Category Archives: Games

Ten great Tabletop games you can use to introduce your friends to gaming

Via Reddit, I saw this fantastic list at Board Game Geek, detailing the top 100 “gateway” games, which is how we describe a game you use as an infection vector for tabletop gaming.

Here’s the top ten, as voted on by Board Game Geek members:

1 Ticket to Ride/TTR Europe
2 Carcassonne (all)
3 King of Tokyo
4 Dixit
5 For Sale
6 Diamant/Incan Gold
7 Can’t Stop
8 Pandemic
9 Love Letter
10 Settlers of Catan

As I’ve written before, different games work for different people, and someone who loves Ticket To Ride may not like King of Tokyo at all, so ask your non-gamer or tabletop-curious friends questions, and choose their gateway game carefully. All of these games have a high ratio of luck to strategy, which makes it a lot of fun for experienced and new players alike to play together.

And, as luck would have it, a lot of these games have been played on Tabletop, so you can get an assist from Your Old Pal Wil Wheaton when you introduce one of them to a new gamer. Just use the links above.

Have fun, and PLAY MORE GAMES!

Dark Days, Bright Days

Guest blogger, Will Hindmarch, is a writer and designer in Chicago. You might know his work from the book design for Memories of the Future, Volume 1 or from RPGs like Always/Never/Now.

There I was, alone outside an unfamiliar hotel-room door, with nowhere to hide. It was too late to flee. I had already knocked.

My newest tabletop RPG design was in my bag, ready to make a first impression. I felt like I had worms in my guts.  I thought I could feel my brain’s insidious chemicals  diluting the meds I take to keep my head above the waves. I took a breath, let it out.

Settle down, you idiot, I thought to myself. Just don’t be a dick.

Someone worked the latch on the door. It swung open.

“Hey, how are you?” Wil Wheaton asked, doorknob in hand. “Come on in.”

I went inside.  But I’d already made my first mistake. It went into my mood like a drop of dye clouding into clear water.

Did you catch it?

Continue reading

There’s a harbor lost within the reeds.

I was getting my things together to go downtown, when my phone buzzed in my pocket. I pulled it out and opened a text message from my son, Nolan, which read: #BURRITOWATCH2014?

I smiled, and replied that I had an appointment downtown, but would be up for #burritowatch2014 as soon as I was finished, if he didn’t mind waiting for me. He said that was fine, and a few hours later we were waiting at one of my favorite places for our food.

While we waited, we took a stupid selfie for Twitter

#BURRITOWATCH2014And then our food arrived. I had an Al Pastor with no rice, extra-spicy, and he had a pollo asada, no rice, with mild salsa.

Burrito Al Pastor

We ate our delicious burritos, and then I took him home. When I dropped him off, I said, “Hey, your mom is going to have dinner with Stephanie tonight, and I’ll be home doing nothing. So if you wanted to come over and watch a movie or something, you’re invited.”

“I may be hanging out with some friends, but if I’m not, that sounds great,” he said.

“Awesome,” I said. “I love you.”

“Love you too.”

He walked up to his apartment and I watched him. I know it’s silly, but whenever one of my kids walks away from me, whether we’re saying goodbye in an airport or train station, or even if they’re just walking to their cars from my house, I see them though this strange paternal vision that makes them look like 6 year-olds, going to their first day of school. They’re 24 and 22, now, and I don’t think that’s ever going to change for me.

I drove back to my house, running a few errands on the way, and when I got home, Nolan called me. “Hey, I’m going to see my friends, but not until later. I don’t have time to watch a movie, but do you want to play a game?”

“Yes, I would love that,” I said. “I have some really fun two player games here. Come over whenever you want.”

“Okay, I’ll be there soon.”

I hung up the phone,  and thought, “Holy. Shit.”

For years, I have struggled to close the gap between us that opened up when Nolan was a teenager and he pulled away from me. We had been so incredibly close when he was little, it hurt me a lot that he was so withdrawn from me, but I didn’t want to force a relationship on him that he didn’t want. Through it all, I continued to love him unconditionally, and I always hoped that one day he would come back to me. I always invited him to our house when we did things, and he usually declined. I’d ask him to hang out, or go for a bike ride, or play frisbee, and he wasn’t really interested. But, recently, something changed. He’s been coming over to see me more frequently, sitting with me in my house and talking with me about his life and the choices he’s making right now, asking for my advice, and closing that gap. It’s wonderful.

One thing I never thought would happen though? Gaming together. We played lots of games when he was a kid, but part of his character build during the teenager level was rejecting everything that was important to me, especially gaming.

So when he called me — didn’t text me, but called me — to ask if I wanted to play games, I was as happy as I was caught completely off-guard.

Much sooner than I expected, Nolan came walking into the house. Our dogs adore him, so Marlowe immediately ran laps, while Riley did her happy “rooooooooooOOoOOOOOOooooOOO” noise. Seamus just leaned into him and demanded scritches behind his ears.

Once the dogs had expressed their love for him, Nolan and I went to my nearly-completed gameroom, where all of my games are on a series of bookshelves that takes up almost one entire wall.

“So I have Hive, which is really fun and kind of like chess, All Creatures Big and Small which is like Agricola but for 2 people, Battlelore, which is a minis game with really cool movement rules, OGRE, which is the first wargame I ever played, Carcassonne, which I can teach you in about 5 minutes …”

“You also have all these decks of Magic cards,” he said, showing me a box that does, in fact, have several hundred Magic cards in it, collected from the first edition I ever owned, to the most recent release.

“Dude, let’s play Magic!” I said. We used to play Magic a lot when he was younger, and it was one of those things that, while it didn’t close the gap, certainly bridged it from time to time. In fact, during that time, I gave him unfettered access to my Magic cards, which he used to duel kids in his school. On day, he came home and was really upset that kids were printing cards from the Internet, and using them in sleeves, which he (correctly) interpreted as cheating. “I’ll never use sleeves,” he declared, “because I want everyone I duel to know that I’m not cheating.”

“This is an excellent idea,” I told him, both because it was, and because I really hate playing any game that has cards in sleeves. I mean, that’s like putting plastic on your couch, for fuck’s sake. Andrew.

Nolan took some of my cards with him to Game Empire to play in an open dueling thing, and an ur-gamer of my generation refused to play with him, because, in the ur-gamer’s words, the cards Nolan was using — my cards — were “far too valuable” to be used unless they were in sleeves. He gave Nolan sleeves for those cards, which Nolan used, but then returned when the duel was over, if I recall correctly.

Back in the present, he said, “Let’s play two-out-of-three with random decks.”

We grabbed a couple decks, including some Mirrodin Besieged decks, the Knights and Dragons duel decks, and two Planeswalker decks that I got at GenCon or PAX or some con a couple years ago.

Now, I am not the greatest Magic player in the world, and I don’t spend nearly as much time playing it now as I did when I was much younger and had more time (and money) to invest in keeping up with the latest rules and releases, but I still have a good time whenever I play. I also believe that, generally, fast decks that kill with one thousand cuts are usually more successful than slow decks that count on defending yourself a lot while you wait for a big bad to show up and smack the other guy into dust with two or three big hits. I could be wrong, but that’s my general experience.

I mention this because we randomly pulled decks, and Nolan got a fast deck each time, while I got a slow deck. They weren’t especially balanced, and he immediately took the first two games from me, basically by stabbing me a bunch of times with goblin spears, using the Dragons half of the Knights and Dragons duel decks.

We switched to the Planeswalker decks for the second match. I got Garruk (green), and he got Chandra (red). These little decks are really fun. They’re 30 cards each, a very simple build, and lend themselves to really quick duels … which is pretty terrible if you’re the guy with the green deck who needs to get 7 freaking mana out to play his Wurms, while the other guy’s red deck slowly murders you with goblins. Again.

I did win a single game, because Nolan should have taken a Mulligan on his draw, and after five games, it was Nolan 4, Wil 1.

“I just realized that your decks have both been fast decks, while mine were built around withstanding a lot of small hits until I can smack you a couple times for lots of life,” I said.

“I prefer fast decks,” he said.

“So do I,” I said.

He cocked his head to one side, which he’s done since he was little whenever he’s about to get serious, and said, “do you mind that I’m killing you? Like, is it still fun for you?”

When Ryan and Nolan were little, they played Little League. They were coached by their hypercompetitive dad, whose winning-is-the-only-thing attitude ruined the experience for both of them. At one point during one of their seasons, I had to stop going to games because I couldn’t stomach watching their biodad yell at them, oblivious (or uncaring) to how much it was upsetting them. And, Jesus Fuck Shit, Little League Parents: get some fucking perspective, will you? They are 8 year-olds, playing a game, on a weekend. If those little kids winning those games is the most important thing in your life, you fail at parenting, and life in general.

Sorry. I still get angry about how much those games upset my kids, and how I couldn’t do anything to protect them from it at the time. The point is, during that time, I tried my best to support them and provide a counter weight to their biodad’s crap. I told them, “It’s fun to win, sure, but if you only have fun when you win, you completely lose the joy of just playing a game, and being part of a team that works together. You’re not going to win every game you play, so if winning is the only way you have fun, you’re going to have a bad time pretty often.”

I think they intuitively understood that, and I think their understanding of that, coupled with a desire to meet their biological father’s demands, made the entire Little League experience very difficult for them. I know that they internalized my lessons, though, because they’ve both told me as much at one time or another in recent years.

“Yes,” I said. “I’m having a really great time playing with you. Winning just doesn’t matter to me.”

I paused. Then: “Are you ready for the greatest comeback in the history of life?” I asked him, “because it’s about to happen.”

He looked silently back at me, and raised his eyebrows.

“Shut up! It can totally happen.”

More of the look, and we both laughed.

“Okay, which of these decks do you want?” I asked him. One was called Into The Breach, which had a pretty cool-looking, H.R. Geigeresque insectoid creature on the cover. The other was called Infect & Defile, which had a dimilar, H.R. Geigeresque creature on its cover, but more bird-like.

“I’ll take, uh …” he looked at them both, and reached for Into The Breach. “I’ll take this one.”

I took the other, and he said, “No! Wait! This is green, and that is black and blue. I want the black and blue deck.”

“Normally, I’d say it’s not a big deal and you can have it, but you’re destroying me so much I’m going to keep it and consider it a minor victory.”

“Dude. That’s harsh.”

“I know. I’m terrible.”

We opened the boxes, and pulled out the decks inside. They are Event Decks, which I’d never played with before. It’s a pretty cool idea: you get a deck that’s constructed from a bunch of different sets, built around a particular theme, that’s theoretically tough enough to withstand tournament play.

“Hey, this is really cool,” I said, “and there’s even a little insert that tells you how to play the deck.”

I took my insert out and opened it up.

“Are you fucking serious?” I said.

He looked up at me, and I read the first sentence to him: “To win with the ‘Infect & Defile’ deck, you’ll need to be patient.” I skipped a bit and continued: “…given enough time, you’ll draw more cards…”

“Oh man, that’s hilarious.”

“Well, I’ve certainly been training up for this deck,” I said. “Let’s do this!”

We started our duel, and Nolan just ruined me, quickly, in back-to-back games. In the second game, he used a devastating series of instants to cut me down to four life, then a sorcery to finish me off, all on the fourth or fifth round.  “I’m not even angry, ” I said, “that was amazing.”

“You are the undisputed master of Magic,” I said. “You may do The March, if you wish.”

The March is this silly victory thing we’ve been doing in our family since we first played one of the DVD versions of Trivial Pursuit in the early 2000s. Anne loves to do it, and I’ll admit that it feels pretty good to do when you’ve earned it, especially if you’re extremely obnoxious in the marching and saluting.

“No, I’m good,” he smiled. “I think these decks weren’t very balanced.”

I shrugged. “I don’t play enough to know, and if we were really super serious I guess we could switch decks and play again, but I know you’ve got to get to your friend’s house, and I don’t want to monopolize your Friday night.”

We cleaned up the game, and he said, “I had a really good time playing with you, and I’m not just saying that because I won.”

“I know,” I said, “I had a great time playing with you, too. I’m really glad you came over.”

He bent down and hugged me (he’s almost 6’2″, now, and has giant arms, so he pretty much engulfs my tiny 5’11” person when he hugs me). There was a sincerity and warmth to his hug that I didn’t realize had been missing for a very long time. I hugged him back.

“I love you, Nolan,” I said.

“I love you, too, Wil,” he said.

I pulled away and patted his chest with my palm. “Have fun with your friends, and be good. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Okay. Let’s do this again.”

“I’d like that a lot,” I said.

He went out the front door, and I closed it behind him. Through the glass, I watched my little boy walk down the driveway, towards his first day of school.

Escape From Waterdeep

When we’re in production on Tabletop, we shoot two episodes a day. Each episode takes around five hours to film, and by the end of the fourth or fifth day in a week, we all get a little silly from sleep deprivation.

Before they leave for the day, we ask all the players to sign a few copies of the game they played. We keep these signed games in a vault at Geek and Sundry, and give them out as prizes, or offer them for select charity auctions.

Last season, when we were shooting Lords of Waterdeep, I went to sign the cover of the game, and thought that the artwork sort of looked like Escape From New York. I was feeling a little silly, so this happened:

Lords of Waterdeep

Escape from Waterdeep

This copy of the game lives in the Geek and Sundry offices, and will remain part of our permanent collection.

Speaking of Tabletop, here’s what’s coming up for the rest of this season. If you own a game shop, you may want to talk to your distributor about getting extra copies of these upcoming games, if you experience what I’m told is called The Tabletop Effect:

  • December 26th – Carcassonne
  • January 9th – Tsuro of the Seas
  • January 23rd – Ticket to Ride Europe
  • February 6th – Fortune and Glory
  • February 20th – Lords of Vegas

Oh! And speaking of Lords of Waterdeep, which is one of my very favourite games of this year, the iOS version is really great.

RPGs to play with your kids

I just found out about the latest Bundle of Holding, which is a collection of amazing RPGs that you can play with your kids. This is the perfect way to introduce your children to roleplaying games, and you can do it for about five bucks.

Check it out:

Adventurer! The fellowship of Friends and Family brings you a large assortment of tabletop roleplaying games especially designed to introduce young players to the joys of roleplaying. With these .PDF ebooks, parents can teach these introductory games to their kids, and the kids can learn and play some of these games all by themselves. For just US$5.95, you get all the rulebooks in our core collection as DRM-free .PDFs:

  • Hero Kids: An ideal introduction to fantasy roleplaying for children aged 4 to 10.
  • Mermaid Adventures: Exciting undersea adventures and strange mysteries. (Ages 6-11.)
  • The Princes’ Kingdom: Young heirs to the throne of Islandia, visiting the citizens of their land and solving problems. This bundle is the first .PDF version of The Princes’ Kingdom sold anywhere! (Ages 5+, plus an adult.)
  • Happy Birthday, Robot!: The charming storytelling game by Daniel Solis for families or classrooms. (Ages 9+ — and especially good for grownups.)

And if you pay more than the threshold price of $13.06, you’ll level up and receive our entire collection of bonus games:

  • Adventures in Oz – Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road: A loving journey into the lands of L. Frank Baum. (Ages 8+.)

  • Camp Myth: The RPG: Third Eye’s adaptation of the Chris Lewis Carter YA novel series about mythic creatures at summer camp. (Ages 8-13.)

  • Project Ninja Panda Taco: Jennifer (Jennisodes) Steen’s game of competing Masterminds and their biddable Minions. (Ages 8+.)

  • School Daze: It’s high school the way you wish it could be. (Ages 13+.)

  • The Zorcerer of Zo: Chad Underkoffler’s classic game of fairy tales set in the Zantabulous Land of Zo. (Ages 5+.)

There’s just about 20 hours left on the sale, so get on this while the getting’s good, as they say in those old movies.

Not everyone is going to like the thing you made, and that’s okay

I recently worked on an upcoming video game from Double Fine, called Broken Age. I got to play a really fun character, and I had a super good time working with one of my favorite directors in the industry.

Double Fine announced my participation in a video that includes some shots of me recording, and the response from people who chose to respond was overwhelmingly positive.

Earlier this morning, the following Tweets appeared in my timeline, back to back:

Perspective

When I was younger, I would have completely ignored the first one, and obsessively focused on the second one to the point of feeling shitty about myself. Part of having Imposter Syndrome is believing that people who praise you are dupes, while the people who criticize you can actually see through everything. But the thing is, the guy who isn’t thrilled has every right to feel that way, and I don’t take it personally. Not everyone digs what I do and what I bring to a project, and that’s totally cool. At the same time, it’s also pretty awesome that a lot of people do dig what I bring to a project, and that is also cool.

Consider this, about having perspective on criticism: If you enjoyed making a thing, and you’re proud of the thing you made, that’s enough. Not everyone is going to like it, and that’s okay. And sometimes, a person who likes your work and a person who don’t will show up within milliseconds of each other to let you know how they feel. One does not need to cancel out the other, positively or negatively; if you’re proud of the work, and you enjoyed the work, that is what’s important.Don’t let the fear of not pleasing someone stop you from being creative.

The goal isn’t to make something everyone will love; the goal is to get excited, and make a thing where something wasn’t before.

a little bit about games, and choosing a tabletop game you’ll enjoy

On Tumblr, t wrote:

My birthday is coming up next week and my brother insists on getting me something. He asked me what I wanted and told him I wanted a board game. He asked which one and I kind of blanked ajd told him I’d get back to him.
Being a fan of Table Top I went through and picked out my favorite ones but can’t decide on which game I want. Currently it is a choice between Munchkin, Betrayal at House on the Hill, Elder Sign and Pandemic. Which one would you pick?

This is a fairly common question, though the games are a little different each time. Here’s what I answered:

Those are all very different games, so it depends on what kind of gaming experience you want to have.
Munchkin is silly, pun-filled, and about messing with your friends. It also has about nine million expansions.
Pandemic is about working together in a game that you’re probably going to have fun losing.
Elder Sign is about working together in a heavily-themed game that is very random because of the dice.
Betrayal is about working together — until you find out that one of you is trying to murder the rest of you with kill death. It’s more of an RPG in a box, and is really fun if you treat it that way.
So I can’t tell you which one is best, but hopefully that information can help you make an informed decision.
Happy Birthday!!
Wil

I can’t say “Oh, if you are choosing from these games, this is the one to play,” because they’re all great games in their own way. I would, of course, try to direct t away from a game that wasn’t fun at all, or had a terrible rule book, because I believe that’s a moral imperative when games are being discussed.

I was recently at a game shop to pick up this game called Hive that is insanely fun. While I was there, I watched an employee try very hard to help a young woman pick out a game. They went through all the aisles, and he explained each game in depth long after she’d lost interest in it. This happened because he wasn’t asking the right question: what kind of game do you want to play? because he was asking questions about theme (you like Torchwood? Well, this game is blah blah blah) that didn’t help her at all. I didn’t want to jump in, but it was killing me to watch this happen. He was trying so hard, and it was like they were speaking the same language but weren’t able to exchange anything of substance between them.

I don’t know what, if anything, she decided to get, but I hope she left with something because the world needs more gamers. One way we can help make that happen is to know how to talk to them, so they can find their way into our hobby, and feel at home there.

some kind of verb, some kind of moving thing

This guest post was written by Will Hindmarch, a freelance writer and designer of games and fiction. Read more at his blog at wordstudio.net.

A few years ago, inspiration struck me a few times in a row and I started work on a new tabletop game. It was a story game about journeys. I knew that much. Sitting down at my kitchen table, writing in my notebook, ideas collided and threw off sparks that I distilled in handwriting as quick as I could.

One idea sparked another. I wrote down design questions and then answered them, right there on the spot. Not every answer was right. I learned that much. Actually playing the game showed me new questions and confounded some of my answers. No worries, though, that’s just the way that goes. Onward.

A few months ago, I described this game to a friend of mine who digs these sorts of things. I discovered as I talked that the game felt pretty finished. I’d been testing it for years, playing it with a myriad of new players, but I didn’t know how to tell myself it was ready to show people. So when I described the game to this friend of mine and he said “That sounds great!” it gave me the jolt I needed to turn my notes into a manuscript.

I’d been sort of writing this thing, in bits and pieces in my head, for a year. I knew what I wanted to say but I had been slow to turn my thoughts into text. Part of it was fear: this was a new kind of game for me and I’d be measured against giants when it was done. Another part of it was … also fear: what if what I wrote sucked out loud? I write for a living and I still feel that way sometimes.

Odyssey by Will Hindmarch
Odyssey by Will Hindmarch

A few hours ago, I launched the crowdfunding campaign to pay artists (and me) to finish the game book. The game’s called Odyssey. I think it’s pretty good.

I wanted to make this thing. I’ve wanted to make this thing for a while. What I needed was to get excited. It was a spark of enthusiasm — from a friend I wanted to inspire — that helped make this thing.

We participate in the creation of so many things, sometimes without knowing it. I don’t know if my friend knows that his casual enthusiasm powered this project’s creation like a life-giving bolt, but it did. Sparks start engines.

New Tabletop: Betrayal at House on the Hill

This week, Ashly Burch, Keahu Kahuanui and Michael Swaim join me to play one of my very favorite RPG-in-a-box games: Betrayal at House on the Hill.

I’m a huge fan of Ashly’s work in Borderlands 2, and after I met her at Valve last year, I became a huge fan of her as a human. She’s really awesome and a hell of a lot of fun to play with. If you like things that don’t suck, check out Hey Ash, Watcha Playin’?

Keahu and I have a ton of friends in common, but we’d never met until just before we shot this episode. Since then, we’ve become very good friends, and I even get to be a Bad Idea Bear for him from time to time when giant pizza is involved. Thank you, Tabletop Gaming, for helping me make a new friend. Oh, and Keahu is on some TV show about wolf hunters or something like that. I think it’s animated.

Michael Swaim knows Felicia, and is a lifelong tabletop gamer, just like me. He also writes for Cracked.com. Felicia suggested that I invite him to the show, because he’s hilarious and fun to be around, and she was pretty sure we’d like each other. I hate to admit it, but Felicia was right.

This was so much fun to play, and so much incredibly awesome stuff happened, we ended up cutting it into a two-part episode (but fear not! Part two comes out next week, because we love you and don’t want to make you wait two whole weeks for the second part. Did I mention that it was awesome? It’s awesome.)

When I get home from Texas, we’re shooting a Very Special Episode of Not The Flog, where I’m going to share some of my favorite horror-themed tabletop games. I have a pretty big list in my head, but I’m sure there’s something awesome that I’m forgetting, so if you wanted to maybe get onto Not The Flog, tell me the title of the game you love, why you love it, and what your favorite Halloween candy is. I’ll pick some and put them into the show, which is coming out sooooooon.

Soooooon.

Soon.

Anyway, turn down your lights (where applicable) and enjoy the show!

Coup: An amazing bluffing game from Indie Boards And Cards

Thanks to my fellow gamers respecting, understanding, and supporting my “I’m not here to take pictures and sign autographs, I’m just here to play games” policy at GenCon, I got to play a ton of really great games this year, including probably the best bluffing game I’ve ever played. It’s called Coup, and it comes out from Indie Boards and Cards (they do The Resistance, among other things) later this year.

While I was waiting in the airport to come home yesterday, I looked it up on Boardgame Geek, and decided to add my own review to the board, you know, to give a little something back to the community:

Subject: One of the best bluffing games I’ve ever played.
I played a demo of this at GenCon, and fell in love with it. I played with five strangers, and when the game was over ten minutes after we started (it takes all of 2 minutes to learn it) we were ready to start over and play again.

The cards look great, the rules are incredibly simple to learn, and even though there’s player elimination, it only takes about 10 minutes to play, so nobody has to sit out for too long.

This is a fantastic palate cleanser during a game day, and a great way for a few players to get into a quick game while waiting for a slot in another game.

You won’t see this on the Geek, though, because it wasn’t accepted

Comments from users that moderated this article:
Not much content
Not a review
Lacks depth.

Well fine! You’re not my real dad! I’ll put my not-a-review on my own site! With blackjack! And hookers! In fact, forget the review!

I’m just kidding. I suppose it’s not actually a review*, and more of a forum post … but it really is a great game, and something I hope we can find a way to play on Tabletop if we do a season three.

 

*This one is, and it’s worth whatever geek gold you happen to have in your pocket.