Eldritch Horror – Forsaken Lore

EH02-Box-Left_300px

It’s finally been announced!

The first of the Eldritch Horror expansions was announced on the Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) website on February 10th! I would have loved to have got this up on the blog sooner, but I guess three day old news isn’t too bad, especially given how exciting it is!

So, what’s all the fuss about?

Well! Here’s a few choice excerpts from the FFG announcement that really got me excited!

“Forsaken Lore adds over two hundred new cards to Eldritch Horror, including over one hundred new Encounter cards, twenty condition cards, and fourteen new mysteries.”

“…the malignant influence of Yig, the Father of Serpents, extends across the globe.”

“…In Forsaken Lore, evil continues to spread as new Mysteries for the Ancient Ones included in Eldritch Horror are uncovered…”

“Eighty-eight new research cards help your investigators to discover the horrible truths of the Ancient Ones bent on the world’s destruction.”

So, there you have it! The first, of what will undoubtedly be many, Eldritch Horror expansions! For the complete announcement take a look at the FFG site here. I for one am extremely excited by this announcement and I can’t wait to get my grubby little hands on it when it releases in quarter two 2014!

A weekend of gaming!

mice

This weekend has mostly been dedicated to relaxing and playing games, something that I need to do on a more regular basis! Anyway, I thought I’d take a few minutes out from relaxing to drop a quick post on here as a summary of my gaming antics.

Saturday:
I attended the monthly gaming session at Firestorm games over in Cardiff. As always I had a great time playing games with attendees both new and old. I managed to get quite a lot of games played which is always a bonus.

Alhambra – I’ve wanted to play this game for a long time. I’m not sure why I hadn’t bought it already, but for some reason it had stayed on my wishlist longer than most other games. After my single play of the vanilla base game I was surprised at how little there was to the game. I really wanted to like it especially after hearing people saying that they’d enjoyed it, unfortunately though, something just didn’t click for me.

There was no player interaction at all with Alhambra, I just did what I needed to do when it got around to my turn and didn’t really care much about what anyone else did. I suspect that the game may be improved dramatically by the expansions, but I just don’t know because they weren’t included in this playthrough. Perhaps someone out there can point me in the direction of the best additions to try?

All in all, I’m glad that I hadn’t bought this on a whim, I feel it’s just not a game for me.

Château Roquefort/Burg Appenzell – A very fun kids game that will appeal to both adults and children alike. Some amazing production value with this one, a great board and some amazing little mice/player pieces (see the photo at the top of the post for just how much fun these pieces are!)

This game took me back to my childhood, when I played a game called the aMazing Labyrinth. I loved that game and when I got into board games again all these years later I called my parents and asked them to find it. Filled with the joy of nostalgia I set up and played aMazing Labyrinth, only to find that it was nowhere near as good as I remembered. Château Roquefort however, utilises the same tile pushing mechanic as aMazing Labyrinth, a similar item collection concept, but adds a few more layers of complexity to it. As the game progresses, the board evolves, cheese are collected and mice sent plummeting to their death in small shallow pits. This game is really quick to play and I’d recommend it to all families and most gamers!

Guild Hall – I got this at a really low price in a sale earlier in the year. The box makes this game look terrible, the pigs on the front of it don’t even feature in the game, and anyone who sees it turns their nose up at it almost without fail.

So, in an effort to show a few people this little gem, I grabbed a large plastic deck box, transplanted the cards and tokens into their new home and persuaded a few people to join me in a game.

I really like Guildhall, it’s fast and it’s fun. You collect sets of cards, when you have a set you can use it to buy points, and you play until someone scores twenty points. That’s the basics of the game, but there’s so much more to it. There’s a selection of cards that you use to build your sets, each having their own unique ability. I won’t go into detail in this post but there’s a lot of player interaction hidden away in this fun little game and it’s really worth giving it a shot!

Francis Drake – I’ve had this game for a few weeks now and not managed to get it to the table. Jason from the Cardiff group had brought along his copy and set it up for me to have a try. Jason, Paul, Gavin (new to the group) and myself took on the roles of explorers and started hiring crew, purchasing cannons and gaining the odd bonus by “taking” the Queen. Yes I said it!!

From the box, you wouldn’t get that this game is seriously fun. The artwork is your typical Euro style and the box put me off buying it originally! Thankfully I watch the Dice Tower and saw a glowing review of it on there, so I figured I’d grab a copy whilst it was still available! Keeping this short and sweet though, this three round game had me entertained and engaged throughout. I lost by quite a margin, but I still enjoyed it!

The Resistance – A great game that I’ve played hundreds of times. I’m not exaggerating here, I’ve played it so many times over lunch that I stopped counting at about 125 plays. I’ll get round to writing a review of this and its sister game Avalon sometime in the near future.

Coup – Set in the Resistance universe, Coup is a game of lies and deceit. You can claim to be any of the characters in the game, and if no one challenges or blocks you then you get to do as that character does. The trick is, you don’t actually have to have that characters card to claim that you do. After backing this on Kickstarter I’ve played this a few times. It’s not bad but there’s plenty of games that are far more fun to play. Resistance or Bang the dice game with their hidden roles are both more fun and frantic than any game of Coup.

Sunday:
Sunday wasn’t going to be a games day but it turned into a 2 player gaming session whilst a delicious Sunday lunch was cooking in the background.

We managed to get two games played, each hitting the table for the first time. Both games belong to Nikki and I have to admit I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy either. However, after a bit of a rules reading session we started playing what turned out to be a pair of pleasant surprises.

Cyclades – Greek Gods and Mythical beasties make for an interesting and fun game. I’d played this before on the iPad and hadn’t been impressed at all. Bringing the game to the table I was worried that I’d feel the same about the physical version. However, after a very quick glance through the rules we were up and running. It’s fast to learn, easy to play and with more than two players I think this could be a lot of fun! I would definitely play this again, even with only two players, and would be very interested to see how the new conversion pack works that lets you use the monster figures from Kemet in Cyclades and vice versa!

Drum Roll – OK, so I saw this on one of the crowd-funding sites a good while back. I thought it looked interesting, but as time went on I decided it wasn’t a game I would be interested in. When Nikki bought this game I was surprised, and a little apprehensive. It just didn’t appeal to me at all anymore. However, looking for games to play on Sunday, we finally brought it to the table.

All I can say is that I actually really enjoyed this game. Although there’s not a lot of player interaction it’s quite good fun gathering performers, building a circus troupe, and putting on shows. It’s fast paced and you’re never left bored or wishing your time away. The art work is beautiful and drips theme from virtually every component. This is a very nice game and I am happy to say I grossly underestimated how much fun it would be.

And Finally…
So, that was my weekend of gaming, I had a lot of fun playing through most of these games and I can’t wait to play some more. This week I don’t think I’ll have a lot of spare time free for gaming so any time I do get will be completely dedicated to playtesting the last two chapters of the Mice and Mystics Downwood Tales expansion. I can’t wait to get my teeth into these, the story so far has been extremely interesting and I can’t wait to see how it ends!

Technology, Stories and Learning

As you may know I’m an instructional designer by trade, one of those people who creates the eLearning and training you all have to sit through at work. Also, if you’re here reading my blog then I assume that you know that I am also deeply in love with games that tell a great story!

In a professional capacity, I recently attended the UKs largest learning and skills convention, Learning Technologies 2014. Throughout the day I went to several of the seminars that caught my eye. Two on gamification and one on an eLearning course about story telling skills. I have to be honest, I wasn’t massively impressed by any of these seminars, but they all gave me time to think a little about story-telling in games, and later about story-telling in learning.

Gamification is rapidly becoming common-place throughout the business world and it’s begun to show its face in the eLearning sector too. However, gamification isn’t the holy-grail, nor is it the answer to everything that ails your learning content. You need to use gamification with caution and exercise restraint when you do. You must always balance what a business needs against what’s actually good for the learner!

I’ve heard it said that stories are one of the many elements that you can find in the gamification toolkit. I disagree with that concept on a fundamental level and would strongly urge people to think of gamification as nothing but a tool in your storytelling toolkit. After all, some of our favourite games are based entirely around a story. The game elements and mechanics work together to deliver and present that story to all who will listen! However, that said, this blog post isn’t about gamification or the merits of its use, that’s a topic for another day. This post is all about stories.

For the last three years I’ve been following the blog of Cathy Moore, an excellent instructional designer, who has a lot to say about the use of scenarios in a learning context. Why do I mention this?

Well… What’s a scenario if it’s not a story?

And what makes a story successful?

The answer to that second question’s simple! It’s all about the emotional engagement or investment!! If your story doesn’t evoke feeling and engage the reader then how can you hope for it to be remembered?

Story

During my time at the Learning Technologies conference I began wondering how I could use stories to promote learning. Not just a short scenario that illustrates a single point, but a full blown narrative, a story that evolves with the learners understanding. I thought carefully about how I learn to play a game. How I absorb abstract concepts and adapt my own behaviour to fit within the constraints of the game itself. I thought back to the different rule books that I’ve read over the years, hundreds of them if we’re counting. Some of these books were good, with excellent examples. Others were terrible, filled with confusion and errors. But ultimately, at the heart of every game, there is a rule book that teaches players to drive the mechanics that ultimately deliver the story.

I don’t really want to stray into the realms of discussing serious games or, more accurately, learning games. So, with that in mind, I’ve thrown together some thoughts on how someone who creates learning could go about constructing a story for an intervention. Here’s a handful of tips that I came up with for starting to think about your own learning stories:

  1. Work with subject matter experts (SMEs) directly – Don’t just ask them the same old tried and tested questions! That just leads to stagnation! Ask them about their feelings on certain subjects.
    Is there a particularly difficult task?
    How does it make them feel?
    How should it make the learner feel?
    See if you can include some of their personal experiences in the story that you’re building. This will help you build rapport with them and they may even provide you with some story-telling gold.
  2. Keep the story relevant to the learner – Why does the learner care about what you’re teaching them? Appeal to the learner’s intrinsic motivations if at all possible. Simply saying that they will be motivated to learn because it’s part of their job doesn’t count… Whether your employer believes it or not, work necessity is usually an extrinsic motivation, the learner is being forced to care, and therefore is unlikely to actually care on an emotional level.
    Take for example a company who wants to reduce the number of accidents at work because they may soon face financial repercussions. Do the workers ultimately care about the repercussions that management have to deal with? Probably not, in fact, they most likely care more about themselves and their co-workers.
    So, with that in mind, start creating a story that’s based around an accident. Highlight the personal physical risks and explain what they could do to their colleagues if they don’t act responsibly. Once you’ve got them emotionally invested in the idea, reveal the big picture consequences. Perhaps the company is fined for its accident record. After paying the fine they can no longer afford to operate the business and take the decision to shut up shop. The result? Unemployment!
    What you put into the story is up to you, but don’t be afraid to tap in to the way people think, what they like, or what they fear. But a word to the wise, be sensitive!
  3. Start small and build up to a grand finale – I once heard that a person will only remember the best bit of a course, the worst bit, and the very last bit. So let’s make sure that the last thing we show them makes it worth waiting for. Of course don’t just try and cram everything in at the end, no-one likes a brain dump.
  4. Do not be afraid of comedy – There’s a fine balance between funny and cringe-worthy. But, even so, if you can make your learners laugh you’ll be giving them a small dose of endorphins. Yes you heard it here first, try and make your learners happy!
    Forget the teachers of the past who believed that you weren’t in school to have fun.
    News flash!!! There’s nothing in the world that says you can’t have fun whilst learning!
  5. Involve and engage the learner – Don’t be afraid to personalise your story, to bring the learner deeper into the world that you’re creating for them. If you can get your courses to pull the learners names from your learning management system then even better! Address important questions to the learner directly. For example, in a first aid scenario have someone asking the learner for help.
    “Tom! Help me lift this weight off of his leg!”
    Of course, in this scenario you probably wouldn’t want to lift that weight in case the victim had a crush injury. If you lift it and circulation resumes then you may release toxins back into his body and outright kill him. But in a learning solution it’s OK, “no people were hurt in the making of this story” and it’s one hell of a memorable lesson for those that didn’t know about crush injuries.
    “Who lifted this off of him? Was it you Tom? My God! You’ve killed him!”
    Remember though! Don’t trick your learners into doing things wrong, let them make their own mistakes, let them fail, but never trick them.

Anyway, that’s five little tips for coming up with your own stories to enhance your learning content. I’m not an author of fiction and I won’t pretend that I can provide you with all the guidance you’ll need. But I do hope that I’ve been able to provide something here that will be of use to you in your future stories! Don’t forget though, if you’re developing a game and want to work on a story for it, then you can just as easily apply the five tips to that too. In fact, for any game developer reading this, I highly recommend reading up on some instructional design principles before you start out writing your all-important rule book!

Top 10 Games – Update

Top10

Last year I did a podcast that listed my top ten games. Since then I’ve played a good many more games and have had chance to re-evaluate some of the games on the list. It’s been very interesting seeing how my tastes have evolved over the past year and I decided January was the time to rework my top ten games list.
As a reminder for those who didn’t hear the podcast, my top ten games last year were:

  • Battlestar Galactica
  • Last Night on Earth
  • Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition
  • Zombicide
  • Galaxy Trucker
  • Discworld Ankh Morpork
  • Shadows Over Camelot
  • Sentinels of the Multiverse
  • Carcassonne
  • Summoner Wars

This year my list has seen quite a drastic upheaval, 6 new entries, one upwards movement, two “down but not outs” and a single stationary entry. So without further ado, here’s my top ten games after 2013.

10 – In position ten, down six places, we have Zombicide from Cool Mini Or Not. A collaborative, zombie-survival, game that has a variety of weird and wonderful characters fighting it out with the Zombie horde.

09 – In position nine, for a second year running, we have Carcassonne. This brilliant little tile laying game is fast to learn, fast to play, and I really love it. Over the past year I’ve managed to get hold of all of the expansions and mini expansions, apart from the tunnels, and they add so much cool stuff to an already great game.

08 – In position eight, and the first of the new entries, we have Escape: The Curse of the Temple. A fantastic, frantic, and fun, run for your life game. Played over a ten minute period, you have to roll dice as fast as you can and navigate the cursed temple. If you don’t make it out within the time limit you’re trapped in the temple forever. This is a very good game and well deserves its place on this list.

07 – In position seven, the second of the new entries, Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island. A really great game, with plenty of theme. This one is the genius work of designer Ignacy Trzewiczek of Stronghold fame. Robinson Crusoe is a very difficult game that chews you up and spits you out before you even know what’s hit you. Despite the difficulty level, it’s a brilliant cooperative game with a whole bunch of mechanics that make a lot of thematic sense.

06 – In position six, the third of the new entries, Eldritch Horror. This new Fantasy Flight Games title is the sister game to their extremely successful Arkham Horror. Where Arkham Horror played out across an evil-filled city, Eldritch Horror takes it to a whole new level. This time you play the part of investigators tasked with traversing the globe in an effort to defeat one of the great old ones. From San Francisco to Tokyo this worldwide battle plays out in a faster, more streamlined manner than its older sister. If you like Arkham Horror then you owe it to yourself to give this one a try.

05 – In position five, the fourth of the new entries, Exodus: Proxima Centauri. This is an awesome game that has been touted as a Twilight Imperium Lite. I love the way this plays, it’s everything I wanted from Eclipse and then some! The original edition had a variety of problems with component quality, but I got my hands on the revised edition and I have to say the components are gorgeous! If you’re looking for a fast space-combat and diplomacy game, then Exodus: Proxima Centauri is a must for your collection.

04 – In position four, the fifth of the new entries, Mice and Mystics! This is my favourite co-operative game of all time. I’ve praised this game since the first time I ever played it, and wrote a post that explained exactly what makes this game so great. Since then, I’ve played The Heart of Glorm Expansion and play-tested some of the amazing chapters that are coming in the next great expansion The Downwood Tales. Mice and Mystics is fun for gamers of all ages and it has a place in any gamer’s collection.

03 – In position three, knocked from its number one spot, we have Battlestar Galactica. An awesome game with a great traitor mechanic. This is a massively thematic game that is a must have for all Battlestar fans out there. Over the past year Fantasy Flight Games has released Daybreak, the third and final expansion. With all of the modular elements included in the three expansions, this is a game with legs and a lot of fun times to be had.

02 – In position two, and the final new entry to the list, Duel of Ages II. A game with hidden depth that won me over on my first ever play. The components aren’t the greatest quality but the sheer amount of game in both the base game and master set is quite astounding. There doesn’t seem to be anything special about the game when you first start to play, however, give it time and you’ll soon realise that it’s the stories that make you want to come back to this one time and again. During my first play, at Firestorm Games over in Cardiff, my base was attacked by an angry Unicorn and my only defence was a suited and booted bouncer who walked up and punched that Unicorn in its interfering nose. During this little scuffle, a space-slug slowly worked its way towards a target that it never reached, and a ninja space cat attacked a seemingly weak opponent with a laser weapon that did absolutely no damage. This game provides an engine into which the players pour their imagination and generate fantastical battles with creatures from all across time, space and fiction. I love this game!

01 – In position one, and up two places, we have Twilight Imperium (Third Edition). This is an epic space game that does everything you’d expect to see in any great quality space sci-fi TV show. I’m not going to go into any great detail here about the game, or how it plays, because I’m going to write a complete review of it over the next few weeks. All I will say is that if you do not have this game and love big, long, games that contain a healthy amount of combat and backstabbery; then this is the game for you!

Well there you have it, my top ten favourite games as of the end of 2013. Over the coming year I’ll be playing a load more games and writing a ton more reviews. So stay tuned to find out what I get up to and read about some of the games that you could see in my top ten at the end of 2014.

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!

January! Again??

January

I know this is a little late but I just want to wish anyone reading this a very Happy New Year. Thank you to those who have subscribed to my little blog, and apologies for not having written much lately.

Where does all the time go?

2013 was a brilliant gaming year for me with plenty of fun to be had. This year I want to build on this and get even more from the hobby whilst engaging more with new and interesting gaming folk. With this in mind I’ve been hard at work creating a blog schedule for the year. It’s an alien concept, scheduling blog posts, but if I have a rigid schedule then I’m more likely to stick to it. That’s not to say that I’m going to write a post for the sake of it, but I will be posting more regular reviews and I hope to start posting ad-hoc board gaming news when I hear of anything interesting coming along.

So, to start the year as I mean to go on, I’m going to list my top five gaming wins for the year. Not games that I’ve won, but game or hobby related accomplishments that really made 2013 so much more interesting for me.

  1. I started going to a monthly gaming group over in Cardiff at the wonderful http://www.firestormgames.co.uk I’ve met some great people there, the staff and gamers are all extremely friendly, and the gaming area has large enough tables to set up some of the more epic games.
    Being of a, somewhat, nervous disposition I admit I was extremely unsure about taking the leap and going along. But; if you’re reading this and you’re on the fence about joining a group then the only advice I can offer is: “Give it a try!”
  2. 2013 saw a lot of my unplayed games hit the table. Many were very good, but one of them really stood out from the crowd. Mice and Mystics by Plaid Hat Games simply oozes everything I love in a game. A rich story mixed with interesting decisions and a variety of great characters. But why would playing Mice and Mystics hit my top five gaming events of the year? Because, dear reader, not only did I fall in love with the game during 2013, I also became an official play tester for the next expansion The Downwood Tales. I can’t tell you how excited and proud I am to be testing such a great game.
    For those who are interested, I’m going to cover more about this amazing addition to the series another day, but I can tell you one thing now, it’s got even more of everything that made the base game so damn fun!
  3. I attended my first ever gaming convention, The UK Games Expo. I only spent half a day there, but I had a good time, spent way too much money on some great games, and fully intend to go again in 2014. I’d also love to go over to Essen, but only time will tell as to whether I can manage that.
  4. I recorded my first and second podcast episodes earlier in the year. I’m not sure I’m cut out for podcasting but over the coming year I’ll try my hand at it a few more times and then decide whether it’s the life for me. “Yo ho, yo ho, it’s a podcasters life for me…” Anyway… moving swiftly on…
  5. I recorded my first game-related video, the unboxing of Nothing Personal by Tom Vasel and Steve Avery. It’s had a lot more views that I ever expected, 380 instead of 1, so that made me happy.

So, that’s my personal top five game-related wins for 2013!

If you did anything that you thought was particularly exciting last year then feel free to post about it in the comments. Perhaps I can use it as a target for making my gaming 2014 even better than 2013!

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.

Gromit Unleashed – A Geeks View

Super Gromit
Well it’s been a great summer here in Bristol, UK. For the first time in ages we’ve had some amazing weather which actually lasted long enough to be worth talking about. However, the heat and sunshine aren’t the only things that people have been talking about, Oh no! The big buzz in Bristol this summer has been all about an event called Gromit Unleashed!

Throughout the summer months eighty beautifully decorated Gromit statues have been located in various places across Bristol. The challenge? To locate each and every one of these beautiful works of art within ten weeks.

Leading with a slogan of “80 Gromits, 10 weeks, 1 city” the campaign kicked off on July 1st 2013 to great public interest. By the end of July Gromit Unleashed sculptures had already been visited by over 100,000 people and the small exhibition inside the Gromit Unleashed shop at The Mall Cribbs Causeway was seeing an average of 2,000 visitors a day.

The figures alone sound pretty impressive, but what was it all in aid of?

The extremely successful event was organised to raise money for Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Appeal, the Bristol Children’s Hospital Charity.

“The Bristol Royal Hospital for Children is a world-class centre of excellence – one of just seven children’s hospitals in the UK equipped and able to offer specialist treatment and lifesaving care to over 100,000 sick and critically ill babies and children every year.”

So, by supporting the event thousands of people have been out showing their support for one of the country’s top child care units. I can’t think of a better reason to join in with the fun than that!

Personally, I started hunting Gromits the day after the event launched and I have to say It’s been a totally brilliant experience for me and all those who took part. I was overjoyed to find and photo my eightieth Gromit earlier this month when the organisers moved him from London Paddington back to its home here Bristol. I was even lucky enough to locate and snap a shot of the elusive Feathers McGraw, the Penguin cat-burglar who dresses as a chicken! The organisers moved this little guy around the city several times during the campaign and provided a little hint or tip as to his location via their Twitter feed.

Unfortunately the main hunt has now finished and over the past four days all eighty Gromits were reunited to form the “Greatest Dog Show on Earth” exhibition. The exhibition has been so popular that organisers have had to extend the opening hours way beyond their original expectations. Sunday morning even saw fans queuing from 4AM!

However, despite still experiencing very high demand, the exhibition has sadly ended in order to make way for the next stage of the campaign. The eighty delightful dogs are now heading off for a good groom in preparation for a Gromit Unleashed auction being held on October 3rd 2013. All eighty works of art are to be auctioned off to eighty lucky bidders in order to raise yet more money for this amazing cause. I really do hope that there’s people out there with very large wallets waiting to snap up these beautiful pieces.

The main hunt may well have finished, but those of you who are interested in placing a bid or reading more about the campaign can take a look at the Gromit Unleashed site or donate to Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Appeal by visiting the Grand Appeal site.

So, now that you’ve read about the campaign, I guess some of you might be wondering why I’ve put this post up on my otherwise game-related blog. The answer to this is two-fold. Firstly I want to help spread the word about the great work that’s been done here and, secondly, I wanted to highlight the amazing use of Gamification throughout such a large-scale public campaign.

I’m not going to wax lyrical about Gamification in this post; that would take a several posts which I’m thinking of doing over the coming weeks. Here, I just want to call out the fact that the Gromit Unleashed campaign employed several game elements to great effect, using them to drive interest and increase footfall.

From what I could see, when you break the campaign down there were three main elements or goals.
1. Raise money for charity.
2. Provide a social/public event for the people of Bristol.
3. Increase tourism and business within Bristol.

Without a shadow of a doubt this campaign achieved all three of these things, but how did it do it? The simple answer is Gamification and good marketing!

For starters, the organisers advertised and promoted the event all over the city, if you lived in Bristol it was likely that you knew about the hunt before it even started. Once people knew about it all the organisers needed to do was keep them interested. This is where the gamification comes in!
Taking game elements and applying them to this real-world, non-game context the organisers were able to hook into basic human emotions and needs.

First up we have the very nature of the main event, a form of set collection. In order to see the entire trail exhibition you had to go out there and find each and every one of the eighty Gromits. People, by nature, like to collect things and in general they like to have a complete set. Just think back to Pokemon with its “Gotta catch them all” slogan and the popularity of the subsequent games.

Secondly, the organisers included technology in their campaign. Creating a Gromit Unleashed App was a brilliant move. This simple, inexpensive app provided iPhone users with another way to become involved or engrossed in the Gromit Unleashed campaign. It also raised further money for the charity from the sales.

How does this relate to gamification you may ask? Well, when you downloaded the App it provided some of the most common elements seen within a gamified solution. Avatars and Achievements.

The avatar played a lesser role in the overall Gromit Unleashed App letting you select a Gromit image and your name which was then used to report your achievements back to the public website for everyone to see.

As I mentioned earlier, once you have the public’s interest you have to keep it. If you don’t offer people choices or goals then the repetitive hunt for yet another statue would soon grow tiresome. You also have to offer them a hand if things get too hard. If something seems too hard to someone then they will soon become bored. Likewise, if it’s too easy then they will also become bored. The Gromit Unleashed achievements seem to have balanced this with great skill!

Achievements were given out for completing a variety of goals such as locating a certain number of Gromits, finding a set of specific Gromits, or even hunting down the Gromit of the day. This all tied in nicely with the Gromit check list that enabled you to check off each statue as you found it. Throw in a little GPS magic for locating those hard to find statues and voila, a system that guides you through the whole trail, offers incentives to carry on, and provides a helping hand when times are hard. Beautiful!

When I first started out on my hunt for Gromits I rapidly became impressed with the use of gamified elements. I marvelled at how simple it all seemed and quietly wondered how many people realised exactly how much thought would have gone into creating such a finely balanced campaign. The organisers have done a great thing here in Bristol, not just great for the charity, or logistically great, but technically great too. They have a lot to be proud of and I tip my cap to them.

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.