Fake old catalogue scene

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As fans worldwide celebrate 40 years of Playmobil, I decided to play with their history. The above diorama is my take on a catalogue scene from 10 years ago: “Dragon Knights Attack at the Knights’ Empire Castle”. It was a double challenge: to “translate” the original image, and to do it as a single diorama (not a collage, as in the catalogue).

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I love how the theme cycles work in Playmobil: new items will often arrive as a fluid sequence to existing collections. That makes it easier for toy stores to mix their products, and for children to assemble their collections, of course, but for me the magic is in their elegant evolution: after the launching of a new pirate collection, for instance, you may expect mermaids (done) and even ghost pirates (done!).

The Rock Castle (set 3269) came to be in 2004 as a star in a specific trend for the traditional knights theme: it was the beginning of a whole new branch in the catalogue. The usual medieval characters would don blue and gold; the Dragon knights were the red faction. Later the Barbarians would join the stage, presented as a purple faction. It was a beautiful contrast: the Lion knights had a trained falcon, while the Dragon castle had crows; while the Lion nobles feasted, the Dragon warriors ate in a den, surrounded by rats. As the years passed, a Dragon World would come true, and now Asian Dragons are available in stores.

So I came up with a scene that shows a bit of this history, as many of the figures are newer, darker Dragon releases. The golden hero that leads the resistance, on the other hand, is (mostly) the shiny 5477 set (Golden Knight Christopher).

Playing the World Cup

I’ve been watching every World Cup match. Live.

I write on my mobile while watching two matches simultaneously. Under heavy rain, USA faces Germany on my TV; Portugal plays Ghana on the computer, via streaming. My eyes jump from screen to screen. Hence, albeit a bit passive, this surely is electronic gaming!

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I haven’t seen Chile play the Netherlands on TV, but they had screens there too.

Well, at least interactive enough, if you want. Some people chat a lot on the Internet during games, some will even attend to the stadiums; others just have to work, but will squeeze some imagery into their next break. I have devoted vacations to sitting in front of the television with my old-school paper competition table, which I carefully fill with the scores.

In fact, one can’t really write that many lines on a mobile while watching most of the matches, entertaining enough. This is not merely a football event, it’s sport as the world embraced it: competitive, passionate, fun. The international coverage seems to agree. Even USA is playing a significant part in the party, as The New Yorker has shown in many nice texts.

As the Olympic Games, the football World Cup is a favorite subject when ludologists look for political and social relations in play (Brian Sutton-Smith is a great example). The fact that it features good football is enough to keep me, like most Brazilians, interested in the event.

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Enter the playoff’s South American quarter.

 

The Playtestest Day

Call the Guiness Book!
Well, maybe it’s not that much of a record, but it is a personal landmark. A couple of weeks ago, I had the “playtestest” day. That means I tested games from morning till late evening, and that was… fun!
At 8 a.m., my students’ playtests began. I tried a round at each of fourteen games. Creating tabletop games is the main teamwork for first-semester Digital Games students at FMU. As their advisor, I enforce the policy that these works should be games that could change the world. And some of them might do just that, as I’ve shown earlier.

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And then, weeks after the test, I get to see beautiful cards such as this. Congratulations, team High Five!

After that collaborative analysis session, I ran to one of my Playtest Club meetings. It was quite interesting to compare my impressions on how professionals and students create and test their prototypes. Bottom line: students are seldom orderly and, unless they are already boardgame geeks, they don’t sound too preoccupied with testing. It is great to see how excited they get doing that, though.
Excitation continued as I shared a plan with my night class: we were creating a game that very night. I devised an adaptation of a commercial game, intended for my Philosophy and Ethics classes. For the students, part of the fun is to craft their own deck of cards. That was that evening’s task: to discuss the rules, draw pictures and write card’s texts. That was another, deeper kind of testing, for the actual playing would come another evening. As I explained the pedagogic goals we were to “score”, and counted the complete deck, I realized there was one more game to face.
Living in São Paulo provides us with opportunities such as playing games from all over the world while eating nice food. And one of the best places for that, Ludus Luderia, lies a short walk away from work! I feel lucky, for most cities outside Western Europe don’t have such a place.
A good friend of mine, who has recently become interested in the “new age” of tabletop games, decided to commemorate her birthday at the bar. The closing event in my playtestest day was, indeed, industrious, for I had to teach and to learn rules once again. That makes me think: as I complain about games becoming “work”, rather than “fun”, I know I can only be joking.

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A typical table at Ludus: food, drinks and games.

The Playtest Club

I am proud to take part in tabletop game tests from time to time. When I see games like Sultan or Robin Hood (a revised version of Hart an der Grenze) in the stores, I feel I have really helped bringing them to the public, even if in just a small amount. Both these games were created by André Zatz and Sergio Halaban; after years playtesting for them, I regard them not only as friends of mine, but also an inspiration for game-loving people. For they work seriously in their testing, and also treat their guests very well.

By testing their and other people’s games, I have learned a lot about game design, obviously. There is a lot more to learn than different sets of rules, though. Each creator shows his ways: does he start from mechanics or the theme? What information does he seek from the players’ impressions and the game results? How detailed is his prototype?

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Sergio Halaban explains his game as Maurício Gibrin resists the snacks for a second.

And now I host Halaban in our new Playtest Club. It was his idea: instead of making the playtests his own, why not try each other’s creations? It is very nice to have him, together with people like Vineta‘s Mauricio Gibrin and Mário Madureira Fontes (with whom I’ve created a couple of electronic games), eating and playing on my old table.

 

Try this at home!

 

 

 

 

From Trol to the troll

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My favorite toy is 40. In February 1974, Playmobil figures debuted in Germany. A few years later, the clickies would be made in Brazil as well!
Trol was the company making them. In the early 1980s, that company had achieved a distinctive place among the most prominent toy companies. Unfortunately, economic instability led many Brazilian enterprises to failure, Trol included. Estrela, leading toy manufacturer in the country, got the license, but it seems it didn’t pay off. Brazilians got to the twenty-first century with no access to Playmobil.
There was, however, an effort to bring Argentinian Antex Andina’s Playmobil to Brazil, but the import operation was aborted. I have some of the Argentinian stuff and have to guess it was partially due to its below-standard quality.
Presently, Brazil has an official importer, Sunny. They make our favorite toys get to the shelves in the best stores throughout the country. The kits are really expensive, as you might guess an already expensive toy would be after the effects of one of the heaviest tax loads in the world. But some people will favor quality when they may.
Now, as a fan of Playmobil’s fantasy line, it comes as a nice surprise to know the 2014 German collection includes a troll figure. I love how their story worlds come to be, generic enough, exclusive enough, independent from licensing.
The bad thing is, as a Brazilian, I’ll probably have to wait for at least a year in order to see the troll. Then I had to treat myself a different anniversary present.

I bought this police vehicle. My own “Elite Troops”, perhaps.

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Some assembly required, right?

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Well, this may take a while.

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Many thanks to Hans Beck and Geobra!

That seventh game

Final Fantasy VII (1997) was a huge hit in Brazil, even though the discs everyone was buying at the time were illegal copies. But it was in the good old time counterfeits would have their covers printed on the discs and would come in fake boxes, not in sacs, as it is done today, their names sometimes barely handwritten. Today, at least you can buy the original thing; back then, companies like Sony wouldn’t yet have entered the Brazilian market. As a freshman at USP, I took it easy on the Philosophy classes and could spend some time on the coolest RPG at the time.

Many players like not only to finish a game, but to finish it off, that means exploring the possibilities beyond the minimal story to the greatest. That wasn’t my case. A bit because it feels “natural”, while exploring the game world, to follow the story instead of going against it.  Another bit because we have so many games and other things to enjoy (why exhaust a system? That is too much repetition). Well, that was before I decided to study that very game and needed access to every story bit.

Were I to do the dedicated gamer’s role then, I would try to find the secrets of that game, the “complete experience”. People would discuss its tricks, looking for help. And as the case was with Final Fantasy VII, some games draw such interest that guides are made for the ones lost in their subplots.

Independently-made game guides are available in the newsstands, their covers often portraying the adjective “detonado” (meaning a game was “blown”, “solved”, “cracked”) applied to the best-selling video games at the time.

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This guide, belonging to my student Wesley Faria, was printed in 1998, after about one year of Final Fantasy VII craze, full of information, both in the usual walkthrough aspect and as a picture collection –if you excuse, of course, the hasty graphic and textual performance. Other students recognized the issue as an important source from their time; although the cover is frowned-upon as a “spoiler”, too revealing.

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I was not a user of such guides. Later, when I saw the importance of that particular game, and chose its screenplay as an academic subject, it was too easy to find on-line whatever I needed.

Not that I chose that game only for convenience reasons. I like the Final Fantasy series as a whole; in fact, l preferred FF7’s contemporary, lesser-budget cousin: Final Fantasy Tactics. Playing FFT during my undergraduate years really made a difference; it helped me realize ways of portraying the world. This one became my favorite video game, so I recently bought the Playstation Portable updated version (The War of the Lions) as a gift to myself.

Maybe I’ll get all the secret characters; I doubt it. But this semester I’ve had the joy of playing my first Final Fantasy Tactics two-player encounter –thanks to my student Lucas Bononi. And, as the semester ended, I tried the game once more and got one more gift: Tactics‘ allusion to her, the flower girl from Final Fantasy VII.

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Now, up for new challenges!

Playing Cards Day

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This is Copag’s special edition 139 deck, crafted for the launch of the Playing Cards Day they just invented.
The 139 line is a best-selling series of playing cards; choosing the date based on its number may make it difficult for Copag to get other card makers to support this “commercial holiday”, but the company probably won’t care, as it leads the Brazilian market by far.