Archive for the ‘Board Games’ Category

Hybrid Games

Recently for one reason or another I found myself contemplating the old board game Dark Tower.  For those that don’t remember it, this was a board game that featured a large electronic device in the center (the titular dark tower) that did some random number generation and supplied sound effects and other minor visuals.  Here’s the original commercial (starring Orsen Wells!) and a more recent video playthrough.  This game has still has a pretty sizable cult following, and due to the unreliable nature of the circa 1981 electronics, it’s pretty collectible.  I never had or even played this game as a kid, but I was certainly aware of it, and eventually Delta introduced me to a pretty good simulator online.

Anyway, I was pondering the game for unknown reasons, and thinking about the process of finding and repairing parts to put together a working physical version.  Not that I have any such plan to do so, but I was just curious about the electronics and the repair hobby, in the same way that I’m fascinated by guys who collect and repair pinball machines, but would never really want to get into it myself.  Anyway, I happened upon an android app called Droid Tower, which is both a full simulator and just a tower simulator – the purpose of the latter being that maybe you own a copy of the game but your tower no longer works: now you can play again using your smart phone instead.

This idea of replacing the tower with an app tickled me.  Then I started wondering, why aren’t there more hybrid games that have both physical and virtual components?  The only other example I can think of is the way I play Space Alert.  The original game comes with a CD of audio tracks that actually drive the gameplay, and eventually I replaced that with mp3’s on my phone, and then later the Space Alert Mission Generator app, which actually generates random missions by assembling different audio elements.  That last bit is what I think makes it cross the line into actual software that affects the game.

Also, I wonder what other existing games could benefit by having some element replaced by software?  The first idea that came to my mind is Hero Quest.  This game includes a GM type player that must lay out the contents of the dungeon the other players are exploring.  It includes a booklet of adventures, in a sequence that presents a sort of story line, for the GM to follow.  The later iteration of this game, Warhammer Quest, eliminates the GM in favor of random dungeon generation and algorithmic movement of enemies.  I wonder though if one could preserve the pre-authored feel of the adventures by simply having a piece of software present it to the players.  It could speak out where to place the elements as the players reach them.  I’m not sure exactly how to achieve this, maybe some kind of recognition of the board and pieces via the phone’s camera?  I suppose you could replace the board entirely with an interactive surface, but I think this breaks some of the feel I’m after here.  I want to play the original game, just with a computer playing the GM role instead of a real person.

What else?  Anyone aware of any existing physical games that augment gameplay with software?  Anyone got a really good idea they’d like to share for such?

Rivers in the Barbarian Prince

Is anyone else out there playing Barbarian Prince?  I’m still pretty obsessed with the game, and recently have really been scratching my head over what the flow is supposed to be regarding checking for getting lost and random events when crossing a river.

Here’s the deal, basically as you move around the hex map there’s two checks to be made: do you get lost, and does a random event occur?  This basic mechanic is described in the rules thus:

Getting Lost (see r205): each time you try to leave a hex, you may get lost. See r205 for details. If you get lost, you are unable to get out of the hex by the chosen route, and are stuck for the rest of the day in the hex where you started. You cannot select an alternate action.

Travel Events (r204b): each time you attempt to enter a new hex, an event may occur. Find the terrain type you attempted to enter on the Travel Table (r207) and read to the “Event” column. Roll two dice. If the total equals or exceeds the number listed, an event occurs. Roll one die and read across to the proper “Event Reference” number listed for that die roll. Then go that event section.

OK, seems pretty straight forward.  I assume for events the language around “you attempt to enter a new hex” that it means events happen regardless of whether you get lost or not.  OK, now add in rivers.  There are two sections in the rules on rivers, one under “Travel” and one under “Lost”.  Here they both are:

River Crossing (r204e): if your travel takes you over a river, you must first consult the Travel Table (r207) for getting over the river without getting lost (r205), and then for a possible event crossing the river, by using the “River” line of the table. If this doesn’t prevent you from crossing, you then enter the hex on the other side, check for getting lost moving into that hex, and any travel events for the terrain entered there. If you are flying, you can fly over a river and ignore all crossing problems (do not check for getting lost crossing the river, and do not check for river crossing events).

River Crossing (r205d): if your party is trying to cross a river, first check to see if you get lost in the crossing. If you do, this represents an inability to find a proper crossing place (ford, place to swim, materials for a raft, etc.).  There is no travel event afterwards. If you are following a road or airborne; you can cross a river automatically.  Crossing by road implies that a permanent bridge exists there (such as one between hexes 1318 and 1319).  Once you cross the river, you must still check for getting lost in the terrain of the new hex you are trying to enter. If you get lost after you cross the river, you count as across the river, but are still in the hex where you started the move. Tomorrow you can try again to enter a hex on the opposite side of the river. For example, if you start in 1017, try to cross to 1118, and cross the river but get lost going into 1118, you end your move back in 1017. However, you are now over the river, so tomorrow you can try to enter either 1016, 1117 or 1118, which are all over the river, and next to the place where you start.

OK, this is pretty convoluted.  The things I wasn’t entirely sure on are:

  1. If you get lost trying to cross a river, are there no events whatsoever, neither based on the hex you are trying to enter nor the river itself?  I think that’s what they’re getting at here, but it’s not clear and does kind of contradict the normal lost/event rule, where events are checked for regardless of getting lost.
  2. If you find a crossing and then the river event prevents you from crossing, do you check for a regular event?  I think not, but it’s not totally clear.

I made a flow chart of how I think it’s supposed to work.  If anyone out there is also playing, or wants to put in the effort of reading the above rules chunks and looking at my diagram to check for errors, I’d really appreciate it.  Here’s the diagram:

Kidnapped by the Barbarian Prince

What happened to Paul?  He was posting so regularly for a while there, and then suddenly he dropped off the map.

Here’s what happened to me: I discovered this game The Barbarian Prince.  It’s really Maliszewski’s fault, look you can even see the date of the post which drew my attention to this game is about the exact same time I stopped posting. Curse you Maliszewski!

This little gem of a game from back in 1981 is now freely down-loadable thanks to the kind folks over at Reaper.  The rules and events booklets are conveniently available as word docs as well as PDF, so it was trivial to reformat them to booklet size, print them out, and staple them together with my handy long reach stapler.  (Really, if you’re into old school stuff, go buy yourself a long reach stapler, you won’t regret it!)

The map was only slightly more difficult.  I printed that out on four sheets of sticker paper and then stuck them together on a big piece of poster board.  The miniature is a pendraken 10mm barbarian, who fits perfectly in the hexes at this size.  Here’s the end result:

Seriously, this is a fun game.  I highly recommend you check it out.  It kicks my ass every single time, and yet I love playing it.  The emergent story it produces is always fantastic.  Even Lydia likes to play it:


As a child I collected things — stickers, GI Joes, comic books.  While I was curious about collectiblity (I recall owning at least one comic book price guide) for the most part I only bought things I wanted for other reasons anyway.  There may have been some desire in the back of my brain to own a “complete set” of something, but usually I actually wanted to play with or read the things in addition to simply adding them to my collection.  The comic books stick out most in my head.  These days I don’t buy them anymore, but I do still have a box of them in the basement, and I seriously doubt any of them are worth more than the $1-2 dollars I originally paid for them.  I didn’t like the popular comics, my box is filled with things like Power Pack and Madballs.

I’ve tried to keep that mentality in my adulthood.  I usually only buy games or modules I know I will read or play.  I went through a bout of buying up old B/X box sets, first just to own a complete one, and later to own a “nice one” that I could set aside and thus not worry about beating up my “reading copy”.  Hmm, that sounds a bit like collecting for collectability’s sake, doesn’t it?  I started buying old modules too, and now have a decent sized box of them on top of my book case.  And while I did slowly shift from buying the cheapest copy that was still readable to actually buying copies that were in better condition, I don’t have any duplicates (except for B2) and I’ve read every one I bought.  I’ve even used some in my regular campaign, so I can still defend my claim of purchasing for use vs. collectability.

And then of course there was my copy of Palace of the Vampire Queen, the most expensive D&D item I’ve ever bought.  I won’t reiterate what’s in the linked post, suffice it to say that I’ve been wanting to read this module for a long time, and there were no digital copies available anywhere, legally or otherwise.  And I did run the thing since, so really I feel like I’ve gotten a fair bit of use out of it.

This holiday season though, I went off the deep end I’m afraid.  It started with a copy of the white box OD&D set.  I had a saved search for this on eBay and came up with a hit.  A box was selling for about $59, and only had a day or so left.  This is pretty unusual, so I jumped at it.  I originally created the search because I really did want to read the old books, but I had since obtained PDF copies (legal ones at that — from back when WotC actually sold them on RPG Now).  I printed them out and stapled them together, so they were actually pretty good facsimiles of the original books, certainly good enough for casual reading.  So why I was I suddenly bidding on an original copy?  Was it the bargain of it?  I did find the idea that I had found something rare that nobody else seemed to notice enticing.  It could also be the historical significance, like I know own a piece of gaming history.  When it showed up in the mail though, after the initial glee of gazing lovingly at the box, I was left with just one thought — what the heck am I going to do with this now?  I’m still not sure.

And then I found out via Grognardia that there was an auction of some items from Gygax’s personal game collection.  None of it was “the good stuff”, that is, there was little by way of actual D&D items.  It was mostly more obscure stuff, and most if it still in shrink wrap.  You could sort of tell it was stuff he had been given as comp copies simply by dint of working for the company that produced the thing, and he had stuck in a closet and forgotten about.  With over 200 items and it being fairly esoteric stuff, the prices weren’t that high.  I couldn’t resist, I placed a few bids.  I really figured I would get sniped at the last minute and the stuff would jump in price, simply because of the fact that Gygax had owned it.  Turns out not to be so, and I actually won two items.

The one I was most interested in is Tom Wham’s Metwig’s Maze, a self contained game that actually sounded like it might be fun to play.  The second is M.A.R. Barker’s first game War of Wizards, still in shrink wrap.  To be honest, the War of Wizards game I bought solely because I thought it was esoteric enough that I might actually win the thing.  I’m not a huge M.A.R. Barker buff, I know precious little about Empire of the Petal Thrown, but I figured I was likely to lose most of the other auctions and I just loved the idea of owning something of Gygax’s.  Sigh, I guess there’s no avoiding it now, I’m a collector.

Much like my copy of the white box, I have no idea what the heck to do with War of Wizards.  I am not so interested in playing it that it warrants breaking the shrink wrap.  It’ll probably just sit on a shelf collecting dust until my own estate auction.  Sigh.

Mertwig’s Maze though, that looks like fun.  I don’t care that it’s un-punched, I’m going to play the thing.  Thanks for the games Gary.