Thursday, April 24, 2014

Golden Era of Gaming

Many of the games of our youth were...abysmal. Seriously, going back in history, some kids at some point in time thought that the catch a ball in a cup game was fun (note: follow that link; some poor sod had to try to make it sound fun and appealing to office workers, whose lives must be so steeped in misery that the game is indeed a wild reprieve from soul-crushing duties, which really says something about this "game"). Some kids thought that hoop rolling was wild amounts of party-time fun. In our youth, we had to suffer Monopoly, Connect Four and those insufferable wooden triangle peg games that you can still find a Cracker Barrel (the place where taste goes to die - and I mean every variation of the word 'taste').

[note: holy moley...follow that last link. Someone actually devoted a web site to solving the peg game and 'amazing your friends,' which leaves me...there are no words]

Seriously, no wonder gaming took me a minute to get into when I was growing up. The root of this was the soft bigotry of lowered expectations. Adults didn't care to understand what really drives kids, and never treated them like they had brains that can comprehend and thrive in competitive environments which require creative thought. So ultimately a kid would play for hours with catch-a-ball-in-a-cup...because that's all they were given. there really any comparison??
But then along came Axis and Allies, Conquest of Empire, Fortress America, Shogun (now renamed Ikusa), Dungeons and Dragons, and Car Wars, just to name a few...and gaming was suddenly never going to be the same.

All of that to say: read this article from Though I do have a quibble with one of their "ruined it for everyone" board games, I largely agree with their assessment of older soul-crushing games, and games you should be playing instead. Some Gamer Dad favorites are on the "play this instead" list.

I am thrilled that my kids are coming-of-gaming-age in an era with so many really challenging but totally fun games on the market. Game makers have realized for some time now that kids aren't stupid, that kids thrive on imagination and challenge, and that people want to be entertained when they play games. I don't have to goad and cajole my kids to play Candy Land or Hungry Hippos; they want to crush giant robots with giant aliens over Tokyo, slowly drive each other mad by calling on Old Ones, and eat braaaaaaaaiiiiins. This may be the golden era of gaming. And now I get to play games like a kid...because I have kids who want to play games.

Monday, April 14, 2014

I am the King of Tokyo

From atop the smoldering ruins of Edo castle, Meka Dragon lets forth a fiery blast of mechanically made flame.

For once, the dice favor me.  I have rolled four little claws to deal damage to all the other monsters battling me over Tokyo.  With a sinister glare I remind my kids, my opponents, that I have the Fire Breathing card in play and my neighbors both take an extra point of damage.  With a sigh of relief they think they'll get another turn to unseat me.  Then I reveal my evolution,  Mecha Blast, which adds two more points of damage to my attack, for a total of seven damage.  Alienoid was resting on 7 health, and now he rests in peace.  Boogey Woogey still felt safe sitting on 6 health, but he too was reduced to ash, leaving only Meka Dragon standing.  Neither of my kids could deny that I was the King of Tokyo....Well, at least for a few minutes.

I picked up King of Tokyo a couple months ago and my family and I have been playing ever since.  We enjoy it so much that I carried it to Florida in my carry on and we played several games every morning for a week.  And everyone played, my wife, all four kids and myself.  Not in every game, but we all played!

The premise is easy, everyone is playing a giant monster attacking Tokyo.  Two stats define your monsters Health and Victory points.  Your health hits Zero and you're out. Your Victory points hit 20, you win.  Now, during the game you can purchase cards which affect how your monster plays.

Game play is driven by dice..  Each turn you start with six dice, all of which are the same.  The sides  are 1,2,3, Energy, Damage and Health. Yatchzee style, you get an original throw of all the dice and two rerolls of any or all dice.  When you are done rolling you collect what you rolled. EAMPLE: You end with two dice showing Energy, three dice showing twos and the last die showing three, (E, E, 2, 2, 2, 3) you would collect two Energy tokens and two victory points as the Numbers on the dice need to be collected in triplicate.  So the last die showing three is wasted.  (In one lucky roll, my wife rolled 1,1,2,2,3,3 and earned nothing and discovered the worst possible roll of the dice...!)

So you damage your foes, heal yourself, collect victory points and energy.  Energy is used to buy cards.  The cards are what make the monsters different.  With enough energy collected you can purchase cards like Extra Head, roll an extra die on your turn...(The game comes with two extra dice.)...Nova Breath which allows your attacks to damage all other monsters...Rapid Healing allows you to swap Energy for Health.

And that is about it, there are a couple mechanics I didn't cover like controlling Tokyo, but when it all boils down it is FUN, simple game that the whole family can enjoy.  Roll the dice and spend your resources to become the King of Tokyo!

Since the game release, two expansions have been released to add to the original game.

The first one is Power Up!

In Power Up!, we find a new character Pandakai (Who owns the Evolution, Eats, Shoots and Leaves.) and a new set of cards, Evolutions.

The Power Up expansion adds Evolution cards which help define each monster - The basic game has every monster identical except for cards, the expansion helps give each monster a "feel"...Meka-Dragon is much better at dealing damage.  The Kraken (A Cthulhu type monster.) can take advantage of his sunken temple.  The King (Only missing the Kong.) brings all monkey themed evolutions and Cyber Bunny can wield the Electric Carrot if he plays his dice right...Evolutions add a simple rule, if you roll three Hearts/Health on one turn, you draw an evolution.

The second expansion is going to be hard to find soon, as it was a limited printing for LAST Halloween.   In King of Tokyo: Halloween we find two new characters (The Pumpkin King and Boogey Woogey) complete with their own sets of Evolution cards.  There is also an orange set of dice.  At first this seemed totally frivolous to me, but after so many four player games played on the floor having a spare set of dice on the other side of the board was pretty nice.

The Halloween expansions also introduces costumes.  A monster can wear one costume at any given time, and each costume changes your monster a little.  Wearing the Astronaut?  You win at 17 victory points instead of 20.  Wearing a Vampire costume?  Then you heal one point when you damage another monster.

Overall, I cannot recommend this game enough...Easy..Fun..Accessible for all the gamer levels in your house.

On Greg's recommendation, the Smitty clan bought the game as well.  Since then, less than a week ago, we've played several times already.  This game is an absolute hoot.
Giga Zaur wins the day
Thing 2 was the Smitty clan's first official winner, with Thing 1 being the most recent.  I...still haven't beat my kids.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Ia! Ia! Cthulhu Fhtagn!

Gale-force winds blew chilling rain at steep, stinging angles. The gray sky overhead managed to be both depressing and menacing, inspiring a general sense of loathing that only Michigan weather can achieve.

Ia! Ia! Cthulhu Fhtagn!
The recipe was perfect, then, for chaos in the house.  Boys on the edge, casting sideways glances mixed with mistrustful snarls. The situation needed to be defused.

What better way, then, to head-off chaos and insanity and back-stabbing than by a game which is based on: chaos and insanity and back-stabbing! Steve Jackson Games Cthulhu Dice (the maker of one of our family-favorite games, Zombie Dice) saved the interior of our house while simultaneously destroying our collective sanity - more constructively than where the boys were headed!

The goal of the game is simple: you try to destroy or steal your enemy cultists' sanity (those red stones) while hoarding and protecting your own.  All it takes is to declare your target cultist, and a simple roll of the beautiful metal die. The symbol that comes up defines what happens to your prey.  But beware: your target...gets to retaliate! Worse: every now and then, nobody wins but Cthulhu himself.

The boys - as young as they are - easily understand this game, and in a household with the propensity to explode into testosterone-laden violence when too pent-up, this game is a hilarious way to get "revenge" on all of the perceived breakfast table slights, back seat sitting-too-closes, and room entrance violations.  Highly recommended; a single game takes 5 - 10 minutes so it's easy to do a best-of-5 or best-of-7.

FYI: one of the twins - 5 (nearly 6) years old - was the winner of our best-of-7 challenge.  The rest of us were driven insane as J towered above us, a paragon of sanity...and cruelty.

I'm so proud.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Hollow Mountain Comics

Not an epic post by any means, but one that I feel is important!

With the loss of 21st Century Comics & Games we were left with only the Fortress.  (Which after listening to Wil Wheaton, I need to NOT comment on...)

Luckily two local guys shared my opinion of the Fortress and decided to fill the void of comic shops here in East Lansing.  Gabe and Aaron have opened a new shop in town, Hollow Mountain Comics.  The shop is really nice and really small, maybe 1/4 of what 21st was.  But these guys have packed a bunch in and are super easy to work with, they are cool on special orders and holds and are "normal" gamers.  In fact, I saw a girl in the shop once...If you don't know the importance of that find that Big Bang Theory that has Penny going to buy Spider Man comics...comic BOOKS...for her nephew.

Anyway, stop by and visit Hollow Mountain!  Maybe I'll see you there!

Here is their web site:

And where are they?  The are on the eastern end of Grand River, where it is still the student area.  They are below that Chinese restaurant that apparently everyone except me has eaten at....Here is the official address:

611 East Grand River Ave, Downstairs, East Lansing, MI

The Down - But Up Again - Side of Gaming

Wil Wheaton - of Star Trek, Big Bang Theory, and YouTube's TableTop host - attended (as he often does) a gaming convention in Denver.  As he states in his post on the topic, a young woman asked him if he was ever ridiculed for being a gamer, or, a "nerd."  She was apparently being bullied in school for things that seem so silly now in our adult years: having the audacity to like school, or being interested in science, or for enjoying games that aren't sports.

His reply has gone viral.  Here's the vid, with the transcript below:

When I was a boy I was called a nerd all the time—because I didn’t like sports, I loved to read, I liked math and science, I thought school was really cool—and it hurt a lot. Because it’s never ok when a person makes fun of you for something you didn’t choose. You know, we don’t choose to be nerds. We can’t help it that we like these things—and we shouldn’t apologize for liking these things.
I wish that I could tell you that there is really easy way to just not care, but the truth is it hurts. But here’s the thing that you might be able to understand—as a matter of fact I’m confident you will be able to understand this because you asked this question…
When a person makes fun of you, when a person is cruel to you, it has nothing to do with you. It’s not about what you said. It’s not about what you did. It’s not about what you love. It’s about them feeling bad about themselves. They feel sad.
They don’t get positive attention from their parents. They don’t feel as smart as you. They don’t understand the things that you understand. Maybe one of their parents is pushing them to be a cheerleader or a baseball player or an engineer or something they just don’t want to do. So they take that out on you because they can’t go and be mean to the person who’s actually hurting them.
So, when a person is cruel to you like that, I know that this is hard, but honestly the kind and best reaction is to pity them. And don’t let them make you feel bad because you love a thing.
Maybe find out what they love and talk about how they love it. I bet you find out that a person who loves tetherball, loves tetherball in exactly the same way that you love Dr. Who, but you just love different things.
And I will tell you this — it absolutely gets better as you get older.
I know it’s really hard in school when you’re surrounded by the same 400 people a day that pick on you and make you feel bad about yourself. But there’s 50,000 people here this weekend who went through the exact same thing—and we’re all doing really well.
So don’t you ever let a person make you feel bad because you love something they decided is only for nerds. You’re loving a thing that’s for you.

I was...lucky.  I was good at - and liked - Teh Sports (Go Sports! Yay!), and hung out with gamers and "jocks" alike. I never had to suffer what some of my friends did, and I spoke up and spoke out.  In retrospect, I should have done it even more.  In retrospect, nobody should ever have to apologize for or have someone stick up for loving what (OR WHOM) they love.

I hope my kids don't GAF, and love what they love, and stay interested in what they are interested in. But it was nice to hear Wheaton's remarks, because he really worked to encourage the young woman.  I feel like there's a cultural shift under way, where being nerdy is cool.  Knowing stuff is popular, and gaming is just recreation, not a stigma.  May this shift grow exponentially.