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GamesQuest, Insomnia and the UK Games Expo

Well, it’s been a while since I wrote anything on here, but this time I have good reason for not being around! Basically I’m under orders from my doctor to rest up. So that’s exactly what I’ve been doing!

I have a shed load of things I want to discuss on here, but I’m going to spread things out over several posts, just so I can rest between writing them. This post is going to be a high level overview of a few of the things I’ve been up to over the past couple of months. So, here goes!

Gamesquest
GamesQuest – For a couple of months now I’ve been spending some of my free time writing for the GamesQuest blog. I’ve had the chance to write reviews for some fun games and, as you may have guessed, I’ve enjoyed every minute of it!

GamesQuest sell the latest and greatest games and collectibles, so if you ever need something then check them out! Here’s list of the blog posts that I’ve done for them; if you’re interested in reading up on any of these games then follow the links direct to the post:
Rampage
Space Cadets – Dice Duel
Assassins Creed Arena
Marvel Dice Masters Preview
Marvel Dice Master Review

Insomnia

Insomnia51 – In April, I went to my first ever Insomnia Games Festival. It was a great experience with lots of PC gaming going on all around. I’d never been to an event like this and I found it quite interesting. I watched some of the indie developer talks and there was a lot of useful information from the video game industry that you could quite easily extrapolate to apply to virtually any other industry, especially that of board games.

Having stopped playing video games a couple of years ago I was primarily interested in the particularly busy area of the exhibition hall that was occupied by non-other than the GamesQuest team and their vast selection of board games. This was the first time I’d had the chance to meet Nigel (Mr GamesQuest) and Nikki and I were really glad we took the time to visit.

We were in Coventry from the Friday to the Sunday and during the day we spent a lot of time at the GamesQuest area. We got the chance to try out some fun games such as Zombicide, Game of the Thrones the board game, Assassins Creed and Small Worlds. We also spent some time away from the event playing Fairy Tales and Marvel Legendary with the new Paint the Town Red expansion.

During the evenings we grabbed some food before heading back to the Ricoh arena to catch up with Nigel and Paul for two very fun-filled gaming sessions in their hotel bar. We had the pleasure of meeting some great people and played some awesome games such as Kackerlacken Poker, Nosferatu and CV. I just want to give a special thanks, and shout out, to the following people for welcoming us into their group and providing hours of entertainment:
Nigel and Paul Matthews
Daniel Thompson
Peter Coleman aka Moley
Paul, Connor and Harry Wheeler.

If there’s one, vitally important, thing that I’ve taken away from Insomnia, it’s the knowledge that I am possibly the worst bluffer in the entire world… My appalling number of losses at Kackerlacken Poker will haunt me forevermore! I still bought my own copy, and a copy Nosferatu too, the next day though!

UK Games Expo

UK Games Expo 2014 – Last year I was fairly new to the world of board games, I’d played enough to have heard about the UK Games Expo, but I hadn’t got any real experience with being part of a gaming group, or simply sitting down at a table and joining a game. It was all very new and scary to me. I dropped in on the 2013 expo around lunchtime on the Sunday, right near the end of the event, and I didn’t have a clue how to make the most of the time I had. We bustled around, bought some games and didn’t get a chance to look at everything. We should have made time and got there really early!

This year I’ve learnt my lesson, I’ve joined various gaming groups, become more involved in my blogging and am more keyed in to the board game industry as a whole. So I’ve bought tickets for the entire event, including a hotel stay at the Hilton where it’s being hosted, just to make sure I don’t miss out on a single thing!

As of writing, there’s only ten days left to the UKGE 2014 and if you’ve not got a ticket then why not? Go buy one right now! Literally, stop reading my random ramblings, go to the UKGE website and book one for collection on the day! The pre-booking is only open until May 23rd so there’s only four more days before you’ll have to hope you can get one on the door!

What I’ve come to realise is that, last year, my opinion about the event was tainted by my own lack of preparation and turning up late on the Sunday. This year I won’t be making the same mistake!

Make sure you get the most out of the expo as well and, if you can, attend both Saturday and Sunday, if not Friday too! There’s tonnes of things to do this year, including the famous bring-and-buy sale, numerous tournaments, an alien laser tag event, Numerous RPG sessions, the exhibition hall (rammed full of game retailers) and absolutely tonnes of demo games going on across the weekend. That’s not to mention special guests such as Ian Livinsgtone, Steve Jackson, Matt Leacock and Chris Barrie!

Coming Soon

Coming Soon! – One of the cool things that came out of visiting Insomnia back in April; I got to spend a good amount of time chatting to Patrick Campbell, one of the UKGE organisers. He had a tonne of interesting stories to tell about the crazy things that’ve happened at the event over the years. Personally, I found them all very exciting and I simply don’t want to miss out on any of it this year! I’ve since been in touch with Patrick and he’s agreed to answer a few questions for the blog to give everyone an insight into what the event’s all about and why he loves organising the UKs biggest board gaming event. Stay tuned for that appearing on the feed soon!

Also, in the next week or so I’m going to be running a competition to win something VERY cool. Keep checking back for more details as I get them!

Carnevale di Venezia Meets The Walking Dead

carnizom

Today I got to play a game that I first heard about on the Dice Tower Top Ten Games from 2013. I’m not sure how it happened but the game in question totally slipped under my radar last year. Yet, somehow, it had made it onto the top ten games from 2013 lists for both Tom Vasel and Sam Healey.

The game I’m referring to is called Carnival Zombie. A 1-6 player, co-operative, game set in Venice. The story driving it all is quite interesting; the city was built atop the corpse of a great, long-dead, leviathan which has awoken and is now rising from the lagoon. As the beast slowly rises, the city of Venice crumbles and sinks into the murky water. You play the role of a band of survivors led by a carnival character named Captain Terror. Your task is to either escape Venice, or destroy the heart of the beast and send it back to its watery grave. Being a complete sucker for an intriguing story and a zombie theme, this one drew me in straight away.

The game runs over a series of days, each of which is split into two phases, day and night. Each phase is split into four hours and each of those hours is split into a series of steps. At night there are six steps and during the day there’s only a single step per hour.

The Board – When you open up the game board you’re faced with a series of sections that track virtually any aspect of the game. There’s the stats for the different types of zombies, a whole host of boss characters stats, a day tracker, an hour tracker, health (or stress) trackers, a map of Venice (used during the day phase to move the group around the city), and finally a large central section that represents the area within Venice in which the group have dug-in and need to survive the night. The group are situated in a refuge at the centre of this section, and they must defend themselves until dawn breaks.

photo
Click image to view a larger version.
board
Click image to view a larger version.

As you can see from the images above, the refuge sits at the centre of the board and is surrounded by three concentric rings labelled rings I to III as you move outwards. The refuge is split into four, and each quarter splits rings I to III into two outward cones. Each quarter of the area is called a ditch, and each cone is called a cave. Again, take a look at the image if you don’t get what I mean. I can honestly say that I have no idea why they would call them ditches or caves, but they have so that’s what I’ll use here.

Each night begins with a setup stage, during this stage a series of obstacles or terrain tokens are added to the board and the characters set up the refuge in the very centre. Setting up the refuge involves setting up a series of barricades that act as a temporary shield and positioning the characters within the refuge. Finally, a series of terrain and bosses are added to the board.

Now the first hour of the night begins with the six steps.

  1. Use items
  2. Infected appear
  3. Bosses and infected move
  4. Characters act
  5. Bosses and infect attack
  6. The hour marker advances

Characters can carry items, such as a traps, absinthe or even a cigar. It’s during step one that they can use their items. After this a series of infected (zombies) are added to the board. Three in each cave, placed in zone III. The first time you do this you’ll look at the board and wonder how you’ll ever kill them all… One tip! Don’t spend too long pondering that question, the truth is, you won’t kill them all.

The zombies and the bosses all move inwards along their cave based on the movement attribute of each. After the advance, it’s your time to act. Using a variety of actions, such as special actions, movement within the refuge, melee and shooting you will attempt to defend yourselves. It’s during this step that you really need to be thinking ahead. At the end of the night phase, you will have to leave the area, heading in a direction as determined by the Venice map section of the board. Any zombies or bosses that are left in the caves associated with the direction that you’re heading will automatically hit the group as they leave. This is VERY painful if you’ve not planned ahead.
After the characters act we move to step five and the zombie fiends attack destroying barricades and injuring characters that they can reach.

Finally the hour ends and the hour marker advances. Bring on steps 1 to 6 again and repeat until the end of the dawn hour.

Having survived wave after shuffling wave of zombie death we’re progressing onto the day stage. This stage moves a lot faster than the night because the living dead retreat back into the lagoon and give you a very short break. To start the day, you leave the combat area and take any damage as I mentioned earlier. Then you draw a nightmare card to determine which, if any, areas are flooded, and find out what horrible events take place. Nightmare cards are used for numerous things during the game, random character selection, boss or terrain placement, and even search results.

Now you turn your attention to the map section of the board and move the group towards one of the possible goals. Each move along a route costs an hour of the day, plus any modifiers that can be applied. In theory you could move up to four spaces, but I doubt you’ll survive long if you do. After you’ve moved the group around the map, any day hours left over are used for character actions. Each character gets to perform one day-based action per daylight hour available. Eventually the day ticks over and we’re back to the night, still battered from the night before but ready to fight on.

I mentioned earlier that there’s several ways to beat the game. You can escape by boat, escape via a bridge connected to the mainland, escape via an airship, or if you’re really daring, plant and prime a holy bomb right at the heart of the leviathan! Whatever you choose to do you must reach a specific location on the map and carry out a specific action. When you accomplish this, you trigger one of the games four finales. I’m not going to spoil these by detailing them, but trust me, they’re fun scenarios that are really thematic and full of more challenging action.

OK, so that’s a high level view of the game, but there’s two aspects that I glossed over and left until now. That’s the zombies themselves and an interesting little mechanic that I’ve not seen before. The zombies you place on the board are represented by cubes that you draw from a bag called the abyss. There are also other cubes in there representing survivors (beneficial) and paranoia (not good) but I’m not going to go into any detail on those in this post. As you kill zombies, you take them from the board and then drop the cubes onto a gravestone board at the side of the main board. You can’t just place them on there, you have to drop them. The cubes you drop onto the gravestone have to stay on it. As do any cubes that are already on it. At first this is fine, but as you kill more zombies the pile on the board gets bigger. Eventually you’re going to drop a cube and will either knock other cubes off, or roll off itself. Any cube that touches the table, whether it’s still touching the gravestone board or not, is instantly placed in ring III of the cave from which you just removed the zombies. It’s a nice subtle mechanic that adds a little bit of dexterity to an otherwise “thinky” game.

So to actually give an opinion for this game I want to make it very clear that I really like itI It reminds me of Ghost Stories, Castle Panic and Dead Panic but I have to say that I get a lot more from Carnival Zombie. There’s a lot of theme to this one, helped along by some beautiful artwork, and there’s a constant feeling of dread as each wave pours out to destroy you.

However, despite the fact that I like the game, there were several unforgivable problems with the production values:

  1. The card stock used for the chits, and the board itself, is very thin. It cheapens what would otherwise be a great game.
  2. The rulebook is a translation from the original Italian version. Translations are fine, but I would have to question whether this one actually underwent any quality assurance checks. First off, a lot of the rules are badly worded. I’m no copy editor but some of the mistakes were pretty bad. Secondly there’s a line in there that has been translated, but the original Italian is right there next to it. And finally there’s a section for a boss called the Tenor that is still in Italian with absolutely no translation in there at all.
  3. At first the cubes felt like a cheap cop-out, something I’d like to replace with miniatures to boost the visuals of the horde. However I can see why cubes are used instead of minis, for both the drawing and the dropping mechanics.

As a whole I really rate the game. If you can see past the few quality issues, as I have, then you will really enjoy it. I’ve not seen it in many UK stores, either online or bricks and mortar, but if you can get your hands on a copy then I recommend that you do so soon!

I got mine from: Rules of Play who are very friendly and will put one aside for you. I also believe that they might even post out via Royal Mail if you’re willing to pay the postage cost. Drop them a mail for more details.
Alternatively, as of writing, there’s some available from the BoardGameGuru online store.

Enjoy!

Mice and Mystics

Mice and Mystics

Anyone who‘s read my blog before may know that I’m a massive fan of games with great theme and an interesting story. I love to use my imagination when I play games and love to “see” the action taking place in front of me. Today’s post is all about a game that achieves this like no other game I’ve played before. Mice and Mystics, designed by Jerry Hawthorne and published by Plaid Hat Games is an amazing story-based game that tells the tale of Prince Colin and a band of merry mice who embark on an epic adventure to save their kingdom.

In this post I’m not going to go into how you play the game, or give any detail about the story, that would just spoil it for you. The real purpose of this blog is to take a look at three aspects of the Mice and Mystics offering and why I think they really make this game stand out from the crowd. Once I’ve done that I’ll leave you to form your own opinions on whether the game appeals or not, but I’d love to hear from anyone who agrees with me and goes on to enjoy the tales of Prince Colin!

So, let’s move on to three key things that I love about Mice and Mystics.

Story
Mice and Mystics comes with a beautiful storybook called Sorrow and Remembrance. This is the very heart of the game and everything that you experience during play is driven by one of the books eleven chapters. For maximum enjoyment each chapter should be completed in order, as a campaign, which advances the story as you progress. Aside from the rules that underlie the game, the individual chapters provide players with a series of new and unique challenges or decisions, including new chapter specific rules and excellent tile layouts. Every decision made links directly back into the story arc and can influence aspects of the game in later play.

Mice and Mystics is a co-operative game in which players form a party of mice which they follow through a fun and unique adventure. During their time in the game, players rapidly come to know and love their little characters and it’s not uncommon for people to form bonds and develop favourites. (Personally I’m a big fan of Maginos!)

Each chapter of the story can be played as a standalone adventure, but the campaign is where the story comes into its own. I won’t be including any spoilers here because I think people should experience this game for themselves. But, I will say, Mice and Mystics rides astride an excellent story which will appeal to gamers young and old.

Framework
Mice and Mystics is more than just a game. It’s a framework. Inside the box you get the core rule book which provides you with the basics upon which you can build your own fun and interesting rules and tales. There’s a set of eight, large, double-sided tiles that enable you to create a variety of different environments within which to scatter the numerous search deck cards that guarantee a large degree of variability as you develop your storytelling skills. The minions provided in the base box should be enough to enable you to make some fast and frantic encounters but there’s absolutely nothing stopping you from creating your own minion cards to represent anything you can possibly imagine.

Mice and Mystics will appeal to players of all ages, and once they’ve finished exploring the wonderful tale found within Sorrow and Remembrance they’ll want to know what happens to Prince Colin next. There are expansions available for Mice and Mystics but we’ll cover those shortly. Here we’re thinking more about how you can use the elements the game provides to tell your own stories, or more importantly, how children can use them to explore and build their imaginations. Eric Summerer of The Dice Tower fame has often commented on his podcast that he and his son have spent many hours playing scenarios that his son has created. Mice and Mystics, through its story and excellent framework makes me happy to be a gamer. It provides a spark that many family games lack and I smile whenever I hear of people building their own scenarios and sitting down to explore their own imaginations. I’m a strong believer in the old saying “A family who plays together, stays together.” and Mice and Mystics is definitely one to play together!

Expansions
Like any good story, there’s always a sequel in the works and the story-based nature of Mice and Mystics makes it incredibly easy to build and expand upon. Since its release there’s been a lost chapter called Cat’s Cradle, a small box expansion called The Heart of Glorm. In fact there’s even a big box expansion called The Downwood Tales in the works as we squeak (Sorry). I’m not going to talk about these in any depth here, but I wanted to make you aware of their existence because you need to know one very important thing! When you spend your cold hard cash on this game you aren’t spending it on another “one off” title, you’re buying into an adventure story that’s receiving the love and attention it needs to grow and flourish. The story telling minds of Jerry Hawthorne and his Plaid Hatted friends are pumping their hearts into this game and when you first venture into the world of Mice and Mystics you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

In summary…
So, there you have it! The three things I love most about Mice and Mystics. I really hope that I’ve persuaded you to take a step towards getting this game for your collection. It’s a beautiful work, not just as a game but as a story and I think it deserves a place on every gamer’s shelf.

X-Wing Vs Enterprise

Galaxy Trucker
Back in August 2012 Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) released a major new title – Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures.

Using the awesome FlightPath™ maneuver system they successfully implemented the fast and furious dogfights that we all know and love. The base game provided everything you needed to play a quick game with the iconic X-Wing and Tie-Fighters. Then, just add a few expansions such as the Tie Advanced and the Y-Wing and you can stage even bigger battles. A few months later and we saw the release of a 2nd Wave of ships. This wave introduced the Millennium Falcon, Slave 1, the A-Wing and the Tie Interceptor. I bought both the first and second waves and enjoyed several space battles with them. Eventually FFG announced the third wave containing the B-Wing, Tie Bomber, Lambda Class shuttle and the HWK-290. At this point I have to admit that although I like Star Wars, none of these ships interested me in the slightest.

I considered whether to buy the 3rd wave and realized that, of all the ships I knew from the Star Wars universe, I already owned the ones that actually interested me. Unless FFG could pull a Death Star out of their pockets there wasn’t anything else to draw me in… This view was only magnified at GenCon 2013, where even the newly announced larger ships just didn’t do a thing for me…

With nothing of interest on the cards from the X-Wing miniatures world, FFG finally announced the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back”. An Imperial Aces Expansion Pack featuring two TIE interceptor miniatures with alternate paint schemes… I knew they were running low on ships, but I hadn’t realized it was getting this bad….

So I was left with a slight dilemma. On one hand I love the game, and I enjoy playing it, but on the other hand I don’t see it going anywhere with regards to the ships I can bring to the table. So I decided to take a big step and look into another possibility – Star Trek Attack Wing from WizKids.
Truth be told, I’ve always preferred Star Trek to Star Wars so the game instantly had an advantage over X-Wing. I ordered the base set from Gameslore.co.uk and it arrived at warp speed (sorry) and was soon sat waiting to be played. On opening the box I knew that I was on to a winner.

Star Trek Attack Wing has the same gameplay as FGGs X-Wing Miniatures game but with the ships of the Star Trek universe that I grew to love as a child. The base game comes with ships from the Federation, the Romulan Empire and the Klingon Empire factions. Despite there being plenty of possible ships for each side to include later on, I was slightly worried that I might be in for the same disappointment as with X-Wing. So, with a slight nervousness, I took a look at the available expansions.

It turns out that the base game hit retailers at the same time as eight different expansions. Included in the mix are iconic ships such as the USS Enterprise which is unfortunately a very small model in comparison to all of the others, and the I.K.S. Negh’Var. There are also two ships for a fourth faction, the Dominion. The great thing about each expansion is that not only does it grow each of your factions, it also adds different scenarios to the game, expanding not only the ship selection but also the play style. So, if you go out and buy the RIS Apnex expansion you get cards that provide setup and rules for a scenario called Testing New Cloaking Technologies. This really adds a lot to the game for me and I can’t wait to bring some of these scenarios to the table.

Impressed with this initial lineup I had a quick look for details of the next wave. What I found was a simple four ship release, one ship for each faction, but among those four ships lurked the USS Defiant! Brilliant!

Sheepishly I dared look beyond this to the next wave. Again a set of four ships and again another gem. The USS Excelsior! Amazing!
So Star Trek Attack Wing definitely has my attention for the foreseeable future, but what can we expect from it going beyond the next few waves? First off, there’s a large community drive to promote the series, with story-based organized play events re-enacting the battles of the Dominion Wars and offering participants a selection of exclusive incentives. Check out the WizKids site for more details of this.

More importantly though, there’s a very large hint in the core rulebook itself. Taking a look at page 18 under the Initiative heading you’ll see a whole list of different factions listed in addition to the four base factions. So if the game gets the love it deserves we could be seeing the Borg, Species 8472, Kazan, Bajoran, Ferengi, Independent and Mirror Universe factions hitting tables sometime in the future!

I don’t know about you guys but this all sounds pretty damn good to me, certainly a lot better that a new paint job and an oversized transport ship. In my opinion, Star Trek Attack Wing is definitely one to watch!

Dungeon Roll

Galaxy Trucker
It’s been a while since I posted a review so let’s start off with a nice easy one to get back into the flow of things. Today I’m going to be discussing Dungeon Roll a dicey dungeon delve created by Chris Darden and Kickstarted by Tasty Minstrel Games.

I received my copy of this a few weeks back, and anyone who bought this through the Kickstarter campaign received a copy of the game and the expansion in an exclusive mimic box, a treasure chest with teeth! The artwork on the box is quite nice and when I got it I couldn’t wait to open it and see the contents.

In the base game you get seven Party dice. Each side of a single Party die has a symbol representing either a Fighter, Cleric, Mage, Thief, Champion, or Scroll. You use these to form your party as you delve into the dungeon.

Next you have the seven Dungeon Dice. Each side of a single Dungeon die has a symbol representing either a Goblin, Skeleton, Ooze, Dragon, Treasure Chest, or Potion. As you delve into the dungeon the number of Dungeon dice rolled increases with the dungeon level, for example, at level one you roll one dungeon dice, at level two you roll two dungeon dice and so on until you either retire, get defeated, or reach level ten. (There’s a D10 die in the box to show the level of the dungeon!)

One of the more interesting aspects of the game is the fact that you personally represent a character in the game. Before you begin you are randomly dealt one of the character cards. The artwork on these cards is beautiful and they add a lot to the game. You start with your character card on its weaker side and at any point in the game you can trade in five experience points to “level up” which basically means flipping the card over to its more powerful side. The basic game comes with eight of these cards and each has its own unique specialty which is active throughout the game, and an “Ultimate Ability” which is a once per delve ability.

As I mentioned, there’s also a character expansion pack which came with the Kickstarter package, but can be purchased separately for those who got their hands on the game after the campaign. This expansion adds eight more characters to the game for greater variety. It’s certainly not a necessity but there’s some nice characters and powers in the pack.

Out of the box you get a selection of cardboard tokens which represent Treasure and Experience (XP). Treasure tokens are placed back into the game box, shaken up, and drawn at random during certain stages of the game. XP tokens are placed at the side and earned during dragon fights or after a player retires. If I’m honest the XP tokens needed a little more thought, on one side of each token is the Roman numeral I, indicating it is worth 1 XP point. However on the other side of each token there could be a III (3XP), V (5XP), or an X (10XP). Unfortunately if you happen to be someone who likes to hold their winnings or, like me randomly plays with them during play, then the tokens can quite easily be flipped over to add or remove points to or from the total. I personally would have preferred the Tasty Minstrel guys to have provided a single extra sheet of tokens with independent 3, 5, and 10 XP markers on it.

If you backed Dungeon Roll via Kickstarter then you also got some exclusive content. The Guild Leader character who comes with an additional speckled party dice, improving your odds in the dungeon. Two additional dungeon dice and two cards representing the graveyard and the dragon’s lair. I guess the extras are OK, the Guild Leader is a nice addition and I think the extra dungeon dice were a nice touch. However, I really think they should have added three dungeon dice instead of two, that way you’d have one die per dungeon level. It just seemed a little bit cheap to have missed that one die. Finally the graveyard and dragons lair cards add nothing to the game other than a visual aid as to where to place used party dice and dragon dice.
Gameplay is fast, you take part in three delves and then count your XP to see how well you did. To begin a delve you roll your party dice to determine your party. This provides you with a mixture of characters that are going into the dungeon alongside you.

Next you roll a number of dungeon dice equal to the number shown on the dungeon level die. You may then “use” (discard) your party dice to deal with each of the monsters or items that appear in the dungeon. Each character in the party can be used to remove one of each type of dice. However each character type is strong against one different enemy type. for example.

You have three party dice showing a mage, a fighter and a thief. You roll three dungeon dice and get a skeleton and two oozes. You could use your mage to remove the skeleton, the fighter to remove one ooze and the thief to remove the other ooze. However, the mage is strong against oozes and a single mage can remove any number of ooze dice. So you use either your fighter or thief to remove the skeleton and the mage to remove both oozes.

Aside from monsters, dungeon dice may also show a treasure chest or potion. You don’t have to do anything with this type of die and they can be ignored in order to progress to the next level. However each of these types provides its own unique bonuses if you do decide to use it. You can use one party die to open a treasure chest, or one thief to open all of the rolled treasure chests. For each chest opened you get to draw a treasure token from the game box. The tokens benefits range from additional party members to additional points. At the end of your three delves each treasure token you still hold is worth one additional XP. You can also use one party die to quaff any number of potions. A potion enables you to take a dice from the graveyard and place it back into your party, any face up. This can be very powerful if the dungeon happens to contain two or more potions because you can resurrect your party and delve even deeper into the dungeon.

When a dragon dice is rolled as part of the dungeon level, it does not attack but is instead placed in the dragon’s lair, where it remains until activated later. After you clear all of the dungeon dice from a level you may have to fight the dragon. If the number of dragon dice in the lair is equal to or greater than three then you must fight. If it is lower than three, you can continue to the next level or retire, taking XP equal to the current level.

If you had to fight the dragon you must use three dice of differing classes to defeat it. For example two mages and a thief could not defeat the dragon, but a mage, a fighter and a thief could (Treasure tokens can help here). If you can’t defeat the dragon then your delve ends without receiving any XP. However, if you did defeat the dragon you receive 1XP and a treasure from the game box. You then decide to continue to the next level or retire to the tavern.

When you choose to continue, you increase the level die value by 1 and then repeat the above process. If you retire you receive the XP points equal to the level, reset the level die and proceed to the next delve. If you ever get to the point where you have to decide whether to retire or continue and the level dice is already on 10 (Dragon icon) then the delve automatically ends. You are the stuff of legends and you receive your ten XP points.
So, that’s how the game plays, but what did I think of it? On my first play through I have to admit that I was largely disappointed. Gameplay seemed dull, there wasn’t much going on, and I just didn’t get it. I was playing the game on my own and I didn’t think that this would have much of an impact on my enjoyment, however I was wrong.

The game supports up to four people, so I figured I’d give it another try with an extra player. As a two player game, your opponent takes on the role of the dungeon and rolls the level dice against you. The only real difference here is the addition of a person. You take it in turns until each person has completed their three delves and then compare your XP. Playing it like this really improved the experience. There was some banter going on between us, it felt as though you were achieving something when you rolled the dungeon dice because each bad thing you rolled hurt your opponent rather than yourself. It was definitely a lot better than with one person, but what about three or four players? Personally I don’t think the game will work very well with three or four players, I think there’s going to be far too much downtime between your delves and only involvement for two people at a time. As such I think the sweet spot for this game is at the two player mark.

Overall, after my second play through, I liked this game, but only as a two player experience. It’s nothing special, its light, it’s fairly fast and I’d play it again. The tokens and cards make it a little more fiddly than Zombie or Martian dice so it’s not one you’d be able to play in a queue, but it adds just enough extra depth to bring this out as a filler between games if I needed a break.

Forbidden Desert – Worth it or not?

Forbidden Desert

Yesterday I got my grubby little hands on a copy of a new game called Forbidden Desert. This is a follow-on for the 2010 Matt Leacock hit, Forbidden Island. As of writing I’ve played Forbidden Desert once so I’m only giving my initial impressions here, as I play it more my opinion may change and I’ll update this if, and when, it happens.

In 2010 I purchased Forbidden Island, I knew nothing about it other than it was cheap and I didn’t have much money at the time. It turned into an instant classic in my house, it was simple, thematic, and charmingly beautiful in both game mechanics and graphic design. So, yesterday when I saw the new, younger, sibling sitting on a shelf; a hint of excitement crept into my mind. Making a split-second decision I purchased it, said goodbye to the friendly Rules of Play staff, and scurried off to play with my new little treasure.

Just like Forbidden Island it’s in a tin. It’s a bigger tin which may be a problem for the tin haters out there but it has some nice imagery and doesn’t seem to be a particularly odd shape, it fitted on my shelf quite nicely.

On opening the tin you find a series of tiles, cards, player pieces and collectible items etc. Taking a closer look at the contents I started to get a sense of déjà vu and started to wonder if this new game was actually much different to the first. With a cynical eye I began mentally comparing the two.

First off I looked at the objectives for the game. Those of you familiar with the first game will remember that you were searching for four artefacts hidden across the island which you then had to escape with from a helipad before the island sank. In Forbidden Desert you’re looking for four parts of an ancient plane that you must rebuild at a helipad of sorts, in order to escape the filling or sand-blocked desert. So in one game the land sinks into water, in the other the land gets buried in sand… I wasn’t really seeing much difference there.

Next I looked at the characters, there’s six different roles and each person selects one. Hello, this sounds familiar, in fact this climber fella, he can pass through blocked spaces… Sounds a little like the diver in Forbidden Island passing through sunken spaces. The seed of doubt was starting to sprout and push its shoots deeper into my mind. Had I just bought the same game with a new coat of paint?
What else do we have? The stick with which to beat us! Forbidden island had a measure which increased as the waters rose and the number of flooding cards you drew increased… Forbidden Desert has a measure that does exactly the same thing but increases the number of sand storm cards you draw. These two games appear to share the same core concepts, but there has to be something new here somewhere, doesn’t there?
For those of you reading this and starting to worry, then don’t! Although the core concepts are almost identical, the mechanics that determine the problems you face work in a different way altogether.
In the first game you drew cards and watched areas sink, however in Forbidden Desert the storm cards move the eye of a sand storm around the board. Tiles move like shifting sands and the play area changes nearly every turn. It’s certainly different, and seems to work quite nicely.

One thing that appears to be an entirely new and interesting element to the game is the concept of self-preservation. Each character has a hydration level, if they ever hit zero they die of dehydration. In order to win the game everyone must survive! Water is scarce and as the storm levels increase the chance of drawing a card that reduces everyone’s water levels becomes a very real danger.

Finally I looked at how you locate the parts for your plane. This works somewhat differently to the first game. In the desert you must excavate tiles and reveal various symbols representing the different items you’re looking for. Once you have two matching symbols they provide the clues that unlock the location of an item. It appears on the board and can shift and become blocked by the storm if you don’t collect it soon enough. Although the mechanism appears quite different from the first game it ultimately doesn’t actually feel all that different when you play through.

A game round of Forbidden Desert boils down to players taking it in turns to perform a series of four actions from the available action types (Move, Clear sand, Excavate and Pick up items.) Followed by the active player drawing a number of storm cards equal to the number shown on the storm measure. I won’t go into detail on how the eye of the storm moves, but it does, and it leaves a trail of buried tiles behind it. I only played on the Novice setting, but towards the end of my play through the amount of sand spreading across the board was somewhat daunting.

Anyway that was my very brief comparison of the two games along with a whistle-stop summary of how this new game works in terms of gameplay. You might have read this blog entry and got the impression that I didn’t particularly like my new game, but you’d be wrong. Despite the glaring similarities between both new and old games, I still felt that it was giving me a little more than its predecessor. However, that “little more” might actually be the biggest problem with this game. It does a good job at what it does, but the difference between it and the first game is so slight that people may not feel that it’s worth buying the second game. I can safely say that personally I prefer Forbidden Desert, however if I’d played it before I bought it then I don’t think I would have purchased it. My general gut feeling is that if you already own Forbidden Island you might not really need this game in your collection, if however you don’t have the first game then I’d definitely go with Forbidden Desert, it has just enough to make it that little bit more fun than Forbidden Island.

Galaxy Trucker 5th Anniversary Edition

Galaxy Trucker

Ho Ho Ho! I hope everyone had a great Christmas!

I thought I’d get a review out for one of the games I received this Christmas. Galaxy Trucker 5th Anniversary Edition!

A friend of mine already has the base set for this game and I have to admit, I love it, he loves it, everyone we’ve played it with loves it. This year Santa himself decided to bring me my very own copy of the 5th Anniversary edition. A giant box packed full of galaxy trucking fun!

Open it up and you’ll find: The Galaxy Trucker base-game, “The Big Expansion” and “Another Big Expansion”. There’s also some extra cards thrown in to balance the game and impose handicaps on experienced players. This all makes for a LOT of stuff in this box! Hundreds of tiles, tonnes of game boards/ship types, and a whole host of other fun cards and pieces!

If you already own the base game then you might not find this set quite as appealing as I do, because of the repeated content, but I would seriously consider trading away your base set and upgrading! It’s great value and you get a single box to store it all in!

For this review I’m only really going to comment on the base game because that’s the one I know the rules for. It’s also the one I just finished playing with my non-gamer parents! I think I need to give a bit of gaming history with regards to gaming with my family.

Summer 2011 – My parents played Arkham Horror with me. The rules were too much for them and my Dad walked away mid-game.

Christmas 2011 – I tried to introduce my family to the Battlestar Galactica boardgame. They love the show, the rules are straight-forward, or so I thought, and I was certain I was onto a winner. Alas it didn’t work out that way at all. This prompted me to rethink my Christmas gaming approach and release my personal Christmas number one!

“Last Christmas, they tried a big game,
But the very same day, they swore never to play.
This year, to save me from tears,
We’ll play something simple!”

So this year we started with Carcassonne (they don’t come much more simple!) and then I decided to take a punt…. I persuaded them to play Galaxy Trucker!

Not wanting to scare them too much, I introduced them to the base-game and left out the little pink and brown aliens because they were already a little overwhelmed by the different components without adding any more confusion.

We played through the usual three rounds of the game and they actually enjoyed it! Yes there was confusion, yes they lost miserably, but they enjoyed it because when things went wrong we could all laugh!

For those who haven’t played the game and want a better idea of what it’s like, here’s a not-so-brief description of what to expect:

You start with a board. On this board appears an outline for a spaceship (your truck!) There’s a pile of face-down tiles in the middle of the table and on the word “Go”, you retrieve a single tile at a time. On each tile you’ll find a different ship component. Place the component on your ship board, connected to another piece, or return it to the pile face-up.

Essentially you’re competing against the other players to find useful pieces and build an effective truck with no exposed connections, plenty of weapons, engines, crew, energy and shields. If you take too long you’ll be left scrounging through the useless pieces your opponents rejected; build too quickly though and you may connect your ship parts incorrectly and incur a penalty!

Eventually, someone will turn a timer and trigger the last stage of ship building, all players have until the timer runs out to finish ship construction. Ships are inspected for errors by all players and, following acceptance of the build, the trucking begins!

The journey you take consists of a variety of adventures represented by a deck of cards. Asteroids, Smugglers, Abandoned Stations, Planets, Open Space, Slavers, Epidemics and Saboteurs await you on your journey! Each card is encountered in turn and there’s lots of laughs to be had as chunks of badly formed ships are torn asunder and entire space crafts ripped in half.

Along the journey your sole purpose is to collect credits, or cargo. When you arrive at the end of the journey you trade in the cargo for credits and obtain yet more by arriving sooner than other players, or still having the best formed ship by the end of the journey.

With your first journey over, you do it all again. This time with a bigger ship and harder adventures. Repeat for a third round, and then add up all of your credits. The player with the most credits wins!

In summary, this is an amazing game, fast, fun, exciting, involving and very easy to teach. If my parents can understand it then anyone can! I recommend this to people looking for something to spend their Christmas money on! I’m very glad that I have it in my collection and thoroughly look forward to trying out all of the new ship components and layouts from the included expansions. If someone else in your gaming group has the base game; still consider getting this pack! When you go to theirs you can play their copy, and when you’re playing with other people you can play your own.

Score: 9/10

So with the review complete I thought I’d leave you all with a Galaxy Trucker and Christmas-merriment inspired adaptation of the 1987 classic: Star Trekkin’.

“Star Truckin’ across the multiverse,
On a great big rust-bucket, under captain Jerk.
Star Truckin’ across the multiverse,
Boldy going forward, we don’t have reverse!”

Zombie Dice

Zombie Dice

Grrrrr Arrggghhhhh!!!

Sorry, that was my appalling Zombie impression. Not as easy to do in text form as it turns out…

So, today I’m reviewing Zombie Dice by Steve Jackson Games. It won’t be a long review which actually reflects the very essence of the game itself!

When you get this game you immediately think “God, did I really pay £10 for that?” Or at least that’s what I thought! In the packaging you get a cylindrical tube, 13 custom dice and a tiny rules sheet. It hardly felt like value for money… But I was wrong… That £10 could be one of the best spends in my entire gaming life! I’ve had the game about three days now and have played it around 50 times. That’s 20p per game and that cost will only keep dropping as I play it more!

Gameplay! It’s fast, fun and you’re a bloody Zombie! What more could you ask for?

Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Take three dice from the pile. Roll them. Keep any brains or shotgun blasts you roll, ignore the feet.
Step 2: Decide if you want to roll again, top up your in-hand dice to three and roll again.

If you ever decide to stop rolling then you note how many brains you collected that turn and add them to you current running score. Return all dice to the pot and play passes to the next player.

“So why would I stop rolling?”

If you ever have three or more shotgun blasts in a turn (made up of the multiple rolls) you lose the brains you’ve collected that round (Retaining your existing total.) and your turn ends.

“But How do I win?”

Be the first to collect 13 brains! Simples!

This is a game of pushing your luck. No guts no glory!!! Or in this case, No brains no glory! It’s fast paced, fun and full of laughs. You’ll be talking about that gutsy (dumb) roll your opponent made for ages.You know, the one that went horribly wrong and saw them shotgunned back to hell!

Great stocking filler for Christmas that most people will pick up on the rules quickly! Recommended! And if you’re not sure if it’s for you, you can try it for free on your iPad or iPhone! Not sure if it’s on Android or Windows Phone yet though!

Score: 7/10

Carcassonne

Carcassonne

Once, not so long ago, I was a massive Monopoly fan. I know, I know, give me a break, I was young and knew no better!

Anyway, it’d be safe to say that I loved the game, the interaction, the social aspects of that Scarlet-boxed temptress. Everything was good between Monopoly and I, we spent many fun hours together… Until! One day, a good friend of mine introduced me to a blue-boxed mystery.

To the untrained eye this newcomer appeared simple, no frills, no money to get in the way, you might even describe it as plain. BUT! Beneath that plain, almost drab, exterior hid true beauty! A beauty that, without an introduction, you would walk away from in blissful ignorance of what you’d just missed.

It was on that day that I fell head over heals in love with this delightful blue stranger. The more time I spent with it, the deeper in love I fell. My relationship with Monopoly was left in tatters as I came to realise what true beauty really was. I eventually left Monopoly and its controlling temperament behind and have never looked back. My blue-boxed beauty, or Carcassonne as you may know it, has changed my perception of games, and what makes one good. It’s simple, well-balanced and can be taught in a matter of minutes.

Right, let’s set the drippy love story aside and look at the game itself!

Carcassonne, is a tile-placement and area control game all in one. It’s designed for 2-5 players, but you can add a sixth player, and may even like to look up the solo variant on BoardGameGeek. There are very few rules to follow and it can be taught in a relatively short space of time. This game is what I’d describe as a true gateway game. A game that people of all ages can understand and enjoy.

“But if it’s so simple, won’t I get bored with it really quickly?” I hear you ask.

The quick answer… I doubt it! The tile placement mechanism provides a massive amount of variety, and for those who are looking for something a little deeper or complex, you can throw in an expansion or twelve! Only yesterday I received a parcel containing, not one, not two, but seven!!! Mini expansions. That’s not to mention the plethora of large and mini expansions that are already out there! This game may just be close to perfection!

“Nothing’s perfect, there’s got to be something wrong with it somewhere.” you say?

Yes! There is something wrong with it, that’s why I said “Close to perfection”! The problem for me is the theme! If you’ve read any of my other posts you may have realised that I like to imagine myself in the heart of the action. Don’t get me wrong, it’s got a theme, it’s just not a particularly engaging one. Imagining myself stood on a road, laid in a field or strolling city streets just doesn’t do anything for me. I love The gameplay, the way it can bring people together and the strategy behind it. But! If I want to give my imagination a spin, I’m afraid I won’t be knocking on Carcassonne’s door.

So in summary, buy Carcassonne, buy it for yourself or buy it for your non-gamer friends. If they can get past the theme, they may just convert!

Score: 8/10

Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica

WARNING: If you haven’t seen the Battlestar Galactica TV show but intend to watch it in the future, then this game contains a shed load of spoilers!

However, if you enjoy the show, or don’t care about spoiling the plot, then you should buy and play this game now!

Man created the Cylons, robots designed to serve the human race. The Cylons turned upon their masters and a bitter war ensued. Eventually an armistice was declared and the Cylons left the planet of Caprica to seek their own home-world. Over forty years pass with no word from the Cylons…

The humans live in happiness until a devastating and unexpected Cylon attack ravages Caprica and almost entirely wipes out the human race. A small number of ships escape including Battlestar Galactica. As time progresses the remaining humans come to realise a shocking truth. The Cylons have evolved, they’ve developed, and they come in a human shaped package! Anyone could be a Cylon, your neighbour, your friend, even your mother. Who do you trust???

You begin the game aboard Battlestar Galactica, no-one knows anything about any of the other players, but everyone must work together to guide the ship to a new home.

The rules of the game are very simple. Each player is given a secret loyalty card which tells them if they are Human or Cylon. Each turn the team must confront a challenge, to overcome these challenges each player can contribute skill cards of various colours. Some colours help with the mission, others hinder it. The card plays are blind so that you never know what anyone else is playing, but to add a little more confusion to the matter there’s a fate deck of skill cards. Two cards from this deck are placed into every challenge. With fate and player cards placed, they’re shuffled and turned face up. Colours that help are counted, and those that hinder are subtracted. If the total is higher than that required by the challenge then the team passes.

This all sounds fairly simple but remember, as you do this, you never know who the Cylons are. Who put those treacherous red or yellow cards in there? Was it your fellow crew mates? Or simply a bad turn of fate?

Using other game mechanisms you progress along your course, attacked by Cylon ships, boarded by Cylon Centurians, desperate for food, low on morale, scrounging for fuel, and fearing an ever decreasing population.

There’s a constant niggling worry whilst you play this game. If you’re doing badly you worry that you’re going to lose, when you’re doing well you’re suddenly worrying what’s around the corner. And quite right too! You’re a Human striving for the existence of your very race. Or are you? At the halfway mark, the game takes an interesting and painful twist. A second loyalty card is dealt out to each player. All you’ve worked for, all you’ve known to be true, could be turned on its head.

Bam! You’re a sleeper agent! You’ve been given a Cylon loyalty card. Now that amazing job you’ve been doing, you have to try and undo it all, you have to bring this ship and her crew down, and you have to do it fast.

In your sudden attempts at sabotaging the ship your crew mates become suspicious and throw you in the brig. Do you sit it out? Wait for them to let you free? No! You declare yourself a Cylon and unleash all hell on Galactica, turn after turn you throw worse and worse problems at the crew. Can they survive? Only time, and a whole heap of fun, will tell!

In summary, this game is excellent, there’s no other word for it. If you like Battlestar Galactica, and you like my description of the game, even just a little bit, then I really recommend you get yourself a copy. You should do this as soon as you can, even if it means dragging your friends kicking and screaming to the table. It’ll be worth it!

Score: 9/10