Busy busy busy!

I will be sticking ads in the magazine next week as I get them.

I have a review up for The Red Witch of Mercury, and just got finished working on a super exciting project that I’ll probably tell you about next week when I get a minute.

Started playing SPI’s Musket & Pike with Dad last night.  Man, now there is a great game!  Look for some analysis on that at Castalia House sometime next month.

Also, on Tuesday, some friends and I took another look at The Challenge, this time with a serious look at ways to tweak and improve the game for a potential updated 2nd edition.  Dunno if I’ll be blathering our design ideas here, but it’s a project we’re toying with.  Our conclusion: it’s actually a pretty good, fun game that simply needs clarification on existing rules more than anything else to make it potentially a go-to party game.

Lastly, here’s some belated gaming cheese, an in-game ballad in tribute to the fighter who thought it would be good to split the party and got torn apart by half a dozen ghouls while everyone else scrambled:

In a fort hid by the trees

‘long the coast of the seas

Ended the life of Blax Jax


There were bandits and paynim

But the warrior had slain them

The brave and cunning Blax Jax


The pirates died by his hand

and ‘pon his command

the warriors took to their post

No more trouble were they

For Jax’d won the day

Leading the victorious host


But down below in the stones

Was a murmuring groan

That called the attention of Blax Jax


With his friends by his side

He the darkness defied,

The strong and puissant Blax Jax


“You to the right,

and I to the left,”

He said to his friends at his back

“If trouble there be

‘neath this fort by the sea,

I will hold off their attack”


The dead rose from the tomb

meant surely the doom

of all of the friends of Blax Jax


An hundred he’d slain

Yet an hundred remained

To end the life of Blax Jax


“Get out while you can,

Am I not a man

‘pon whom you can count your life?”

Said he the brave knight

and his allies took flight,

Leaving him like a faithless young wife.


Oh, Hero – your name,

All others mere shame,

Blax Jax we must never forget

Your deeds with your fists

For Zyg in his pits

And the friends you’d not live to regret.

Rants, Updates and more of The Challenge!

I know it’s awful of me, but when I heard the story of Jewel Shuping, my first thought was this old Homestar Runner SBEmail.

My prayers have finally been answered…

Anyway, this is an important day for me. I’ve realized that it’s time that I need to finally admit that I’m transwealthy. If there are any doctors out there who would be so kind as to treat me for the crippling condition of Finance Integrity Disorder, please leave a comment on this post including your bank account information. Your act of compassion will help me realize the dream of being the wealthy individual I know I should have been born to be. Sadly, until I can find a doctor stupid compassionate enough to treat me for this debilitating condition, I’ll have to make due on my own industriousness.

Seriously, though, I’ve got a few really great stories locked in for the Cirsova Anthology, but there’s room for plenty more! I’m updating the FAQ.

Now I’m wrestling with some of the “hows” of publication and distribution. I really want to go with CreateSpace, I really do. I’m just baffled by how terrible its design tools are for amature designers. I mean, it’s really terrible. City at the Top of the World on Lulu turned out beautifully and was “You Have to Burn the Rope” easy to do cover layout for. But just playing with CreateSpace I can see how there are so many godawful looking self-published book covers out there. It’s almost like they WANT their clients to put out a lousy looking product. Now, keep in mind, I’ve mostly been messing around with it for the new Medicide album Supernova Black, but I’m just staggered by how bad the design wizard is. Now, I know what you’re saying “do it in inDesign”. Well, I HAVE inDesign and kind of know how to use it, but CreateSpace only offers pdf templates. I know this shows what a useless design newb I am, but I have no idea how to use these. Every serious graphic design project I’ve done, the publisher/manufacturer offered .indd templates that could be used as hidden layer in inDesign. Amazon probably used inDesign to make their pdf templates. Why they can’t make them available to their clients as inDesign template files the way that Oasis or United Record Pressing do is beyond me.

But Lulu is more expensive and their distro is kinda weak. I want this to be available for cheap on Amazon, and CreateSpace may be the only way to do that.

On a completely different note, I got a chance to teach some more folks how to play The Challenge. It plays 6 people really well! Once I had a handle on rules, made some firm judgments on the cloudier aspects, and had two people at the table who had played it before, it went along swimmingly. There was a lot of back and forth, and most of the folks enjoyed the cutthroat nature of the game. A couple magic items kept making the rounds, with one character killing their owner and taking them only to be killed in the next turn or so. Eventually, one player ended up with a Fighter with the Magic Shield, the Flaming Sword and the Magic Amulet, meaning it couldn’t be hit without rolling under the attack card on a d6, its sword attacks always hit and negated thieves’ Hide in Shadows, and it couldn’t be targeted by spells. Even though I was in dead last, my fat hobbit wizard was able to dispel the Magic Amulet, survive an axe to the face and then charm the fighter who still had the sword & shield. Having the flaming sword in my party DID pull my thief out of thiefspace, but it was worth it. I managed to get another kill before the game ended to make a narrow comeback, having only 4 points more than the 2nd place player. I’m really loving this game!

In some ways, it reminds me of Coup, in that players judiciously choose their targets to try to maintain some sort of parity; dogpiling one player early on can end the game prematurely, and if you haven’t racked up enough points, you’re going to want to go for someone else to both keep the game going and lower another player’s score while adding to your own.  Since the game is substantially longer than Coup, alliances tend to form and break repeatedly any time someone gets some prime magic items or has enough corpses in their score pile while still having most of their party.  No point in attacking the guy with three characters and no kills, go for her, she’s killed 5 guys, has 3 artifacts and taken no losses yet!

So yeah, I’m taking my recommendation up a notch and saying that you need to get this.  The Challenge makes for a great party game, especially if you’ve burned out on all of those Resistance and Mafia variants.

The Challenge

Circumstances have prevented the Dungeon Crawl Classics group I’m in from having enough folks to run anything, so we’ve been playing various other games during our regularly scheduled nights.  Last time we got together, I decided to bring over “The Challenge”, an obscure card game whose perforated cardstock I’d not even gotten around to separating yet.

the challenge

Hey… hey, wait… spells don’t use the numbered cards, there are no 6s and even Axes only go up to 7!

“The Challenge” is a game of quasi-D&D-like PVP action.  Players take turns having their party members fight it out with weapons and magic until one party is eliminated and the player with the most remaining HP + Magic item value + HP of enemy characters killed is the winner.  Instead of the BS backstabbing and indirect conflict of Munchkin, The Challenge is all about straight head to head combat.  As its name implies, a challenge is issued and characters slug it out until one is killed or both players have exhausted their actions.

Each player starts with 5 characters that can be sorted into one or two ranks.  The races of the character (Orc, Human, Dwarf, Elf, Halfling) aren’t particularly relevant unless you choose to let players pick parties by race rather than randomly to get a more balanced party.  More important are the classes and their abilities.  Each character card has three abilities, meaning those are the cards that can be played when they are in combat: Fighters will have three of the four weapon types, Clerics and Wizards will generally have one weapon and two spells or no weapons & three spells, and Thieves will have two weapons + Backstab.

So, you draw a fist full of cards from the Melee and Mystic Action decks.  The Melee Action deck is mostly full of weapon cards, Daggers, Staffs, Axes, Bows, and Swords, but also has a few “Parry” and “Dodge” cards.  The Mystic Actions deck has spells, equipable magic items, some special thief actions (Spy and Hide in Shadow), and some general defensive items/actions.  These cards can be played based on what abilities are listed on the character card.  If you have a fist-full of Axes, chances are, you don’t want to attack with a wizard that turn, but if you’ve got that shiny human paladin, you’re good to go.

One of the neat aspects is the “ranks”; most characters can only attack one rank away (i.e. a fighter on the first rank can only challenge a fighter on another player’s first rank), but characters with bows can attack two ranks away, wizards can attack any rank(or two ranks, I forget), and if you play a “hide in shadows” card on a thief, they exist in special thiefspace and cannot be attacked but can attack either rank (though doing so will cause them to leave thiefspace).  Once we actually figured out how the thief worked, we realized they were pretty badass.  Since hide in shadows can be played as a response, it meant that they could attack with impunity so long as you had an extra hide in shadows card.

We had a lot of fun with it, but we will definitely need to create our own set of explicit rules and clarifications.  For one thing, the rules pertaining to cards were neither entirely on the card nor in the rules’ description of the card, so you had to read both the card and the rules to figure out how something worked, and even then it could be vague.  Dispel Magic was a point of contention because it was so varied in what it did: on a defensive turn, Dispel Magic could be played to neutralize a negative effect, such as Hold Person, on your own party, but on an attack turn, it could be used to destroy an enemy’s magic item (initiating a challenge against that character), remove a Charm Person (initiating and then instantly ending the challenge if the dispel resolves and you regain control of your character), or counter a spell targeting your caster.  The jury is still out as to whether it can negate an Orb of Protection (because Orb of Protection is party-wide and normally targeting an enchantment/equipment initiates a challenge against whomever is enchanted/equipped), but we agreed that it could not negate the Shield Wall action.  And here is where things are confusing: there are things which are actions which common sense tells you is an item.  Healing Potion is not an item; it’s an action that can be played in response to taking damage or to remove accumulated damage.  Similarly, an Orb of Protection is a “Special Defensive Action” which can only be played during a defensive turn.  Note that the categorization of Mystic Action Cards is listed not on the cards themselves, but in the manual’s description of each card.

This is a game that if you have the patience to figure it out and don’t mind having to piece together your own errata will make a great addition to your gaming parties.  It would feel right at home among something like Bang! or King of Tokyo for folks who like their party games a bit more cut-throat but don’t like the more passive aggressive styles of play.  Though the box’s disclaimer “Warning: Don’t Play This Game With Your Friends” is silly and childish, it could just as well read “Warning: Don’t Play This Game With Eurogamers.”  The only way you’re going to win at this is to be unafraid to throw an axe in someone’s face.  Just make sure you’ve feigned with a Sword-3 or something to draw out that Parry before you drop the Axe-7 on them.

I found this game cheap several years ago and regret waiting so long to play it.  Old as it is, this one is still going for under $20 in a lot of places, and I highly recommend it.


From Boardgame Geeks; not my copy.