Kelv's Random Collection

A random collection of my contributions to the world.

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Kelvin’s New Adventure

Posted by kelvSYC on 9-4-2019

I’ve been on a tear writing on my “glossary”, now with a decent level of content for Struggle for Catan and Catan: Milk Chocolate Edition, though there is still a decent backlog of Catan Card Game content to deal with. I’ve also obtained the (international version, as the English version is still not announced) Cities & Knights 20th anniversary edition (working title: Legend of the Conquerors) and the promotional scenario The Cologne Cathedral (it’s a World Championship scenario – German on one side and English on the other). So I’d like to take the opportunity to remind people that I probably won’t have the Guide up to date for a while longer.

It reminds me – I still need to find a way to reuse my chocolate pieces after I’ve eaten the chocolates in a game of Catan: Milk Chocolate Edition. Not sure how to do that right now, though I need to think of something before the chocolate goes bad.

This and other things related to computing, board games, and life’s necessities have really stretched my budget of late. Plus, I have a giant backlog of stuff that I have yet to break open. Working on this project is actually helping in uncovering the hidden treasure from my collection, but it’s also taking time away from properly organizing it and cleaning up my place. But enough excuse-mongering: let’s see what time I can spare to post updates as I dig through the depths of my game collection.

Also, I do have certain items in my collection for sale – harder to find promos and the like. I’ve yet to find a taker for a first edition Kingdom Builder with three of the four expansions and a select number of Queenies (I also own a second edition copy with all four expansions and all the Queenies). Sometimes I think I need to hook myself up with some resource to help me sell some of my possessions, but I’m not really sure who to turn to at this point.

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Cards Galore

Posted by kelvSYC on 7-28-2019

If you are a playing card aficionado, then you are probably aware of the United States Playing Card Company, and if you aren’t, chances are, you already own a deck made by them; many of the most recognizable brand names in playing cards, whether it be for playing games, cardistry, magic tricks, or cartomancy (that’s the fancy term for fortune telling using cards) are owned by them, and the company also does custom decks for many large clients. Their flagship brand is Bicycle, and their Rider backs in red and blue are considered to be the standard in which all other playing cards are considered against.

Of course, standard Bicycle playing cards are the standard variety: 52 cards in French suits (10 numbered cards and 3 face cards), 2 jokers (differentiated from each other), and 2 advertisement cards round out a pack. (Of course, there are many specialty playing cards that bear the Bicycle name, and the Bicycle name extends well beyond the standard Rider back.) And they are cheap and plentiful in that, if you need a game that requires multiple decks and/or stripped decks (games that use only a portion of the deck, not to be confused with stripper decks, which are a type of cards used in magic tricks), assembling a deck that is ready to go (as opposed to preparing a deck before every game) isn’t too expensive, and many companies sell pre-stripped decks so you won’t have to leave cards unused. The USPCC even mass-produces Pinochle decks (48 cards in French suits, 9 through A in each suit twice over, plus two advertisement cards, four Pinochle instruction cards, and two blank cards) so that people don’t have to take apart two decks of cards for the occasion. (The USPCC also publishes specialty Canasta and Euchre decks under the Bicycle brand, but with different backs.)

Of course, in the world of traditional card games, that still leaves out a good selection of games. Most games today use French suits, but there are also Latin suits (Spanish suits and Italian suits) and Germanic suits (German suits and Swiss suits), as well as (to a lesser extent) Chinese money suits that fit the traditional “rank and suit” formula (although possibly with varying numbers of ranks and face cards), as well as various tarot and tarock decks (“ranks and suits”, along with a separate “trump suit” that may or may not have the same set of ranks).

For Spanish suits, the reputable makers of those cards is arguably Fournier, a Spanish “sibling” of USPCC. They produce traditional 40-card (10 ranks) and 50-card (12 ranks and 2 jokers) decks in the Spanish suits. I’ve also been able to procure a 78-card French tarot deck (10 numbered ranks and 4 face cards in each suit, plus 21 trump cards, one “excuse”, and two advertisement cards) under that brand name, but I don’t actually know if they make them anymore. (Most tarot decks manufactured today use Latin, and more specifically, Italian suits, for the purposes of cartomancy; tarot and tarock decks with a gameplay focus still exist, however.) I do know, however, that other brands do sell French tarot decks and are still reasonably affordable.

The leading German suited manufacturer appears to be ASS Alternburger, a part of Belgium-based Cartamundi Group, the parent company to both USPCC and Fournier. (The Cartamundi Group owns brands such as Copag, better known for their use in cardistry and magic than games; their card business also extends into printing cards for board games and collectible card games as well).

Given that games like Skat are played with both French suits and German suits, there is also a “tournament Skat” deck that is basically French suits but with two of the suits (spades and diamonds) recolored to more closely resemble German suits (leaves and bells); these are used in competitive Skat settings. A more informal hybrid deck using both French and German suits, where half the pips on each card are French and the other half German, are sold by a number of companies. Similar to this, Swiss card maker AGM AGMuller has a deck where each card has half its pips in French suits and the other half in Swiss suits.

The leading Italian suited manufacturer is Trieste-based Modiano. Most of their decks are 40 cards, but there are some 52-card packs available. They also offer Italian 54-card tarock decks (4 numbered cards and 4 face cards in 4 suits, plus one “excuse” and 21 trump cards; true to older card ordering, the red suits have only 1-4 and the black suits have 7-10) as well.

As for Chinese money suits, the most famous Chinese money suit game is Mahjong, and although for authenticity it should be played with tiles, Mahjong decks (including American Mahjong decks) are not that hard to come by, and available from a number of manufacturers. Problem is, actual money suited cards (for example, Dongguan Cards used in Quan Dui or Hakka Cards used in Luk Fu) are hard to come by in China, let alone the west, and it’s difficult to find a reputable manufacturer of traditional slim cards, let alone westernized variants, due to the fact that Chinese money suits were, as the name implied, somewhat associated with gambling and largely exist “underground”. Similarly, Chess suits (a different type of Chinese card deck, where the ranks are Xiangqi pieces and the suits are colors) have been hard to find. What isn’t hard to find are decks for the Filipino game Cuajo, which is a game inspired by Chess suits, but played with a specialized Spanish suited deck.

For completion, Japanese hanafuda and kabufuda cards are not that uncommon, given that the most well-known manufacturer is Nintendo, a brand well-known around the world for video games; it’s just that they don’t sell decks internationally and generally have to be imported. I have little insight on Indian Ganjifa decks, but I did hear that they exist as more art pieces than anything useful for gameplay today.

Anyways, I’ve been trying to compile a number of different ready-to-use card decks, mostly with Bicycle Rider back cards of different colors, but using other cards where appropriate. It’s not exactly a revival of GUCD (who remembers that on the blog?), but it should allow me to enjoy a greater variety of games. Maybe at a later point, I will tell you all about my efforts.

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Kelvin’s Comings and Goings

Posted by kelvSYC on 7-9-2019

Lately I haven’t been working on the Guide for a good reason; it’s one of those times where real life gets in the way. That and the fact that my spare time where I can work on projects is dedicated to two things: playing video games and working on building notes for the next big Catan-related project. It’s been six months since I started on my “glossary”, and to be honest, not a lot has been done.  Most of the work is not really on Catan itself (although I have some of the basics), though I have done quite a bit of work on entries related to the Catan Card Game and A Game of Thrones Catan: Brotherhood of the Watch.

But this post is not about any of that.  In today’s age of 4K, the sad truth is that as I upgrade my hardware, older things are going to be harder to hook up and require a bit of investment to keep in working condition. This is definitely true for my older systems that use analog output.  (Granted, that’s just my GameCube and Wii, but I grew up with a LaserDisc player and a DVD recorder, so…) As such, I’ve been spending a bit on equipment that can help me hook these two systems up.

For those of you who are out of the loop, yes, while there exists analog-to-HDMI converters out there, the main issue is that gaming systems often require precise button input, and most converters are optimized towards movies and other applications where the delay between pressing a button and seeing its result is not as important. For that reason, most of my gaming on the GameCube or Wii were games where input lag was not really that important.  (For the record, I also have a Wii U, though I’ve been told that the software scaler on the Wii U to scale up Wii games and output them over HDMI is kind of bad.)

So to have a good gaming experience, you need specialized ADC equipment. If you were lucky enough to have an early model GameCube with a digital AV port, then there exists an HDMI dongle that you can purchase that will get the GameCube to output 480p, so that’s not an issue there – but my GameCube isn’t one of those, so I have to invest in a RetroTINK 2x and a GameCube S-Video cable to get a worse-quality 480p. (I’m aware that it is possible to mod any model of GameCube to output video over HDMI, but I do not have the means or expertise to mod my system, and I honestly prefer unmodified systems.). My Wii (the early model one with full GameCube compatibility) outputs 480p over component video, so I merely need a simple ADC to get HDMI output, but I also decided to invest in an OSSC for more scaling options (after all, your TV may introduce some lag trying to scale digital signals too).  Fortunately, it is well documented that the RetroTINK 2x and an OSSC work very nicely together (though no 9x scaling to enjoy old-school 240p gaming in 4K), though doing so requires a crazy amount of analog-to-digital-to-analog-to-digital back-and-forth conversion (this being that both devices take analogue input and output HDMI).  Plus, I lack a component video switch so I would not be able to set up both consoles together, even if the intent is to have only one console on at a time. So, that journey is not over yet. (I can only pray that I don’t acquire additional analog equipment that requires me to get an analog switch of some kind.)

Whether I intend to invest further in it… well, let’s see how much time I have after continuing work on these other projects. After all, August is the German release of the C&K 20th anniversary expansion, and October is slated to be the release of the Starfarers remake. There’s a lot of work to do so that I can have the fun that I want…

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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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