Kelv's Random Collection

A random collection of my contributions to the world.

Kelvin’s Review of the Chestego Game System

Posted by kelvSYC on 5-3-2019

Lately I haven’t been in the mood for writing – partly because my full-time job makes me write a whole lot, and partly because I have other games I’m spending my time on. Recently I obtained my copy of the Chestego Game System from Icefired Games. I had obtained it from a recent Kickstarter campaign, but the game system is available from their website.

So, what is a “game system”? It’s basically a set of components without well-defined rules that you can use to play any number of games – for example, there are many games that you can play with an ordinary deck of cards, some that you play with a small number of six-sided dice, and so on.  Amongst the most famous “open source” game systems is the piecepack, which I have a homemade set made from various acrylic pieces, and amongst one of the most famous commercial systems (in that the IP and reference implementation of the components is a commercial product, but the games themselves may be distributed under a separate license) is the Looney Pyramids. Chestego, like the Looney Pyramids, is a commercial system, whose games largely lend themselves towards strategy games.

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An update from Kelvin

Posted by kelvSYC on 2-23-2019

It’s been a while since my last update, and I can announce that I’m starting the next iteration of the Guide in earnest. Well, not really. This new iteration of the Guide is more of a complement to the Guide than anything having to do with the Guide itself. As I have hinted at throughout the last iteration of the Guide, there are some things that the Guide is ill-suited for that are worth presenting, and I’m hoping that this new project will help with that. Unfortunately, this new project is having me to rewrite stuff that’s already in the Guide from the beginning for the umpteenth time. Some of it is fine, but sometimes it’s difficult writing the very basic things over and over again so that you can have fun writing the more unique and different things.

Right now, a lot of this new thing are stub documents, and I’m honestly fearing the times I’m going to use my note-taking program’s search functionality to link all these things together. As you can imagine, writing this new thing is kind of like writing a wiki: you have to write lots and lots of outlines, and then you have to remember to fill them in. It’s going to take a lot of work (and I have to update the Guide at the same time), and it’s going to compete with my spare time for my attention. I am hoping that by the end of this year, I will have one release each of both this and the Guide.

One of the things that I can announce for this project is more and more photos; mostly original, and some that (to the best of my knowledge) are governed by permissive licenses. There will continue to be the line art, since I can usually get those out faster than taking photos and editing them, but at least there will be some nice variety.

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Happy 2019 from Kelvin!

Posted by kelvSYC on 1-2-2019

2019 is now here, and this year is promising for Catan.  I haven’t been blogging much, which kind of underscores how interested I am in my day job and how little I generally game nowadays (which meant that I was generally not incentivized to make a 2018 revision to the Guides).  Given the amount of new content for Catan is going to be out, a 2019 revision consisting of the newest things will probably be out within the year, again, most likely after most of the content for the year is published.

There is absolutely no shortage of new content planned for the Guide whenever I get around to it.  I did get myself new additions in 2017 (Hawaii – both the English and international versions) and 2018 (Crop Trust), and 2019 has the C&K 20th anniversary expansion (tentatively titled “Legend of the Conquerors”) set to release mid-year at least internationally (it’s likely Catan Studios will release it in English, possibly in 2019, but there is no English announcement as of yet.).  Additionally, there are a bunch of errata, and I still owe you, our audience, that Bonus Volume.  (No, Legend of the Sea Robbers was not my motivation for releasing the 2017 version at all, but if there is anything that will motivate me to release a 2019 Guide, the C&K 20th anniversary expansion might.)

These changes by themselves won’t cause the Guide to balloon to over 500 pages in length, but then again, there are some additions to the Guide that could possibly push the issue.  Want to know more?  Find out after the break.

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Catan Scenario and Variant Guide – Bonus Guide Incoming

Posted by kelvSYC on 7-28-2018

It’s about time that I made an update on my random collection.  Work has been making me a bit too busy to be part of the board game community, and to be honest, I haven’t played too many board games lately.  However, this is not to say that the Guide is a dead project; it will be around whenever the next big official release comes along. (I’m still waiting for a Hawaii English release, Catan Studios!)

In the meantime, I’d like to share with you a story about how 2017-1 came to be.  Or rather, the fact that I’m intending to make, for the first time, an entirely unofficial companion to the Guide. There is only one item of note in the Bonus Guide (it’s a very short one), but it contains the one thing that inspired me to take six months out of last year to rewrite the entire Guide from scratch.

Well, what could that one thing be? You’ll just have to wait until it’s released to find out.  Also, if you are the author of that one thing, I’ll be sending my pre-release copy directly to you if you can be contacted, for your enjoyment.

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Poker Chips for Board Gaming

Posted by kelvSYC on 1-15-2018

I’ve been wondering if I could replace my stacks and stacks of Monopoly money with poker chips.  Now, there are some games that are probably better off with poker chips than paper money – but despite their ubiquity, custom poker chips of reasonable quality in custom quantities (not reasonable multiples of 25, say) are expensive.  Most of that is probably because of the fact that poker chips vary in composition of quality and intended use: a poker chip set for a general home casino probably has different needs compared to board gaming.  I’ve been persuaded by many a poker chip customizer to not really pursue, for example, ceramic poker chips for board gaming, because the specific demands of ceramic poker chips are likely excessive for board gaming purposes.  (To be specific, ceramic chips are at the “casino ideal” weight of 10 grams, and have the greatest amount of customization available, but can cost up to $1.50 a chip.)

It’s hard to really say what is the perfect weight for a poker chip suitable for board gaming really is.  Mass market poker chip manufacturers basically consist of a “clay composite” that may contain a metal slug at its core, included for the sole purpose of making it heavier. (Some allege it’s for structural integrity as well, since production quality may vary and the composition of the “clay composite” is unknown.) Because of this, the common chip can be anywhere between 11.5 grams to 14 grams. On the flip side, they are cheap: Amazon lists a pack of 100 blank 11.5 gram chips suitable for stickering for $10.  Buyers are generally advised to go for “feel” rather than precision: a gram is not a lot of weight, and there can be lots of variances simply because home use cares less about it.  (In contrast, when a casino uses 10 gram chips, every single chip is precisely 10 grams.  With “feel”, a set only needs to feel like 10 grams, even if every single chip weights more.)

One of the few board games for which purpose-built poker chips are being designed for is the new edition of Brass (shout out to Roxley Games, who hail from my hometown), which uses 14 gram chips for which the iron slug is a distinct feature, to reflect the industrial revolution theme.  Having said that, Brass itself comes with very few chips, and the chips can be bought separately in larger quantities. (As a Kickstarter backer of Brass, I have committed enough funds to get, as a reward, enough chips to make a 400 chip set. That was not a cheap Kickstarter commitment, though.)

If you do need the 10 gram precision, however, GameKnight sells its GemChips line of ceramic chips, in pre-built and custom quantities.  These are non-denominational ceramic chips, and so while “casino quality” (but without the necessary precision), they are also expensive (again, loose chips are $1 a chip, compared to a blank 11.5 or 14 gram “composite” chip that you can get for 50 cents a chip or so.).  GameKnight, from time to time, will put up Kickstarter campaigns to fund additional production runs of ceramic chips, possibly with different designs.  The savings are small but significant (about 90 cents per chip as of the last campaign), but the general Kickstarter “backer beware” warning applies (there is also the fact that these are one-offs).

If standard 40mm poker chips are too large, some places do offer 7g 22mm chips (which are thicker than regular poker chips by a few mm) that can be stickered with half-inch circular labels.  At roughly 12 cents a chip (based on $3 for a roll of 25 chips), they are affordable, but because of the fact that they are smaller, there are no widely-used storage solutions for them. There is an enterprising Etsy seller who offers customized 3D printed storage solutions for these smaller chips, though given that the size and weight of smaller chips are not standardized (as opposed to regular 40mm chips), your mileage may vary.

These should not be confused with interlocking “mini poker chips”, which are the same size but thinner (and only weigh 2g), which is basically the chips that come with Axis & Allies for unit quantity, or the generic tokens used in an LCR set.

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Quick Guide Update

Posted by kelvSYC on 12-28-2017

Merry belated Christmas, everyone.  Apparently, there was a lump of coal in the stocking, because of me experimenting with a new PDF publisher.  The publisher didn’t actually include any of the soft-linked images (most images are soft-linked so that I don’t bloat my word processing file), so I had to republish the Guide using then older, proven PDF publisher that retains the images but lacks modern conveniences (like a PDF table of contents).  This is because the publisher is meant for print and not electronic consumption.

In any event, if you didn’t get the images, you should redownload the Guide (the link should still be the same).

More on the behind the scenes stuff after the break.

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Catan Scenario and Variant Guide 2017-1

Posted by kelvSYC on 12-22-2017

It’s been six years since the last version of the Catan Scenario and Variant Guide has been released to the general public, and it’s time to push it out to the world.  You can get it by following the links on the official home page of the Guide.

At 465 pages, it is over 50% longer than the previous version, and it contains six years of updates, including the recently-released Legend of the Sea Robbers scenario combination rules posted on the Catan website.

It’s been a long time since I started working on the project, and it has finally reached its end. A project that started from a failed Kickstarter campaign that I had backed (long story for another time) has had its resolution.  In my personal journey, I had gone through two jobs, a significant number of personal and professional connections, and a beta testing process that, in retrospect, didn’t receive the feedback that I had been hoping for.

As for the future? 2018-1 is the tentative title for the next revision, but don’t be surprised if it takes me another six years to compile everything…

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Diary: Scenario Guide – Update 14

Posted by kelvSYC on 12-18-2017

With the release of the Legend of the Sea Robbers update, which adds “Catan for Two”, Cities & Knights, and the ill-advised name “Spices for Catan” (it’s also the name of an Explorers & Pirates scenario) for the standalone variant, I basically have everything needed to complete 2017-1, unless Catan Studios decides to throw another curveball and releases Hawaii before I finish the Guide.  I’m hopefully set to give you all a nice Christmas treat (thank goodness for a short work week), so consider it advance notice for a Christmas present in your stocking, if you are a fan.

More on what this means in the Guide after the break.

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Diary: My Obsession with the 1483 Series

Posted by kelvSYC on 12-9-2017

For this week’s update, I’m going to peel back my collection, and show you what is arguably the worst game that I have, and why I continue to have it and even try to enhance it.

During the craze of cashing in on the popularity of Axis & Allies, the Michigan-based company Guild of Blades Publishing Group had published a series of games that used mechanics similar to that of Axis & Allies, but tried to also change it thematically to suit different historical eras and added complexity for the sake of realism. One of their games, which I had found in an FLGS early into my days collecting board games, is Europe 1483, the first game in the 1483 series.

So why is the game that bad? The premise of the 1483 series is that it is a “massively multiplayer board game”, with support for at least 16 players for Europe 1483 alone and almost 100 players with the full set of expansions (which covered the whole world – fortunately, no single release of the 1483 series actually had whole world support).  Aside from the fact that it’s difficult to gather that many players, the micromanagement aspects (each player had to manage its diplomatic relations with other players, and a sizable contingent of neutral nations), and the hyper-locality of gameplay (players had to take turns one nation at a time, even if players located on opposite sides of the game board, with no realistic expectations of interacting with each other, could take their turns simultaneously) made the game a long slog. This is in addition to the heavy defender’s advantage in combat (make more notable in that the Guild of Blades combat system, unlike Axis & Allies, uses ten-sided dice) and the fact that there are no real clear objectives beyond a loose “benchmarking system” (which disincentivizes the major world powers of the time in favor of medium-sized nations where the benchmarks were a more challenging but more realizable objectives) makes it that bad of a game.

More on that game after the break.

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Diary: Scenario Guide – Update 13

Posted by kelvSYC on 12-3-2017

The final version of 2017-1 is coming along OK.  For those of you who are in the beta program, the final version is adding in most of the Stobie variants under various sections, and I’ve tried to make it so that the building cost references not break across pages.  I’ve also reduced the sizes of some Catan Geographies maps, but still, my draft is still five pages longer than the public beta.

Part of what makes the inclusion of Stobie’s content, which was all featured on the old University of Catan website, is that it’s not a coherent scenario or variant, and, because it was on the old University of Catan website, is really old (as in, almost 20 years old – likely predating C&K). It had a few interesting ideas (hex drafting), but a few real stinkers (equal probability number tokens, 20-point 3-player games, etc.). Another one of the things that I had to overcome was the nonstandard terminology (can you guess what “pick-a-card” or “unexposed army” was?), and the fact that some of their options were mutually exclusive.

I’m hoping that I will be able to release 2017-1 final within 3 weeks (ie. In time for Christmas), but I’m not willing to commit to a “drop dead date” at this point.  Still, for those of you not in the beta program (still open to signups), you just might need to wait a bit more.

Additional development notes after the break.

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