Archive for the ‘toys’ Category

Everybody Wants to be a Game Designer   1 comment

And . . . everybody can be.  Game Design isn’t Rocket Science.

Some games automatically turn their players into game designers.  Role-playing games are pretty good at this.   Once you have gone adventuring in someone else’s dreams and ideas, you inevitably want to be the person in controll.  Thus you will make up your own scenarios, and your own rules variations–that is, you will if you have any creativity at all.  A good role-playing game for testing your wings as a budding game/scenario designer is Tunnels and Trolls.

If y ou do not change the rules at least a little, you are not really playing Tunnels and Trolls.

But there’s one game that really makes game desiners of us all.  It’s a card game–you’ve probably heard of it.  It’s called Magic ™.  It was designed originally by Richard Garfield, a math professor in his secret identity, and it was published by a small company called Wizards of the Coast.  WotC became a big company after its card game became the most popular game in the country and perhaps the world.
Saturday I took my son off to Walmart to buy some blue jeans.  On the way out he spotted the Magic display, and, being gamers, we of couse had to check it out.  The best thing there was the Knights vs. Dragons duel decks–two complete decks in one package with the classic fantasy theme of Knights and Dragons–natural enemies.  He talked me into buying it.  He took the Knights; I took the Dragons.

What a pretty, pretty knight!

We played three game using the decks just as they came out of the box.  The Knights won two of them by crushing margins.  I barely squuezed out a victory with the dragons in game two of the set.  While we were delighted with the rare cards and mythic rare cards that came with the set, neither of us were very happy with the original decks.  So we modified them.
I felt that the Dragon deck needed fewer goblins, more kill spells, and a knockout punch.  It also needed some way to get the big guns out faster.  I added swamps, poison goblins, and kill spells like Go for the Throat and Terminate.   The deck as released by WotC was weak.  Too much land, too little actual magic, everything on the theme of flame.  Themes are great, but they don’t often win games or tournaments.  What wins are killer combinations.

Big, nasty, powerful--just like Dads are supposed to be in our real world.

What I did, in essence, was design my own winning scenario in Magic.  I’m thinking of beating those pesky knights, but I want it to beat everything.  Everybody does that with Magic.  The game invites you to use your own creativity.  It sells you the parts–cards with various strengths and weaknesses and abilities, and then you have to put them together to make a playable deck.  This is a real test of your game-designing ability (and cash).  How good is the deck you make?  Does it win or lose?
Regular card games like Poker or Bridge don’t make game designers out of the players.  The decks are the same for everyone, and so are the rules.  Creative, imaginative play will help you succeed in playing those games.  But you don’t design anything.  You don’t really create.
Collectible card games like Magic, Yu-Gi-Oh, Pokemon, Naruto and others turn their players into game designers.  To make a deck you have to think about such things as Game Balance and Pace.  You want a fast deck to knock out your opponents before they can get going.  The Dragons had the greater power in the original sets, but the Knights were faster and deadlier.  To beat those Knights, I had to change the way Dragons fight.  Have I succeeded?  I don’t know yet, but I’m eagerly looking forward to a rematch.
Once you start thinking in terms of Game Design, it’s hard to stop.  Everywhere you look you will see pieces that can be turned into games and contests. 
After that comes the really hard part of the Game Designing life–convincing others to play Your game instead of Their game.  Somehow, your game has to be more fun than their game if you want to make any converts.  Good luck with that! 

We Game Designers all want to be dragons--powerful, influential, and known far and wide. But, we mostly wind up as goblins, and goblins are dragon food.


Magic the Gathering–the Building of Decks   3 comments

I think they could have had a flashier, more colorful look for the back of the cards.

One game I really enjoy playing is Magic the Gathering.  The game was invented by Professor Richard Garfield and first released on an unsuspecting world in 1993.  I was at Origins that year when It was released.  The Wizards of the Coast booth was getting a lot of attention, and I walked over to see what the big attraction was.  It was Magic!  They were selling cards just as fast as they could take the money.  Peter Adkison saw me and called out to me, “Hey, Ken, you oughta get in on this. It’s going to be great.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“A new game called magic.  You buy a deck of cards and then you compete with other players and try to win their cards away from them.”

“How much does it cost?”

“Only Six dollars for a deck or $2.99 for a pack of cards.”

“How many cards in a deck?”


“Ten cents a card!  That’s outrageous!  I’ll pass.”

“Okay, Your loss.”  He went back to selling cards to other rabid fans who couldn’t wait to throw their money at them.”

“This is a fad,” I said to myself.  “It will never replace roleplaying.  Nah, it will never really catch on.”

That may not be exactly how it went.  It was a long time ago, and I didn’t pay attention or write it down at the time, but it was pretty close to that.   I could have been in at the very beginning of Magic’s rise to most popular card game in the world, and I stepped aside.  (This seems to happen quite a lot in my life.  I have chances to connect with Greatness, often before it becomes Great, and I step aside.  Does that ever happen to you?)

I didn’t get into Magic as a player until a year later when all my friends in Phoenix started playing the game.  Once I started playing and found out how much fun it was, I was as hooked as everyone else on the game.  Well, I wasn’t totally hooked.  I never became a dealer of Magic cards.

Eighteen years later Magic is still going strong.  I’m still playing.  I have a few thousand cards around the house and am still buying new ones from time to time.  I was in a Magic tournament a few weeks ago–came in 17th out of 30–not because I’m that good, but because some players, when they see they can’t win, just drop out.  I play mostly with my son.  James St. Andre is 19 going on 20, and Magic has become the center of his existence.  He has a friend named Harley who is also deeply involved.  Hanging with these teens gives me an opportunity to play a game I love, and meet new people, and stay current.  Through most of my career as a librarian I have managed to stay current with what’s happening with young people, teens, twenties, etc.  I do it by being interested in what they are interested in.  I may look old on the outside, but I’m a teenager at heart.

Still, if Magic were a static, unchanging game, I would have probably set it aside long ago.  When I was  younger, I loved to play chess.  I still can’t pass a fancy chess set without stopping to admire it.  I own sets with unique themes–one is made all of transparent glass, another is  conquistadors and Mayans.  You get the idea.  Themed chess sets still appeal to me.  I still love the game of chess, but I hardly ever play it.  I go years at a time witout playing it.  Been there, done that.

Dogs vs. Cats in medieval garb. How cool is that! I love this kind of thing, but I don't play chess any more. The pieces are cute, but the game hasn't changed a bit to account for it.

Magic remains new, and what keeps it new is the ability of players like myself to make their own individual decks.  You buy or acquire the cards, but you can put them together any way you want.  I’m a Game Designer.  That’s my number one joy in life–creating new games.  I can make a game any time, any place, out of anything.  Each time I take an idea and make a new deck from that idea, it is just like making a  new game, and I will have the opportunity to test how good that game is against other Magic players.

There are rules for constructing decks.  For example, a full deck is supposed to have at least 60 cards in it.  The decks require land to power the cards and their effects–lands of specific colors and types.  Decks should be about 30 to 40% land, 30% creatures, 30% spells.  These rules are more like guidelines, but you get the idea.

The best Magic players in the world build their decks to emphasize one or two killer effects.  If they can get a certain combination of cards, they win.  Often the cards required for these killer effects are rare, expensive, and hard to obtain.  I retain a vestige of both sanity and humility–I will never be able to match and compete with such players.  I play the game for fun, not for a living.

Then there are players who don’t have a clue.  They are new to the game, and they let other people build their decks for them.  Or they just buy starter decks and slowly modify them.  I can beat those players most of the time.  I’m always happy to see such a nooby–it means I’m going to win. (insert evil chuckle here).

And there are a lot of players in the middle.  We have a pretty good idea of what we’re doing.  We play for the fun of the game, and for the fun of seeing our decks beat their decks. 

Magic lends itself to Theme players.  It does this by having lots of fantasy creatures of the same type that can be grouped together to gain a thematic effect.  Goblins, for example.  Goblins are generally low-powered creatures with tricky effects.  Goblin grenade unites a spell with a suicide bomber to do 5 damage.  That’s a pretty good blast.

Take this present to that guy over there!

Magic continually reinvents itself by offering new cards and powers to the players.  It seems that each new set incorporates some gimmick to make their cards more powerful and dangerous than everything that has gone before.  That doesn’t always work, but Wizards of the Coast always try.

Another thing that keeps Magic going is the issuance of new Rare cards with every set.  There are Rares and Mythic Rares now–you get a rare with each pack of cards that you buy.  Mythic Rares are a lot harder to get.  Here are some of the Rares and Mythic Rares tht I own.  Each one is important to a theme deck built around it.

Valakut is the Master Volcano of all Volcanoes. What if Volcanoes were alive and malevolent?

Valakut is the key card in a red burn deck meant to simply blast the other player out of existence by playing mountains.  Rig the game so that you draw mutltiple cards each turn, and can play more than one land, and the deck becomes very dangerous.

This Planeswalker turns mountains into creatures that do direct damage. At  least you can then fight them as if they were creatures.  Imagine killing a mountain!

Koth of the Hammer is a Planeswalker who turns mountains into creatures.  He can win a game all by himself, but he’s second banana to Valakut in the red deck they share.

This is a silly card with a power that costs too much to use.

Sometimes I wonder what the Magic Card designers were thinking. When one point of energy can do up to 3 or 4 direct damage in a red deck, why have a card that has to be played, then has to guess a card at random and get it right and pay 3 energy to do 2 damage to the opponent?  Not only is the cost way too much for the effect, but you wind up telling your opponent what is in your hand.  This card should be rare mostly because anyone who buys it will tear it up in disgust.  I keep it for the art.

The Eldrazi are a recent gimmick for Magic the Gathering.  They are a race of horrible creatures that attack your world–alien invaders of the worst sort.  The largest of them are world-destroying giants.  The smallest are insignificant gnats. And there are many sizes in between.  You can build a multi-colored deck to bring in Eldrazi. 

The horrible monsters from another plane of existence is a concept that keeps coming up at Wizards of the Coast.  Off the top of my head I can think of 3 other groups of cards that fall into this category: The Phyrexians, the Slivers, and the Kavu.  Kavu cards are pretty old, and they seem to have faded from the Magic scene.  Slivers are so horribly effective that WotC seems to have discontinued them for now.  Phyrexians and Eldrazi are still going strong.

I have an awesome Sliver deck that includes this pretty card. The deck is too evil to play, and all right thinking players band together to destroy slivers whenever they appear.

I could go on and on.  The point I really wanted to make is how much fun it is to create your own decks using Magic cards.  It is also fun to make Shadowfist decks, or Legend of Five Rings decks, or Yu-Gi-Oh, or Naruto, or whatever your brand of collectible card-playing might be.  The other games don’t offer as much variety as Magic but the challenge of making a world-beating deck always exists.

Friends, bring your decks to the Sci-Fic or Gaming conventions that you attend, and I’ll be happy to take you on.  Consider yourself challenged!


Antiques   5 comments

There are so many wonderful old things in the world.  And do you know what’s happening to them all?  Slowly, bit by bit, they are being gathered up and stored in immense warehouses called antique stores.  Sometimes someone will enter a store, buy something, and take it back out into the real world, but I’m convinced that more and more of the good old stuff is just moldering away in a big fancy antique store somewhere.

I love to wander around in huge antique stores. But I often feel like an anitque myself, recognizing things I played with or owned only a few decades ago.

When I was a boy, I never saw any antique stores.  Now, 50 years later, they’re everywhere.  Why is that?

Entrance to huge antique store in Scottsdale. You could put an aparmtnet complex inside this store.

We live in an age of fantastic innovation. It doesn’t matter what the topic is: art, furniture, weapons, glass, ceramics, toys, games, books, movies, clothing–you name it.  It’s better today, and there’s more of it.

And yet, things were pretty damn cool back in the day.  What’s happening to all that cool stuff?  Some of it is on display in people’s homes or museums or places of business, but I think most of it is gathering inside the antiques shops of America and the world–there to be looked at once in a while by curious explorers, but never ever getting back to its original function.

I like antiques, but I have no room for them in my house–partly because it’s full of my own antiques, partly because it’s full of all the cool new stuff I have.  But sometimes I like to go and admire the treasures of the past.  Let’s take a walk in a big Scottsdale antique mall, and see what kind of junk Atroll likes.

Stone tools of pre-Columbian civilizations. Those are REAL ANTIQUES!

I’ve had a fascination with the Aztecs and other native civilizations and peoples since I was a teenager. I have made games about them, and their warring states.  I’ve written fiction–you’ll never find it.  I compiled my own dictionary of Nahuatl based on a Spanish-Nahuratl dictionary that I found in a university library.  Part of me always wanted to be an archaeologist.

Pre-technological peoples did a lot with plain old stone and dirt.

Antiquities from Africa and China. Cool stuff way too expensive for me.

Atroll loves swords and used to have a fencing foil and old cavalry sword.

I would love to have a room full of swords, knives, and odd weapons of all types (not guns, tho.–I don’t care much about guns.)

I do hunger for and delight in the exotic. Don't you:

I t doesn’t have to be all bizarre implements from other cultures.  I like American kitsch too, and that’s all I ever actually buy because that’s all I can ever really afford.

I don't think these blue giraffes really came from Africa.

It has been months since I last indulged my taste for drooling over treasures that I just can’t have.  Time to go again.


Elsewhere I was lamenting that I couldn’t get good pictures for my blogs off the internet these days.  I want to assure you right now that all of these pictures except the very first one, which is kind of generic, were taken by me and my trusty little digital camera.


Posted February 16, 2011 by atroll in antiques, toys, Uncategorized

Tagged with ,