Written in 2011, it’s amusing to me to look back to that time and see how I thought I was really old, ten years ago. Man, do I feel old now.
About three weeks ago, I read this weird drink recipe that involved soaking gummy bears in alcohol. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the original blog now, but it was on WordPress. Anyway, the gist was that if you allowed gummy bears to soak in alcohol, you wound up with… drumroll… wait for it… alcoholic gummy bears!
I have been a big fan of Haribo gummy bears since I was a kid. Even now, if I have a layover in Germany on a business trip, I always buy a big bag at the airport. And no, they don’t taste different in their country of origin. It’s just a thing I do.
So, loving Hairibo as I do and loving vodka as I do, well. It almost seemed a spiritual denial if I didn’t follow through on marrying these two loves. So, in short, I put a bag of gummy bears in a Tupperware container, covered the candies with Kettel One vodka, and put it in the refrigerator. And then I forgot about it until last weekend.
There was no vodka visible when I pulled them out, and the gummy bears had doubled in size. I took one moist and rubbery bear and popped it in my mouth. It was exactly like taking a Jell-O shot, except I am a lot older and not slurping it off some drunken chick in a bar. It was not bad as far as flavor or kick, but it was a complete fail for me in the flashback department.
It did give me an idea – what if you soaked Hairibo gummy-cola candy in bourbon? I just so happened to have both ingredients required for this and quickly poured Crown Royal over the cola bottle-shaped candies. Crown and Coke gummies! A week later, I tried one.
You know, as much fun as it sounds – it was just slimy and gross. It was like I wasted great liquor on great candy. Back in my early 20’s, I had this same feeling. It was when I realized that cartoons weren’t entertaining anymore. It was the feeling of the world making me grow up. Be mature. I was changing my ideals.
So am I saying that no one should try this? Absolutely not. If you are above the legal drinking age and less old than I am (and largely, most people are), I suggest you give it a go. Just know that no matter how you fight it, you will grow up. To ultimately date myself, I now link you to The “Logical Song” by Supertramp.
I suggest you put off maturity as long as you can. Bottoms up… or gummies up, or whatever. I get so cranky if I don’t have my warm milk before bedtime.
This is chapter five of an unpublished story I’m working on. I thought it would be fun to post a short chapter every week or so. I’d like to know what you think.
The guy leaned back in his chair, crossed his legs, and continued, “As I told you earlier, I’m a video technician at Boiler Hospital in Dallas. My job is to digitally record the operations that take place in the hospital. They are used as teaching aids or as evidence if a malpractice lawsuit comes up. Of course, this evidence is only disclosed if the video shows the operation was performed competently. If any asshattery was caught on video, it is destroyed. Some of my best footage has been lost this way.
So about ten months ago, I was recording the video of an operation to remove a brain tumor. It’s a kid who looks like he’s maybe 15 years old. Sometimes, brain surgery is laparoscopic but not this time. They sawed all the way around his head – so the top would come off.
And when the top did come off, the tumor wasn’t a tumor at all. It was a very pissed-off brain crab. Everyone in the surgery room died horribly. Me? I wasn’t in the room. Hell no. I was in the video control room, on a different floor. The cameras are all operated remotely. This keeps me from possibly contaminating something or getting in the way of the surgeons.
Once all the screams and chaos subsided, I panned the cameras around the room, looking for the crab. I saw it hop the length of the room so it could be anywhere. By the way, the inside of the kid’s head was almost completely empty. The crab had eaten most of the kid’s brain.
Before the operation, I took a handheld cam and shot a few minutes of video with the parents and kid. They wanted it, you know. The kid was functioning normally – talking and moving around normally. He even told me a joke.
Did you hear about the crab that went to the seafood disco? He pulled a muscle.
I didn’t say it was a good joke but in that 20/20 hindsight sort of way, it’s really funny, now. The brain crab was making an inside joke. What I do wonder is, if the brain crab was in control – and it had to be because the kid had almost no brain left – why didn’t it try to stop the operation? The only thing I can think of is – I guess it wanted out. Do you think he wanted to kill everyone in the operating room? A psychopathic, serial killer, brain crab – who would have seen that coming? Or maybe after the boy’s brain was gone, it was still hungry and this was the only way to get out to get more brains? Who knows?
So anyway, the hospital went into emergency lockdown. The brain crab destroyed the lights and two of the three cameras that were in the room. The camera that remained was recessed in the ceiling and had a fisheye lens. It didn’t look like a camera – more like a light that wasn’t turned on and I guess that why the crab left it. Still, with no lights in the room, it was completely dark and I couldn’t see anything, though I could hear it scuttling around and what sounded like someone chewing wet food.
When two policemen arrived, they opened the door to the operating room with big flashlights on and guns drawn. The flashlight beams danced around the room and settled on a nurse in scrubs, standing among the bodies of other nurses and doctors. She had the mask and protective eyewear on. Her gloved hands and outfit were bloodied but it was a surgery room, so that’s not unusual.
“Freeze!” The police yelled, both training their shaky lights on her and probably their guns, too.
The nurse didn’t move, except her head. She looked up and said, “It’s on the ceiling!”
The flashlights swung upwards and around the room, and then there was pandemonium—the sound of rapid movement, grunts, and gunfire. Something was knocked over and clattered across the floor. The flashlight beams swung erratically around the room and, within a few seconds, lay on the floor – pointing towards the closed door. The two policemen were dead.
The nurse walked slowly to the door, illuminated by the crossed flashlights, and just before she opened it to let light spill in from the outside hallway, you could see the back of her head and the brain crab, clamped to her neck, manipulating her like a puppet.
I switched to viewing the security camera in the hallway, following her out of the room and past people, pressed against walls, or standing in doorways looking out. As she passed, thin, translucent tentacles shot from her open mouth, striking each person and then quickly retracting. Each victim reacted as if they were stung by a bee but promptly fell to the ground, motionless.
Finally, a doctor pulled a gun from a holster under his scrubs and fired, blowing the crab on the back of the nurse’s neck to bits. The nurse fell to the ground, and the doctor who was packing saved countless lives that day. He was later arrested for carrying a concealed weapon in a hospital.”
The guy casually stopped talking to take a sip from his coffee cup.
Doug was transfixed. I think he was buying it, but this sounded fake to me, and I had to say something, so I did.
“Why wasn’t this on the news?”
The guy lowered the coffee cup and said, “Shortly after this incident, two black helicopters landed on the helipads on the hospital roof, and four men in black suits came out. They took the video I recorded and the bodies in the operating room. In fact, they took all the videos recorded anywhere in the hospital, parking lot, or from surrounding businesses near the hospital.
They also took everyone on the second floor away to be inspected. Black vans pulled up, and men in hazmat suits took them away. I was on a different floor, so they didn’t take me.”
The guy leaned back in the plaid chair back again, not relaxed but still reclined.
He said, “The thing is – no one said, don’t talk about it. I mean, they took all the video and the bodies and stuff but didn’t say to keep quiet. So, people called news shows and were interviewed. Each story differed a little from the others, and most people only had seen a small part of what happened. They haven’t watched everything unfold via video cameras as I did. Most of what they said involved the Men in Black from the helicopters and vans more than anything supernatural or… crabby, and this is why you didn’t hear about it on the news – because most of it wasn’t about crabs, and none of the crabby stuff was credible.
I didn’t want to get involved in the circus, so I kept quiet, sort of. Instead, I posted it online. Disinformation.org picked it up and ran with it, but it’s all the conspiracy theorists and nut-jobs that keyed in on it, forming their theories and extrapolating the facts to a great extent.”
The guy seemed to notice my nano-reaction to his comments and looked directly at me, over my tented fingertips.
“See? You do remember the news stories about the black helicopters at the hospital, don’t you?”
The guy put his hands behind his head, fully reclined in his chair, but he kept talking.
“There’s a lot more to tell, but this is usually enough. Either you will acknowledge the brain crabs, or you won’t. So let’s make it easy. If you don’t believe me, leave. I’ve got the check. If you do believe me, then stay, and I’ll give you what you paid for.”
Check? We waited. Apparently. Doug said nothing.
“OK. My name is Benson Doyd. That’s my real name. No convictions. I’ll tell you why I’m telling you anything.”
Good to know. Boyd pulled the recliner forward, put his head in his hands, and rubbed them over his face as he looked up.
“So here it is – it’s because of my dog.
Buddy, my dog – he was a sensitive animal. I don’t mean that he is a wuss or anything, but he is a sensitive dog and can tell when I’m sad or upset. He’s a Rat Terrier, and they are thoughtful, independent sages.
The thing about Buddy is he’s a good judge of character, but he gives everyone a chance. He’s a thinker, wise in a canine sort of way. Yes, he drinks from the toilet, but he knows when someone has an alien brain crab up in their noggin, steering the ship, you know? He knows, and he won’t have anything to do with them. You might remember – he didn’t like you at all, Doug.
That’s when I asked you to leave, said I didn’t feel right – I would call you later. And didn’t. Of course, I wasn’t going to have sex with you. You have crabs!”
That made me do a double-take. It was one of those, looking back and forth between Doug and the guy over and over until I blurted out, “What?! No!” Like Homer Simpson, seeing the last donut eaten. Neither Doug nor the guy seemed phased by my cartoonish reaction.
“I know,” Benson said, glancing up at me but down at the floor, quickly. “How do I know Buddy didn’t have a brain crab too? I’ve had other experiences outside of that day at the hospital. I don’t think the crabs like dogs or cats. Not sure about monkeys or chimpanzees – but they prefer people.”
He looked solemnly at Doug. “Don’t look so sad. You knew it couldn’t work out. Me, a big city dork with commitment issues and you, a scaly brain-eating crab. Star-crossed from the beginning. You are from another dimension, after all.”
My Homer Simpson impression of, “Ahhhhhhhh!” continued with little notice. Boyd, however, kept talking.
“Where was I? Oh, yes. You’re from another dimension. I found your portal – the one in the back of the Starbuck’s on McArthur Blvd. The one behind the bags of espresso beans. I shut it down. I have no idea why a double-tall caramel latte can sever the connection, but it did. If coffee defeats you, it’s a real bummer that you opened the portal in a coffee shop. Anyway, that portal is gone, but I bet you have others, eh?
I also stomped four of your little cousins who had just popped through. They squish easily when they are small. I’m guessing everyone who works at that Starbucks is crabbed. I got out. That was this morning, right before I came home, to meet your crabby self.
I’m not saying you have a brain crab, Doug. I think the crab has fully taken over, eaten the entire brain, and everything that made you Doug is gone forever. I think you are all crab, looking at me with little crabby eyes, thinking little crabby thoughts, right now.
I have dominated the conversation, haven’t I? Why don’t you talk for a while?”
Drool plopped quietly onto the table as my mouth hung open, witnessing this exchange. Doug took a deep breath and then spoke.
This is chapter three of an unpublished story I’m working on. I thought it would be fun to post a short chapter every week or so. I’d like to know what you think.
CH 3 – Anti-Popular
Another thing I’ll tell you about Doug that’s less amazing but still freaky is that he loves the crap out of the Soundtrack to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a glam-rock version of Beatles music from a subpar, 70’s movie starring the talented but miscast Bee Gees. Before Doug died, he only listened to Kiss, AC/DC, and Alice Cooper (and there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that), but after TMI, it was the Sgt. Pepper’s Soundtrack, every time, all of the time, on an endless loop. I don’t know why, it just was.
People began to think Doug was, you know, weird. I think it was the Sgt. Pepper’s Soundtrack that did him in, in the public’s opinion, I mean. Truth be told, Doug was strange before TMI, like me.
Take a look back to before TMI, and before people were interested in him – Doug had a tough go of things. I knew Doug in high school. He wasn’t a popular kid, but neither was I, so… so what? Right? So what. Yeah. Anyway, we would walk home from school together because our houses were on the same block, not because bullies on ten-speeds would beat us up if they caught us alone. Neither of us had girlfriends, but we could have if we wanted to. We weren’t athletes or on a team because sports are dumb. We did play a lot of D&D and Xbox. My Drunken Ranger, Zekedt (pronounced with no silent letters, “Zekedt”), was level 17 and a force to be reckoned with. Zekedt had many girlfriends all over the Four Realms, so I had that action going on.
Even now, I’m 31 years old, and Doug and I still live on the same block, except that Doug is in an apartment over his parent’s garage, and I’m in an apartment behind my parent’s home so, you know, we’ve grown in that way. Matured.
This dumpster, though. This dumpster. Doug should have told me more about it.
I curled up into a fetal position as I fell, bracing for an impact as the blackness of the open dumpster raced up to meet me. I don’t remember feeling the impact but do recall a loud, “KA-BONG!” noise and then nothing.
Note that playing Knightmare Chess also requires a working knowledge of chess, a chess set and an open mind to play. You’ll also need miscellaneous markers (small post-it notes work well) to place on chess pieces that have been altered through the effects of a card.
Knightmare Chess includes 158 cards, illustrated by artist, Rogério Vilela. Each turn, a player may play a card (which is optional), following the instructions on the card that supersede the classic rules of chess. All of the cards have clear text as to what can and cannot be done, and when they can be played. They have a number in the top right corner, indicating a cost when using the deck building rules.
For example, the card titled Evangelists allows the payer to, “Swap the positions of one of your bishops and one of the opponent’s bishops. Play this card on your turn, instead of making your regular move.”
You can easily see how a card like this could be helpful and possibly detrimental to the player who uses it. It should be played at a key time, probably one that is planned, if it is played at all.
With this sort of rule-bending going on, there needs to be some jurisdiction, and there are some cardinal guidelines that take precedence over everything else.
The Checkmate Rule states that, “No regular card may directly cause a checkmate situation or capture the king.” You could play a card that changes a pawn into a knight for the rest of the game, and that knight makes a move later in the game that results in a checkmate and that would be allowed, but you can’t checkmate or capture a king directly through the play of a card. Ever.
The other rule is regarding conflicts. “When a card conflict with any other rule or the rules of chess, the card takes precedence. When two cards conflict, Continuing Effect cards take precedence. If both or neither are Continuing Effect cards, the last card played takes precedence.” There, that settles that.
The game includes variants where players build decks rather than draw cards randomly, or handicap one player over another by allowing fewer cards in his deck, and these are for more seasoned players. I look forward to joining those ranks.
So, what do I think about Knightmare Chess (3rd Edition)?
I’m impressed by the game’s history. It came out in 1996 and disappeared from store shelves a few years later. I learned of the game afterwards and wanted it, but copies were going for ridiculous prices on eBay, so I stayed away. November, 2014, Steve Jackson Games re-released it, complete with the expansion, Knightmare Chess 2, included. Not much has changed from the earlier versions, as best I can tell and I’m pleased to finally own the game.
While the cards add some random elements to chess, they are not all powerful. They do, however, destroy any strategist’s plans of what to do three or more moves ahead. Knightmare Chess makes the game one that requires adaptability and creativity that the original game of chess would thumb its nose.
I enjoy a proper game of chess and cherish the times I can bring out my tournament set and play. I’m not a great player but I am a good loser, and I lose often. Knightmare Chess is such an aberration to the pure rules of a classic game, I can understand that some people just can’t make the leap, and that’s ok. As for me, I adore the way it changes the game from intentionally foreseeable to shamelessly diverse– the way it puts players on their heels, trying to react to the unpredictable turns the game may take.
Chess purists may be offended that it perverts of the most hallowed of strategy games, but I recommend Knightmare Chess to anyone who enjoys chess and does not take it too seriously.
Game components include:
158 tarot-sized cards, linen finish (this is all the cards from Knightmare Chess and Knightmare Chess 2)
4-page instructions sheet
2 blank cards, so you can create your own mayhem on the chessboard.
As a side note, I noticed Gary Gygax is credited as being a play tester for the original game. Cool.
Note: This is a revisit of a game I played in the 1980s and it is no longer in print, though copies are still for sale on eBay. In The Day, it sold for about $6, came in a plastic 4.5”x7.5” pocket box with a paper map and cardboard counters that had to be cut out with scissors. Dice required but not included.
Undead by Steve Jackson Games is based on the classic novel, Dracula by Bram Stoker. Skipping the first part of the story, the game picks up where Dracula has reached London with fifty earth-filled coffins. He has killed Lucy and seeking more prey, but Van Helsing and his party are out to stop him once and for all.
In Undead, one player plays as Dracula, moving around and conducting sinister business at night. The other players play cooperatively as Van Helsing and his party, hunting him down. Lastly, there must be a game master (GM) who is the neutral party and referee. (Note the game rules state the game can be played as a 2-player game without the GM. My experience with this mode is not very good and I do not recommend it.)
The game is played on a map of 1890’s London, separated into regions for movement. Counters representing Dracula’s coffins or dummy counters are placed around the map, at least one in each area. These counters are upside down, so the Helsing players do not know which are dummies and which are coffins. The Dracula Player and the GM do, of course.
The players take alternating turns, with the non-moving player(s) physically leaving the room so they are unaware of what transpires in the opponent’s turn. Dracula makes his moves and actions such as distributing coffins to other areas, searching for a servant (Renfield), attempting to bite a victim, and so on with the GM. When his turn ends, he leaves the room. The Vampire Hunters enter the room, make their move and actions, such as searching for coffins, investigating victims, and generally trying to find Dracula before he raises enough female vampires to make an attack on them. The game proceeds like this until the Hunters and Dracula wind up at the same location on the map. Then, all players enter the room and combat is played out with dice on a smaller map, representing a single room. They can fight to the death or one or more members may flee the room, escaping (unless it’s Dracula and it’s day-time combat, in which case he can’t escape).
The game is over when one of the victory conditions is met, but usually, this means Dracula and the Hunters wound up in the same place and fight until one of the parties is eliminated.
There are advanced and sometimes risky options for the players as well. For Dracula – doing a day-move, hunting the Hunters, raising female vampires or shape-changing into a wolf, bat or mist. The Vampire Hunters can likewise do a night-move, perform a transfusion on a victim (to prevent them from turning into a vampire), and hold a vigil or death watch over a victim.
The secret moves and hunting for the bad-guy mechanic, using a map with turned-over counters was the first game of its type that I played in the 1980s. Using a GM for a board game is unique as well, and I recall play morphing into some role-playing, particularly with the players faced each other.
Dracula is a powerful and iconic antagonist, deploying his coffins around the city, thus making more places for him to hide during the day, and raising an undead army of female vampires. Hey, who doesn’t want their own army of female vampires? But board-gaming is a social activity, and as Dracula, you are never in the same room with the other players until there is combat. This can take hours before it happens.
The Vampire Hunters (assuming there is more than one person) at least have each other to interact with during this time. And the GM, well he is the all-knowing, all-seeing, friend to all, enemy to no one, but he doesn’t get to play. He just oversees the play.
A key reason I enjoy board games is the conflict\collaboration with other people that occurs in playing a tabletop game and this can take a while for Dracula and the Hunters to wind up in a situation where they interact.
Addressing the actual gameplay, there is enough variety to make it fun. Yes, Dracula will probably shuffle coffins around and bite someone during his turn, but he could try to do a day move, or hunt the hunters. Hunters might try a vigil or night move, and it’s when these big risks are taken that the game gains tension.
Still, there are typical actions that have no real strategy, such as randomly hunting for coffins. You get lucky and find coffins (or Dracula!), or you don’t. Regardless, it is luck-based. This can result in a game that lasts 30 minutes, or likewise, 4 hours. It just depends.
I loved everything about this game back in the ’80s. Now, seeing the game with fresh eyes, I rate it a little differently. The score below is on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being best.
Ingenuity – 4 The game mechanic is unique though dated, and play is unlike other games. It almost has a party game feel to it but with more depth.
Strategy – 3 There is a lot of luck involved in this game but there are also a lot of choices to make, and that helps offset the chance a bit.
Social – 3 There’s some isolation of players while playing, but even the jibes at each other as Dracula and Hunters pass in the doorway between turns can be fun.
Theme – 5 Dracula. This is classic, gothic horror and it does it very, very well.
Fun – 3 I still think Undead is fun and while it can go on too long with turn after turn of not much happening, it has some incredibly tense moments that other games never achieve.
Components – 1 Come on. A paper map with thin, cardboard counters I have cut out myself? No dice? What do you expect for $6 in the ’80s!! The plastic box was literally the best component, but considering that I’ve paid much, much more for a game with nicer components, and enjoyed a lot less, I have to give props to Undead. It’s fun based on the game not on the pretty plastic pieces. Still, speaking solely about the components, I have print and play games that look better. Just sayin’.
Overall – 3.5 (rounded to the half) With the right group of players, this game can be loads of fun and even memorable. It’s much better than playing a game of Risk, and probably will take less time. Probably.
Microgames are making a comeback, thanks to Kickstarter. Unfortunately, SJGames has made no announcements that indicate it will rerelease Undead, even as a Print and Play. That’s too bad because the components make it an excellent candidate for the PnP model and I if it were re-released with better components, I’d snatch it up in a heartbeat.
Regardless, the game held up for me. Through my nostalgic eyes, I miss the days of the cheap, SJG Pocket games. Hell, I recently paid $100 for the Designer Release of Ogre which was another, $6 pocket-box game from the ’80s. Is this what it is coming to?
Have you ever participated in one of those ongoing stories on a writer’s forum – the kind where each participant writes a paragraph or so and then the new person comes along and adds the next piece of the story, and so on? In the early 80’s, I ran a computer BBS called The State of Confusion, where most of the forums where like that, and it attracted fun, creative participants.
Once the story got underway and really had momentum, it was inevitable that someone would pop in and post that all the characters suddenly decided to slit their wrists and die or something equally derailing, and it would ruin the story. When you could weed out the asshats, it was a lot of fun. Still, lack of rules or parameters was challenging for those who didn’t know when to reign it in.
Jump to today and Storium by Protagonist Labs is in development. Storium is a web-based online game that you play with friends. It works by turning writing into a multiplayer game. With just your computer, tablet, or smartphone, you can choose from a library of imaginary worlds to play in, or build your own. You create your story’s characters and decide what happens to them. You can tell any kind of story with Storium. The only limit is your imagination.
Storium uses familiar game concepts inspired by card games, role-playing games, video games, and more. In each Storium game, one player is the narrator, and everyone else takes on the role of a character in the story. The narrator creates dramatic challenges for the other players to overcome. In doing so, they move the story forward in a new direction. Everyone gets their turn at telling the story.
I’ve been waiting for the STORIUM KICKSTARTER to launch, and once it did, it funded in a day! Amazing.
The following is reblogged fromwww.protagonistlabs.com, and it has the details and links so you can get involved in the beta version of the game, today! I’m MitchLav on the site. If you join, look me up.
Storium’s mission hasn’t changed since our original announcement — we are creating an online storytelling medium that plays like a game and lets busy people make storytelling a part of their daily lives. Since that announcement, though, we’ve done over a year of playtesting that has resulted in major improvements to the game, and we’re more confident than ever that we’re on the right track. If you back us on Kickstarter, you’ll get immediate access to our latest playtest. All our basic functionality is up and running, so you can dive right into play!
What’s the Kickstarter for?
The goal of our campaign is to fund a public launch, so that we can make Storium available to everyone. That means retaining award-winning authors and game designers to build a library of playsets (called “worlds”) for telling stories of different genres and styles. It also means building important features that Storium needs and laying the technological groundwork for future growth.
We have an incredibly talented and diverse team of people developing Storium and advising on different elements of its production.
Stephen Hood: Co-founder and product lead.
Josh Whiting: Co-founder and engineering lead.
Will Hindmarch: Lead game designer and head writer.
J.C. Hutchins: Advisor and award-winning transmedia storyteller.
Mur Lafferty: Advisor, Campbell-winning novelist, and podcaster.
Chuck Wendig: Advisor, Campbell-nominated novelist, and Emmy- nominated screenwriter.
Want to Find Out More?
If you’re in the media and would like to talk to one of us about the development of Storium and what we’re trying to accomplish, we’re happy to talk to you! Feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll set something up. We’re really excited about the chance to do this, grateful for all the support we’ve received so far, and looking forward to the future.
The title and premise of the game, LOVE LETTER, will put most guys off but this one is worth a play, for the mechanic of the game alone, if not the theme.
The premise of the game, Love Letter is exactly this: All of the eligible young men (and many of the not-so-young) seek to woo Annette, the princess of Tempest. Unfortunately, she has locked herself in the palace, and you must rely on others to take your romantic letters to her. Will yours reach her first?
Love Letter is a game of risk, deduction, and luck for 2–4 players. Your goal is to get your love letter into Princess Annette’s hands while deflecting the letters from competing suitors. From a deck with only sixteen cards, each player starts with only one card in hand; one card is removed from play. On a turn, you draw one card, and play one card, trying to expose others and knock them from the game. Powerful cards lead to early gains, but make you a target. Rely on weaker cards for too long, however, and your letter may be tossed in the fire!
The entire game consists of a small, 24 page rule book, 4 reference cards, 16 game cards, 13 “Tokens of Affection,” and a Red Velvet Bag with “Love Letter” embroidered on it to keep everything in.
If you’ve hung in there, reading this review even after “Tokens of Affection,” and “Red Velvet Bag” – you’re either gay or really secure in the fact that you are not gay. It’s the indecisive men who get weird about this sort of thing. So yay you – you know what gender you are attracted to. Or you are a girl and are always smarter than guys, anyway.
That said – this game is one of the most original, unique and subtly challenging games on the market, and it costs less than $10. It can be learned in 5 minutes and the more familiar the players are with the game, the more interesting it gets. All that, and it’s a 4-player game that takes only 20 minutes. Maybe I should have opened with that part?
Anyway, the game is remarkably challenging and fun. Designed by Seiji Kanai and published by AEG, it currently has three licensed English versions available, and then some others.
American Original:I don’t know what to really call this version, but American Original works. It is the common version of the game and the one I own, with Victorian style artwork. All components are quality and fit in the red velvet drawstring bag nicely.
Kanai FactoryEdition:The artwork works very well with the theme. It is a boxed version, so no red velvet bag for you, and it has extra cards so you can play for the hand of the Prince, or two different Princesses. Now, this does not change the game at all, but does allow you to flavor it to your group’s preferences.
Some of the cards are named differently from the American Original version, but play the same and have the same effects as their counterparts in the previous version. The big difference is the Minister, who replaces the Countess.
While the Countess card is commonly a handicap card, the Minister card can put you out of the round if your total hand of 2 cards is over 12 points (and the Minister counts as 7). In a game of only 16 cards, this can change gameplay dramatically.
Love Letter: Legend of the Five Rings Edition: This is an upcoming version, (announced but unavailable as of this writing). It sounds very cool but I don’t know much about it yet.
Rogue Editions: An artifact of a good game mechanic is that someone will theme the game differently to suite their own needs or ego. Love Letter has had unlicensed “Print and Play” versions of the game done to the themes of Dr. Who, Star Wars, X-Files, Alice in Wonderland and more. If you choose one or more of these downloadable versions, consider buying a retail version of the game, so the designer and publisher are compensated for their game being ripped-off.
I admit, after playing this game over and over, I broke down and bought little plastic hearts to use as Tokens of Affection, instead of the red cubes.
All said, even now, a year later, Love Letter remains on my go-to filler game list. Either retail version has quality components and is well worth the modest price tag. It is one of those rare games that transcends theme. It is also a great gateway game for wives or girlfriends.
If you enjoy any kind of gaming at all that involves other people, Love Letter is a win.
I’ve been playing the PC game, The Novelist on and off for a couple of weeks.
You play as a formless entity, possessing the house that Dan Kaplan and his wife and son move into. Dan is a writer and is dealing with a bad case of writer’s block. His marriage has seen better times and his son is having trouble with bullies in school. All of them hope this move is a new beginning, but each brings their own baggage along to insure that does not happen.
As the player, you lurk around the house, reading notes, diaries and even the memories of Kaplan family. In this way, story lines evolve and you eventually are placed in the situation where you must decide what Dan will do and what will be left undone.
Will you work on your novel? The deadline is looming and it’s nowhere close to ready. Will you spend quality time with your wife, or your son? Both are feeling neglected. Ultimately, you have to prioritize what things Dan will do and what he won’t do, and be prepared to live with the consequences.
Clearly, this is not a conventional game. No matter what decisions you make, someone will be disappointed. That is the intriguing hook, a life lesson and also the game’s downfall. It’s like real life – making compromises and setting precedence of a thing or a person over another. Repeatedly.
Unlike games that are an escape and allow the player to play as incredible, super-powered heroes having fantastic adventures, The Novelist opts to show you the third-party perspective of what real life looks like, including the disappointments. Especially the disappointments.
The Novelist–Game Trailer
While I dig the writer theme, sensible presentation and smooth, arty graphics, the game served as a constant reminder that I was playing a game where a primary goal was for a game character to write, rather than writing, myself. It’s a PC game about the difficulty of balancing writing, career and family. As if I needed a game to experience that.
As an interesting concept, it works. As a fun game, it fails.
I thinkKickstarter is a great way for startups to build capital to develop their project. Essentially, the consumer pays up front for an item before it’s actually produced. It could be a movie, book, game, device, service, event – really, anything.
It’s hard not to get caught up in the infectious ambition of entrepreneurs. Admittedly, I pay more for a haircut than I have backing any one Kickstarter project, and that makes it fun for me without risk, but there are some Kickstarters where the initial investment is over $100, and I do not play at those tables. That’s just me, but I don’t.
I usually back tabletop games because I’m a gamer and there are some really interesting concepts that pop up on Kickstarter. Someone comes up with a game idea and needs the funds to make it a reality. I get a copy of the game in return for my early investment, before it ever hits retail and often, they include stretch goals – bonus components when the project exceeds its goal.
Here are the recent projects I have backed on Kickstarter. Each link has the Kickstarter details, videos, images, etc. In some cases, they are over, successful and are now available in retail. I include links to the ones I know about.
A 4X/Euro MICROGAME for 2-4 players! Do you have what it takes to create the greatest pocket-sized Kingdom!? Tiny Epic Kingdoms has all the strategy of a traditional 4x game without the cost or the long playing time. Tiny Epic Kingdoms is only $16 and takes only 30-60 minutes to play.
2-4 players run tiny kingdoms with big ambitions. You want to expand your population throughout the realms, learn powerful magic, build grand towers, and have your neighbors quiver in fear at the mention of your name. The conflict? All of the other kingdoms want the same thing and there’s not enough room for everyone to succeed.
This game had a goal of $15k and is currently over $170k in backer pledges. 6 days to go as of this writing.
The Dice Tower is one of the best gaming podcasts available, reviewing and demoing table top games. They do this for free – everything is on Youtube. I really enjoy the reviews and the goofy antics, and it was a no-brainer to support them.
Dice Tower had a goal of $40k, and raised over $134k. Clearly, I am not the only one who appreciates what these guys do for the gaming community.
Six-sided dice do not roll well – they are cubes. There are even books available that teach you how to manipulate the roll of such dice. Double-Six dice are 12-sided, numbered 1-6 twice. They roll more easily and are far more difficult to manipulate.
I don’t play with any gamers that are trying to manipulate the dice roll (except when trying to use The Force, which is completely legitimate), and I use a handcrafted dice tower for rolling, anyway. Still, I love this concept and the price was right to buy in.
This Kickstarter had a goal of $3,246 and finished with over #133k in backer pledges. I’m looking forward to these, and I already am seeing other games popping up on Kickstarter, offering Double-Six dice as components.
In Coin Age (published by TMG), two players attempt to control the land of Agea using a single card map and a handful of pocket change. Players take turns placing their forces (coins) on the map to control spaces, outmaneuver their opponent, and score victory points.
This Kickstarter has ended, but with a goal of $5k, it achieved an amazing $65k+, all based on a “pay as little as $3 for the game” concept.
They even have a “Print and Play” version of the game for free, HERE.
Burgoo is a game designed by Dan Manfredini (produced by TMG) for 2-5 aspiring stew chefs which takes 15-30 minutes depending on the number of players.
Each cook (player) starts the game with 12 stew ingredients randomly formed into a mixing line (2 sets of 6 ingredients). And a hand of ingredients that allow them to manipulate their mixing line, or add ingredients to the stew from every mixing line.
On a cook’s turn they may sample the stew, taking one ingredient of their choice from the stew into their hand. Or they may spend an ingredient from their hand to divide their cooking line, gaining access to more of their ingredients, or to add ingredients from their line into the stew, but be wise because if you add an ingredient that other cooks are ready to add, they too can add to the stew on your turn.
This Kickstarter has ended, but it more than quadrupled its goal of $5000, all based on a “pay as little as $3 for the game” concept.
Where Art Thou Romeo? is a nano-game in which 3-5 players take turns taking on the role of Juliet, who is attempting to find Romeo amongst the others players. Each card, other than Juliet, has two different roles from which to choose. Players holding these cards choose one of the two roles, which will subsequently make them want to convince the Juliet player that they either are or are not Romeo or perhaps point out who they think Romeo might be.
The game lasts 3-5 rounds depending upon the number of players with each player taking on the role of Juliet once. The player with the most influence points at the end of the game wins.
This game had a backer goal of as little as $1 to get a copy of the game, mailed. With a modest goal of $250, it raised $5723. I’ve gotten my copy, and the cards looks great. I haven’t played it yet.
In HOST, the world has reached the first great apocalypse, You are either a brain munching zombie, an interstellar alien, or one of the few keeping them at bay… for now. Collect and trade matching cards to complete your mission for either an alien invasion, wide spread infection, or be humanity’s last hope, and cure them all. But every card you draw has a negative and positive value. Will you inadvertently let the enemy win by passing the wrong card? Deception is just as important as luck.
I’ve received my copy of the game and want to play it a few more times before I review it, but I like it. It had a goal of $2k and raised over $4k in backer pledges.
Marrying Mr. Darcy is a strategy card game where players are one of the female characters from Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice. Players work to earn points and attract the attention of available suitors. Our heroines do this by attending events and improving their characters, but advantage can be gained by the use of cunning. All of their efforts are in hopes of marrying well and becoming the most satisfied character at the end of the game!
I backed this one for my wife, who is a huge fan of Jane Austen. I love playing games with her, and she’s played Zombies!!! and Talisman with me, so I guess I can play this once in a while, too. Apparently, there are no shortage of Austen fans as the goal was set at $10k, and it achieved well over $57k.
Though Bocce Dice only takes a minute or two to learn, you will find yourself honing your skills and coming up with new strategies every time you play. The combination of skill and chance mean that, with some luck, even a beginner can challenge a master. It’s simple and adaptable structure encourages you to customize the game with your own rules.
Straight up, I loved this game concept and was so happy with the components when the game arrived. It’s a regular in our family game rotation. I did a full review of it HERE.
Recently, a twelve year-old girl in Florida jumped to her death. Shortly after this, two girls (ages 12 and 14) were charged with felony-stalking\cyber-stalking the suicide victim. It is still up to a court to decide how much the bullying contributed to the girl’s decision to take her own life, but two girls were arrested and the parents of the girls have been charged with failing to monitor the girl’s online activity.
The finger of blame is pointing all over the place and the truth is – we don’t have laws for this sort of thing. Not yet, but we should.
This takes me back to when I was a freshman in high school, 14-years old. I was awkward and weird. I was 6’, 3” and weighed 112 lbs. On top of that, I have big ears that stick out, like windsocks on the sides of my head. If I turned my head wrong in a stiff wind, it would bowl me over. In short – I had zero self-esteem and was a target for bullies.
My bully took the form of a freshman football player with the inexplicable name of “Buddy.” Buddy would call me “Gay-Boy” or “Monkey-Man,” it alternated as to what particular aspect of himself he was attempting to repress. He made me feel horrible, but I gave him that power. He would hit me in the back of the head or take my books, pen or whatever. He never physically hurt me, but he did make me dread every encounter I had daily in school.
When I was 23 years-old and high school was a distant memory, I was still struggling and lived in a crappy apartment complex on Brentwood Stair in Fort Worth, Texas, taking classes at a community college at night. One night, I went into the office to pay my rent which was late, and who was sitting there but Buddy. I don’t know if he was a contractor working on the apartments, or if he lived there. I noticed his dirty jeans and workman’s boots, so it could go either way.
Now, for any person who has been bullied, this is something they long for. I wanted to be more accomplished than I was at the time, but so be it – fate dealt this opportunity now and I seized it. I clearly remember making a judgment call and deciding enough time had passed.
“Hi Buddy. Do you live in these apartments, too?” I said, acknowledging him.
He looked at me, stared for a moment to let it sink in and snorted, turning away.
Really. Mid-twenties now, and still a twat. Still playing the bully game, albeit less obviously.
In that moment, I saw him for what he was – screwed-up in a different way than me but nothing better than me. Just another broken toy. So broken, he must put others down to feel elevated himself.
This moment that so many bullied kids dream about – I had. Closure occurred, then and there. Buddy was just a dick. No longer a threat or a horror, though he had been for the years up to that point. He was just broken.
The remarkable thing is, I felt sorry for him. Something happened to Buddy that made him so damaged. I don’t know what it was, but as a writer, my imagination is virile and I have loads of ideas… ones I am exploring in my writes as Buddy faces the drunken uncle baby-sitter with the candy in his pockets, or the overbearing mother who makes him wear dresses at home or maybe just his broken home in general. Abusive father? Mother? Grandmother? Priest?
The directions are endless. What doesn’t kill you makes great fodder for your writing, and Buddy is evident in so many of the messed-up characters I leverage.
As for that 12 year-old girl who saw no other answer to a horrible situation except to leap to her death – someone is responsible. I don’t know if the means to prosecute exist or ever will – but parents MUST care more. Accountability has to be squarely placed and applied.
Look, young adults are troubled. The pressures and adversity they face is very real. As parents, we have to pull our heads up and see what is going on. We’ve got to help our children navigate these treacherous waters.
If we fail, more troubled kids will die needlessly.
It could be your kid. It really could.
I encourage parents to watch this movie with their kids – BULLY. It is on Netflix or can be rented. It will help remove the blinders so you can see what is occurring every day in schools across America. Ignorance to what our children are doing is not a disclaimer. As a parent – you can be called out and possibly convicted, so if you don’t do it to help the kids, at least do it to help cover your own sorry ass.
In this way, we all work together to fix a significant problem.
This story appeared in Best of Writing4All 2011 and it’s a fun extrapolation of a real-life experience. If you enjoy it, please share.
Rubber Dog Balls by Mitch Lavender
I took my Beagle, Jojo, to the vet last week to get him neutered. It’s not something I take lightly; after all, I love my dog. The reasons for this were functional and responsible. He’s started marking and he’s very hyper-active. Neutering takes care of both of these worries, and since we have no desire to stud him out, my wife and I agreed to have him fixed.
So to the vet I go, Jojo riding merrily in the car with me, oblivious to what ordeal waits for him. Pulling up at the vet’s office, I casually notice the BMW parked there, my vet’s car. It’s not lost on me that he drives a vehicle that is much nicer than my own.
Once inside, I spend a few minutes with Jenny, an assistant, who is filling out a checklist secured to a clipboard. It’s a standard procedure -neutering. Why is there a checklist?
“Do you want the standard anesthetic or the preferred one?”
“What’s the difference?” I ask. It turns out the preferred anesthetic is safer. Some animals never wake from the standard one.
“It all depends on how much you really love your dog,” she adds, not looking up from the clipboard.
That’s $35 extra. I opt in – I want my dog to wake up.
“Do you want the incision to be laser or scalpel?”
“What’s the difference?” I ask. It turns out that the laser incision has less chance of infection because it cauterizes the incision.
“It all depends on how much you really love your dog,” she adds again, not looking up from the clipboard.
That’s $65 extra. I opt in – I don’t want my dog to have surgical complications. The overall bill in now pushing $300 for getting a medium-sized dog neutered.
“Do you want prosthetic testicle implants?”
“Excuse me?” I thought she just asked if I wanted to have prosthetic testicles implanted in my dog when they removed his balls.
“We offer Neuternads, which are rubber testicles that can be implanted at the time of surgery.”
“Rubber dog balls?” I ask. Then I tack on the real question, “Why?”
“Some owners find it reduces the trauma of the process for the pet. Remember that your dog has been cleaning and enjoying his testicles all his life. He will notice when they are gone, just like he would notice if his tail or ear were cut off. Neuternads replace his natural testicles.”
“And you think he won’t notice these rubber replacements aren’t the real thing?” I stared at her for a moment, waiting for an answer. Apparently, she thought it was rhetorical. “And what does that cost, exactly?”
“$129 for the standard pair and $249 for the deluxe, ‘real-feel’ model,” She said with a straight face; props to her for that. “It all depends on how much you really love your dog,” she added.
I recalled a scene from the movie, Scanners. A guy’s head exploded, splattering everywhere. I haven’t thought of that movie in over a decade, but I now appreciated that scene and felt exactly like the exploding-head-guy.
“You make a good point. How could it not be traumatic for an animal to have such surgery? I don’t think there is any way of amending that. Thank you. You have just talked me out of having the neutering done.” I smiled, looked at Jojo, who seemed pleased with this decision, too.
“You don’t want to get your dog neutered?” Jenny asked incredulously. “What about the marking and hyper-activeness?”
I took Jojo’s leash and opened the door of the examination room. “I guess it all depends on how much you really love your dog.”
Jenny’s mouth hung open as the door closed behind us.
Jojo and I went home and while he licked his balls, I poured a glass of wine.
Jojo and Murphy. This is the imploring look I often get at night. “Have you seen our balls? They seem to be missing.”
This piece previously appeared in Pot Luck anthology by Static Movement in 2011, and again in Death Zone and Other Stories by Pantoum Press in late 2011. If you enjoy it, please share.
Can We Talk?
by Mitch Lavender
My eleven-year-old son came to me last night and said, “Dad, can we talk?”
“Sure son.” I turned away from the computer and faced him. Usually he climbs into my lap, but this time he stood there.
He put down his Nerf gun on my desk and produced a piece a notebook paper from behind his back and said, “I have some things to talk to you about.”
I see there are several items written in pencil on the paper, each numbered. This sounds serious. “You’ve got my attention. Fire away.”
“Number one,” He begins, “I always love you.”
This still melts my heart when he says it. “I love you, too, always and forever.”
“Number two: Can you please stop singing the ‘Get Your Butt Up Out of the Bed’ song in the morning?”
He glanced up from his list to check my expression, which I kept friendly. The ‘Get Your Butt Up Out of the Bed’ song is how I have woken him up for years. I would barge into his room at 7 am, boisterously singing this in a happy, loud tone, sometimes drumming on his dresser with my hands until he would finally raise his head and say, “I’m up! I’m up!” I usually kept singing it until I actually saw him get his feet on the floor.
“It’s pretty annoying, huh. I can see that.” I dare say that if someone tried to wake me up this way, I would be inclined to do bodily harm to them. “Why don’t I just come in and say, ‘Wake up, Spencer! Wake up!’ But… if you don’t get up, I’m going to sing. Deal?”
“Deal,” He said and went back to his list. I see now that this is a list of grievances he has with current operating procedure in the household. I wonder if he has a similar list for his mom.
“Number three: Can you stop poking me?”
It’s a game we’ve played since he was two years old. We would sit and watch Spongebob Squarepants, and every time Spongebob would laugh that machine gun laugh of his that I find so annoying, I would poke Spencer in the ribs. He always laughed when I did this, but of course, I was tickling him.
“No more pokes. Got it.”
Number four,” he moved along. “Can you please stop telling me, ‘don’t poop in your pants’?”
This is another running joke that has apparently jumped the shark. Every time he would head off to school or go out to play, I would remind him jokingly, “Whatever you do, don’t poop in your pants!”
In earlier years, this would solicit a shocked response. “Dad! I don’t poop in my pants!” Sometimes, I would add, “And if you do poop in your pants, don’t sniff it!”
This always got a response, “Dad! You are gross!” or “I won’t poop in my pants so I won’t sniff it!”
“Alright, but if you do poop in your pants…”
“Dad, I don’t poop in my pants.”
He’s getting too old for such things. “Point taken, I got it. No more reminders about pants-pooping.”
“Number five: Can we do more Nerf Wars?”
This kid had at least ten different Nerf guns that shoot little sponge missiles. On days we were home and Mommy was gone, we would sometimes have a war, running around the house and shooting at each other with these guns. Spencer picked the weaponry we used, usually handing me a single-shot gun while he had the Vulcan, a mammoth hunk of plastic that resembled a machine gun, belt-fed projectiles and all. It was always fun, and he wanted to do that more, and he wanted to do it with me.
“You bet! How about this weekend?”
“Sure!” he smiled brightly, folding up his list and putting it in his pocket. How I adore that smile.
“I can still give you hugs, right?”
“Sure!” he said and embraced me. As I held him close, I could feel him slipping away, growing up. Reluctantly, I released my hug.
“Thanks, Dad.” And he turned and walked out of the room, stopping in the doorway. “But if you want, you can still poke me sometimes.”
“I’d like that, but only sometimes.”
He ran out of the room and was gone. I turned back to my work and sighed. After a few seconds of deliberation, I put the computer on hibernate and grabbed the Nerf Gun. I think it is time for a Nerf war. Ambush!!!
A video of Spencer, demonstrating some of his Nerf Guns. Spencer was 9 years old at the time this was recorded.
Formula D is a high stakes Formula One type racing game for 2-10 players where they race simulated cars with the hope of crossing the finish line first. This is a re-release of Formula Dé with several changes from the original format.
We’ve only played three games, but it is fun. I like the simple concept of shifting to higher gears allowing the player to roll a higher-sided die and potentially go faster, coupled with the challenge of the corners where you must end your movement 1, 2 or 3 turns to avoid damaging your car or crashing.
The causes a lot of upshifting, downshifting and braking to meet the criteria to not crash, but if too much damage is done to a particular component such as tires or brakes, you could potentially crash and be out of the game.
The game captures the feel of car racing without having to be a gear-head to enjoy it. I don’t even like car racing, but enjoyed playing this game. The concept is easy to grasp and has a decent strategy to chance ratio. Play it too safe and you’ll lose the race, but go too fast into a turn and you’ll crash.
Then there is the Danger Die. This is what Wil Wheaton called it in his review and I like the name, but let’s face it – it isn’t that dangerous. Any time a car ends its movement next to another car, there is a risk of collision. The player must roll the d20 Danger Die, and if they roll a 1, there is a collision and take damage. That’s a 5% chance of collision, so happens rarely. When it does occur it causes 1 body damage, which is not that big a deal
Danger Die, indeed. More like Mildly Concerning Die That Isn’t Very Dangerous, but whatever.
Honestly, I thought the game was fun and liked the choices I had to make each turn and the pace of the game is lighting fast. There are options to make pit stops to replace tires and such, making multiple lap games possible and increasing the risks.
So, we’ve only played two games with three players, but I’d love to try this more players and more laps or the street racing rules, which have great options for characters and even police to start pursuing in the middle of a race. There are several expansions that include different tracks and I will be picking these up as I can. The game components are a lot of fun, too. I dig shifting gears on the little dashboard and when moving my car around the track, I can’t help making car noises.
All in all, this is a fast-playing, accessible game without a lot of intimidating rules. It even has a basic rules version (which we skipped) that make it simpler, still.
Rock, Paper Scissors, Lizard, Spock! is a five-gesture expansion of the classic hand gesture selection method game, Rock, Paper, Scissors. By adding two additional gestures, the chance of ending in a tie is reduced.
Sam Kass and Karen Bryla are credited with creating Rock, Paper Scissors, Lizard, Spock! but it was not until it appeared in Big Bang Theory that it took off, quickly becoming a household reference in geek-homes everywhere.
The game consists of 4 custom, 6-sided dice, with each facet one of the possible game. It also includes 24 small chips to track score. The instructions are short and easy to comprehend. The dice are low quality. I am a bit of a dice-geek, so they are fine, just not exceptional. The chips are small but fulfill the limited needs of the game, and all the components are very portable, packaged with a clear plastic tube to carry it in, so that is nice.
While the premise of the game is fun, this is a game of complete chance, offering no opportunities for planning, strategy or odds. Each player rolls the dice and either wins or doesn’t, passing the dice to the next player.
I suppose you could make it more interesting by betting on each round, or turning it into a frat party type of drinking game, but otherwise, I can see no reason to play a game like this, nor can I recommend it to anyone.
As much as I love Big Bang Theory, give this one a pass. Note that there is another variation of this calledGeek Dice,which I have not played. It adds a betting aspect, and the components appear to be high quality. I’ll have to give it a closer look.