visit guilds to gain skills and spells, and basically grow in your abilities to knuckle a brother up, you can then take on the Astral Planes' inhabitants to acquire said artifacts. It's fantasy adventure at its finest, and you truly get the feeling of being a wandering hero who is trying to cleave evil from the face of the kingdom. It's just really well done, and the people I've played with all agree that this is head-and-shoulders beyond the fun and excitement of others in the genre, or at least those they've ever played.

Gameplay is a bit like Talisman, although I hate to make the comparison, where you move around the world in a circular path, killing and maiming baddies, stealing, and buffing your little avatar up through collecting items, skills, and experience to become a better maimer and killer of baddies. There are only two coins of the realm, so to speak, in Prophecy: The experience points you use to buy upgrades and skills, and gold, which you use to bribe people into giving you stuff, or buy items from the shops. There are limits on how much of each you can have at the end of your turn, and thus resource management and forward-planning is crucial to being an effective player. This is also absolutely where the light RPG aspect of the game shines, and although it is indeed light, it's engaging enough to keep you interested and playing again and again. I know that the formula of "draw an event card and resolve it, move, battle, take actions, end turn" has been done to death, but this game truly pulls it off due to the wide variety of choices allotted to each player on their turn.

I'll go in order of the actions you must take, to give you a feel for the gameplay. First, you take a Chance card and resolve it, which is the only way in which anything of substance happens in the game. It's a small deck that is constantly reshuffled, as are all the decks in the game, but this one is particularly small. The events that occur range from these range from healing the player that drew it or providing the player with the least gold to gain some, to causing all of a spaces of a type, such as mountains or forest spaces, to gain an Adventure card up to the maximum of two per space, which are the source of all the wandering monsters in the entire game. The adventure cards are not all monsters, though, as some are Opportunities that you can elect to take advantage of when you are on the space. There are a ton of these adventure cards, and in each play we only reshuffled the deck once, indicating that a player will likely not encounter the same Opportunity more than twice in any given game.

Movement is quite simple and straightforward, with the player having the ability to move one space in any direction for free, to pay one gold to move an additional space, or to pay varying amounts of gold to take magic portals or ships to places further away than the two spaces you'd normally move, provided you're on a magic portal or port when you opt to move. This is superior to Talisman's roll-and-move limitations, and allows you far more freedom of action than other, similar games. In comparison to Talisman, where you are forced to move in only two directions, and must move the amount you rolled exactly, there's no turns wasted running back and forth trying to hit the exact roll you need to get to where you really want to go. It's just a well-designed movement mechanic that eases many of the frustrations I've experienced with others in the genre. In essence, everything is accessible, and it works well with the purview of the game's design.

After moving, you can take various actions during your turn, and as I've mentioned before, the options are legion. There are all kinds of printed locations within the game board that allow you to purchase things, recharge your magic, gain skills, and all sorts of other activities, and the game never seems to run into the spectre of boredom and repetitiveness that other games in the genre seem to succumb to. In short, you always have purpose in the game, and there's never a turn where you've got nothing to do. There are also the random events that are placed on the generic spaced on the board which get populated by the Chance cards, as mentioned before, and these are all varied an different. Some will boost your strength or magic, and some will provide you some experience, and others provide you items, skills for free, and all manner of things.

Most of these events are resolved via skill checks, where you roll a die and add that attribute to it in order to succeed. This, my dear friends, is where the luck involved in the game takes its toll on you. If you're like me, and have incredibly bad luck with dice, you can get frustrated. The good news is that there are ample ways to boost your statistics in order to gain the abilities required to pass these skill checks, so you are not totally screwed if you're generally an unlucky person. Although luck is a huge factor, strategically buffing your character's skills in order to be successful is a matter of planning, is certainly not a deterrent to wanting to play the game, and really is integral to the game because the building of your character is akin to watching your character's story unfold before you. They say it's not the destination, but the journey, that's important in life, and this game typifies this.

The turns end after you've done everything you wish to do, and the next player takes their turn, starting by taking a Chance card and resolving it. I didn't mention this earlier, but you may indeed attack your fellow players to steal their stuff, or simply to harass your buddy, and the mechanic for combat is the same with this as it is with combat; it's a skill check. All combat boils down to testing your combat skill, plus any bonuses for items you have, plus any bonus for spells you can cast, plus your roll of a D6, against the opponent's skills an bonuses, with creatures all having a printed Strength skill on the card. If the creature has both a Strength and Magic rating, you must attack them using the skill that is first listed, and if you wish to attack using the alternate skill value, you must spend two magic points to do so, forcing you to weaken yourself in order to use that alternate skill. This comes into play if you are a wizardly type, assuming you have a high magic and low strength and are attacking a monster with high strength and low magic skills. Again, the game gives you multitudes of options, and each decision you make can affect you either immediately or down the road. Winning a battle results in getting experience as well as some treasure of one sort or another, and losing costs you one life and the forfeit of your remaining turn.

The endgame comes down to the players battling it out to be the last man standing, provided there was no super-player who managed to get the correct number of artifacts through battling the demons in the Astral Planes. The game becomes a mano-a-mano battle for supremacy, and the game ends when one player has the requisite artifact count, right then and there. At the end of the day, I enjoy this game far more than I ever did Talisman, and I will be trading or ebaying my copy of Talisman off simply because now that I have this, I have no desire to play Talisman anymore. While not nearly as deep as Magic Realm or Runebound, this bridges the gap between Talisman and the deeper games very well, providing an exceptionally engaging little delve into a world of swords, sorcery, and high adventure.

Things I Foresee Being Hailed As Exceptional:
*Quick turns, fast battles, and exciting play make this a great little gem of a game
*The very capable art ties with the theme very well, making this both fun to play and great to look at
*The wide variety of actions, character selections, and options within the game make this incredibly replayable
*The movement mechanic is as perfect as any adventure game I've ever played

Things That Might Have Been Missed In The Crystal Ball:
*The amount of Adventure cards should have been larger so there were more opportunities available, but it's still very adequate
*There should have been more Guardians as every game will see the exact same ten creatures, which can get repetitive
*The limit of 15 Gold and 15 Experience can be buzzkill if you're saving up for a couple of big purchases in quick succession

I have abandoned Talisman, which was my previous favorite light RPG/Adventure game, and even with the many expansions available to Talisman, this game surpasses it in virtually every possible way. If you like fantasy adventure RPGs and don't buy this, you do it at your own peril. This is on my permanent, all time, must have game list, and I would play this in a box, with a fox, or anytime, anywhere I am invited to do so. All I can say is that this is just a damned fine game.

4.25/5 Stars

To learn more about Prophecy, go to Z-Man Games' webpage:

Lo! Behold! The oracles foresee an expansion!

Alas! The Headless Hollow has conjured an exceptional quick-reference guide as well!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Jury Duty - The Lessons I Learned About The Breakdown Of American Society

I have a question that's vexing me, and I am curious on your all's take on it, but first, some background.

So I was at Jury Duty today and I was seated on the Petit Jury with 30 other people, and I was excused after the first question. Funny thing is I wasn't even supposed to be there as I had told them I had a trip planned for the week, which was cancelled at the last minute, but I went anyhow to avoid jail time. I ended up getting selected third (random, my ass!) Here's how it went....

The judge told us what our duties were, to be honest and have an open mind, and all that jazz. The clerk stood us all up and asked us to swear (or affirm) that we would tell the truth. We all said yes.

Then, they introduced us to the people in the court, like the DA and the staff, then the Defendant and his defense attorneys. The judge asked us if anyone knew any of them, and none of us did. He then explained he'd be asking some questions about things that may be personal, and if we didn't want to tell something in front of God and country, to raise your hand and approach the bench.

The second question was, "Do you know anyone who has ever been charged with a crime?" I looked around as I put my hand up, and I was the only one in the room. I found that difficult to believe, but apparently I was the only one with the balls to admit it.

The judge called me to the bench, and I was swarmed with a bunch of lawyers. He asked me about it, and this is how it went:

Judge: Mr. Ruth, tell me about why you raised your hand.

Me: Sir, I have a great many friends who have been charged or convicted of a great many things.

Judge: (smiling weirdly) OK, like...?

Me: Well, domestic violence, drug trafficking, drug posession, assault, assault with a deadly weapon, battery, DUI, reckless driving, and other things like that. I was always the "good kid" in the friends I've had, never getting in too much trouble, but my friends tend to be those who lack good, sound judgement. Well, in reality it's arguable that they're just incredibly, incredibly unlucky, if nothing else.  Wrong place, wrong time type things.

Judge: Well, what do you think of that? Does it preclude you from being able to be fair and impartial?

Me: Nope, they all deserved what they got, I suppose. None were unjustly accused, in my opinion. I knew how they were and they did what the DA said they did.

Judge: So you don't harbor any ill feelings against the police?

Me: Nope. I believe them to be a bit lazy and in some cases incompetent, at least in Boone County, but all in all they do their job as well as they can, I guess, and as well as the law allows. They're OK in my book, I guess, in short.

DA: So, do you believe that the police always tell the truth?

Me: In general?

DA: In court or in police reports.

Me: Yes. I'm up here and I could lie through my teeth. Nobody would ever know and nothing would happen. They are sworn to be honest and do their best to do their job. They do it for a living. If they got caught in a lie, they'd lose their jobs, pensions, and generally be screwed. It's not in their best interests to lie just to put one guy away when there's so many people they can be going after if they are honest.

Defense Lawyer: So, Mr. Ruth, you're saying that a cop will never lie?

Me: No, I'm saying if I took 2 people of equal stature in the community, one being a cop, and they had different stories, I'd believe the cop first.

Defense Lawyer: Well, what if part of my defense was to tell you that the police officer involved was lying?

Me: You'd have to prove it to me, I'd believe the cop unless he said something so absurd that it would be completely unbeleivable, and that's not going to happen, I'd think.

Judge: There is no proof, they don't need to prove anything, it's your job to determine who is more credible.

Me: Well, it would take a lot of convincing.  If it's a he-said-she-said thing, I'm going with the cop pretty much every time.  They do it for a living.

Defense Lawyer: So you're saying cops can't make mistakes?

Me: That's not what you asked me. You asked about lying. I'm telling you that I don't believe that a cop would stand up here and intentionally lie. If they're wrong, hey, we all make mistakes, but I don't think that telling what you believe to be true, even if it isn't, is lying. It's making a mistake.

Judge: So you don't think, like all people, that a police officer might tell a little fib, or shade the truth?

Me: No. I don't think a cop would intentionally lie. I mean, what's the point? If he doesn't get you this time, and he believes you're a criminal, he's just going to go and pick you up anyhow later on, so what's the point?

Defense Lawyer: Wait, what do you mean, pick you up again?

Me: If a cop sees you go free from a trial and truly believes you're dirty, he's going to stalk you and wait for you to screw something up. It's just how they are, I believe. If you're a habitual criminal or something, and known to the police, you're on the radar and you're going to get picked up again.  It's not by accident that a guy who screws up early in life is in and out of the system a bunch of times. They get picked up because the cops know they're screw-ups and the cops keep an eye on them.

Defense Lawyer: So what you're saying is that you don't believe a cop will ever lie on the stand?

Me: You'd have to convince me otherwise.  I just don't think some witness who is aquainted with the defendant saying a cop is a liar is going to be proof enough that the cop is actually lying.  If a guy is on the stand trying to save his own skin, or his buddy is saying something to save his own skin, unless there's something else there to tell me that the cop is lying, I'm going to believe the cop pretty much every time. I told y'all I wouldn't lie when I swore a minute ago, and I'm telling you how it is. It's going to be very hard to convince me that a cop is lying to put a guy away unless there's some evidence to show me that he's lying, intentionally.

Judge: Do you have any more questions?

DA: No, your honor.

Defense Attorney: No, your honor.

Judge: Mr. Ruth, you may have a seat.

Me: Yes sir.

Judge: Mr. Ruth, you're excused....

So here's my question:
Why is it that believing a cop is honest and will uphold his oath MORE than an average individual something that is exclusionary for you to be in a trial, on a jury? Isn't it that we're SUPPOSED to have faith in our judicial system, and the enforcers of that, the cops? I mean, isn't it that you're supposed to have faith in cops? 

It seems a sign of the times when cops are to be considered just as dirty as the people on trial, by default?  I mean, am I all screwed up here in thinking that cops are duty-bound to do their level best and give a truthful accounting of what they know, and be held to a higher standard than some other guy off the street?

This whole thing has shaken my faith in the judicial system a'll have to excuse me, but I just think that cops are the only thing standing between us and complete chaos, and if they are assumed to be flawed liars from the standpoint of a trial, then it seems to me that we're completely and totally fucked, as a people.  It comes down to this: Who can you really trust, if you can't trust a cop? Nobody trust priests anymore, and nobody trusts elected officials like politicians, so who the hell else is there? The media? HA! They're more full of shit than Johnny Cochrane was! It's a sad state of affairs, folks.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Conversation With An Innovator #2 - Colby Dauch, Plaid Hat Games

In continuing this interview series, I contacted the creative genius and owner of another small-press game publisher, Colby Dauch of Plaid Hat Games. Colby has been immersed in the gaming industry for many, many moons and has worked on high-profile projects such as Heroscape, as well as his own product, the new and exciting game, Summoner Wars. His story is inspiring and really goes to show what a man with some passion and some big, brass balls can do when he sets his mind to it. He, personally, spent several weeks on the "Hotness" list at and his product has been critically acclaimed by the likes of Tom Vasel and Michael Barnes to be "brilliant" and "one of the best games of 2009".

SFC: Alright, Colby, the first thing I'd like to know is how did you enter the business?

CD: Well, I, uh, started this website, just because I was into the game, loved it, and there was a need for it, so, from there I just met the right people. I ended up meeting Craig Van Ness, the designer of Heroscape, and, I got in on the playtesting on that, and he liked what I was doing there, and he offered me some work, and then offered me some more work, and that's kind of like how I got my feet wet, by, y'know, working for the big guys, straight off, Hasbro, and I really enjoyed it. The next step, for me, seemed to be, well, to do something that was totally my own.

SFC: So, what was it like being a playtester, y'know, pseudo-professionally? Was that a tremendous undertaking or did it kind of come naturally to you?

CD: It, being a playtester, is mostly just playing the game. You play the stuff that's coming out, and you give your feedback on it, offer your suggestions on it. It came pretty natural, and it was good fun, and you get sneak peeks of what's coming out, and, uh, you got to be a part of the process. As a fan, I was thrilled with that.

SFC: Sounds kind of like a dream gig! You get to play a game you love, and get some benefit from it too. So, what made you decide to build and launch into the behemoth it's become, with five or six thousand users, and it's a tremendous asset to both Hasbro, and, more importantly, the consumer? I mean, you get news, articles, strategy, it just seems like the perfect storm for a fansite. How did you decide to get that going?

CD: It mostly came from a love of the game, I was doing a little blog site where I just talked about our experience with the game, and uh, I was just a big fan. I was on the first fansite for Heroscape, and I got to know the guy who did that, and we became friends, then we moved onto another site, and there’s a whole history there of defunct Heroscape sites, but, at the point that I started Heroscapers there was yet another fan site that was going defunct and I decided that I thought I could do a site, I thought there was a better way to do it than what had been done, so I explored that.

SFC: What led to the entrée from going a playtester and a freelance guy, to deciding to undertake the tremendous job of building, designing a game, hiring an artist and all the things that go along with deciding to develop your own product?

CD: I’ve done five or six games for Hasbro, of varying degrees, some from pretty much the ground up. It’s kind of a weird deal, like, someone will have an idea to put something together in a certain way, but that’s it, they have nothing beyond that. And then they bring you on as a freelancer, and you’re basically building the whole game based on this one small idea, and the guy who had the small idea is the one who gets the royalties and you just get your freelancer hourly pay.

SFC: (laughing) So it’s like taking a penny and inventing copper wire, and the guy who gave you the penny gets the credit for it?

CD: (laughing) Right, right. But the funny thing in this particular case, was that the game never went to print, so I got paid and the inventor didn't... So it can work out weird sometimes. So, anyhow, I had some experience building some games from some pretty early stages, and uh, I really liked it. The downside as a freelancer is that you don’t have any control, whatsoever. I’ve done five or six games, and brought them to the point that they’re ready for market, and then Hasbro will just decide that, um, they just don’t want to do a Star Wars game, or whatever, at that time. It has nothing to do with the work I did, I still get paid, ah but…’s one of those things that it’s like, I put a lot of work into that game and I want people to see that and have a chance to play that.

SFC: So, did you get a lot of pushback from companies that you’re working with when you announced that you were going to go ahead and do your own thing?

CD: You know, the main people that I was working with at Hasbro, they cheered me on. I showed them all the game at Gencon, where I get to see them all face to face and whatnot, but they gave me a lot of encouragement and support. I mean, I never talk to the guy, who, who’s getting the money going into their pocket or anything, it’s designers I deal with. I’m not talking to the executives or anything like that, they don’t care…

SFC: Yeah, that’s the same everywhere. Executives are focused on profits and shareholders, no matter where you work.

CD: (laughing) Yeah, I guess so, but the guys I do work with, the designers and the guys that are directly over, um, you know, me…

SFC: The guys who manage the products you work on, those guys…

CD: Right. They were great about everything.

SFC: So, now, what gave you the idea for Summoner Wars? It’s kind of a unique system, in my estimation, it's a minis game but it’s a lot more efficient because you don’t have to go back to the card to see what the figure’s power is, it’s right there.

CD: Yeah, it’s gotten compared to some stuff, but it’s mostly stuff I’ve never played, and a lot I’ve never even heard of before. People started comparing Summoner Wars to a number of games, so I don’t know if there’s something out there that does quite what Summoner Wars does, bit the idea for it, when I thought of it, was original to me. The idea pretty much came to me intact. I was lying in bed, and just had this idea for a game where it would be….I had some experience developing Heroscape, which is a miniatures game, and I liked a lot of what I was doing there, but I was like, what if it was cards, and people could have entire armies, themed armies, y’know, in a ten dollar card pack? I mean, how cool would that be? To get a big themed army like that in any other miniatures game would cost you an arm and a leg!

SFC: That’s exactly right, which I think is a huge appeal to people. That’s kind of the beauty of the game, that it’s got a very low threshold to enter, and, y’know from what I know…well let me put it out there that I own both copies of the existing game, well I bought one from the site and then traded for the other, but, uh, at the end of the day it’s an interesting concept. I’ve heard it compared to Battleground: Fantasy Warfare, but it’s not. It’s nothing like that. It’s really unique unto itself….

CD: Yeah, Battlegrounds does what mine does and has a miniatures feel to it, but it’s hardcore, it’s a miniatures game with cards, and a lot of people like that, but mine is like, it’s going to have some miniatures concepts, but also some resource management and things, it’s it's own system and has a unique feel to it, which was my objective when I had the idea.

SFC: It seems like you’ve done pretty well with it. What was it like, the production like, from going to an idea, to getting an artist to development, into actually getting a product build done?

CD: I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how much work it is, and it is a lot of work, but it’s work I thoroughly enjoyed, every process of it, I’ve just gotten a kick out of it. It may just be because it’s new and fresh, but I just like having my hands in the batter, I guess.

SFC: Another recipe for Awesome Sauce revealed, huh?

CD: (laughing) Yeah, it’s a lot of work and a lot of learning because I’ve never been on the production end before. But, but, on the same token, it’s been a lot of fun. Does that answer your question, I’m sorry?

SFC: (laughing) Yeah, but more or less, I was just curious, what were the barriers to entry? Did you have any roadblocks you had to overcome? Or was it pretty much just a, you know, perfect storm that everything just happened and fell in line the way that it should’ve?

CD: I don’t think things just happened by themselves, but it….let me think…

SFC: Let me rephrase. How hard was it to go from an idea to a product, in short?

CD: The whole development of the actual game, I had some experience with. The part of it I was familiar with was building the system, and all that, and then from there I just knew there was certain things I would need; graphics, art, a printer, a distributor, so, ah, I just went after those things and got quotes, and got money, and investors together, and there was a lot of work to get this thing to happen, but it was work I was excited about, so, so, it became…it didn’t come easy, but it was fun, and you know they say that if you love what you do you never work a day in your life. That’s kind of how I felt about the whole process. Some of the stuff you just learn as you go. Like, the printer referred me to a fulfillment agency, which was a great step in the process, finding that place. What these guys do is they warehouse the game, and they already have contacts with a bunch of distributors, internationally, and they just pitch the game to those distributors and do my distribution sales for me, and they’ll even take orders from my website, and ship them for me. That’s been great, and they do it all for a percentage, and, um….so I have a whole staff that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to hire on.

SFC: Yeah, that’s phenomenal, and it must’ve been a huge boon to you. Um, as far as going forward, with your product, do you think you’ll have any more starters or are you now moving on to expansions?

CD: Well, I don’t want to do a lot of starters because I don’t want to resell people all the bits they already have, I mean, that’s not fair to my customers, and they don’t need more of what they have. It’s mostly going to be packs of cards. It’s nice, affordable. That’s the direction I want to go with Summoner Wars. I’ll do more factions, which will come as Summoner Packs, they'll be a new Summoner and all of the cards needed to play that deck straight out of the pack. There’ll also be reinforcement packs that will just have more units that will expand the factions that you already have.

SFC: At this point, your reinforcement packs, are they going to include, well, at least what you’re thinking of, are they going to include a couple from each faction or be faction specific?

CD: Well, the way they’re going to work…let me just tell you about the two that are already far into development. The one pack will have three Tundra Orc Champions, two Tundra Orc Commons (five copies of each), three Phoenix Elf Champions, two Phoenix Elf Commons (five copies of each), one Mercenary Champion and one Mercenary common (5 copies). The other pack will be the same, except Guild Dwarves, Cave Goblins, and Mercenaries.

SFC: Wow, that’s pretty slick. You hit all your bases with that and people that have one starter don’t have to buy both packs to get their armies buffed, you’ve kept the armies in the pack consistent with the starters. That’s a really righteous move, not to hose people into buying both when they may not need them.

CD: Yeah, that’s the idea. I’m not trying to force anything on anyone, I want people to buy what they want and know what they’re getting so there’s…I just don’t want to be that guy that is forcing people to buy a bunch of stuff they don't want to get at something that they do. That’s not what I’m about, that’s not what Plaid Hat is about.

SFC: Yeah, this is definitely not a CCG, never has been, and from what it sounds like, you’re committed to the game’s premise and especially to the customers.

CD: That’s right. The most important thing to Plaid Hat is our customers, and we’ll do anything we can to make sure that we’re offering them the best service in the industry.

SFC: Yeah, seems like you’ve hit all your bases, y’know, for a very affordable price, and people can really build their armies up, kind of on the cheap, no?

CD: Yeah, they’re in playtesting now and we’ve been having a lot of fun. It…it offers a whole new dimension to the game. I’ve heard people say that they’ll just grab factions and not worry about deck building because it seems restrictive, and that’s fine, and I wanted that. I wanted that to be an option for people, but the deck building really does add on a new layer. It is restrictive, but there’s a lot of room for customization in that restriction. I wanted to be restrictive, I think, for good reason. Uh, if your system has some, uh, level of tightness and control to it, I think that you can avoid a lot of the problems that some people tend to stay away from card games of this nature because of.

SFC: Like, if you limit how many of an individual guy you can have in play, you avoid the trap of the guys with deep pockets becoming the dominant players due to their willingness to toss huge sums of money into buying the next super-duper-awesome guy that makes any opposition pretty easy to whip?

CD: Yeah, I did a number of things to prevent too much min/maxing, and just stuff I thought turned off the average gamer, you know, that isn’t into that kind of stuff.

SFC: With regard to your starters, there was a lot of, well maybe not a lot of, but some pushback in the market due to your inclusion of the paper mat. I, personally, was not really turned on by it, but that’s because I’m a bit of a bits junkie, but maybe I’m not the typical gamer because of my tastes….

CD: I think you are, a lot of people are bits junkies, a lot of people like those bits, but a lot of people like their money too, and I wanted to offer a complete game for twenty-five bucks, y’know? I think you get a pretty big game in that small package. I could’ve done one set with all four factions and a board, but then you’d need another board to play the four player game, which is my favorite part of the game, the four player game. And I would’ve had to charge fifty or sixty bucks for it. The board is fairly large, because of the fact you have the whole card there on the board as your character, so to make it affordable and compact, to really fit the bill for a card game, the mat had to be paper to get it to that price point that I felt it should really be at, to give as many people as possible the opportunity to check this thing out. And I knew all along, that I’d produce this paper board, and then release a premium board, for those people who want to pay more, who want that extra bit, that extra niceness, They will have that option, but it won't be forced on those who just want to check the game out and don’t really need it, or don't want to pay the money for it.

SFC: Oh, so are you offering that right now? Like available immediately? Or, does anybody know about this?

CD: Yeah, it’s available now, for preorder, and what I’ve got on the website now….we did this….we’re a small company and we’re still building revenue for projects, and there’s been a lot of call for this nicer board, so we wanted to get it out as soon as possible, so we did this preorder thing where we said that if we get 400 preorders we’ll go to print with it right now, and we’re up to…bordering on 300…

SFC: Wow!

CD: Yeah, just preorders! So, we’re sending it to print immediately as soon as we get the proof back, we’re not even waiting for the preorders.

SFC: Right on! So, you’re going to be sending it to your paying customers pretty quickly, then everybody’s going to be happy…

CD: Yeah within the next couple of months. It’s a Plaid Hat exclusive, you have to go to our website to get it, and it’s not packaged for retail, but there are some retailers who have asked for it personally, so we will send some out to them and they’ll carry it for their customers, but it’s few and far between, so your best bet is to go to and get it.

SFC: OK, so let me ask you this: What’s the deal with Plaid Hat Games? Where’d you come up with that?

CD: (laughing) John Clowdus. I have this silly hat, y’know, its plaid and I got it from some rummage store or something, and I wear it sometimes, and I thought it was unique and quirky, and so I wear the thing around. It became kind of an online identity, more than in real life, and I had this avatar made up with the hat on, and it kind of became a recognizable……um, um….

SFC: Like an icon of Colby Dauch…?

CD: Yeah, that’s the word. It became iconic of my online persona. So John picks the name and I’m like, and I’m like, meh, but I asked some friends and they all jumped on it and said it was great, it was quirky and memorable, they jumped all over it. They thought it had all the elements for a good name.

SFC: Well it looks like they were right, I mean it’s as good a name as any and it’s certainly different and iconic! (laughing) So let me ask a couple more questions and we’ll be done here. So, what are you working on now that we don’t know about? Any more expansions you’ve not talked about? What?

CD: We’ve got the Vanguards and Fallen Kingdom coming out, and I’ve done previews on my site and other sites, and you can check them out on the Summoner Wars Facebook page as well, I put all the previews up there. The Fallen Kingdom are an undead faction, they raise their dead, and make all these gruesome sacrifices to gain an advantage in the game, and the Vanguard are a righteous knight faction that is defensive and protective of life…and they both offer a whole new play style, have their own unique feel. Then right behind that we’ve got the ones I mentioned before that, the reinforcements, that….that will be more Orcs, Goblins….all the stuff you need to get into the deck building if you want that.

SFC: Do you have a release schedule with that?

CD: Nothing solid yet, but the art’s done, the design is done, and we’re getting the money together to send it off to print, we’re almost through playtesting…

SFC: So, a month? Two? What?

CD: (laughing) Uh, probably four or five months from now…

SFC: Awesome sauce.

CD: It’ll be on market by then…the printing process takes time…

SFC: That’s good, because it gives me time to save up all the money I need to buy all this stuff from you (laughing)!

CD: (laughing) Yeah, on the heels of that we’ll be coming out with the Cloaks, they are this rogue faction that has all kinds of trickery in store for their opponents, then after that we’ve got the Jungle Elves coming out, and they’re like a hardcore tribal elves faction that sing these magical war chants that offer them all kinds of special powers, they also call upon various jungle creatures to help them in battle. Then we have more and more cool stuff behind that. Summoner Wars has a lot of stuff planned for way back deep, and alongside that we’re working on a couple of, uh, new games as well.

SFC: Okay! So, let’s talk about that then, seeing as you just segued yourself right into that for me and you’re talking into an interviewer! (laughing) So, what’re you going to tell me about, Mister Colby?

CD: (laughing hard) Uh, well, I don’t know how much I want to reveal just yet….

SFC: C’mon man, I only get 5 people a year to read my articles anyhow, so you can tell me! (laughing hard)

CD: (laughing hard) Well, uh, it’s something not too far enough along to really talk about it yet….you know, people beating you to press if you have a really good idea….I don’t really want to reveal too much….

SFC: Fine, well how about this. Is it going to be Earth, Space, or Other?

CD: (laughing) Earth, Space, or Other….hmm…(laughing)…I’ve got a space idea in mind, but it’s not in development…I’ll tell you one is built in the world of Itharia and is going to center around summoning stones, and it’s going to be cool, but it’s totally different gameplay, but it’s going to take place in that world of Summoner Wars. That’s going to be real fun, cool, like beat up on your neighbor type game…

SFC: I love that, you know me, I loooove cut-throat…

CD: Yeah, that’s going to be a cut-throat, and the other is going to be…well they’re both going to be a dungeon crawl, but they will both take it to a totally different place.

SFC: So a Summoner Warsy dungeon crawl…

CD: Yeah, Fantasy Setting, summoning stones cut-throaty dungeon crawl, stab your friends in the eye type of…..well I don’t want to give out too much information….

SFC: Hey, that’s fine, tell me what you want, but remember I do this for a living in my day job and I’m pretty proficient at getting people to tell me things they don’t want to tell… (laughing)

CD: Yeah, I don’t want to tell too much about either of the game because they could really be something special… Just keep your eyes out because we’ve got some really great stuff in store. In fact, neither of these games are by me. I have a couple of designer friends that are really talented, really skilled…I just don’t want to get into it. We have some really great stuff coming.

SFC: Well, this is going to take me 5 hours to transcribe anyway, so I’ll close with this: Thanks a million, Colby, and I wish you all the luck in the world, God bless, you’re a great guy and have a really great product.

CD: Thanks for the opportunity!

You can learn more about Summoner Wars and Plaid Hat Games at: