Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Kickstarter Roundup - When it Rains it Pours!

Although I've backed a number kickstarters I'm not the kind of guy to scour it for new projects and only check out stuff I come across during my usual journeys across the net. So the reason that I feel the need to make an entire post (a roundup even!) about kickstarter projects is simply because I've come across several really interesting looking ones that are all active right now. I'll simply list them in order of time left to pledge..

FAITH: The Sci-fi RPG - 20 HOURS to go (yes, hurry!), 115% funded, $69 sweetspot. So this is a narrative/story-now focused roleplaying game that you play entirely with cards! You don't even need a pen and paper for the character sheets as you can do all of that with the tokens provided. If you think this sounds like Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd ed. (but "even worse"?) then you need to think again. It seems to me like this is a much more focused experience with the kind of collaborative storytelling that you see in FATE or any number of recent indie titles. While there are cards for things like gear and NPCs the ones you use to drive the game forward are more like a poker deck (in fact, you can use a regular poker deck if you want) where you play cards to raise the skill you're using. The setting is sci-fi but of the softer variety. Humans are all but extinct and there is an ongoing cold war between two alien races. Also, the art is beautiful! The setting sounds interesting enough, but is secondary for me though as I'm more interested in the system that seems fairly innovative. Apparently hacking is a big thing which is a plus in my book. Yeah... if it sounds like I don't know all the ins and outs of it that's because I literally discovered it an hour ago. Check out some of the preview videos and then decide for yourself. Only 21 hours left as I write this!

Above and Below - Storytelling Board Game - 14 days to go, 345% funded, $50 sweetspot. Next up we have the latest board game from designer Ryan Laukat - the man behind City of Iron, Eight Minute Empires, Empires of the Void and The Ancient World. So far I have only played Eight Minute Empires: Legends, which is a nice and quick 4X filler but I really would like to get my hands on City of Iron as it seems really cool. Anyway, Above and Below is a game of two parts where each player is trying to build the best village. Above ground you construct buildings and recruit more villagers (basically workers that you can place) and below ground you can go adventuring, which means the game suddenly turns into a choose-your-own-adventure style game like Agents of Smersh or Arabian Knights. It might sound odd, but it seems to go together really nice, and the resource management aspects of the Above game I think are meaty enough to keep a gamer like myself busy while still approachable enough to make my wife want to try it. And speaking of approachable - look at that art! All of Ryan's games look good but this is, in my opinion, his most beautiful and evocative yet. I guess you could argue it gets a little samey with most of the art simply being different style buildings but there's something about those brick houses and that cloudy sky that just gets me every time I look at it! Very Nausicaa/Laputa feel to it that's simply awesome!

MYTH: Journeyman - 18 days to go, 338% funded, $120 sweetspot. Yeah, so this is the only project in this list that has mountains of plastic. I've grown weary of most of the miniature games or miniature heavy board game kickstarters, but I will make an exception now and again. I didn't go for the original MYTH kickstarter back in 2012; I looked at one of the early playthrough videos and it simply didn't look fun at all. Of course, much later as I read about it more indepth I thought it sounded awesome and when I actually got to play it had lots of fun! Yes, the original rulebook wasn't very good (but evocative) and there's been a lot of drama on BGG and other places. However, it is a really cool dungeon crawler that is very different from all Descent clones out there and I think it might become a corner stone in my game collection. So even though I've still to get the base game I'm looking at this new expansion kickstarter and thinking that I really shouldn't miss it! It comes with the new Journeyman cards for all the heroes which will allow you to level them up to become stronger - either as light or dark heroes. There's also new monsters, new items and new quests. In fact a large part of the quest system has been reworked so that you can, if you want, play MYTH with much more structure with pre-determined quests etc. While this is good to have the whole free form thing is what attracted me to the game in the first place! As I'm typing this the $120 level is a good deal, but not a super deal but it hasn't even been two days and I imagine this might get a little crazy toward the end, just like MYTH and MERCS: Recon did. Megacon has also done a lot to try and fix many of the "bugs" in the original game, with a completely new rulebook and new hero, item and quest cards as well as a new set of trap cards with new rules for traps. If you liked the idea of MYTH but thought there were too many bugs, give it another look now.

Far Space Foundry - 22 days to go, 56% funded, $39 sweetspot. This is the only game in the list which isn't funded yet, but don't let that stop you! As is often the case when I discover new board games, I found Far Space Foundry through its excellent art deco art style and I as I read more about it I was happy to see that it seemed to be a really cool game as well. It's a game about resource management, logistics and efficiency where you collect your resources during the first half of the game which you then use to turn into different products in the second half of the game which will net you points. The main mechanic is the roundel on Space Foundry Alpha that is mining the resources where you need to dock your shuttle to bring the resources to your warehouse. You use pilots to dock to the roundel and depending on where you dock you get different special abilities. After a set number of turns you take the resources you've managed to collect in your freighters and go Space Foundry Beta which has a different roundel and this time you need to bring the resources onboard to build stuff like mechs and space suits that the empire has use for. At the end you get points for the stuff you produce and actually fit into your freighters. No points for stuff produced but left behind! So it's kind of worker placement-ish, but with great emphasis on logistics and how to most efficiently get what you need while not wasting resources that won't fit in your freighter, or have a freighter with leftover space in its hold. There's just something about these kinds of games that fascinate me (I'm dying to get to play Panamax for example) and as it happens the theme and art also really appeal to me. For a measly $39 I definitely think it's worth checking out!

Blades in the Dark - 29 days to go, 799% funded, $20 sweetspot. I'll end the list as it began - with a roleplaying game. I came across this in my G+ feed and became immediately intrigued! The core concept of the game is that you play as a band of scoundrels at the very bottom of the criminal strata and you're trying to work yourself to the top. The default setting is industrial fantasy, so there are ghosts and magic and demons but instead of your typical medieval fantasy it's set during the industrial revolution. Computer games like Dishonoured or Sunless Sea/Fallen London are good examples of industrial fantasy I'd say, which shouldn't be confused with steampunk. However, the game is meant to be very hackable and there are alternative settings included as stretch goals - one as a more traditional dark fantasy setting and one French colonial/Heart of Darkness type setting and I'm sure there will be more coming (a cyperpunk setting has been hinted at as well). The game is also meant to be playable with very little preparation and the focus is on scores or heists but with all the planning (that can take aaaaages if you have players in your group that are anything like mine) handled very quickly to immediately get to the action. Players can later use flashback sequences to the actual planning if they want to expand on how to to something during the actual score. The system is hinged around the concept of desperate, risky and controlled actions which can all lead to different outcomes that are a lot more interesting than the binary pass/fail. It looks like a lot of fun, and when it's this cheap it's hard to pass up!

And those are the projects I'm looking at right now! I won't be backing all of them as I simply don't have the budget for it, unfortunately. But I really think they all seem like great games and certainly deserve to be produced and played. The ones I don't back now will definitely find their way into my collection when they hit retail. 

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Friday, 6 March 2015

Phil Eklund Interview - Upcoming Game Releases!

Do I have a treat for you today my friends! As any long time reader of Fire Broadside knows I'm a great fan of the works of Phil Eklund, head of Sierra Madre Games and designer of games extraordinarie. I have written an extensive review of High Frontier with accompanying play reports as well as thoughts on Bios: Megafauna and Pax Porfiriana (and there's more to come!), so when SMG announced a very juicy looking list of upcoming releases on Facebook I decided to do a quick interview with Phil to see what we have to look forward to.

Well, it was meant to be a quick interview, but it ended up a little longer than anticipated. Here we go...

Fire Broadside: Even though I'm sure most of my readers know very well who you are, could you tell us about yourself and what you do?

Phil Eklund: For 35 years I was a rocket scientist at Hughes Aircraft in Arizona (actually only an aerospace engineer, but "rocket scientist" sounds so much cooler).  For almost as long, I have been producing boardgames; the first was an early hexmap version of High Frontier in 1978. There seemed so much unexploited gamespace between "wargame simulations" and "amusing euro abstractions", gamespace for cool simulations that emphasized the important parts of reality. This led to a series of games that broke processes down to their fundamentals, applicable to a wide range of different topics.  In other words, applying scientific induction to games, like Newton did when he integrated the motion of the moon with that of a falling apple.  For the last three years, I have retired from the rocket factory and have been working on games full time in Germany.

FB: A month ago Sierra Madre Games announced three confirmed 2015 releases and a number of possible releases. Lets start with the confirmed releases first. Neanderthal is a prequel of sorts to Greenland and they share many of the same mechanics. In which areas do Neanderthal differ from Greenland and how do the two games connect?

PE: Neanderthal ends just about where Greenland begins, with all three players as polytheistic tribes.  Many of the things Greenlanders take for granted - starting daughters and their survival skills, a starting "alpha" hunter, a starting council of 6 elders, monogamy and marriage, fire and fire starting, spears and projectiles, boats and sleds, speech and negotiations - have to be earned in Neanderthal. Therefore players can add up their points accumulated in Ice Age Europe, and practically plunk their achievements into the equally frozen island of Greenland, and continue playing for more points.

Because Neanderthal deals with the very roots of humanity, at the brief period when culture was invented, it can investigate wildly different sexual strategies.  Some will be startled to see concepts such as wanderlust, promiscuity, homosexuality, and rape introduced in the context of survival over many generations, which has never been done in a game before. Also novel are the origins of endearments, jokes, swear words, and anthropomorphisms, following my theory that the words least explicable today are the ones most likely primal to our cognitive fluidity.  Other concepts not found in Greenland are neolexia (i.e. words for thinking vs. for speaking), mental portals (i.e. cognitive fluidity), dependents, maturity, gathering, and preconditional tools.  Disks represent your vocabulary in Neanderthal, and are handled in a very different way than disks in Greenland. If your hunters bring down big game, they may have to face ferocious predators intent on stealing the kill. A final practical difference, since Neanderthal has no re-rolling, so the turns go faster. 

FB: As for the 2nd edition of Greenland - are there any major changes to it or is it mainly meant to update the rulebook to the latest iteration and correct misprinted cards?

PE: There are no major differences in the second edition.  But the following novelties are possible, pending forthcoming price estimates: rules errata, plastic figurines for the alpha hunters, enlarged placards for the elder tracking, more dice, and three additional cards.  Finally I have hired a talented French graphics designer who studied in Japan, so the cards and placards should have a dramatically different look.

FB: You usually handle the graphic design yourself for your games. How did the decision to it differently this time come about? Should we expect future titles to get this treatment as well?

PE: I was impressed by the minimalist depth the artist, Karim Chakroun, was able to impart to the layout of the cards and placards. His icon designs and incorporation results in cards that are far less cluttered, a completely different style that captures the essence without the detail.  But some like immersive detail, and the flavor text will remain. If the feedback in Neanderthal and Greenland is good, then I will let Karim design all my cards. 

FB: That will be very interesting to see! Karim is of course the talented artist behind games like Alien Frontiers, Space Cadets and Factory Fun, among others.
Now, Pax Pamir is the first of your games where another designer has used your mechanics to make his own game. Have you been involved in the design process or has Cole Wehrle worked mostly by himself?

PE: Cole is the designer, and I am the developer.  My son Matt broke the second major version of the game in playtesting, but Cole and I have undergone a major design revision that I pin high hopes on. Especially exciting is Cole's new ideas in spy deployments, counter-espionage, movement, and disinformation, which are more comprehensive than their treatment in other Pax games.

FB: I personally enjoy seeing different designers' take on a core mechanic, like with the COIN series from GMT for example. Do you think we'll see more of this coming from Sierra Madre Games in the future?

PE: Standard mechanics perhaps, but standard concepts certainly.  The 12-card Market mechanic has become a staple for both the Bios and the Pax series,  and the latter series will feature versions of the topples, regime-based victory, tableau-activated actions, and the division between makers and takers. Standards for the Origins series (including Greenland and Neanderthal) are elders and elder actions as the basis of value, intermarriage as the standard in player interaction, and a brain map to track lingual rearrangements according to the best theories of the origins of consciousness. Politically, I have used the concept of a BSU (basal societal unit) for games as disparate as Origins and High Frontier.  The BSU is the basic collective for which rights are defined and defended in a society. 

Notice that I use universals a lot in my games, such that games on totally different subjects use the same objective concepts. One of the biggest advantages of games and gaming as a media of knowledge is that they are inherently immune to the new orthodoxies that all knowledge is subjective, and we all live in our own "reality" that is "socially constructed". The reason that games are immune to such deconstruction is simple: games can only be enjoyed if everyone plays by the same set of objective rules. If the rules are objective enough, you can discover something of the universe for yourself.  This flies in the face of academia today, with its disparagement of facts in history, its treatment of reality as plastic and the fashions of the time as better than the evolved understandings produced by experience and validated by the assent of successive generations. 

FB: Alright, some quick questions about the possible releases. Play testing for High Frontier 3rd edition is well underway and I know a lot of people who will be very happy to see it in print again. What are the main additions or changes that might be interesting for owners of previous editions?

PE: What existing owners of High Frontier will be most interested in are the 34 new cards. This includes new robonaut, thruster, refinery, reactor, generator, radiator, freighter, and gigawatt thruster cards, as well as cards used to indicate ventures and glory, and alternate crew cards provided for all factions. There are not so many rules changes or extra rules, but there are some new stuff: the Rocket Diagram is replaced by a Fuel Strip allowing fungible fuel tanks and the carrying of different fuel grades. The Lander Fuel Penalty is replaced by lander burns. Triangle burns are eliminated. Water Theft is replaced as a felony by Hijacking. Powersats and Push Factories only push thrusters with the push icon. The cost of multiple operations has changed. Ending the game has changed.

The current version of the playmat in Vassal. A little clearer looking with better tracking options for multiple crafts (rocket/Bernal) and type of fuel (isotope/water/dirt). 

FB: So there are quite a few new features in the third edition. The new fuel strip certainly looks a lot less intimidating than the current diagram. Will there be an option for current 1st and 2nd edition owners to buy some kind of upgrade kit?

PE: That is supposed to be a stretch goal in the High Frontier kickstarter campaign that is scheduled to be launched by Jon Compton of One Small Step in June. 

FB: High Frontier Lite raised quite a lot of eyebrows in my neck of the woods and there has been a lot of speculation on what it might look like. I'm guessing some kind of stripped down version of the basic game. Or is it something completely different?

PE: The idea here is to publish a version of High Frontier using a map designed by rocketeer Dr. Bob Zubrin.  Actually two maps, a geocentric one (for WWIII in space) and a heliocentric one.  This hybrid game, to be included in Bob Zubrin's Space, will be called "Space the High Frontier".  It will use the movement rules, operations rules, patent cards, and fuel tracking from High Frontier (basic game, 3rd edition) while moving on the heliocentric map. 

FB: Will the cards and pieces necessary for this game be included in the Space game box or do you use the ones from your HF3 game?

PE: Space will be its own game, with its own pieces.  However, for the hybrid game "Space the High Frontier", you will need both Space and HF3 to play. And it will get published only if the kickstarter campaign is successful.

FB: I see. This leads us neatly into my next question. Last year we learned that Sierra Madre Games will be publishing Robert Zubrin's game Space. While it is a different game from High Frontier it shares the philosophy of providing a game where the physics are represented as correctly as possible. Could you tell us a little bit about it?

PE: This game, designed by the legendary head of the Mars Society, is rather more abstract than my own designs.  It is a bit like chess in space, and includes only a couple of pages of rules. It should be quite accessible to youths, who might be tempted to taking a step farther out with Space the High Frontier, aka High Frontier Lite.  

FB: Yes, Robert Zubrin is of course the man behind the Mars Direct plan (that I have successfully replicated in High Frontier!) and also an aerospace engineer.  Speaking of Mars Direct - I just have to take this opportunity to ask even though it's not board game related - what's your thought on its feasibility? I've read The Case for Mars and it all sounds great, but as a layman I don't really have the knowledge to judge it on its engineering merits.

PE: I  agree with Bob that Mars Direct is the engineer's way to Mars, and really the only way to get there at the moment.  But we bicker on whether Mars is a worthy destination or just another "one small step".  The premise in High Frontier is that space will be opened up not because of living space or resources, but because of a return on investment in space-processing and manufacturing, using conditions unique to space. Conditions not available dirtside at the bottom of another steep gravity well.

FB: Moving on to Pax Porfiriana. We've seen images of the Collector's Edition on bgg. There's a nice big fold out board included, what else might us Pax enthusiasts look forward to? And do you have a rough price point?

PE: I don't have a cost estimate yet for the English Pax Porfiriana Collector's Edition.  It will have a board, and a much bigger box. The rules will be far prettier, but the contents for the rules and cards will be about the same. I should have the English edition available at Booth 3P-100 in Spielmesse Essen, October 2015.

The board included in the Pax Porfiriana Collector's Edition is currently planned to include an optional board for Pax Pamir printed on its other side.  If so, then owners of either Pax Porfiriana or Pax Pamir can order just the map as an upgrade to both games. That is the plan, anyway. 

Render of Pax Porfiriana Collector's Edition prototype (of course, things might change between now and publication).

FB: Pax Porfiriana was a big hit and there has been murmurings of a sequal ever since it was released. Now of course we have Pax Pamir coming out soon, but you have also been working on your own game - Pax Renaissance. I remember you mentioning that you scrapped one iteration of the game last year and shifted focus to Greenland. How has it progressed since then?

PE: Pax Renaissance has been launched with playtesters twice since then, and both times failed.  My co-designer and chief playtester (and son) Matthew is the chief game-breaker here. This is to be expected for an ambitious project, and we are testing similar concepts with Pax Pamir, which deals with many of the same problems - e.g. integrating a map with a tableau, market refreshing, closed economic systems, providing enough information for players to understand the game status enough to launch strategies and campaigns, and navigating the shadow world of intelligence.  If Pax Pamir is successful, I will copy these concepts onto the bigger project Pax Renaissance. There are still big problems: how to incorporate polymaths, religion, renaissance zones, classes of society, the rise of capital in the overthrow of medievalism, bank loans, trade routes, and printing presses.

FB: Finally, not related to the new releases but I have to ask anyway, any news on BIOS: Genesis/Earth?

PE: Following the failure of the first prototype, I have been accumulating data for a new prototype launch. Such as the 5 thresholds for replication according to Richard Dawkins. Not this year, unfortunately. 

FB: Thanks for joining me here on Fire Broadside, Phil! I know I'm not alone in looking forward to the new releases.

PE: Thanks Martin.

So there you have it boys and girls, some solid info on upcoming releases from the man himself! Now go and re-read those books on rocketry, the Pleistocene and Afghanistan colonial history and I'm sure you'll be well prepared for what's to come...

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Wednesday, 4 March 2015

February Releases for Infinity!

Let's have a look at the latest releases for Infinity. While there are some basic stuff in there to fill out your link teams there are also a couple of new additions that will be fully introduced in Acheron Falls.

I'll get started with the Nazarova Twins, Kum Enforcers for Haqqislam. The resculpted Kum bikes really are very cool looking and although I'm a little sad the cool sci-fi vibes of the monobikes were replaced with space harleys I do like them. However, I hope we're done with them for a bit now as there's been quite a few space harley releases lately. Now, with that out of my system, let's talk about the actual models! Bikes=cool but sad. Check. The twins... great sculpts (as always these days) and cheesy but in a kind grindhouse way that I actually quite like! I like Zamira the best thanks to that stone cold pose with the shades and the cool looking shotgun (new Haqq light shotgun, right?). Zuleyka is great as well - looking like she just skidded to a stop and is now opening up with her twin breaker pistols! I personally wouldn't paint her top as see-through, but I guess Angel needed some practice. Hehe! Their stats aren't all that impressive as they're basically ever so slightly souped up regular Kum. The only really special thing about them are Zuleykas twin breakers, twin light flamethrowers and her DA close combat weapon. No idea why she got all the cool toys while Zamira is pretty much just a regular Kum. So, you get these guys for the models, not for the stats.

Here comes a completely new unit; Teucer, Agéma's Warrant Officer for ALEPH and what a gorgeous sculpt it is! Someone mentioned that we finally have Adam Jensen in Infinity and I'm inclined to agree. The only thing that's really missing are the cybernetic shades (and a black paintjob), the rest matches up pretty well, even the cybernetic looking arms! I wonder if they do that nifty killy thing that Jensen's does. Nice pose that feels unique and a little odd without being over the top weird or unrealistic. And then there's that gun! The Yu Jing Spitfire have long been my favourite gun in the game, but this ALEPH Feuerbach might have it beat. We got a sneak at his stats as well and Marksmansip X, NWI and either an X-Visor or a MSV2 he certainly knows how to hit his target. Quite pricey at 44+ points, and a bit slow, but this is not a model you'd move around a lot on the other hand. Either way, I'll get him for my Steel Phalanx just for the awesome model! Of course, mine will be be dressed in black.

We can't all be super cool AI sleeves with huge guns, we need grunts as well. Like the new Corregidor Alguaciles support weapon box for Nomads. You probably already know that I quite like these guys and I'm happy we can now field a whole gang of space adventure Cobras not only with combirifles but special weapons as well! Speaking of weapons, the redesigned Nomad guns look great as usual. I like how the sniper is in the middle of a reload and the fairly mundane yet hi-tech looking missile launcher. I think the underslung grenade launcher with a revolver magazine might be my favourite though! I also like how they've managed to make them look like four distinct models rather than two versions of the same bodies (which it actually is). It's probably a tricky feat to pull of, and sometimes it doesn't really work out, but these guys look good I think. The very individual heads help a lot (compared to the Ghulam SWC box for example).

Yet another unit from Acheron Falls! The Igao Unit for Tohaa looks interesting as it is something as rare as a Tohaa without Symbiont armour. It certainly looks a lot different to the regular Tohaa design, somewhat more feral I'd say. And I really dig it! While I like most Tohaa models just fine I feel that many of them suffer from an overabundance of greeblies - that is to say lots of little details on their suit/armour that doesn't seem to have any other function than simply to provide texture. Nothing wrong with that as such, it's the way they're designed, it just doesn't appeal to me personally. That's why this guy with his smoother armour pieces looks interesting to me. And that big helmet is great as well! Nice dynamic pose with the Igao just about to slash some poor sucker in two! So what kind of unit is it? Well, it seems like the Tohaa has kept a close eye on Yu Jing as this guy is pretty much a Tohaa Ninja. TO camo, Martial Arts L3, Infiltration, Kinematica L1 and Multiterrain. Armed with flash grenades and either a Boarding Shotgun/AP CCW or Combi/DA CCW for 25 and 26 points respectively is a steal in my book! What keeps it grounded is Frenzy which will make the Igao a lot less reliable after his first kill. Still... that's cheap!

Last but not least we have a new Tank Hunter with AP HMG for Ariadna. You can tell that the Ariadna Kazaks are getting a more unified look as their models are updated as this is guy looks very similar to the Spetsnazs we've seen released recently. Which is not a bad thing as the miniatures look great! What we have here is a guy seemingly listening to some advice from his CO or perhaps a crude joke from a brother in arms - machine gun slung over his shoulder - ready to head out into battle. While I like the pose I think it'll look a little odd on the battlefield. While we have plenty of "posing" poses they at least usually have their weapons at the ready. Just a slight immersion breaker when we have a guy taking a rest on the field instead of covering his sector. Bit of a nitpick though. I'm sure he'll find his way into my inevitable Kazak force... ;)

So that was February! My top pick this month is Teucer as that gun is just so damn sexy! If I wasn't a bit tired of Kum bikers the sisters might have taken the top spot. See you soon for the March releases.

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Saturday, 28 February 2015

Live Long and Prosper

A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.  LLAP
- Leonard Nimoy

Monday, 9 February 2015

Becoming a Dropzone Commander

I've mentioned Dropzone Commander here on Fire Broadside before, and the time to finally jump into the game is near! I have been following Dropzone Commander and Hawk Wargames since the launch in 2012 and was very tempted even back then. Nice looking models with (seemingly) decent rules and a very interesting concept. I think the reason I didn't buy it from the start was the scale, as I didn't want to split my miniature gaming terrain more than absolutely necessary, and that no one in my immediate vicinity seemed interested. Then I came across the Games and Gears Battleboard kickstarter in 2013 and after a lot of thinking decided to go for the DzC board as it still was a game I wanted to play and even though it's the wrong scale it should actually work decently for Infinity in a pinch. Of course, this being kickstarter, there's been a bunch of delays and it now looks like the board might arrive some time during the spring.

A Scourge army moving through a long abandoned city.
With that in mind I've again focused a little extra on Dropzone Commander the last couple of months and everything I liked about it when I first saw it is still there. In fact, it has actually improved in my eyes as the new Resistance faction and many of the newer releases are gorgeous! Oh, and then there's the two player starter set and the plastic starter sets for the four original armies that has made the game so much cheaper to buy into. There's that thing about terrain, but in this case it's kind of the other way around as you get a bunch of paper terrain in the starter box (and I'll get a bunch of extra buildings with my battle board) and even in a non-enhanced state this paper terrain really makes the game look great! When most miniature wargame battlefields are made up of a hill and a couple of small ruins on a grass plain it's very refreshing to see this great city with lots of buildings that dropships can zip around to deliver their cargo. It simply looks good! Of course it can be made to look even better with the resin buildings, or MDF ones from Blotz or 4Ground, but even just the paper terrain from the starter box makes for an excellent looking battlefield.

Of course, the two player starter is the place to... well, start. I've been flagging a little bit about getting into the game in my regular gaming group, to see if anyone would be interested in either of the factions in the starter. But there hasn't been much response, and to be honest I quite like the idea of having two armies for myself! Originally I wasn't very keen on the Scourge but the more I've seen and read about them the better I like them. I mean... they're basically the Reapers from Mass Effect! Who wouldn't like that?! Sure, the details are different (Scourge are basically parasites that attach to a host and control it) but the visual cues are similar and both assimilate species it comes across and make them into biomechanical soldiers. Oh, and take a look at the Desolater... remind you of anything? Right now the Scourge is actually the faction that I'm most interested in and I'm looking forward to putting together an army of alien horrors to rip human faces off!

UCM army on parade.
The United Colonies of Mankind, UCM, also seem to have a pretty clear source of inspiration and this time it's the Colonial Marines from Aliens. While the units definitely have their own style you certainly get that Aliens vibe from them and really... who could complain about Colonial Marines vs Reapers?! Hehe! UCM was probably the army I felt most drawn to when I first saw DzC, and while I still really like them I think I prefer the Scourge. The two other original factions have a more unique feel to them - the Post Human Republic with their slow but heavily armed and armoured walkers and the alien Shaltari with their gate technology. Then there's the new Resistance faction that consists of the people and soldiers that were left behind on the cradle worlds after the Scourge invasion. All good stuff, but right now I'm focusing on the Scourge and UCM in the starter.

Of course the forces in the starter are quite spartan and provide pretty much the bare minimum needed to play. I think the most common game size is 1500 points and while I'm not aiming for that size quite yet I would like to up the 500 or so points in the starter to 1000. The basic idea is to add commanders, elite infantry (got to love those Destroyers!), some scouts and then something fun for th leftover points. I think this would make for two small but fun armies that could show off most of what DzC has to offer. What's missing are fast movers (fighters and bombers) but I feel they are not really a core part of the game so are ok to add later (although the models are spectacular).

Hawk Wargames have just revealed some new Command models and although I quite like the Desolater I think there might be a giant robo-crab in my future. Muahahaa! The UCM Phoenix looks great, but I have a feeling it'll be quite a bit more expensive than the more modest Kodiak so probably not something to fit into a 1000 point army. Then there'll be Praetorians and Destroyers, Wolverines and Prowlers and, for some extra spice, a couple of Longbow Howitzers and a Ravager or two.

Prowlers. I love these little guys! There will be lots... and lots... and lots... 
So yeah, them's the plans! For terrain I'll simply go with the paper buildings and Games and Gears battle board for starters and then add some neat stuff later on. I've always liked the look of a hundred blown out N-scale car wrecks on a DzC battlefield so that's on the list, as well as some buildings from Blotz and 4Ground. Not to mention the special terrain pieces Hawk Wargames has - don't know if I'll go for the monorail or the defence laser first. Hmm...

This has been a kind of non-post as there isn't really much info in here apart from my regular ramblings of what I like. Hehe! When I actually get my hands on the game there'll be some proper reviews and stuff.

Oh, and I almost forgot! Hawk Wargames are coming out with a spaceship miniatures game (hopefully) later this year that is also a part of the DzC setting. It will focus on planetary invasions and be closely connected with the ground based game. The rules are being written by Andy Chambers who, among other stuff, made Battlefleet Gothic and Epic 40,000 - my two favourite GW games - as well as Dust Warfare, that i also really like. I've decided to hold off on Star Wars Armada until I know more about Dropfleet Commander (working name) and it seems like there will be a lot more info and perhaps a proper reveal at Salute. Yepp...
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Sunday, 1 February 2015

Review of Hobbit Tales from the Green Dragon Inn

Let's take a break from the rpg reviews and take a look at a board game released by Cubicle 7 instead! It's called Hobbit Tales from the Green Dragon Inn and is a quick playing storytelling game for two to five players. It also ties into The One Ring roleplaying game (sorry, I lied about taking a break) where it can be used to enhance travelling or simply as a way to find inspiration on the fly.

The game was released in 2013 but I actually didn't get to play it until last year. I had been reluctant to bring it to our board game nights, for some reason thinking it was too much of a narrative focus for some of my mostly board game interested friends. Silly me! While it is certainly a storytelling game in the vein of Once Upon a Time or Dixit I don't think you need to worry about "not being creative enough" or anything similar.

It comes in a small box with some nice, thematic art on it depicting Gandalf and Bilbo smoking pipe and exchanging stories at the Green Dragon. There's some really neat detail in the frame of the picture depicting all kinds of adventuring locations and, my favourite detail, Smaug himself in the smoke ring around the Lonely Mountain. The same frame is used on the new The One Ring Revised core rulebook which is a nice touch. Of course the creators of this game, Marco Maggi and Francesco Nepitelli are also the guys behind War of the Ring, The Battle of Five Armies and The One Ring roleplaying game so it comes as no surprise that they're all linked not only through theme but also by layout, graphical design and art.

The basic premise is that you are hobbits drinking at the Green Dragon and competing about who tells the best story. You play the game in a number of rounds equal to the number of players so each player get a chance to be the Narrator, while the others are Hazard players. To play you use a small game board with slots for five tarot sized cards, Cheers tokens for points, some Green Dragon coasters to hide your points under, a 12 sided die and two decks of cards. And oh, what nice cards they are! Cubicle 7 made the great choice of printing them in tarot size which both allow the art to really shine and also bring a sense of "weight" to them that regular play cards lack. The cards are for all intents and purposes the heart and soul of the game and it's fun just flipping through them, looking at all the details and reading some nice Tolkien quotes! Part of me want to sleeve them while part of me doesn't as it would detract (ever so slightly) from the immersion and I'm also uncertain if they would fit back in the box if sleeved. Of course from a game play perspective it's pretty much meaningless as even if a card was marked it wouldn't really have any effect on the game.

Just doing a summary of the already brief rules and then write about my thoughts on the game I think would make for a very short review. So instead I'm going to run through a typical game and explain most things as we go along and tell a little story at the same time. This seems more enjoyable and probably gives a better sense of how the game actually plays.

There are 75 Adventure cards used by the Narrator and 40 Hazard cards used by the Hazard players and they are all unique. Adventure cards can represent all kinds of things but generally they're locations, events, meetings or feelings while Hazard cards are dangerous events, locations, items or monsters. The art range from pencil sketches to full colour paintings and I have yet to find one with "bad" art! You know I've talked about how great the books for The One Ring looks, mostly thanks to the art, and this is like having all that art concentrated in 115 cards and it's great. I could go on about this, but let's just stop here and get on with it. :)

The Game

You start a round with the Narrator drawing four cards from the Adventure deck, which she looks at and quickly try to form a loose narrative in her head. She then draws two more cards and chooses one card to be the Opening, which is placed face up to the left on the board, and the other the Epilogue, which is placed faced down to the far right of the board. The Hazard players draw cards from the Hazard deck depending on the number of players - in this example there are two Hazard players so they draw three cards each.

The Narrator draws Ancient Trees, Adventurous, A Short Rest and Old Sword, and a skeleton of a story forms in her head - something about going on an adventure, and finding a sword and bringing it back home. The Opening and Epilogue turns out to be Lost Reputation and Many Meetings and she decides to play them in that order.

The Hazard players draw Great Orc, Werewolf and Bitter Cold plus Bear, Nameless Horror and Two Headed Troll. They look these over and spend some extra time checking the Terrain icons in the lower right corner as these decide when the cards can be played.

The Narrator begins her story about that time a few years ago when her pipeweed experiments went a little too far and the good people of Hobbiton thought her an odd individual indeed. To prove her detractors wrong (and to simply get away from it all for a bit) she decided to go on a bit of a trek in the surrounding countryside. Nothing too adventurous but enough to perhaps bring some interesting stories from afar, or maybe some new ingredient for her pipeweed!

At this time the Hazard players check the Terrain icons on the two Adventure cards played so far and see if they match up with any of their Hazard cards. If the two icons on a given Hazard card match any of the icons on the lats two played Adventure cards the card is playable - so far we have two Woods icons and a Wilds icon... which don't match any of the Hazard cards. The Hazard players rap their knuckles on the table to signal for the Narrator to continue, which she does...

"I hadn't gone far when I saw something lying on the road... an old sword! I looked around to see if I could see who might have dropped it, but besides horse tracks there was nothing to be found!". With the addition of the Evil Eye icon on the latest Adventure card the first Hazard player has a card with a match! He clears his throat and asks; "This was when you went on your trek in the middle of the coldest winter the Shire had seen in two decades, wasn't it?" - sliding his Bitter Cold card toward the board. Normally he would have to roll the Hazard die at this point and try to match or beat the number in the lower left corner of the Hazard card. However, as the Adventure card played, Old Sword, has the Eye icon on it the roll succeeds automatically and the card takes effect. In this case the Hazard player get to draw a Cheers token and either place it under his coaster or on top of it to signify that he's "buying another round". Next, the Adventure card is not placed on the board and the Narrator has to incorporate the new twist from the Hazard card in her story in some way.

"Yes, it wasn't really the best time to go for a stroll that's for sure! I picked up the sword and tried to follow the tracks in the snow, but with the snow still falling there were soon no tracks left and I ended up scratching my head about what to do next." As there can only be one successful Hazard card played per turn, she plays the next Adventure card...

"Although I almost felt like returning home at this point, the hubby had been making biscuits as I left after all, something in me pushed me on and I managed to find shelter from the wind and snow in the hollow of an old oak tree." She plays A Short Rest and looks expectantly at the first Hazard player who raps his knuckles on the table. The second player slides his Two-headed Troll toward the board and says; "Oh, I remember this story! You didn't notice it at first, but there was a sleeping troll in the hollow, wasn't there?!". However, he rolls a two so the card fails to take effect; "No, no, silly! You're thinking of the troll that slept in Old Bogg's wine cellar the winter of 34!".

"Now, having eaten and rested for a bit I felt my strength return and continued, while the old sword was an interesting prize I felt there was even more impressive things ahead. The snowfall ceased and it wasn't long until I found myself at the edge of the Old Forest". She plays the Ancient Trees card, which has another Eye on it, but luckily the Terrain icons don't match and both Hazard players rap their knuckles grumpily on the table. At this point the Narrator don't have any cards left, and has to Improvise to try and complete her story. Improvising is done by simply drawing the top card of the Adventure deck and incorporating it into the narrative. You can keep improvising until a Hazard card is successfully played, in which case your story ends.

The Narrator draws the top card of the Adventure deck and thinks for a bit while inspecting it, recalling the maps of the area around the Old Forest. Then she continues; "Knowing very well not to set my foot in the haunted woods I decided to skirt around it, seeing if there might be something interesting on the other side. And indeed there was! The land beyond the forest was made up by a series of hills, each looking a little too perfectly formed to be natural. I pulled my coat around me as I shivered in the cold while moving in among the hills. It wasn't long until I found one with a large door in it. Not a nice round hobbit door mind you, but a big and imposing one made of stone, steel and rotted wood." She plays the Tomb card while the first Hazard player raps on the table the second quietly whispers; "This is perfect!" as he slides the Nameless Horror card forward.

"I bet that was a really bad idea! I've heard horrible things about the Barrow Downs!". The Hazard die ends up on seven, meaning the Tomb card is removed from the board, the Hazard player takes a Cheers token and the Nameless Horror takes effect. "Well, at this time I hadn't so I had no idea what waited inside. I thought I would seek shelter in there but it proved even colder as I closed the door behind me. My torch sputtered in the darkness and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end as I heard a slow, wheezing ahead of me. I called out for whoever it was that we could perhaps share the one muffin I had left, but got no reply. That was when I saw... or felt something coming toward me. Darkness and horror! I turned and fled out in the snow and ran for a long time! I don't even remember exactly what happened but I ended up running straight into one of the Brandybucks, Will I think, who invited me in for some hot tea." 

Having failed to Improvise the Narrator's story has come to a premature end, since she has not been able to completely connect the Opening with the Epilogue card. This means that she must now turn over the Epilogue card and conclude the narrative in a negative way, as if the story didn't end as the Narrator had hoped it would. With the Epilogue card being Many Meetings she continues; "It wasn't until I'd had my fourth cup of Brandybuck tea that I realized that I had dropped the sword when I ran! I didn't even have anything to show for my trouble and while I was, of course, thankful for bumping into a Brandybuck and him letting me stay at his house I was stuck there for two weeks while the weather turned even worse and was introduced to every brother and sister, every uncle and aunt, every cousin and nephew and it all made me both weary and bored! My return to Hobbiton wasn't anything like I hoped and they still talk about me as "that weird pipe lady". If they only they'd know what I have been through! Hmpf!!"

Applauds from the rest of the table as the Narrator takes a bow and start to check her score. You get to draw one Cheers token for each card on the board and one extra if you manage to reach the Epilogue and achieve a full ending. As this story ended prematurely with a total of four cards on the board (of course, not counting the ones removed by Hazards) she draws four Cheers tokens which, to add insult to injury, turn out to be all ones! She puts three under her coaster and one on top to "buy the next round".

Once all players have had a chance to narrate a story you decide the winner by counting all the Cheers tokens under your coaster then you check who has the most points on top of his coaster as this player get a bonus four points for buying the most rounds of beer! There are also rules for giving some extra points for the best story and there are some card icons that can come into play during the game that is not part of this example - like the Hazard players getting to draw extra cards - but this should give you a pretty good idea on how the game plays!

You might also have noticed that there are some other icons on the cards, diamond shaped like the ones in The One Ring and War of the Ring. These don't have any function in Hobbit Tales, but can instead be used in The One Ring roleplaying game. While any of the cards can be used by the Loremaster to quickly get some inspiration for an upcoming scene there are also structured rules on how to incorporate them during Journeys. The left icon tells you which role is affected (guide, scout etc) while the right tells you the effect of failure and the card itself provides inspiration for the narrative that the Loremaster (or the affected player) presents. Basically it's a replacement for the Hazard table that is in the new Revised Core rulebook and I think it will certainly help to bring some more unique hazards into play.


So, what are my thoughts on the game? Well, it takes about 20-30 minutes to play and has so far provided some great Tolkien-esque short stories that has made me want to break out my roleplaying books so... two thumbs up! As I mentioned above I was a little worried that it would be too much of a narrative game for the regular board game night, and during our first game Claes was hesitant to be the first Narrator out of the gate, even though he's an old roleplayer! Weird I know, but I think it has to do with having to think on the spot and make at least a semi-coherent narrative. These were all silly things to worry about though as we all spun some great stories without breaking a sweat. The combination of card title, art and quote either (or all) of which could provide the inspiration needed to connect the next link is more than enough to get your imagination gears turning. Does it help if you are a roleplayer or enjoy improv? Sure, but it's absolutely not needed.

The game has been a great success and so far we have ended up playing two or three games back to back as everyone has wanted another chance to tell a story. Once we even had a player who was just about to leave but watched a game in progress and decided to stay longer so he could participate in the next two rounds! Still, even if this was just a collection of large sized art cards with images inspired by Tolkien with no game attached I would have got them anyway. Beautiful art and great sources of inspiration! The only thing I feel could have been done better from a design perspective is the Terrain icons as they're done in a different style than the rest of the art on the cards. I understand the need to have these stand out and be easy to spot from across the table, but the kind of semi-photographic effect looks odd next to the rest of the card. There's also a slight shortage of Cheers tokens and you might end up having to resort to writing your score down, or use alternate rules posted by Francesco.

If you own and play The One Ring I think this is simply a no-brainer. Get it. If you're a great Tolkien fan I think you should get it as well, especially if you enjoy narrative board games that has seen a rise in popularity lately. I can't really comment on how well it measure up to other games in this genre as this is the first I've played, but to me the theme is what really makes it all come together and having a decent feel for Tolkien made it really easy to come up with a fun story. The game mechanics work well and it's fun both being the Narrator and a Hazard player, but in the end it's not a game you play to win, but play to experience some great stories set in Middle-Earth!

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