Friday, January 25, 2013

The Heat Is On: "Blood Bowl"

So, last Wednesday night I played Blood Bowl for the first time in seven months.

When we last left our humble little league, my "Galadrian Guardians" had just pulled out a nigh-miraculous win against Dean's Norse.  Unfortunately, the "Aesgoth Hammers" stormed back in the next game, gleefully stomping a mud-hole in the collective asses of my poor, beleaguered Humans.

After that crippling loss, Andrew's Orcs had to lose in order for me to sneak into the playoffs.  Regrettably, that didn't happen and the finals came down to the following four teams: Dean's aforementioned Norse, Andrew's Orcs (the "Regal Beatsticks"), Andrew's Pro Elves (the "Rivendell Ruffians") and finally Dean's Orcs (and my former team) "Kord's Killers".

In the two semi-final bouts, "Kord's Killers" beat the "Rivendell Ruffians" 2 to 1 and the "Regal Beatsticks" shut out the "Aesgoth Hammers" 1 to zip.  Then, in the final Championship match, the "Beatsticks" pwned the "Killers" 2 to 1 and captured the very first Berserker League trophy!

Since Andrew and Dean both posses what I can only characterize as a nigh-pathological desire to collect every single Blood Bowl team in existence, their second bash at creating a league was considerably more expansive.  This gave me a chance to get behind the wheel of several new teams, including Dwarves, Skaven, Elves and, coolest of all, the Necromantic.   

During the Christmas break, Andrew and Dean kicked off this new season.  Although their intention was to squeeze one, perhaps two Blood Bowl matches in amongst a veritable orgy of different board game plays, it didn't quite work out that way.  They immediately became enamored and obsessed with this new league and managed to get four games in:

Dean's Dark Elves the "Silent Screamers"  vs. Andrew's Ogres the "Mourn Behemoths"
3                                                      0
Dean's Lizardmen "Here Leezards"  vs. his Necromantic "London Brainers" (with Andrew coaching)   
3                                                       0

 Andrew's Skaven the "Hairy Lightning" vs. Dean's Khemri the "Bone Guardians"
 2                                                        1
Andrew's "Green Machine" Wood Elves  vs. his yet-to-be-named High Elf team (coached by Dean)
 3                                                         0

This set up my inaugural match of the season: my Necromantic Team, the "All-Hallows Horde" versus Dean's Chaos Team, the "Chaos No-Stars".

Here was my roster going into this match:

And here's Dean's:

Okay, so you may have noticed that there's a bit of disparity there...

I tried to prep for this match by picking up Blood Bowl: Chaos Edition and creating a Necro-campaign.  Even with the difficulty ramped up to "HARD" I won every single game against the computer with ease.  Honesty, this is nothing to brag about since the game's AI is about as wily as a lobotomized beagle.

On a positive note my noob freak show had 410,000 Gold Pieces worth of Inducement money to play around with.  Not willing to risk giving away Experience Points to Star Players I immediately ruled out that particular idea.  Still laboring under the misconception that I had a chance of winning this game, I toyed with the idea of buying a few temporary Re-Rolls via Training and supplementing this with a Wizard, who might be able to fry Dean's Minotaur or his Block n' Claw Chaos Warrior with a nice, tingly Lightning Bolt.  But when Dean pointed out the perks of a bonus MVP roll (which I wasn't even aware of), I was all over that option like snot on a goblin's lip.    
So, last Wednesday night, these two Blood Bowl titans met in an epic showdown:

Chaos No-Stars (Dean's Chaos) vs. The All-Hallows Horde (My Necromantic)


Dean rolled a 2: "Sweltering Heat" ("It's so hot and humid that some players collapse from heat exhaustion. Roll a D6 for each player on the pitch at the end of a drive. On a roll of 1 the player collapses and may not be set up for the next kick-off")  Fucking wonderful.

Fan Factor Roll
Dean: 11
Me:  4

Dean got Fame +1.  I scored $4,000 for my Gate Earnings and Dean snagged $11,000.

Kick/Receiving Roll

I won the toss and decided to kick to Dean.

My roll of 2 and 4 put the ball right on the sidelines.  Steve the Beastman managed to collect the ball and huck it to Chaos Warrior Max Payne who promptly betrayed his gauntlets of stone by fumbling the ball.  It ended up landing right on the Line Of Scrimmage between Beastman Tommy and brick shithouse / Minotaur Hunh.  Unfortunately my recovery attempt was equally comedic and this resulted in Flyboy, one of my Zombies, getting Knocked Out for both this game and the next!

Dean then used what I could only characterize as blunt force trauma to batter his way through my defenses.  Although one of my Werewolves did manage to bowl over Chaos Warrior Shi Thead and pop the ball loose, most of my supporting manpower had been effectively snared along the Line Of Scrimmage.

Mr. Thead recovered the wayward ball and made a bee line for the end zone.  Simultaneously, Dean started plastering every one of my players who didn't already have the good sense to turtle.  If not for some mercifully lenient Stun and and Injury rolls, I would have been decimated.  As it stood, he quickly and efficiently put three of my Zombies out if commission as well as one of my Flesh Golems.

Knowing full well that I had no one left to run back and put pressure on Shi Thead, Dean parked him right on my Goal Line and then continued his reign of terror.  Before he finally decided to end the misery by side-stepping Monsieur Thead into the end zone, Dean also managed to knock David Kessler, one of my Werewolves, out of this game and the next!  Gadzooks!  

Dean did an excellent job running out the clock and grinding my team down to virtually nothing.  Those who hadn't been felled under a rain of metal-gauntleted fists succumbed to the "Sweltering Heat".  If I were to hazard a guess, I'd say that Dean rolled one heat prostration result for every ten of his players versus my record of rolling a "1" about 25 to 30% of the time.

Mercifully, a few of my "Knocked Out" players came back in.  But by the time we got set up for Dean's kick-off, all I could field was four Zombies, one Wight, my two flesh Golems and one Werewolf.  Knowing that I only had enough time to try and inflict injuries, Dean wisely decided to put only three obligatory Beastmen along the Line Of Scrimmage with the balance of his team serving as a wall along his End Zone.     

Unfortunately all I really ended up doing before the end of the Half was shove his guys around a little bit.

Chaos No-Stars (Dean's Chaos) vs. The All-Hallows Horde (My Necromantic)
1                                                         0


Kick-off Table

Dean rolled a "5" for a "High Kick".  My Werewolf Lawrence Talbot got under the ball and successfully reeled it it.  A-a-a-a-a-a-a-n-d that's pretty much where my good luck ended. 

The second "Sweltering Heat" roll at the end of my last "Drive" really killed me.  In addition to Zombie Flyboy and Werewolf Lawrence Talbot being knocked out of the game, I lost my second Werewolf, a Wight and another Zombie to heat prostration while Dean was entirely unfazed.

So, even before the ball hit the field, the potential of my drive had been gutted.  Battling against a highly skilled, well-played, bashy Chaos team is challenging enough under optimal conditions, but when a huge chunk of your team gets sidelined by a crazy weather condition, it's particularly frustrating.

Since I couldn't properly defend Lawrence during his rush, he was immediately swarmed by a pack of rabid Beastmen and subsequently Knocked Out.  The ball was recovered by Beastman Norm who turned around and then slowly and methodically began marching up the field.  Even though I managed to render Justin (Beastman # 7) unconscious and Adam, my Flesh Golem, knocked Beastman # 4 Lem Onjello out of this game (and the next), I still didn't have the mobility nor the manpower to halt Dean's charge.

After a successful hand-off, Chaos Warrior Grick n' Rack casually meandered down towards my end of the pitch while his team-mates took turns running train on what remained of my team.  Once again, Dean parked his rusher a hair away from the Goal Line and then gleefully attempted to pound the fertilizer out of my lingering defenders.  Fortunately, he rolled a myriad of Push results and failed to injure both my downed Flesh Golem and an already-tenderized Zombie named *gurgle*.

Eventually he took pity on me and Grick n' Rack hopped over the goal line to score Dean's second Touch Down!

Given the populous state of my Injured, Knocked Out and Reserve boxes I quickly jumped at Dean's offer to call my last turn of the game.

Final Score

Chaos No-Stars 2  ~ All-Hallow's Horde 0


MVP Award / Level Ups   

David Kessler, my "Miss Next Game" Werewolf, somehow managed to win my first MVP award, despite being in traction for most of the game.  One of my Zombies, ArrGhhh reeled in my second, Inducement-fueled MVP nod.

Dean rolled a "12" for himself, which gave Huhn the Minotaur the MVP.  Combined with his two in-game casualties, the murderous Minotaur had enough Star Player Points to Level Up with a shiny new set of Claws!  In the coach's own words: "I thought about 'Tentacle' and 'Guard', but Casualties is how he’s going to level so, 'Claws' it is."    

I rolled a "3" for a total of 30,000 gold pieces and Dean rolled a "4" for 40,000!

Fan Factor  

Dean rolled under his Fan Factor so it increased from 5 to 6!  


Post-Game Observations

Honestly I didn't expect to win this game, but there's an "Earth X" alternate reality out there in which Dean had rolled "Perfect Blood Bowl Weather" instead of "Sweltering Goddamned Heat".  I can't help but wonder how the game might have played out if I hadn't been done up a real treat by this exceptionally heinous game condition.

Even so, my biggest detriment continues to be my lagging development as a player.  In chess parlance, Andrew and Dean are Class "C" 1500 point players who get better by virtue of practicing against one another.  Unfortunately, I'm still trying to get into fighting shape by sparring against a 700-point electronic patzer.

But at least with this new schedule I've got more teams to control and more opportunities to play against real, live, human opponents.

Hopefully Andrew and Dean aren't so far ahead of me that I'll never catch up.

Looking to make yourself feel superior by beating up on the equivalent of a retarded digital turkey?  Snag a copy of the Blood Bowl Chaos Edition via Amazon and help support this blog!

"Sweltering Heat" token photo credit:

Thursday, January 17, 2013

RPG Review: "The Willow Sourcebook"

I'm not what you'd call a massive fan of the movie Willow but when I came across this relic sitting on the el cheapo RPG rack at "The Comic Hunter" in Moncton, I just had to have it.  Even though Willow didn't result in a mainstream fantasy genre breakthrough (that would have to wait thirteen years for the release of The Fellowship of the Ring), the fact that something called The Willow Sourcebook exists really speaks volumes about how omnipresent RPG's were in the Eighties.

Hmmmm, let's see here...$35 million dollar budget and a $57 million dollar domestic gross.  I'd say "hit film" is a tad optimistic.  How 'bout "paid in full film"?

Anyway, one of the coolest things about the book a two-page map of Nockmaar and Galladoorn drawn by John M. Ford:

At least this gives you some idea as to how much real estate the characters traversed during the course of the film.  If I was Willow and had been told to shlep all the way from the Nelwyn village to the Crossroads, I would have been bitchy too.        

After the map we get two-and-a-quarter pages worth of gaming notes which are designed to explain the concept of "role-playing game" to neophytes.  I can only assume that "Hit Points" was a licensed term since they're simply referred to as "Hits" here.  

What makes the book fun is seeing these film characters rendered into Dungeons & Dragons terms.  For example, here's the star of the show:

1'st (later 4'th) skill-level magician

CHARISMA 8 (OooOoo, harsh)

Hits: 20


Farming, stagecraft, being a parent.  Like all Nelwyns, Willow is better then the average human in moving quietly, hiding and climbing.  He has no weapon skills, but in front of Nockmaar Castle he showed a native gift for military tactics.  During his adventures Willow learned horseback riding.  

Beginning as a novice in Magic, Willow grew quickly in skill because of this native talent and Fin Raziel's expert instruction.  By the end, Willow had become a 4'th level mage (or the equivalent in your game system), and knew all the spells of good or neutral nature appropriate to that level.  He will undoubtedly rise even further soon.  


For Willow's magical possessions, see the entries for ACORNS, THE BOOK OF MAGIC and CHERLINDREA'S WAND.  During his adventures, Willow carried a papoose to hold Elora, and at the end he was given a fine white pony.  

Here's the movie's answer to Han Solo on amphetamines, Madmartigan:  

20'th skill-level fighter (or 3 levels above the best fighter in your campaign)

(I'm pretty sure the book's author Allen Varley isn't the sorta DM that lets you roll 4d6 and drop the lowest result)

Hits: 70


Madmartigan is the finest swordsman your players will meet.  Treat any sword as magically accurate (+4 to hit) when he wields it.  He is also a skilled archer and horseman.  His other shills include climbing (as a thief of his level), acrobatics, stealth, fast-talk, seduction, and, when all of these fail, running.


Sword (usually), armor (varies), occasionally a luck charm or a gift from his latest female companion.  

And here's the specs on the exquisitely eeee-vil Queen Bavmorda:

36'th skill-level magic-user

(Okay, maybe Allen Varley is the sorta DM that lets you roll 4d6 and drop the lowest result)

Hits: 75


Bavmorda knows all spells in your game system (Jesus, does that include the Compendiums!?), except for those unknown in Willow's world (resurrection, etc; see MAGIC).  She can cast them with minimal cost to her endurance, repeatedly and with near-perfect accuracy.  She can also fight hand to hand, as shown in her final battle with Raziel.


Bavmorda ordinarily carries no magical items or other possessions.  However, she is the most powerful individual in all the kingdoms.  If she wants something, she gets it.  
I'll bet.

Okay, here are the details on Bavmorda's l'il girl Sorsha:

36'th skill-level magic-user


Hits: 50


Sorsha is a brilliant archer and horsewoman, and skilled with knives and swords.  Treat any bow as a magical +2 bow when she uses it, and any sword as +1 to hit.  She has some skill with a crossbow.  She has no magical knowledge, and refuses to learn any.  (Ah, a girl after my own heart).    


Sword, bow, quiver of arrows, chain or light plate armor, dagger.  Saddle and tack.  Camping supplies as appropriate.  (Hmmm, I wonder why she's the only one who gets a tent and a Coleman stove?)

And here are those two miniscule French Gungans Franjean and Rool:

5'th skill-level thieves

STRENGTH 3 (seems legit)
INTELLIGENCE 10 (Franjean)
INTELLIGENCE 5 (Rool)  Harsh!
WISDOM 3 (three points too high?)
CHARISMA 6 (definitely six points too high)

Because of their small size and nimble movements, any attack on Franjean and Rool is -6 to hit.  For more information, see BROWNIES.  

Hits: 4


Franjean and Rool, like most brownies, can pick locks as well as any experienced human theif.  They excel at stealth, concealment, and climbing.  Franjean can ride his eagle, and Rool can hang on for dear life.  


Spears, about six inches long - they double as lockpicks.  Franjean and Rool strike as 5'th level fighters (!!!).  For damage, see BROWNIES.  Rool carries a pouch of Dust of Broken Heart.   

And finally, here's medieval Darth Vader, A.K.A., General Kael:

14'th skill-level fighter (or 2 levels higher than your campaign's best fighter)

(Wow, reverse the Intelligence and Wisdom score and you've pretty much got my first grossly over-powered D&D fighter character)

Hits: 75


Leadership, strategy, tactics, politics, and intrigue, all in the highest degree.  Kael is also a master swordsman (treat any sword as +2 to hit when he wields it), and a fine horseman.  He is only an average archer and crossbowman, preferring hand-to-hand combat.  


The heaviest sword and armor available, the fastest warhorse, and the best of everything else that a general of an army can command.  

In addition to the folks listed above, The Willow Sourcebook also lists Attributes, Hits, Skills and Equipment for Fin Raziel and Airk Thaughbaer as well as minor (pun not intended) characters such as  The High Aldwin, Meegosh, Burglekutt (!), and Vohnkar.  Hell, you can even find out how many Death Dog nibbles that Ethna (the chick who smuggled Elora out of Nockmaar Castle) could sustain before giving up the ghost and how much rectal misery the 18-Strength LLug would have inflicted on the cross-dressing Madmartigan if he'd managed to pin him down.

Potential GL's (George Lucases) also have access to generic stats for Nelwyns, Galladoorn Knights, Nockmaar Soldiers, Fairies, Brownies, Trolls, the Eborsisk Dragon, Death Dogs, Bavmorda's Druids and some Cyclops that Madmartigan supposedly tangled with just prior to getting thrown in the "crow's cage" by a bunch of bandits.  It's these little Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead  details that makes the Sourcebook a fun read, even for casual fans like me.  

Beyond the specific numbers, there's also a twelve-page "Gazetteer" section which provides even more esoteric details.  Readers will find in-game interpretations on Magic Acorns, Cherlindrea's Wand, The Bones, The Book of Magic and that laziest of plot devices, The Dust of Broken Heart.  Fun fact: the Dust is made from "powdered fairy wings".  Seems legit.    

Additional chrome is provided for individual Spells such as Transformations and The Ritual of Obliteration.  In fact, Allen Varney's retcon on Bavmorda's slow, inefficient and plot-convenient Ritual does more to cure the film's scripted stupidity then anything else I've read.  "Scholars, wondering why Bavmorda did not simply kill the infant, have come to believe that Elora, as a highly magical being, may have some special power of 'return'" he writes, tongue firmly planted in cheek.           

Finally, we're treated to six pages about "The World of Willow", including brief but evocative write-ups on the Rivers Freen and Troon, the Nelwyn Valley, the Wilderness, Tir Asleen, Nockmaar and the Northern Wastes, and Galladoorn.  Perhaps most intriguing are the "unexplored" reaches of the realm.  Cashmere is descibed as "a far-off and shadowy land...rumored to be ruled by potentates of awesome wealth".  The realms beyond the northern wastes and Nockmaar mountains are also given some scant but inspiring details.     

The book also features eight pages of color stills from the film and additional black and white sketches by Janet J. Kramer.  Even though most of the art is pretty utilitarian (particularly the terrible "portraits" which accompany each character description), there are about three or four decent pieces including this vaguely David A. Trampier / Jeff Dee-esque goodie of Ms. Bavmorda:

If you're a Willow fan this Sourcebook is a must-find.  If you're a Willow fan and you also play fantasy RPG's, this is tailor made for you.  Anybody expecting Planescape or Hârn levels of detail will be sorely disappointed, but anyone who digs the movie will be amused by the additional chrome and fill-in-the-blank backstories.

The last line of the Sourcebook pretty much sums it up for me: "There is room for a dozen kingdoms yet to be found, and for adventures plenty."

The Willow Sourcebook scores four pecks outta six.  

Note: gratuitous Gygaxian plug.  

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Mad Skillz: An Embryonic Proficiency System for "D&D" and "Pathfinder"

On the rare occasion when I've had an opportunity to play an RPG over the past few years, it's invariably been either D&D 3/3.5 or Pathfinder.  I've noticed that one of the main things that seems to confound newer players about these two systems are the rules governing Skills.

Although many OSR bloggers like James Maliszewski raise some solid points about the downside of any Skill system, I still like the idea in theory because it gives players an opportunity to flesh out their Characters a bit.  On the other hand, I also have a raging grudge-on for every Skill system I've encountered because:
  1. Characters are given a generic dollop of Skill points whenever you reach a new level based on class.
  2. Skill development often has little or nothing to do with "practice" or in-game usage.  
  3. For new players the Skill block on the front page of the Character Sheet takes up too much real estate and looks like Neil Degrasse Tyson's daily "Things To Do" list.  
So I'm gonna implement the following system and what happens.  As a disclaimer, it's probably an amalgam of ideas I've gleaned from OSR blog posts and Google+ RPG discussion threads with my own connective tissue added for good measure.  If you helped inspire this idea, you know who you are. And thanks, BTW. 

  1. First off, multiply a Character's six attributes by five to generate a percentage.  Taking Jacinda the Irresistible from my previous example, her base Skill percentages would look like this: STR 13 (65%) DEX 16 (80%) CON 10 (50%) INT 9 (45%) WIS 10 (50%) CHA 13 (65%)
  2. Use 3/3.5 rules to determine what "Key Ability" to use when a Character attempts to do something.  For example, if a player tries to Intimidate an NPC, this would fall under the dominion of Charisma.
  3. Have them roll percentage die to see if they succeed.  As the DM you can declare that certain things can't be attempted untrained (like "Disable Device" for example).  Alternately you can also assign bonuses or penalties to the attempt.  If the dude that Jacinda is trying to Intimidate is a real milquetoast, then give her a 10% bonus!  Is he the evil Prince's right-hand man and knows that he'll be reduced to atoms if he blabs?  Nail her with a -20 penalty! 
  4. Regardless of whether or not the attempt worked, instruct the player to write the name of the Skill, their Base Percentage and a single "tic" on their Character Sheet.  Every time they use that Skill in-game, get them to add a "tic".  At the end of the session, have them roll percentage dice.  If they roll under the number of tics, they get to reset their current tally to "0" and then increase their base percentage by one!  If they failed to roll under the number of tics, then this count carries over to the next session and can be increased.  
  5. Players can also "Practice" their Skills.  If you deem that the PC has a free moment to "Practice" (such as breaking camp for the night night or in the comfort of their room at the Inn), they get to add two free "tics" to their Skill tally.  If they're taught by a PC or NPC with a superior Skill, they can increase it by five "tics".  
Looks okay in theory, but I need refine the following points...

  • How can this system be used to build Thieves and Rogues?  Since that class is practically built around Skills, they should have immediate access to specialized skills and progress at double the normal "Practice" rate.  
  • Related to this, character should probably get a healthy allotment of "tics" or Percentage point increases whenever they gain a level, representing a concentrated period of "Practice".  But how much?
  • Naturally, DM's will need to be wary of potential abuse.  This can be as simple as telling players specifically when they have an opportunity to "Practice".  
  • If a player wants to start with, say, a Level Five character, how can we best simulate what should have been an organic in-game Skill progression?  
It isn't perfect but it does attempt to address my main gripes with every system that's proceeded it.  

Questions, comments, suggestions and general belly-aching are all welcome below...

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Board Gaming Work Of Art: "The Princes Of Florence"

There was a time in which I'd blindly purchase games according to their overall rating on Board Game Geek.  Although this would usually result in a classic, innovative title like Puerto Rico or Agricola entering my collection, occasionally I'd pick something that turned out to be overly complicated, mechanically intractable or thematically suspect.

Such was the case with Tigris & Euphrates, which I purchased purely based on its BBG User Rating.  Mercifully it all worked out in the end, but for the longest time I genuinely thought that I'd wasted my money on this game.  Soon I began to equate certain well-regarded titles as the gaming equivalent of The English Patient.  Go on, buy it!  Play it!  It's good for you!

Fearful of history repeating itself, I held off on buying a top rated game for years.  But, finally, after considerable research and appraisal, I decided to take the plunge again with The Princes of Florence, which currently sits at number thirty-five on the Geek Rating list.    

Here's the game's elevator pitch, directly from the publisher:


Experience the golden age of the Renaissance.  Assume the role of the head of an Italian Aristocratic dynasty and lead your family like the Medici or Borgia.  The players support the builders, artists, and scholars so that their completed works will bring their families fame and prestige. As the patrons of the creators of great works, the players seek to multiply their fame and reputations, but only one will become the most prestigious prince of Florence!   

The 3 to 5 players - over seven rounds - build Buildings, cultivate Landscapes, and invite artists and scholars to their Palazzi where they provide them with the facilities which inspire such people to produce great Works. All this is done by the players in their Principalities to earn Prestige points (PP), which are recorded on the fame track.

The more impressive a Work, that is, the higher its Work Value (WV), the more money and Prestige the player in whose Principality the Work is created is able to earn. Money is important to acquire more Buildings and Landscapes. Also, the Builders and Jesters, which provide valuable services, expect to be paid. Players will also find that Prestige and Bonus cards have great value in building their reputations and fame.

The player who, after seven rounds, has earned the most PP, is the winner!

Trust not the word of this lowly peasant?  With but a simple click of yon link, let thine eyes be satiated by the full glory of royal decree.

I.E., here's a PDF of the rules, ya mooks.  

Awrite, so how many readers out there felt their brains flat-line half-way through the above blurb?  Well, you're not alone; YouTube video wizard UvulaBob made the exact same point in Episode Twelve of his "Untitled Flash-Based Review...Thing".  Even though the idea that The Princes of Florence is somehow nerdier then Small World, I can certainly see his point RE: the stuffy-looking and pretentious box art and the game's understated components.  In fact, after I bought The Princes of Florence, I immediately beset with buys remorse.  For months I was convinced that I'd just repeated my Tigris & Euphrates debacle.  

But at least reading the rulebook gave me a sense of how the game is played, unlike T&E.  In fact, The Princes of Florence is one of those games were you start to feel a giddy rush half-way through the rules because of the varied and clever mechanics.  Unfortunately it's also one of those games that you really want to have a handle on before you try and teach it because you really don't want to fuck it up.  You know that it'd be a crying shame to misrepresent it, resulting in burnt bridges and friends who vow to "never, ever" play it again.  

It's no coincidence that the first time I tried to table the game was during CabinCon 2012.  During this historic event, not only did I finally conquer my Tigris & Euphrates phobia, I actually played it twice.  I think I did this because I knew that the game's strategies and rules would vanish from my head like a Vancian magic spell as soon as I boxed it up.  Sure enough, if you put a gun to my head today and ordered me to teach T&E to a new gaming group, either my instructions would be as well-received as a Daniel Tosh stand-up routine or my skull would end up with a sunroof.

I didn't press the issue of playing The Princes of Florence during CabinCon 2012.  This was partly because I felt satiated by my T&E victory and also because I was still afraid that the game might crash and burn.  But when the first game turn of 2013 fell unto me, I had to pick it.  I just couldn't stand this guy's contemptuous eyes staring down on me all the time from his lofty shelf-perch.  

"Play me, you errant, logger-headed, boil-brained dullard!"

And so it was.  Even though Andrew was out due to a throat infection incurred after fellating a transient migrant worker, Dean, Mike and Chad were all present and accounted for last Wednesday night.   




Chad started out slow but quickly got the hang of things.  His built the Chapel, Lab and Tower in quick succession, netting him three Prestige Points apiece.  This also added to the happy factor of his Astronomer, Botanist and Organ-Maker.  All three of his Professions were also well-placated with a single, strollable Park and a dense Forest.  Each Work they produced was nicely augmented by the presence of two Jesters: Pattonio Oswalt and Joseph Roganarian.

Although he didn't invest in very many Builders or structures, what he did purchase certainly contributed to his overall strategy.  Perhaps his most astute move, however, was to invest in all three Freedoms.  Partnered with matching Bonus Cards, Chad scored some really impressive Work Value and Prestige Point bumps.

Right at games end he revealed a Prestige Card which gave him eight (!) additional Prestige Points for securing all three Freedoms.  This really put the icing on a well-engineered comeback.


I came out swinging with my Mathematician, who was tickled pink that I'd provided him with a University to bore his students at, a Lake to skinny-dip in and the Religious Freedom to conclude that God is actually a giant, neon abacus.  On a subsequent turn I added the Freedom to Travel and a Workshop, which really got my Watch Maker's clock a-tickin'.  Imminently talented Jester Louis C.K. (the C.K., of course, stands for "Count of Komedy") helped to keep both of my jobbers in stitches.

In spite of heavily overpaying for my first Builder, it was always my plan to add a second one.  That's why I really didn't give a shit about my initial building placement.  Oh, for those keeping score at home, by the way, THAT WAS A GIANT FUCKING MISTAKE.  When I wasn't paralyzed by ill-advised bouts of frugality I was being habitually outbid by my opponents.  Between my failure to procure a second Builder and my schizophrenic urban planning, my goal of constructing an Opera House for the third Profession in my hand had to be abandoned.

Like Chad, I suddenly found myself limited in my building space.  In a desperate bid to keep pace with Dean, I dug a second Lake for three Prestige Points.  Eventually I was forced to pay for a new Profession.  After landscaping a Park for my newly-acquired Theologian, I did manage to score another fairly-impressive Work.

At the very end of the game, I concocted a nebulous, last-minute make-Work scheme.  Using a cheaply-attained Recruitment Card, I lured Mike's Bell-Maker away with promises of Workshops, Religious Freedoms and unlimited prostate massages.  Unfortunately Bell Boy wasn't impressed by my deplorable lack of Forests and, as a result, I was left stranded, just one shy of the 17-point required Work minimum for Round Seven.      


For the first half of the game, Dean was my only rival.  After a single Park impressed the pants off of his Pharmacist some hot Forest action kept his Choreographer and Philosopher in a pastoral mood.  Adding a second Forest helped him score three bonus Prestige Points.  Three more in-game points came courtesy of a Hospital, Opera and University, all the while keeping his Professions appropriately housed.  Freedoms of Opinion and Travel also went over well with his retinue.  

Although his lone Jester (George, Earl of Carlin) provided consistent yuks, Dean got even more mileage out of his Bonus Cards which gave him prodigious bonuses for matching Buildings and Forests.  But, ultimately, it was his ability to secure two Builders which allowed him to lap me.  Liberated from the "corner to corner" placement rule, Dean even threw in a last minute Workshop to score three more Prestige Points just as the buzzer rang.    


At the beginning of the game, Mike didn't have a lot of focus.  Although he was the last player to complete a Work, he also saw that his game required a different approach.  After performing some appropriate adjustments he really started kicking ass during the end game.

Mike's biggest issue was missing some key Work Value points.  For example, he curried considerable favor with his Physicist by building a Lab and cultivating a Forest, but he also neglected to provide any Freedom to Travel.  He quickly learned the importance of this and provided everything that his Bell-Maker (who was horny for a Workshop, Forest and Religious Freedom) and Dramatist (keen on a Theater, Park and Religious Freedom) could ever want on subsequent turns.

Although he never did retain any Jesters, Mike's eleventh-hour investment in a second Builder allowed him to cram his Palazzi (?) with four buildings worth three Prestige Points each.  Some excellent Bonus Cards designed to exploit his Landscapes and various Building sizes allowed him to sprint past me in the end.    


Chad...37 points
Dean...33 points
Mike...32 points
Me...30 points


The games I hate the most are the ones I lose but have no idea where I went wrong.  That's not the case with The Princes Of Florence since I know precisely why my final score sucked hippo rectum.  As Chad was able to prove, Builders aren't imperative to victory but if you're not  gonna buy a second one, then you damned well better keep an eye on your zoning.  It's also wise to use the pertinent information on your Player Board to get an accurate estimate of your projected Work Value, otherwise you wont be able to meet those steep late-game requirements and end up looking like a schmuck.

When the game was over, all of us were shocked by just how friggin' good it was.  Although Mike felt a tad rudderless in the first few turns, his endgame performance exemplified an ability to adapt and use the Profession cards as a strategic checklist.   All of us seemed to really dig the breezy auction mechanic, the placement of Landscapes and Buildings and the "X-factor" provided by the Bonus and Prestige cards.    

Except for some clumsy diction that may have been "lost in translation", the rulebook itself is abundantly clear.  In fact, I can't remember the last time we played a game so durned right.  Although Chad was quick to compliment my aptitude for teaching the game, I was forced to admit that I pretty much just read the entire rulebook verbatim.  Words can't describe how important rules clarity is to me.

Although the components might look a bit lackluster at first, they're strangely evocative.  Indeed, the game feels more thematic to me then, say, Lords of Waterdeep.  The Player Boards and Round / Fame Track are sturdy and durable and the playing cards are all high-gage.  The whimsical Renaissance-style font, colorful tiles and archaic imagery all contribute to the "classical" feel.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the game is that there's very little direct conflict, making it an ideal choice for families and couples.  Although you can "Yoink!"-off an opponent slightly by outbidding them or taking the last of a prized resource, none of this results in a great deal of rancor.  Cripes, there aren't even any lingering negative effects when you lure your opponent's Professions away with a Recruiting Card!      

Although the lack of conflict and direct interaction can sometimes make it feel as if everyone is playing their own solitaire game, it's a damned engrossing solitaire game.  In our match, when someone announced that they were producing a Work, the rest of us were on pins and needles waiting for the final tally.  Now granted this didn't prevent us from "Haw-Haw"-ing someone's misfortune if they lost out on a critical resource, cocked up their Palazzo design or had their Work Value eclipsed by another player.

Its always a learning experience when you play a game for the first time and The Princes Of Florence is no exception.  Just as soon as we were done, everyone began to lament that we might not get a chance to play it again until sometime in 2017.  I, for one, won't be able to hold out that long.  I really can't wait to introduce it to my significant other and her game-friendly family.

This game really does belong in the same hallowed pantheon as Agricola, Puerto Rico and Le Havre.
It makes me want to roll percentile dice and buy whatever comes up on the Board Game Geek Top 100!  


Six pips outta six, y'all!

Friday, January 4, 2013

"What If?"...Gary's Second Edition

In 1983, TSR was split into TSR Inc. and TSR Entertainment Inc.  Simultaneously, Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax was named President of this new division while retaining his role as Chairman of the Board *slash* President of TSR proper.  

As the head of this new Entertainment group (which eventually became known as the "Dungeons & Dragons Entertainment Corp.") Gary moved out to California where he oversaw the establishment of a new office and the creation of the warmly-received Dungeons & Dragons cartoon series.  During this time he also worked in close conjunction with writer and game designer Flint Dille on a series of  choose-your-own-adventure books and an embryonic D&D movie script.

Before departing for Hollywood, Gygax had tasked Brian Blume and his brother Kevin with the daily operations of TSR.  Only one year later Gary started to hear persistent rumors that the company was in dire financial straits and the Blume brothers were attempting to sell it.  After returning to Wisconsin in 1984 Gary was horrified to discover that, due to to "gross mismanagement in all areas of the company", TSR was suddenly $1.5 million dollars in hock.   

In an effort to infuse the company with new investment capitol, Gary contacted Flint Dille's sister, Lorraine Williams.  Even though she refused to sink any of her own money into the ailing TSR, Gary was impressed by her business acumen and hired her to run the company.  Unfortunately, it didn't take very long before Gary and Lorraine were at loggerheads over the future of TSR.  Allegedly Williams was somewhat disdainful of the hobby and was opposed to the concept of playtesting games in development.   

As tensions continued to rise between Gary and Lorraine, Gygax managed to have Kevin Blume deposed as the company's CEO.  In what Gary came to describe as an act of "retribution", the Blume brothers immediately sold all of their holdings to Lorraine Williams, instantly making her the majority shareholder.  Gary tried to block this transaction in court but failed, increasing the rancor between the two.  Subsequently, Gary was removed from TSR's Board of Directors in October of 1985.

Gary lingered on as a Director for TSR for three short months but refused to produce any new creative material for them.  On December 31, 1985 he voluntarily left the same company that he'd co-founded with Don Kaye back in 1973.  And we all know what happened to TSR in the end.    

Just a few short months prior to his departure, Gary wrote the following glass-half-full article for Dragon magazine in which he pondered a hypothetical Second Edition for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.  The article offers readers a fantastic opportunity to ponder "what if"?   


So, after reading this, what do you think?  If Gary had stayed at the helm of TSR would Dungeons & Dragons have stagnated or flourished?

 If you're so inclined, I'd love to read your thoughts so post 'em in the comments field below...