Monday, 4 June 2018

On Solo, Rogue One and The Last Jedi

On the 23rd I went to see Solo: A Star Wars Story, and I think it's the most enjoyable since the original trilogy! Unfortunately it was only me and five other people on the nine o'clock at premiere day. Hopefully this will change.

But let's go back for a bit. Let's talk about what's happened since The Force Awakens - a movie I quite liked. First there was Rogue One and this one I was looking forward to more than TFA, as the first stand alone film promising very little in the ways of light sabers but a lot in terms of gritty Star Wars reality. It delivered on both of these (with a small exception at the end) and it seems many people love the movie for that reason alone. I really liked it after the first (and second) viewings in the theater, but now that it's out on Netflix I feel it's a bit of a slog. It looks great, and it's well acted but the story isn't quite there. The visuals and world building are excellent and for the most part I like the plot. But the story feels flat and there's practically no character development among the ensemble cast. Even Jyn Erso herself, who I from the previews thought would be very much of the rebellious anti-hero in the vein of ANH Han Solo, turns out to be an all around good person from the start, and there's nary any growth to her character.

However, what Rogue One did well was immerse us in the sights and sounds of the Star Wars galaxy. Everything looked the part and generally the references were where they should be and not overdone. The film got away with the slightly lacklustre story thanks to its great immersive qualities - it was easy to suspend your disbelief because everything just felt right! That feeling of being a part of the world unfolding on screen, or at least wanting to be a part of it was very strong.

Then we had The Last Jedi which to me felt like a negative copy of Rogue One. Instead of having lacklustre story with great plot we got a fantastic story with an at times silly plot. And just to define terms: simply speaking, the story is what happens in the movie (The Resistance is chased by the First Order, Rey talks to Luke about the force) while plot is how it happens (the chase is a slow mosey through space, Luke is grumpy and milks sea... creatures). I really do think the story is spectacular in TLJ - the way the tables keeps getting turned, while still following a strict internal logic, the way it has this laser sharp focus on failure and the way it tells us that being the dashing hero who's always charging into danger isn't the actual way forward. I loved all the WTF moments and revelled in how it deconstructs Star Wars.
What did leave me a bit cold though, was the more abstract and impressionistic approach to the setting of Star Wars and the visuals in general. As I mentioned above all Star Wars films so far has gone out of their way to try and portray a "realistic" or, perhaps more correctly, logically consistent universe. It's been made to feel like a real place where people live on their lives and while fantastical things happen all the time it has this grungy sense of place and heft to it.

Rian Johnson, as he's decided to do with most of the Star Wars tropes, decided to go in a different direction. The grunge is still there as a facade, but the rule of cool or perhaps rule of what's visually striking is king in TLJ and makes short work of petty things like percieved "realism" or internal consistency. I have no problem at all with this in film making in general - examples of movies where this is used to great effect are Zhang Yimou's Hero or The House of Flying Daggers, or almost any other wuxia film for that matter. When the martial artists there dance on water, or the Imperial Army fires enough arrows to completely blanket a wall, we see it as beautiful artistic expressions, not necessarily an actual portrayal of reality.

As it happens I came across this article talking about cinematic influcences on TLJ, and it mentions how Rian Johnson was inspired by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
And yet, with all its hokum force mumbo-jumbo, Star Wars has rarely gone down that road. The closest probably being the cave on Dagobah. In TLJ we have another cave and it's muuuuch trippier! Which I loved by the way. For me the core problem (if that's what it is) with TLJ comes from these expectations of having a real feeling plot, not one that is visually beautiful but not really sensible. Had Rian done this for one of the stand alone movies I would simply have cheered as I do love how he breaks with so many conventions. However, doing it as part of a trilogy, this trilogy, makes it feel slightly weird. A bit like how Alien: Ressurrection felt so out of place with the first three movies because Jeunet simply did his own impressionistic thing, when the earlier movies had already set up our expectations for the setting in general.

Now, I still really like TLJ, but the artistic choices, in the context of the larger trilogy, did bother me. Perhaps exasperated by having a roleplayers mindset and looking at movies like rpg settings. In the end it's far from ruining my enjoyment of the story, and enjoy it I did, but it makes the movie stand out as slightly odd. It really made me look forward to Rian's own trilogy though - as I think this kind of thing would could be awesome when we're all onboard from the start. Imagine a Star Wars wuxia!

Ok, on to Solo! With all that's happened during production it was easy to imagine that it would be a trainwreck. Perhaps it's simply Ron Howards great skill of navigating the maelstrom of a chaotic production with a steady hand, or perhaps the movie actually did improve through the iterations of hands that moulded it. It doesn't really matter because what came out the other end is pure Star Wars! Like the coaxium of the movie the Star Wars feeling has been refined to its essence and liberally sprinkled over the entire movie, with some extra dashes whenever Lando is around.

We have the lived in universe we've always loved, being what it is, but also adding to it. At times substantially! There are many references to more or less well known Star Wars lore but it's done well and the connections feel genuine. The visual design is absolutely spot on and I think it captures the lawless heist+noir feel very well. The story is generally familiar for those of us with knowledge of the EU, but there are many changes and mostly for the good. The characters are all fleshed out with their own motivations and drives. There's real character development and everyone acts according to their own internal logic. Even

Alden Ehrenreich is good throughout and even manages a few uncannily Ford-like deliveries here and there. Emilia Clarke, who I haven't been very impressed by earlier, makes a great Qi'ra who is very much her own character. Woody Harrelson is excellent as Becket, but we pretty much knew that, it's the kind of character that's made for him! I was of course most excited to see Donald Glover as Lando. It seemed like an inspired casting choice when I first heard about it, and he certainly steals every scene he's in. I just kept thinking that we need Lando: A Star Wars Story like, now!

Enfys Nest quickly climbed the ladde to become one of my favourite new SW characters. 
I also want to mention the visual design as it's phenomenal throughout! I immediately went out and ordered a copy of Art of Solo since I enjoyed both the character and setting designs of the movie so much. Again it finds a nice balance between the almost too drab and gritty rebels fighting on Scarif and the über stylized Praetorian Guards.

Solo manages to combine the world building of Rogue One with the storytelling of The Last Jedi. Together with good main character chemistry and a small army of interesting side characters the movie is thoroughly enjoyable!

While I do hope Disney will use the Anthology series to push the envelope on what Star Wars is and can be (again, Wuxia Star Wars now please!), and Solo is very much in the middle of the road, with hands at ten and two, it is simply so well crafted that it's impossibe not to grin throughout it.

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Thursday, 11 January 2018

Future - 2018

Having looked back at the past year, it's time to gaze ahead and try to make out what games are hiding in the mists of tomorrow. Like last year, I'm going to try and think about which games I own that I really want to hit the table, and not just new, seductive titles.

Board Games

Ok, so let's start out with something new. At the moment there aren't that many must-get titles for 2018, but there are a couple for sure. One of those is Aristeia from Corvus Belli. CB is not well known in the board game world, as they're makers of the fantastic skirmish miniatures game Infinity. Aristeia takes place in the same world but not on the battlefield... but in the arena! Inspired by MOBAs such as League of Legends and DOTA 2 each player controls a team of four aristos (fighters) on a hexagonal arena called the hexadrome. You have a number of general cards and then each characters has special cards of their own you can add and you score by entering special zones. It's card driven area control combined with tactical combat and it seems like loads of fun!

It has a number of similarities to GW's recent title Shadespire, which is also card driven and objective focused. Shadespire seems a little simpler and faster, but the general idea is very similar. What draws me to Aristeia over Shadespire is the slightly deeper gameplay, the world of Infinity, the colourfull characters (it is very Overwatch inspired!) and the fact that you can pick and mix aristos freely - there are no set factions you have to adhere to. Oh, and it helps that two of my friends have already picked it up.

Let's mix it up with a game I already own - The Expanse from Wizkids. I got to try it out at a recent game day here in Tokyo and it is a great game! A nice mix of Twilight Struggle and COIN mechanics with a space theme makes for an extremely tight game where every turn is fraught with difficult decisions. From what I've experienced and read so far UN (Earth) seems to be the strongest faction right now, and I'm wondering if this is by design or simply because the game is new and strategies are still being developed. I'm kind of leaning toward the former, in that I could easily see UN being the "default winner" if the other three factions don't at least try to keep them in check. Either way, I'm really eager to get this to the table soon as I feel it could become one of my staples. Just need to be sure to keep a brisk pace as it is easy to let time fly as you think about where to put that final cube...

Finally we have something both old and new - Triplanetary, originally from 1973(!) is getting a Kickstarter campaign that is ongoing right now. This is a game I've read about and thought about maybe trying to print my own copy of, but never got around to. It's basically a vector movement space combat toolbox allowing you to play anything from a (literal) race in space to pirate hunts in the asteroid belt to alien invasions of the solar system! It uses simple vector movement on a hex map where you draw your course with a dry-erase marker. There are rules for reaction mass expenditure and refueling, combat, nukes, bogey ships, bases etc.
reprint thanks to a

While vector movement with counters on a hex map might sound like a headache, the game is surprisingly rules light and most of the scenarios (there are eight in the original game) have only two or three ships per player. Steve Jackson has said that there will be a few tweaks, mostly to the combat rules, but for the most part it will be identical to the original (and the original rules will be included as well). There will be an additional campaign mode though, which is new and sounds like it could be fun but maybe long. This is the kind of release that really makes me excited - a really old but solid game that is finally being made available again should be reason enough, but then it's about realistic space warfare and has a this amazing old school science fiction vibe to it that I can't help but love!

When it comes to new games I would also like to try Jordan Draper's new Tokyo Series that is currently being Kickstarted. Jidohanbaiki looks like a nice toolbox of quick filler games of all kinds and Tokyo Metro immediately got my blood pumping just looking at that awesome route map! I also have Empires of the Void II and Bios: Megafauna 2 which are both currently or soon shipping so more new stuff to look forward to! Turning to my current collection of games I would really like to play more Roll for the Galaxy (because it's always quick and always fun!), Leaving Earth (beacuse SPACE!), Myth (since it seems like it might still be alive!), Troyes (because it's the best euro with dice!),  Claustrophobia (because it's the new Space Hulk!) and A Few Acres of Snow (because it's the best deck builder!)... among others...

Roleplaying Games

There are always way too many awesome roleplaying games for me to ever have the time to read, let alone play! Even with all the board games that are produced these days I usually get more fire up by a cool looking rpg, even when the chances of playing a board game is much higher. Still when it comes to actualy play, our Jovian Chronicles campaign will likely be my top pick for years to come, as I'm pretty sure it'll take that long to complete and I refuse to let it just dissolve. I'm currently experimenting with Roll20, both to be able to play with my friends in Sweden here from Japan, but also to make it easier for us to get a game together even when we're in the same city.

Besides Jovian Chronicles I have my usual suspects of Torchbearer, Mutant: Year Zero and The One Ring waiting on the sidelines. They might pop up at any point, but since you already know that let's talk about which other games I've got a particular hankering for.

Something horrible! I read Dread ages ago, and Ten Candles about a year ago, but I still haven't played either of them. Although I used to play a lot of Call of Cthulhu and Kult back in the day I've never really been all that much into the horror aspect. Or I should say, the scary aspect of them. I love creating the creepy stories, but just like reading a Lovecraft story isn't really scary the games never reallt invoked fear at at. Which is of course extremely hard to do anyway, and frankly I don't think Dread or Ten Candles will do it either. However, they both use interesting ways to make the players tense and I would love to see how they actually work at the table. Since they require little prep and are built as one-offs this should really be doable during 2018.

Something cyberpunky! I think space and cyberpunk are my two favourite settings and recently I've been on a bit of a retro cyberpunk binge. The classic setting is really played out today since so much of it has either come true, or not, and the parts that are left aren't really enough to stand on their own legs. So either you try to update your cyberpunk, which can work - the new Deus Ex games are good examples of this I think - or you lean into the feel of it and see it as an alternative future rather than our future. As for specific games I'm thinking TechNoir used with FFG's Android setting or combining the mechanics of Brad Murray's Hollowpoint with the setting of Ray Winniger's (under appreciated) Underground.

TechNoir + Android seems like a perfect fit to me as both game and setting lean heavily into the noir trope. While technology and punks are part of both of them in the end it comes down to people and their actions and interactions. TechNoir even has a cool system for getting hackers into the game (as opposed to doing their own thing separate from the group) which I think would work well with the Netrunner part of the Android setting. With the announcement of the Terrinoth module for FFG's Genesys rpg system I'm expecting an Android version further down the road, but I think I actually prefer a different system.

Hollowpoint + Underground might require a bit more work but it feels like it would fit. In Hollowpoint each player is an über-competent badass agent that is way above us ordinary mortals. These agents are forced to work together to perform a task and usually does it through violence and mayhem. It sounds quite a bit like Underground where you're playing these super powered war veterans trying to clean up a dystopian USA. Or at least, it's close enough that you could tweak it to work. I see three main points that would need to be worked out: 1) Hollowpoint is mainly a one-off game, 2) You would need a system for the player characters mental status (they're semi-psychotic killing machines after all), and 3) There needs to be a system for changing your environment (block/city/state/country/world) as you play. Will keep this idea in the cogitator tank to see what pops out.

Something fantastic! Besides Torchbearer I haven't played or GM'd any fantasy games (does Mouse Guard count? Nah!) since we wrapped up our WFRP3 campaign in 2011 and I do feel the itch to swing a sword again. So besides my staples of Torchbearer/Burning Wheel and The One Ring, what else do we have that looks interesting? I think the big elephant in the room is Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th Edition from Cubicle 7. I've written about it here on the blog before and for me it's the big rpg release of 2018. Forbidden Lands from Fria Ligan is a close second though. I like most of what I saw in the alpha and I have the feeling that it could easily become my go-to game for semi-generic fantasy (the setting is actually quite unique in many ways, but you know, orcs/elves/dwarves).

This is by no means the only roleplaying games I would like to play, but certainly the ones at the top of my mind at the moment. We'll see what 2018 actually brings...

Miniature Games

Eightfold Path champion for The Legend of Fabled Realms.
If there's one genre of tabletop games where I really have no need to invest into new titles it's the miniature games. With time for painting and modelling lacking and the extra investment required to actually play a game it's actually kind of weird that I'm still clinging to them. On the other hand, I love the hobby aspect, which works as a kind of meditation for me, and when it does come together it's almost always a lot of fun! I will try to focus on what I already have, but there are at least one (or two) new games that I'm getting into.

As always Infinity is at the top of the list, and I don't expect this to change pretty much ever. During 2017 I made great strides in actually getting terrain enough to have a table of my own. Currently it consists of two Red Veil sets and a number of terrain pieces from Systema, Zen Terrain and Art of War with objectives from MicroArt Studios. Most of the scatter terrain is mostly painted so playing smaller battes using them and the Red Veil terrain works well. Next steps is painting the larger structures. Sooner or later I will need a way to make a proper 120x120 table though as I'm currently limited to 90cm in length. My Yu Jing are growing as well and last year I got my first sectorial army as I invested in some Corregidor - I could only resist those Geckos for so long.

Let's keep the skirmish angle going and have a look at... Necromunda! Yes, you read that right, I am going back to GW for a bit. I've read mostly positive things about the new version and the minis we've seen so far look kind of cool. Still, I won't be getting any of the gangs we've seen so far (although doing shaved heads on a gang of Escher and painting them like Imperator Furiosa does seem like fun!) as my favourites have always been Cawdor and Delaque. Before we get any of them though, it seems like we'll be getting the Genestealer Cult! I was tempted when GW first released the new cult minis and being able to actually use them in game seals the deal for me. I don't know if I will get the actual Necromunda boxed game, but I will absolutely put together a cult so I can play it!

The third skirmish game I'm getting into in 2018 is the upcoming Legends of Fabled Realms from 4Ground that was funded through kickstarter last spring. Gorgeous minis, a cool backstory and rules that kind of feels like fantasy Infinity made it very hard to resist, even though I tried! In the end me and my buddy Anders jumped in with both feet and we're looking forward to the release in (hopefully) September. The big reason I felt it was manegeable was of course the skirmish aspect. Only having to paint ten-ish minis is workable. The more I see and read about it the better it sounds and it's going to be fun to paint something else than scifi soldiers and space ships!

Speaking of space ships there will be space gaming in 2018 for sure! Jovian Chronicles/Jovian Wars/Lightning Strike takes top priority as we'll use the minis for the rpg campaign as well. You can also play complete games with quite few figures and I have more than enough to field two fleets which means I can simply pull it out and play with friends I invite home. Of course Dropfleet Commander is the other space game I have in mind, but since I'm reliant on someone else to at least build a fleet before I can play it I'm not sure when it will actually see play. It'll be interesting to see what TTCombat does with it in 2018 - hopefully they can breath life into it and Dropzone Commander.

Other games that might see play and/or a paint brush is Test of Honour, Dust Warfare, 15mm scifi, Heavy Gear and Rogue Stars. But really, considering the games I've mentioned above and the large amount of miniature board games I have I would be surprised if I had the time for these as well.

Quite a few repeats from years past, which I suppose is only natural as you find games you love, but there will be quite a few new acquaintances as well. At this very moment as I sit here and type this the game at the top of my mind stack is actually the 37 year old Triplanetary. Hopefully it's as much fun as I think...
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Saturday, 30 December 2017

Past - 2017

Damn, that was fast! Another year of lots of stuff happening, and also a few games played. In this post I will talk about what games I played (and didn't play) and generally how my gaming year of 2017 went. In the next post I will talk about what I'm looking forward to or hope to play in 2018.

Let's have a look...

Board Games

There haven't been anything like our Imperial Assault campaign in 2016 (that long ago?!) so the curve of played games is a lot flatter. Still, the top place actually goes to Android: Netrunner! All the matches were against my old friend Fredrik who I started introducing the game to in September. Since then he bought his own core set and we've started using as well. It's been a while now since our last game, so it's probably time for more! It really is such a great game and definitely the one LCG I would keep if I had to make a choice.

Next up is the little gem Bios: Genesis, actually up one step from third place in 2016! The big secret is of course enjoyable solo play and me playing a lot during spring. It did hit the table again here in Japan a week ago, with the full four players. This was also fun, but it did take a long time. The great part was all the parasites flying around and being absorbed. Unfortunately it ended up a bit lopsided with one player getting two macroorganisms and and the other three getting almost nothing.

Third place is actually a three-way split between Neanderthal, MERCS: Recon and Terraforming Mars so... bonus tripple feature I guess! I got Terraforming Mars
as a birthday gift last year but didn't get to play it until this year, and am thusfar undefeated. Hehe! I love the theme and I think the game looks pretty nice, the mechanics are clever and it's just a very smooth ride. What does bother me somewhat is how long it takes to play (2.5 hours being our fastest) and that it can sometimes be a bit too smooth. There are rarely actual hard decisions, as most of the time the most obvious move is apparent to you. You just keep arranging your cards in order of which to play first. Don't get me wrong, I like it, but am perhaps not as enamoured as the rest of the community.

MERCS: Recon is very Megacon Games-y; the balance can be totally off and sometimes you're caught off guard by some rules interaction that means you loose the game by no fault of your own. However, it always tells a cool story and it is fun while loosing as well (certainly a worthy attribute for a board game!). In one of the games we decided to try out the Lost Margin Raiders, who are a third party force of raiders just hellbent on killing both corporate SecFor and the Mercs. At first they added a bit of extra colour, but soon we realized how powerful they were and as they just kept coming we were wiped off the board. We lost horribly, but it made for some greate scenes and it was easy to visualize it as one of those desperate action movie sequences where the badass special forces gets taken out by a low tech enemy. Great game that really need some paint!

I've actually only played Neanderthal with other players once, the rest of the times have been solo outings. It's very similar to Greenland, but I find the theme more interesting. At first it can seem chaotic and random (as is often the case with Phil Eklund's games) but as you learn more about how things work you realize that you can often, if not control, at least ride out the chaos to make your tribe flourish survive. I think this might be my favourite tiny Eklund game to pull out and run solo. While I've played Bios: Genesis more, I think I like Neanderthal better. Very eager to get my hands on Bios: Megafauna 2 that have been delayed untul February-ish. Also, there will be a kickstarter for new editions of Neanderthal and Greenland now in January and at $45 for both games there's really no reason not to back!

Looking at what board games I actually played compared to which ones I was eager to play it kind of lines up fairly well. I haven't played First Martians, and I'm kind of hesitant to get it after reading many of the reviews. But I have at least played a game of New Angeles and Andean Abyss, also Bios: Megafauna 2 isn't too far off (although it didn't make the 2017 mark). This year has seen a great increase in quick filler and kids games to play with my spawn and other people not well-versed in board games. Stuff like Kingdomino, Deep Sea Adventure, Happy Salmon, Tok-Tok Woodman and Spooky Stairs. Some other "proper" games that have seen play are Pax Pamir (Phil Eklund tightened up), Roll for the Galaxy (love it!), Star Wars: Rebellion (thematic, tense, long, awesome) and Trains: Rising Sun (my love for trains rekindled when movign to Japan).

Roleplaying Games

Again, not very much roleplaying going on. I've written at length about our Jovian Chronicles campaign that is ongoing, but at a very leisurely pace, with part one being here. Which reminds me that I have yet to type out part five, the latest in the series. as I'm in Japan right now play has halted although I'm hopefull that we'll be able to play over the net using Roll20 or simply using hangouts. We'll lose the board and tactical bits if we end up not using Roll20, but better that than not playing at all. It's a bit ironic now that I've got the new, absolutely gorgeous, minis from the Jovian Wars kickstarter but eh, whatchagonnado?

Arriving in Japan I actually got to meet some folks who were starting a short Blades in the Dark-campaign and I immediately joined up as the Whisperer Tocker Slade. It has been great fun exploring a new system with people that I don't really know (and who didn't really know each other when we started out) and I think we're starting to get the hang of it. I missed out on the last session but am looking forward to the next in January(?). I have plans for a new heist...

While there's been no more proper roleplaying sessions my friend Jacob did start ramping up Tales from the Loop which we will also play online, soon. I hope. As always there are rpg books being read of course, and with the Infinity roleplaying game finally being sent out to backers (although I went the PDF rout) I thought I might read it and post my thoughts as I go. It's a thick tome though, so don't expect it to go fast. I also started reading Mutant: Elysium first, which is about a third of the text but packs a great amount of game in those pages, and I will write about it soon. It won't be out in English for a while so this might be a good preview for the non-Swedish speakers out there (ie, the rest of the world).

Again, what I actually played lined up pretty well with what I was hoping to play. No Torchbearer or WFRP4, but since the latter was delayed until 2018 I'm fine with that. And Torchbearer will simply continue to float on my want-to-play-list.

Miniature Games

A few games of Infinity as me and Claes played through the Red Veil intro campaign, but nothing else I'm afraid. I'm still waiting for my friends to put together Dropfleet or Dropzone forces to play those and I didn't manage to play Lightning Strike or Jovian Wars before I left for Japan. Arguably you could say that some of our Jovian Chronicles sessions have been almost pure miniature gaming, but still, in the end I'm only going to count Infinity. Of course, I'm not too sad about it as Infinity is such a great game and always fun to play. If I can continue to get at least a few games of Infinity played each year I'll be a happy gamer.

A bit of a disconnect compared to games I wanted to play, especially I feel that still no Dropfleet is a bit of a blow. No games of Rogue Stars either, even though we don't even need to paint minis or build scenery for it. Weird. Anyway, me and Anders did back The Legends of Fabled Realms last year, which is looking better and better each time I see or read about it, and the new Necromunda has actually made me take a close look at a GW game in... more than a decade! Test of Hounour is also up there as a potential interest, but more about all these potential candidates in the Future post next year. ;)

Hmm... was that it? I think that was it. There's never enough games played, when you look back at the year, but at the same time there are usually more than you remember. So all in all another good year of gaming! Talk to you soon again in the Future post.
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Thursday, 28 December 2017

Forbidden Lands Alpha PDF - First Impressions

The other day Fria Ligan, aka Free League Publishing, released the Swedish alpha PDF to backers of their upcoming retro fantasy game Forbidden Lands. Of course the English version should be available soon as well. Still as the game draws heavily from the art of Nils Gulliksson, who was the illustrator of Swedish rpgs in the eighties and nineties, as well as some general themes and vibes from those games it just feels right for me to read it in Swedish. Also, my thoughts and impressions of the alpha pdf might tide over non-Swedish speaking backers until the English PDF is out.

Full disclosure, I'm friends with a couple of the guys at Fria Ligan and I've heard about some of the development of Forbidden Lands, but this is the first time I've actually read anything from it. I'll strive to be as unbiased as possible. :)

The alpha weighs in at 186 pages and is comprised of most of the Rules/Player book with some parts from the Campaign/GM book added as well. I won't go through in detail simply what's in the book as that will be known to all in just a week or two, but rather what is different from earlier Fria Ligan games using the Mutant: Year Zero engine and what I think of the additions and changes.

But first, a few words on how it looks. This is an alpha so I'm sure many things will change. However, Gullikssons images are central to the game and since they're all in black and white the game had to be in black and white. I really don't see any other way of doing the art justice as having the rest of the book in colour would just make the images look off and colouring them now would be... an abomination! So what we have is a very old school looking book, which for me personally is just as evocative and inspiring than any of Fria Ligan's earlier, full colour books. In a way maybe even more so! On the other hand I've seen a couple of people react negatively at how "simple" the book looks. Of course, this is still an alpha, but I don't see the look changing too much now.

Anyone who has played Mutant or Coriolis will be instantly familiar with the rules and character creation, although there are a number of large and small differences in Forbidden lands. You choose your stock first, with all the regular fantasy races represented, but also wolf people and orcs. Then your profession, giving you access to certain skills and your second talent (the first came from your stock). When choosing your profession you also choose your point of Pride and your Dark Secret. The former can give you a bonus once per session while the latter is more meant as GM fodder. You also create relations to the other characters and receive your trappings, as in Mutant.

Speaking of trappings, one addition here that I really like is the concept of resource dice for
consumables like food, arrows and torches. They work by dice denomiation with a D12 being the most plentiful and a D4 the least. Whenever you use the item you roll the die and if it comes up a 1 or 2 it is downgraded to the next lower denomination - 12-10-8-6-4 - or simply running out if your rolled a 1 or 2 on a D4. I love these kinds of abstract resource management mechanics as they both make it easier to keep track of your stuff and, more importantly, bring fun and drama to the game! It's more fun to run out of something when you least expect it.

During character creation you also get to set your starting Reputation, higher the older you are. And it will be an important stat as you adventure through the lands. People might have heard of you or your group of adventurers and decide to help your hinder you, or simply seek you out for help with some crazy quest.

Skills are for the most part unchanged. What is new are Artefact dice which you can receive from really powerful objects. Skill rolls are always made with D6 in this system, but Artefact dice allow you to upgrade dice to higher denominations, but still count anything six or higher as a success, or even multiple successes! So a legendary sword would allow you a D12 with 12 counting as four successes. Neat!

Here is also where your Pride comes in. You can use it once per session in a situation where your Pride would matter, after pushing your roll you get to add a D12 to the roll. But if you still fail you have to erase your pride and choose a new one later. So if my Pride was "I can shoot the ring out of an elf's ear at 40 paces" I could use it when attacking with my bow. Personally I think this sounds like a fun little detail to add to your character but would much prefer something with more of a mechanical anchor, like an Aspect in FATE or a Belief in Burning Wheel. Hopefully it gets expanded upon before release. Again, this is an alpha. :)

Talents are basically analogous to your mutations in MYZ and you fuel them by using Power Points that you get when pushing yourself while rolling for skills. This is the core mechanic of this rules engine and it works beautifully from a systems perspective, although I can sometimes feel there's a disconnect when trying to explain how it works when trying to explain why the Halfling suddenly can't escape his enemies just because he didn't push himself hard enough when trying to climb a tree earlier. Mind you, this is a very, very minor quibble as it simply works so well in play. Power Points are also used by wizards to cast spells, which I have some thoughts about, but more on that below.

Generally Talents fit well with the stock or profession that gives them and are generally not as powerful as Mutations in MYZ, which would be more akin to magic in Forbidden Lands.

Combat and injuries are similar to earlier games in the series, although melee has been expanded on quite a bit. There are now different attacks like Swipe and Thrust as well as different ways of defending, like Parry and Avoid with different bonuses or penalties being given as a result of which weapon is being used with which attack and which defence is being used. Weapons also have a number of special charactersistics, like Edge or Point or Blunt that interact in combat in different ways. For example, it's easier to Avoid a Swipe and Parry a Thrust than the other way around.

Crits are handled slightly differently in that you get an automatic critical damage when your Strength goes to zero and you are broken. There are a number of very retro feeling (in a good way!) crit tables that you get to roll on to see what kind of injury you've sustained and how it will hamper you during healing.

There is also a secondary, advanced, combat mode where you use cards to battle it out with your opponent. Basically each of you play two cards (one per long/short action) face down on the table and then flip them over one at a time. The cards are fairly broad, so the Attack card allows you to either Swipe or Thrust and the Prepare card allows you three different actions. It's a little bit like a mix between regular combat and the "advanced rock-paper-scissors" of Tochbearer and Mouse Guard (which I like very much!). It seems interesting, although my first thought is that I would probably limit it to one-on-one melees. It's not as elegant as in Torchbearer but on the other hand also much less abstract. Really need to try it out to see how it actually feels in play.

Magic works similarly to Talents but spells are generally more powerfull. There are some general spells but most are school specific with four belonging to traditional magic and three being druidic magic. There are three levels of spells and you can actually cast magic from a higher level than you know, but at greater risk. You don't roll for casting spells like you do with Skills, you always pass, but you do need to roll to see how it goes and spells can potentially blow up and become more powerfull or miscast and have nasty side effects, sometimes both at the same time. The more Power Points you feed a spell with the larger the chance/risk of something unforeseen happening.

As I mentioned above I kind of wonder how well the Power Points will work when you use them for
wizardry as well. I thought maybe that Wizards would have some special Talent to allow them to generate Power Points without pushing their skills rolls, but this doesn't seem to be the case. I might just be overthinking it but my spontaneous reaction has me wondering if a wizard will have enough Power Points to cast spells enough to feel "fun". Especially considering you can't roll for and push your actual spellcasting. Well, this is one of those things that will shake out when actually playing the game. Generally I think the magic rules work well and can make for fun little surpises, but I also think there's room for both more personality to the magic (as it feels quite generic right now) as well as more fun ways to interact with magic. I have a feeling this will turn up in a proper magic expansion down the road though.

Travel gets its own section, which should come as no surprise seeing this game has its roots in hexcrawls of old! The system used here is somewhat similar to the one introduced in The One Ring mixed with what we've seen in Mutant: Year Zero - each person has a role during travel and need to roll to fullfill that role. It is a bit more detailed and less abstract (and no corruption roles, obviously) with each day being split into four time slots and characters choosing travel roles for each slot. So you could decided that everyone marches during the morning and day, then making camp and hunting during the evening and sleeping and keeping watch during the night. If you fail your roll there are of course consequences that you roll for on a chart, again similar to TOR.

I think more games should have rules for journeys so I'm very happy to see more of it here. At first glance like this, it seems to me like the journeys here will be more focused and more personal than in The One Ring where they can sometimes be boiled down to a long series of dice rolls. You can cover six hexes (60km) when riding normally, and potentially 120km if you really push yourselves and your animals through the night. That is quite far, about a fourth of the map. I really like this travel system and look forward to experiencing it in play!

The bestiary contains a selection of what we'll see in the finished game and you can find most of the standard fantasy critters here. Each monster has a chart with different kinds of attacks that the GM can choose from or roll for. I find stuff like this great both for world bulding and simply as a nice fallback for GMs. Having just a stat line can sometimes lead to the "well, it tries to bite you again" thing which can make combat boring. Having harpies that heckle the heroes, or rip at their eyes, or simply poop on them gives much more tone and drama to a scene instead of just having them "swipe with their claws", yet again. Good stuff!

Finally we have one of the three adventure sites from the Campaign book. It's called Vädersten (Weatherstone) in Swedish but that might be something else after translation of course. I won't spoil anything as I hope people get to play it and report back to Fria Ligan what they thought. But overall I think it's a nice introduction to the world, with many retro call backs, but also some more modern twists that you would normally not see in actual old games. There's a ruin, promises of richess and a rival adventuring group thrown into the mix. Hopefully I can try ut out myself, in which case I will of course report my thoughts.

That was actually a lot more detail than I had intended to write! I hope you found it worthwile. There are many OSR games out there and even more gams that simply try to capture that vibe, both in English and Swedish. I've read quite a few of them and played a couple, but besides Torchbearer none of them have really caught my full interest. And the thing with Torchbearer is that it is a very specific kind of experience that simply won't work for some players. Forbidden Lands has that dungeon crawling, murder hobo-ing feel to it, but with a much lighter system under the hood. The kind of system that anyone would enjoy.

I have a feeling it could easily become my go to no-prepp fantasy game whenever I want a less focused experience than say, Torchbearer or WFRP. And I mean less focused as in easier to get into and with room for almost anything.
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Monday, 4 December 2017

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Retrospective

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Covers 1st to 4th editions
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay through the ages...
With news finally starting to trickle out from Cubicle 7 about the upcoming 4th edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay I've been thinking back a lot on my relationship with the game. I got into the miniatures end of Warhammer, 40k and their sister games back in the late eighties and even though I knew about the rpg end of Warhammer it seemed odd to me. Did you play an orc warboss on a wyvern or a high elf white lion?

Several years later I came across a used copy of the 1st edition rulebook, when I worked part time in
WFRP 1st edition original character sheet
a game store, and since it was cheap I thought "let's have a look". And well... a completely new side of Warhammer presented itself to me. Up until this time my main interest had been Epic, Necromunda, Space Hulk and Blood Bowl. While I had collected a small, rag-tag chaos army my real interest didn't really lie on the battlefield but rather in the more personal skirmishes (well, epic was en exception of course!). Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay finally showed me that personal, and real, side of the Warhammer world that had been missing from the tabletop game.

I started going back through old copies of White Dwarf to read all those WFRP articles that I had just skipped in years past. I tried to pick up as many books for the game I could find, although they started running dry right about then. What I really wanted to get my hands on was, of course, The Enemy Within - the greatest campaign ever written, according to some. It proved a daunting task so when Hogshead came in and started reprinting the old books and adding new ones to the lineup I decided it was time to actually play the game.

With me as the GM and two old friends and two newer ones we started playing The Oldenhammer Contract from the 1st edition rulebook. A few months ago I came across my old notes and charactar sheets from this game, and while I don't remember the names of the characters off-hand (and the sheets are back in Sweden) the group consisted of a halfling tomb robber, a human hunter from Middenheim, an elf wizard's apprentice and a human noble (I think). The Oldenhammer Contrat lead into Mistaken Identity and Shadows over Bögenhafen. The group did ok, but in the end actually failed the adventure, leading to some interesting and long-lasting consequences.

We continued with Death on the Reik (the module that I personally was most looking forward to run!) but only got about a third of the way through it before life happened. One of the players moved abroad for a bit and I changed jobs, meaning I didn't work with two of the players anymore. In the end we never picked it up again, although I know exaclty where we left off and still have the sheets. We could, potentially, pick up just where we left it. Especially considering it was a pretty good cliffhanger with the entire party having fallen prey to a sneaky ghoul!

I'm not sure how many sessions we played, but this was back when no one really had any commitments and I know we played a lot so perhaps 15-ish or so? One of the best "late" roleplaying memories for me mostly thanks to the great adventure material. While the rules could be odd now and then it didn't matter when the adventures and setting were so good!

Hogshead continued to re-release old material and made new stuff as well, which I managed to mostly gobble up, but in the end they ran out of steam before they had a chance to publish the re-worked Empire in Flames. Damn! Still, they had a good run!

Then, in 2005, Black Industries released the second edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay -
WFRP Tome of Salvation
probably the most popular iteration so far. It updated the rules, mostly for the better, and released a number of cool sourcebooks like Sigmar's Heirs and the Tomes of Corruption/Salvation. Something I wasn't all that keen on was the move to an Old Worlde more in keeping with the tabletop game. The cover art took a hit as well, becoming much more heroic and tabletop-ish. Both understandable moves from GW's part, but it made the setting a bit more plain. Or at least, it would have if we had followed it closely. I ran more of a 1st ed. style game anyway when we played.

And play we did! For the life of me I can't remember any of the characters, or even who exactly played, but we started with Through the Drakwald from the core book, which lead to the first part of the new campaign; Ashes of Middenheim. We played through it and had fun, although it didn't blow us away like The Enemy Within had done. It's certainly not a bad adventure, but neither is it a great one. The feeling I got was that Graeme Davis, who wrote it, was instructed to include as many different facets of the Warhammer world as possible in Ashes of Middenheim, as it would probably the one adventure all WFRP2 players bought and needed to introduce the setting to new players. It's an understandable approach, but one that rarely works (and will show up again in WFRP3).

As I flip through the adventure now I think it would have worked much better as more of a slow burn, with smaller adventures interspersed between the main chapters. I of course still have the old Middenheim book for 1st edition that could have been used for all kinds of cool stuff. Well, now-me is a better GM than past-me I suppose.

Having finished Ashes of Middenheim (with the heroes being successfull this time) we didn't feel any particular need to rush into part two, Spires of Altdorf, so instead I decided to run some of the updated first edition adventures from Plundered Vaults. Rough Night at the Three Feathers was my original, almost instinctive choice, as it is such a legendary adventure, but after reading Sing for your Supper I simply couldn't resist running that. This felt much more like the WFRP we know and loved and I remember the entire group having great fun with this adventure! Which was a good thing as it would be the last WFRP play for about five years.

Sing for your supper...
This was before I started logging plays so I don't know how many sessions we played but seeing as Ashes of Middenheim has eight parts I think ten sessions at the very least, probably more like 15. Looking back at it now I'm surprised we managed to get through all of Ashes of Middenheim and one more adventure, seeing as they were released in early 2005 and I moved to Tokyo in October that year. Again, times were simpler then I suppose.

During the first couple of years in Japan I didn't do any analogue gaming, but as the craving started I did manage to run some Dark Heresy games (where you could already see the WFRP rules engine starting to creak), and when the 3rd edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay was announced by FFG in 2009 I was eager to dive back into the Old World!

An Eye for an Eye!
This more or less coincided with us moving back to Sweden in 2010 and almost immediately I was planning a 3rd edition campaign with my old group. By now I had started logging games on BGG and started writing session reports on this here blog, so for anyone curious about our adventures in Stromdorf just go back and read! We started with the introduction scenario A Day Late and a Shilling Short, continued with the An Eye for an Eye (a really atmospheric little adventure!) and then straight into The Gathering Storm. Unfortunately the final third of the campaign didn't get proper session reports. I would go back and write them now if only I could remember the details, it's somewhat hazy. However, I intend to at least do a kind of wrap up of the campaign and my thoughts on it.

Suffice to say, we really liked what FFG did with the new system, at first. There were some quirks,
like going abstract with combat, but not entirely, which lead to some odd moments, but overall the chits and cards and dice really worked for us! The actions were fun, the magic system had a cool push-you-luck mechanic to it and the bits did help. Until they didn't. My problem with the format wasn't the bits and cards themselves but the pure amount of them!

If FFG had realeased the core box with bits and cards and then had a mixed line of books with optional card/bits to buy I think we would have continued playing WFRP3. What ended up happening was that every release for the game came with more cards and bits. And not more as in "add these new injury cards to the injury deck" but as in new types of cards and bits. This made the game bloat enormously and by the end of our campaign I simply felt drained as a GM simply by setting up and just keeping track of all. That. Stuff.

This bloat combined with the kind of mediocrity of The Gathering Storm actually killed WFRP for me for a bit. In fact, it killed roleplaying or at least game mastering for me for about a year. When I felt ready to get stuck back in I kind of overcompensated and only felt interested in small and tight games like Diaspora or Mouse Guard that didn't rely on large amounts of GM preparation. I still think it's a real shame WFRP3 ended up the way it did. The core system is good and spawned a lot of fun stories. As I went back now and read through the old session reports I was reminded of how much fun we had with it! Just look at how popular their Star Wars line of games is, and that is pretty much the same rules but with all the cards as optional extras.

I also think that FFG managed to find a pretty good middle ground between the original 1st edition feel and some of the more tabletop connected stuff of 2nd edition. The art was generally better, although I missed a lot of the, less polished, but more atmospheric art of 1st edition. All in all we played 13 sessions of WFRP3 which makes for about 40-45 sessions of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay in all it's different iterations, so far. My years of running Call of Cthulhu might come close to that number of sessions, but I still think WFRP holds the top spot as my most Game Mastered roleplaying game!

Which reminds me that there's been one player who's been a constant presence during all 45(ish) of these sessions and that's my old high school friend Anders. Come to think of it, he's probably my oldest friend that I still hang out with. Ha! While it migh have happened I can't recall him ever missing a session of our Warhammer adventures, which is pretty impressive all things considered. Here's a cheers for Anders and hopefully our continued adventures in WFRP4!

So... speaking of the 4th edition... let's segway into that. Last week we started hearing about some of the plans for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th Edition by Cubicle 7, and I'm getting that jittery feeling I had both back in 2004, when 2nd ed was announced, an in 2009, when 3rd was announced! We will actually get two games, one set in the classic (now exploded!) Old World and one in the Age of Sigmar setting. However, as I don't really know much, or have much interest in, the latter I will focus on the former.

The covers for the boxed starter set and core rulebook. I love how the first shows the heroes casually laughing it up (and a ratcatcher with a wanted sign?) while the others shows them in full melee but at the same location. Great stuff! Also, check out how well the new cover lines up with the original - the guys behind Zweihänder made a comparison
C7 says the tone will be similar to the 1st edition, even the new cover invokes the original in a nice way, with rules based on the 2nd edition. To be perfectly honest I was hoping for more of a from the ground up re-imagening of the rules, but at the same time I can't blame them for making what is probably the smarter business decision - everyone seems to love the 2nd ed rules. I think they're fine but showing their age, and not in a good way. Still they did postpone it about six months (it was originally slated for release this year) to keep finagling the rules, which is a very good thing to me.

What is even more interesting is that, even though C7 first said they weren't interested in rehashing old material, they are going to release a special director's cut, anniversary edition of The Enemy Within! While I generally agree with not rehashing old stuff, some games and supplements are exceptions - WFRP and CoC spring to mind. Especially since players have been clamouring for a reprint of TEW since 2005 and that FFGs version really was a different campaign with similar themes.

As implied by the director's cut comment, the reprint will feature updated and or added content, which, I imagine, will most likely concern the last two parts of the campaign that are generally considered much weaker than parts one to three. Overall I'm very excited for these news. Generally because Cubicle 7 makes extremely well written and atmosphericgames, such as The One Ring, and specifically because I would like to continue The Enemy Within some day. As I mentioned above we could just pick up where we left off, although I think we might as well play from the beginning as I think most of the plot has been clouded by foggy memories by now.

Whatever happens I'd be happy just getting another 15 sessions worth of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay to log and chronicle!
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Monday, 27 November 2017

New Angeles - First Impressions

The city falls.
Yesterday I went to my first JIGG (Japan International Gaming Guild) board game meetup since 2010 and it turned out there were still a couple of familiar faces hanging around, and a bunch of new ones of course. It was good being back and playing games! I started out playing a couple of games of Roll for the Galaxy, a game I own but have only played twice, and it reminded me of how much fun and how quick to play it is. When everyone knows the rules it's 30 minutes, tops, and filled with fun decisions. I think I might like it better than Race, for general play like this.

After that I set up New Angeles with four other players. No one hade played it before so there was a bit of a rules explanation and the first round was a little slow, but we were soon up to a decent speed. What I was expecting, or hoping for, were the fun discussions and arguments from Battlestar Galactica, but with less cruft that is only tangentially connected to this core, and... that is pretty much what I got, with a twist.

It plays over six rounds with each round being 3-5 turns. A turn consists of a new Asset being revealed, the active player poposing an action (clean up the streets, or fixing the broken power lines, or setting up hospitals etc) which can then have a counteroffer proposed by another player. The players with no offers on the table votes for which to go through and then that is implemented and the turn passes to the next player. This structure is interjected by events that are bad for the city in different ways, and Demands that are requirements that the corps need to meet every two rounds, to not be penalized with added Threat.

And here's the first brilliant part, Threat is a measure of how close it is that the US government steps in to take control of the city, meaning everyone loose (it's very similar to Archipelago). It goes up through certain actions, or inactions but mainly by not meeting Demand and doing actions in districts with Illness tokens. To win the game you need to make sure Threat doesn't reach 25 AND make sure you have more capital than your immediate rival. At the start of the game you draw a card to see which other player is your rival and it doesn't matter if someone else has more capital than you, if you have more than your rival at the end of the game you are one of the winners. There's also likely a secret Federalist in the mix who actually want the Threat to rise as a government takeover would mean the Federalist wins! Having personal victory conditions like this is smart as you can never really discount anyone.

Jinteki, for all your clone and biotech needs!
The second brilliant thing is having the Demand take place over several rounds. Instead of drawing a Crisis card every turn, like in Battlestar Galactica, you have this looming threat that you need to take care of together. The idea of the Cylon player tanking a skill check in BSG was cool, but usually only happened once per game as it tended to expose her. With more time to work subtly it's a very different thing here, and things aren't usually as black and white, or cut and dried, as in BSG. This allows the Federalist (or anyone else) to work more subtly toward his goal.

Did I forget to mention Investments? Yes, I think I did. This is a third brilliant mechanic. There will be three checks for Demand in a game and at the same time you check to see how well your investment faired. You get one at the start of the game, and one after each Demand phase and generally they tell you to do something that has a negative impact on the city for a capital gain. And since you win by having capital they are important, however going for them could make you look like a Federalist to the other players. Add to this that each megacorporation has different ways of making extra Capital (Jinteki by removing illness, HB by moving bioroids etc) and you have a nice murky soup of city planning, corporate greed and high stakes backstabbing!

I like the orange minis, and I can see that they were going for some kind of holo Deus Ex-like thing. However, all of them in the same colour makes it tougher to read the board state at a glance. Might have to paint.
Just as with BSG the game highly rewards a little bit of light roleplay and theatrics. When you have the right group of people interpreting what's happening on the table through the lens of the Android setting the game really takes off! The game I played yesterday wasn't quite there, but everyone was very involved and there were quite a few deals being struck, even outside the codified offer-counteroffer mechanic.

You still have a bit of a board state to take care of, but instead of the Raiders and Vipers of BSG you have Human First, Orgcrime, strikes and outages that all have more of a menacing impact on the game. While these negative elements rarely have a direct impact on Threat they do make it much harder to run the city properly and meet demand. This  makes it important to clean up now and then and this is usually when corps can make a killing or the Federalist can sneak in some damage.

I've talked about Battlestar Galactica quite a bit, and although there are many similarites, the tone of the game is completely different. Or should be completely different. I think it's easy to fall into the kind of pure co-op mindset of BSG when you play it, when in fact you should simply embrace greed and play as dirty as you can possibly get away with! Since capital, assets and general favours are all up for trade you can propose all kinds of interesting deals. Especially when twisting the other players' arms! You could play nasty and vote down an important action only to take advantage of the following crisis later to score some capital. Or, as I did, slowly push for actions that raised Illness in the city and then reap the rewards as I went in and quarantined the affected districts for a lot of points!

The two main critiques of the game, that I've seen, are that it is boring and repetative and much too long. Both of which I think are perfectly valid! It is not a game for everyone. If you don't find the setting interesting and don't like negotiatons it is going to come off as boring, with "nothing much happening". It's going to be even worse if you play it as a pure co-op. And if you think it's boring it's going to feel even longer than it is, and it already quite long. Battlestar Galactica used to take us about five hours to play because of all the fiddly stuff combined with all the discussions. The game of New Angelese yesterday took us a little bit over three hours which included lots of rules explanation and no player who had played it before. Which I think is a pretty good improvement! Then again, as the trend toward shorter games seem to continue I can understand how many would feel three hours is too long.

However, for old BSG ethusiasts like me and my group this is a great game and I have a hard time seeing how New Angeles wouldn't replace it. That's not to say I would turn down a game of Battlestar Galactica, it just means that New Angeles would be the one I reach for first when I'm in the mood for some intrigue and backstabbing.

As soon as I got back home I pulled out the Worlds of Android book and started reading again. I really hope we'll see some more games in the Android setting soon...
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