I’m working on my post about my Next Big Thing, but in the meantime I thought I’d throw out a quick note about the things I’ve been enjoying over the past month. This isn’t a best of the year post; these are just the things I’m listening to, watching and reading RIGHT NOW, and my thoughts about them.
THINGS I’M READING
Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
I’ve been enjoying Locke & Key for years now, but I had the good fortune to receive the special edition of Welcome to Lovecraft as a gift, and that’s got me reading the series through again. Locke & Key is certainly my favorite comic of recent years, and on the list with Sandman, Hellboy, and Grant Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol for lifelong favorites. It’s best to discover it on your own, but I’ll describe it as a blend of Narnia and a good ghost story. A group of children return to an old family estate and stumble across its ancient and magical secrets… but the doors opened by the magical keys can lead to more gruesome dangers than Lucy or Edmund ever faced in Narnia. I like keys, and as such I’ll also give a nod to Skelton Crew, a studio that has produced replicas of the magical keys from the series. As comic collectibles go, these are fantastic. The keys are the critical visual element and tool from the stories, and Skelton’s replicas are a good size and weight; they’re fun things to carry around even without the story connection. So far they haven’t opened any doors for me, but who knows.
The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
In The Hobbit, the people of the Shire know relatively little about the world beyond their fields. Luckily, Gandalf shows up and provides us with detailed exposition about the history of the dwarves and that the dragon. Moving on to the Lord of the Rings, through Gandalf, Elrond and Galadriel we are kept well-informed about the history of the conflict and its major players.
The Kingkiller Chronicles have some common threads with Lord of the Rings or The Wheel of Time. There’s an ancient evil lord. He’s got a cabal of powerful minions, much like the Nazgul or the Forsaken. They’re all up to something. But unlike LOTR or Wheel of Time, we don’t know what it is. Imagine Lord of the Rings without Gandalf. Frodo has the ring. He actually knows that it’s bad and should be destroyed in Mount Doom. But he doesn’t know where Mount Doom IS. The stories about Sauron are full of conflicting details, and while some legends say that he lived in Mordor, there are no current maps that show the location of this long-forgotten kingdom. In The Kingkiller Chronicles, Kvothe has much the same problem. He’s had a disastrous encounter with the ancient evil, but he has trouble finding out exactly what it IS. As he learns magic and hones his other skills, he—and we, through his eyes—gets glimpses of the truth through folktales, songs, rumors, and religion. But there are conflicts in all of these, and the truth remains to be revealed. Rather than the story being about the goal—IE, the destruction of the Ring or the defeat of the Dark One—it’s more about the journey. For me, much of what I enjoy is the way that the mysteries of the world are slowly unfolded instead of being laid out from the start.
I’m still only partway through WMF. In some ways, it’s a blend of Harry Potter and Ender’s Game—a brilliant boy learning the secrets of magic, using his wits to deal with rivals at school and the other challenges of life. Yet there are constant patches of crabgrass foreshadowing great deeds and tragedies that lie ahead. It’s a very different sort of tale from the warring kings of A Song of Ice and Fire. But it’s certainly managed to hold my interest; I want to know more about the world, perhaps more than I want to know about Kvothe.
GAMES I’M PLAYING
I play a lot of games. In the last week I’ve played Cards Again Humanity, Ticket to Ride, Lost Cities, Love Letters, Quirks, Cthulhu Fluxx and a few different flavors of Gloom. I’m very happy with Unpleasant Dreams, the first expansion for Cthulhu Gloom… if you have any questions about Unpleasant Dreams (or for that matter anything I’ve made), please ask here! Here’s some thoughts on a few of my favorite games I’ve played in the last month.
You’re flying a ship through a galaxy crowded with wormholes and asteroids. Your ship is barely holding together. Panels are falling off. Slime is leaking out from the cracks. There are an endless assortment of adjustments that need to be made. Punch the orbvalve! Set the microfluxer to 5! Deactivate the quantum valve! Consider purchasing upgrades! It’s more than one person can handle. Fortunately, you’re not alone. You’re part of a SpaceTeam.
SpaceTeam is a cooperative game for 2-4 people, played on iPads and iPhones. Each player has a piece of the ship’s control panel, covered with an assortment of bizarre and often hilarious controls. As the game unfolds, you receive instructions and have a limited time to complete them. But many of your instructions apply to the controls on the panels of other players. The result? A lot of panicked shouting, as you watch the timer counting down and hope that the command you’re shouting makes sense to one of your comrades. “Tighten the Ubercronk! Set the Hypermodulator to six! Tip the Waiter! Wormhole – EVERYONE FLIP!” Any given action is quite simple: push a button or turn a dial. However, the combination of time pressure, communication within your team, and console malfunctions that have to be fixed or simply ignored make it an extremely entertaining experience. I’m sad that they didn’t create a holiday version; I can imagine sitting around the living room with my family shouting “Deck the halls! Parum the Pum-Pum! Mistletoe – everybody kiss!”
In short, it’s a fun, quick cooperative experience, and a perfect way to pass time while standing in line or waiting for something to start. And it’s free. So what are you waiting for?
A simple game that combines speed and pattern recognition. Five objects are placed in the center of the table. A card is drawn from the deck. Each card has four elements: two objects and two colors. If a color/object combination matches one of the objects on the table—for example, there is a picture of a white ghost—the first person to grab that object off the table gets the card and the point. However, in many cards, neither of the two objects shown are the proper color. In this case, you look for the object that isn’t represented on the card in any way. So if a card has a green rat and a red ghost, you are looking for an object that’s not a ghost or a rat, and isn’t red or green… which only leaves one possibility, the blue book. Grab the book and you get the point. If you grab the wrong object, you lose a point—so while speed is important, you don’t want to grab until you’re sure.
This basic game is a great deal of fun, and it’s good for people of all ages; I admit that I played about five rounds with an eight year old and lost every time. However, there are lots of ways to increase the complexity once your group is familiar with it. You can say that if there’s a ghost on the card, you need to shout the name of the proper object instead of grabbing it… or that if there’s a book, the correct answer is the object that’s the color of the book on the card, not whatever the normal answer would be. It’s fast and easily portable. The only problem is that it’s somewhat hard to find. I got my copy off the internet, and I’ve been recommending it to every brick & mortar store I’ve been to.
Always/Never/Now is a cyberpunk adventure cycle created by brilliant designer Will Hindmarch, and I’d say that it’s something like a mash-up of Mission Impossible and The Usual Suspects as written by William Gibson. You’re a brilliant operative who’s been called out of retirement for one last job… a job that will span the course of many adventures and delve into a host of mysteries. The system is inspired by Lady Blackbird; it’s easy to use and encourages players to get into the mind of the character. As the group’s strategist, you don’t get experience for killing things; rather, you get experience when other people follow a plan that you’ve devised. As such, you are rewarded for being a leader. Pregenerated characters are provided, which means that you have a well-balanced team with a lot of interesting backstory built into the characters themselves. One element I found particularly engaging was the use of environmental tags. When our group was engaged in a tense car chase, Will provided us with a list of specific objects in the scene – high tension wires, a hapless motorcyclist, a tanker truck, a news helicopter, an overpass. Over the course of the scene, we could use each of these elements once in the description of an action in order to get a bonus to the roll. Now, nothing was stopping us from introducing these or other elements on our own; but by providing us with a list, Will really got me thinking about what we COULD do with those things. I might have simply tried to outrun the enemy; instead, I starting thinking about how the hapless motorcyclist could flip over their hood, causing them to crash into the tanker truck. It’s an idea I could easily see transporting to other settings and systems, such as Eberron. If you want someone to swing on a chandelier, let them know that the chandelier is right there waiting to be used!
Always/Never/Now was funded on Kickstarter early this year. At the moment, the only way to play it is to corner Will Hindmarch at a convention (and I suggest you do). However, it will soon be available as a PDF for download. I’ll be sure to mention it here when it is; it’s definitely worth a roll of the dice!
And finally, for those who missed my earlier post, here again is Gloomy Santa…