Ashford Vignette #10 (2019)

Gavin McCray leaned against the rough stone wall, panting.

He was well and truly lost now.  He’d been in denial for hours, but had to admit it.  He had no clue where he was, or even what floor he was on.

When Lakhmi had asked him about getting caught on the fourth floor of Ashford, “Risks must be taken in the pursuit of knowledge” had seemed so profound and convincing.  That had been twelve, maybe fourteen, hours ago, in the comfortable, well-lit, secure corridors of the third floor.

Now, in the eternal twilight, with no idea of his location, or even if he was still on the fourth floor, or even in Ashford, the words and assurance rang hollow.

Everything had been going well.  The rough map he’d bought off one of the Black Rose had been surprisingly accurate.  Visions of a triumphant return and rising in the ranks of the Solar Society, the minor cabal that valued knowledge, played in his mind’s eye.

Then something had jumped him in the dark.

He had run, toward what he had thought were stairs back up to the safety of the third floor.  The stairs appeared to have gone down, though, below the fourth.

Since then, map useless, Gavin had spent his time fruitlessly searching for a way back up.  Even a door outside to some part of Earth.  If he could find that, he could find a way to Dublin or another city that opened to Ashford.

Before the couple glo-stones he had left failed, or the things that lived in the corridors caught him.

That was one thing Gavin had learned quickly.

The rumors that there were residents on the fourth floor, or lower, were unfortunately true.

Origins Game Fair Day 2 (2019)

Busy second day at Origins, which is why this is late.  We played or watched nine games, and re-played Deadly Doodles.  And visited with Mercedes Lackey, the Author GoH, once we eventually caught her at her table.

Catan: Cities & Knights (Catan Studios)

Almost identical to regular Catan, except that the robber works a bit differently.  Introduced invading barbarians and knights to protect against them.  The game also adds city walls and city improvements that grant development cards and other bonuses.  On the whole, I really enjoyed it and would definitely play it again.


Catan: Rise of the Inkas (Catan Studios)

We only watched this one, so I didn’t get as good a feel for it.  According to the guy running the demo, it’s about 75% normal Catan with a Small World (Days of Wonder) style “civilization in decline” element and the ability to take over other players’ territory.


Schrodinger’s Cats (9th Level)

We didn’t get to play this, only have a talk through from one of the booth workers.  Unfortunately, that didn’t really have much detail of game play and didn’t help.  My son decided that it was the game he wanted to get this year, though, so we’re muddling our way through it.  The concept is a basic bid and bluff or build style game.  Each player is a scientist trying to prove or disprove Schrodinger’s famous experiment—alive, dead, empty, or Heisenberg Uncertainty (e.g. wild card).  Each scientist has a special power that can be used once per game and a feline parody name like Albert Felinestein, Sally Prride or Neil deGrasse Tabby.  The concept is amusing, but the rules are not written clearly.  We’ll need to check some YouTube play throughs to really figure out how to properly play the game.

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Blob Lobber (SJGames)

Not my favorite of the day, by far, despite my love of SJGames.  Basically, the play area is populated by a blob and four blob queens.  Cards are dropped from at least 12” above the play area and must flip over at least once.  If they land of blobs that are not your color, you get points.  If they land of friendly blobs (your color), you lose points.  If they land blob-side up, there are more blob targets available.


Bunny Kingdom in the Sky (Iello)

Expansion of Bunny Kingdom that builds onto the board.  Nothing majorly interesting or notably different about game play, except for a few cards that drastically change resource availability and, therefore, scoring.  Honestly, if I were to get Bunny Kingdom, I wouldn’t bother with the expansion.

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Tsuro: Phoenix Rising (Calliope)

Unfortunately, this is not available until September.  But, once it is, it is definitely on our purchase list.  A variation on basic Tsuro, except that the players are lantern hunting (to get stars) phoenixes.  As phoenixes, they also get extra lives (one each), so going off the board can be a strategic move as the player can “die” and return anywhere along the board.  Tiles (double sided, both sides can be played) also allow for movement across corners, which changes strategies considerably and the board begins mostly populated with tiles.  As the demo guy (Chris Leder) said, you really have to unlearn everything you know about Tsuro in order to play Phoenix Rising.  But, it was a lot of fun.


Kanagawa (Iello)

Interesting, if somewhat complex, game of “painting”.  A lot of resource management (paint, mostly) and figuring out what, exactly, you need to get the diplomas that carry points.  It was interesting, but I don’t think we were playing exactly 100% by the rules after the first couple rounds, once the demo guy left to help some other people with a different game.

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Legendary Forests (Iello)

Fun and simple little game in which the players are dryads building the best forest floor.  One player randomly draws tiles (full stack – 5, so not all tiles are used).  Every player uses the exactly same tiles, but orients them differently and gets different forests by the end game.  Some tiles have a different color number, which causes every player to draw trees to grow in their forest.  The trees are what give players points, since every contiguous group of a color of forest floor that has one tree in it scores points at the end.


Spymaster (Calliope)

Unfortunately, not available until September.  Fun game of strategy, resource moving/building, and deception.  Every player is the head of a spy agency, with three field agents (whom only the player can move).  There are also a dozen or more “neutral agents” (whom anyone can move).  The game revolves around collecting intelligence (which allows players to move agents and “pay” for missions) and moving agents.  Each face up mission (6, one per inhabited continent) has a cost in agents (agency, neutral, or both) and intelligence.  Movement can be used to get your pieces in position, or move the pieces another player needs out of position, or to feint and try to get other players to think you’re going after one mission instead of your actual target.  Looking forward to the full release on this one.

Four Corners Vignette #2 (2019)

Helena Bannik ran a hand over her face, ostensibly wiping away tension.  The act also masked her spellcasting, on herself, not either of her recalcitrant companions.

“Seriously, Lawrence?  Do you think me some kind of fool?  You think I know nothing of your reputation?”

Viola Ehrich, Four Corners resident and heir to a modest fortune.  Not known for her grasp of social graces, beyond ordering around servants.

“No, I know you to be a fool and irrational.  Your family’s stake isn’t worth what it once was.  Realistically, you must sell at a loss, as the business is not worth what it was, even six years ago.”

Lawrence Bear, her other client.  An alchemist who, rumors and evidence suggested, had never been particularly apt or studious in his magic.  But, he made up for it with a penchant for business, specifically buying and profiting from others’ businesses.

Both headstrong, proud, and firmly convinced of their own genius.

And she had to find common ground.

At a loss after two hours, Helena let her eyes roam Four Corners’ central square.  Her ears and subconscious recorded and processed the bickering while she watched the blissfully unstressed visitors and locals enjoying the sunny day and cool breezes.  Some strolled across the cobble square, on a mission or simply taking in the scenery.  Others lounged at black, ornate wrought iron tables like her clients, though considerably more relaxed.

After a few calming moments, Helena decided she should probably intervene before one of her clients killed the other.

Origins Game Fair Day 1 (2019)

A good six hour day was had from demoing eight games to a brief chat with Mercedes Lackey to watching the kid flail his way through the boffer arena.

Deadly Doodles (SJGames)

Steve Jackson Games’ newest offering, technically it’s not being released until GenCon but they are demoing it and have some copies available for sale at Origins.  Over all, it’s a fun game.  In some ways, it has a Tsuro feel in that it is a path building game.  However, all four players are building their own paths on their own (dry erase) map, though all the maps are identical.  Players get points for getting weapons, monsters, and treasures.  They lose points for getting monsters without the associated weapons or for running through traps placed by other players.  Fun dungeon delving path builder.


Ship Shape (Calliope)

Essentially a board covering, resource gathering game with penalties for being too greedy.  The “story” is that players are smugglers trying to build cannons to protect their ship, gold, and contraband.  But, the player with the fewest cannons loses points (can’t protect their ship) and the player with the most contraband loses points (gets raided by the Crown).  We only got the short version demo, versus a full play, so my understanding of the game is probably incomplete at the moment.


Bunny Kingdom (Iello)

Fun, slightly complex, game technically intended for ages 14+ due to the math involved (but my 8 year old loved it).  Each player draws 10 or 12 cards depending on how many players (2, 3, 4).  Rounds proceed by each player plays two cards, places their pieces or does card actions, then passes their remaining cards clockwise.  Then they play two cards, place pieces, and pass the remaining cards.  This continues until all the cards are played.  Then scoring commences by counting up the number of town/castle towers multiplied by the variety of connected resources (ex. carrots, fish).  Some cards give full game goals for bonus points as well (ex. control 9 cities).


King of New York (Iello)

Expansion and variation on King of Tokyo, monsters destroy NYC.  Dice rolls determine energy, health, damage, etc.   But, the city fights back by mobilizing troops as you destroy buildings.  Not one of my favorites, but it does seem to be popular with a significant number of people.


Catan: Legend of the Sea Robbers (Catan Studios)

Very fun, if rather complex, variant on basic Catan.  Typical Catan set up, except with three starting settlements, two roads, and a ship.  Ships are needed to cross the waters and get ore (which cannot be rolled).  Good news, though, the robber cannot rob anyone who has less than 4 victory points.  The goal is to reach 11 points by building the usual things (settlements, cities, roads, development cards), with the addition of ships.  Ships get castaways who can be sent out each turn for ore (for a price), but there are also some bonus gifts along the way and some helpers who have special abilities.


Farmini (Iello)

Cute farm building game, kid wasn’t too impressed but it was kinda fun for a once or twice off.  Basically, every player is trying to build a fenced area to protect their farm animals.  And drawing farm animals occasionally to score points (which also come from fencing in corn fields).  What are they protecting the animals from?  The wolf cards.  Each wolf card targets a specific animal (pig, chicken, goat) and any of said animal that is not fenced in is lost if the wolf comes up.  Players score points for every animal they have and enclosed corn fields.


Zombie Kids (Iello)

Nice, simple, fast area denial survival game.  Up to four players are kids trying to protect their cul-de-sac from a zombie apocalypse.  Each player’s turn starts by rolling a spawn point for a zombie (five areas plus a “no spawn”), then they move.  When they enter a space, they can remove two zombies.  If there are 3+ zombies in a space, the players can no longer enter it (area denial).  The goal is to lock all four gates (requires two players at the gate space) before all the zombies are placed on the board (if you run out of zombies to play, they win).  Initially, it seems rather easy, but quickly becomes quite difficult.


Rivals for Catan (Catan Studios)

Good, fairly fast, two-player version of Catan.  In some ways it’s simplified, in that players aren’t competing for space or resources.  In other ways, it’s more complex, in that there are other factors (strength, skill, trade power) that come into play and both players begin with six resource points that expand by the end of the game (I ended the game with 8 or 10 resource points to watch, as well as maybe 8 buildings that each gave different abilities).  It can be a little tough to keep track of all your resource sources and building abilities as the game progresses.

Ashford Vignette #9 (2019)

(Note: Seth somehow ended up channeling a guy [whom I won’t name, to protect the semi-innocent] I knew in college, so he’s loosely based on a real person.)

“Dude, not those stairs.  Fourth floor, no one knows what’s down there.  I heard there’s tenebrae, crazy reynir, all kinds of squatters and worse.”

“Crazy reynir’s redundant.”


Elaine shook her head, “Fine.  We’ll just go up to the dining hall.  What happened to your sense of adventure?”

“Basic summoning.  Adhikari,” Seth said with a shudder.  “Mistakes were made.  No limbs were lost, but many nightmares.”

“Whatever.  After all your talk about horror stories . . .”

“The imagination’s limited, Stirling.  Truth is stranger than fiction and some things cannot be unseen.”

“Sure, Tyerman.  Pull the other one, it’s got bells on.”

She’d never really understood that last bit, but her dad used to say it a lot.  It wriggled its way into her usage through osmosis.

“Infirmary stairs, or library?”

“Infirmary, closest to the dorm.  I wanna drop my stuff before lunch.”

They walked in silence for a bit, toward the stairs that would take them up to the second floor, near the infirmary.

As they started up the steps, Seth said, “You had Master Salem yesterday, right?  What’d you think?”

Elaine considered, until they were halfway up.

“Kinda quiet, seems easy-going.  Seems to know his wards and stuff. . . .” She flashed a mischievous grin, “Kinda cute too.”


“Yeah.  I don’t think he’s into guys, though.  Heard a rumor he and Mrocek have a thing.”

“Doesn’t mean a guy can’t look and appreciate.”

With a chuckle, Elaine shook her head, “You need some food, boy, get that blood sugar up.”

Four Corners Vignette #1 (2019)

Frances Duncan studied his client over steepled fingertips as he considered the request.

Young, perhaps fifteen years his junior.  Clothing comfortable, well-tailored, speaking of modest wealth, considerable but not obscene.  Shoulder length brunette, cut straight and simple.  He had not balked or started at the theatrics—the dim lights, subtle incense, fake crystal ball, the things one expected of a diviner—which indicated familiarity, or that they had not registered.

Given the man’s apparent state of distress, Frances decided on the latter.

“Mr. Havorford, I am sorry you wasted your time.  If it was a matter of finding this person, or something they’d taken or lost, that would be different.  But, divination is notoriously vague and tricky.  The future is constantly shifting.”

“If it’s a matter of money . . .”

Frances held up a hand.

“No.  It is a matter of ethics and accuracy.  History shows us a trail of ruin that sits at the feet of divination.  And history is correct on this matter, I’m afraid.”

Gods, he thought, don’t let him try . . . yes, Havorford was resorting to the puppy eyes.  And he was damn good at it too.

“Please, Mr. Duncan?  I need to know.  For my parents and my family, not for me.  You are the most reputable diviner I have found in months of looking.”

“That’s because I will only tell you the truth, if I do this.  Not simply what you want to hear.”

“That is all I ask, sir.”

Frances closed his eyes and sighed.

“Fine.  Give me two days to prepare, then return here.  Friday at seven.  Then we will see what we can see, probabilities only.”

Ashford Vignette #8 (2019)

“Cameron, hit me.”

Balanced, knees slightly bent, Cameron Wyche looked at his instructor.  She stood a few feet away, relaxed and not even in a guard position.  A simple baton held in her right hand, tucked under her arm.

“Now, Cameron.  Yes, with the sword in your hand.”

Live steel?

She was crazy.

He was half again her size and had twice her reach.

Still, she was the instructor.

Cam shrugged and moved forward, keeping his feet under his center.  He led with the two feet of sharp, high carbon steel between himself and his opponent until the last moment.

The heavy blade rose and swung on its descent, turning into a diagonal cut that would split Master Axelrod from shoulder to opposite hip.

He felt his blade batted aside as it fell.

Somehow, Cam managed to catch the flick of Axelrod’s wrist that sent her stick whipping around toward him.  A s long as she stayed back, he could recover, the baton was short and couldn’t reach . . .

A sharp pain erupted at rib level.

Suddenly, Cam found himself staring down a foot of shining bronze and a few feet of ash.

In an instant, the spear was gone and the baton was back under Master Axelrod’s arm.  She turned as if nothing had happened.

“What is the lesson, class?”

“Don’t assume anything, Master.”

Sitting by his friend, Ram, Cam shook his head.

Ram grinned and whispered, “Don’t ever attack an elementalist warrior who has a stick, bud.”