Soylents: a comparative review of future foods

An introduction to “future food”

soylent_2-0A few years ago, a man called Rob Rhinehart got annoyed with the state of food. He was fed up with spending time and money on just staying alive.

Sure, food can be super enjoyable. Nothing is going to tear me away from the many pizzas in my life. But his point holds firm: much of the time, food is just nutrition, just fuel to keep us alive. Why have we not made it cheaper and simpler?

His answer to that question was Soylent. It’s powdered food that contains 100% of the vitamins, the minerals, the calories, the carbs, the proteins; every tiny thing we need to survive and flourish. Not only that, but its super convenient – simply add powder to water.

Soylents in my life

In my work day, lunchtime is not a time for sitting down to a tasty home cooked meal. Midday is a time when I want the absolute minimum hassle, and soylents, or “future foods” are a great solution to that. I’ve found them to be very helpful from many perspectives:

  • low cost: much cheaper than grabbing a sandwich every day
  • fast: much simpler than defrosting or buying and eating a meal
  • low hassle: I can drink it at my desk as I work, no down time needed. If I want some down time, I go outside for a walk, trading time on eating for time on exercise and fresh air!
  • a weight management technique: future foods have a very known calorie portion, and I find them satisfying to the degree I’m not tempted to snack – and not needing to shop reduces temptation.
  • more stable energy release: I start drinking one around 11:30, and finish it around 2:30. Drinking it so slowly keeps me satiated, and avoids the desire to nap I often hit an hour after I wolf down a medium sized meal at lunch.

Soylent is not available in the UK, so I’ve been experimenting with some of the available options, and thought I would review them for others interested in the concept.

Disclaimer: I was sent free samples of many of these products. Several of them have had changes to their recipe over the year I’ve been testing, so your mileage may vary. I’ve tested all of them for at least a week, usually several weeks.

A “meal” is ~700kcal, I’ve noted if the supplied sizes vary from this. The price per meal is for a starter pack, and then the cheapest bulk price available is in brackets. Cost of postage, if applicable, is included. 

Joylent

joylentPrice per meal: £1.79 (£1.49 bulk)

Joylent was the first future food I tried. I was attracted by its pretty packaging, range of flavours and cheap pricing.

I found all the flavours enjoyable, none of them too sweet or too artificial. The texture was a little gritty – which I actually came to enjoy, after a little adjustment. It did mean the mix was prone to seperating out over time, so you’d need to shake it up fairly regularly. Not a big problem for me, it’s in a shaker already for a reason.

The effect on my body of switching to Joylent was entirely amicable. No exciting flatulence, and stable energy levels throughout.

The pretty packaging is an interesting plus point as well: I genuinely looked forwards to each meal more than with some of the blandly bagged future foods. Eating is not purely about nourishment, and there’s something to be said for taking steps to replicate the aesthetic enjoyment of food…

All in, I’d definitely give Joylent another go!

Positive: range of flavours, good prices, vegan option, pretty packaging.

Negative: slightly gritty.

Queal

QuealPrice per meal: £2.10 (£1.88 bulk)

After Joylent, the next inviting range of packages I opened was Queal. I say “inviting”; what I mean is “a little bit amateurish”.

Whilst the Joylent branding might be a bit colourful for some, the Queal logo was in underlined Ariel. My immediate impression of the packaging was that my mum could have designed it in Word.

Also, “Queal”? I know they are getting at Quick-Meal, but the first thing that jumped to mind for the three people I asked? “Queasy”. To be fair to them, over the last 6 months they have a new logo that is both prettier, and includes a “Quick Meal” tagline. I imagine their packaging will update in time.

The strength of Queal is twofold: texture and range of flavours.

It has a finer powder mixture than Joylent, resulting in a smoother, creamier mix that separates less. The downside of this is the mixture can clump together on mixing – imagine adding flour to water compared to adding sand to water. The sand will be gritty, but the flour might form lumps. That said though, the lumps are rare, and when well mixed or even blended, not a problem at all. I quite enjoyed chewing the odd bit of tasty Queal lump anyway – if textures are a deal breaker for you, something to be aware of.

Queal is available in 10 flavours currently, including such treats as “Crazy Chocolate Peanut” and “Banana Mania”. I found the flavours a bit hit and miss. Whereas every Joylent was nice enough, but not distractingly so, Queal had some overly sweet flavours – especially Berry – and some tasted overly artificial at points. Still, the benefit of 10 options is you are found to find some that suit you, and the entire range is available in Lite, Standard, Plus and Athletic, allowing a varied mix of calories and macros.

Overall, I enjoyed Queal, but I found it a slightly less good product that Joylent, at a slightly higher price.

Plus sides: Smooth texture, range of flavours, decent price, 4 different calorie mixes available.

Downsides: basic packaging, inadvisable name, flavours a little more sickly/artificial, can form lumps.

Ambronite

Price per meal: £12.10 (£8.05 bulk, but that would cost you £322 for 40). Plus the meals are only 500kcal. For a comparable 700kcal portion, the numbers are £16.94 and £11.27 bulk!

Wow. That was my first thought on seeing the price on this bad boy. One of my significant motivating factors for using future foods is the cost savings, compared to buying lunch. At the rate I use future foods, I could feed myself on Joylent for a month of workdays for the same price as a single meal of Ambronite.

Or indeed, for the cost of a Ambronite meal, could head to Subway and buy a 2 footlong Veggie Patty subs, 2 large side salads, 2 drinks and 3 cookies, for a total of 2,200 calories.

Or indeed, head to Aldi, and buy 10.8 kilos of butter, for a total of 73,800 calories.

If you can get past the price, Ambronite is clearly a quality product. None of the other foods on this list feel, look or taste so clearly like natural ingredients. Here is the full list: Oat protein, almond, oats, apple, agave syrup, oat fiber, nettle leaf, spinach, flaxseed, chlorella, spirulina, cranberry, bilberry, black currant, sea buckthorn, nutritional yeast, mineral salt, natural aromas, guar gum, vanilla. 20 items, all of which have grown and lived. If trees-are-our-family values are dear to you, Ambronite may be your – very expensive – friend.

As long as you don’t mind the flavour. Because, no doubt about it, Ambronite tastes… healthy. Healthy like a good walk up a mountain. In October. In pouring rain. In Scotland.

The finished mix is a textured greenish colour – much as one would imagine true Soylent Green, I suddenly realise. It tastes very earthy; a little bitter, a little bland; with a soft but slightly gritty texture. It definitely has a sour aftertaste – when I first tasted it, my immediate thought was that the packet must be past its sell by date.

After a few more sips though, I started not to notice the negatives, and became aware of just how satiating it felt. In fact, it didn’t take long for me to decide that its probably my favourite flavour of futurefood. I like to barely notice I’m drinking the stuff, and Ambronite quickly fades into the background, leaving you feel surprisingly refreshed. That said, I can imagine 60-70% of people just deciding its disgusting.

Plus sides: Organic. Fruits and nuts and berries and seeds. Wildly satiating. Flavour doesn’t linger.

Downsides: Crazily, ludicrously, never-gonna-buy-it expensive. Tastes “healthy” ie. possible a little bit horrible.

Jake

Price per meal: £2.69 (£2.08 bulk subscription).

Jake has solid branding, and they know what message they want to get across. Futurefoods have a battle on their hands regarding who they are for, and why. Jake make it clear that this is a product for people who value quick, healthy and cheap nutrition.

I like their claim “Jake is made from real food”. I was regularly finding little pieces of slightly gooey texture, which were quite tasty. At first I assumed they were some kind of processed ingredient to supply healthy fats, but on closer examination I realised they were whole flax seeds. Tasty regardless, but somehow more appetising than artificially generated components.

Satiation is good with Jake, and I feel that it gives me a nice even energy flow throughout the day. That said, every future food has impressed me with its stable energy release: my habit of slowly drinking a shake over 3 hours is likely a key contributor, but that’s still valid, as there’s no way I would be that self controlled with a sandwich.

The vanilla flavour is a little strong for me, possibly slightly sickly. It certainly sticks around in my mouth many minutes after I’ve last sipped it. That said, its fairly unassuming, and it hasn’t stopped me being satisfied with the product; I just prefer milder flavours in my soylents. I also miss the opportunity to try other flavours; whilst Jake offer a Light and a Sports mix, they seem oddly proud of being available in “Only Vanilla”.

On eating Jake for a week, I feel like I’m in the ideal “natural” territory that Ambronite want to inhabit. Whilst I don’t believe in the “non-organic food is poison” mantra, its undeniable that oats, pea protein and flaxseed have a certain appeal over emulsifying agent Z3004 and flavouring E382-AB. And I may even be willing to pay for that appeal, to an extent. That extent is where a premium of £1-per-meal is reasonable… and £11-per-meal is not.

Plus sides: Has real life seeds! Good branding, nice energy release, mostly whole foods.

Downsides: If you don’t like texture, you might not like tasty lumps, only one flavour, vanilla a bit strong.

A trip to the Postbox: an All Outta Bubblegum experience…

bubblegumI’ve recently become interested in RPG games. This is a genre of gaming where you use your imagination to build a world, generally with some rules to help provide a framework to make this easier.

Given my relative inexperience, I’ve asked my friends Alan and Ace to play a game of “All Outta Bubblegum” with me via email. Its a particularly silly game, designed for a short play through with ridiculous effects. The rules, such as they are, are below:

All Outta Bubblegum

Based entirely on a quote from an 80s action film “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass… and I’m all outta bubblegum“. In AOB you can do one of two types of action; you can do normal things, like walking, answering the phone, getting dressed, etc. Or you can do kickass things, like hacking a computer with a single keypress, flying a helicopter, or barrel-kicking a zombie through a wall.

Characters in All Outta Bubblegum have one stat — Bubblegum. It’s technically a number which varies from 0 through 8, though the designers highly, highly recommend that you don’t do anything so banal as write down a number, and, instead, pass out actual sticks of bubblegum to the players.

Bubblegum always starts out at 8.

Resolution

Any action which does not fall under the broad category of “kickass” is resolved by rolling a d10. If the number rolled is equal to or less than the amount of bubblegum the character has left, then the character succeeds in his task.

Any action which falls under the broad umbrella of “kickass” is also resolved by rolling a d10. However, in this case, you wish to roll greater than the amount of bubblegum that you have left.

Losing Bubblegum

Whenever you fail a kickass roll, you lose a stick of Bubblegum. You may also sacrifice a stick of Bubblegum before the roll to ensure success.

Zero Bubblegum

When you lose your last stick of bubblegum, you are officially all outta bubblegum. You may no longer attempt any kind of non-asskicking activity. Simple devices like, say, the handles of doors confound you (eerily enough, you have no problem field-stripping a .50 caliber machinegun to clear a jam in 15 seconds flat). However, you automatically succeed in any kickass-related activity. you are a nearly unstoppable ball of bubblegum-less fury. However, bear in mind that it’s relatively easy to trap a zero-bubblegum person in a situation he’s totally incapable of dealing with.

A trip to the Postbox

We both wake up in a bedroom, the one that we share. We have adult bunk beds, Alan in the bottom bunk, I’m in the top. We’ve been asleep under the covers, when we are woken by an alarm clock going off on the other side of the room. The digital display is blinking 8:00am. Its an alarm, set to remind us that we need to post a birthday card in the postbox at the end of the road by 12pm. The race is on!

I sit up blearily, narrowing missing banging my head on the ceiling. That bloomin’ alarm is driving me mad, and I know from experience it won’t turn off without us pressing the button on top.

I peer over the edge of the bed, but you are showing no signs of moving. “Wake up, you pathetic scottish pillock!”. A vague moan sounds from under my bed, but no visible evidence of sentience.

This is a normal action, which needs an 8 or less to succeed. I roll a 6. What happens Alan?



With a spritely and unexpected burst of energy, I roll out of bed with a cry of “get your ass up muthaf***a!”.

I roll a 1, successfully completing the action of getting out of bed.

I decide to forgo the stifling, square, and outmoded convention of dressing and walk naked to the door.



My book glances off the alarm clock, successfully turning it off, in fact, smashing it completely. From the shards of broken alarm clock, a few sparks flash, and a wisp of smokes starts to rise, unnoticed so far by us.

I sit myself up, and try to somersault from the bed, directly to landing on my feet on the floor, doing a kickass roll. I get an 8, failing it


You land a wonderful handspring, surprising yourself in the process, rolling otter-like to your feet like a sleek, denuded Chuck Norris. You celebrate by lifting your arms up in the momentary pose of an Olympic child gymnast.

I ignore you, eager to get my s**t for the day done.  I got no time for showboating.  I have a letter to deliver dagnammit! and Im going to get it in by first post if it kills me.  Nothing will stand in my way.  NOTHING!

I reach for the door to exit from the room, rolling a 9 in my normal roll, failing it…

Eagerness defines Alan, sweat dripping from his face (and hairy back) as he swings his entire body in anticipation towards the door. Sadly, such enthusiasm has led to a miscalculation and he crashes, testicles first, dramatically into the doorhandle. The entire door mechanism snaps off, impaled as it is into his scrotum, and they fall to the ground as one, a bleeding, whimpering mess at the foot of a firmly closed door.

Next to the bed, I wobble unsteadily, surprised to have completed such a kickass feat when I initially thought I’d failed, and gaze blearily at the misery in front of me. Despite my obvious repulsion, I lean in and offer a hand to Alan to help him get up. I roll a 10, failing a normal roll…

Still unnoticed by either of us, up on the chest of drawers a smoke trail flickers in and out. A small flame rises within the remains of the alarm clock, as the wiring catches alight, and begins to gentle spread along the innards of the broken timepiece.


You fall forward, missing your balance and tumbling – eye first – into the corner of the chest of drawers, which obligingly pokes it out. You tumble to the floor grasping desperately to steady the eye swinging out of its socket.

I have no time for your sufferings.  Posting mail is a serious business, and its a business I intend to do well in! I grasp my swollen balls with one hand, and with the other I reach up to the door handle to help right myself.

I roll a 4, passing a normal roll…

You stand up with no difficulties, and pluck the doorhandle out of your scrotum, ignoring the trickle of blood trailing from the prominent gash it has left, and attach it to the door. It clicks back into place masterfully, and the handle turns. Sadly, the door appears to be locked, and stays firmly shut.

There is little of the alarm clock visible anymore, and the top of the dresser has started to catch. Cheap and cheerful chipboard is great for building an ikea special, but it doesn’t half throw off a lot of smoke. Alan notices that his letter is around 10 inches away from the crater that used to be a timepiece.

I scream. And scream. My eye is hanging out. I scream some more.

My action this turn is going to be to simply attempt to stop screaming. I’m going to make that a kickass roll by attempting to turn my scream into a manful “Oooooh yeaaah”. I roll an 8 (a fail, and my bubblegum number has dropped to 7)…


Your scream raises in pitch, through the little girl octaves and right up into the ultra high range of 80’s symphonic metal singers. A crack appears in the window pane. Suddenly there is a short ‘twang’, like a rubber band breaking, and all sound other than a gurgle instantly stops emanating from your throat.

It would appear you have broken a vocal chord (spare me yer scientific doctor bulls**t about how this is physically impossible – remember – the correct reponse in improvisation is always ‘yes’).

Seeing the peril of the hallowed letter I manfully stride over to pick it up. Your face is showered with my testicle blood as I attempt to straddle you en route to retrieve my precious cargo from the flames.

I roll a 2, passing a normal roll…

You deftly swipe the letter from the top of the chest of drawers. The air above the unit is starting to shimmer from the heat, and you step back from the blaze. It’s already started to curl up the curtains, and presents a formidable barrier to anyone wishing to reach the window.

You cough a little, as the smoke irritates your lungs. Visibility is reducing, and its hard to even see the other side of the room properly. You wonder briefly why there is no fire alarm ringing, but recall that your evil landlord is the exact kind of person to skimp of that sort of “luxury”. As you peer at the blackened wall and obviously smoke damaged ceiling, you suspect you are not going to get your rental deposit back either…

My world has gone into slow motion. If you’ve seen 28 Days Later, there’s a bit where the dad gets angry and kicks a post, and you see a single droplet of infected blood inexorably drop into his eye, and he rapidly deteriorates into a rage filled monster. I’m already half blinded, and barely able to talk, due to my laryngeal luxation (yep, that’s the correct medical term), and I can only draw breath in horror as I see a gush of scrotal blood fall from your ravaged groins towards my face.

Slight break from the rules, because why not? I’m going to roll for the result. Not an action, we just get to see what happens to me from mundane to insane based on the roll. Maybe I turn into a were-Alan…I roll a… 9!


You rise up in a frenzy, breathing hard and contorting in the grip of a terrifying, and obviously painful transmogrification…. you drop to your knees as your fingers extend – one of them forcefully pushes its way in between your teeth, which are reforming themselves into gangrenous, yellowing icebergs…

Your face itches as a pair of tangled pelts speedily sprout from your jowls….

More hair begins to form a greasy blanket over your back and your genitals take on herculean, bulbous, proportions….

Your effete middle class English exterior is successfully transformed into a heinous mockery of humanity which draws itself up to its full height, glorying in its new found, hitherto unexperienced, masculinity…

Much like Harry Potter under the influence of polyjuice potion, your spectacles are still in place (one eye still dangling below the lens), and your accent remains unchanged as you exclaim “bloody hell!”.

I gaze at the horrific transformation in front of me with a sense of awe which overpowers the rising panic at the burgeoning blaze and gather my thoughts.  Quickly thinking through the weight ratio, I grab your form and attempt to break the glass by lobbing your sweating form at the window….

I roll a 5 for kick ass…

Failing miserably at the attempt for two, obvious reasons. Firstly, the large steel bars on the window present a formidable opponent to any projectile, however well tossed.

Secondly, whilst almost laughably oversized, your upper body is comicly misproportioned. Your forearms snap audibly, arms hanging limply as you stare at them disappointedly. (Your bubblegum number is now 6).

Under the onslaught of your full strength attack, I have been moved across the floor towards the window almost three eighths of an inch. Shrugging it off, and temporarily ruling out the window as an exit point, I decide the door is our best opportunity for escape. Whilst I could use the key that is in my pocket, I attempt a triple backwards somersault scissorkick into the upper panel of the stout Edwardian door.

And that’s a 1 on my kickass roll, an epic fail…


The flames begin to spread across the wall – the heat in the room increases as ugly black smoke begins to fill the room.

As you breathe in deeply to begin the wind up for your kick you fall to the floor in a coughing fit, vomiting several times and almost inhaling your swinging eye in between heaves, accidentally crunching it like a ripe lychee between your teeth.

I nudge you with my foot in an effort to motivate you “mone man – get yer s**t together, eh” and reach for a discarded t-shirt to cover my mouth while I decide what to do.

I roll a normal 1 – an epic win…

You are mighty proud of both your actions.

Firstly, your old tshirt is, predictably, disgusting. It’s a soggy greeny brown that belies it was once sold to you at an Avril Lavigne concert as a “medium white”. Almost a decade of abuse has imbued it with colonies upon colonies of anaerobic bacteria. Given that they have evolved to dwell in close proximity to your body, they are able to survive in incredibly inhospitable environments, and can generate their own oxygen.

As you hold it to your face, you realise that the air entering your lungs has become a) powerfully nauseating but b) safely breathable. You have saved yourself from any danger of smoke inhalation.

Secondly, that nudge with your foot had unpredictable consequences. Hitting me on the side of the head, it has caused a frontal lobe haemorrhage in *exactly* the right place to give me an excellent idea…

Temporarily ignoring the vitreous fluid dripping down my jaw, I attempt a normal roll to open the door with the key in my pocket! That’s an 8…


In your haste to get the key to the door, it flies out of your hand and it ricochets around the room before – with a comedy ‘plop’ sound – lodges itself halfway into your arsehole, sticking proudly out like Excalibur,

Arms flopping at my side , barely gripping the letter between my aching teeth, I run at you, pelvis first, in an attempt to push your bulbous frame to batter the door down. I attempt a normal roll with a 3…

We both crunch into the doorway. Our combined body weight cracks the bottom panel off, and we roll through into the passageway.

As we lay in a bundle, an influx of air passes through, nearly ripping the letter out from your teeth. The heat behind us triples in intensity with a roar, blistering any exposed skin on the back of our legs.

Finally, a smoke alarm begins to wail in the corridor, and you can hear raised voices from down the stairs. I try to put my feet out from the flaming room, with a 2 on a normal roll…


You extract your feet from the room without incident and try to regain some form of composure as the voice from below comes into focus – its (our mutual friend) Dave!

“You alright boys? Whats happening?”

“BA***RD!” No one – CHUFFING NO ONE – is going to get between me and this letter getting into the first post of the day. From prone position, I launch my self head-first at him trusting that his body will act as a soft and mushy springboard by which to get a good head start at the mail box.

I roll a 10, on a normal roll…

Dave is, of course, our landlord. Who else would be running a slum rental business with bars on the windows and no smoke alarms?

Unfortunately, as well as being a bad person, he is, of course, a triple dan sumo ninja. Before you manage two paces, he pulls out a pair of nunchucks and crashes them into your teeth. They all crumble. Each and every one falls outs, and your letter falls to the floor.

“I HrrrAAAATTTE DAAAAAFFFFE!!!!!” I scream, my shattered voice roaring out a death rattle. I pull double samurai swords from the dual holsters on my back, and swing them out in a symmetrical arc, centring on Dave’s neck.

My kickass roll is… 4! (My bubblegum drops to 6 due to my reliably failing rolls)


You leap like a hero, silhouetted against the flames, like a mongoose falls upon the cobra, eye bulging red, intent on dismembering this, the author of our ills. Dave deftly flicks his wrist and in a flash speaks a commanding word… “leviosa!”

You halt, suspended in mid air, eye stalk dangling and limbs flailing furiously against fresh air. It will take you a while to ‘swim’ through the ether, that’s for sure.

“Basthad!” I cry through bleeding gums. Woozy from the loss of blood and smoke inhalation I decide there is only one chance of bringing this to a decisive end. Using my bollock blood as lubricant, I attempt to leap upon the bannister and surf down it like Orlando Bloom.

I roll a mighty 4, failing utterly, and dropping my Bubblegum to 5…

You surf completely successfully down the banister. Sure, you totally lose your genitalia, but what good were they anyway? The reason this is a failure is that you left the letter upstairs, next to the fire…

I hang in the air, head entirely engulfed in smoke from the raging tempest behind us. Bleary from the lack of oxygen, I decide to move fast.

Whilst I am floating in the air, both my arms are free, so I attempt to fling both swords at Dave at the same time. Each one a normal roll… a 1 and a 9.


Your first sword splits Dave’s skull like a melon, but your second falls to the ground with you on top of it. Your next d10 roll will also indicate how many fingers you loose as you try to grab it. If you roll 10 you lose all your fingers and are impaled on your own blade.

I try to stem the gush of blood from my genitals. I roll an 8 on a normal roll…

Lacking working hands, you attempt to make a bandage and apply it to your groin using your feet. The contortioning required to do this proves too much, and the increased strain in an already injured area causes your femoral artery to rupture on one side. This is bad now, blood is absolutely torrenting out, spraying on the walls and all over the bottom of the stairs. You’ve got about 2 minutes before you bleed out, tops. You could call for help, but its hard with no teeth.

It does seem that help may be on the way though. You hear a siren as a fire engine makes its way towards us. Given that the flames are now licking up the outside of the house, that’s not hugely surprising.

Meanwhile, I fall to the ground as my second blade bounces off the carpet and swings up towards me. My devastated vocal cords allow me only a gurgling cry as 7 of my fingers are sliced clean away.

Despite my ruined eye, my hideous transformation, my burned legs, all my destroyed possessions and the fact I’ll never play piano again, I give a smile. 2 fingers and a thumb remain, the perfect number to give a thumbs up on one bloody stump of a hand, and pick up the letter with my remaining pincer limb…

Its a successful normal roll of… 4!


Triumphantly, you hold aloft the letter in your three remaining fingers, blood pissing everywhere and the smell of charred flesh in the air.

I arch my back in attempt to elevate the bleeding area, while simultaneously trying to put pressure on the wound with one of my feet.

I roll a 4, succeeding a normal roll…

The bleeding stops, finally. Panting for breath from the loss of blood, you stagger to your feet. There you stand, in a pool of your own life fluid, your legs blistered by fire, and absolutely caked in darkened blood. Everything from the hip down is a mass of clots and ravaged flesh.

Your arms have the appearance of having two elbows, the normal mid arm joint and then a horribly unnatural twist just after, with bone and gristle poking out, your hands hanging flaccidly and uselessly below.

Finally, a face, already horrific before you awoke this morning, now dominated by a toothless, gaping maw. You are truly a fearsome sight to behold. Worst of all, you realise you have not had breakfast.

Oblivious to all else, you decide clearly and triumphantly that everything will be better once you have gone to the kitchen and had a bowl of cereal.

The flames are truly ferocious now, 6 feet high, and hundreds of degrees in temperature. All clothes and skin on that half of my body is actively smouldering. I decide that enough is enough. Despite the sound outside of competent firemen arriving to put out the blaze, I decide to vehemently urinate so copiously that I put the entire fire out.

This is a kickass roll of… 9! A dazzling success!


A shower of sparkling, clear urine erupts from your loins. The spray casts a dazzling rainbow as the reek of sweet smelling steam bursts around your heroic form.

I meet the firefighters at the door and, passing them a tenner, attempt to sweet talk them into praying for me to be completely
healed.

I roll a spectacularly miserable 2, dropping my bubblegum to 4…

It was an audacious move, trying to call down God’s healing power through the intercession of strangers. Unfortunately, these particular firemen are staunch secularists, and are wildly offended by your suggestion. Together (and this move has been suggested by my 5 year old) they lift you up and push you into the kitchen bin. Your useless arms flap impotently against them, and they easily wedge you in and close the lid.

The fireman then rush back out to the truck, and start several hoses spraying into the top of the house. Coupled with the thousands of gallons of urine I already discharged, the fire has been abruptly replaced with a flood. A tsunami-like all of water appears in the corridor, and, still triumphantly holding the letter aloft, I jump onto Dave’s desecrated corpse and surf him down the stairs, voraciously pirouetting all the while…

I roll a kickass of 6, failing and dropping my bubblegum to 5…

Your feet crash through Dave’s sternum and ribs, becoming trapped in his torso, effectively anchoring you to the spot with your legs splayed like a snowboarder, acting as a cadaverous anchor.

I fart a fart of mythic proportions.  A guff of such biblical magnitude, such epic bulk, pressure, and substance (its virtually tangible), such voluminous nauseation, that should I succeed on my roll, all firefighters within a 20 foot radius that fail to roll above a 7 will become instantly comatose.  All who survive the roll will worship me as a new pestilential god.

I manage to roll a pathetic 1.

The sheer acidity of your flatulation achieves 3 things.

Firstly, it rapidly corrodes and remoulds the metal of the bin, causing it to buckle, twist and reshape around you. It totally seals, creating an airtight bond that traps you in a vacuum wrapped coffin. As a result, none of the noxious fumes reach the outside.

Secondly, being enveloped in the gas, with no avenue for your bodily tissues to escape is disastrous. You are rendered permanently and irrecoverably blind. Your eyes, your optic nerve and the entire rear of your brain are totally destroyed.

Thirdly, you have about 19 seconds of oxygen left.

I hit the bottom of the stairs, and immediately sink like a stone, as the weight of Dave’s bloated corpse drags me under the surface of the urine flavoured tidal wave. I concentrate deeply, entering a zen like state of transcendent understanding. The universe is as one to me, and all its components within my grasps. Through the sheer kickass power of my mastery of being, I focus the earth’s aura into converting Dave’s remains into a dolphin. A dolphin with a stupid afro, and lots of bad tattoos…

I roll a 2, failing, as ever… 

Well played!  You do indeed successfully manage to convert Dave into an afro’d porpoise.  He does, however, remain dead.  You are now stuck in the corpse of a much heavier creature, whose shape shifting have cause you to become infused with its decaying flesh.  You feel that decay starting to spread up your legs and into your torso, threatening your vital organs.  Sharks and crocodiles emerge from the sewer and begin circling menacingly.

Which will happen quickest?  Drowning, rotting, or becoming dinner?

With my inner eye, I use the pain of my injuries to sharpen my concentration to a laser like intensity.  I realize there is no difference between light and darkness, form and chaos, matter and energy.  For a split instant I see all time, all reality, all existence as one simple equation; a perfect, languid moment encompassing all millennia forms in a nano-second.

Within the eye of this meta-moment, I invite the molecules of the trash can to become one with my skin, reforming around me into a strengthened cyborg, reborn as a colossus among mortals ready to dominate, willing to conquer, and eager to hear the lamentation of all who would stand before me.  Plus, I’ll get that bloody letter sent.

I roll a 3, dropping my bubblegum to 3.
Sh*t.

The metal shell surrounding you thickens by around an inch. Absolutely nothing else changes. You now have 8 seconds of oxygen remaining.

I’m good at dealing with emergencies, and despite not even having had a cup of tea this morning, and, you know, being trapped at the bottom of a sea of urine, in a half burnt house, embedded in the corpse of a sea mammal that is rapidly growing to necrify my own body, I remain calm. Clearly, I need to cut off my own legs before the deathrot spreads up them.

I don’t have a knife, but I do have a letter. A man of inventive means, I attempt a swift papercut to sever both my lower limbs. Clearly a normal roll, as its ridiculously easy to give yourself a papercut… I roll a 7, failing, dropping my bubblegum to 4.

You hack at your legs in a frenzy of paper, urine, and dolphin rot not seen by human eyes since the pissy dolphin postman plague of 1823. The horror of your predicament enfolds upon you fully and you excrete
a river of fetid fecal matter. Tis has several effects:

  1. the key is successfully dislodged from your anus.
  2. you are enveloped in a brown, silty cloud which hides you from the
    encroaching sharks and crocs…
  3. …but plunges you into a murky brown blindness
  4. your aching lungs demand breath and you involuntarily inhale a lungful of pissy excreta – you begin to drown in it
  5. the rot works its way up to your hips and genitals – you will sire no more children, even if you do survive.

I wait for a second, hoping for inspiration.  If I succeed a normal roll, you tell me how I get out of it, if I fail, you tell me how it gets worse….

…And I roll a disappointing 5, failing.

You wait for a second, hoping for inspiration. No inspiration comes, but the effluent pouring from upstairs rushes into the kitchen, quickly filling it up to the ceiling. You are now in exactly the same situation, but also under 10 ft of water. You also only have 7 seconds of oxygen remaining.

Next to me, deep under water, at the bottom of the hallway, there is a fire extinguisher. Before I can even begin to give Dave credit for his worthiness as a landlord, I note that it is firmly padlocked to the wall.

Despite this minor setback, hope has begun to rise within me – what if this key can remove the chains?! With a vision of riding a jet of extinguishment propulsion to safety, I reach out with the key stretched towards the lock…

And roll a 6, failing the normal roll…

In your excitement, and still blinded by the cloud of filth around you, you push too hard with the key and inadvertedly knock the top off the fire extinguisher. It hisses away like a deflating balloon, festooned with a wake of bubbles which do a lot to clear the fetid waters around you. This, however, merely opens the way for a crowd of sharks (the natural enemy of dolphins), to begin a feeding frenzy on the corpse of dolphin-Davey.

They begin to thrash you about. The rot reaches your lower intestines. You inhale another breath of pure piss. You are now, officially drowning.

I exhaile all the remaining breath from my lungs and allow my diaphragm to shrink, making myself small, as small as possible. Then with sudden violence I expand to my fullest, assaulting the steel enclosure around me. Do I break free? Lets see….

I roll a six! Oh blessed six!

Hundreds of thousands of infitesimally small shards of metal fly out, eviscerating everything in their path. The firemen, many of whom are in the process of drowning, are turned into a mushy sort of pulp and washed away as the exterior wall gives way, providing an outlet for several million tons of water.

You lay, battered and bruised, but just barely alive, and take in hearty gulps of sweet, sweet air.

Meanwhile, I find myself in a considerably poor situation. The rot has passed my belly button, I’m starting to black out, and I’ve just realised the signed Bruce Springsteen poster above my bed is probably no longer in mint condition.

I do have a hope though. Still in my pincer claws is a letter that Dougle needs in order for his day to not end in adject failure. Perhaps he will rescue me – I need to give him an incentive to seek out and save me!

I attempt to swallow the letter, and roll a 4, scraping a success on my normal roll…

You deftly and with not a little graceful skill, origami fold the letter into the shape of a small cocktail sausage and avail yourself of the dainty morsel.

I let out a heart wrenching wail and in one motion, attempt to launch myself through the water in a sleek otter-like motion, pushing off that such great speed that I can gather the remains of your top-torso, severing it from its rotten bottom, and launch ourselves onto terra firma.

I roll a fairly convincing awesome 6…


*** Long aeons ago, before time had its name ***

Avarrdrick Wood was a cold and terrible place. Far in the frozen northlands, few of the peasantfolk found the land hospitable enough to eke out a living, and those villages that survived the harsh winters had little to show for it.

If the barren soil, and unforgiving weather, weren’t enough to afear travellers, many wise men swore that the treespirits in Avarrdrick had turned foul from lack of sunlight, warmth and love. Few dared to enter its borders, and fewer still returned with the mental strength to tell of their experiences. The Wood held its secrets close.

The moon hunt low in an icy sky, the short days of late Autumn providing little relief from the biting northerly wind. Flakes of snow swirled down, a fruitless attempt from the gods to soften the sharp landscape. From the hills came the haunting cry of a scranwolf, howling its starvation to the skies.

Deep in the forest, humanity seemed barely a memory: the air itself lacked life. In a clearing, on a hilltop too exposed even for the hardy, twisted local conifers to survive, two hooded figures stood stationary.

The crisp sound of footfall on freshly packed snow rang out, as a third figure climbed the slope. Lit by pale, yellow light, the two remained motionless, as if unaware of the interruption.

The newcomer joined them, a triangle of darkened robes, silhouetted against the gibbous moonscape.

“You’ve come”, the thinner of the two commented to the arrival. It was a voice hardened by many seasons, and as many disappointments.

“It was the appointed time”, remarked a female voice, incongruent for its youthfulness. New life came with great difficulty to Avarrdrick; a fertile, bouyant youngster had no place here.

“Not for you!” snarled the final figure, tall and broad. “There was no mention of this at the Circle of Nine…”

“Quiet, Ralgoth”, intoned the first figure calmly. “She speaks rightly enough, this is the time, three are needed, and I see no other heads joining us”.

Ralgoth sighed, glancing around the clearing, as if hoping for a hidden person to make themselves known. “Fine. It is the appointed time. You will be more than sufficient”.

The new arrival shivered, pulling her hood tighter against the insiduous dusting of ice. “Thank you Ral. I know that was hard to say.”

Ralgoth flinched, ready to decry the informal use of his forename, but stopped himself. This was a Gathering now, lesser things held no value.

Mirsheek grinned to herself, only her eyes visibly in the dim light, and with the closely wrapped sailcloth around her jaw. This was the appointed time, and she was going to make it count, whatever that slumbagger Ralgoth thought.

The thin, old man, leader of the Circle, closed his eyes. Known simply as Leie, or “leader” in a language older than any remembered, he was aware that time was short. Brushing off a tiredness that seeped from his bones, a weariness that warned of the nearness of death’s cold embrace, he raised a hand, and began the chant.

Eagerly joining, Mirsheek raised a limb and began to utter the answering phrases, with Ralgoth close behind. Three voices mingled and joined together, three strands, one weak, one high, one strong. The words began to circle and vibrate, the trees blurring, the shadows somehow deepening and bending.

In the centre of the clearing darkness begin to rise, pushing strands towards the veiled sky. A tree, darkened and twisted – even by the dark and twisted standards of the old forest – began to take shape.

Mir smiled again. This was the Tree. The purpose that the Circle had been formed for, and she was ready…

* * * * *

A young man, a beautiful boy of no more than 9 years of age, smiling happily as he holds his new purchase. Pencils! He loves to colour and draw. Using his pocket money, he carefully selects a shiny new pack from the rows upon rows in WH Smiths. He leaves happily, eager to start using his new writing tools.

* * * * *

Leie stirred, noticing a change to the rhythm of the chant. Something had altered, but in the speed and the blur, it was hard to be clear.

Slowly the pitch of the chorus rose, the female voice becoming dominant. The other voices began to resist, first calmly, then anxiously, finally with a quaking terror.

Higher and higher the coalescent intonations rose, and two fall to their knees, shaking as their strength is taken, their breath forced from their bones. The chant reached a scream, both in pitch and intensity, as two of the three fall silent.

* * * * *

Years pass, and that once handsome child has grown. Age has not been kind, but time alone is not responsible for these changes. The boy-grown-man has distorted. His face has warped, his mouth filled with curving fangs, his frame both stretched and twisted. All who cast eyes upon him struggle to hide their immediate distaste. Some cruel magicks have laid their unquestioning toll on this creature, and only his heart remains untouched.

* * * * *

With a silence so sudden it feels like a thunderclap, the chant stops. Mirsheek stands, alone in a clearing. She gives a brief, short laugh, and strides off into the night. On the snow, still warm, lie two empty robes. In the shadow of a tree.

* * * * *

The tainted man lives a cursed life; friend-less, soul-less, love-less. In the modern world, none are old enough, nor wise enough, to recognise the signs of a body gnarled by evil itself.

His very name, unbeknowst to him, bears daemonmark, being Dougle, or “Doue-gal”, literally “Hated-one” in that forgotten tongue.

One day, he pops into Clinton Cards, and buys a card, feeling drawn to it by some unknown urge. He decides to send it to his friend Dave by post.

* * * * *

Over one hundred generations, the Circle protected Avarrdrick, keeping it free from disruption, trapping the hidden might within. Legends grew about the final Gathering, and the three who took part, for each had disappeared without trace that day, never to be seen since.

Slowly, one by one, the Circle members died. Soon, there were none to replace them. The protection ended, the Tree waiting, with time its sole companion.

Humankind changed, and grew. It forgot the old ways, it harnessed coal, steam, electrons, and conquered the stars. And, on a more mundane level, a construction company and sawmilling conglomorate bought a few acres of tree-covered land, and turned the wood therein into a lovely range of children’s pencils and greetings cards…

* * * * *

I feel myself wrenched. There’s a pain like none I’ve felt before. Over the last few minutes I’ve been borderline drowned, and inhaled voluminous amounts of my own sewage.

The necrotic scourge that spread to me from Dave’s corpse had weakened my torso so much that your moderately powerful tug is enough to split me in half. At your touch, a crackling starts within me, spreading from my gullet outwards, almost as if the letter I swallowed is calling to you somehow.

As your lutrinal motion (that’s another way of saying otter-like that I just made up based on the latin since you’ve already used it twice lol) bounces us through the front door and into the garden, I feel a primal connection to you, as we join at the waist. We have become one, a curse of a thousand years rippling through us.

Ahead of us, I see the post box. And in front of it, miraculously whole once more, stands Dave.

Who shimmers, as if in a heat wave.

His outline blurs, his features becoming unclear.

Changes become apparent: his hair grows out, lengthens. His manly frame transform into a slender female body. His chicken legs slightly thicken into women’s legs.

Before us, in the flesh, is Mirsheek, the unholy priestess of Avarrdrick. And she looks SERIOUSLY hacked off. She glares at us, slams her hand out, and snarls “You are going to give me that letter, RIGHT NOW.”

I have no idea what happens next, but its obviously kickass. Pressure is clearly on here. And, no joke, no word of a lie, I immediately roll a 1.

Beneath the deep, turbulent, tectonic ocean of thought, past the still and unmoved silt of inclination, and far below even the unexplored bedrock of instinct, lay a husk. A dry shell of a former thing, never-named and forever unknown. Description had never been lain upon it, but it was real. Colour and shape it had never been given, but it was no less a thing than any other.

It possessed, in its own way, a certain mass. It mattered. And as with all matter, it had just the smallest, imperceptible gravity of its own. It was the only thing where it was, and no other thing inhabited the limits of its shapelessness. Should another thing ever happened to have encountered it, ephemeral as it was, it would have had to navigate accordingly. But that had never happened. In this fathomless, ageless, situation, the husk rested undisturbed.

And then at some point there was, quite suddenly and all around and everywhere, indescribable energy. Effortless, always, unquantifiable, and abrupt colour. Light formed as if it has always been, and each hurried photon seemed to busy itself with pushing against each of its neighbors, making space for itself amidst its countless brothers and sisters. It boiled for the merest instant as infinitely pure before exponentially pressing out. Not darkening, but diluting from its peak. Never lessening, no, but thinning as it hurtled outward.

This outward throb of infinite potential spread in all directions at almost perfect pace less than a breath, less than a heartbeat, less than a fraction of the least minutiae. And then cooling, ever cooling, for ages to vast to number and epic aeons too immense for imaginations to grope through.

And still the husk remained. Unmoved. Perfectly apart but somehow touching all. Too far removed from intelligibility to be named in itself, but by its enigmatic presence bringing the just slightest influence to the definition of all else.

Those who later came to be were aware of it, somehow. They searched inside and found a mystery. An imprint on themselves, deeper than thought in a place more primal than their soul. It had taken generations of mystics, scholars, and poets to find it. The dreams of empires had risen and failed as the search continued. Continents had formed and sunk again beneath the waves. Stars had formed, lived and died.

But finally, the husk had been recognized. Not so much the husk itself, you understand. No. That would be a task beyond the limits of humanity. But as one with dark glasses looking up during an eclipse may not see the sun, but may recognize its crown, so the imprint of the husk had finally been discovered. And not just this, but given shape in thought. Dragged from its unmoved abode into the shallows of cognizance. Of something almost like intelligibility. If not of recognition, then at least towards the boundaries of perception. This in turn had been given over to words. Simple words written on paper and placed inside an envelope.

And in doing so the husk had become a seed.

And although this was the way it was always to be, the kaleidoscopic terminus of all experience that humanity so clumsily labels ‘fate’, there were those that wished for something different. Mirsheek was one of those.

********************************

I watched as Ace rolled dice. The small polygon fell with the number ‘1’ facing up. No matter. All chance was now gathering into one singularity. Falling back into itself. Accumulating and reorganizing, as if all photons had decided to forgive all others and reunite. The universe was gaining speed again. Pulling its fragments back into themselves.

“What are the chances of this?” I thought, fumbling for my own die. Too late, I realized that there are no chances. Merely gravity and whim. Only that deep, slightest of throbs underneath that impulse called reality.

Understanding shaped itself in a cynical, cold, coil around my cortex. Realty, so taken for granted, was the blip. The aberration. The curio on the infinite shelf of all that was.

And now reality was winding itself in. Accelerating back to its fixed position.

An abrupt flash, and then peace.

All that remained was a singularity more profound than any urge and unsearchable by thought. A husk.

…and that’s a wrap, with a ludricrously over-the-top ending from Alan!

Board gaming in July

I love spending time with people, and I love being decimated by them in games of strategy, humour and imagination. Hence why I’m a proud member of…

boardgamesgroupfacebookBoston Board Games Group

Meeting on sporadic nights in and around Boston, we get to try out various exciting new games. All games are fully explained by nerds experienced board gamers, and beginners are welcome.

Go on… join the group on Facebook!

We’ve play games like Settlers of CatanLords of War, 6nimmt!, Carcassone, Coup, 7 Wonders, Dead of Winter, Android: Netrunner, Between Two Cities, and Discworld: Ankh Morpork. In other words: no Monopoly, just fun new table based explosions of co-operation and competition.

Last night…

With 50% of our regular members leaving Boston – forever – over the next 2 weeks, we decided it was important to meet and be mean to each other whilst the opportunity remained…

gameoftrainscoverGame of Trains

Game of Trains is a pretty simple card game from Brain Games. I picked it up at the UK Board Games Expo last month, where it actually won “Best General Card Game”.

It benefits from quick to learn mechanics, a streamlined gameplay style with fast rounds, and mild player interraction. Definitely not my favourite game ever, but its simplicity, and beautiful artwork gets it to the table more than I’d expect.

There’s something very satisfying in getting the carriages in ascending number order, and its light enough to be great for playing whilst chatting. And seriously, look how pretty!

gameoftrains

Jon and I played a few rounds whilst we waited for everyone else to arrive, and it fulfilled its purpose, wetting our whistles for an evening of good natured cardboard aggression…

camelupCamel Up!

Camel Up is a recent classic in the small, slightly inbred world of tabletop fun. It won the coveted 2014 Speil Des Jahres Award in Germany. In board gaming circles, that’s like winning the World Cup, Wimbledon and, I dunno, the Conservative Party Leadership Race.

In simple terms, there’s a camel race afoot. The field is represented by funky wooden stackable camels, you spend your time betting against each other, trying to a) guess who is going to win the current leg, or b) the entire race.

The reason its great fun? Because Jon will decide to make your exact guess about the red camel’s inexorable victory… 4 seconds before you do, meaning that your prize of 8 Egypt Pounds drops to a disappointing 5 Egypt Pounds. And then, in the last second, the yellow camel gaily leaps over your pathetic rouge dromedary, transforming your hoped-for earnings into a penalty charge of one pound, and gaining Robbie an unstoppable lead.

I’d never played it before, but I can tell its going to be a family favourite. It’s short, its simple, very interactive, and wonderfully silly. Just a shame that Craig broke my cardboard dice pyramid!

projecteliteProject: ELITE

We were only at the UK Board Games Expo for a day, so there wasn’t much time for playing games as much as childishly running around in excitement. One stall did catch my attention though, and we managed a quick-but-intense play through of their offering – Project:ELITE.

As it turned out, it was awesome; so awesome in fact, that Robbie bought it there and then, with both expansions. That’s a big chunk of money to throw down on a game we’d never heard of, and had only played for 15 minutes. What was it that drew us in?

The sheer pace of each round – and the degree to which fighting for useful dice rolls can delay you – lends itself to moments like this, moments of “Oh right, my plan was to go in there and then retreat…

The premise: You are space heroes, or soldiers, or whatever. Basically, you = generic good guys. You work as a team to complete a mission, generally along the lines of capture all objectives, or maybe collect things and take them to your base, or simply “survive”.

Up against you is a never ending swarm of different monsters/aliens/demons/generic bad guys. Thanks to Robbie picking up the expansions, there’s also Boss monsters, and around 20 other different types of scary things to attack you in a variety of intriguing ways.

So far, so blah. It’s fun, but futuristic combat themes are ten-a-penny. Where this little gem shines is in its the core mechanic: each scenario consists of 8 two minute long rounds, which progress in real time…

  1. You start with a quick team strategy talk, then someone presses “Start” on the two minute timer.
  2. Each of you has 4 dice. They are custom dice with symbols that let you walk, shoot, open things, use equipment, etc.
  3. You will be frantically rolling and re-rolling to get the outcomes you need.
  4. If you roll a red alien symbol, you have to immediately stop and move an alien.
DSC_1223
Craig making bedroom eyes at me

How does this work out? For two very focused minutes, each of you is obsessively picking up dice, groaning, moving aliens, rolling again, groaning *again*, moving more aliens, then finally getting the symbols you actually need, giving a yelp of joy, before grabbing the dice again at a corybantic pace, wincing as someone shouts out “Ten seconds left!”

The round finishes as abruptly as it began, at which point you step back and look at what actually happened to the rest of the players during your entirely introspective 120 seconds. Its a fun moment – you’d think it would be frustrating to miss the action on the rest of the board – but in fact it invites story telling: everyone gets to boast/commiserate about their own activities during the frenetic dice storm.

DSC_1231Our match left me with plenty of memorable moments. After the first round, where I had quite easily kept the right flank at bay, we debriefed, and it turned out that Craig’s sole achievement had been to open a box, and we were close to being completely overrun by aliens on our left flank. Despite a well thought out plan, the dice had defeated us, and it took concerted effort to stop us losing the next turn.

The buzzer blew on a later round, and everyone realised I had managed to leave myself wounded and stranded in the middle of the alien base. The sheer pace of each round – and the degree to which fighting for useful dice rolls can delay you – lends itself to moments like this, moments of “Oh right, my plan was to go in there and then retreat…

Our final turn involved me limping across to Craig, where he tossed me one of two jetpacks he’d somehow stolen from somewhere. I eventually equipped it with one of my two remaining dice, allowing me to boost across the board to Jon, who, thanks to my injuries, had to give me his medkit and help me use it. Meanwhile, Craig had turned back to the final objective, effortlessly completing it and, using his own jetjack, nimbly launched himself back to the safe zone. Robbie was probably doing something cool too, but he was the other side of the board from me, which might as well have been the other side of the world given my ultra-focused (read “selfish“) approach to the game.

I definitely recommend Project: ELITE. It scales well, has a solo mode, and there’s plenty of variability, even with just the base set. Setup is a little fiddly, but the rules are surprisingly simple and quick for new players to pick up.

chrononautsChrononauts

Next to the table was the time travelling card game Chrononauts. From the creator of Fluxx, its a set collection game with a very thematic twist.

Setup involves laying out a grid of cards in chronological order, representing the last 150 years of world history. You are then given a hand of cards, which give you the power to mess with your opponents, or flip over key “linchpins” in the timeline.

There are three ways to win. Be the first to:

  1. Get the timeline to match up with your ID card: this will have some real historical events, such as “Assassination of JFK”, and some alternate timelines, such as “World War 3”, or “Titanic Avoids Iceberg”.
  2. Collect the three artifacts on your Mission card: ranging from “The Mona Lisa (an obvious fake)” to “Live Triceratops”.
  3. Play 7 patch cards: these sit on top of flipped “Paradox” timeline cards, repairing worrying holes in time and space.

chrononautsThe rules take a few minutes to sink in, but once you have them it makes sense. Flipping over cards in the past affects events in the future – if Hitler is assassinated, how can he open the 1936 Olympics? – so small changes to one card can ripple down the timeline, affecting multiple events in the future.

I enjoyed myself, but you can tell that it came from the same mind as Fluxx: player progression is not respected. At one point, I accidentally played a card that took Robbie’s hand, swelled by the 5 patch cards he’d played, and gave it to Craig, putting him into the lead. Whilst its a satisfying way to mess with people, there’s something that puts me off about any rules that let you play tactically for 25 minutes only to have your entire role swapped so easily. In the end, I actually won, but only because the timeline almost randomly ended up matching my ID card. Too luck based for my blood.

coupcoverCoup

We started the evening with a lightweight game; rounding things off with Coup seemed equally appropriate.

DSC_1239An early Kickstarter success, Coup is practically a micro game, with rounds lasting perhaps 2 minutes, and being entirely based on straight-faced lying to your friends, being challenged on that bluffing, and throwing your cards to the table in frustration as they beat you. I covered it in my December round-up, so check it out there…

And there we were, five different games under our belts, and only 10:30pm, meaning I could avoid my usual played-game-until-midnight sleep deprivation hangover the next day. Good stuff!

Feel free to drop a comment below, or check out the posts from November, December and FebruaryDon’t forget to visit the facebook group!

Drunks and Dragons: A prediction

DrunksNDragonsSince Autumn, I have listened to 67 episodes of the Drunks and Dragons podcast. I’ve never really had any experience with Dungeons and Dragons, and found myself listening to this rather silly and pretty enjoyable podcast on the topic.

Given that I’ve now racked up around 94 hours of listening – nearly 4 full days of my life – I’ve become pretty attached to the characters, and their stories. There are currently about 150 episodes recorded, so I’m nearly halfway through. I thought it would be fun to make a few guesses about what happens in the next 70 chapters…

The Story

Firstly, Fennekin is going to be a bad guy. Think about it: House Vidalis fell due to one person playing with the Braisier of Worlds, and they are about to hand over that, AND TWO MORE super powered magical objects, to Fennekin. The players haven’t really thought about that, and I predict its not going to go well for them.

Secondly, their boat… I’m not sure if they need to make any more long boat journeys, I wonder if they will lose the boat, sink it, or generally have it disappear from the story in a slightly unimpressive way.

Thirdly, money. Jennifer is apparently keeping track of all the money, first mentioned around episode 40ish I think. Despite this, I don’t think she has mentioned money even once on the podcast since then, and I suspect that there will be at least one occasion where money is discussed, no one will have any idea and the Math Song will need to be played for a short period.

AludraAludra

Aludra will die. Not full on die and leave the show, but I don’t think she’s been unconscious, or reached quasi death in a battle yet; so I predict she has it coming.

I also think that she will have a romantic liaison. Thom has had, well, loads of those, both consensual and borderline so – as well as likely with inanimate objects – but self titled “busty wench lady” Aludra hasn’t moved into the battlefield of love. I’m not sure about it, but I’d like to believe that her character will be fleshed out a little bit more in that way.

I also think that Jennifer Cheek will continue to roll worse and worse, until they have to stop letting her take place in any kind of battle scene at all. Put it this way: the odds of rolling two critical fails in a row are 400:1, but for her, I’d give it about 5:1.

ThomThom

I think Thom will get a ranged weapon. The group don’t have any traditional ranged weapons. Yeah, they have spells and things, but I’d love a bow and arrow. I think it would be a nice feature to add in, and I recall Mike actually mentioned the possibility around episode 50, so yeh, let’s see if that develops.

He will build his weird creation at some point, out of all the rotten body parts. I think it’ll be a really disappointing NPC, almost embarrassingly ignorable. I don’t think it will be the subject of Aludra’s romantic liaison, but I cannot be sure that Thom won’t try his luck with it.

I also predict that Thom will have an argument with Blood Drinker at some point – not a big one, but one that is RPd out, and will likely end up with Thom killing something he didn’t really want to kill. Not that Thom will spend long grieving about that…

HarperHarper

We will discover the truth behind Harper’s dark past – but it will turn out not to be as dark as it should be.

Consider Harper’s predecessor Tum, who died in episode 30. He has his entire village and family killed in front of him by winged beasts, leading to an orphaned childhood, destitute in the city, and eventually forced by circumstance to join the crazy Thumble clan and spend every week in an arena murdering his brothers and sisters. Harper’s back story would have to be pretty awful to match up to that, and I don’t think it will.

However, once his dark past is revealed, I predict Harper will chill out a bit. To be honest, I miss Tum, because he was a bit more chilled and easygoing – like Tim Lanning – and I feel at the moment the PCs can’t really just relax and have fun in a pub. I look forwards to a more fun Harper.

DNDfamilyBucky

Bucky is the ridiculous adopted Githyanki son of Thom and Aludra, and is an NPC.

Despite Thriftynerd pronouncing Bucky to be a “level 0”, I think Bucky will be involved in an attack in future. It’s clear, from the intense amount of training he is receiving from his father, Thom, that he will gain some skills. My prediction is that he will kill something – if only a minion – with his battle crazed great sword.

Daisy

Obviously Daisy is magic. I suspect she is probably the chief bad guy for the entire overarching storyline. She’ll destroy them all.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to make a comment about how wrong you think or know I am. I’m not going to read the comments until I get to episode 150, so feel free to drop spoilers!

Starguild: Space Opera Noir review

This is a preview of Starguild: Space Opera Noir, raising funds on Kickstarter as I type

I’ve spent the last week reading this RPG, and concurrently listening to the new Dream Theatre album, “The Astonishing“. It’s a great fit since its an operatic concept album about a oppressive dystopia in the future!
Press play on the left to share my soundtrack whilst you read! 

What’s it all about?

starguild-coverStarguild is an tabletop RPG – a role play game. To those of you unfamiliar with the concept, RPGs are games where you meet with friends, create characters and play through stories that are derived mostly from your imagination.

An RPG consists of two basic components: the setting, and the rules.

The setting is the context in which you play the game. A Star Wars RPG is based in a galaxy far, far away, a Hobbits RPG is based in Middle Earth, an RPG about being a doctor seeing patients is based in a hospital, etc.

The rules are the framework that help you to play the game. Some have very intense, detailed rules for every tiny possible occurrence, others give the merest hint of a structure, allowing you to mould the gaming system to flow and adapt to whatever you feel it needs.

Welcome to Omega Centauris!

Before I get into the theme presented in this game, two admissions.

Firstly, I’m a relative newby to RPG, having only really become interested in it over the last 6 months. In that time, I’ve read a fair few rule books, and listened to around 150 hours of roleplay podcasts – Drunks and Dragons shout out! – and even played a little Hero Kids with my 5 year old son.

Secondly, I’m partial to a nice bit of space opera. I’ve always loved Red Dwarf and Hitchhiker’s Guide, always been more of a fan of Space Marines than Lizardmen. I’ll always pick up a book about plucky intergalactic ruffians, but am unlikely to wade all the way through Lord of the Rings again. Thus, Starguild is already pretty much up my alley.

You could literally set anything in this game: multi-ship, high-tech space battles; highly social political wrestling, emotions on tenderhooks; even a fantasy style rags-to-riches story on one of the less developed worlds.

In the last week I have read all 238 pages of the prerelease copy that Alex, the creator, kindly sent my way.  The galaxy presented in Starguild is one of opportunity, inequality, and flexibility.

Starguild StarshipThere is an overarching storyline of human existence in Omega Centauris, with a very readable backstory – the 10 pages of Campaign history are perfect for bringing the galaxy to light, and pretty great prose in their own right.

What I love is how they aren’t prescriptive at all – you could literally set anything in this game: multi-ship, high-tech space battles; highly social political wrestling, emotions on tenderhooks; even a fantasy style rags-to-riches story on one of the less developed worlds.

There’s a detailed explanation of tens of planets, providing you with plenty of room to set your story literally anywhere you fancy, and loads of features in the rules that allow your characters to be shaped by their environment. For example:

Planet Erith
The Lord here runs a semi-feudal style of government. There are strictly defined lines of communication and citizens are expected to show loyalty to their immediate overlords and through them up to the Lord. Technically anyone can be called upon to do any service, although this is used sparingly except in times of emergency.

Alongside these patches of flavour text are nearly 100 “adventure seeds” – ideas to help you kick start a new plot twist or campaign. Here’s a sample from Erith:

The annual pageant of flowers takes place – street parties and dancing and fun. But which is, unbenownst to non-residents, actually a form of wedding ceremony for those who get involved…

Overall, the flavour I get from Starguild is a universe I’m keen to visit. I think there’s plenty of hand-holding, if you want it – just use one of the detailed, multi-scene sample adventure to get you started.  Yet, for those of us keen to run before we can walk, there’s enough ammunition to let you start imagining a story with a very helpful backdrop to orientate yourself.

How does it play…

Simple answer: no idea! I’ve not played it yet.

Starguild is based on the d20 Open Game license that Wizards of the Coast released back in 2000. So, if you’ve played Dungeons & Dragons, or many similar games, you’ll have at least a foothold into the basic structure of play.

What appeals to me is the adaptation of the engine to fit the theme. From the kickstarter page:

“The game treats social conflict – the ability to alter someones emotions and thinking – just as importantly as the more traditional kinds of conflict of fist and gun.”

This appeals to me. I’ve enjoyed listening to D&D podcasts, but I find the battles a bit unfulfilling.

  • In a fight in D&D, two characters fight over about 50 turns, with magic spells, and special moves. They have a number of hit points, and slowly wear down the other player’s hitpoints until someone dies.
  • In real life, when two people fight, they each have a knife, it lasts about 2 minutes, and someone gets rather injured.

Starguild SpacestationI’m sure you could try to play Spaceguild the D&D way, but it seems much more focused on the social dramatics, and the intensity of choice in high pressure situations. That rather appeals. I know I’m roleplaying as a fictional personal, in a made-up situation, in a fake galaxy, in my imagination – but I want to feel like disturbing a guard and getting shot is as weighty as it would be in real life.

As a new player, the various sections on guilds, weapons, vehicles, etc… all seem well put together, but I don’t think I’ll have a real handle on it until I put a game together. I definitely feel these rules explain the system enough that I wouldn’t have any big problems running a game. There is also an excellent set of reference table appendices and a comprehensive index – too often lacking in rule books.

From giving it a read, and comments from others, it seems like the addition of “Conviction” is an interesting feature, where you gain conviction points for doing actions that fit with your character’s personality. For example:

Vargon, (a noteably strong character) nonchalantly crushes cans in one hand, whilst waiting for the action to start”.

You keep tokens to represent your conviction in front of you as a visual reminder, and you can spend it to help you out, such as adding a D6 to the score of a D20 role. I feel like conviction could be gamed quite easily – “Vargon quickly crushes 4 cans, gaining 4 points” – but if you use it in the spirit of the game, it rewards you for roleplaying, and even the advantages it gives can be RPed to cohese the theme even better…

Vargon tries to kick the door down. The DC is 20, and he rolls 12. This, plus his physique (1) + his characteristic of being “burly” (+2) = 15. He spends a conviction point, bunching up his huge arms to increase his effort to the extreme, and rolls a D6, which gives him a +5, just making the DC… and the door tears off its hinges, leaving the gang free to run into the corridor.

Go on, support it.

All in all, I’m excited about Spaceguild, I’m keen to play it with some friends and I think it will look fantastic with more artwork, once the kickstarter is finished.

Speaking of that, why not support it now…

Board Games in February!

I love spending time with people, and I love being decimated by them in games of strategy, humour and imagination. Hence why I’m a proud member of…

boardgamesgroupfacebookBoston Board Games Group

Meeting on sporadic nights in and around Boston, we get to try out various exciting new games. All games are fully explained by nerds experienced board gamers, and beginners are welcome.

Go on… join the group on Facebook!

We’ve play games like Settlers of CatanLords of War, 6nimmt!, Carcassone, Coup, 7 Wonders, Dead of Winter, Android: Netrunner, Between Two Cities, and Discworld: Ankh Morpork. In other words: no Monopoly, just fun new table based explosions of co-operation and competition.

Last night…

After missing a month revising for my big scary GP exam final, I was keen to make up for it with an evening of calculated victory…

Pairs

pairsPairs is a great little card game, perfect to pick up in about 2 minutes, and immediately leads to countless moments of groaning, and fraught decisions.

It has a simple premise: avoid getting a pair. The deck is made of numbered cards – there is one card labelled 1, two cards labelled 2, three labelled 3… all the way up to ten cards labelled 10.

You are both dealt one card to start, and then take it in turns next, either deciding to take another card, or wimping out and folding. If you draw a pair, the number of that pair is added to your score. If you fold, your lowest number card is added to your score. First person to a certain number, depending on player numbers, loses.

As an example, let’s watch some Hobbits playing…

Bilbo gets a 3 to start. He takes another card, he now has 3 and 8.

Frodo gets a 10 to start. He takes another card, he now has 6 and 10.

Bilbo feels fairly confident – another 3 isn’t likely to come up, although 8 is fairly common. He takes another card, he now has 3, 7 and 8.

Frodo is a little more concerned, as 6 is moderately common, and 10 is very much so. However, folding would give him a score of 6, so he takes another card. He now has 6, 9 and 10.

Bilbo takes another card, after deliberating whether or not to fold and keep the 3 for his score. He now has 3, 7, 7 and 8. He got a pair of 7s, so the round is over, and his score is now 7.

Frodo is relieved, since he would have probably chosen to fold next turn. As he didn’t fold, his score remains 0, and he is in the lead. The next round begins…

Nick and myself played a few rounds of Pairs whilst we waited for the more temporally retarded members of the group. It became immediately clear that Nick secretly moonlights as a Vegas card shark, since he started counting cards on our very first run through. However, there’s enough luck that you can never be sure of any decision, and it certainly passed 20 minutes quite happily…

Fleet Wharfside

FleetWharfside

Fleet Wharfside is a game of trading seafood, and gaining victory points. Sounds dull, right?

You are a fish trader with two options: visit the wharf (docks) and pick up some fish/crustacean cards, or visit the market and pick up contracts to sell the fish.

Three nice mechanics:

  • You buy new contracts with fish. The cost of those contracts steadily increases, and you can trade down nice fish for cheaper fish, but not the other way.
  • Many of the contracts have bonuses, such as letting you pick up extra fish each turn. This is great, but has the effect that you also don’t want to finish the contract, because then the bonus ends. This is a problem because…
  • there are victory point awards for being the first to finish each size of contract. The quicker you finish, more points you get. You can also win points for having the most King Crabs (think longest road award in Settlers of Catan).
Nick mulling over a particularly tasty looking contract in the market...
Nick mulling over a particularly tasty looking contract in the market…

There are no negative scores for unfinished contracts or fish in your hand – its a simple thing, but it definitely takes the pressure off a bit.

A recent Kickstarter purchase by Craig, it was a nice moderate intensity game to kick off the evening. They played it last week, and felt the King Crabs didn’t add much. However, my royal shellfish earned me around 10 points on their own. When the final scores were tallied up, I won with 55 points, closely followed by Craig at 50, then Nick and Simon trailing somewhat behind. KC For The Win! (tshirts pending…)

Not a game I’ll rush out to buy, and a little light on player interaction, but I’d be happy to play it a few more times, for sure.

Agricola

agricolaPlaying Coup last month was a moment where I finally got my hands on a game I’ve heard loads about but never played. That crown has been thoroughly stolen with the legendary “King of Eurogames“: Agricola.

There’s too much detail to cover here, but I’m going to try to do it in 10 steps:

  1. You are all farmers. Presumably in Europe. Somewhere
  2. You have to develop your farms. To do this, you can plough fields, build up your house, or fence pastures.
  3. Each thing you build can make more stuff. Fields = crops, house = family members, pastures = animals.
  4. You only get to do one action per turn, per family member. So, for most of the game, that’s two actions per turn.
  5. Everyone else is fighting you for the same actions. By the time 4 people have taken half their actions, everything really good on the board will be taken, and you’ll have to wait until the next round.
  6. When harvest comes, you have to feed your family. Food is a challenge, and the more family members you have, the worse that challenge is. Fail to feed your family and suffer a heavy penalty…
  7. As the game progresses, more action cards will be revealed. This allows you to do more exciting actions. Unfortunately, harvest gets more frequent too, so you are constantly trying to rustle up enough food.
  8. Each player has a stack of possible occupations and minor improvements. You can activate these, sometimes for a cost, for specific advantages – say you collect more stone, or you get some fences later in the game.
  9. There is a central pool of major improvements anyone can build. They give you bonus victory points, and allow some more powerful specific actions.
  10. Its simple enough to grasp quickly, and complex enough to be really masterful. None of your plans will quite work, and you will have a half empty farm with no crops, hardly any sheep, and then run out of food and get punished with a begging card. It’s perfectly possible to end a game in negative points.
Craig: fundamentally a bad person.
Craig: fundamentally a bad person. And possibly a secret farmer.

I can see why gamers love this game. Chance plays just enough of a part to keep things fresh, but not enough to hold back great strategy. Interaction isn’t very direct, but when you only have two actions, and the player to your right takes ALL THE WOOD JUST BEFORE YOU WERE ABOUT TO… its fair to say there is a reasonable amount of competition present throughout gameplay.

Who won our game? Obviously Craig did. Craig with his vegetables, and 6 stone houses, and his pigs and his cow and his army of little Craigs somehow feeding themselves despite the sheer impossibility of that task.

really enjoyed Agricola. I spent quite a lot of today thinking about how I’d play differently, if it would be possible just to focus on one task, on having thousands of fences, and hundreds of sheep, or having a huge field brimming over with corn.

So, in conclusion: Craig got more points than everyone else added together, but it probably doesn’t count because he smells faintly of cabbages. Agricola is awesome. Spending time with friends and playing board games is, as ever, brilliant. And that, at nearly midnight, was that.

Feel free to drop a comment below, or check out the posts from November and DecemberDon’t forget to visit the facebook group!

Board Gaming in December!

I love spending time with people, and I love crushing them in games of skill, humour and imagination. Hence why I’m a proud member of…

boardgamesgroupfacebookBoston Board Games group

Meeting on sporadic nights in and around Boston, we get to try out various exciting new games. All games are fully explained by nerds experienced board gamers, and beginners are welcome.

Go on… join the group on Facebook!

We’ve play games like Lords of War, 6nimmt!, Carcassone, Coup, 7 Wonders, Dead of Winter, Android: Netrunner, Between Two Cities, and Discworld: Ankh Morpork. In other words: no Monopoly, just fun new table based explosions of co-operation and competition.

Last night…

My wife was away, so I sneaked in a cheeky board game session. Given that if something is worth doing, it’s worth blogging about…

Betrayal at House on the Hill

BetrayalHouseHillBetrayal at House on the Hill is a tile based game where you explore the three floors of a house with your companions. The tiles are random, and only appear as you walk through a doorway from a previous tile, so there’s a nearly limitless range of possibilities for the layout of the house.

The premise of the game? You explore the house together until, at some unpredictable point, something horrible happens.

At that point, one of you is sent out of the room with a page of new rules to read, and the remaining explorers have some other rules to absorb.

12465364_10154293656351111_814896827_oSuddenly, the game gains a combative game, with one player trying to bring an evil ghost to life, or summon a monster, or releasing a swarm of vampire bats (no spoilers)… and everyone else trying to stop them. The re-playability is great, since every mansion will be totally different, and there are 50 unique scenarios, decided by where and how the horror is triggered.

Our game was a lot of fun; I became the traitor, and rather enjoyed hunting down James & Jamie, then hacking them up with an axe. They managed to gain control of the horror, but didn’t have time to finish their final objective before I caught up with them…

boxLevel 7: [Escape]

Level 7: [Escape] is one of my favourite games, and I’m always keen to sneak it out of the cupboard. Again, there’s no board, just a steadily expanding map as you panic your way around the level, picking up new room tiles.

Cursed with a slightly complex rulebook, its strength lies in its theme – you are attempting to escape a crazy Government laboratory, hiding from the guards and aliens, occasionally attempting to use them against one another to held you escape.

12465688_10154293656651111_348408277_oYour abilities are shaped by your Adrenaline level. Feeling calm and collected? Your intelligence increases. Heart racing and agitated? Your strength jumps up. The only downside… you run out of adrenaline card, you die. Too much adrenaline? The aliens get super attracted to you and start spawning all over the place.

Each mission steadily unfolds, but there comes a crunch point: Lockdown kicks in, leaving you a set number of turns to escape before the doors are sealed… forever!

Our mission involved setting the aliens on the guards, opening a route for us to reach the elevator. Our plan was beset by problems immediately, when a clone attacked James on his first turn, and knocked me out on mine. Eventually, the aliens did kill all the guards… but then James and myself found ourselves trapped and pulverised by a huge Hybrid.

This gave Jamie just enough time to boost his adrenaline into overdrive, shove the Hybrid out the way and sprint to the elevator, moments before it sealed shut… leaving two of us alone with the aliens. His innate untrustworthiness put him in good stead for our next game…

Coup

Despite it being a stalwart of the gaming scene for several years, I’ve never managed to find myself at a table with Coup, so I was happy that James brought it.

A microgame, lasting just a few minutes per round, your aim is to knock out the other players. Each player gets two cards representing characters in the royal court, such as Duke, or Ambassador. Each had different skill, but the key? You don’t know what cards someone has.

So a player with the Captain can say “I’m going to take your money now”, and you have three options. Lose the money, say “I don’t think you have the Captain”, or pretend to have a cards that lets you block the theft.

It instantly develops into a game of bluffs and challenges: the reward, victory; the stakes, failure. We played 5 or 6 rounds, and whilst Jamie continued to, frankly, be really evil, it was a great end to the evening…

That’s all! Feel free to drop a comment below, or check out the post from November