Posts tagged games
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There are many reasons D&D is having a cultural moment and this article mentions a few. I think the game design decision to use more gender inclusive language and imagery in the 5th edition has been a big part of it.
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Thanks a lot gray lady, you calling D&D cool officially makes it uncool! aw, who am I kidding—it was never cool and I wouldn’t have it any other way. *ruffles D&D’s hair*
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If you're like me you've spent way too much time talking about the true randomness of dice with gaming friends. The conversation always turns to automating dice rolls via robotics, cameras, computer vision, compiling results, and haha yeah, that'd be great. The talk is always theory because it would require serious dedication to actually pull it off. Well someone did it and it is as glorious as I thought it would be. How fair are D&D dice? Not very fair, it seems, but the real destination here is the journey.
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The details in Red Dead Redemption 2 are part of what makes it so fun to play. The Audubon Society sees what they've done there. I agree on the sound design—as you change environments, the sounds of the natural world change. The game simulates 178 different animals: Red Dead Redemption 2 Full Compendium and constantly catching glimpses of them makes the world feel more real. I don't spend time birding in RDR2 but it's fun to know I could if I wanted to.

Best Games of the Year

This is my completely arbitrary take on my favorite games from this year.

The top honor goes to Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition.

Curse of Strahd cover

Specifically, Curse of Strahd which my game group has been playing for all of 2018 and probably most of 2017. It has a good balance of role-playing, puzzles, and fighting and the atmosphere is just different enough from the default D&D world to keep you guessing without feeling completely foreign.

Best Board Games

Blood Rage cover

I've had a lot of fun playing Blood Rage lately. It's set in the land of Norse myth and at first glance it looks and sounds like a classic player vs. player fighting for area control game—and it is that! But there's a surprising amount of strategy involved. There are some great mechanics around losing area control which makes it tough to know how to block other players. It's a great combination of analysis and action.

Root cover

Root is another very different kind of area control game. It has asymmetrical play which means each player is using different mechanics to get victory points. It takes some getting used to and I had to play through a game before I even started thinking about how to optimize my turn. Having an experienced Root player on hand to answer questions is also a plus. Once you make it though those barriers, the game has a lot of turns and surprises and gives you a lot to think about. I found myself going over potential Root strategies days after playing.

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The classics are classics for a reason. I played a lot of Settlers of Catan this year because it's my family's favorite game. Even kids who can't read can get the hang of Catan pretty quickly. It's also a great way to introduce someone to Eurogames if their only experience with board games is Monopoly and Scrabble. (Which are fun too but not the full spectrum of what's possible!)

Best Card Games

The Mind cover

A friend brought a self-printed DIY version of The Mind to a game night because he'd heard it was popular in Germany and there wasn't a way to get a copy in the US. We played this weird game where you put cards in numeric order with sly communication and luck and we were genuinely cheering our successes. I'm not sure it counts as a game, but whatever it is it's dramatic and everyone has fun.

Keyforge cover

I've been having fun playing KeyForge with my son as a nice change of pace (for me) from Magic. KeyForge has a clever design where every deck has a unique set of cards and is evenly matched against other decks. The deck names are algorithmically generated, sometimes with humorous results. It is a nicely designed resource-gathering game where you can use cards without an energy-style mechanic. It feels a lot lighter than Magic but it has some complexity with different styles of play (fighting vs. stealing vs. spells) possible through the different factions. If you think you'd enjoy Magic without the deck building/collecting aspects you'll probably enjoy KeyForge.

That's it—happy gaming!
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Dinah Sanders has some great tips for incorporating 3D terrain into D&D games. She also has some good accessory resources at the end. We’ve come a long way from graph paper.

See also: My 2016 post about Modern D&D Tools.
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Modern D&D Tools

This post is going to come as a shock to those of you who have watched me carefully cultivate a sort of James Bond persona here over the years but I'm a big fan of the role playing game Dungeons and Dragons. I can hear your shock reverberating across the Internet but hear me out.


A few years ago in a fit of nostalgia I purchased all of the AD&D first edition rulebooks on eBay and started playing with a group of friends.

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It was great fun and a great excuse to get together, drink beer, and pretend to kill monsters. I started to get frustrated with some of the mechanics of the game and figured that was just nostalgia running its course. Unbeknownst to me, D&D didn't stop evolving when I stopped playing it in 1991. The game has gone through several major iterations, and ironically (to me) the latest version is the most similar to that first edition yet. The good news is that the game has held on to many of the best features from those previous versions. For fun, I took a look at the latest edition by picking up the starter set. For me, switching from AD&D to modern D&D 5e was like switching from black and white to color. The universe of the 5e starter set is more alive, more detailed, and more magical than its first iteration. I feel like the system helps create more vivid stories—and that's the point of the game!

Another neat thing about D&D 5e is that the core rules have been released under an Open Gaming License. That means you don't necessarily need to purchase the official books to be able to play the game. (Though the books are nicely designed and have amazing art.) Open5e gives you the core rules and people are free to build on them with their own ideas.

For my group, the move to 5e meant adding some new tools to help with the game. All you need to play D&D is pencil and paper. That's part of what makes it great. There are also a slew of apps and tools out there that can help you keep track of everything. Here are a few that I've found helpful.

RPG Cards

One of the best tools for players that we've adopted is spell cards. They're simply homemade playing cards that have the various spells players can use on them. So at a glance, the player can see what options they have available to them without cracking a book or scrolling through an app. We've adopted cards for magic items and player conditions too.

To make the cards I used a neat bit of code I found on Github, rpg-cards. You can create (or find) a json file that includes the spell details and this app generates some nicely designed cards as PDFs.

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From there I followed this tutorial, DIY Playing Cards, and tried a bunch of different types of paper and glue until I came up cards I liked.

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In the 80s people were worried that D&D would lead to drugs. I think D&D leads to crafting.

Character Sheets

You can keep track of your character on paper but keeping track of spell slots and changes that happen as you level up is easier with an app like Fight Club 5th Edition. That's my favorite app when I'm a player.

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It looks great and has a fairly deep set of features. Unfortunately you have to dig around a bit online to find game data to load into it. Hopefully as people build off the Open Gaming License this will get easier.

In my group everyone uses Fifth Edition Character Sheet. It's a just-the-facts sort of app which seems to resonate more than looks.

Primitive Tools

D&D has always included dice, but now it can include dice with some thought behind it like the numerically-balanced d20 or the improbable d120. (We use the d120 for wild magic surges just because it's cool.) Even the New Yorker says you need this die.

To help visualize scenes and complex terrain we use this Role Playing Mat and D&D minis that I've found on eBay.

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I'm not sure it counts as primitive, but recently we've used Tabletop Audio to provide some atmosphere and that has been fun. It's just ambient enough to stay in the background and not grab the spotlight.

So while I might have blown my James Bond persona, I will now accept my new persona as the Q of D&D gadgetry! If you haven't tried modern D&D, I highly recommend it. Just be ready for the inevitable papercraft.
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