Fantasy Quest: No more games - play what you’ve got! Part 2, Return of the Living Deck Builders

Thursday, March 27, 2014

No more games - play what you’ve got! Part 2, Return of the Living Deck Builders


I’ve banned new games from being purchased in 2014 to allow us a year to play through all the games we’ve already got – and there are a fair few of them, though a very modest collection compared to many other gamers.  If a brilliant, must-have game emerges this year I’ll just have to wait to see if it survives a few months of fair reviewing and the cult of the new to become a lasting classic, and if so I should theoretically have no problem picking it up in 2015 anyway. 

Truth be told, we’ve not passed the first quarter and I’m already wavering a little on this rule with the launch of the MERCS Recon Kick Starter.  If it goes anywhere near as mental as Myth it will be too good to resist given the amount of toys on offer for the standard pledge amount.  I pledged Captain on Myth and I’m worried about the seeming lack of structure and rules palava but very much looking forward to my international package arriving, whenever that might be.  And once our American friends sort out the rules FAQs and make us some nice reference sheets to get stuck in with I’m sure the whole game will run like a dream… 

Anyway, I’m definitely keeping an eye on Recon too to see how it goes, and already threw in my dollar pledge to keep up with their updates, and also because – despite all the rules hassles and apparent issues with Myth - they genuinely seem like a great bunch of guys.  Also, the Fireteam Zero KS game looks sweet too, with a great theme and cool minis…  Must.  Resist…

February was all about play-testing 1066, and getting to grips with Sedition Wars, which was an unexpected development considering I’d only originally bought the game for parts.  But Sedition Wars turned out to be a neat replacement for Space Hulk, which you can read all about if you scroll all the way down to, um, the next sentence…





Sedition Wars: The Battle for Alabaster

I didn't KS the game, and judging from the hate in the BGG forums I feel really bad for those that did.  But it was going ridiculously cheap in the UK last year (£20 for 50+ minis in the core set) and I needed the gluing and assembly practice for when [thing=55690]Kingdom Death[/thing] arrives.  I was dreading the process, but the barrier to entry on the game turned out to be even more enormous for me than I’d thought:

  • The rules are a mess and took a thorough re-re-reading, with much head scratching.
  • I had to glue in all the FAQ updates to the rulebook, and some of those didn't make sense either.
  • Having not assembled minis since a Warhammer skeleton set when I was a kid (I should post pics of those – they’re hilarious, like each dude has a giant mutant fungal infection, if fungus looked like massive glue globs) I had to invest in some precision sprue clippers.
  • I had a nightmare with poly cementing the figures because they all just fell apart overnight, undoing all of my meticulous work, that was one disappointing morning.  Lesson learnt – don’t bother with poly cement.
  • Eventually got some loctite glue from eBay and spent three nights gluing the buggers together (everything except for the big monster's mouth tentacles, which I’ve left in the box to this day as being too fiddly for now).
  • Managed to glue my forefinger and thumb together too, which are now permanently in the 'A-okay' pose.
  • Then we had to pilfer the doors from Space Crusade as the game doesn't come with any, even though they're pretty essential to the gameplay.
  • Then we had to nick the tiny red dice from Warhammer Quest to track character's health because the wound counters were too cluttered.
  • Had to buy a hobby box to store all the counters in, which are poor quality paper counters, a few ripped whilst being punched, and paper particles were [i]everywhere[/i].
  • Then when we finally played there was much rules up-looking on BGG required midgame too.
  • Also, the tiles are afflicted by the dreaded warping.
  • Universal Head's rules summary is essential to play it as are his updated character cards, so thanks once again UH for saving the day.
  • And I still have to paint the minis.  Luckily I’m not a minis painter, so that will probably never happen.  Although, now that I’ve moderately successfully tackled gluing minis…
  • Anyway, had I known there would be so much prep involved I might have avoided it altogether.


All that said, when we finally got to play, I was quickly addicted!

  • There is way more going on here than in Space Hulk for example, with tons of individual character abilities, which can be activated in different ways on different turns.
  • There are cool terrain features to interact with which change the landscape of each scenario.
  • The flavour text is great, and really bulks out the huge rules book, though I didn’t read all of the flavour because…  it really bulks out the huge rules book.
  • The back and forth play of actions and reactions makes for incredibly tactical and tense games.
  • The minis are some of the best I've seen, and I especially love the overall look of the Vanguard figs.
  • The tile art is really nice, if a little dark.
  • And for a few weeks earlier this year this was all we played.
  • The theme is a total winner for me, and it feels a little more gritty and nasty – vanguards getting infected and mutating into baddies, corpses turned into radioactive spores which can turn into monsters too - than say, Doom, which I also enjoy, but which is more cartoony.  I think I prefer Sedition Wars.
  • The force points totals for choosing your guys each mission gradually open up as you progress through the scenarios, which means you can learn the basics with the first scenario and then you get to move on and access the bigger dudes and abilities as you go along.  I’m really looking forward to opening up the bigger squads and bringing out the big guns.  On both sides.
  • In fact I'd happily go back to play it again right now, whilst the rules are still vaguely in my head, preferably.
  • And now I also have some basic glue skills to apply to KD:M when it lands…


In our first two games I bagged two wins against Sam as the Strain, and the first game could not have been closer, with it coming down to the last die roll, which is kinda what you want in a game like this.
Then we played another session the week after and as I was the Vanguard in scenario 2 Sam wiped me out handily, which does mean that currently the Strain are unbeaten.  But I think it’s too early with a game like this to judge if the Strain are over-powered, it certainly didn’t feel like it in our second game.
Definitely want to play again with more force points to see more of the game and to try for a win as the Vanguard, but overall, and more importantly - for the price I paid - this was a really great purchase.

Games played in 2014 = 3
Rating in 2014 = 7.5



Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game

Took quite a few sessions over the years with the base game alone before I realised I needed every expansion going for this game.  Started by picking up Survival of the Fittest, which I think was a mistake as Growing Hunger makes for a more sensible progression, and SotF assumes you’ve already read the GH rules anyway.  But once I picked them all up we were off, all the expansion decks got shuffled in, and we haven’t looked back.

We decided to have a bash at Plague Carriers, because it didn’t look too complex, and I think we’d only played it once before.  Sam played the zombies, with me as Victor the crim and Goddard the teach, whilst Dan was Sally the schoolgirl and Sam the diner cook.  We hobbled off to a tricky start but soon tooled up our heroes.  With fairly few wounds and some meek resistance from the Walkers, we raced out of hiding and hopped around the board getting head shots on all the plagueys with some added dynamite fun from Goddard and his permanent ‘lighter’, handily wiping them out with about 7 turns to go on the sun tracker.
As light and breezy as this is once you get past all the rules and FAQ issues, and as dice and card reliant as the luck is, LNoE is such a fun game, it will always have a place in the collection, even though it can sometimes go long for what it is.  And occasionally, like this time, the end result can be pre-determined maybe sooner than you’d like.

I’m intrigued by the levelling up rules from Timber Peak, but I’m not seeing the value in getting that as well as the base game now that we already have the LNoE expansions instead, and there just isn’t room in the collection for both.  Plus LNoE has so much replayability built in.  I’m also reminded that I picked up the Horror Clix game Freddie Vs Jason for £2 a few years ago, and the minis and bits from that went straight into the box for LNoE.  Which means at some point I’m going to have to sit down and design that Freddie Vs Jason Vs Zombies Vs Heroes scenario…

Games played in 2014 = 1
Rating in 2013 = 9
Rating in 2014 = 8




Thunderstone

I love the art style for this game, love it.  I really like the idea of light and its impact on the different levels of the dungeon, but I think it’s poorly executed.  It’s just basic maths at the end of the day, but it detracts a lot from what you’re doing whilst you’re working it out, even after a few plays, and there’s so much adding and subtracting that you really get less of a feel of dungeon exploring, which is ostensibly what this game is.  I hear they’ve tightened this up in the new edition, but I’m not really interested in re-buying the game again.

However, as a light deck builder, this passes the time nicely.  The random setups give tons of replayability, but can deliver some occasionally very odd gaming combos.  This particular session we ended up with only really high cost heroes in the line up, which meant it took us longer to get going, but then we beasted through the dungeons more quickly once we were up and running.  The pace was pretty even, though it felt like Sam was dominating for the most part, levelling up his heroes more often than I was.  But all those extra village visits would be his undoing as I just kept chipping away at all the monsters, and eventually beat him to the Thunderstone for the victory.  Just.  The scores were 47 to 45!

A good solid deck builder, but not the best deck builder…

Games played in 2014 = 1
Rating in 2013 = 8
Rating in 2014 = 8



Dominion

Sam properly kicked my arse at this.
I’ve still got tons of respect for it as the daddy of Deck Building Games.  But it feels like most other DBGs have improved dramatically on the design since.  This feeling might be mitigated with expansions, but why bother doing that when you can build on better DBGs already instead?  And there are so many Dominion expansions I’m not sure I’d know, or care, where to start.

That said, it’s a good, fast playing game, with occasional minor confrontation thrown in with certain cards in the random set up, like Militias and Thieves.  Again I like the card art in this game, which I’m a sucker for, though the box art is bafflingly rubbish – seems like a missed opportunity there, but certainly didn’t hurt its sales figures!  I don’t really get the feeling of building my city, but then I don’t really get much thematic satisfaction from deck builders, because everything you build or develop quickly disappears into your big stack of cards.  I think Mage Knight (or even Pathfinder) handles this deck building implementation more ‘thematically’ by making it a set of spells, items and actions you have available, instead of buildings or people that occasionally pop up, depending on what hand you’re dealt.

I’m developing this deck building mechanic as one element for my horror game Blackmoor, where your deck is a set of emotions your hero has.  Playing emotions drives the actions available to you, and as you explore the game, your more placid emotions are gradually replaced with more extreme anxieties, fears and rages, as your hero starts to gradually lose it from the events he’s witnessing.  So, for example, if you see flitting shadows in a darkened room you might get an anxiety card, but if you see a massive rearing tentacled beastie you get a terror card.  An anxiety card might help you to run away from something, but a terror card is less likely to help you, it might even drive you to do something crazy to get rid of it, like murdering an ally or stranger.  And of course if you don’t get rid of that terror card, and it’s still in your deck come the endgame, well, then really bad things are going to happen to you...  Since deck-building decks are constantly in flux I think mechanically it fits nicely with how a person’s emotions are constantly in flux, whereas more fixed game elements, like items or people will stay out in play independently of the deck building aspect of the game.

Anyway, rambling aside, Dominion am good, but not as fun as the other DBGs.

Games played in 2014 = 1
Rating in 2013 = 7
Rating in 2014 = 7



Rune Age

Okay, so here’s my current favourite strictly DBG (i.e. not Mage Knight) deck builder.
This is a hugely underrated gem of a game, with loads of different play styles which are all thoroughly fleshed out and enjoyable.  There’s a nice solo option, some great competitive scenarios, some which have direct conflict and plenty of attacking each other, some are more like competitive races, and then, especially with the expansion included – and you really do need the expansion if you get this game, for the extra units, variety and races – there are really cool cooperative scenarios too.

We decided on the competitive racing type for this session with two games of Monument, which we’d not played before (I won both sessions).  This is yet another great scenario, where you’re racing to build your civilisation’s great wonder or, er, Monument.  This is a great, really enjoyable game in any case.  Beautiful art, typical of FFG, set vaguely in the Runebound world, and with the random card load-outs and asymmetrical starting races, punishing event cards in all the scenarios, and the varying scenarios themselves, there is a ton of quality variety and replayability in this comparatively teeny tiny box.  The die roll when tackling events adds a really sweet element of tactical pressure – do I go and smite this dragon now with a potentially under-prepared force, or do I wait until I’ve got the firepower to tackle it and potentially risk my opponent getting there first?  There are also plenty of opportunities to sneakily steal your opponent’s cities and cause havoc with his deck too.  Actually notched this up a point in the rating because it plays so quickly and easily.  Definitely on a par with Resident Evil for best deck builder, probably even better than RE though.

Games played in 2014 = 2
Rating in 2013 = 8
Rating in 2014 = 9




1066: Tears to Many Mothers

We’ve been play-testing the crap out of my latest two player game design, 1066, Tears to Many Mothers, and I’m really delighted with the results.  Plays much faster and more aggressively than Fantasy Quest, which makes sense since it’s a more directly competitive conflict game, and with a much simpler rules set, which is much kinder on my feeble designer brain when I have to explain how to play it to others.

I put a ton of time and effort (like, hundreds of hours so far) into getting the little historical details to match up with the gameplay where possible, writing in as many of the characters and events involved in the battle of Hastings as I could, whilst keeping the deck sizes relatively pared down – currently just 77 cards on each side - though there are obviously narrative jumps and embellishments to aid the overall playability.  And every card has its own bit of historical flavour text so you might actually learn something as you go.  I should really start pitching this format to schools!  Re-living and re-writing one of the most important battles of the middle ages has never been so much fun!

We’ve repeatedly swapped sides and tinkered and tested and though they’re asymmetrically designed, both decks are evening out in the wash in terms of balance, and more importantly, fun.  There are plenty of cards on both sides which can trigger a moan of despair from your opponent, but also plenty of nasty quick-death cards to effectively counter them.  My mate at work, despite getting his arse kicked every time, keeps asking to play it at lunchtime, which has been an absolute god-send in terms of getting repeated play-testing in.  He finally, literally, beat me at my own game yesterday, now that familiarity with the cards and tactics is beginning to set in, especially in the little details – like manoeuvring Units and Characters into their most effective slots (e.g. the Norman cavalry were stationed at the rear, whilst the Saxon housecarles led the shield walls from the front, so if you can match those positions with your cards you’ll get a bonus), just like in the real battle.  And my gamer buddies have greatly enjoyed trying to break it, of course.  It even gets asked for like, you know, a regular game now, to kick-start the night.  :D

So many games, so many stats, but the most notable victories are the down to the nail ones, where both sides have claimed a Wedge each and are fighting hard for every single point of damage on that last Wedge.  Or when Harold gets his last point of health taken out by an Arrow to the Eye.  Or when the Saxons bagged that final Wedge battle by careful manipulation of… Drinking and Singing, literally drinking and singing their way to victory!

After compiling tons of feedback on everything from the rules, to the card template layouts, to the balance, quantity and relative strength of every card, I’ve ordered the latest and probably final version of the cards from Printer Studio and I cannot wait for them to arrive.  :)

Games played in 2014 = Many.  Tears.  To Mothers.

Oh, and here's a pic of Sam and me throwing down on 1066 at the GNOME 2014 Bolton gaming event, image courtesy of William Riley:




  
So that’s it for now, hopefully I’ll do a catch up again soon.  Here follows the rest of the games we want to get through this year.  Oh, and World of Warcraft: the Board Game has finally gone, I ditched it for £20 at the Bolton gaming event.  Slow and steady wins the race.

A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game
Arkham Horror
Call of Cthulhu: Collectible Card Game
Claustrophobia
Constantinopolis
Dark Darker Darkest
Descent: Journeys in the Dark
Descent: Journeys in the Dark (Second Edition)
Doom: The Boardgame
Dungeon Command: Sting of Lolth
Dungeon Lords
Dungeoneer: Vault of the Fiends
Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game
Dungeons & Dragons: The Legend of Drizzt Board Game
Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of Ashardalon Board Game
Eclipse
Flash Point: Fire Rescue
Fortune and Glory: The Cliffhanger Game
Gears of War: The Board Game
Gloom of Kilforth: A Fantasy Quest Game
HeroQuest
Invaders
Lord of the Rings
Lords of Waterdeep: Scoundrels of Skullport
Magic Realm
Omen: A Reign of War
Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords - Base Set
Resident Evil Deck Building Game
Return of the Heroes
Revolver
Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island
Space Crusade
Space Hulk: Death Angel - The Card Game
Star Wars: The Card Game
Tales of the Arabian Nights
Talisman
The Ares Project
The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game
War of the Ring (first edition)
Warhammer Quest
When Darkness Comes
Zombies!!!
1066, Tears to Many Mothers




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