Wednesday, 19 June 2013

On the Table - Viceroys

We've a little desk area upstairs that was ostensibly built to allow my wife to work from home, which just happens to be a nice size to set up the odd wargame and leave it out for a few days. I didn't plan it...honest. Anyway, the aforementioned wife is away on a business trip which affords me a little time and space to set something up, and that something happens to be Viceroys from Task Force Games.

Sadly my wife being away also seems to coincide with our youngest daughter deciding that sleep is an optional hinderance, and this leaves me with the slightly annoying problem of having the time and space to play something complicated whilst having the mental capacity of a cabbage. Still, I keep trying and occasionally it works out, sadly it's a little slow going this time round but I've been enjoying trying to figure the thing out.

Viceroys is a game of exploration and colonization, set in the age of exploration. It's pretty much 15th century 4X, you explore, make discoveries, colonize, produce wealth from those colonies, buy new units, fight natives, other players and pirates. It's all played out on an old school map, complete with the inaccuracies of the time which adds to the theme, though it is a little confusing to play on.

Luckily it comes with rules for non player characters so it's playable solitaire, as I'm not entirely sure it'll make it to the table with the group. It's old for one thing, 1986 though it feels like an old game, the pieces are old school cardboard counters with bad/non existent art, the cards are the old style thin stuff that came in sheets, it's got a ton of die roll modifiers to keep track of, it's looooonnng or at least I can see it taking a long time. The whole thing feels a little clunky in the way some of these old designs do.

There is a lot to like though, there's a lot of scope for interesting play, the diplomacy idea in particular sounds like it could be fun with people being able to make verbal or signed written treaties. Verbal treaties are just that and can be broken easily, but if you sign a written treaty then you lose victory points if you decide to break it. Each player takes on various "offices" to help run the actual game, and these offices bestow small benefits like extra income. There's land and naval combat, plus a system for war in Europe. There are lots of additional rules and intricacies, which make the whole thing seem more like a moddable system, though this is partly it's problem, especially with the particularly meandering rulebook which splits the rules up for no apparent reason into completely different sections.

Well, I've not got far. I may leave it set up a little longer.

You have to love a game which has the line "For the purposes of the game, the world is round" as one of the rules though. :)

Monday, 17 June 2013

Yo Ho Ho.....

Just had to write a quick post to point people towards the latest release from Two Hour Wargames. They produce some really interesting rules for tabletop wargames which have a lot of flavour, with great roleplaying and campaign elements. I've a few of their books as PDFs and have messed around little but it's their latest I am most interested in.

"And a Bottle of Rum" is their new product focussing on pirates, and our group really does enjoy a little over the top pirate gaming. I grabbed a copy as they had a sale over the weekend, and I might try it out if I can get over the current bout of sleep deprivation. One of the great things about their rules is that they can be played competitively, cooperatively or even solo, which makes getting them on the table and testing them out a little easier. The campaign and character creation usually has a lot of tables to roll on, and there are reaction tables for almost everything which determines how non player characters react to your actions.

Just need some miniatures...though I might just makes some card ones for now.

Anyway, some info from their website:

Everyone likes Pirates…okay, maybe not everyone but, if you’re reading this, I bet you do! So how do you like your Pirates? What? Let me explain.

Some like their Pirates from history, you know, Blackbeard, the Spanish Main and such. But some like their Pirates a little more open-ended. More “what if” history, where the game is grounded in the period, but the player is open to do what he wants. Write your own story, if you will.
In “And a Bottle of Rum” we do both. We start you off learning the mechanics of the game. Build your crew, get your first ship, etc. We give you all the game mechanics you’ll need for you table top adventures. Not strictly a miniatures game but not a traditional Role-Playing Game either. We like to call it an Immersion Game where you take the role of a Pirate Captain and fight and flee as needed to gain Fame and Fortune.
Inside you'll find...
Rules for small land Encounters from Carousing to Smuggling.
Rules for Big Land Battles for sacking cities.
Rules for ship to ship combat with boarding actions.
Rules for Big Sea Battles with multiple ships per player.
To cap it off, in “And a Bottle of Rum.” We give you two Campaign areas. The first is the Spanish Main, the New World around 1660; the Golden Age of Piracy, if you will. That’s the historical part with the places and people of the time period.
The second is the “what if” historical version. Instead of the Spanish Main you’re plying your trade off the coast of Lemuria, seeking the charms and treasures of Mermaids then carousing in the Trade Ports of … but I digress.
What we’re saying is you can Pirates your way. Torn from the pages of history or from your imagination, it’s up to you! So grab a beverage of choice and prepare for nights of high adventure as you write your story. Listen! Hear the song? Sing along matey, you know the words.
You can also find some more information at their blog, with some examples of play.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Solo Gaming Review - Aether Captains (Print & Play)

Bit quiet round these parts isn't it? Thought I'd liven things up with a quick look at a solitaire game I've just tried out. This one brings another aspect of the hobby into focus though, and that is print & play games. Oddly it was a print & play game that kind of led me back to boardgames by pointing me in the direction of Boardgamegeek, that game was Zombie in my Pocket, and for a free game it certainly has cost me a lot of money.

Anyway, print & play games are, if you are unable to make the logical leap, games you can print out and play. They are quite often free, though some are available to buy, and there are also many, many solo games, in part because of the solo print and play design contest that runs on boardgamegeek. Some of them are as simple as a single sheet of paper, others require days of spray glueing  and cutting out strangely shaped pieces of card. I'm not sure why it appeals to me, part of it is the craft which I find relaxing, part of it is the 'free' games, and the instant availability...though they are generally neither free or instant due to the time and components.

I could waffle on all day, but I should really get to the game in question. This one if Aether Captains, the first in a series of games designed by the prolific Todd Sanders on Boardgamegeek. Todd seems to create, or redesign a new game every few weeks, or at least it seems like that, and he has a really nice touch when it comes to artwork. Seriously check his stuff out, the Barbarian Prince redesign is outstanding, I have a mostly finished copy to try soon.

So the description reads:

"As commander of the the HMS Dauntless, you have been tasked by the Emperor to find and destroy merciless air pirates threatening the skies of the world. With your staunch crew of steam welders, engineers you fly with honor into battle"
Aether Captains is a solo, steampunk themed, dice game. You take on the role of a commander of a worthy, air-going, zeppelin, battling a wave of attacking air pirates.

Mmmmmm steampunky..... It really was the theme that got me, plus the components are cool.

The game uses 1" wooden cubes for the pieces, depicting the various craft and the damage inflicted on them, some also being rolled as dice though a D12 is required for most even resolution.

Above is the initial setup, with my airship vertical down the middle, plus the various attackers laying in to different sections. The enemy cubes are rolled to determine some random enemy craft, which are then placed randomly using the D12, so you should get a nice range of starting points.

After this the game follows a simple set of five phases which are repeated until either all the enemies are destroyed, or four of your airship sections are showing maximum damage. The damage to your ship sections is shown by rotating the cubes, which affects the target values you need to roll for attack and defense, and can also reduce the range of guns if they are available on that section.

All resolution using the D12 is simply rolling over a target value, so rolling greater than the red value on one of your airship sections is a successful attack, and rolling greater than one of the blue values is a successful defense. The same goes for the enemy attack rolls, plus some other rolls for moving the airship, or repairing sections that are damaged.

The phases are:

  1. Air Pirate attack and your defense - each enemy gets a chance to attack the section it is adjacent to, and you get to defend, any damage is recorded by rotating the cubes.
  2. Air Pirate movement - the D12 is used to randomly move the enemies, they will either move one space clockwise or anticlockwise, or remain where they are.
  3. Your movement or attack - this is where you can fight back, some of the cubes have gun emplacements, with a range displayed in black squares. Each gun can fire once at an enemy that is in range, on the same side of the airship as the gun. If you choose not to attack, you can shift the airship one space backwards or forwards, as long as you don't leave an enemy behind in doing so, this helps bring guns into range and move damaged sections away from attack.
  4. Your repairs - you can attempt to repair a section by rolling greater than the current repair number.
  5. Crew re-roll - the next picture shows the game further along, and includes the crew die which is rolled at the end of each round of phases. Depending on the crew result, you gain various bonuses or dice modifiers which can be used in the next round. 

Rinse and repeat, and you are done. It plays pretty quickly, and there aren't a huge number of decisions to be made, and Todd has stated that it's one of the first real designs he uploaded, and he considers it a bit rough around the edges. It's a pleasant enough distraction though, and I like it enough to try out some of the expansions which have been created by both the designer, and fans of the game. 

Don't bother if you want a game of deep strategy, but if the theme appeals, and you just want to chuck some dice around for ten minutes it's not a bad option. I did have the wooden cubes handy though, so it wasn't much effort on my part to build.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Necromunda - down and dirty gang warfare in the 41st Millenium

A long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away?), before having children, before my wife and a long, long time before I became a Finely DiCED Gamer I used to like playing Warhammer 40K... Ok who am I trying to kid, I collected Warhammer 40K (and played sporadically) – Spacemarines, Imperial Guard & Squats – I'll admit it I wanted to be the first to host the best all-in-one army fielded by a Rogue Trader. I know the chances that Gene-seeded Space Marines would tolerate standing shoulder to shoulder with the ab-human Squats would be slim but this was going to be MY perfect army.

Time goes by and my vast collection (my wife's words) of Out Of Production (OOP) metal & plastic miniatures have been sold to allow me to buy PC's, a XBOX 360, and my latest passion - board games. However, before I sold everything I once cherished off, I made a decision as to where I would draw the line.  I decided to hold onto my 1st Ed. Copy of Space Hulk (inc. all expansions), Bloodbowl (3rd Ed.), my war-gangs for Mordheim and finally my hardback copy rule book for Necromunda – essentially my GW skirmish systems – systems where you don't need tonnes of figures to have a game (or a table the size of my current living room).

I eventually became a member of the Finely DiCED Gamers - from our inaugural meeting (and all those since) we have discussed the games that we all want to play. Some games are suggested for when we have a our full contingent of five, some get brought out because they're shiny and new and others because they're just damn fine games.  Well, last Sunday I got to play a damn fine game of Necromunda, the tabletop miniatures battle system which has elements of a role playing game.  You create your gang - it gains experience and hopefully becomes UBER.

But before uber you have to get in a fight and to get in a fight you need a gang - so to begin with we had to sit down with the miniatures we owned and create our new gangs on paper. When I say we - let me introduce Matt & Rebecca – you haven't met Matt or Rebecca yet but hopefully you'll read something from them shortly. Moving on - Matt, Rebecca and myself created our gangs – all three of us create gangs that include a gang leader (there can be only one), gangers (the back bone of any gang) and juves (cannon fodder) – we all had gangs containing roughly 10 miniatures with pretty much the same stats – just access to slightly different weapon sets.

Rebecca went with a house Goliath gang "The Takkers" with the highest gang rating of 1158, big brutish fellows who you wouldn't want to meet on a dark night - certainly not in the underhive.  Matt went with his house Cawdor "Kommissars" - having a gang rating of 927 (the lowest of the three of us), these guys had a distinct uniform look and paintjob - the look said "we mean business". I brought a Van Saar gang to the party - "Serene's Soldiers" with a middling gang rating of 1013, I had no heavy weapons in my crew but I did have access to some more specialised weaponry for both gangers and juves.

Gangs created, we decided that we would like to have all three of us play against each other, to that end we chose a mission where we had to collect an item for the guilders - get said item and get it off the board (the guilders giving the returnee 50 creds).  Getting the said item would mean all three gangs squaring off - looked like an easy opportunity for Serene's Soldiers - leave the others to duke it out.  The board was custom made by Matt & Rebecca as were all the scenics - even without being fully finished it just oozed coolness - have a look.

Board Ready, Gangs Ready, so who goes first?

Player setup was worked out using highest to lowest gang rating - order of play seemed to be Matt first, then Rebecca and finally me - we each had to choose a table edge and then place our gang members within 8 inch of said table edge - the unused table edge would become the exit route - where the guilders "item" would be carried from the board.

Once all three of us had placed our gangs a few loose ends were tied up - which obstacles could be jumped over and which would provide movement penalties.  If gang members entered a building it would take one turn (one complete movement allowance - MA) to exit onto the roof to snipe.  Finally, the guilders "item" would require a skill test to pick-up - on a roll of 5 or 6 it would be picked up otherwise another gang member would have to try (or wait til next turn) - equally if the gang member carrying the "item" were hit / knocked down then they would drop the "item".

Turn One :

First Matt rushed three of his gangers and the leader straight into the open heading towards the centre of the map where the guilder item was located - unfortunately he hadn't paid attention to the fact that Rebecca's heavy stubber (in a legitimate setup position) then had direct line of sight to at least one of these gang members.  Matt also had three gang members run around the board edge towards my position whilst at least two gang members entered a building to assume a sniping position.

Rebecca moved up as many of her gang as she could, some running (preventing shooting) whilst others simply took a basic MA so that they would be able to fire at the Kommissars making a direct line to the guilder "item".  After Movement Rebecca chose to shoot her heavy stubber which had the option of sustained fire - with some good rolls she managed to get 4 shots off - one missed, three hit - two gangers and the leader went down.  One ganger was killed, another was critically injured and could only crawl, the team leader realised he only had a flesh wound & got up.  Rebecca's remaining gang member's shooting didn't really do much!

I simply moved my gang towards the centre of the map - making use of as much cover as I could.  Realising that Matt had three gangers heading towards my position I managed to get at least two of my guys into a good firing position.  When it came to shooting I manged to knock down and injure a juve - another of Matt's gang that was crawling.

Turn Two :

Matt essentially had his leader and ganger holding ground in the open - the third crawling back to his starting position, his two gang members who had entered the building took up firing solutions on the roof, finally of the three coming towards my position one simply crawled out of the way to allow the two behind to attempt rushing my position.  Matt's shooting phase was quite constructive, injuring the Goliath with the heavy stubber - giving him some breathing space.

Rebecca continued to move her gang members towards the guilder item - both Matt and myself were a little concerned at this point since Rebecca was the closest to the goal (and closest to the exit zone). Rebecca's shooting didn't cause any real problems for Matt (or me) this turn, possibly getting the sniping duet to duck and cover?

I was still sending my leader and juves towards the centre of the map (whilst attempting to hide them behind cover) to snatch the "item".  Trying to plan ahead I also sent a ganger with a bolt gun towards the exit area to try and get a modicum of control (shoot anyone leaving kind of control). Seeing as everyone else was trying their luck with sniping. I decided to move one of my lasgun gangers into a building. Since I still had two of Matt's Kommissars coming at me I also bolstered my two man position with a lasgun carrying ganger.
When I came to shooting it was that Lasgun wielding ganger who hit, knocked down and critically injured one of Matt's two - which unfortunately led to the 2nd (still standing) ganger (with a rather big flamer gun) failing a leadership test and running away from combat for 2D6 inches - oh dear *snigger*.

The Kommissar Flamer ganger, top right - he's fleeing!

Turn Three:

Matt had one dead, three gangers crawling around and another running for cover (the Cawdor flamer guy did not stop running), however on the bottle test he passed and continued with his... plan?

Not a lot  of movement  but Matt decided to take a shot at Rebecca's leader - he shot, he scored and the Goliath Leader went out of the game.

Rebecca continued closing on the central point - she was moving in force and she wants those guilder credits.  Troops that were present were essentially juves and gangers (around four in number) in or around the barricades surrounding the central point from her starting edge.  The ganger with the heavy stubber managed to get up and enter a building, whether to get out of harm's way or to snipe is not clear but it would give her a distinct advantage with it's 20" short range / 40" long range ability.
When the shooting from Rebecca started - Matt's Leader fell to the pavement only this time he was not taking a flesh wound, this time he was down for the count - payback perhaps for the loss of Rebecca's leadership?

The first charge of the game is a little underwhelming since one of my gangers runs past the barricade to close assault the closest downed kawdor ganger - dice aren't even rolled - it's automatic.  Since my edge is clear of Cawdor I now start moving those remaining gangers to the centre - Matt's facing another bottle test and Rebecca has taken a couple of hits - a few more and she'll be bottling it - I still haven't lost a man.
When I start firing my leader uses a full charge on a plasma pistol - this should incinerate whoever it hits - amazingly it hits but does no damage? Unfortunately by rolling a six means that although I hit I have to take an ammo roll, which I lose (no more plasma pistol).  What's more frustrating is that this happens again and again for me.  I lose a bolt gun and a lasgun to ammo rolls - the good news being that another of Rebecca's juve's is flat out behind a barricade.

Turn four:

Matt rolls for his remaining crawling gangers - they're not getting up! He then decides to not even bother rolling to see if he succeeds his bottle test - he leaves the battlefield... quickly!

Rebecca moves in to pickup the guilder "item" (we really should have asked what it was), the first juve fumbles (not rolling a 5 or 6), fortunately a ganger behind the juve tried again and picked it up - is it all over?
Rebecca starts firing with her stubber from its superior firing position which gives Serene's Soldiers it's first dire casualty.  Another Juve goes down but is not out for the count (phew).

We've got the guilder "item", what do we do with it again?
 Knowing that Rebecca has the guilder item and that I could potentially force her into a bottle test - I'm trying to get every gun into a firing solution.  The idea of moving towards a house Goliath ganger does not appeal or make sense but this is something that has to be done.
My first kill this turn is from a shot gun using a scatter shot shell - I'm fairly sure there is nothing left of the goliath - the amusing thing is that its the ganger (holding the "item") that dies and not the juve who was actually fired at - go figure (the "item" is now back on the floor), unfortunately nothing else hits (dammit).

Turn Five:

At this point it's 9pm and we've been playing since 3pm (creating gangs, setting up the board, setting up the gangs and ultimately learning the rules as we go).  Rebecca is essentially going to be taking a bottle test because she has lost 25% of her gang (much like Matt). We decide to stop there - however Serene's Soldiers claim a moral victory (and the 50 cred victory) since he would love to continue shooting until Rebecca's gang takes further losses resulting in a failed bottle test.

Since the game ended we all sat down to work out experience and credits earned by each gangs participating juves, gangers and leader.  We also worked out if anyone was maimed, didn't make it or if there were any grudges etc.  One interesting point - Matt's leader made it (more or less), Rebecca's leader unfortunately was found and kept close to death as a hostage by Matt's Kommissars.  Rebecca got her leader back after paying a considerable amount of credits - the good thing is that Matt and Rebecca got their leadership back ;-)

For a Sunday afternoon game, I can't think of a better game to play - brought back a load of old memories and when we get to play again will undoubtedly create some new ones.  My plan is to get my gang painted so that it actually looks the part - that will be done in time.  Until then Necromunda will allow us to go into mortal combat in the far flung future - a galaxy far, far away - not so much - just where we get time and opportunity to setup the boards again!

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Infidel! - My Somewhat Rambling Fascination with Historical Wargames (Part 1)

So we find ourselves looking over the crusader camp at the Battle of Dorylaeum, with the massive Seljuk Turk army just visible in the distance. At least this is a quick photo I snapped of the Dorylaeum scenario from GMT's Infidel boardgame. It's the second in their Men of Iron series, this one focusing clearly on the huge cavalry battles of the early Crusades. Whilst I have the pikemen on display here, they tend to be a little..squishy in battle, this is really all about the mounted units and their movement.

It's currently set up on the desk in our bedroom much to my wife's dismay, but I'm taking my time playing it solitaire and trying to absorb the rules, and it really does work for me as something to dip into now and again when I have the time. It's also quite brilliant, and as a good example of why I enjoy historical wargames I thought it would serve as a nice little introductory post about my fascination with this area of gaming.

So why do I play these games? It's certainly not for the shiny components, the one above is a pretty good example of the genre but even this one consists mostly of small cardboard counters and a paper map. You can't really see it in the picture, but the perspex from a poster frame is covering the map, just to make it playable. Things are definitely improving all the time, but for gamers into massive heavy boxes full of intricate plastic miniatures, then these board wargames really don't compare.

It isn't for the cost either. It's not like they are hugely less expensive for not having those mountains of plastic or wood. Actually thinking about it, almost all of my most expensive games are wargames. I think that's largely down to it being a niche within a niche, small print runs, and the added cost of all the shipping given there aren't many companies producing them in the UK.

So why then? Well it all started, for me at least, with...

Solitaire play - When I first got back into boardgames this was almost a necessity, I hadn't yet found a local group, and I lived a fair way from any of the people I had gamed with before. More than that though I enjoy it, always have done, sometimes I read a book, sometimes watch a film or some TV, sometimes it's a game on the  PC or console, but if I'm in the mood I really enjoy sitting down with a board or card game. So in my hunt for good solo boardgames, a lot of the recommendations were for wargames. Whilst there are many great "designed for solitaire" wargames, I also discovered that many wargamers will solo games not designed for one player, playing each side to the best of their ability just to enjoy the process and see how it all played out. I'd found my people. :)

One of the big draws for me when playing solitaire, is the ability to take time, and really study the...

Complexity - Now this doesn't necessarily mean the rules have to be complex, though that is something I enjoy, and it is something you would need to get used to if you were to explore the world of historical boardgames. Sure, many of the rulesets are more complex than your average boardgame, they are after all modelling complex situations, and even when abstracted there can still be a lot going on. It's also the emergent complexity I'm interested in though, the idea of a relatively small set of rules producing a complex simulation. This ties back to some of the academic work that interested me most, and I find the whole "cardboard machine" idea fascinating to peer at. Then there is the simple satisfaction of learning a new set of rules, I enjoy the process which seems bizarre given how much I avoided it during my academic years.

Another side of the learning that goes hand in hand with these games is the...

History - I've always been fairly science focussed when it came to education, hence my fascination with the mechanics and modelling aspects, but my interest in these games has opened up an interest in the history that they portray. I've read so many more books, and articles on history since getting into wargames than I ever have before. There is something very satisfying for me about playing a game, and also reading around that subject, though that tends to lead me off in different directions reading more history. The end result however is that I know far more about the world, and some of the conflicts that have shaped it than I ever did, and that's all from playing some games.

It's partly the rich history that creates a great....

Narrative - I do like a good story, and I particularly enjoy a solitaire game if it creates an interesting story. Wargames are very good for this, there is so much going on you can't help but get caught up in the story. This ties in with the above part about history, where you read about these great battles, and then watch them played out before you with the ability to try different approaches. Infidel is a great example with this constantly moving battlefield with charges and counter charges and reaction fire turning these beautiful lines and formations into chaos before they regroup for the next clash. Some of my favourite though are the squad based tactical games, which often play out like scenes from a great war movie.

...and at that point I think I'm going to break. Lets call this part one, as I'm in danger of rambling for far too long and I still have more ideas milling around. I'll pick up where I left off in part two.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

KEMET - A fantastic game of beating up your friends, and riding around on mythical beasts. Can you think of a better way to spend your time?

I was first introduced to this game by a Tom Vassel video review on and knew immediately that I wanted it. The ancient Egypt theme, the light war game mechanics and the gorgeous mythical creature miniatures…its love. 

Unfortunately it has taken nearly 3 months for this game to arrive in the UK; during which time I more than once considered getting it delivered from Europe or America. I held off and finally the game arrived last Friday morning, just in time for our next game night. Was the game worth the wait? and the £45 price tag?

I’ll say this now to save time, if you do not like combative and aggressive games, you probably won’t like this. This game not only encourages attacking, it’s necessary and key to the game. You will take on the roll of Egyptian gods battling each other for supremacy of the ancient land of Kemet (name for Egypt at the time, kinda). Your goal will be to gain 8 Victory Points, and keep them until the end of a game round. I say ‘keep’, as some of these Victory Points will only be temporary, which can, and probably will, be stolen by another player.

Throughout the game you will be able to gain permanent Victory Points, mainly through combat, and temporary Victory Point, mainly from controlling one of the multiple temples around the board. If another player seizes control of these temples from you, you have to hand over that Victory Point.

Each game round will start with the night phase (which is in effect an upkeep stage) in which you will gain 2 prayer points, the sole resource of the game. Players will take it in turns to perform an action (such as move a troop, buy an upgrade, or recruit new units) until everyone has taken 5. Unlike many similar games, such as Game of Thrones, everyone starts the game on an equal footing, with the same amount of resources and units. The board is designed in such a way that everyone is the same amount of spaces from each other, and you can teleport from you cities to important locations around the map for a minimal cost. All this comes together to make a very balanced and strategic game.

While you may all start the game on an equal footing, you won’t stay that way for long. The element that will make your forces play different from everyone else’s, and what will make the game different every time you play, is the 48 upgrade tiles. When you buy one of these tiles you will get a permanent ability/upgrade/mythical creature that once bought, is yours for the rest of the game. Other than a few low level tiles, once you have a tile no one else will be able to acquire it. In this way you will be able to tailor your army and play style, making your forces completely different to other players.

Seeing as it’s a key part of the game, I really should take about the battle system. I won’t go into too much detail, it’s a simple system, the main thing to know is that it’s not luck based. For each battle you select two of your 6 battle cards (1 to use, 1 to discard), adding the combat value of the card to the number of your units in the battle, plus any modifiers on your upgrade tiles. The winner stays where they are, the loser retreats and a victory point is awarded if the attack won. As well as a combat value, these cards might also kill enemy units, or protect your unit’s form being killed. Once all 6 cards are in your discard pile, you pick them all back up again; meaning that you have to plan for what battle card you’ll need in a future round.

Everyone has the same cards as you, so you can go into a battle fairly confident of a result, and can plan accordingly. Know your going to loose? play a battle card that will kill off lots of their units after the battle. Have an easy win? play a card that will protect your units from being killed. Or like me, have a tile that gives you resources for killing units, so always go in trying to do the most carnage.

There are a number of other elements to the game that I’ve not covered in this review, such as:
·        The lovely marble effect 4 sided dice, used to show what level your pyramids are at, and in conjunction, what level of upgrade tiles you can buy.
·        The number of other less common ways to gain Victory Points, such as upgrade tiles, and upgrading your pyramid to the highest level.
·        The “Divine Intervention” cards which can be used as extra help in battle, or in a number of other ways.
·        You can only have 5 units together in 1 space, as a Troop. There are only 12 units available to each player, so you can build up massive forces.

The heart of this game is a light war game, layered on top of that is a clever action selection mechanic, and a deep upgrade system. It shouldn’t take long to teach to new players, and after your first play you should be merrily slaughtering each other without having to consult the rules at all.

As you will have already noticed, I am very enamoured with this game. I do tend to get very enthusiastic about a game, and can overlook any issues it has. So before I get onto more praise, these are only three negatives I can think of:
·        You do need a group where people don’t mind aggressive games, and won’t take it to heart as you stop on them mercilessly.
·        All players need to play well, it’s not something to play if you want to relax and not think too hard. If a player makes a few bad moves, it could lead to another player scoring 2 or 3 easy points and winning the game. This shouldn’t be an issue after the first few plays, as you’ll soon get to understand how to avoid giving players easy points.
·        The rules, while not terrible, aren’t prefect. I would recommend watching a video (either a review or walkthrough) to get everything straight in your head and consult the BGG forums if you need any further clarification.

I would recommend watching the Dice Tower review for a bit more info, and have a look at some more pictures of the game being played. My words alone don’t do this game justice, its as much fun as any game I’ve played in the last few years and combines very balanced and strategic gameplay with a great theme and gorgeous presentation. The first play went over very well with my game group; though our group does tend to like the more aggressive and competitive games (read: games where you can screw each other over), so it was always going to be a hit. This is a game I can see being in my collection for a long time to come and a staple of our game group.

**** One small note, when you buy this (and yes I did mean to write ‘when’), print off some reference sheets from BoardGameGeek for the upgrade tiles, it will save a lot of time if everyone has a copy to browse through. Like having your own little Argos catalogue of death and destruction.****

Below is a brief summary of our first game:

David (me): I was dogged by pre-emptive buying by Jay throughout this game, every time I planned to get an upgrade, Jay got their first. My first move was to send a troop to secure the Sanctuary of All Gods (where you can sacrifice 2 units at the end of a round for a VP). I only managed to hold this for 1 round, before attacks by both Matt and Jay forced me out. I spent the next few rounds upgrading (the best of these was an upgrade that game me lots of Prayer Points every time I killed another unit) and rebuilding my forces before going on an all out offensive against Karl & Rebecca, grabbing multiple temples, and upgrading my pyramids to reach 10 VP. No one was going to be able to steal enough temporary VP to deny me the win, so the game was called at that point.

Karl: Took an early VP lead, grabbing the two central temples, and started gaining a lot of prayer points every round. He accelerated ahead of everyone else, buying lots of upgrades (giant scorpion anyone?) and consolidating his position in the temples. Unfortunately for Karl, this did make him a target for the rest of the game, and due to a lot of attacks on his forces, he stalled at around the 5 or 6 VP mark.

Matt: Had an aggressive start, initiating the first attack of the game, against myself. Making a move on the Sanctuary of All Gods, but soon left the fighting there to myself and Jay, and moved into the Delta temple (where you can sacrifice 1 unit at the end of a round for 5 prayer points). He controlled this point for the rest of the game. After a few rounds of upgrading and beard scratching, Matt launched his main force (led by a giant scarab beetle) at Karl and then Jay. While he had some success against Karl, by this time Jay had become quite strong, and was able to swat away Matts attack with a Mummy Priest backhand to the face. Matt ended the game on 4 VP (I think).

Rebecca: Flew under the radar for a while, grabbed one temple and spent the first few rounds building up. Then with a twinkle in her eye, spend the rest of the game continuingly attacking Karl and myself. I think, even more so than me and Karl, Rebecca was the most aggressive player. She grabbed one of the central temples from Karl, and despite multiple unsuccessful attacks, she kept rebuilding and attacking some more. However, as quite a few of these attacks ended in defeat, she didn’t build up enough VP to win. She ended on 6 VP.

Jay: Took a slow approach, building up a strong resource generating base, and upgrading his armies. Other than a few small attacks, Jay wasn’t very aggressive until the last few rounds where his forces stormed out of his city, attacking Karl & Matt. However strong Jay was at this point, he has left his move too late, and ended on 5 VP. If we had played a longer game (10 or 12 VP) I think Jay probably would have won.

Game Time: about 100 minutes, including setup and rules explanation.

Judging from the threats and calculating looks I suspect that I’ll be a target next game. Bring it on! my giant snake army will take you all…..whimper….

Friday, 29 March 2013

Space Hulk - PC Gameplay Demo

Some footage is up, been looking forward to this one for some online play. I might even get round to playing my physical copy at some point.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Neptunes Pride 2: Triton - is a Galaxy big enough?

It's a Sunday afternoon and I'm impatiently waiting for a game to start, I've been waiting for the last two days and potentially I could be waiting for a few more – the game is a multiplayer on-line real time strategy game for eight players and it won't start until all eight places are filled. Unfortunately this game allows players from all around the globe to join and pit wits against one another – here's the problem, if one of our American friends were to be the last person to join this game it's likely our game start time and equally our 24 hour production cycle / fund provisioning would be in the middle of the night. For a game that can last over a month, that could be a serious dis-advantage – oh, did I not mention that, each game is played in real-time and goes on for days – lots and lots of days.

Welcome to Neptunes Pride, actually Neptunes Pride 2: Triton (in Beta at this very moment) – a 4X game that has you controlling your very own empire amongst the stars - allowing you to eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate! NP2 is a browser based game that uses HTML5 (as opposed to Flash for NP), it can be run from any mobile device that is able to access the internet. I personally have been playing NP2 on three different devices and platforms – using Mr Gates' Windows 7 on a laptop, Linux Ubuntu on a netbook and whilst at work Android on a smartphone.
NP2's premise is simple – you start your empire ruling six star systems... but that's not enough, hardly enough, no your empire needs to get bigger. You must therefore send out your fleets to colonise worlds, both empty and occupied, into your dynasty – the winner of this game being the first person to occupy over 50% of the known galaxy. Sound easy – easy it definitely is not because everyone else is attempting to do the same thing as you by means fair and foul. To win this game you'll need to have a plan... you do have a plan?

Each star system that you rule has three attributes (Economy, Industry & Science) that can be improved if you have the credits, however once you improve any one of these three attributes its cost to upgrade again goes up. The more economy you have, the more credits you earn at the twenty-four hour production cycle. Industry provides you with more ships to bolster your carrier fleets (with new ships being built throughout the twenty four hour period) – your carrier fleets allow you to jump between star systems, colonising worlds and laying waste to enemy fleets. Science goes towards your ability to research new technologies – in the original NP there were only four research technologies: Speed, Range, Weapon Skill and Scanning. In earlier iterations of NP2 there were up to twelve different techs – after rigorous play testing (make that ongoing rigorous play testing) there are now seven – Scanning, Range, Terraforming, General Research, WS, Banking & Manufacturing. Each tech improves your empire in quite subtle ways – from being able to see further into other player empires, the obvious weapons upgrades, to reducing the cost of upgrading E, I & S through terraforming.

At the start of the game you manage to colonise a number of uninhabited star systems but soon realise due to prohibitive costs to upgrade you need to expand further; you're going to have to either sweet talk your neighbour or use deadly force. Talking with your neighbours is an important aspect of NP2, you can trade tech and credits, create borders, talk Non-Aggression Pacts or go for a full on Alliance. Going it alone can work but if you're part of a working alliance, things can go a lot smoother – but you're just as likely to be playing against strangers as you are friends – how much do you trust them to not infringe on your borders? So... you don't trust your neighbours, you want a pre-emptive strike you say, looks like you're going to have to get your hands dirty – looks like you're going to have to start a fight – you need to go into combat.

Combat involves you sending one or more of your fleets to a neighbouring occupied star system – no small feat since it can take days for your fleets to traverse the vast interstellar distances between stars (all made possible with amazing new hyperspace technology) - this is where the RTS is pertinent - this is where you also go about your business (or go to bed) whilst you wait for your fleets to arrive at target.

Now you might think that you can simply send a bigger fleet than that occupying the target star system. You sir(s) would be mistaken – with NP2 the number of ships in your fleet is effectively how many hits you can take – Your WS level actually denotes you're hitting power and equally your opponents WS denotes how many ships they will take from your fleet. When Combat ensues the defender has first strike, with the defenders WS being deducted from the attacking players fleet number, and then vice versa – this process repeats until either the attacker or the defender has no fleet left.
If there is a significant difference between the two combating players WS then it is more than possible that the player with a higher WS could destroy a larger opposing fleet size – the combat calculations simply means every time the higher WS player hits - they're destroying more ships.
If the attacker is destroyed, then no harm no foul – if the defenders usurped - the attacker gains new real estate as well as credits for destroying the defenders economy. The defenders industry and science remain on the star and therefore also go to the victorious – not bad for being a tad aggressive.

Be warned though aggressor, sorry, player. Being aggressive could be to your detriment – you could send that defending player running with open arms into an alliance – their tech increases and suddenly you're no longer 1v1 but 1v3 and you've got multiple battlefronts – how you feeling now? Confident? Equally, the number of times I've sent a fleet on the attack only to find that I've left myself seriously undefended on my launch star system and suddenly I have **ALERT ** MULTIPLE INCOMING ** ALERT ** - I really didn't think that through enough – bugger!

I really enjoy playing this game. Now I realise that this is the second blog that we have had recently that involves virtual reality, as opposed to the physicality of a board game, but this is a game that I play in the background to my normal weekly boardgames sessions with friends.
I'm not the only boardgamer that has played this game – Quintin Smith of “Shut Up & Sit Down” Fame actually documented his play through here.  I'm not the first boardgamer to play this and I feel confident when I say that I won't be the last!

So you're thinking that you'd like to have a game of Neptunes Pride, here let me help with that – if you want to go old school then you can find the original Neptunes Pride here.
But you don't want to go old school when you can go cutting edge – you want to participate on the Beta (currently Beta 5) – you want to see how Jay Kyburz (loving what you're doing Jay) is improving on what was already a winning formula. Let's say you do, let's say you want to play NP2 - then you need to go to here.

To play either game you're going to need a gmail / googlemail account but they're free!
If you choose to play either game also have a look at the NP2 Google+ Community page  and say hi. We're not unfriendly we're just wanting to take over the majority of the galaxy.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Durance RPG - Blog Play - 02 Colonial Record

OK First things first, lets check on that revised planetary survey, place was sounding nice in the last post.

The climate of RFS 617 is hot and wet, averaging 35 °C with torrential downpours. All our crops were either washed away or trampled during seasonal migrations of native life on a massive scale. There are intelligent natives and they also bring us only trouble. We all want to be cool and dry, just once.

Plus some optional details we might use to beef things out:

1. A vine-covered fort out by the Big Kill
2. A herd of spin-tails that covers ten square kilometers
3. A marine gang called The Huntsmen provide… varied “indigenous protein sources”
4. An aggressive bacteria strain lurks in the natives
5. Deep beneath the surface of the planet there is an advanced civilization
6. Rotting uniforms falling off emaciated shoulders

O...k... Well I'm sure we can live with that, well briefly anyway. What matters is that we have a nice colony with which to hide from the elements. So lets check that colonial record.

So our colony is New Launceston

Lets see what the authorities have to say about the place:
New Launceston exists in name only. In reality the colony consists of filthy shacks scattered over a hundred square kilometers, each housing only a few lags busy with cottage industry. Authority is necessarily mobile, and the force of law is only truly in effect when Authority is in sight. When Authority is not, angry and disaffected Lags plot and scheme.
A wretched hive of scum and villainy then?

Best check what the convicts have to say about the place:
So much open space! So much freedom we have! In our shacks we rule ourselves and work according to our talents, producing all that we need. It is a beautiful freedom indeed, until Authority sends in a flying squad of marines to put their laws on us and take what we have made. It is an awful life, a life of fear, and we no longer have a taste for it in truth. We would change it if we could, and some say we can.
..and some more optional details we could use:
1. Corporal Terey Adall, who longs for peace and freedom
2. A plastic tube, long as an arm, stuffed with explosives
3. A misplaced Authority route schedule
4. A sealed off room with a human outline on the floor and a tuning fork resting nearby
5. Recreational drugs hacked into unpleasant performance-enhancers
6. Settlement Eight, silently waiting for Authority to arrive
OK any ideas as to how this society works, and just any other ideas at all can go in the comments.

But next up we have to decide what drives the society. There are two drives already, consisting of Savagery and Servility, we have to decide a third.

Choose ones to cross off from the following list.
  • Control
  • Harmony
  • Status
  • Indulgence
  • Safety
  • Freedom
Order of play is: Rebecca > Matt > David > Jay > Karl

which should leave us with one more drive.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game - Session Report 1

I recently introduced Fantasy Flights X-Wing miniatures game to our little game group. To document our growing love of the game, I will be uploading session reports to this blog regularly, with the occasional ship review thrown in too.

This is my first attempt at doing session reports, so please be patient, and they should slowly improve with time.

Game 1  -  3 Player   (06-03-13)

Rebel: David (6th play)
Fleet value: Approx. 60 points
  • X-wing (Luke Skywalker) & R2 D2
  • X-wing (Biggs Darklighter)

Empire: Karl & Jay (both 1st play)
Fleet value: Approx .75 points
  • Tie fighter (Black Sq. Pilot) 
  • Tie Interceptor (Fel’s Wrath) 
  • Tie fighter (Academy Pilot) 
  • Tie Interceptor (Soontir Fel) 

As this was my first game for a few months, and the first time at all for Karl & Jay, not much tactical play went into this game. The 2 Tie Fighters and Biggs’ X-Wing were all destroyed after only a few rounds of play. This left the two Interceptors and Luke's X-Wing to duel it out.

However, due to R2 D2's ability to recharge Luke’s shields, the Interceptors just couldn't get any serious damage onto him and both were destroyed only having done 1 damage to Luke’s hull.

Result: X-Wing (Luke) sole survivor


Game 2 - 3 Player (06-03-13)

Rebel: Karl & Jay (both 2nd play)
Fleet value: Approx. 85 points
  • Millennium Falcon (Outer Rim Smuggler)
  • X-wing (Luke Skywalker) & R2 D2
  • X-wing (Biggs Darklighter)

Empire: David (7th play)
Fleet value: Approx. 85 points
  • Tie Interceptor (Soontir Fel)
  • Tie Interceptor (Turr Phennir)
  • Tie Advanced (Darth Vader) 

Our first game with the Millennium Falcon (it was bought only a few hours before). To avoid the game taking too long, and to make our first game using it easier, we went for the Outer Rim Smuggler pilot card. Giving the Falcon only 3 shields and 5 hull, a fair amount less than if you use Han, Chewbacca or Lando.

More tactics were in play during this game, with the Falcon attempting to draw fire, while also trying to ram Vader as much as possible. The empire sent its interceptors into a head-on fight with the X-wings, while Vader whittled away at the Falcons shields. After a few turns both interceptors pealed away from the X-wings and joined Vader in bombarding the Falcon, until after a few turns it was destroyed.

The X-wings swung round to follow the Interceptor’s and concentrated their fire on taking them out one at a time. The Interceptor succumbed to a critical hit inflicted by Luke, and the second only moments after the Falcons destruction. Next turn Vader swooped in through growing debris field and destroyed Biggs’ X-wing; leaving the game as a showdown between father and son, Luke's X-wing vs. Vader's Tie Advance.

After Vader narrowly avoided flying off the side of the board (and into the oblivion of space) they squared off for one last fight. Both with 2 hull points left, and no shields.

Vader with the higher piloting skill shoot first, but only managed to deal 1 damage, bringing Luke down to 1 hit point left. Luke however managed to score 3 hits, one a critical. Vader didn't have the skill to evade all 3 hits and was destroyed after drawing a double damage critical card.

Result: X-wing (Luke) sole survivor…again!

Analysis: Both of these games went well, and were very close; only Luke’s X-Wing survived each game. We decided to keep it fairly simple, so kept upgrade cards out of it for the most part. The combo of Luke & R2 D2 is very strong, and I think in future if I’m going up against it I will make sure to target him first and try and take him out quickly, before R2 can recharge his shields.

Everyone had a blast playing this, I’m enjoying it more and more each time I play, and both Karl and Jay said they were dying to play again soon.

They didn’t have to wait long, 5 days after this we played a mammoth 5 player game, introducing the other two member of our group to the game and using pretty much every ship I own and a large amount of upgrade cards. Stay tuned for a detailed session report in the coming soon.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Durance RPG - Blog Play - 01 Planetary Survey

OK lets get this thing rolling...
On a remote planet far from civilization, the worst criminal scum from a dozen star systems have been dumped, charged with building new lives under the watchful eye of Authority. Within a brutal hierarchy of savagery and servility, convicts and guards alike must make hard choices. Every colonist has their own code of conduct and their own aspirations—aspirations that invariably come at the expense of others. This dangerous new world is too small for everyone to succeed. In fact, it may well be too small for anyone to succeed. Only the shrewdest, the toughest and the luckiest will get a chance to find out. Will you be among them?
OK first up is the planetary survey. In this part of the game, a list of six favourable survey assessments about the state of the planet is passed to the left of the host (me!), and each player in turn highlights one, and crosses one out. Each of the statements has a letter associated, and the three letters of the favourable survey assessments form the planet's Universal Terrestrial Survey which can the be looked up in the rules book.

We've already done this part via email, I used a randomiser to pick the order and the results are:

The Actual comments were...

Karl (Yellow Smudge)
A. Atmosphere is excellent (I want to breathe)
E. Biology is benign (we're gonna have triffids)

Rebecca (Terminator)
C. Geology is stable (not sure I want to battle against falling rocks as well as various monsters!)
F. Intelligent life is absent (There's gonna be a ton of strange indigenous beasties)

Matt (Medical Marvel)
B. Climate is mild (Why would I want the weather to be mild? Let there be storms!)
D. Hydrology is favorable (Killer plants? No thanks!)

OK so this leads us to the planet named RFS 617 with the following survey...
Recommended. The surface’s water is clean and plentiful, atmosphere is perfect gas mix and pressure, and the planet is geologically stable. Excellent colony candidate.
That sounds dandy! We'll not worry about the revised survey just now, I'm sure those surveyors have done their job thoroughly. :)

So next up is the colony, and it's much the same again with the Colonial Survey. So choose one and lose one in the comments from the following, and I'll update in the next post. The order will be David, then myself, and then back to Karl.

U. Planning is meticulous
V. Density is low
W. Workforce is motivated
X. Prosperity is high
Y. Order is well-established
Z. Justice is universal

Cheers all, looking forward to settling our lovely clean, geologically stable planet!


I'm pretty sure we all play some sort of video or computer gaming, so I'm probably going to chuck the odd post up. This is just a very early trailer for a survival horror game called Darkwood. It's already looking great though.

I'm intrigued by procedurally generated environments, and games like this that use roguelike elements. I'm similarly drawn to roleplaying games with random dungeon generation, and huge tables to roll on to generate all sorts of things. Something in that open-ended story idea that really works for me.

Anyway, check the trailer, and keep an eye out here.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Durance RPG - Blog Play - Introduction

So the group has thrown round the idea of trying out some roleplaying games, and since it's an area we have less experience with I thought a fairly straightforward storytelling game might work, this led me to finding Durance from Bully Pulpit Games. It instantly grabbed my interest because of the prison planet setting, and on reading I really liked the simple mechanics to draw a story out of the players. The big plus though was the lack of GM and preparation, which takes the pressure off any one person in our group.

From the publisher...

On a remote planet far from civilization, the worst criminal scum from a dozen star systems have been dumped, charged with building new lives under the watchful eye of Authority. Within a brutal hierarchy of savagery and servility, convicts and guards alike must make hard choices. Every colonist has their own code of conduct and their own aspirations—aspirations that invariably come at the expense of others. This dangerous new world is too small for everyone to succeed. In fact, it may well be too small for anyone to succeed. Only the shrewdest, the toughest and the luckiest will get a chance to find out. Will you be among them?
Durance is the latest game from designer Jason Morningstar, author of the award-winning game Fiasco. It is a fast-paced, low-prep, highly collaborative game designed for 3-5 players and one or more sessions of play and includes a detailed, engaging science fiction setting.
Unfortunately we haven't managed to work it into one of our regular gaming sessions, partly due to the number of boardgames we have been trying, though also due to a certain amount of trepidation as to how it would actually work. On further reflection and discussion, it might be that something with heavier rules and lots of tactical combat might actually work better for our group, as it would be an easier leap from some of the boardgames we already play.

Anyway we decided to play out some of it by email, and since the blog is rolling I thought I'd move it here and play the whole thing out in a number of posts. It'll give us a good idea of how the game works, and take the pressure off giving plenty of time to discuss, and create a world that interests us. I'm not going to write in depth about the mechanics, there are some reviews out there, though I may put a some brief notes at the beginning of any new section of play.

It's probably best I leave this as a simple introduction, I'll start the gaming proper in the next post in the series. Started this late, so I'll put the next post up tomorrow.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Solo Gaming Review - Party of 1: Kalgor Bloodhammer and the Ghouls Through the Breach

So it's weird, and will make you go blind...but as every young boy discovers, playing by yourself can be fun. No I was talking about solitaire or solo gaming you depraved people you. Anyway, I have plans for a series of reviews, and views on solo gaming, so I though I'd start by reposting this old review I wrote. It involves yet another fascination of mine...gamebooks....but more on those later.

Was in the mood so I snagged myself a copy of Party of 1: Kalgor Bloodhammer and the Ghouls Through the Breach, and I've just given it a quick play so I thought I'd post a little review.

So what do you get for you hard earned Flainian Pobble Beads?.....well you get a nicely formatted 14 page, numbered paragraph adventure. It's essentially a small gamebook in the tradition of Fighting Fantasy using the OGL for the rules, of which there are few. In fact the rules are introduced as you play the game so there isn't a rules section to refer to, and it's largely simple choices and basic combat of 1d20+modifiers against Armor Class, plus the odd strength check. At least that is mostly what I encountered during my initial play, along with some objects which can be used, and a 'secrets' system for tracking your progress and discoveries.

In short, it's short, much like this review.

Is it bad? No, I enjoyed it, and I'll play it through again and hopefully win it, and possibly again to try some different paths. It will have limited replayability beyond that though, much like any gamebook, and it is short at only 73 paragraphs. It does include character sheets, which I believe you could carry over to Pathfinder proper, so I guess they may be of use for people looking for pre-generated characters.

Is it worth $2.99? Well using my balanced system of food based comparisons, it cost me about the same as a prawn mayonnaise sandwich at the local supermarket, and whilst it isn't filled with juicy crustacean goodness, it did keep me happily entertained for longer than my hypothetical lunchtime treat would. For me yes, but I love gamebooks, you could pick up some old ones on ebay for very little though, many of which will last longer than this, so maybe not for everyone.

Oh it's about dwarves.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Saturday, 2 March 2013

SereneJ's Review of Keyflower

Keyflower - as game names go it doesn't sound very threatening - equally, it doesn't really give anything away about what the game actually involves - but it should have a warning on the box - this game pulls you in!
So what is it? What it is - is a game of 2-6 players and is probably best described as a worker placement game that is all about you building something - actually not just something - a village.  A village that you come to care about and in the three games I've played so far I've found it utterly delightful, enticing me into making the best damn village I can - my meeple deserve it. Keyflower, as I've discovered (with the help of the Finely Diced Gamers), is a game that looks friendly (it uses meeples for goodness sake) and invites you to play (the game artwork is lovely to look at), it has some interesting game dynamics but ultimately allows for some potentially bitter power struggles as you try to improve your village in medieval Keyland.

When you start keyflower your village is one building – your house - ironically you are given an actual starting house which is needed to conceal the different meeples and tokens that you collect throughout the course of the game.  The aim of Keyflower is simple, take your newly founded village and improve it - adding different buildings such as mines, quarries and other equally useful structures. Some of these new buildings benefit you immediately, providing necessary resources (to further improve your village) or more meeples (used during your turn to activate village buildings or bid on unclaimed buildings). There are other buildings that you'll want to claim that provide either the option to select the next player to go first, the first choice of meeple coming to colonise your village or victory points at games end.
The game itself occurs over one year, OK - it doesn't take a year to play (I definately wouldn't have time to play the game otherwise) but it is played over four seasons - Spring, Summer, Autumn & Winter – with each season being one turn. From the first season, each player takes it in turn activating or bidding on unclaimed buildings laid out in the centre of the table.  The first person to activate a building only needs to spend one meeple, the next would have to spend two meeples (of the same colour), the third person three meeples (yes, same colour).  Ultimately it comes down to how many meeple you have stashed that can allow or prevent you from activating a building.

So... you see a perfect addition to your village and you decide to bid on it (hoping that no-one has the same idea as you).  Bidding on a building again involves your meeples, with them being used to stake your claim - but watch out - as long as another player has enough of the same colour meeple - you can be outbid.  Can you remember who placed which colour meeple or how many - two, three, four...?
Each season ends once everyone has finished placing their meeples - the dust settles and village founders (you the player) look at what is to be added to your village - all the meeple used in the bidding process are lost - gone forever.  However - any building that was activated (by yourself or others) that you now own - those meeple now belong to you to help your village grow in the coming season.

Now you would be forgiven for thinking that all was lost, if a building that you wanted and bid on was taken by another player.  With Keyflower, regardless of where a building is - whether unclaimed, your village or another's village.  If a building can be activated you can place a meeple there - with those meeple going into the building owners's hidden stash at the end of the season.  With some strategic placement of your meeple, you can use another's building to improve your standing - in the process making it more expensive for the actual owner to use.  However, remember that the building's owner gets to keep the meeple used and don't forget - they could easily choose to use your buildings!

So the activation and bidding of buildings is present in every season but once you reach Winter you're essentially looking at how to maximise on the buildings you own to score the most victory points.  Throughout the first three seasons player will be bidding and outbidding each other to have buildings in their village - winter (I think) is slightly different - it's all or nothing.  I've managed to win this game by managing to get a building that another player's strategy required, preventing them from attaining their full potential - admittedly a risky strategy but I won by one point. 

The thing is Keyflower offers lots of strategies, one person may choose to hoard meeples, another may choose to build the longest river, yet another hoards gold - these are just three such strategies that I've seen - however, each strategy can be countered if another player manages to get the meeples in at the right time.  Keyflower could just be the right strategy at the right time but there are more building cards than can be played for each season which means that each game will be unique, there will be variety and you - the player - will have to choose  how you want to see your village expand - what direction will you want to take?

I don't currently own this game but I intend to - it's already on my BGG wishlist! If someone offers you the opportunity to play this game I would suggest you say yes - it's entertaining and its subtly aggressive -  This is a game that our group has played three times in two weeks and I would happily play again - it's a great game!  Who knew colonising Keyland could be so much fun?

I still think there should be a warning on the box!

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

First Impressions - Bora Bora

"I think they mean boring boring" whispers non-gamer wife to my daughter...

So I'd glimpsed this hiding in David's bag o' games at our previous games night, and we managed to get a game of it played last night with three of us, despite my wife's sarcastic remarks. :)

It's far too early for me to review the thing, and that's probably the best first impression I can give of it. It's a game that will take a while to get to grips with, and not because it's difficult to learn, more that ideas for strategy are only going to come from better experience of how the various mechanics tie together. There are many many choices to make in this game, and there were quite a few moments of silence while we thought through the consequences of those choices. It's definitely not going to work with people who agonise over what to do next.

I don't think any of us found it particularly difficult to learn, there is a certain assault on the senses, partly from the vivid colours in the design, and partly from the seemingly overcrowded collection of mysterious icons. It only took a couple of turns to get the general gist of things though, and I can see this playing pretty quickly if we try a few more times.

So the mechanics?...well it's what...dice placement?...worker placement? I'm not sure what it would fall under, and there are several other intertwined mechanics that make it a little different anyway.You roll your dice, assign them to various actions which can help you perform a number of things, and those actions are determined by the value of the dice. The nice twist though is that to if an action already has dice assigned to it, the next player who wants to use that action has to place one of lesser value than the lowest currently there. This leads to some nice choices on where your dice can best be used, and also where you can block the other player's actions by the use of low value dice.

There is a map of the five islands where you can place your huts, and use actions to expand to other positions on the map. This in itself can gain you some points, and leads to a nice little game of fighting over particular spaces to gain extra points at the end. The placement though, also gains you resources, which can then be used to build on your own player board, which is another source of point scoring.

You have tasks to complete each turn which can score you more points, there is temple mechanism which leads to another avenue of point scoring, and if that isn't enough you can buy jewellery to gain more points, and tattoos which push you up the status track for yet more points, and turn order.

I'm pretty sure I've forgotten something, and I've not even mentioned the god cards and tiles, which can help you in a variety of ways.

Anyway, if you can tell, my initial impressions are extremely positive. It has that great combination of tons of choices, and never enough time to do everything you want to which combine to create some of my favourite gaming experiences. I'm really looking forward to trying this one a few more times, and maybe then I'll write something slightly more focused.

I lost by the way :)

Sunday, 24 February 2013

SereneJ's Review of Skull & Roses

So a review of Skull and Roses, a game that I was introduced to in a pub and found it to play really well; admittedly I first thought we were getting some expensive coasters for our drinks but I was quickly corrected. The rules were simple and easy to digest, probably less than a minute and we were away trying to out bluff each other.

However, it’s a more recent play of the game of Skull and Roses that I want to talk about here. It begins by my wife trying to get the extended family seeing each other more regularly, since they live close by. To do this she invites my three cousins and their partners for a meal and drinks at ours, this ultimately means I’m going to be doing the cooking but fortunately lasagne is a quick meal to prepare.

Going slightly further off track, a little bit of info about my family, they aren’t board-gamers, they are muggles to magic wielders to coin a phrase. You would normally find them playing games including the likes of Trivial Pursuits, Logo & oddly enough Texas Holdem Poker (with poker chips & normally for money). My wife’s plan for the evening involves drinks, sharing a meal and lots of conversation; I felt we were obligated to provide entertainment.

The meal concluded, coffee and mints provided (I like to think we offer a proper sit down meal, thank you), Skull & Roses was brought to the table. Immediately a hush falls, then the question of what’s being brought out since the Box art is quite striking to say it’s so small. Now I know all those present can play poker so I tell them that this is like poker, just more refined, with no actual playing cards or poker chips – guffaws are audible.

Once the box is opened the coasters decks are displayed, showing each rival gangs colours. There’s almost a gleeful mischief in the air, disbelief that a deck of four cards and a square mat can be used to play a game. Each of the eight takes a look at the decks that have been layed out & slowly one by one they choose their colours. For this game both the Skull and Roses Black (original) and Red (expansion) box-sets were being used since there were eight people playing.

The game started slowly, everyone being cautious about how to bid, the order of laying down cards - after the first turn’s completed it’s understood. Next round, they eagerly want to lay down cards, who starts? 

This game of skull and Roses goes on for an hour, we’re having fun, drinks are going down and the conversation is flowing equally as well. Each turn you know at least one person is looking round at the number of cards on the table, counting (they’re not even necessarily doing it quietly), calculating their magic number, their bid, which could win for them or could lead them to losing yet another precious card from their deck.

The end comes quickly, the teacher doesn’t win (I have a solitary card left and it’s a skull), everyone’s smiling, more so the winner. I’m told en-mass that they would play again, another of my family asks if next time we gather to play poker if I would bring Skull and Roses along too. They’re already planning on playing it prior to the game of poker like an aperitif and there planning on playing it using money; could be an expensive evening!

Skull and Roses is a brilliant game, I’ll be honest I loved the artwork on the cards as soon as I first layed eyes on them. That said, I didn’t understand initially how so few material items could be used to play a game that was comparable to poker? What no deck of cards, no poker chips, no dealer button?  After playing my second game (my first game teaching the rules), I’m a believer!  Regardless of whom you invite to play this game, your board-gaming buddies, your friends or your family –  I believe they will love this game too!

Skull & Roses is not complicated to learn but will get your heart pumping faster and you will find yourself getting competitive, you will want to be first to turn your square mat over twice; a nice touch for a scoring mechanism. 

This (I believe) is a must have game, it needs to be in your collection!