Showing posts with label boxed sets. Show all posts
Showing posts with label boxed sets. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Review - The White Box Boxed Set

Title: The White Box
Production Team: Jeremy Holcomb, Jeff Tidball, Renee Knipe, Atlas-Games.com
Rule Set: all your own
Year: 2017
Pages: 102
Rating: ★★★★★

This is an interesting title. When I am in the classroom or attending classes, the word pedagogy comes up a lot. I never thought I would be using it on a gaming website. 

Yet, that is where we are. Playing a game requires some level of learning. Mostly, this comes up when there is a high learning curve in the rules. Starfleet Battles comes to mind as a game with a rather high learning curve. D&D on the other hand feels more free flowing, therefore has a smaller learning curve. Uno has a quick, as you go vibe, so it doesn't seem like you're learning at all. But all require some pedagogy to teach the game. 

What is The White Box is answered with the sub-title: "A Game Design Workshop in a Box". Its purpose is to teach one how to make games. Or alternatively, to teach players what design elements have what effect on the user. As a teacher, the idea of deconstructing a game rule by rule is more interesting than designing my own. The White Box is very similar to many educational packs teachers can order for their classroom. It comes with the following: 

  • The White Box Essays, the textbook if you will. 
  • 3 counter sheets. 71 pre-printed counters and 49 blank counters.
  • 150 small wooden cubes in six colors.
  • 36 wooden meeples in six colors.
  • 6 giant wooden cubes in six colors.
  • 12 six-sided dice in six colors.
  • 110 plastic discs in eight colors. 

All you need is to add some creativity. The book is excellently written. It is a compilation of 25 essays on game design. The tactile learning tokens or "feelies", if you are old like me, harkens back to the old Infocom games. But they are clearly well thought out and have high production values. Tokens and counters are black, white and gold to match the box, while the various other items in the box are green, white, blue, red, yellow, and black. Despite the fact that these parts are in different media, plastics and wood the bold colors match well, unlike some of the lesson plan sets teachers have to throw together. The meeples are generic and cute. 

While intended to teach game design, the 102 page book tends to dance the subject a bit when it comes to ideation and leans heavily on design and production. It does answer to some important questions as to where a game designer's energy should go. It also gets into elements like adding random numbers and how a game should flow. It's very clear that the authors have written and designed games, so the essays are very useful, despite not having specifics on brainstorming or what makes a great game. If everyone knew those things, then there would be no need for this product. At least 4 different essays are addressed to non-gameplay situations such as theft, rule laywering, copyrights, game breakers, min-maxing and other situations a designer needs to know about to a have shot at fame and fortune in game design. 

As I understand it, this came out as a Kickstart project a few years ago, this is not a review of KS and since I missed that step, I cannot comment on how easily this boxed set came to fruition. 

What I do know is that this is a good product for getting started on the topic of game design, having seen many games come together in my time at Mattel. All and all I give it 5 stars. 

On a side note, I want to get my hands on another copy of this as it makes an excellent tabletop piece for a variety of games. The tokens, counters and chits are so generic as to be unobtrusive on the table for tracking various things in games that tend to be more "theater of the mind", but could use a little diagram or reminder here or there.  

You can pick up a physical copy at Atlas-Games and an electronic file DriveThruRPG which is missing the tangible pieces. Interestly, there is an audio book and a bundle with both. I didn't know that until this review. The pdf is well worth the $7.99 price tag, but if you want to full experience, I would buy the physical boxed set and the audio book. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Latest Amazon Find - Dungeons and Dragons Adventure Begins game

I don't know why I like the easy entry tests for games. Today I found the Dungeons and Dragons Adventure Begins game. It takes the players on an adevnture in the lands of Neverwinter.

EDIT - It's on back order but I'll get mine on Jan 23th if you are looking to order. 

It's meant for 2-4 players, ages 10 an up. It was about $25, but is on sale at Amazon for less than $15.

It might be the tangables that come with these sets that gets me. The set includes: 
  • 4 mini-figures, 
  • 4 Boss tiles, 
  • 4 20-sided dice, 
  • 10-sided Dungeon Master die, 
  • damage clip, 
  • 4 health trackers, 
  • plastic deck holder, 
  • 20 character tiles, 
  • 4 dungeon boards, 
  • 24 gold, 
  • 4 adventure decks, 
  • item deck, 
  • 4 reference cards, 
  • 8 backpack cards, 
  • 12 gatekeeper cards, 
  • And rules booklet. 

This strikes me as being similar to the Invasion of Theed put out by WotC for Star Wars years ago. 


I'll probably order this one up tonight. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn Review

Title: Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn
Author: TSR Staff
Year: 1982
Pages: Basic book, 20 pages. Expanded book, 64 pages. SF0, 32 pages.
Number of players: ???
Rating: ★★★

Star Frontiers could be called "TSR's game not based on D&D." Chances are this was one game you played when not playing D&D. If were a glutton for punishment, it could also be the game you played when not playing Traveller. 

The main problem with Star Frontiers is, it isn't D&D or Traveller. The secondary problem is, it isn't a tactical game or a board game either. Shockingly, it has elements of all 4 genres. 

Mind blow? 

Yeah. Me, too. 

This tiny box packs in all of the complexity of a multi-book game engine like Traveller or any edition of D&D squished into 116 pages. However, it isn't like either of those. It's system is 1d100 based. It has levels but only 1-6 and no classes. Plus aliens. Real aliens. 

Where Star Frontiers deviates from D&D the most and hugs Traveller the most is your characters are complex and fully formed from the get go. You are never a knock-kneed dude in robes hoping someone won't blast you into next year because you don't know anything. Like Traveller, you're marketable from day one. That's important later. 

With this first set, you have 4 playable races, Dralasites, Humans, Vrusk, and Yazirians and one NPC race called the Sathar. Each character has pairs of attributes: Strength and Stamina, Dexterity and Reaction Speed, Intuition and Logic, Personality and Leadership. These skills are "rockable" meaning you can steal a bit of Strength for Stamina, Dexterity for Reaction Speed and so on. You cannot swap Leadership for Strength. 

This game has no classes per se, it has 3 PSA skill groups named Military, Biosocial and Technological. Each character selects one skill from one group and a secondary skill from a second group. Due to this combining of two wildly different skill sets, no two characters are really the same. Another twist on the rules is they assume every character will use a weapon, even if unskilled in weapon use. Fire power is a great equalizer. 

"Level" is equally odd, there are 6 levels of skill for every skill and your character doesn't really have a level at all. "Level" is answering "What is the highest level skill you have?" A new character and an old one can basically stand shoulder to shoulder. 

This game game in a boxed set with 3 booklets, a two part map, counters and a cover/map for the module SF0. 

The first booklet is the 20 page basic game. It's a module in it's own right and teaches players how to play on the map with the counters. While it may seem like an underwhelming first game session, it is specifically designed to march the players through ever rule in the Expanded book. At least in short form. You can expect at least one person from the party to be able to shoot, throw a grenade, hack devices, drive an array of vehicles, do medicine, heal, etc. 

The expanded book does just that, expands on game play. The rules #1 oddity is the game is meant to be theater of the mind, which makes the map and counters rather secondary unless you want to make your own maps. Within the expanded rules is a monsters section, where a couple of typical alien creatures are given and rules to modify or create whole new monsters/aliens are nicely integrated with the character skills. This system is very cool and powerful. 

Rules for vehicles and robots are equally nicely spelled out and are designed to go hand and hand with your character's abilities as are tactics and movement. Even though you are limited to handful of skills, the system is really robust because there is usually more than one way to progress. 

For completeness, the module SF0 Crash on Volturnus continues the complexity and expands (then contracts) the world around the players. Once your players have gone through this module, they will clearly understand the concept of "Talk First/Shoot Second", a detail only hinted at in the Basic and Expanded rules. 

For 116 pages, the rules are tight and feel well planned. The presentation is wonderful, on par with anything at the time and perhaps taking a jump forward with the nice maps and counters. Oddly, space combat and ship construction were left out, probably due to space constraints.  

The game system is very inventive, but without continuing support from TSR there the game feels lacking in many regards. The specialty of this set of rules is the home brew campaign which is very doable, which is a good thing because that's all we got after the second boxed set. Back in the day, the two modules based on the films 2001 and 2010 felt odd and out of place in a space opera setting, but that should have been a clue as to how robust the system was when playing out home brew stuff. 

Many systems when view in hindsight have a dated feel where it is a product of it's own age. This set suffers this in spades. It's not like D&D or Traveller, where it was reimagined over and over again to keep up with the times. We are forever holding out for Han, Duke and 3rd Imperium that never came. There are no psionics, no Force, no magic, no sentient killer robots, no cybernetics or internet. Computers tend zig-zag from the mighty talking machines capable of full thought, but can't be removed from the 15 rooms they reside in which makes them ignore-able.   

Many times, I have totally ditched the background and acted out scenarios from the Stainless Steel Rat series, Star Wars and Aliens in this system. It actually gives a good accounting of itself. While I rated it three stars, remember this is three modern stars. As flawed as the support was, the rule still shines. 

Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn
At DriveThruRPG
Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn at DrivethruRPG

Monday, June 24, 2019

Paranoia, Second Edition Review

Welcome to Alpha District, Citizen!

Let's start with the basics. Paranoia has been around for decades. This edition was produced by West End Games in 1987. It is a revamp of the first edition rules, which strips out much of the game mechanics in favor of pop-the-clutch-and-go fun. What was "removed" often ended up as an optional rule, which in the spirit of the game, could be ignored, introduced or changed willy-nilly during play. Players who claim to know the rules are deemed traitors and kills. So, computer, have at it. Whatever makes your players happy. And Happiness is Mandatory!

What does the game include?

  • 136 page "rule" book
  • 16 page booklet describing the life of a troubleshooter
  • 1 20 sided die for something or other
  • One box with colorful pictures 
  • Not listed on the box are supplemental items such as character sheets, charts, (dis)loyal tests, vehicle control schematics, NPC charts and reports.  
The rule book includes a mini adventure demo in the front and a longish scenario or module in the back. The artwork is wonderful, while not perfect or extraordinary, it captures the theme of the games mind-bending laughs with a touch of sarcastic paranoia. This edition was compatible with all first edition modules, which is nice. 

Game play is quick. Each player is entitled to 6 clones, one at a time to represent the player's character. Unless the computer decides otherwise. As one character dies, another clone appears to take his or her place. Sometimes, they remember what happened to the last clone and sometimes they do not. Unless the computer is optimistic about the lethality. In which case, a second, third or 20th clone can be played at the same time as the other 1, 2, or 19. This will increase the likelihood that the player will turn on themselves, leaving other players bemused, horrified or shocked. 

In one session, I had a player holding 20 character sheets like a hand of cards and when he dropped sheet, that clone died. The book is chocked full of insane tips for pushing the charac... er... playe... er... maybe character's? paranoia buttons. My personal favorite is reading room descriptions with a stryofoam cup over your mouth to simulate a broken speaker.  

For a game that revolves around comedic death, the character creation process is robust. As are the choice of weapons and suggestions as to when to use them on your friends.. There seems to be a section on combat, but it is sort of optional. Except the coveted rear position, Troubleshooter. The motive and ability to bushwack other players is fun. Fun leads to happiness and Happiness is Mandatory! 

The included 19 page module, "Into The Outdoors with Gun and Camera" is laugh out loud funny. It works in tandem with the rules, basically forcing the players and computer through most of the rules. 

One issue I see with this set is the concept that the computer is ruthlessly hunting for "Traitors", a concept that was awesome and understandable in The Cold War, but perhaps won't play well with younger people today. 

You can check out Paranoia at DriveThruRPG

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Boxed Set Reviews

I have two weeks off and ran ahead one week for 52 Weeks of Magic, I figured I would get some cleaning done. To that end, I have some box sets gathering dust. Time to do some reviews.


I'll be running a poll on MeWe to see which item goes first.