Card Game

Card Game: Tactical War

One of the advantages of a good vacation where you can really unplug is that your mind can focus on things you wouldn’t normally have time to consider. Naturally, as folks who work on games professionally, my wife and I think about games.

So on our recent cruise, when we had some time to kill, we bought two decks of cards and set about writing a new variation on the game “War” that didn’t suck as much. This new version (tentatively titled “Tactical War”) attempts to reduce the randomness of the original game, add a layer of player choice, and remove the “death spiral” design of the original. It’s been through a few iterations, but if other folks want to play it and give more feedback, I’ll be happy to keep this post up-to-date with the latest rules and clarifications.

Tactical War Rules

Setup

  1. Each player starts with their own deck of playing cards (two Jokers included.) Ideally, each deck has a different back, to make sorting the decks back out easier.
  2. The players also need some marker to show who sets the battlefield. The box the cards came in works fine.
  3. Before play begins, each player shuffles their deck, and presents it to their opponent to cut. Each player then draws a hand of five cards.
  4. The first player to set the battlefield is determined by random determination for the first round, or with whomever lost the last round.

Turn

  1. At the start of each turn, both players draw their hands up to five cards.
  2. The player who has the marker can decide if they want to “set a battlefield” for the turn. If they choose to, they play a card from their hand and declare what limits are on the battlefield.
  3. The “battlefield” is limited by the suit or color of the card played, depending on what the player declares — for example, a Two of Hearts can be played to limit the battlefield to “red cards” or “Hearts.” If there is no battlefield card in play, there are no limits on the cards for that turn.
  4. Once a battlefieldis played (if any), each player must try to play a card that fits within the presented limits. If they have no cards that fit within the limits, theymust play any card from their hand instead.
    1. The highest card played that fits within the limits wins the turn. If one card fits and the other doesn’t, the card that fits automatically wins.
    2. If neither card fits the limits, the highest value card wins.
    3. If the cards are of equal value, a second card is played that also fits the limits. If these cards tie, a third card is played, and so on.
    4. If both hands are emptied and the cards are still tied, the top card is revealed on each deck until a winner is determined.
  5. Once the turn is won, the winning player can choose to put their opponent’s card (not the card that set the battlefield) into their hand instead of putting it into their score pile.
  6. Any cards not put into the winner’s hand (including the card that settle the battlefield) are then put into the player’s score pile. The market then moves to the player on the left.
  7. Play continues until one player runs out of cards in their deck. All other opponents then put all their cards into their own score pile.

Scoring

  1. The score piles are counted, and then the total written down. The decks are divided back out, and play continues until a set score is reached (typically 200). That player is the winner.
"A Scandal in Bohemia" by Petr Kopl

Peer Review: “A Scandal in Bohemia” by Petr Kopl

(Disclaimer: Petr Kopl is a fellow author at MX Publishing, and MX Publishing gave me a free iBooks version for review.)

A few months ago, MX Publishing ran a Kickstarter to translate a comic. Intrigued, I looked into it, and was blown away. A Czech artist and writer, Petr Kopl had won several awards for his Sherlock Holmes comics, and his artwork was just amazing. Unfortunately I missed the window to contribute myself, but when I got a code to review it myself, I eagerly downloaded it and started reading.

Narratively, Kopl has woven two Holmes stories together (“A Scandal in Bohemia” and “The Speckled Band”), along with references to other stories not written by Doyle (most notably “Around the World in 80 Days”). It’s not a faithful adaptation, and it takes a lighter tone than the original material — for example, Watson once finds Holmes hanging from the ceiling as he tests a new theory. The dynamic between Holmes and Watson, however, is much more the squabbling friendship that is common in more modern interpretations, and there are some genuinely funny exchanges between the two. Plot elements are rearranged to accommodate the new material, but it all hangs together through the thread of Watson working to overcome Holmes’ inherent misogyny. It’s a wonderful, entertaining story.

Artistically, Kopl’s style is unique and evocative. It looks a lot like an old-school cartoon, with hyperbolic character expressions and toned-down images of violence. And yet there’s a level of detail that draws the eye in: colors are rich and textured, backgrounds are drawn with little details that jump out, and even the sound effects look carefully crafted. More than once I caught myself staring at a panel, forgetting the story for a moment as I just soaked in the look and feel of the comic.

The book also has an introduction about the Czech Sherlock Holmes community, and an epilogue from the author talking about why Conan Doyle created a fictional king of Bohemia, and the nature of love and sex in the Holmes canon.

I haven’t been this drawn into a Holmes-based comic since the run of Moriarty. I highly recommend picking this graphic novel up.

A Scandal In Bohemia – A Sherlock Holmes Graphic Novel is available from all good bookstores including   Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository . In ebook format it is in Kindle, Kobo, Nook and Apple iBooks (iPad/iPhone).

GenCon2014

Slices of Gen Con

What a week. So much happened. The best way to even start to cover it is in rapid-fire bullets.

  • Announced Pugmire.
  • A game I contributed to, Hillfolk, won this year’s Diana Jones Award.
  • Ken Hite formed “Eddy Webb & Associates” with me, and we interviewed Rich Thomas for the position of Junior Couch Surfer.
  • Swapped stories over drinks with fellow Onyx Path freelancers at Matt McFarland’s birthday party.
  • Met a potential client for freelance work, who turned out to be a fan.
  • Got a migraine on Saturday, but quick timing and a very brief nap solved that.
  • Ended up with a fair bit of swag, even though I didn’t buy anything.
  • Discovered a company that makes fantasy dog miniatures.
  • Picked on some people a lot. More than I should have, perhaps. I need to think about how I express affection.
  • Got a Sherlock Holmes card game as a late birthday present, and then played it the next night with David Brookshaw and his friends.
  • Lots of early morning conversations with Richard Thomas, covering everything from the business to Pugmire to yoga to very personal topics. And lots of old war stories.
  • Made a game out of cardboard at the show and tried to sell it to people.
  • Accidentally kicked said game into someone’s face.
  • Saw so many of my friends and had more time with them, but still not enough time.
  • Met a lot of people excited to work with me on future projects.
  • The shrimp cocktail at St. Elmo’s.
  • Got Scott Holden’s pants.
  • Waited for hours for our pallets.
  • Had so many people ask for autographs, ask for pictures, or just shake my hand.
  • Heard stories of how my work and my friends’ work has shaped and improved the lives of others.
  • Put faces to names and online personas.
  • Muted my hearing aids to deal with construction noise.
  • Walked dozens of miles throughout the week.
  • Met new people.
  • Made new friends.
  • Remembered why I love this industry.

Pugmire tabletop RPG to be released!

At Gen Con today, I announced a partnership with Onyx Path Publishing to create and produce the Pugmire tabletop RPG. Pugmire is a fantasy game, where dogs (along with cats and other animals) have inherited the world from Man and try to understand and explore the land they’re a part of. The kingdom of Pugmire follows the Code of Man, and the various dog breeds all work together (and sometimes against each other) to rebuild civilization.

Pugmire will be owned by me, but Onyx Path will work with me on the creation and development of the RPG. We’ve also discussed other expansions of the world, such as fiction. The world will still be owned by me/Pugsteady, and the products will be co-branded as such. We’re hoping to have some kind of Pugmire-related release at Gen Con next year. This is my first step into developing a fully owner-created property, but I’m very excited about the possibilities. I have the utmost faith that Onyx Path will be a great partner in this endeavor.

More information as I work out details and can share them in some intelligent form!

Gen Con

I’ll Be At Gen Con!

After a surprising number of twists and turns, in the end I will be at Gen Con this year, thanks to Rich Thomas and Onyx Path Publishing. I’ll be around the OPP booth most of the convention, but there are a few other places you can find me during the show:

THURSDAY

2p-3p Book Signings (Onyx Path Booth #1103)

FRIDAY

2p-3p Book Signings (Onyx Path Booth #1103)

SATURDAY

10a-11a What’s Up With the New World of Darkness and Q&A (Grand Central D, Crowne Plaza)

2p-3p Book Signings (Onyx Path Booth #1103)

3p-4p What’s Up With the Trinity Continuum, Exalted, Scion, Scarred Lands & More! (Hay Market A, Crowne Plaza)

4p-5p What’s Up With the Classic World of Darkness and Q&A (Hay Market A, Crowne Plaza)

Murray Looks Nervous

Pugsteady: A New Phase In My Career

As many of you know, I was laid off from CCP in April. From April to June, I looked for full-time work, but I did some freelance writing on the side — partly to get at least some money in, and partly to keep my skills sharp. In July, I realized that my freelance work was taking up more and more of my time, so I took some steps to be more organized and serious about it. A few other things fell into place, and I realized that working as a freelance writer and designer could actually be my job. So I did some research, talked to some very smart people, and a couple of weeks ago, I filed to form a company. I am now the owner and sole proprietor of Pugsteady, LLC.

What does this mean? At a high level, not a lot changes. I’ve done work-for-hire for companies for 12 years now, and that’s not likely to change. However, I realize that there will be down times between contracts, and I’d like to start working on my own projects. Having a company that I can attach those projects to gives me and them a little more protection, and gives me access to a few good things (such as easier tax filing and a separate bank account, so I keep my assets distinct).

While “company” sounds exciting and interesting, I’m still working for me, and I’m still making a fraction of what I was beforehand. It’s not likely that I’ll be cranking out new tabletop RPGs or video games anytime soon. Further, I’m also still looking at other opportunities that make sense for my career and my life. But it also means that even if I do work at another company, I still have my company. I can still produce my work, and know that it’s stable. My work won’t get gobbled up by someone else unless they make me an offer that I like. It’s also something I can fall back on if I do leave such a company. And maybe I can make a new tabletop RPG or video game at some point.

So over the next several months and years, you may hear “Pugsteady” from time to time. That’s me, doing what you love, and what I love doing. This site isn’t going away anytime soon. But it is the next logical step in my life now, and I’m excited and terrified and what happens next.

By TC Chan (released under CC-NC-ND 3.0)

Player Skill vs. Character Skill

Recently I’ve read various games I own that fall into the vague class of “Old School Renaissance.” OSR-style play exalts the skill and intelligence of the player over that of the character. And it’s got me thinking about player skill vs. character skill. What do they mean? What’s the difference between the two?

“Player skill” refers to the player’s own abilities, not translated through a game mechanic. In a tabletop RPG, this is the player asking questions and trying to discern things. In a LARP, this is the ability of a player to sway a room purely through the portrayal of his character. In a video game, this is the player moving his troops based on his own strategy, or shooting someone with by testing their own reflexes.

On the other hand, “character skill” refers to the character’s abilities inside the game, which has little to no connection to the player.  In a tabletop RPG, this is rolling a die to see if your character asks the right question or discerns things. In a LARP, this is playing rock-paper-scissors to see if your character sways a room. In a video game, this is activating your character to see what strategy he enacts, or relying on random chance to see if a character shoots someone.

Arguments can (and have) been made for and against both kinds of skill. However, what interests me is that both sides frame the discussion as if the two kinds of skill are mutually exclusive. And yet, in my own experiences with a variety of games, I’ve found that every game requires some player and some character skill. In your tabletop game, some things are abstracted through dice, and some things come from player discussion. In a LARP, some things require mechanical resolution or arbitration, and some things are purely based on player personality. In a video game, some things are handled by computer code, and some things are handled by player input.

In fact, I would argue that any game that is purely player skill or character skill ceases being a game. Too much player skill, and the game becomes nothing more than a puzzle — there is no outside factor that changes the player’s input, and it is either solved or unsolved. Too much character skill, and it becomes a movie — the player simply watches, having no agency as the game plays itself to its conclusion.

Certain games can (and should) emphasize player skill over character skill, or vice versa. It’s good to know going into a game or going into your design what you want to emphasize, where, and why. But you can’t have one without the other.

Writer. Gamer. Sherlockian. Usually Not Dead.

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