Kelv's Random Collection

A random collection of my contributions to the world.

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…?

Posted in Gaming Diary | 3 Comments »

The Making of the Catan Scenario and Variant Guide

Posted by kelvSYC on 5-10-2013

It’s been 20 months since I’ve made any public releases to the Catan Scenario and Variant Guide, which is easily the most requested part of the Random Collection (some people have requested the CCA Reference cards, but no one has asked that GUCD be reposted), and while I’m still working on trying to catch up, I have to admit that I’ve been lethargic.  Why is that, you may ask?  Let’s take a look back in the history banks.

The first public release (Version 0.5, now rechristened “Revision 5”) of the Guide came in 2009, coming in at 203 pages (Yes, I still have the PDF for that revision).  At the time, it was written in Pages, and it only consisted of scenarios, in one giant volume.  If I recalled correctly, it was written entirely in Microsoft Word, with graphical elements done in OmniGraffle, and copied over to Word.  This worked well for me for a bit, but anyone who downloaded Revision 5 or Revision 6 would have noted the huge size of the PDF files at the time. (Revision 6 weighed in at 16.8 MB).  Considering that the graphics were highly compressible, and the fact that a single 225-page volume was an extensive strain on Word’s resources at the time, it motivated me to split the Guide up into volumes for Revision 7 and Revision 8.

Still, updating the Guide became an unwieldy task for me.  The large graphics files were explained by the fact that Word, at the time, still relied on PICT format images rather than anything newer, which drove up the image size for the board graphics.  Thus, for Revision 9, I had decided to switch word processors to Pages, which necessitated rewriting all of the volumes from scratch.  (Part of the reason why Revision 9 was never released was to get down the various page layout concerns and such.)  The first public release under Pages, the new word processor of choice, was Revision 10.

Part of the problem with Pages was that seemingly identical graphics would be stored as different files within the Pages document bundle (which, for those of you who have worked with Pages knows, is really just an XML document and a bunch of linked graphics files).  Due to a bug in PDF export in OmniGraffle (a bug that still rears its ugly head today), minor adjustments to the positioning of an object would result in wildly different PDFs being generated.  This, of course, made it difficult to add stuff like the inline number token graphics, because I always had to copy it from elsewhere in the document (as opposed to OmniGraffle) to avoid bloating my working file.  Nevertheless, Pages would remain the word processor of choice for the Guide until Revision 13, when it moved back to (a newer version of) Word, after a particularly troublesome board (IIRC, it was the Delmarva board) completely wrecked the Pages page layout system I had worked so hard to maintain.

And as I have said before, there is a Revision 14.  Private, only consisting of small updates.  Even then, it’s been over a year since I’ve even updated that.  What has happened since then?  Lots of new scenarios that I haven’t even started write-ups for.  Explorers & Pirates.  And in my own personal life, this last year I got out of school, moved to a different country, and started my professional career.  (Which means less Settlers of Catan playing)  Real life can make good excuse-mongering, right?

Anyways, the reason for the lack of posts to the Live Edition is largely to recreate all of the graphics in a manner that I can be comfortable with for presentation.  OmniGraffle will continue to be my editor of choice in this regard, even if it means I have to live with its spotty SVG export (SVG will probably be the image standard for all of the Guide‘s work, so that I can have the inline number tokens look good while reusing them for the board pictures).

Because of the fact that the graphics remains a point that I have to pay a lot of attention to detail into, the first few posts of the Live Edition will be, in fact, brand new content that isn’t expected to be too graphics heavy.  All of these are articles that have never seen the light of day (even in Revision 14), and all of which will be up to date with the latest developments from the Catan world.

As for the scenarios in the scenario guide, I may just have to release existing content from Revision 14 without the graphics.  We’ll see…

Posted in Making Of Series | Leave a Comment »

CCA Reference Cards

Posted by kelvSYC on 1-11-2013

Commands and Colors (from GMT Games) is one of the games that I play from time to time.  I have all but one of the Commands and Colors series, and it is one of the games that takes up a lot of shelf space.

But while Memoir ’44 and BattleLore have reference cards that help remind you of various rules, I find that Commands & Colors: Ancients lacks these cards, which often proves useful.  In 2010, during the MobileMe era, as part of the reasonably obscure “Board Game Tools”, I posted a draft of the reference cards.  Since then, there has been a major expansion to the game, though I haven’t really played the game since then.

Since there is demand for it, Revision 3 of the CCA Reference Cards is available for download here.

If I ever play the game again, I’ll probably make a nicer Revision 4.

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Catan Scenario and Variant Guide Live

Posted by kelvSYC on 1-5-2013

As of this initial posting (January 5, 2013), it’s been over a calendar year since I’ve published Revision 13 of the Catan Scenario and Variant Guide.  (Back then, it was hosted on MobileMe, which has long faded from history.)  Since then, there have been, in the world of Catan, six new promotional scenarios, two new full scenarios, the announcement of a fourth new full expansion (Explorers and Pirates), and half a page worth of changes in the Revision 14 changelist, and many many more changes that I haven’t really gotten around to.  I’ve had major changes to the document that I’ve been editing the Guide in (the bloated size meant that editing was difficult, and I’ve had to convert the document from Word to Pages and back to Word again, effectively having to rewrite the entire Guide from scratch three times.  Not to mention redoing all of the graphics each time…)

So now what?  Are these changes catching up to me?  Is the Guide dead?  In a sense, yes and no.  Revision 13 will likely be the last “print edition” we will see in some time.  Meanwhile, over the coming months I’ll be taking apart my Revision 14 document and posting them up, piece by piece, as individual posts here in the Random Collection.  This effort we now dub as the Live Edition.

I’ve had incredibly good feedback for the print edition based on the many GeekMails I’ve received on BoardGameGeek; some have printed the entire multiple hundreds of pages into hand-bound books, others have used my colouring scheme for their own homemade sets and such.  One of these days the Guide will be available in print (i.e. as a PDF available for free download), but the Live Edition should have more frequent updates.

This guide will always be freely available, since it’s not really “my content”, but I encourage you, the reader, to fully support the world of Catan and buy their games, apps, and such.  The policies of the print edition still carries over to the Live Edition: only official scenarios and variants, and nothing too new unless it’s limited release.

So stay tuned to the Random Collection, as we upload the old and the new, one piece at a time.

Posted in Catan Scenario and Variant Guide | Leave a Comment »

CCG/Rivals Guide to Miscellany R7

Posted by kelvSYC on 8-2-2012

As you may or may not know, the Guide to Miscellany was also hosted on my old site on MobileMe.  So, I’d better move this to the Random Collection as well.

The Scenario and Variant Guide and the Guide to Miscellany are always released together; whenever there’s an update for one I’ll usually post an update for the other at the same time.

CCG/Rivals Guide to Miscellany R7

Just like the Scenario and Variant Guide, the discussion point is what you would think of porting this over as a series of blog postings.  Comments are always welcome!

Posted in CCG/Rivals Guide to Miscellany | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Catan Scenario and Variant Guide R13

Posted by kelvSYC on 8-2-2012

As you may or may not know, the Catan Scenario and Variant Guide used to be hosted on my old site on MobileMe.  Between MobileMe shutting down and me physically moving to a new place, that meant that the Guide was orphaned… for now.

Well, wait no longer.  The Guide is now hosted on the Random Collection!  For now, I’ll repost the latest edition from the old MobileMe site; I promise that R14 will definitely be coming…

Catan Scenario and Variant Guide R13

Meanwhile, now that the Random Collection is the new home of the Guide, in addition to R14, there are plans to upload everything piece by piece as a series of blog posts that I will edit as a “live version” of sorts.  As a discussion point, what do you all think of this?

Posted in Catan Scenario and Variant Guide | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Welcome to my Random Collection

Posted by kelvSYC on 6-4-2012

So, welcome to the Random Collection.  It’s my corner of the internet, where I post stuff on projects that I do in my spare time.

While you are here, why don’t you help out my cheap shilling of stuff?  Let’s all help each other with our cloud storage options and sign up for these services on the right.  (If you have an account with a service not listed there, and they offer referrals, tell me all about it and give me your referral link!)

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »