Kelv's Random Collection

A random collection of my contributions to the world.

Archive for the ‘Gaming Diary’ Category

Diary: Scenario Guide – Update 2

Posted by kelvSYC on 6-18-2017

It’s been quite a bit of work on the Scenario Guide.  Most of the text in the core scenarios (basically, everything that isn’t the bonus section) is outlined, but none of the setup diagrams are at this point.  Even then, it’s just over 200 pages in length, so I would imagine that the completed Guide should clock in at 300-350 pages.  (I blame one of the new scenarios in the Guide – you know, that new one with 37 diagrams – for making me do more and more diagrams.)

So here’s an update on what we have going on in the 2017-1 version of the Guide:

  • The section on “The First Island” is completely rewritten, with a whole new section on the game frame, and a write-up on certain key aspects of the base game rules.  This is actually quite a bit of work, going by how many pages of scratch paper I’ve used to do some trig calculations.  There are some portions that I have not yet rewritten from r13 (or my draft r14), such as the “fixed hexes” and such, but that’s relatively low on my priority list.
  • The section of the Guide on “First Islands of A Different Kind” is something I’m considering dropping, since it’s more of a spinoff showcase rather than something you can play with the core game components.  If anyone wants me to keep it, then I might consider re-adding it down the road.
  • Most sections of the Guide now have a sizeable writeup on the new equipment introduced in the specific scenario.  For example, the section on “Cloth for Catan” has a section on the original special hexes that were part of its original presentation, but was dropped when it was adapted for Seafarers.  Other things include a short section on the trade hexes in “Traders & Barbarians”, and so on.
  • Each section has a larger “section overview” which details equipment that is common to multiple scenarios.  For example, the Traders & Barbarians section overview contains the general rules for gold pieces.  In general, you’ll see a lot more cross-referencing in the new edition, which is a distinct change from r13 (where the rules were written so as to have individual scenarios be entirely self-contained).  The reason for this is the fact that scenario combinations were, for me, incredibly difficult for me to write up, and the fact that Explorers & Pirates is presented in a way that makes copying and pasting things not worth it.  (Right now, the longest writeup is for “Barbarian Attack”.  “Traders & Barbarians” had that title, but that was before I ultimately decided to separate out the base scenario from XL and Ultimate, since Ultimate plays nothing like the base “Traders & Barbarians” or even BA+TB.)
  • As a result, a lot of the “rules proper” sections are reduced by a great deal, and in most cases I can’t justify splitting the setup notes from the rules proper anymore…
  • Oh yeah, there are a lot of corrections to some of the sections in the Guide.  I don’t have an exact changelog, but one of the most egregious is “Transport Settlers”, in which the rules wouldn’t make any sense if you also considered the entries on it in the official FAQ.
  • I’ve also consolidated a few things – for example, “Atlantis” is presented in only one place in the Guide now.  I’ve also moved a few of the early “pre-Seafarers” stuff (“Seas for the Poor”, “Catan-Plus”) to the section on “The Second Islands” for a bit of a better flow.
  • More diagrams!  There are a few places in r13 where the wording wasn’t so hot, so a few rules diagrams would help.
  • I’ve decided to drop some of the inline images that I’ve used for resource costs and number tokens.  It’s not that I don’t like them, but it’s because my computer’s starting to strain from adding so much inline graphics.  (There is a reason r9 was split across multiple documents…)  If I ever revisit the live version, I’d definitely be using inline graphics for that.

There are a couple of things that I haven’t fully decided on in the Guide just yet:

  • Whether I should have actual photos of game components (for example, a comparison between traditional and Viking wood pieces), or other graphics that I did not come up with originally (for example, cropped images from Catan-News)
  • Whether I should have setup diagrams in the “correct” orientation (the Guide has long presented most setups on its side, so that the two-column setup layout would work without shrinking down the longest setup diagrams)
  • Whether the Bonus Section will return or not.  I have to double check if there will be new additions to the Bonus Section, or if I have to refine the criteria for inclusion of the Bonus Section at the moment.

Any input on some of the changes is definitely appreciated.  The 2017-1 version of the Guide is, so far, I’d say about 30% complete (the graphics take some time).  Again, I don’t expect that the final version of 2017-1 will be done before the release of Legend of the Sea Robber or the 2017 promotional scenarios.  There are still a number of places where my personal Catan collection has noticeable gaps, where I have to rely on second-hand sources for the information needed in the Guide.

While I am at it, I do have some special requests for the Guide.  Here are the Guide’s most requested things at this point:

  • Copy-editors.  I’m the first to admit that I don’t have consistent language in the write-ups, and a second set of eyes would be able to see things that can possibly be refactored.
  • A good templating engine.  This is more for the live version than anything, but may be useful down the road.  It is becoming more of an effort to compose the Guide, and I have been mulling over the live version’s backend more than anything.  Right now, most of the writing is there so that I can reuse most of what I write in the live version, where the benefit of things like hyperlinks can be useful.
  • In terms of me completing my collection: rare English versions of the German promotional maps, stuff that used to be on sale at the English Catan shop but not anymore, and a few other things.  (For one, I still don’t have a 4th or 5th edition Seafarers, as my Catan collection is 3rd edition vintage.  I do have a few German things, like frame piece extensions, but lack an actual German frame.)

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Diary: An Update on the Scenario Guide

Posted by kelvSYC on 5-28-2017

I’ve started on rebuilding a new version of the Catan Scenario Guide, once again.  I’d like to say “for real this time”, but this new version of the Scenario Guide is taking its time, partly because it will be completely rewritten from scratch.

Part of this is entirely practical: it has been years, and the last public version (Revision 13) was before Explorers & Pirates was released, and the last private version was before the current 5th edition was released, so there’s a lot of stuff that is going to be rewritten and reorganized either way.  There is also the rebranding and adding the chapter introductions that need to be done, but some of the most important changes are in fact to complete some of the things I had been working on for Revision 14.  (Yes, I had a partial changelog.)

Revision 14 would have been a considerable graphical overhaul of the Guide, to be introduced over time.  This was necessary for the following reasons:

  • It was hard to label edges, especially in the promotional scenarios where I had to determine hex by hex which edges were part of the board and which were not.
  • I had, up until that point, wanted to expand the first few chapters to include information on how the board game frame changed over time.  The hexes that you find in the finished Guide is the actual size that I was working with in my line drawing program, which made drawing frame pieces incredibly difficult.  In the upcoming version, I’ve actually created all of the graphics in a new, larger size, and shrunk them down to fit the printed page.
  • I wanted to redo the harbor graphics so that they matched the Seafarers “harbor keys” from the 3rd edition, rather than the “geometry block” motif that was taken from a fan’s homemade set posted on BoardGameGeek.

Unfortunately, because I made the decision to completely rewrite the Guide from scratch, it will be a while before it’s ready for release.  (I’m not intentionally delaying the Guide so that it will be released after the Seafarers 20th anniversary scenario, honest!)  This is compounded by the fact that my word processor died without a backup, meaning that I had to rewrite the entire Guide from scratch several times already.

But here is what I can tell you about the new version of the Guide, as I am outlining this:

  • Of course, I’ll try to keep up to date with everything officially released, but that’s a very hard ask since I’ll have to acquire some of the materials personally.  Some are easy to do that since you can buy them on Catan Shop, others not so much.
  • There will be a new section dedicated to Cities & Knights.
  • I’ve spun off the Catan Geographies promotional scenarios and the Catan Scenarios line to their own sections.
  • I’ve reorganized some scenarios that were particularly hard to categorize.  For example, “Greater Catan” was originally in the Seafarers section, then moved to SD&E, and now, I’m moving it back to Seafarers.  (If SD&E gets an English release, I’ll move it back, of course…)
  • For the most part, the scenario rewrites are primarily so that equipment dedicated to a particular scenario will be introduced in its own section in the Guide, as opposed to all at once near the beginning.  For example, the Council of Catan hex will only be introduced in the Explorers & Pirates section.  Some things will still need to be introduced more broadly to avoid repetition – for example, crews will be part of the Explorers & Pirates preamble since multiple scenarios make use of them.
  • All of the graphics will be redrawn.  The same colors will be reused for the most part, but there will be plenty of changes.  For example, number tokens will reflect the English language version of using a single consistent size of numbers with dots below them.  Land hexes will have a yellow border to differentiate them from edges where no roads can be built (for example, the mouth of the river pieces in “The Rivers”).

It is my hope that the rules are a bit more clear with less use of inline graphics, which hopefully gets us a Guide that is not significantly longer than Revision 13.  At this time, I’m still thinking of what to do for a Live version at the moment; for now, the Live version project will be on hold in order to try and finish the PDF version in a timely manner.

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Diary: Kelvin’s Third-Party Add-Ons

Posted by kelvSYC on 5-6-2017

It’s been a year or so since I’ve last made a blog post here, and, spurred on by the fact that people have been wanting another public release of the Catan Scenario and Variant Guide (no, I have not done any new releases since R13 – for the last few years, I’ve either been half-heartedly rewriting it, or haven’t been involved in the community at all).  I’m actually going to start reworking all of the graphics in the guide, and likely going to finally figure out how to incrementally post updates to the guide as it happens, as I lack the will to release entire volumes all at once (and I’ve been out of the community for so long that there are going to be many gaps in the guide anyways).

But enough about the Guide and my other projects.  This post is going to be about augmenting the games that I have in my collection.  I’ve moved around a lot, and in the few years that I’ve been neglecting this blog, I’ve moved twice, and my board game collection still fills up my spare bedroom.  Worse of all is that a good chunk of the game boxes I have has been damaged from storage or wear (some are moulded over), so I’ve been getting replacement containers for them.  (Thankfully, game components are largely intact.)  And generally, when I have to do that, I tend to take them out for a spin and get familiar with them.  (I still have the ultimate crime of not being able to play with a steady audience, though, so a lot of it is mock games and maybe some hobby programming.)

Now, most games, you can’t complain about the components a whole lot.  Having said that, I’ve had to augment some of my games with a bunch of parts that are either homemade or otherwise not included with the game.  For example, my Catan set uses the Viking pieces, and because Das Buch sum Spielen doesn’t come with equal parts for all players, I’ve had to augment some components with either cardboard or acrylic pieces so that all six player colours have roughly the same pieces.

Many of you fellow board gamers will have similar stories.  For example, I have friends who are hardcore Scrabble players who will use ProTiles ( instead of the tiles that come with the game simply because the tiles that come with the game have the letters etched into the tile, allowing you to feel out what letter a tile could be when you draw them.  Others may replace packs of paper money with a poker chip set (customized poker chips, no less) so that they get a more tactile feel of the currency that they are manipulating.

For me, the games that I’d most likely to be augmenting (outside from print-and-play games, as I’ve burned through 10 printer cartridges printing out fan-made Dominion expansions) is the collection of Axis & Allies clones in my collection – but most specifically the two games from Guild of Blades Publishing Group that I have in my collection (1483 series and The War to End All Wars).  The problem with that is that they are horrible games both in terms of the quality of the gameplay (seriously, it’s not a good idea to have a massively multiplayer board game with a board that’s measured in feet, especially if the action is fairly localized) as well as the quality of its components (30 pieces of red construction paper, taped together, to form the board, which is not in color, and takes up four poster rolls – not to mention that all of its pieces are in thousands of pieces of labelled tiddlywinks, for which the labels are off-center and the graphics come straight out of the 1980s despite the game being released in the early 2000s), and they’re largely a huge money pit since it turns out that you don’t actually have enough pieces to play the game if you get it, and have to spring for the “additional army packs”, making those games even more overpriced than they are already.  (Seriously, I’ve been inclined to throw out the game and cut my losses.)

Now, I’m probably going to be posting more on this in the coming months (hopefully).  Everything from how I augment my Catan experience to the Swiss cheese that is anything Guild of Blades.  Let’s hope I can commit to updating this a bit more often…

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Diary: Kelvin’s Piecepack Pyramid Dimensions

Posted by kelvSYC on 8-26-2013

Almost as soon as I finished writing that last diary post, I really looked into the dimensions of my prospective piecepack pyramids, and whether I can get them 3D-printed.  First, I want to investigate the dimensions.

The reference document dictates that the side of a piecepack pyramid form an isosceles triangle with a 36-degree angle at the tip of the pyramid for all sizes.  As stated, the base of the pyramid range from 1/2″ (A) to 27/32″ (F), in roughly 1/16″ increments.  (Pyramid F is slightly larger).  My highly imprecise measurement method also reveals that the distance from the tip of the pyramid to a corner range from 13/16″ (A) to 1 3/8″ (F), in increments of roughly 0.3cm.  Doing some math, the heights of these pyramids would be 0.73 inches (A) to 1.24 inches (F), with Pyramid E (at 1.13 inches) being “pawn-height” (a pawn is 1 1/8″ in height).

With a pyramid base increasing by 1/16″ from one size to the next, it would leave me with a thickness of 1/32″ for the pyramids (and allow the other 1/32″ for some “play”, similar to Looney Pyramids specs).  The problem here is that 1/32″ is a tad too thin for most 3D printers that deal with plastic (a quick look at materials used in 3D printing reveals that most plastics require a thickness of 1mm; 1/32″ is roughly three quarters of that).  If you are willing to print using metal and drive up your materials cost, it’s worth a shot though. But it’s likely to be cheaper to just cut sheet metal to make pyramids if you’re going that route…  So, for the budget conscious (for the definition of “budget-conscious” that goes out of their way to make pyramids out of plastic, that is), it looks like 1/16″ is the smallest thickness that I can realistically use.

A 1/16″ thick pyramid would need 3/32″ difference between pyramid sizes if we were to go by the above.  If we were to keep pyramid F at 27/32″, then pyramid A would have 3/8″ base.  In other words, something slightly larger than a zero-pip Looney Pyramid (a Looney pawn is known as a “one-pip” pyramid, drone “two pips”, and queen “three pips”, their bases and heights form a natural arithmetic progression, so a “zero-pip pyramid”, created in practice by hacking off the tips of other pyramids, is a natural progression in reverse).  If that’s too small and you would like to keep pyramid A at the half-inch square base, then pyramid F would be 31/32″ square – still permissible within the constraint that the base of pyramid F must be no larger than a quarter of a piecepack tile (ie. one inch square), and slightly smaller than a Looney queen.

Can I possibly make things even thicker for good measure? Possibly.  If we had 3/32″ thick pyramids (ie. 1/8″ difference in base sizes), then pyramid A can have a 3/8″ square base and pyramid F can have a 1″ square base.  All fairly good base sizes, and as 3/32″ is roughly 2.4mm, you could work with a wider choice of materials, I suppose.  But 1/8″ thick bases is definitely out.  I would imagine that a pyramid with a 1/8″ base (the base of A if E was 3/4″, like it is with the reference document) would be very difficult to handle.

So, now for the heights of said pyramids.  The problem is that, the thicker we make our pyramids, the less likely that they will, in fact, stack neatly (that is, pyramid A should be completely obscured by pyramid B if you were to place it on top of pyramid A).  While I haven’t tried out maintaining the specified heights and seeing if this occurs, I had been considering adopting the Looney Pyramid model of having a fixed height to base ratio.  Specifically, Looney Pyramids maintains a 7:4 height-to-base ratio (up to 1/32″ of an inch), and if I were to take pyramid E to be “pawn height”, then a base of 7/8″ (used in the 3/32″ model and the 1/16″ model with the larger pyramids) would give these pyramids a height-to-base ratio of 9:7.  Now a 9:7 ratio, rounded to the nearest 1/32 of an inch, almost exactly gives a height difference of 1/8″ between pyramid sizes. (Pyramid A, at 9/14″, would actually be closer to 21/32″ than 5/8″, but the heights for B, C, and D would fall between a nice eighth-inch multiple and the next 1/64″ larger, and for F the 1/64″ smaller)  That seems a bit convenient, let’s see if this actually stacks…

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Diary: Kelvin’s Quest for a Piecepack

Posted by kelvSYC on 8-25-2013

It’s been a long time since I’ve made an entry in the Collection.  I’m so incredibly behind on the Guide that it’s becoming a running joke, and, well, my game collection has become that much larger that I’ve rarely been playing Settlers anyways.  (I’ll get back to the Guide, just you wait…)

So a bit about myself.  When the Guide first started, I was a student in Canada with a lot of time on their hands (for a good chunk of it, I compiled the Guide without a copy of Settlers at my side).  In the last 13 months, I’ve called Seattle my new home, and with that (and the consolidation of my game collection between different locations) and the fact that “I’m only here to work”, that leaves game playing out of my life for the most part.  Still, from time to time I’ve broken out a few board games to play.

For a while, I was on the print-and-play kick, printing every fan expansion to Dominion and burning through 10 printer cartridges in short order.  It was thanks to a few BGG contributors that I also crossed off one item on my board game wishlist: a homemade piecepack.

For those who don’t know, piecepack ( is an open source gaming system that can be used to play a bunch of games.  It consists of a number of suits (at least four), each with six tiles, six coins, one six-sided die, and one pawn.  The system highly encourages players to make their own, and their specs are fairly well documented.  A number of companies such as Blue Panther do, in fact make commercial piecepacks available for purchase, made from high-quality laser-cut wood.  Personally, however, I was enamoured by a BGG contributor’s custom piecepack made from plastic, and so I sought to make one for my own.

The BGG poster had mentioned that he had gotten all the parts he needed from a place called TAP Plastics, and there just happened to be one location a short walk away from where I worked.  It wasn’t easy sourcing out all of the parts, but I got from them a bunch of blank tiles (via their custom cut acrylic service), pawns (custom cut acrylic rods), dice (from their cube bins), and coins (again from their parts bins).  Add a few pieces of laminated label paper, and my 12-suited plastic piecepack set was now a reality.

The problem, though, is that a good number of games make reference to an accessory known as “piecepack pyramids”.  A piecepack pyramid set consists of six pyramids per suit, lettered from A-E.  Unlike the piecepack itself, the specs were not fairly well documented, and from what I had searched online, the only pyramids in existence were made from a reference document, meant to be printed on cardstock and assembled.  Though many commercial piecepack publishers (not Blue Panther, though) offered sets of piecepacks with cardstock pyramids (likely made from the reference document), I wanted a plastic set of my own.  There is, however, one major problem: the dimensions of the pyramids simply make this not an easy task.

To demonstrate what I mean, let’s take a close analogue of the piecepack pyramids: the Looney Pyramids.  The piecepack pyramids were made as an open-source alternative to the Looney Pyramids while making it more piecepack-like with its theme of “six”, allegedly over the fact that the Looney Pyramids weren’t (and still isn’t) open source (though at one point homemade Looney Pyramid creation was encouraged, and its specs also well-documented), with some elements even protected under intellectual property legislation (the specifics of which are too complicated to explain here).  The Looney Pyramids consists of three different sizes of pyramids: pawns (small), drones (medium), and queens (large).  According to the specs, the bases of the pawns were 9/16″, the drones 25/32″, and the queens 1″.  This makes the pyramids 3/16″ thick, allowing for the pyramids to stack inside each other.  (Originally, Looney Pyramids, under their original name of Icehouse Pyramids, were solid pyramids; it was not until the “Treehouse era” that the pyramids were made stackable.  In turn, piecepack pyramids were designed based on the stackable pyramids of this era, and the piecepack tiles were specced so that Looney Pyramid queens would take up a quarter of the piecepack tile.)

Taking some measurements of the reference piecepack pyramid dimensions, I notice that the bases increased in size by 1/16″ from one size to the next (with a slight deviation from E to F), from 1/2″ for A to 3/4″ for E.  Pyramid F was slightly larger at 27/32″, but it still meant that piecepack pyramids would have to be extremely thin to have something that resembles the 1/32″ “buffer zone” that the Looney Pyramids enjoy – hence the use of cardstock for pyramids in the first place.  It would also mean that if it were to be made from plastic, the fact that it could literally be as thick as cardstock meant that it would be too brittle to be of use without enlarging the pyramids (there was some wiggle room in the size of pyramid F, since the largest it could be was 1″), or worse, enlarging the tiles (the most expensive component of my custom plastic piecepack, outside of making these pyramids, of course).

So, let’s redesign the piecepack pyramids a bit.  Is it at all possible to create piecepack pyramids that are, say, 1/16″ thick (thick enough that it can be reasonably handled)?  The Looney Pyramids’ pawn is comparable to a piecepack pyramid’s B pyramid (except that it is just under a quarter inch shorter), while the Looney Pyramids’ drone is just a hair larger than the piecepack pyramid’s E pyramid (again, shorter in height).

So far, it looks like I have to do a little math to get some good pyramid sizes going.  Then it’s another matter to find a plastic material that I can make these revised pyramids out of.  I wonder if I can get them 3D-printed…?

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