Panda-emic 4!

New Adventures of the Panda

Panda has been on his quest to find home for some weeks now, so if you need to catch up, you can start with chapter one.

As I write this, I have just finished taking the pictures for Panda’s final adventure. I was honestly a little sad as I took apart the set and dismantled my little home-made studio (bedside lamps, green felt backdrop, double-sided tape, thumbtacks, etc) and said goodbye to Panda. It’s been a lot of fun, and I’ve enjoyed the challenge of making comics in a new way. Panda wraps up his adventures next week, so I hope you join us then in seeing him off.

In the meantime, we are hoping to finally get back to our Arkham Horror LCG campaign. We got our hands on the first two standalone expansions weeks ago, but still haven’t even finished the campaign from the base box. We’ve heard such good things about the expansions that at this stage I just want to get the base game done and move on.

I will also be spending the next week preparing for Dublin Comic Con, which I will be attending as part of Turncoat Press. If you’re there, come say hi! I will also be looking for new clients to work with in my capacity as a freelance comic book editor. This is something I have been doing for a while now, and I have some free slots available in the coming months. So, if you are working on, developing, or looking to publish a comic, contact me through my website. I specialise in story editing, so if you are just looking for some script notes, edits, or guidance, let me know.

See you all next week!

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Panda-emic 3!

The Continuing Adventures of Panda

This week is part three of the adventures of poor lil’ panda. If you missed out, you can catch up with parts one and two.

That Carcassonne ‘lying down in the field’ joke is about as well worn as wood-for-sheep. We avoided it for years, but honestly, napping just felt like a very ‘panda’ thing to do. Next to eating bamboo, it’s his favourite activity. There are still a couple more weeks left in his adventures, so if you want to see how he takes to life as a farmer, tune in next week.

As I write this, I am flicking between tabs (of the several hundred I have open) and working on my first campaign for D&D. I ran a game for friends last night that went reasonably well (no-one fell asleep, the table went unflipped, and people are willing to play again) and so I am now working up something that can run over a few nights. I could, of course, pull from a great number of pre-written adventures, but there is a great appeal for me in world-building, and the construction of a living, breathing, story that can be interacted with.

For playing on an ongoing basis, we will need to use roll20.net, which I hear works quite well. If anyone has any experience using the system, I’d love to hear about it. Or any good alternatives for playing D&D online, if such apps exist?

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Panda-emic 2!

Panda Tales Part 2

This week’s comic is part two of the adventures of our friend Panda. Part one can be found here.

The winner of the 2017 Spiel Des Jahres is Kingdomino, and I couldn’t be happier with the choice. I love Kingdomino. It’s so perfectly simple I can’t believe no-one thought it up decades ago. Of course, it’s exactly that kind of simplicity that masks brilliant design. In the same way that a short story can be harder to write than a novel, I would guess designing a game with so few mechanics and rules can be much harder than a 4X space opera. With so few moving parts, every single one has to be in perfect harmony. Chris from Tabletop Cork introduced me to Kingdomino a couple of weeks back, and now I refuse to even meet him for coffee unless he brings it along.

My personal feeling aside, it is the perfect candidate for a Spiel Des Jahres winner. It’s simple tile-laying game in which players draft tiles to build a 5×5 grid in front of themselves. The aim is to build sections of similar type in your grid – forests, seas, plains, etc. The larger the section, the more it will potentially score at the end of the game (which takes maybe 15-20 minutes).

But there is one more factor in end-game scoring. Certain tiles have crowns printed on them, and the scoring for each section in your grid is multiplied by the number of crowns on it. So 4 forest tiles with a total of 2 crowns on them will score you 8 points. The more crowns the better, and in fact, if you fail to acquire any crowns, the section is worth nothing.

The tiles you draft each round will determine the order in which you get to draft next round. But a clever wrinkle in the mechanics means that generally it’s a choice between getting more crowns or going first.

It’s a wonderful small box game, and probably the closest I have ever seen to matching Star Realms regards value for money. If you can find a copy before the Spiel Des Jahres stampede sweeps them up and out of print, I highly recommend it.

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Panda-emic!

Panda Tales Part 1

This week’s comic marks the start of something new and very different for us. It’s something we have spent a couple of weeks working very hard on, and we are very excited about it. We hope you enjoyed what is just week one of the adventures of Panda. Those familiar with ‘Lost Patrol’ should have an idea of what he is in for next week – suffice to say things won’t get any better for him right away.

More than ever, we would love your feedback. We have 4-6 weeks of comics planned in this style with our panda friend, so if you absolutely hate it, you’re probably just out of luck. Other than that, we hope you give it a chance, and would love to hear your thoughts. We had a lot of fun working on the series – developing the idea, setting up a little makeshift home studio, taking all the pictures, and then stitching them together in Photoshop. It’s a completely different approach to making comics for us, and we both felt it exercised our imaginations and talents in new ways. After three years (!) it’s good to take a break and try something different, and I think this story arc is the best the comic has been in a while.

Also, if you do like the comic, it would be great to get some reposts/likes and all that other good social media stuff, to highlight the story. Much thanks if you can spare the time for that.

Finally, of course, a mention must go to publishers Bombyx and Matagot for publishing Takenoko, which of course is where this week’s comic is set. Full credit to Antoine Bauza for designing such a great, adorable game. In fact, as Panda continues his adventures in the coming weeks, the games of Antoine Bauza will be cropping up again.

And of course, the game owes its beautiful design and aesthetics to illustrators Nicolas Fructus, Joel Van Aerde & Yuio. It was a pleasure to spend so much time photographing their gorgeous game (I probably took about 80-100 pictures for the comic, and enjoyed it the whole time).

If you have never played Takenoko, we strongly recommend it. It’s light, with a fair sprinkling of luck, but it is fun, beautiful, and just the right level of thinking for a gentle evening’s game with friends.

And it has a panda. I mean, how could you not love that guy? It is completely fair to say that the panda miniature in Takenoko is entirely responsible for the arc of our comic for at least the next month.

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More Like “Crazy” Garden

More Like “Crazy” Garden

The description of Cottage Garden in the above comic is accurate. I have not yet played Cottage Garden. Make of this what you will.

In all seriousness, though, we enjoy Patchwork, so there is no reason we shouldn’t enjoy Cottage Garden. Well, there is one reason, but excepting the mistreatment of dice, I think we would get along fine with the game.

It takes the basic structure of Patchwork, adds some new mechanics, and ups the player count to four. There is also a change of theme, but in both games, the theme is so light as to be relatively unimportant.

In fact, it was the theme of Patchwork that initially kept me from playing it for so long. I would mentally switch off at the mention of it, so uninteresting was the theme to me. So despite the praise it garnered, I never as much as watched a review or playthrough. Eventually, seeing it crop up on so many lists of recommended two player games piqued my interest. Once I had gotten over the theme, the core mechanic (Tetris, after a fashion) is actually really cool, and something I hadn’t come across in a game before – although I gather Uwe Rosenberg has also incorporated this into ‘A Feast for Odin’ as well as ‘Cottage Garden’.

 

International Tabletop Day is tomorrow! What’s everyone doing? I’m going to be helping out in Tabletop Cork, teaching people games and running a game of Fiasco. Fiasco doesn’t technically need a GM, but the event is designed for RPG beginners, so I will be facilitating.

Whatever you are doing (and I hope you are doing something), you should check out these awesome printable badges/stickers that the amazing folks over at Semi Coop have designed. There is a full range of achievements/accusations to pin on your friends throughout the day, and the design is just gorgeous. The guys at Tabletop Cork have a full range printed and ready to go, including this, ahem, particularly awesome ‘mentioned a board game webcomic’ badge. Wear it with pride!

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Humpty Dumpty

Humpty Dumpty Santorini

I have played only a handful of games of Santorini, and while I have enjoyed it, I don’t feel any great desire to play it anymore. Having said that, I have only played in the ‘base mode’ without any of the ‘god powers’ included in the game. That is probably equivalent to only playing the tutorial mode in a video game, so I will withhold judgement until I have played with the stabilisers off.

Abstract games have never really been my cup of tea anyway. If I were to list my three most important elements in any game, it would look a little like:

  1. Theme
  2. Mechanics
  3. Theme

So obviously abstract games don’t exactly roll my dice, so to speak. If I had to play an abstract, my preference would be for a less complex game, like Santorini. A simple set of mechanics that provide a nice puzzle or challenge for the player.

If you start to complicate that equation and add more layers and mechanics, I can’t help but question why I am taking actions and moving pieces; not finding any satisfactory answers on the board means that I don’t have a compelling reason to continue to play. If I am just pushing cardboard around a vacuum in order to score more points, you have lost me. Hence, Santorini, and my absolute favourite abstract: Hive.

However good Santorini may turn out to be once the God Powers come into play, I very much doubt it will tower high enough to topple Hive from the top spot. Hive is a boardless, chess-like two-player game. Each player has a set of wonderfully chunky, tactile, hexagonal tiles, which they place to form the ‘hive’. Each hex represents a different insect: beetle, grasshopper, etc., each with a different movement rule, à la chess. You place pieces and slide them around the ever-expanding hive in order to trap your opponent’s queen.

It’s simpler than chess (considerably so), but still has enough depth of play to warrant more than one strategy guide available to purchase. While I have long since given up on chess (like any sane person would), Hive is a game that I feel I am capable of learning and improving with all the time, without ever feeling utterly and completely out of my depth.

But all of the depth of Hive comes from strategy, not mechanics. The rules form a very simple framework, and games only take 10-15 minutes (depending on how quickly I lose).

My initial feeling on Santorini was that the rules framework did not allow for much gameplay depth, and it was simply move and counter-move. But the god powers introduce different win conditions and player abilities, so these should hopefully shake things up enough spike my interest in the game again.

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The rebranding of Mad King Ludwig

Writer_smallerThe Madness of King Ludwig

It’s the return of Bob from Marketing!. I like Bob. As someone who wore a suit to work and for too long, and used words like projections, going forward, core competencies and best practice, it’s nice to have a chance to skewer that culture of nonsense. And people that refer to themselves in the third person. If anyone deserves a skewering – literally – it’s people who do that.

The Peacock Throne of Mad King Ludwig is, quite marvellously, based on fact. His pet pig, sadly, is not. Although I do feel it’s at least a pretty safe assumption that a mad king would have a pet pig. Why would you not, in that position?

While the theme of ‘The Castles of Mad King Ludwig’ (or just ‘Castles’) is interesting, it’s one of those games that I feel I need to play to understand the appeal of. On paper it sounds somewhat dry. But with the acclaim the game has received, I’m pretty certain that’s misleading. I remember when I initially heard and read about Pandemic, I didn’t see the appeal at all. Curing diseases? Playing as a researcher? Travelling around the world healing and collecting cards just didn’t make sense to me, yet anyone who played it was just so excited about it. I guess the moral here is that I would make a lousy talent scout – the board game world’s equivalent of the man who turned down The Beatles.

I saw the announcement, but other than Codenames, I’m honestly not familiar with the nominees for the Spiel des Jahres this year. Anyone played either Karuba or Imhotep? Anyone want to make predictions as the which the winner might be?

Man, I bet that pig just loves the butter room.

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Random encounter

Writer_smallerRandom Encounter

Betrayal at House on the Hill, besides having maybe the most awkward title of any board game ever, is really, really great fun. The box describes it as a strategy game, and while I love strategy games, this is not why I love Betrayal.

First things first: the box is a lie. Betrayal is not remotely a strategy game. Its gameplay is too simple for that. In Betrayal, the players are exploring a spooky mansion (I’m sure there’s a really good reason why), working as a team to uncover its secrets, while surviving its creaky dangers and uncanny encounters. Each player has four stats, which are tested against the tiles they uncover -make a speed test to dodge the collapsing floor, stamina test to avoid the old man dressed as a ghost to scare the kids out of the abandoned fairground, etc. As the tiles are uncovered, the mansion grows on the table, and encounters and items boost the player’s stats and abilities. Everyone is working together, allowing for sharing of items. And that’s pretty much it. These basic systems are what govern the game play, making for a very straightforward move, uncover and roll system. The game looks great, and the tiles and encounters are fun, varied and thematic, but ultimately all worked out in the same way.

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Harsh realities

Writer_smallerGalaxy Trucker

Galaxy Trucker is a favourite of ours. We’ve never failed to have a blast (sorry ships) playing it. It took a long time to find a comic to do about it though. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, sometimes strips are easy, jumping fully formed from the rulebook. The problem with Galaxy Trucker was that it is already a funny game. A very funny game. It is hilarious in design, theme, artwork, rules and gameplay.

Its space-faring, ship construction theme is grounded by the players working for ‘Corporation Incorporated’, an interplanetary supplier of sewer systems and low-income housing. Instead of building expensive ships to transport their cut-price cargo to the farthest reaches of the stars, the company hit upon the brilliant idea of simply making their ships from the cargo, and dismantling them upon arrival. Given the nature of the ships, of course, arrival is not guaranteed. And that’s the fun of the game.

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