Aikido, RPG, and Utena ALL IN THE SAME POST
A friend (who has requested to remain anonymous) sent me a very interesting email. I'm posting it here along with my response because I think it touches on interesting points in RPG design as well as Aikido philosophy.
Hi Jono! I have an aikido question that doubles as an RPG philosophy question. Naturally, you were the first person I thought of coming to.
I'm involved in a Narrativist-style message-board RPG set at Utena's Ohtori Academy's sister school in the Netherlands. There's a dueling game here too, though it's organized more informally, and run according to rules that haven't quite been revealed yet, if indeed they exist. The problem is that my character -- Taro Ichino, an exchange student from Ohtori -- knows a lot more about martial arts than I do; he's a good aikidoka and a fair karateka. As in Utena, you lose if your rose falls from your chest; you can also lose by drawing blood. Taro's opponent, a fop named Helms, has a combat knife and knows how to use it (though of course he can't draw blood with it). Helms knows about pressure points and has already used the hilt of his knife to strike the point near Taro's ankle to neutralize a kick. Helms has also shown a hesitance to attack; he probably knows that an uke who knows aikido has an advantage. The duel is taking place outdoors at night, and visibility is poor. There are bushes and a mansion nearby, but terrain has not otherwise been established. There are two spectators who aren't supposed to interfere. Helms is controlled by the GM, but apart from controlling the NPCs, the GM has no special rule-setting power; anyone can make something happen by narrating it.
So I have two questions.
First, if you were in this predicament, what would you do? My understanding of aikido indicates that it can't do much against an opponent who won't attack, and I imagine it's hard to use karate when your opponent has a longer reach than you, though I don't actually know anything practical about either of those martial arts.
Second, how should a friendly, narrativist, diceless RPG deal with this situation? Winning the duel is easy in theory -- all I have to do is narrate my victory -- but given that there are no dice or conflict resolution rules, it would feel like cheating to win without proving that Taro has "the moves" to deserve it. Does that mean that someone who knows nothing about martial arts shouldn't play a narrativist RPG that involves dueling? How do you solve this problem?
Here's my response.
> First, if you were in this predicament, what would you do? My understanding
> of aikido indicates that it can't do much against an opponent who won't
The Aikido response to an opponent who won't attack is,
"Good. You have already won. Walk away."
O-sensei was Not A Fan of dueling, or any activity whose purpose was
to assert dominance over or diminish another human being, and
intentionally made Aikido useless for that purpose. Yeah, he was a
great big hippie. That doesn't help your situation, though, does it?
So, I can think of three ways of handling this in-game.
One is actually to walk away. Just try to leave the arena and see
what happens. That's quite possibly what someone would do who was
really devoted to the aikido philosophy, (although it raises the
question of why he agreed to join the duel in the first place). That
might completely screw up the story and make everyone think you're a
jerk, though. On the other hand, it's an important part of the Utena
story-arc that at some point she starts questioning the purpose of the
duels and whether they can be stopped; an action like this might bring
down the wrath of End Of The World or his Norwegian equivalent, which
might be bad for your character but good for the story. Probably
discuss this out-of-character with the GM before you try it.
> As in Utena, you lose if your rose falls from your chest; you can also lose
> by drawing blood.
This suggests a second path: intentionally cut yourself on his knife.
Blood would be drawn, so that would be a loss for your opponent,
right? It's a cheap trick, but it's also a very "anime drama" kind of
thing to sacrifice yourself in order to win. It would have the fun
side-effect of convincing everyone you're a little bit crazy. The
word "kamikaze" might come up.
In practical terms, do you know how hard it is to attack someone with
a knife without drawing blood? Think about it -- what can he actually
do to you? He has to try to cut for the rose and that's it. Leave
the rose open for a moment to lure him in and then brush the knife
aside with your bare hand as it comes in. The visibility is poor so
the judges may not get a good look at exactly what happened; this
could work for you or against you.
The third possibility is to actually fight the duel using martial
arts, like you're supposed to do, which I would consider the most
boring option, but if you must... you're going to have to lure him
into attacking, by presenting a false opening. Maybe some taunting is
called for as well, if you think you know him well enough to say
something that will get under his skin. Suspecting a trick he will of
course try to feint once or twice with the knife before making a real
strike; remember he can't actually cut you anywhere except the rose,
so supress your instinct to react until he cuts at the real target.
You know how you grab a snake just behind the head? Dance to the
inside of his knife hand, moving in as close to him as you can, grab
his right wrist with your left hand (assuming he's right-handed) and
twist it out and up. Uppercut to the jaw with your right, get your
right leg behind his and hip-check him (this all has to happen at
once) so he trips over you and starts falling backwards. Snatch the
rose with your right hand as he falls, never letting go of the knife
Depending on what Helms does, that might have a 50% chance of working,
or it might not. Who knows?
> Second, how should a friendly, narrativist, diceless RPG deal with this
> situation? Winning the duel is easy in theory -- all I have to do is
> narrate my victory -- but given that there are no dice or conflict
> resolution rules, it would feel like cheating to win without proving that
> Taro has "the moves" to deserve it. Does that mean that someone who knows
> nothing about martial arts shouldn't play a narrativist RPG that involves
> dueling? How do you solve this problem?
This is why I wouldn't play an RPG that doesn't have rules. Even
something as simple as "you and the GM secretly flip a coin to see
who's going to win, then play it out through narration" is a perfectly
functional rule which would solve this problem. If you can't
introduce something like that, then I recommend talking
out-of-character to the GM in a separate channel and discussing what
the consequences to the story would be of Taro winning vs. Helms
winning, and reach a consensus about which would be a more interesting
direction for the story long-term, and then publicly narrate out the
fight to reach that conclusion.
I had an interesting discussion once with Rachel from UCJAS, where she told me about the diceless
message-board role-player culture and I told her about the diceful
tabletop role-player culture. Both of us were honestly trying our
best to understand an unfamiliar way of doing things, so it was quite
educational. From what she said, it sounds like diceless
message-board RPGs work great right up until the point where two
players have a head-to-head competition that they both want to win;
there simply isn't any way to negotiate an outcome for that within the
system. Rachel said it sometimes leads to either endless dueling
scenes or else drama spilling out of the game and turning into an
internet flame war.
The other possibility would be to get an impartial observer to listen
to the narration of both sides and declare a victor. Normally this
would be the GM, but the GM is already in the duel, so you'd have to
find a third party whose opinion in this matter you'd both respect
enough to bide by the decision. "impartial third party decides the
outcome" is also a perfectly functional rule.
Just keep in mind that it's basically impossible for anyone -- even a
martial arts expert -- to decide "who would really win" just by
reading a description of one side's tactics and the other side's
tactics. You might imagine that there's some kind of martial arts
"paper rock scissors" where one move defeats another but gets defeated
by a third, but it doesn't work that way. Fights are decided by
strength, speed, stamina, agility, and above all by psychology --
who's more confident? who's more determind to win? who's more
afraid? who gets distracted? who gets blinded by rage? etc.
Compared to those factors, fancy moves are meaningless. So even if
you have an impartial observer, you'll have to accept that the
decision is basically arbitrary and cannot in any way reflect "what
would really happen".
Bottom line is, you can't "prove that Taro has the moves" to deserve
victory. It's the wrong game for that. If you were playing Street
Fighter II you could prove that you have the moves because the game
programming is an impartial arbiter, and victory goes to whoever's
better at exploiting the game mechanics. Your RPG has no game
mechanics as such, so the system cannot arbitrate any real
disagreement between players. Which means that even though the
*characters* are at odds, the *players* must already be in agreement.
If everyone is really following narrativism as the creative agenda for
this game, then they should all see victory or loss in a duel as
simply being two different but equally useful opportunities for
character development. Therefore you should be able to reach a
friendly out-of-character agreement about story goals and work from
there. (Wheras simulationism would frown on out-of-character
discussion about outcomes, and gamism would demand mechanics that
could support a contest of tactics.)
An ominous letter from the Illinois IRS...
I got an ominous letter from the Illinois IRS. Let's open it up and see what it says.
Oh no! Problems with my form 1040? And it took them from April until November to find them? Must be pretty serious. The second page is a bill:
Um....... (sweat drop)
I would just ignore it, but there's a due date for my zero dollars. I wonder what they'll do if I don't pay?
Princess Peach Toadstool and the Turkey
I skipped the thanksgiving aikido seminar this year. It's expensive, the mat is always so crowded that you can't move around properly, and Saotome sensei always spends too much time talking and not enough time letting us practice. (Yeah, I'm criticizing the grandmaster. So what?) Instead I spent four whole days with my family YEAAH. Robin and Samantha even drove all the way out from Connecticut to join us for dinner.
Of course this meant Aleksa demanding my constant attention for most of the four days. It's getting easier and more fun to babysit now that she's old enough that I can teach her video games and more interesting board games. So all weekend it was like "Jono will you teach me to play Super Bomberman?" and "Jono can we play Settlers of Catan?" and "Jono you be Mega Man and I'll be Rush!"
Here's Samantha (left) and Aleksa (right) playing Super Mario Kart:
So I said "Hey Aleksa, do you want to make OUR OWN video game?" and of course she was very excited. I told her to draw some artwork for the characters and bad guys in the game, and so she drew these pictures with magic marker while I quickly hacked together a very basic side-scroller engine:
The first player is Aleksa's favorite Nintendo character, Princess Toadstool (the pink didn't scan so well):
Princess toadstool's pet turkey (that's what I get for asking a kid to make something up on Thanksgiving) is the second player character:
The first boss is this terrifying dragon:
I used Python on my Ubuntu laptop to make the game. We scanned all Aleksa's drawings in and I edited them (using GIMP, but that's a rant for another time) into sprite artwork.
I tried out a Python module called Pyglet which I had just learned about at a ChiPy (Chicago Python user's group) meeting a couple of days before. Based on this brief experiment I would recommend Pyglet pretty highly to anyone wanting to prototype a game idea or get started with programming -- it's even easier to get started with than PyGame which is what I used previously. Pyglet handles all of the windowing and image-loading and screen-refreshing and keyboard-input nonsense so you can get straight to the good stuff.
Here's a screenshot of the game as it looked after just a couple hours of work. The collision detection is still glitchy , it's missing a bunch of features, and the code is a mess, but whatever.
Making video games with kids is great! Aleksa got so excited about the idea that we could make our own game. I think it's important to make kids understand that the entertainment products they consume do not just magically appear at the store, but are the result of creativity and effort by regular human beings like them. Professional efforts of course have lots of money and time put into them, resulting in orders of magnitude more polish, but are no different in their basic principles from what we can make ourselves. If children don't learn this fact, I'm afraid their creativity will be discouraged by the seeming inaccessibility of our modern artifacts.
Oh yeah, making a side-scroller also happens to be a great way to introduce lessons about physics. We could experiment with what it felt like to play the game with different values set for gravity and friction and momentum, and talk about what these things mean in real life. Hooray for science!
The only not cool thing about this thanksgiving vacation was that I broke one of my molars (I wasn't even biting something hard -- I was chewing a soggy piece of leftover pizza on Wednesday night -- I'm not sure how that happened.) So it's time to figure out how my dental insurance is supposed to work and make a dentist appointment.
Bliss Stage is an RPG made by my friend Ben Lehman. He was selling it at GenCon this year. In spite of my busy lifestyle and abundance of unplayed RPGs, last night I found myself hosting the second session of a campaign. I wonder how that happened?
(Toy robots were not on the table during the game; I added them in afterwards to make the picture a little more interesting.)
Bliss Stage is firmly in the "Giant Fighting Robots And Teen Angst" genre. Although it would be easy to classify it an "anime" RPG or even as "Evangelion the RPG", it is refreshingly free of awkward fanboyishness. (Compare to something like "Big Eyes Small Mouth", which I also got a copy of recently because it was $5. BESM is slightly embarrassing to read with all its wanting-to-be-Japanese-ness and fetishization of anime tropes.) Ben told me once that he wanted this game to feel like an original entry in the genre, not a pastiche.
I really like the rule (or strong suggestion) in the Bliss Stage book that you set your game in a postapocalyptic version of a familiar real-life place nearby. Our game is set in the Chicago Field Museum. This is one of several suggestions in the book which gently steer a group towards creating something based on their own memories and experiences, as opposed to just acting out something they saw on TV. In the same vein, you're supposed to name the "anchor" characters after people you had crushes on in high school (not people you still know) and you're encouraged to use your own nightmares as inspiration for the aliens that you fight.
The secret to the Giant Robots And Teen Angst genre is that the robot combat is not merely senseless violence, but is somehow an expression of the pilot's teenage mental problems. Bliss Stage makes this connection very very explicit: since the aliens live in the dream world, and you have to go there to fight them, your "mecha" are actually dream constructs, built out of your relationships with the people you care about in the real world. Yes, they're robots made of love. It's relationships that have stats in this game, not characters so much, and the stats of the relationship (Intimacy and Trust) become the power and the durability of the weapons and thrusters and shields and whatnot that you turn them into.
Clever bit number one is that this provides a huge amount of incentive to "power-up" your relationships by role-playing out all sorts of awkward interpersonal drama that you might never think of doing in a more normal RPG. "I'm going to go all the way with my boyfriend tonight, so my sniper rifle will be five dice in the next mission" is a statement that makes sense in Bliss Stage.
Clever bit number two is that damage you take in the dream world become stress on your relationships, and too much stress can reduce the Trust and eventually break the relationship. That is, the game mechanics are telling you that the relationship is going to break, but it's up to you to figure out how and why and then role-play that out. So you get ample excuses to role-play angry fights and weepy breakups -- all the fodder you need for your TEEN ANGST!
Clever bit number three is that the alien invasion from the dream-world permanently put to sleep every human over the age of 18 (with a very few individual exceptions here and there). All of the pilot characters are therefore teenagers, in a "Lord of the Flies" kind of world, which tightens the focus on relationships between teenagers.
Being a teenager SUCKS. Thinking back to that time in my own life, it seemed like every emotion was magnified hundreds of times, to cosmic significance (not least because of constant self-doubt and self-analysis). I never actually had any romantic angst until my 20s (I was a late bloomer there, I guess) but I can easily see how getting dumped or rejected when you're a teenager must seem like THE END OF THE WORLD. And in Bliss Stage, getting dumped or rejected -- since it directly impacts your ability to do missions -- actually CAN cause the end of the world! I thought this was quite a clever design.
Of course, with all this focus on relationships, you can't just create characters in a vacuum. The idea is that you come up with all the characters who are part of your "resistance cell" of survivors, figure out in general terms how they feel about each other, and then divide control of these characters up among the players. (In practice, control of the minor characters swaps around a lot.) So each non-GM player controls one pilot character, as well as an anchor for another pilot, and some miscellaneous character, and in each scene you might be called on to play any one of those characters. Below is the "relationship map" for our game:
Yes, we have characters named "Raggedy Ann", "One-Eyed Jack", and "Doctor Professor". Off-camera to the left are Maria and "The Twins" named Michelle and DJ. (I know, I know, I'm sorry.) Blue names are pilots, green are anchors, purple are characters who are neither, and red are the real-life names of the people who control the characters. I'm looking at this now and wow, we have way too many names that start with "J". No wonder we had trouble keeping them straight sometimes.
My intent here was not to write a review, but just to describe the game a little to provide background for the session report which is coming up. (Actually, if you read this site a lot, you know that I don't write reviews: I only rave about things that I love and occasionally rant about things that I hate. Writing reviews would require thinking about the boring stuff in the middle.) That's going to have to wait for the next post, though, because I'm tired and I'm going to bed now.
His Dark Materials
I've had a lot of time on planes and trains over the last couple of weeks, so I did a lot of reading. I just finished the His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman:
- The Golden Compass ( "Northern Lights" in the UK )
- The Subtle Knife
- The Amber Spyglass
These were highly recommended to me by several different people, and what with Harry Potter done and the next Song of Ice and Fire novel taking forever to come out, I decided to give them a try. They are marketed as a children's fantasy or young-adult fantasy series, but then so is a lot of good fantasy (Earthsea being my favorite example). I went into them not knowing anything beyond what the back-of-the-book blurbs said. So I was expecting a typical coming-of-age adventure featuring witches and armored polar bears and daemons and other kewl gimmicks; I was hoping it would be a well-told story.
And it is, it is, but it's far more than that too.
The book reverberates with depth and richness and wisdom. It has layers and layers of meaning, some of them seeming to hover tantalizingly just beyond the edges of my understanding, like the symbols on the alietheometer itself. It re-purposes intellectual themes ranging from quantum physics, dark matter, alternate history, and the evolution of consciousness to "Paradise Lost" and Original Sin. I would call it a grand philosophical work, but "philosophical" sounds so dry and stuffy and boring and made-up, while His Dark Materials is so vibrant and emotional and alive that if you cut it, it would bleed. The book demands that we question dogma, that we rebel against authority, and that we not huddle in the sterile safety of prolonged innocence but that we experience all the sensations of a life fully and truly lived, with all its messiness and danger.
It's also full of themes which I would consider entirely inappropriate for children. I would not give this series to anybody under 15. Even I found certain parts of it quite challenging.
The first book is the easiest to explain. It's the story of Lyra, a girl from Oxford in an alternate-history, steampunkish version of Britain, as she travels to the far North to rescue children who've been kidnapped by a sinister arm of the Church.
Yes, Christianity is the main villian in this story. Not even a thinly-disguised metaphor for Christianity, but the thing itself. This has led some to describe the series as "Narnia for atheists". The Golden Compass refers to "Pope Calvin" at some point, so apparently the Reformation never happened in this world. The still-unified Church has stifling control over all aspects of life, to the point where physics is known as "Experimental Theology" and monitored closely for signs of heresy.
"Experimental theology" is a great example of the exotic terminology in this series: the world has many parallels to our own, but they developed differently and so they have different names for things. Electricity is "anbaric power", hot cocoa is "chocolatl", Russia is "Muscovy", and polyester is "coalsilk". (Thanks to Andrew for pointing that one out to me; I hadn't realized that's what "coalsilk" meant at first, but of course now it's obvious.) One of the supporting characters hails from "The country of Texas". There's no explanation given, so you have to do a lot of decoding to figure out what they're talking about sometimes, and the whole time you're speculating on how history went differently to lead to that name. It's all quite intellectually stimulating; I know that kids are reading this and I bet a ton of it is going right over their heads. (That's fine; it'll give them something new to discover each time they re-read it later.)
I haven't mentioned the most important aspect of this world, which is the daemons. They're animal companions, or "familiars" you might call them. Everybody's got one; to say "a person without a daemon" in this world is like saying "a person without a head". Your daemon talks to you, like a conscience, or part of your soul, and it can talk to other humans though it rarely does so. Even when you're trying to hide your feelings, your daemon expresses your moods through its movements. To touch another person's daemon is an unthinkable taboo. Daemons can't normally go more than a few feet from their humans; to force them apart kills them both. One last interesting feature is that a child's daemon can freely change into any animal it wants to be; but at adolescence your daemon fixes on a single form that expresses your true personality, so for instance a soldier might have a wolf, an obedient servant a dog, and a deep thinker a raven. The difference between children and adults is one of the major recurring themes in the series, and the way daemons "settle" is quite a clever metaphor for it. But that's wrong; it's not a metaphor at all, it is the thing itself, expressed more clearly than it could be in our world.
Lyra's quest is intertwined with the mystery of why daemons settle into one form, and what this has to do with a newly-discovered subatomic particle called "Dust" which seems to be attracted to adult humans the way electrons are attracted to charge, and why the Church has such a strong interest in this phenomenon, and to an artifact of divination called the "aleitheometer", which points out Truth the way a compass points out North.
Lyra is a great character because her primary skill, the way she solves most of the challenges she encounters, is that she's extremely talented at lying. She's like the Coyote archetype in folk stories. She's got the power to see into the truth of things, and at the same time she's traveling the world swindling people. It's a wonderful contradiction and a refreshing alternative to the moralizing tone of some other children's fantasy novels I could mention.
In the second book, the story gets still deeper and richer and more complex, as it expands into an infinity of parallel worlds (well, OK, only four or five of them are important to the plot). One of these is our own modern world, realistically portrayed, whence comes the second protagonist, a boy named Will, who becomes the bearer of another artifact called the Subtle Knife. As soon as Lyra finds out that Will is a murderer, she begins trusting him implicitly (!!), and the two become constant friends and allies. Certain themes and struggles seem to be playing out again and again in each world, always slightly differently in their details depending on the local civilization, so that each world is an allegory for all the others. Each world seems to have its own equivalent of Dust, and each world is affected by its own kind of deep-seated spiritual illness.
The third book is by far the biggest, longest, and most unconventionally structured book of the three. The first two books shrink down to become merely key subroutines in the grand design of the third. All the worlds are engulfed in a metaphysical cosmic war that I don't even dare to try to explain here. (It involves the fallen angels making a second try at rebelling aginst God -- or is that really what's going on?) Finally, Lyra and Will hit puberty (as children inevitably do) with all that that implies. The story goes way beyond what I ever would have thought possible, and I applaud the author's ambition in taking it there. The ending is intense, tragic, emotionally and morally and mythologically resonant, and at the same time so gentle and compassionate that it left my senses reeling. I was weak in the knees the next morning.
This is the best fantasy series I've read since... man, I don't know when, if ever.
As a small footnote to the above, they seem to be making a movie of the Golden Compass. I like the book so much that I'm tempted to go see it, even though I suspect they'll leave out so much of the original metaphysics and hard-won wisdom about human nature
which make the book unique, and replace it with generic Hollywood adventure-movie special effects. I notice in the trailer that they only ever refer to the Church as "The Magisterium". That's just one of its many names in the novel. I understand that it would be hard to sell a family movie in America with such an anti-religious message, so they seem to be emphasizing the fact that Lyra's world is oppressed by a supra-national totalitarian ideology and de-emphasizing the fact that it happens to be the Church. I'm a bit curious to find out whether the religious aspects in the movie have been merely downplayed, or thrown out entirely.
I have no idea how they could possibly do a family-movie treatment of the Subtle Knife or (goodness gracious me) the Amber Spyglass, as intellectually complex and subversive as it is, where the anti-religious message is front and center, but if this first movie does well than it's probably inevitable that they'll try somehow.
Coming Weblog Attractions
I'm back now from a very intense couple of weeks of traveling and adventuring and I'd like to tell you all about it, but it's going to take a while to write up (and to process the photos I want to include). So here's a sort of plot summary that can serve as a trailer for coming weblog attractions.
- Ubuntu Developer Summit Boston
- Ubuntu ngamuntu ngabanye abantu
- Famous Robots
- Jono Meets Another Jono
- Rob Savoye is my hero now
- Gutsy Gibbon
- Tibetan food
- The Hackers Conference
- The first rule of Hackers conference is that you do not blog about Hackers conference.
- The TSA Hates my Turing Machine
- How to control your mouse pointer with a burrito
- The "Shock the Aza" game
- Santa Cruz/San Jose
- Curse you, Baron Harkonnen!!
- The Redwood Forest
- Good food and old friends make Jono happy
- Sea lions!
- A Command Line For Your Grandmother (my talk at BayCHI)
I've also got a huge backlog of weblog posts (going back to the beginning of the year, in fact) that I've been wanting to write but just haven't been able to finish. The big ones are:
- Aikido Summer Camp in the rockies (Real life)
- In Memory of Grammarie (Real life)
- The Mountain Witch (RPG)
- Bliss Stage (RPG)
- Why I'm an atheist (philosophy)
And then a usability post I'm working on for the Humanized weblog:
- Configurability is Overrated?
So, I guess, leave a comment and let me know which of these you're most interested in reading, and that's what I'll work on.
Finally, I'm going to try to get another comic up this Sunday or early next week.
Now I remember why video games used to be fun
I was pretty burnt out on video games. I hate all the modern popular video game design styles (FPS, MMORPG, Smash Bros., etc.) and even if there was something innovative (Wii, DS) I just didn't have a video-game-shaped hole in my schedule for it to fill.
But after playing Super Mario Bros. with Aleksa (see previous entry) and then having spent some rather mentally exhausting days at work, I wanted to come home and do something mindless and solitary and relaxing. Deciding to look for something to play, I remembered hearing recommendations about a year ago for an old-school freeware game called Cave Story.
It's very very good. I'm enjoying it a lot.
The gameplay is very much a refinement and further evolution of the 8-bit platformer aesthetic. Everything from the art and music to the controls and physics are insanely polished, especially considering it was made as a hobby by one (Japanese) guy. It feels a bit like Metroid crossed with Mega Man. I'm playing it in the original Japanese (it's called "Doukutsu Monogatari").
Also, the story is quite engaging. It's the kind of story I would expect more from an RPG than a side-scroller, and it has that very manga-esque mix of sci-fi with fantasy, cuteness with trauma.
There are ports for Windows, Mac, and Linux, and they're all free, so go download it and try it out!
The Massive Vs. The Masses
I recently got a package in the mail from World Domination, LLC.
This is the company that my cousin Jacob started in order to publish his board game design, The Massive Vs. The Masses. (I tried to talk him out of that name, which I think is trying a little too hard to be clever, but he stuck to it. We'll see what people think.)
Anyway, this is quite an achievement! I'm very proud. He's put years of work into getting to this point. I helped out a bit with playtesting and feedback, and with setting up the e-commerce part of that site. I also made a Java version of the game which we originally intended to put online somewhere as an advertisement, but that never went anywhere. It did help us playtest and "debug" the game and helped me learn Java, so it wasn't a waste.
It's taken a long time for all of the pieces he ordered to come back from the various manufacturers that he contracted them out to. Here's the whole story of what was involved in self-publishing a board game, and why he missed his first couple of projected release dates (gee, it's just like software). But now everything is finally assembled and he's shipping out shrink-wrapped copies to people who've ordered it from the website.
So as you can guess, I was quite excited to open my copy. The contents of the box are an odd mixture. Some, like the detailed metal piece for the Atomic Monster and the impressively solid board, are extremely high quality. The cards are slick and the artwork on them, which Jacob got his internet artist friend Silkenray to do, is excellent. On the other hand, the Army pieces other than the planes are a little bit disappointing, being just stickers on oddly-shaped plastic stands. And the instruction sheets are rather unattractive black-and-white paper printouts. But what the heck, I'm just nitpicking. Really it's an achievement that this game exists at all.
Besides, what matters more than the quality of the bits is whether the game is fun or not. I've played it hundreds of times using virtual pieces or paper cutouts, so I'm so close to it that it's hard for me to be at all objective about it. I can tell you that the two sides are quite well balanced against each other although they play completely differently. There are a couple of different viable strategies for each side, and every turn gives you some tricky tactical decisions to think about. The playing time is conveniently short. Although there's a luck factor in the cards, it's nearly impossible to get a hand that will screw you over completely.
Most importantly, I think the game really nails its gleefully trashy monster movie theme. One one side you get to go stomping through buildings breathing fire, eating humans whole, swatting helicopters out of the sky, and drop-kicking tanks into each other. On the other side you get to send your troops and vehicles to their certain deaths in order to hold the defensive line while you get the civilians to safety and your scientist thinks up one hare-brained scheme after another to stop the monster. So, if either of those sounds fun to you, then check out the link above. I'm looking forward to trying the game out on some newbies to see what they think.
Anyway, congratulations, Jake!