Dec 042016
 

my story - isolated text in vintage letterpress wood type printing blocksI just thought of something. There are two types of role playing games: Games that enable you to tell a story and games that enable you to create a story.

By Paco Garcia Jaen

My friend Jim and I often talk about games that enable good story telling vs. games that are just a killing spree with less focus on the story telling. We often disagree, as he finds games like Pathfinder or D&D generic, repetitive and, basically, not great, whereas I love a dungeon treasure hunting spree like a pig loves a mud bath and think they can be great.

Therefore I will start by stating that I believe there are very few shitty games out there. There are games I like more than others and certainly there are games I don’t like at all, but very few shitty games. Those shitty games are usually games full of sexism, racist tropes or nonsense like that (and believe me there are a number of those games out there).

After a few conversations with Jim about the topic I just ended wondering why he didn’t like some games and liked another ones. And I think the only difference I can think of is that some games allow you to tell the story and be part of it, whereas another games allow you to create the story as you are a part of it.

Let’s take Pathfinder or D&D as examples. When you are playing any of their adventures, the story has been written for you. The locations are there and you can do whatever you like, but unless you do certain things, advancing the story is hard to impossible.

Yes, you can reach a town and visit all its locations and interact with all its citizens in whatever way you want. You can even decide if you want to visit the locations in the adventure in one order or another. But sometimes if you don’t visit a particular location, or defeat a particular monster, advancing is not easy, and if you don’t advance, the story stalls because it has been written for you already.

There is a beginning and chapters that, usually, are defined by some conflict that has to be resolved, thus creating the illusion that the story is unfolding in front of you because you drive the pace and the tone of the adventure, but you don’t create it. You can add to it, make it longer or shorter, but you can’t really create it.

Then we have games that allow you to create your own adventure. You are given just a few pointers and then you take it from there and the players decide what happens, how, the consequences…. everything.

To avoid using any of Jim’s games, let’s use In Spectres. If you don’t know that game, please take a look, it is fantastic. Think of Ghost Busters and you pretty much know what sort of game it is. In that game the players actually create the story. They are told at the start that something is going on –  it can be a strange sound, something disappearing, a sighting… anything – and the players take it from there. They can decide if it is a ghost, or  demon, or a vampire, or a wizard, or just a human playing tricks.

The GM has to make a few decisions, like when to roll the dice or how some of the creatures or pnjs behave, but little else.

Saying “little else” is a bit of a disservice, because that game and their ilk are the hardest to  run. The GM has to constantly deal with the improvisation from the players, offering help when the players are stuck and generally wondering what will happen next.

So I wonder what games people generally prefer.

I don’t mind either, as long as it is fun, though I must admit I have a slight preference for games that allow you to create your own stories.

But how about you?

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Aug 262016
 

stranger things titlesBy Paco Garcia Jaen

Dedicated to my friend Jim Pinto. Because it will embarrass him to read someone considers him a friend.

Stranger Things has been a very, very, very much talked about show in all sorts of social media. The Duffer Brothers – of whom I had never heard of until now, I must admit – created a nostalgia trip so compelling we all wanted to grow our hair again, get our shoulder pads out and dig that old Casiotone MT45 while listening to Giorgio Moroder and Jean Michelle Jarre at the same time.

Yes, it does a great job of bringing the 80s back from the memory closet and make us believe it was such a wonderful era.

And the thing is that it does that so well because it showcases everything that made the 80s great. Bold shiny simple graphics to spell titles, huge walkie talkies we used to have as children, silly clothes we felt so great in until we looked at them a few minutes later and thought “oh shit”. And D&D.

Specially D&D.

I could go into the plot, but you probably know what it is all about and I don’t need to. If you truly hadn’t heard about the series yet, I would have to tell you that a few D&D players get in the middle of rather dodgy government experiments when one of their friends disappears on their way home and a strangely androgynous girl appears out of nowhere and displays some seriously juicy super powers.

Then the adults get involved and things get complicated, after all, that is what adulthood is all about. Oh, the teenagers also get involved and things also become more complicated. Because what is more complicated than going through complications like who to choose as a boyfriend while looking for this little boy without getting in the way of the adults and dodging the government, right?

Anyway. The 8 episodes tell you all about that. And then some.

You see, the thing about this series that has hit such a massive cord with a ton and a half of my friends (but not Jim) is that the D&D theme is pervasive throughout.

The introduction to the kids take place precisely around a table while they have to decide how they survive an encounter with Demogorgon. And it is perfect!

I can’t start to describe how utterly perfect that scene is. As well as the kids truly getting into the game and enjoying it, the way it is scripted brings out some truly important aspects of Roleplaying Games that pretty much only gamers understand: The roles and the relationship between the roles and our real life personalities.

It has to be said that after this scene, the references to D&D are few and far between. The miniature of Demogorgon does appear, as well as a Heroquest board, several times during the series, but they are more tools to set references pertinent to the plot than anything else. Then again they appear when the government raids the children’s home and a box of games spearheaded by Dungeon! is in it.

And yet the D&D nostalgia is there all through the series.

For me, the absolutely fantastic character of the sheriff – who starts as the usual asshole who rather do nothing than help out – and screaming neurotic and distressed mother that is Wynona Ryder, the four kids, the hyper-eighties music… all of that would have been enough to be a great show.

Ignore that it is a big predictable and some scenes don’t even need to be there. Let’s not look at some of the chronological holes. To me none of that mattered. I was hooked anyway and I think it does more things right than wrong, so it is good enough.

For me what made this show amazing is how the whole thing reflected the impact of D&D to the lives of the children. The code of honour with apologies pacts and “friends do not lie”. The fact that the cleric in the game is the one to bring supplies when venturing out in the real world. How they suffer more when the party is divided. The same sort of lateral, and not so lateral thinking applied to their situation.

People… we were that. That is how D&D and RPGs helped shape us and we didn’t even notice.

And yet the Duffer Brothers have managed to make that a part of this series so important that without it would make no sense and feel contrived. And even people who are, or have never been, gamers appreciate it even if they don’t realise.

It is one of those master strokes that made the whole thing so cohesive and so compelling. At least for me.

And of course I might be looking at that with rose tinted glasses because, hey, it was my childhood (or teenhood, in my case) and that is how I like to remember it.

And for that alone, plus the great script, great acting and the Down Below, Stranger Things will always be a great show.

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Apr 072016
 

gender-symbol_transident_general_dark_transparent_backgroundBy Paco Garcia Jaen

I wish people understood that LGBTQI characters are *never* shoehorned anywhere. Not in videogames. Not in novels. Not in RPGs. Not in movies.

Nowhere.

Whenever they appear, they do so because the author thinks they belong in that place, adventure, universe… wherever. And there are reasons for that. Always.

And those reasons might not be the ones you think they should be for that character to be there, but that doesn’t matter. Your opinion doesn’t matter because you didn’t write that character. You didn’t write that adventure, that book, that movie. You were not the creator and thus you don’t know why that creator put it there.

Having an LGBTQI is not shoving an agenda down anyone’s throat or imposing anything on anyone. Get over that notion because, simply put, it is rubbish.

LGBTQI is part of our every day life. It is part of our society, whichever society you are part of. It is there, maybe unseen by you, but it is there. And the fact that is unseen is not because there is anything wrong with it, or because those people don’t belong there. It is because there are still too many people who think that and they are nasty, intolerant and very aggressive.

So plenty of authors, plenty of companies have decided to leave that side of daily life unrepresented for a long time. To avoid that kind of people.

That doesn’t mean that when a company includes a character they do so out of a political agenda or anything like that, but because they are looking at their demographics and they want to represent and support everyone, not just the minority who rather not see anything they can’t understand or simply dislike in their products.

Lots of companies have been doing truly great and more companies will keep doing great and greater things. Green Ronin, Paizo, Pelgrane Press, Margaret Weiss Productions, Modiphius, Cubicle 7 and many, many others I can’t even remember.

Amazing people fight every single day to stop the bigotry not because they have agendas they want to impose, but because there are existing agendas that must be changed for everyone’s sake.

So when you see a character and you think “there is no point in that character being there”, wait a bit. Breathe in and be honest with yourself. Aren’t you really saying that *you* can’t find a point because the character gender or orientation is something you disagree with?

And don’t get me wrong. It’s OK if you want to think that. You are the master of your thoughts, but that doesn’t mean you are right or that the rest of the world should bend to your vision.

You are, in fact, wrong.

And my question to you would be what are you doing in the hobby? What are you doing being part of something that doesn’t have space for you?

Find another hobby. Or simply shut up and put up with some real-life element in your fantasy setting.

Because the idea that those characters you have a problem with shouldn’t be there is the fantasy.

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Feb 092016
 

20140429_194031By Paco Garcia Jaen

For someone who likes to say nice things about people, I am finding very hard to write this. And I have a lot of nice things to say about Wayne England. I just wish I had said them 24 hours ago. Or longer ago. Just sooner than now.

Wayne England passed away this weekend at his home in England. His wife and two children survive him.

I have been collecting Wayne’s paintings for a decade. I still remember the first of his paintings I bought in eBay. I spent more than one hour looking at it. Admiring the incredible detail and glorious craftsmanship. I was truly in awe.

Eventually I mustered the guts to send him a friendship request here in Facebook a few years ago. I was quite anxious. Why would one of my favourite artists, a man admired, and now I know loved, by many accept my request? I am no one.

And yet he did. And I followed his posts, and his comments and his work. And he was kind, witty, generous, charming and a great man.

And he had great taste in music. Fantastic taste in music.

Just over a year ago I got his message from him:

“Hi Paco i have some Paizo Ghoul original artwork gifts for you sir…your posts always fill me with happiness..intrige..slack jawed amazement, anger…sadness the whole damned gambit so i would like to send some stuff your way that may have the same effect on you…your friend..Wayne”

I just can’t describe how happy I felt that day. Not because he was going to send me the artwork; eventually he didn’t. He just wasn’t able and I never reminded him. The offer was more than enough for me.

Wayne was exceptional. At more levels I can describe and it is my enormous regret I never got to meet him in person. Not that that makes me feel any less close to him, but I never got to say all these things to him to his face.

I am going to miss him. Even from this distance and from this little contact, I will miss him.

I can’t wait to have some money so I can buy the frames I need and have the semi-permanent exhibit of his work at La Base Secreta Cafe so my teary eyes can tell people what an incredible man and artist he was.

Please, if you want to say something nice to someone, to anyone; if someone means anything to you, don’t let another day go by without telling them. Don’t risk that another day will go by and you won’t be able to.

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Oct 102015
 

By Paco Garcia Jaen

Internationale Spieltage SPIEL is at an end tomorrow and this year’s show has been the best so far. Some very notable things, I have to say.

I am ever so glad that I very early made the decision to ignore American companies and large companies too. I was going to see Daniel Yarrington and Game Salute would be my only American company. In the end I wasn’t able to even return to say hello again. We’ve gone from the 25 interviews we had arranged to over 40 without even thinking about it and we’ve left some 15 behind that we didn’t get the time to return to.

The way we’ve organised ourselves this year was to arrange interviews for the morning and leave the afternoons empty to fill them with interviews with companies we crossed paths. It has worked out very well. I’ve got the chance to stop and talk to people rather than go from hall to hall and stand to stand like a pinball and have discovered some terrific new games.

This is where me not paying attention to the USA and the big ones has paid off. I thought there are enough podcasts and bloggers covering the big guys, so I will try to find out the small guys.

Hall 7 at Spiel is where it all happens. A fairly dingy and not very well known hall with a megaton of small tiny companies.

My decision to cover just European or Far East games is one I will probably go with again.

NSKN Games​ deserves quite a mention – and this has nothing to do with them being friends of mine – for Simurgh and Mistfall. You really should look at both very closely. In fact, if you like the Pathfinder card game, *please* look at Mistfall.

The Polish Publishing League also has come up with some truly stunning games. Heroes, from Lion Games is a personal favourite of mine. I have done the podcast review and the unboxing video. Take a look at it and consider buying it. I am still excited about that game and can’t wait to play it again.

Waste Knights also should get your attention. Those guys are onto something!

And they have a game about Erotica that’s really tasteful! Yes, there is nudity and sex all over the game, but it’s that, erotic, not pornographic. They have looked into body representation, kept a language that is LBGTQ friendly (though the photos are heteronormative) and managed to introduce the game into sex shops, since standar game shops didn’t want to stock the game (somewhat makes sense that…).

Arctic Union again surprises. Black Hat has managed to merge strategy and trick making games masterfully. Timo Multamaki has a very strange mind, but it works… by god it works!

TBD – Taiwan Board Game Design – also had some great titles. I got Burano, Castle Crush and Runes & Ruins and had to leave behind another four games, one of them about kittens (yes… a game about kittens) that looked as cute as it could be expected.

MODIPHIUS​ releasign the news of the Kung-Fu Panda game came as a very nice blow. A 100% pleasant surprise that made everyone around genuinely happy.

Also a great surprise – one of the good surprises – to see the Cubicle 7 Entertainment​ crew there with a stand. Although they had reservations about the RPG side of things, they have done really well too, which I suppose means German geeks are very adaptable and play all sorts so don’t mind buying RPGs. And I managed to buy my copy of the second edition of the Dr Who card game so I can shoot the Dice & Slice episode with the game. WHOOHOO!!!

Totally amazing too to find out that Cédrick Chaboussit​ can speak Spanish, so we interviewed him twice, once in English and once in Spanish about Discoveries: The Journals of Lewis & Clarke. Can’t wait to crack that game open at La Base Secreta Café​. Our clients are going to love that one!

Tomorrow a few more interviews but not many. We’ll finish with an interview with Iello, the only sizeable company I will pay attention to this trip. Yes, I said I wouldn’t, but they’ve always been very good to me and I have to say I like Mathieu Bonin a lot. He’s a super guy who knows his games very well and is always courteous, attentive and very, very friendly.

After that… home. And sleep with a proper pillow. Because although Germany does a lot of things very well, they make the worst pillows on the planet.

And next year more!

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Oct 092015
 

kung_fu_panda_game_iconBy Paco Garcia Jaen

I like Modiphius. Since ever. I have bought as many of their products as I could, I have backed some of their Kickstarters when I had money, had them in podcasts, recorded an episode of Dice & Slice and had it edited really fast just to show their Thunderbirds game before the Kickstarter and even bought their whole range of Cthulhu miniatures even though, truth be told, I have little interest in miniatures that don’t come with a board game.

Because I like them.

And tonight, as well as announcing some amazing stuff to do with the Mutant Chronicles franchise, they unveiled that they’ve got the Kung-Fu Panda license to do a board game.

That is amazing. At many levels.

Firstly the game will feature a real-time dice-throwing mechanic. Thank goodness, there will also be a way to stop the play at some point so people can gather their thoughts. And it’ll be cooperative. Although I don’t like real time dice throwing games, this pause element does make me feel a lot better.

When I offered to record another episode of Dice & Slice to show the game, I was told it will have to be when they have the components well made, as Dreamworks would only want to show the best possible quality.

Now that tells me that this game, whatever it contains, will have to be *really* huge quality. That makes it more exciting.

Also this is a very big break for the company. Although Thunderbirds no doubt was a tremendous step up, Kung-Fu Panda is a much more modern and bigger license and the pressure to deliver something insanely amazing is on. Basically, Modiphius can’t afford to create something mediocre.

And they won’t. They haven’t created anything remotely mediocre yet and thus I have no reason to even consider them starting now. Quite the opposite.

And throughout this, Chris and his team have remained humble about it all. Approachable as ever and just as good fun to be around as always.

I truly can’t express how excited I am about this game and about the company. A small company that, through great work and effort has managed to hit it very, very big and get a chance to show the world that big franchises can have great board games too.

For the record, I have no ties with Modiphius. I can say this because I want to and not because I owe them anything. I have never got a review game from them, they have never paid me for advertising or for publishing anything and there is no commercial interest between Modiphius and myself.

I am saying these things because I want to. And because they deserve the praise.

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