An international standard to be set for gaming?

*This topic was originally covered in an article from Kotaku. (11 Oct 2021)

The map is laid out on the table, and everyone is gathered around it making notes as their characters advance into the unknown depths. The dimly lit corridors are incrementally exposed as the field of vision from the characters reveal more and more of the labyrinth. However, players often hear things measured using the Imperial System.

“Each block on the grid represents xx feet on the map.”

What’s important here is not the phrase itself, rather the unit of measurement. This kind of statement has been codified in gaming manuals for as long as the games themselves have existed. Why? Because the biggest most popular game of all was invented in the United States, one of the only countries on the planet to NOT use the metric system.

The argument is perfectly rational. Most people use the metric system, why not just make the switch? Because the metric system is also exclusive, or that is to say, not everyone uses it.

At the bare minimum, couldn’t Wizards of the Coast just put both systems in their content? For example, “The hallway is about 20 feet (6 meters) from door to door…” would be a very easy way to do it. Then everyone is happy. Best of both worlds.

The Kotaku article explains, accurately, that most people that run games create their own material, but it also puts the burden squarely on their shoulders to make adjustments for things like systems of measurement. For my own part, when I create material, I tend to simply refer back to whatever is in the rulebooks I’m citing. Often, it’s the imperial system of measurement. It really is just easier to because everyone that has a seat at the table will be referencing the same rule book, even if it means everyone is referencing something that they don’t immediately relate to.

Then there’s the part of me that wants games to simply do away with formal systems of measurement. Recently, I wrote a review for the Talisman RPG. In that system, there is no real world system for weight, and no scale for measurement on the map. Sounds weird, right? Weight is handled in abstract units called “Load”. A suit of armor is equivalent to “X” load points. At varying thresholds, characters will feel negative effects if they endeavor to carry too much stuff, and this is articulated in units of load. Very useful, and relatable. The lack of scale for distance on a map means that it can be anything. People could chart miles, kilometers, or even “cubits“.

(There is a history of systems of measurement. Definitely the kind of thing gamers should look into!)

The bottom line here is that Wizards of the Coast is reaching at this point not to at least begin incorporating the metric system into their rules. While it is true that the preponderance of human civilization uses the metric system, the fact that there are other people using the imperial system means they should be included as well. Inclusive gaming matters, even when it comes to measuring things. Just do the easy thing, and implement metric and imperial systems, WotC! Then again, it’s hard to imagine hearing players saying, “OK, I’m at the tavern and I order a half-liter of ale at the bar.” Maybe some things are better left alone.

Achtung Cthulhu: Seventh inning Slaughter. RPG review

*this was originally posted to the British Fantasy Society’s website. Also, I have no affiliation with Modiphius, and received no compensation for the creation of this review.

Peanuts! Cracker Jacks! Freakish rituals during the seventh-inning stretch! There’s even a chance of protecting Franklin Delano Roosevelt?  In Seventh-Inning Slaughter, a brand new mission for Achtung Cthulhu! 2d20, by Modiphius, Players will be tasked with preventing an ambitious Back Sun member from carrying out his horrifying scheme. 

This mission, one that incorporates historical events, is a very clever way to challenge newer players or keep experienced gamers on their toes. It’s very well-conceived, and the mission is a self-contained one-shot. Not everyone will like the linear design since there isn’t an obvious way to leave the mission if they want to. However, there is a clear beginning, middle, and end to this fast-paced adventure. Everyone will understand what’s being asked of them, and why. 

Right from the beginning, the pressure is on.  This mission is on a timer of sorts and the structure follows the progress of the game. The challenge will come with keeping up with the pace of the events as they unfold and feeling comfortable with any potential outcomes once a course of action has been chosen.

During World War 2, there was a women’s baseball league in the United States since many men were off fighting the war. It’s fun to see this get a nod in Achtung Cthulhu. There’s even a quick note early in the text suggesting movies players can watch for inspiration.

Where things might be problematic is that there is very little to help people understand baseball. The mission is organized by a succession of innings to keep track of time as it passes, but not everyone will understand what an inning is. Baseball is very much an American sport, and anyone outside of the United States might not understand the rules. 

Additionally, there aren’t necessarily maps for all of the sites in the game, but this maybe isn’t the biggest problem. Places such as the announcer’s booth aren’t particularly big, and maybe don’t need an illustration. Unfortunately, choosing not to include this kind of material, along with the absence of a rules primer for baseball, makes the mission feel a little incomplete. Seventh Inning Slaughter stands on its own, as a quick one-shot.  As a way to create an avenue into the Secret War that is the beating heart of Achtung Cthulhu, this is a great first step. It even was written with that in mind. The mission had a few holes, but the stuff that’s missing is largely inconsequential. The pace and lack of an explanation of the rules of baseball might make running this a bit awkward for some people. Ultimately, the mission fits the game and is a great entry point to Achtung Cthulhu 2d20.

Video games: the best/worst popular medium?

This is really just a short note, and something I’ve been reflecting on ever since I saw the news that video games, as a global industry, were topping other forms of mass media in dollars per year. And yes, video games most definitely qualify for the mass media tag.

Despite the obvious popularity of the medium, and profitability, video games still have the air of being a waste of time. This observation is my own unscientific opinion, and I didn’t do any research at all to write this post. However, as a librarian, I constantly hear people, meaning grown-ups, complain about kids playing video games instead of reading books. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a single adult laud kids for playing video games.

Even though I’m much older than when I had my very first console, I still remember people ridiculing video games. There was even a parody song called, I’m Addicted to Nintendo. A lot of the things people were saying decades ago are still common complaints.

Consider also that there are studies discussing and debating whether or not video games are bad for kids, make them violent, or whatever. Do a search in Google for “Do Violent Video Games Cause Violence?” You’ll get links to scholarly research, news articles, blog posts, and more. Then again, Minecraft is more and more popular in schools and can be used with learning and healthy screen time (Education Week, Oct. 5, 2021), so…there’s really no consensus.

Additionally, you don’t see video games getting the red carpet treatment. Sony isn’t at the Academy Awards, and international film festivals. Nor are Nintendo, Microsoft, or any other player in the industry. They ARE at comic book conventions, and other fringe cultural events. (Don’t believe me? have look at the link from San Diego Comic Con. The programming carries all kinds of gaming goodies, including video games.) This is a reason video games have a home on this blog.

Despite what the nay-sayers offer as opinions, the medium is an economic force to be reckoned with. This is an undisputable fact. Whatever your stake is regarding the value of video games, at the end of the day they make money. Like, piles and piles of money. They aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Part of that has certainly been fueled by everyone having to stay away from one another more than in the past because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it doesn’t explain the industry’s growth over the last four or five decades.

Even though video games comprise one of the most popular forms of media in the world, they do not receive accolades that reflect that status. Instead, they are are a polarizing past-time with some loving them, and others absolutely loathing them. Video games might very well be the best/worst medium in existence. It’s like in quantum physics where something can occupy multiple places simultaneously, and video games occupy both positions of approval and disapproval at the same time. See, public opinion can do what science can’t!

I have no shame in saying that I’m a fan. I grew up playing video games more than my family probably wanted me to, and still make time to indulge them as an adult. Over the years I’ve slowly collected a library of video games. That assemblage of electronic fun will be discussed on this site. This is all to say that games are great, in all their various incarnations.

*The above image was taken from a 2015 TechCrunch article.

I’m Gonna Be, a review

Like many people, I’ve been forced away from the gaming table, but still want to play games. How else are we supposed to pass all that alone time? You can only watch so much television, and eventually the itch to start rolling dice and telling stories creeps back up on you. Fortunately, there are solo games.

Over the last year or so, I’ve built up a small collection of solo games. This began via the Kickstarter “ZineQuest” project. I’ve posted a review of the beta version of The Artefact on this site a while ago. That game was revised and completed. A review of that will be forthcoming. For this post, I’d like to focus on a game titled, i’m gonna be.

This game is a journaling solo-RPG that is supposed to emulate the kind of reflective experience a person can have on a road trip. All of that time in the car as the scenery slides by is an excellent opportunity to consider oneself, and the their lives. And how might someone play that? With music!

Create a playlist, listen, think, and write. These are the basic steps for the game. Cool concept, and very relatable for many people. Unfortunately, the game trips over itself. This is kind of negative critique is a rarity for me, but I don’t think this game is very good.

It’s affordable, so if you want to check it (The link is at the end of the post) out despite my review, it’s a mere $3 (USD). Very easy on the bank account. There are two version of the game, a vary colorful one that is laid out to look like a sort of collage, and a text-only printer-friendly version. The game is a 9 page PDF, or the printer friendly version is 3 pages of text. Printing out the latter is just a few pages of text, and that makes it nicely portable. Perfect for real road trips!

The core problem with this game is that it doesn’t really work. Players are supposed to take notes on whatever comes to them via a random prompt that comes from rolling a d6. On paper, it makes perfect sense. Take your inspiration, and follow it to it’s conclusion. The problem is that, lots of songs aren’t really long enough to permit this kind of introspective writing. “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd or Beethoven’s 5th would be good options for this game, but what if you’re favorite bands are groups such as Minor Threat who composed songs that are about a minute long? You’ll just be pressing pause constantly trying to keep up. I tried this, and it wasn’t fun or spontaneous.

Also, the game tries to simulate incorporating rest stops, which is a fun idea. Every once in a while, you need food, fuel, or simply the chance to take break from looking out over the steering wheel for hours on end. The thing is, the game asks you to continue your journaling with what you might experience there.

While this isn’t out of character for traveling, it’s off-topic from the game. During any journey, the trip from point A to point B is the sum of it’s parts. Driving and rest stops comprise the excursion. However, the game is about self-reflection, and adding in an odd fictionalized narrative tangent about what happens at a rest stop doesn’t mix with the basic idea of the game.

To demonstrate my point, here’s a question a player uses as a prompt while listening to music:

  1. when was the last time you heard this song? was there ever a time you were really into it, or maybe really hated it? how have you changed since then?

Now, here’s some questions for the rest stop:

who do you meet at your stop? what do you do there? if you’re with others, what kind of
conversations do you have over diner waffles and are they different than conversations you had when kesha was playing in the car? narrate a scene.

Independently of one another, they’re perfectly fine questions for a game about a road trip, but they don’t work as a pair. no matter what version of the game you have before you, it is short, and it needs to be focused on only one idea to really work. Is the game emulating a fictional road trip, or is the game facilitating meditation on one’s past experiences? After playing it, I could see it trying to be both, but it should really only be one or the other.

The game is a clever concept, and is a very open idea for a player. In execution though, the game falters. The rules sound nice, but the game doesn’t really work. What might have been better was to encourage a player to listen to music in a playlist for 10-20 minutes, and write what came to them via a prompt that was offered after rolling a d6. The longer period of time would help people collect their thoughts and express them without significant interruption. In the end, I don’t regret supporting the creator, Laura Lovelace. I hope they keep creating games, but I hope they consider taking more time playtesting to make sure the rules and the concept are functionally in line with one another.

You can find the game* at itch.io.

*Disclaimer: I receive no money from purchases made through this link, and have no affiliation whatsoever with itch.io, or Laura Lovelace.