Justus Productions

Living MACE Campaign Contest: Complications

The model we set up where writers are creating for different settings is a rather precarious one.  It relied heavily on the contestants staying in the contest.  What I did not plan for was contestants dropping out without writing their entry for the current phase.  Life happens as well all know, so I could not do anything to change it, but with one person dropping out, it not only took out the one person’s setting but also left another setting without an entry for that particular phase.

My choices were few.  One option was to drop both settings.   Of course the setting that  the person who is quitting will be dropped.  However, the setting missing that phase’s entry was also in trouble and that would not be fair to that writer.  It put me, in particular, in a very difficult situation.  Not only did one person write for a setting that has to be dropped, wasting a lot of time and effort the writer brought in, but now a setting is not going to get its fair shake because it was incomplete.

Another option was that I could write the entry really quickly.  That kind of blurs the lines of my impartialness as a judge, let alone the fact that I only had a day and a half to do it.  I wasn’t even sure I could do it justice.  The original setting writer also did not feel comfortable with me writing it.  I knew that was a bad option up front, but like I said, my options were few.

Finally, the other option came to me out of the blue.  Find another willing writer that could do it in a short time frame.  One of the other contestants volunteered to write something for the setting to at least give it a chance.  He also agreed to write it anonymously.  That was awesome!  It all worked out.

To avoid this in the future, I may have to restructure the contest.  One idea I had requires a forum where all writers can communicate with each other.  Facebook has worked to some degree but not all the contestants are on Facebook.  There are some people within my circles that vehemently object to social networking sites, which gets into a whole new level of anti-social, I suppose.  So a PHPBB forum or WordPress forum may be the solution.  This allows for more collaboration which is at the heart of this contest.  Given more time, I may be able to structure it o that for a week, all writers will comment on each setting and add their own short idea to it.  The writer will then be required to pick at least one idea for his addition during that phase.

Or I can just find more reliable writers.

Entering into the fourth phase of this contest and it has been really fun so far.  The settings are definitely developing really well, and with a little work, the final product will be incredible.

The Living MACE Campaign – Genesis

This year, MACE and JustUs Productions is trying something new to add to our experience.  Inspired by the Paizo RPG Superstar contest as well as a contest we ran at MACE called the Iron MACE Chef contest (where writers wrote an RPG given a certain number of parameters), the Living MACE campaign setting seeks to create a role playing game living campaign setting that will be exclusive to MACE events.

We knew this was going to be very involved for the contestants but we thought perhaps the rewards would outweigh some of the challenges.  We also hoped that some of our more loyal friends, as passionate gamers, would see it as an opportunity. We saw it as an opportunity to make something uniquely MACE and be a part of that.

The contest will be to create core aspects of the campaign setting, independent of a rule system.  Eventually by the final round or rounds we will have a complete enough setting to present to all the gamers at the 20th anniversary of MACE (2016).  For the system,  we plan to use generic systems like Savage Worlds, Pathfinder and a local favorite, Bare Bones Fantasy, assuming we handle all the licensing and rights before hand.

The basic parameters are:

Genre: Fantasy

System:  As mentioned, this would not be system specific.

The First Round encompasses the writers submitting a Name, Tagline, Elevator Pitch, and Designer notes.  This would give us the baselines of the setting.  It would give us the theme, the key plot elements and the general idea of the history of the setting.  From there, we would narrow down the scope, from world to subcontinent, to kingdom to location.  In the end, an adventure will be written.

Assuming we get at least 16, we will eliminate half each round.  After narrowing down the initial group of entries down to 16, it will be narrowed down to 8, then 4 and then 2, etc.   However, the difference between our contest and the one that inspired it is that the contestant may not be writing for their own setting after the first round.   We wanted to get an amalgamation of ideas in each entry.  Each entry will be a collective work between 4 of the contestants.

We realized that there is a risk of creating the “Platypus setting” but we thought we could avoid this by encouraging collaboration using tools at our disposal (social network and email) as well as relying on the participants’ imaginations to keep each setting relatively intact.   This kind of simulates common circumstances in the industry where writers on occasion are writing for other people’s settings. So it will be important for all involved to pay attention to other participants’ work.  The winning setting will represent a number of writers’ work.

The final round will have two adventures written for the top two settings.  These will be run in whatever system the authors prefer.  The players will score it and choose the winner based on the score.

I plan to have updates on this contest as we go along.  As of this writing, we are headed into Phase 3 with 8 writers.  So I am somehwat behind.  We have learned  a lot from the first time trying this.  I will document what I can and welcome comments.  I encourage other events to try this.  It’s is an amazing and enlightening experience

Mage Wars

Mage Wars

From: Arcane Wonders

Reviewed by: Tony McRee

 Mage Wars is a new Card Game from Arcane Wonders.

Demoed at Origins in 2012 and then sold at Gen Con in 2012, a new type of card game was introduced to the masses, Mage Wars. People were not sure what to make of this game at first. It was a card game, it was a board game, but overall it was a great game. Mage Wars was unique as far as card games go for you play with an open deck, meaning you don’t draw cards. This was a refreshing change in the card game market.

 The Arena Calls…

Mage Wars is generally played as a two-player game where the winner is the one with the last mage standing. However, the board that you play on is large enough to support up to four players. Players play their cards on a board known as the arena. The arena is divided into twelve zones and players enter on opposite corners of the board. Players take turns by going through two stages, the Ready Stage and the Action Stage. In the Ready Stage, both players play at the same time and are essentially doing upkeep of cards, adjusting mana, and preparing to play two cards or spells. This is where the open deck concept comes in. Players look through their spell books at this time. They don’t have to worry about drawing the right card or being card starved in their hand and not being able to play a card. As long as they meet the necessary requirements of the spell to cast it, they can use it. We will talk more about spellbooks later, but now it is time for the Action Stage which is where the true battle begins.

In the Action Stage, players can take turns performing actions and quick actions with their mage and creatures until all actions have been exhausted. This is pretty much like most standard card games where you are doing the event on the card or placing a card into play, but with the board, actions include moving the cards around just like a miniature game. As stated, the action phase isn’t complete until all actions are taking. Creatures and mages have actions, but mages also have the ability to do Quickcast actions. This allows the mages to cast a spell before any creatures take their actions, but they are not required to perform this Quickcast at this time; it can be held. That is the general idea behind Mage Wars – your creatures and mage take actions and quick actions in order to defeat the other side. The beauty of this game is in the spellbooks that contain your cards.

The spellbook is the one thing about this game that I really like. The fact that you don’t have to worry about getting the right card in your hand really helps a player concentrate on strategy. Now it isn’t as if the game is just “whoever has the best spellbook will win.” Players still must manage their mana to play cards as well as figure out a good offense and defense based on how your opponent is playing. Spellbooks are all about finding the best balance between spells, both active and reactive, and playing them at the right time as you develop your offense and defense as the game progresses.

The cards are all included and therefore there are no booster packs to buy to help enhance your base game. Now there are expansions to the game, but you never have to worry about chasing the rare. This is a great innovation to the card game scene and is being developed by other companies as well. As an example, you can begin designing your own spellbook and the game instructions help you along. But with over 500 cards in the base set, plus the expansions, there are countless strategies to try and develop with the game.

“But in the back of your mind, the doubt is there: do you have the power and the wits to defeat the foe before you?”

I must admit the game is not without its minor flaws, the learning curve is steep for this game. However, Arcane Wonders has put together many teaching aids and as they often say, the best way to learn is just to play. As with any new card game, there is also the learning of new terms, symbols and so on, but the cards are very well laid out, easy to read and after the first few games, players will be ready to dive into creating their first spellbooks.

Another issue players may be turned off by is the carrying of the board around in order to play; it isn’t the lightest thing to lug around. The activation tokens, the status tokens, and the dice can easily go in a decent size Plano box, but the board is a challenge. However, don’t let that keep you from taking just your cards and tokens with you and then a roll of masking tape to lay out a grid on a table. There are other suggestions in the BoardGameGeek forum that also help with this issue.

But I guess my biggest issue is in the attack – you are rolling dice. Some will like this, some will not. You can have the perfect strategy, but if the dice gods are being unkind, then victory will be tough to obtain. Now it can be argued there are ways to offset this and there are, so the use of dice will really just come down to a matter of preference. They are growing on me, but I still have my reservations.

In conclusion, Mage Wars is a great game for anyone who wants to expand their card game library with a very strong tactical game. Arcane Wonders had a hit on their hands last year and continue to have a strong community a year later.

For more details on Arcane Wonders and their new Card Game “Mage Wars” check them out at their website http://www.magewars.com/, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 18

Product Summary

Mage Wars From: Arcane Wonders

Type of Game: Card Game

Game Design by: Bryan Pope and Benjamin Pope

Developed by: Arcane Wonders

Additional Art by: Drew Baker, Tiziano Baracchi, Claire Beard, Dleoblack, Jason Engle, Mariusz Gandzel, John Guytan, Diego Gisbert Llorens, Raven Mimura, Jim Pavelec, Roberto Pitturru, R. K. Post, Maichol Quinto, Chris Seaman, Craig J. Spearing, Ron Spencer, John Stanko, Christophe Swal, Peter Tikos, Darek Zabrocki

Game Components Included: Arena Gameboard, 2 Spellbooks, 322 Spell Cards, 4 Mage Cards, 4 Mage Ability Cards, 2 Mage Status Boards, 8 Status Cubes, 20 Action Markers, 2 Quickcast Markers, 9 Attack Dice, 1 Effect Die (d12), 24 Damage Counters, 8 Mana Counters, 7 Guard Markers, 6 Ready Markers, 20 Condition Markers, 3 Ability Markers, 1 Initiative Marker, Rulebook

Retail Price: $59.99

Number of Players: 2

Player Ages: 13 and up

Play Time: 90 minutes

Website: http://www.magewars.com/

Reviewed by: Tony McRee

Betrayal at House on the Hill: Second Edition

Betrayal at House on the Hill: Second Edition

From: Wizards of the Coast

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

In the horror genre, there is probably no set piece more frequently employed (some might argue overused) than the Creepy Old House. Because whatever form a horror story’s villain takes, it should have a base of operations which befits its status. It is this mainstay which Betrayal at House on the Hill means to exemplify.

From the rulebook:
As you explore the house, you discover new rooms. Each time you enter a new room, you might find something… or something might find you.”

Betrayal at House on the Hill employs what is probably the most frequently used impetus for entering a creepy old house; a combination of automotive trouble and inclement weather. Though if you wish to account for such things, there’s probably poor cell phone reception as well (seeing as how creepy old houses tend to be in out of the way locations). Initially, the board consists of the Entrance Hall, the Basement Landing, and the Upper Landing. But it won’t stay that way for long, as players will add new rooms through exploring the house. Many of the rooms can only be placed on certain floors, which are indicated on the back of the tiles (after all, it would be pretty silly to have the Master Bedroom in the basement, or the Furnace Room on the upper floor).

There are twelve characters for players to choose from, representing a wide range of traditional horror archetypes. Each has four traits; Might, Speed (which also determines the maximum number of spaces you may move in a turn), Knowledge, and Sanity. A series of four arrow clips are attached to the character card to keep track of each trait’s current value. A particular advantage to this is that, if you have a pet which likes to jump on your table and knock your gaming stuff askew, it’s one less thing to worry about. Frequently during the game, you’ll be required to adjust one of the traits. This involves moving the corresponding arrow clip the indicated number of spaces along a track of trait values. The actual trait value may or may not end up being adjusted by the same amount, if at all.

When most rooms are first discovered, a card must be drawn. Usually this will be from the Event Deck. Most of these will provide an encounter of some sort which often requires a trait roll. This involves rolling dice equal to the trait’s current value, with the result determining the outcome (generally higher is better). The majority of these encounters will adjust the character’s traits for better or for worse. Other times an event card will add a traditional “creepy old house” feature to the room, like a rotating wall or a secret passage. Other times, you may draw from the Item Deck. This provides a wide variety of goodies which can help improve your character’s chances of surviving. Most important however is the Omen Deck. The bulk of these cards provide some mystical artifact which may prove to be essential to victory. What really matters is that every time a card is drawn from the omen deck, a Haunt roll is made by rolling six dice. If the total is less than the current number of omen cards in play (including the one just drawn), the Haunt Phase begins.

You may be asking yourself why you would even bother making a haunt roll the first few times it comes up. The reason is that the dice included with the game are not your standard six-siders. On each one, two sides are blank, two have one pip, and two have two pips. So it is in theory possible (though not terribly likely) that the Haunt Phase could begin after the very first roll.

Once the Haunt Phase starts, a chart is consulted and the omen card and room tile which were drawn are cross-referenced to determine which one of fifty scenarios is used. These scenarios represent a wide variety of horror story types. Typically, either the omen or the room in question will be key to successfully resolving the haunt. The haunt scenario will also indicate which player is the traitor (hence the “betrayal” in the game’s title). At this point, the traitor character leaves the room to consult the scenario in one of the haunt books while the other players (henceforth referred to as the survivors) consult the other haunt book. These provide each side with the details on what they must do to win. A general idea of what the opposition is attempting is also provided, but no specifics. This point is probably the biggest intrinsic weakness of the game, as gameplay comes to a grinding halt while everyone consults reference materials. The side which manages to successfully complete their objectives wins. However, game balance during the Haunt Phase is far from guaranteed. Each scenario is internally balanced, with most providing the traitor with some form of minions to counter the superior numbers of the survivors. However, the random nature behind how item and omen cards are obtained can make one side look hopelessly outmatched from the get-go. Still, sufficiently clever players can potentially come up with tactics to counter such disadvantages.

The Haunt Phase is also when combat becomes a major factor. This is conducted with opposed trait rolls between the two parties, with the higher result winning. In most cases, the trait used will be Might. However, the attacker may possess an item card which allows the use of a different trait. If the losing side is a traitor-controlled minion, the results will be as described in the scenario. If a player lost in combat, the difference between the two die rolls is applied as physical damage (if Might or Speed was used) or mental damage (if Sanity or Knowledge was used) as appropriate. Damage is applied by moving the arrow clips of the associated traits down their respective tracks, either applied to one or split between the two as desired. Should the arrow clip of any one trait reach the lowest point on its track, that character is dead.

From the back of the box:
Take a deep breath before you enter. It might be your last.”

Interestingly enough, the game encourages players to follow what is possibly the most disdained trope in horror fiction, namely splitting up. Sticking together can result in a highly linear path with few options for maneuvering later on. Plus, when the Haunt Phase begins, it’s for the best to not be too close to anyone else in case you find yourself with a foe who is better equipped than you for combat. Also, depending on the nature of the scenario, the survivors may have to accomplish multiple tasks in different areas of the house. So it’s for the best to ignore your metagaming instincts.

In conclusion, it’s kind of a shame that the switch to the Haunt Phase has such an adverse effect on the game’s momentum. It’s due to this fact that I knocked off a couple points from the rating. Still, it can be seen as a necessary evil, as the wide range of scenarios combined with the randomly generated game board give it a ton of replay value.

Rating: 15

Product Summary

Betrayal at House on the Hill: Second Edition

From: Wizards of the Coast

Type of Game: Board

Game Design by: Bruce Glassco

Developed by: Bruce Glassco and Bill McQuillan

Cover Art by: Shelley Wan

Additional Art by: Hillary Husted, Mike Demaine, Ryan Sansaver

Game Components Included: Rulebook, 2 Haunt books, 44 Room tiles, 1 Entrance Hall tile, 6 Explorer figures, 6 Character cards, 30 Arrow clips, 8 Dice, 1 Turn/Damage track, 13 Omen cards, 22 Item cards, 45 Event cards, 12 Large Monster tokens, 91 Small Monster tokens, 14 Event/Room tokens, 14 Item tokens, 18 Trait Roll tokens

Retail Price: $49.99

Number of Players: 3-6

Player Ages: 12+

Play Time: about one hour

Website: http://www.wizards.com

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Interview with Matthew J. Hanson, The Abstract Dungeon Kickstarter

Matthew J. Hanson is the creator of  The Fastest RPG I’ve Ever Played- The Abstract Dungeon.  Matthew took a few minutes of his time to answer some questions about his Kickstarter.

Tell us a little about yourself, Matthew.

I’ve been playing roleplaying games since my brother got the Mentzer Dungeons and Dragons Red Box for his birthday sometime in the 80s, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

I started designing for RPGs around 2004 and have written for Dragon Magazine, Kobold Press, Green Ronin, EN Publishing and others. Then in 2011 I decided I wanted to take the plunge and start my own company, so I launched Sneak Attack Press. We started by publishing supplements for Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Mutants & Masterminds, and Savage Worlds. Now we’re excited to be producing our own system.

How did this game come about and could you give us a brief synopsis of the game?

Abstract Dungeon came about because one of my friends and I were discussing how we wanted a game that played much faster so that we could get through all the stories we wanted to tell. That’s where the impetus of Abstract Dungeon began. We succeeded in making a game that plays faster than anything I know of because it uses a dice-pool resource-management system rather than the traditional rolling to hit and deal damage. We started using it for the fantasy genre because that’s what we’re mostly playing; the system can be used with just about any genre, though.

Because of the dice-pool system, Abstract Dungeon is also extremely flexible and encourages creative story-telling over number crunching. I’ve seen people play everything from the traditional dwarven berserker to a skeletal tailor.

What do you see for the future of The Abstract Dungeon

After the Core Book, we plan to follow up with more support.  Some of this support is currently stretch goals for the Kickstarter project, like PDFs for additional character options and a print and PDF mega adventure where the PCs reclaim a ruined keep and explore monster infested territory beyond the edge of civilization.

After that we are exploring possibilities for other supplements like monster or treasure books, and other genre books like Abstract Space.

Thanks, Matthew, for you time.  Abstract Dungeon’s Kickstarter is ending this Sunday, 9/15/13.  Please check it out and support it.

Garden Dice

Garden Dice

From: Meridae Games

Reviewed by: Marty Connell

While the mere mention of the Facebook game Farmville causes most gamers to roll their eyes and grimace, Doug Bass has created a game entitled Garden Dice that shed any negative feelings towards gardening games.

From the rulebook: In Garden Dice, you are gardeners toiling to coax the best crops from a  shared plot of land. You’ll take turns rolling dice and using them to perform actions such as buying, planting, and watering seeds; harvesting vegetables and moving hungry critters to gobble up your opponents’ hard work. When there are no seeds left in the supply, you’ll compare the fruits (well, vegetables) of your labors to see who’s got the bumper crop!

The heart of this game is around buying seeds, planting them, watering them and harvesting them for points. The game board consists of 36 squares (6×6) that are used to plant seeds. All the players share the same garden and thus are vying for space to plant their seeds and harvest their vegetables. However, there are six spaces on the board that have very rich soil and produce bonus points when vegetables are harvested from those locations. As such those are the spots everyone is working towards. In addition, each player has 9 wooden discs in their player color and these are used to mark their tiles so management of the seed and crops is very important.

At the start of your turn, roll all four dice to form your dice pool. You then can spend one or more of your dice to perform one of several possible actions. Spent dice are put aside and the remaining dice are used to repeat the process. This continues until you are unable to perform an action. At that time, the next player takes the 4 dice and begins his turn.

The following are the available actions during a player’s turn:

  • Buy a seed tile – Spend one die to buy one seed from the stacks with a point value equal to or less than the number on the die. Place the tile in front of you and put one of your wooden discs on the tile.

  • Place a tile – Spend two dice to place one of your special tiles (sundial/scarecrow, bird/rabbit) or a purchased seed tile. Use the numbers on the dice as coordinates (one die for the row and the other for the column).

  • Water a seed – Spend one die to water one of your own seed tiles that is equal to or less than the value of the die. When this is done, flip the seed tile over to the vegetable side.

  • Harvest a Veggie – Spend one die to harvest a veggie that is equal to or lesser than the value of the die. Remove the veggie tile from the board, put the tile in front of you, score the number of points it us worth and put your player disc back into your pool.

  • Flip a special tile – Spend one die with the result of six to flip one of your special tiles from one side to the other.

  • Move a critter – Spend one die to move your own critter in a straight line a number of spaces equal to or less than the value on the die. Birds can move onto opponents’ seeds and eat the seed or a rabbit can move onto an opponent’s veggie and eat the veggie. The only exception to this is that a rabbit can not eat a veggie if that veggie is adjacent to that same opponent’s scarecrow. When eating the seed/veggie you can remove the tile from the game or spend a die of equal or greater value of the eaten tile and take the seed tile for yourself.

  • Remove a critter- Spend three dice to remove a critter from the board. Two of the dice must correspond to the coordinates of the critter and the third die must be a six.

As mentioned earlier, placement of tiles is very important not only in bonus scoring but for chain effects that can occur during watering and harvesting. If a seed is watered or veggie is harvested and adjacent to that tile is a lower point tile, that tile gets the benefit of being watered or harvested as well. For example, if a 4-point tile is beside a 3-point tile and that is beside a 2-point tile, when the 4-point tile is watered, so is the 3 and then so is the 2. Thus, strategically placing lower point tiles besides higher ones can save you having to spend turns to water them. This even occurs when you are adjacent to an opponent’s tile!

The special tiles add some flavor to the game. The birds and rabbits can be used to attack opponents’ tiles which is a good way to try and keep them from scoring points. The sundial is very useful when it is in play. Each time you want to use two dice as coordinates you can either add/subtract 1 or 2 from one die or add/subtract 1 from two dice. This helps reduce the luck of the dice when wanting to place tiles in certain areas. In addition, each player has a sun token that can be used once during a game to re-roll all four dice on his/her turn.

The game is over when the last remaining seed tile is taken from the last supply stack.  Scoring is then performed as follows:

  • Deduct 5 points for each purchased seed tile not planted

  • Gain 15 points  for each complete set of the 5 veggie types

  • Earn points  from collecting like tiles. 3 of the same types of veggies is worth 10 points, 4 of the same is 15 points and 5 of the same is 20 points.

  • Gain 5 points for an unused sun token.

From the website: Garden Dice uses simple rules but delivers an unexpected element of strategy. Clever dice usage and tile placement are rewarded and the game features opportunities for symbiotic play. Even seasoned gamers will find something new in Garden Dice.

At first glance, Garden Dice looks very light-hearted. Roll dice, buy some tiles, place some tiles then take them off the board. However, the game is deeper than that. Placement of tiles on the board is critical when considering bonus scores and chain effects. The type of seed you buy is critical at the end of of the game as you are trying to make complete sets or make large collections of certain plants. Thanks to the rabbit and bird, there is a cutthroat aspect to the game that may appeal to more serious gamers. The drawback to the game for experienced gamers may be the luck of the dice themselves. However, the use of the sundial can help eliminate some of the chance aspect of the game.

For more casual gamers and kids, this is a really good game. The theme comes across very well as it never feels like you are just placing tiles but it does feel like you are buying seeds, planting them, and harvesting the vegetables As a result, the one with the best crop at the end is going to win. Another variant of the game for kids is to remove the bird/rabbit tiles from the game. This will remove the cutthoat aspect of the game that might frustrate kids or casual gamers alike.

So whether you have a real-life green thumb or not, take a chance on developing your boardgame green thumb and plant Garden Dice in the middle of your gaming table.

Codex Rating: 14

Product Summary

Garden Dice

From: Meridae Games

Type of Game: Board Game

Game Design by: Doug Bass

Graphic Design by: Kalissa Fitzgerald

Number of Pages: Rulebook: 8

Game Components Included: Game board, 50 seed/veggie tiles, 4 Bird/Rabbit tiles, 4 sundial/scarecrow tiles, 4 player aids, 4 dice, 36 wooden discs, 4 sun tokens, 2 rock tiles, Rulebook

Retail Price: $ 39.99 (US)

Number of Players: 2 to 4

Player Ages: 10+

Play Time: 60 min

Website: http://www.meridaegames.com/

Reviewed by: Marty Connell