Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Kickstarting Board Games

Julie (I'm Julie's husband - for those not in the know.) and I got five new board games in the mail yesterday. This surprise delivery was the result of a Kickstarter that we backed featuring four new small box board games from a company called, Allplay Games (formerly Board Game Tables).

We already own a few games from this publisher, "Bites" about ants at a picnic trying to get the most food, and "On Tour" about musicians touring the country with their band trying to hit the most cities. These games have been a hit at our gaming table, and I think Julie in particular loves them both.

So, we backed a Kickstarter featuring four new games by this publisher based on the quality and enjoyment that we have gotten from the previous games. Plus, the games all looked pretty good and being "small box" games, they weren't very expensive. We even added a fifth small box game to the mix because we were able to include it at a discounted price.

Kickstarter is an interesting phenomenon in the board game hobby. As a source for crowd funding, it allows consumers like us to support creators in the manufacture of products that we want. This is a good thing, because a creator can produce something that might otherwise be completely ignored by the population at large.

Mass market publishers like Hasbro publish board games. They focus on creating family games that will appeal to the largest portion of the population at large. The thing is, the population at large doesn't play board games. (At least, not yet. Julie and I keep doing our part to spread the love.)

Crowd funding allows small publishers to reach a small market by removing some of the risk placed on the publisher. In the world of crowd funded projects, the investor is also the consumer. This means that the publisher is receiving both operating capital and a customer base at the same time.

There is a problem with this. The risk while reduced for the publisher is not completely eliminated, and what remains is being placed firmly on the shoulders of the investor. The investor is you ... me, the consumer. We invest because we want the product. We purchase a product sight unseen, based on a promise. But, there are no guarantees. This is an investment, a gamble. It's not a preorder.

Julie and I have been burned by this in the past. One of our investments didn't pay off. The company producing a game that we Kickstarted went bankrupt and our investment was lost. A few games that we have backed, just weren't very good. One in particular that I can think of was an absolute stinker. This has proven to be the exception, not the rule for us, and there are ways to minimize the risk. Like going with companies that have a proven track record, as we did with Allplay.

The board gaming hobby has exploded over the last few years growing exponentially. Despite this, it's still very much a niche market. Crowd funding is still the best way to make sure that interesting quality games reach our table. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose, but investing in that risk helps this hobby evolve in new and exciting ways.

Allplay is a fairly new company. They started out making board game tables and only started making actual board games over the past few years. Julie and I like the idea of small box games that are affordable and easy to get to the table, like those offered in the Kickstarter. Yes! Let's support more of that. So, we backed, and we will back again and again to help our hobby grow.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Fate & Fortune

My newest project has a name. It's, "Fate & Fortune." My incredibly talented artist daughter, Kaylee has drawn a character (a dwarf) for me to feature on the cover. Today, we are moving Kaylee into her dorm at Central Michigan University for her first year of college. So, I thought it might be cool to share Fate & Fortune's cover to commemorate the day. 

Thanks, Kaylee! Enjoy college life! (I am going to miss you so much!)

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Power Pack Team Ups

The next several Power Pack mini-series were Team-Up titles featuring Power Pack with other heavy hitters from the Marvel Universe.

They meet the X-Men, The Avengers and Spider-Man among others.

The team-up books are a lot of fun. In the Avengers book Kang ends up projecting the Power Pack into an alternate future where they meet grown-up versions of themselves. It's really cool.

The books are action packed while still retaining their sense of humor and fun. (I love this exchange between Katie and Spider-Woman!)

And although these are "All Ages Books" that are meant to be family friendly, they don't talk down to their audience. There's some real content here, including genuine suspense and even terror. An example of this mix in storytelling is prevalent in the Spider-Man team-up book. In one arch Spider-Man is reduced in age to a child and becomes an honorary member of Power Pack.

But in the next story, the venom symbiot possesses Katie's Power Pack costume. There is a scene where the symbiot takes control of Katie, consuming her while she is sleeping in the safety of her bed. Honestly, I think this is one of the most terrifying images that I have seen in a comic book.

Maybe it's the generally light nature of the books that makes this image seem so very harsh to me, but it really got me.

These Power Pack books are truly great. They have more to them than you might expect, and they have gotten me interested in exploring other Marvel Age titles.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Work Continues And Evolves

I spent months working on Royal Treasures, then months working on Double Zero. RT was an attempt to make a solo board game campaign book in the mold of Rangers of Shadowdeep, but using my own version of the SAGA game system introduced by TSR in the mid 90's. DZ was an attempt to create an RPG zine that took Mike Pondsmith's very excellent and abandoned RPG system from the early 90's, Dream Park and make it compatible with the vast library of RPG materials currently being produced for the OSR, while also combining it with my own RPG design, Five By Five.

Play testing Royal Treasures has left me a bit disheartened because I just can't get engaged in the experience. The truth is, I'm not a solo gamer. While I like the idea of a good solo dungeon crawl, I wouldn't know one if it hit me in the face, because I don't play them. I think the mechanisms of RT are strong, but I have no way of knowing what kind of results my play tests are producing, because I don't play solo games. I've never gotten into them before. I shouldn't be designing one.

Play testing DZ has me struggling to make the Five By Five game system function within the parameters that I've set for it and finding that the result is not intuitive. Five By Five worked because it was super rules light and free form. Making it into something else makes it not work. DZ is broken, which is a tragedy because I think its chock full of some really good ideas.

I find myself pivoting once again. Both Dream Park and SAGA (specifically the Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game) are RPG favorites from my past. The work that I have done on both of these projects shouldn't go to waste. I am going to continue work on DZ, but I am dropping the Five By Five game mechanics and replacing them with my version of the SAGA system. In effect I am combining all my efforts of the last year into a new project.

I don't know if anyone reads this (or the reposts in my Facebook Group), but I think it's important to maintain this blog (just for me.) So, I'll keep sharing progress here, and maybe talking about comics or board games too.



Wednesday, August 09, 2023

Power Pack (2005)

One of my favorite comic book runs from the last days of the bronze age of comics is Marvel Comics' Power Pack. Created by Louise Simonson and June Brigman in 1984, the comic featured a group of four young siblings, two brothers and two sisters. The kids obtained superpowers from a pony like alien called Whitey to fight an alien invasion of lizard men creatures called the Snarks.

In 2005 Marvel relaunched Power Pack as part of their "All Ages" brand. I'm 58 years old. Yet, I am finding this comic book title labeled: All Ages (which usually translates as "for kids") one of the most enjoyable reads of the past 20 years.

This relaunch of Power Pack was published as a series of mini-series, and looking back now, it's pretty tough to figure out the reading order without a score card. I thought that I might enjoy reviewing each mini-series in order beginning with the first one: Power Pack (2005).

The book starts with a brief retelling of Power Pack's origin story. This is done in the form of a comic book written and draw by the youngest member of the team as a "What I did over my summer vacation." sort of report for her return to school.

The kids "freak out" at this, as they fear Katie's report will expose their secret identities endangering their friends and their parents. A conflict ensues and Katie ends up using her powers at the kids' home, revealing their location (and the secret of their identities) to their arch enemies the Snarks.

A Snark scout by the name of Skratt ends up attacking the Power Pack at their home but is repelled. (He will be back.) Katie ultimately decides not to endanger the teams secret with her school report and everything wraps up nicely by the end of the issue. While the four issue mini-series is connected, each issue is episodic and self contained. (Something that I really like and appreciate -- much like Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.)

Each issue of the four issue mini-series focuses on one of the kids. This first issue is Katie's issue. I love Katie, she is absolutely adorable and fun. The whole premise and presentation of Power Pack is fun! That's what I love about this series. It's what I love about comic books. I realize that comic books have proven themselves capable of so much more as literature, but when it comes down to it, I'm here for the fun.

Issue 2 features big brother Alex, the oldest member of the team. While the youngest siblings, Katie and Jack tend to fight, the two older kids, Alex and Julie get along well. Julie even proves what an awesome friend she can be by introducing her brother to a friend that he has a crush on. (I can testify that all "Julie's" are cool.)

Alex has a date, but as luck would have it, it's on the same night that mom and dad are going out for their anniversary dinner, and Alex, being the oldest, has to babysit. Alex is afraid that rescheduling their first date would set a bad precedent, but younger sister Julie comes to the rescue again offering to cover for her brother so that he can go out.

Of course, things go wrong. Jack and Katie sneak off and mess with Dad's inter-dimensional portal that he's been building in the basement. (Dad is a scientist, after all.) The kids end up summoning a giant squid monster as one does, and Alex has to rush home, cutting his date short.

At home Alex helps clear up the squid menace, and later his date Caitlin proves just how cool she is (and what an awesome judge of character Julie is) when she reschedules their date. She understands the responsibilities of an older sibling, having two little brothers of her own. Alex's love life is saved.

Issue #3 is Jack's issue. The Powers are on a family camping trip. On their way to the camp ground they not only see a mysterious (and very out of place) medieval castle, they also fight a Doombot while getting groceries for their cookout.

This one's pretty much an all action issue, which is appropriate for a Jack issue. That night, Jack runs off to investigate the castle and ends up getting captured by Dr. Doom himself, but he's not the only one. Johnny Storm, the Human Torch is also Doom's Prisoner. 

The rest of the Power Pack discover Jack missing and quickly deduce where he has gone. Their rescue attempt might have gone wrong if not for the timely intervention of the Fantastic Four (there to rescue Johnny.) Together, Power Pack and the Fantastic Four manage to save their respective family members.

In the end, both Jack and Johnny learn a lesson about running off without your teammates, and the Powers family ends up having their cookout with the Fantastic Four. Cool!

The fourth and final issue of the inaugural all ages Power Pack mini-series features Julie (my favorite character.)  Julie is fed up with playing second fiddle to Alex and with all the fighting between her younger siblings. She is considering leaving the Power Pack. 

This decision is pushed to the breaking point when Jack sneaks a peek at her diary and reveals her plans to Alex. Later at the mall, the group is called to action by a news report, but Julie opts to stay behind with her friends. She isn't in Power Pack anymore!

The threat that the others go to investigate turns out to be a trap set by the Snark, Skratt (remember him?) and Julie's three siblings are captured. Skratt has plans to kill the kids to further his own glory (kinda dark) but wants the full set of four. So, he takes his prisoners back to their home, knowing that Julie will return there eventually.

Julie hears about the capture of Power Pack on the news and realizes that although they might have their ups and downs, the Power Pack is her family and she has to save them. At the house, Julie sneaks in through a window. (Skratt didn't see that coming!) and manages to free the others.

Julie then tricks Skratt into chasing her into the basement where they use dad's inter-dimensional portal thingy (Remember Alex's issue?) to feed Skratt to the giant Squid (kinda dark.) Ultimately, all is right with the world and Julie is back with her team. She didn't really want to leave, but sometime when brothers read your diary, it makes you mad.

That's all four issues of Power Pack (2005) in a nutshell. The issues also included little back-up shorts, which were an obvious rip off of Calvin and Hobbs, featuring Franklin Richards and Herbie the Robot. I didn't really think they were all that funny, and they don't appear in any of the mini-series that follow.