Filling the Gap

My campaign has been having unusually long breaks between games lately.  For many games, this is the end.  Players will lose interest, they’ll forget what’s been happening, and they’ll plan away the time that used to be reserved for D&D.  It’s not always someone’s fault.  Sometimes people move, sometimes they get new jobs, and sometimes it just becomes harder to play as often as you once did.  Time moves too far, life gets in the way, and the game gets left behind.  In this age of data and communication, it doesn’t have to be that way.  There is a multitude of ways to keep your players informed, in touch, and, engaged.

One great way to keep everyone in touch, even when they’re spread out, is a campaign wiki.  Wizard’s has their own offering, but I prefer Obsidian Portal.  It allows you to make pages for the important characters and places in your game.  These pages can include pictures, stats, maps, and anything else you could want.  It also gives you the ability to add a forum for you and the players to keep in touch, an adventure log so you can keep track of the happenings in your ongoing game, and a calendar to keep your players updated on when things are going to happen.  My old group really responded to this.  It was an easy way to keep them up to date with when we met and when we played while also giving them a resource to keep track of the game.  The various character pages allowed them to easily keep track of who was who and what they were doing in the world.

Facebook is another powerful resource for you and your group.  The ‘groups’ feature allows you to keep in touch with your players in a private and open ended way.  The ability to post pictures and videos allows you to share both game related and fun things with your group.  The ability to post links allows you to share tools (or great blogs) from across the internet.  And the group chat allows you to communicate with all of your players at the same time.  I use it with my current group; it’s probably the main reason why we’re still playing with our three week plus breaks.

The best thing you can do is just keep in touch with your players.  I have all my players’ cell phone numbers, I’m friends with all of them on Facebook, and I talk to all of them regularly.  I’m aware that my situation isn’t typical here.  I’m not saying you have to be best friends with your entire group, but it doesn’t hurt to talk to on the regular.  By talking to them often (and occasionally bringing up your game) you keep the campaign on their mind so even when you’re not playing, it’s still on the mind of you and your players.  One thing I like to do is tease my players with upcoming events in the game.  Not only is this fun for me, but it gets their minds on what will happen the next time we play.

If you keep your players’ minds on the game even when the game isn’t happening, you’re sure to avoid the problems that come from too long between sessions.  But remember, don’t inundate your players, a careful balance will keep them thinking about the game, but keep them from getting annoyed.

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d20 Pro and Mesa Mundi NUIT

At PAX East, I saw yet another digital tabletop program.  It was called d20 Pro, and despite having a fascination with that type of thing, I still needed to be impressed.  And I was.  Even without the touch screen interface (which I’ll get into very soon) d20 Pro is a very powerful piece of gaming software.  It has the standard things you’d expect from software like this, integrated dice roller, plenty of maps, taking care of all the numbers for you, that sort of stuff.  Where this really shines is two places, control for the DM and ways to play.  When I say ways to play I mean that you and your players have several different avenues for access to this.  You can play with your NUIT (wait for it, it’s worth it), online using your own computer as the host, in person using your HDTV as a second monitor, or any other way you can think up.  As for the control, this software has an incredible DM interface.

Shot of what the DM sees. The blue is 'fog of war'.

You have complete control.  You can even use ‘fog of war’, which I thought was a nice touch.  Everything you need is right at your fingertips, easily accessible and ready to slide right into the game.  This software really shines when paired with the right hardware, and the right hardware is the Mesa Mundi NUIT.  The NUIT and the nature of d20 Pro software allow you to go as far down the rabbit hole as you’d like.  You can use the entire functionality of the software or you can use it merely as a map for your own collection of minis.  Now let’s talk more about the hardware.

The NUIT being used with d20 Pro

The Mesa Mundi NUIT(Natural User Interface Technologies) is a touch screen interface with so many incredible uses.  You can use it for D&D, for digital board games, for massive versions of Android games (I played Angry Birds Space on there and it was pretty epic), even for watching TV.  There are some really cool digital versions of classic board games already available with more to come.  This interface has the ability to create incredible social experiences.

Gaming on the NUIT

The best part is they’ve partnered with Geek Chic to make my ultimate dream piece.  The Locus table.  It’s all the beauty and artistry of a Geek Chic table with a NUIT built into the table top.  The coffee table version has a built in motor to lift the screen to a vertical position.

Just amazing

I know what my spare change is going to.

Best of PAX East 2012

For those who aren’t aware, PAX East is kind of a big deal.  I make it a point to go every year.  This year I discovered just how amazing the tabletop area of PAX East is.  I discovered so many new and awesome games.  Here are the very best. I’ll be writing about some of these more in future postings.

The Tabletop Area, where I spent most of my PAX East

Miskatonic School for Girls

This game was neat. I started Sunday with a demo. The thing that drew me in was their tagline ‘a deck building game where you get to build your opponents deck for a change’.  What they mean by this is you can purchase (with in game resources) cards that are bad and put them into your opponents’ decks.  This game is fun, funny, and has incredible art.  Here for more information.

Dark Age

There was a time I was in Warhammer 40k.  There was a time when miniature armies excited me.  That time had passed, or so I thought.  Cool Mini or Not has released a game called Dark Age.  It’s based on the art of Brom, the miniatures are just beautiful, and it’s a skirmish game.  Skirmish means a handful of miniatures rather than a massive army.  I’m currently exploring the game more (I didn’t have the chance to demo it) and I’ll detail that entire process here for you.  I’m pretty excited seeing as this game is so dark, violent, and just plain cool.

A sample of the miniatures from Dark Age.

Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: The Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre

You could say, for me at least, Epic Spell Wars was the bell of the ball this year.  I bought this game the first day because I’d been planning to pick it up long before PAX came around.  Every time we took it out to play it, people were asking us what it was.  Someone from Cryptozoic actually stopped while I was playing and thanked me for buying it.  It’s such a fun and enticing game.  For more information look here.

Zombie Dice is the perfect line game

Steve Jackson Games

This year, I discovered that everyone loves Cthulhu Dice.  It’s a simple game that travels well, plays quickly, and it available in a multitude of colors.  What’s not to love?  But Cthulhu Dice was not the only thing Steve Jackson Games was showing off this year.  They also had new dice game, Dino Hunt, available for play test.  It plays almost exactly like Zombie Dice, which is a bit disappointing.  I really think they could do a lot more in that space.  And speaking of Zombie Dice, did you know they released a sequel?  Yup, that happened.

Reaper Miniatures

No, I’m not just discovering Reaper.  But this was the first time they were at PAX East in force and this included a paint and take table.  I hadn’t painted any miniatures in a very long time and I forgot just how much I enjoyed it.  On top of this, Reaper’s line of paints (which I hadn’t tried) are very, very good.  They are vibrant and stick well, but are thin enough that they don’t cover up the sculpting.  They also mix very nicely.  We were given minis from their new plastic ‘Bones’ line.  The minis take paint with minimal effort, have the same sculpt quality you’d expect from Reaper, and are at an incredible price.  I’m hoping they expand the line.  You can find more about these here.

My first painted miniature in years. Not bad...

Tuesday, I’ll finish my PAX coverage with my piece on Mesa Mundi and their incredible touch screen interface and how it’s being used for D&D.

 

Chupacabra: Survive the Night

Wandering the tabletop area of PAX East this year I was frozen in my tracks by a pair of striking red eyes.  Massive and commanding, they lead to me to table standing before them where I found this:

Those eyes!

Chupacabra: Survive the Night is a diced base game where you’re a farmer trying to ensure your livestock lives through the night and aren’t killed by the legendary goat sucker.  It’s made by the Haywire Group, who besides being really nice guys, made one of my favorite games: Dicecapades.  I was treated to a demo of their newest offering and I have to say it’s pretty great.

Dice rolling action!

The dice have different faces: goats, chickens, oxen, and Chupacabra.  You win by collecting all the dice in the game.  You take dice from your opponents by matching the Chupacabras you roll with their farm animals.  This is how the game really hooked me.  At the end of the game I was rolling over twenty dice and there is nothing I love more than rolling huge handfuls of dice.  The presentation of this game is pretty slick; the dice look incredible, have a great feel (meaning they’re solid and have weight) and glow in the dark.  Also, they plan on including with the game a letter from a Chupacabra scholar educating you about the subject of the game.  Overall this game is impressive, fun, and has easy to grasp game play.  I had to play it twice at the convention and can’t wait for July when I’ll be able to play it again.  For more information and to preorder, go here.

I’m going to post again this week because I have a lot of news and reviews from PAX to get through. Thursday you’ll be treated to a ‘best of’ posting with lots of pictures and then next Tuesday I’ll finish my PAX coverage with a piece on Mesa Mundi’s Touch System.

Other Things to Play: Zombie Dice

Zombie

The cup of dice

Zombie Dice is a dice based game from Steve Jackson Games.  These are the same people that made Chez Goth, Munchkin, and a favorite among my circle, Illuminati.  Like most of their offerings, it’s a simple game that can be difficult to master.  The game comes with thirteen dice.  Each die is a victim and they are color coded to represent how hard it is to catch and eat the brains of said victim. Oh, did I mention?  You are the zombie!

The three colors and faces of Zombie Dice

There are three different faces on the dice, the brain which scores you a point, the shotgun blast, and the feet which represent the victim getting away.  The first player to get thirteen brains is the winner.  And you can roll until you decide to stop rolling.  The catch is, if you roll three shotgun blasts, your turn is over and you lose all the brains you accrued during that turn.  The strategy comes into play with the three difficulties of dice.  You remove every brain or shotgun and reach back into the cup to replace them.  As you go on, you have more of a chance of pulling out one of the red dice (the die with the most shotgun faces) and causing yourself to lose all your brains.  The play encourages the occasional risky move, and sometimes it pays off in a very gratifying way.

All twelve dice

I first discovered this game last year at PAX East.  It was great for lines.  That’s one of the upsides of this game; it’s one of those things you can play anywhere.  To me, this is huge.  Paul and I were playing it in Starbucks while we were waiting for a movie.  Another high point is that this game is based on dice.  I, for reasons I don’t quite understand, love the act of rolling dice.  All in all, this is a simple game that can be played anywhere with anyone and very quickly.  The games never last more than five minutes.  This is a fun game at a good price and I’ll have it with me at PAX East this year.

Speaking of PAX East, make sure you come back for my PAX coverage next week.  I plan to take tons of pictures and play a lot of games and I’m going to write about everything.  Also, follow me on twitter @Costontine for quick thoughts throughout the weekend.  And maybe I’ll see you there!