Hide the Wizard

Writer_smallerChristmas is Coming

If you live in, around, near, or even just in the general landmass that supports the city of Cork, you should come along to the Tabletop Cafe pop-up this Sunday. It’s upstairs in the Roundy Bar on Castle St. If you come along say hello! I’ll be helping out all day, and would be delighted to meet some readers, and if it’s not too busy, maybe even play some games as well. I am even willing to play a wizardy game, if you ask really nice. Maybe.

Next week we begin our now-annual tradition of Guest Week. This is where we get our excellent friends and collaborators to make some comics for the site, putting some variety into proceeds, and allowing us a break over Christmas. Well, I say us, but really, I mean Aileen. While I can knock out a script in about an hour, in between writerly naps on the couch, it can then take Aileen the better part of two days to pencil, ink, and colour it. Guest Week also allows us to recharge our batteries, and I always feel we come out of the break making better comics.

The plan as it stands now is to have two ‘guest comics’ over the next three weeks, and also include our own Christmas special (yes, Guest Week runs for three weeks, it’s a thing). I am not yet 100% when our comic will run in that three-week period, but obviously, I would encourage you all to come and check out the guest comics as well.

We have some returning guest creators with Damien Duncan and Dave McNally, and a couple of exciting new faces as well. Everyone involved in Guest Week is someone I have worked with before on other comic projects. They are all people I trust to deliver great work. They are as good as, and in some cases, clearly better than, our own work. I will also continue to include a blog post with each comic, so while we get to take a break, you don’t actually get to take a break from me.

Soz. LOLZ.

Also by this time next week, I will have seen Rogue One, so I will likely be unable to think about anything else at that point – so expect a blog post about it. I am so excited! Is everyone else not this excited as well?

HO HO HO Star Wars!

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The Realm of the Rat King

Writer_smallerKing Rat of the Undercouch

King Rat of the Undercouch is, I would like to presume, a fictional character. But as I am never ever going to lift up the couch to check, it will remain a presumption. It’s for the best that way. If dice rolled under the couch disappear forever, and if we need to continue leaving out food tributes every full moon so he doesn’t annex any more territory in our home, then that’s just what we will do. Best not to think of the alternatives. Best never to even imagine the crude throne of dice he is constructing. I mean, he’s fictional, and that’s what we will continue to say quietly to ourselves every night so we can sleep soundly.

He’s fictional.

I want to thank everyone who responded to our call last week for suggestions for ‘essential’ board games for a board game cafe. We were looking to help our friends at Tabletop Cork, and they are super-grateful to everyone who pitched in. Their pop-up board game cafe starts in just a couple of weeks, and I probably don’t need to tell anyone here how excited we are to have a board game cafe in Cork. This is a big deal for us, and we really want it to succeed, so I will be mentioning it again here a whole bunch. We have no financial investment or interest, and there is no sponsorship involved, it’s just that the idea of the pop-up leading to a full-time board game cafe on our doorstep is far too exciting an opportunity for us to not talk about all the time.

I finally picked up a copy of Games Workshop’s Blood Bowl during the week. This is super-exciting for me, as it’s a game I have been looking forward to for literally more than a year. Not even spending a week’s worth of evenings carefully scraping mould lines off plastic miniatures before assembly has dampened my enthusiasm.

Once this preparatory work is done, I am looking forward to finding out how well the game has aged. My understanding is that the new edition only makes minor changes to the rules, so I will essentially be playing the same game I used to enjoy more than 10 years ago now. For those unfamiliar, Blood Bowl is essentially a joke on the term ‘fantasy football’ in that it’s American football played with elves, dwarves, orcs, etc. And it’s just as gratuitously, gloriously over the top and violent as that would suggest. If you play as orcs, literally pounding the other team into the ground is your best path to victory, but of course, elves and rat-men prefer to run (or indeed, scurry) across the pitch scoring touchdowns to win in a more traditional manner.

And then there’s dwarves. Lacking the agility of other races, and the brute force of orcs, dwarves tend towards outlandish technology and weaponry in order to cheat their way to the end zone. This includes the infamous ‘death-roller’, which is basically a one-man spikey steamroller. It’s guaranteed to get the player sent off the pitch, but not before he manages to score, and maybe level the playing field a little as well. I remember it as a quick-paced game that was always a lot of fun – I hope to report back in a week or two as to whether or not it remains the game I remember.

In the meantime, we are fast approaching that jolly, red, bearded time of the year again, so what’s the number one game on everyone’s list this Christmas?

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Another Wizard Did It

Writer_smallerThe Importance of Rolling Dice

If you’re a newer reader, here is a reminder of how I feel about wizards.

I think I just find it hard to move past that old stereotype of the pointed hat, white beard, and purple robes. Having never played D&D growing up, that stereotype was never challenged. And by the time the Wizard’s Guild hired publicist JK Rowling to radically transform their image, it might have already been too late for me. I have seen a couple of the films, and while I did think they were fun, they failed to really captivate me. Although I will admit that having never attempted to read the novels, I am likely to be missing the real magic.

However, I’m not a completely heartless monster, and I will admit to being charmed by the look of the trailer for Fantastic Beasts. Potter-verse aside, it looks like it could be a really fun, colourful adventure. Exactly the kind of film that would make for a good cinema trip in a cold winter month.

While this week’s comic might not be based on real events, it is certainly true and faithful in spirit. If Aileen, or indeed some person more nefarious than her, did ever need to lure me unwittingly into a trap, dice would work 100% of the time. I crave dice in my games like others seem to crave miniatures in theirs. And it’s not for the random element. I much prefer the balance of a game to swing on planning, strategy, scheming – any one of these wonderful things. It is the tactile nature of dice that appeals so much.

Whenever a new game comes into our possession (oh, what a glorious thing!), its unboxing will follow a by-now standard procedure. Once the shrink comes off, Aileen will occupy herself with the olfactory delights contained within. Nothing makes her happier than the smell of new board game, and she could easily lose hours to this pursuit.

Meanwhile, I will be digging around in the box for the dice. Once in my hand, I will assess their heft, feeling their weight, design, quality, and colour. And of course, test them. In the parlance of a younger generation, see ‘how they roll’. Do they make a satisfying noise as they collide in my hand, and then hit the table? Are they clunky, or clacky? Do they bounce, spin, or stop disappointingly? Will the test rolls produce a good omens, or ill?

For my birthday this year, Aileen got me the Pathfinder box set, a brilliantly packed box full of manuals, maps, cardboard, and a lovely-looking set of dice – a full complement of those required for roleplaying, in fact. Although reasonable looking, they felt a little light, and didn’t roll very much when cast into the box lid. My very first rolls produced three ones in a row on the D20, followed by a two. The D6 then rolled two ones in a row. I can’t speak for the other dice, as I immediately re-bagged them, and hid them at the very back of our gaming shelf, never to be spoken of again. The very next day, I bought a replacement set at the gaming store (after spending close to half an hour testing and rolling various sets at the counter, obviously).

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Escape: Stress of the Temple

Writer_smallerTaco Tuesdays

Gen Con this weekend means a couple of things. Firstly, it does mean a dip in traffic to our site as regular viewers instead enjoy a magical weekend of gaming – or just spending money on so many new games – and we stay at home and try not to be too jealous.

On the flip side, we do stay glued to Twitter mining a wealth of tweets to find what the most exciting new games turn out to be. While we will undoubtedly have to wait months to actually get our hands on them, it’s always fun to see what sells out, what gets people excited, and what hidden gems are unexpectedly uncovered.

As well as spending too much time on Twitter (and maybe Pokemon Go) over this weekend, we will finally have some time to play some games, as our schedules have at last aligned. Obviously, I’ll be hankering for some X-Wing, but also looking to maybe finally road test ‘And then we held hands’ or maybe ‘Tokaido’ or ‘Thunderbirds’, or any other game from our ever longer list of unplayed purchases. Who needs to go to a convention when we already have stacks of unplayed games at home?

I do actually love Escape: Curse of the Temple, but it has been known to cause stress, anxiety, broken friendships, confusion, sweating, swearing, game fatigue, dice hate, frustration, and existential dread. Other than that, I thoroughly recommend trying it. It’s only ten minutes long, and there is no turn structure. Everyone rolls their dice, moves around the board and shouts at everyone else to help them out. It’s a co-op game, but a more shouty, chaotic co-op than you might be familiar with. After a couple of plays, a group can get the hang of it and manage it with a lot less stress. It’s just convincing people to go again after the first time that can sometimes be the problem…

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Fiasco Funnies

Writer_smallerWhat a Fiasco!

Things started when the body was found. In the isolated darkness of McMurdo Ice Station, paranoia and dark ulterior motives quickly took hold: one kidnapping, one attempted seduction, one burglary, several assaults, and a penguin-worshipping death cult later, we all found ourselves in the alcohol-soaked confines of the local bar. We were joined by some dynamite, a mysterious package of toxic waste, a lighter, and some very dark, murderous intentions.

That was how our first game of Fiasco played out, and if that doesn’t recommend it then I don’t know what else to say. On the other hand, it’s probably not for everyone, and you do need to have the right group. I talked a little about it last week, and you can see details here, but in short it is a one-night RPG that runs without a Games Master and simulates a crime caper in the vein of the Coen Brothers, or anything else similarly twisted, anarchic, and ultimately violent. Needless to say, it’s a game with mature themes. And not just mature themes that you’ll be sniggering at on cards, but ones you will have to act out with and in front of your friends.

We picked up Fiasco as a gateway to RPGs. The problem we had with getting into RPGs was that neither of us has experience enough to run a game, so we needed one that didn’t rely on such previous experience. Fiasco circumvents the needs for a DM, although you do still need one player willing to keep the group on track, and keep the game moving in the right direction. In getting by without a DM it uses a set of simple mechanics, albeit non-intuitive ones, that can be hard to grasp. After a couple of read-throughs of the rules, we still needed to see the game being played for parts of it to click (thanks to commenter Zorblag last week for pointing us towards that video). Even then, it was really only in the second act of the game that everyone in the group really understood the mechanics underneath the wonderfully chaotic surface of our caper, and how we needed to play with them in mind.

Having said that, we managed well enough to craft an utterly memorable final five scenes. These all took place in “The Lonely Inuit” (the local bar) within the space of a few deliciously tense, slow-motion seconds, when a naked doomsday cultist burst in holding a stick of dynamite and a lighter, but was knocked out by a flying pint glass (whose owner stumbled to the ground, tripping over another character clinging to his leg in fear), landing the lighter and dynamite at the feet of another unsuspecting character. Seizing the opportunity (and explosives), she exited the bar, throwing the lit dynamite back in, delighted at the opportunity to simultaneously wipe out and frame everyone else in the bar.

It was only after we had finished playing that we realised we never even got to find out how that first body got there, or who was responsible.

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Dice, dice, baby

Writer_smallerYou gotta roll with it

As previously illustrated, Aileen is a cardboard sniffer. There is no element of unboxing a new game that she loves more than the smell of it. If my own board game fetish were to be thus labelled, I’d be a dice fondler. As soon a new box is opened I’m rummaging around the cardboard and the plastic looking for dice, like some kind of hipster hobo, for whom dumpster diving for food is too ‘last year’. I can’t wait to get them into my hands and feel the weight, the quality; hoping for a good heft, and a satisfying roll. There is of course, an extra thrill of pleasure in custom dice. Unique faces, fascinating symbols, strange new purposes and uses.

I often spend time here proselytising about the wonderful social nature of board games. But their other great appeal is their tactile nature. Picking up a piece and moving it around. Holding a hand of cards. Amassing counters and tokens. Placing a lovingly crafted wooden meeple to claim a territory or declare an action. That wonderful ‘thunk’ as a good hand of dice hits the table rolling. The artwork, the atmosphere it creates. It’s all so tangible, helping you to connect with the game. To turn a box of cardboard and plastic and a dull book of rules into an experience that really engages you.

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It tricks us with riddles

Writer_smallerUpcoming guest comics

If you didn’t see last week, we are taking a break for a few weeks over Christmas, to rest, recharge, play board games, and come back to the comic with new ideas and renewed energy. Being able to make the comic every week is a privilege, and I’m looking forward to another year of it, but we do feel that we will be better for the time off.

But! Fear not! The site will still update, and there will still be new comics every week. Christmas is saved! I have rounded up some amazingly talented friends of ours and – using charm, bribes, lies, and on one occasion, a box of matches and a wet newspaper – convinced them to do a series of guest comics. The comics will be in keeping with our usual subject matter, but will allow for some new voices and styles. At this stage the artwork has started to come in, and I’m honestly very excited for the next three weeks of comics. I’m so excited, in fact, that I have already started to plan guest comics for next year. True story.

I will also still be updating with a blog post every week, and responding to comments, so stay with us and make our new creators feel welcome. You guys are a great audience, and I’d love for them to feel really involved with the site and community.

On a final point, without looking it up, I honestly am never sure about the answer to that dice question. And it’s one of those things that, five minutes after looking it up, I will have forgotten again.

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We interrupt this broadcast . . .

Writer_smallerA deluge of dice

A short post this week, but normal service will resume next week. I’ve spent the week putting the finishing touches to a local comic anthology that I am editing, so my time has been stretched too thin to hold anything more than a brief post for this week’s comic.

Unfortunately, when my time is pulled in different directions, gaming tends to be the first casualty, so tomorrow will be the first chance I have had to play anything in a while. Tomorrow night at gaming we will be returning to Legendary Encounters: Alien. Two weeks in a row this game has really kicked our asses, so this week we are determined to turn the tables. Third time lucky, I guess. Except for Alien movies. If our luck follows that trend, we’re doomed. In any case, I expect to be writing some more about Legendary Encounters in the coming weeks.

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A vote for victory

Writer_smallerWinter is coming (back)

This comic is pulled from a game we played over the weekend, and is exactly why we love Dead of Winter.

A little after we did our last Dead of Winter comic, the game was running a little thin for me, due in no small part to playing it at every given opportunity. Returning to it has been a revelation. I felt the game needed a rest because in terms of what players can do, it’s relatively simple. The mechanics works perfectly well, but are too straightforward to allow for the depth of strategy that I tend to prefer in games. But that’s missing the point. In Dead of Winter these mechanics are not the foundation of the game. They are simply a scaffold that supports the real game. Focusing on the mechanics is missing the point, in the same way that zombie games which focus on the zombies miss the point of the genre.

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A vicious circle

Writer_smallerA vicious circle

My blog post is a little scattered this week, for a more coherent, and relevant-to-the-comic piece of writing, skip to Aileen’s post below.

Still with me? How generous.  Have some kind thoughts, free of charge, and don’t act like I didn’t warn you when I skip from talking about games to maybe that should read “writing about” rather than “talking about.”

Anyway.

At the time of posting, there will only be a few hours left in the Jack Vasel Memorial Fund auction. Tiny Wooden Pieces is auctioning a chance to appear in our comic, and to receive a colour, signed print of this comic. Bid here, and learn about the charity here. Please do support this any way you can. But be warned, some crazy person has already bid more than $200 on it. If this is too rich for your blood, or you have no interest in being made fun of on an internet comic about board games (sorry people-who-already-bid, no take-backsies) then there are plenty of actual board games you can bid on as well.

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