Tag Archives: Co-operative

Dark Darker Darkest – David Ausloos Interview

DDD

Back in 2013 I Kickstarted a game called Dark Darker Darkest (DDD). It sounded like the kind of thing I could really get into. It’s a horror-based game that reminded me a lot of my first play through of the original Resident Evil on the Playstation. I’d originally noticed it on BoardGameGeek where game designer David Ausloos was talking about the progress of his design and providing the community with snippets of information that kept us hooked.

Almost two years after I first heard of it, on June 11th 2013, the Kickstarter campaign for DDD launched. There was a lot of excitement from the fans and within two hours the game had reached its funding target and was working towards the first of the stretch goals. All was going well and everyone was happy.

Unfortunately as the campaign progressed it became apparent that the publisher Queen Games hadn’t really planned for the campaign as well as they should have. Plagued with misunderstanding and confusion for the backers this particular campaign goes down as the worst run campaign I have backed.

The game released with a rulebook that was more than a little confusing and a whole bunch of other publisher problems. Alas, Queen Games seemed to have moved on at this point and were busy with their next campaign. The supporters of Dark Darker Darkest were left asking the same questions over and over with little or no response.

Despite such a difficult start to its life the game still shows a great deal of promise and David Ausloos has been working hard on improving the rules. He’s been personally sending Geek Mails to anyone on BoardGameGeek who owns DDD to let them know when errata and clarifications are released. In fact, late last week I was happy to receive such an update which stated:

“With some excitement on my part I can finally present you the revised rules for Dark Darker Darkest. This was a massive project, doing a complete rewrite of the original rules that failed to offer consistent information and was riddled with errors that affected gameplay.

It was also an opportunity to listen to the feedback from players all over the world and tweak a few mechanics for optimal gameplay.

I am very happy with the end result, which is a big step up from the previous version.”

On reading this news I mailed David back to thank him for his dedication and asked if he would be willing to answer a few questions that I could then post here on the blog. David accepted the invite and here we are. I hope you all enjoy reading our little chat.

Tom Chats with David Ausloos

Tom: Hi David, thanks for agreeing to do this, I really appreciate you taking the time to have a chat with me.

David: Thanks, I’m glad of any opportunity to support the game.

Tom: I was thinking we’d start with something easy and then move on to the Dark Darker Darkest questions. So let’s kick off with – When and how did you get into the board game hobby and when did you realize you wanted to design games?

David: Actually I’ve been working on board game designs since I was a kid. Nothing serious, but my parents still kept some of the little prototypes I made. Funnily enough horror was my favorite genre for board games even back then. I think my first game was actually about a haunted house. Go figure…

Tom: Speaking of haunted houses, when I first heard about Dark Darker Darkest, the premise and feel of the game reminded me of Resident Evil on the Playstation. What were your main inspirations for DDD? Did you borrow ideas from the video game world?

David: There were a number of inspirations, but the main one actually came from playing another zombie game that, for me, failed to deliver the feeling of being fragile as a human being and totally outnumbered by hordes of the undead. I wanted to capture the feeling of this small group of people struggling for survival.

The remake of “Dawn of the dead” certainly inspired me too, but I wanted the universe to be a little more gothic and weird. I hope to expand further into this unsettling house of horrors, more akin to Dario Argento in its surrealist touches than the urban realistic setting of Romero’s work.

Tom: That’s quite an interesting vision and I think you’ve managed to capture that feel quite well in the final game. You must have been pretty confident that the theme would appeal to lots of people, but thinking back to before the Kickstarter campaign, did you ever imagine you would reach the funding goal? and what went through your mind as you hit that goal within two hours?

David: There were definitely signs that the game was on the radar of a lot of gamers.

It was in the top 15 most anticipated games for years on boardgamegeek.com and during playtests I felt it triggered something with gamers. But of course, these things are hard to predict. In any case I was extremely happy with the end result.

Tom: Later in the campaign there were numerous problems as Queen Games confused backers with some very strange and, what felt like, very reactive stretch goal additions and changes. Did any of the stretch goals get added without you signing off on them? I guess what I’m asking is; were you surprised by any of the additions made by the stretch goals and how did this effect you?

David: It was a hectic period. I think the main problem was that Queen had no previous experience with this type of game. This is not a typical Queen product, as it also attracted miniature gamers. In this genre of games a Kickstarter is as much about components as about the actual game. This was something Queen might have underestimated at the beginning of the campaign.

Tom: I think you’re probably right with that and I suspect it’s a lesson that will only help improve their future campaigns. At the time though, there seemed to be a lot of negative comments flying around, some of which were not even remotely constructive. How did you feel about that?

David: The public can be very harsh in their opinions, and leave a company little or no room for error, regardless of the fact that this is their first step into a new genre or product. I understand both sides, but it was sometimes sad to read all the harsh comments that got posted during the campaign. I had to constantly remind myself: this is only a game.

The campaign itself was a learning process for everyone involved. In this type of production there are so many people involved… As the designer you’re only one small cog in a gigantic clockwork machine. This can sometimes be frustrating because it’s hard to get a view of the whole big picture.

That said, I felt it was an interesting month and on a personal note it made me feel that Kickstarter is becoming this giant monster with campaigns being more and more about eye-candy in the form of fancy stretch goals rather than actual content and gameplay. As a designer this can be frustrating, because everyone is talking about the quality of the miniatures, and nobody even mentions the actual gameplay. It feels as if that just doesn’t matter anymore.

Tom: Does this turn in the industry concern you?

David: I can’t deny that this trend for a designer is somewhat of a concern but I think only time will tell if this will increase or decrease.

Tom: Going back to Dark Darker Darkest and thinking about the rulebook that it shipped with. Obviously you wrote the original rules, but how involved with the production or editing of the final product were you? Where there any issues that appeared in the finished rulebook that weren’t in the rules you provided originally?

David: I think the biggest problem is communication. I think the co-operation of an editor and a designer on the rules is crucial, and I feel this aspect was not as tight as it should have been. In general, consistent rulebooks are possibly the most difficult thing to produce. If it was easy to do, we’d see a lot more perfect rulebooks out there.

In practice though, most rulebooks turn out to be anything but waterproof and most games I buy myself in a first print run end up with with a FAQ produced shortly after release, with all the mistakes corrected in the second print run.

The chances of mistakes multiply when the system is more involved like DDD. There are so many variables and I think the editor involved had somewhat underestimated the possible situations the system could render that needed to be covered by the rules. Add to this time pressure and you have a non optimal context.

So again, for me this was a learning experience. It is definitely a focus point for me on future releases, in fact, the rulebook of Rogue Agent that was produced in the same period is I feel, more optimal.

Tom: Over the past few months you’ve been working to improve the rulebook for players. I’ve seen two GeekMails from you to date; the latest of which resulted in this very conversation. I’ve not had chance to try the new rules but I commend you on how much time and effort you are personally putting into supporting the game. With this in mind, if you could go back to before the Kickstarter what’s the number one thing you would you do differently?

David: I would have liked a little less time pressure.

I had to focus on so many things during the production process. It was exhausting. Fascinating but exhausting. I can only hope that gamers remember that each step of a product is usually a step with the aim for perfection, but seldom reaching that.

For me DDD is this living system that I want to further explore with new additions, expansions and ideas. It has a lot of potential for growth in all manner of directions. Now that we have a solid set of rules I feel I have a steady base to work on.

For me the opportunity to rework the original rules and turn it into something consistent and solid feels like a big relief and first time players will be experiencing the game like I intended it to be.

Tom: You said in your GeekMail that you’ve received a lot of feedback and support from players all over the world. How does this make you feel? Are there any people you’d like to give a shout out to?

David: Oh, there are lots. Some of the people I thanked in the revised rules have been wonderfully supportive, offering me feedback on every little detail. Michael Meyers (Scubaroo on BGG) springs to mind. He’s played the game a lot and knows the system through and through, so it was fantastic to be able to communicate with him about some ideas I had for tweaking the system to make it even smoother.

John Bruns was also available to offer me feedback whenever I needed this, and Richard Waszczuk and Richard Keiser did amazing things with the editing. I can’t thank them enough for the amazing job they have done. We had a very intense communication back and forth during the whole editing process. It also helped that they knew the game system well.

Tom: OK, I couldn’t go through this interview without asking. Do you have any idea when the DDD backers will be receiving the rest of their content?

David: If you are referring to some of the new creatures, they are almost ready for production.

They were actually specifically produced upon request by backers, so they could only start work on them after the campaign. I’ve seen first the shots of the sculpts that will be posted on the campaign page soon, and they look great. I’m excited that we can work on new creatures to add extra variety in the encounters. This game is all about creating unique stories with each play, and adding new rooms/encounters/characters helps to ensure that no game ever plays out the same.

Tom: Despite the issues that you’ve had over the past 6 months, I noticed that earlier you mentioned expansions. Do you have plans for any? Or are you working on any other projects at the moment that you’d like to mention?

David: Yes, there are plans for expansions. Not much I can say, but like I said, for me this is like a potentially endless playground to project ideas onto. I see the universe of this game expanding in different directions. Some will focus on the more grotesque gothic side of things, some might even
put things on a larger scale.

At the moment though, I’ve just finished development on a game called Red Moon. I am very happy with the recent playtests I did, which spawned a lot of positive feedback. Some say it’s my most accessible game for a wide audience, and who am I to disagree?

It’s a compact little, hidden information, game set in a small Russian village. You’re a lieutenant sent by the Tzar with a mission to protect the village from an assault by werewolves.
I have tons of other game systems written out on paper that I want to further develop. Enough material for another 10 years of game design! Ahhhh… so many ideas… so little time.

Tom: Red Moon certainly sounds like it’ll be worth a play, when do you think we’ll be seeing this one on the shelves?

David: I’m going to submit it to a publisher soon.

Tom: Going back to DDD, you must have gained a massive amount of experience from working on it, I was wondering if you could give any budding game designers out there a list of the three most important things you’ve learned during this project?

David: Try to focus on one good mechanical idea and build a system around it.

There are so many good dungeon crawlers on the market, so make sure if you want to design one that you can offer a new twist to the genre. A unique mechanical idea that can offer players a new way of playing such a game.

For me with each new design I set out to find that new twist. If I don’t find a way to introduce something fresh and unique to a genre I leave it alone.

Tom: Awesome advice, and something I’ll definitely bear in mind as I work on my prototypes in the future. It’s been really good to chat with you and hear about your DDD experiences. I just want to say a big thanks for joining me here on GeeksThatGame, I wish you all the best with your other projects and I’ll let you know how I get on with the new DDD rules.

David: Thank you for inviting me for this chat. Enjoy the revised rules, and try to stay alive.

So, there you have it folks, a very cool interview with Dark Darker Darkest designer David Ausloos, I hope you found it interesting and I hope those of you who have a copy of the game are going to grab the new rulebook and use it to shed some light on those Darkest of rules.

Interestingly, as I was about to publish this post I got a mail from Kickstarter informing me that there was an update (#44) for the DDD campaign. It looks like the photo David mentioned during the chat is now available to view, it looks very cool, and there’s some positive comments and signs of progress from Queen. Hopefully DDD is now becoming the platform that appealed to me so much at the start of the campaign.

SampleDDD

As always, I hope you enjoyed the post, feel free to add comments and I’d be especially interested to hear how people have got on with the new rules!

Sentinel Tactics – New Add-ons

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It’s been a while since I last posted about Sentinel Tactics and there’s been some great progress with the campaign. I correctly guessed that the $125k and $155k stretch goals would be Ambuscade and Proletariat, but the $230k stretch goal was a set of environment elements, not the Dino mini I predicted.

On April 4th it was announced that a new pledge level, “Super Heroics in Full Color”, was being introduced that provides backers with a set of painted minis (delivered at a later date) as well as the unpainted set that will come with the first delivery. The new pledge level costs $250 plus postage, but for the quality and number of minis you’re getting it doesn’t seem too bad a deal (If you’re a backer in the US or Canada that is, carry on reading for more on this).

Since then we’ve smashed through two more stretch goals for some Citizens of the Sun miniatures at $170k and Unity at $185k. Looking set to hit the $200k stretch goal very shortly (they’re at $193k at the time of writing) the guys at GreaterThanGames have made an early announcement before they head off to PAX East. In the announcement they detailed the future of the campaign, the $200k stretch goal, and the next three stretch goals all the way up to $245k.

So, the $200k stretch goal is a set of six blade battalion miniatures, which is the last of the stretch goals for the initial pack. Anything beyond this will be made part of an additional add-on pack costing $40 for the unpainted version or $100 for the painted. As you can see, first of the add-on stretch goals are bonus maps and some additional miniatures. Unlike the initial game that appears to contain map tiles, these bonus maps are described as a “poster map with included scenario”, not quite as nice as I would have liked but they could be quite cool. Also, based on the silhouette of the minis it looks to me like there might be some Dino minis coming our way but don’t quote me on that!

addons

So with the cool news out of the way I want to return to a gripe that I mentioned in an earlier post… International Shipping.

For Sentinel Tactics, international backers are left with three options.

  1. All at once – Pay $40 postage and wait for July 2015 to receive everything in one parcel.
  2. Unpainted Individual Parcels – Pay $40 postage to receive the game in December 2014 and another $40 postage to get the add-on pack in July 2015.
  3. Painted Individual Parcels – Pay $40 for the game in December 2014, another $40 for Painted minis in March 2015, and yet another $40 postage for the add-ons in July 2015. Yes, you read that! $120 in postage charges if you want to play the game at release and get all the cool Kickstarter stuff.

I love the idea of Sentinel Tactics, and I really want to support GreaterThanGames who do an awesome job, but let’s face it, people don’t want to pay the premium Kickstarter price only to have to wait 6 months after release to get the game (which is the most cost effective approach for backers.)

There must be something that can be done about these crazy postage prices. Companies such as CoolMiniOrNot and GameSalute seem to be able to provide international shipping to Europe at a very reasonable price which even covers their backers for any additional packages that might be needed. I paid $35 postage for my Zombicide Season 2 kickstarter pack, which was an absolutely massive parcel, and there’s even a second parcel yet to come!

I really do wish GreaterThanGames could work out how to achieve this for their backers here in Europe because the steep prices will definitely put people off of supporting the campaign. In fact I’ve even heard a few people talking about cancelling their pledges which makes me feel very sad.

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

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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.

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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.

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.

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

Last Night on Earth

Last Night on Earth

Following on from my previous post I wanted to talk about one of the first games I bought for myself. Blowing me away with atmosphere and story, Arkham Horror had left me wanting more and I set out on a mission to find a sub-three hour game that still oozed atmosphere.

My first stop, a game called Zombies!!! Recommended by a friend, I eagerly awaited its arrival; but alas, there was no atmosphere there, it just didn’t meet my needs.
Disappointed and somewhat put off from purchasing my own games, I considered giving up. After all, Zombies!!! hadn’t been overly cheap for what I got… and we still had Arkham after all… Surely that was enough…

Well it turns out I was wrong, in desperation to scratch my growing Zombie itch (There’s a whole other post I could write as to why I had the Zombie urge!) I took a gamble and ordered Last Night on Earth a Zombie themed game, dripping with atmosphere and created by Flying Frog Productions.

I won’t go into the mechanics of the game, that’s not what I’m writing these posts for, I want to give people a feel for the game, an idea of what I think when I play them, and how immersive they are. I have quite a vivid imagination and I think this helps me get the most out of my games. I know people who don’t have much of an imagination, or can’t seem to visualise a game panning out in real life, and I think it really limits their enjoyment.

Anyway, imagination in full throttle I started playing Last Night on Earth, there were three of us the first time, one zombie player (Me) and two human players. It’s possible to play with six people, two controlling the different colour zombies, and four controlling a single hero each.

With each turn of the game the sun slowly begins to rise, the Zombie player sends endless waves of foul, decaying, undead minions after the human “heroes”.
In our first game each of my opponents controlled two hero characters and they worked together valiantly to fend off the zombie hordes. Alas, their efforts were in vane as one by one they fell to oncoming waves of the undead menace. This is where my imagination really kicked in.

Picture the scene…

“A young, unarmed, man quietly creeps down an alleyway attempting to avoid detection. He slowly peers around a corner where he spies the decaying corpse of an overweight towns-person ambling out of the darkness. With fear in his eyes he carefully falls back, turns to run, and stumbles on the remains of dog, savaged by it’s once human master. He let’s out a cry and instantly regrets it, he hears the, now louder, moaning of the towns-person drawing closer. As he climbs to his feet the abomination rounds the corner and begins ambling towards him.

Petrified the man turns and runs for the other end of the alleyway. Passing a nearby window he’s showered in vicious shards of glass which tear at his skin and sends him crashing into the wall opposite. A zombie waitress thrusts her arms and head through the now empty window frame and grabs him, tearing at his skin with her cracked nails. She gains a hold and drags herself out into the alleyway screeching as she goes. There’s nothing that he can do, he’s trapped, with no hope of survival. With the screeching waitress clawing at his flesh, he resigns himself to his fate. As she sinks her teeth deep into his face the, slower, ambling towns-person bears down on him, dropping to its knees it joins the waitress and begins its horrific lunch.

Slowly the screams die down and the alley returns to its previous tranquillity, the zombies return to their mindless wandering, simply waiting for the next meal to pass by.”

Playing this game is like watching a first class zombie movie panning out in front of your very eyes. With a variety of scenarios there’s massive replay value. Add to this the Growing Hunger and Survival of the Fittest expansions and you will never be short of fun zombie action. I love Last Night on Earth and I can’t wait to play and review the Timber Peakexpansion which is currently sitting on my shelf demanding to be played.

Score: 9/10

Arkham Horror

Last Night on Earth

When I decided to create this blog, aside from the usual “Welcome to the site…”, I didn’t really have any idea what to write for my first post. Eventually after much deliberation it struck me. Let’s start at the beginning of the story! The beginning of the story that tells of my growing love for board games, and how a bunch of Geeks came together to form a gaming group.

One cold November evening four friends gathered around a box. A box bulging with dark secrets, untold tales, vile beasts and terrifying horrors. This was the first true gathering of the Geeks that game.

As we opened the intriguing box, with its beautiful artwork, we were shocked by what we found. In a nutshell, Arkham Horror has SO!!! much in the box. A giant board, lots of chits and God knows how many cards! This was our first foray into bigger games, and what an insane whirlwind of an introduction to the gaming world it was!

Putting my dodgey story-telling aside, Arkham Horror was the first BIG game that I ever played. It blew me away at how different it was from the casual games I’d played previously. Monopoly, Cluedo, Uno and more recently the immensely supperior Carcassonne and Catan. For starters, Arkham Horror is a co-operative game. Every decision you make will either help or hinder your fellow investigators. You all work towards a common goal, to prevent the rise of some great evil, or “Ancient One”. To do this, you strive frantically to seal a series of inter-dimensional gates that spew forth a variety of monsters into the streets of Arkham. If these abominations aren’t enough for you, the game bombards you constantly with horrific obstacles that occur every time you take a second to breath.

By using a series of location, mythos and other-world encounter cards the game provides you with a truly spectacular simulation of despair and utter hopelessness. When you fail, and you will; you genuinely feel defeated. But when you win! The joy, the celebration, the comradary! It’s all there in abundance.
If I wanted to discuss every aspect of the game then I could be sat here writing all evening and would probably discourage you from ever returning to my humble corner of the internet. So without further delay, I’ll sum up by saying that Arkham Horror is a truly great game, I have yet to find another game that can provide such an immersive atmosphere. I’ve heard people say that you don’t really play the game, the game plays itself and you just enjoy the ride. Well, if that’s the case then sign me up for more tickets to ride. (That’s not a hint at my next review!)

Pros:
Immersive atmosphere, co-operative interaction, beautiful artwork, excellent game mechanics, chits (Hundreds of them!)

Cons:
The rules (can be a bit complex for people new to gaming), the size of the play area needed (especially with the expansions which we’ll discuss at a later date), time required (an average game lasts 3-4 hours in our expereince.)

Score: 8/10