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Player Character Spotlight- The Meta Game Designer

Gamers are all around us, and I was reminded of this when I was chatting with a co-worker of mine from when I was a bartender. Aura and I had known each other for weeks, talking about all sorts of random nonsense, before I even knew they played games. So it seemed perfect that they would be one of the first people I chatted with about prioritizing play in your life. I’m so glad I did, because I was reminded about how problem-solving in games can help you problem-solve in real life, which is a much needed reminder for many. Active players, I present to you my interview with Aura Belle, game designer and podcast producer in Savannah, GA.

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RP: Tell us a little about yourself and what got you into the gaming hobby?

AB: My name is Aura Belle, I'm a non-binary femme (they/she pronouns), and I've been role-playing since I was very, very young. My brother used to play D&D with his friends and I would watch, trying my best to understand a game with no board or pieces, yet dice for some reason. And people just kinda saying whatever they want. I started playing all kinds of games as I got older, then eventually got into the game design scene a few years back, as well as publishing an Actual Play podcast with my group called Vantage Point of Death, which you can find on iTunes, Google podcasts, and most other places.

RP: Cards on the table, you and I know each other from a previous, unrelated job, but you never told me you were in game design! Tell me more.

AB: I made my first official game called Producers back in 2014. I still play it at parties. You play the part of movie idea pitchmen, suggesting movies to the group at large, except the specifics are fed to you by the other players so you get these really stupid, off-the-wall ideas that you have to defend. It's a lot of fun and the success and support of it led me to keep going with other things. I had a long-running Patreon which gave me about 1/3 of my monthly net income. There I made games about queer sex, gender identity, loneliness and connection, and our expectations of each other as people.

In addition to the podcast I've published several games (most under the name Caitlynn Belle) including Our Radios Are Dying (which has been played on multiple podcasts), Singularity, a transhuman and gender non-conforming dating sim released through Ginger Goat Games, and A Real Game, which won the 2016 IGDN Game of the Year award at Gen Con. It's a game rulebook that you print out that instructs you how to play itself, except as time goes on, this stack of paper gets existential dread about its purpose and fear about its inadequacy as a game. It gets really meta. 

RP: Your games sound super unique, where do you get your inspiration?

AB: As I was making games, I was interested in playing with the form of "a game" itself, trying to find new ways to present play and new topics to explore. I talked about my stuff early on in an episode of the Backstory podcast (which is a very good podcast) hosted by Alex Roberts. I took a lot of influence from performance art and works of art that played with their own physical form or demanded special interaction from the viewer. I was looking for something that engaged back instead of simply being on display.

Queerness is a big part of everything I make. I have trouble viewing the world through cishet eyes, so I make characters that see the world how I do. I want beautiful, messy queer entanglement, gender exploration, non-traditional relationship structures, and really just people who look like my wonderful queer friends. A lot of what I make demands that you make it queer and abandons you if you won't. A lot of them require movement, because I need to move to think. And they're all more or less about one person needing to communicate someone with others but not necessarily knowing how, and the problems that arrive from that.

 

RP: What are some of your favorite games and why?

Fall of Magic is a big favorite of mine and my group. We play it once a year in the holiday season, it's become tradition. It's a role-playing game about how magic is dying in the world and this powerful wizard is travelling across the lands and the ocean to the birthplace of magic to try to figure out what's what, and everyone plays their companions accompanying them. You play the game on a large scroll map, unraveling it as you go to explore new lands. It's absolutely beautiful and heartbreaking and conjures such strong visuals. It lets you play with metaphor and imagery naturally and lets you dig into the identities of these characters who start out as vague brush strokes and become just these beautiful, heart-breaking narratives by the end of it all. I've cried so much playing that game.

RP: Are there any types of games you haven’t played that you would like to?

AB: I have a soft spot for games about armies and conquests, things like War of the Ring or even Twilight Struggle. I'm not really a history or military nerd so I don't know why I like them so much, maybe it's just the scale. But I'd really like to dig into more of those. Especially miniature games, I'd love to build and paint squadrons and move them around these big, tactical maps, I'm all about that. 

RP: Do you consider gamer an integral part of your identity?

AB: I consider myself someone who sees "play" as a necessary part of human life, be you child or adult. It's something you need to tease your imagination with. You never stop needing to play, but most people fall out of it. So, in the sense of looking for ways to filter life experiences through mechanics and narrative, I would say so. 

RP: What is the relationship between gaming and your mental health?

AB: A lot of my gaming history and design philosophy comes from the indie publishing scene that surged out in the mid 2000s. This kind DIY ethic of making sad, strange little games that examine what big publishers wouldn't. All of the games I've designed have, in some way, been about myself - about personal trauma, or loneliness, or my need to communicate, but my desire not to. Embodying a character and playing out experiences I can't parse effectively helps me get a new perspective on it, and writing about things I don't know how to talk about has been invaluable. I'm an anxious wreck, but I would be more of one had I not had a bunch of weird game designer friends out here making weird games about queer identity, love, and isolation. 

RP: How do you balance gaming with your real life?

AB: Not very well. I used to attend regular board game meetups, but with working multiple jobs and everyone getting older, those fell by the wayside. My podcast group and I basically force ourselves to find time to get together and record, but it's not always easy. It can be hard! That's a running joke about role-playing groups, the hardest part is getting together on a schedule that works for everyone. You have to make concessions one way or the other. 

RP: Do you have any advice for people looking to get started with gaming?

AB: Hit up game stores and meet people and try to go to a local con if you can. Cons can be stressful, but they're also usually fun. You get a lot of energy and inspiration from it. Try different things also - I know several role-players who have never tried any other games besides D&D, for example, and are shocked to find out there's this entire world of millions of cool games out there. Keep yourself open.

 

 

 

If you enjoyed this interview, please leave a comment and let us know your thoughts. If you would like to be featured as a Player Character, please fill out our application here!

 

 

 

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Great Games to Play for Father's Day

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Great Games to Play for Father's Day

Father’s Day is this Sunday, June 16, and I don’t know about you but I think games make great gifts. Getting together to play a game is a memory-making experience, and one that you can enjoy whether you’re a gaming family or you just want to try something new. Here are a few suggestions for games to play with your dad this weekend, or any weekend because who needs an excuse to play games?


Forbidden Island- GameWright Games

Cooperative games are great if you’re trying to get people into gaming. You’re all working towards a common goal so you’re helping each other rather than competing against each other. I like Forbidden Island in particular because it’s easy to learn, there are great moving visual pieces, and you can adjust the difficulty level. You play as two to four treasure hunters traversing a sinking island, and you have to locate four artifacts and get them off the island before you find yourselves in a watery grave. Leave no man behind (no seriously, if one of you gets trapped on the island you lose). If you have a group larger than four playing or you want to add additional rules and variants, try Forbidden Desert or Forbidden Sky.

How the last game we played wound up. Literally JUST made it.

How the last game we played wound up. Literally JUST made it.

 Hanabi- R&R Games

Hanabi is another cooperative game, but it has such a fascinating game mechanic that it truly is unique even amongst other cooperative games: you don’t get to see your own cards. Your goal is basically to line up 25 fireworks cards (5 different colors in order 1-5) by giving clues about what is in each other’s hands. If you play the wrong card, such as the red 3 before the red 2, your fuse gets shorter. 3 mistakes and your fireworks explode. Hanabi is a great game for communication and one of my favorites to play with new people for that very reason. You get to learn how they think. Theoretically, playing this game as a family means you’ll be in sync because you know each other, but let’s be honest, someone’s going to wind up shouting “Why didn’t you warn me I had a 5 in my hand?!” and as long as no one is super competitive, that’s part of the fun.

What do you mean you  forgot  which card was the white card?

What do you mean you forgot which card was the white card?

 Munchkin- Steve Jackson Games

Okay enough with being nice, let’s start throwing monsters at each other! Munchkin’s original concept is building characters and traversing dungeons trying to be the first to level 10, and using cards in your hand to achieve your goal and stop other players from achieving theirs. It rapidly evolved from a Dungeons and Dragons theme to over 30 different genres and expansions, from pirates, to Marvel, to Rick and Morty, to Shakespeare. It’s an easy to learn game that is guaranteed to have a theme that dad will like. 

Our community manager Anne got to sit down and discuss two of the newest editions: Unicorns and Friends, and Warhammer 40K at Essen Spiel

Coup- Indie Boards and Cards

Bluffing games! We all fudge the truth with our families, why not make a game out of it? With Coup you’re playing various influential figures in a dystopian future and you want to be the last one standing. Each card has a different ability, but nobody knows what card you have, so you have to call people out if you think they’re using the ability for a card they don’t have. Clearly, I have a running theme here, which is Short and Sweet, but if you like the idea of any of these types of games but want a longer version, they exist, and Coup is no different. If you want a longer bluffing game, try ResistanceResistance: Avalon, or Ultimate Werewolf (and if you want to really make a commitment, try Ultimate Werewolf: Legacy

I knew you weren’t the ambassador!

I knew you weren’t the ambassador!

 A Role-Playing Game. Any RPG (as long as you like it)

RPGs are great for family nights and great for all ages. You’re using your imagination, you’re communicating and thinking critically, and best of all, you’re telling a great story. If you’re an experienced player (or you’re a gaming family) you can consider a higher commitment game like Dungeons and Dragons or Starfinder. If you want something with more structure you can try an RPG in a box like Thornwatch. If you’re short on time there are plenty of one-shot options for a single game with easy-to-learn mechanics.

 

 Okay, not all dads are going to agree to this one (mine, for example, can’t bring himself to be creative, and doing so is NOT his idea of a good time) so use your best judgment. But if you think this is something your dad would agree to, give it a try! You might be pleasantly surprised.


What games will you be breaking out this weekend?

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It's a good day to Die Hard Dice

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It's a good day to Die Hard Dice

Our friends at Die Hard Dice gave us a chance to check out some of their awesome products this past weekend, and we wanted to let all our active players in on what we found. 

Dice Trays

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Dice trays are necessary for a lot of reasons: they save your dice from falling off the table, they protect your table from getting scratched or dinged up if you’re using a heavier material dice, and it is scientifically proven that you’ll get the most random dice results by letting your dice bounce off at least 2 surfaces after you let it leave your hand. Die Hard Dice’s dice trays lay flat for easy storage and transport, and then snap into tray form when you’re ready to use them. They come in multiple colors and three different shapes so you can get the exact style you’re looking for.

The Dire d20s

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For the big important rolls, you need a big important die, and that’s where the dire d20 comes in. At 25mm instead of 20mm, it’s got a bigger size that makes it easier for the rest of the party to see what you roll. It definitely adds to the excitement when the entire party sees that natural 20 (or the natural 1!). One important thing to note is that if you’re going to use one of these dire d20’s you’re going to want to use a dice tray to protect your table-- these things pack a punch due to their bigger size and their metal material. Speaking of which…

 

The Metal Sets

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There is something so immensely satisfying about the feel of heavy dice in your hand and the thud they make as they hit the table. It’s like that moment in Fellowship of the Ring when Bilbo drops the One Ring on the floor at it just stops. Not a lot of bouncing or rolling. Finality. If you want to feel that powerful, then these are the type of dice you want to own. They also come with a metal carrying case with foam inlay to keep them nice and protected. And with full sets ranging from $35 to $55, they’re not going to break your bank. Just your enemies. 

 


The Polymer Sets

Of course, not everyone can afford the fancy metal dice, and that’s okay because Die Hard Dice also offers a huge variety of affordable, lightweight polymer dice. If you’re like Critical Role’s Laura Bailey (or APN’s own Risa) you can horde dice to your heart’s content and select the ones you’ll use for each night’s session based on how they roll or what color you’re feeling. The purple moonstone ones, in particular, have a way of glowing that we haven’t seen in polymer dice before.

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If you’re looking to add to (or start) your dice collection, hit up your FLGS and pick up your own! If you do, make sure to take a picture of them and use the hashtag #activeplayer so we can see! Happy rolling!

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