Aug 282020
 
Know ye oh Princess, that once upon a time there was an age that was very kick-ass.

When I was seven, the first book I remember reading cover to cover was the D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. It was beautifully illustrated and filled with the bonkers stories of the Greek myths. I fell in love. I never forgot the majesty I felt as I read stories of Gods, Heroes and Monsters.

Those same emotions are evoked when I read Bloody-Handed Name of Bronze by Joshua A.C. Newman. It is a role-playing game for two to four players, and it is set loosely in a bronze age of Names and Gods. Players take on the roles of legendary Heroes, or legendary Tricksters/Magicians/Wisemen. Everything comes down to your relationships with Gods, spirits and sometimes, geographical locations. Like I said, it is mythical.

The engine is more story-based than simulationist like Dungeons and Dragons. I admit that my old-school sensibilities took a while to get my head around the rules but once it clicked, oh my Goddess, it was like the burning bush was speaking to me.

For example, there is no gamemaster or referee. There are players and sometimes you feel the need to Speak for the characters that are not controlled by players. This lets you contribute to the story in a free form way that I really like. It takes the pressure off one person to create everything and opens it to the group. If Sally, Hunter of Star-Beasts, has a cool idea for a problem to confront Brad, Priest of the silent, then Sally can take control of the narrative as needed and throw a few problems Brad’s way. It works really well.

When it comes time to determine the result of something interesting, dice are rolled. The system is so straight forward, that giving any examples would give away the rules, so just know that it is really easy to pick up and really flexible for anything you need.

I bought the game expecting to play Gilgamesh type characters, but the NameDealer class is a work of genius. You know the Names of things, letting you communicate and make deals. So you can be making deals with rivers, the sun, the Queen of Lions or whatever else you encounter. It is part holy man and part swindler. It essentially lets you play Moses or Merlin, and holy crap, is that the kind of characters I want to sink my teeth in.

The book is crammed with examples in the form of fiction. Each story is something that can happen in play. My only niggle is that I wish there was a sidebar breaking down what happened in the story into how it might play out with dice and players. It might have been a space issue, but it would have been nice to see.

Speaking of fiction, this is one of the friendliest LBQT rpgs I have seen in awhile. Some people use semi-historical settings as an excuse to go pure cisgender but not this book. There is much diversity in the fiction that feels wonderfully inclusive. Myths are for everyone.

The other thing this book has is art. The D’Aulaires’ books were an art inspiration and it was executed perfectly. This feels like a loss book from the D’Aulaires’ series and I can’t think of a higher compliment.

So yeah, even if you don’t have a gaming group, I highly recommend this book. It is a masterpiece of concept and a wonderful expression of theme.

You can buy a copy at this link.

Aug 032020
 
I’m also jealous of this cover.

Voyeur Mode Engage by Amanda Close is a clever porn book. The premise is that in the future, people will plug into a virtual reality simulation called Exotica allowing them to explore sexual fantasies that would not be safe, sane or legal in real life. Customers play some of the roles, but actors employed by the company play other roles. In addition, some roles are played by the computer programs. This creates a layer of distance where you never know if the hot biker guy pushing you up against the wall is being controlled by a real person or not.

That is an interesting idea on its own, but Voyeur Mode blurs the lines even further by turning the book into an anthology of sexual fantasies. The frame is that you the reader are engaging in Voyeur Mode allowing you to switch between different characters and scenarios. This lets the author tell four distinct stories with no connection between them except the illicit sex. It also lets the author do some smart bits like rewinding a scene or fast-forwarding the scene to get to the sex. This reinforces the idea that you, the reader, are one of the users of this virtual system.

You don’t just watch the scene, you experience it from the point of view of one of the characters. Is that character real? Maybe. Are you just watching computer programs go at it? It is hard to say. Does it change how hot a given scene is? That’s an interesting question asked by the first story which is centered on an Exotica actress. There are no easy answers.

This is a really arousing book that is worth the read just for the sex alone. The premise is clever enough that I would read entire series done in this style. Probably the highest compliment I can give it is that I wish I had thought of it first for my own fiction.

Apr 132020
 

Max Gentlemen’s Sexy Business (here fore called MGSB) is a business/dating simulator. You play a formerly ridiculously wealthy person in pseudo-Victorian times who is trying to reclaim their fortune from their Rival. Along the way, you pick up business partners, have hostile takeovers by fistfights and assign people to “buy money.”

It is a very silly game. Thank the Goddess, because Coronapalloza has got me in the dumps and a silly sexy game is just what I need.

The business game itself is not that challenging. It is worker placement with timers. It is a little too similar to some free time-waster games I have played. You assign people, raise some skills, wait to have enough money to spend on other improvements, repeat.

The real game is the dating. MGSB is a fully bisexual game. Men and women will flirt with you, get naked and try to bang you. It is a refreshing attitude. If you prefer, you can set limits on some relationships and the game will let you finish their story lines regardless of your sexual relationship.

The story lines are the best part. Help a handsome writer meet his idol and deal with his psycho fans! And have sex! Help a tomboy detective woman solve her first real mystery! And have sex! Help twelve different unique sexy people deal with their problems! And have sex! And also punch a lot of animals, jerks, poor people and at one point, a train.

Max Gentlemen’s Sexy Business is available on Steam. It is from the same creators as Organ Trail, another favorite of mine you should check out.

By the way, this is my favorite business partner, BonBon Von Valentine, and her remarkable assets.

 Have You Played  Comments Off on Have You Played Max Gentlemen’s Sexy Business?
Feb 142020
 

DROP is a journal writing game about being an uber powerful soldier in a science fiction war. What war, what kind of soldier and what you are fighting is up to you. You wait between missions, writing in your journal all the details you want to add.

But eventually, the moment comes when your soldier/space marine/mech pilot must get into the drop pod and descend into the battle field. You’ll roll two dice and the result will determine whether you have a glorious victory or a bitter failure. Or sometimes both.

And then you write about. Some of your previous answers will be changed. You will lost pieces of what make you who you are. Battle by battle, drop by drop, you will explore the truest thing about war: War is Hell.

DROP is a lovely journal game about war and how it changes the people that wage it. I grew up in a military family and the propaganda that entails. Military science fiction has been a big part of my life but rarely does it touch upon how shitty war is to everyone involved. DROP feels like a welcome counter-balance.

At six pages, it has just enough information to get you going. The art and presentation is lovely and sets the tone. If you want to journal as a soldier having an existential crisis, I can’t think of a better game.

Jan 272020
 

80 Days is a video game based loosely on the novel, “Around the World in 80 Days” by Jules Verne. Instead of playing Phileas Fogg, who is trying to win a wager by going around the world in 80 days, you play his valet, Passepartout. Yet despite being the servant, you are the one doing all the planning, the research and the dangerous shit so your boss can get all the glory.

Huh, just like in real life.

That alone would be a fun game, but 80 Days becomes a true delight by changing the world that you travel in. Steampunk inventions are everywhere so you are often traveling in coaches drawn by mechanical horses, airships, submersibles and at one point, a freaking city that walks. There is an Artificer’s Guild that adds another layer of intrigue and politics to the already complex real world politics that exist.

The other delight is that this game is woke as fuck. Men and women share many roles from Captains, to soldiers to engineers. Transgender characters are present as well as LGBT relationships. The colonialism of the original is replaced with a scathing commentary on the impacts that colonialism has on society. If you avoid fiction from the past because of the misogyny and racism, then this game is a welcome relief.

Despite being a video game, it is really a reading game. You are going to be reading a lot. There is no dexterity required. The game play is choosing dialogue, buying items and choosing routes. My only critique is that the clock is always ticking, even when you are trying to arrange your inventory from three suitcases down to two because there is limited room on the next gyro-copter.

I played this game a lot when it came out for the iPhone and now there is a version for PC’s and Macs. Both versions are wonderful and I highly recommend it.

Jan 062020
 

Hunger is a solo writing game by the talented HyveMynd. You play a vampire who feeds on their human lover. Using a standard deck of cards, you are prompted to answer questions about consent, your lover’s body and whether or not they perish from your feeding.

Since it is a game where the rules literally fit on a business card, I can’t really say much about the rules without giving the game away for free. Take my word for it that it is a clever mechanic and is quite hot. I don’t even like vampires and I am hooked. It is the rare erotic game where I feel like I need a cool down period afterwards.

There is a companion game from the same designer, Thirst, where you play a human being fed upon by a vampire. I personally prefer Hunger, but your prey/predator tastes may vary.

Hunger is pay what you want at a suggested rate of 3$, but with such a smart design and lovely presentation, it deserves more of your money.

Apr 292019
 

Alone Among the Stars is a creative writing game by Takuma Okada. You play a lone space explorer visiting strange new planets. Through a system of six-sided dice and a deck of playing cards, you generate random things to explore. For each place generated, you write a log entry. That is it.

The random prompts generated are very vague and intentionally so. The suit of the card determines what you find and the card value determines where you find it. That means I can pull a card and get something like, “Creatures by a gentle river”. What kind of creatures? Are they hostile? Are they fish, people or monsters? What is the river made of? That is for you to decide.

At first the vagueness bothered me. I wanted more detail but after playing a few days, I see where details could turn into something repetitive. Creatures by a river could mean lots of things, and perhaps it is best that you do the heavy lifting in a creative exercise.

My favorite moments in video games is discovery. I enjoy exploring places more than I enjoy fighting things in those places. The problem with a video game is that there is a finite amount of discovery because everything needs an art asset. This game fixes that by using your imagination.

Personally, I play one session a day of this game, before my usual writing. It is a nice little exercise to warm up with as well as just being fun to do. There are times when I am looking forward more to the game than my actual writing, which is okay. It helps me segue easier than the stuff I should be writing.

I will admit that after one playthrough, I began to tweak and modify some of the rules. I also changed the space setting to one of magical plane exploration. Apparently I am not alone in wanting to alter it as there are dozens of variations out there inspired by Alone Among the Stars. Heck, I will probably be adding my own variation to the mix before long.

Is there any better compliment for a creative writing game than inspiring others to make their own? I don’t think so.

 Have You Played  Comments Off on Have You Played Alone among the Stars?
Apr 052019
 

Railroad Ink is a game for one to seven players. Each player gets a blank board and a dry-erase marker. Someone rolls dice, and the dice have different railroad tracks and highway shapes on them. The players have to draw on their map, using only what is on the dice. Their goal is to create long stretches of roads and tracks that all link together, but when you can only use the shapes that have been rolled on the dice, your system will look like it has been designed by a very drunk architect. You play for seven rounds and then grade your map according to several criteria. The highest score wins.

That is the whole game. You roll dice and draw tracks and highways. if you play the blue box of Railroad Ink, you also draw lakes and rivers. If you play the red box, you draw volcanoes and meteors. You could probably play with both sets and draw a really weird map with rivers, highways, train tracks and volcanoes.

If you are talented, and use your own collection of markers like my wife, you might end up with a map like this.

I will never make a map this prett

What surprises me about Railroad Ink is how relaxing it is. There is something soothing about drawing, even if it is just little pieces of highway. The game can be challenging but never stressful. It gives me a similar satisfaction to what I get from coloring, but engages my brain just a little more.

Now, nothing in the rules says that when you roll the dice, you shout “ALL ABOARD!” but I think it helps. I also advise shouting “CHOO CHOO MOTHERFUCKER!” when you get a bad roll of the dice. The game is simple enough that you could play it while watching television, but to get the ultimate experience, I suggest putting this on your TV and letting it be your soundtrack.

Nov 162018
 

Cultist simulator is a game about starting your own cult, gathering lore and occult treasures, avoiding agents of the Suppression Bureau, summoning monsters and maybe ascending to immortality. Sounds fun, right?

Well, the first time I played, I was a menial laborer at a hospital who gets laid off. I had one scrap of occult knowledge which kept giving me cosmic Dread. I got a new job as an accountant, but my boss kept making me work overtime for no extra money. What tiny money I made was sucked up by illness and buying random books of lore. I died of existential dread.

At no point did I come close to doing anything magical. I was too busy trying to survive. The game has no tutorial and very little in-game help. The lore itself is based on an entirely new mythology created for the game, so any of your own experiences with occult stuff in the real world is useless here. Every part of this game is a damn mystery. It is extremely frustrating.

Yet, I kept trying. On my third play-through, I was  given the option of playing a wealthy heir.  No longer worried about starving to death or unreasonable bosses, I had some room to experiment. I still had the same “oh shit, I better figure this out quick” mentality from my past games which gave me the discipline to experiment with purpose.

Things started to come together. The lore and mythology made a little more sense. I learned to deal with existential dread. I discovered how to make friends. The game was still mysterious but step by step, I slowly began to make sense of it. Small achievements in retrospect were huge accomplishments at the moment because it was something hard won and bitterly learned.

Which is kind of what dealing with the occult in real life is like. Well played, Cultist Simulator, you have recreated the “What the fuck is all this?” that I felt from the first time I started reading about magic.

On that third game, I ascended to immortality. It wasn’t easy but it was fun. I’m on my fifth game and even though I know a lot more, it is still a fun and exciting challenge.

Part of what makes it so much fun is that mythology I mentioned. The designer created his own gods, magic system and secret histories. You learn tantalizing tidbits from the books your character reads. Piece by piece, the world comes into focus, but the order in which you get the pieces is random.

For example, the book, “the Locksmith’s Dreams, Volume One” reads like this.

The parallells in mystic dreams experienced by carpenters, masons and other artisans, and what they purport to reveal about the architecture of the world. Sometimes mordant, sometimes funny. No-one has ever explained why Galmier devoted herself to this quixotic exploration of artisans dreams.

“‘Time and again we hear of the Wood, which rises from the world’s foundation. All trees reach for light. What does the Wood reach for? Is there a difference between light and Light? I think the key to dreams of the Wood might be one of these – the one that isn’t exactly real.”

Yeah, I eat mysteries like that up.

Cultist Simulator is fun, but the thing I love most about it is that it is full of little inspirations. My brain bubbles when I play this game. Story ideas pop in my head. This is a game that simulates the experience of learning something obscure, but it also creates that fertile space where your brain is creating its own mysteries. A game like that is precious.

Oct 172018
 

Cthulhu City is a tabletop role-playing game about a mysterious city that sits on the east coast. The city doesn’t appear on any maps. The city isn’t in any history books. The city can be hard to find until one terrible night, you find yourself in the city and now find it impossible to leave. The city is called Great Arkham, but you will know it as Hell on Earth.

I feel like there are as many Call of Cthulhu inspired games as there are Great Old Ones in the stars. Some are Suck, many are Okay and others are even Quite Good. The Gumshoe line of games from Pelgrane Press aspire to be more than just Quite Good and transcend into Art. Cthulhu city is no different.

It takes Lovecraft’s original bunch of small haunted towns and asks what would happen to those small towns if they got absorbed into one terrible city like New York or Chicago? Innsmouth, for example, is no longer a small fishing town but the name of the neighborhood that has the docks. It applies this kind of logic to places like Dunwich and Kingsport; transforming familiar places into really neat evolutions.

A normal writer would have stopped there and called it a day but Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan goes further. He makes the city truly alien and sinister with little touches like the giant basalt buildings that clearly predate human civilization but stand alongside skyscrapers and no one finds that weird. There is the mysterious Transport Police, who technically exist to keep people with infectious diseases from coming into the city, but the buildings they spray down with their “disinfectants” tend to melt the next day. Or what about the Church of the Conciliator, who is the dominate religion in the city, that teaches that Christ did not ressurect, but instead is dying and yet dreaming of a time when humanity will be merged with the Will of the Divine?

There is a mystery in Chtulhu city and one of the brilliant innovations of this game is that it is up to the gamemaster to decide what that mystery is. Does Great Arkham exist in other dimension? is it a shared hallucination? Some terrible result of a world-bending spell? The gamemaster decides, and the players investigate. To help you, the book provides three to four versions of EVERY non-player character, so you can decide, per campaign, if wise Dr. Armitage is a rebel hero, secret traitor or something far worse.

The game is contained in one nice beautiful tome. It took me about three months to read it all because I had to digest it in bits and pieces. Even though I don’t have a gaming group at the moment, the book is a wonderful source of inspiration for all things great and creepy. I recommend it to any Lovecraft fan and hold it up as an example of how to improve on Lovecraft’s original work.