Thursday, March 31, 2011

Breaking it Down, Bit by Bit

I have a love affair with game bits, an addiction, a disease. The little plastic ‘Sorry’ pawns and tiny roman numeral Risk “Is” and “Vs” of my youth are dead, as are the 7000 counters in an old Avalon Hill game you had to count and re-sort every time you dropped the box with the crushed, split corner and they went flying around the room, some lost. All these are ancient, outdated garbage stuffed in a landfill under a thousand tons of baby diapers and copies of E.T. for the Atari 2600, lost and gone forever. Even the wooden roads and villages from Catan seem old and plain and boring as publishers go to great lengths making custom components, trying to get their games to stand out.

If I took bits from games in my collection and lined them up in chronological order by release date, you’d see a mock evolutionary ladder that starts somewhere around my Eon edition of Cosmic Encounter and its punched cardboard circles stepping in as the proto-simian and ending somewhere around the Space Hulk 3rd edition Space Marines taking place of modern man.

Not included: pastel camel dung and cleanup crew

I have a copy of Durch die Wüste that came out around the time Mayfair games was importing German editions, slipping a plain, little, white Mayfair sticker on them and inserting poorly photocopied English rules translations. Bought it for the camel pieces, hundreds of them, colored like Easter candy, and I had to have it. Double that for Giganten, another Kosmos big square box I bought around the same time as Durch. It had little oil derricks and jalopy trucks and oil drums. 12 years later it’s getting an English release, finally, with even cooler components. I even forgave Mississippi Queen, which I remember fondly as the first game I ever bought from Rio Grande, for the easy of breaking on the paddlewheel smokestacks.

Not Included: Audio recording of Daniel Day Lewis saying "I drink your milkshake"

There were evolutionary misfires, to be certain. Kosmos made a serious error of judgment with their release of Starfarers of Catan. The plastic spaceship pieces were not only clumsy and kinda pointless but so fragile that an add-on ring was made post-publish because the clips for the booster rockets snapped off pretty much the first time you used them. And the “Avalon Hill” edition of Cosmic Encounter had little plastic ships that were meant to stack nicely and then lay flat in a space-ship style tray, but was just a completely useless and awkward component for a very poor version of the game.

Not Included: a reason for these components to exist

My obsession with components isn’t limited to plastic, it was around this time that I acquired Game of Thrones, the first time I bought a big box game from FFG. Before then I mostly knew them just for light card games like MagBlast and the by-now imploded Diskwars craze, but this had a massive, gorgeous fantasy map, and beautiful CCG quality card art that was only a hint of the quality they would go on to produce. There was also Antiquity, and its stylish design ethic that sets the archeology tone for a cardboard heavy civilization builder.

Not included in world: dragons, beholders or rust monsters

Some games are all bits. My boss was in Germany for the World Cup in 2006 and I found a toy and game shop in walking distance from his hotel and provided him with a list of games that never had US releases. He came back with Nacht der Magier, among others. More of a gimmick game, played in the dark with glow in the dark pieces, but the components sell it well. Wizards gather around a fire in the woods with their cauldrons and engage in magical tug-of-war.

Not included: magic powers to make wizard more appealing to the opposite sex

Lastly would be my love for large, expansive, table space hogging games, for that, I wouldn’t trade my copies of Descent or Space Hulk for their weight in lesser games. For a few years I had a pretty strong addiction to tabletop battle games, and while I don’t miss the painting, or the constant rules expansion and revised editions, I do love a thrilling victory (which I always attribute to skill and strategy) or a humbling defeat (which is always the fault of poor dice rolls). Games like this are a spectacle of massive scope that a pastel colored camel just can’t compete with.

Not included: any hope of survival

Now With Even More Curse-y Goodness

Here’s a little item that slipped in and out of my brain over the last few weeks: FFG have announced they are releasing a revised edition of the Arkham Horror Curse of the Dark Pharaoh expansion sometime this spring.

As a self-described “Arkham-Whore” I admit I was a little taken aback by this announcement. Dark Pharoah is by far my least favorite of the small box AH expansions, it just didn’t seem to really work all that well with the game. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who thought so. It “…came to become the one that deviated most from our later Arkham Horror design vision and over time came to stand apart from the Arkham Horror family as a whole.” So, a proposed fix, though this sounds more like it was completely dismantled and rebuilt. Most intriguing to me are the enhanced presence of exhibit artifacts, which rarely, if ever, were accessible in the original release, patrolled neighborhood tokens, and benefit and detriment cards.Yeah, so I'll buy it.

Full details here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Nice Dice

Custom Twilight Struggle Dice!

About a month ago I noticed a Board Game Geek user was taking orders for these custom dice. This picture doesn't do them justice to how nice they look in person. I order a bunch of sets and they arrived yesterday. After handing some out I've found myself with an extra set or two of dice.
I'm going to come up with some kind of contest over the next few days to give these away to our readers.  For now you can just be jealous.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011

MageStorm Impressions

This isn't a full blown review. We have a policy that we like to play a game at least 3 or 4 times before doing one of those and since I haven't played MageStorm yet that wouldn't be fair. I did want to play this weekend but unfortunately my copy had other ideas. It was a bit damp upon opening, this is purely bad luck as I've seen no other reports of issues. So I have spent a few days drying this out. That's given me plenty of time to read the rules and prepare.

What attracted me to this game is it's wasn't just a clone of Battlelore or Battles of Westeros. Don't mistake that as a slight on those games, I'm a huge fan of Battlelore. But MageStorm has some very interesting elements that I'm going to talk about here.

The first selling point for me on this game is the fog of war aspect. Your unit composition is created with cards and then put under a unit card. The plastic figures on the board represent these units but not on a one for one basis. In fact every unit for each army on the board looks the same until you discover what they are really comprise of.

Unit Cards on display

This adds a fog or war element not found in other game of this type. I'm over simplifying the rules because in the base game there is one particular unit due to it's nature is recognizable on the battlefield so it is represented in the unit figure composition. There are large and small units and forces in reserve in a unit.  However the point remains the same you're not sure what makes up that unit from a distance.

Objective Markers
Another interesting concept in the game is the use of objective markers. Instead of saying I am moving this unit 3 spaces here and that one over there your army moves as a whole. You as commander have to put objective markers into play and during the movement phase the armies move towards the closest objective marker.
Those little figures that look like pine trees are the objective markers.

You can use points to add or remove markers and also put hold orders on units. In this somewhat abstract way you are in fact playing the Mage overseeing the battle and you're telling units to move to this objective and not dictating the exact path they take. It's honestly a really great mechanic that takes some getting use to.

The heart of the game are the mages and like everything else in this game the mechanic for casting spells and acquiring power is pretty neat.  The base game comes with 4 mages and each has a mage card. At the start of a turn the mages get a sent number of tokens, think of them as mana. These tokens are distributed to the card but they can't just go anywhere they need to form a chain so to speak.
Mage cards are the center of your power.

Each card is different and there are limitations in the form of little chain links on the cards. As an example lets say you want to move 2 power over to a sleep spell but the chain link limits you to moving only one a turn. This prevents player from dumping 4 power into their stronger spells every turn. When it comes to casting you simply remove the indicated power, but unless the spell says otherwise you can cast as many times as you want.

As i said MageStorm has not hit the table yet for a game but the rules have me itching to play it. Hopefully it will dry out by Thursday for my regular session and I'll see if what's written translates into a great game.
Monday, March 28, 2011

Richard Berg Interview

Godzilla: Kaiju World Wars is an upcoming game from Toy Vault. When we first spotted the title it caught our interest because of the theme. I'm sure I'm not alone when I say in my younger years a long time ago I use to create little towns and cities and then destory them with monsters. To date there have really been no good games that capture that feeling.

When I saw Richard Berg was the designer my interest doubled. Mr. Berg has created some really great game, most in the heavy strategy genre. One look at his profile and I'm sure you'll find at least one game you've played and enjoyed.

Mr. Berg was gracious enough to take the time to answer some of my questions about this upcoming game.

So a Godzilla game? Not just a Godzilla game but a battle between some great classic monsters. Where did the idea come from for a game like this?

I was approached by the publishers, Toy Vault, who asked me to design this game.


Your portfolio consists of a lot of great strategy titles, would you consider Godzilla a strategy game or more of a fun filled miniatures battle game?

A fun-filled miniatures battle game


In Godzilla it’s assumed the player(s) take on the control of one of the great Kaiju’. Is the game just a free for all battle between players or are there different game types?

Some scenarios require the player’s kaiju to destroy certain parts of the city before he can be stopped by the other kaiju. The scenarios pretty much stick to the type of actions found in the Godzilla movies.


I’ve seen you mention the basic and advanced game, what would be the difference between the two?

The basic game is designed to be easy and fast, lots of crash and bash . . . easy to get young kidsto play . . .very little to learn. The advanced game adds special abilities of kaiju, special outside events, and gives the players a lot more decisions to make.


The games information page suggest scenarios. How does this tie into game play and how many scenarios are included?

I think there are 3 scenarios . . . they all take place in different cities, and the gameboard is built thereby – using the custom-made building pieces, including parks, lakes, etc – to do so. There may also be more scenarios available on the Toy Vault website after the game comes out.


Will it be easy for users to generate their own scenarios?



The geek pages says 1-4 players. I see you’ve commented on this in some threads the game can be played single player, but it won’t be as fun and it’s not superficially designed with a solitaire option.

Can you clarify how you can play solo?

The same way you play chess solo . . .you play each side when it is that turn. The game isn’t/wasn’t intended to be like a computer shoot-em-up – games I truly dislike – but playing GODZILLA by yourself is a good way to learn the mechanics, see what tactics work, etc. if you’re playing against yourself to win you have more problems than playing games can assuage.

Solitaire play will definitely be doable, and there will eventually be official rules regarding this. It will specifically be a Kaiju versus only military units, with the player attempting to reach a high
destruction score before being defeated by the military, with the military response increasing as the player's score increases.


The play time suggest a game can be played in 60 minutes. Is this for all game types?

Pretty much so. Basic game probably a bit shorter. We played two games (advanced) at my recent convention, both played out in about an hour


What’s a typical player turn like, why kind of decisions are they making?

Typically, the player decides what to do with his kaijiu., each of which gets 10 Activation Points to spend each turn. Move somewhere in the city, perhaps recover from his wounds (for which each kaiju is rated differently), decide to destroy buildings or attack an enemy kaiju, and, if the latter, which of his abilities should the kaiju use and, if it has them, perhaps some special, unusual capabilities.


There are also event cards that happen once per round, although players have no direct control over which ones appear - except to purchase "power-up" and similar cards.

Assuming the Kaiju have special abilities in the game how are those represented?

Each kaiju has the unique abilities given to him in the movies. They are listed on his Kaiju Card and accessed when he gets to buy a “Power Up” card that allows him such usage.


A game like this must involve combat between the Kaiju and also the poor military units. How is combat resolved? Is it quick? Is there a strategy element to it?

Combat, in the Advanced game, is resolved between kaiju by comparing (in a rather unique manner) their different abilities as displayed on their Kaiju Card, each kaiju choosing the power he wishes to use (the decision strategy) at that instant, depending on whether the players are going for more damage, status effects, or escape.


What went into selecting the Kaiju that are included with Godzilla himself? Are there licensing issues involved?

The games is licensed by Toho and uses only those kaiju in that frame. Within that parameter we chose the kaiju we felt would be most interesting to play with, each of which had different abilities.


The page suggest there are planned expansions, will these just included new Kaiju or will they have more scenarios?

While this is pretty much up in the air – and very dependent on consumer reception – the expansions would include new kaiju and new scenarios (and hopefully gameboards).


If you could describe this game in a few short sentences what would they be?

A fun, quick game of famous monsters smashing buildings and gnashing and crashing each other.


We want to thank Mr. Berg for his time and if you like this interview please link back to it instead of copy and pasting.
Friday, March 25, 2011

TI Expansion announced

Well this is somewhat of a surprise.

Fantasy Flight Games is proud to announce the upcoming release of Shards of the Throne, an expansion for Twilight Imperium! As the war escalates with the appearance of deadly new technology, three new races enter the fray: the Arborec, a sentient ecosystem made up of millions of plants; the Nekro Virus, a cold and unfeeling machine bent on the destruction of all biological life; and the Ghosts of Creuss, a mysterious race of beings made of energy and light. As they join the galaxy's elder races, the ruins of an ancient empire wait to be claimed by the most cunning, strategic, and powerful civilization left standing.

Seems like FFG is just cranking out the expansions lately. If you're a TI player this has to be good news for you. I'm sure we'll learn much more in the coming weeks now that the cat is out of the bag.

Godzilla is coming!!!!!

Well not Godzilla but designer Richard Berg took some time to answer a few questions on his upcoming game Godzilla: Kaiju World Wars. We'll be posting that interview on Monday. Yes folks this is what we call a tease.

It's card night 7 Wonders and Nightfall

Thursday night is my usual weekly gaming night. Last night I had full intentions to play games like Cosmic Encounter and Mansions of Madness but was happily derailed. It's not a secret that card and deck building games are very popular right now. There also much more profitable for the companies as it is far cheaper to churn out a card game then games with lots of bits.

I am / was really getting burned out on the whole card game phase. Last night however I had the chance to play two games I was very interested in and both revolve around cards.

The first game was 7 Wonders a game many people have been raving about and rightly so. Although I only played a single game I knew I had to find a copy so the hunt now begins. The game is sort of like a light civ game, but you also collecting sets and it has a card draft. I wouldn't even attempt to review it without a lot of plays but this is a really good, fun and fast game.

Up next was the new deck building game Nightfall. I really liked the concept of this game while reading about it and after playing two games I really liked it a lot. It is different then other deck builders like Dominion in that you're attacking the other players.

The game begins with a draft of cards, so you essentially get to draft 2 cards to your private archive which only you can buy (some cards circumvent this) and then you draft another card into the general buy pile. I think this is an excellent way to determine whats in play. However two things.

The game turn goes basically like this, if you have minions out they attack and then go into your discard pile. Then you may play a card to start a chain. Each card has a colored gem in the corner and that gem has one or two smaller gems on it. So my card Might be yellow big, blue and red small. I can play as many cards as I want in my chain from my hand. The the person to my left can elect to chain off my last card and so on. Once all players have had a chance to partake, the chain is resolved in reverse order.

After all of this has happened you then can buy cards. Each player has a standing 2 influence (currency) and then may discard cards from his hand to get 1 influence per card. So if you use all your cards in a chain you can't buy much.

The game plays very fast and it is definitely a pick on the weak guy / leader type game. In other words if you get pissed because people are slamming you with attacks this is not the game for you because you don't have the temperament for it and you're just really bad to leave yourself open.

Few things to note.

Your initial game of Nightfall is going to be wrong. The game is kind of fiddly to teach, even thought it is really easy. So you're going to be drafting and buying cards without knowing why no matter how well it is explained to you. The good news is even if that first game takes an hour, the next game will take half that time guaranteed.

Second since it was not my copy I am not positive but the amount of card variations seemed limited. In fact looking at the space in the box compared to the cards it came with I was thinking to myself did my friend get half a game.

Whether this will effect the game I can't say. The drafting is unique in that you can try to customize the cards to the way you play. However repeated playings, and this is a game begging to be played a lot, might leave you wanting.
Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Dilemma: The Preview of the BSG Exodus Review

So my intention this week was to do a review for the most-recent Battlestar Galactica Expansion: Exodus.

The problem is that this is one monster of an expansion.

More often than not, an expansion does one of three things:

1. Improves a portion of the game that the players complained about

2. Adds a new wrinkle to the game that usually improves the experience, but sometimes can bog it down

3. Offers more options that fit into the normal flow of the game. . .essentially taking your cheeseburger and adding bacon to it

Ultimately, after sitting down with Exodus and pouring through the rules, this expansion seriously changes the game significantly and in actuality, this changes the core game, adds components to the game and significantly expands the thematic elements of the game.

So my dilemma is even though I have played BSG at least 40 times in the past couple of years, there's simply no way to give this an honest to goodness review without trying all three elements of the game live and in person with other wannabe Cylons.

My initial thoughts of the new elements:

1. The Cylon Fleet

This expansion seems to be a direct response to the addition of the Pegasus option in the previous expansion (fittingly called Pegasus). This certainly balances out the strength of adding The Pegasus spots to the Human Fleet. The Engine Room is especially strong as it guarantees a jump icon and in recent games it's as if the humans are throwing a kegger in that spot because characters eventually end up there to guarantee a late game jump.

The Cylon Fleet adds a whole new playing board to the game. . .it corresponds with the original Galactica board and essentially enables the Cylons to keep an obscene amount of pressure on the human players.
"The Cylons are coming trala trala. . ."

In the original setup, the Cylon fleet is kind of a random element as it is card driven during the destiny deck resolution phase. The Cylon Fleet board makes space battles much more real and tactical in nature. Essentially keeping the Clyons on Galactica (and Pegasus') tails for the bulk of the game. I personally love this part of the expansion and can't wait until I get my first I'm a cylon card that enables me to take helm of the fleet.

2. Conflicted Loyalties

So, this is a very subtle addition to the game. . .it essentially takes the "You are. . ." and the "You Are Not a Clyon" cards and spices them up.

So essentially, if you thought BSG did a great job of building paranoia before, now it's been tripled.

Basically, if you play with these new cards you are going to be itching to toss nearly everyone out the airlock as humans are essentially forced to take on side quests and "goals" so the greater human cause does not get the shaft in the endgame. Of course most of these individual goals are going to look nefarious. . .causing your mates to question your motives and reach for that air lock button and toss your arse into the freezing void of space.

3. The Ionian Nebula

This is where this expansion really completely turns the game on it's head. This is a very, very thematic addition to the game where nearly all of the characters from the show are inserted into the game. . .and sometimes they will help and seemingly often times they will frack up your plans.

It's really hard to get my head around this part of the expansion as it really is creates a whole new experience. Clearly, I'm going to need to dive into this before I can really spell it out for you.

Anyway, that's my dilemma, a great game has been given a whole new look via expansion and now I need to get some fellow BSG'ers together for some marathon sessions to work it all out.

More to come. . .

More expansions

Apparently the boats are finding their way to port a lot lately over at the FFG warehouses. Several products were announced as on sale today.

First we have a couple of reprints of some Asylum packs for the Call of Cthulhu card game. From the description these are not only reprints but have been upgraded to the new 60 card format. Also what I gather top be a new asylum pack for the game is on sale as well.

For those of you still playing Tannhäuser, first of all congratulations because that is an achievement in itself, a new single figure expansion and an equipment card pack were also release.

Maybe one day I'll write about how excited I was for
Tannhäuser and how it is now just an odd sized box on my wall of games.

They can't all be winners right?

For more on these products head over to the Fantasy Flight site.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Updates on things to come

I just recorded an out of the box video for the new Tide of Iron expansion Fury of the Bear so I should get that edited sometime in the next few days.

I'm hoping to have an interview with Richard Berg the designer of the upcoming game Godzilla: Kaju World Wars. Richard has agreed to the interview so I'm just waiting on the responses to our questions.

I have a few other interviews in the works and as these pan out I'll post about them. I took advantage of the GMT coupon and order a few games. The only relatively new one would be Dominant Species. I've heard so many good things about this game and I thought for 50% off it made sense. Also have a P500 order in for Fighting Formations which is Chad Jensen's newest game. If you don't know Chad he is the man behind Combat Commander. I can't help it I have a war gaming addiction and no opponents.

Chaos grows

FFG has announced their plans to release an expansion called The Horned Rat for the game Chaos in the Old World. You can learn more at their site but the meat of the expansion is the addition of the Skaven to the game as a 5th player.

I really like Chaos it's a good game that doesn't see enough table time but I'm not sure a 5th player was needed. The board as it is feels pretty tight with 4 players. The expansion adds new cards for the existing races and what they are calling "expert" level old world cards.

Get 50% off GMT Games

If you read this blog you'll know that my favorite game is the Combat Commander series. One of my favorite companies is GMT games. Not only are their games really good, I just like the way the do business.

GMT recently launched a Facebook page and as a gift for getting 1000 followers in about a day they have posted a 50% off coupon code.

I'm not going to post that code here, if you want it then go to their page on Facebook and like them to find it.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011

LOTR:TCG Video Tutorials

Seems like i have a knack for talking about a game when it is about to get a media blitz. FFG is putting up a video tutorial everyday this week for their upcoming game. Usually when this happens the games release is imminent.

The first tutorial is an overview of the game and can likely be skipped, but the second covers the card decks and is a good watch.

For those interested in watching head on over to the FFG site or take this shortcut to get right to the videos.

GMT Games News

In the GMT newsletter I received today they talked some more about their future electronic offerings. Up until now the only one I've known of is a computer version of Twilight Struggle. Here is a short bit from the news letter

Last Fall, I let you guys know about our Twilight Struggle computer game project. That's still ongoing, but I wanted to use a bit of space here to update you on several additional projects we have begun recently, as well as to let you know the direction we're heading with Computer and I-Pad games.
First off, on the computer game front, we have one additional project that we have agreed to. This one is a computer version of Barbarossa: Army Group South, and hopefully eventually all of the Barbarossa series.
We've also begun our first two I-Pad game projects - one for Manoeuvre and one for Dominant Species.

I've actually been toying with the idea of an iPad version of Combat Commander, maybe I won't need to do that now.
Monday, March 21, 2011

Sometimes the rules sell the game

Recently FFG posted the rules to the upcoming Living Card Game Lord of the Rings. I wasn't very interested in this game to be honest. After getting invested in Summoner Wars and War Hammer Invasion and seldom playing them I wasn't sure I wanted another game.

The rules of the LOTR card game changed my mind however. I like the fact that it is a co-operative game which fits more in line with the theme. It is also scenario based and the rules make the game seem like it has a real narrative as you play. Player must work through challenges together, whether they be locations or enemies. Add to the fact that the game comes with multiple characters and 4 different spheres (i.e. decks) to play from and the game sounds very intriguing. I also like the fact that it seems to set up for a great solo experience.

Of course the game isn't even out yet and there are already two announced expansion card packs, such are the ways of LCG's. However unlike other games there is a real ability here to add scenarios and challenges for the players without making the packs about pimping out your player deck.

So it went from a zero interest title to very anticipated title. My only hope is it doesn't contain the amount of mis-prints found in FFG's recently release Mansions of Madness.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Review: Mansions of Madness

Mansions of Madness

2-5 Players, 5 seems to be ideal

Playtime, 2-3 hours, including lengthy setup time

MSRP $80, snagged mine online for $51

Designed by Corey Konieczka

Published by Fantasy Flight Games

The Rundown

It’s fair to say that Mansions of Madness is a hybrid descendant of Arkham Horror and Descent. A team of Investigators teams up to unravel the foul plot of the Keeper in what becomes easily the most true to source adaptation of an RPG distilled into a board game. Years ago, when first playing the Call of Cthulhu RPG I, as the Keeper, ran a group of investigators through a haunted house mystery and it felt a lot like a game of MoM. This is a story and adventure style game, players stuck on winning and ‘gaming the system’ should be advised that what they’re getting into is more of an experience played for the ride, not for the victory.

At its core, MoM is a crazy mishmash of a lot of little systems. For starters, each of the 5 included scenarios has anywhere from three to six different story choices that the Keeper makes prior to setup. In this, the game creates hundreds of different combinations of story elements so the same setup story has different goals, item locations, and victory conditions.

The Setup

It’s fair to point out that this game has a rather long setup time. Building the mansion itself is one of the easier aspects of the process, though it can be hard sometimes to differentiate one tile from another because the artwork is often a muddy brown with some very ‘samey’ qualities. Fortunately, the setup guide names them clearly to assist. Once the story choices have been made the real work begins. Story specific events and clue cards have to be retrieved. The keeper has to pull out a set of exploration, obstacle and lock cards exclusive to the scenario and then, according to his story choices, seed the board with these cards in specific order in specific rooms. After that a set of Mythos cards (Keeper actions) has to be assembled according to card symbols so they stay relevant to the particulars of the scenario, as well as a few always-available actions for the Keeper.

Players, meanwhile, have a much simpler task of selecting characters, and from there have a set of trait cards they get to choose from. This gives the character some sort of starting equipment or spell and, usually, a once per game action.

The Gameplay- Investigators

Investigation is the key for players, since they start the game with just a brief “Story so Far…” synopsis they have no idea what the mystery is, or how to win the game. To accomplish this they must explore the mansion in search of the clue cards hidden by the keeper. Players are limited to a single action, be it explore, run, attack or an action granted by a card ability. I felt like the players in my test games seemed a little overwhelmed on their first few turns because there were so many questions and no idea how to answer them. Once they began to encounter the obstacles, however, the systems began to fall in place. Lock and obstacle cards prevent investigators from entering rooms, usually requiring some sort of item to have been located or puzzle to be solved first. For me the puzzle aspect, while thematically immersive, is the single greatest speed bump in the game. It takes some time to figure out what combination of swapping, rotating and replacing will complete a puzzle. This creates a bit of downtime the other players usually fill by attempting to help the puzzle solver, something they’re not supposed to do. Eventually the hidden clue cards will be discovered, along with all manner of weapons and items to help fight of the Keepers attacks. Hopefully, if the players are listening to the hints on the clue cards, they’ll be pointed in the right direction to complete the scenario.

The Gameplay – Keeper

Keeper turns, I found, were generally quick. The turn starts by collecting one threat token for each Investigator. Fans of Fantasy Flight’s other games will recognize that this system was lifted entirely as-is from Descent, and it works well here. These tokens are spent on the scenario specific Keeper actions. Actions available summon monsters, move said minions around the mansion, or draw Mythos and Trauma cards that generally mess with the characters minds and well-being. Since monsters can only be summoned and moved one at a time, by spending threat, this works well to keep the Keeper from overwhelming Investigators with a swarm of creatures. The last thing a Keeper can do is attack with all monsters that are in a player’s space. Finally, to end the turn, a Time token is placed on the event deck, and when the requisite number of time tokens has been collected an event is triggered. Event cards act as a turn timer, pushing the story forward. Early events trigger happenings in the mansion, moving monsters, providing clues to the greater mystery and, sometimes, more resources for the Keeper. The 4th event card reveals the victory conditions. The 5th action card ends the game, whether the players or Keeper have achieved victory or not.

The Combat

Perhaps the more unique aspect of the design is the combat system. Attacking Investigators don’t simply roll a skill and figure damage. Instead, the keeper draws combat cards, specific to the type of creature being attacked (either Humanoid, Beast or Eldritch) and draws cards until reaching one that matches the type of attack the character is using (ranged, sharp or blunt melee, unarmed) . From there, an attack is described for thematic purposes and a skill test is listed. I like this, because the skill rolled can be any skill the character has, preventing certain characters from being unbeatable in combat or worthless in combat. Attacks originating from monsters work similarly, cards are drawn until the proper one is found (monster attack, monster vs. hiding, monster vs. barricade) and the instructions are followed. Sometimes this triggers a special attack that is hidden on the bottom of the figure’s base. Again, this system works for me because it prevents a single monster type from being super powered and too deadly to handle. Skill rolls still originate from the character and, aside from special attacks, combat effects from the decks seem fairy balanced out. Undoubtedly the frustrating aspect of combat is drawing over and over (and over) in search of a combat card matching the attack. You’ll see this especially when the monsters are attacking against barricades or hiding investigators as there are a limited number of these hidden in the deck.

Trauma cards are a wicked little trick in the Keepers arsenal, they appear as madness or injuries and may be played when an Investigator suffers a sanity or health loss. They can create skill check penalties, kleptomania, or even cause a character to unwillingly run right into danger.

The Good

Mansions of Madness features thematic, immersive gameplay that does fair justice to the Lovecraft Mythos. In traditional FFG style it also seems designed for expansions so as the game content grows I’d expect replayability to remain strong. I tend to like expansions for a game like this, so I consider that a positive, though some might see the opposite.

The Bad

There were a few misprinted cards, and while corrections were included in the box, this same sloppy proofing made its way into the rulebook. There is already a two page Errata and FAQ sheet on the FFG website, full of frustrating rulebook and card misprints and rules clarifications that you wish had made it into the actual rulebook. A revised rulebook in PDF would be the least you could do, guys. In addition, the box is extremely cramped. I’ve never been one to stuff components randomly into the box or hide the figures under the box insert, so I had to place them in a storage box. It almost makes me wonder why this didn’t end up in the famous FFG “coffin box”. With expansions certainly on the way it would be nice to have plenty of room to grow into.

If the first thing you see when you open the box is
an errata insert, yeah, never a good sign.

The Final Word

Despite a few awkward and annoying flaws, I’ll chalk this one up as a success.

Print your own Expansion

Not sure how this one slipped by me but FFG is now offering a new "product line" the print on demand products. You can find the information on it at their website.

This line from the article.

This new type of product marks a brave new avenue for Fantasy Flight Games, allowing for the production of micro-expansions for games that might not normally receive any additional printed components
The two expansions already available are for the Space Hulk Death Angle card game which I for one did not like at all. The cynic in me sees this as a way to get more cash (which it is) for products FFG expected to be big but where busts.

However the glass half full person is hoping that this will lead to expansions for games that deserve them like RuneWars and Star Craft. How these exactly work I don't know and I won't be spending the reasonable $4.95 to find out either because I dislike the card game so much. So if anyone has any input leave us some comments.
Monday, March 14, 2011

"Stealing" from Target

So, I was in Target earlier on a diaper run.

My oldest went with and we did the obligatory run to the toys section.

I always check the discount section there and look what I happened to find:

Knizia's classic Modern Art and the best news. . .check out the criminally low price:

That's right, only six bucks. I'm thinking even if I owned this, I'd still pay six for this any day of the week.

Makes you wonder both why someone would return the game. . .and second why Target doesn't simply send back to their Online Warehouse or realize that you could drop this by 50% and some educated gamer would likely spend that much for a classic like this. Oh well, I'm certainly not complaining. . .

Gears of War

Any FFG fan knows that the company has been working on a Gears of War board game for some time. Recent attendees of PAX East did not get a look at this game. However FFG did have a banner up for it apparently. There were no prototypes, no box art pretty much nothing but a poster. According to what I've read FFG just confirmed that they would be announcing something in the future.

It's possible given FFG's track record for how they announce games now that something could be on the horizon and who knows maybe a GenCon pre-launch. I certainly hope something is said soon because GOW: The Board game is turning into Duke Nuke'um the video game.

Game of Thrones HBO Series Promo

I think we are all huge fans of Game of Thrones the Board Game. Fantasy Flight posted the official promotions poster to their site today. Here is the link.

Count me in once the show hits the air this April.
Friday, March 11, 2011

Mansions of Madness thoughts

I really enjoyed this game last night. I'm saving the review for Chris since he will have in several plays by the time he puts it into blog form.

However after playing the game I examine the FAQ put out by Fantasy Flight. This game has numerous printing errors and not of the typo variety. Errors that affect game play, it also has several story errors in the text that comes with the game.

In fact in reading the FAQ / errata sheet I began to feel I know owned a game that was not really the best in terms of quality control.

6 cards have printing errors according to the sheet. Some of the story errors affect set up which can foil a game from the start. The map tiles are warping more then they should be for a new product. I notices in the copy we played several monster don't stay in there bases and at least one of the base clips was broken.

This isn't really what I expect from FFG in terms of a finished product, especially one they knew would be this popular. The warping issue is also affecting other publishers. My new D&D game had warping playing cards, Betrayal at house on the hill was unplayable after I bought it because of the warping of everything included. Not sure what is going on as of late but the quality of some games is not cutting it.
Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wizkids Breaks the Mold with a Deck, Er, Dice Building Game

Since sometimes gaming news has a bad habit of slipping through the cracks around the internets I unearthed this press release from way back in January. Comment follows after the press release.


(January 27, 2011 Hillside NJ) – WizKids announced today the addition of the Quarriors Dice Building Game to their summer 2011 product release schedule. Players take on the roles of Quarriors —mighty mystical warriors—who have the power to capture dangerous quarry from the untamed Wilds! They must conjure the mysterious powers of Quiddity, cast powerful spells, and summon their creatures to battle if they hope to overcome rivals and earn their rightful place as the Champion!

The game features 130 custom molded dice, 53 creature and spell cards and everything needed to play for 2 to 4 players.

“Quarriors has the frenetic excitement of a dice battle game,” said co-designer Eric Lang “with an added ‘deckbuilding’ twist: players customize their dice pools during the game using resources generated by their rolls.”

“It takes the best of deckbuilding games without the tedium of shuffling” said Mike Elliott the other co-designer of the game, “take a typical deckbuilding game, add the speed and fun of dice and in 60 minutes you’re on your second or third game trying unique strategies against your opponents.”

“When Mike and Eric first showed us the game we were amazed at how quick it was to set up and play and really get to the strategic elements of the game. We are excited to continue WizKids tradition of innovating core hobby gaming and believe this will really resonate with players who want to get the most out of a gaming session” said Lax Chandra President of WizKids.

While deckbuilding games are growing tired and played out (and "Quarriors" as a brand name is pretty weak) at least Wizkids is making an attempt at breaking the mold by changing the formula up a little bit. Games like this seem to be a great hit with the larger, more casual side of the gaming community and it makes sense for a publisher to pursue markets with the largest profit potential. Working in favor of this game is the deign team of Mike Elliot (Thunderstone) and Eric Lang (Call of Cthulhu card game, Game of Thrones CCG, WoW Boardgame) so there's a little bit of customizable game pedigree.

While details develop, price seems to be of the missing detail of foremost concern for me. How cheap can they make the game with 130 dice, cards, dice bags and a tin box? a $60 retail would pretty much kill my interest in the game entirely. Will keep an eye out for more news.
Wednesday, March 09, 2011

GMT Games

One of my favorite publishers is GMT Games. I can't think of one game I own from them that I don't like. GMT has done demos of their games via Vassal but they have just launched a YouTube channel which they are going to use to give strategy tips and demos for people. Chalk me up as one who wants a Labyrinth demo please. You can find their channel here.

While you're there don't forget about our channel, right now there is not much there but we hope to change this soon.

Pretty quiet around these parts this week as some of us are playing Dragon Age 2 which I may post some thoughts on.

Wednesday Wild Cards

My latest game order arrived today:

Here is what I picked up:

Finca--a friend of mine showed this to me a couple of weeks back, and it's another one of these games that has an oddball theme (fruit farming), but the mechanics work really, really well. I was shocked that this came out in 2009 and had never heard anything about it. . .even though it's older I plan on reviewing it anyway. . .

Charon, Inc.--Per my review, I am a person who follows what he preaches. . .seriously, try this out if you get a chance!

London--I have never played this game but saw that no one in Eagles owned it either. This was bought based on three elements:

  1. It was designed by Martin Wallace and I enjoy most/all of his work
  2. It sounded interesting and as I said above no one who I game with owns it
  3. It was tied to a free shipping promotion at the vendor I purchased from
Ultimately, the decision came down to this: spend ~12 dollars for shipping or buy a new (to everyone) game for ~$40 to get free shipping. I felt that it was in everyone's best interest to spend the extra coin to add the new game to the collective.

Did I make the right choice?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

LOTR The Card Game

FFG has a new preview up on the upcoming living card game based on the Lord of the Rings. I'm kind of getting card gamed out to be honest.

Hit the jump to visit FFG's site for more information.
Monday, March 07, 2011

Conquest of Planet Earth: The Space Alien Game Impressions

I got around to opening this game over the weekend and got through the rules. Conquest is a game for 1-4 players and I decided since I was lacking an opponent to try a single player game. Unlike some games that claim they can be player single player and in fact can not, conquest does not suffer from this issue.

I'm actually happy to have another game along with Labyrinth The War on Terror that I can play solo when the mood strikes me. The game is pretty simple, you choose an Alien race and then you set your sights on Conquering the Earth. In a single player game you're of course playign the game and the Earth's defenses are beefed up.

Apparently in a multi-player game you're one of the conquering alien races and you battling the other menaces from space to be the first to destroy the little humans. There is no game board per say as the planet is randomly seeded with cards as you go out to conquer. These cards have a defensive rating and a population rating. The defensive rating is how many battles you'll need to win to conquer this territory and the population rating is how many terror points you collect.

I'm very curious to play a multi-player competitive game because in such a contest you're trying to be the first to get to 8 terror points and in my single player game the way the cards were drawn out I could of accomplished this fairly easily. I have to see it in action but something just feels off from reading the rules and seeing the set up.

The game comes with a lot of cards with some fantastic art work on it. This is a change from the usually actors / photos of other Flying Frog games like Last Night on Earth. Like most of their games this one can also be player co-operative as well as competitive.

Hopefully I'll get this one to the table this week and can from some impressions on a full game and see if my concerns are off base.
Saturday, March 05, 2011

A Diabolical and Delicious Trip to Charon (Inc.) A Review

I just love the games that are so simple that it literally takes five minutes to review the rules, but complex enough to have the depth and challenge associated with those rules. Charon Inc. is both of those and more. . .as a bonus, it contains a subtle screw your neighbor quality that is deliciously hidden in the layers.

Name: Charon, Inc.

Designer: Emanuele Ornella

Publisher(s): Gryphon Games

Price: Varies. . .you should be able to score this for $25-$35

Number of Players: 2-5

Playtime: 30-45 Minutes

Objective: Outpoint your rivals by building the best set of buildings

Charon Inc. is essentially a resource gathering and building game, where you place miners on various quadrants of the moon in order to capture the proper number of gems/materials to build outpost buildings. This game is simple but the depth of play is incredibly strong.

The Game
In the setup phase you get a hand of cards and each card is an outpost building with a set value of points. Each building is available for each player, but you may only build a building once. For example you can only build the 10 value building once, but others can also build that. The buildings take various combinations of resources to build and this is where the game really gets interesting.

Next, the board is seeded with different colored materials and you have to beat your opponents to these. This is done by strategically placing your miners. In a rock-paper-scissors type of game, you have three options for placement. . .in a quadrant, which trumps middle and corner of quadrant. You may ask, why not just jump for the quadrants you want, well, that’s the beauty of the game and the chess match that lies within. Players can accumulate miner placement whereas they could have three edge pieces to your one in the middle which overrides the trump. It’s diabolical elegance at its best here on the moon of Charon. It's diabolical because if you play your miners wrong, you can easily get out-placed, out-gunned and out built. Sometimes you have to cut your losses to cutoff the leader. Or, simply change plans as competitors attack your placements.

Here is your playground. Feel free to play dirty--trust me, you'll need to. . .

After placement, one of your miners is left behind in the “Hub,” which grants you a special power like being able to change a placement, get a wildcard gem or keep extra gems each turn.

Keys to Victory
The victory conditions of this game are simple: acquire the highest value of buildings and you win. Ultimately, this game is won and loss in the placement stage and really remembering what gems you need. The first time I played this game, I kept losing track of what I needed and ended up tossing gems back (you can only keep two each round—unless you grab the warehouse special power that gives you a bank of six). In recent plays, I had to keep it running in my head like a jingle: “Two black, two blue, three yellow. . .” This allowed me to stay focused and accomplish my goals.

The Final Verdict
This game is incredible for what it is. I mean you have to love games that you can jump right into, but take a bit of time to understand and much more time to master. For the hour or less long game category, Charon, Inc. is rocketing up the charts!

Final Grade: A++

Pros: Easy to learn, hard to master. Very, very interactive. Lots of depth in strategy.

Cons: Harsh learning curve. Seriously, you’ll likely crash and burn the first time out. . . but that’s ok.

Recommendation: Buy, buy, buy. . .seriously highest recommendation
Friday, March 04, 2011

NinjaGo Impressions

New games for the weekend

Well this will be funny to some, considering my post the other day. I got a shipment of new games. Mansions of Madness is the first one, I think I'll let Chris learn the rules and teach me before opening it.

I also picked up Conquest of Planet Earth: The Space Alien game. I'm a big fan of all the Flying Frog games, I think I was one of the first people to purchase last Night on Earth at Gencon a few years back.

Finally I picked up the Tide of Iron expansion. Yes laugh all you want, I have a completest type mentality when it comes to owning games and I have everything else for Tide so i figured why not.

I'll probably get to none of these games over the weekend due to many activities planned for me by the wife but you never know I might sneak in setting up one.

Thar be Pirates.....sometimes anyway

Merchants & Marauders
Published: 2010
Designer: Christian Marcussen
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Rules Complexity: Medium
Players: 2 -4
Type: Competitive

Artwork: A
Bits: B+
Playing Time: 2-3 hours

Let me get this out of the way up front Merchants and Marauders is one of my favorite new games for 2010/2011 and I've barely scratched the surface. The game is set in Caribbean where you can take on the role of a influential merchant shipping goods from port to port. Have more sinister ideas of acquiring fame and glory? Well then a pirate life you be seeking.

Merchant off the port and she is riding low captain!
The game comes with a lot of bits for your buck. There are over 250 cards, 190 tokens, die cut treasure chests for each player to stash their booty. There are 26 plastic ship miniatures, featuring 5 different ship types. Finally there is one beautiful board which while big in size starts to feel crowded at times during the game.

As the game gets moving you'll have all players ships on the board, goods tokens, ship upgrade tokens, possible NPC merchants and pirate ships. Finally mission cards can also be placed on the board which struck me as odd. For a game full of bits that do an excellent job at keeping you immersed in the games theme, two cards laying on the board was not expected. Fortunately a little imagination and a printer and you can come up with some creative bits for those mission locations.

"Merchant and pirate are the same they just rob you in different ways... scoundrels to the man."

The game starts by each player getting one of the 16 random captains. Each captain has a set of stats for Leadership, Influence, Seamanship and Scouting. They also have a special ability such as Ignoring the effect of Storms. Finally a nationality and a home port. During the game ports will close to you either via your actions as a pirate or events pitting your country at war with other countries. However your home port never closes, it's like returning home from college and giving mom all that laundry.

You're captain and his or her stats will generally guide you to your career path. Some captains set up much better for being a merchant, while others a pirate. Of course you're free to follow your own course. After you have seen your captain you secretly choose either a Sloop, which is better for pirates or a Flute which is ideal for shipping cargo and your off.

The object of the game is to be the first player to 10 Glory points. You gain glory points from various things such as defeating another captain, plundering 12 gold in a merchant raid and selling 3 in demand goods at a port. You can also stash gold in your treasure chest whenever you're in your home port and for every 10 gold you get a secret Glory point. While you can stash as much gold as you want in your treasure chest you can only accumulate 5 glory points this way.

While theoretically this can catch players off guard it is pretty easy to tell if a captain is stashing gold and while you never know how much. If a player is at 5 or 6 victory points and has set full sails for his home port you know whats coming. What's unique about this mechanic is if a player declares victory in this manner the other players still get to finish their turns. Glory points on the board count more then glory points gained from stashed gold. So if I had declared victory with 5 Glory on the board and 5 from my stash, and Chris who had 7 glory on the board managed to finish his turn and have 3 glory from his stash he would win the game.

A turn starts by drawing an event card. Events can bring into play NPC pirates or nation specific ships, storms or the previously mentioned wars. NPC pirates hunt player merchants and npc ships hunt players with bounties on them. I wont go into the whole hunt order but just note it is fairly simple to follow and the NPC's move on the event cards so it is not cumbersome at all.

A players phase consist of a combination of 3 actions. They either move around the seas or to and from port. They conduct a port action or they scout for a merchant vessel. Port actions allow you to sell and buy goods, recruit crew, upgrade and repair your ship and of course get rumors which is an excellent way to get glory points.

Scouting allows your captain to search for merchants and plunder them if they so choose. Every sea zone except for one is governed so to speak by a nationality and each sea zone has a merchant token. After a successful scout you can flip the merchant token and then either decide to plunder that merchant or one of the zone. For example if I am in the Spanish zone of Havana and I flip a Dutch merchant token I can choose to raid the Spanish, the Dutch or no one.

Raiding a merchant gets you a bounty token. This is how you officially become a pirate. Once you've done this NPC ships hunt for you, ports close to you and life can get much harder. No one said being a pirate is easy, but with risk comes reward and with planning and luck you can make a go of it.

Bring her about and fire all Canons.
I don't want to spend a lot of time detailing combat, you can find how it works in the online rules. The important thing to know is that combat is fast. There are actually two types of combat. When you raid a merchant it is all card play and it literally takes no more then 2-3 minutes. This mechanic in a game with a lot going on is perfect. It doesn't inflict the game with downtime.

Combat is a bit different when fighting another player or NPC as it should be. Even then it is pretty fast. You choose to either shoot, board or flee and you see who has out maneuvered who and then go to the results. Even after boarding, crew combat is fast and furious. The typical combat of this type is going to take 5 minutes, 10 tops for newer players.

I think this is the key to what makes Merchants a very good game. The combat and raiding gets the job done and doesn't slow down the game.

Set course for Tortuga

I haven't even touched on Missions which if solved give you glory and some kind of reward. How each port has a special ability. Glory cards you receive when acquiring a glory point which do all sorts of wonderful things such as giving you special crew members to extra actions. Captains can retire and die which means you're never out of the game and can change your play style mid-game.

Make no doubt about it Merchants is a game with a lot going on and it's all very good. It's also a game that needs to be played several times to be appreciate. It's very tempting to go the merchant route. It is far easier at the start of the game and some even say it is easier to win the game playing a merchant.

I'd disagree, because successfully playing a pirate puts the choices in your hands. You're not hoping to find the right good while purchasing and being able to move it close by. As a pirate if you make the right decisions on who and when you strike you can gain a lot more glory quickly. Sure at the start you're vulnerable with your little sloop but just a few successfully raids and spending your money on upgrades instead of goods is going to pay off.

However that first game most people will flounder in between merchant and pirate and that is the worst way to play and it draws out the game. You need to pick one and go, and for a first time player that is easier said then done.

Which brings me back to my initial point. Merchants is a game you need to play a few times to learn "how to play", not to learn the rules. Each game gets better and better and a seasoned group of players can result in an interesting contest.

My recommendation is buy it.

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