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Skirmish campaign showdown - SAGA vs SAM

John Paul Messerly
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I've been searching for the ultimate skirmish rule system for a long time. In order to narrow the search down I decided I was looking to play skirmish campaigns in the Arthurian period (with options to play mythic or historical versions of the time period).

I've been playtesting SAGA dark ages (the Arthurian suppliment isn't out yet) and SAM ( the song of Arthur and Merlin). Both have very simple but deep rule systems and both have campaign modes added in later supplements.

SAGA adds campaign rules in - the age of the wolf
SAM adds campaign rules in - Talespinner issue two

...

What do I like and dislike about both systems...

...



Song of Arthur and Merlin
SAM is bloodbowl with swords in half the time!
Scale 5-12 miniatures

Overview-
Ok that sounds like a strange way to describe a skirmish wargame but just listen. There is no wound tracking... a single good hit could kill any mortal character but it rarely does. The usual result is that the winner either pushes them backwards and may follow up or they knock them down. Once knocked down they become much easier to kill. The game does this in a simpler way than bloodbowl deciding on the outcome based on odd/even results rather than using custom dice. You need to have 2x the damage output as the victim to kill outright and 3x gives a gruesome kill (causing moral tests).

The activation system is like bloodbowl in that it is "you go I go' with the chance of turnovers cutting your activations short. Each character rolls 1-3 dice to activate and can do an action for each success. A failure gives the opponent a chance to do an interrupt action and 2 failures causes a turnover.

Lastly the campaign system has injury and upgrade systems that feel right out of bloodbowl from the stat upgrades to the inevitable deaths. Yes I know mordheim had this two but the balance and speed really makes it feel more like bloodbowl.



Best-
Every action is extremely tense because of the turnover/interrupt rules. The game is rich in theme but very simple in mechanics and stats. Each character only has 2 stats... quality and combat. Characters will have special abilities that make them unique (much like bloodbowl). Another important distinction is that combat is a single roll... there is no to wound or armor save! The game does a great job of offering mythic, historical, and Hollywood versions of the setting and the campaign offers lots of interesting quests and challenges.

Worst-
The combat system is very exciting and simple BUT also awkward in a way. It feels a lot like bloodbowl but is more mathy than I like. You roll a single d6 and add your combat skill plus modifiers. That's not a ton of math but because you do that every time it distracts from the epic action and mood. Mathy combat resolution is the norm but I find that it really annoys me. I ended up making these...



My solution to this is to make cards for all the characters with squares that show their strength in pips and a square to put the rolled dice... this means I don't have to hunt down the characters stats after rolling because everything is right there. While I said the resolution system is simpler than bloodbowl I prefer the bloodbowl system because you do the math (compare strength) at the start and then only look at dice results at the end. I like resolution systems were you know the result the instant you see the dice results compared to ones where you get the dice results then look up stats and modifiers to eventually learn the outcome.

While units can act both individually and in groups the group movement and activation rules feel unfinished. They work well until you try and do more complex actions like shieldwall behaviors.





Saga dark ages
SAGA is a bloody resource management game!
Scale 20-50 miniatures

Note - Saga is usually played with 28mm individual figures so SAGA and SAM will normally look almost exactly the same. They only differ in number of models. I'm using 10mm units as proxies and that makes them look like completely different styles of game. Visually they are indistinguishable from each other normally.

Overview-
In a way it reminds me of the new Conan game because you are very focused on juggling limited resources dice/activations. This sounds like a big distraction from the theme of crazed Vikings hacking at each other with large axes but it really helps you to feel like a warlord instead of just a gamer.



Ok. This is also "you go I go" with a very rare chance at an interruption happening. In general you will still not get to do everything you want to in a turn because you rarely have enough activations and this gets worse as you take casualties. The resource mini game has you rolling custom dice (think bloodbowl dice again) and using the results to either activate units, use special abilities, get different custom dice results or more dice. So in order to use your epic abilities you will usually need to activate less units.

Best-
The combat is once again very simple with all troops of a certain type rolling the same number of hits and having the same armor value (this is the die result the attacker needs to hit). This makes combat very quick and there are very few modifiers to worry about. Also the resource mini game is very fun and sells the theme of warlord juggling many things under heavy time constraints.

The factions are so similar in stats that you rarely need to look anything up and the real flavor comes from the dice and the ability boards. This is brilliant and adds tons of flavor. Because of this stat simplicity and the fact that most characters have no name or personality... they are just generic warriors in special units... the campaign system takes a unique approach. Your troops (both individuals and units) don't really advance in stats or abilities. They will get replacements and new units will join but it's only the leader that changes and gets better during the game.

Much like SAM all characters only have a single hit point so there is little to no tokens or bookkeeping. The one token type necessary is the fatigue marker... more about this later.



Worst-
I really do like the way battles unfold but it requires you to get into the Saga mindset and really focus more on the custom dice than anything else. The drawback is that the combat system can often end in draws if you don't put all your dice into custom abilities. This allows you to have epic results that aren't just the result of a lucky die roll but at the same time give little opportunity for the underdog to make a surprising comeback.

The game lacks the ability to bring much myth or magic to the game. There is an undead expansion that I plan on trying and some of the dice abilities are names after mythic characters so I guess you could treat them as literal intervention of the gods but the system lacks the ability to quest for a mythic item or in any way pursue the treasure of Britain or its mysteries.

Lastly I have to talk about fatigue. I like how it is used to punish having the same unit activate over and over again and it's great expression of how exhausting such battles were. It also adds a great little mini game where each warlord decides how to spend the opposing units fatigue. The downside is that it requires you to rest and inactivated units don't rest for free. Like I've said I like all the things fatigue adds to the game but I never find the decision to rest a fun or interesting decision. Making resting an action always forces the designer to set hard time limits that put too much emphasis on rushing through the game (imperial assault!). SAGA is designed around fatigue but I'm not convinced it's necessary... SAM would be a much less dynamic and interesting system if it had fatigue.

...

I've only just started playing both systems in campaign mode so it will be a while before I can say more about how well those campaigns ramp up. SAGA is definitely laser focused on the warlord while SAM allows all your characters to come alive and grow.

To me the biggest unknown is which is the more satisfying way to deal with multiple activations because these are key to epic battles. Do you punish a unit by giving them fatigue or do you have them risk a turnover.

What am I leaning towards? The storytelling in SAM is great... any character can come out of a battle as a hero with great stories to tell but while the game system is super simple and stays out of the way for the most part it still constantly reminds me that I'm playing with toy soldiers. SAGA on the other hand doesn't have the same depth of storytelling opportunities and quests but does a great job of making me feel like I am the hero leading my warbands rather than a grown man playing with toys. Honestly neither is exactly what I'm looking for but I've yet to find anything better. At this point I may try and convert some of the quests and mythic content to SAGA and see if I can make that work.

...

Aetius and Arthur - is the name of the upcoming SAGA supplement that will really fit the time period I'm wanting to explore. This will hopefully come out early next year and I pray that it adds these elements. I've found myself playing the Irish warlord a lot because they let you break off 2 characters from your units to act independently and this really allows you to have more named characters you care about. Hopefully we will see more of this in upcoming releases.
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Mon Dec 5, 2016 4:29 am
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Game publishers: biggest winners and losers

John Paul Messerly
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I haven't updated the blog in a while because I've shifted my focus from slaving away making my own games to focusing on enjoying existing games instead. I still have lots of ideas for games bouncing around in my head but I'm much more critical... less quick to go into full development on a iffy idea. I have a few older game ideas that I still plan on finishing but right now I'm more interested in looking at how and why I play the games I do and learning something useful from that.

We are reaching a point where there are so many great games out there that unless an idea is spectacular then it's not worth doing. Who is doing the best at creating memorable games in this new environment. You could look at sales numbers or game rankings to get the stats but here I'm wanting to look at my own gaming experiences for the last two years and compare them to see which developers are winning me over.

The list of winners is based on which devs had the most games in my list of most played games this year. And the list of losers is based on the devs who's games that were winners last year but are gone almost completely this year.

...

Biggest winners in 2016

-Gale force 9
Sparticus is one of my favorite backstabbing games but it never gets played anymore. GF9 made a name for themselves as great devs with that game but what have they done since then?

Tanks- This was one of my new favorite games this year. Great models simple rules and its flow is somewhere between Wings of War and X-Wing but better than both. The game is easy to setup, easy to learn, and has a steady release schedule. Their organized play events have added new rules (trenches, bunkers, etc) and I'm sure they will continue to add more depth to the game over time.

Superstar Showdown- I'm not a wrestling fan but I love this game. Great components, variety of play styles, simple but deep rules. I love "rock paper sissors' mechanics in games but this game has done it better than anyone else... the graphic design used to show what element beats what is build into every card and I love that one of the elements is movement. Too often movement is treated as a given instead of forcing players to chose between movement and something else.

Why are they winning?
Simple clear rules that allow me to lose myself in the moment instead of struggling with the rules and mechanics. In both of these games I feel like I'm thinking and acting in character.


-Games Workshop
I'll admit it I was a GW hater for many years. For so long they just couldn't do any right and now I'm surprised to find that they can't do any wrong? Maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration... The redesign of Lost Patrol and Deathwatch Overkill were a bit disappointing.

Warhammer Quest Silver Tower- great solo and co-op play with easy rules and a fresh theme... A living laberyth that shifts and changes around you... I'm sold! New releases all the times and tons of variety make this a real keeper. It needs a new villain and a new story/even book but it sounds like they are on their way. Like most of the new GW board games the key to really getting into the game and it's universe is to read the associated novel.

Warhammer age of Sigmar- Simple modern rules... no more comparing stats on a chart! Narrative play! Ability to interact with terrain and buildings! Getting to buy and play with the minis you like instead of spending all you time on boring base units you hate!

Horus Heresy- 40k without rulers or the outdated stat comparison gameplay. Rich conflict and characters (need to read the novel) and scenarios that bring the struggle to life in a way that isn't the same 'two armies run straight at each other' battle over and over again. That is my problem with 90% of all mini games... There's so much potential for epic conflicts but they always just go back to armies charging right at each other time and again.


Why are they winning?
They are giving us everything we asked for... from Warhammer Quest to Bloodbowl and so many exciting new games. Even more important than that they are supporting all these games with new content. The latest White Dwarf had new content for all my GW games. Lastly what I buy for one games works in several other games... This interconnectedness between all their games is key to getting players to try new games. This plus the new content makes me always want to replay older releases and makes them always feel new.

The spectacle is amazing. No other publisher makes being a fan so entertaining. There are exciting new releases, announcements, and leaks every week. They make being a fan very exciting and entertaining these days!


Upcoming devs

Artipia Games- project elite
The Kickstarter fulfillment was an absolute disaster but the game is addictive and it works extremely well both solitaire and co-op! I look forward to what they make next...

Adam Poots- Kingdom Death
This is not one of my most played games even though I love it. The setup time and bookkeeping make it a bit of a chore. I hope Mr. Poots finds a way to make his next game much quicker to setup and run but allows for us to reuse all the great bits from KD.

...

Biggest losers in 2016

-Fantasy flight games
I have a garage full of old FFG games collecting dust. I used to drool over their new releases and bought the monthly LCG expansions for multiple systems regularly. So what changed?

I don't think I changed, I think they did. They looked at the success of Magic and focused too much on copying its release scedule and competitive focus. Their games are riddled with overly complex timing rules and too much content to keep up with. You can't play their games casually anymore... You must study every months releases and memorize all the card contents for the games to even flow well.

Imperial assault- I love the theme and the promise of campaign play but my players were horrified when they realized each mission was such a mad dash to beat the clock that they weren't allowed to enjoy the universe. That is the problem with allowing players to heal at any time... You must give them a hard time limit (dungeon saga had the same problem). Once again this is a game that seems to shine in competitive play. I was worried when they announced that the game would be both co-op and competitive... It means a split in focus and possible a lack of faith in the story/character progression.

Netrunner- I loved this game. I loved it enough to find a way to make an engaging solo variant... But the scene is so competitive that I will never play anything but my solo version. I love the tension, the bluffing, the cold sweats but if you don't live and breath only this game then you can't play it anymore. Is this FFG's fault or the fans? Many computer games have similar problems, the competitive environment can become to toxic that new players or casual players can't enjoy it. There are creative solutions for this but the question is do they care? At some point the player base will be so small that this great game will die. For me all FFG's LCG's have died under their own oppressive weight. Too mathy and convoluted in their timing timing.

In the end I stopped playing all their games because each game always resulted in a moment where we had to stop the game to look up how two cards powers worked together on some forum or FAQ. There were always strange overlaps in rules that didn't make sense... this is the result of always adding new rules (breaking old rules) in endless new releases. This is the obvious outcome when you copy Magic the gathering too closely.

-Dan Versen Games
I consider so many DVG games as classics that I will always keep in my collection but I don't play any of them anymore! Thunderbolt Apache Leader and Warfighter are great works of art but are they really fun? DVG has created some of the most unique and challenging solo game experiences but his system for layering stress on your commanders in these games can make them oppressive.

This oppressive weight (who says war should be fun) and some serious miss steps in rule balance and production has made me very unwilling to buy or even get excited about his new games.

I respect Dan so much, for me he is the ultimate Indy developer, so it's hard to stop supporting him. I hope he finally finishes Huey Leader some day...


Problem devs

-Mantic
Everything they have released recently has been a nightmare (except Mars Attacks). Bad rules, tiny uninspired miniatures, missing items. I won't buy anything from them that is their own creation. Why was Mars Attacks so much better than everything else? My guess is that the liscence holder held them to a higher standard than they hold themselves to. For this reason I'm excited about their Walking Dead game but won't touch their Space Saga upcoming game.
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Mon Sep 26, 2016 4:41 am
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Happy new year from the far side of the world...

John Paul Messerly
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New Years dinner - sushi and sukiyaki

New Year's Eve countdown at the Shinto temple


...

As well as being a New Years greeting this post is a reminder to myself of another set of New Years resolutions...

- draw and sketch more (especially for my own games)
- finish my last solo game project Rescue Missions... soon to be renamed 'The Far Side of the Galaxy'.
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Thu Dec 31, 2015 11:28 pm
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Looking back - My most played games of 2015

John Paul Messerly
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I'm not going to make this a normal top 10 list but more a hit list of items that surprised me...

1 - the biggest surprise is what ended up being my number one most played game of the year...

Age of Sigmar with 17 plays! I like Age of Sigmar but not nearly as much as other miniature games in my collection like the next entry.

2 - the second biggest surprise is that my favorite miniature game only got played once this year....

Mantic's Mars Attacks only got 1 play all year. I spent a lot of time with the game painting miniatures and building more city scenery but I didn't do much playing. I will need to fix this next year.

3 - the next surprise is how much I played games I don't expect to ever play again....

Codenames got played 13 times (I think I must have tracked number of cards rather than matches) I've begun to hate this game... It's competitive but lacks any balance what so ever. It would be a much better game if it didn't focus on competition... Cards Against Humanity works because it's just about laughing with friends. For some reason when this gets to the table there seems to be more focus on winning than laughing.

Tiger Leader (15 plays) was a favorite of mine for a while. Great random layouts and surprising AI movement... But in the end I'd rather play other DVG titles.

Lord of the Rings LCG got 13 plays and I spent a lot of time and money reorganizing my collection to make it easier to set up. This game is dead to me now that I have Warfighter and the Warhammer Quest card game.

4 - epic fails. These are games I was so sure I would love (many were kickstarters) that I spent countless hours daydreaming about them but in the end they barely got played...

Rise of the Kage (5 plays )
Airborn commander (3 plays )
Arcadia Quest (2 plays )
Blood Rage (2 plays )
Dragon's Ransom (1 plays )
Scribe's arena (1 plays )


5 - bright futures. This is my best guess of which of the games I played this year will get lots of plays next year...

Myth (13 plays this year). The game needed a tighter story line and I'm hoping the new content delivers. Either way the combat/activation system has great tension and it always leaves me wanting more.

Incan Gold (12 plays this year) and No thanks (11 plays this year). fillers used to kill time as people show up for game night.

Dungeon Saga; dwarf kings quest (9 plays this year). This game is not perfect but the random dungeon layout, trap, and loot system are great for solo dungeon crawls so I expect to wear this game out next year. I played a ton of Space hulk with the random layout cards back in the day and this takes that system and improves it in every way.

Kingdom Death monster (6 plays this year). Wow, the AI in this game is amazing. I make my living bringing video game AI to life and this blew me away! The game is so heavy (theme wise) that I may not get around to playing it as much as I want but I really look forward to fighting more monsters and meeting new nemesis'sss.

Horus Heresy; betrayal at calth (5 plays this year). I liked Execution Force (more great AI design) but the lack of new content really hurt it. This game is everything I've always wanted from GW. It's like the stars have aligned and for once everything is right with the gaming world again... The only thing that could make it better is a solo AI system!

6 - AI fetish. Strangely enough the games I'm most passionate about all have one thing in common... Artificial intelligence systems. I don't obsess over social, coop, or vs games in the same way I do for games with rich and surprising AI.

...

This brings me to my New Years Resolution. No more Cool Mini or Not kickstarters! I've been disappointed by every one. I don't consider any of them bad games... they just don't get played.

The big problem is that they produce so many extra minis and expansion content that each game takes up as much space at 10 normal games and I can't afford to waste that much space on games that don't get played. I will donate all my old CMON games to my office to free up space for games that matter.
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Wed Dec 30, 2015 6:00 am
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Gaming adventures in Japan...

John Paul Messerly
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It's been a while since my last post but that's because my animation job has kept me so busy. When things are super creative at work I don't need a creative outlet at home so I stop working on my personal projects. I'm in Japan on vacation for a few days and thought I'd share what games I've discovered...

The legendary miniature game hub:

I've always been disappointed by the lack of war gaming and miniature war gaming in Japanese hobby stores. Card games and RPG games are huge and micro games and traditional board games also have a decent presence. It's disconcerting to go into dozens of game shops and never see a single miniature or miniature board game.

I've always heard about a store way off in Koenji (not actually that far) that had the ultimate miniature collection but never got the chance to look for it. This year it was my goal to find it....


Giant Hobby!

I wasn't disappointed when I finally located Giant Hobby. To be honest I was speechless... I wandered around the store in awe. All my favorite mini games were there.




The selection of hobby magazines and tools were great as well. I picked up new plastic cutters and a set of tiny metal plates used to magnetize small miniatures.




Giant Hobby is best known for their own miniature games (some of the very first from Japan) like Durasure. The owner told me it's pronounced durasueh... su and re with the r mostly silent. I picked up the latest map pack for Durasure while I was there.



After that I stopped by another big board game shop in Koenji but didn't find anything that interested me. They had a large selection of euro games in several languages and a few Japanese games.

I returned to Shinjuku next to visit my favorite hobby shop... The Yellow Submarine. Most people think of Akihabara as the center of hobby and gaming in Tokyo but I always find better stuff in Shinjuku. The Shinjuku store focuses on RPG's and board games. It has a great selection of rare Japanese micro games and a huge wall of out of print games including lots of war old games! I discovered a cool Nausica war game that tempted me for a while. I'd planned on picking up a copy of Shinobigami (a Japanese RPG) but decided I didn't want to deal with the amount of translation involved... I kickstarted the English edition.

So here's what I did pick up. I stuck to smaller games because I'd be stuck carrying my purchases around with me all day on one of the busiest and crowded shopping days in Japan...

A few new Japanese card games



Maiden Island is a small solo survival game. It's a mix of puzzle game (slider puzzle) for action selection and a strange mix of worker placement and dating game. You are trapped in a desert island with 5 maidens that are all in love with you. You must try and make a raft (puzzle slider) and keep the maidens from getting too jealous and killing each other. You can reduce the jealousy of a maiden by going on a date with them. Yes it's a strange mix of concepts but it's also intriguing.


Kiss My Ass! Yes you heard me right. This is a competitive card game where each player commands a division of German forces attempting to break through the Russian lines and rescue allied forces that have been surrounded. The artwork is amazing and it's based off one of my favorite Japanese comic artists. I picked it up for the art but I really like the game as well. Lots of reactions, surprises, and take that moments. It handles fog of war well and really encourages backstabbing. Even though you are all on the same side (Germany) you are competing to come out of the conflict with the most honor and glory to be the one to gain the battlefield promotion.


Story Mode fighting cardgame ー ikki tousen themed
This is a lot like the old Lost World combat books but in card game format. In reality it takes a lot from the newer Japanese editions called Queen's Blade... down to the concept of having clothing destroyed to show the player avatars health. Yes it's a card game with 'fan service'. Picked these up because they were so cheap... $5 each.


More Shogi goodness! I love Shogi and always buy tons of Shogi books when I visit Japan. My shelf at home is so full of Shogi books I'm limiting myself to only one book this year. I picked this book up as inspiration for a Shogi based animated short film I plan on making this year. While the film is inspired by the comic '81 diver' I find the art in that comic too rough and wanted some better reference for story staging.


Last but not least is a bar. No this has nothing to do with gaming but it was so inspiring I had to include it. My trips to Japan are not about acquiring games but about finding new inspiration. This bar is run by one of the most famous bartenders in the world and must be experienced. He's won the top contests for so many years in a row that he's stopped competing. We sat in front of him at the bar drinking and talking to him... trying to absorb everything we could from him. I can't wait to return home and try to recreate some of his masterpieces.
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Wed Dec 30, 2015 3:43 am
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Slowing down

John Paul Messerly
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Last year was a mad rush to finish my new PNP game Escort Missions. I'm still working on the game but I've decided to slow down and take my time to really let ideas evolve at their own pace. I like to take ideas to their obvious conclusions then let them firment for a while and see if I still enjoy the flavor when I return to them.

Escort missions has been going thru that aging process and I returned with a greater appreciation for it. I hate the name and will change it before I make an official BBG entry for the game... (Suggestions welcome) but I'm really getting excited about new ideas for storytelling in the universe. I've finished the last of the random missions and I'm moving on to preset mission developed in 3 mission story arcs. I believe the mix of scriped stories and random quests will give the most replayability while still keeping things simple.

This is the last of the random quests...



... Inspiration ...

My biggest inspirations for this storytelling approach are games like myth and Star Wars imperial assault. I was super excited about the campaign system in imperial assault but found that my group lost interest almost immediately. I wish I understood why... Yes the timed missions can feel a little forced but they still had a lot of great high five moments. In the end the biggest flaw keeping it from getting played is the limited player count.

This leads me back to the other game... Yes the one whose name has become an infamous 4 letter word in the gaming world. Myth. I really like the way stories flow... Yes killing the same spawners over and over again can get repetitive but the moment to moment gameplay is great. I never feel like I'm just rolling dice and hoping the dice don't hate me. As someone who likes to mod games and tell my own stories this game is just magical.

Here's a shot of me playing myth using Kingdom Death heroes and GW hobbit goblins...



The strange thing is that both Myth and Imperial Assault use the same storytelling trick - unlock new quests and add them to your story deck so you create linked stories as you go - but for some reason it works better for me in myth.

... Slowing down ...

There are more new games releasing everyday (or at least there will be once the west coast ports open up again) but in the mad rush to keep up with all the new hotness we lose sight of the classics sometimes. I've been trying to spend more time going back and studying older games by my favorite designers...

Across 5 Aprils is my new hotness right now.


It's an old Eric Lee Smith game that plays out 5 civil war battles in a very small but dynamic scale. I don't play many hex and counter wargames these days because the setup/playtimes are too long. A5A uses very few counters and really focuses on assymetrical battles where one side is constantly trying to delay the other. It plays out very quickly and is always surprising.

Lost Patrol - Jake Thornton has become one of my favorite new designers. The scenario balance in Mars Attack is the best I've ever seen. I was really excited to find that even his earliest designs were filled with great ideas.



Wow just wow. This is an old GW game that plays like space hulk but in a fraction of the time and has far more intereting decisions. The magic to the game is that tiles are spawned only when you can see them and enemies spawn at the end tiles and race towards you. The cool design element is that as you move forward the tiles behind you disappear making it possible for you to backtrack into new territory! This makes the game far more dynamic than space hulk or its many clones.

... What's next ...

I'm trying to ignore the urge to start a new design project. I've done several early playtests for ideas that pop into my head but nothing has lasted past the first playtest. After a few years of putting some serious development time into PNP games I've developed a much higher standard for how great an idea needs to be before I give it any traction. i try to playtest every idea that keeps returning but never spend more time on an idea than it deserves.

The only idea that is really exciting me right now is for a deck building wargame themed on the jacobite revolution but uses the set matching/ push your luck mechanics of Hanafuda (koi koi)! I hove Hanafuda and its core concepts have never been used in a modern game. The idea is that you collect sets from the center each turn (keep collecting as long as you get matches) and then you will draw from this deck for battles. After battles the loser adds junk cards to his deck and continues the drafting process. One of the main challenges is in deciding when to hate draft a card that is better for the enemy AI... In this way it's a lot like Friday where you have to make a sub optimal draft now to keep a dangerous card from coming back and destroying you later.
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Fri Feb 20, 2015 7:32 am
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Kickstarter lessons Nov 2013 - Nov 2014

John Paul Messerly
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There are a lot of things I should be writing about in my blog but right now I'd much rather be playing games then writing about or even designing games. I started making games because I wasn't satisfied with what the industry was producing but since then things have changed and fresh ideas are popping up everywhere. Kickstarter has been a big part of this change and all my favorite new games from this year came from kickstarter so I thought I should review my purchases and experiences from this last year...

.....



Mars Attacks - Mantic Games - $$$ - (Nov 2013 - Nov 2014)

I'm very happy with how this one looks and plays. Its has just the right balance of simplicity, chaos, and wackiness! I was very worried about this game... the gameplay videos during the campaign were not great but I'd been really impressed with many of Jake's earlier designs.

thumbsupthumbsup lesson - trust Jake Thornton

...


Warfighter - DVG - $ - (Nov 2013 - Oct 2014)

I'm very very happy with this. Dan has done it again! It is a great evolution of his leader series and his card games but keeps the deep connection with the characters you control and the stress you are putting them thru. The miniatures are pathetic but I'm very happy that he is starting to dabble with upgraded components and don't doubt that he will be producing first rate miniatures in a few years.

This game feels like a breakthrough for Dan... many of his past games required far too much set up time and stat/status tracking between games. This new system still puts and emphasis on pre mission equipment and personnel choices but everything is streamlined and after a mission you can just throw all the cards associated with your team into a tuck box and be ready to go for the next game.

thumbsupthumbsup lesson - Kickstarter allows you to watch your favorite designers grow and see how their games develop and change thru the development process.

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2 Rooms and a Boom - $ - (Nov 2013 - ?)

I was super excited about this game until I played it several times at GenCon. It was one of the worst gaming experiences of my life. The game does not balance itself well and is more focused or reading body language then having deep table talk and lying. This is just not for me but at least is was only $20.

thumbsdownthumbsdown lesson - Pay less attention to the themes/gimmicks and more attention to how players interact

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Camp Grizzly - Ameritrash Games - $$ - (Dec 2013 - ?)
I still have high hopes for this but I wish I didn't back the miniatures. There was a time when I thought miniatures always made games better but I really prefer the cardboard standees over the miniatures in this game.

lesson - Mini's don't make everything better

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Coin Age - TMG- $$ - (Dec 2013 - *)

This was delivered a while ago but I was so underwhelmed by it that I cant remember when it showed up. This project was perfectly timed to take advantage of the frenzy over micro games. Its a very interesting case study in marketing tactics... but a great game.

thumbsdownthumbsdown lesson - Don't get caught up in trends
..


Scribe's Arena - $ - (Feb 2014 - ?)


I was so impressed with Paperback that I backed this new word game immediately. The card design/layout looked unprofessional but I assumed it was because they were rough prototypes. The final version being shown now still look the same... I hope this plays better than it looks. Yes I'm a bit of an art/design snob when it comes to games. Even in competitive games I will often leave the best cards out of decks just because I can't stand to look at their art!

lesson - Don't expect design or art to improve

...


Lagoon Land of Druids - $ - (Mar 2014 - Nov 2014)

I fell in love with the art in this game but was amazed when I tried the PNP edition and found the gameplay was even better. It combines aspects from my favorite games... Hive, MTG, and Shogi. During the kickstarter they also released a series of study puzzles (like shogi tsume, chess puzzles, or MTG challenges) to show the depth of the game while teaching its basics.

thumbsupthumbsup lesson - Rookie designers can hit home runs just like the pros

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Oddball Aeronauts - $ - (Aug 2014 - *)
I received this game a while ago but don't remember when. Its never been played and probably never will. I don't know if the game is good or bad all I know is it doesn't fit into my gaming life... it doesn't play solo and it doesn't interest my wife or my gaming group. The good thing is that this game made me realize I have to change the way I approach kickstarter. I no longer kickstart games because they look cool... I will only kickstart things that I 'm sure will get played.

lesson - Only kickstart games that are guaranteed to get played!

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Pairs - Cheapass games - $ - (Aug 2014 - Oct 2014)

I still haven't learned to play this but as soon as I do I will introduce it to my gaming group. I have high hopes for this one... it works with a nice range of players and is short enough to play between games or while waiting for other players to show up.

lesson - ?


Arcadia Quest - Cool mini or not - $$ - (March 2014 - Oct 2014)

This was purchased as a replacement for Super Dungeon Explore which my gaming group found too slow. Unfortunately we usually have to many players to play this so it is currently collecting dust. On the rare occasions when we have only a few players everyone just wants to play Xia. I hope this will at least get tried soon... I think the group will really enjoy the PVP!

lesson - Don't buy a 4 player game for a gaming group of 8+ people

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Mercs Recon - Mercs Miniatures - $$$ - (April 2014 -?)

I bought this to play solo but my gaming group will probably enjoy the concepts of shooting up office buildings and breaching into rooms. I love miniatures games but hate collecting and painting miniatures only find that the local gamers have moved on the the next hotness and now there is no opportunity to use my beautiful minis. For this reason I'm determined to only get into miniature games that support solo play. I have high hopes for this game but it has required a huge leap of faith because of how the developers handled Myth and how little they are communicating with the backers of this project.

lesson - solo miniature games could be the next big trend!

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Pocket Odyssey - $ - (April 2014 -?)


I've received the early playtest edition and I'm really enjoying the system. It really does allow for spontaneous RPG session and some epic encounters... but the storytellers must be creative and not just expect the dice to make things epic.

thumbsupthumbsup lesson - Simple is better

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The Agents Return - $ - (May 2014 -?)


Not sure why I backed this , I think it was simply to support the designer. My gaming group tried the original Agents game and though the mechanics were cool but have shown zero interest in playing it again. This is another example of great market timing... start the sequel campaign right as the previous product is being delivered but before people get a chance to see if the game has a future with their gaming group.

lesson - Don't buy/kickstart expansions till the core game has been played at least 5 times!

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Wield - $ - (July 2014 - *)
I received this game is several shipments so its hard to say when it was actually delivered. I love John Wick's designs and this is no exception. Unfortunately his work is often so far out there that Its hard to get anyone to take a chance on it... this will just have to be a guilty pleasure that I keep in my library

thumbsup lesson - Its fine to buy great games simply to study

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Field Commander Nimitz - DVG - $ - (July 2014 -?)

I'm really not excited about the theme of this game but I love Dan's designs and try and support him, his company, and his family every chance I get.

lesson - Support your favorite independent designers!

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Official ElfQuest Adventure - $ - (Aug 2014 -?)

Another solo game that I'm taking a chance on. I love the ElfQuest world and wanted to make sure this game had a chance to mature. The games mature themes are what makes it so interesting... the character traits used in thsi game go far beyond what you find in other games and give the game a unique poetry and humanity.

lesson - Support projects that are taking chances

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Hostage Negotiator- $ - (Aug 2014 -?)

Another solo game that I'm taking a chance on. I played the PNP demo and liked it but didn't love it. In the end I'm supporting this because I want to see how the development and production process plays out. I've nearly kickstarted one of my own games that has similar components to I want to see how smoothly this goes and how people react to the component to price ration.

lesson -Kickstarter makes for an interesting classroom

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Dungeon Saga - Mantic games - $ - (Aug 2014 -?)\

I regret backing this. I love Jake Thornton's designs but I'm starting to see the same thing over and over again. In the end I'm backing this because I'm curious to see what he does with the solo AI cards. I was disappointed with his solo AI in Mars Attacks ... it's not bad its just not the revolutionary idea I expected from him. I backed this at a minimal level just to get my hands on the solo rules.

lesson - Don't go all in if you have doubts about the design

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Rise of the Kage - GCT - $ - (Oct 2014 -?)

I love ninja and stealth games so this was a must buy. I think I convinced myself that somehow I would be able to play this solo which will probably never happen (or not be as good). By backing this I'm breaking my golden rule of not backing games that don't fit into your gaming life... but I love the theme so much that I have to take the chance.

lesson - Rules are made to be broken

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Japanese the Game - $ - (Oct 2014 - ?)

I bought an old convention version of the core deck of amazon and really liked it. Its definitely more of a study aid then a game but it does its job really well... it helps you get used to sentence structure and flow. I've also created a solo variant where you fight Kaiju!

thumbsup lesson - Try it first

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Dragon Ransom - $ - (Nov 2014 -?)
I bought this designers last game "Hunters of Arcfall" which didn't go over well with my gaming group... but this new game is designed for solo play and has the same artist. I kickstarted the first project to support the artist (Tim McBurnie) and I'm supporting this one for the same reason.

lesson - support the arts!

...


One night uptimate werewolf Daybreak expansion - $ - (Oct 2014 -?)

The original "One Night" is my gaming groups go to game. Great table talk, backstabbing, and works with a huge range of players! This is just more of a great thing. This really didn't need to be a kickstarter and I didn't follow the campaign at all so I don't know how much was gained by kickstarting it. I think there is something interesting to learn from this campaign... maybe I should go back and study it. Its strange that I love the game but that I had zero interest in following the campaign!!! I backed it but didn't follow it... in the end it felt like the product was ready for print and that they didn't need my support.

lesson - I tend to not pay attention to campaigns that don't NEED kickstarter

.....
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Mon Nov 10, 2014 4:47 am
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Martian war stories

John Paul Messerly
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Sherman Oaks
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I bought several games at GenCon this year. most were game I thought my gaming group would enjoy but these two games I bought just for myself. I love wargames and miniature games and I'm always looking for new ones that can tell a good story and that can work solitaire. Did these new games live up to my hopes...


1. Mars Attacks!
I fell in love with this game because of the promise of chaotic battles with twisted humor and a gaming system so light that there is nothing to distract you from the fun. So did it deliver this experience?

Yes. I have been very disappointed with most of Mantics products but this one is great. At GenCon I demos both Deadzone and Mars Attacks and for me this was the clear winner. Between the rules clarity (only 2 character states normal and rattled) and the crazy events, I'm loving it! deadzone frustrated me because the faction seemed unbalanced, the multi-part miniatures are a pain, and the number of modifiers and states is overwhelming. Here's my cheat sheet for mars attacks... There's only 4 modifiers total!



To me a great games is one that gives you great stories to tell and this one is filled with great epic moments you won't find anywhere else. From the burning cows to the car thrown by a giant robot that bounces across the battlefield. In my last battle I pulled off a perfect strafing run that cause 4 Martians to leap out of the way leaving them rattled. Even the infantry based support weapons have interesting affects like the freeze ray that marks the enemy as activated so they can't move or act till the next turn Or the LMG's that force the enemy to drop prone(rattled) leaving them with less they can do when they activate.

Besides the chaotic humor of rampaging giant insects and burning cows this game stands out in how it treats the heroes. The one flaw of the GenCon demo is that it was Martians vs the generic military units. These grunts are important in that they make the real heroes seem even better in contrast. The hero's have heroic points that make the game far more frantic and helps,reduce the weight of random rolls. Heroes can shrug off multiple hits or charge across the battlefield in seconds. They can take out multiple enemies quickly by spending these points at the right time. The best thing is that these points guarantee that the hero's will do something memorable each game... No major bullet can ever take them down in the first turn.


Oh yes and the terrain that comes with the game is very inspiring...



2. War Stories: red storm
This is a very different beast... No humor here just an innovative design, beautiful components, and some interesting twists. I didn't have high hopes for this one and I fact I dropped out of the kickstarter because I lost faith.

The final product is awe inspiring in many ways but is it fun? I love innovation and simplicity in wargames and I can't decide whether I'm more impressed by this or D-day at Tarawa. I hate charts in wargame and both of these games have worked hard to remove them. Tarawa shows the chaos of a beach landings and of melee like no other game and its system for revealing and reinforcing enemies is like nothing I've ever seen before. You never know what the enemies strength is until you attack them (yet they can still attack you without having to reveal themselves) and once you attack them they will get reinforced by an unidentified counter making their actual strength a mystery again. The melee combat is tense and chaotic... I don't know if its actually controllable but it is epic. The melee system keeps you on the edge of you seat and sweating the whole time!

So what about War Stories. Well it doesn't be melee as well as Tarawa but it does everything very efficiently. The rulebook is elegant and simple and the disk draws for combat is beautiful and simple. The events are intertwining if a bit dull. Overall I recommend it for anyone who appreciates innovative design.

But is it fun? I have some great stories to tell... like the time my panzer fired on and suppressed some infantry in a forest, setting the forest on fire and burning them up. Or the time I was ambushed by a troop of infantry as my tanks advanced across the plains... The infantry got lucky and pulled the foxhole card making it nearly impossible for my armor to overrun them.

Fun? Well not really but there are some interesting moments and it flows beautifully. So far it's actually a little frustrating as the attacker seems to have a huge advantage. I'm determined to play all the scenarios before I make up my mind...
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Sat Aug 23, 2014 9:32 am
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Best and worst of GenCon 2014

John Paul Messerly
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Sherman Oaks
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While I'm waiting for my flight out of Indianapolis I thought I'd share a a little about what I saw...


Best:

1. Dog Cosplay!
This little girl was so happy and sweet and the dog was smiling and wagging his tail every time I saw them the whole week. I was overwhelmed with a sense of the beauty and wonder of life every time I saw these two. This is cosplay at its best when It makes everyone who sees it grin from ear to ear and see the world thru the eyes of a child again.



2. Lagoon: land of druids
I kickstarted this and played a few learning games but it wasn't till I played the tournament that I finally 'got it'. The element of balance in this game is unlike anything I've ever experienced. Thematically you are druids trying to keep the 3 elements of the world in balance but this actually comes out in the mechanics and this precarious balance makes the game a real brain burner in a unique way.

3. The Artemis war
This year I got to take part in about a three hour mass combat scenarios in Artemis. In the past Artemis was random encounters and the outcome didn't matter... This was the opposite. Each battle took place on a sector on a map of the border systems, if you lose the enemy expands into the area and you have to retake it. This made even very simple encounters feel much richer. For instance in one mission the only enemy was a single enemy cruiser with damaged shields and weapons... This felt like we had stumbled onto the shattered remains of an enemy fleeing from the neighboring sector.

For the final battle all 4 ships and their crews played coop in the same mission!!! awesome and epic...

Worst:

1. 2 rooms and a boom!
I kickstarted this and was very excited about getting to learn to play with a big group. It was one of the worst gaming experiences of my life. I played three rounds and all three were excruciating. I love hidden role backstabbing games but this just didn't work... Opposite sides don't really talk to each other so the lying bluffing elements are less personal and dramatic. It fell apart because of serious quarterbacking issues (like you see in most co op games).

2. Pay to win
Ok so it's really not pay to win but letting people pay more to get into the exhibit hall early and buy out all the exclusives isn't bad enough at least encourage them to exit the hall thru a different door (so we don't have to pass them and their massive pile of games we won't be able to buy because of them). Seeing them smugly pushing their way back out with piles of sold out exclusives sours my enjoyment of GenCon every year.


Biggest surprises:

1. Ninja/monastic intrigue
I love hidden role backstabbing games and I was happy to discover 2 new ones with awesome themes this year. Shinobi Clans is about competing ninja clans! While The Black Rose is about a murder investigation at a monetary... It's 'in the name of the rose' the game! I haven't played either yet so I don't know how well they work but I'm excited to have more quick lying/backstabbing games.

I was planning on buying 'dead of winter' but after watching several groups play it at our hotel I was underwhelmed by its energy level. We hade two table of people playing dead of winter next to a table with student bodies and another with resistance and it was interesting to see how much more fun the other tables were having.

2. War stories
I dropped out of the kickstarted because it started getting to focused on mini's which seemed to go against the simple readability of the game design. I played for 20 min and loved it. I'm so glad his game turned out so well.

3. Pandemic: Contagion
Played this with my tour group. I was not excited at first but after a few turns I was doing crazy combos each turn but still had difficult decisions to make because there were so many good moves I couldn't do because they would give the player in the lead too many points. The games theme matches pandemic but the gameplay couldn't be more different! Very refreshing...

The game is very light and you can quickly look at the board and see all the combos. My favorite element is that the game rewards players for 'popping' a city with a special power/event... this encourages you to do it even if you won't score it. These events are key to the game because they are what make the crazy combos possible. This is he key to a great design... Set the players up to discover combos that make them feel awesome!


4. Glory to Rome
I bought the new/designer version a few years ago and could never quite figure out the rules. Got to play a game with my tour group and immediately fell in love. I don't usually like this type of civ building game but how turns and actions overlap is mind blowing... must teach my group this game.

5. Zynvaded 2.0
I discovered this line of minis at my first GenCon and fell in love. It's a true scale miniature game about alien insects invading earth. What's so exciting about that? The aliens are naturally the size of minis so you don't need gaming terrain.. Your cluttered desk or countertop is a natural battlegrounds this also allows for some great terrain conversion opportunities were the aliens repurpose everyday household items.

What's new? This year they re sculpted and cast all the minis as multiparty resin instead of the original one piece minis. The details are beautiful and chunky/cartoony without being chibi.

6. Year of the ninja (2015)
I was very excited to see so many ninja games getting announced this year (to be released next year). Bushido has a new game 'Rise of the Kage' with a group of ninja breaking into a house to steal something or assassinate someone. Ninja Division has a chibi ninja miniature game in the works. I'm starting to feel a little tired of the chibi style but I'm excited to see what they do with it.

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Sun Aug 17, 2014 8:33 pm
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Your FLAGSHIP is ready!

John Paul Messerly
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Sherman Oaks
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My new PNP solitaire game RESCUE MISSIONS is done!

The latest rules are here...
http://mermuse.jmwebdesigns.com/post/Escort_Rules.pdf

...

Proceed to you flagship at once and take command.

Arkwright Retribution Corps
Admiral Jedidiah Strutt



...







Enjoy!
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Sat Aug 2, 2014 5:28 am
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