Category Archives: General

Dungeons and Self Discoveries

Last night at a family dinner, I talked gaming with a couple of kids that are about to graduate high school, and one of the things they discussed was finding folks to play Dungeons and Dragons with at their respective colleges this fall. I couldn’t help but smile to myself, knowing how much of an impact role playing games had on my own college life.  I sincerely hope that they get at least a fraction of the positive experience out of them as I did.

Living on campus, the gang would gather together at my place for an adventure every weekend; exploring dungeons whose walls were drawn out with spare change on the kitchen table, sharing a single laptop full of PDF versions of the various rulebooks (I’ve since kept to my word and collected lots of D&D books that have never been opened to attone for the “digital borrowing” performed as broke college student), chowing down on communally funded food purchased from whatever restaurant we could get the best employee discount from out of our friend circle.

In doing so, we discovered who the rules lawyers were, who the smooth talkers were, and who the creative geniuses were. We watched relationships bloom at the table and continue out of character. We decided for ourselves what our characters would be good at (let’s put that 18 into Strength, I’ll use Charisma and Intelligence as my dump-stats and just grunt at the other characters), but we also discovered what our own skills and weaknesses were. We discovered one another’s minds, and we discovered our own.

The character sheets are long lost, but my heroes are still a part of me. When I’m out in a crowded bar, and a scuffle breaks out nearby, Tallon, Knight of Pelor, places himself between danger and my allies. When I’m feeling mischievous, Kettch the Kobold Sorcerer speaks through and has me play a prank on my friends just to see what will happen. Yeah, it’s cheesy to think of that way, but in retrospect I see where I was learning about myself through these characters, revealing to myself both who I was and who I wanted to be.

Now, looking back, it’s probably been 7 years since the last time I ran a D&D game and almost 10 years since I played in someone else’s. Considering how much that was a part of my social gaming previously, it blows my mind to put those numbers in writing. It’s not like I’ve moved over to Pathfinder, Shadowrun, Firefly, Mistborn, or any other role playing game system. I just haven’t been playing tabletop RPGs at all. The closest I’ve been to an RPG group in a long time was the Kingdom Death campaign I discussed a few months back (article links HERE and HERE). I’ve moved on to the real world of jobs and responsibility, where you can’t put the same 5 people in a room on any kind of casual schedule. I still get my gaming in, but the focus is drastically different. I play one-shot games that are about improving skill and tactics against whoever is across the table, not about adding new chapters onto an evolving story with the same group of friends for months on end.

So with last night’s conversation still bouncing around in my head, my psyche was primed for what was to come this morning. One of my Facebook friends re-shared a post (shown below) about a D&D game with a twist. All of the players start the game with a blank character sheet. The Dungeon Master has their own copy of everyone’s sheets, which are fully filled out. The idea is that players will discover their character’s strengths and weaknesses over time via trial and error. Frankly, I’m hooked on the concept. It’s not going to suit everyone ([Clunk clunk] “Aww, man, I wanted to be a thief. What do you mean I failed the sneak check on a 19 roll?”), but I think it’s an interesting challenge for more experienced role players that will challenge them to step outside their comfort zone and approach problems in a new way.

So if this interests you, how do you set up the story that nobody knows their skills? Well, the Dungeon Master can take the easy way out and say that the characters arrived where they are by magic, with little to no memories beyond their names. Poof, hand wave, you’re in the middle of an unfamiliar city, standing in front of an inn with a job board in front of it, a guild recruiter across the way yelling for your attention, and a shifty character in the nearby alley eyeing your coin purse. What do you do?

Am I the Gnome Sorcerer in the Chapel Sanctum with a Broadsword? (And yes, D&D Clue exists)

But there’s other ways too. Perhaps your characters all grew up in a life of relatively secluded luxury as bastard children of nobility, sent off to a special boarding school. They were sheltered from the outside world to protect their secrets, probably never being told about them, but were treated accordingly to their partial nobility. They never had to lift heavy things, they were never told that belching at the table was seen as crass, and nobody dared tell them that “fluffy the dire wolf” was actually “fluffy the house cat”; their proficiency (or lack thereof) at basic skills was never questioned by those around them. All that changes when someone hires mercenaries to kidnap them, hoping for leverage over their noble parent. Boom, the characters know each other (grew up together), have a motivation (escaping and getting home), and have no particularly known talents or applicable worldly knowledge.

The idea that not every member of the group is a powerhouse and master of their craft opens up a lot of space for true role playing as opposed to min/maxed “roll playing”. If each character seems to have a hidden talent, how would the group treat the last character who hadn’t found something they have a knack for? If poor Jim doesn’t seem particularly charismatic, strong, or agile of thought or body, is it a running joke that this average civilian is dragged along on these dangerous adventures? Or does the group treat him as something extraordinary because his hidden talent must be something beyond mere statistics?

Taking the concept just a little bit further, perhaps the characters don’t have any hidden strengths at all. Maybe all those unknown stats are mediocre at best, but can be improved through play. Whatever the player puts the most effort in to, whatever the character practices the most, that’s where the improvement will come. This lets your story show the growth from average person with a noble heart into a well seasoned adventurer, as opposed to the stereotypical progression from well trained savant to a well trained and equipped one.

Character discovery isn’t going to be the right concept for every RPG group. There’s no problem with picking what you want to play. Little Timmy just wants to smash things, and that’s okay. Let him put all his points into CoolGuy the Barbarian’s Strength stat and double bladed battleaxe exotic weapon skill. Johnny has a serious crush on Katniss Everdeen, so he’s allowed to be Naktiss Neverneed, heroic Ranger, martyr, and savior of the 5th District of Neverwinter.

But for more experienced groups, those looking for a new challenge and a novel way to explore a game, this seems like a refreshing way to go about it.

Now to dust off those old spell tomes and relearn how to cast “Conjure Enough Time for a Campaign”. But maybe this time I won’t have to spend the first hour filling out a character sheet!

– The Tabletop General

For the Greater Good

I had to make a hard choice yesterday, and it affects a lot of my fellow gamers.

For a combination of a dozen different factors (fatigue, seasonal, personal obligations, etc), attendance had dropped significantly at my FLGS’s X-Wing nights. Where once we had 15-20 players every Tuesday night, now we had 6-8. Seeing underutilized table space, the store’s owner took the opportunity to revitalize the local Warhammer community, putting together a series of events that have filled the place up on Tuesday nights. As a result, as I’ve worked hard to bring back X-Wing players, I haven’t had anywhere to put them. For weeks now, we’ve had no more than 4 games running at a time, elbow to elbow to make that happen. As for the extra folks? A few of us would observe, some would grab a card table and play Destiny, and some folks just turned around and left. I always gave up my spot for someone else to play, because on a given X-Wing night it’s less about the games themselves for me and more about hanging out with my friends.

But realizing that this situation wasn’t getting any better, I spoke with some of the prominent players and agreed to move X-Wing night to Wednesdays. This is a big deal to me because Wednesdays are our Imperial Assault nights. And while we’re at it, let’s go ahead and formally organize Destiny players to gather on Wednesdays as well.

So, the good news is that none of this conflicts with the schedules for these games at any other store in the area, there’s plenty of room available for everyone to play, and I’ll never go without a game of something on Wednesday nights. I’ve got some ideas churning for ways to tie everything together too, having a bit of a “faction war” that spans multiple games. But on the other hand, the players like myself who might have been overextending a bit to get in to all three of these games now have to pick one of the three each week.

I just hope that this works out, because the harder part of this is knowing that this does lock out some of our potential players – I’ve heard from equal amounts of X-Wing players that have said “I haven’t been coming on Tuesdays for a while, and I was about to start coming back, but I can’t make it on Tuesdays” and those that have said “Finally, a night other than Tuesday, I’ll be able to come back!”. I’m sure there will still be pick-up games on any given day, and a few dedicated players will still come in more leading up to major events, but I don’t like giving up table time.

It’s hopefully a good move for the health of all affected games that I make this move. But that doesn’t mean I like paying the cost.
– The Tabletop General

To the Death

On March 15th of 2016, Fantasy Flight Games released new tournament rules documents for all of their games. These new documents included a lot of cleanup and standardization across all game systems – formalized roles for all participants in an event, clear definitions of core concepts and event types, and removal of a few silly draconian rules (such as the total ban on ship modifications for X-Wing). These are all good things. But unfortunately, a very bad thing came along for the ride: Intentional Draws.

The concept of an intentional draw is relatively simple: two players matched up at an event can agree to a tie game, rather than playing the game out. Seems pretty harmless, right? But when you look at the tournament structure and game scoring for these events, you see where it leads to underhanded tactics and poor sportsmanship.

All FFG tournaments start with multiple rounds of Swiss pairings; similar records are paired up, avoiding duplicates. Swiss pairings are considered the best way of finding the top players of an event where time does not permit a full single elimination or round robin structure, because the top players are paired against one another round after round. In a pure Swiss setting, an intentional draw is generally tantamount to resigning (except in extreme cases), because the number of rounds is set such that the leader at the conclusion of Swiss is undefeated.

But FFG events don’t stop after Swiss, except in events with low turnout (16 or less for X-Wing’s “Basic” event structure, 8 or less under “Advanced”). Immediately following Swiss, there is a cut to the top X players (based on attendance) for a single elimination bracket. This cut usually corresponds directly to a tier of prize support, so even if you’re guaranteed to lose the first round after the cut, players still want to make it in.

So going in to the last round of Swiss play, several players have something major on the line. Let’s take a look at how a hypothetical X-Wing tournament would run under both the Basic and Advanced structures. For the sake of simple math and minimal edge cases, we’ll assume a nice even number of 16 players show up (4 rounds of Swiss under either format), and that no modified wins or natural draws occur.

Breakdown_16
Number of players at each record on a round by round basis, assuming that all games end in a full win for one player.

Let’s label our top 8 players after round 3 “Player 1” – “Player 8”. Player 1 and Player 2 have perfect winning records up to this point. Player 2 has been squeaking by all day with the smallest full wins possible in each game, walking in to this game with a 336 total Margin of Victory. Player 1 has been stomping folks all day, and has a near-perfect 560 point Margin of Victory.

Example MoV’s for our other hypothetical players:
Player 3 – 488
Player 4 – 488
Player 5 – 450
Player 6 – 440
Player 7 – 425
Player 8 – 415

Basic_16
The kid gloves option.

Consulting our Basic tournament structure, listed above, there won’t be a cut to a single elimination bracket in this event, instead the standings after 4 rounds will be final. While it is guaranteed that one or the other of them will win the event, Player 1 and Player 2 have huge incentives to take a draw here. Player 2 doesn’t feel like he can win that game, and a draw guarantees him 2nd place; that one tournament point puts Player 2 out of anyone else’s reach. Player 1 stands to gain nothing by not accepting Player 2’s offer, as he is also out of reach of the other players, and wins the Margin of Victory tiebreaker against Player 2. An Intentional Draw is now the “right” play for both players.

Meanwhile, if Player 1 and Player 2 don’t take that draw, 2nd place is up for grabs. A loss for Player 1 could push him down as far as 4th place, as Player 3 and Player 4 are still in striking range of his Margin of Victory with a potential gain of 200 points in a round. And something like a 0-100 loss for Player 2 risks knocking him down as far as 11th place out of 16 with his poor MoV.

Advanced_16
The “we came to play” option.

Now, looking at the Advanced tournament structure, things get uglier. Going into our 4th round, there are exactly 8 players with at least 10 tournament points from having a record of 2-1 or better. Anything other than a loss locks them in to a spot in the single elimination bracket.

But going back to our breakdown from above, that’s only going to happen naturally for 5 out of those 8 players, 3 of them would drop to a 2-2 record. With 6 players at a 1-2 record coming in to the 4th round, 3 of those players will win their game – meaning Players 9-14 would normally have an outside chance to continue. But he insertion of the Intentional Draw rule says otherwise. Players 3-8 have zero reason to play their games, and instead they can shake hands and turn in their score sheets for 1 tournament point each. It doesn’t matter that they could be caught if everyone played their games out; they were lucky enough to be in the lead, so they get the ability to cut the competition short and say that only the rounds that they already did well in count.

How can this be, you ask? Surely this isn’t really allowed???

The Intentional Draw rule, as written, is currently left open to interpretation. There’s a really interesting reference in the rule pointing back to the section on Unsporting Conduct.

Intentional_Draws

Unsporting_Conduct

Collusion among players to manipulate scoring is expressly forbidden” – That seems to be exactly what Intentional Draws are, manipulation of scoring. Proponents of the rule argue that the judge’s presence prevents the term “collusion” from applying here, as the agreement is not made in secret. I’m not sure if I want to laugh at this attempt to lawyer the rules, or ask the player to make sure it isn’t secret by announcing to the entire room that they feel they have the right to decide how long the event runs, and that they’re cutting it short because they’re winning. Cowards.

In case you can’t tell, this rule upsets me greatly. The exact impact on scoring is a little different for each FFG game, but the general effect is still the same – players have an opportunity to advance their position in a tournament by choosing not to play a game. This is asinine, elitist, and exactly the opposite of the old worn out and downtrodden concept of “Fly Casual”.

I’ve seen multiple circumstances in this tournament season where my day could have been ended by a handshake on a different table, where I could pass either player (or at least one of them) had they lost but I couldn’t do anything about a draw. Even worse than that, I dread the idea of having tell a player at one of my events that they had a chance at making a cut, but someone else decided that they didn’t like playing fair. Let’s say that was this hypothetical player’s first tournament where they were doing well, and might have a fighting chance to win it all that day – if someone locks them out via Intentional Draw, they might never show up for another event. So I’m fighting this rule as hard as I can.

Over the past three weeks, I’ve tried really hard to get clarification from Fantasy Flight Games regarding how they intend this rule to be used, and why it was added. I’ve used the contact form on the FFG web page. I’ve reached out to FFG Organized Play on Facebook, and by direct email. I’ve also emailed individual employees at FFG. None of these have been met with any response whatsoever. If, by chance, you happen to be one of the recipients of those messages and didn’t reply, please know that I’m very angry with you.

Meanwhile, a small number of players are claiming that they will not attend the X-Wing Regional Championship I’ll be hosting later this month, because I had originally made it clear that, pending feedback from FFG (see previous paragraph) I would not permit Intentional Draws while I had the ability to interpret it as Unsporting Conduct, because that’s exactly what it is. This stance has since been forced to soften by the usage of Intentional Draw at the Hoth Open, despite the fact that I still have no clear guidance from FFG. Before my stance was changed, I was accused of being a horrible TO for taking this stance. I was told to go play Hello Kitty games since I can’t stand “true competition”. I was told that I should be reported to FFG for this. I was told by folks with absolute zero control over the matter that this would be the last tournament I ever run if I don’t permit Intentional Draws. Nobody seems to understand that I don’t benefit from this in any way beyond knowing that my players, both local, visiting regularly, or coming in for the only time I’ll ever see them at a tournament won’t get screwed over. Gee, that makes me SUCH a bad person.

To my great dismay, I’ve been told that the Intentional Draw rule was invoked by players during the last round of Swiss at the recent Hoth Open event at Adepticon, and the request(s) received permission from FFG officials. I don’t know the precise details, but that gives me no room to interpret the rule as only applying to a Father/Son matchup in round 2 of 8 of an X-Wing event (Because no family conflict happens in Star Wars), or anything along those lines. As a result, I may have to reverse my stance and permit them, under great protest.

Just don’t expect me to disclose anyone else’s current scores, nothing says I have to arm you with the information to make an informed choice about this crap.

And don’t expect me to ever agree to one when I’m playing. I don’t care what I’m risking by not taking your offer; as soon as you utter those cowardly words, that match is to the death.

– The Tabletop General

2015 Gamer Gift Guide

The holiday season is upon us again, and us nerds are no easier to shop for than in seasons past. So if you’re struggling with gift ideas for the gamers in your life, allow me to suggest a few options. Just as with last year’s Gamer Gift Guide, in this article I’ll point out several board games, video games, and tabletop games that have caught my eye lately, as well as some nifty gadgets and gaming supplies for the nerd who already has everything…

Video Games

What a time to be a gamer! This year’s holiday season sees several highly anticipated releases. Because nothing says “escapism” like “what would the world be like if we blew everything up?”, Fallout 4 is THE hot game this year for single-player enthusiasts, and my personal mini-addiction as of late. Or you can take the alternate history route with Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, as the epic tale of intrigue and clandestine warfare pitting Assassins against Templars continues in 19th century England.

For those who enjoy multiplayer games, this year the latest Call of Duty, Black Ops 3, goes head to head against Star Wars: Battlefront. Personally, I’d take soaring over the battle in an X-Wing in Battlefront over CoD’s twitch-shooter style any day, but to each their own. If your gamer is looking for a pure action shooter, Call of Duty may be the better call.

Meanwhile, for a more laid back experience, if your kids (or you) enjoyed the Skylanders model, Disney Infinity is available on all consoles, as is the competing Lego Dimensions.

In the system exclusive realm, Master Chief returns to the XBox One for another tour of duty in Halo V.  For Playstation owners, Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection bundles up the previous three games on PS4 in order to hold everyone over until Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End arrives early next year.

Wii U owners have a particularly nice batch of Nintendo exclusives this year. Splatoon is the ultimate game of paintball – a less violent approach to a shooting game that still appeals to core gamers. Super Mario Maker lets you remix the classic Mario experience, building your own levels that can be shared with others, playing others’ levels, and unlocking new components and characters (Amiibo compatible). Also, if you’re willing to go the pre-order route, Star Fox is ready to make a new appearance early in 2016.

Now, if you’re looking for a gift for someone that buys all these games the day they come out, there’s still an option available: Downloadable Content Season Passes. A Season Pass grants access to all downloadable content that will be released over the year following the game’s release, and at a discount over individual purchases. The DLC packs usually add new missions, maps, and equipment to the game, or sometimes even entirely new game modes. Fallout, Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, and Battlefront are all offering Season Passes this year. These are also GREAT last minute gifts, as they’re digital download codes to be entered into the recipient’s console or computer – there’s no shipping required.

Board/Card Games

XCOM: The Board Game, provides an unparrallelled cooperative multiplayer experience – Using a free iPhone / Android App to automate the actions of alien invaders, players work together to manage their resources and race against the clock to fight back the invasion.

Star Wars: Imperial Assault probably looks really familiar to anyone who has played the Descent board game, but there’s definitely more depth to this one. Playable as a persistent multiplayer campaign or as a head-to-head competitive skirmish game, Imperial Assault gives you a big bang for your buck. If you’re buying for someone who already has the game, perhaps consider the new Return to Hoth expansion, releasing just in time for Christmas.

A pair of holdovers from last year’s recommendations, Trains and Trains: Rising Sun are a great expansion on the Dominion deck-builder mechanic; where unlike traditional card games with a construction mechanic, players build their decks from a communal pool available to all players as a core portion of the gameplay itself. Following in this vein, this year I’m recommending a pair of similar titles on a smaller scale: Star Realms (and its’ expansions) and Epic. Intended to be playable with just the 100 or so cards in each set, the complete game fits into one large deck box, making them perfect stocking stuffers!

A bit less on the strategic side, but most certainly entertaining, don’t skip out on Exploding Kittens, or for the brave, check out the Exploding Kittens NSFW Edition.  For a more dynamic party game, take a look at SUPERFIGHT – A game in the veins of Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity, players actively lobby for why their custom created super hero would be able to defeat all the others submitted.

Tabletop Miniatures

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures is still near and dear to me, as frequent readers of The Tabletop General can certainly attest to. The game is still growing by leaps and bounds, and there’s a lot of big recent releases, with more right around the corner (and rumored available by Christmas). A new Starter set for Episode VII has recently come out, including a pair of TIE/FO fighters and a T-70 X-Wing. Coming out soon, the individual expansions of both of those ships should be available, along with the Ghost and the Inquisitor’s TIE from Star Wars: Rebels, alongside bounty hunter ships, the Mist Hunter and Punishing One.

For a more substantial centerpiece-style gift, consider giving a new Imperial Raider or Gozanti Assault Carrier to rule the X-Wing battlefield, or their Rebel counterparts: the CR-90 Blockade Runner and GR-75 Medium Transport. For the X-Wing player that has “everything”, decorative items are the way to go: Space Rocks offers lots of custom obstacles and terrain pieces for the game, and there’s tons of options for X-Wing playmats as well (note, only the Fantasy Flight Starfield Playmat is currently legal for high level competitive play).

If Star Wars isn’t your gamer’s thing, Battletech seems to be making a big comeback (or at least it is in my area). Giant stompy robots trampling all over the landscape and battling for their nation, employer, or personal honor… you really can’t go wrong. For someone that hasn’t played before, the Starter Set is the way to go. For more experienced players, I would recommend giving a map set to expand their game play, like Hex Pack: Cities and Roads, or Hex Pack: Mountains and Canyons.

If your gamer was big on Warhammer Fantasy, but isn’t loving the new Age of Sigmar revamp, consider gifting them a copy of the rules for Kings of War. Written by gaming industry veterans, and fully compatible with Warhammer Fantasy models, this seems to be where the community at large is heading now.

And for the Warhammer 40K player, take a look at the new release from Games Workshop – The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Caalth. Technically a board game, this kit comes with tons of Forge World quality miniatures usable in 40K / 30K at a SHARP discount over retail prices. This is a limited edition that will sell out fast, so jump on it quickly!

Gaming Accessories

16 pocket card pages – Perfect for storing Star Wars: Armada, Imperial Assault, X-Wing Miniatures, or any other game that uses mini-american size cards.

Mini-American card sleeves – And these are the right size for protecting those same mini-american sleeves while in use.

Expo Fine-Point Dry Erase Markers – Whether marking up notes on a dungeon map in D&D, or recording Battletech mech damage, dry erase markers are way more useful to most gamers than they might realize.

Sheet Protectors – How are dry erase markers useful to gamers? Slip that character sheet or battle list into one of these sheet protectors, and suddenly you’re not destroying your paper every time you need to take damage, temporarily adjust your stats, or mark which units you’ve lost in this game. Combine the two items, and you’ll save tons on printing extra sheets, and do the environment a favor in the process.

Chessex Dice – You can’t go wrong with dice for a gamer. Adding custom colored dice is a great way for them to add flair and a personal touch to their games. For Battletech, Warhammer, or other large scale miniatures games, get them six sided dice (d6’s). For RPG gamers, go for the 7 die polyhedral sets, unless it’s a Star Wars RPG like Edge of the Empire, in which case they need a specific set of dice.

Brush Set – Any gamer building and paining miniatures (like for Battletech, Warhammer, Kings of War, or similar games) needs a good set of brushes. Odds are, they’ve bought only what they absolutely had to have, and they’re often using the wrong brush for the job at hand. Fix that now with a full set of brushes from Army Painter.

Laser line of sight tool – A holdover from last year, these lasers are incredibly useful for determining line of sight in tabletop games – whether or not a model can shoot, if they’re getting cover from trees or buildings, and so on. Every tabletop game I play needs one of these.

Gadgets

Directly copied from last year’s guide, these are standby great gifts for gamers because we’re pretty much all geeks too, and they’re just as good of an idea now as they were last year.

Logitech Wireless Solar Keyboard K750 – I love having a wireless keyboard; it reduces clutter, and gives me lots of mobility around the room (I use a TV for a computer monitor at home). The only down side is that I’m constantly replacing AA batteries. But this keyboard eliminates that problem, because it recharges itself with light! Buy two, and send me one!

Energizer AA Charger with Batteries – Because not every gadget can be solar powered. I use rechargeable batteries for my keyboard now, as well as my XBox controller, TV remotes, and so on. I’ve got a handful more batteries than I need for all my devices, so that there’s always a fresh set ready to swap in when needed.

Google Chromecast – This is an excellent addition to your home media setup – it allows anyone connected to your WiFi network to stream videos and music to the TV just by plugging it into your TV. It’s absolutely great for parties, because everybody can contribute to the playlist!

 

 

If you have questions about any of my recommendations, or if you want to discuss the games your gamer plays and perhaps look into some specific items for their game of choice, feel free to reach out to me via Facebook. I hope this guide helps make the holiday season great for you and yours!

– The Tabletop General

2014 Gamer Gift Guide

Gamers and geeks are notoriously hard to shop for. Most of us are prone to impulse purchases, so if we see something we want, we get it. That means if we don’t already have it, odds are that we either didn’t know about it, or just haven’t had a chance to get it yet. And while not true across the board, many of us are afraid to ask for what we really want, in fear that you’ll get something “close” but totally miss the target. For example- Assassin’s Creed: Unity and Assassin’s Creed: Rogue are both brand new games, both are available on one version of consoles or the other, and both have a 50% chance of not being the right one (One is for XBox One and PS4, the other for XBox 360 and PS3). So how do you make sure that you’re getting the latest and greatest that the gamer in your life really wants? Ask the experts, and when in doubt, go for something new!

In this guide I’ll highlight several board games, video games, and my favorite tabletop games as of late, as well as some nifty gadgets. These are the kinds of things that I would want for Christmas if I didn’t already have them, or things that I don’t have but really really really want. Hopefully, they’ll serve as great recommendations for you in holiday shopping for the gamer in your life.

Video Games

Buying for somebody that has a Wii U? Then your job might be really simple: Super Smash Brothers is an absolute must-have title. For the Zelda enthusiast, Hyrule Warriors is another recent release, but it’s not necessarily an auto-buy; based off of the Dynasty Warriors series of games and starring the Zelda cast, it doesn’t play like any other game starring Link. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s just not your traditional Zelda game.

If you’re looking for an FPS (First Person Shooter), Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is the latest and greatest title out there. The multiplayer content is the same tried and true format of all the previous Call of Duty titles, but I do really enjoy the single player campaign. If you’re buying for someone who already has that one though, I would suggest a pre-order of Battlefield: Hardline; a cops-and-robbers setup built on top of a more tactical framework, I’m really looking forward to that one. It doesn’t actually release until March, but that just means that nobody has it yet. Buy it, print the receipt, and wrap it up in a gift card holder; they’ll never see it coming!

As far as adventure titles go, Assassin’s Creed is back in the spotlight with two new games. As I mentioned at the top of the article, Assassin’s Creed: Unity is made exclusively for the newest gaming consoles (PS4 and XBox One), while Assassin’s Creed: Rogue shows some love to the PS3 and XBox 360. Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from playing both if you have consoles from both generations.

Dragon Age: Inquisition is my pick for a current RPG title. I haven’t had a chance to play this one yet, but everyone I know who has is absolutely hooked. The reviews I’ve read are very positive, and hint at depth far and beyond the previous games in the series.

In the realm of strategy games, I wish I could recommend Civilization: Beyond Earth; but it’s not my go-to title right now. Instead, I think Endless Legend is the way to go. Endless Legend has a lot of neat features that Beyond Earth just seems to be lacking – Unique units for each faction, an actual story behind the game, and lots of novel twists on things that other games have been afraid to experiment with. Granted, I haven’t seen all of it yet, I just downloaded Endless Legend yesterday morning, but so far it looks like what will be keeping me up ’til 2 or 3 AM for the next month or two saying “just one more turn” to myself over and over again.

Board Games

Whether you’re trying to liven up a party or have a pleasant family night at home, you can’t go wrong with pulling out a board game (unless it’s Monopoly, in which case everyone will hate each other by the end of the night). There’s too many good ones out there to highlight them all, but I’ll list a few good ones here:

King of New York – This one is a sequel to King of Tokyo, one of our family’s favorite games. Players assume the role of a monster attacking the city, and fighting all the other monsters for prove themselves as the king. Develop new superpowers, destroy buildings, and manipulate the military into helping take out your opponents, there’s a lot of new ways to win. Also includes a T-Rex wearing a cowboy hat. Just saying. 2-6 players (best with at least 4).

Sentinels of the Multiverse – If destroying the city in the process of claiming it as your own isn’t your style, how about saving it from the evil mega-villain of the day? Sentinels of the Multiverse is a fully cooperative game, where each player acts as a super hero straight out of comic books. Players are teaming up to navigate potentially hazardous environments as they attempt to stop everything from alien warlords and robotic factories gone wild. If your gamer already owns and enjoys Sentinels, then consider one of the several expansions to the game, such as Rook City,  or the new Shattered Timelines set. 1-5 players, the fun increases along with the player count.

Trains and Trains: Rising Sun – Almost every gamer I know has played through Dominion and its’ expansions at one time or another. Trains plays in a very similar fashion, an on-the-fly deck building game where players purchase cards from a communal pool. In Trains, you’re competing to build the best rail line, so there’s a physical board to go along with the cards for players to connect stations and build routes on, and also allows for a real-time view of the game score. Perhaps I enjoy Trains so much because I played it before I tried Dominion, but I’m hinting really hard to Santa that I would like Rising Sun this year! If your gamer plays Dominion and likes it, I HIGHLY recommend both of the Trains games. (2-4 players)

Warhammer: Diskwars – For the Warhammer player tired of painting, or always carrying around easy to break plastic figures, Warhammer: Diskwars brings the same Warhammer Fantasy setting, story, and armies to life in a much cheaper and more transportable form. A rebranding of a classic game format, I’ve heard great reviews of this product from everyone I know that plays it, and I’m trying to carve out some time to play it soon myself. For players that already have the core set, consider adding one of the recent expansions: Legions of Darkness or Hammer and Hold. Intended for 2 players, but supports up to 4.

Warhammer: Conquest – Diskwars caters to the Warhammer Fantasy players, but Warhammer 40k players aren’t left out in the cold either. Warhammer: Conquest is a relatively new card game in which two opposing armies battle for supremacy over an entire star system, one planet at a time. Conquest plays similar to Magic: The Gathering and other collectible card games, but rather than buying pack after pack of cards in hopes of finding the one you’re really looking for, the Living Card Game format gives players all the cards they need in each expansion, making it a much more sane, balanced, and reasonable system.  2 players only.

 

Role Playing Games

RPG players don’t often need a whole lot of new stuff. Usually, their upkeep consists of refreshing their stash of Mountain Dew and Cheetos (I’m one of them, I’m allowed to say that). But there’s always room for something new if you know what to look for.

Dungeons and Dragons – D&D has been re-released this year. While there’s nothing stopping players from continuing with their 4th edition (or 3.5e, or 3e, or 2e…) campaigns, the new books have been relatively well received and always come with great new material in them. If you’re not sure that your gamer is ready to make the jump to the new edition, or if they haven’t played D&D before, consider the D&D Starter Set, which contains everything you’ll need for an introductory adventure under the new rules system. Alternatively, if they’re committed to moving to the new rules, the Player’s Handbook is a must-have for every player, the Dungeon Master of the group needs the brand new Dungeon Master’s Guide, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have a copy of the Monster Manual available to the group. If those are already accounted for, consider picking up a premade adventure module, like the Hoard of the Dragon Queen, or The Rise of Tiamat – each contains all the info the Dungeon Master needs to launch right in to a session without having to invest a lot of time and effort in creating a story from scratch.

Other RPGs: If D&D isn’t the right setting, or if you’re just looking for something new, perhaps consider a sci-fi universe. There are multiple (compatible) Star Wars role playing games available, such as Age of Rebellion and Edge of the Empire. Or for your favorite Browncoat, consider giving them something rather gorram shiny like the Firefly RPG.

Regardless of the system, just about every RPG player needs dice. While many players already have a favorite / lucky set, if your favorite gamer is missing one or two out of their set, or is still using the primary color explosion assortment that came in an intro game, you might look in to getting them a new set from Chessex – there’s lots of cool colors and designs to choose from. Most role playing games require the 7-die sets, with one each of several different configurations. IMPORTANT: The new Star Wars games use custom dice that aren’t made by anyone else.

 

Tabletop Miniatures

I would have to check my pulse if I didn’t find a way to recommend Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures as a gift purchase. X-Wing has been my favorite game now since I started playing it a year ago, and it’s still a new game every time I play it. Alternatively, if Star Wars isn’t the right genre for your gift, Star Trek: Attack Wing provides a different feel while being based on the same core rule set (If you’re looking for an impressive gift, try the new Deep Space Nine model, and the newly released Dungeons and Dragons: Attack Wing is said to be quite an improvement on the same system, and the models are great!

Now, if you’re buying for someone who already has some of the figures for the above games, and you don’t know which ones they have and which ones they don’t, maybe some accessories would be the way to go. Perhaps a playmat for Star Trek / Wars, to set the scene? And nobody realizes how much help it is to have a laser line of sight tool in those games until they have one and try it out, unlike regular laser pointers, this projects a straight line that can let you see in advance if a particular game move is legal or not without having to worry about bumping game pieces around to get a ruler in there. It’s a priceless tool for any tabletop gamer!

Gadgets

Of course, being a tech guy, I can’t leave out the gadgets.

Logitech Wireless Solar Keyboard K750 – I love having a wireless keyboard; it reduces clutter, and gives me lots of mobility around the room (I use a TV for a computer monitor at home). The only down side is that I’m constantly replacing AA batteries. But this keyboard eliminates that problem, because it recharges itself with light! Buy two, and send me one!

Energizer AA Charger with Batteries – Because not every gadget can be solar powered. I use rechargeable batteries for my keyboard now, as well as my XBox controller, TV remotes, and so on. I’ve got a handful more batteries than I need for all my devices, so that there’s always a fresh set ready to swap in when needed.

Google Chromecast – This is an excellent addition to your home media setup – it allows anyone connected to your WiFi network to stream videos and music to the TV just by plugging it into your TV. It’s absolutely great for parties, because everybody can contribute to the playlist!

 

If you have questions about any of my recommendations above, or if you want to discuss whether or not any of it is appropriate based on the age or type of gamer you’re buying it for, feel free to reach out to me via Facebook. I hope this guide gave you a few helpful hints for your holiday shopping!

 

– The Tabletop General

Statistics, part 1

Alternate title: Are these the droids you were looking for?

For the past few weeks, getting The Tabletop General running as a fully operational battlestation has been a big focus for me. I want to produce content worth reading, but I also want that content to be true to my personality and contain legitimate gaming insights, not just anything I can throw onto a page. Because of that, while I’ve been building up content, I’ve had to really resist the urge to shout from the rooftops “Hey! Come look at this thing that I’m doing!”. Until very recently, I haven’t made a big push to advertise the site. Even now, pretty much all of my “advertising” is posting something relevant to a conversation with people I already discuss gaming with. Yet somehow, people were finding the site on their own, and I find that intriguing enough to want to take a deeper look.

Being the tech nerd that I am at times, I searched Google for “The Tabletop General” (without quotes) a couple days after my first post to see how deeply I had to dig in order to see something that I wrote appearing from the oracle that is Google. I found my site buried behind other results, perhaps on page 6 or so (aka the “It has to be here somewhere!” zone), I was too dejected to remember exactly where. In the process, I found someone else going by the exact same alias over on Blogspot, but listed the first page. We may have to have a battle for the name one day, by the looks of things my starships and lasers will have an advantage over his viking hordes.

After a few weeks and several more articles, I currently have an article that appears as Google result #32 for “The Tabletop General” (no quotes), so things are getting better, still not likely that people are searching for that and finding the site. On the other hand, searching for “thetabletopgeneral” (no quotes) brings back #1-3 as the blogspot competition, and results #4-10 are all either from my Facebook page, or from this site.

But still, I doubt many people know my site by name yet, so there has to be something else, right? Turns out, there is. In the modern internet age, secured browsing (https://) is becoming more and more prominent as we all worry about our privacy and our data. One of the side effects of using the secured version of search engines is that sites no longer send along search terms as a part of the referral link. So as of the time that I am writing this entry, just under 10% of visitors have come to The Tabletop General via search engines, and in turn I only know what search terms about 10% of of those users found my site with. Still, it’s better than nothing, and I’ve re-run most of those searches, and my inner nerd is happy with where my site appears ranked in several of them:

star trek attack wing collective op3 fleet ideas – #6 & #7
star trek attack wing borg overpowered – #12 & #14
star trek attack wing enhanced hull plating – #10 & #11
how to use thr soong effectively star trek attack wing – #2 & #5
quark and advanced hull plating attack wing – #3 & #4
system error e305 after factory restore – #4
(Side note: search engine rankings are constantly moving. Many of these rankings have changed slightly since my initial draft of this article about a week ago)

The duplicate results are a factor of WordPress’s tagging system, the actual article is one of the results, then a summary of posts with a given tag has a copy of that same content and appears as the other result. Still, that’s multiple distinct ways (mostly for Star Trek: Attack Wing articles) that my content appears really highly in search engine rankings, and that makes me a very happy author. There’s a couple other things that people are using to find my articles, and they aren’t quite as highly listed. For example, here’s how X-Wing Miniatures players have found The Tabletop General:

soontir fel x-wing build – #25 & #29
x wing miniatures epic play lists – #63 (that’s dedication!)
rebel aces – #125 (that’s desperation!)

Why the disparity? From what I’ve observed around the gaming community, X-Wing has proven to be a more popular game than Attack Wing. As a result, there’s a much larger community of authors and content contributors to compete with for the X-Wing traffic. Scenario play is rare in X-Wing, so players are working with the ship build that best suits their own play style and skill set, and aren’t building custom lists for events as often, or looking for ideas to do so. And along with hosting their own forums for their games, the Fantasy Flight Games website provides almost all of the information regarding X-Wing, which is a vastly different from finding Star Trek: Attack Wing news.

All the news for Attack Wing is coming from different places. Ship previews appear on StarTrek.com. Pictures and a rough release schedule show up on BoardGameGeek, along with a lot of rules discussion. The forums on DakkaDakka tend to have lots of posts of photos when a new ship’s contents are first fully revealed (either in expansion or blind booster form). Sometimes Attack Wing news comes from retailer catalog listings, and the descriptions therein. And let’s not forget that Wizkids actually does provide some content directly, as the Organized Play scenarios are hosted directly on their site. So it’s little wonder that players are just turning to their search engine of choice to look for this data.  Because of the steady stream of new previews and scenarios being released for Attack Wing, I’ve written more about it than any other game system thus far since launching my site. So it’s understandable that more Attack Wing traffic is finding its’ way over here.

For our next round of statistics, I’ll be digging in to where my traffic is coming from, both in a geographical and a referral sense. But don’t worry, there will be several gaming articles between here and there. This is enough digital navel-gazing for the week.

So for those of you not covered by the methods above, how did you get here? And what can I do to make sure you keep coming back?

— The Tabletop General

Significant others and gaming

My girlfriend and I were driving back from out weekly ballroom dance lesson (insert joke of choice here), and we were chatting at random, bouncing from subject to subject. At a lull in the conversation, I switched topics and brought up the fact that for the second day in a row I had heard from another member of my old Warhammer group that was getting in to X-Wing Miniatures. I figured this was more relevant to her than the previous player because she had met this person previously; we happened to duck in to a local hobby store about a year ago for a gift while he was there for a Warhammer tournament. The conversation started something like this:

Me: “So [guy] told me last night he’s getting in to X-Wing and bought a bunch of ships from somebody.”

Her: “I remember meeting him, he’s a bit older than you, right?”

Me: “That’s right. We used to play Warhammer together all the time at [random store]. He’s really sharp and he’s always fun to play against.”

Her: “Well, competition is good. How old is he anyway?”

Me: “I couldn’t say for sure, but if I remember correctly his kids are college age.”

[a short pause]

Her: “What do all the other women do?”

This caught me completely off guard, because until I went back later and thought about the connection between my gaming friend and his family, I saw no link between her question and the prior conversation. At first, I didn’t even know I had heard her right, so I asked her what she meant. She elaborated by saying that there were probably a lot of guys out there that were even more into gaming than I am, and she wondered what all their wives and girlfriends did while the guys were gaming.

Now that I understood what she meant, I explained as best I could, and basically covered the following:

  • There are some ladies, although admittedly not many, who are gamers themselves will participate along with their husband or boyfriend.
  • There are also plenty who aren’t brought into gaming by anyone else, and just come by themselves because they enjoy it.
  • There are other women who will come along to watch for moral support, or just enjoy being present for the banter and conversation.
  • As silly as this may seem, some are present for a distraction. I’ll never forget my last game of the 2009 40K ‘ard Boyz tournament semi-final. My opponent knew he was fighting an uphill battle against me, and entry to the Chicago finals was on the line. In desperation, he sent a text message to his girlfriend who was shopping nearby. She showed up for the last couple of rounds with a couple less buttons fastened on her shirt than she had earlier in the day and starting leaning over the table to “watch the action”. My Orks would have probably been quite pleased with that if they could have looked up.
  • There’s also probably a non-insignificant number of hobby gamers that are single, and the aforementioned distraction attempt might have worked on.
  • Of the situations not already mentioned, it’s hard to say, because it doesn’t come up much in conversation while gaming. You never want to ask someone random in mid game “How’s your wife?” only to find out that they’re coming in to play in order to forget about the fact that they’re in a fight and he’s sleeping on the couch tonight. If he doesn’t mention what his SO is doing, other guys are not about to ask. But there are a few gamers I know well enough to talk about family life, and I’ve seen or heard of a few of the following situations:
    • While they’re gaming, their significant other is at work – This happens a lot with the younger crowd who are more likely to have retail jobs with unusual hours.
    • They take a night off to relax:
      • I happen to know a family where the kids come along with dad for game night, which gives the mother a night of peace and quiet.
      • I’ve also recently seen a child carrier on the table next to a new dad before, he alternated talking gibberish to his daughter and maneuvering his Space Marines.
    • Their partner indulges a hobby of their own:
      • I have lost count of how many times over the years I’ve rushed through the last turn or so of a game with someone so that they could be done and packed up before their wife returned to pick them up after an afternoon at the mall.
      • An old gaming store in the area that closed several years ago had a “Warhammer widow’s corner”, where players’ wives and girlfriends would read, gossip, and work on scrapbooking projects (the store may not have made money on it, but they certainly never stopped stocking scrapbook supplies).

We continued to talk about this for a few minutes after we arrived home, and she asked a vital question: “Does it bother you that I don’t go with you to play?” A lot of people might look at that as a dangerous line of conversation, especially given that she knows that some of my ex’s would come along on my gaming excursions to watch or play. I answered without worry or hesitation though, and I fully meant every word of it. I would be excited if there was something she wanted to pick up and play, even if it wasn’t something I already participate in. But I do not want to drag her along and ask her to do something she would not necessarily enjoy. I completely understand that her interests and my interests are not always going to line up perfectly, and I think it’s very beneficial for us as a couple to have things that we do separately. So would I like her to play? Sure. Does it bother me that she doesn’t? Not a chance.

We already have a couple separate groups that we have board game nights with, and she’s sneakily good. Sometimes I wonder if she realizes how fast she picks up new games. Ticket to Ride? I think she’s got better than a .500 record with even with 3+ players. Trains / Dominion? Don’t ever count her out. Settlers of Catan? She’s played a handful of games and yet puts serious pressure on the veterans. Clue? She’ll tear you apart. In these instances she is playing to be social, to interact with her friends and family. That’s very different from showing up to a game night or a tournament to play a stranger for the sake of playing the game. I think that’s the reason she doesn’t have any interest in picking up some of the games that I enjoy, and I have no problem with that. Competitive gaming isn’t for everyone.

As it stands now, I think we have a healthy balance in our relationship. I don’t set a strict gaming budget for myself, but I’m never going to think twice about whether to fund a vacation or buy more gaming supplies. At the same time, she’s not the type to question how much I’m spending on what, but perhaps that’s because I don’t give a reason to. We’ve established a regular schedule to our weeks: Sundays, we might not be doing much, but we find things to do together, either cheering on our NFL teams, or catching a movie, or just a lazy day at home. Monday, I’m gaming, she catches up on her shows or has dinner with her friends, usually something that I wouldn’t care to eat. Wednesday, company softball game for me, ceramics class for her. Thursday, X-Wing league at a local store? No thanks, weekly dinner with the extended family that night, or our dance lesson, as we’ve recently had to start moving that around to fit it in. Fridays and Saturdays, there’s usually something going on gaming-wise on one day or the other, but I’ll only go if we don’t have plans to do something together.

Gamers, your significant other can be as big or as small of a part of your hobby as you’re each comfortable with. There is no right or wrong amount of involvement to have, it’s all about what works right for the two of you. If you two are inseparable even while surrounded by gaming nerds and pushing plastic army men around a table, rock on, I hope you both brought a sense of humor because I’ve got bad jokes for days. But if he or she wants some time to themselves, more power to them.

Oh, and if you’re reading this, random guy from South Carolina playing White Scars and trying to distract me during our game back in 2009, thanks for the view and the ticket to the finals.

The Tabletop General

Welcome to the Tabletop General – a new blog for discussion of strategy games, tactics, issues facing the gaming community, and whatever else happens to cross my mind on a given day. Don’t quote me on this later if it turns out to not be the case, but I’m hoping to build up a much fancier website soon that will become a permanent home for my writings. For now, I suppose this will do for a “field tent”.

I’ve been saving up content for several weeks now in order to have things worth posting about, and I’m excited to be able to finally share it. However, I understand it’s customary to introduce yourself before launching into “real” content (not that I really know what I’m doing here with branding or marketing), so I suppose I should tell you about myself first.

First and foremost, I’m a gamer. I am an only child who didn’t have a lot of other children around when I was growing up, the wonders of living out in the country. Some of my most vivid childhood memories include playing hand after hand of Canasta with my great-grandmother, trying to run away from home because my parents wouldn’t buy me a Nintendo, and taking my report card in to a ‘local’ arcade to score free tokens for A’s and B’s. In middle school, I met people through our chess club, my high school social group was expanded greatly by diving in to Magic: the Gathering, and in college and soon after most of my friends I knew through Warhammer. Now, I play X-Wing Miniatures, Star Trek: Attack Wing, random video games (lately taking a second look at Skyrim), the occasional casual game of Magic, and any board game I can get my hands on (with Dominion, Risk variants, and King of Tokyo being recent favorites). On the horizon, I foresee the recently announced Star Wars: Armada taking up a large portion of my gaming time.

To help pay for my grown-up gaming habits, I’m a software developer, and I have gaming to thank for that.  Someone in my family happened to have an old Texas Instruments computer, I think it was a TI 99/4A, and it was given to me to play games on. It plugged in to the TV, and it came with a handful of game cartridges, as well as a big thick three-ring binder full of “instructions”. It turns out, this contained a primer on the BASIC computer language. I didn’t understand what I was doing at the time, but I copied what the book said to do, and the next thing I knew there were colors flashing on the TV that I controlled.

Lately, I’m busy, to put it lightly. I’m a tournament organizer for one, soon to be multiple game systems at one of my local game stores. I’m running multiple fantasy football leagues for my coworkers. I’m on my company’s softball team. My girlfriend and I are taking ballroom dance classes. I’m hoping to start a software company of my own in the near future. Oh, and I find some time to play games now and again too. I suspect I’ll be discussing all of that in much greater detail later.

For now, enough about me, on to the real content!

— The Tabletop General