Yesterday I watched the Monaco Grand Prix F1 race from start to finish. I had never really paid much attention to F1 racing before, and this was quite the dramatic race. Check out the highlights if you missed it.
Monaco is the track that comes with the board game Formula D. I’m such a big fan of the game I own all the expansions which include F1 tracks from around the world. The game is a lot of fun in its own right, but some games can turn to run away victories with a few fortunate rolls of the gear dice. This got me thinking about other racing games I love, like Super MarioKart.
If you are looking to add another layer of excitement, and to add some randomness and equalizers to the race, just add Mario Kart items! For the uninitiated, in MarioKart when your Kart runs over a question mark box, you get an item that can help you in the race. At this point there have been a lot of MarioKart games, and with them a lot of different items with different effects. Some would be more difficult to simulate in a board game than others. Here are my suggestions.
Use the red debris markers to simulate the the boxes, adding one per player. For a one lap game, I would suggest adding them half-way through the lap, for a two lap game, I would add them just before the finish line, or in both places if you want a lot of items! Once a car runs over the box, that player rolls the standard d20 “danger die” to determine what item is received. I’ve mixed and matched items from several different versions of MarioKart to make the mechanics easier to handle.
I’ve borrowed a few mechanics from 5th Edition D&D for the shells. While the game comes with one standard d20, I would recommend adding a few more to the box if you’ve got a few lying around (and if you’re nerdy enough to be reading this, you probably do!). For green shells its just a simple contested roll: both attacker and defender roll a d20, if the attacker has the higher result, the shell hits and the defender spins out. If the defender has the higher result, the shell misses! Red shells work the same, except the attacker rolls 2d20 (advantage in 5th ed. terms) while the defender still only rolls 1d20. Highest result wins, if its the defender, the red shell misses!
Download the full table here. I hope you guys enjoy this expansion to the rules. Watch out for blue shells!
I made my regular trip to our outstanding Friendly Local Gaming Store the Wyvern’s Tale on Friday, when a little display caught my eye. There was a small box of games the size of a pack of gum, eight in total, with various themes and play mechanics. The marketing is clever as each game has a 3-letter title, and the dimensions really are about the size of a 5-stick pack of Juicy Fruit, Big Red, or Spearmint gum. I snapped them all up immediately, as they all looked pretty appealing and it was hard to tell exactly what they were about, given the limited amount of space on the box. They make good use of it though as each box tells you how many players can play, the skill level (1 casual, 2 intermediate, or 3 challenging), and how much time is required for an average game (usually 10-30 minutes). Originally a kickstarter, this was one gaming project that flew under my radar. I’m glad they made their goal!
Each game includes a number of cards about the size of a stick of gum, and some compact instructions. The mechanics they use vary widely, and show some serious creative design. Wisely, the instructions point you to instructional videos to show you how to play each game fairly quickly. We haven’t had a chance to play them all yet, but I would encourage you to check out SHH, which challenges players to cooperatively spell out words using all the letters in the alphabet only once! A perfect score is 26! The cards are really quite attractive and illustrate each letter with a picture of something that starts with the word (D for Dog, U for Umbrella etc.).
HUE uses multi-colored cards to create fields of color that players try and connect to form continuous areas of that color. The last card in your hand is your score card, and you only count up the fields of color that are on that last card. Play may include covering one third of a card previously played, allowing for a good deal of strategy for this one. Not to mention you have to save a card that has the colors you want in order to score at the end!
FLY is a dexterity game that is pretty unique. the cards are arranged next to each other to form a gingham table cloth like a classic picnic. On the “table” are several flies that have symbols and colors on their back. Players take turns dropping the swatter card from a height determined by putting the sky card in the end of the game box. If you completely cover the fly with your swatter, you keep that card and try to form sets of three of the same color or symbol.
LIE is basically liars dice, but the unique twist is there is a die on either end of the card. When you are dealt your hand, you can choose which end to use at the beginning of the betting phase. This allows you to either stack your hand with a lot of a certain number, or pick various numbers to have a variety.
We haven’t tried the more challenging games of TAJ and GEM, which involve bidding and quite a bit of strategy. TKO is a really cool 2 player boxing game, and BUS uses the unique card dimensions as roads to form a city in which you pick up passengers on your bus. All of these games are fantastically creative and demonstrate a wide variety of skills and mechanics. I would recommend checking out the videos to see which ones appeal to you.
These games pack a whole lot of fun into a small package. If you are looking for compact games you can pack for your con bag and play in line while waiting for a panel or game to open up, these would be excellent candidates. Similarly, you can throw them in a purse or pocket and break them out at a bar or restaurant while waiting for other friends to show up, or as a quick game before everyone arrives for a weekly game night. Each game sells for $6, and the website will sell the whole collection as well as a carrying case for $50. Highly recommended.
My first exposure to horror role-playing was a write-up in Dragon Magazine back in the early 90’s. The review was for Chaosium’s newest edition of Call of Cthulhu. The author described characters “having the life-span of gnats” which I found intriguing, so I learned about Lovecraft in a sort of backwards kind of way. Call of Cthulhu first, then the books.
Running my first game was surprisingly successful, but that had almost nothing to do with me. We were in my friend’s old decrepit house in a bad part of town. It was midnight, his folks nowhere to be seen, and the place was known to have rats that would occasionally make an appearance in the wee hours. It was a good place to try our first horror RPG, though we had more to worry about from real life threats than from Nyarlathotep.
Some players were into the historical element of Cthulhu, set in the 1920’s, and some into the general adventure, but all in a way that was no more engaged than any other RPG, meaning there was chatter, snacking, and thumbing through magazines mixed in with our gaming. As a clawing came from the other side of a boarded up window in our game, I reached down and scratched at the bottom of the table, so that my players couldn’t see what I was doing, but heard the noise. Suddenly, everyone was alert, and nervous! Magazines were set aside, snacks back on the table. One player started sweating. Steve went to check the locks on the door. I was amazed at how that focused the game and brought suspense to the table. The game was a success, and largely because of this small thing that made the game more present.
I cannot claim to be a master of horror role-playing, and would love to see the input of our fans on this particular issue, but I have learned to pick up a few things since those first days
- Know your rules or be prepared to fake it – Nothing will limit the impact of a creepy situation like stopping the momentum and looking up the rules of the game, or fumbling documents and stats. It’s just good storytelling to be able to keep the game flowing. Any time the players can separate themselves from the events or what’s going on with their character, you lose the feel that is so important to the success of this specific genre of game. Better to take your best guess and roll with it.
- Know your adventure – This goes somewhat to fumbling, but players in a horror game will go in directions you probably won’t see coming because in some ways, many horror stories have been considered by players before, and a pragmatic, unheroic response to those scenarios might be the one the player chooses. Characters in these games are often everyday kinds of people, and everyday people aren’t heroic all the time. Knowing your adventure will help you to be able to respond more freely and improvise more quickly when players go in unexpected directions.
- Props – Any Call of Cthulhu fan will know that props are key items that are really emphasized in a number of Chaosium materials, like their award winning Horror on the Orient Express box set.. These are part of breaking the wall and bringing the characters and players into the world of the horrific events. But, moreover, these games are usually not combat games. These are games that reward thinking, deduction, and observation. The combat character, if there even is one, is usually the dead weight. Props allow the player to focus on details, and enjoy the gathering of information beyond the rolling of dice to determine success or failure.
- Access the senses – Many games can rely on the verbal imagery to convey the message and be enjoyed, but in eliciting a more visceral response to a game, deviating from the expected can place that player on the edge of their seat. My simple example of the unexplained scratching noises is one, but using lighting effects (like lighting your room with just a candle for parts of your story where the characters travel in darkness), or apps with sound effects such as Syrinscape might bring a new level of engagement to your game. By way of a great example, our GM played this for us when we tried out Fantasy Flight’s End of the World system. I have never been more haunted and focused than after hearing this message.
- Music – Good music can really shift the feeling in a game, especially if coordinated well. It may be necessary to groom your playlists. I’ve been using a playlist from Spotify, wherein some particularly good Lovecraftian mixes, but a ‘Creepy’ play list might be just what the doctor ordered for your highly creepy campaigns.
- Go with what creeps you out – I know what makes my skin crawl. I try to access that part of my mind when running these games, then leak bits and pieces. Not everything has to make sense or be explained, but avoid contradictions or red herrings. Little things can be the most haunting: Exploring the suspects home to find a personal item from the investigator’s bedroom or a lock of their hair; a glimpse of someone watching the investigator and the discovery of a lengthy surveillance (cigarette butts in the yard, photographs, etc.); dead animals appearing in their yard inexplicably; phone calls with quiet breathing on the other end.
- Less is more: A great GM once said “Things are always scarier when you keep them behind the curtain, just giving a little peek or a hint as to what lies beyond. Show them the monster in the light of day, and it’s just a guy in a rubber suit.” You’re always better to keep things out of the direct line of sight if at all possible. If at the last moment they have to see the guy in the suit to wrap it up, so be it, but if your players are finally relieved to see Cthulhu’s face, then it’s Mission Accomplished as a GM..
Finally, realize that horror role playing is not for every type of group. It may not be the kind of game you can play with your dungeon crawling axe-potato group of murder hobos. But, with the right group, you can access all that is rewarding about the horror genre. While these tips are helpful, there are probably numerous tips our readers could share, or great stories to be told. I invite those of you who do to share them with us, and let us know what keeps you up at night from your favorite horror RPG.