Gaming without your brother

Tag Archives: Board games

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I don’t think I should talk about Chris Kohler from Wired any more (Chris Kohler), but while I was waiting to talk to Chris Kohler, another aspiring games journalist/writer/designer like myself, named Ted, came up to me and took the panelists’ advice to network to heart much more directly than I did (and he is awesome for doing so). As we discussed our backgrounds (both English majors, from Washington, etc.), his friend came up and Ted introduced me to Arian, a newly-minted tabletop game designer and indie developer himself. Even though Arian and his game Pocket-Tactics had just gotten picked up by Wired for investing in a 3D printer and taking care of all the manufacturing of the game himself, with the rest of his team at Ill Gotten Games (one of the best company names I’ve heard in awhile, I must say), he graciously agreed to meet up with me the next day, let me play through his game, and review it. I’m telling you, the nicest people go to PAX.

On a Tuesday night some months ago, Arian had an idea for a dice-oriented tabletop game, inspired by the game play of Final Fantasy Tactics and its strategy game predecessors. By the end of the night, the idea was finalized and by Friday of that week, the first copy of the game was printed, painted, and fully playable. Not too shabby, by any standard. Its first iteration features two factions, the Legion of the High King and the Tribe of the Dark Forest. Each faction has strengths and weaknesses, so picking a side is a part of the strategy, not an arbitrary color or figurine preference. Arian said that there are more factions in the works to be released so players can have a wider variety to choose from. There are six classes per faction, ranging from strong melee characters to necromancers to archers. Each faction also has an accompany stats sheet so you can see each class’s defense and attack points for melee, ranged, and magic attacks. The stats sheets also show terrain advantages and abilities for each class.

Picture from illgottengames.blogspot.com

Picture from illgottengames.blogspot.com

The most exciting part of the game to me was the map. Players take turn picking one hexagonal piece out of a small bag at a time and placing it around one player’s base. There are some placement rules that force players to build at least slightly outward. Each piece is painted and designed slightly differently to differentiate terrain types. Different factions will have benefits depending if they’re on a forest tile, a hill tile, etc. A different game play experience every time for a map-based tabletop game is a cool innovation, and I can only imagine how experienced players can use it to their advantage, or their opponent’s disadvantage. As a super noob, I didn’t really implement it myself, and I think Arian was too nice to just wipe the floor with me with that particular strategy.

Each player only starts out with three figures on the board, which they get to choose, and more pieces can be added on subsequent turns but only to specific tiles near each players’ home base. The object of the game is to defeat the other player’s base, which in turn usually requires you to destroy all of their individual fighters. The base itself has 3 defense points, which means every attack against the base, the defending player can roll three blue dice. The attacking player uses 1 to 3 red dice (depending on how many attack points for that specific action that player’s figure has) and whichever player has a net total of higher dice either successfully defends or is defeated off the board entirely. The same process applies to attacking other figures as well (which have 1 to 3 defense points and can use 1 to 3 blue dice), not just bases. Each turn, a player can only move, spawn, or attack with one figure.

There are more intricacies than that; I’m doing the game an injustice, just as I did the day I reviewed it when I had to do a rushed play through to get into a panel that was starting. The strengths of the game lie in the fact that I found it to be a pretty simple implementation of an advanced strategy. Figures get defense bonuses depending terrain and if allies are nearby, move bonuses for nearby allies, and disadvantages for standing on water map tiles. And yet in the quick thirty minutes I had with Arian to review this, I remembered all of that and I thought I was doing all right strategically during the short time we played.

Picture from illgottengames.blogspot.com

Picture from illgottengames.blogspot.com

And maybe that’s the biggest point – Arian would probably be too nice to tell you if I was really blowing it anyway. I’m not trying to say that people should lie in favor of my skills (but it’s nice when they do) but I’m saying it’s really awesome to see good people like the team at Ill Gotten Games getting some coverage from Wired and some success for following their passions. I love small companies and small projects to get big time coverage and success, so I’m happy to spread the word about a game that I will definitely buy, Pocket-Tactics.

That opportunity to buy the game will be coming sooner than we think, Arian said that in the very near future a Kickstarter campaign is launching to raise funds to print Pocket-Tactics on a massive scale. I’ll be sure to post when that goes live so you can all get in on the fun earlier than the rest. And that might be the only downside to the game at the moment: while Ill Gotten Games may be printing the pieces, it remains to be seen who will be painting them, players or the manufacturers. It seems like it will depend on the success of the fundraiser; if it does well enough, we might be able to fund Arian painting board games pieces for fourteen hours a day until ship date, heh. Time, and the details of the campaign, will tell us.

Ill Gotten Games’ other project is an RPG game, similar to the style of GURPS, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to delve into that too much. I hope the group has more games slated to release in the near future, if they can keep churning out fun and simple yet strategic games like Pocket-Tactics.

For some reason, this seemed really funny to me at the time.

For some reason, this seemed really funny to me at the time.


In previous posts, I think it’s been obvious that gaming was a big deal in my house while I was growing up, but for the most part, it was relegated to video games. We had board games but as the youngest child, my siblings weren’t really interested in playing a lot of board games with me (although I distinctly remember the times that they did, and they were great times). Clue was (is?) my favorite board game, but the biggest roadblock was that I could never gather two other people to play with me. My mom loved Scrabble and Rummikub and we played those sometimes on lazy Sunday afternoons. We were all also fairly competitive, but genial enough that if there was little trash talk, we could finish a game (but someone would probably be annoyed because they were losing in the end). In high school, I played Cranium and Apples to Apples with friends and remember some really fantastic nights with friends playing those party games.

I stole all of my parents board games when I moved to college, imagining a group of people wanting to hang out and play games together for fun. I don’t know what kind of weird college fantasy I was imaging, but we really hardly played any board games. Occasionally, Apples to Apples got busted out but that was about it. Mafia and Werewolf were popular, and for one glorious summer we enjoyed Ticket to Ride, Killer Bunnies and Bang! fairly frequently. Otherwise, my tabletop gaming experience is limited and sad to think about, because I love playing tabletop games and rarely do.

Enter Dungeons and Dragons into my life.

Enter Dungeons and Dragons into my life.

Some months ago, a friend mentioned how she always wanted to learn to play Dungeons and Dragons and she found a group to play with, with players we actually had acquaintances with. I admitted that I too had always wanted to try Dungeons and Dragons (“with so many people playing, it can’t just be a one-off weirdo game, it must actually be fun” was my logic) and asked if I could join the next campaign. A few weeks later, I got invited to go to the DM’s apartment to get help setting up my character before the first session of a brand new campaign.

I confided in the DM that I was a little nervous. I expected quick turnaround time and having to be clever and come up with storyline and character conversation. I suppose some people really do play like that but thankfully, the DM I would be playing with pointed out that most of the players in our small group were fairly new, or at least fairly quiet. Expectations wouldn’t be too high and any interaction I as a player would want to include would be welcome but not required. Also, the DM explained that he would be coming up with plots and quests, players wouldn’t have to think too extensively about those aspects of the game.

A few days later I showed up on a Saturday morning for the first session and to get the details on the adventure we were about to be starting. I had decided to be a wild elf ranger, named Vseqra (thanks, randomly-hitting-the-keyboard, you gave me a cool name with a silent V), who was a guerilla fighter and escaped slave (that’s the extent of my back story for this campaign. I realized that for future characters, I should work a little harder to come up with some motivations for my character). I wield a longbow to control enemies and their movements and am actually pretty freaking powerful.

Funny how I pick to be an escaped slave and then my avatar is randomly assigned to be black . . .

Funny how I pick to be an escaped slave and then my avatar is randomly assigned to be black . . .

We’ve been playing for . . . months now, with a short month-long hiatus a little while ago due to a traveling DM. We usually try to get together once a week. We picked our own characters to a certain extent but knowing we were noobs, the DM intervened a bit to make sure we had a balanced party that could explore multiple facets of combat and the game. We even got an additional noob halfway through (which was good because she’s our tank and she’s awesome).

I suppose that’s something that’s also worth note – out of our playing party, we have three women and one man. The DM is a man. The stereotype of “girls don’t play D&D” is actually pretty accurate, and it’s incredible that the majority of our group is female. But it’s great; we’re pretty silly (I referred to an ice mage Kobold as Val Kilmer for an entire session) and we bring food (ugh, that sounds so sexist . . . we buy food and bring it because we’re thoughtful). Anyway, it’s a great dynamic, and I love playing in such a new and inclusive group (which is due in large part to our mostly patient DM).

What’s the point, Laurie.

I wanted to include you all in the magic that is our small group, but I also wanted to make a point, so the bottom line is this: Dungeons and Dragons is the most fun I’ve had in a really long time. When I started playing, I was in a rut socially and emotionally and getting a small group of insta-nerd friends was a dream come true. Actually, better than I could’ve possibly dreamed. Going to those weekly sessions became my one bright spot in the week. And even now, after those initial sessions have helped pull me out of that rut, I still look forward to them so much.

Aside from the social implications, I love being a part of yet another fictional world, just like what I get to do when I play video games or read books or watch movies. I love the creativity and the twists and turns I would’ve never saw coming. I love that our DM requires us to say things like “I look around” instead of assuming that’s part of walking into a town (that actually led to some bad news for our party, but now it’s a great inside joke). I love everything about playing D&D with these people, and it’s something I want to continue doing the rest of my life.

I was thinking about D&D as I had the thought for this post, but I also think about tabletop gaming a lot more in general recently because of Wil Wheaton’s show (Tabletop) on Felicia Day’s YouTube channel (Geek & Sundry). It’s a great show where Wil Wheaton gathers popular figures in geek-ish culture to play a board game every week. I had heard about Munchkin but never felt compelled to play it until I watched that episode, or Settlers of Catan, or Small World. It makes me want to first save some money and then buy these games and host tabletop gaming nights. Anyway, so ends a small plug for the show because it’s great fun, and for as much as I love and talk about video games, there’s room for tabletop gaming in life as well.