Sunday, November 21, 2010

Book Review: Lev Grossman's The Magicians - buy it

I've been thinking about it, and Lev Grossman's fine novel The Magicians was so good, I finally broke down and bought a copy with some Borders credit I had gotten for my birthday.  My capsule synopsis: "Protagonist Quentin Coldwater ends up in a magical prep school and has a terrible time of it," hardly captures the engrossing nature of the novel.

Grossman paints a picture of a dynamic, sometimes vicious universe, much like our own, but more magical.  This is the best novel I've read in at least a decade. The Magicians carries an emotional heft that leaves me thinking about the plot twists and bigger issues long after I've put the book down.

This is the book my literary buddies and fellow fantasy readers are getting for Christmas.

It's loaded with surprises and dire, holy-crap-didn't-see-that-coming perils, both physical and emotional.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Eminent Domain playtest kit assembled!

Michael Mindes and Seth Jaffee's Eminent Domain fundraiser still has 10 days to go, so sign up for cool limited edition copies.

After pledging in support of Eminent Domain, I got the playtest files from Seth and have now assembled the game cards, which didn't take too long, given that I already have a cutting board and a bunch of penny sleeves.

I hope to get in plenty of games later on today at the Houston Gamers.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Goa with Len/Goa with Chris

I played two games of Goa recently, one as a three-player game over at Len and Crystal's place with Len and Steven, and the other over at Chris and Marcie's with Chris. Goa is one of those frustrating games that I love to play - it's an auction game, it's long enough I've never gotten in back-to-back games in an evening, it's distressingly-opaque for newbies, it's out of print (probably not to return in the same format), hard to acquire, expensive, and oh, yeah, the rules translations and interpretations are dubious.

There are four great mechanics Goa has going for it:   the players' choice of tiles for auction, the once-around auction format where money either remains in circulation or removed, based on the outcome, the action-point concept where you want to do everything (but are limited to three actions a round), and the ability boards where every player 'levels up' separately, creating asymmetrical choice from the start.

The two games were dis-similar.  In the 3-player game, I won the auction for the 4-ducats-every-round tile, in the first round, no less.  This enabled me to bid wildly, and our game was massively inflationary.  In the 2-player game, Chris and I were trading measly sums back and forth, with the flag typically being won with bids of 2-3.  Len and I came within a couple of points of each other, and Chris blasted me out of the water with expedition cards.

Both were great, fun sessions (before that, at Len's, I had come in last at El Grande, another awesome, frustrating game).

The expedition card track feels useless at first, until you're halfway down the track and are drawing at least two cards, and also the cards are distressingly varying - it feels as though Greg Costikyan's rules of game design are being bent, if not completely broken.

I believe what I'm going to do next time is propose we follow one of the rule interpretations from one of the published versions, and limit players completely and totally to the expedition card limit on the track - if you draw up or acquire more in any way, you need to discard down to the limit immediately.  This rule probably helps players who are behind more than players who are ahead, and prevents blowout victories of people who get their 5 card limit, then continue acquiring cards by advancing to the last two ranks.  Depending on which rule translation you follow, you may have been playing that way already.