First Impressions: Torchbearer Scholar’s Guide

Is it still first impressions if its the second book?

The Torchbearer Scholar’s Guide is the companion to the Dungeoneer’s Handbook, forming the core of the game. (Sort of, more or less, I’ll get to that in the future.) My expectations going into it was that it would be “the GM’s book,” and while technically the players are welcome to read it, and expected (or hoped) to read and digest parts of it, it’s still largely written for the GM. It’s just that the split is less “player/GM,” and more “characters/the world around them.”

The short of it is that this book is a bit more work. It’s more utilitarian, sometimes a bit drier, and even a bit cerebral in explaining how to create an experience. While not quite as breezy as the previous volume, it might be more rewarding long-term.

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First Impressions: Torchbearer Dungeoneer’s Handbook

Just look at that little guy!

I have a very specific type when it comes to RPG rule books: digest-sized, uncoated pages, hardback. I blame it on Burning Wheel Gold. Nothing against the taller books with glossy pages, but with so many of them, the one that looked like a fantasy novel really stood out—and as someone who likes reading rule books for the sake if it, I appreciated the more comfortable form factor. I even imagined it would be easier to lug around to the Burning Wheel game I never quite managed to get going.
Now, there’s a little more competition. In particular, Old-School Essentials fits exactly the same niche, and has also earned a top spot in my collection. I’ve had more luck getting old-school games going too, or at least cribbing from that style of play when tables demand the current edition of D&D.
All of this is to say that I offered no resistance to the Torchbearer 2nd Edition Kickstarter. Old-school dungeon crawling? Based on Burning Wheel? In a series of chunky digest-sized hardcovers? Now that I have my hands on them, the plan is to read them, give my initial impressions of each book (and, if I can whip up the interest, review the game at a couple of points in a short campaign). I’ll be looking at the books along three lines:

  1. Reading. How much I enjoyed just paging through the thing. Even if you’re not a weirdo like me who likes doing that for the sake of it, I’ll go into more pertinent details, like the writing and physical quality of the books.
  2. Stealing. In the sense of stealing ideas from the book to put into your other games, whether its specific rules or general inspiration. (Don’t actually steal the books. Support the people who make them.)
  3. Playing. Admittedly this is just a guess, but I think it’s the fundamental goal of any rule book: does it make me actually want to play the game?
    With that out of the way…
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First Impressions: Worlds Without Number

Ever since I heard about Worlds Without Number, I knew I wanted to get it. Designer Kevin Crawford has earned a reputation for himself, largely on two fronts: his work tends to be based on old-school D&D, with some really clever tweaks and adapted into different genres; and even if you don’t use his systems, his GM tools alone are worth the price of admission (which, graciously, is often free). Combine that with a product intended to be a good old classic fantasy setting, and I was chomping at the bit to play that game as soon as possible. I backed the Kickstarter, got my hands on my physical copy about a month ago, and can now happily report that I have… read it. Mostly. More or less.

But I think I can explain why it’s at the top of my list of games to run next.

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Gaming Genealogy: League of Legends, Part Two

Last time, we traced the distant relatives of League of Legends from Kriegsspiel in 1812 through to Dungeons & Dragons in 1974. This time, we get to draw consistently direct lines of influence, and start with a recognizable game rather than end with one. Where the last article ended with fantasy war gaming leading to the creation of the RPG, this time we need to back up a bit, and see how fantasy war gaming developed on its own… Continue reading “Gaming Genealogy: League of Legends, Part Two”

Gaming Genealogy: League of Legends, Part One

Games don’t exist in a vacuum; they spread, change, and influence one another. League of Legends is no exception, so lets take a look at just what tabletop and video games had to exist before the world’s biggest video game could be created.

When making this list, I focused on games that introduced, innovated, or popularized game mechanisms and style of play, and, later, directly inspired other games. I tried not to make any single example too big of a stretch; I’m not going to start with chess just because it features dudes on a map fighting each other.

…but I am going to start just over two hundred years ago. In a nation that no longer exists.

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On Lifestyle Games

Mondays are quickly becoming Warmachine nights, as I just got a couple friends of mine to join in on the miniature-based wargame. That’s not to say that means we always play the game on Warmachine night; sometimes we just end up painting, as our toy soldiers aren’t quite ready yet.

A term popped into my head, one that’s relatively obscure but quite evocative: lifestyle games.

Maybe I should take this moment to define terms, since I couldn’t seem to find one elsewhere. As I see it, a game is a lifestyle game if the player spends a disproportionate amount of time on that game in particular, rather than games in general; it often becomes a priority in a person’s time spent socializing or at leisure.

Warmachine is the latest one I’ve dabbled with. I’m also in an role-playing game campaign. I have plenty of experience with Magic: the Gathering. Clearly there’s something about these games that deeply appeals to me. I can think of plenty of other examples, too.

I’m willing to bet you know some people who have a poker night, if you’re not a part of one yourself. It becomes deeply ingrained in a person’s social life; on, say, Fridays, they meet up with their poker buddies and play.

Did you know there used to be a television show called Championship Bridge with Charles Goren? It premiered in 1959, well before poker ever aired on television. You might think Charles Goren was just a television host. Nope, he was a well established public figure because of Bridge. He wrote books and articles about the game. Heck, the show even had celebrity guests, which really preempts shows like Celebrity Poker Showdown or Dancing with the Stars.

Have you heard of Curt Schilling? He’s a baseball player, and a BIG fan of a game called Advanced Squad Leader. So much so that, unable to attend a convention dedicated to it, he started his own that took place in the off season. He made an offer to buy the game, joined a separate company trying to do the same, and how he’s co-owner of Multi-Man Publishing. He’s kind of a fan.

I know the focus of this site is board games, but I can’t pass up mentioning video games. E-sports are a thing now. There are high-level competitions for games like Starcraft, Counter-Strike, and League of Legends. These competitions are broadcast, with commentary, and spark plenty of discussion and even fantasy leagues.

Did you know that there are people who go to gaming conventions primarily to play train games? I’ve heard of the Puffing Billy tournaments, mostly centering around 18xx games, which… on second thought, I’ll leave it for another article, but suffice it to say people dig train games.

Hopefully that makes the subject clear. Now, let’s take a look at what makes these games tick.
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Review: The Duke

pic16889032 players, 30 minutes

Chess is a funny thing. It’s a centuries-old game that people have dedicated their lives to playing, and yet hobby board gamers hardly ever talk about it one way or the other. At most, it’s appreciated from afar, as a game that people respect but don’t really want to play. It’s easy to see why—there’s little theme to the game, skilled players will almost invariably beat weaker players, and the learning curve between amateur and expert play can be a real grind.

It seems there’s a demand for a game that scratches the same strategy game itch as chess, but tweaks the formula to replace the parts that turn many game players off. One recent attempt to fill this demand is The Duke by Catalyst Games.

The Duke is an abstract strategy game, similar to chess or shogi (a game I dutifully Googled before writing this review). The game is played on a six by six grid, and troops are represented by wooden tiles featuring the piece’s name, symbol, and movement pattern. On their turn, a player can move one of their pieces according to that pattern. If it lands on an enemy tile, that enemy tile is captured and removed from the game. If a player can threaten to capture the opponent’s Duke from the board, and their opponent has no way of stopping it, that player wins the game.

Sounds fairly typical so far—nut there are three things that distinguish The Duke from games like chess or shogi.
First, taking a page out of miniature wargames, the players get to deploy their troops at the start of the game.
Second, the pieces have a reverse face that has a different movement pattern. In chess and shogi, a piece can be promoted if it advances far enough to your opponent; in The Duke, the pieces flip every time you use them.
Third, instead of moving one of your tiles, you can instead use your turn to draw a random tile from your bag and place it on the board adjacent to your Duke.

Let’s take a look at what these elements bring to the game.

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