Friday, July 15, 2011

Shaun the Sheep: The Hedge Maze

Because I won't ever pass up an opportunity to put Shaun the Sheep on my blog, here's a picture of the giant new Shaun corn maze that's about to open in Staffordshire, England.

It appears to show Shaun striking a sassy pose while his brain shoots out the top of his head. It seem to be based on this (without the shooting-brain part):

Snapdragon: A Festive Children's Game Played With Flaming Food

Thou art easier swallowed than a flapdragon.
Wm. Shakespeare, Love's Labor's Lost

In Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, Alice is introduced to various fanciful insects by a gnat the size a chicken. To an American child, these creatures appeared to be little more than whimsical creations, but one insect had special connotations for the British:
A snap-dragon-fly

`Look on the branch above your head,' said the Gnat, `and there you'll find a snap-dragon-fly. Its body is made of plum-pudding, its wings of holly-leaves, and its head is a raisin burning in brandy.'
`And what does it live on?'
`Frumenty and mince pie,' the Gnat replied; `and it makes is nest in a Christmas box.'

I'd never really paused over this reference to a "snapdragon fly", but the most recent episode of Masterpiece Mystery, an adaptation of the Inspector Poirot novel Hallowe'en Party, included an alarming scene of kids playing a party game during a Halloween celebration. Children kept reaching into a flaming bowl, grabbing something, and popping it in their mouths while chanting "snip snap dragon." You can find the scene (for as long as it stays up on Youtube), at the 7:00 mark here. I hadn't the faintest idea what they were doing until we looked it up and learned that it's an old game (no one knows just how old) called snapdragon or flapdragon.

from Poirot: Halowe'en Party (2010)

Here's how Martin Gardner describes it in The Annotated Alice:
Snapdragon (or flapdragon) is the name of a pastime that delighted Victorian children during the Christmas season. A shallow bowl was filled with brandy, raisins were tossed in, and the brandy set on fire. Players try to snatch the raisins from the flickering blue flames and pop them, still blazing, into their mouths. The burning raisins also were called snapdragons.
The chant that accompanies the game goes like this:
Here he comes with flaming bowl / Don't he mean to take his toll!
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
Take care you don't take too much / Be not greedy in your clutch!
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
With his blue and lapping tongue / Many of you will be stung!
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
For he snaps at all that comes / Snatching at his feast of plums!
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
But Old Christmas makes him come / Though he looks so fee! fa! fum!
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
Don't 'ee fear him but be bold / Out he goes his flames are cold!
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
Snapdragon is normally a Christmas tradition, although it's played at Halloween as well. There's no clear indication of the game's origins, but some sources trace it to the ancient Greeks or Druids, which seems rather fanciful. It pops up several times in the works of Shakespeare, where he uses "flapdragon"  and "snapdragon" interchangeably to indicate something that's easy to swallow. You know: like flaming fruit. That pushes the game back to the 16th century at least. Like so many indoor amusements, it became traditional during the Victorian era, because nothing says "fun for kids" like sticking your hand in a burning bowl of liquor.

I'm annoyed that I even have to add this, but if you try this game at home, please remember that fire is hot and if you're injured it's totally your own fault, not mine.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

D-Day Dice

Since we're talking about D-Day, let's linger a little longer and turn our attention to Emmanuel Aquin and his print-and-play game D-Day Dice. The game has thus far been available in a free trial version, as Aquin spread the word to generate interest. Now, it's being picked up for publication by Valley Games, and will be out by November of this year. A Kickstarter campaign should begin shortly, and I'll post a link when it goes live.

If you scroll to the bottom of the Valley Games page, you can download the trial version, print it out, and give it a test run. Based on a read-through of the rules, D-Day Dice appears to have an interesting mechanic, calling to mind a mashup of Roll Through the Ages and Memoir '44, with an added layer of depth. I'm going to print this one out and give it a spin, and I'm looking forward to trying the finished game.

Memoir '44: Play Online

Days of Wonder has launched an online version of their best-selling casual war game, Memoir '44. Like many DOW games, Memoir '44 gets a heavy workout here at Casa McD, so this is welcome news. So far, I've just taken the solo mode for a spin, but it's a straight-up computer conversion of the tabletop game. It plays on a single screen, with your cards aligned at the bottom and the board dominating the center of the layout. Mouse click responses seem a little odd: if you double click too fast, it doesn't register the move. Other than that, it's looking good so far.

Right now it's in "open beta," and people who sign up get 50 free "gold ingots." The game uses a pay-to-play model in which you pay ingots to play solo and online games. Ingots can be purchased at a rate of 200 for $8. For $30, you get 1,000 ingots plus the Expert Mode, which allows you to create and upload custom scenarios. For $60, you 2,400 ingots, plus expert mode, plus $30 off any Memoir '44 product. Sessions cost 2-3 ingots each.

It's an interesting model, and I'm not sure how it will work out. It avoids the problems of a subscription-based system, but it's hard, at this point, to determine whether the value-versus-cost balance is quite right. If we calculate about 90 games for 200 ingots, with anywhere from 30-45 minutes for each game, you're looking at maybe 200 hours of gameplay for $8. That doesn't seem unreasonable.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

EA Buys PopCap For ...

... $1.3 billion. (It sounds better if you use a Dr. Evil voice.) That can buy a lot of zombie-eating plants. Congrats to the PopCap folks. They're good guys, and I remember when they were just a few dudes making casual games. They went from nothing to $1.3 billion in ten years. It's as though all those jewels were real.

Via TechCrunch.

Monday, July 11, 2011

App O' The Mornin': Bumpy Road

Grade: A
Price: $3

This sophomore effort from the creators of Kosmo Spin has a delightful aesthetic, with a muted but eye-catching color palette and charming art. It’s a look that works perfectly for game about an older couple out for a Sunday drive on a corduroy road past windmills and impossibly narrow houses.

The gameplay is just as interesting as the visual element. Bumpy Road uses a novel mechanic to create a twist on the 2D platforming, move-to-the-right genre that has thrived on mobile touch devices. In this case, you don’t control the car, which moves at a steady pace, but the road itself, which is comprised of a series of little bumps. Touching the road raises it a little bit. Touch behind the car to create a hill that makes the car go faster. Touch in front of it to create a hill that slows the car down. Touch beneath it to make the car hop.

It’s as simple as that. The levels consist of multiple platforms and occasional water hazards, with minor variations for the two gameplay modes. In Evergreen Ride, you need to go as far as possible without falling into one of the water hazards. The trip is endless, with little powerups found along the way to close traps and allow you to focus on gathering items to improve your final time. There are no traps in Sunday Trip mode, so the goal is to get to a finish line as fast as possible by grabbing the accelerator powerups and avoiding the brake powerups. The result is a great little app, with a novel mechanic and engaging gameplay.

Site Update: Changes and Other News

I started State of Play a year ago this month for a few reasons. I wanted a place to write about games that I didn't always have a chance to write about in my print work, but also to just have a little corner of the internet that was all my own. It's been a place where I worked out ideas for print stories, most notably with the long series on gaming in Colonial America, which eventually appeared as a lead feature in Games Magazine. I wanted to create a personal blog from a the point of a view of a someone who does a lot of gaming for a living and thus has to think and write about this material on a daily basis.

I got off to a pretty serious start with an average of 20 posts a week in the beginning. That gradually tapered off, and then posts started getting a bit more irregular back in April. Part of this was because I had a lot of work to do in order to go on vacation, and part of this was the beginning of graduate school. I've been trying to find a good way to balance the blog with work and school, and might have finally found a pattern that works. So, here are the changes:
  • Posts will be 3 times a week: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. This gives me a target to shoot for that shouldn't be too hard to hit, while also providing regular visitors with a better sense of when to expect new content. 
  • The App O' the Mornin' will return in a reduced form. I wrote about 100 app reviews for the site, and another 50 or so for various print venues, and then my brain when pfffft. This was around the time that Axe in the Face was released, and I don't recall a lot of apps grabbing my attention after that. Maybe it was app burnout on my part, but there seemed to be a bit of a lull in quality appage. In the intervening time, the well of good apps has gradually refilled, giving me something to write about again. Thus, each Monday, starting today, I'll do an App Review.
  • I also have a stack of board games to review, but I take these very slowly. I hate reviews that are done on one or two playthroughs. I tend to take a couple of months to test things and gradually build some kind of opinion. Yes, I can form a pretty fast snap judgment like any other experienced gamer, and it will usually turn out correct, but without a number of plays under my belt, I just don't feel like I have much to say. For instance, I've been testing Rivals for Catan, in its many different play modes, for over a month, and I still want to play a couple more times before I write about it. 
Also, I'd ask you to please remember to use the Amazon links from the sidebar when you shop at Amazon. The Amazon Affiliates program is the only way I make anything for my work here (Google Ads are a joke). Using my link anytime you access Amazon costs nothing, but gives me a 4-6% commission for anything you buy. The depression has ruined us here at Casa McD, so every little bit helps. 

Let me have some feedback. Is there something you like? Don't like? Something you want to see? Shoot me a Twitter at StateofPlayBlog and let me know.

Thanks for your continued support.