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On the way back from an errand in the Tottenham Court Road area I took a slight detour to pop into two of my favourite shops in the area - Gosh Comics and the Playin' Games boardgame and RPG shop. The former is still doing fine (and I picked up a couple of new Mike Mignola collections - BPRD #12 and Witchfinder.) But round the corner to Museum Street and Playin' Games was signless, empty and bare. Looking online I've found a comment on a gaming site that it has indeed closed, which is a deep shame as it was one of the best gaming shops in London or indeed this end of the country - it was second IMHO only to The Games Shop in Aldershot*.

Presumably it fell to the combined onslaught of online retailers, Games Workshop and their monoculture shops ("There is no other games system than Warhammer, to suggest others is HERESY!") and, quite probably, Forbidden Planet's growing Games section. FP can't compete on range, but they can compete in terms of sucking in customers, and that's probably what counts.

(*Probably the only time I ever have or ever will recommend Aldershot or something in it.)
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I've been interviewed by Hugh Hancock for his Machinima for Dummies blog's next podcast. Coming soon: I talk to Hugh on the legal aspects of machinima, or How Not To Get Sued By Blizzard.

Rumours that an accompanying video will show us in the guise of characters from Halo 3 are completely unsubstantiated.
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Played last night at the Pembury, because somebody suggested On The Underground and I hadn't brought my copy.

When we set it up I dimly remembered it from my youth, and it turns out that The London Game was indeed first sold in the early Seventies. Other than the theme of travelling around the tube though, there's not a lot of resemblance to On The Underground. That game is a line-building strategy game akin to Ticket to Ride or its variants. The London Game is, frankly, more a dressed-up version of Snakes and Ladders. Almost every effort to change lines triggers a random move to somewhere else on the map, so having any kind of strategy is almost impossible. Meanwhile, it seems that the game was hardly playtested (and nobody has incorporated any feedback into the rules in the last four decades) because it's easy to use simple tactics to block other players in such that they miss turn after turn until they throw a six.

This is actually a good example of a game that typifies the difference between what most people think of when I say 'board game' and what actual gamers mean by one. It's got a board and counters and cards, but the rules ensure that it is principally a game of chance rather than skill. Actually, I suspect that it was play-tested, and was tweaked to remove any element that would allow someone to become a proficient tactical or strategic player and thus diminish its value as a Family Game (i.e. one everyone has an equal chance of winning, no matter how many times you play it.)

Yes, I know that Fluxx can also be criticised for rapid reverses of fortunes. But Fluxx (a) does allow for tactical play - although you have to be prepared to shift tactics quicky - and (b) is actually fun to play. Perhaps my review is more jaundiced because I missed nine successive turns trying to roll a six. But a good game ought not to ever put you in that position.

The London Game might be salvageable with some house rules, I admit. For instance, saying that on the third missed turn a station opens and a trapped player can escape, or making a player roll 1D6 when changing lines and only having to draw a Hazard card on a 5 or 6. But as it stands, taking this to a gaming con would be like sitting down at the Casino Royale and asking if anyone wanted to play Snap.
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For the last couple of years I've been a subscriber to Pyramid, the on-line magazine of Steve Jackson Games. It's very much aimed at GMs (Game Masters, aka Keepers or Referees – the person who runs a role-playing game) with articles on scenario and character ideas, or discussions of the problems and opportunities that crop up when running RPGs. It's arguably worth the subscription for [livejournal.com profile] princeofcairo's 'Suppressed Transmission' articles, but there's usually plenty of other stuff that captures my interest, often for reasons beyond just RPG-running.

The Jan 5th issue in particular had a very good article by Gregory Stauf exploring the reality behind the stereotype, familiar from any number of gaming genres or sf/crime TV shows, of a character rushing into a lab with the Unexplained Object of the day, saying "I need this analysed, right away!" – and more often than not, being told (in a remarkably short time) "It's utterly unknown to science!". As Stauf points out, not only is real-world scientific analysis a lot more complicated than that, but the whole issue is much more subtle.

Read more... )

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Simon Bradshaw

September 2017

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