Car Games: Pirate Fluxx

Pirate Fluxx

My wife and I are gamers. We game. We met in not one but two different games (Second Life and World of Warcraft), in a guild that was, more or less, formed from SL designers and their friends and family. Gaming is in our blood. Because of this we like to have what we call ‘car games’, easily portable two to four player games we can take to a coffee shop or restaurant and play without hassling people around us overly much.

We picked up one such game at the 2014 Emerald City Comic Con at the suggestion of one of the vendors in the gaming section. He pulled out a copy of the basic no-frills Fluxx game, handed it to us and we and another couple joined in for our first game of Fluxx. About fifteen minutes later, we bought Pirate Fluxx, because pirates are awesome and so is Fluxx.

Fluxx is named appropriately, as every card played has a dramatic effect on not just the other players, but the rules and goals of the game itself. The basic rules, however, are very simple. Each round you have to draw one card and play one card. How do you win? By playing a Goal card, and having the cards it displays on the table in front of you. Sounds simple right? Well. Things can change quickly in Fluxx!

There are a few types of cards, each following that game’s theme, in this case, pirates:

Goals let you win the game and show two or more Keepers or Creepers.
Sample Goals: Yo Ho Ho & a Bottle of Rum (Jolly Roger and Rum), Privateers (Royal Colors & Jolly Roger)

Keepers are usually played in front of you. They can be stolen so playing them can be a little risky! Some have special rules, like the Captain’s Hat, but in Pirate Fluxx, most don’t. They just sit there.
Sample Keepers: Monkey, Pieces of Eight, Frigate, Limes

So far so good. Now to the cards that start shaking things up.

Action cards allow you to do interesting things. You can steal keepers. You can take a card from the discard pile. You can force everyone else to discard cards. There are a lot of strange Action cards in the deck with a lot of very weird effects.
Sample Action Card: Walk the Plank! (The chosen player must discard their entire hand of cards)

Rules cards are like action cards from hell. First, they stay in play until someone plays a card that gets rid of them. second, they can really shake things up. There are rules that make you draw five cards a round, or two. There are cards that can force you to play 3 cards a round, which if you only have a hand of three cards means you have to play that godawful card you really would rather not play. There are Keeper limits, hand limits, and even stranger things. Rules cards mean just about every game of Fluxx is different.
Sample Rules Card: Talk like a pirate! If you speak with an outrageous pirate accent during your turn, Draw 1 extra card. Draw 2 extra cards if you’ve been continuing to use your accent since your previous turn.

Surprise! Cards help to counteract Actions and Rules. Mostly they let you react to another card play and either steal it, cancel it, or do something completely off the wall.
Sample Surprise! Card: Avast! Halt! (Cancel an Action a player has just played)

Finally, there are Creeper Cards. These are like evil anti Keepers. You have to immediately play one if you get it, and you can’t win the game as long as you have one, UNLESS the goal card played specifies you need that Creeper to win. Creepers suck. Playing a tricky combo and getting your creeper switched to another player’s hand is pretty awesome though.
Sample Creeper Card: Scurvy! (If you have Oranges or Limes on the table, discard Scurvy immediately)

We found the basic Fluxx game a little too simple for us, so we went with Pirate Fluxx. It added Creepers, something not found in the base game, and a few gameplay mechanics to a few Keepers. The weird humor and oddball cards shook things up nicely.

So how does it play? Its a little insane at first, especially if you’re playing with someone who’s never played before. Once you’ve gotten a few games under your belt, you quickly learn there are cards that you just never really want to play, and you establish a little bit of a detente with the other players. Its fun with two people, but really comes into its own with four, as it becomes difficult to predict what everyone will do or what kind of plays you’re going to have to defend against. Fluxx is a chaotic, madcap, play by the seat of your pants kind of game. Strategy will have to be done on the fly, if at all, but skill can and often does trump luck.

Pirate Fluxx was our favored, go to game for quite a long time. We stopped playing it simply because we burned ourselves out. That’s the sure sign of a good game to me. The downsides are that blind luck can trump rock solid strategy, and it can be difficult to really plan anything beyond a few moves ahead. This seems like a sweet spot game. Its got enough twists and turns to keep gamers interested, but the rules are simple enough that non gamers can join in without too much trouble.

In Praise of Smaller Conventions

Damsel in this Dress is going to be in Seattle!” my wife exclaimed.

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A week later, we attended the Seattle Mythic Worlds convention with no knowledge of the attendees or events other than the wonderful woman from Salt Lake City who makes the corsets would be there, and the one day pass was reasonably priced.

Mythic Worlds was definitely smaller and more intimate than the mega-cons I’ve been attending recently, like Emerald City Comic Con. ECCC in particular is so packed that I liken attending to being squeezed through a toothpaste tube. By comparison, Mythic Worlds was a joy to attend. My wife and I spent a fair amount of time in the Damsel booth browsing for new corsetry and getting personal attention from Michelle and the others in the booth. It was something that would have been impossible or at the very least very difficult at larger conventions.

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We browsed through what the rest of the convention had to offer and found a lot of cosplay gear and tchotchkes in the booths, and some great writing guest speakers. The pricing was astounding… this stuff was priced to move! The people were friendly, the crowd was manageable enough that I never felt hemmed in or that I should rush so that I made space for the people behind me. It was one of the most positive and welcoming convention experiences I’ve ever had. Besides Damsel, we made some great new connections with Fae Built Inc, Elysian Pearl, Harry Caldwell IV, Faerie Crowns, and a lot of others!

As an attendee, the experience was so positive it makes me question whether I want to attend the big cons anymore, unless I’m going as a vendor. I’ll be keeping my eye open for more small cons in the future.

Midnight Sky Nears

Midnight-Sky-Cover

I’d like to offer an update on the second novel in the Avenesse series, Mistress of the Midnight Sky. Its in the hands of my amazingly talented editor, Casondra Brewster, and should be back in my hands in the near future. Look for its release sometime in the next few months!

I have about 82k words done on the still nameless book three. This was originally supposed to be the second book before I realized the outline needed a bit of a revamp which resulted in book two. I hope you all enjoy it.

Review Roundup

First a few updates. I’ve been silent for a little while working feverishly on a few things. I’ve revised Mistress of the Dancing Bones and I’ve completed the rough draft of its sequel, Mistress of the Midnight Sky. In the meantime, Dancing Bones has picked up a few pleasant reviews here and there, and I’d like to share them with you.

First up, blogger, educator and fellow Human Wave enthusiast Stephanie A Souders reviewed the book as part of her series on Human Wave authors. She’s tough but fair, a sort of sci fi fantasy Simon Cowell, so I was quite nervous to read it. All in all I think it’s a very positive review.

Alexander’s premise is uncomfortable — but in a good way. Essentially, several centuries before the start of Mistress, the human race entered into a compact with vampires who dub themselves the nephilim: military defense against the monstrous creatures who walk the Deathlands in exchange for mortal blood. As revealed in Mistress, the society that grew from this compact is quite exploitative if seen from mortal eyes. Leaving aside the worst of the nephilim aristocracy – who treat the humans in their midst as either sexual playthings or cattle – even the main character’s father must accept human sacrifices to feed his hungry forces. It’s a cruel universe — but also a fascinating one worth exploring.

Read the full review here. Next, fantasy author Sheri J Kennedy gave a very gracious and generous review.

From the instant I began reading, Ashia, our heroine was captivating and her situation compelling. Her intensity and that of her world grew throughout the story keeping me engaged. I was rooted to the page withstanding disgust, terror and horror to see her stand strong. Alexander is masterful in the integration of the intricately built fantasy world with this powerful coming of age story. Magic is in her blood and the politics of her world are her inheritance—she must come to terms with them to know herself, and she embraces them fully in an unexpected and oddly triumphant way. At first I wished the novel carried more inner dialogue so I could know the character’s better. But when I was done reading, I found I missed them and had come to know them well, especially the unquenchable Ashia. I’m so glad the next in the series will be coming soon!

Thank you Sheri and Stephanie for your reviews!

Revisiting the Plucker

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Tonight I’m going to a Book White Elephant event where we trade our favorite books for someone else’s favorite book. The one I’m choosing is The Plucker by Brom. I love this book very much and while I can’t quite say its my absolute favorite, its the best of the books I currently own. I wrote a review on Goodreads some time ago, and I thought I’d dust it off and share it again. Let’s read together shall we?

I got this book at the same time as Shinjuku both of which were interesting dare I say ‘experimental’ books. Neither was quite a graphic novel but with their extensive use of artwork and the mix of text, they were somewhere in the nebulous ground between the two extremes. I’m always interested in books that explore that line. There’s nothing that says comics/graphic novels/whatever, have to be shallow and stupid. Artwork and literature can both be quite illuminating. Put the two together, and you wind up with Captain Roidrage and Lady Cameltoe battling evil Dr. VotesRepublican. This doesn’t have to happen, and in fact those of us brave souls who have tried dipping into graphic novel land have found it quite rewarding. After all, comic books gave us Neil Gaiman.
Anyway back to the book. I got this and another near-graphic novel at the same time, both are much larger in size than a regular novel or comic, being roughly high school textbook shaped. This one I think is by far the more successful of the two and is the one that does not consciously try to ape the comics genre. The book is done by the amazing artist/writer Brom. Being a geek I’ve been aware of him since he got his start as an artist for a dungeons and dragons spinoff Dark Sun. He’s come a long way since then and developed into quite an artist and, increasingly, quite a novelist!

His writing style is very warm and welcoming, which is nice because he’s writing about horror. And I think with horror its best to work into it. Come in, sit down, have a nice cup of tea. Are you comfy? Pillow’s nice? Ah that’s good because there was poison in the tea, and you’ll be dead in thirty seconds.

From the Wrong Side of the Toy Box

The particulars of the story: Think Toy Story as written by Hannibal Lector. The main characters are a group of toys, animated by the magic of a young boy’s love. Effectively, each toy is borrowing a little sliver of the boy’s soul because of how much he loves and plays with them. When he outgrows them or stops playing with them, they slowly fade back into being inanimate toys.

PAngelEnter the problem. Something dark and terrible is unleashed and uses these toys and the little wisps of soul-stuff the boy has infused in them to get at the boy himself. Dark, horrible, horrific stuff happens to these toys, and its so effective because Brom does such a good job making us believe in these toys, makes us like them and want them to succeed. That’s quite a feat when a lot of horror stories don’t make me empathize with actual human characters.

Still with this book, it feels like Brom is still getting his sea-legs, so to speak. He’s an amazingly accomplished artist, but he’s still not quite 100% as a writer. This I think is good! I look forward to his next book and the next one. Brom is a writer to watch for. I am actually afraid the Lihtrachuh Snobs are going to discover this and I’m going to have to trudge through the Literature section to find his books in a few more years.

Brom made a somewhat risky choice and I think handled himself well. I don’t want to spoil the book too much but one of the major characters is an old black woman familiar with voodoo, who pretty early on uses her powers to transform our hero the Jack in the Box into something with a fighting chance against the bad things in the shadows. I fully expect this character to then fade into the background but surprisingly she doesn’t. The old woman proves to be a very dynamic, active character who makes a big difference in the action, has her own arc, dilemmas and challenges, and is in many ways the real protagonist and prime mover around which the story revolves. I was very impressed with the deft handling of a character that could have been a crude stereotype very easily.

Now, a tricky question. Is this book okay to show children? Its a horror book, its very intense, its made for adults, and it is very scary in place. However, a 13+ year old can probably handle it. Jack, the main character, is a good role model for a boy trying to learn how to cope with all his raging hormones driving him to do all sorts of weird things. Just do yourself a favor and read it CAREFULLY yourself for anything you think might be out of line for your particular kid.

TLDR: Good horror novel with lots of heart, and pretty (if disturbing) pictures. Parental Guidance advised for parents drawn in by the pretty pictures and ‘childlike’ storyline.

Black Gate review of Dancing Bones

Mr. Donald Crankshaw of Blackgate.com has given Mistress of the Dancing Bones its first professional review:

I am generally not a fan of vampire novels. I prefer my vampires as antagonists rather than as love interests. And for the love of God, sunlight better burn, or at least weaken, them, not cause them to sparkle. So I was taking a chance on this novel, but I’m glad I did.

It would be a mistake to consider the vampires the good guys. Mr. Alexander has created a dark world, where humanity’s only defense against annihilation by the Deathlords is submission to the nephilim. Admittedly, you can take a positive view of the Code Sanguine, and Marcel Boucher is something of an idealist when it comes to vampire-human relations. But the fact remains that humans are subservient in this world, their blood is demanded by their betters, and their only chance of rising is to be embraced by the nephilim themselves. As Ashia soon discovers when she travels out into the world, many of the nephilim are less concerned with their duties under the Code Sanguine than their privileges, and they are more than willing to take advantage of their position. Of course, this sort of thing is common in fiction that attempts to deal with class distinctions, though usually the upper class living off of the blood of the lower class is a little less literal.

In this world, even the best of people are morally ambiguous. Marcel Boucher may believe that the nephilim have a duty to protect the mortals, but he still takes advantage of them. And even Ashia believes that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Dusang is so focused on his mission that he ignores other injustices. And Tama can be cruel and indifferent to mortal morality. What is right and wrong in such a world isn’t always clear, and Ashia’s struggles to do what is right by her family and their subjects is part of what makes this story interesting. I appreciate that Mr. Alexander made the questions difficult, and that while Ashia tries to do the right thing, she often lacks the wisdom to make a real difference. It gives her character a chance to grow through failure, which helps bring her to life.

Read the whole thing.