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Cliff Jones 1964-2014

Cliff-Jones-CJ-1964-2014

Cliffton Anthony Jones

Cliffton Anthony Jones, 49, died February 14, 2014, in Bellevue, WA. He was born April 1, 1964, the beloved only child of Percival and Evonne Jones. A co-founder of game company Wizards of the Coast, he most recently served as IT director at Seattle-based Gen Con. Mr. Jones enjoyed games, music, travel, and sports, and was well known for his warm heart and infectious laugh. He is survived by his parents and the many friends he made everywhere he went.

~

I would personally like to thank CJ for all his contributions to Adventureaweek.com, specifically- creating and managing the development of adventure conversions into the Fantasy Grounds virtual tabletop by SmiteWorks. CJ was my go-to-tech guy, my Dungeon Master, and most of all- my friend. He will be sorely missed by all of us here at Adventureaweek.com.
-Jonathan G. Nelson
Founder & Owner
Adventureaweek.com

The Seattle Times: CJ’s Obituary Page

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Lords of Waterdeep

If you’ve heard the name, but never played the game, than this review is for you.  Before I delve into a lengthy description let me state this for the record:

To date, this is the best boardgame I have ever played!

That said, the Lords of Waterdeep board game sat, wrapped in cellophane upon my game shelves for almost two months before we finally decided to crack it open.  I think the terrible cover art kept scaring me away, I’m sorry but I hail from the days of Larry Elmore and Jeff Easley.  Anyway, I finally gathered the courage to tear away the slick cellophane skin, and that’s what matters.

Cracking open the box was a pleasure, albeit a bit intimidating.  This is actually where I would drop my first tasty tidbit of advice:

Do not let the number of pieces or supposed complexity of this game scare you away!  It’s not as difficult as it looks!

Granted, after popping out all the little cardboard pieces, sorting them, along with the painted wooden figures and cubes, it was a challenge to figure out what did what.  Luckily we had a beautiful red-headed lawyer on hand to help us sort through the rules and figure out how to play.  And this is where my next bit of advice christens this blog post:

If you have a friend who knows how to play, ask them to teach you!

This will at least speed up game play and expedite your learning time.  Alternatively you could simply watch this Youtube video which I highly recommend:


Game Instructions and Rulebook can be found here in PDF format!

 

Now that you have a little background on how the game works, I can continue!

 

THE GOOD

So, we set up and stumbled through the rules for a bit, but gradually got the swing of things.  Before long we were in the thick of it.  To the point where every person’s move could positively or adversely affect the subsequent player’s moves.  This is where things got interesting.  I found myself perched in my chair as if I was a black leather-clad rogue skirting the rooftops of Waterdeep, looking down and pondering my next move in this massive metropolis.  Occasionally someone would make a move which would completely throw off my game and I leapt from my perch, tumbling down many levels toward the rough cobblestone below only to prematurely feel my face come in contact with the far too thin plush carpeting of my home in real life.  I phrase things as such because most board games do exactly what their name personifies… bore me.  I have been bored out of my mind playing “classic” board games, and newer games like Settlers of Catan are great fun, but I still don’t find myself getting lost in the game and “on edge”, watching every player’s move.  Lords of Waterdeep does that for me.

Typically I’m a GM or player in tabletop RPGs like D&D 3.5 or Paizo’s Pathfinder RPG.  Lords of Waterdeep did what I never thought possible, it pulled me out of my mundane existence and thrust me smack into the middle of a fast paced, and dangerous vie for power in a metropolitan beautiful city set in Ed Greenwood’s classic Forgotten Realms setting.  I bet a creative DM could easily incorporate a game of Lords of Waterdeep into their regular gaming session to great success.  If you do this (or have done this) please leave a comment below, I would LOVE to know how it went!

Now, all I have set thus far about this game is good.  It’s time to touch upon a few of the downers this game had.

 

THE BAD

The Ambassador

The rules regarding the Ambassador and how you are supposed to play him are confusing and can be interpreted a few different ways.  Because of this there has been a major argument between players at every running of the game.  It has escalated to the point where the Ambassador is now removed from the game prior to play to prevent continued confusion and disagreements.  It would have been nice if WotC discovered the erroneous text during their playtest and either rephrased or removed this piece entirely from the game.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the Ambassador and find it a great twist to the game, but my fellow players did not find things as amusing as I, plus some disagreed (and others agreed) with my interpretation of the rules as presented.  Basically, a pain in the ass game piece is what this is.

 

Missing Intrigue

The game takes place in a huge city, where the Lords of Waterdeep do not even reveal their true identities.  With so much mystery and supposed intrigue I expected the game to be rife with it.  Sadly, it was not.  There were no special cards that allowed me to hatch elaborate plots on my fellow players, no dark deeds done in abandoned warehouses or hidden alleyways.  Yes, there were a few, but they were simplistic explanations performed on cards with little flavor and even less creativity.  Perhaps future expansions will hold some new advanced rules for those of us which hope to reach outside the mundane and into the world of the wicked!

 

Colored Cubes

Each of the colored cubes represents a different class: Fighter, Rogue, Wizard, and Cleric.  While this is easy to figure out, the game quickly degrades into “I’ll take one white and two blacks.”  Well, that just ripped me straight out of the illusion of being in a fantasy world.  Luckily, there’s a website online which crafts custom pieces for you to use in your games, colored icons which have the words “FIGHTER” and “CLERIC” printed directly upon them. I found some other game accessories here as well.  Let me toss the link up for your hard core gamers of board out there:  http://dapperdevil.com/product/lords-waterdeep-class-tokens

 

THE CONCLUSION:

Overall this game is totally worth the asking price.  You will get countless hours of enjoyment from a single game, and every game is totally different than the last!  Wizards of the Coast may have failed (in my book) with D&D 4th edition and some of their recent products, but if this is any indication of their delve into board games, you can count me among those willing to drop a pretty penny (or platinum) for the next release.  A round of applause from my fellow players and personal family for the team which put together this game.  Here, Here!

The minor perils and pitfalls of the game did diminish the overall enjoyment slightly (including an argument with my wife over the Ambassador), and I did miss out on some of that good old “intrigue” mentioned in the game’s description, thus I give the game 4.5 out of 5 stars.  Perhaps future rule clarifications and a future expansion shall clear this up, in which case I will revisit this post and up the total to the amount I truly wanted to grant this game.  [amazon_link id=”0786959916″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Buy Lords of Waterdeep by clicking here, [/amazon_link]and a portion goes to support NERD TREK and reviews like this one.

Well done Wizards of the Coast!  Your new board games and Magic cards have brought me back!

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Complete Kobold Guide to Game Design

A FIVE BOG TROLL HEAD RATING!

The Complete Kobold Guide to Game Design is an intimidating and healthy 244 pages of collected musings, thoughts, insights and essays from a collection of industry names that should prove familiar to most gamers or would be designers looking to sit down and read through this book. At first glance, and yes by the assumption made from the books title, it would appear this book is strictly for the designers out there, a how to guide if you will, on how to make a successful game and thereby put your name on the map when it comes to the gaming industry. But looking through the chapters and essays contained within one discovers very quickly there is so much more to this book then first impressions. Written largely by Wolgang Baur, you will be treated to his insight on everything from borrowing concepts from throughout all of media and history, why MtG worked as a game, how one actually defines design, to nurturing one’s own creativity. Wolfgang spends a great many chapters walking the reader through the many different aspects behind what makes a great designer, as well as why many will fall flat on their faces. He takes an unblinking look at the industry, and then reflects that here for the readers, which I have to admit, was refreshing. Far too many people are convinced they have the next great idea, and find themselves at a total loss when the whole o f the world doesn’t agree with them. He even voices his opinion on Magic Item Creation ala RPG Superstar, he has judged twice now, and is well established to detail what works, and what doesn’t. I can’t help but think every gamer/designer who’s ever considered publishing or submitting would do themselves a great service to spend some time reading at the very least the first section of this book, if not all of it.

Section 2 takes us into what I thought of as the reason gamers would want this book, not that the material and thoughts of the first section were not excellent, but they were aimed more towards designers looking to publish, as opposed to GM’s (who in their own right are designers, whether they realize it or not). Here is where this book really starts to attack the concept of how to improve one’s game from the ground up. Chapters dealing with topics like plot design, handling city adventures, the underdark and what one can really do with it as an ecological setting as well as a built in monster infested killing field. Hordes, humor, mystery and hardboiled adventures, this section tackles several different topics I can honestly say I wasn’t aware I had problems in until I found myself reading through these and realizing that I saw parts of my game in what they were addressing. Again, any GM worth his player’s time should spend some time with this section.

Section 3 takes us back to the business side of it again, with Writing, Pitching and Publishing. And again, we find that unblinking eye, which is what is needed in a product of this nature. After all, if you are going to buy a book that is largely a collection of advice and insight on how to succeed, would you want it to be sugercoated? No, you would want exactly what is delivered here, a fantastic collection of industry veterans not only telling you how you can improve your design and game, but how they themselves have improved their own games and designs. And just who are we talking about there when I say industry veterans, take a look:

Colin McComb– Extensive writing credits with TSR, Malhavoc Press, Paizo, and Open Design.

Rob Heinsoo – lead designer for D&D 4e as well as an extensive list of RPG, tabletop roleplaying, board, miniature and card games.

Michael A. Stackpole – Author, Game Designer both within the computer world and RPG industry

Ed Greenwood – The creator of the Forgotten Realms and successful author

Bill Collins – ENnie award winning designer (Tales of Zobeck)

[b]Nicolas Logue – WOTC Voyage of the Golden Dragon, Several credits with Paizo

Ben McFarland – credits on several Open Design projects, contributor to Kobold Quarterly, and The Breaking of Forstor Nagar

Willie Walsh – Longtime contributor to Dungeon Magazine, AD&D Road to Danger & Dungeons of Despair, Member of the Werecabbage Freelancers Creative Guild, 0one Games

Monte Cook – 1/3 of the design team for D&D 3e, Malhavoc Press, Arcana Unearthed, Ptolus, Iron Heroes, World of Darkness

Wolfgang Bauer – TSR, ICE, Open Design, just to name a few companies he has worked with. Won the eighth annual Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming in 2008.

So, 244 pages looking behind the curtain with some industry insiders. Very very few errors in editing, and by very few, I mean I think I found one. A must have book for both those looking to get into this industry, and those who merely want to play. I will admit, I did not know what to expect than I first saw this book, but by the end I was very happy that I turned the first page and kept reading, and I think you will be also.
I think my biggest fear in tackling this book was page hypnosis, and since it was a fear of mine, I would like to address it. Page hypnosis, as I call it, is that trance state you hit when reading textbook material type writing for hours on end, where you’re not really absorbing anything so much as you’re just staring at it because it’s so boring. Why would I be afraid of that? Because every guide on getting into the industry I’ve ever seen before this one essentially ended up being one of the most boring reads I ever tried to get through. The Kobold’s Complete Guide handles this with a very subtle method, that I think shows a great deal of intelligence on Wolfgang’s part. No matter how interesting someone is, when they are teaching the human brain will attempt to go on autopilot eventually, so this book breaks up Wolfgang’s writing style by interspersing essays from the other game designers throughout, giving you multiple writing styles to keep it fresh constantly. Now, am I saying that any of the material is boring? No, I am saying that the format of having multiple writing styles, and therefore multiple “voices” in this conversation proactively help to keep the book fresh throughout the entire read.

As I believe every GM and designer should have a copy of this in their library, I am going with a solid 5 star rating, but am adding the clarification, this is a collection of text. There is no pretty artwork breaking up the text, no game mechanics per say. This is a collection of insight into how to make the games we play that much better, and well worth the read, as long as when sitting down to read it, one understands that that is what they are sitting down to read.