The Esoteric Order of Gamers

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Esoteric Order of Gamers

Some gamers may know that I’ve uploaded some 200 rules summary and reference sheets to Boardgamegeek over the last 8 years which have proved very popular, and those sheets were gathered together at this blog.

When I was younger, I used to carry around my collection of games in cardboard boxes from share house to share house, and apart from a few fledgling attempts at foamcore box inserts and some figure painting, I didn’t lavish too much attention on them or care about their condition too much. But as I’ve got older I began to cherish my ever-growing collection more and more. It started with designing rules summary sheets so I didn’t have to read through the whole rulebook everytime I’d forgotten how to play a game. I began making foamore box inserts for every game box. They were even developed to double as trays that could be used during the play of the game. Any miniatures had to be painted to a high standard. I inked the edges of counters with a black marker to make them look better. In the meantime I was uploading the sheets to Boardgamegeek for other people to use. And eventually, work met hobby and I began finding clients among the major boardgame publishers and designing for games like Tales of the Arabian Nights, Aztlán and Ninjato. All in all, you could say tabletop gaming has become a big part of my life.

Now, I’ve finally created a stand-alone site to host not only all my sheets, but articles, reviews, and lots of stuff to help gamers enhance and enjoy the kind of thematic games I love.

The Esoteric Order of Gamers (www.orderofgamers.com) is a place for the few who, in a world of ephemeral, digitally-driven entertainment, still revel in the feeling of tearing the shrinkwrap off a new game; of breathing in the sweet smell of fresh ink; of the weight of quality gaming components as they sit heavily in the hand. Those people who are strangely impelled to improve their gaming experience by dint of hard graft coupled with the sensitive touch of a master craftsman, and who continually seek to beautify these precious objects.

In short, those dedicated to high standards in their tabletop gaming!

In the months to come I’ll be adding instruction sheets for build-your-own foamcore box inserts; articles and photographs to help paint your game figures; more reviews and blog posts of interest; and of course always expanding and perfecting the huge collection of premium summary sheets that help you get into and enjoy your gaming faster. Players can comment on each game and make suggestions or corrections for the sheets, and of course engage in discussions about the articles.

The EOG is all about high quality, useful content for the kind of gamer who really loves immersive, thematic games. And there are many more plans on the horizon …

But for now, allow me to extend an invitation and a profound welcome: join us at The Esoteric Order of Gamers!


Happy International Tabletop Day!

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Tabletop DayYes folks, it’s the first International Tabletop Day. After the big success of Wil Wheaton’s series of Tabletop videos, in which he gathers his famous-among-pop-culture-geeks friends to play tabletop games, Felicia Day’s Geek & Sundry network has bestowed upon this humble day of 30th March the title of International Tabletop Day. that means getting together and playing board, card and miniatures games with your friends at your local game shop, coffee shop, pub (never mind the half-plastered old guys who come over and ask you what you’re doing every ten minutes) or home.

Tabletop games have been taking off all over the world in the last few years, and Tabletop has done a lot in just a few months to increase the profile of this kind of fun, sociable, face-to-face gaming. It’s great to see it go even further with this promotional day.

Of course, big fan of boardgames though I am, we have houseguests right now who don’t play boardgames and have little kids who would destroy my beautiful expensive games if they were allowed within a spit’s distance of them—so no gaming for me today. But I’ll be making up for it in spades next weekend when my best gaming buddy comes to stay for a few days. There will be gaming, oh yes …

And talking about gaming, I have a big gaming-related project in the works that I think will excite and interest visitors to this blog. Keep your dice ready and your eyes peeled …


Bashing Games Workshop

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Games Workshop—the company gamers love to hate. Is it the worldwide success, the relentless corporate mindset, the short-sighted business practices or the eye-watering prices? It’s everything; and yet Games Workshop still sells plastic and (self-proclaimed) ‘finecast’ figures and over-priced books hand over fist all over the world.

But maybe, finally, Games Workshop has jumped the proverbial shark. Because no matter how ridiculous the prices get, no matter how many times their lawyers strong-arm their fans and distributors, and no matter how many times they re-release the same old rules in shiny new clothes, the figures have usually been pretty damn good. The Games Workshop Warhammer (fantasy) and Warhammer 40,000 (sci-fi) universes have decades of development behind them, and are distinctive and imaginative. So when I got the latest issue of White Dwarf, I was pretty shocked by the new Chaos figures they’ve just released.

But hold on—why do I get White Dwarf magazine, when it’s just a glossy advertisement for GW products that I don’t even buy? Well, it’s kind of a habit that won’t go away, and my girlfriend is kind enough to tack a subscription for me on the end of every Christmas present pile. And it’s an enjoyable bit of eye candy, despite the endless gushing self-congratulatory hyperbole about their own products that quickly becomes tiresome. With a few gaps here and there in the late 200s-early 300s, I’ve got almost every issue since #1 back in 1977 (for some bizarre reason they’re no longer numbered, but the last one is getting up to #400).

Anyway, back to the shark-jumping. The latest fanfare is for a bunch of Chaos Warriors for the Warhammer Fantasy Battle game. And these are by far the worst figures I have seen Games Workshop produce for quite some time. I don’t know who is approving these things, but they are nowhere near the standard that such a market-leading miniatures company should be churning out. Let’s have a look shall we? (Click all of the following images to see larger versions.)

GW Chaos

What? What’s happened to the dynamic poses, the realistic detail, the gritty fantasy? What we have now is something a lot closer to the following—the image on the left recently posted by someone on a Warhammer forum that I think perfectly captures the feel of the new Chaos chariot, and the image on the right, the figures that GW was making for the Heroquest game twenty-four years ago in 1989:

GW Toys

The same thick, chunky shapes, the same static, lifeless poses, the same cartoony, kiddy feel. Now, to further elucidate my point, here’s a quick look at what some other miniatures companies are producing these days. These from the Dark Age game:

Dark Age

And these from Privateer Press:

Privateer Press

Compared to these characterful, inspiring miniatures, the GW efforts are looking more and more like something you’d buy in K-Mart, or bundled with a Happy Meal. Then again, maybe that’s the direction the company suits are targeting.

Let’s hope this is just a minor aberration and GW stop making such clunky-looking figures. While I no longer buy their product, it’s a shame to see the quality level deteriorate to this degree—especially when the prices are so outrageous. Because despite everything that’s made them a target of mockery, I still have a small soft spot for the company that loomed so large in my early years as a gamer.


Aztlán

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AztlanMy most recent boardgame graphic design job has hit the shelves: Aztlán by Italian publisher Ares Games (BoardgameGeek link). Like my last project of this type, Ninjato, I was lucky enough to be asked to work with evocative images by illustrator Drew Baker.

It was also a pleasure working closely with Roberto Di Meglio, one of the designers of an all-time favourite game of mine, War of the Ring, and a director of Ares Games.

On this job my responsibilities were to design and create the print ready art for the game box (including the logo of course), the rulebook, the board, and various sets of cards. A lot of the heavy lifting had already been done by the illustrator, and I consciously chose not to detract from the illustrator’s work with too much in the way of fiddly extra graphics, so the challenge was to bring everything together into a unified design package.

The starting point is always the logo. The game is based on the mythological land of the Aztecs, so I went for a monolithic feel, enhanced by some photographic stone textures of Mayan ruins I had taken many years ago during a trip to Mexico. I wanted something bold and readable and reflective of the shapes of Aztec ziggurats, and the typeface Recovery worked well as the basis for the logotype—strong and evocative, yet with a contemporary edge. My only ‘design indulgence’ was the placement of the accent over the A, which cuts into the letter below it.

For the board, I added the logo and scoring track in the same style as the illustration, plus the icons for different terrain types, among other things. The icons were modified from an initial set done by an Ares Games designer, which I added to, changed and recreated and then made them look carved from various materials used by the Aztecs—jade, silver, copper and gold. The card designs featured these icons, more stone textures, and the typeface Paralucent Text, which gave me the distinctive yet very readable look that felt right. Again, I tried to keep these cards as free of extra text and unnecessary clutter as possible and simply feature the stunning art, and I think this design sensibility carries across the entire game nicely.

Aztlan Cards

A big project was the rulebook, which is full of detailed examples of play and took quite a bit of work. This involved elements of Drew’s illustrations, with some textural modifications of my own (note, for example, the different types of ‘splatters’ that help deep-etch the illustrated characters in interesting and dynamic ways). As usual, the design was carefully examined over and over and repeatedly tweaked so the layout read as well as possible.

Aztlán is available online or at your usual games retailer now. It’s an elegant and clever design by Leo Colovini (Cartagena, Clans, Inkognito, Atlantis) with some fascinating twists—I particularly like the way the victor in a battle can choose to conquer his enemy or peacefully coexist with him (to receive a ‘prosperity card’ in return). Ares Games have done a wonderful job on the production, particularly with the plastic box insert, the colourful plastic tribe pawns and the ingenious score markers, which stack together into a ziggarat when you go above 100 points.

I really enjoyed working on this one and hope you enjoy playing it!

PS Of course, you can find a rules summary for the game here.


Boardgame Reference Sheets Update for November

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Some more updates on the Universal Head Boardgame Summary Sheets page:

Betrayal at House on the HillBetrayal at House on the Hill now has a completely revised, all-in-one game aid booklet that includes a rules summary, a set of character cards to put players in the mood, 3 versions of the Haunt Chart, and the revised and corrected Haunts plus the extra 20 Haunts offered online by the original designer (for a total of 70 unique Haunts!) All the Haunts have been painstakingly formatted to match the graphic style of the game. Note this is all for the original version of the game, not the revised version!

AztlanMy latest major boardgame graphic design job was Aztlan for Ares Games. Since War of the Ring is one of my favourite games, it was an honour to do the graphic design for Roberto di Meglio, not to mention work with illustrator Drew Baker of Ninjato fame again. The game, which is set in the mythological homeland of the ancient Mexican peoples, features simple but ingenious rules that I’ve summarised in this new sheet.

InfiltrationSet in FFG’s cyberpunk Android universe, Infiltration is a fast, fun, push-your-luck game about operatives breaking into a high-tech facility to steal data files. Hmmm… why don’t they just use the internet? Oh well, it’s a great little game and captures the theme well. New rules summary and reference sheet.

Finally, my sheet for Ninjato has had some minor rewording to make it clearer.

Enjoy!


Boardgames by the Bay 2012

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Last weekend I set off for another weekend of boardgaming, this time to Hamilton for its Boardgames by the Bay event. Unfortunately there is no direct flight from Nelson, so I changed planes at Wellington, where the terminal is dominated by a huge Gollum, diving through the celing to grab for some deliccioussss fissshhheeesss …

Gollum

I met up with my NZ boardgaming buddy Minty and his son Sam and the three of us flew on to Hamilton, about 100 kms south of Auckland. Hamilton doesn’t really have too much going for it unfortunately; it’s a tired-looking city of 200,000 for which none of the locals really had anything too positive to say. Luckily, however, we weren’t there for the sightseeing, we were there for the boardgaming—and that was in plentiful supply.

The event was organised by the estimable David Taylor of Seriously Board, who as usual worked his fingers to the bone making sure everyone was having a good time. The venue was a comfortable contract bridge club just outside of town (though I do wish these events were a bit closer to shops, food and bars) with a kitchen and plenty of parking. A respectable number of gamers played all manner of games over the weekend, though unfortunately quite a few people seemed to leave early on Saturday night, perhaps due to the demands of children.

Cargo Noir

Anyway, I got about nineteen games in over the weekend, running the usual gamut from the incredibly fun (Infiltration, Family Business, Cosmic Encounter) to the ‘meh’ (Flash Point, London, Sentinels of the Multiverse). The friendly Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game tournament was a highlight; four successive games of this new Wings of War-like game that saw some hilarious moments, especially, in one game, when Darth Vader went crashing into an asteroid instead of joining the fight—luckily his Determination ability and a lucky card draw saw him shrug off the damage and swoop in for the Rebel kill!

I also must mention the wonderful hospitality of Tim and Jacqui, who played host to Minty, Sam and I for both nights (and two other gamers on Friday night). Thanks guys!

Where the eponymous ‘bay’ is, however, I have yet to discover …


Boardgame Reference Sheets Update

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Now and then I still get a chance to update old game sheets and create new ones; here are the latest updates on the Universal Head Boardgame Summary Sheets page:

BattleLoreThanks to the help of BattleLore fan Damon Usher, I’ve finally updated this sheet to include everything that has ever been released for this classic (we can call it classic now, right?) game. Unless Fantasy Flight Games actually does something with BattleLore, this should be the definitive version of this summary and reference sheet collection.

Descent 2nd EditionDescent has never made it to the table enough, mostly due to its incredible long playing time, which has made it somewhat of a byword for long, exhausting game sessions. But Fantasy Flight has cleverly listened to the feedback and rebooted their own franchise with Descent 2nd Edition, and the new the game is the fast-playing, fun dungeoncrawler it always wanted to be. Shame about all the work I put into those 1st edition sheets…

Betrayal at House on the HillThis B-movie haunted house romp is pretty standard fare until the ‘haunt’ kicks in, and one of 60 unique plots pits one of the players as the Traitor against the others. My rules summaries, character cards and redesigned Haunt Chart are unchanged, but my redesigned Secrets of Survival and Traitor’s Tome booklets (with the Avalon Hill-corrected text) have finally been updated with the bonus 10 plots that were released later. Remember this is all for the original version of the game, not the revised version.

Rune AgeA stand-alone deck-building card game set in Fantasy Flight Games’s Runebound generic fantasy universe. A slick little design with a perfect mixture of conflict and strategy that’s fast playing and fun. Version 2 of my summary and reference fixes a small error and adds the rules from the new expansion Oath and Anvil.

Mansions of MadnessLovecraftian sanity-blasting goings-on from the makers of Arkham Horror, but with more of a storytelling emphasis. Like little games of the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game without all the time and preparation. Now updated to include the Forbidden Alchemy expansion.

Also updated in the last few months: Mall of Horror, the Man O’ War ship cards, Runewars, and Ticket To Ride: Switzerland.


Wellycon 2012

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Last Friday I headed off to Wellington, a quick and hassle-free flight away across the Tasman strait. There I was picked up by a relatively new friend of mine and his son; he’s a boardgamer and designer I met online and who has dropped over to visit once in Sydney, and apart from us having those two interests in common, he left the city life in Melbourne to live in New Zealand some years ago and was a bit of an inspiration for our move.

I haven’t been to Wellington before and it seemed quite a happening city; we went for a wander down Cuba Street and went to an Indian restaurant for dinner, then along Courtenay Place by the waterfront, which was buzzing with people packing out the busy bars and restaurants. At the end of the street is the Embassy Cinema, which hosted the Australasian premieres of the first two Lord of the Rings films, and the world premiere of the third, The Return of the King. A strange tripod movie camera creature—from Weta Studios, naturally—towers over the square opposite.

The next morning we embarked on two days chock-a-block with boardgaming, 10am to 10pm, at two rooms in Massey University—the 5th annual Wellycon boardgaming convention. Tens of tables over which hunched groups of figures, alternately sitting in intense silence or erupting into gales of laughter, frustration or elation. People standing around discussing esoteric points of boardgaming lore. Tables of games to buy or borrow.

Excellent.

Wellycon

I immediately went straight to the Seriously Board retail table and snagged myself a copy of Lords of Waterdeep, and within seconds I was at a table ripping off the shrinkwrap and settling down to an excellent game with some total strangers.

I got in games of Lords of Waterdeep three more times over the weekend, along with Jaipur, Mage Knight, The Resistance, Blood Bowl: Team Manager, and Santiago de Cuba, with only occasional breaks for lunches and dinners supplied by the organisers.

On the Saturday evening I joined an informal ‘industry panel’ made up several attendees involved in the creation and publishing of boardgames. I chatted about some of the processes behind creating graphic design for games, notably Tales of the Arabian Nights, and some questions were asked and answered about the frustrations and satisfactions of getting boardgames to market.

The main thing you take away from an event like this, however, is how people are brought together by a shared interest. To my surprise, I didn’t have to endure one crack about being an Aussie, and everyone I met was happy to hear how much I was enjoying living in their country. On Sunday night after the convention shut up shop, my friend and his son headed back home, and one of the organisers was hospitable enough to put me up for the evening at his house, where we relaxed with a few beers and covered a huge range of conversation topics until the small hours. The next morning he even drove me back into town to catch my flight home.

It was a great weekend and a nice chance to get away by myself and meet some new people in our new country. People from all walks of life enjoy the fun and challenges of boardgaming, and it’s a remarkably sociable activity. There’s no doubt that Wellycon is only going to get larger and large each year.

My fav for the weekend? Definitely Lords of Waterdeep. Award for the worst game ever? Mage Knight.


Peter Cushing: Actor-Slash-Miniature Gamer

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Found on the blog Hammer and Beyond, this surprising and fascinating insight into the off-hours of screen legend Peter Cushing.


Universal Head on The Hatchet Job

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Apologies for the long break in updates, I’ve been swamped with personal and professional matters, with no time left over for blogging. I did, however, have the honour of being interviewed recently for The Hatchet Job, a fascinating video and board games podcast. Enjoy!

Hang on after the music for a last bit about Not the Nine O’Clock News, TISM and taking the piss.


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