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Nobody Likes a Goblin

I read to my three-year old daughter almost every night.  It’s one of the highlights of my day.  Usually we read three or four stories depending on the length of each.  Nobody Likes a Goblin, by Ben Hatke, stood out enough that I want to write about it.  It just might be her favorite book.  I got it from my local library and over the two weeks we had it we read it at least once per day.

To give you an idea how much she liked it, she could say what was happening in each frame and say the dialog that went with it.  Sometimes when she’s this enthusiastic about a particular book it can be annoying.  In the case of Goblin, I didn’t mind the repeated readings.

Nobody Likes a Goblin is a tale about a goblin living in the ruins of a castle whose world is turned upside down by adventurers.  I don’t want to say much more about the story because it might spoil it.  No really, it has a genuine twist that is really fun.

It turns the Dungeons and Dragons traditions on their head with it hero, the three-foot goblin’s bravery in a much bigger world.  Goblin uses his speed, rather than brute strength or magical firepower to be the hero.  There’s some implied violence and some threatened violence, but it’s done in a way that toddlers can handle.  I did have a hard time explaining what it meant when the narrator says they awaited “their doom”.  I said it would mean them being caught.  I don’t know what my daughter thinks being caught would mean, but she seemed fine with whatever explanation she invented.  The book didn’t need to say “to be stabbed to death” or “be put in a time out”.  They can hear about that in other stories when they are older.

The artwork is excellent.  Most kids’ books have very elementary artwork that, while fine for the kids, leaves me wishing it was “better”.  We both enjoyed looking for the details on every page.  For instance, in the dungeon scene where you see the tail of something like a snake.  On the next you see the head of the snake.  The child gets to put it together that it’s the same snake slithering through a hole in the wall.  Touches like that go a long way to turning a five-minute story into ten minutes of “ooh, look there’s a face in the side of the mountain”.

goblins_neighbor_troll_small

The author graciously gave me the artwork above to use for this article.  It has more detail than most art for kids books, but not too much.  It’s the right balance between realistic and phantastic*. Here we see our hero talking to his neighbor.  For the troll I went with the voice of Ludo from Labyrinth.

* Having the quality of phantasy.

 

Villainous – First Impression

My friend Matthew brought the Disney board game Villainous, by Wonderforge over yesterday.  I’ve wanted to play it since I saw it on Game the Game.  The theme sounded cool and the artwork appealed to me.  The bad guys are almost always cooler than the heroes.  Sigh, I miss the Disney World Villains store.

Matt played at Prince John and I picked Jafar.  Each player gets a different villain.  Each villain has a different set of goals and play styles.  Prince John is about accumulating power tokens.  The trick is that you have to spend power to do just about anything.  You can’t just save tokens and you can’t just use every card you draw.  Jafar has to do several steps in sequence and then get the Genie under his control (difficult) and then get the lamp and the Genie to the Palace at the same time (tricky).  Jafar is about manipulating other characters, which matches the movie nicely.  I don’t remember the Robinhood movie, but it seems like Prince John is about using his authority to capture his enemies.

This game is amazingly well tuned (at least at two players).  I won by exactly one turn.  The victory condition for Prince John is to have twenty power on your turn.  Matthew had nineteen.  He said that with more players there will be more variance in how close each player is to end game.  That makes sense given with more players there’s a greater chance for one player to become the Tall Poppy and get dog piled.  In many games you can start falling behind and lose hope.  Being so well tuned, in Villainous, players would feel like they have a chance until the very end.

There’s a nice mechanic that reduces dog piling in a multiplayer game.  Players attack each other with fate cards.  The player most recently attacked takes a token with the fate icon that indicates to the other players they may not target the holder again.

Another good feature is something I had in TotAM from the start.  You draw at the end of your turn instead of the beginning and you always refill your hand to your hand limit.  In most games you plan your next turn while the other player take theirs. You base this plan on the cards in your hand.  Then your turn starts and you draw another card or two.  Now you have to make everyone wait while you reconsider your turn.  In Villainous you draw at the end so you can plan your next turn with all the cards you’ll have.  Drawing to your hand limit means you are more likely to have viable choices for every turn.  In games where you can play more cards than you can draw in one turn you can find yourself with one or two cards in your hand.  That leaves me feeling frustrated and powerless.  I’d rather win/lose based on my choices than on how few/many cards I have.

The game has a pleasant balance of simplicity and complexity.  Kids could probably get the hang of it and adults can dig into the deeper strategy.  You can play it turn by turn, but to win you have to think about this turn and your next.

While it is a race to complete your villain’s win conditions, the game provides interaction between players with the fate cards.  These are opportunities to screw over your opponents.  That keeps it from feeling like a single player game with other people at the table.  There’s not so much interaction as to make you feel stuck.

Getting into the story is fun too.  I got to say “unlimited power!” and Matthew responded “teeny living space”.  As Jafar, I hypnotized Aladdin into killing Jasmine.  Whether I won or lost the game as a whole, I considered that a victory.

That reminds me.  The game also deals with Winner Momentum/Loser Inertia (I’ll write about that later) well.  When you vanquish (kill) a hero (a good guy played against you), you discard all the cards used to get that victory.  I didn’t keep Aladdin to use right away again.  If you didn’t lose those cards your ability to repel heroes would get to the point where there was not much point in playing them.

I would definately play this game again and I’m giving some thought to buying it.  My only worry is replayability.  I might start losing interest after I play each villain once.  There’s opportunity for them to add additional baddies, so maybe that wouldn’t be a problem.

 

Throne of the ArchMage

Throne of the ArchMage (TotAM) is my first attempt at publishing a game.  It’s meant to have the feel of a collectible card game, but without the pay to win (PtW) aspect.  When I played Magic: the Gathering, I was frustrated by losing to players who merely were willing to spend more on the hobby.  It wasn’t about strategy or tactics.

I found a game called Super Jacks that emulated the MtG feel without the price factor.  You could play it with a deck of poker cards.  Most households have a deck of cards in a drawer somewhere.  All you need to play is the rules.

Super Jacks was fun but a bit too simple.  MtG is about finding combinations of cards that add up to a strategy.  This card makes that card more powerful.  TotAM is like Super Jacks on Crack or Super Duper Jacks.  I started expanding the game… adding complexity here, tweaking a rule there.

You can play TotAM with a standard poker deck.  I plan to eventually sell cards with what is specific to Throne and give it pretty art.  That way you don’t have to remember what the King of Hearts is.

Today I am in a testing stage.  I’m trying to make the game complex enough that player who enjoys the depth of MtG will find it satisfying and simple enough that those who don’t can still feel competitive.

This is where you come in.  I’m looking for brave and patient souls to test my game.  Find those edge cases that could break the game.  To say “WHEN!” when I add too much or remove the wrong thing.  I have an idea in my head of how the game works, but there are things that just won’t be apparent to me.  Will you help me?