Archive for the ‘Geek Culture’ Category

Passing the Talisman Around: Licensing the Classics

Thursday, August 29th, 2019

So you may have heard of the collaborations between The Op (formerly USAopoly, best known for its hundreds of versions of Monopoly) and Games Workshop (best known for Warhammer 40K and numerous fantasy or sci-fi board games). One of the first announcements to come from the team-up was on licensed versions of the classic fantasy board game, Talisman. These licenses took the game in new directions, though, to be sure – Talisman: Kingdom Hearts Edition, and Talisman: Batman Super-Villains Edition. I’ve had the same internal struggle other Talisman fans may have gone through, wondering if these adaptations will “mess up” the game I enjoyed so much. I’ve tried to hold my judgement until learning more from the press releases, and in the process, decided I’m going to check them out. First, the Kingdom Hearts press release

Talisman Kingdom Hearts boxTalisman: Kingdom Hearts Edition reveals Sora, Kairi, Riku, King Mickey, Goofy, and other comrades as figures at the helm of an exciting and different way to play the tabletop classic. Inspired by the original Kingdom Hearts video game franchise, the 2- to 6-player game’s objective compels players to acquire the needed Strength and Magic to seal the Door to Darkness and keep Heartless from consuming the communal worlds.

An artful gameboard with three regions, custom marbleized six-sided dice, tokens, and cards maintain the beloved aspects and exploratory spirit of “The Magical Quest Game” while offering lighthearted Disney nostalgia. Memorable locations such as Never Land and Traverse Town, Munny-themed currency, Gummi Paths and more will comprise a brand new experience by incorporating much-loved characters, worlds, and details from the Kingdom Hearts universe, surprising and delighting fans everywhere.


And from the initial Talisman: Batman press release, I got this description…

Talisman Batman boxTalisman: Batman Super-Villains Edition allows players to take on the role of Gotham City’s notorious evil-doers, sneaking and fighting their way through Arkham Asylum’s two floors and central tower to be the first to subdue Batman and successfully release its dangerous inmates.

The anti-heroic objective in this take on the classic fantasy tabletop game focuses on building the Health, Strength, and Cunning of the Caped Crusader’s enemies. The game suits 2-6 players ages 13 and up, and can be played cooperatively or against other foes before one winner can earn the reputation of King or Queen of the criminal underworld.

Witnesses also report a custom illustrated game board featuring artwork from the best-selling DC comic series “New 52” era, 13 plastic character figures, more than 100 Encounter cards, six-sided dice, and stat boards to monitor each character, easing traditional role-playing game elements into the hands of collectors eager to get in on Batman’s titular Talisman debut.


Do these sound like Talisman? Not exactly. Talisman was one of the first fantasy quest board games to capture the general feel of advancing your character, meeting strange creatures, killing them, and taking their stuff. Calling it a “fantasy quest” game was appropriate, as a full game session might take 1-2 hours, but more likely would take an entire afternoon – much like a D&D session. In fact, just getting through an entire game felt like a quest, and added to the feeling of victory if you were crowned the winner. These newer Talisman games sound suspiciously… new. Fans of any genre know the sense of dread that comes with seeing your favorite property – from games, to movies, to books, to comics, and any other fandom, really – treated in a way that doesn’t feel like it honors the original source. If not Talisman, there’s surely several things you can think of that bring up those feelings right now. There’s excitement about revisiting the property you love, for sure, but also fear of tainting its memory. Fans of The Dark Crystal are in the final stages of this fear as I write this, with the Netflix prequel The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance about to release. (Please be awesome… please be awesome…)

On the other hand, it seems only natural that games (and movies, and books) which inspire other successful imitations should have additional versions, as some portion of the gaming public clearly wants those variations. Monopoly has been adapted to many, many themes, and while I still argue Monopoly is a terrible game (see our review if you need convincing), it continues to be supremely popular and well known. Risk has had several mediocre variations, a few interesting ones (Risk: Godstorm – which may have lent at least one mechanics idea to Blood Rage – and Risk: 2210 AD come to mind), and a genre-defining innovation (Risk: Legacy, firmly establishing the Legacy style of game). Even games like Scrabble and Clue have had a variety of adaptations/mutations to other themes – some of them quite good. For example, give Harry Potter Clue a try: with its shifting secret passages and House Cup point earning, new rules evoke a strong feel of the early movies.

How far should developers take the lineage of a classic game, though? If the hereditary traits of the game’s family tree fade too much, it can become unrecognizable – for example, if Talisman were made into a dice game, would it still feel like Talisman? Maybe not.

That’s the point, though. For some gamers out there, for whatever reason, Talisman didn’t hit the mark. Creating six different colors of the same game won’t bring in new fans. But sometimes, there’s enough interest in a property that game developers can take more than one shot at the target, maybe striking where a different set of gamers can appreciate it. Innovating around the theme of a popular property doesn’t have to dilute the strength of it, but can refine the flavor for different palates. Yes, the brand name is being used to attract old school fans, and the core mechanics might still be supporting the overall structure of gameplay, but change is good and helps keep a game relevant. Evolve or die.

I hope to try Talisman: Kingdom Hearts and Talisman: Batman Super-Villains Edition soon, keeping in mind the new experiences they were designed to be. And I won’t blame them at all if they let me kill things and take their stuff – I’d consider that a bonus.

Chaosium founder Greg Stafford passes away

Friday, October 12th, 2018

Founder of Chaosium and longtime game industry trailblazer Greg Stafford passed away yesterday. Greg founded Chaosium to get his work on the fantasy world of Glorantha published, and from there went on to design Pendragon, co-design the roleplaying games of RuneQuest, Ghostbusters, Prince Valiant, and HeroQuest, and influence the entire industry of adventure roleplaying. There’s a lovely post about Greg and his achievements on Chaosium’s site. Please have a look.

His passing brings up memories for me, as I’m sure it does for many Chaosium fans. If you’ll permit me, I’ll share mine here.

For a while in the early 2000’s, I ran RPG.net for Skotos Tech. This meant overseeing the site’s forums, arranging and editing game reviews, coordinating with columnists, and reaching out to publishers for news or review products. My office was in a small, cold room at the back of a building that was once part of the Oakland army base, and had become occupied by Chaosium and Wizard’s Attic. In the same building were a handful of smaller game companies, like a small collective of publishers all huddled around Chaosium and the warehouse rooms for warmth (did I mention it was cold?). When I met Greg Stafford, he was running Issaries Inc., at the opposite side of the warehouse from my office, just past the kitchen and Green Knight Publishing.

In middle school, my classmates and I discovered cryptic gaming notes printed on the back of reams of donated computer paper (usually in non-copyable red or blue ink. It was a simpler time). These notes spoke of the Lunar Empire, of magic based on the red moon, and a behemoth bat-creature that served the Lunar Goddess. I was hooked. I took as many sheets of scratch paper from class as I could, and poured over them in my room at home, trying to decipher their meaning like I was an archeologist who’d found hidden hieroglyphics in an ancient tomb.

Greg Stafford at DDC 2006I eventually determined these notes were all early ideas from a still-developing fictional world of Glorantha, and Greg, the parent of a student a couple years ahead of me, had donated the glorious notes that hinted of fantasy adventure. I already knew and played Dungeons & Dragons, but this was a new flavor of awesome – bold, distinct, and thorough. In early high school, I was introduced to RuneQuest, and Glorantha, and it all made sense. A completist by nature, I bought all the RQ game products I could find, and Greg’s name was on most, if not all, of them. Glorantha, the campaign world he had designed for RQ, had blown my young mind with its imaginative twists on a medieval fantasy setting.

So when I was introduced to Greg in the little game company just past the warehouse kitchen, he was already a legend in my mind. I’m sure I gushed to him about how formative Glorantha had been for my own roleplaying campaigns. He could have dismissed me as a fanboy and gotten back to work, but he didn’t. He sat there and talked about all sorts of plans and plots, products that never came to be and others that had runaway success beyond his wildest dreams. And this didn’t just happen once – this happened the first day I met him, and many times thereafter when we each just needed a breather from the daily work routine.

Eventually, everyone left the Wizard’s Attic vicinity (to get clear of the wreckage, mostly – you can look up what happened to Wizard’s Attic yourself, it’s not relevant here), and the creative community of the “Chaosium Collective” dispersed to various parts of the San Francisco bay area, then even farther afield. I did my RPG.net job from home for a while, then moved on to other things.

I stopped seeing Greg at local conventions like DunDraCon (I took the picture above at DDC 2006), but I would run into him in downtown Berkeley from time to time, and he’d invite me to walk with him on each occasion. As he purposefully strode across town to the subway station (I always caught him on the way back from something), he would tell me all about the plans he envisioned for Glorantha and other creations of his to make a big comeback, his plans for travel with his family, and what he’d heard other members of the Collective were doing now. Over time, Greg moved away, and I stopped seeing him, but I’d hear about his plans through others, and heard that he’d returned to guiding Chaosium in 2015. Clearly, if you saw him accept the 2018 Silver ENnie Fan Award for Best Publisher on Chaosium’s behalf, Greg never stopped plotting and imagining, and many of us appreciated his efforts.

Thanks for everything, Greg. See you around.

Z-Man announces Choose Your Own Adventure co-op game

Saturday, April 14th, 2018

Choose Your Own Adventure GameWith board games becoming more story-driven, it makes sense for game publishers to look toward classic adventure stories for design inspiration. It makes even more sense to design a game around the Choose Your Own Adventure books – stories that invented the “gamebook” and captured the imagination of a generation of kids. Z-Man Games has got you covered with Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger, a cooperative board game based on the 1982 book (which was popular enough to be released in seven languages). Due to hit shelves in August 2018, 1–8 players will explore the aforementioned House together as psychic investigators, choosing their adventure path through story cards, gathering item cards, and hunting for clues. From Z-Man’s description:

Do you follow the noise you just heard? Do you venture down the dark cavern? It’s up to you to decide! Investigate the many narrative branches in each of the five exciting chapters, discovering hours of play and thousands of options. Face deadly challenges to find clues or increase your psychic skills. […] As you explore the mysteries of the House of Danger, new clues will guide your investigation, illuminating new paths or equipping you with useful items.

From the Z-Man announcement, the game promises skill development and item usage, two features the original books often struggled to emulate. If Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger is well received by gamers this fall, we could certainly see follow-up titles – after all, the CYOA book series boasts over 180 titles to play through. House of Danger will sell for $24.99.

Eleven Games to Play at your Stranger Things Party

Friday, October 27th, 2017

Cast of Stranger Things (Netflix)More than anything, watching the kids on Stranger Things obsess over their favorite games hits us with heavy nostalgia for those classic games of the 1980s. When you celebrate this modern classic of kids against the supernatural, whether you binge-watch entire seasons or savor each episode slowly, you’ll want an ideal activity to symbolize that you stand with the citizens of Hawkins, right? Don’t be a mouth-breather – grab your Eggos and your wrist-rocket, and check our picks for the best games to capture the feel of Stranger Things.
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Gen Con game convention wins 2017 Diana Jones Award

Thursday, August 17th, 2017

At Gen Con 50, the winner of this year’s Diana Jones Award for excellence in gaming has been announced as… Gen Con itself! First organized in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin by Gary Gygax himself, Gen Con has grown to become an annual gaming mecca and affirmation of the gaming hobby, currently raging onward in Indianapolis. Other nominees this year were The Beast, a single-player card & journaling game; End of the Line, a hybrid LARP combining Camarilla-style Vampire and Nordic LARP; the fantasy board game Gloomhaven, which was a huge hit on Kickstarter; The Romance Trilogy, a group of relationship-themed RPGs by Emily Care Boss (the first of which, Breaking the Ice, made it onto OgreCave’s 2005 Christmas Gift Guide); and Terraforming Mars, a resource management board game. As always, OgreCave congratulates all the nominees, and Gen Con, “The Best Four Days in Gaming,” for its win this year.

Gaming News Update – Anna Meade (Uprising: The Dystopian Universe RPG)

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

In this Gaming News Update interview, we throw new OgreCave contributor Lars Roberts to the wolves and have her interview Anna Meade, co-author of Uprising: The Dystopian Universe RPG from Evil Hat Productions. Due to hit Kickstarter for a 2018 publication date, Anna tells us about creating the roleplaying setting based on the card games Coup, Coup: Reformation, and The Resistance. She also hints at some confrontational – nay, backstabbing, even – mechanics to the FATE system that Uprising will bring to the table. As bonus features, Anna mentions her novelization of The Dystopian Universe for Indie Boards & Cards, her upcoming appearance as a featured presenter at Gen Con 50 next week, and what fun she’s had expanding tabletop gaming’s inclusivity and representation. Be sure to listen to Anna before attending her seminars next week, and browse our previous podcast episodes for many other game discussions.

KublaCon 2017 photo gallery – complete!

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

Cthulhu demands you view the galleryOkay, the flood of KublaCon photos has reached its peak, and all are now neatly contained in OgreCave’s KublaCon 2017 photo gallery (over at our Facebook page). Final attendee count was reportedly 3,321 – a good sized show! See if you can spot yourself in our gallery, or rather, see if you got spotted by our photo crew.

We’re working on a few things behind the scenes, but as soon as we have goodies to share, we’ll serve them up. In the meantime, enjoy the pics, and tell us what you loved about this year’s KublaCon.

KublaCon 2017 photo gallery

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

KublaCon 2017 logoThose of you who follow OgreCave’s Facebook page have already heard, but in case you missed it, the first half of OgreCave’s KublaCon 2017 photo gallery is up and running. Have a look, comment, like, and see if you got spotted at last weekend’s KublaCon Game Convention. We’ll have the other half added to the gallery in a couple of days, so check back early next week. Share and enjoy.

We’ll have more site news soon, so check back for that as well. Much to do.

MAID RPG, Tokyo Brain Pop, and why GTE couldn’t just fix their network

Monday, September 26th, 2016

First, a public apology. A few years ago, Andy Kitkowski, publisher of Tenra Bansho Zero and co-publisher of MAID RPG, sent us a review copy of MAID and was very flattering in a note he attached to it. We’ve felt for a while that we let him down by not getting a review up. Not to put Allan on the spot, but Allan looked MAID over and couldn’t figure out how to approach it. [My players were just plain confused by it, honestly, and wouldn’t try it. – A] I have a feeling that a lot of you reading this are right there with him. We asked all our other reviewers if they wanted to take it on, and they all recoiled.

Now, I know the deal with MAID, because I happen to know this particular deal with anime culture and Japanese pop culture in general. Said deal is that a lot of stuff from Japan looks to us like it’s being presented sincerely, and is thus creepy and crazy, when it’s understood in Japan as being satirical. The original MAID game falls into that category, as does most of the maid-themed anime that inspired it. You can certainly still argue that attempted satire of sexist tropes just spreads sexism, particularly when the culture as a whole – ours in this case – doesn’t get the joke. I myself feel more or less this way, in fact, but the comparatively low-titillation presentation style of MAID does a lot to redeem it for me.

The failure of cultural translation was utterly predictable with MAID – enough so that its publication, the first of an original Japanese RPG into English to make it to print, was neither a great business move nor a good strategy for opening American minds to Japanese RPGs. That said, if you’re one of the many American nerds who understand anime tropes deeply, a game with MAID‘s themes can be hilarious, and MAID delivers. The execution is dead on. The players play the many stereotypical French-style maids of an aloof male master – you could run it as My Life With Master, only funny (comedy and horror are close cousins). The game runs beautifully and is a pretty amazing source of random tables (tragedy tables! Mental complexes! The mind-shreddingly massive Costume Table 2!).

But there’s no saving MAID in the Western market. You could possibly reskin the system and sell the conversion, but that’s not the same. And you could run and sell it at anime cons, but not outside anime culture. (I am not suggesting that any of this is news to Andy.)

A while ago, an RPG we’ve honored in the past did a sort of splashy relaunch; I mean, it debuted in an Asian-culture-themed round of Allen Varney’s indefatigable Bundle of Holding, right around Christmas, which is not bad. It’s called Tokyo Brain Pop, and it’s about Japanese schoolgirls amongst whom one or more has horrifying psychic powers. Its mechanics focus on social dynamics amongst teens and fighting evil demons in equal measure. It’s pretty great.

And if it sounds familiar, it should: it’s Panty Explosion, which OgreCave has honored in our Christmas gift guides in the past. It was renamed in response to long-building public resistance to the name, including its publisher getting blocked at one point from tabling at GeekGirlCon. Now, to my ear, the title Panty Explosion was always pretty transparently an ironic shot across the bow of anime tropes as they play in the US. But there was no saving it in the Western market either. Too many people, for reasons either respectable or reflexive, are just gonna do this.

Let’s talk about “branding,” and what it really means.
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Guest column: Dungeons & Dragons as Story

Monday, October 26th, 2015

Today, a friend of the Cave, Aaron Teixeira, offers up his thoughts on the ongoing Dungeons & Dragons discussion: can the original roleplaying game be used as an inspired, artful storytelling device? Or is it merely a game of “killing things and taking their stuff”? Aaron’s been playing and running RPGs of all sorts for decades, and has decided to weigh in on the debate, in Dungeons & Dragons as Story. See what Aaron had to say, and add your thoughts to the conversation in the comments below.
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OgreCave video: KublaCon 2015, Goodman Games, Cheapass Games

Friday, October 16th, 2015

Because we got some great footage at KublaCon 2015, we’re doing our best to ambush you with some of it (Flashback Friday, anyone?). We’ve included a general look at parts of the convention, but also managed to talk with Joseph Goodman of Goodman Games, as well as James Ernest of Cheapass Games. Some of what we discussed has hit game stores by now, but Joe and James both reveal some plans for the future. In particular, Joe describes new features of Dungeon Crawl Classics and his plans for Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar setting, while James tells us about the Kill Doctor Lucky Kickstarter campaign (which just started and runs until November 13th – check it out).

We’ll have more vids posted soon, so if you have the chance, subscribe to our YouTube channel, and stay tuned!

OgreCave video: DunDraCon promo

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

For the Cave dwellers, the start of convention season is heralded by DunDraCon. Now that the annual gaming event and its impending awesomeness are nearly here, this seems like the time to premiere our DunDraCon promo video. Take it away, Sparky! (Be sure to subscribe on YouTube to see all of OgreCave’s video goodness.)

OgreCave Audio Report 2.0 – December 2014

Monday, December 29th, 2014

OCAR 2.0 logoWe’re back, and ready to talk all things gaming. To wrap up the year and prepare for new things, we have a brand new episode of our long-dormant (hibernating?) podcast show, the OgreCave Audio Report. Now redubbed 2.0, the relaunch episode has Mike and Allan talking of the holidays, Kickstarter goodies, interpersonal issues in game groups, and GamerGate, among other things.

A more complete write-up will follow, but for now, enjoy the new episode, and happy holidays!

If you haven’t already heard our other podcast show, OgreCave’s Gaming News Update, click through and have a listen – we’ve cornered quite a few game industry luminaries over the years.

Gaming News Update – Paranoia Reboot (James Wallis)

Thursday, November 27th, 2014

OgreCave newscasterWith the holiday season already upon us, roleplaying gamers are looking for quality RPGs to pick up, and some of us are planning ahead. In this Gaming News Update interview with James Wallis, notably of Spaaace: the Games Consultancy and the man behind the trailblazing company Hogshead Publishing, what was old is becoming new again via the Paranoia Reboot Kickstarter campaign. With less than a week left to accept pledges, James tells about his plans for the new Paranoia boxed set. He also talks about dark humor in roleplaying, why death in gaming isn’t nearly the handicap it used to be, and offers some excellent news for gamers who pledged to either his Alas, Vegas campaign or Gareth Michael Skarka’s Far West RPG campaign. Thanks to Friend Skype, James tells us all about Friend Computer, Alpha Complex, mutants, terrorists, and more – probably more than your clearance level will allow, so trust no one – in our latest podcast episode.

OgreCave video: Japji Khalsa at KublaCon 2014

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

In our final KublaCon 2014 video, we manage to grab a few minutes with Japji Khalsa, Executive Producer and founder of KublaCon. In this video, we learn about the CCG-derived origins of the convention, how game designers use the show for their own nefarious ends, and some of the latest improvements to the overall KublaCon experience. You’ll get a small tour of Hyatt amenities, a few words from this year’s exhibitors about the convention, and glimpses of other KublaCon activities, between segments. In all, if you haven’t figured out KublaCon is “The Khan of Cons” yet, you simply haven’t been paying attention!

Have a look at all six KublaCon videos, and be sure to subscribe on YouTube to get all our upcoming video coverage. We’ll have some new things soon. No, really.