Monday, October 30, 2017

There's Nothing Scarier Than A Bad Rulebook - "Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game"

Well, with Halloween upon us, it's time for me to review another spook-tacular themed game. So, I present to you: the Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game.


What? C'mon, it's got vampires and wolves and skeletons and zombies and spiders and rats...what more do you you want?

"Well, how about a decent, legitimately-scary board game that doesn't involve your irrational fetish for dungeons and / or dragons, ya colossal nerd!!!"


Hey, this is my board game blog and if you don't like it you can get the fudge out!

Ahem. Sorry. For those of you who want to stick around and roll up a character, here's a DM-style opening preamble to our spoopy little adventure, courtesy of Board Game Geek:

"The master of Ravenloft is having guests for dinner – and you are invited! Evil lurks in the towers and dungeons of Castle Ravenloft, and only heroes of exceptional bravery can survive the horrors within. Designed for 1-5 players, this boardgame features multiple scenarios, challenging quests, and cooperative gameplay.

"Each player selects a hero; a ranger, rogue, warrior, cleric, or wizard. On their turn, each player can explore further into the dungeon (turn over new tiles), move through the already explored parts of the dungeon, and fight monsters. When a new dungeon tile is revealed, there is typically an encounter of some sort, and new monsters to fight are added. Slain monsters reward the players with treasure, and experience points, allowing them to level up and increase their skills during play. Players must cooperate to stay alive, slay the monsters, and achieve the goal of their quest. Each scenario has a different goal - from retrieving a relic, to slaying a vampire lord."


Looking to delve into the full Players Handbook? Then click on the following link to start power gaming right away!

***

PLAY THROUGH

THE CHARACTERS

ARJHAN - DRAGONBORN FIGHTER
Powers: Dragon's Breath, Unstoppable, Cleave, Brute Strike
Starting Treasure: Dragon's Breath Elixir


KAT - HUMAN ROGUE
Powers: Sneak Attack, Stealth, Backstab, Dagger Barrage
Starting Treasure: Thieves' Tools

  
IMMERIL - ELADRIN WIZARD
Powers: Dispel Magic, Fey Step, Fireball, Magic Missile
Starting Treasure: Necklace of Fireballs


THORGRIM - DWARF CLERIC
Powers: Healing Word, Bless, Lance of Faith, Flame Strike
Starting Treasure: Glyph of Warding


***


Arjhan moves five spaces north. This puts him on a square adjacent to an unexplored edge, so he places a new Dungeon Tile which is revealed as a basic corridor. The tile has a white triangle, which means that no Encounter Card will be drawn but he stills draws a Monster. It's a Rat Swarm which he places on that tile's Bone Pile. The Swarm then moves to the Bone Pile next to Arjhan and attacks him, rolling a 16 + 7 = 23. It's a hit, causing a point of damage!

Kat sprints four spaces north so that she's next to the Rat Swarm. Notwithstanding both the logistics of this as well as the inadvertently hilarious mental image, she attacks the Swarm with her "Backstab", rolling 17 + 7 = 24 for a hit, killing it. She then draws a new tile which turns out to be a T-intersection corridor with a white arrow. The Monster she draws is a Kobold Skirmisher, which immediately moves to the closest Bone Pile next to Arjhan and Kat. To determine who the Kobold attacks, I roll randomly: 1 to 10 for Arjhan and 11 to 20 for Kat. A 13 comes up so the Kobold goes after Kat, rolling 14 + 9 = 23 which hits for a point of damage.

Immeril remains in place and attacks the darkness (*snicker*) with a "Magic Missile", rolling a 16 + 8 = 24 which is a lethal hit on the Kobold Skirmisher. He then moves five spaces north east, revealing a new tile with a black arrow. He draws a Monster Card which turns out to be a scary Wraith ("OooOooOooo!!!"). Since the tile has a black arrow, he's also required to draw an Encounter Card, which is an Event called "Summoning Circle". Since this would immediately introduce a new Monster to the board, Immeril uses his "Dispel Magic" Utility Power to cancel the card. He flips it face down to indicate that it's been used. The Wraith then moves one tile west onto the Bone Pile. Since it now has two targets to choose from, another random roll is required: 1 to 10 for Arjhan and 11 to 20 is Kat. An "8" comes up so it goes after Arjhan. The attack roll is 16 + 6 = 22, which results in three points of damage to the Dragonborn Fighter!

Thorgrim surges four spaces north and ends up adjacent to the Wraith. He then attacks the fiend with his "Lance of Faith" and rolls a 20. Not only is this a hit, it also gives the Heroes an opportunity to Level Up, but the group hasn't compiled enough Experience Points yet. So he just deals two points of damage to the creature, wounding it. Since Thorgrim didn't reveal a new tile, he's forced to draw an Encounter Card. It's an Event / Attack called "Gray Ooze". The creature rolls 3 + 8 = 11 which is a miss on Thorgrim. The one-shot attack is then discarded.

Back to Arjhan. He uses his "Unstoppable" Utility Power to regain two Hit Points, flipping the card face-down to indicate that it's been used. He then attempts to attack the Wraith but rolls a 6, which is a miss! Undeterred, he moves four spaces past his compatriots to reveal a new tile. It's a Crypt Corner with a white arrow so he draws a new Monster: a Wolf. The Wolf moves onto the Bone Pile next to Arjhan and attacks with a "Pounce". The wolf rolls a 20 which hits for a point of damage and also causes Arjhan to suffer the "Slowed" Condition.

Next up Kat attacks the Wraith with a "Backstab", rolling a 6 + 7 = 12 which is also a miss! She then moves four spaces west to reveal a new dungeon tile. It's a Crypt with a black arrow, so first she draws a Monster which turns out to be another Wraith. Rather than face two of these spectral bastards at the same time, Kat uses her "Stealth" Utility Power to discard the Monster Card instead of placing it. She then flips this power card face down to show that it's been spent. Since the tile she placed has a black arrow on it, an Encounter Card must now be drawn. She gets "Spirit of Doom" which reads "each Hero can immediately move up to his or her Speed and after this move each Hero on a tile with no Monsters takes one damage." Both Immeril and Thorgrim move onto the same tile as their compatriots which results in no-one being on a Monster-less tile, so no damage is dealt.

Immeril uses a "Magic Missile" on the Wraith but rolls a 1 and misses. He then moves four spaces to reveal a simple hallway with a white arrow. Immeril draws a new Monster: another Rat Swarm. Now the Monsters attack! The Wraith only has one target so it goes after Thorgrim, rolling a 13 + 6 versus AC 19. This hits, causing another whopping three points of damage. Next up the Rat Swarm moves to the Bone Pile next to Immeril and attempts a nibble, rolling a 6 + 7 for a miss!

Next up Thorgrim attacks the Wraith with his "Lance of Faith", rolling a 7 + 6 = 13... a miss! He then moves three spaces, revealing a Workshop tile with a white arrow. Thorgrim draws a Monster Card, specifically a Gargoyle. Since it wouldn't be adjacent to Thorgrim if placed on the next closest Bone Pile, I just move it to the closest space adjacent to the dwarf. It then attacks with a vicious "Whirlwind of Claws" rolling at 2 + 8 = 10. Another miss!


Arjhan begins his turn by taking a swing at the Wolf, rolling a 7 + 6 = 13 which is a whiff. Knowing that he can only move two spaces due to the "Slowed" Condition, he decides to chip away at the horde of enemies now threatening to swarm the group. He decides to quaff the "Dragon's Breath Elixir" which says: "attack each Monster on your tile". He attacks the Wolf again, rolling 10 + 4 = 14 which hits and kills the Wolf. He then moves two squares north west to stand next to the Gargoyle. Since he didn't draw a new tile, he's forced to pull an Encounter Card called "Frenzy"which reads: "each Monster you control activates twice during your Villain Phase". Mercifully, with the Wolf dead, Arjhan no longer controls any Monsters. He jettisons the "Slowed" Condition to signal the end of his turn.

Kat hauls ass six squares into the Workshop so that she's flanking the Gargoyle and then attack with a "Backstab". She rolls a 7 + 7 = 14 but the Gargoyle's Armor Class is 16 so her blade fails to pierce the creature's stony hide. Since she didn't reveal a new tile, Kat is forced to draw an Encounter Card called "Neglected Passage" which reads: "draw a tile from the bottom of the Dungeon Tile stack and place it adjacent to the unexplored edge that is closest to the Start Tile. Place a new Monster on the tile but don't draw an Encounter Card". The Fetid Den tile is added to the east branch of the Start Tile and the new monster, a Ghoul, is placed on the Bone Pile. The Ghoul then lopes one tile towards the adventurers. 

Next, Immeril fires a "Magic Missile" at the lingering Wraith and rolls a 20, finally destroying it. In addition, he discards five Experience Points from the group's communal pool to Level Up! He then moves six spaces north to flank the Gargoyle. Since he didn't draw a new tile, he's forced to pull an Encounter Card called "Patrina Velikovna" which reads: "Attack each Hero. After the attack, place each Monster that is not on the same tile as a Hero one tile closer to the closest Hero". First the creature attacks Arjhan by rolling 18 + 7 which is a hit so Arjhan takes two points of damage. Next Kat is targeted but the roll of 3 equates a miss! Unfortunately, the creature's attack is so uncanny, it still causes one point of damage on a miss! Immeril is next on the hit parade. A 2 is rolled, which is also mercifully a miss, though he still takes a single point of damage. Finally, Thorgrim is targeted, and with a roll of 16 + 7 = 23, he takes the full allotment of two damage. Then the Rat Swarm moves one tile east towards the Heroes, ending up on the Bone Pile and the Ghoul is moved one tile west onto the Start Tile. Finally Immeril activates his Monsters. The Rat Swarm doesn't move to the Crypt Corner's Bone Pile since it wouldn't be adjacent to any Heroes. Instead, it moves into the space next to the closest Hero, Arjhan, and attacks, rolling a "2" for a well-timed miss.

Thorgrim starts his turn by casting the Utility Power "Healing Word" on himself, recovering four Hit Points. He then goes after the Rat Swarm with his "Lance of Faith" but rolls a pitiful 2. Next he moves three spaces north east through the Workshop to reveal a new Dungeon Tile, the Rotting Nook, which features a white arrow. This also reveals a new Monster, specifically a Blazing Skeleton. Next, Thorgrim's Monsters activate. To determine who the Gargoyle attacks, I roll a six-sided die: 1-2 is Kat, 3-4 is Immeril, and 5-6 is Arjhan. I roll a "2" and the subsequent attack roll of 15 + 8 = 24 means that Kat takes two points of damage and also gets the dreaded "Slowed" status. Next the Blazing Skeleton attacks. It's Tactics indicate: "if it's within one tile of a Hero it attacks each Hero on the closest heroes tile with a ball of fire". Unfortunately both Thorgrim and Kat qualify for that. The  Skeleton attacks Thorgrim first and rolls a "3" which is normally a miss but it still deals a single point of "splash" damage. It then attacks Kat, rolling a 14 + 7 = 21 which is a hit. She takes two more points of damage and is only two Hit Points away from having to use a Healing Surge.

It's now back to Arjhan. He lashes out with an attack on the Rat Swarm, rolling a 9 + 6 = 15 for a hit! The Swarm takes a point of damage and it's destroyed. This activates Arjhan's "Cleave" special ability which says if you hit your initial target, "choose another Monster on your tile and move adjacent to it. That Monster takes one damage". Arjhan is already adjacent to the Gargoyle but can technically move into another adjacent space, so he does this, delivering a single bonus point of hurt. He then moves five spaces and reveals a new Dungeon Tile which turns out to be the Chapel they seek! This also introduces a horde of defenders to the same tile. First off, each player draws a Monster Card and places that creature on the Chapel Tile. Arjhan draws a Skeleton, Kat reveals a Kobold Skirmisher, Immeril pulls a Ghoul and Thorgrim introduces a Zombie. This is in addition to the normal Monster which has to be drawn for the tile, so another Skeleton is placed on the Chapel's Bone Pile. The Icon of Ravenloft token is also dropped on the altar space. Since the rules don't specify where, I naturally place it on the space closest to the Heroes. The Skeletons then charge towards Arjhan and, since there's no available Bone Pile to move onto, they just move adjacent to him and attack with their "Charging Slice". The first roll is  16 + 9 = 25 a hit! This causes two points of damage. The next roll is 14 + 9 = 23 which is also hit for two more points of damage. Arjhan is just one hit away from death. Zounds!

Kat decides that it's time to break out her Daily Power: "Dagger Barrage". She targets the Chapel Tile and attacks every Monster on that tile. First she fires on the Ghoul, rolling 6 + 7 =  13. That's a miss, but this power still causes a point of damage! Ergo, the Ghoul is  destroyed! She then targets the Kobold and rolls a 16 + 7 = 23 which is a hit! It's also killed. Next she fires at the first Skeleton, rolling a 17 + 7 = 24 which is another lethal overkill hit. She then aims at the second Skeleton and rolls 17 + 7 = 24 so it's also wrecked. Finally she flings a mitt-full of daggers at the Zombie and rolls 12 + 7 = 19 which pastes the Filthy McNasty. She's literally cleaned out the entire tile in one attack! Unfortunately, she can only move two spaces due to the "Slowed" Condition, so she backs away from the Gargoyle. Since Kat didn't reveal a new Dungeon Tile, she's forced to draw and resolve an additional Encounter Card. The first is "Sliding Walls" which she decides to cancel by spending five Experience Points. The second is "Alarm" which says: "place the Alarm marker on the active Hero's tile. Trigger the Trap during your Villain Phase. Place a new Monster on the unexplored edge that's closest to the Alarm Marker." The Alarm activates but there are technically three unexplored edge spaces "closest" to the Alarm Marker so I make an executive decision and place the Blazing Skeleton in the Rotting Nook right next to Thorgrim instead of on the Chapel Tile. This new Blazing Skeleton activates, targeting every Hero in the Workshop. The attack role on Arjhan is 4 + 7 = 11 which is a miss. Unfortunately, it still causes a single "area of effect" point of damage which means the Dragonborn Fighter goes down in a heap and will require spending a Healing Surge at the start of his next turn. Next up, Kat gets attacked but the creature rolls a "1", leaving her with a single Hit Point. Then Thorgrim takes some heat, but the roll is 7 + 7 = 14. It's another single point of damage but it could have been much worse! Wait a minute...it is worse since Thorgrim's Blazing Skeleton also activates. Kat is targeted with a roll of "20"...a solid hit. Kat is dropped which means that she will spend the group's last Healing Surge on her turn! Finally Thorgrim gets nailed for two points of damage courtesy of an 18 + 7 = 25 attack roll.

Sensing that the end is in sight, Immeril uses his Daily Power and casts "Fireball" on both Blazing Skeletons. The first attack is 6 + 7 = 13. That solid hit causes three damage, destroying the first Blazing Skeleton. The second roll is 14 which also connects, annihilating the second Blazing Skeleton. Immeril then flips the "Fireball" card over to show that it's been cast. He then moves six spaces next to the Chapel's altar and picks up the Icon of Ravenloft. Since there are no active monsters on the Chapel and the Icon has been recovered, the Heroes win the scenario!



***

REVIEW

PROS
  • The Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game is a miracle of production design. The figures are top-notch, the puzzle-piece tiles actually work well and the Monster and Character cards are all wonderful. I just wish there were some cool, evocative illustrations on the Treasure and Encounters cards as well as the Trap Tiles, which are just boring ol' square instructional tokens. Damn, if only Lizards of the Toast had access to a virtually-boundless library of pre-existing D&D art. Oh...wait...
  • The game isn't complicated. Pick a scenario, chose your Heroes, drop 'em down on the Start Tile and just follow the turn steps. 
  • There's a surprisingly tactical quality to the game. You really have to work together to have a hope in hell of surviving. Judicious timing when it comes to the use of your powers is also key. 
  • I love that there's no Overlord in the game and the Monsters are programed to move and attack. That way, the game is truly co-operative with all players on the same side instead of Descent's one versus many.  
CONS

  • Yes, the rules are deceptively simple. That is until you try to play the game. When that happens you're immediately faced with the prospects of house-ruling a bunch of stuff because the core instructions are so effin' vague. I'm 100% sure that someone who owns this game and plays it constantly and is all brushed up on the FAQ and Board Game Geek forums will read the play-through above and point out at least three or four things that I royally fucked up. For example, when a Monster moves it's supposed to move onto a Bone Pile. If the Bone Pile is covered up then I believe that the Monster is placed anywhere on that tile according to the player's discretion. I thought that was sorta goofy, so I just moved the Monster to the closest Hero "as the crow flies". This is also probably wrong since it often results in the Monster not moving onto a new tile. I also assume that if Monsters have multiple targets to choose from, the players can decide what Hero gets attacked. I decided to go with a random roll instead. Given the fact that the Monster's actions are supposed to be "programmed", you really need to have this simple, fundamental stuff locked down cold. And it isn't just a problem with Monster. For example, the "Cleave" special ability reads "After you land a hit, choose another Monster on your tile and move adjacent to it. That Monster takes one damage." Does this mean that this power only works if the Hero starts it's turn not being adjacent to its second target? Or can you move from one adjacent space to another adjacent space? This game would drive a rules lawyer madder than Dwight Frye's Renfield in Dracula
  • All of the rules vagaries make a victory in the game feel hollow. In the example above, if I'd placed the "Alarm"-summoned Blazing Skeleton on the Chapel Tile instead, the scenario would have worn on. And since I was about to burn through two Healing Surges and Thorgrim was getting pretty beat up, the scenario could easily have been a loss. Without the game's rules clarifying these things, can you every really feel as if you won?
  • This game bears about as much similarity to D&D as Happy Death Day does to a horror movie. Where are the doors? Where are the rooms? Why aren't our characters equipped with weapons and armor? Why aren't we looting bodies and then spending the money we find to improve our gear? Why are Traps only introduced via random Encounters? Why do Monsters always get the jump on Heroes? Why aren't we "rolling for Initiative"? I know the designers wanted to abstract a lot of the more esoteric RPG minutia but they went so far as to make D&D feel like Gauntlet: The Board Game. I.E. a boring slog in tedium. Pretty sad when a modern game like Ravenloft gets out -D&D'ed by a nearly thirty year old game like HeroQuest.      

***

FINAL THOUGHTS

Confession time: even though I'm a hopeless sucker for dungeon crawl board games, I've thought about unloading both Castle Ravenloft and its sister game Wrath of Ashardalon on more than one occasion. The only thing that's stopping me is the fact that I use the figures and tokens in my regular D&D games!

The life-long D&D nerd in me harbors nothing but contempt for just how dumbed down this thing is while another part of me finds the game's promise of quick n' easy co-operative adventures very appealing. Unfortunately, the conveyor belt of incessant threats via the Monsters and Encounter Cards is more depressing than exhilarating and the poorly-fleshed-out rules quickly drains the fun out of the proceedings like Strahd sucking on a virgin's neck.

The Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game scores three pips outta six with a tilt down towards the keep's bottomless catacombs.


***

Wanna see where that over-sized bat is flapping off to? Then click on the image below to learn more about the Castle Ravenloft board game and help this blog fashion a sassy necklace made out of garlic!  

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Never Tell Me The Odds - "Star Wars: Destiny"

With the success of DiceMasters, it was just a matter of time before Fantasy Flight used their Star Wars license(-to-print-money) to come up with their own freakin' collectible dice game. But with the popularity of that venerable WizKidz game waning and Star Wars merchandising rapidly reaching the saturation point, did Corey Konieczka and Lukas Litzsinger manage to come up with a design so good that it overcomes the inherently-mercenary nature of collectible games?

Well, the answer is yes...and no.

So what's the opening crawl on Star Wars: Destiny? I'll just let the super-slick holo-vid experts at Fantasy Flight whisk you off to that beloved galaxy far, far away...


Looking to read the full rules holocron? Well, just click on the following link to review the entire saga!

***

PLAY THROUGH

KYLO REN (ELITE) & CAPTAIN PHASMA     
VS.     
REY (ELITE) & FINN


With a random roll of four versus one, the Dark Side starts off the game. Since the good guys go second, they receive a consolation prize of free Shields. Daisy decides to place both of them on Rey. Adam then chooses to use his own Battlefield: I.E. the Frozen Wastes of Starkiller Base. Hey, that rhymes!

Both players begin the game with two Resources apiece.

ROUND ONE

Adam activates Kylo Ren, rolling his dice and getting two special ability Symbols.

Daisy's plays "Take Cover" for free. This Event gives Rey a third Shield, which is her maximum.

Adam then resolves his two special ability Symbols. He selects Rey, randomly draws "Use the Force" and "Awakenings" from Daisy's hand and and Rey loses two Shields!

Daisy spends one Resource to plays "Awakenings" which lets her to treat Modifier die result as if were a regular result.

Adam activates Captain Phasma, rolling a miss.

Daisy activates Rey, rolling a 1-Resource and a +1 Modified Resource.

Adam then spends one Resource to play "Isolation" which lets him kick Rey's 1-Resources die back to her card.

In response, Daisy spends her last Resource to play "Use the Force" to turn her one remaining die to the 1-Melee side.

Next up, Adam spend his last Resource to play "Boundless Ambition". He draws two new cards, up to his maximum hand size.

Daisy resolves Rey's lone Melee die, hitting Kylo Ren for a point.

Adam decides to gamble, throwing out a card called "Flank" to re-roll Phasma's die. He gets a +1Ranged modifier.

Daisy activates Finn, also rolling a +1 Ranged modifier.

Adam decides to take his Lightsaber and mask and go home by Claiming the Battlefield. This forces Daisy to remove a Character die, so Finn's 1-Ranged attack goes back on his card. Or course, this also means that the round is over for the bad guys.

With precious few options, Daisy decides that she's done as well, and so it's on to the next round. Daisy and Adam both collect two new Resources. Adam draws one card and Daisy draws three cards to get themselves back up to five.

ROUND TWO

Since Adam Claimed the Battlefield, he kicks things off by activating Kylo, rolling a special Symbol and a 1-Melee side in the process.

Daisy plays BB-8 for one Resource.

Adam decides to resolve his special Symbol Kylo Ren die. Once again, Daisy shuffles her cards and randomly reveals "Daring Escape" which cost two Resources. As a result, Rey loses her last remaining Shield and takes one damage.

Daisy activates Rey, rolling a miss and 1-Resource.

Petty emo fuck that we is, Adam resolves his 1-Melee damage die, causing a point of hurt to Rey.  

Daisy activates BB-8 and rolls the 1-Shield symbol.

Adam activates Phasma, getting a 1-Discard symbol on the roll.

Daisy resolves BB-8's die, giving Rey a badly-needed Shield.

Adam resolves Phasma's Discard die. Daisy reveals, and then throws out, "Force Throw". Ouch.

Daisy activates Finn but rolls a miss.

Adam Claims the Battlefield, forcing Daisy to remove her 1-Resource die.

Daisy also decides to pass and once again the round is over.

All characters refresh and get their dice back. Daisy draws two new cards while Adam is already at his maximum hand size. Both players then collect two Resources each.

ROUND THREE

Adam still controls the Battlefield so he goes first, spending three resources to equip Kylo with his Lightsaber! Ruh-roh.

Daisy plays "Draw Attention" for free, moving two damage from Ray to Finn.

Adam activate Kylo Ren, rolling a 2-Melee result, a +3 Melee damage modifier and a miss with his Lightsaber.

Daisy quickly spends two Resources to play "Block", removing all of Adam's Melee dice!

Frustrated, Adam activates Phasma, rolling a 1-Resource symbol.

Daisy activates Rey, generating 1-Melee and 1-Discard.

Adam pays one Resource to play "Disturbance in the Force" forcing a re-roll on all dice! Rey gets a 1-Discard and a +1 Resource while Kylo gets a miss and Phasma gets a +1 Resource. 

Daisy decides to exhaust her "Awakening" Support to use her +1 Resource die to get a Resource.

Adam resolves Phasma's 1-Resource die to do the same.

Daisy plays out her 1-Discard die and Adam is forced to throw out "Force Strike".

Adam Claims the Battlefield in response.

Daisy then activates Finn, but rolls a Miss. She follows this up by activating BB-8 and rolling a Disrupt symbol. She decides to resolve that next, forcing Adam to throw out one of his Resources. She then passes and the round comes to an end.

All Characters refresh. Daisy draws two cards and Adam pulls three. Both players collect two Resources apiece.

ROUND FOUR

Adam starts off the new round by activating Kylo, getting 1-Melee, a +2 Melee and a miss!

Daisy spends two Resources to equip "Jedi Robes" on Rey. This activates her Special Ability which lets her take an additional Action when she gets an Upgrade. So Daisy activates Rey, rolling 1-Melee and two +1 Resource symbols.

Adam resolves his Melee dice, dropping three damage on Rey. She loses her two Shields and takes one point of damage.

Daisy exhausts her "Awakenings" card to resolve one of Rey's modified Resources die results.

Adam uses two Resources to play an "F-11D Rifle" on Phasma. Yikes!

Rey uses all three of her Resources to play "Second Chance" on Finn.

Adam spends a single Resource to play "Emperor's Favor" increasing his hand size maximum to six!

Finn activates, rolling a miss!

Phasma activates, rolling a special Symbol with her blaster and a 1-Discard.

BB-8 activates, rolling 1-Resource.

Adam resolves the F-11D's special Symbol, which deals two points of hurt to Daisy's characters, but she decides how to distribute the damage. As a result, Finn heroically jumps in the way, sparing Rey any harm! #truelurve

Daisy performs BB-8's 1-Resouce result.

Adam resolves Phasma's Discard and Daisy throws out a "Block" card.

Daisy responds with her 1-Melee result, causing a point of damage to Kylo.

Adam decides to cut out when he's on top, Claiming the Battlefield and signalling the end of the round. With no viable plays left, Daisy agrees to "move along".

Everyone refreshes. Daisy draws three cards and so does Adam, thanks to his "Emperor's Favor". They also collect two Resources apiece.


ROUND FIVE

Adam comes out swinging, spending a whopping four Resources to play the incredibly nasty "Mind Probe" Upgrade on Kylo Ren.

Daisy activates Rey, getting a miss, a 1-Discard and a 1-Resources result.

Adam activates Kylo, getting a miss, a +3 melee and two special Symbols.

Daisy then spends all of her Resources to play a "DL-44 Blaster" on Finn. This Upgrade item forces Adam to select and return a die, so brings back the miss. This item also has the Ambush trait, which allows Daisy to take another action. She activates Finn, rolling a 1-Ranged result and 1-Resource.

Adam resolves both of his Symbol dice, targeting Rey. First, Kylo's special ability forces Daisy to reveal a card, which turns out to be 2-Resource "Daring Escape" so she takes an equal amount of damage. He then unleashes the "Mind Probe" Symbol which reads causes a point of damage to a character equal to the number of cards in their hand. That's a whopping four more points to Rey, leaving her with only three life left!

Daisy resolves Rey's 1-Resource die.

Adam activates Phasma, rolling a 2-Ranged result with a +1 Ranged Modifier!

This forces Daisy to spend her one remaining Resource to play "Use the Force", turning Phasma's 2-Ranged hit to a miss!

Adam retaliates by Claiming the Battlefield, dumping Finn's 1-Ranged die in the process.

Daisy closes out the round by resolving Rey's 1-Discard die which forces Adam to throw out "The Best Defense". She then rolls BB8's die and gets a miss! Finally she cashes in Finn's 1-Resource die.

Everything is refreshed. Both players get two Resources each and draw two cards apiece.

ROUND SIX

Adam kicks things off by playing an Infantry Grenade on Phasma!

Daisy activates Finn but gets a miss and 1-Resource.

Adam activates Phasma and rolls a miss, a 1-Discard and a 2-Ranged with the Grenade.

Daisy reacts by playing "Daring Escape" for two Resources. She forces Adam to re-roll Phasma's dice. Both turn up misses and go right out of the die pool! And since this is an Ambush card, Daisy plays "Aim" to turn Finn's blaster miss into a 3-point Ranged hit!

Decidedly irked, Adam rolls Kylo's dice, getting a scary array of 2-Melee, 3-Ranged, 1-Melee and a special Symbol with the Lightsaber.

Clearly on the defensive now, Daisy plays "Unpredictable", forcing Adam to re-roll his 3-Ranged result. Unfortunately, the special Symbol for Mind Probe turns up instead, which is arguably worse! On the upside since this is an Ambush play, Finn gets to blast Kylo right in the grill for three Ranged damage!

Adam unleashes a hell-storm, paying one Resource to deal three Melee damage to Rey, eliminating her!



Daisy activates BB-8 and gets a 1-Focus result!

Adam resolves his special Symbol for Kylo's Lightsaber, causing two points of damage to Finn! He then plays out his special Symbol for the Mind Probe, dealing two more points of damage to our hero!

Daisy uses BB-8's Focus to turns Finn's die to 2-Ranged result!

Adam Claims the Battlefield, ending the round and discarding Finn's 2-Ranged damage die! 

Daisy has little choice but to end the round as well. Things are looking pretty grim for the forces of good!

Daisy draws three cards and Adam draws one. Both players refresh their cards and get two Resources apiece.

ROUND SEVEN

Adam kicks things off, paying two Resources to play the "Immobilize" Upgrade on Kylo!

Daisy activates Finn, rolling 2-Ranged and 1-Supply.

Adam activates Kylo, getting 2-Melee, 1-Melee, a +3 Melee, a Shield and a special "Mind Probe" result. It's just about the best possible roll he could have hoped for!

Knowing that the end is near, Daisy spends Finn's 2-Ranged die, wounding Kylo. He still has two life remaining.

Adam spends one Resource to resolve his special "Mind Probe" Symbol, dealing a whopping five points of damage to Finn, killing him.

But wait! Instead of being defeated, Finn heals five points of damage thanks to "Second Chance"! Daisy activates BB-8, rolling 1-Resource.

The reprieve is brief. Adam activates Kylo's Melee dice, dealing six points to Finn, killing him and ending the game!

***

REVIEW

PROS
  • When I first saw images of the dice I was afraid that they were stickers. Thankfully, Fantasy Flight came up a process whereby the images are heat-pressed right onto the plastic. To ensure that these images don't deteriorate, the dice are then covered in a scratch-resistant coating. Granted, people who've already invested in Fantasy Flight's other Star Wars themed games will likely bitch about the recycled art, but I love it. The cards are great to look at and easy to understand. 
  • The rules are crazy stupid simple. Yeah, the Discard and Disrupt symbols were a tad confusing at first, but now I've got everything locked down cold. Even when the wee little instruction sheet that comes in the starters fails you, the full online rules are pretty comprehensive.
  • The game's design is well in step with the quick pace of Star Wars. Since you can only do one thing on your turn, you're always chomping at the bit to go again. The cards that Lukas Litzsinger and Corey Konieczka have come up with neatly evoke all of the character traits, weapons, upgrades, events and game-changing conditions from the movies. From a design perspective it's head and shoulders above Dice Masters, which is essentially just a Quarriors / Magic: The Gathering mash-up. In the immortal words of a certain Dark Lord of the Sith: "Impressive. Most impressive."      
  • Interesting timing and tactical decision abound. Should I roll everything into my dice pool to try and polish off a rival character and risk being disrupted? Even though I technically still have plays left, should I Claim the Battlefield now to trigger its strategic reward? Do I spend all of my limited Resources to play this sweet Upgrade or try to mitigate that slew of Ranged damage that's eventually headed my way? 
  • I absolutely love deck building in this game. Even though Awakenings is a relatively small set, a myriad of different strategies quickly become apparent. And since your deck is only thirty cards with a "two of the same card" limit,  you can slap decks together super quick and trim the fat with minimal effort.
  • The game length is perfect. The "you lose if you discard your last card" caveat helps to ensures that Destiny doesn't over-stay its welcome.          
CONS
  • With all of these disparate, card-delivered mechanics crashing together there's bound to be a few confusing rules conflicts. Cripes, interpreting "Second Chance" alone under different circumstances is more than enough to inspire a host threads on Board Game Geek and Reddit. If you're playing with chill people this will be a moot point but the soft language on some of the cards might give rules lawyers plenty of ammo to paralyze the game.  
  • Once your team starts on the path of a death spiral, it's pretty darned hard to pull out of it. Not impossible, but pretty darned difficult. 
  • Just like all collectible games, Star Wars: Destiny comes with a disclaimer. Yes, a lot of the common cards are very useful. Yes, the starter decks are technically playable when you add a few boosters. But, let's face it, Fantasy Flight knew exactly what they were doing here. They wanted completist psychos like me to buy boosters hand over fist until we had two copies of every card. And, clearly its working since the game is now scarcer than a nudist Jawa. This also brings me to the painful topic of distribution. A friend of mine bought one box of boosters and got Luke, Vader, Grievous ×2, Leia, Nightsister ×2, Padme, General Veers, Han Solo, Bala Tik, Phasma, Tusken Raider, and Admiral Ackbar I.E everything you'd ever want for characters in one go. My box, on the other hand, had a First Order Stormtrooper, Grievous x 2, Veers x 2, Vader, Nightsister x 2, Bala Tik, Tusken Raider x 2, Ackbar x 2, Leia and Padme. And honestly, that sucks in comparison. This game would have been sooo much better if the sets were fixed set like a living card game instead of chasing the dragon for all the "mains and toys". I feel like we're back in the bad old days of Deciphers Star Wars Customizable Card Game.      
***

THE BOTTOM LINE

Man, I was really hoping that this game would suck. But, nope, Lukas Litzsinger and Corey Konieczka have actually managed to produce an original, fast-paced, nuanced, fun, engaging little game that's compulsively playable. More the pity, then, that the overall experience is soured knowing that you're barely-augmented Rey starter will always get thoroughly and viciously trounced by an Elite Jango / Veers combo.

In spite of this, Star Wars: Destiny earns five pips outta six with a tilt down into the collectible Rancor pit of despair.


***

Wanna pair Poe and Finn up in the same deck just to piss off the haters? #truelurve

Well, yer gonna hafta wait for awhile since the only source for boosters right now are unscrupulous scalpers who are selling them for thirteen bucks a pop.

In the meantime, you can click here to read Fantasy Flight's immediate plans for product availability. Sad to say, but it looks as if Fantasy Flight is going for the same "let's make as much filthy luchre from this as quickly we can by pumping out expansions before everyone gets sick of it" model that prematurely murdered Dice Masters.



Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Wheaton Effect Part Nine - "Star Trek Panic"

When Castle Panic was first featured on an episode of Tabletop waaaay back in 2012 it took every ounce of my willpower (Wilpower?) not to rush out and buy it.


But cooler heads prevailed. Perhaps it was the game's "m'eh" art design. Maybe it was its limited simplicity. Perhaps it was the persistent rumors that a zombie re-theme was shambling down the pipe. Perhaps I was distracted by the metric shit-ton of other amazing titles that Monsieur Wheaton was constantly shoving in my face every week. 

Whatever it was, I managed to resist both Castle Panic as well as the accurately presaged "cabin-in-the-woods" re-theme Dead Panic. But when I heard that this new version was fun but kinda clunky, I let it slide once again.

But then, Warp Speed ahead a few years and I find myself contending with this:


Likely due to the subconscious influence of the recent 50'th anniversary, I've been on a monumental Star Trek kick lately, re-watching the original series and playing an unhealthy amount of Timelines. Still, even after my scanners detected a copy of Star Trek Panic sitting on the Board Room Game Cafe's retail shelf I didn't spring, Mugatu-style, on it right away. However, after digesting a few how-to-play vids and I put acquiring a copy of this one right at the top of my Five Year Mission's things-to-do list.


So what is it about this particular "Panic" that finally forced me to "bite the phaser", so to speak? Well, here's the game's supplemental log entry straight from Starfleet Command, I.E. Fireside Games:

"Star Trek Panic, is a new out-of-this-world ("Groan!") board game that merges the classic tower defense style play of the Panic series with the most iconic elements of the original Star Trek universe. Under license by CBS Consumer Products, Star Trek Panic boldly goes where no one has gone before as players join the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise on a voyage to defend the ship from enemy attacks and carry out five vital galactic missions.

"This cooperative light strategy game introduces new, never before seen,
Panic game mechanics, including Mission Cards, which feature unique challenges based on the original Star Trek series, as well as Character Cards, so players can assume the roles of Star Trek icons like Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. Star Trek Panic comes complete with a maneuverable U.S.S. Enterprise model ship, Shields, Damage and Destroyed Indicators, Mission Cards, Character Cards, Enterprise Cards, and more."

Wanna study every word of Star Trek Panic's Prime Directive? Then head on over to Memory Alpha and mind meld with the game's full set of rules.

***

STAR FLEET CADETS - FIRST MISSION

As per the rule book's suggestion, what follows is a play through of the suggested first game, which requires the completion of only two missions, namely "Distress Signal" and "Outpost Defense", and then clearing the board of any remaining threats.

Also, in a deliberate effort to thumb my nose at Bill Shatner's inflated ego, I'm only gonna crew the ship with supporting cast members. All apologies to Deforest Kelly and Leonard Nimoy, whom I love dearly. Actually, who's kidding who, I love Shatner too but let's put the spotlight on the criminally under-appreciated minor players for once, m'kay? 

"Take us out, Mr. Sulu. Warp Factor One!"


MISSION ONE - "OUTPOST DEFENSE" 

ROUND ONE

Lieutenant Commander Montgomery Scott, as played by good Canadian boy James "Jimmy" Doohan, fires the "Multi-Range Front Photon Torpedoes", causing two points of damage to the Orion Raider. He then turns the ship 30° to port and fires the "Long Range Side Phasers" for another point of damage on the same target. The Tholian ship in sector one moves into medium range, as does the Romulan Battle Cruiser in sector three and the Klingon Battle Cruiser in sector five. The Tholian ship damages the starboard side shield, the Romulan Battle Cruiser hits the rear port side shield and the Klingon Battle Cruiser strikes the front port side shield, all for one damage apiece. Next a freakin' "Comet" streaks through sector three, destroying the Romulan Battle Cruiser and annihilating the Enterprise's rear port side shield! Then the ship is rocked by an "Ion Storm"! A "6" is rolled, damaging the front starboard side shield!

"OH MY!" it's George Takei, a.k.a. Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu's, turn! He spends a "Medium Range Front Phasers" card to deal one point of damage to the inbound Klingon Battle Cruiser. He then fires the "Long Range Side Phasers", polishing off the Orion Raider! That officially completes the "Outpost Defense" mission and, as a reward, the Enterprise crew gets to repair two damaged hull and / or shield sections. Sulu ops to repair one damage to the front port side shields and one damage to the starboard side shields. Next up the Tholian ship in sector one moves into short range and immediately snares the Enterprise in its web, immobilizing it! The Klingon Battle Cruiser also moves into point-blank range and fires, hitting the front port side shield for a point of damage! Two new threats appear: including a Romulan Battle Cruiser in sector three and a "Supernova" which blasts the Enterprise four facings clockwise!

Next up it's Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, played by the delightful Nichelle Nichols.

MISSION TWO - "DISTRESS SIGNAL" 

The "Disabled Ship" token appears at long range in sector four. First up, Uhura spends a "Dilithium" card to repair the damaged front port side shield. She then fires the "Short Range Rear Phasers", destroying the Tholian Ship and freeing the Enterprise in the process. Next up she uses her special ability to look at the top two cards of the Enterprise Deck, drawing "Multi-Range Front Photon Torpedo" and a "Security Team". She decides to keep the "Torpedo" and then places the latter back at the bottom of the deck. She then maneuvers the Enterprise straight ahead, which, in turn, moves both the "Disabled Ship" and the Romulan Battle Cruiser into medium range. She then fires the "Medium Range Any Facing Phasers", hitting the Romulan Battle Cruiser and destroying it. Next, the Klingon Battle Cruiser comes up against the Enterprise's shields. It stays put but also deals a point of damage to the starboard side shield. Two new threats then emerge, including a "Temporal Distortion". A roll of "4" would normally move the mission timer up one but since it's already at the maximum time it doesn't go any higher. The next threat is a Klingon Bird of Prey with cloaking technology which appears in sector five.

Next up is the delightful Walter Koenig's scream-tastic Ensign Pavel Chekov. He starts by playing "Tricorder" which allows him to look at the top five cards of the Enterprise Deck. He decides to keep the "Dilithium" card and then puts the rest of them back on top of the deck in order of preference. He then hits the distant Klingon Bird of Prey with a "Multi Range Side Phasers" card, while simultaneously triggering his special ability to inflict an additional point of damage, destroying the inbound threat in one shot! Next up he maneuvers the Enterprise one space ahead, pulling to within short range of the  "Disabled Ship" and then commits one "Dilithium" card to the Mission objective. During the next step, the Klingon Battle Cruiser bumps up against the Enterprise's starboard side shield so it just stays there and inflicts a point of damage. Finally two new threats appear, including a Klingon Battle Cruiser in sector three and another Klingon Battle Cruiser in sector five.


ROUND TWO

Next we're back to Scotty, who uses his engineering prowess to combine "Tritanium" and "Dilithium" to completely rebuild the starboard side shield! He then fires the "Short Range Any-Facing Phasers" to clobber the Klingon Battle Cruiser at short range. Next up he uses the ship's "Tractor Beam" to move the Klingon Battle Cruiser in sector three to sector four then uses his special ability to repair the front starboard side shield. Finally he commits one Command Credit to the objective. This completes the second Mission, the reward for which is the ability to repair up to two hull or shield sections or rebuild one hull section. Since there are no damaged shield or hull sections, this is ignored.

CLEARING THE BOARD

Now the Enterprise just has to mop up the remaining threats! Speaking of which, the Klingon ships in sectors three and four move one space ahead to medium range while the damaged Klingon Battle Cruiser at short range in sector five comes up against the Enterprise's shields. It can't move forward any closer so it just deals one point of damage to the starboard side shield. The other threats then fire, with the Klingon Battle Cruiser in sector three causing a point of damage to the front port side shield while the Battle Cruiser in sector four deals a point of damage to the front starboard shield.

Sulu begins his turn by maneuvering the Enterprise 30° to starboard. He then lights up the "Short Range Front Phasers", destroying the damaged Klingon vessel in sector five. He then uses his special ability to maneuver the ship once again, this time 30° to port. The Klingon ships in sector three and four both move into short range and fire, dealing a point of damage to the port and starboard side front shields, destroying both of them.

Next up Uhura uses her special ability to draw two additional Enterprise Cards. She keeps the "Short Range Rear Phasers Card" and buries the "Medium Range Side Phasers" card at the bottom of the deck. She then combines "Long Range Rear Phasers" with "Direct Hit" to destroy the Klingon Battle Cruiser in sector three. She then fires the "Short Range Front Phasers" to deal one point of damage to the Klingon Battle Cruiser in sector four, finishing it off with a "Multi-Range Front Facing Photon Torpedo". With that ship destroyed, the Enterprise crew handily wins the day!


***

REVIEW

PROS
  • Of all the Panic games this is the definitely the best-looking one by far. The card quality is amazing and the images are stellar. The star-field board is gorgeous and the designers deserve bonus points for printing some of the more obscure rules right there on the margins. The threat tokens are made of thick cardboard and the character / mission cards are composed of slick-looking high grade card stock. And, hey, kudos to Fireside Games for giving us an actual 3-D Enterprise, replete with high-density clear blue plastic shields. Now, some people have bitched that the components will prematurely wear out and the game is slowed down by putting the damage tokens on and taking them off again but nothing says that you can't just rest them behind the shields and then either pick them up or remove the shield as additional damage is repaired or worsened. What can I say, sometimes people have to stretch to find something to complain about. 
  • The rules are clear and concise with plenty of examples. Even oddball exceptions involving Klingon Command ships and Cloaking technology are relatively straightforward. The intuitive design means that you won't be delving back into the rules constantly.
  • Thematically it's spot on. Sure, it doesn't make sense that McCoy is physically shooting weapons and flying the ship but I just tell myself that Sulu is still at the helm and Chekov is firing the phasers while the good Doctor is puttering around, doing his own thang and complaining constantly. Speaking of flying, the ability to maneuver the freakin' ship adds a ton of theme to the game. Also if the whole thing was just about plowing through the threat bag, it wouldn't be nearly as good. Mercifully, designer Justin De Witt gives us a slew of cool missions to accomplish, all based around classic episodes of the original show. Add in some thematically-appropriate character powers, a nice variety of threats (Klingons and Romulans and Tholians...oh my!) and cool Enterprise Cards such as "Tricorder", "Dilithium" and space geisha "Janice Rand" and you've got yourself a genuinely rich and immersive Star Trek experience!
  • Like any good co-op, the game promotes a lot of spirited, collective table talk centered around maximizing everyone's turn. And you really, really need to work together when you play the standard game which tasks you to complete five missions before you can clear the board of threats. I played a three player standard game a little while ago and we barely survived with one hull left intact!  
CONS
  • Given the wide variety of missions, Enterprise Cards and special abilities, there's bound to be some conflicting / fiddly stuff that you just have to make a ruling on and then roll with it. For example, does the "Supernova" card move a Tholian-webbed Enterprise? Does "Temporal Distortion" move the Mission Timer back beyond the starting value? It's by no means a deal breaker but it virtually guarantees that there'll be plenty of active rules threads for Star Trek Panic on Board Game Geek.
  • Because of the game's open nature, "Temporal Distortions", I.E. going back to course correct a previous play will be a constant temptation. To address this you can make a house rule which states that once you take a specific action or series of actions you can't then retroactively go back and correct something you missed.
  • I've already noticed some scratches in the center of my game board. Now, I don't know if that's because someone jammed a shield in too far in and a rough edge caused the damage or if it was just a piece of grit on the board, but constantly pivoting the Enterprise will definitely cause premature wear on the center of the board. My advice: whenever you need to move the pride of the Federation, just physically lift it off the board, rotate it as needed and then set it down in its new orientation.
***

All told, this is, by far, the best Panic to date. It's fun, interactive, tense and thematically relevant. If you're a Star Trek fan, pick it up and, if not, I still suggest you give it a whirl.

Star Trek Panic rates four pips outta six with a major tilt up towards the Final Frontier!


***

Wanna fricassee some Tholians? Then click on the image below to learn more about Star Trek Panic and help this blog go where no blog has gone before!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Critical Update...

Guten tag, Game Fans!

Soooo, you might have noticed that posts have become a lot less frequent here. If you actually wanna know the reason why, you can click right hur.


Here's the upshot: between never being indoors during the summer to holding down a part-time night job to finally being paid to write in some capacity, I now have little to no time for recreational blogging. What precious little time I have is being invested in my second novel.

Sometime this winter I'm hoping to start up a website to try and better monetize the massive body of work you see here and create a home for my new reviews and session reports. Until that happens (assuming it ever does), this blog will serve as the default vehicle for anything that might result from the surplus of free time that inevitably comes from being trapped indoors all winter.

In a vaguely related point, if you read this and you have it within your power to pay me to write about game-related things, please feel free to contact me. Sure its great to get paid for writing about innovative companies and medical breakthroughs, but you know me. I'd much rather be talking about board games.

Take care and I'll see you somewhere down the road!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

U.K. Games Expo 2016

 
Thanks to some inexplicable and completely fortuitous circumstances that still baffle me to this day, Chad and I found ourselves at the U.K. Games Expo at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, England back on June 3'rd.

DAY ONE


Look, I've never been to a dedicated gaming convention before. So, as you might imagine, just as soon as I walked into Hall One my head nearly blew off of my shoulders, Scanners-style, yo.



Not knowing any better, Chad and I stumbled off to the far left-hand side of the convention hall. Which is technically south if you actually orient the map. Hey, I was totally overwhelmed at the time so you really can't slight me for getting completely turned around.

Thank Vishnu Chad still had the presence of mind to jump into some quick game demos. As we started down the crowded aisle (designated "Faith Avenue") he noticed that the designers of Push It were play-testing their game for curious onlookers so I followed his lead and we both plunked down to give it a shot.


And I'm glad I did. As someone who's a sucker for dexterity games this was a great first thing to jump into and the designers really enjoyed showing off their baby. One part Crokinole and one part Bocce, this is a fun, portable, well-crafted game that anyone can enjoy. And thanks to a recently successful Kickstarter campaign, we should be seeing this one get wide distribution soon.

After test-driving Push It, we only managed to stumble a few feet down the hall before we ran into Steve Venezia, who was kind enough to demo his super-compact, dungeon crawling card game Side Quest: Pocket Adventures.


Steven mentioned that the game was inspired by his epic play-throughs of Descent: Journeys in the Dark. He wanted something quick, simple and portable that he could just bring along anywhere, throw down and jump into wherever he needed to scratch that lite RPG / dungeon crawlin' itch. And in that sense it does succeed.

Chad and I dutifully made some progress on one of the three scenario cards chosen for us, fighting creatures and grabbing treasures. With eight different heroes, seven locations, twenty-two monsters, twenty pieces of equipment and spells and fourteen weapons to discover, there's certainly no shortage in variables and variety. I also like the fact that there's a time crunch in the game, represented by various "damsels in distress" who are slowly being lowered into a lava pit. Lose her and you lose the game!

Side Quest was good, but that's as far as I'll go. The generic anime-style art is a match for the game's color-by-numbers game play. Don't get me wrong, it's a perfectly serviceable design, but if I'm gonna play a compact dungeon-crawl board game, I want something slightly more innovative and atmospheric. More on that later.

P.S. It's 2016, yo. "Damsels in distress" is so...1980's.

At the end of the row I came across the stuff of legends: the D-Day scenario for one of my all-time favorite games: Memoir '44.


I've always wanted to see this in the flesh. Consisting of six pre-printed battle maps representing the Normandy coastline, seven total Memoir '44 core sets and various expansions, the game was breathtaking to see set up. The guys presiding over the game gave me an offer to play but I knew that if I sat down the entirety of my weekend would immediately be spoken for.

Side note: if you're looking for more information about rules and requirements to run this beast yourself, click right hur.

Even though I resisted the siren call that is two straight days of Memoir '44, I couldn't resist the curb appeal of a revamped Battle of Britain. Designed by several luminaries such as Richard Borg, David "Zeb" Cook, Tom Hoffman and Ken Sommerfield and originally published by TSR back in 1990, the Plastic Soldier Company is planning to bring this one back in the form of a fancy new deluxe edition.

Between the two awesome R.A.F. gals manning the booth and an amazing prototype featuring an over-sized map of the U.K. and some gorgeous aircraft models, I was easily reeled in. I had a chance to demo a German bombing run and my dice proved to be smokin' hot.

Granted, it was only a demo, but the game doesn't feel particularly deep to me. Maybe that's a good thing. Likely there's a lot more to it and the mechanics I was privy to make for a fast and furious experience. I did like it enough to prospect for more info about the game and was told that...
  1. A Kickstarter for the new edition should be going live soon. D'uh.
  2. This will be a new edition of the game, not just a straight-up reprint.
  3. The miniatures won't be as elaborate as the oversized prototype but there will be distinctly different sculpts for all of the aircraft.
  4. They're toying with the idea of including an big-ass board. Smart.

Since I'm an easy mark for lite war games, I'll definitely keep my eye on this sucka down the road. 

Hungry and overwhelmed by all the sensory overload, Chad and I took a brief spell to collect our wits and plan our next move. And therein lies the rub. I'd come into the Expo completely green, unaware of the myriad of different strategies. Did I want to comparison shop for games? Test drive prototypes? Learn how to play games that I was interested in? Scope out pre-releases? Take in the seminars? Check out the cosplayers? The options were endless.

Thumbing our nose at the baffling number of options, Chad and I forged on. As we plowed through the crowd I noticed a familiar face while Chad was distracted.

"Oh, yeah, there goes Sam Healey from The Dice Tower," I mentioned off hand, barely above a whisper.

Well, it was if I'd just blown a dog whistle. Chad perked up, spotted Sam trundling by and then started chasing after him like a Labrador retriever going after after a Buick. Instantly I kicked myself for mentioning this out loud. I cursed under my breath and then fell into hot pursuit.

By the time I caught up to them Chad was running around Sam like Chester in the old Warner Brothers cartoons. Mercifully Sam was super-sweet about the whole thing and even agreed to take a photo with us.


Eventually Chad stopped hyperventilating and I slowly pulled him back to reality. As we passed by the Z-Man Games booth he took one look at Beyond Baker's Street and instantly was smitten. Even though I was exhausted and starving to death by that point, I couldn't pass up learning a new game, especially when our teacher would be the co-designer himself, Steve Mackenzie!


Beyond Baker's Street is a co-operative deduction game for up to four players. Here's the game's case study right from the official webzone:

Another criminal is on the run and Sherlock Holmes has a lead! Of course, he’ll have the culprit behind bars in no time… Unless you beat him at his own game! Holmes isn’t the only capable mind in London and it’s about time someone noticed! With the help of your associates, gather evidence, follow the clues, and use your power of deduction to solve the case before the great Sherlock Holmes! Whatever will remain, however improbable, must be the truth!

At the start of the game, players will select one of the crimes to solve. A number of suspects, motive, and opportunities will be available for the players to convict of the crime. Each player holds a set of five clues, but they won’t be able to see their own clues, only their counterparts. Each turn, a player may either: assist another detective, investigate a crime scene, confirm evidence, eliminate dead leads, or pursue new leads.

Players will either win together if they can gather enough evidence to make a conviction before Holmes does, or crumble under the stress of the case. 


Given the fact that I was borderline delirious from hunger and exhaustion at the time, I fully expected to completely bork this co-op for everyone. But Steve did a bang up job explaining things and except for one forgetful misstep on my part, we still won the day, if just by a hair.

I must confess: as Steve was explaining the game I snobbily thought to myself 'Oh, it's just a Hanabi re-tread.' But as the game progressed, it started to get its claws into me. The subtleties of the five different actions started to impress and I was charmed by the game's gorgeous production values. Most importantly, the Sherlockian theme seemed a helluva lot more in-step with the hidden card mechanic than Hanabi's "fireworks artisan" conceit. In fact, as of this writing, Beyond Baker's Street threatens to put Antoine Bauza's venerable classic on life support for this particular amateur sleuth.

We finally paused for lunch, which is just what what the Doctor (Who) ordered. After that Chad and I tried to weasel our way into the live Dice Tower podcast but by the time everyone ahead of us got seated, there was no more room at the Inn (I.E. the Seminar Room).

But then something super-cool happened. Instead of sending everyone away unhappy, the staff gave everyone still in queue a numbered ticket guaranteeing a seat at the 4 pm show! Man, say what you want about the Brits, but they line up like professionals! I mean, c'mon, how smart is that? Why the fuck don't we do stuff like that here in North America?!? Arrrggghhh!

After a cherished re-union with some wayward friends, Chad and I took in a lecture by Dr. Reiner Knizia about the future of board gaming. How cool it that?!?


If you don't recognize the name "Reiner Knizia" then I have to assume that you must be new to this whole "board gaming" thang. Reiner is one of the most prolific game designers of all time. Since leaving his day job back in 1997, he's has gone on to publish (nor design...PUBLISH) a whopping six-hundred titles, including classics like the co-operative Lord of the Rings as well as the two-player Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation, not to mention Ra, Tigris & Euphrates, Through the Desert, Ingenious, Lost Cities and Pickomino

The presentation topic was "hybrid gaming". Now, to me, hybrid gaming is something that combines an iPad or phone app with a board game, like, say, XCOM: The Board Game or Golem Arcana. This is in direct contrast to games that incorporate electronic elements, such as Reiner's King Arthur, his volcanic island exploration game Die Insel or that kiddie game he designed with the gassy-looking dog on the front cover of the box, I.E. Wer War's? Löst das Rätsel von Schräghausen!.

IMHO, just because a game lights up or talks to you, it doesn't make it a "hybrid". It's just a board game with electronic bells and whistles; not much more advanced than Operation fer fuck's sake. The sort of games that Reiner was pointing out were about as revolutionary to me as an 80's-era electronic game like the Dungeons & Dragons Computer Labyrinth Game or Dark Tower. Which is to say, not very much.

As for true hybrid games that use smart phones and tablets, the jury is still out for me. Don't get me wrong, I love my board game apps (Tigris & Euphrates in particular!) but I like my board games the same way I like my women: analog. Wait, that's doesn't sound right.
  
Still, it was really cool to hear a super-star in the hobby talk about his designs. Sure, I might not agree with him on the definition of a "hybrid" game is, but what the hell do I know? I'm not the one who's published six-hundred freakin' games!

Chad and I temporarily left the hall to queue up for the next presentation. Armed with our numbered tickets we filed right back into the Seminar Room and settled in for Tom's Dice Tower live podcast. During the set up Chad and I had a brief chat with Tom...and that's when Chad snapped this completely ridiculous pic:


I swear, he was facing in our direction just milliseconds prior to this. Two things can be gathered here:
  1. You should never just arbitrarily snap photos of people. Do this to the wrong person and they're well within their legal right to go all Sean Penn your pushy ass. 
  2. Chad's photos use more Dutch angles than Battlefield Earth.
Even though Sam wasn't there, the podcast was pretty cool. First up, Tom interviewed Dr. Reiner Knizia.


It was really great to hear such a prolific designer talk at length about the design process and our beloved hobby. Some highlights included:
  • Tom comically underestimating the number of designs that Reiner has published.
  • Reiner trying to pin down which game, among hundreds of published designs, that he'd use to impress non-games. His answer inspired me to bring my "36" Pickomino tile with me on Sunday in the vain hope that I'd see him again and get him to sign it.
  • When some kid just flat out asked him: "HOW MUCH MONEY DO YOU MAKE?!?"  
Next up Tom interviewed Tony Boydell, the native designer of Guilds of London, a major smash-hit on the local circuit.


Even at the Expo, with dozens of game retailers present, copies of Guilds of London were scarcer than hen's teeth. Having said that, I saw it being played everywhere!

One of the things I really loved about Tony's segment was the palpable sense of glee he exhibited over the fact that one of his designs had "made it". I can only imagine what a thrill it must be to get one of your games published, receive accolades and then start to see it played all over the place.

Another interesting point he brought up was the inexplicable dearth of U.K. game designers. This was a solid point, I thought. As someone who wrote a fantasy novel, I'd murder me Nan to live in the U.K., if only because I'd find inspiration all around me. Indeed, to Tony's point, given Britain, Ireland and Scotland's rich history, why aren't there more designers cranking out imaginative regional fare?

Next up, fellow Canucklehead Eric M. Lang took the stage and delighted the crowd with his unfettered enthusiasm.


I get the vibe that Eric and I would probably get along quite well together. Based on his sharp design acumen and his commitment to making good games based on preexisting intellectual properties, I'm pretty sure we'd be on the same page about about a lot of things. Plus, I'm a unrepentant fanboy for Blood Rage, Chaos in the Old World and all things Dice Masters.

If it came from anyone else, I would have taken Eric's answer about have no preference between designing original and licensed games with a grain of salt. But in his case I really do get the vibe that he honestly adores Star Wars, Game of Thrones, superheroes and Dungeons & Dragons and, as such, he really wants to see someone do justice to these wonderful worlds.

I have to be honest, though, I visibly flinched when he mentioned that he's currently working on Munchkin: The Trading Card Game. Seriously, I used to own the base set of Munchkin but dumped it after just one play. Maybe Eric and Kevin Wilson they can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear...but this is my skeptical face

So, if you wanna watch the entire Q&A, here she be:

     
The panel brought us right up to 5 pm. As soon as our asses were elevated staff and security began to root people out of the convention hall with rakes and cattle prods. So ended Day One. Chad and I still hadn't gotten to the other side of the room. Oh well, this would be a noble goal for...

DAY TWO

As we attacked the far side of the convention floor on Sunday morning I was delighted to come across Star Trek: Frontiers.


As a fan of space exploration games (and Star Trek-flavored ones in particular), this has been on my radar for quite some time. Even though the players were clearly engrossed in the game, a few of them were kind enough to gave me some insights.
  • First up, since it's a Vlaada Chvátil game it plays out a lot like Mage Knight...in spaaaaaace! I.E. technological improvements in Frontiers is kinda like the equivalent of magic in Mage Knight.
  • Second up, since it's a Vlaada Chvátil game it's not a "quick throw down and jump right into it" sort of affair. The play testers that day had a bunch of questions that weren't always being addressed by the rules. 
  • There are scenarios, but the one they were playing involved hunting through the galaxy for the Borg Cube. Hmmmm, the phrase "let sleeping dogs lie" kinda comes to mind. 
Nevertheless, as someone who unconditionally loves Fleet Captains, I'm super-stoked to try this game. I'm hoping that Vlaada uses some innovative Euro-style mechanics to bring this potentially rich IP to life in a less clunky and more intuitive fashion.

Next up Chad and I were fished in by the incredibly-alluring Everdark prototype. 


I mean, c'mon...look at this freakin' thing! Essentially it's a semi co-operative / semi-competitive maze game with four concentric tiers of moving circles. The upshot is that the illuminated city of Phos is being besieged by crushing darkness outside. Recently the guardian of the city died leaving a power vacuum. Players must drive back the encroaching darkness together to save the city but also distinguish themselves in the struggle in order to be the sole winner of the game.

Like many other co-ops, you have four actions that you can spend on various tasks for valuable rewards. Players must constantly weigh the cost of re-attempting tasks they've failed since the whole thing is under a huge time crunch. Even more interesting: you can spend actions to rotate a part of the board, constantly changing its configuration to help your partners or screw over your rivals. Fun!

A relative of the designer told us that the game is still a work in progress. Based on a constantly battery of play-testing, the rules are being tweaked to perfection and now they're looking at launching a Kickstarter sometime in August. I, for one, will have my eyes firmly glued on this unique and visually arresting design!

Next up, Chad wanted to test drive the new game by Hive designer John Yianni, Tatsu.


Even though Chad was slightly bummed that one of John's helper monkeys, and not John himself, showed him how to play he still really enjoyed the experience. The game itself looks pretty sweet, kinda like backgammon on steroids.

Next up I went over to the Fantasy Flight booth to drool over the new Star Wars Armada minis.


It might be tough to see but what you're looking at are the Wave III's Flotillas, featuring two ships per base. This includes GR-75 Rebel transports and Imperial Gozanti-class assault carriers which allow you to do super-handy Fleet Support upgrades.

Also present are two Wave IV ships, namely the Interdictor-class Imperial Cruiser which sacrifices raw armament for the ability to impede your opponent's moves during the battle. Also shown is the Mon Calamari Liberty-Class Star Cruiser which gives the Rebels some badly-needed firepower. 

I also spent considerable time smearing up the X-Wing display. "Sanjay to the Fantasy Flight booth with the Windex!"


Given my irrational bounty hunter fetish I'm definitely gonna pick up IG-88's IG-2000, Bossk's ship the Hound's Tooth and Dengar's Punishing One. But I'm also adamant in limiting my X-Wing fleet to ships only shown on-screen in the classic trilogy. I have zero interest in that crappy-looking prequel scow the ARC-170, the Special Forces T.I.E. from The M'eh Awakens, as well as the Protectorate Starfighter and the Shadow Caster from the Rebels cartoon.

Hey, if you're interested, more power to ya. For me, I gotta draw a line in the sand somewhere.

Later in the day I was tickled pink to run into James Raggi, designer of the Olde Skool Renaissance RPG system Lamentations of the Flame Princess. This gave me a chance to pick up a copy of the new, super-slick looking "Rules & Magic" core rule book and find out from James that the Procedures and Inspirations book for Game Referees is coming down the pike via an ambitious IndieGoGo campaign.

Frankly, I think it was stunning just to see that many copies of Zak Smith's A Red and Pleasant Land all in one place together. I would have picked that one up if not for the fact that I already snagged my copy ages ago.

Speaking of lamentations, James had a lot to say about his recent printing woes but he also indicated that the con had gone well for him. That's great to hear. I can only imagine what the investment must be to rent a booth, schlep a bunch of inventory over from Finland and then deal with curious rubber-neckers for three days straight.


Since I already have a great source for game discounts back home I didn't go absolutely nuts and buy a metric crap-ton of games. Instead I concentrated on picking up some unique souvenirs including this massive glass mug:


And some cool-ass fantasy coins:



I did break down and score a copy of the Warhammer Quest: The Adventure Card Game since it seemed like an appropriate purchase!

We had even less time on Sunday and the time flew by. The next thing we knew it was 4 pm and we were being ushered out of the NEC. Boooo!!!

But then something completely ridiculous happened that pretty much put the perfect capper this entire crazy weekend. Chad spied Sam Healey and Tom Vasel in the distance walking back to their hotel and instantly gave chase. So, naturally, we did what any self-respecting owner of a Jack Russell terrier would do when the hyperactive l'il pooch breaks off of his lead: we ran after him!

Thankfully, things turned out great. If it had been just us two sweaty manboys asking for a pic, Sam and Tom probably would have told us to go pound sand. But when they saw the respectable company we were keeping in the form of our gracious hosts Dulseigh, Jon, Kcaz and Issi, they were more than happy to take a snap with us.

Thanks for being such good sports, guys!   


I can't believe a month has already gone by since the the Expo. Time has now given me some perspective on the event, so here are my final thoughts:
  • This whole thing came about because Jon (an ex-pat of our gaming group) and Dulseigh were kind enough to invite us over. Not only did they house us, they also transported our carcasses back and forth to the event, took the time to feed and water us and also played tour guide. For that I will be eternally grateful.
  • If I ever get the chance to go again I'd try to make it for all three days. I'd also be sorely tempted to stay at the hotel affiliated with the event if only because they hosted all kinds of cool gaming events and tournaments in the evening after the NEC shut down. But this would be a tough call on my part because the tourist in me really, really enjoyed staying at the historic Bull's Head Inn. I think I'd be willing to go all in at an Origins or a GenCon, where the tourist in me wouldn't be so much at odds with the gamer.
  • On both days we left the convention hall to have lunch and, personally speaking, I would have been perfectly content to grab some overpriced crap to eat on site, cram it in my mush and then jump right back into the fray.
  • Next time out I'm not going to spend nearly as much time looking at vendors. Sure, I'll buy a few unique things that I can't get at home as well as some out-of-print, early release and / or prototype stuff, but next time out I really wanna demo and play as many games as I possible can.
All told, it was a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime event that I'll cherish forever!

***

Wanna take a closer look at some of the same things we saw at the Expo? Then click on the following images to learn more and possibly fund another trip across the pond for me next year!