Number Cruncher

As the year drew to a close, the boys down at the podcast factory had some guests on to talk about playtesting. (Episode 95 ) In that episode, the idea of collecting data about games played came up. In some other podcasts, as the year has closed out, discussions of data collection about games played also came up. Then the year end happened, resolutions get covered, pledged, railed against, and more. In order to maintain a resolution, you have to remember not only that you need to do it, but that you did it. So again, we have data collection as a theme. It seems to be quite the time to talk about the idea in the hobby masses.

Personally, I love data. Simple as that. I find the insights and “oh, really?” moments you get from parsing through collected information about a subject to be really interesting. This leads to a love of info-graphics, but that tidbit isn’t as needed today. Today, we’re going to talk about data collection in your hobby life. A simple thing, but something that can be neat to see at the end of your collection cycle. Besides, most gamers are nerds on some level, right? We love numbers and dice and “mathhammer”. Why not apply that to more aspects of the hobby, but, ya know, in a meaningful way.

What to collect

spreadsheet of times robin did something hobby related

Over the past few years, I’ve been keeping records of my hobby time. This past year was no different. I kept track of hobby time spent in my little corner of the house. I did not track anything outside of that. I kept it fairly simple: Instances where I painted, Instances where I built or assembled models, Instances where I made bases, the number of finished models, and the dates these things all happen. In the past, I only tracked painted models, so this was a bit of a step up in complexity. I did not track time when I only primed a model as that doesn’t feel like it takes enough time to be considered effort.

This year, I’m increasing the complexity yet again. I’m taking the opportunity to track:

  • Number of Painted Models
  • Instances I painted
  • Instances I assembled
  • Instances I played

For each of these, I’m tracking the Game and the Faction as well. This way, I can review later and see what game got the most attention, which faction I played the most, and which models I painted more. I think over time, this could be a neat set to compare with. Did I play Faction A because it was already painted? Did I play Faction B even though it wasn’t painted? Did I focus on one game or did I spread out among many? In the future, what will that look like? Will I see a slow decline of a specific system?

If you want to start collecting data, you need to know what you want to know. You could certainly just start tracking things and seeing what happens. However, you may find you lack certain details because you didn’t think to track them, or you may have unnecessary information that was tedious to collect.

How to Collect it

Personally, I used a Google Sheets document. This way I can modify it on my phone, my tablet, at work, at home, anywhere. This leads to less “Oops, I forgot I did that.” You can certainly change it up though.

David Witek of Garagehammer used a “little black book” for tracking hours painting. He picked it up because it fit in a small pocket and fit his data needs. Super simple device to collect data. Very “low-tech” and approachable. The problem with this one happens when you have lots of data you want and eventually getting useful information out of it. 

Games Workshop Battle JournalSome folks have guiltily/unashamedly admitted to picking up the Games Workshop Battle Journal. This is a product specifically sold to track games played. It allows for certain bits of information and a spot for photos or notes to be plastered in. I can see the appeal if you like to recount your battle reports to your buddies on a forum or something. The problem with this one is that you cannot collect non-game hobby data with it.

2 Amazon Buttons on a board

You could go full nerd and use IoT devices. At work, I used an Amazon Button system to track when my students performed certain tasks. It was easy because they just pushed a button hanging on a wall. It was annoying because the type of information tracked wasn’t very robust. It solved the previous problem of them just not tracking things at all, but did have that trade off in scope. I could make it more robust, but long term support and sustainability became an issue

The Caveats

Clean data is very important. I have debated using a Google Form that imports into a spreadsheet. This way I can have a nice, easy interface that helps me keep the information consistent. One of my personal pain points this year was in the way I phrased things. Eg: “Assembled Faction” vs “Game Faction Assembled”. 

Easy to use. If you find it tedious to maintain, you’re not going to do it. Whatever system, methodology, or collected information you decide to use, make sure it is something you can maintain. Giving up half way through isn’t going to help.

What do you do with it

Once you have your data and you decide to wrap it up, what do you do with the information? If you know someone who is a Tableau or R master, maybe give it them to do something interesting with it. 😀

Or, if you are like me, maybe just do some simple graphs in a spreadsheet. The wizards for creating those things are pretty intuitive for simple graphs. The more complex stuff might take some effort.

Then build on that information. It may influence your decisions, it may not. It might just tell an interesting story of your hobby life. Sony Entertainment thinks that works for Playstation Plus members. They just sent me an email telling me how much time I spent in certain games on my PS4 this year.

You can see in my own tracking where I ended up having free time during surgery recovery. Turns out, I painted just as many models then as I did the rest of the year. That led to me making a resolution this year to play and paint more in general. I can also use that to determine success. What is “more” after all? One more game? Or 20 more games? How will you measure your own success?

What are some of the things you track? What do you do with that data? Hop on over to the Skirmish Supremacy Street Team on Facebook and let us know.

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DIY Cube Tracker

I love gaming accessories. The little doodads that fulfill some sort of niche of a niche market. That token, measuring gauge, dial, all of it. The best part is seeing what other folks come up with to meet their own personal needs. Occasionally, someone comes up with an idea that the rest of the gaming community finds wonderfully useful. Today, I wanted to look at one of those things. Namely, the ModCube.

Back in 2015, ModCube found its way onto Kickstarter and had a successful launch. They quickly found their way into the hearts and minds of various users. Even to the point of being nominated for Best Gaming Accessory of 2015 from Beasts of War.

ModCube Size Comparison

Unfortunately, if you are interested in getting your hands on some of these things, you’re going to have to wait until they get around to launching their second iteration via Kickstarter sometime in 2018.

So let’s do something many gamers enjoy. We’ll make our own.

Step 01: Get some art

Vector art laid out in software

Luckily for us, ModCube recommends a good place to start. Game-Icons.net, http://game-icons.net/, offers free vector graphics that are explicitly meant to be used for gaming tokens. You can also dig around online and find other icons or items to be used. If you are feeling adventurous, you can use something like Vector Magic to convert some raster images to vector images that we can use. I did this for the tokens below that are from the game Confrontation.

I wanted to use vector graphics so that I could scale them as necessary without distorting the image. It also helps when you send it to whatever cutting tool you use.

Step 02: Cut it all out

acrylic tokens

I went down to my local makerspace to do the heavy lifting here. I used a Carvey CNC Router available in the space to make my cuts. I chose some acrylic because it will allow me to do a shallow cut and give some different texture or color to the tokens.

Here, you can see the tokens after they have been cut, just after I’ve given them a quick rinse in some water, and before I’ve really cleaned them up.

Step 03: Make them pop

acrylic tiles with paint

This step might not be necessary depending on your material and cutting method. For example, my next attempt at this, I’ll use some material that is two-tone and wouldn’t require a filler.

To help make the icons stand out and be distinct, I applied some white paint. This was important for this set since the Confrontation tokens have some very minor differences. In addition, I made my cuts a little too deep, which ate away at some of the detail unnecessarily. That’ll teach me to program the wrong bit.

Step 04: Design the cube

Now I needed a thing to put the tokens into. I verified my measurements and spent an afternoon designing one in OnShape.com’s online design platform. Since I’m modeling this off of the ModCube platform, I made it a cube. This isn’t going to be modular and hot-swappable like the official system, that’s a feature for another day.

Step 05: Print the cube and put it together

3d printed cube with token insert

I use a FDM 3D printer in my local makerspace to print off the cube in ABS plastic. I could have used PLA, but the ABS was already loaded and ready to go. Always count on gamer laziness.

You can see some bad areas. I wouldn’t consider this a great print. Acceptable for a test print, but I would definitely do this again for a final product.

Conclusions:

finished 3d cube with token inserts

Overall, I think this could work for my needs. It’s a little larger than I wanted it to be. I think I might scale it down a bit on the next run. Also, I would definitely use a laser to cut it. It would require less cleanup and effort that way. Lastly, some two-tone acrylic would remove the paint requirement.

Or I could wait patiently until the official product comes back. I don’t need the fancy magnet swap aspect on the v2 ModCube, but the time (3-4 hours) and money ($10USD) spent making my own might outweigh the cost of the official product. Not to mention I didn’t make my modular, if you like that kind of thing. Not all things are meant to be DIY.

 

*A link to the cube file I made will be made available later. Right now my browser isn’t playing nicely for me to get a fresh copy.

 

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There are many dice bins, but this one is mine.

finished dice box

While browsing the dark aisles of a local box store, I happen to come upon a clearance item that screamed “dice box”. For $3.50 USD, I had to do it. I could have left it as is and been about my business, but that isn’t very fun. So here’s what I did to customize it and make it my own:

Das Box

 

Step 01: Come up with your design.

In this situation, I went over to my local makerspace to take advantage of their Cricut die-cutter and some vinyl. I did this because I can’t draw worth squat and I wanted as clean of a logo as I could get for my dice bin. I used the Cricut software (free) to create my design and used the equipment there to cut it in vinyl. The vinyl allows me to apply the design to the bin without it sliding around or having to draw or tape it off. I can remove the vinyl later.

 

Step 02: Apply your design

I’ve cut out a reverse image for my design to create a template. Here, I’m applying the template the same way I would put the decal on the back of a laptop or car window. Nothing special.

 

Step 03: Make it shine!

I applied some wood-stain to try to give my dice box a more sophisticated look. Plus if this fails miserably, I can just paint over it. You can see the right side got some stain spilled on the wall. I’ll probably paint the walls to give contrast and hide my shame.

 

Step 04: Remove the vinyl and see what needs fixing

Well, I forgot to get a photo of this step. I removed the vinyl and I was pleased overall. My application of the stain was poor. I did not do multiple coats. I did not sand anything down. I played it on pretty thick. So my inner craftsman isn’t speaking to me anymore. But it looks ok and I’m willing to accept it as a first attempt at this kind of project.

 

Step 05: Finishing touches and sealing

finished dice box

I painted the edges to cover where the stain touched things by accident. Just a couple coats of some black paint. I think it also helps highlight or frame things. Close up, it probably needs another coat or two, has some hiccups and blemishes that could be sanded away. From 3 feet away or further, I think it works. Again, first attempt at this kind of thing. I’ve definitely learned some ways I would improve when I do it again.

I applied a spray varnish on it. The same matte finish stuff I use for miniatures. I’m hoping that helps protect the absurdly applied stain from getting damaged from any dice rattling around in there.

 

Final thoughts

As I said, I made some mistakes. My stain application was poorly done. I had some stain hit areas I didn’t want it to. I should have taped things off. The thinner areas of vinyl didn’t stick to the wood very well and allowed stain to get under them. I should have sanded this. Maybe a few other things as well. Overall though, I’m pleased. I think this will be a fine dice box. On the next version, or even on this one after the fact, I might add a thin layer of foam or rubber on the back to help reduce the hollow noise when rolling dice in there. Right now it kind of sounds like someone rolling on a Realm of Battle board. Not sure how I feel about that yet. Having spent about $3 for the box, $2 for vinyl at my local makerspace, and using some leftover stain and paint I had laying around at home, I’m fairly pleased.

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Tales of the Lost Isles

There are a few words in the English language that always throw me for a loop. I just look at them, and it takes me a few seconds to fully process what the word means, how it is pronounced, and how to leverage it. I suspect this is because I tend to read words to myself with an inner voice; that is, I say the word in my mind as I read it. “Apotheosis” and “conscious” are examples of this. Even when the concepts are simple, or the words are common, it’s just a relationship I have with language that I find myself paying special attention to certain words.

I suppose being harassed about your accent as a child will do that to you. When you’re the only one from the hills of Tennessee in your family, people tend to point out your pronunciation. Something else about Tennessee is that you don’t have many island chains, so you don’t really get the opportunity to say the word “archipelago” in common discussions.

To hear of an upcoming release of a new setting and ruleset for Frostgrave was thrilling. To find out I had a copy waiting on me made me ecstatic. To discover an additional book — I nearly swooned. To realize I was going to be bombarded by one of “Those Words” because of the inherent setting, well… guess I needed the practice.

The release of the ruleset for Frostgrave Ghost Archipelago is to be supplemented by a collection of short stories, “Tales of the Lost Isles,” a set of nine short stories and one in-game scenario totaling around 300 pages of swashbuckling wonder. The line-up for the authors is impressive. If you’ve read anything from a variety of sci-fi and fantasy settings, you are probably going to recognize at least a few of the authors. This familiarity is going to give you a variety of styles and tones to delve through, while leaving open the potential to expose you to someone you may not have previously read.

The stories are self-contained, and most are easy to parse. One author has a way with words that makes my head spin a little, and I forgot the beginning of the sentence by the time I got to the end. Others flow more smoothly from beginning to end.

The only thing that connected each story was the setting, the fabled Ghost Archipelago. A swath of the map that draws anyone looking for fame, fortune, or power. This draws a variety of swashbucklers, magic slingers, souped-up super-types, and the poor shmucks that get hired to do whatever the previous three don’t want to do. The folks that get drawn out to explore the Ghost Archipelago are drawn from the world of Frostgrave. Even if you aren’t already familiar with that universe, you’ll find analogues to knights, crusaders, general fighters, thieves, and wizards. Whether or not you have spent time in Frostgrave and its inhabitants, it is incredibly accessible. Almost any fantasy fan will find ways to connect to the environment and its motley inhabitants.

Unfortunately, that familiarity can be one of its downfalls as well. It is so easy to find connections that it can begin to feel lackluster. When looking at the world, a fighter is a fighter and a wizard is a wizard, and the special wrinkles that make the setting matter get a little lost. The collection is an attempt to shed some light into this world, where many tabletop gamers throw warbands against each other in a constant struggle for power. The authors all have the power and ability to invoke certain images to mind with their writing, and they’re mostly very effective. There are specific examples I still visualize and wouldn’t mind seeing a scenario written for them. One of my favorite moments in the collection is a character receiving a letter from someone in a location from the original Frostgrave collection. More of those tie-ins would have made for a stronger collection, and there wasn’t much else that pulled this series into line with the greater world. Absent that connection, everything felt isolated. This will be fine for folks not looking for incredible depth in that world, but for those who are seeking more, you might find yourselves disappointed. That said, because there isn’t much world content for this mysterious place, fans will probably be willing to take whatever they can get.

One of the series’ strengths is its variety of perspectives. You are not always following the most obviously powerful person in the pack. You also get to see a variety of magic users you might recognize from the rulebook. Although I was disappointed they didn’t get to shine a bit more. Out of the 5 “branches” of magic possible, some felt over-represented and some didn’t get much of a spotlight. It seemed that the writers were trying to represent every possible type of participant as best as possible, and they were effective.

Overall though, it’s a series of quick, pulpy, pirate-filled adventures focusing on a variety of characters from this universe. For fans of Errol Flynn movies, Indiana Jones types, scrappy seat-of-their-pants survivors, or any similar specimen, this is a worthwhile and entertaining read.

 

 

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