Two D&D Virgins

With kudos to Mattias who sent me the link, here are Stephen Lynch & Mark Teich performing a fine song about being a 14-y-o D&D-playing young man. To those of our readers who currently fit that description, let me say that just a few years from now you will no longer have the least interest in sneering high-school jock girls. Instead you will attract the intimate affections of bright college freshwomen, some of whom will demand to do some pretty wild things with you, including but not limited to the playing of D&D.

I Lost World War II Today


Continuing our military theme from the other day, I regret to inform you, Dear Reader, that the Axis won World War II. After Pearl Harbour, the US couldn’t decide whether to concentrate its efforts in the Pacific or the Atlantic, and ultimately came to play only a minor role in the war. Britain, meanwhile, defended itself well and harassed the Axis in Northern Africa, but it lost almost all its overseas colonies to the Japanese and never gained a toehold on the Continent. After losing two huge battles against the Germans in the Ukraine, the Russian forces collapsed, and the Axis powers divided Asia between them.

David usually beats me at games, and it was no different with my first go at Axis & Allies today. But I had fun, and next time I’ll know a little more about what to do.

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Watch That Windshield


I got my driver’s licence late, at age 22, because I wasn’t interested in cars and didn’t want to support automotive culture. When I finally did get myself a licence, it was because I was starting to feel embarrassed at being driven everywhere by my wife and my colleagues. I didn’t buy a car of my own until I was 33.

But long before trying out any real cars, I learned a thing or two about them from the 1987 computer game Test Drive. Most importantly, I learned what the gears are for. They are there because a car’s engine can’t stand an infinitely high rate of revolution. And, I also learned, if you rev up the engine too far, your windshield will crack.

We laughed a lot about this. Thing was, in Test Drive there were many ways to crash your car, such as hitting other cars or driving off the edge of the road, and in each case the game called the same sub-routine: show a cracked windshield and print “Game Over”. However, if you revved up too far and bust your engine, the program also called that same sub-routine.

So, Dear Reader, listen to your engine and keep an eye on your RPMs: you need to be careful about your windshield.

Criss Cross: Swedish Scrabble Ripoff


Scrabble was first published in 1948. Shortly thereafter, it was ripped off for the Swedish market by a firm named Lemeco, under the tell-tale Anglophone title Criss Cross. The main difference between the ripoff and the original is that individual letters don’t have point values in Criss Cross: instead you get five points per vowel and ten per consonant.

Criss Cross does not bear a printing year. I date it at about 1950, because my copy still contains the notebook where my dad and his kid sister recorded their games. A signature of my dad’s in the notebook looks like the handwriting of a <10-year-old, which would place it before 1954.

Should you feel moved to acquire a copy of Criss Cross, then you can have one at Tradera. Lemeco also made toy cars and a Perry Mason boardgame.

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Chaosium’s Basic Role-Playing

i-f1c9f18d7c9218d279cb432c91f6e06d-Basic_Roleplaying.gifAnybody got a copy of Chaosium’s 1980 game-rules booklet Basic Role-Playing? And the 1982 Worlds of Wonder boxed set, specifically the Magic World booklet? I’d love to have a look at them (photocopies or a brief loan would be fine), since combined and translated they became the first Swedish role-playing game, Drakar och Demoner (1982). It turned me on to gaming when I was twelve. I haven’t played DoD in years, but It would be great to get to compare the Swedish rules with the original Chaosium products.

Game Review: Pandemic


Pandemic is a new board game for 1-4 players. The players take on the roles of field operatives for the Centres for Disease Control in Atlanta, GA, as four simultaneous pandemics threaten global life and civilisation. It’s a collaborative game: either you find cures in time and everybody wins — or everybody loses. And it’s really exciting!

I recently learned the term “game fluff” from my old buddy and long-time Aard regular Akhorahil. The fluff is the story that hangs on the abstract framework of a games’ rules. In order to win a game, you need to understand and exploit the game mechanics (“to optimise”, in gamer parlance), not think too much about the fluff. Many classic games have little fluff (like chess) or none at all (like bridge, backgammon, dominoes and parcheesi/ludo/fia). But I have a weakness: I care more about the fluff than the mechanics, and I don’t like abstract games.

Pandemic’s game mechanics are elegant and innovative. But its fluff is full of holes if you start to think about it. Why are four CDC employees the only people in the world who seem interested in finding the cures? Why are at best two of them medical doctors? How come cures are often found by the team’s dispatcher and the guy who sets up their research stations? Why is it so hard to travel? Why are air tickets and crucial bits of scientific data represented by the same cards? Why does each infective agent tend to stay in a certain part of the world, so that an individual city is hardly ever hit by more than one of them?

But it’s a good game, nail-biting really, as you discuss among yourselves who goes where to whack-a-mole infected cities that threaten to break out, as you try to figure out a way to pass a card to a player who needs it, as any one of the several defeat endings starts to loom ahead. A ten-year-old can understand the rules. But even grown-up seasoned gamers will find it hard to win at Pandemic, simply because it’s fine-tuned to be hard. Importantly, when the end comes, it’s pretty abrupt, so you don’t have to suffer through long slow defeat. I grade Pandemic an 8 out of 10.

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Game Review: Discipline the Simian

i-d484758b74411f8706a1ff95fe182a72-pic144671_md.jpgPlayed a fun card game with a somewhat off-colour name today: Spank the Monkey from 2003. The object of the game is literally to catch a monkey and whack its little hairy behind. Why? Because all the players are employees at a junk yard, and the monkey’s being a nuisance. It’s built itself a tower of junk and sits atop it, making ugly gestures, screeching and probably flinging poo at the customers. To catch it, you need to build a junk tower of your own while keeping the other players from building faster than you and catching the monkey.

Much of the fun stems from the absurd combinations of objects you end up with. One of the towers built today incorporated an automatic rodeo bull and a dinosaur skeleton reinforced with chicken wire. At one point a player lobbed an anvil at another’s tower, but he deflected it with an old trampoline, and instead I ended up getting whacked with the anvil. Good fun, each session lasting a few tens of minutes once everybody knows the rules. Though developed by Swedes, the game’s entirely in English. It’s not a “collectible” card game: you buy one box of cards and that’s it.

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Buying a New Board Game

i-f10d95e8e6f67ec21a59a4e315ac20e7-monopoly.jpgLately I’ve been playing more board games, thanks to gaming friends moving to my area, and also to my son and his buddies reaching an age where they can understand and enjoy games. I have a number of good board games from the 70s, 80s and 90s, and the newest one in the house is Blokus from 2000. Now I’m thinking of buying something new, and I’d appreciate some suggestions.

Here’s what I have in mind.

  • A new game, 2006 or later.
  • Suitable for age 12 upward.
  • Typical session length less than 4 hours.
  • English, German or Scandy.
  • Not a spin-off on an earlier game such as Settlers or Carcassonne.

So, Dear Reader, any ideas? Is Thief of Baghdad any good, for instance?

Update 15 June: Thanks everybody for your suggestions! After some serious study on-line, I’ve ordered Race for the Galaxy, and I’m looking for a reasonable deal on Pandemic in the EU. The only place I’ve found it actually available is Amazon in the US, which would force me to pay a lot of postage and customs.

Anybody registered on Board Game Geek? I’m “mrund” there, feel free to befriend me.

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Skamby Gaming Pieces on Display


In 2005, a team led by myself and Howard Williams excavated a 9th century boat inhumation burial at Skamby in Kuddby parish, Östergötland, Sweden. The finest finds we made in the grave were a collection of 23 amber gaming pieces. These are extremely rare, the previous Swedish set having surfaced in the 1870s when Hjalmar Stolpe dug at Birka.

Now the County Museum in Linköping has incorporated the Skamby gaming set into its new permanent exhibition! The official opening takes place on Tuesday evening 3 June, at 6 pm.

I am very proud that our finds will be seen by so many museum visitors. Perhaps the annual LinCon gaming convention might schedule a visit? Says Lotta Feldt who curated the exhibit: “Your amber glows! They form a natural magnet in the exhibition.”

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Nine-Year-Olds Like Roborally


Now and then I like to play board games: mostly Blokus, Drakborgen (a.k.a. Dungeonquest), Scrabble and Roborally. The latter is an award-winning 1994 game where each player programs a robot to move through a treacherous obstacle course and tag a series of numbered flags. More often than not, your robot ends up a smoking laser-riddled wreck or disappears down a bottomless hole.

On the box, Roborally is recommended from age 12 up. I am proud to be able to tell you that the game works just fine with (bright, geeky) 9-year-olds as well. Yesterday after lunch I took Junior and his pal geocaching, and then we played Roborally. It was a breeze for them to understand and enjoy it. And I, of course, was very happy to beat them most mercilessly. While I still can, you know.

(Junior asks me to point out that as I tagged the last flag, his robot was nearly at the penultimate one.)

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