Walk the Plank, Mateys

Next week GR is releasing a card game called Walk the Plank. It’s our first since Torches & Pitchforks and whereas T&P; was definitely a gamer’s game this is one you can pull out and play with your non-gamer friends and family. If you check out the Walk the Plank page of our website, you can download the complete rules and see a cool preview that shows you how the art evolved from sketches to finished pieces. You can also see pictures of the finished game.


With pirate mania being at its height right now, we’re hoping Walk the Plank benefits. It’s a fun game and very quick to play (as in you can play a whole game in less than 10 minutes). Make your friends Walk the Plank today!

Kiwi Strawberry

My friends Kim and Chris have been doing this cable access show called Free NY since 1994. I haven’t seen an episode since I left NY but it seems like the focus of the show has got more political over time. In the early days though Kim and Chris would bring their camera to game night at my old place in Brooklyn. They’d record as pre-game conversations and those would become episodes. Topics ranged all over the place. I remember coming home from work one night to find the roundtable in full swing. They turned the camera on me and said, “What do you think about Kurt Cobain’s suicide today?” I replied, “Well, that’s what he gets for selling out.” A wee bit harsh, eh?

One day in 1995 they decided to do a kiwi strawberry episode. They got 25 odd beverages and we did a blind taste test. I had never had so much kiwi strawberry stuff in my life. Until they did a follow-up episode that is, where we put the previous winner (Snapple’s KS iced tea as I recall) against a field of new contenders. Since those shows I have had kiwi strawberry beverages only a handful of times. When I see them in stores, I never buy them, nor crave them. It seems drinking that much of the stuff in such a short period of time overloaded my system and it never recovered. It was thus quite a surprise when I pulled a random vitamin water out of the fridge this morning and discovered it was kiwi strawberry. I think I’m good for another few years.

CSG Pissing Match

So Wizards of the Coast has apparently received a patent on constructible strategy games. These are games that use punch-out pieces that you assemble into a larger model like a ship or a robot. If you pay attention to games, you may be scratching your head right about now. Wizards has never released a game like this, while Wizkids has a quite popular one in Pirates of the Spanish Main. So what gives? Well, it’s a long and strange story.

I can’t say precisely when those punch out constructible toys first came to market, but I do know that Z-Cardz were on sale by the late 90s. In 2003 Z-Cardz released a game (Z-Cardz: the Game) sold in starters and boosters. As far as I know this was the first “constructible strategy game” on the market. At around this time WotC was also working a project called Punch Bots. This was one of many projects inside WotC that went through a certain amount of development and then got shelved. Punch Bots is the basis of WotC’s patent claim.

In 2004 Wizkids released Pirates of the Spanish Main and it was a big hit in the hobby market. A series of expansions followed, as well as an attempt (Rocketmen) to do something similar for scifi. The following year Pirates won a Vanguard Award at the Origins Awards. This struck me as a bit odd, as Pirates was not the pioneering game of this type. It was far more successful than Z-Cardz certainly, but that’s not really what the Vanguard Award is supposed to be about.

Back in February Wizkids muddied the pool further by announcing the Star Wars Pocketmodel Trading Card Game. This seems to be another constructible strategy game but presumably for licensing reasons it’s being called a TCG. Wizards of the Coast, which has most of the hobby game rights for Star Wars, was likely not pleased by this turn of events. WotC then announced that that they were doing a CSG of their own based on the Transformers (a Hasbro property). That’s coming out this summer and it will be the first time WotC has actually released a game of this type.

So now there’s a weird situation where no one remembers the actual pioneer in this category, but the company with the most popular games of this type is now under threat from a company that has yet to actually release one. I must say I find the patenting a little dubious. The punch out cards existed long before WotC filed, so really they are saying that they invented the idea of attaching a collectible business model game to them. Which may not even be true, depending on the development history of the Z-Cardz game. In the end the whole thing seems like a pissing match between WotC and Wizkids, reminiscent of the Decipher/WotC dogfight that landed the Star Wars license with WotC in the first place.

Garlic King

Nik and I were out and about downtown yesterday, at the Cheese Festival at Pike Place Market amongst other places. Nik was in a falafel mood, so we decided to try Falafel King on 1st Avenue. I’ve walked by this place hundreds of times, but never ate there. My falafel loyalty used to go to Zaina on 3rd Avenue, but they lost their lease and had to move elsewhere. We got our sandwiches to go and walked down to this little park next to the market with a nice view of the water.

I took one bite and said, “Damn, this is garlicky.” The sandwiches were all right but not as good as Zaina and not even in the same ballpark as NYC institutions like Mamoun’s. An hour after lunch we still had a strong garlic taste in our mouths. We stopped off to get some coffee and a pack of mints. That one-two punch helped but the garlic taste lingered. When we got home I immediately brushed my teeth. Then I brushed them again before bed, only to wake up this morning with the faint taste of garlic still in my mouth. Jesus H. I probably could have killed vampires just by breathing on them yesterday.

So Falafel King? No. Garlic King? Oh yes.

Call to Arms

I had a chance to try out the new BattleLore expansion, Call to Arms, last night over at Rick’s place. I give it two thumbs up.

The original game, like all the various Commands & Colors games, wa scenario driven. If you got tired of playing and replaying the scenarios, you had to make up your own or wait for new ones to come out. What the Call to Arms expansion does is add a system that gives you more control over the battlefield while increasing the replayability of the game substantially. It does this with the addition of deployment cards. Each deployment card shows not only a group of units, but where on the board they’ll be placed. You draw four deployment cards and assign one each to the right wing, center, left wing, and reserve. This represents your vanguard, main force, rear guard, and reserve. This gives the game a bit of army building without delving into a whole points system and the sort of micro-managing those entail. It also gives you interesting choices to make when assigning cards to the zones. Where do you want to put a lot light troops? Where to you want to deploy a cavalry strike force? You can then reinforce these choices with two units from the reserve card, which can be placed anywhere on the baseline. There are also rules for specialist cards and each player gets two. These are flavorful upgrades that give a little uniqueness to your army. Last night I took a card that upgraded by light troops so they had long bows, for example. This turned out to be quite important, as the extra range and damage of the longbows helped me take out two units early on the game that paved the way for my victory. Call to Arms also comes with some new terrain tiles, as well as things like wooden stakes for archers and some additional counters and reference cards. The rulebook is once again beautiful and full color and includes a bunch of new battle maps you can use with this new system (maps from previous scenarios can also be used). This is a good deal for $20 and well worth the time of any BattleLore fan.

RIP Angus

Angus Konstam, who has written many a book about pirates, just posted on the Miniatures Page that the artist Angus McBride has passed on. This is sad news. I first noticed McBride for the terrific covers he did for ICE’s old Middle Earth Roleplaying line and I still envision the Riders of Rohan as he painted them. He also illustrated dozens of Osprey books, amongst other achievements. Rest in peace, Angus.

More Tunes for Workin’

On seeing the news about Jerry Falwell dying today, I was immediately seized with the urge to hear the Dead Kennedys song “Moral Majority”. I have the vinyl, of course, but that wasn’t going to do me any good at work. I went to I-tunes and discovered the EP on which that song appears, In God We Trust, Inc, was appended to another DK’s album, Plastic Surgery Disasters. I figured what the hell and bought it all. The chorus of “Moral Majority” (“God must be dead if you’re alive!”) is now sweetly ironic, but the song still rocks.

I was happy to get some new music on my I-tunes, but that wasn’t enough. I’m fairly sick of the music I’ve got at work and I’ve been meaning to pick up some new CDs for a couple of weeks. Today I lunch I took a short bus ride to Easy Street, one of the better record stores in Seattle and located right down the hill from Flying Lab. I picked up four CDs, two used and two new.

Christ on Parade, “Sounds of Nature”: This is another record I have on vinyl but I was tempted by the CD repackage. It includes a whole other EP and two other songs from a long forgotten comp. This is classic political hardcore from California. My old band used to cover the “Landlord Song”.

Bikini Kill, “Reject All American”: This is one of Bikini Kill’s later records and I just never got around to picking it up. Angry riot grrrls, oh yes.

The Tossers, “Agony”: I didn’t realize the Tossers put out a new record in March. Woohoo. More celto-punk? Yes, please.

The Birthday Party, “Prayers on Fire”: This is the first album by Nick Cave’s old band. Cave took awhile to grow on me but it did finally happen. Figured it was time to go back to his roots. Nicole will no doubt be sad to find out that “Release the Bats” is not on this record.

Monstrous Mystery

I got home from work last night to find a UPS package waiting for me. I had just gotten the package with the final two volumes of Preacher in it the day before and wasn’t expecting anything else. I opened it to discover two copies of Paizo’s new Monster Ecologies. I was pleased to get them but confused. I’ve never written an “Ecology of” article for Dragon Magazine (the source for the content of this book). I flicked to the credits and saw I was in the “special thanks” category. The mystery deepens. I then started paging through the book and on page 33 found something called “Monstrous Evolution” that showed how the look and feel of Githyanki had changed from their first appearance in the Fiend Folio to today. The top third of the page featured a quote of mine about why I like the Githyanki.

At last it all became clear. Months ago Wes Schneider at Paizo asked if I could write a little something on my favorite D&D; monster. I had thought it was for article in Dragon. When the recent news about Dragon and Dungeon hit, I had wondered if that article was going to appear before Dragon’s final issue. Question answered and mystery solved.

Shit from an Old Notebook

In part of my continuing war to organize the house, I moved our old TV and original X-Box into my office. Now if Kate or Nik is watching TV or using the 360 downstairs, I can fire up the old X-Box if I want a little console action.

In the process of setting all that up, I scoured drawers and boxes looking for a decent extension cord. At the bottom of one drawer I found an old notebook. Since it says “Ronin Publishing” on it, it must date back to 1996 or so. Looking through it was amusing and sometimes puzzling. Things I found include:

* Development notes for the Whispering Vault supplements Book of Hunts and Mortal Magic.
* A 16-point checklist for GenCon ’97.
* John Wick’s phone number at AEG and a note (“in-Clan rivalry instead of Scorpion”). This relates to a L5R adventure I wrote back then.
* Research notes on the Fifth Crusade for an Ars Magica book Nicole and I were going to write together. Later in the notebook a full outline of this book appears.
* Leads from apartment hunting from when I first moved to Seattle, including the place I eventually moved into.
* Details on a writing test I was asked to do after applying for a position at WotC to work on the D&D;/Magic: the Gathering crossover. This was the position I was hired into, though the project didn’t last more than a few months because of typical departmental in-fighting.
* Notes I took at the Confederate Museum in New Orleans on various firearms while I was on vacation. I was researching Blood of the Valiant at the time and so was digging for info on guns in use in 1850. Although I spent money I didn’t really have at the time, in retrospect I’m so glad I got to New Orleans before it was ruined.
* Several to-do lists, which include cryptic comments like “remember salmon”.
* A list of Saxon leaders from the age of King Arthur. I have no idea why these are in there. Maybe I meant to run a Pendragon campaign or something.
* Hotel details for a couple of memorable trips. And that’s all I’m saying about that.
* A list of (ironically enough) three Minutemen songs side by side with a list of three Buzzcocks song. Again, mysterious.

A Graphic Break

I’m taking a bit of a break from reading military history stuff. I think I overdid it after getting a bunch of back issues of Military History magazine for a $1 each at American Eagles and a new pile of Osprey books at the same time. I’m finding that graphic novels are a welcome change of pace. They make really good bus reading for one thing. When I’m too tired to engage in a book about the French and Indian War, for example, it’s easy to get into a graphic novel. Lately I’ve been working my way through Preacher. I had started reading it a long time ago, but never finished the series. It’s no news to anyone that is great stuff and I’m looking forward to the HBO show. I also started reading Fables, which is a hoot. Goldilocks are a violent revolutionary is genius. I had been picking these up one or two at a time. Since I can easily read one of these a day on my commute, I finally bit the bullet and just ordered a bunch online. When I get home from work I should have three more Preacher volumes, more Fables, and Top Ten: The Forty-Niners. I’ve loved the Top Ten stuff to do, so I’m particularly looking forward to that one. Alan Moore does post-WW2 supers? Sign me up.