Monday, December 23, 2013

"Hey, I'm Not Dead Yet...Oh, Wait, NOW I'm Dead!" - "Eldritch Horror"

A few months ago I played Arkham Horror for the second time. I wanted to give it another bash because our first game had been nothing but a protracted exercise in frustration. It took forever to get from one place to another, there were tons of fiddly rules to remember and it seemed unrepentantly difficult to do anything. Honestly, it felt like the gaming equivalent of slogging through mud up to your hips.

Still wanting to give the game a fair shake we decided to tackle it again just a few months ago.
Learning my lesson from the previous go-'round I spent the first hour or so loading good ol' Monterey Jack up to the gills with every permutation of weapon I could possibly get my weathered mitts on. When I finally procured every possible item required to close a Gate and seal it, I fought my way to the Witch's House and then boldly plunged into the Dreamlands.

I then spent two long, boring, protracted turns meandering through the Other Worlds waiting for my character to get systemically fucked over. Honestly, it felt like it took FOREVER. Bereft of any control over what was happening to me, my precious Clue Tokens (which I needed to seal the Gate) were slowly and inexorably robbed from me. All I could do was sit there as my dream of closing one measly Gate was ripped away from me in slow-motion.

Two turns later I was vomited back out onto the porch of the Witch's House. To add insult to injury, a Ghost had since migrated onto that same location. As soon as he saw me he tamped out his cigarette, pulled a bed sheet over his head and then proceeded to stomp a mud-hole in my ass. And because that spectral prick had a Physical Immunity, all of my weapons were about as useless as a DVD re-winder. Long story slightly less long: ol' Monty was quickly reduced to a gibbering, drooling mass of crazy and then immediately interred at Arkham Asylum where I got to waste yet another turn playing checkers with The Riddler.

I couldn't remember a time in which I was more bored, frustrated and pissed-off while playing a board game. To make the best of it, since we didn't actually finish the game, I couldn't vent my rage in the form of a review! Just like how I won't review a bad movie unless I've watched the whole stinkin' mess, I won't review a crap game until I've seen it through to the bitter end.

Yes, I know that the Cthulhu / Lovecraft Mythos is irredeemably bleak and it's not a matter of will your Investigator go nuts and / or die horribly but when and how. I really don't mind a challenge when it comes to co-op games, I just wonder why Arkham Horror has to be such a cunty bore about it.

Anyhoo, last week when Jeremy suggested that we try the new, globe-trotting flavor of Lovecraftian insanity and death called Eldritch Horror, I silently started to cackle.

"Time to break out the knives," I gloated, rubbing my hands together like a crazed cultist.

But then something unexpected happened. Something so unpredictable, so amazing, it made the ending of H.P.'s short story "Under the Pyramids" look like an episode of Dads.

I actually really, really liked it.

So what makes this latest iteration of Lovecraftian terror different from its predecessor? Clues to this multi-planar mystery can be found within the husk of the following slick trailer courtesy of those promotional geniuses at Fantasy Flight:

If you're willing to risk madness to augur the nefarious plans of the omnipotent Ancient Ones, feel free to crack open the Necronomicon-like rule book right here.


Me...Silas Marsh
Dean...Charlie Kane
Jeremy...Jim Culver 
Matt...Trish Scarborough



Reasonably well-armed with my starting Fish Net and a few other accoutrements, I decided to tackle the Monster that was stinking up the Sydney Opera House. Not on my watch, slimy! Unfortunately, said beastie turned out to be a Shoggoth and, as such, the game began pretty much the same way as my two previous plays of Arkham Horror: I.E. I got my ass handed to me. Thusly humbled, I used my special ability to flee the cursed continent by ship, looking to put as much distance between me and my tentacled assailant.

To combat our first Mystery Card, "The Beyond", we needed to spend Clue Tokens gleaned from completed Research Encounters. After crossing the South Pacific, I prepared to take on some more Filthy McNasties in Buenos Aires.

As Charles, Charlie Kane, Dean had all the economic clout he needed in order to pick up valuable resources in both San Francisco and Arkham. This included a Personal Assistant and a Trinket card which gave a +1 bonus to all Ability Tests. He even managed to snag a much-needed Observation Improvement Token for himself.

During various misadventures, Jeremy's Jim Culver procured two handy weapons: a Spirit Dagger and a Bull Whip. He also hooked up with some Hired Muscle and came across a Shriveling Spell, which I assume replicates the effect of dipping your foe in an unheated swimming pool. I guess even Unspeakable Horrors are paranoid about the size of their junk. Regardless of these intimidating assets, Culver got Delayed in Arkham, resulting in a frustrating loss of time.

After a few tough scrapes that inflicted two point of Health damage, Matt went into Debt in order to Acquire a .45 Automatic and the Arcane Scholar Ally. Both proved indispensable in a few key Encounters and led to a very handy Improvement in Influence. However, just like Jeremy, Matt also got mired in a series of unfortunate Delays.

After Silas managed to fumigate all of Buenos Aires, Chuck and Jim tagged-teamed the mounting evil forces in Arkham. Meanwhile, Trish discovered something even more disturbing then a rotund Greek tourist dressed in an invisible Speedo at a Sandals resort down in the Caribbean.

Then Trish and Jim traveled to foggy old London Town where they attempted to quell a nasty Monster-fueled Riot by enforcing an Agency Quarantine. This four-damage carpet bomb cleared out both sides of the Thames in one fell-swoop!

Completing our first Mission Card proved challenging at best. The first issue we ran into was that there were no Clue Tokens on the board. By the time those little green bastards finally started popping up, all of the Research-based locations were choked with deadly threats. Slowly but surely we managed to chip away at them, earn our fourth Clue Token and then move on to our next Mission.

"Arcane Understanding" proved to be no less daunting. For this Mystery, we had to discard a Spell after using it to pass a Lore Test and then claim an Eldritch Token for the card. Once again we had to do this four times in order to succeed.

Although these requirements were pretty circumstantial ("Okay, we need to sacrifice an albino gerbil during the third night of the summer Solstice, but only while wearing our ceremonial sombreros and only if AMC is currently airing a marathon of Breaking Bad"), Trish was well-suited to tackle this mission. After all, she had the Spell-generating Necronomicon in her possession and the ability to deliver the required sorcery thanks to her Arcane Scholar,, Ally.

At that point in time Matt had to dash so we ran Trish collectively for the next little while. It's a damned good sight that he did make himself scarce, because he'd somehow managed to pick up an incredibly nasty Dark Pact Card which came to fruition not long after he left. 

And what was on the flip-side of this evil piece of cardboard? Why a fun little Deal called "One of the Thousand", which Devoured one of the other Investigators! Wow, ain't life grand, kids?

Since Matt had already hit the bricks, we decided to roll randomly to see who was going to get deep-throated (and not in a good way). And yep, you guessed it, Silas "Take Somebody Else, I'm Stringy!" Marsh turned out to be the Human McNugget!

Yee-fuckin'-HAW! In spite my shock, there was no time to sit around an mourn Pirate Fabio. The Doom Track was almost at its apex and we had to act fast in order to postpone the inevitable!

Since the clock hadn't quite struck "Yer Fucked" yet, I had an opportunity to grab a new character and get right back in on the action. With an inordinate amount of Cultists on the board, I decided to assume the role of N.S.A.*-whistleblower Diana Stanley:

Unfortunately, with Yog-Sothoth on the verge of meandering out into our plane of existence at any moment, I didn't have any time to ramp her up. Subsequently, after eliminating all of the dark sect opposition in Tokyo I plunged hood-first into the open Gate.

Yeah, that worked out about as well as you might imagine.

Meanwhile, as one of the other players that didn't suffer an arbitrary and unavoidable death, Jeremy had collected no less then nine different resources. Originally he wanted to help me close the Gate in Japan but he got all tied up India, presumably because he was hauling around the equivalent of three steamer trunks filled with crap.

As Charles Kane, Dean accumulated his own modest haul, including a Silver Key, a Revolver and his very own Spell-casting tome the "Cultes des Goules". Unfortunately, after getting elder-abused during a sea-bound Encounter while en route to South Africa, a Dark Pact was hung about his neck like an (un)dead albatross. At this stage in the game, I'm sure ol' Chuck was wondering why he didn't follow the example of his CEO buddies and become a source of pure evil instead of fighting against it.

Meanwhile, Dean's wife Claudia assumed the role of Trish. After a quick tutorial, she continued Matt's sound strategy of using her Arcane Scholar to get a new Spell from the Necronimicon which she then used to complete Lore Tests which she then...*whew!*...used to earn an Eldritch Token. After two quick successes, it looked as if we might, just might, complete our second Mystery Card before Yog-Sothoth reared his ugly puss.

But then things really started to fall apart. After we blew the bell off'a the top of the ol' Doom Track, Yog-Sothoth began to stretch and yawn...

A few turns later, Charles Kane had a massive coronary in South Africa, presumably after watching his first Die Antwoord video. Since this occurred after Yog-Sothoth finished his second cup of morning joe, Dean wasn't allowed to take a replacement character and was effectively out of the game for good.

My ill-prepared delve into the Pachinko Hell Gate promptly went sour, stripping me of several key Items and leaving me with a crippling Back Injury to boot. Then, in what seemed like a never-ending, coal-black running joke, this brutal Condition caused me to lose every single one of my remaining items whenever a Reckoning Phase came around. Good times. 

Needless to say, the final results were inevitable. With the Doom Track now dialed up to "11", every new occurrence added a Gate Token to Yog's card instead. After three of these unearthly portals under his fell sway, the very fabric of our reality began to fray. Thusly empowered, the Greater Old One forced its way into our realm, extinguishing all life as we know it and covering the earth in a pall of unending darkness.

Merry Christmas, everyone!!!

And with that, our sad, pathetic efforts to stem the inevitable tide of encroaching cosmic evil were dashed and our gnat like-existences were snuffed out like candle flames in a tornado. In other words, it was a lot like my first two plays of Arkham Horror.  

But my lingering reaction to Eldritch Horror was quite different. Here, then, is my...

  • Like all Fantasy Flight products, the game looks absolutely gorgeous. The abstracted, moody-looking board is clear and practical. The Encounter, Mythos, Mystery, Artifact, Asset, Condition and Spell Cards are all beautifully illustrated and made of high-quality cardboard. The same goes for the tome-like Investigator Sheets. Finally, the myriad of different tokens are durable, evocative and easily-discernible. Nothing but the top marks for the production side of things.
  • Jeremy did a fantastic job interpreting the rule book. Although we may have made a teensy little mistake which probably resulted in a bunch of extra Monsters hitting the board prematurely, the game as a whole clipped along rather smoothly. 
  • This one isn't nearly as fiddly as its creaky parent. Eldritch Horror really benefits from eight years worth of game evolution and innovation. Whereas Arkham Horror is a bit convoluted, I retained enough of Eldritch Horror after one play (two weeks ago!) that I could probably give new players a pretty decent overview.
  • That's not to say that Eldritch Horror isn't a deep, thematic experience, quite the opposite in fact. Although it's not as "RPG campaign in a box" as Arkham is, it does provide a very unique globe-trottin' experience. This is helped along by several unique Encounter Decks which feature flavorful, setting-specific Cards. Sea travel, City exploration and jaunts into the Other World are all similarly realized. This alone is enough to blow the needle right off the ol' Theme-O-Meter.  
  • Like its predecessor, co-operation and team-work is essential to success, which probably accounts for our poor showing. I think we spent just a little bit too much time playing out our own little solo adventures around the board. Teaming up for Combat Encounters makes a lot of sense because lone Investigators will have a pretty rough time taking down Monsters solo. And trust me, if you get your ass kicked by one of these slimy bastards it usually means that you're gonna hafta burn a few turns getting back up to speed again. 
  • I'm not sure if it was just a spate of bad luck, but man, those Mystery Cards were tough as hell. If you think that designers Corey Konieczka, Richard Launius and Nikki Valens have gone soft on us in the past eight years, think again. This one might not be as long or as complicated as Arkham, but it still generates a feeling of impending doom, which is the bread n' butter for every Lovecraft game. 
  • Even though the character I'd been building up was randomly squashed though no fault of my own, I didn't flip the table. Why? Because, unlike Arkham Horror, it didn't happen in a painful, dragged-out, boring fashion. It was just *BOOM* , yer dead! How 'bout that, bitch? With certain disaster looming I just grabbed another character and jumped right back into the fray.
  • Let's face it, given the bleak odds for success and a virtual guarantee that your precious Investigator will eventually go batshit nuts and/or get crushed like a gnat, this game isn't for everyone. If I'd never played Arkham Horror before, I'd be tempted to rate Eldritch Horror "4" outta "6" but since it does just about everything better in comparison, it really shines for me.
Not only is this game easier to get into and quicker to play, it's nowhere nearly as frustrating as it's bigger, older, hairier sibling. If you're looking for co-operative feelings of oppressive dread, Indiana Jones-style global adventure and moments of stark terror and despair, then Eldritch Horror is surely looming on your horizon. 


Prefer to suicide by bleeding-out slowly then incremental mercury poisoning? Click on the pic below to begin your adventure and give this poor, frightened, squishy l'il blog a modicum of hope...

*N.S.A.: Non-Shoggoth Agent

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

(Sneak) Peak Oil: "Wildcatters"

Sure, I love boardgames but I love writing and editing even more. Because of my addiction to these pursuits, I don't have nearly as much time for gaming as I would like.

This is in stark contrast to someone like Kris who we added to our gaming group a few months back. For him, gaming isn't just a hobby, it's a pursuit that bleeds into every aspect of his life. In addition to amassing a collection of well over four-hundred titles and working his ass off to establish a game-related business venture, Kris also finds the time to attend many high-profile gaming conventions all over North America.

Needless to say, having Kris in our gaming circle yields a lot of pretty awesome dividends for the rest of us. For example, he just got back from Board Game Geek Con, an insane, five-day orgy of card-floppery and dice-hucking. Since the event now attracts about twenty-three hundred attendees, it's also a major industry hot-spot for designers and publishers who are looking to flog their latest wares.

As you can well imagine, Kris picked up a metric shit-ton of Hotness while he was down there and one of the titles he was particularly keen to table right away was Wildcatters.    

And, no, the game isn't about horny, middle-aged, classically-attired women who troll around in bars looking to hook up with younger men. Those are cougars, dumbass.

The game's title actually refers to prospectors who drill exploratory wells in places not known to contain oil, far away from civilized areas where only wildcats dwell. If they find evidence of oil, they snap up the land at a steal and then sell it for an obscene profit to developers.

Okay, so that explains the title of the game, but what about the game itself? A reservoir of info can be tapped just by watching this great l'il walkthrough vid straight from RASS Games:

Looking for the full gusher of rules? You can tap into the black gold that is knowledge by a-clickin' on the link right here.

The night of November 27'th was pretty hairy weather-wise. Torrential rains and high winds knocked out the power at our typical gaming arena, I.E. Dean's place. That's when Kris stepped in and suggested that we test drive his new acquisition at The Board Room Game Cafe, which turned out to be a great idea.

NOTE: due to time constraints we decided to play a five-round match. The standard game of Wildcatters is actually seven rounds, eight if you've got three players.



During our initial pre-game set up, Chad placed two Drilling Rigs in North America and one in South America. He decided to augment this strategy with a couple of rail lines, one in Canada and one in Mexico and then finished off with a Refinery in Peru and an Oil Tanker off the coast of Newfoundland.

Intent on digging a big, ugly hole in Alberta, I set up an Oil Refinery on the East Coast of Canada. Unfortunately, Chad and Dean snatched up the Area Cards that would have let me bring this nefarious goal to fruition. As a result, I had to be content with building two Drilling Rigs in Brazil and one in Russia. I decided to round this out with a Train line in South America and the Middle East and then christened an Oil Tanker which I decided to tie up adjacent to Chad's Refinery.

By dropping down a Refinery, a Drilling Rig and a Train, Dean managed to concentrate several of his resources in Mother Russia. The rest of his distribution, featuring a rail line in British Columbia, an oil derrick in Asia and a Tanker bobbin' off the coast of Japan, was less scattershot and more the product of necessity.

Along with Chad, Kris did a pretty decent job consolidating his starting resources in one region. By the end of the set-up phase he'd stocked Asia and the Middle East with a Refinery, a Tanker, a Train and a Drilling Rig. This allowed him to branch out into South America, where he placed a rail line and an oil derrick. He then elbowed into Dean's turf, erecting a Drilling Rig just outside of Moscow.  

Soooo, here's how the board looked just prior to kick-off:

Eschewing any development in Asia, Chad concentrated on the Western hemisphere. He transformed his two Drilling Rigs in central Canada into Pumpjacks and then started diverting all that ebony juice into Refineries owned by Kris and myself. This quickly made him the number one oil supplier in North America.

But it was down in South America where he really excelled, building a rail line in Brazil which linked up to Kris's facility on Mexico. After cobbling together three more derricks, he got them a-pumpin' which kept his own facility fully stocked with crude. By the end of the game, he'd collected such an obscene amount of shares (primarily in my company and Kris's company) that netting Wildcatter chips was like shooting fish in barrel!

Scattered as I was, I did my best to compete. After building a rail line in central Canada I managed to transform two of my Rigs there into Pumpjacks and then divert the resulting tsunami of petroleum to my Refinery out East. Despite of my best efforts, Chad managed to eke out a last-minute transaction out there and snatch the North American oil baron title away from me!

I had my revenge down in South America, though, doubling down on derricks and then converting three quarters of them into noddin' donkeys. Building a second Refinery in Brazil gave me the freedom to thumb my nose at Chad's competing operation out West and, in turn, I became the Pablo Escobar of South American oil. I also dabbled a little bit in Russia, converting one Rig into a pumping unit and then patronizing Dean's rail line and Refinery. Although this turned out to be barely worth my effort, it did let me recoup a few Shares in my own operation.

Even though Dean managed to hoist up no less then five, count 'em, five new Drilling Rigs in Russia, he only transformed two of 'em into Big Texans because of a curious dearth of matching Area Cards. Assisted by another Train route and a second Refinery out East, Dean barely managed to crawl away with the tile of Russia's primary oil czar. He also had just enough time to convert his lone derrick in Alberta into a "thirsty bird" (as the kids say), use his rail line to transport the resulting crude to Kris's Mexican plant and then ship two barrels out to North America.

Dwindling opportunities in Russia forced him to branch out in Asia, where he added a rail route and two more derricks, one of which he managed to convert into a Pumpjack. He also snuck one barrel from the resulting well into Kris's processing plant to the southwest, which precipitated the payout of another modest windfall of Shares. In fact, poor Dean found himself hemorrhaging more Shares then anyone else at the table. Indeed, the rest of us just didn't feel compelled to patronize Dean's relatively idle rail line in B.C. or the barnacle-encrusted Tanker that was still tied to the dock out East.

Towards the end of the game, Dean did succeed in getting one barrel sent off to the continent of Asia, but the rest of his reserve ended up stranded on the board. He tried to compensate by dropping a third Refinery in Africa, which gave him a few Hail Mary-style Victory Points right at the buzzer!  

Instead of concentrating solely on supplying the Continents with oil like Chad and I, Kris made a concerted effort to maintain a reasonable balance of Shares while snagging as many Wildcatter Chips as possible. Seeing that things were already getting super-nasty in South America, Kris just walked away, letting his Train and Refinery operations in Mexico generate Shares for him. Like a bunch of rubes, the rest of us seemed perfectly content to oblige this.

Avoiding a lot of direct competition, Kris poured most of his efforts into shoring up Asia. This involved the purchase of four more Oil Rigs, two of which he converted into productive Pumpjacks. At first he seemed content use my Train route for transportation, but pretty soon his own railroads were criss-crossing Asia and the Middle East. He even laid down an exploratory line out across the Sahara in a speculative effort to exploit Dean's new Refinery. Fortunately, the game came to an end just before that could happen.  

Right at the eleventh hour Kris attempted to muscle his way into Russia by converting his one and only derrick there into a rocking horse and then shipping the resulting Texas Tea to Dean's Gulag Refinery out in Siberia via Yellow Train. Unfortunately, like my own efforts up north, this seemed to cost him more Shares then he earned.   

After reaching the fifth round, all that was left to do was tally up those final scores!



















Here are a few take-away strategies that I'd like to test out in my next game:

  1. I don't know if it was a deliberate strategy or just fortuitous happenstance, but Chad managed to create an awesome infrastructure right from the start. This, in turn, gave him a massive surplus of Shares. 
  2. Not only are the Shares worth a lot in terms of end-game value, they also allow you to bid effectively for Wildcatter chips. These, in turn, are worth even more points.  
  3. It makes sense to avoid production knife-fights with several rivals in highly-contested areas. If you just want to get your beak wet in these regions, concentrate on snatching up all of the useful infrastructure like Trains, Tankers and Refineries. When your opponents are forced to use these things, you'll end up making out like a bandito.  
  4. Try to be strategic about how much oil you send to each continent. For example, instead of flooding South America with an overkill of oil I should have turned that excess into Shares or tried to snipe a second (or even first) place finish in a less-contested arena.
  5. Although the game does a great job preventing players from operating in a vacuum, don't be afraid to strike up new developments in those relatively-quiet parts of the map. I'm sure that if we'd played for another two rounds, the virginal-looking United States would have been the key to victory.



  • The game looks absolutely beautiful.  The board and components are colorful yet understated. The money looks great, even if some higher denominations should have been included. Although the layout is a tad confusing at first, the individual reference boards really help keep players on point during their turns. The vibrant wooden oil barrels are great and the thick cardboard tokens representing Refineries, Pumpjacks and Tankers are clear and charming. Oh, and how can you not love those cute l'il free-standing Oil Rigs?  Side note: although the wooden Trains we used in our game were a BGG Con exclusive, the Train tokens that come with the game are perfectly suitable.
  • I love how the map's elegant design perfectly replicates the idea that Oil is a finite resource. As with our own history, when the seemingly boundless resources in the United States, Russia and the Middle East start to dry up, a certain desperation sets in, forcing players to compete over far-flung areas to exploit. Honestly, a better title would have been Peak Oil: The Game.  Fair warning: don't click on that last link unless you wanna lose what remains of your Holiday cheer, pronto.  
  • It was actually a lot of fun setting up the infrastructure: using derricks to stake your claim, extracting the Oil with Pumpjacks, shipping barrels by Train or Tanker and then making that all-important decision to either muscle out the competition and become the dominant supplier or try to mount a hostile takeover of your rival's companies via Shares. Honestly, the game itself is a terrific sim of the industry.
  • Even though the MARK I rule book clearly screams TRANSLATION it's still reasonably clear and concise. Occasionally Kris was forced to rummage through the book in order to seek clarification but otherwise, things were fairly intuitive. I think a second edition rulebook and a Headless Hollow style tip sheet would really make this puppy fly by.  
  • Any time I feel compelled to write a post-game analysis or find myself lingering over alternate strategies, I know that I'm playing a winner. I'd definitely like to have another bash at this one, if only to apply what I learned from Game One.  

  • As I've already insinuated, the name Wildcatters is actually a bit of a misnomer. The game has less to do with prospecting and speculation and a lot more to do with simulating the development of the petroleum industry and the ravages that result.  

Despite the fact that I think fossil fuels are killing the planet and oil companies are more blatantly evil then the Umbrella Corporation, designers Rolf Sagel and André Spil have come up with mechanics that 
serve the game's theme very, very well. Even though I personally wasn't crazy about the subject matter, the design is so clever and the gameplay is so quick and light that I could easily be persuaded to try it again.

Looking beyond the slightly-fuzzy rule book and the bait-and-switch title, Wildcatters is still an awesome and borderline-educational little game. As such I'm gonna give this one five pips outta six with black blowout skyward.


Looking for an excuse to say "pumpjack" over and over again? Well, yer up the stump right now, son, since there's probably only about nine-hundred of these babies in existence right now.

Watch this space for further developments!  

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Consolation Prize: "Star Wars: The Queen's Gambit"

Back in 2000 many fans were still mired in a delusional honeymoon with The Phantom Menace, mainly because it was the first new Star Wars movie to come down the pike in sixteen freakin' years. I count myself amongst those poor, sad, brainwashed wretches and it took quite some time before I broke through the Stockholm-syndrome-like pall of prequel apology and came to the realization that these newer films really, really sucked.

And I'm not talking "suck" as in "Wow, that Star Wars movie kinda sucked" I mean "sucked" as in the most basic, fundamental meaning of the word. As in "it sucked as a piece of celluloid". As in "it sucked as a series of moving pictures with sound".

Unfortunately, before I came to my senses, I'd amassed a huge collection of prequel-related toys, books games and other detritus, most of which I've managed to pawn off on still-entranced rubes who lurk out there on Kijiji. By the same token, there's still one Phantom Menace-related product that I'll never, ever part with. Something so amazing, so clever and so well-designed that it transcends its crappy origins, becomes something awesome in its own right and almost single-handedly dulls the painful memory of its original raison d'être.

If you actually bother to read this post's title the you already know that I'm talkin' 'bout Star Wars: The Queen's Gambit:

This game was produced just two years after Monarch sold Avalon Hill to Hasbro, a move that likely inspired several old-school grognards to commit ritual seppuku when they realized that their beloved wargame designers had completely gone to the dogs. Since I was indiscriminately buying anything with the words "Star" and "Wars" printed on it at the time, I immediately snapped this up as soon as I saw it on the shelf of my Friendly Local Game Store.

Unlike 99.9% of my prequel-related acquisitions, time would vindicate me on this one.

A few Wednesday nights ago, Matt proposed a game of 7 Wonders. To let him hit that game's sweet spot of four players, Andrew suggested that he and I revisit Queens Gambit instead. Rubber arm twisted, we began the elaborate process of setting up the four-in-one gameboard.

Here's the title crawl for this one courtesy of Board Game Geek:

"Based on the four battles at the end of 
Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace
- the battle on the plain between the Gungan forces 
and the droid army; the attempt by Naboo forces, led 
by Queen Amidala, to storm the palace and capture the 
Trade Federation viceroys; the fight between Darth Maul 
and the two Jedi Knights; and the space battle in which Anakin's 
starfighter destroyed the Droid Control Ship.

"The forces are represented by 155 plastic miniatures on three separate 
boards, including a three-level palace. The action is driven by two decks 
of cards for each side. Each turn, each side simultaneously chooses four action 
cards from a hand of ten, and places them in order. The actions are then carried out
one at a time, alternating sides. Combat is resolved using special attack and defense dice."
Looking to review the full saga, I.E. the rules? Well, since the game's out of print, yer kinda outta luck. However, you can hyperdrive over to Headless Hollow and peep-out their wonderful summary of the game right here.  

In a rather slick move presaging his in-game wiliness, Andrew conveniently sat on the "Dark Side" of the board and set up the forces of evil. That left me as the Naboo player, so I diligently began to locate and place Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, Padmé, Sade, Panaka, a phalanx of Palace Guards, and a horde of Gungans, including that intergalactic cock-smack Jar-Jar Binks.

I hear a hundred voices suddenly calling out in terror, "Wait, Jar-Jar Binks isn't in this game!"  Oh, yes he is...

"Does this means wesa gonna die?" With any luck, you infantile penis-holster...

Yep, that's right, folks. In all his creative pettiness, Andrew decided to sub one of the original Gungan models out for a figure from the Star Wars Miniatures Game in order to represent the presence of most loathed character in the entire history of creative fiction. Yeah, as if the Dark Side player needed any extra incentive to annihilate this race of CGI-rendered Stepin Fetchit stereotypes. 

Andrew...Dark Side
Me...Light Side

So, after Andrew thoughtfully dispensed with the painful, protracted and imminently fair process of randomly determining who would play what faction, we immediately got down to brass tacks. 

I immediately drew a mitt-full of Jedi cards and promptly began whaling away on Maul. Things started off promisingly enough when Obi-Wan gave that spiky-headed Sith bastard a lightsaber enema for five points of damage.  

"Da-aaaave!" Andrew whinged.  "Sta--ah-ahp it!"

So, being the sporting gentlemen that I am, I proceeded to do exactly what my gracious host had politely asked of me. In other words, that tidy little smack on my first turn pretty much represented the last spate of good fortune I'd exhibit for the rest of the game.

Indeed, every swing I took in the Jedi battle from thereon in was either a complete whiff or a delicate little love-tap that Maul managed to parry or riposte with ease. Things got even worse when my surplus of Generator Core attack cards completely dried up, leaving Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon about as threatening as a pair of Ecstasy-addled Hare Krishna armed only with glow sticks. 

Alternately, Andrew's unearthly powers of dice manipulation suddenly activated and that reject from Tattoo Nightmares started beating ass. This culminated in the following brutal roll:

Not only had my offensive efforts dried up, but I also couldn't roll defensively to save my life. Well, Obi-Wan's life, anyway. In a moment of revisionist history, the Jedi apprentice calmly took note of the two-inch wide cauterized hole in his chest and then stretched out on the floor for some permanent meditation.

Things weren't looking particularly good out on the Plains either. A mix of Battle Droids and Destroyers cut into the heart of my formation, giving Andrew a bonus card for every platoon of mine that he managed to bag. Between his unparalleled luck and my complete and total inability to roll a friggin' Shield symbol, he quickly felled one of my Fambaas giving the Trade Federation an opportunity to stream forward completely unhindered. I did my best to hold them off with a withering hail of Catapult fire but my results were scattershot at best. As a result, Andrew took a commanding lead in the race for bonus cards.

Meanwhile, back in the Generator Core, Qui-Gon continued to volunteer for lightsaber acupuncture, the medical benefits of which were immediately called into question when the Jedi Master suddenly came down with a slight case of DEATH.  

About the only place where I had any semblance of luck whatsover was in the Theed Palace. Using Window Ledge Movement, the Red Queen and Captain Panaka led a daring raid on the third floor of the Palace, capturing Viceroy Nute Gunray and his life-partner Rune Haako. After achieving this Throne Room majority all I needed to do now was destroy the Trade Federation Control Ship, a task which was easier said then done.  

As such, I turned my attention to Anakin's involuntary efforts in space. Once again, I experienced some tantalizing early success until Andrew decided to flood Naboo's orbit with a metric shit-ton of Droid Starfighters. When you add in his uncanny ability to block my maneuver rolls, you can well imagine that my progress on this front got gummed up as well.   

Back in the Theed Palace, my worst fears were realized as Darth Maul bombed into the First Floor, cutting Palace Guards down like corn stalks en route to the Throne Room. Before bounding his way up the steps, Maul paused momentarily to shear off the Purple Queen's hair bun. He didn't kill her, mind you, he just couldn't pass by without doing something about that "dreadful" hair style. This leads me to believe that Harry S. Plinkett was right about Maul after all. 

Meanwhile things continued to go from bad to worse on the Plains of Naboo. Even without committing the ATT's and MTT's Andrew's droid army annihilated all but three Catapults, one Fambaa, three devisions of Kaadu cavalry and a single Gungan platoon steadfastly defended by Boss Nass's hand-picked Field Marshall, General Jarsopher J. Binkman. As long as Binky was alive there was still hope!

On my side of the table, a giant heap of scrap metal began to collect. Silently I wondered if Andrew had filled out warranty cards for every one of these metal abortions.

On Andrew's side of the table: an even more prodigious heap of dead, humanoid-shaped hairless rabbits. Honestly, they were starting to stink up the joint. 

When Andrew diverted several squads of Battle Droid away from the Plains battlefield to the first floor of the Palace things became even more dire for the Naboo. It didn't take long before the Palace guards were overwhelmed, swaying the numerical advantage back to the Trade Federation. With Anakin stuck in permanent "spin" mode out in space and the Purple Queen reduced to a briquette, the game became mathematically impossible for me to win.  

Thats when I revealed to Andrew that the Purple Queen was, in fact, the real Amidala! Not that it mattered much, but if he'd just taken the time to decapitate her with Maul, he would have scored a huge windfall of bonus cards!  

(However, with Jar-Jar still standing at game's end, I maintain that we're all losers)


After playing Queen's Gambit again I was remembered that I'd made some notes from a previous session. Here then is my session report from back on February 12'th 2006 (!). 

"I drew Dark Side and immediately began to pound on Qui-Gon with Maul. Initially things went well until Maul was flanked by Obi-Wan and my offense and defense went sour (Sound familiar?). I managed to kill Qui-Gon but was left facing a healthy-looking Obi-Wan.

"Andrew (That joker again?!?) made some very aggressive moves in the Palace, boosting Panaka and some Palace guards up to the top level. On the battlefield, the Gungans did a great job protecting the Fambaas. Anakin also experienced some initial luck, expertly evading the Droid Starfighters on the first maneuver card.

"Then everything changed. I used a card to dump my entire hand, hoping against hope that Maul would survive for another turn. With one Life Point remaining, I managed to block two potential damage with four Shields, heal Maul and then beat Obi-Wan like a red-headed step-child. 

"With the Sith having their revenge, Maul rushed forward towards the Palace. Seeing disaster afoot, Andrew tried his best to secure the area by annihilating all of my Droidekas! 

"Meanwhile, in the field, the anticipated slaughter of the Gungans didn't happen. In fact, they held their ground nicely, earning Andrew a few bonus cards. Mercifully, with the Jedi out of commission, this just meant that I had to sacrifice a few Battle Droids in the Palace and on the Plains in order to make some critical card plays where it really mattered.

"Armed with a slew of bonus cards from killing Obi-Wan and his Master, I created an impenetrable stack of Droid Starfighter cards in order to prevent Anakin from budging. This served me well as Maul hacked his way through the Palace Guards, even killing a few of them with deflected blaster bolts!     

"The ending was a foregone conclusion as the Dark Side proved triumphant!"

I then recorded a solo play five days later:

"Weird game; I though the Light Side was going to run away with this. After Maul killed Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan avenged his Master while barely suffering a scratch. He then proceeded to cut a swath through the Palace. 

"As in my game with Andrew, I practically ignored the Plains Battlefield, concentrating instead on getting Panaka and some Guards to the third floor of the Palace. Anakin stalled despite an early push. This allowed the Darkside to stack the better part of the Droid Starfighter deck on the board. 

"Essentially this clinched things since it gave me a chance to divert tons of Battle Droids back to the Palace. Even Obi-Wan couldn't hold out forever. The Dark Side won again, this time by eliminating everyone except the two Palace Queens!" 

I know that I've played the game since 2006, but that particular session report is likely lost to the ages, locked up within the inert electronic brain of my old, deceased laptop. I'd give anything to read that document again since it contained not only session reports for Queens Gambit but for three whole years worth of gaming. Sadly I'll probably never be able to recover it. *Sigh*  


So after reviewing these older sessions and playing the game recently, here my thoughts:

  • When it comes to board games with incredible components this one's at the top of the list. The graphic design of the three boards is impeccable and the miniatures are fantastic. The player aids and the three floors of the Theed Palace are all made of durable cardboard. Although the plastic Palace pillars (?) are pretty snazzy-looking they also make for a pretty shaky structure. Don't be surprised if a twitchy, hyperactive, coffee-guzzling opponent (Dean, I'm looking in your direction) accidentally grazes the structure while reaching for a second floor Destroyer Droid and then inadvertently reduces the game into a jumble of downed figures. Perhaps the only components that could be improved are the chintzy damage counters and the flimsy cards. 
  • Along with Battlestar Galactica, A Game of Thrones: Second Edition, Aliens and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this is one of the most thematically-rich licensed games ever made. It really does play out like the four-pronged climax of The Phantom Menace but without all of the shitty dialogue and rampant, drama-deflating idiocy.     
  • Although there's a ludicrous amount of luck involved here, this also keeps the game tense and fun. Even if you've applied what seems like an obvious strategy, you also need the dice to co-operate with you. 
  • Between the Jedi / Sith battle, Anakin's flight to the Droid Control Ship, the assault on the Palace and the Naboo Plains Battle it really does feel as if you're playing four games in one. 
  • To paraphrase "Hot Pants" Padmé, the Naboo Plains battle is merely a diversion. Having said that, you shouldn't ignore it completely since it's a fantastic source for bonus cards. Chaining together a bunch of extra actions can really tip the balance in any given battle. 
  • The cards really simplify the game and cut down on analysis paralysis.
  • Sorry, but there's something vicariously sadistic about unleashing a Jedi or a Sith loose in the Theed Palace and indiscriminately hacking down Guards or Battle Droids like a more flamboyant Grim Reaper.   
  • I sincerely believe that sensible placement of the dice on the Droid Starfighter Cards skews the game towards the Dark Side. Even if the Jedi make short work of Maul and eradicate all of the droids from the Palace, it's all for nought unless that mop-topped, round-headed, button-nosed l'il space urchin can blow up the falking Control Ship. 
  • Although nothing in the game can be taken for granted because of luck it's super-frustrating to see your early inroads dashed when the dice get a hate-on for you. Note to self: if I ever play this game again with Andrew a dice tower's gonna be at the top of my rider list.  

All told this is still a classic that will forever have a home in my game collection. It's a shame that it's out of print since it actually makes The Phantom Menace seem kinda cool. In fact, if someone hadn't seen the movie and just played the game they might be fooled into thinking that the original source material doesn't suck like a sandcrawler's vacuum tube.  

As such I give the game five pips outta six with a tilt up towards Palpatine's pimped out Coruscant penthouse.


Have you always wanted to commit Gungan genocide? Well, keep dreamin', kiddies, since this mofo's long since out of print!

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Gaming Mecca: The Board Room Game Cafe

Rejoice Nova Scotia gamers! On November 16'th The Board Room Game Cafe had its Grand Opening here in Halifax.

Street-level view of the cafe at 1256 Barrington Street in beautiful and historic downtown Halifax. Boo-YAH!

The first thing you'll see upon entry is the cafe's ever-expanding retail section, featuring a nice assortment high-profile games and "cult of the new" titles.

A $5.00 entry fee gets you access to the cafe's prodigious game library of over four-hundred titles. Throw down with a familiar classic or have one of the cafe's "Game Bosses" teach you something new! Remember my motto: your new favorite game is the one you haven't played yet.   

Chock-a-clock with gamey goodness, these shelves represent endless options. Regardless of how many players you have, what your experience level is or how much time you've got to spend, there's something here for everybody!  

It's fun to watch those eyes light up whenever people see a wall filled with light strategy and card games. At The Board Room Game Cafe you can play Mall Madness as ironically (or un-ironically) as you want!   

Whether it's a first date or you're rollin' in with a posse of seven other peeps, The Board Room Game Cafe has you covered!  

Lookin' to settle in for the night? The cafe has a slew of meatier options for all you hardcore card-floppers and die-chuckers out there!  

Speaking of meaty, the cafe offers plenty of options when it comes to gamer fuel. Try a grilled sammich, a dippin' platter or indulge that sweet tooth with a variety of tasty baked goods! After all that "Om-nom-nom"-ing you can wash down your meal with a fortifying espresso beverage, tea, hot chocolate, some locally brewed beers, wine, cider or a Jitterbug soda!    

The cafe has plenty of gaming tables, but space was at a premium on Grand Opening day.

Everywhere you looked, people were having a blast...

   Reservoir Dogs Charades? Nope, just some aggressive negotiations during a typically-contentious game of Ca$h n' Gun$.  

I managed to get in on the fun, eking out a quick match of Animal Upon Animal. Curse your manual dexterity, John!

Watch It Played's Rodney Smith made the pilgrimage to Halifax in order to celebrate the cafe's grand opening and spend some quality time!

When Rodney overheard a group of people lamenting that Takenoko was already in play, he quickly came to the rescue. He grabbed his super-sized version of the game, ran over to the "comfy couch" and taught it to them on the spot! Needless to say, they were both delighted and entertained! 



By all accounts, the cafe's Grand Opening was a tremendous success. Since then they've instituted some fantastic weekly special events. Don't have a regular group to game with? Then pop down for  Monday's Open Gaming Nights. Wanna kick-start your $5.00 Free Admission card? Then Two-Stamp Tuesday is calling your name. To keep abreast of upcoming events, be sure to check out the cafe's Bookface page right hur.  

So, if you find yourself anywhere in the vicinity of the HRM, be sure to visit The Board Room Game Cafe. With its relaxed and comfortable atmosphere, incredible eats, delightful beverages, fantastic staff and boundless stock of entertainment value, the cafe is a mandatory destination for coffee hounds, foodies and game fans alike!