In the Mail: Castle Ravenloft Board Game

Oh no! The Castle Ravenloft box threw up!

Man, this is one nice, big box o’ D&D stuff. It looks like a very interesting game, and I hope to test it in the next few days and have some comments up by next week.

It also includes the worst smelling game components since the Stone Age leather dice cup. The smell dissipates after a while, which is good, because it was actually a smell worse than “Eau de Gamer”. (I kid because I love.)

I’m very interested in this one because my son is heavily into D&D, but being a 42-year-old man, I don’t really have the time for hours of prep and adventuring, and kids these days just don’t get the finer points of RPGs. The goal of Castle Ravenloft is to provide a co-op, 1-hour-long D&D boardgame, with the game mechanics functioning as the DM.

I’ve read some bad reviews of this one so far, which seem to be complaining about it because … it’s a co-op, 1-hour long D&D boardgame, with the game mechanics functioning as the DM. How did they expect the designers to fit a D&D adventure into an hour with abstracting certain design elements and mechanics? Did they think every box came with a Space/Time Compression Generator?

Some commentators seem irritated because it’s not Descent, which it didn’t ever claim to be. I don’t want to play Descent. It’s a good game, but it takes too long. I wanted a dungeon crawl that could be played in a shorter amount of time. In other words: I wanted Castle Ravenloft. Let’s hope it works as promised.

And I’ve left the best part for last: co-designer Mike Mearls has an unboxing video at the official Wizards website. It’s a saucy (nay, almost provocative) undressing of the game, lacking only the thwacka-thwacka bass soundtrack. Are techies and gamers the only people who do unboxing videos? I mean, I love them too, but they just feel so wrong. So wrong … but so very right.

A Note on App Coverage

Since my readership has gone way up since I first started writing about Apps, I should probably reiterate what I’m doing with the App O’ The Mornin’.

This is not an exhaustive app news or reviews site. I don’t think anyone does that job better than TouchArcade, and I don’t see any point in trying.

This also isn’t coverage of the latest and greatest in the App Store. It’s not the “App O’ The Mornin'” because it’s an app released today. It’s an “App O’ The Mornin'” because I wrote about it this morning.

The items I choose for coverage are simply the items I’m playing at any given time. Some are brand new, some are old. If it strikes me as something I’d like to write about, then I’ll write about it. This isn’t a review site disguised as a blog. It’s just a blog: a kind of running commentary on the games intersecting with my life on any given day. Since games are how I’ve earned my living since 1990, as well as my hobby, they’re a pretty prominent part of my daily routine.

I’ve been leaning a bit heavily on classic, abstract strategy, puzzler, and boardgame apps lately because those are games I play a lot, and I think they’re a great fit on the Apple smartphone platform. I like them and I’m good at them. I haven’t reviewed driving games because I don’t like them and I’m not good at them. I also haven’t spent much time on shooters and action games because, thus far, I still think those are games best left to computers and consoles, although Epic Citadel gives me hope.

The age of a game is utterly irrelevant. I don’t like The Cult of the New. Anything you haven’t played is a new game to you. What difference does it make if it’s two years old? And sometimes even an old game you’ve already played can be made fresh again if you look at it a different way.

If you’d like to get caught up on my app coverage to date, or check to find some older review, the Apps tab at the top is the place to go. Thanks for your continued patronage. If you’d like to help support the site, the best way is to just use one of the links to access Amazon when you shop there.

App O’ The Mornin’: Mancala Review

I’m surprised I haven’t covered this one yet, since it’s been on my iTouch from the very beginning. It’s just a good game to have on your device for those odd moments when you want a quick abstract strategy game. You can blast through a round in a couple of minutes (tops), yet the game has enough depth to reward sound strategy.

Flipside’s Mancala FS5 features the most popular version of Mancala, called Wari. (Mancala is a family of games, not a single game.) Although the oldest extant examples of Mancala-style games only date to the 7th century, I have no doubt at all that it’s far older. Based on its continued ubiquity, in various forms, among contemporary primitive tribes, it seems likely that Mancala and similar “capture” games are one of the earliest stages in the development of the boardgame. Since these games were usually carved in the dirt and played with pebbles, ancient examples are simply less likely to have survived.

The game itself remains quite entertaining. There are 6 small depressions on each side (called “houses”) and one large depression at either end (called “stores”). There are a fixed number of pips in two colors: enough to fill 6 houses per side with 3, 4, 5, or 6 pips each. (Four is the standard, but Mancala FS5 allows variable setups ranging from 3 – 6.) Players alternate “seeding” by taking all the pips in one cup and counting them out to the right, one pip per cup, including the stores. Pips that land in the stores are considered captured. If the last pip of your turn is seeded in an empty house, you capture all of the pips opposite that house. The goal is to capture the most pips. The game has some subtle strategies for seeding and capture, and repeated play reveals more depth than may be apparent at first.

Flipside’s version of the game is my favorite, but it’s not with problems. I like the board, mechanics, and feature set. There are variable setups, and strong 2-player support via pass-and-play, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, online automatic matchmaking, and AIM. I don’t do much of the multiplayer, and I certainly don’t pay any attention to the rating system, but I understand that rated play has problems with scoring. These problems are mostly attributed to a scoring system which fails to account for twits who bail out of games they are about to lose. These incomplete games leave the remaining player forced to forfeit, which negatively impacts their rating.

The free version is also well-nigh crippled by an in-game advertising system which causes 5-10 second delays between games. Even the $2 version includes some ads, albeit not as aggressively. (No paid app should ever include ads. Period.)

These failings are unfortunate, since the design of the game is very good, and Mancala is an abstract strategy game that is worthy of rediscovery by western gamers.

I’m Searching My Constitution For the "Right Not To Be Offended"

… nope, still can’t find it.

I know the US Bill of Rights doesn’t extend to Canada. Maybe that would explain why their police would request that an American company remove a piece of software they don’t like.

Some background: 4 years ago, there was a shooting rampage at Montreal’s Dawson College. One student died and 19 others were injured before the gunman took his own life.

Four years later, an insensitive jerk decides: “Hm, that sounds like good fun! Let’s make it into a videogame, and urge gamers to kill virtual students and cops!”  He makes a low-rent shooter called Dawson College Massacre and posts it to an American server. Outrage ensues, and the Montreal police ask the American internet provider to take it down.

We’ve been down this road before with reprehensible trash like Super Columbine Massacre RPG and V-Tech Rampage.

The men who make these games try to justify their squalid little pieces of propaganda as mere entertainment or social commentary or even art, but they display a level of creative skill and depth usually only found in a 14-year-old boy’s Halo fanfic.I object to them because they’re insensitive, crass, immature, exploitative, and morally repellent, but I don’t see how that elevates them to a level of expression that needs to be policed.

Being an insensitive jerk isn’t actually illegal in America. This is what bugged me about the reaction to the Koran burning pastor. I objected to what he planned on several levels, but it never even entered my mind that it should be illegal. Because, no matter what the worst justice on the supreme court says, it’s not against the law, and it shouldn’t be.

I don’t like this kind of game, and I don’t think it should exist. I also don’t think people should deliberately offend someone’s deepest beliefs, whether that means burning a Koran or a flag, or submerging a crucifix in a jar of urine. But I don’t see how a truly free society can legally prohibit such things and remain truly free.

As for the picture that accompanies this post, it’s of Anastasia Rebecca De Sousa: the only name I intend to use in this story, because hers is the only name that matters. She was 18 years old when the Dawson College shooter ended her life.

To the person who created Dawson College Massacre, I would ask: Does her death amuse you? If not, then how do you explain your game? If so, then how long have you been under the delusion that you are human?