Thursday, December 29, 2022

Trekking Through History

The 22nd greatest board game of all time is: Trekking Through History!

In Trekking Through History, you're a frackin' time traveler! How awesome is that!?

I'll tell you how awesome ... 

Image by Rascozion on Board Game Geek

In Trekking Through History you're taking a time travel vacation, visiting important historical events to witness them first hand, saying, "Hey!" to your great, great, great, great, great, great grand cousin, and cool stuff like that.

Each trip you take has to follow a linear path, temporally speaking, so if you go fly with Amelia Earhart in 1937 and then join the moon landing in 1969, you can't go back to see the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. At least not on that trip. But, don't fret! You can take as many "hops" through time as you want. It's just the more stuff you can fit into a single trip the more points you earn towards victory. (Think of it as the Time Travel Booking Agency giving you a package deal discount!)

All the various time travel destinations are beautifully depicted on tarot sized playing cards. On the card is the date, the title of the historical event, a number that tells you how much time you'll spend of your vacation to see the event, and some resources.

The resources represent the benefits you get from the experience, and players are collecting those as another way to earn victory points. The events that provide the greatest benefits also take up the most time. Everyone only has so much time travel vacation miles saved up, so you have to use them wisely.

Players balance visiting destinations with higher benefits against trying to manage their time, and trying to hit as many spots in chronological order as they can from the destinations (cards) available. This makes for a really satisfying puzzle.

Trekking Through History is a light family-friendly game with wonderful art, an incredible theme and really engaging game play. Everything comes together beautifully to make Trekking Through History the 22nd Greatest Game of all TIME!!

(Oh and the backs of the destination cards tell all about the historical event pictured on the front of the card. The stories are friendly and accessible, If you want to, you can actually learn a little something while you play. Completely optional, but I always do!) 

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Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write

I thought it might be fun to talk about some of my favorite board games. Since we are moving very soon into the year 2023, I've decided to share my top 23 board games of all time. I'll begin with number 23 and work my way to number one.

My number 23 favorite board game is:

Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write

As the pun-ish reference implies, this is a roll-and-write style game. When playing these sorts of games, players roll dice and then record results on a sheet in front of them. (Think: Yahtzee.) In the case of Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write, it's two sheets. In Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write players are competing to build the best dinosaur infested amusement park. (The game is very much inspired by the Jurassic Park movie franchise.)

Box and components – Uploaded by Frannob85
image by Frannob85 - board game geek

The dice are big chonky amber colored cubes that are very satisfying to roll on the table. After the dice are rolled, players take turns selecting dice to use. The dice faces show various resources that you can claim or actions that you can take. Each player will end up with 2 dice to use each turn, and there will be a third die left over that all players can use at the end.

The main resource is DNA. You use DNA to clone dinosaurs. You want this because dinosaurs equal excitement, and excitement equals victory. You have to be careful though because dinosaurs also equal danger, and if you have too much unmitigated danger, people will die. Letting people die will hurt your chances at victory. Other resources include income to pay for everything (that's really important,) and security used to mitigate danger.

As you build your park, you get to draw little shapes on graph paper and then take guests around on tours to earn income and build excitement. The game offers a great resource management puzzle as you try to add more and more attractions to build excitement and have enough money to keep your security up to snuff so people don't start becoming dinosaur chow.

The theme is fun, and the game is quite crunchy. This isn't your grandma's game of Yahtzee. Modern "roll and writes" can be deep, fully realized board game experiences, and Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write is certainly that. But, the really awesome part about the roll-and-write format is that there's almost zero set up and tear down time. You spend all your time playing the game!! That makes this format one of my favorites, and Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write my 23rd favorite board game!

Feel free to join the discussion over at my Facebook Group or leave a comment below!

Sunday, December 25, 2022

The Christmas Tree Effect


Royal Treasures is a tactical card game of fantasy combat and adventure for one player.

To play Royal Treasures, you will need some method of note taking, a standard deck of 52 playing cards, some table-top space and this document. 

To introduce you to Royal Treasures, I want to talk about something called, "the Christmas tree effect." The Christmas tree effect was the perception, from the earliest days of table-top role-playing games, that characters were defined by the accumulation of magic items. Such shiny glowing treasures (amulets, rings, weapons, armors, etc.) were said to dangle from characters like lights and ornaments from a Christmas tree. 

Over the years the Christmas tree effect came to be recognized as a weakness in game design. Later editions of the world's most famous role-playing game worked to eliminate the Christmas tree effect. Emphasis shifted to class, skills, abilities and powers, elements considered easier to balance and regulate. 

Royal Treasures is a game built around the pretense that the Christmas tree effect, and the disproportionate emphasis that it places on the accumulation of treasure, is actually what made early RPGs so much fun!

Your character starts out as an average, everyday, unremarkable person living in a fantasy world. Your character owns nothing of any special worth, and they have no experience. As your character finds items of equipment that they can wear or carry, they will grow in power and utility. In Royal Treasures such valuable items are called Royalties, and for every Royalty that your character has equipped the value of their Reputation (shortened to "Repute" in these rules) goes up.

The quality of the Royalties that your character will be able to find improves based on the value of their Repute. So, the more treasures you collect, the better treasures you will find, but beware! The more Repute you have, the more appealing a target you become, and the more powerful monsters you attract!

You will battle monsters using cards, and then gather your royal treasure! Your abilities in combat are not defined by such arbitrary things as character levels or experience points. All that matters is the gear that you have equipped. In Royal Treasures, "Clothes maketh the hero!"

You will enjoy Royal Treasures, if you enjoy ... 

  • Tactical skirmish combat using playing cards.
  • Collecting treasure after every battle.
  • Watching your character evolve in unexpected ways.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Double Trouble

To distinguish it from previous versions, I have renamed the latest iteration of "Five By Five" calling the new version, "Double Trouble." A playtest version of the game is available if you'd like to try it out.

Feel free to share your feedback here or on my Facebook Group. Or at my new blog: Comic Book Heart.


Friday, December 23, 2022

Runnin’ With the Devil

I mentioned in the post: My Grail RPG, that my latest project is a redesign/reimagining of the SAGA System, and that the redesign will utilize a standard deck of playing cards in place of the Fate Deck. While this is all true, it is only part of the story. 

CTE (That's the name of my game. More on that next post.) has two major influences: SAGA and Diablo. Specifically, Diablo II: The Awakening, which was published after the acquisition of TSR by Wizards of the Coast, and is, I believe, the last thing ever published with the TSR logo on it.

Before I get into talking about The Awakening, I want to give a shout out to one other influence: Rangers of Shadowdeep. If you clicked on the link, you will notice that it takes you to: Board Game Geek. That's because Rangers of Shadowdeep is very much a board game. 

Rangers of Shadowdeep is a board game in book form. The book provides all the rules, and you provide all the board game components. It's brilliant really, (and a great game!) and while I had attempted something like this before in Sky Ace, I never considered it on this scale. So, a shout out goes to Rangers of Shadowdeep for opening my eyes to the possibilities of this format.

(Sky Ace reveals how long I've been fiddling with these card based mechanics. The 24 Hour RPG version was written on June 22, 2005. Its mechanisms were greatly inspired by the SAGA system.)

CTE is going to be just that: a board game in book form. Specifically, it will be a solitaire adventure board game in book form. "Solitaire" meaning that it is designed to be played by one player in what board gamers refer to as: solo-mode. 

(Now let's get to the "devil" in this post.)

So ... what does Diablo II: The Awakening have that I want for my newest game design? 

It has magic items. It has tables and tables of magic items and equipment inspired by the methods presented in the Diablo computer game. For those who haven't played Diablo, equipment is listed as: adjective, noun, preposition. The "noun" is the basic item. The adjective and preposition aspects are optional and provide additional (often magical) elements to the base item.

In the post: Fight A Slime, you go into battle armed with a club. "Club" obviously, is the "noun." 

Using the Diablo item creation mechanics. that "Club" could be a "Deadly Club." It could be a "Club of Fire," or it could be a, "Deadly Club of Fire."  The adjective, "deadly" might increase the club's "hack" bonus, adding an additional +2♥, and the preposition, "of fire" could bump the club's "harm" bonus by another +1, and in the process convert all "harm" damage done into "fire" based damage. (I use, "might" and "could" here because these rules are still very much in flux.)

I have been fascinated by these item creation tables for years. I even attempted to run this campaign for my game group back when it came out. I say attempted because the game did not actually fare very well at the table. It just didn't work.

So, why am I using it?

That comes down to the matter of expectations of the player(s). I had a great deal of fun playing with the random tables in the Awakening, rolling up items just to see what I'd get. Generally speaking, in a role-playing group environment however, rolling on tables isn't what you are there for. Rolling everything in advance keeps things moving more quickly, but somehow something is lost in the translation. Overall, I don't think I was the only one who had this kind of experience. I believe most people who own this, keep it for the joy of reading it rather than playing it.

On the other hand, the expectations of the solo gamer are quite different. Much of the solo experience is centered around rolling for events and outcomes on random tables to see what happens. That's what the Awakening does really well! Back when the Awakening came out, solo-RPG play wasn't really a thing. Now, there is a huge community of solo-RPG gamers. I think that if the Awakening were released today and redesigned ever so slightly to support solo play, that it would be a run away hit! That is what I plan to capitalize on with the creation of CTE.

(I bet running Diablo II: The Awakening solo using Scarlet Heroes would be a blast!!)

More CTE coming on Christmas Day! In the meantime feel free to join my Facebook Group to discuss this post and anything related to RPG's and geekdom! Stay tuned!!

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Fight A Slime

The innkeeper at your local hostelry has offered you a reward for the extermination of a slime that has found its way into his cellar. (He would handle the job himself but the blobby, amorphous creature gives him the yicks.) He gives you the club that he keeps behind the bar to cow rowdy drunks, and wishes you luck. The large club is unwieldy and probably looks more threatening than it is, but it's better than nothing.

You now have: Club [MH] +2♥ (crushing)

(Shuffle your deck and lay three cards face up in a row in front of you. This is called your tableau.) 

Each of the suits in the deck of cards corresponds to an action that you can take in combat.

♥ Hearts correspond to the Hitting action.

"Your club is used for HITTING monsters."

When you take the Hitting action, you play a card from your tableau in order to strike an enemy with a melee attack. The card that you play does not have to be Hearts. You can play a card of any suit.

However, when you perform the Hitting action, the suit of Hearts is trump.

Playing A Card

To play a card, select one of the three from your tableau and place it in a discard next to the card deck. The number shown on the card is called your "effort." If the card doesn't have a number (Ace, King, Queen or Jack) then the effort is equal to 5.

To the effort you add any bonuses related to the action. Bonuses related to an action are designated by the trump suit symbol for that action. Since the Trump suit for the Hitting action is Hearts, bonuses to the Hitting action are denoted by the hearts symbol: ♥.  

The club that the innkeeper gave you, grants a bonus to effort for Hitting actions.

Club [MH] +2♥ (crushing)

The last piece of information (crushing) refers to the type of damage the weapon inflicts. This isn't important right now, but later it will make a difference.

The [MH] means that the club is equipped in your Main Hand. All treasure is designated a specific location where it can be equipped, called a branch. You can only equip one treasure at each branch. 

The +2♥ means that the club grants a +2 bonus to effort for Hitting actions. (You know this because the ♥ symbol is the trump suit for the Hitting action.)

Hint: Hitting and Hearts both begin with the letter H.

Playing Trump

When you play a card that matches the trump suit for the action, take the top card off the draw deck and place it with the card played on the discard pile. The effort for the action is now equal to the sum of these cards added together. This is known as Playing Trump.

Exploding Results

If the card that is added to the played card is also trump, draw an additional card and add that one too. Continue doing this until you draw a card that is not of the trump suit for the action in question. All cards played for this action are then added together for potentially massive outcomes. This is known as an Exploding Result.

You descend the stairs into the cellar to face the slime. The monster emits a foul odor that smells of rotten eggs. As you approach, you catch sight of it in the lantern light. It is shaped like a gumdrop nearly three feet in height. Its color is a pale purple, and its skin, if you can call it that, is translucent, nearly transparent. Inside it at the center of its mass floats a single eyeball about the size of a grapefruit. It quivers at you, and you shiver back. (No wonder the innkeeper didn't want to deal with this himself.)

The Three M's

Monsters are defined by three M's: Menace, Might, and Mojo.

  • Menace (Me) – This is the number that you are trying to beat with your effort. For every point over this number the effort of your attack has attained, the monster loses one Might.

  • Might (Mi) – This is the amount of life or health the monster has. It becomes reduced when the monster is damaged by an attack. When Might is reduced to zero or less, the monster is defeated.

  • Mojo (Mo) – This covers any special rules or effects that are specific to the given monster.


Menace: 6

Might: 8

Mojo: The slime doesn't attack, but it emits a noxious odor that causes its attacker to take damage. Each time that you damage the slime, after reducing the slime's menace, flip one card. If the card suit is red, you take one damage.

Time To Attack

Attack the slime by playing a card from your tableau. This is a Hitting action. You will add the +2♥ bonus from your club to the effort of any card played. If you play the suit of hearts remember to flip over the top card of the deck and add this to your effort per the playing trump rules.

Inflict Damage

For every point over the slime's menace of 6 that your Hitting effort is, the slime loses 1 Might. This is referred to as, "inflicting damage."

Record Damage

When you play your card and calculate damage that you've done to the slime, track any loss of Might in your notes. This damage carries over into the next round of combat.

Example: None of the cards in your tableau are hearts, so you decide to play your highest card which is a 9 of spades. To this you add the +2♥ bonus that the club gives you whenever you perform the hitting action. Your total effort is 11 (9 + 2.) You inflict 5 damage (effort 11 - menace 6 = 5). This means that for the next round of the fight the slime has only 3 (8 - 5 = 3) Might remaining.

The Monster's Turn

After you have recorded any damage done to the slime, draw one card. This ends your turn. If you didn't defeat the slime (reducing its Might to 0) then according to the Mojo for the slime, you must flip a card and take damage if the card's suit is red.

Take Damage 

To take damage you must choose a card from your tableau and turn it face down. You cannot play a face down card. If all cards in your tableau are face down, then you have been defeated. You survive if any card in your tableau remains face up. If you survive, you can attack again, but remember that you can't play any face down cards.

Continue The Fight

Play another card to attack the slime again (don't forget the playing trump rule and to add your weapon bonus to your effort). If your effort exceeds the slime's menace, inflict damage as described above. End your turn by drawing a card. If the slime survived then check to see if you take damage. Repeat these steps until you or the slime are defeated.

Did You Win?

If you reduce the slime to zero (or less) Might, then you have won and are able to return to the innkeeper in Victory. If every card in your tableau is face down, then the slime has defeated you. Reset the Slime's Might to 6, redraw three new cards into your tableau, and try again. (Heroes never die during the tutorial!)

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

My Grail RPG

Board game hobbyists are sometimes known to speak of their “grail game.” This is that one game that they would love to have in their collection that is either too expensive to obtain, or perhaps nearly impossible to find. Like the Holy Grail of lore, the game has become the object of a quest that can sometimes span years. It occurred to me that I don’t often (or indeed have I ever) heard an RPG gamer speak about their “grail RPG.” Is it that we RPG grognards (such as we are) simply never get rid of anything?

A project that has my recent focus, and one that I have fiddled with on and off for years is an implementation of the SAGA game rules introduced by TSR back in 1996. I’ve perceived the card deck component (called: the deck of fate) as a weakness (which indeed it is, more on that in a moment) and have tried to construct a method that would allow the SAGA rules to work as well with a standard deck of playing cards. This has had me thinking about and reviewing the SAGA rules a lot lately.

I have all of the rules from the Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game that was published in 1998. This game is an overlooked gem of game design. It uses the SAGA system and is the game that I have been focused on as I work to create a rules set free of reliance on the Fate Deck and on the Marvel Super Hero IP. But the Marvel Game isn’t the only game that used the SAGA system. The system originated in 1996 with DragonLance: Fifth Age. I used to have all of (or most of) the products from this line as well. I currently have none of it.

Somewhere along the way, all of the DragonLance: Fifth Age materials that I possessed were lost. This stuff is not cheap to replace. However, thanks to the persistence of old-school gamers like myself, old games are never forgotten and are constantly being reborn. This has created the movement known as the “Old School Renaissance” and thanks to it, Wizards of the Coast has made a huge catalog of classic RPG publications available in PDF format. Most of the DragonLance: Fifth Age library is among them. But, the Fate Deck - the cards needed to play the game are not available. They are nowhere to be found. (See? Weakness!)

So, for me - DragonLance: Fifth Age is my grail RPG. It’s the game system that I would love to see returned to my game shelves probably more than any other.

What about you? Do you have a “Grail RPG?” Leave a comment or join the discussion on my Facebook Group. I'd love to hear from you!