Demo Monkey Rides Again!

I may have mentioned this, but I am once again the Edmonton Demo Monkey for Cheapass Games. I’ve been a huge fan of their games since the company got going a few decades ago, so much so that I was one of their original Demo Monkeys in that program’s first incarnation. The company restructured and their demo program went bye-bye for a while, but it is back and so am I! If you aren’t familiar with the history of Cheapass Games, I highly recommend heading to their site and looking over their history and wares.

In a nutshell, Cheapass Games started as a company which sold you really cool games, minus all the fiddly bits like pawns and dice. The assumption was, as a gamer, you would have pawns, dice, tokens, money, and so on that you could grab from other games you had. So why sell those to you again? Instead, Cheapass Games sold you a clever game and maybe a cardstock board to go with it. You provided the rest and hey presto! You’re playing a sweet little game for a fraction of the cost of other board games.

Flash forward to the last few years, and they’ve re-worked a few things. They still have great games, but they’ve fleshed out and added pieces to a number of their original cheapass offerings (those they haven’t are available for the low, low price of free on their website). Kickstarter has been a boon for their business model, meaning they can often realize clever niche games and deliver them affordably. For example, it is unlikely that Tak, a fictional game from Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle would have seen the light of day if not for the combination of Cheapass Games and Kickstarter.

All of this is to say two things:

  1. I’m running a demo of Kill Doctor Lucky at Apt to Game (5722 104 Street) tonight at 6pm, and I have few little things to give away to all participants, so you should stop by if you want to learn how to play it, or see the 19.5 Anniversary Edition of the game. There is also Oracle of Delphi to learn and play, so plenty to keep your little gaming fingers busy.
  2. I’ll be reaching out when my schedule permits, but if you know or run a game store or cafe and you’d like me to come show off some Cheapass Games for an evening, please contact me. I’m also available to teach the games to groups, so if you’ve got some event going on, or just a bunch of friends who want to learn some new games, drop me a line and we’ll see what we ca work out. I don’t charge for demoing, though I won’t say no if you buy me a cold cola for my time.
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3 Games to Kill Long Lines

Anyone who attends cons knows about the scourge of long line-ups. They can plague any convention, no matter how well organized it may be. The negative side of long lines is…well, you’re stuck in a long line for an indeterminate length of time. The positive side of long lines at cons? You’re stuck in that line with other nerds, which makes it a perfect time to play a game!

Obviously this isn’t the time to whip out an Arkham Horror or Risk. No, for “line games”, you need something with minimal to no set-up, very few (if any) moving parts, easy to teach rules, and a relatively short playing time. Here are three games I’ve found that fit the bill perfectly.

1) Zombie Dice/Cthulhu Dice –  Okay, so you’re actually getting four games, because I’ve lumped Zombie Dice and Cthulhu Dice, both from Steve Jackson Games, together. Both involve dice rolling as their main mechanic; Zombie Dice uses just dice, while Cthulhu Dice uses a combination of a single die with counters. In Zombie Dice, you are a voracious zombie trying to be the first to get to 15 brains. In Cthulhu Dice, you are an eldritch cultist trying to be the last to retain your sanity while you explore the eldritch horrors of The Great Old One. Both games became flash-fire hits upon release, so it’s likely your line-mates will know how to play. But if they don’t, instruction takes 2 minutes, tops, and can happen during the first round of play. Games run about 15-20 minutes, which allows you to potentially play several times depending on the line length. Best of all, each game fits in your dice bag without displacing your dice.

2) Danger Patrol, Pocket Edition – It might seem odd to recommend an RPG as a line game, but hear me out. Danger Patrol, by John Harper, is currently in Beta Test mode, and is a rollicking good time. I highly recommend it if you like some pulp sci-fi in your game night. But there is also a Pocket Edition which distils the game down to two pages. Yes, you read that correctly; two pages. While you aren’t going to get a heavily nuanced role-playing session out just two pages, that’s okay, you aren’t looking for that in a line game. You want a fun way to kill 20-30 minutes, and the high action, pulp sci-fi Danger Patrol is perfect for that. The game uses standard RPG dice (you’ll have those anyway, right?), and it’s easy enough to print extra copies of the game to hand around. You can be role-playing sci-fi action in minutes, and with the right group you can entertain not only yourselves, but everyone around you in line. Nerdy sci-fi fun!

3) Button Men – There are many Cheapass Games that would fit the “line game” bill, but Button Men is one of the few that is wearable. Well, if you have the original buttons, that is; it’s out of print. But Button Men cards are available for free download from the Cheapass Games site, so it isn’t hard to throw a set together and pull them out of your dice bag when needed. Button Men is a strategic dice capturing game, played with the usual selection of RPG dice. Game play is deceptively simple; you try and capture your opponent’s dice by rolling higher than him on opposed dice rolls. But there is a wonderful level of nuance and luck that affects strategy, and games can take interesting twists and turns.  Games run about 10-20 minutes, there is little or no instruction necessary (rolling higher is sort of second nature to gamers), and best of all…it’s free! Can’t beat free fun!

There you go, three (four+) games you can play while trapped in a line with your fellow nerds. Do you have a favourite quickie game you like to play? Share it in the comments!

CritSuccess and Dice Rings

While I was at Gen Con I had a chance to volunteer at the Cheapass Games booth, which was a blast. I met James Ernest, which is something I’d wanted to do since I discovered Cheapass Games lo those many years ago, and I also met some of the fantastic folks behind the scenes at CG, like Julie Haehn the marketing director and all-around excellent badass. I was there on the Sunday, which is important to the story only because that seems to be the day that companies will come around looking to trade some of their cool stuff for the cool stuff in your booth. It is the very geekiest of barter systems, and it is just a small part of what makes this industry cool.

As chance would have it, and fresh from their successful Kickstarter campaign, CritSuccess had a booth just across the aisle from Cheapass Games. CritSuccess were fans of Cheapass Games and vice versa, so the inevitable trade happened. As part of my thank-you for volunteering I was sent over to get a d20 Ring of my very ownsome, which I thought was very generous of both parties. I snagged myself a basic black (as shown in the picture) and tucked it away in my pocketses for later.20130901_141417

Regular readers of the site will know I am a bit of a fan of dice, in the same way Lady Bathory was a bit of a fan of virgins. So my initial impression of the d20 ring was, “Cute, but I like my dice.” I also had my doubts of its true randomness, so it was looking like it would stay firmly in my “neat curiosity” category. But I’d never use it in a game.

Which just goes to show, first impressions can be a joke.

Having had a chance to play with and test out the d20 ring since getting home, I have to say I am really impressed. It is never going to replace dice for me; until I can get a random number generator installed into my cyborg mind, dice are here to stay. But I performed a chi test on my ring, and it performed as well as my control d20s did…what? Look, if you aren’t willing to spend an afternoon rolling dice hundreds of times to generate both a control and result set, then you just don’t love dice like I do. And you are probably better for it.

But that test cleared up my first concern, whether the ring was as random as an actual d20. Then I put it to practical use in game, to see how easy it was to use. And over the course of several game sessions it bit me in the ass and confirmed crits much like my regular dice, which is to say plenty of the former and distressingly less of the latter.

I heartily recommend the d20 ring from CritSuccess. Not only is it a fully functional d20 I can wear, but it is a pretty subtle piece of gaming jewellery, much more understated than the popular d20 necklaces and earrings. Which I have nothing against, by the way, but I tend not to wear that type of jewellery. It sits comfortably on my finger and I have the added bonus of never being without a d20. I don’t wear it everywhere, of course; like most rings you’ll want to take it off if you are working with your hands, to avoid damge either to yourself or the ring. But if you want a cool piece of gaming jewellery you can actually use, this product is right up your alley. And the $20 price point makes it a very affordable option for something that will see a lot of use. You can also get a wide variety of other ring types: the R100, 3R6Pips (3d6 equivalent), and even a ring that lets you play Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock, if you are into “The Big Bang Theory” or just enjoy a nerdier version of the classic game.

When ordering, make sure to size yourself properly. If you know your ring-size, great, but if not you’ll want to get that to make sure your ring fits. CritSuccess does offer re-sizing, however, so if you are wrong you can get a proper size just by sending it back and covering shipping plus a $3 exchange fee. Not the end of the world, but a hassle, so better to get it right the first time. Also, when your ring arrives they recommend you wash it in hot, soapy water and really grind the ring around while doing so. That clears out the machining dust from manufacturing and allows your ring to spin freely. You’ll want to do that periodically as you use it, just to keep it clean and spinning smooth.

Do you have a CritSuccess ring? What do you think? Drop me a note in the comments and let me know.

Like to game a lot? Come to GameAlot!

glbannerYeah, okay, time to let one of the other multiple personalities write blog titles for a while. But in all fairness the title says it all: if you like games and you live with reasonable distance of St. Albert, you need to be at GameAlot this weekend.

GameAlot is the annual in-store gaming convention run by Mission: Fun and Games in St. Albert. Held over the weekend after Labour Day, the mini-con is a three day celebration of gaming in all their incarnations. It has been an annual tradition at the store for as far back as I can remember, and one I look forward to every year even if I don’t always make it out to play.

For me, GameAlot epitomizes what a gaming convention is about. Playing games? Natch. Getting together with old friends around the gaming table? Check. Meeting new people and trying new games? Double check. And if you like the game you just played…well, you are in a game store. The only issue might be getting a copy before they run out.

I can’t recommend GameAlot enough, so come by and roll some dice. This year it runs September 6-8, starting Friday at 10am and running during store hours (though games go to midnight on both Friday and Saturday). Admission is cash or food donation to the Food Bank, and there is a list of needed items on the store page, along with recommended amounts per day. But if you’re going all weekend, just $20 in food or cash gets you all the games you can play, and entry into the many prize draws that happen.

I’ll be there all day Sunday running tables of the new Cheapass Games, so feel free to stop by and join me. We’ll game the day away, as one should!

Super Late Gen Con Wrap Up!

I think the title says it all, really. Three and a half days home on a bus combined with multi-stage con crud equals me not posting about Gen Con until a week later. Since you’ve likely heard all the reviews already, I’m just going to hit my high (and low) points of the world’s biggest game con, in no particular order.

1) Failed my Perception Check – During my layover in Detroit, and just after I visited the ATM, I had my pocket picked. First time ever. So when I hit Gen Con I had nothing; no cards, no cash. What I did have, more valuable than gold, is my band of Venture Officers who helped me without question while I was there. Without them it would have been a much gloomier con, so though I’ve said it elsewhere, It bears repeating: my fellow Venture Officers are some of the best people I know. Thank-you, all!

Okay, that’s a low point, and it was really the only one. Let’s move on…

2) Running Bonekeep – The first two levels of Jason Buhlman’s Bonekeep PFS scenarios were available for play at this year’s Gen Con, and I GMed both of them. I can’t give anything away, because then what fun would you have playing them? But these scenarios were created to offer a serious challenge to the PFS players and they are not for the faint of heart. Character death is a real possibility, and players have the option of leaving after any combat if they feel they’re in over their heads.

The party I ran through Level One was a very well put together group. Six friends who played together constantly, they were optimized with team feats and so on. While I didn’t kill any of them before time ended, they were definitely challenged throughout and did not manage to get through it all. And they were afraid of dying all the way through, which for my money is a much harder thing for a GM to pull off. So I was pleased.

Level Two on the other hand… Meatgrinder is a good description, but doesn’t quite cover the hopelessness and existential dread of the players as the dungeon proceeded to take them apart. The 5-hour slot started at 7pm and by 10:17pm (I looked at my watch) the players cried “Pax!” and we stopped. I’m not a GM that loves killing characters for the sake of killing characters, so while I felt good about the way I ran it, my sympathies definitely lay with the honoured dead.

That said, if you are a PFS GM these scenarios are a metric buttload of fun to run. And if you are a PFS player and have a chance to try either level of Bonekeep, do it! It will be the most challenging and fun dungeon delve you ever attempt.

3) The PFS Gen Con Special – Every year Paizo runs a PFS Special at Gen Con, and this year was no exception. Siege of the Diamond City was the big kick-off to the “Year of the Demon”, Pathfinder Society’s fifth season of organized play. And what a kick-off it was! This year Paizo was in the Sagamore Ballroom of the convention centre, which meant 150 tables of Pathfinder goodness all weekend long. The Special has a history of selling out its tickets, and so it was again this year with no generic tickets being allowed for the event.* That meant for five hours, 900 players and 150 GMs all took part in the same shared adventure, and it was glorious! Thanks to the excellent work of Thurston “Thursty” Hillman et al, the whole evening ran smoothly and players at every level felt like they were contributing to the action. That last is a hard balance to strike, so kudos to Thursty for pulling it off.

I have GMed the Gen Con Special twice now, and both times enjoyed myself immensely. As long as I’m going to Gen Con I’m going to volunteer to GM the Special for Paizo. There is just something about that huge shared experience which is powerful and gratifying, and I wouldn’t want to miss it.

4) Cheapass Games Booth – While most of my weekend was filled with Pathfinder, I did have my Sunday free. And since I fear free time at a con like a vampire fears skylights, I volunteered to help out at the Cheapass Games booth. I have to say, I’m really glad I didn’t decided to just end my Gen Con with wanderings, because I had a blast! James Ernest is a smart, funny man and it was a real pleasure meeting the person behind all the games I Demo Monkey-ed lo those many years ago. I also met Julie Haehn, Cheapass’ marketing director and all-round kick-ass person. I had a lot of fun working with her during the day, and learned a lot about the art of no-pressure sales.

One of the best parts of the day were all the industry folk that stopped by the booth to say hello/goodbye, it being the last day of the con. For a gaming nerd like me it was a star-studded day of gaming luminaries, though I’m sure none of them think of themselves that way.

The other cool thing was the number of folks who made a point to stop by the booth and express how happy they were that Cheapass Games is back. Gamers would just walk up out of the crowd, high five me and thank me for their favourite games. I stopped trying to explain that I had nothing to do with any of that, being a humble volunteer, and accepted that I was receiving the thanks in an ex cathedra capacity.

And that was my Gen Con. There are other things that popped into my head while writing this, so maybe there will be a second post later this week. But so many of those things were really “had to be there” moments, so maybe there won’t. Because that’s the great thing about going to something like Gen Con: the personal experience, the little things that happen or are overheard, that you couldn’t plan and could only happen in that moment.

So if there is one take-away I want my readers to have, it is: go to cons! Big, small, or in between, you need to get your gaming nerd butt to a convention. You won’t regret it.

Did you go to Gen Con this year? Or any other cons? Share your thoughts/stories in the comments!

Humpday Links for January 30

Another week another Humpday!  I promise, there are real posts that will start appearing soon.  But I’ve been battling illness and free-time entropy in roughly equal measure.

One of the things taking up my time lately is fundraising for the Stollery Hair Massacure; you may remember me mentioning it before.  I did something nerdy in support of that with the help of Teespring.  The phrase occurred to me one day, and I thought it was nerdy enough to be on a shirt.  I figured I’d see if enough nerds agreed with me.  The shirts are $14 plus shipping, with all proceeds going to the Hair Massacure.  Click on the image or this link to order.

And as always, you can just click on the link in the right margin to donate.  I’m just a little over halfway to my goal, so it would be cool to blow past it.

But let’s not delay any further…to the links!

– My friend Ryan brought this awesome little animated short to my attention.  Ladies and Gentlemen, “The Reward“.

– James Ernest answers the question, “Who is Cheapass Games?

– For those that love both Star Trek and Gilbert & Sullivan, I direct you to board Starship Pinafore.  You’re welcome!

– I love hearing about any kind of online Troll getting their comeuppance, and patent Trolls are no exception.

– Under “dedication” in the dictionary, there should be a picture of Joanna Cassidy for filming a deleted scene from Bladerunner…30 years after it wrapped filming.

– I’m sure you’re all very nice, but just in case you wonder why people hate you

A secret door was discovered at Machu Picchu, leading to what they think is a huge treasure room.  You fire up the cargo plane, I’ll get the fedora and whip!

– I don’t usually endorse luring people into basements, but in this case I’ll make an exception.

DragonCon is at the start of an artist boycott because of sexual abuse charges facing its founder, Ed Kramer.  I’m interested in seeing how this plays out, but I have to say I’m proud of artists for taking a stance.

– Some sci-fi heroines aren’t necessarily saints, but we’ve found a few.

– Its goal has already been met, but you still have 7 days to get in on the Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls Kickstarter.  I know I am!

– Sometimes you just don’t want to eff around with weights and machines in your work-out.  Here are 44 body-weight exercises to fill the gap.

– Not unexpectedly, The Hobbit has inspired some musicians.

And that’s it for this week.  Join me next time for more stuff!

Gaming on a Budget

It can be rough if you are a gamer on a budget.  To get the shiny source-books for your favourite RPG or the latest cool euro-boardgame, stores would prefer you traded them currency for their product.  And if you lack the required currency (say, because you were laid off seven months ago) you are not going to acquire all the gaming pretties you need/want.

But does living on a budget mean you have to stop enjoying RPGs and board games?  Heck no!  I would even go as far as saying hell no!  There are plenty of resources for the gamer on a budget, that range from cheap to free.  Most require only an internet connection, a printer and some imagination.  That last is probably the most important; a gamer on a budget has to get cunning, because throwing money at the problem isn’t an option.

So here are some ideas and resources for all you gamers that want to live large when the budget is small:

Find the SRD – Many role-playing games, such as Pathfinder and Spirit of the Century, have an SRD, or system resource document, available on-line.  These are essentially everything you would find in the RPG’s rulebooks, without all the pretty formatting, design and art.  They exist primarily as a reference document for anyone writing for the game, as they are a much cleaner and easily searchable version of the rules.  But in many cases anyone can access the website, which makes them a great resource for the gamer on a budget.  They are not as nice as having the books in front of you, of course.  And you will need to have a laptop or pad with internet access in order to use the SRD at the gaming table.  But if you just can’t afford the books this is the next best way to get playing a new game or keep playing your old one.

Search Keyword “Free” – Online stores like Drive-Thru RPG and it’s indie offshoot RPGNow are a great source for the gamer on a budget.  You can find low-cost .pdf copies of just about any gaming source-book you desire, including many out-of-print games.  But better than that, each site has a button located in the left-hand column of the home page, marked “Free Stuff”.  Clicking on that button is like opening a treasure chest of gaming material!  Yes, there is the usual slough of character sheets and promo items.  But you will also find complete RPG games, adventures, maps and gaming e-zines.  Best case scenario, you find a new game (like the Dogtown RPG) to take out for a spin with your friends and you have fun for an evening.  Worst case, you have plenty of inspiration and the bare bones of something you can re-skin or re-purpose for your own games.  Sure you have to do a bit of digging and thinking, but this is where the aforementioned imagination comes into play.

Cheapass is Not Just a State of Mind – Years ago there was a fine little company called Cheapass Games that made games on the cheap.  The idea was simple: if you already played board games then you likely had all the pieces that were standard between games (pawns, dice, tokens money and so on).  Cheapass Games, therefore, included just the bits you needed with their games, which in most cases was a board or cards or both.  This led to extremely inexpensive games, that also had the benefit of being amazingly imaginative and fun.  Sadly, there was a “Cheapass Games Interregnum” in which Cheapass Games stopped producing games.  I am happy to report that dark period is over! The new Cheapass Games website features links to all their popular games, plus a bunch of new ones.  Of note to the gamer on a budget is the page of games, free to download.  Some are just rules, some require you to print out cards or cards/game board.  But all of them are metric tonnes of fun.  And if the mood strikes you can (and should) support Cheapass Games with a donation; they even have a suggestion for donation amounts.

There you go, three ways to help your gaming dollar go a little further.  Of course, it goes without saying that if you can afford to support your hobby, you should.  That isn’t to say you grab every book that comes down the publication pipe.  But the companies putting out these cheap and/or free games for your enjoyment deserve some recognition for their work.  If you can swing it, hit the donate button every once in a while and help keep these companies producing.  And if you can’t do that, support them by being vocal about their work.  If you can help draw paying customers to a gaming company’s site, that will help ensure they are around to give us fun for a good long while.

Have any free/cheap RPG or board games resources to share? Slip them into the comments section below…