Video – Why buy a Deck Builder’s Toolkit? (Winston Draft)

As mentioned in the video my original “cut” was about 13 minutes of me not getting to the point quickly enough. At times it seems I am a chronic over-explainer and at the time it Continue reading

My History with Role-Playing Games

A few years ago I had never played a Role-Playing Game, but I’d definitely heard about them all of my life. I’d almost gotten to play a game of D&D 4th edition with a friend in school, but it looked too complicated and he/we didn’t find anyone else who wanted to play. I was still interested, but I didn’t feel like I had the energy, time, or money to invest in games with complicated systems that were in 350+ page books that I couldn’t get in any local store (I hadn’t access to Amazon yet). But I was aware of and in some cases a part of the RPG culture for most of the time I can remember.

Fast-forwarding to 2014, when I had moved out, and had been a part of a fairly successful board gaming group for a few years, I was investigating more possibilities of games to play, going in every direction that seemed interesting. At the time Dungeons & Dragons was going through a re-brand with D&D Next, which was soon being released as 5th Edition (which is just called Dungeons & Dragons on the books for some reason). It seemed to be created and marketed in such a way as to attempt to attract new players (but don’t all new editions do that?). It seemed that there would be no better (foreseeable) time to get into the game; the starter set had just come out and there was no convoluted supplements, expansions, or errata to deal with. And if I was going the get myself and a group of people interested in playing that starter set seemed like the best bet, so I ordered one.

I was quite surprised when it arrived (after a bit of a problem with the USPS) that even with my general knowledge of the subject and excited-ness to learn the book was hard to get through. Even this 30-page mini version of a 350+ page book was incredibly boring to read. I couldn’t believe that this product that was created for, and marketed toward, new players seemed so unfriendly to those new players. And after trying and failing a few times to read the starter rules I shelved it. But not before I looked up a few “simple” “1-page” RPGs online. I gave them a once over and thought maybe I’d play them, and if they went over well I’d take another look at D&D (at least I understood the little ones). But in the end my excitement had waned enough that I just put them in the box and forgot for a while. The box sat on the shelf unused. Occasionally I would think about playing one of the smaller games but it always seemed to be in the wrong place. For more than a year I barely looked at and RPG.

But then, when I was moving again, my games were getting shuffled around and I wanted to pick a core set of games to keep in a location where I could play them. In general I picked one game per genre and on a whim I put the only Role-Playing Game I had into the mix. I never got the play it with that group, and I probably wouldn’t have, considering I didn’t finish reading how to play myself, but I though maybe one of those smaller single-page games would hit the table at some time. Even still, just having it around and visible again piqued my interest once more. But, once again, I started looking at the smaller RPGs that were easily accessible and inexpensive. I went to see if any of them had been updated and amazingly some had been, and new ones (at least ones I hadn’t seen before) were floating around. I downloaded some more pages, organized them and started reading the more thoroughly. I really liked how much game was being put into these little packages. And that I could create the world I wanted to play in with them and didn’t feel restricted to what the games’ creators had come up with because of the structure of the game. I do know that I could do something similar with D&D, and create my own world, but when reading about the game or starting to play, the focus on (very) high fantasy and magic is obvious and very difficult to shake. I personally am more of a medium fantasy type of guy and games almost don’t exist in that category, preferring to go from Conan straight to Lord of the Rings. I liked being able to shape the world how I wanted it to be, and even with such tiny games (usually 1-page +”expansions”) I could still take the mechanics I liked and keep them in, throwing out or changing the other “suggestions” the game offered at my leisure. In fact the smaller size made it easier to do that, as I didn’t have to comb through hundreds of pages to find potential inconsistencies.

But still I couldn’t find the perfect one for me. I combed through forums, blogs, and RPG websites to find as many as I could and printed out the best ones (I’ve got 22 currently in the binder) and starting to look more seriously at the systems that were “universal” or just of a somewhat different theme. And there are a lot of good ones out there, but they still didn’t feel quite right. 1-page didn’t seem long enough for me, there needed to be a little more depth to the system, but 10 or more pages was more than a “simple” system could handle; at least I didn’t want to read that much for something I had to print off myself and seemed like it should be flushed out a bit more into a small book. I wanted something in-between. The “universal” games were generally longer in rules, but lacked the focus and mechanics shaped by the scenario that the “themed” games had (RISUS being a great example here). It seemed I wanted something like the “Dead Simple” RPG system. One that was essentially the same from game to game, but had various tweaks with each of the different themes to make it work.

After hours of searching and not finding just the right thing I wanted I got the great(?) idea to create my own system. That way I could control how everything worked and make it, if not the perfect system, just that much closer to the game I really wanted. I had jotted down a few notes previously about how I would’ve liked to improve RPG systems, so went back to those notes and started revising them. I found that with a little tweaking I got something workable in my head, and then that amazing thing that happens when you’re working on a project started happening; things just started to fall into place. The more I worked, the ideas just fit together and kept coming. Of course, this comes with the less-than-amazing part where I have to write it all down. And as I started doing that I found that the project quickly grew in scope. What I had envisioned as a simple “5-page” game that I might go back to and add a few things later became (first a little more squished to keep it 5 pages and) something that looked a lot more like a full game. Not one of the modern 300-pagers but closer to the “classic” home-printed, staple-bound games. Suddenly I had 5 pages of rules, 5 pages of game master guide, 5 pages of monsters, and then extra stuff about potions, spells, hirelings, stores and more. And suddenly I needed more games to research how they handled different gameplay aspects. I didn’t want to copy but I also didn’t want to flail about blindly for mechanisms or balancing. So I looked into a newer, smaller systems I could easily get my hands on to compare, most notably Chris Gonnerman’s Basic Fantasy RPG.

And after a few weeks of working on it I found out about a local RPG group starting up in my area (a rare thing in a small town) and I was able to join and start playing a game. (I had played several single sessions and playtested my system before so I wasn’t a complete n00b) It was D&D, but as it turns out that system is a lot more fun to play that it is to read the rules (I did have a good general idea of how to play before going in, just something I picked up from the internet and the video circles I watch in). It also gave me an excuse to purchase the rulebooks, which actually have way more fascinating information that the starter kit books but are still not excitedly written. Everything was stacking up. I had both smaller and larger systems to use as comparisons and I was working through what was now to become my RPG system and various “supplements”. I called it RPG LTE: Swords and Sorcery for various reasons, but mainly because I thought it was a good name and one that is expandable with other RPG LTEs to come in the future.

My plan was to finish up the “core rules” in three 5-page parts (consisting of: Game Rules, Game Mastering, and Monsters) and then follow that up with several single page supplements and a small book of this “beta” that would be available in limited quantities (I have already printed books with a PoD service, but I had no idea that would be the easiest part). That got all muddied up as I finished most of the final supplements before finishing the “monster” section (when creativity calls, sometimes you gotta follow it). So I printed the beta book and have had it along with several of my other books at the art shows and cons I attend. And, after a few more tweaks, I gave the beta a “soft” release on my website a few weeks ago, to which this is the follow up, and there will soon be a “hard” release with a post that is more focused on the game itself and what it is trying to accomplish.

That’s been my “journey” so far, and I’m sure it’s far from over. Hopefully as I continue to acquire, play, and work on RPGs I can keep this story going, learn more, and have fun indefinitely. It’s always hard, especially in this day and age where people do so much, to get a good role-playing group together and even harder to keep it together. But actually getting the games played, and exploring the world as well as the mechanics is a great experience, and one I will hopefully have many more times, with many more systems in the future.


Game Review – European War 4: Napoleon (iOS, Android)

In my quest to find as many apps with Napoleon in the image as possible, or just a good strategy game on the phone that fits my tastes, I came across and downloaded European War 4: Napoleon. I’ven’t looked the other 3 (apparently) but this one was the first to come up and looked interesting (I’m now making a note to look at the others). Is it grand strategy on a Napoleonic scale? Or like so many others just a veneer over something boring?

Campaign Select

Battle Select

My first impressions weren’t great; I’m not a big fan of the time period in warfare, but I’m willing to overlook that if the game is good, and they couldn’t have picked less exciting stills to showcase the game on the app page (foreshadowing). Still, it was on sale, had generally good reviews, and came up with other games that I’ve played in a similar vein (Risk, Strategy & Tactics, etc.). I thought it could easily be a game to add to my repertoire where I could swap out and play something different so I didn’t get too burned out, so I downloaded it and started it up.

Game/Round Start Screen

The game is a pretty simple, hex-based, cities-on-continents style game. Most of the maps are maps of Europe (but there are some in America and Mediterranean Africa) divided into hexes where units can be. The hexes have terrain that affects how the units move and sometimes “cities” which allow one to build new military units and which can be captured (which is usually a goal in a scenario). Capturing land and cities give you the ability to produce more of the game’s 3 resources: food, money, and machine parts(?). Farmland gives you food and I have no idea where the others come from (my guess is it has something to do with cities). Parts and money can be used to buy new units, upgrade cities, or create fortifications in the regular land (and something to do with generals and upgrades, but I can’t figure out how that works), and food is expended by existing military units per turn.

City Upgrade Cost

Unit “Recruitment” from City

Tavern Generals from City

Upgraded Tile Information

City Shop

Unit Items

Units are created in cities, each specializing in a different unit type: infantry, artillery, and cavalry. These are pretty cookie-cutter: infantry is cheap and good at defense, cavalry can move two spaces and is in the middle, and artillery can attack over spaces and is good at offense but terrible at defense. The more cities are upgraded, the better units they can build (you can also spend more gold to make units with more “troops” (life) but I’m not certain it has any real benefit). And some units are equipped with generals (again I think you can buy them but I can’t figure out how, it has something to do with cities and medals) that give them combat bonuses and the units around them slightly smaller bonuses. These generals are essential to use during combat, as units not being lead by one will crumble against an assault from ones that are. There are a few more complexities to the combat system: units can move and then attack, but can’t move after attacking (except when certain generals are involved, it seems), and they gain morale after victories and lose it after defeats or when enemy units are on two sides of their hexes (covering 4 or more of the six spaces around them) but how much this actually affects combat I couldn’t tell you.

Movement Select

Tile Information

Unit Upgrade

When your turn is completed, you hit a button to go to the next turn (and if you can possibly perform one single action it asks you “are you sure”, then you watch your opponent’s turn and can continue playing. The most annoying part about this bit is I can’t find a way to skip it (I have now found it, but it’s super tiny and hard to see and hit in the corner). It isn’t that long when compared to Civilization Revolution or Strategy & Tactics (but you can skip it in S&T) but it can run longer than I (who would like to play the game) would want. It’s a minor annoyance, but an annoyance none-the-less. This adds to the fact that the combat is fairly slow paced, with not much action happening and nothing dynamic (you can’t push enemy units out of territories or anything like that) going on. It feels a little tedious and boring after the first few missions. At this point I haven’t learned enough about the game to be good at it, and they are just throwing more and more enemy units at me and I have to hope I get lucky. It’s pretty obvious at the start that only having a few units would be boring, but increasing the amount of units just makes it tedious. They feel weighed down, and that might be appropriate for the time period but I don’t feel like Napoleon when I’m playing, I feel like one of the guys who lost. The strategy seems more to be in number crunching as you slowly move across the board and less in anything actually happening. This may not be the case, but that’s the feeling I get playing the game. I’m not excited, or thinking, I’m just moving, and sometimes not even that when I run up against mountains or rivers that bring my army to a crawl.

Conquest Mode

It’s entirely possible I’m just playing the game wrong, but the developer isn’t helping anything there by making the control layout pretty unintuitive; generally playing the game is easy, but navigating the menus and their tiny buttons needs a little work. It’s also obvious the developers aren’t native English speakers with the broken, poorly translated sounding tutorials. They get the message across well enough but I feel like I’ve missed something. There was probably something in there about the morale system or how to purchase generals that I missed, but they didn’t make my job easy there. And I quickly lost my excitement for playing this game (relatively speaking, I probably put some good hours into it before that point). There are 6 campaigns, only 2 of which are unlocked from the start, and I haven’t finished either one. I got to battles where I lost and couldn’t see any immediate way I could have done better, and there was no incentive there for me to learn how to get better, so I just stopped playing. That’s a bit similar to how I felt playing the first two Strategy and Tactics games, where the campaign mode is just annoying, but the large battle maps are great fun and allow for more overall strategy. This game does include a “conquest” mode, where you can play as most any country in the game and try to take over the whole map, but this doesn’t fix most of my problems with the game, being just as slow and lacking any obvious real strategy.

Turn Ending

Game Save

Low Morale one Enemy Troops (and an out-of-place Armored Car)

Enemy Turn Passing

Now, aside from all of my picking apart and finding flaws, I actually like this game more than I thought I would. I’d seen it and its “family” of games before, when looking for better strategy games on mobile devices, and from the screenshots I thought it looked like throwaway garbage. But I actually had several hours of fun with it, and for a free game that’s a pretty good ratio. But it’s just not something I can get into, nor something I can really recommend. It’s slow and more obtuse than it needs to be, which kinda kills the grand-war-simulator(game) for me. From what I can tell it’s like the others in the series and if you’re a fan of those it will probably fit right in (but you likely already have looked at it then), but for most other people looking for a good, in-depth but quick strategy game on mobile, it looks like you’ll have to keep waiting (or play Strategy & Tactics or Civilization Revolution if those are “in-depth” enough for you).

Board Game Creation Blogging Part 5 – Rethinking and Downsizing (w/ Making an RPG)

Where I last left off this series I was failing at Kickstarter, which was actually quite some time ago now. I’ve made two household moves and published a dozen books (of my comics) since then, among other things, so it’s kind of crazy coming back now. I definitely re-evaluated my position and have been looking into why I was unable get my game off the ground. I have made several games (and game-related items) since then, but they need some more polish before I blog about them.

I had mentioned at the end of my last post that I would be working on a smaller game; one that could more easily be kick-started for next time. And I have been (I’ve got a couple of good ones), but I thought as I was working on them, “why not go smaller? Or with less cost?” It was a hard thing to think about, especially since I’m a bit of a stickler for components (I want them to last a long time). I didn’t want to create a game that used a PoD service like the Game Crafter or one that was print-it-yourself as both of those would be “less than perfect” (don’t get me wrong, GC is a great product. I use them, and what they’re doing is really cool, but it’s a bit more expensive than I would like for the quality). It then occurred to me at some point (I will have a separate post about it) that a type of game that I would be interesting in making and that could be downloaded and printed by people easily was a role-playing game.

I had recently started trying to get more into role-playing, and since most of the major books are huge, intimidating messes (and I mean that in the best possible way, they are endearing messes) I went looking for short, simple RPGs online. And I found quite a few (22 is the number I currently have printed off in my binder, and that’s not counting all of the ones I found online). Most of them ranged from 1-10 pages, but one seems the most common length. There is a certain sense of satisfaction that I can understand would come from both writing and playing a “single-page” RPG. But none of these were exactly what I wanted. I wanted mechanics that were slightly more “intuitive” but still something you could “sink your teeth into”. I believed there was and is some room for something closer to my “perfect” version of a role-playing game, so I set about writing it.


It took me far longer to do that than I had anticipated, but that was because it ended up much longer than I had thought. Not the rules, necessarily: they’re only 5 pages (though a bit cramped at around 7,000 words), but the “everything else” that comes with making an RPG. I’ve ended up writing 27 pages full of stuff for it, and in my excitement to get my ideas down I was writing some of the later pages before finishing the “necessary” pages, which would be: rules for playing the game, rules for running the game, and some pre-built enemies to go in the game (a “3-book” structure if you will, a-la D&D but with only 5 pages for each section). My plan was to put these “core rulebooks” up online and maybe a few “supplements” (1-page extras) after that, then combine them all into a book that would be the “beta” for the game. Hopefully. people would then play it and I would be able to gather feedback and write some extra stuff for the “first edition”. I still hope to do that, but I did it a bit backwards and finished the book first (it took me far too long to write this post), so now that it’s already out in the wild (though at the moment only purchase-able through me personally) I will be putting the PDFs up for download on the site.

Core Rules Beta (PDF)

Game Master Guide Beta (PDF)

Monsters/Bestiary Beta (PDF)

Beta Character Sheet (PDF)

I’ve been using a print-on-demand service to print my comic books for a few years now; so going with them for the beta version was a simple choice. Even with them being PoD I don’t anticipate the print version of the beta getting a wide release. I think it is good and playable, but I’d like to add a little more polish before putting it up on Amazon like my comic books. Also the PoD service only does paperback books, and I do hope that after I’ve put the contents up online and gathered some feedback and done some more playtesting to get everything collected for the first edition in a hardback (or likely both formats, as I want the game to be as accessible {inexpensive} as possible), not just to look like other RPGs but because I like the feel and longevity of a good hardback. In any case I’ve put the beta files up, and I hope you use them, play the game and let me know what you think.