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Play Folk #5: Field Tower Defense

Myles Nye

Casey in the cape threatens Willa while Erin Dean attempts to offer protection. Why doesn't one of them pick up the sword?

Casey in the cape threatens Willa while Erin Dean attempts to offer protection. Why doesn't one of them pick up the sword?

Field Tower Defense was by far the most complicated game we've attempted in the nearly half-year (!) of the club's history. It was also MEGA FUN. This might be my favorite one so far.

It helped that we had so much going for us:

More beautiful weather.

The park was perfect: great natural features to incorporate into the path, plus barbecuing, and lots of interested passers-by to cheer for us.

The aforementioned barbecue.

Great attendance once again! We are holding steady at about 25 people coming to every game, which is sensational. If that's still true a year from now, or two, I'll be overjoyed.

Giving away all the swords and shields to the (mostly Hispanic) kids in the park after the game was over was a nice karmic moment, though they did take a little coaxing to convince it was not a scam.

Thanks Dollar Tree!

Thanks Dollar Tree!

And a really fun game.

Pete V. of New York (who is currently running a Kickstarter campaign you can support) is the inventor of this game, and he gave us a lot of support and answered many questions via email as we prepared to produce it for the club. Even still, we had to get together all three of us and read the entire prospectus out loud more than once to really grasp how the game is played. We were also having some drinks so that might have made it a smidge more difficult. There is a lot of depth to the game and many details.

On game day I read all the rules to the whole group. If I had it to do over again, I would have waited to read about how you level up and what happens when you level up until after the first round. It would have gotten us playing sooner. Lesson learned.

Hear ye, hear ye.

Hear ye, hear ye.

Before that, there was wonderful barbecuing, courtesy of Lily and all our members who brought pot luck. We were the only party in the park who had more pot luck than pot, I think. So there were sausages and treats to snack on during the rules. I set up the course out of rope and cones. I also supplied the ball pit balls, small clothespins, and bandanas which I snipped into ribbons while listening to "Gone Girl" on audio book. Not for the first time, the Wise Guys garage full of doo-dads made producing this game much easier than it would be if we were starting from scratch. The strips of bandana affixed by clothespin worked great for the "lives" that defensive players could yank off while offensive players stormed the castle, especially once we instituted the rule that they all had to be worn at waist-level and could not be concealed or made difficult to pull.

Oh! Also, it was going to rain that day: in fact, it did. One of the 6 days of rain a year we get in LA happened on this day. We were texting and wondering if anyone would still come in the rain, but we posted on Facebook that we were playing rain or shine, and then it all turned out to be a false alarm anyhow. What a weird weather day that was. It rained on the park, but not much, and rained hard at my house for a hot second, and then cleared.

I was going to the car getting more props while the teams split up, so I wasn't there for the non-schoolyard pick 'em that took place. Before departing I had suggested that players who had reason to believe they would be good at the game step forward and then split themselves in half, and other players join the teams in equal measure. I don't know if that's what actually happened but I thought the teams were rather evenly matched. I love the rule about once per game you can switch teams, but no one actually did it.

Team Castle Crushing Tyrannosaurus Rexes.

Team Castle Crushing Tyrannosaurus Rexes.

Team Red Scare.

Team Red Scare.

Everyone was a very good sport while I read the rules and the roles, and then once the game began adrenaline kicked in and a good old frolic in the field was the order of the day. Defensive players lined themselves primarily along the narrowest part of the path - the "choke point" - to barrage the onslaught with ball pit balls while also reaching out to yank bandanas. Offensive players tried techniques like flying in a V formation, but very seldom did these tactics hold much sway once the siege started.

That's not entirely fair: some tactics, such as targeting players with more than one life, or players with shields defending players who hadn't leveled up yet, were on display, and both seemed effective. Or at least they were for our team: after the first "inning" (both teams having a chance to attack the castle), we were tied at 2-all but Red Scare shut out the T-Rexes in their second siege and scored 4 points in our second attack. 3 of those came from Erin Dean. Let me tell you something: if you come to Play Folk, you really want to be on Erin's team, and if you can manage to also be on the red team, victory is essentially guaranteed.

The castle, courtesy of Willa. That is a sea lion sigil.

The castle, courtesy of Willa. That is a sea lion sigil.

This was also the play date where we honored all our lifetime members with their commemorative trinket, a Play Folk keychain that also doubles as a bottle opener. Great legacy players like Tombstone Billy, Asher V. and Siena, and Jackie Riddle and her husband Doug were present, as well as some great new players like Kirsten (who went to Wellesley with my wife) and her husband Chris, and Casey from Glitch City with a coterie of jolly players who threw balls, sported capes, and turned cartwheels with great aplomb. Plus, of course, Mac and Dash continued their streak of perfect attendance, which demands the question: where was John Greg?!

One of my favorite parts of the day was yelling, "Defense are you ready?" (YEAH!) "Offense are you ready?" (YEAH!) "Pan Pacific Park, are you ready?" YEAH!!! Even if I did get a parking ticket for parking in a staff-only space (well I was asking for that), the park was a great place to play. Our first course ended at a rock that had to be leaped over dramatically (or stepped around gingerly) and the second course we set up after a bunch of people had to leave took advantage of the trees as a natural obstacle.

Course 1.

Course 1.

Course 2.

Course 2.

The time we budgeted for this game - two hours - really flew by. When 5 PM rolled around and some people started to leave many of us were astonished. It had totally snuck up on us. The die-hards in the group helped create a new course and played another couple of rounds because that's how we do. My one regret is that we didn't play long enough for anyone to level up to General. Well except Erin Dean, who leveled up to purple and then asked, "What do I level up to next?" There are no more levels, Erin Dean: you're as powerful as you can get!

On the right, notice Erin Dean and her purple flag; she is a Tower General which is why she's allowed to move while playing defense. Notice also chair and castle in foreground; Mac's inflatable sword and shield; and me biting the dust after having been brutally wiped out by my dastardly cousin Dash. There's a lot going on in this photo. Credit to Al Gonzales for all the high res pics and to Lily for the group shots and candids of the first course.

On the right, notice Erin Dean and her purple flag; she is a Tower General which is why she's allowed to move while playing defense. Notice also chair and castle in foreground; Mac's inflatable sword and shield; and me biting the dust after having been brutally wiped out by my dastardly cousin Dash. There's a lot going on in this photo. Credit to Al Gonzales for all the high res pics and to Lily for the group shots and candids of the first course.

After playing Nomic the previous month under less than ideal circumstances that left me feeling like I hadn't gotten the full experience of the game, Field Tower Defense was the perfect game on the perfect day. Although I once again felt like I didn't get to play the game all the way through (no generals, few mines), I did feel like I really got to sink my teeth into the game and play for all its worth. Which is really the point. Bravo to Pete for cooking it up, and thanks to all our wonderful members for showing up to play which is, and remains, a gift beyond measure. We know your time is valuable and we appreciate your coming and helping make these monkeyshines possible.

Final score:

Castle Crushing Tyrannosaurus Rexes: 2

Red Scare: 6

I'm excited that this month we will play Ministry of Silence, a game I am quite sure will be played through to completion and a game that will have a single winner. Who will it be? The smart money of course is always on Erin Dean but Maclen, Lily, and Jackie Riddle will not let her win without a fight.