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Emily Palmieri
“Listen to my story.” Tidus, the protagonist of Final Fantasy X, opens the game with this line, and his voice carries its compelling tale to a thrilling conclusion. Fifteen years later, Square Enix released Final Fantasy XV and bet its protagonist Prince Noctis had a voice strong enough to carry a media franchise. The movie Kingsglaive showed Noctis’ home. The anime series Brotherhood introduced Noctis’ friends. The Omen trailer revealed Noctis’ worst nightmare. Final Fantasy XV would tell Noctis’ story… or would it? 
Beware: this in-depth analysis of Final Fantasy XV contains spoilers.
Like how Tidus propels Final Fantasy X’s narrative, Noctis powers Final Fantasy XV’s. Almost every entry in the Final Fantasy XV franchise reflects his importance. The Omen trailer, which stars Noctis, depicts one of the series’ strongest creative visions, and his exclusion from the prequel movie Kingsglaive resulted in its pointless and convoluted story. Given this logic, Noctis’ story should be the franchise’s crown jewel, but many don’t even classify it as a good story in general. Unfortunately, the void Noctis left in Kingsglaive doesn’t end when the game begins. Noctis’ physical presence fails to compensate for his mental and emotional distance from the game’s events. Despite his appearance, he primarily functions as a vessel for the player. Such protagonists serve many games well, but when the story’s world, characters, and purpose rely on the protagonist’s actions and personality rather than the player’s, his absence spells disaster. Final Fantasy XV has many intriguing ideas and great potential to tell a rich story, but Noctis’ emptiness riddles it with character arcs that go nowhere, contradictions, and confusion.
Noctis Lucis Caelum begins as a sheltered prince selected by a magic crystal to purge the world of darkness. As part of a peace treaty between Noctis’ kingdom of Lucis and the empire Niflheim, King Regis sends Noctis to wed his childhood friend Princess Luna, or so Noctis believes. He embarks on his quest in high spirits with his loyal friends and bodyguards Ignis, Prompto, and Gladiolus, but with his journey barely begun, Noctis discovers the forces of Niflheim have destroyed his home and killed his father. Regis expected their betrayal and only sent Noctis away to protect him. Frustrated and distraught, Noctis wonders why Regis only smiled as he left without saying what Noctis needed to do as Lucis’ sole heir or as the crystal’s Chosen. Advisors and guardians tell Noctis to gather his ancestors’ powers and earn the favor of the Six gods to fulfill the prophecy his father died to help him achieve. 
In response to the tragedy, Luna begins summoning the Six for Noctis to impress: Titan, Ramuh, Leviathan, Shiva, Bahamut, and Ifrit. As the Oracle, she speaks to the gods for the Lucian king. Before she can complete her duty though, Niflheim’s chancellor Ardyn Izunia stabs her to death. Greif-stricken, Noctis pauses his quest to visit Luna’s home Tenebrae, but his decision strains his friendship with his three companions. Additionally, his ancestors’ Ring of the Lucii, which Luna delivered to Noctis before her death, burdens his mind. Noctis begins seeing visions of Ardyn on the train to Tenebrae and attacks him with a blind need for revenge. When he finally throws the specter off the train, he realizes Ardyn has tricked him with an illusion into attacking Prompto. 
Noctis, Ignis, and Gladiolus continue to the empire’s capital Gralea to retrieve the crystal and rescue Prompto from Ardyn’s grasp. The dangerous conditions separate them as soon as they reach the fortress though, and Noctis discovers he can’t summon his weapons, leaving him no choice but to wield the ring. While enduring Ardyn’s mockery and threats over the base’s intercom, Noctis fights his way to Prompto and the crystal. He pleads with the stone to help him stop the daemons, and to his surprise, the crystal pulls him into it. Bahamut greets him inside and reveals Ardyn as an ancient Chosen king. After banishing the darkness two thousand years ago by absorbing daemons into his body, the crystal saw him as tainted and refused to bestow him its power. When his people rejected him as well, he sought revenge by embodying the Starscourge, the darkness consuming the world. To banish the scourge for good, Noctis must wield the crystal’s power and his ancestors’ might to kill Ardyn. Noctis must sacrifice his life, however, to receive their strength. Ten years later, when Noctis’ ring has absorbed the crystal’s energy, he emerges from the stone to reunite with his friends, sacrifice himself to the prior Lucian kings, and defeat Ardyn.
The clues and lore littering Final Fantasy XV tease a thoughtful story, hint at deep themes and characters, and build players’ expectations for a satisfying conclusion. Overall, the game fails to deliver these promises, but its strongest elements show the potential Noctis’ story had if only he had told it.

While Noctis ultimately feels shallow in the final game, certain elements paint him as a relatable character we can learn about the world through. As Lucis’ prince and the Chosen, he has great importance and yet has doubts and questions about his duties. He knows nothing about the Lucian souls and weapons Regis’ advisor Cor tells him to collect. As a child, he has trouble understanding the cryptic texts describing the Chosen and the Six and relies on Luna to give him simpler explanations. Even as an adult, he doesn’t know what the crystal wants him to do. Experiencing the story through his eyes should allow players to learn about the world as he does while playing a major role in the story.
His skepticism makes him stand out when duty and ancient texts motivate everyone around him. As a child, Noctis asks Luna challenging questions about himself. “If the crystal belongs to everyone, how come only Lucis gets to use it?” When Luna tells him only the chosen Lucian king can use the crystal to save the world, Noctis asks, “You really think I can do that?” Still without adequate answers, his skepticism follows him into adulthood. “Legend has it the King once stood alongside the Six to banish the darkness,” Ignis says. “‘Darkness’ seems awfully vague,” Noctis observes. “A king is sworn to protect his people,” Cor says. “And yet [my father] chose to protect only one prince,” Noctis responds. “Was that his calling? Forsake the masses to spare his own son?” The uninformative answers he receives make one wonder if Noctis’ advisors hide a dark secret from him, if the crystal belongs to Lucis, if it truly chose Noctis, and if Lucis somehow caused the spreading darkness. 
Noctis does a poor job emphasizing Luna’s importance to him in the final game, but if used effectively, she had great potential to both motivate and corrupt him. Noctis spends the game’s first half pursuing Luna, always one step behind her. He begins with a journey to marry her but transitions to following the trail of gods she summons, knowing that each she calls drains her strength. Finally, he reaches her only to see Ardyn, a mysterious man of the empire, murder her. Luna, who even as a child understood Noctis’ destiny better than he did, dies with a smile on her face and Noctis’ secrets in her mind. As if Noctis pursued his nebulous destiny only for her, he laments, “All I wanted was to save you.” He puts his quest on hold, even refusing to wear the magical Lucian ring she died delivering to him. With his means of summoning the Six gone, he’s reached a dead end.

The first scene with Noctis after he grieves Luna’s death opens with him illuminated in a blinding ray of sunlight. While light often symbolizes goodness or clarity, the exaggerated and unnatural lighting in this scene creates the feeling that something sinister and dark festers in the king of light. Indeed, players soon learn Noctis’ rage and despair has driven him apart from his friends, and he looks at the ring as if it holds a malicious temptation he fights against satisfying. Bent on revenge and aggravated by Ardyn’s illusion magic Noctis chases Ardyn up and down the train to Tenebrae until he realizes he’s pursuing a figment of his imagination or, worse, Prompto.
The game offers a simplistic reason for Noctis’ lost abilities, but explanations with personal significance to him, derived from the clues presented within the game and surrounding media, instantly produce more satisfying scenarios. When his powers stop working and he learns Ardyn’s true identity, Noctis has even more reason to question his own identity and abilities. Losing his magic after his dark experiences on the train suggests that the scourge has corrupted him, leaving him unable to grasp the power the crystal grants him as a Lucian king. Perhaps the scourge begins as a darkness in the heart and then becomes a mental and physical disease. Such a condition could jeopardize his ability to fulfill his destiny.
The burden the ring has on Noctis’ mind and his use of it visually and audibly support that it corrupts him. When Noctis’ uses it, players hear whispering like that of demons in horror movies. The Ring of the Lucii glows red. Fire-filled cracks appear on Noctis’ face and arms. As if he’s opened the gates to hell itself, nearby daemons shrivel and explode out of existence. Streams of light flow into Noctis’ hand, and he receives a health boost, implying he’s absorbed their power. If he does absorb them though, what stops them from corrupting him as they corrupted Ardyn? Perhaps Ardyn used the ring to absorb daemons into his body two thousand years ago and has since passed it to the Lucian kings with the myth that it holds great power when in fact it corrupts the wearer.

Events in the Kingsglaive movie provide another alternative scenario for why Noctis loses his abilities. King Regis’ knights lose their magic when Regis dies because he lent them his abilities and can no longer power them after death. If Noctis weren’t a Lucian king, Regis could presumably lend him his power as well. When Ardyn reveals himself as Ardyn Lucis Caelum, he adds, “You’ll never guess who Izunia was.” Perhaps he means Noctis’ ancestors were Izunians who took the Lucian name after ostracizing Ardyn. Ardyn could have lent the fake Lucians his power to make them think they wield and protect the light. Now as part of his revenge, he crushes their hope of defeating him by revealing they never had any power to banish the darkness.
Noctis spends little on-screen time contemplating his destiny, but this simple action could have given him more agency and better tied the story’s loose ends. Inside the crystal, Bahamut answers the question Noctis has had since his father’s death. Perhaps his father and Luna hid so much and treated him so gently because they knew his fate. His desire to protect his friends from Ardyn, avenge those who have suffered under him, and redeem his own ignorance and corruption could give Noctis the determination to meet his death.
This interpretation of the game’s story may sound decent, but it accentuates and omits details to highlight its strengths. In reality, Noctis does not exist often enough to bring these themes and ideas to life. He has thoughts and emotions only often enough to contradict himself and alienate the player.
Noctis’ naivety quickly disappears, leaving players in the dust. He may not know much about the Lucian weapons he must collect, but he recognizes when Luna summons gods before players even know she can do that. He greets a mysterious lady Gentiana like an old friend and accepts more duties from her with little explanation as to who she is. Noctis takes it for granted that Ardyn can perform illusion magic, leaving it to loading screen text to explain it to the player.
He almost completely ceases questioning his duties in the same conversation where he shows the most frustration with how little he knows about them. Noctis wonders why his father would entrust protecting the people of Lucis to him when he hasn’t even bothered to prepare him for the task. Cor sates his frustration with, “He always had faith in you, that when the time came, you would ascend for the sake of your people.” Yet another synonym for “it is your duty.” Gladiolus questions Noctis at a couple future points, but players select Noctis’ response. He can either show ignorance and skepticism or resolve. These responses have no effect on the story though, making Noctis either a king who deeply questions his abilities but doesn’t care enough to investigate or a king who has resolved to save the world with a friend prone to pointlessly bickering with him.

Admittedly, the story doesn’t give Noctis many reasons to question his destiny anyway. Anyone else proclaiming themselves the Chosen, such as Niflheim’s Emperor Aldercapt and Luna’s brother Ravus, are obviously wrong or evil mustache twirlers. The moral ambiguity Lucis portrayed in Kingsglaive doesn’t continue far beyond it. The people outside Lucis’ capital city, who hated Regis’ decision to give their homes to the empire in exchange for peace in the film, don’t seem to exist in the game. Nothing suggests that Noctis’ mission has terrible consequences or actually makes the situation worse. No one has an alternative method to ridding the world of darkness, so Noctis and his friends must try this one by default, even if they didn’t have prophecies to assure them they have chosen the correct path.
Noctis’ lack of contemplation, however, results in a boring and insincere tale. Noctis pauses his journey, not because he legitimately questions his identity and actions, but because the whiny prince sets his arbitrary duties aside to mope. Noctis doesn’t lose his powers because his ancestor sent him down a path of corruption or because he never inherited Lucis’ gifts. He loses his powers because a random Niflheim invention disables him when someone turns it on. Supposedly, Noctis’ tale stars a prince who must get rid of his “slack jaw” and become a king, but by the game’s end, Noctis has matured only by growing a beard. His ever-increasing power and continuing blind belief in a prophecy hardly count as wisdom. Showing his contempt for introspection and critical thinking, he doesn’t wonder where the Starscourge originated or if he can find a way to defeat Ardyn without killing himself just because his ancestors demand it. 
While the idea of a prince pursuing his love across the land only for revenge and solitude to corrupt him sounds compelling, Noctis delivers it poorly. He and his friends discuss the burden Luna carries just ahead of them but only while the player explores the world. Luna slowly weakening and potentially dying receives less emphasis than Ignis announcing that he’s come up with a new recipe, and Noctis and his friends discuss it as lightheartedly as his terrible driving habits. Ravus arguably mentions her struggles in a cutscene when he says to Noctis, “You receive [Ramah’s] blessing. And yet you know nothing of the consequences.” He doesn’t make it clear, however, if his warning refers to Luna’s condition, and Noctis and his friends don’t care enough to wonder. Poor Luna receives so little attention that players can easily miss these details and see her as a distressed damsel who faints into armchairs for no reason.
Noctis not only doesn’t care about Luna’s burden, but also, he doesn’t care that she carries it for him. He laments Luna’s death not because her duty to serve him sapped her strength until it killed her but because a bad guy decided to stab her. Like a cliché, he laments that he couldn’t save the woman he loved instead of wondering why yet another person who understood his destiny sacrificed herself without telling him how to proceed. Gladiolus is too busy calling him a mopey teenager for either of them to notice that Noctis can’t contact the remaining three gods to complete his quest. Ardyn murdered the one person who can summon them. Fortunately, Shiva decides to reveal herself by freezing Noctis, Gladiolus, and Ignis half to death for no reason. Bahamut and Ifrit also reveal themselves unprovoked. Thus, Luna becomes an inconsequential side note in Noctis’ journey.

In fact, Noctis’ indifference belittles and muddles most of the story’s biggest revelations. Ardyn’s illusions could make a prince, who already questions his destiny, question his senses and the people around him. Instead, Ardyn’s random and pointless use of his abilities mostly just annoys Noctis. Noctis struggles desperately while the crystal slowly absorbs him, but then, he contentedly spends the next decade hibernating inside it. Ardyn reveals himself as a Lucian king, but Noctis doesn’t reflect on what that means for his own identity. Players spend the game collecting the weapons, souls, and powers of thirteen dead kings, the favor of six gods, and a magic ring and crystal only to discover that Noctis still has to die to gain the power to defeat Ardyn. Everything Noctis does seems like a pointless ritual to prove himself the Chosen when everyone already knew that. His arrogant ancestors apparently think the Lucian line can end, and they will never need to defend the world from the Starscourge again. But Noctis doesn’t see his destiny as unfair or arbitrary nor does he so much as wonder how much his father or Luna knew of his fate. 
Without Noctis, even Final Fantasy XV’s blatant brotherhood theme doesn’t quite translate in the end. The infamous Chapter 13 attempts to emphasize the importance of Noctis’ friends through their absence. Noctis wanders Gralea’s scary and lonely corridors while Ardyn taunts him for his powerlessness without his companions. Ardyn can’t convince anyone, however, with Noctis opening hellish portals and exploding daemons into screaming fire balls, which Noctis doesn’t find at all disconcerting by the way. Ardyn also tries to torment him with illusions, but rather than becoming paranoid and desperate, Noctis recognizes the tricks and snarls with annoyance.
These failed tactics instead reveal the uselessness and superficiality of Noctis’ friends to the story. Noctis fights and defeats Ardyn by himself. His strength comes from kings, gods, rings, and crystals, not from the brothers around him. He doesn’t need them to tell him to do his duty. He doesn’t need them to tell him to move past Luna’s death. He never refuses to continue his quest, and he wears the ring on his own terms. He doesn’t need them to help him separate reality from illusion. He doesn’t need them to save him from corruption. They don’t transform him from a prince into a king, if he didn’t leave the castle as a king from the start. He doesn’t fear facing Leviathan, Bahamut, or Ardyn by himself. He cries the final time he sits around a campfire with his companions, but why? Does he wish his journey didn’t end in a path he must walk alone? Does he think of the hole his death will leave in his friends’ hearts? Does he mourn the life he will never know with them by his side? Is he only grateful they walked with him this far? Without Noctis to define what they mean to him, Ignis, Prompto, and Gladiolus exist only as replaceable clichés to entertain players on their journey.
Final Fantasy XV asks the player to “reclaim your throne,” not to “reclaim Noctis’ throne,” and for this reason, unlike Tidus, Noctis never has the chance to say, “Listen to my story.” The game contains elements of an emotional and compelling tale, but Noctis’ emptiness transforms it into a shallow and confusing one. Players who can project themselves into Noctis and fill the gaps around him with their own speculation and experiences can fall in love with the world, its ideas, and its characters. The players looking for Noctis’ story, however, will only find the void he left behind.

Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!

Jack Gardner
This will likely make more than a few people both excited and sad, however it still needs to be seen just based on how gosh-darn cool it is! Simon S. Andersen, known for his pixel art and for creating the successful indie platformer Owlboy, creates game concept teasers for fun. His most recent one, in collaboration with composter Jonathan Geer, hits right in the nostalgia gut: A hypothetical sequel to Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross titled Chrono Break. 
The teaser throws the series back to the classic Chrono Trigger aesthetic, but plays around with a lot of different pixel effects and transitions to give it a "new" feeling. The trailer jumps around to different scenes, hinting at some kind of cataclysmic dragon, dramatic encounters, and a few old friends. 
It's actually kind of painful that this isn't a real game. Square Enix, get on with a new Chrono game already! Heck, maybe even give it to Simon and Co. since they clearly seem to have some cool ideas of what to do with the series. 

Jack Gardner
There's a new Super Mario game coming out in the future, though it isn't exactly sanctioned by Nintendo. Super Mario Flashback has been designed in the mold of a classic 2D Mario title, but done up in the most elaborately animated and colorful ways possible. 
The first thing to know about Super Mario Flashback is that, while it certainly plays like its classic counterparts, it takes many mechanics and ideas from more modern incarnations of Mario. Mario can duck and slide, wall jump, and ground pound right from the start. The Flashback team has also opted for the life meter from newer Mario games instead of having Mario switch between small and big forms based on power-ups. Each level also possesses an optional green star for players to collect. 
The visuals in Super Mario Flashback stand out as some of the best looking sprite work and pixel art design in recent memory. Each of Mario's movements take on a fluid energy as multiple movements play out through every animation. Even common enemies have the same attention to detail, like the lowly goombas whose aggressive waddling shifts their orientation with each step in a visually pleasing way. People who have been dying for a new 2D Mario in a style that brings Super Mario World into 2018 should find Super Mario Flashback exactly what they have been hoping for. 
Though the full game has yet to be released, Team Flashback released a demo over the weekend to show off their vision of what the final product will be like. The demo consists of three levels, each with their own collectible star. With Mario as the only playable character, players are given infinite lives to make their way to the end of the demo. Players can map controls to any keys they wish, though full Xbox 360 controller support is offered, too. 

The final game will offer so much more, however. Nine worlds consisting of multiple levels will be available at launch, each based on a classic Mario title. Super Mario Flashback will also have a wholly original soundtrack, a bit of which plays throughout the demo (it's quite good). The devs have promised over 75 power stars, which might correspond to a rough count of how many stages will be in the final game. 36 optional bonus stars will be available to discover, too. The team has also promised "tons of power-ups," which is good as the demo only includes the classic mushroom and flower power-ups. 
While Mario holds the honor of starring in the demo, players will actually be able to choose their character in Super Mario Flashback. Players will be able to choose between Mario, Luigi, and Toad, each with different costumes that players can unlock in-game. Of course, it wouldn't be true to classic Mario if each player didn't play a little differently. Luigi retains his high jumping and slippery walk, and Toad walks pretty fast, but takes the longest to reach sprinting speeds.
Oh, and the whole thing aims to have 1080p resolution at 60FPS. 
Before anyone goes off on how Nintendo will shut down the project, the leader of Team Flashback, Mons, released a statement via Twitter (condensed and edited for clarity below): 
Those interested in checking out Super Mario Flashback can download the demo on the Team Flashback website.

Jack Gardner
If you're reading this, that means you've decided to consider participating in the ancient and venerable art of tabletop roleplaying. Congratulations! Infinite worlds of adventure await you, full of adventures to tackle alongside trusty companions. However, that rather large prospect can be quite daunting to those unfamiliar with tabletop RPGs. I promise that with this guide you will be able to stand proudly alongside your nerdy brothers and sisters when the time comes to roll initiative. 
Now, before you pull a Magnus and rush in, take some time to consider what, exactly, you'd like to do in a roleplaying setting. Are you the kind of person who loses themselves in fictional worlds within your own mind? Do you stand in the shower until it runs cold while dreaming about an epic adventure? Maybe you don't want to play just one character and want to take on a wide array of different roles? If those describe you, you might want to consider becoming a Game Master or GM. 
GMs act as a kind of author and arbiter of the world within the game. A GM typically brings the game to life at the table. They are the ones who craft the world in which the game takes place and breathe life into its various denizens. They also weave an evolving story that changes over time in response to the actions of other players in the group. The GM enforces the rules and attempts to give fair judgments that help everyone at the table have a good time. 
The flipside of the GM is the PC, the Player Character. Everyone in the game who is not the GM controls an avatar in the game, their own player character. PCs typically bring their own characters to life and then respond to the world and inhabitants that the GM conjures into being. By inquiring about the world and interacting with different characters, the PC forces the GM to expand the setting in new and interesting ways that the GM might never have expected. It is best to think of the GM and PCs as collaborators working to build a fun and interesting world that becomes more alive and reactive with each choice the players make while advancing through what the GM has created.

Once you have decided which role you think might be good for you, it’s a really good idea to talk about boundaries. In a world of infinite possibilities, what some might think dramatic or funny might be deeply traumatizing or offensive to others. If a player has a phobia and requests that it not come up in-game, respect their wishes. Other players might be uncomfortable with torture or sex scenes. Have an open conversation with your group about what everyone’s boundaries are and then respect those limits. Remember: The goal is for everyone to have fun.
That brings us t- wait, have you read the rules of the game you’re playing? Whether you’re going to be a GM or a PC, you need to know the most basic rules. It will still be a bit bumpy your first time playing even if you do read the rules, but it helps to have some understanding of what’s going on before you’re thrown to the wolves (sometimes literally thrown to wolves). If you are acting as the GM, you should absolutely have a firm grasp on the fundamentals. PCs have a lot more leeway on rules, but know your character well enough to be able to look at your character sheet and understand about 80% of it. Knowing your PC’s abilities will help the GM quite a bit; it is unlikely they have memorized every rule for every class in the entire game.
Now comes one of the best parts about tabletop roleplaying games: Creation. Once you know the rules, you can get to work making the building blocks of the world and the people who inhabit it. This is where the GM and the PC really diverge.

A lot depends on what the GM wants to achieve with the game. Is it meant to be a sweeping tale of adventure with a party of heroes and/or villains? Or is it a smaller, more intimate tale meant for only a session or two? Both approaches necessitate different amounts of planning. For example, if it is intended to be a sprawling campaign that takes place over vast geographical areas with varied peoples and cultures, it is worth thinking about the histories, religions, and conflicts that have sprouted up between the various groups. Having broad ideas regarding those subjects will help you to think on your feet if you need to improvise and plan out potential courses your campaign could take.
A shorter campaign or a one-shot don’t necessarily need the same level of planning since it is unlikely the players will deviate far from the smaller scope of the GM’s planned and prepared content. It doesn’t hurt, certainly, but less of a necessity. However, put some thought into the non-player characters. Your NPCs should all relate to different things in the world. What does each character care about? What are they willing to do to obtain or protect what they care about? Having those motivations in place will help make your NPCs feel more like real people when the PCs interact with them.
Or perhaps you aren’t super interested in using the rules to create a new setting and world on your own. It’s certainly a daunting task, even for experienced tabletop aficionados. A great option to gain some experience or save time is to grab a pre-made adventure. Most game systems have years of stories and quests drawn up in either physical or digital forms. For five dollars (and often less than that) you can find yourself a whole new adventure to run made by another player. Or you could jump into a more expensive and polished journey created by the company behind the system. There’s a definite upside to having all the information readily available and organized. The only catch is that there can be a lot of reading and remembering to do that can get overwhelming for the inexperienced. These pre-fabricated settings and adventures usually come with pre-made characters for PCs, too, making them great introductions to the game system.   
For players, once the GM gives you the basic parameters of the world, ask questions with the goal of finding out how your character concept might fit best into their world. It might, for example, profoundly change the adventure if your character is an elf if most people in the GM’s world haven’t seen an elf for a thousand years. You should also consider making a second character to keep in your back pocket in case the worst happens. The GM shouldn't be actively trying to kill your characters, but sometimes things happen; the die rolls poorly or goofs are goofed. And when your character dies, as painful as that might sometimes be, it helps to be able to slap down a new character sheet and introduce them. It's your opportunity to be someone completely different, so run with it and have fun. 

Once all of that has been settled, it's time to actually show up to the sessions and play! Some general points of courtesy if you have never been to a table before. First, if you disagree with the GM's ruling, bring it up for discussion after the session concludes so the two of you can share your respective points of view without stalling the game and making everyone uncomfortable. Second, be respectful of everyone's time. Most people came to play, so try to give all of your attention to what's going on. Chances are your GM or your players put a lot of effort into making the adventure you're participating in, so value them. Finally, Not everyone gels well with every group. Some tabletop players are more involved in the tactical and mechanical aspects of combat while others live for the story or puzzles. Different groups will have different dynamics, so don't feel bad if the group you initially join up with doesn't quite click with you. There are players out there for you!
If you can't wrangle some friends to play and are still interested, keep an eye out for local comics or games stores. These will often have weekly or monthly tabletop events that welcome newcomers. If all else fails, you can always find games played in various forms online (forums, voice chat, voice and tools like Roll20, and more). You've got options! 
With that, you are ready to hop into the wild world of... well, any one of an infinite number of wild worlds, really. Have fun and happy questing, you crazy kids!  
Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!

Jack Gardner
For some of us, board games have been a staple of our households from the beginning. Who hasn’t found frustration playing Monopoly or ravenously devoured marbles in Hungry, Hungry Hippos? These games are absolutely everywhere, so it can be easy to forget that each of those games had to be made by someone or a team of someones.
Everyone’s favorite tabletop games started out as a glimmer in a creative person’s eye. It begins with a vision, a dream of a game that might one day become a reality. However, in order to become a game, it takes the extra motivation to begin creating. Writing out playing cards on scraps of paper, drawing up a comprehensive list of rules, sketching out a rough game board on a piece of card stock, all of these are important moments in the creative process. However, when I reached out to an indie dev who designs games for fun in his spare time, there’s much more to it than that.
Join me and tabletop game creator Kurtis Holme as we talk about how he found himself making board games in the digital age, the way he and his colleagues made Mario Kart into a working board game, and what it takes to finish a game of your own. You can listen to the audio interview or read a lightly edited version of it below.

So, who is Kurtis Holme? What do you do? How did you get into making games?
Okay, so I’m Kurtis Holme. I work in software […] and went to school for computer science. I guess, making games has been something that I have always kind of done, but I didn’t really realize it until later.
How so?
I think all kids kinda make up games; that’s not an abnormal thing, but maybe the extent to which I did it was? [laughs]
Maybe abnormal wasn’t the right word, but at an early age I was very into games. I enjoyed playing them a lot. I would play them by myself; I would create tournaments. I would have, like, a dozen different Magic: The Gathering decks, and I’d play them against each other until there was a winner. I never played Monopoly by myself, that’s for the truly insane. [laughs]
So, the earliest game that I remember where I was actually going about it with some sort fo active process in mind was with a game called MLB Showdown. I think this was in 1999 when MLB Showdown came out. This was Wizards of the Coast, and it was baseball cards, except you could play a game of baseball with the baseball cards.
It was SO much fun. I loved it. Baseball is one of my hugest passions, and this was when I was playing baseball all the time, six days a week for multiple hours per day. Yeah, MLB Showdown, I love that game so much, I am sad they discontinued it.
How does baseball work in card form?  
So you have the players and they have a couple of different statistics on their cards. They're split into hitters and pitches. The hitters have an on-base number and the pitchers have a control number. To simulate a player at bat, the pitcher rolls a d20 and take the result and add it to their control, the batter rolls a d20 and they take the result and add it to their on base number. Whoever wins that roll has advantage. So that simulates a pitching count where a hitter will be at an advantage in “the showdown.” They also have a chart where you have different results that can happen. So both hitters and pitchers have different charts and their charts will be better the better the player is. The chart has a roll result for your action at that at bat; strike out, ground ball, fly ball walk single, single plus double triple homer, for both the pitcher and hitter.
So after you figure out who has the advantage, that player rolls the dice to see what happens for the at bat. If the pitcher wins, they roll the die, they take the result and look up on their chart what happens. So pitchers, everything below a 16 is usually an out; the really good pitchers, everything up to an 18 is an out. Whereas, if the hitter gets the advantage then it is usually 1-6 would be an out and 18 or higher is a homer. So you play out a game of baseball like that: Rolling a d20.
That sounds like an RPG system!
It is. It is an RPG system. It was actually my first introduction to an RPG system. I had never really played Dungeons & Dragons before that point.

You fell in love with MLB Showdown, so how did that roll over into creating your own games?
Right, so… Basically, I became so enthralled with this game that I wanted to do two things with it. One was that the rules didn’t encompass all of the intricacies of baseball like I wanted it to. It wasn’t just rolling dice, you also had a strategy deck and you would draw something like three cards per inning. The cards would be something like "steal a base" or "give a bonus to your swing if you have a lefty batting and a righty pitching," stuff like that. But because it was a deck, it was random. That didn’t make much sense to me. Like, if you are trying to play the advantage of having a lefty versus a righty, that’s something you plan in your lineup. It’s not a random thing that happens.
I built out rules for a lot of these things that weren’t in there. I had a whole bunch of stuff, like I added in a chance for an error or-
So you were modding this game, but in the tabletop sense rather than the digital one?
Yep! [laughs]
So then then next thing that happened was that the game was discontinued in... 2005, I think it was. Every year that the new set came out, I was always so excited that I would buy a whole booster box at a time to try to get all the players that I wanted. Not being able to do that made me so sad that I went online. I found forums dedicated to this game and people who had basically taken all of the stats for previous years and scienced that into the formula that Wizards of the Coast used to create these cards. I made some tweaks to that on my own for some of the stats.
I went out and bought the baseball reference almanac. This thing is probably 8 inches thick, it’s basically a phonebook. It has every single player that has played the game of baseball, their entire career stat lines from 2005 to the 1850s.
So, once I had my formulas, what I would do is every night before I went to bed I would just open to a random page and make that players card for at least players. [laughs] I guess that in and of itself it wasn’t very innovative, but…
You were making your own game! You saw this game wasn’t being made anymore and decided to take matters into your own hands. That’s awesome! You went about making this game; did you wind up with a handmade, functional deck that you could use to continue playing MLB Showdown?
So I just wrote them down on index cards, basically, so yeah I would play with the index cards when I had enough of my handmade cards to form a team. I never went so far as to try to print them out or get pictures of the players and put them on the cards.
I know right now that you develop tabletop games in your spare time. That’s not a very common hobby. A lot more people these days seem more interested in developing video games. You hear about struggling indie devs, but that’s almost always in the digital sense. So how did you go from being a kid making your own MLB Showdown to someone who does this more seriously?
Okay, so, I guess tabletop games are what I did growing up. We didn’t have video games in my house until… Dreamcast was my first gaming system. It was always board games and stuff first, that was what we did with family, you know? As I got older, I started shifting more toward video game stuff, especially when World of Warcraft came out. That was basically my life from 2004 until 2009. [laughs]
When I went to college, I didn’t really have a solid idea of what I wanted to do. Up until that point, it had always been, “I’m going be a baseball player!” and when reality set in that that probably wasn’t actually going to be a thing that was going to happen, I had to take a step back and decide what I was actually going to do with my life. I really had no idea, I feel like I still don’t.
We had to do this for a math class in high school. We had to pick out an engineering field that sounded interesting and do a presentation on it. The field I did was aerospace engineering and, yes, the list we were given was alphabetical. I pursued that my first year at college and didn’t really like it, so I was looking for something else to do instead.
I had computer science classes in high school; I didn’t do as well in those as I did in my other classes, but I still enjoyed being on the computer. I liked typing at the bare minimum. So I figured, well, okay, I like video games; maybe I could make video games. I’d need a computer science degree to do that, so I decided to give that a shot. I liked it better than aerospace, but I didn’t like it so much… I always felt a little bit estranged from the rest of my classmates in C. Sci. because they always seemed to be really into the theory of computer science programming. Whereas for me, it was more of a means to an end rather than an actual passion. I was considering switching again until I took AI 1, AI turned out to be the thing that kept me in computer science because it was such a cool application.
I was thinking that AI would be the path for me into making games. I applied for internships at Blizzard, Riot Games, a ton of places, but I never got any of those internships. That’s when I realized that I had picked something that is incredibly hard to get into.
That all got put on the backburner when I got done with school and needed to figure out what to actually do with my life in the immediate sense to survive. That’s how I got the job I have now. While I was there, some of the people I was working with, we became good friends – they liked board games and stuff, too.
I think I had brought Pandemic the board game to work, and we played it at work during lunch one day. [..] That got us talking a bit about games in general. They had been interested in making video games, as well.

I don’t know how we got onto this, but we started talking about Mario Kart as a board game. I was just… I dunno, the lightbulb came on and I was like, “This is totally doable. We should make this!” That’s how it started. We just sat down at lunch with a deck of cards and started trying to figure out what that would look like.
I really like thinking about those types of problems. Thinking about how something could be modeled as a game mechanic is really enjoyable to me. So taking Mario Kart and dissecting it to its smallest pieces and figuring out what that looks like on a tabletop – that’s basically how it began. How would items work as a game mechanic? Well, you could have decks of cards, maybe specific items, but then you start thinking about all the little things. Like, in Mario Kart, if you’re in last place you are going to get a better item than someone who is in first place.
We kept solving all of those little problems and eventually we had something that was playable. That was when we actually printed out- we found a picture online of an aerial view of a Mario Kart track and printed that out on a piece of paper at work. Then we went to a local game store and bought a random bag of random assorted shapes for pieces. We gave each piece a role in Mario Kart, like this is a banana, this is Donkey Kong, etc.
We made that, and it was a ton of fun. It was really fun to play. Eventually someone asked me, “What are you gonna do with this now?” And I was like, “Well, I don’t know. We were kind of just making it for fun, but it would be really cool if we could do this and make money off of it.” That’s when it became less academic and more what would it actually take to do this for real? That’s when I started getting more serious about it. Taking classes online, reading books, going to conventions, all that stuff.
Did you ever try to pitch Nintendo the Mario Kart game?
No, we did not. We never actually figured out how we should go about doing that from a legal standpoint.
So it seems like you got into game design because of the problem solving aspect of it; how you go about making mechanics that reflect the core conceit of a given idea?
Yes and board games in particular because I don’t love programming. As time has gone on, that’s become more and more true. Making a game, a video game, is such a large task. There are still some games that I would like to make that would be digital. However, ultimately one thing that I’ve realized is that board games can achieve something from a social aspect that I don’t think video games will ever be able to replicate. Maybe there’s a VR game in the future that can get there, but… it’s not the same experience. There are certainly things a board game can do that a video game can. I’ve found myself appreciating the social aspect of board gaming more as the differences between the two have become clearer to me.
So what are some things socially that board games are better at than video games?
Board games allow for a lot more creativity. It’s based a lot more on the people playing than the rule set. You can have the best crafted rule set and people will still tweak it to their own means, like I did. [laughs] That’s good and that’s fun. You can make it what you want to make it.
Video games, just by the way code has to exist for a computer to run a program. It’s very, very difficult to get that same sort of dynamic environment.
Just being able to house rule something – you can’t do that as easily in a video game as you can in a tabletop game.
What are some of the lessons you took away from building your own board games?
The biggest takeaway is that the first 80% is easy and the last 20% is nigh on impossible. [laughs] That’s an exaggeration, but getting that last 20% completed, polished and functional, is very hard and takes a lot of time.
By that do you mean the production end of things? Getting it a nice looking box and pieces, is that the hard part or are you still talking about the rules, mechanics, and systems?
The rules, mechanics, and systems. To get something that other people will like, you need to playtest it a lot. You need to playtest it with a lot of different people. Everyone is going to have different opinions on it; I’m sure it’s true of video game development, as well.
That’s something that we, as a group, have struggled with. We have never been short on ideas, but we have always had trouble taking something past iteration X.
What becomes the major stumbling block?
Part of it is the group of people that we have. We’re idea people, not get-it-done people. It’s hard to identify when something isn’t working- how do I describe this? When something isn’t working and you know it’s not working - a mechanic, a system, whatever. Is it an inherently flawed idea or does it just need tweaks? Because it if it is inherently flawed you should just scrap it and move on to the next idea or you just end up trying to iterate on this thing forever.
We did the latter the first time through, where we just iterated on Mario Kart forever, but never actually solved the problems that we were having with games taking too long. For a lot of the other games, we might have been too quick to throw out ideas without iterating on it. It’s a hard balance to find.  
And it seems like it would be harder to playtest those problems outside of your development group without the resources of a publisher. It just seems like it is easier to find people to QA a game that’s digital.
Yeah, you can just release the code and have thousands of people who will playtest it. Whereas with me I’m basically begging people to please play a board game with me for an hour. [laughs]

What are a few of your other game projects you’ve been knocking around?
The other one that we got the closest to comple- actually it was a completed game. Our working title was Death Train. It was basically a train race. We had this idea where it would be cool to have this mechanic where you have a train and you are racing against other trains on parallel tracks. The mechanic is that you are physically moving your train along this track back and forth by adjusting your speed and how you align with other players on the tracks is how you interact with them. We had this thing were you’re building cars as you’re going – we called it a train builder as opposed to a deck builder – you are building your train as you go. Your cars would be anything from an extra engine to a tesla coil that zaps adjacent train enemies.
That one was actually really fun and it was pretty much working. The problems we ran into with that one were that we were trying to do a little bit too much. We didn’t want it to just be a race; we didn’t want it to be just a battle. We wanted there to be multiple paths to victory, kind of eurogame it. We added in victory points and all this other stuff that muddied the waters a bit too much.
Do you just then leave that entire idea behind and move on? Or what happens when you hit that 80% mark?
It goes on a shelf, basically. A lot of the things I’ve read in my pursuit of more knowledge of game design, I guess there are different schools of thought on it, but there are a number of people who like to have multiple games that they’re working on at the same time and advocate for that. […] The idea behind having a bunch of games that you’re working on at the same time is that you’d be working on Game C and you come across an idea that might be applicable to Games A, F, and G. Then maybe you can revisit those games and cycle along with it. I like that, but it’s a slow churn through that last 20% with that method.
And the alternative is trying to brute force your way through the last 20% which is also grueling, just in a different way?
Yes, exactly.
You mentioned game design resources. In terms of books, lectures, forums, or whatever, what have you found to be the most helpful for designing tabletop games?
There is a specialization track on Coursera from the California Institute for the Arts. I took that, it’s four courses, four weeks each. That got me a lot more insight than I had going in. I didn’t start doing this until after we finished Mario Kart and kind of when we started hitting the first roadblocks on Death Train. That’s the point where we got to where we needed to take a step back and figure out what it was we were doing instead of Wild Westing it or whatever.
Coursera was one of the first places I went for that. I really enjoyed that specialization. It was really fun and I learned a lot from it.
The next best was probably a book, “The Kobold Guide to Board Game Design” by Mike Selinker. The book, specifically, is more of a book of interviews with a bunch of different game designers and taking their opinions on a bunch of different things. It’s cool to see what Steve Jackson is thinking when he’s starting to make a game. That gives you some insight into what you’re doing well or what you’re not taking into account that you could be.
Oh, and also, there’s a podcast that I also started listening to around the same time. That’s Designer Notes. Designer Notes was actually probably one of the most influential.
It might also be one of the most accessible of the ones you mentioned.   
Yes. [laughs]

So having done all of this, having gained experience in designing these games, what would you recommend people do if they want to get into designing a tabletop game? What are your first steps?
Your first steps are to get something made and on a table in front of people to play it. The most progress that we as a group have actually made is just by actually doing. You learn so much more about what works and what doesn’t when you’re actually sitting at a table trying to play it. You can have what seem like the best ideas in the world, take it to the table, and they don’t work. Then you’re back to square one.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to get something to a playable form as quickly as possible. Even if it is absolutely horrible, as long as you can play it, you’re learning something from it. You aren’t actually learning what you think you might be learning until you’re actually playing it.
What does it mean to get something on the table when it is first draft of a tabletop game? I think some people struggle with that; how do you make a thing?
It depends on the game, it depends on so many things. Taking an idea and seeing if the simplest form of that idea translates to a board game or a card game or what have you. It could be taking random scraps of paper and finding out, “What’s an interesting way to have these things move around a track?” You’re just sitting there, literally rolling dice and seeing what is fun. That’s what game design is: It’s engineering fun.
What would you tell someone to do – they are getting their game past 80%, maybe they are even at 100% – how do you make this game into a sold-for-money board game?  
That’s a part that I haven’t got to, so take my advice with a grain of salt. There’s Kickstarter, but that has a whole bag of intricacies by itself. You could write to publishers....
These are more advanced steps. I guess it depends on how you got to that feeling of 100% done. Have you had a whole bunch of people playtest it? And when I say a whole bunch, I mean hundreds of people playtest it, not just friends, but random strangers, people who had the rules and people who don’t have the rules. If you haven’t playtested the game, then I don’t think you’re at 100% yet. So playtest, playtest, playtest.
If you are truly at the point where it is as good as it can be and no more playtesting is going to help that, then I think your next steps are one of three things – at least things that I have been looking at doing myself.
The first is conventions. Here in Minneapolis, that’s Con of the North. At pretty much any tabletop convention, there’s going to be a space for playtesting, games that are known to be in prototype phase. People sign up to play knowing it is not necessarily a completed game. This is a great way to get more playtesters and feedback, but it is also a good place to make contacts and maybe run into a publisher that you might be able to pitch an idea to, stuff like that.
Speaking of publishers, pitching your idea to a publisher is an option. You have to do your research. You have to know what kinds of games the publisher has published in the past, what kinds of games they’re publishing now. It has to fit with their MO as a publisher and what they have in their pipeline already.
Then the last one would be Kickstarter. Kickstarter is the one that will make you the most money if it’s successful.... Probably.
All the caveats.
Yeah, I can’t say that with certainty. At least you are controlling that entirely yourself. You’re not selling your idea to a publisher. There’s a lot of hoops to jump through with Kickstarter to get that to work and it’s risky. One of the things we have learned from conventions is that to produce a board game at scale is very expensive. If you’re talking a medium sized board game with some components and a board, you are looking at $60,000 to get that game produced. If you are going to Kickstarter, you’re going to have to ask for less than that, significantly less than that, as your goal. People have done all kinds of research as to what your goal value should be to get people to contribute to your Kickstarter and stuff like that. If you end up going that route and it’s unsuccessful and already footed the bill for $60,000 worth of production, then you are going to be in trouble. You have to know what you’re doing with the Kickstarter. 
Do you have any final words to add?
That kind of ended on a downer note. I don’t want to sound all doom and gloom, “oh, this is so hard, expensive, and risky.” Ultimately, I think it’s worth it, no matter what.
One of my favorite things that I’ve read in my perusal of these resources. If you make a game, that game is going to be at least one person’s favorite game. There is absolutely at least one person in the world who would consider your game their favorite. Just think about that and think about how happy you’re making at least that one person.
There’s nothing quite like enjoying your favorite game. It’s even better when you can see other people enjoying something to that degree that you have made.
Almost like you’re giving back to all the games that you enjoyed; putting your own little bit of that in the world.
The world can be a pretty crappy place sometimes, so if you can make it even a little bit happier sometimes, then I feel like that’s worth it.
Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!

Jack Gardner
Extra Life's annual Tabletop Appreciation Weekend has arrived! In honor of the weekend, we have put together a short campaign with Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition called Dragonguard. Join Naomi Lugo (Nomsooni the druid), Marcus Stewart (Scratch Mangy the ranger), and Kyle Gaddo (Barphus the bard) as they don the armor of the illustrious Dragonguard, sworn to defend and protect the realm of Alterra from the dragons at their doorstep. Jack Gardner serves as the Dungeon Master, guiding our heroes through their journey.
Following a dangerous encounter in the night, our heroes stumble upon a colossal dragon skull in the middle of the Morrithil Wastes, a swamp near the village of Verne. A village on stilts sits in the shadow of the long-dead terror. What secrets might lay in store there for those who call themselves members of the Dragonguard?
If you want to get a sense of how great a time tabletop roleplaying can be, you're invited to enjoy the adventure along with us. The initial plan was to play through this self-contained adventure in one sitting and post the entire campaign on Tabletop Appreciation Weekend. However, in true organic roleplaying fashion, it turned into so much more. This weekend will see the release of six episodes covering the adventures of the Dragonguard as they investigate signs of a possible dragon invasion.



Intro and Outro music:
"Furious Freak"
Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is available as well.
Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!

Naomi N. Lugo
When we think gaming, thoughts often go to RPGs, complex sims, real-time strategy, etc. However, those all exist in a virtual world on a screen. These complicated genres grew out of more classic forms as tabletop games, bringing people together and causing table-flipping arguments and memories since the dawn of time. 
In recognition of the vast world of tabletop gaming, Extra Life hosts Tabletop Appreciation Weekend annually. 2018 marks the fourth year celebrating, but board gaming has been a part of Extra Life since the beginning. On Game Day and during other fundraisers throughout the year, many Extra Lifers raise money by playing games not just on their screens but on the tabletop as well. 
As a newbie to the world of board gaming, or a long time fan looking to branch out, it might be hard to determine where to start. The list below looks at helping you solve that problem with some of the best games with which you can start. 
This list just scratches the surface of the vast world of tabletop gaming, so if you have any suggestions, we would love to hear about them in the comments below or on social media. If you post about the festivities, use the hashtag #EXTRALIFETabletop to connect and maybe even find a new passion. 
Dungeons & Dragons
It would be downright irresponsible to create this list and not include Dungeons & Dragons. This game set the foundation for tons of games to follow, tabletop and otherwise. For those unfamiliar with the format, or maybe to clear up some misconceptions, Dungeons & Dragons features role-playing gameplay with many different play styles. Generally, though, players will run through a campaign as laid out by their Dungeon Master (DM). Each player creates their own Player Character (PC) based on either the lore officially created by Wizards of the Coast or the homebrewed variant supplied by the DM. Character creation includes the fantastical race of said character, their skills and combat style, as well as their origin story. Basically, you get to let your imagination go wild making a rad persona and then use the rules to make them a reality within the game.
Dungeons & Dragons tends to intimidate first-timers, but if you have any interest in storytelling, and can find a good DM (or become a good DM yourself), Dungeons and Dragons reached classic status for a reason.
Magic: The Gathering
Another titan in the tabletop world is Magic: the Gathering. Rather than relying solely on your imagination, Magic uses cards that represent many elements within the mystical Planes of that setting (which has recently been announced to be coming to Dungeons & Dragons). The cards include the planeswalkers, beasts, troops, spells, totems and more that fight epic battles against other players. Playstyles can vary greatly due to the different colors of magic represented on each card. These five colors offer players the ability to specialize their tactics or even combine colors to test out their favorite way to play.
Magic requires time and dedication, much like any game, but MTG has a great community and you can typically find a player willing to explain more complicated cards.

Classic Board Games
Yes, this portion of the list includes those classics like Monopoly, Risk and even Candyland if that strikes your fancy. Even the mainstream classics are a great way to game with friends or introduce new people to this style of gaming. These games made it to the wider culture due to one simple fact: People enjoy them. Many Extra Lifers choose to play these games for Game Day to raise funds and have an absolute blast. We salute those of you who stick with the classics.
Like the wider format that these board games fall under, this genre spans many playstyles. Some great games to play include card games like Cards Against Humanity or Exploding Kittens. The 2011 release King of Tokyo has seemingly simple gameplay but adds in cards that offer each player different dynamics that keep the game interesting. Settlers of Catan allows for multiple players and has them all struggle to build up their empires from nothing. The classics and more recent popular tabletop games became widely played because people have fun with them, consider adding one to your Game Day line-up to spice things up if you're mostly a digital gamer.
The Pokémon Trading Card Game
Some people might be taken aback by the Pokémon Trading Card Game appearing in a list of games to get into in 2018, but this serves as a stand-in for all fandoms that have developed collectible card games. In this realm lie games like Yu-Gi-Oh! and the aptly named Final Fantasy Trading Card Game. Basically, if there’s a franchise, it probably has a collectible card game (to name a few that float around out there: American Idol, Dr. Who Buffy the Vampire Slayer and so many more). This makes this genre super inviting for members of many fandoms. The rules all vary, but basically, the goal includes collecting the best cards you can get your hands on so you can battle opponents. The communities for these versus Magic: The Gathering tend to be smaller and harder to find.
The fun from collectible card games depends on the player. Some enjoy the hunt for rare cards and collecting rather than playing, while others gather at local games shops to battle. Hey, even Geralt of Rivia plays. 
Warhammer is an incredibly malleable franchise for those who love tabletop gaming. On the one hand, the core Warhammer series function very much like an almost comically dark version of Dungeons & Dragons. On the other, Warhammer 40K takes place roughly 40,000 years after the core fiction in a far-flung future full of lasers, magic, and war. Players of 40K often go all in with miniatures and tactics, as the game combines war strategy with armies of real-life miniatures making it the perfect game for model hobbyists. Different genres exist in the Warhammer universe from the classic fantasy to sci-fi as introduced in Warhammer 40k. 
Be forewarned, Warhammer and its iterations require a lot of time not only to play, (some games can last longer than a day), but time to create your armies. Miniatures come unpainted, so you’ll literally create your armies, and it’ll take time to strategically compose as well. After creating armies, players set up their miniatures in formations for visual battles on large tabletops. Of all the games on this list, Warhammer 40K might take the longest to get into, but those who find themselves availed of an army of miniature space marines often find the effort to be worth it.

How to get started
If you’ve got a game picked out, great! You may be wondering “what now?” 
In addition to stocking the games themselves, local game stores, and occasionally comic shops, have tons of great resources to get started. Maybe you still want to try out a game before fully committing, these shops often times will host community nights where dedicated players come together with complete newbies to run games. Staff at these shops also often have a wealth of information for new players, too.
Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!

Marcus Stewart
So you want to play Monopoly, huh? Good luck with that. Though a great game, it’s a notoriously tough sell with friends and has only become less appealing over time. Why would we, broke millennials, want to spend hours playing with phoney money when we could laugh our sorrows away with, say, Cards Against Humanity? Is mortgaging Baltic Avenue going to help pay off my student loan? To be fair, Baltic Avenue couldn’t buy a single Community Chest card.
I still love Monopoly, however, and am always looking for ways to tric-*ahem*-convince others into slinging properties for a night. I’ve largely failed at this in the past decade or so, but I’ve learned valuable lessons about making it happen–by any means necessary. If you too hope to trade bills with Papa Monopoly (that’s the old dude’s name, right?), follow my patented tips on making Monopoly night a reality. 

Plan Ahead
Trust me when I tell you that no one wants to play Monopoly on a whim. You may as well ask your friends if they feel like climbing Everest in the middle of your get-together. Planning a dedicated Monopoly night in advance eliminates the knee jerk reaction to refuse and it respects everyone’s time. Players can clear their schedule, have time to get excited, and pen farewell letters to their loved ones. God only knows when they’re returning home once the game starts.  
Assemble a Feast
Food can make anything more tolerable. Turn your Monopoly session into a potluck! The sting of losing cash on Richard’s ill-gotten utilities feels less potent with a mouth full of Swedish meatballs. Or, if you want to guarantee future Monopoly nights, supply all of the grub yourself! People will line up to play if they know they’ll get to chow down for free. It’ll hurt your wallet but you’ve got to spend money to make not-money. 

Choose a Rage-Resistant Play Setting
When people joke about board games ending with someone flipping the table they’re talking about Monopoly. I’ve witnessed it first-hand when a three-day long game (yes, really) ended with a “friend” sending the board flying. The floor may seem like the perfect counter to this, but it’s actually more prone to game flippage. Tables might be the meme, but few are bold enough to actually turnover another person’s furniture. Like, are you going to pay for my now three-legged table?  If you’ve got one of those fancy kitchen islands, that’s perfect. Your nice granite top is not only a permanent fixture of the building but, as previously mentioned, the surrounding food will help quell any volatile emotions. 
Put on a Movie About Money and Business
This is purely optional and kind of dumb, but some might argue the same about playing Monopoly in 2018. I think having a relevant film play in the background of your session would really up the ambiance. Maybe Wall Street–the first one, please–or something recent like The Big Short. If nothing else, it’ll help take your guests minds off the fact that they’ve sacrificed their entire night to Old Man Monopoly.  

Volunteer to be the Banker
No one wants to be the Banker. Though not a difficult job, being in charge of the money simply means more work. You’re lucky to have gotten this far. Don’t push it by forcing the possibility of fumbling with cash on your friends. Bite the bullet and prepare to spend the night dealing out $500 bills. Just kidding. We all know those orange notes barely get touched. 
Be Open to “Street” Rules
I’m admittedly a hard-nosed traditionalist when it comes to board games. I prefer play a pure, by-the-book game instead of implementing “street” or house rules. You know, the made-up decrees everyone seems to know despite believing only you and your inner circle invented them. These include adding houses without building a monopoly or the popular Free Parking jackpot rule. Sticking to the traditional rules can get in the way of more casual players who just want to throw dice, move the little Scottie dog around, and have a stupid good time. So ease up, Rulemeister, and let everyone have their incorrect fun.

Create an Easy-to-Achieve Endgame
Winning Monopoly requires one player to bankrupt everyone else on the board. Since that can take roughly an eternity and a half, you may want to consider changing that. A common solution is “first to X-amount of money wins”. Maybe the victor can be the person who completes a certain number of laps around the board. It could even be whoever owns the most property once they’re all bought up. Whatever goal you concoct, just make sure it makes the light at the end of the tunnel brighter than a supernova. 
Have Fun!
At the end of the day isn’t that what Monopoly is about? I mean, historically no, but isn’t that what we like to believe Monopoly is about? This list is all about finding ways to have a grand time with the people you tolerate and perhaps even like. After all, board games have a way of bringing us all together. We should try to preserve their emphasis on fun camaraderie and healthy competition–no matter how inherently frustrating the game may be. If it means awarding $500 bucks and a railroad to pass Go while Blank Check blares in the background, this will all be worth it. 
Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!

Jack Gardner
Extra Life's annual Tabletop Appreciation Weekend has arrived! In honor of the weekend, we have put together a short campaign with Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition called Dragonguard. Join Naomi Lugo (Nomsooni the druid), Marcus Stewart (Scratch Mangy the ranger), and Kyle Gaddo (Barphus the bard) as they don the armor of the illustrious Dragonguard, sworn to defend and protect the realm of Alterra from the dragons at their doorstep. Jack Gardner serves as the Dungeon Master, guiding our heroes through their journey.
The adventure begins with three newly trained members of the guard on the road to the small village of Verne where draconic activity has been sighted. Kobolds move far from their swampy homes, people have gone missing, and tensions are running high in the lead up to the queen's annual festival in honor of her coronation. A fell fog envelopes Verne every night... what machinations churn along in the misty dark?
If you want to get a sense of how great a time tabletop roleplaying can be, you're invited to enjoy the adventure along with us. The initial plan was to play through this self-contained adventure in one sitting and post the entire campaign on Tabletop Appreciation Weekend. However, in true organic roleplaying fashion, that did not happen and it turned into so much more. This weekend will see the release of six episodes covering the adventures of the Dragonguard as they investigate signs of a possible dragon invasion. 



Intro and Outro music:
"Furious Freak"
Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is available as well.
Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!

Jack Gardner
On the multiday journey between Faragos and Riverton, Pribi and Arakiel become better acquainted with their traveling companions while Sean Valjean has an encounter with the divine. 
We Wanted Adventurers is a liveplay Dungeons & Dragons podcast that follows a motley trio of unlikely heroes as they bumble into adventures both big and small across the fantastical continent of Nevarrone. For the uninitiated, a liveplay podcast features an unscripted recording of a traditional tabletop roleplaying game, with all of the goofs and drama that comes with the territory.
With Tabletop Appreciation Weekend on August 25-26, you can also delve into the deep worlds of imagination and fun with your own friends and family. There's no better time to start a game of your own and forge some memories you'll never forget in the old-fashioned and time-tested form of pen and paper RPGs! 

"Industrial Music Box"
Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. You can follow the show on Twitter for updates. Let us know what you think of the show! We know that some parts of it are a bit bumpy, but I hope it doesn't get in the way of your enjoyment as we all learn and grow together. Thank you for listening! 
New episodes of We Wanted Adventurers will be released every Wednesday
Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!

Jack Gardner
Yasuhiro Wada, the designer behind the Harvest Moon franchise and Story of Seasons returns for a brand new title from TOYBOX Inc. Published by Aksys Games, Little Dragons Café has players managing the day to day affairs of a  struggling café on the edge of civilization. 
Initially, players control one of two twin siblings, either a boy or a girl. Their working mom keeps them afloat by tending to their out of the way café, until one day she comes down with an illness that leaves her in a deep, unshakable sleep. Distraught, the children are visited by a quirky itinerant wizard. The strange old man presents the pair with a large egg and tells them that they must raise a dragon to adulthood to obtain the rare ingredient needed to wake their mother from her slumber.
However, two kids can't really give a dragon the quality of life it needs to thrive without money! In order to support the business, the dragon, and themselves, the brother and sister have to take the reins of their little capitalist enterprise and turn it into a true tourist destination. To do that, they'll need all the help they can get between the abilities of their dragon, the wizard, a the motley crew of misfits who, for one reason or another, begin pitching in to make the café a success. 

While the other members of the team serve vital functions in the day-to-day running of the café, the dragon steals the show in terms of usefulness. Players can use the creature to discover new recipes in the wilds around their café as well as reach rare and delicious ingredients. Players will be responsible for raising their dragon. Feed it properly, nurture it with kindness and love, and it will grow larger. With each growth, the dragon gains new abilities, more stamina, and abilities - even flight. All of these a enable players to reach distant parts of the land to discover the rarest of ingredients and even long-lost legendary recipes that will bring more customers to the out-of-the-way little dragons café.
With enough money, players can expand their cafe's facilities in a number of ways to better serve the ever increasing demands of the clientele. Every new recipe, if used correctly and made with the best ingredients, can help leave customers delighted and satisfied, helping to bring in more customers in the future. To get your hands on the freshest ingredients, players will have to grow produce themselves. Farm the land for fresh friends and veggies. Fish in the ocean to catch fish both common and rare. In these activities, it's really easy to spot the Harvest Moon influence.

To get more clients, players have to ensure that not only their service is up to the task, but also that they show kindness and compassion for their neighbors. Little Dragons Café takes this quite literally by adding a popularity mechanic where if players help their neighbors, they (and by extension their cafe) becomes more popular. With enough money, effort, and time players will be able to unlock the secrets of their island home, cure their mother, and run the best gosh darn dragon café in all the lands! 
Little Dragons Cafe will release on August 24 for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. 
Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!

Jack Gardner
With Extra Life Tabletop Appreciation Weekend coming up (and Naomi never having played Dungeons & Dragons before) we decided to record a short campaign and release all or most of it during the event. If you want to get a sense of how great a time tabletop roleplaying can be, you're invited to enjoy the adventure along with us.  
This is just a quick taste of what's in store in Dragonguard, so be sure to tune in again this weekend! 
In addition to Jack and Naomi, Marcus Stewart and Kyle Gaddo round out the adventuring party.

Intro and Outro music:
"Furious Freak"
Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it!
If you want to have your opinion heard on air, share your opinion in the comments, follow the show on Twitter, and participate in the weekly polls: @BestGamesPeriod 
New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!