Tetris by Conor Lawless CC-BY https://www.flickr.com/photos/conchur/2443635669/

book review: tetris

I enjoyed Tetris: The Games People Play even though it was essentially a business story. Box Brown is good at making characters out of real people, and the very analog style of art worked really well in contrast to the pixels of the game under discussion for most of the book. It laid everything out clearly with the convoluted selling of rights that some people didn’t have, and in the end it all works out for the Russian who invented the game (though his friend and sidekick through most of the story ends up um.. badly in a way that surprised me and could have been a frame for a very different style of book).

In the beginning of the book there was a bit about the importance of games and the cultural significance of them, which gets wrapped around back to by the end. I think that’s the best part, and what I’ll probably return to. It felt a little like reading Scott McCloud in its clarity and use of the comic format.

I’ve become less of a devotee of the power of games in the last year or two, mostly because I’m seeing more ways that adding game layers to things enhances certain political projects. Which is conflicting, because while I love games and I wish I could play them more, but I prefer it when games are kept in the realm of recreation and art, not business or the betterment/anaesthetizing of society or the efficiency of an organization.

So yes, the book about Tetris made me feel bad about the world. But it’s good.

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book review: you

YOU: A Fiction is a second-person narrator story about you, a guy named Leo Evans who does your best to be a good servant. A necessary one. The story starts with you getting a library book stolen from you and then things escalate. There are weapons and photographers that use film (ptui digital!) to stop time and destroy bodies, love is commodified and there’s a weird doppelganger made of mint. It’s full of weirdness and relationships and weird relationships. I liked it.

Greg Stolze is one of the creators of my favourite roleplaying game, Unknown Armies and You is set in that world. That gives the reader a bit of a grounding in the thoughts motivating some of the characters, but I think as a story it works better for a person who doesn’t know the universe (I found some of the explanations a bit on the nose and would have appreciated a bit more vagueness about how things work since I know the rules, but whatevs).

Good weird book. If you read it and like it let me know, ’cause it’s been years since I’ve run a game.

game review: formula d

The previous edition of this F1 racing game was called Formula Dé and we sold it at Campaign Outfitters many years ago. I’d had the coolness explained to me, how the gearshifting worked by using custom dice, but never had the chance to play it. Now that I have, (in its modern incarnation: Formula D) I have to say it was awesome. We had a group of 9 people and it was like playing a boardgame version of Mario Kart, meaning it was great fun indeed.

Everyone has a tiny car on a track with spaces. You roll a die and move your car that many spaces. The first one to the finish line wins. “Well, that sounds about as much fun as Candyland,” you might say, and if that were all, it would be a shitty shitty racing game. But that is not all.

You see, every car has a gear shift, so you have to upshift to go faster. In 1st gear you can only move 1-2 spaces, in 3rd you move 5-8, and if you hit 6th gear you move 21-30 spaces. Each gear has its own colour coded die, ranging from a d4 to a d30.

The next question you might ask is what is to prevent a racer from just jumping up into 6th gear and moving 21-30 spaces every turn? The curves in the track prevent this. Every corner requires you to end your turn in a certain zone a certain number of times, or damage your car. An easy turn has a large number of possible spaces and you only have to end your turn in it once. A nasty pile of hairpins might be a lot fewer spaces and require you to end your turn 3 times within it, forcing you to downshift so you stay inside.

We were playing with the basic rules which just give a certain number of damage points to the cars, but the advanced rules split the damage up between tires, brakes, gears and more, which means you have to work your car a bit differently. We treated it in a much more Mario Kart fashion and had a blast.

There is a lot of luck to the game, as a couple of bad rolls on a straightaway while competitors roll well can really hurt your chances (you have to take more risks in the turns while the leader can negotiate them safely), but in our race there was a lot of position-shifting and even though Kifty ran away with 1st place, the rest of the racers were contesting with each other right to the end.

Excellent game, and one that works with kids and large groups.

book review: meanwhile

Jason Shiga’s Meanwhile is a choose your own adventure comic book with time travel, secret codes, mind-reading, the extinction of all life on the planet and ice cream. It is amazing. I have only played with the book a little bit but most of my attempts have ended up with everyone dead (my very first choice led to a ridiculously short story, but one in which everyone lived).

The very cool thing about it being a comic is following the line from panel to panel as it forks and crosses pages. I caught glimpses of really interesting endings, but there’s also a warning in the beginning of the book that there are endings you can only reach if you cheat. I haven’t played with it enough to really exhaust the endings, but everything I’ve done with it so far was awesome. Highly recommended.

game review: fiasco

I played my first Fiasco game on Saturday with Jonathan (who’s a boardgamer and RPG dabbler) and Jamie (who had never played a tabletop RPG before). I’d just bought it at Emerald City Comicon, so it all seemed very serendipitous.

Fiasco is a GM-less storytelling game and it’s often pitched as “a game for creating a Coen brothers movie.” Unlike a more traditional RPG, the dice are more of a pacing mechanism than strict determinants of success and failure. Characters are generated through the relationships they have with each other before you really get into the specifics of what makes them tick. The other keys to the game are Needs, Objects and Locations. Each of those, along with the Relationships, are supposed to be things that will get the characters into a huge mess of trouble.

The game rotates through scenes focusing on each of the player characters. Halfway through a Tilt element is added, and then in the end you show what happened. Setting things up is done through a mix of choice and randomness based on the charts in each Playset (which are a basic setting).

Our game was set in the old west. We had a sick lazy Sheriff, his “doctor,” and his deputy. The doctor and deputy were trying to steal Widow Tompkins’ inheritance and get away with murder. The sheriff just wanted some pie (and everyone else at his beck and call). In the end, the doctor got away scot-free, the sheriff was an invalid being tended to by a disgraced deputy.

The game is definitely fun. There’s a lot of choice and everything feels pretty meaningful (as far as sitting around telling stories about made-up people can be). I think the next time we play, I’d want to push our scenes to have slightly higher stakes and stronger conflicts. We could have ramped it up to be a bit more madcap by the end. A gun was drawn in anger, a widow was defrauded, but it never got out of control.

Part of that was just because this was our first game and we were learning the ropes. We sometimes stumped ourselves deciding what the next good scene might be, and we could sometimes go a bit overboard in the establishment, leaving little for the scene itself to do. I can see how with a bit of practice and sense of short clear questions that the scene will resolve this game will produce some awesome experiences. I can’t wait to play again.

game review: pandemic

Friday was our last SLAIS potluck for a majority of the cohort of students I began library school with, and our friend Jonathan (who isn’t graduating just yet) brought boardgames. He always brings games. It’s good to have him around. One of the games he brought was Pandemic, a game of trying to save the world from ravaging epidemics through science and cooperation (you do not need to be a scientist to play Pandemic).

There are four strains of disease which are spreading around the world. To win you have to cure all four strains while keeping the diseases you haven’t cured from spreading around the globe. The board is a map of Earth, with major world cities as the sites of infection. One side effect of this play area is that there’s a bit of an American bias, since they get a pile of cities to cover North America, while Asia gets about the same number. So it’s not quite as realistic as it might be. It didn’t bother us too much, except when we noticed the casual disregard we had for certain areas (“Meh, Justin can handle Asia” was a common comment). Also, the assumption that we’re all American researchers from the CDC in Atlanta is a little ethnocentric.

In the game, every player has a different role and special rules. I was an operations manager, which meant I could build research stations more easily, and you need research stations to research cures to the diseases. Megan was a dispatcher, helping move our scientists around to hotspots, Kerry was a troubleshooter, and Jessie was a generalist so she just got a few more actions per turn.

The way the game works is a player does some stuff, draws some mostly helpful cards (which if they run out means you lose the game) and then flips cards that tell you what cities have been infected next. Every time a city is infected, it gets a cube of the disease’s colour. To cure a disease you need one player to have 5 cards of the disease’s colour in the same city as a research station. This makes the game a careful balancing of shifting people around and collecting cards. You never have quite enough resources to do everything you need to.

While some players are working on collecting cards to cure a disease, some people need to be temporarily getting rid of disease cubes in infected cities. You need to keep those numbers down because if a city has three disease cubes of the same colour and a fourth needs to be added, it instead spreads to all the cities connected to it. If that would push any of those cities over 3 cubes, disease explodes again. It’s fucking terrifying.

Adding to the stress is the way Epidemic cards make you reshuffle the cities that have already been infected and put them on top of the deck to draw more from. These epidemic cards come up randomly and can have a huge impact in making you see a city get infected a pile of times in what seems like a row (our early hot zone was Milan). It’s a great mechanic for upping the tension and Pandemic is definitely filled with tension. I completely loved it.

It’s difficult. We ended up winning, but discovered we’d been cheating by having a few too many expansion cards in our deck, which gave us a few extra cards worth of time to cure all the diseases.

story-gaming in libraries full bibliography

For my class on Services for Young Adults I wrote a Topic Briefing on Story-Focused Games in libraries. I ended up not using everything I’d read, because it’s only a five page paper. Here’s the full bibliography. There are a bunch of videogame related articles I skimmed in the course of research, but they don’t show up here. Also, some of the books of essays had other essays I read, but didn’t come close to using so they aren’t in here (but the book as a whole might be). My favourite resources in the bibliography are bolded.

  • Cover, J. G. (2010). The Creation of Narrative in Tabletop Role-Playing Games. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.
  • Falk, J., & Davenport, G. (2004). Live role-playing games: Implications for pervasive gaming. International Federation for Information Processing, 127–138.
  • Farmer, L. S. J. (2011). How school libraries can provide gender equity in e-gaming. Knowledge Quest, 40(1), 16–17.
  • Fernández Vara, C. (2009). The tribulations of adventure games : integrating story into simulation through performance. Georgia Institute of Technology.
  • Fine, G. A. (1983). Shared fantasy: role-playing games as social worlds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Retrieved from http://books.google.ca/books?id=Kx6UQgAACAAJ
  • Gallaway, B. (2009). Game on!: gaming at the library. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers. Retrieved from http://books.google.ca/books?id=0d7QAQAACAAJ
  • Grabianowski, E. (2012). why is the 5th edition of dungeons & dragons a big deal? io9.com. Retrieved from http://io9.com/5874922/why-is-the-5th-edition-of-dungeons–dragons-a-big-deal
  • Gray, J., Sandvoss, C., & Harrington, C. L. (2007). Introduction: Why Study Fans? In J. Gray, C. Sandvoss, & C. L. Harrington (Eds.), Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World (pp. 1–16). New York: New York University Press.
  • Harris, C., & Kirk, T. (2011). It’s All Fun and Games in the Library. Knowledge Quest, 40(1), 8–9.
  • Harris, M. (2012). Future of reading? “Active fiction” lets readers make the call. Canada.com. Retrieved from http://www.canada.com/news/Future+reading+Active+fiction+lets+readers+make+call/6038524/story.html
  • Hoenke, J. (2011). Game On! Envisioning Your Own Video Game. Justin The Librarian. Retrieved from http://justinthelibrarian.wordpress.com/category/libraries/game-on-envisioning-your-own-video-game/
  • Joseph, B. (2008). Why Johnny Can’t Fly: Treating Games as a Form of Youth Media Within a Youth Development Framework. In K. Salen (Ed.), The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning (pp. 253–265). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Mackay, D. (2001). The fantasy role-playing game: a new performing art. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co. Retrieved from http://books.google.ca/books?id=s8YRVbDknyUC
  • McGonigal, J. (2008). Why I Love Bees: A Case Study in Collective Intelligence Gaming. In K. Salen (Ed.), The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning (pp. 199–227). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Nicholson, S. (2007). Go Back to Start: Gathering Baseline Data about Gaming in Libraries. Because Play Matters. Retrieved from http://librarygamelab.org/backtostart.pdf
  • Nicholson, S. (2008a). Finish your games so you can start your schoolwork: A look at gaming in school libraries. Library Media Connection, 26(5), 52–55.
  • Nicholson, S. (2008b). Modern board games: It’s not a Monopoly any more. Library Technology Reports, 44(3), 8–10, 38–39.
  • Nicholson, S. (2008c). Reframing Gaming – Clearing up misconceptions about this increasingly popular activity. American Libraries, (7), 50–51.
  • Nicholson, S. (2009). Library gaming census report. American Libraries, 40(1/2), 44.
  • Nicholson, S. (2012). Crossed Paths: An Improvisational Storytelling Game. Because Play Matters. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/crossedpaths
  • Salen, K. (Ed.). (2008). The ecology of games: connecting youth, games, and learning. John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation series on digital media and learning. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Retrieved from http://books.google.ca/books?id=OSPQ196R3kMC
  • Sullivan, A., Mateas, M., & Wardrip-Fruin, N. (2010). Rules of engagement: moving beyond combat-based quests. Proceedings of the Intelligent Narrative Technologies III Workshop (p. 11). ACM. Retrieved from http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1822320
  • Wallis, J. (2007). Making Games That Make Stories. In P. Harrigan & N. Wardrip-Fruin (Eds.), Second Person: Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media (pp. 69–80). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Wardrip-Fruin, N., & Harrigan, P. (Eds.). (2007). Second person: role-playing and story in games and playable media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Retrieved from http://books.google.ca/books?id=P20NAQAAMAAJ
  • Wark, M. K. (2007). Gamer theory. Gamer Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Retrieved from http://books.google.ca/books?id=peytfo3E-IIC
  • White, M. M. (2008). Level 10 Human Student: The Effects of Non-Curricular Role-Playing Game Use on Academic Achievement and Self-Efficacy. Memorial University of Newfoundland. Retrieved from http://gradworks.umi.com/MR/69/MR69308.html
  • Williams, J P, Hendricks, S. Q., & Winkler, W. K. (Eds.). (2006). Gaming as culture: essays on reality, identity and experience in fantasy games. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co. Retrieved from http://books.google.ca/books?id=i7UBWz6LBK4C
  • Williams, J Patrick, Hendricks, S. Q., & Winkler, W. K. (2006). Introduction: Fantasy Games, Gaming Cultures, and Social Life. In J P Williams, S. Q. Hendricks, & W. K. Winkler (Eds.), Gaming As Culture: Essays on Reality, Identity and Experience in Fantasy Games (pp. 1–18). Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co. Retrieved from http://books.google.ca/books?id=i7UBWz6LBK4C