Friday, June 23, 2017

Boardgaming trends: Kickstarter, the good and bad

Over the last few years, there's been an explosion of boardgames that have happened through Kickstarter. This has been both good and bad for the industry, and I'll discuss some of the beneficial and sinister aspects of using Kickstarter for boardgames. Now, I haven't run any campaigns, I have no published designs, though I have backed a number of campaigns, and developed some general rules for what I will back in the way of games.

 If you want great insight into how to run a campaign, the go to place is the Stonemaier Kickstarter lessons page. While he gave up using Kickstarter for various reasons, there's still a LOT to learn from his blog.  Anyway, that's more for project creators, if that's your interest.

Please note that I'm talking about the boardgame side of things, though a lot of this will apply to minis games and rpgs.  The links included here are informative and not shopping links, I want you to be able to look at what's going on, as the industry moved fast before Kickstarter, and is much faster now.

The Good

There's a lot of games that wouldn't exist that are rather good. No theme is off limits.This is pare of the consequence of getting rid of the gatekeepers. Just like in tradpub sff, they mostly think in trends of theme, and will or won't sign a game based on other things announced or recently published in the industry. Some companies got started on Kickstarter, and some have left, others returned.

Some of these, like Gloomhaven and Scythe, are just really big, and have prohibitive up front costs. Others have really niche themes, like Compounded, Scoville, and Viticulture. There's also the instance of the nearly one man company, in Red Raven Games from Ryan Laukaut, with Above and Below, Eight Minute Empire, Artifacts Inc, and more. 

Another consequence is that the publishers involved can up the quality of the components, sometimes with better boards or cards, or even minis and metal coins. Do these affect gameplay? HELL NO. But they do add to the experience of playing, and for some people(yes, I've seen it, though it's not me) the increased immersion granted by metal coins or minis actually gets them to like the game. Yes, I know it's a bit odd. So are gamers in general.

From a production side, Kickstarter enable a company to get a more accurate picture of the demand for their game, and makes for a leaner first run. This means it's not sitting around on distributor or store shelves forever, which has a downside, but they aren't wasting space, either. Lean production changed the landscape of the automobile industry, and this is a way to make some similar gains in this hobby industry.

The Bad

There's a lot of games that wouldn't exist that are rather bad. No theme is off limits. Unfortunately, that also includes a lot of filthy Apples to Apples clones, anti-Christian/Conservative, and other unfortunate creations. There can be a great lack of self awareness, awareness of the hobby, or underdeveloped games. (This is not to say the tradpub game industry has a provably better record, it's just they have better ability to hide it. FFG for a long time had some of the worst rulebooks outside of direct from German translations.)

There's companies that have gone under because of Kickstarter. Cambridge Games Factory went under after running a campaign for a deluxe version of their first hit game. The size of the project and fulfillment was simply too great, and some tragic things happened. Fifth Street Games declared bankruptcy due to fiscal mismanagement.

I've also heard from some store owners that KS has hurt the industry. That's poppycock. Most campaigns and companies running campaigns will have store backer levels, so the fact is  they don't research enough, they want the distributor to do that job. Now, I don't expect anyone to have the whole picture of the industry, that's crazy. I've seen reports from Tokyo Game Market, nobody even has a whole picture of THAT. 

Some of the tradpub have also taken to using Kickstarter for a segment of their games, which has been largely annoying. While it's allowed a faster pipeline, it's also been suggestive of some mismanagement fiscally. Another BIG concern is exclusives; they turn a lot of people away during and after the campaign.

Of course, the biggest hazard is when a company doesn't deliver. It rarely happens now, and Kickstarter has even changed their terms of service to help deal with that in ANY field.

Backing Guidelines

Now, I mentioned earlier that I have developed my own guidelines for backing projects. Here's a few that I use.

1. Know the track record of the publisher. If they don't have one, be wary. It's not a disqualification, but a reputation is helpful. Look on BoardgameGeek in the forums about the company.

2. Look at the rulebook/review videos/playthrough. If none of these are present, that's a GIANT red flag. The more they have, the closer to a reality the project is, and you can find reviewers you trust, just like in sff.

3. Be ready for delays. Most projects don't ship on time, still. Some great companies actually ship early.  Their reputation on BGG should be helpful here.

4. Look at the number of exclusives and add-ons. There's some games that have been out for years that haven't shipped all of the exclusive/early add on rewards. And the more the game expands, the bigger the delays .

I hope this list is helpful to others in the hobby, whether it's this segment or not.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

"Leaders" going off the rails- a commentary

In case you missed it, the Sad Puppies are supposedly sleeping. Yeah, it's an archive link. I'll explain why later.  This will be a partly fisking post, original in italics, mine in bold.

So what happened to Sad Puppies this year?
In a form or another, we’ve been getting this question for months.  I thought I had explained back when I announced I was “leading” it, though I’ll confess by now I expected to have done something more about it.
So, what happened?
Apparently what always happens when I’m supposed to lead: my health goes feral.
And we're hearing about it halfway through the year because? If you were a real leader, you'd have owned up, and passed it on MONTHS ago, because you couldn't handle it. I'm going to skip the health paragraph and take you at your word there.

On top of which WORK has gone feral.  I need to finish at least five more novels this year (I intended to be at four by now) and that’s for traditional, not counting my indie career.  I’ve also picked up a three-times-a-week columnist gig, and there are other potential jobs in the horizon.  (Man, this ruined career sure is a lot of work.)
  How long ago was your last book before Darkship Thieves? I recall you mentioning 2 years in a previous post, so I'm just doubting your speed anymore. If I'm right, I wish you well with the column, because that's all the writing that'll be visible for quite some time. 
If we’d planned to do something different this year, I’d have passed it on to Amanda early.  But since what we’re planning has no defined deadline, as soon as we get it up (eh) in the next couple of months, we’ll be fine.  And we want to make sure we do it right.
Sure. Right, but you're so far past any relevant times for even the Dragons.  Nevermind the Hugos, which many still had nominating rights to this year. So, what happened to your original site that was up for a day? It had one post on it, and then you deleted it all.

So, originally, we’d planned to do nothing. 

I'm not convinced that's not still the plan.
But the problem with a decentralized, almost leaderless campaign is that it’s prone to be high jacked, and we realized late last year that if someone didn’t announce then someone who was wholly (really) in the rabid camp was going to take it, and make it sound like the campaigns were always one.
Firstly,  the Sads were only really leaderless last year, because you and your friends wanted to play egalitarians. Second, highjacked is one word. Third, so what? Most of the F770 crowd already or still believes they are the same. Yes, they do think Brad is just as evil as Vox.
  But there was no point lending color to this by having a self-proclaimed Sad Puppy leader who’d always been on the periphery, who’s barely competent to carry his own hat in a high wind, and who thinks the whole point is to back the Rabid selections. Yeah.  No.  So I announced.
So you admit your entire play this year was for going after Declan?  Except he made one nomination list last year for the Hugos, and was a Dragon finalist. So where were you? Oh, yeah. Doing less than he was. And ALL he did was list some recommendations, and state very clearly in his post that you were in charge this year. You won't even name names, which is cowardly and dishonest.
 Skipping most of the next paragraph...

Which has its roots in the left and in social markers for an excellent education.  It’s like medieval scholars showing off their Catholic Orthodoxy, or well… Or Shakespeare writing a lot of propaganda plays about the Tudors, which even Shakespeare couldn’t turn into anyhting but dross.  Which tells you the long term value of this trend.)
First, why mention Catholic Orthodoxy specifically? Second, I'll take Shakespeare's dross over your fiction any day. I'm not impressed.

Our intention was always to just create a page, in which those who register can post reading recommendations, not just of recent years, but of anything that struck their fancy.  There will be a place where you can say when the book was published and if it’s eligible for an award — and not just a science fiction award — and a link to the award page for people to follow, if so minded.  Yeah, we’ll include the Hugo, but probably with a note saying the award is in the process of self-destructing.
You had a wordpress site. Run it through Disqus, or a forum software. This isn't hard to slowly build up to. You had a forum style site for SP4, so don't lie about the work. It was up fast, and started literally almost two years ago.  The recommendations pages went live September of 2015. As to the Hugo, if you didn't care, why did you make such a big deal about it months ago?
 Thing is, I meant to have this up before nominations for the Dragon Award opened.  But on top of the comedy of errors above, our website provider either crashed or was hacked, so while trying to survive auto-immune and meeting more deliveries than UPS, I’ve been trying to get it up and running again.  (My author site is down also.)
So you lost the keys to your blog, or they were stolen? Pull the other one. There's this wonderful thing called tech support you should have called regarding your own site. As to the new one, who cares, the walls weren't painted yet. Start anew, and your'e good to go inside of an hour. With a new post. I don't trust you to not delete that post. Hence archive.
 We’ll put it up sometime in the next couple of months, and then Amanda and I will run it, and then Amanda will take over  Or Amanda, Kate and I will continue shepherding it.
Sounds like you still don't have a plan. Really.
 When we said this before and pointed out that PARTICULARLY indie books need some place to mention them, we were linked to/lectured by someone one the rabid side, because apparently they already have a site, so we don’t need one of our own. 
Who? And that likely wasn't the point. Instead, it was likely "see how easy this is?".
You just turned Marxist aesthetics on their head, and are judging books by being anti-Marxist and how much they don’t support the neo Marxist idea of justice.  That’s cool and all.  To each his own.  And since, so far, your crazy isn’t being taught in schools, it’s slightly less annoying than the Marxist crazy.
Wait. Are you talking about my book reviews? HAHAHAHAHA.... Give me a moment. 
You know that's just a schtick, right? I try to give honest feedback on negative things, but largely, I'm just having some fun at the SocJus crowd's expense. Not to mention that way folks know it's NOT an SJW virtue signal fest. Which took a LOT of people away from SFF for years, decades in some cases.
Look, the Tudors won, okay?  And yet the Shakespeare plays supporting them, all but Richard III which is good for other reasons, are the worst dogs in his repertoire.
I repeat my sentiment about Shakespeare's dross. 
 The Sad Puppies stand for literature people ENJOY reading, even if their beliefs are not those of the author.  Also, writing that is not pushing any belief, beyond the natural leaking that happens when an author writes something and puts part of him in the story.
What? Larry was out to expose the collusion, and just put together lists of books HE liked. You're posing as arbiters of good taste. 
 We fully support your right to have the recommendation sites for those who read your catechism and who will enthusiastically love and adore Piers Plowman.  It’s who you are, it’s what you do, and why shouldn’t you have a site for those who think like you?
Are you really going after the SFF Catholic crowd here? That actually write Catholic characters? I've heard tell you share the faith, but this is a funny way of showing it.
Your recommendations no more invalidate the need for a site of our own than do the recommendation sites from the left, going into exquisite detail about how “other” the author of some unreadable tome is, and how they have just the right amount of vaginitude and melanin.
So, where's the site? Ten minutes, up and running. Seriously.
 So, yeah, there will be a Sad Puppies recommendation site — glowers in the vague direction of servers 
 Suspension of disbelief has not been engaged.

And that’s where the Sad Puppies are.  They didn’t run away.  They’re just sleeping in the mud room
You haven't convinced me they aren't "sleeping" at the vet's.
And there you go. A full post, right there, Mrs. Hoyt. See how simple it CAN be? It doesn't need to be perfect, just get it UP and RUNNING. Before you dismiss me, I have a growing number of authors sending me books, some established, some growing. Don't bother, I've read a few of your short stories. Really. I'm not impressed.
 When you play Social Justice, the world loses.



Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Appendix N Comics: The Chronicles of Kull, vol. 1

I know some of you might be wondering why I'm not looking at the Moorcock adaptations. I MIGHT eventually track down the P. Craig Russell adaptations, but otherwise I'll pass. I don't care for the material from what I've heard described, and I've watched Razorfist's videos. I'll not bash the material, but it's not something I'll pursue either.

That aside, the massive great bulk of Appendix N material that's been transformed to graphic format has been Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptations. So much other stuff that's ignored, and it makes me sad. Anyway, on to what we do have, by Valka!

Most obvious is the art, so let's start there. There's some really good linework in here. In some spots, there's too much, it just overwhelms the panel. The action is well displayed, and otherwise my biggest critique would be the coloring, but that's not unusual for a comic of this age, most of the coloring is REALLY bright. So, it's not quite reflective of Kull's moodiness or philosophical core.

For the most part, the book is a collection of stories that don't interact with each other. There's a few common bits, like plotting nobles and a minstrel, but they are largely set pieces. Thulsa Doom, on the other hand, is a welcome figure, though he only shows in two stories. There's a really nice adaptation of a poem called "The King and the Oak", which approaches the poem really well. Only issue? The coloring.

So what else do we have in these stories? Sea monsters, a werewolf, wax duplicates, snakemen, ancient forbidden cities, necromantic wars, and a whole lotta fighting. Betrayal and plots abound, and Kull must depend on his traditional enemy, the Picts, a great number of times.

This is a great collection overall, and unlike Conan, there's only five volumes in this run. If you're interested, I'd check it out via TFAW, there's an ad on the sidebar you can use.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Injustice Book Review: Down to Sheol by M. T. White

Cower not, fierce reader! Today we have a slight departure from my normal choices of fiction for this venue; we've got CRIME! Now, I wouldn't consider this a pulp story, but it's got plenty to commend it. ON TO THE CHARGES!

First, our protagonist is an Army veteran, just discharged. More to that, his cousin is also an Army vet, with significant PTSD and coping issues. There's a great deal of sympathy for the condition, something the left has little affection for. PTSD in their mind is for fake victims of men looking at them wrong.

Second, our villains are a web of corruption woven through the county. The levels of deception within this story on the part of  the bad guys is honestly dizzying. The fact that none of them think somebody else might be playing them just boggles the mind.

Most of the crimes against SocJus boil down to these issues. However, there's also a portrayal of Christianity that has plenty of room for mercy. There's a desire for healing and peace, for letting go of pain and recovering. To admit that one has a need for healing, that one is in fact flawed, is beyond the SocJus ideals.

Now, I would not call this a pulp crime novel. The pacing is a bit slow for me to look at it in that way. That said, there's still a lot to like in this book, if you like crime novels. I do not recommend it for those that don't, there's some content that fits the story very well. 

If you want a modern crime story with hope, I definitely put this as a good volume. 7 of 10 fell deeds

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Short Story Supergroup: The Challenge from Beyond

I know I don't normally cover individual short stories here, but I found an anthology that made that impossible. If you're a fan of Appendix N, this might blow you away, as I've not seen a bigger game of pass the story anywhere. And by bigger, I mean both quantity of authors and quality, and this is only a 10 page short!

So who wrote this crazy thing? We start with  one of the women the Narrative likes to deny existing: C.L. Moore. We move then to the tragically ignored A. Merritt. The next two authors are actually known quantities and the establishment hasn't been able to bury: H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. Yes, we're up to for Appendix N authors, and we now finish with Frank Belknap Long, who Bradbury cited as one who shaped the Amercan SF field.

Where can you find this work? Well, I found it in this anthology in a Barnes and Noble discount section. Yeah, it's on Amazon, but it's three times the cost. Save yourself some cash and still get the story. It originally appeared in Fantasy Magazine in 1935. I don't have an issue or month, so I can't help beyond that.

So yeah, you've got a supergroup of authors writing this thing, and it is wild, imaginative, and I only found two points to the thing that I consider weaknesses. Firstly, the transition to and from Lovecraft's section is well, obvious. From Moore to Merritt is nearly seamless, the styles are slightly different, but both vary their sentence length, and use descriptors in a fairly straightforward manner. Howard to Long is likewise a mostly smooth transition, as both are more inclined to more active prose. Lovecraft, with his winding descriptors that overcome sentences and paragraphs, unfortunately doesn't meld stylistically with either side of his portion. That said, his content fits, is well done, and vital to the work.

The other portion that was a disappointment would be the ending. Partly, I think Long may have felt himself written into a corner.  Part may be due to his worldview, or to his spot in Lovecraft's circle of writers. I would need to familiarize myself more with his work to arrive at any preliminary conclusions.  I just got to the end and felt like, "That's it?".  I might be alone in this, and hope I'm wrong, but I felt disconnected suddenly from the story.

These two points aside, this is an amazing example of writing, and all of the authors add great points to the story. Do yourself a favor and find it. I'll give it 8 of 10 fell deeds.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

recent launches

 Some highly interesting books dropped this week, and while I haven't had a chance to read all of them as yet, I thought I might bring attention to them.

American Prayers by Jay Carper- From the gent behind the Twitter account @HistoryCarper, this book was collected to prove one thing: the Christian founding of the United States.  I haven't read much yet, but there's definitely some great material here, as well as great demonstrance of perspectives.

For Steam and Country by Jon Del Arroz- I've already reviewed the book here (it's the last review to give me some room). This book's a good time, and it's all ages steampunk. You don't like airships? Or ferrets? What are you, a chicom?  I know I missed the first day launch, but if you haven't grabbed it yet, I do recommend this book.

Galaxy's Edge: Legionnaire by Nick Cole and Jason Anspach- It's in the queue. I wouldn't call myself a Star Wars fan anymore, though the announced Castalia House forking has my attention. I like both of these authors, so I'm going to give book one a shot. Hopefully, I'll have a review soon.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

More thoughts on Crime pulp

So I was on Brian Niemeier's Geek Gab: On the Books podcast earlier this week, with Nathan Housley, discussing Crime and Suspense pulps.

And of course, I had a few thoughts come to mind afterwards.

Let's start with a definition of the Crime genre(yes, I know genres are mostly marketing tools). It's not inherently a mystery story, though it might be.  A great proportion of these feature "protagonists" on the other side of the law. There's a lot of deceit in the several characters, possibly including the narrator. Commonly, there's a lot of violence, and sex and language content is generally within the norm.

I wrote an overview post on the genre of crime comics. While this is a good start, it's also very much an incomplete view. There were a slew of crime comics before the comics code came into being, notably from EC, the biggest victim of the code. On the recent side, Hard Case Crime has been partnering with Titan Comics to bring some interesting stories to graphic format, and if they do quality work long enough, will unseat Vertigo as the crime comics king.

As I've already mentioned them on the podcast and in here, Hard Case Crime is a publisher of crime novels. The stories range from reprints or new work of masters like Max Allan Collins to first publishing authors. The main commonality is that these are all straight up, hard-boiled stories. There's even reprints of works from past masters like Erle Stanley Gardner.

I should also mention the book Dane Curse by Matt Abraham. I reviewed it awhile ago here, and let me say, if you like superhero books and pulp detectives from the likes of Spillane and Hammet, you will likely enjoy this.

As with all the pulps, there's a lot that is stuck in that lost land of copyrighted and out of print.

I mentioned in the podcast that Barnes and Noble has done, and continues to do some great story anthologies. The previous pulp movement had some great anthologies, from Weird Tales, to Tough Guys and Dangerous Dames. Yeah, I'm going to spread out from crime here, but they've got some great anthologies in the bargain sections. I recommend looking for the Fall River Press books and Gothic Horror anthologies if you've got a local store. Yeah, there's plenty of other options, but I figure I'd mention these due to value.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.