Lets sum up…UK Games Expo 2016

Image

1524820_10153075909733439_6655818785605058298_n

2015: Escaping with my life

The first time we went to the expo in 2014, all the hustle and bustle of the trading section was crammed into 2 or 3 “mediumish” halls in the Hilton and a small room round the side for “bring & buy”, which due to its popularity and position, inadvertently resembled a Mongolian fish market. It was like hundreds of geeks and board games amalgamated into a singular entity of violent bargain hunting.

 

I remember the queues for the coffee shop serpentined out the door and into the parking, and oh God the ATM! It literally melted out of the wall after an hour of trading on the Saturday morning, so there was a constant back & forth exodus of people between the hotel and the train station a kilometre away.

The food situation, or lack thereof I should say, was also quite memorable. Somewhere in those early years of the “board gaming golden age”, the organizers had somehow forgot that people eat food to survive. The poor clerk at the kiosk of the Hilton had barricaded himself in the shop after the place was ransacked and the shelves left emptier than anti-matter. I’m pretty sure I saw him curled up in a ball, crying behind the desk. Then, at some point someone had the bright idea of ordering Dominoes to the hotel lobby….and that’s when all hell broke loose. They were so busy that no sooner had one delivery guy left, did another arrive. But as the gaming continued into the night, so did the hunger grow. It was an exquisitely disgusting sight to behold. Dominoes were sending cars and mopeds together, delivering en masse to the hordes of food deprived gamers. I think at one point they were just chucking them through the door, into the aforementioned amalgamous entity, so they didn’t have to waste time with taking its money (or risk being devoured). It was hilarious…..and by hilarious, I mean total wank. Charming wank, but wank nonetheless.

11391563_10153075912348439_5317118150233768765_n

2015: The waft. Well impressive.

This years events were WAY more polished and incredibly well-organized. All of us “Conners” had a massive section of the NEC all to ourselves for trade and demos, as well as a good section of the Hilton for  tournaments. Last years tourney situation was probably on par with 2014s culinary Sodom. I didn’t participate in any tournament then as I was only down for one day, but I remember wanting to check on my Netrunner buddies and see how they were doing. When I found the tournament “tent” the first thing that hit you as you entered was a dense waft of nerd humidity. I can still taste it on my teeth. It was fucked. Trust me. Luckily that’s all I remember from last year though. Well, that and the terrible expression on people’s faces as they emerged from said tent, whenever they could for a breath of fresh air, looking like confused new-born bats. No doubt the noxious fumes inside the tent started to rewire their brains into thinking it was some kind of cocoon of geek excretions & competition. I’m telling you, from the outside, the place heaved.

13325445_575100282657237_1460623277691167524_n

2016: Losing so hard, I forgot where I was

Fortunately this year, we had space and were able to use our lungs while we competed. I was vying for the European Marshall badge in the Doomtown tournament. I say I was “vying for” it, but I mean I didn’t stand a nose hair of a chance of even seeing it. I would have to get a character witness to describe it to a police sketch artist to show me, is how close I was to winning anything. There were 49 of us and I think I came 41rst by scoring points from 2 games. And one of those games I didn’t even play anyone. Nonetheless, it was amazing. No seriously, it was. I love Doomtown and any chance I can play with others that enjoy the game is great. So do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s top-notch and you wont be disappointed. Anyway, I digress.

13393991_10153856950678439_1503199378414953678_n

I’m sure he loves his job

Like I said earlier, trading was designated to the event center this year, and what a difference it made. There was less walking around, endlessly scanning table after table of retailers (although they were still there – just in nicer areas apart from each other) and more browsing current & future wares from designers and publishers alike. For me the game of the Expo was “Wizards Academy” by 3D Total games. Gregory Carslaw, the designer,  was giving hands on demonstrations of the game, and he is clearly very passionate about his project.

I also managed to catch a glimpse of the new long-awaited, and now Dice Tower endorsed Stonemeier Game”Scythe“, being demoed at a retailers table. If you’ve seen any of the pictures or videos that are floating about online, you’ll probably be wondering if it really looks that good in real life? Well the answer is yes. Sweet fancy Moses yes. It’s probably the most awesome looking game ever. I can’t wait to get a hands on look at the game myself.
Queen Games always have good representation at the expo and this year was no exception. They were showing off the new Richard Garfield game, “Treasure Hunter” and a reskin of Dschunke called “London Markets“. Both look interesting and if you like drafting or auction mechanics, they might be worth a look.

AEG let me down though. As the publisher of a few of my favourite games, I can’t believe how little representation they had. Now that might not be a fault of their own and more to do with bullshit business, but seriously, the expo hosted the EUROPEAN DOOMTOWN MARSHALL and there was NOTHING for Doomtown. Not a damn lick. For me, that’s just shit management. Not to mention their new darling “Mystic Vale” was kept on the lowdown as well for some reason. Really strange.

13403836_10153849491988439_3246528594121070646_o

Throne of Games…cracks me up

Other highlights included taking part in a live game of Pandemic with Tom Vasel, which is something I would really like to see more of in the future. Podcasts and live RPGs are the rage these days so I really think that live board games can be a good next step for that sort of thing.In short, the board game industry has really grown into an “industry”. It’s far beyond its niche beginnings attracting 25000 people to the expo this year with an increase of 40% attendance. It’s always been a great weekend for us, but what really makes it worth while is the atmosphere. I’m already looking forward to next year.

Advertisements

The week in Kickstarter….and one other thing….

Hello Wildcats. Today we’re gonna dish out some straight talkin’. Well, a little bit at least. We’ll still round-up what we think are some cool looking Kickstarters, but then we’re going to have some words. Don’t worry though, no ones dying! In our experience, it’s always best to get real at the end of something.That way the message sticks and it won’t pollute the overall tone of todays post. Which is of course about sweet new board games! So if you’d like to pull up a chair, sit back, relax and we’ll get started then. Alternatively you can skip to the end for an ear thrashing!!

Grimslinger

b8ab984f50ab0e4b009be0535d5a92b1_large“Well gosh darnit. Them cow-poke sure are popular these days. Ah-Shucks!” At least it would seem that way from the slew of wild west themed games that have hit the market in recent times. The next Cthulu or Zombie perhaps? We’ve just seen “Doomtown” and “Shadows Of Brimstone” (the latter we covered here) explode like cheap dynamite on tables across the world, and now we have “Grimslingers” by Stephen S. Gibson to look forward to.

Grimslingers puts you in the seat of magic wielding cyber cowboys, and you gotta be the last man (or llama!) standing in classic space western duel-to-the-death fashion. I’m sure that counts as classic right?…RIGHT?? Each player will construct a hand of cards that represents their characters grimoire of spells, which will consist of unique signature spells and elemental magic.

15cf20_e8dc271ac18d4f1195d93cbc3265effa.png_srz_p_495_648_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_png_srzOnce you’ve got your firepower in order its on with the errmm….grim….slinging? Two to four players will square up, either 1 on 1 or in teams, hurling spell after spell in a barrage of arcane madness until everyone’s dead…or until one of you isn’t at least. What’s really cool is how the game captures the flavour of a western duel. Fellow board game pundits Shut Up & Sit Down, recently reviewed “Doomtown”, the latest LCG on the block, and it does a very similar thing in that the central mechanisms of the game tries it’s best to recreate the tense posturing of a wild west gunfight. Eyeing each other up, fingers stroking the butt of the gun, walking slowly out into the dusty road and then BANG! It’s over in a heart beat. When the dust settles, someone’s left bleeding and crying from the pain.

Grimslinger attempts to capture that very same magic, in a sort of, compacted form. The game plays out over a series of stages where you have to standoff with players and line your ducks in a row. Then when the lightning strikes hot, everybody draws, reveals their hand and awaits the aftermath.  Best of all, it also utilises card suits in a black jack style face off for tie breakers. It looks really, REALLY fun. Not to mention the art is real purdy. PLUS, if you’d like to try before you buy you could always just play it online! WIN! If I was you, I’d mosey on over to their Kickstarter page and give it a swing…..

Entropy

8e5432ecf1f0327993c1bd5c341f1deb_largeOh. So we’re sticking with sci-fi? Fine by me. I’ll keep my helmet on then. Entropy by Allen Chang aims to be the latest filler game on the scene. It’s got some stiff competition with “Love Letter” and “Citadels” but it looks sufficiently different from those games, that the Kickstarter community just doesn’t give a f**k. In Entropy, each player takes the role of an inter-dimensional space roamer that has been torn from their home realm in a terrible time cataclysm. Trapped in the nexus (that’s sci-fi talk for purgatory), you need to grab at the shards that remain of your reality to find your way home. Like Alice in Wonderland on acid…I mean, even more acid….than usual. Anyway.

What you’ll be doing is playing cards simultaneously, resolving them in initiative order to have a stab at claiming a revealed card from the discard pile or a blind card from the top of the nexus pile. The game is more lathered in theme than when Neo awakens in the Matrix. Don’t worry though!The lingo may seem intimidating at first but it’ll take you all of 6 minutes to get it. That’s 4 extra minutes if you’ve never seen a playing card before. In other words, it’s pretty easy to get the hang of. Just watch the gameplay video and if you havent figured it out by end of turn one, call a doctor. You may need brain surgery.

Jokes aside, Entropy is one of those games that is easy to learn but hard to master. In the aforementioned Love Letter and Citadels, you reset the cards after each round and begin your strategy anew. Entropy has a bit more of a competitive edge to it, in that each player has a set hand of cards and the mastery comes in knowing when to play.  Light but also very strategic. And if you don’t get lost in the artwork you probably don’t have a soul….or are a ghost. There’s still a few days left for the campaign so get stuck in the void here.

Sultan’s Library

2d8ff736c944618efd19f479a438018a_large“Sultan’s Library” by Photon Games is probably the underdoggest (not a real word…yet) game in the history of Kickstarter. This small game studio from South Africa is having a rough time with their first attempt at crowd funding a game, but by the looks of it, they seem to have created a game that is some kind of blend of Antoine Bauza’s Tokaido and Richard Garfield’s Netrunner.

You take on the role of one of the Sultans envoys in search of rare books for the royal library. You’ll have to travel across several sub Saharan locations to find said books, but be warned, others are on the hunt as well. If you’re not so much into killy-killy, stabby-stabby kind of games and just enjoy going on a journey, then Sultan’s Library has that in spades. Where’s the tension you ask? Well you don’t just simply drift on by, magnetically attracting sacred books. You’ve got to find them first. Then, you’ve got to bring them back. Easier said than done. You need to deposit 3 books to win, but you can only hold 2 at a time, which immediately becomes a bit of a logistical nightmare. On top of that, you’ll quite often have to pay for an extra detail of guards to fend off any spiteful book burners. It aint easy wondering the desert ya know.

f1d17babb7d80b5da31807d9c2d8d38e_largeThe way you play the cards in this game weaves such an interesting story that it seems kind of hard not to enjoy the ride. Sure that will only last the first few times you play, but the competitive interplay will keep players on their toes for the whole journey. I think that’s where this shares a lot of similarity with Netrunner for me. You’re loading these books in your satchel and trying to make you’re way back to the library before someone else grabs it from under your nose. It looks really nifty and is nowhere near as obtuse as Netrunner, which means that you don’t have to be enveloped in its own culture to get the same kind of thrills.

Overall the game has this serene tranquillity about it and seems a breeze to play. I will say though, it’s looking pretty steep for them at the moment as their funding goal is quite high, but even if it doesn’t make it, these guys came up with the idea for the game and managed to produce a working copy in the space of a few months. I’m barely awake until June most years, so I think these guys have a tremendous talent on their hands. If this doesn’t make it I hope they will relaunch with a bigger, better campaign so Sultan’s Library can indeed see the light of day.

…One last thing before I go…

I have seen a growing dislike for Kickstarter games within the board game community as of late. Nothing outright or aimed at any one in particular. Just a disturbance in the force if you will. I’ve seen numerous articles and posts that refer to Kickstarter projects with that “Oh, it’s you” kind of attitude, and for the life of me I can’t understand why. I know in one of our previous posts we criticised recent projects in that we just didn’t find them particularly up our street, but equally we also didn’t pay much attention during our hiatus and were likely to have missed out on a bunch of good ones.

Some have complained “there are too many”, others moan about project creators clogging up their social media channels, and others just don’t seem to consider Kickstarters as “real” games. All of that may be true in small doses but as a result, I feel the need to justify why we do these previews.

I’m a person that’s easily entertained. Straight up I’ll tell you. I don’t need to feel like a game is engaging with my insides to enjoy it. I like colours, I like the art, I like dice, I like cards and I really appreciate all the effort that game designers put in to make their products work. A lot of which is done in their free time. So with that in mind, I just don’t care about what will be the next big thing, or if a game will take off. I just like to be entertained. Even if it’s for a moment.

I look at each Kickstarter game and recognise what the creators are trying to accomplish and focus on those positive aspects. I know they may not always be the best game ever, but I try to look at it from the perspective that these are all designers that are trying to make it against the odds. Most don’t have money to get their dream out there and on to your table for your enjoyment. Yes there are stinkers. Yes there are ripoffs, but there have been some absolute gems in the time that I’ve known of Kickstarter. For the most part I try to give designers the benefit of the doubt because it can’t be easy producing a game for several hundreds of people who want to have their say as well.

I’m also not saying we’ll solely support Kickstarters every week or all the time, but for me, a failed journalist, it’s a nice way to get a glimpse of what is out there on the indie scene. So when there is this general distaste or negativity towards a game or designer simply because they went the Kickstarter route, I try to remember what my mother used to say. “If you got nothing nice to say, then say nothing at all”. After all, can you do better?

Reviews! First rule of fight club is…

Street Fighter 2 Arcade CabinetWhen we were kids my grandmother used to take us on walks down to the local store every Saturday morning. I remember around 1990, while on one of our trips, we arrived at the store like usual, but something was different. Like someone had moved our house 2 centimeters to the left. As we approached the entrance of the store all we could hear was the hum of people and a strange synthy music, interpolated by thuds and elephant sounds. As we got within sight of all the noise, there stood before us this black cabinet as tall as a man, thronging with people around it, two at the helm frantically pushing buttons and jostling sticks with red balls. Everyone was much older than me so I knew to stay well back, but from the sides I managed to catch a glimpse of what was going on. Through the cracks I could make out a screen, with a bearded man wearing red briefs and boots, scars across his body, wrestling with another man, made of rubber that could spit fire. My mind was blown to the point of collapse. From that moment on, I was transfixed with this style of game, which I later learned was known as “Fighting Games”.

street_fighter_cosplay_zangief_by_jsekelentonkey-d47cweb

Maybe not as blown away as others

If you’ve made it this far you’re probably wondering “what in the goddamn hell does this have to do with board games?”. Let me put it this way. For years the ‘Fighting Game’ was one of the most exciting video game genres. Only the most high-tech of systems could capture the realistic feel of slogging it out with an opponent until one of you was a pulpy, bloodied sack of flesh that couldn’t get up. Well, aside from actually assaulting someone of course. Which I don’t advise…..because that’s a shit thing to do. Obviously…..errm…where was I? AH yes! Instead we had games like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Punch Out, Super Smash Brothers, Tekken, Samurai Showdown and so on during the 90s. Legions of Fighting Games entered our cultural vernacular, and these were THE games to test your might (Pun!) against other players. You had to employ all the strategy and dexterity of a mutant ninja to be considered the ultimate fighter.

However, I was more of a log than a ninja. My brain could never quite communicate with my hands fast enough to pose a serious threat to even the weakest of opponents. So I was happy to find the one ratty fighting game at the back of the arcade, behind the washing machines, that nobody played anymore and MAYBE get to the third stage. Nonetheless I loved them. I loved the idea of taking control of a character that was as cunning as a fox and strong as a bear. A character with a back story and a purpose. Now that was something I could chew on. I think you know where I’m going with this now. Welcome to board game fight club…

….Round 1…..FIGHT!!

Luchador! Mexican Wrestling Dice

IMG_5188“Rules? Well rules were made to be broken. AND YOUR NECK COULD BE BROKEN!!! OOOOoohhhh YEEAAAHHH!!!!!” Luchador Mexican Wrestling Dice by Mark Rivera was released unto the masses back in 2013 and up until then, I don’t think there ever was a proper wrestling game. Not unless you consider this proper. In which case, I’m sorry…so very, very sorry. You and your opponent take on the roles of Lucha Libres vying for supremacy of the squared circle and of course, there can only be one victor.

This game is dead simple. You get 4 dice which allow you to hit, block and counter your opponent, but beware, if you’re an over zealous roller, and your die falls off the board, sorry bub, but it don’t count. In fact, one of the strategies you’re meant to employ, is to actually lay the smack down on your opponents die and knock them out of the ring. Once you’ve grappled enough, if you were able to sneak a hit through, you get to roll the damage die and see just what kind of pain you’ve inflicted on your enemy. IMG_5186Drop kick, chair smash, table slam, choke hold you name it, it can happen. If you’re extra lucky and you manage to squeeze two hits through while the referee isn’t looking, you can roll the Lucha die, which has a 50/50 chance of doing massive damage with a high-flying move, or hilariously injuring yourself and losing a valuable die in the next round of steamy man grabbing.

The absolute funnest part of the game is when you’ve weakened your opponent enough and you have the chance to pin him or her. They have to make saving throws on the count of 3, by rolling enough blocks or counters. EVEN BETTER THAN THAT is if they managed to roll 3 identical block or counter results in one go, they reverse the pin and the attacker finds themself at the bottom of a fresh can of whoop-ass.

IMG_5189This game is a treat and an excellent opener to get the blood pumping on fight night. Make no mistake though, just like actual wrestling, you NEED to ham it up. Seriously. It’s in the rules. When you’ve pinned someone, you’re encouraged to shout out the countdown, “1….2…….3!!!!!” If you’re playing a tag match with 4 players, once you roll a successful tag, you have to actually physically tag your partner in. If not, it’s illegal. Thems the rules, now GET OUTTA THE RING!! It’s those kind of touches that make the game pop out and come to life. You can almost see tiny beads of sweat dripping off the glistening cubes. That being said, if you prefer something a bit more diverse, you can always play the advanced rules where each Wrestler has individual strengths, weaknesses and can even unleash a killer combo. Oh! Did I also mention that the 2nd edition comes complete with a 3D wrestling ring? Yeah, I thought that might impress you. We only have the orignal flat board and it serves us well but the real deal ring adds another level of visual deliciousness that is quite frankly impossible to beat. Unless you’re a real wrestler, in which case you can probably beat any thing you want because you’re left breast is probably twice the size of my head…..please don’t hurt me…..If you’re a fan of wrestling get this game. Heck! If you’re a fan of fun get this game.

…Round 2…FIGHT!!!

Knockout

IMG_5160“Step right up, Step right up folks! For tonight’s contest of manliness, two pugilists take to the ring for the heavyweight championship. Come see the sweet science of a gentleman’s sport. Step right up, step right up!” Back in old timey town, the number one way to prove yourself as an honourable fellow was to test your mettle in a good ol’ fashioned bout of fisticuffs. Knockout, released by Victory Point Games and designed by Frederic Moyersoen, is probably one of the most colossally underrated games of modern times. No, I’m not exaggerating one damn bit.

In Knockout, each player squares up in the center of the ring, draws their hand of 8 cards and waits for the sweet chime of that beautiful bell. Ding, ding. What happens after that is so elegant you would think you’re at a Bolshoi State Ballet recital. You take turns playing cards, either attacking or defending, pressuring each other to the point of exhaustion, until there is just nothing left you can do except eat some knuckle sandwiches. So what do you do when you’re getting wailed on? You suck it up, and take some more. That’s easier said than done though. MMMmm, is that my tooth?

IMG_5169The object of the game is to knockout your opponent (HINT: It’s in the name), but it’s getting there that’s the tough part. In your hand of cards you’ll likely have a selection of offensive maneuvers, like a straight punch, a cross, a jab and the almighty haymaker, but you’ll also potentially draw up some defensive cards, like move, parry and counter. When a player uses an attack card, the defending player must react with a card of equal or higher strength in order to avoid getting hit. If you can’t, you take a hit and your hand size gets reduced by 1, meaning when you do get a breather and can draw back up, you’re going to have less scruples about you and won’t be able to fight back. Luckily though, both parties need to draw up frequently to stay in good shape and prepare for the next flurry of fists. The round ends when there are no more cards in the draw pile. All it takes to win is landing 6 good hits, but you wouldn’t believe how tricky that can be against one of these wily boxers. If you survived the first round, the weakest player receives a “pep” card at the beginning of the next and this can turn the tables quite dramatically.

IMG_5156I think Victory Point out did themselves with this one. A gentleman’s game of bouting that is as beautifully simple as it is lighting fast. The balance of the card play creates a genuine feeling of bobbing and weaving, going toe to toe with someone. However the game is not merely a functional “take that” card game. It has one of the most visually pleasing designs I have ever seen on a board game. Everything about it captures the grit and raw energy of old school boxing, while avoiding the crass and brutal tropes of modern sports games. I am absolutely dumbfounded as to why this isn’t the crown jewel of Moyersoens career.

…Finish HIM…

Apocalypse Universe: Galactic Arena

IMG_5145Dum dum dum, duuduudum, Dum dum dum. MORTAL KOMBAT!!!” Here it is. The meat and potatoes of todays post. Apocalypse Universe: Galactic Arena by Storyception Games is a gladiatorial space opera and is fresh off the presses from their succesful Kickstarter campaign late last year. You have a choice of 10 different fighters, each with their own special abilities and strengths, to fight to the death on the intergalactic stage of Cetus 7. Before I get into the game itself, it’s worthy to note that the guys and gals at Storyception have put in a tremendous effort at writing the world for Galactic Arena. Every character has a thoroughly fleshed out back story and if you take the time to read them it really elevates your appreciation for the characters.

IMG_5149

Now on with the game. First you choose you’re combatants, then you’ll need to prepare them for the oncoming war. Each character has a dizzying array of stats ranging from defence, attack, health, actions, initiative and most importantly, special abilities. Before combat commences, players will have to customise their fighters according to how much pain they want to dish out. So you can tailor your fighter to be as slippery as an eel or a full-blown homicidal maniac hell-bent on murder.The kicker is you never know who you’re up against or how they may be fitted out for the fight. The game comes with these giant iron gate screens from behind which you will prepare your fighter. Trust me, when you’re hiding behind the screen you’ll chuckle like a chipmunk at all the possiblities for inflicting instant death. As you become a veteran of the Galactic Arena you’ll learn what are the most effective skills to choose from and best combos to utilise, but until then, you’ll probably just mount the plasma cannon on your shoulder the wrong way.

IMG_5147Why Galactic Arena feels more like a fighting game than say a turn based strategy game, is because of its length. It’s fast, aggressive and very, VERY brutal. All the planning in the world wont save you from the short sharp shock of a quick decisive defeat if you’re caught dawdling around the arena. Your opponent WILL come after you, and you always want to be applying the pressure. The fun really comes in when you get to know your fighter a bit more and you start doing the right things to bait your enemy, forcing them to waste actions, hopefully giving you enough edge to splatter them on arena walls. For that reason bouts can be as quick as 10 minutes, which is perfect for a 2 out of 3 style match. We recommend using the draft rules where you choose 3 fighters as a team but face off 1 on 1. If you chose the 3 on 3 match you’ll get a bit more length out of the fight, but I find it’s easier to focus on one fighter at a time. All in all, Galactic Arena feels very much like the Board game iteration of classic arcade fighters, at least in the sense that the game places heavy focus on the characters. The rest of the game plays out in typical action point on hex grid type fashion but like a say, it’s the fighters that make this one special. They all have unique abilities and you’ll probably pick the ones that you identify with the most. Maybe you like the strong guy, so you’ll pick the mutant with four arms, maybe you like the “duo”, so you’ll pick the guys that are closely matched, the assassin, the ranger, etc. There are lots to choose from and a mega ton of variation within those choices. Top marks to Storyception for their debut effort. We’re looking forward to more.

Hopefully we’ll see a few more games emerge that suit the fighting game genre, there’s almost certainly a ton out there that I don’t know of. If you do, let us know! Until next time….

….FATALITY….

The return of Kickstarter?

Good day fellow dicers! Like every week, we’ve been scouring the four corners of Kickstarter in search of new games that cut the mustard. Unfortunately, we havent seen that many exciting Kickstarters for a good long while. Aside from the magnificent campaigns of Storyception Games‘ space opera Beat ’em Up “Galactic Arena“, and Van Ryder Games froth inducing “Hostage Negotiator“, there just hasn’t been much else to wet our whistles. That is, until now….
Between Two Cities

near-final-with-rough-graphic-designCue dramatic cavalry music and a blazing emblem across the sky with Stonemaier Games logo. We should have expected Sirs Stegmaier and Stone to fix things with their bullet proof reputation for genuinely innovative games. This time Stonemaier present us with “Between Two Cities”, a semi co-operative game by Ben Rossett and Matthew O’Malley, which if you’ve paid attention to board gaming over the past 2 years, you’ll be more familiar with those names than with your Nans. Basically this project is the board game equivalent of a 70’s prog rock super group with 6 bassists. Massive is a understatment to say the least.

Why is the game cool? Well, it can accommodate 2 – 7 players, with the possibility for a solo variant later on, and regardless of the amount of players it’s a fast paced game set to take no more than about 30 minutes, but most of all, it looks primed to be THE Carcassonne killer. Now don’t get me wrong, we love Carcassonne, but let’s be honest, it needs to be buried….in the middle of the woods…in a far, far away place…so no one can ever find its charred, dismembered remains. Much like the aforementioned dearly departed, BTC will have players laying tiles down like their lives depended on it, BUT the main difference lies in the central theme of BTC, which puts you literally between two cities. Literally. You’ll be building cities on your left and right with whoever is sitting next to you at the table, and together you need to cooperate in order to eventually come out on top alone. This already fixes a lot of the problems with Carcassonne. I enjoy playing a light, peaceful game on occasion, but for some reason Carcassonne brings the out absolute worst, most despicable traits of human beings. Greed, spitefulness, treachery, you name it. Behind the seemingly innocuous guise of an innocent, anonymous, little wooden person, lies the darkest intentions, that have been scraped off the bottom of Freddy Kruger’s mothers bricked up cell.

Full of Hate

                          Full of Hate

We usually have to play something “LIGHT” after a game of Carcassonne just to cool down from some extremely tense situations. Either that or we lock ourselves away and avoid eye contact for 3 days at least. Like I said, BTC seems to have this fixed, by working with others and never churning up the malice too much but still trying to win out by the end. Almost like a compact Stefan Feld game. In short, I’m excited by BTC. It looks like it’s a fast playing, tile laying, easy access, thinker. “Between Two Cities” has exterminated its funding goal by several fold already and is set to be a welcome addition to the Stonemaier Games roster. This company looks unstoppable at the moment. You can throw your money onto the mounting pile here.
Dragoon

4e34f9b5dbf19c2e5f0100ddc4a4264b_originalSpeaking of gateway tile games. “Dragoon” by Lay Waste Games is another Kickstarter that has us intrigued. No doubt its borrowed a heavy dose of indie video game aesthetic design for its general look and feel, but that is a GREAT thing. If playing board games has taught me anything, it’s how to appreciate video games again. I can approach most video games with fresh board game soaked eyes, which enables me to see the set pieces and mechanics that are lying underneath all the cinematics, and actually be able to tell if there is a game there or not. So when I see a little reverse cross-pollination occur, I start to get very excited, because this tells me that the chasm that once existed between the two media is slowly being bridged.

Ok, sure. Maybe I’m mad, and reading a little too much into it, but the first thing I took note of Dragoon is that it instantly reminded me of old school video games like Battle Tank or Zelda, only polished with a modern sheen that so many indie games have these days. I guess it’s just kinda cool to see old school values delivered in a beautiful package. And when I say beautiful, I mean “DAMN THAT ASS IS PHAT!” Solid metal game pieces and dice? Roll out fabric game mat? Two tone graphic designed art? I mean….come on, this thing looks the business. And I was even more surprised when I found out from the gameplay video that this Dragoon is not solely about the eye candy. There is a legitimate game here.

0e88c594c555283ce9968eeb294d468e_originalBasically each player takes the role of a dragon (already cool) and you need to fend off oncoming attacks from thieves, raiders and your fellow dragon brethren, all in the aid of accumulating the most gold, the fastest. We LOVE games that have you chasing a target score. Like Netrunner or Mars Attacks, when the challenge is to reach a certain goal before your opponents, it gives the game a sense of urgency. So you’ll sit there desperately planning how to one up your opponent while ravenously clawing towards your goal, one gold coin at a time. Furthermore, the game is set on a modular playing field, combined with limited actions and intricate card play, I just can’t imagine a world where this doesn’t at the very least get your pulse racing a bit. I mean, let’s be serious for a second, you get to play as a dragon. Let that sink in for a minute.

Now I know I had a go at Carcassonne earlier for being kind of “over competitive” for what it is, but Dragoon has those same qualities, but in a good way. It’s those very things that lead to shout out loud bursts of elation or the foulest of curses breathed in some forgotten language. Basically it’s got all the ingredients forge great gaming moments that you’ll laugh about for years to come….as you stare past the bars of the maximum security prison they put you in for first degree murder…..Dragoon is nullifying its funding goal as we speak and you can feel free to pledge here.

Not a review! The Witcher…to the rescue!

Has it really been one year? I know it’s been a while but DAYUMMM!

Well, first and foremost, I must apologize that we have not kept abreast with all things “board gamey” like we had intended. In our defense, we had to strip down on a few other activities during the year due to work and other important but boring stuff. However we never stopped playing! Hopefully you follow us on twitter where we’re a little more active and would’ve seen some of our photos and board gaming grumbles.

Anyway. We’re sorry. We’ll try to do better. Moving on.

It would seem “defense” is the central theme to this weeks post.

image1Why’s that? I thought it was about the new Witcher Adventure game?”

Well, if you’re like me and are one of those gamers that’s been waiting for The Witcher Adventure Game ever since it was announced about a year ago, you will hopefully be pretty stoked round about now since it’s been out for a couple of months. Unfortunately, if you’re even more like me (you’ve first got to ask yourself “am I a clone? Then…) you might also be kind of astonished as to why this game is garnering a considerable amount of nerd scorn on the internet. Not in the “good” bad publicity sense where the game is morally controversial and everybodies mothers won’t let them play. No no, that’s not what I’m talking about.

It’s more the case that a few individuals were expecting The Witcher Adventure Game to be some thing else.

image9You take on the role of 1 of 4 main characters from the Witcher story line and your objective is to accrue the most victory points by the time you’ve completed 3 quests. Each character can develop new skills that are specific to their individual play style and you’ll be rolling dice to complete tasks, defeat monsters and generally avoid injury. On you’re turn you’ll have a selection of 2 actions but mostly you’ll be moving from place to place in the Northern Kingdoms of the Witcher, collecting “leads” that enable you to complete your quests. Sounds like simple and effective action point, resource mangment, dice rolling fun…..WRONG! At least if you listen to the games critics. Lets look at the supposed negatives of TWAG first and then we can discuss its virtues. Which I believe to be many.

image11The first down side with any kind of pop cult property that’s a much bigger entity than it’s board game extension, is the obligatory theme/lore issue. So straight off the bat I’m gonna tell you, if you’re a fan of the Witcher books or video games, you’ll likely have a deeper appreciation for this one over players that have no idea about the story. The second big criticism that has come up on the forums are with some of the gameplay design features. Namely the dreaded “skip a turn”  mechanic. What I’m picking up from other pundits is that those are designs that set modern board gaming back by “decades”.

image4Firstly, my experience with Geralt and his merry band is quite limited. I’ve only played about a quarter of the first video game and like many other gamers who have formed an opinion about TWAG, I have played the iOS version for a bit. That’s it. I haven’t read the books. I haven’t seen the movie. I don’t have a Dandelion tattoo on my ass. Nothing else. So a Witcher fan boy I am not. In fact none of our players had any relation to the Witcher franchise. So we started from a pretty clean slate as far as jumping into any lore traps and bugs.

I am pleased to say that none of that was a problem for our games. It’s pretty important for a story driven game that has a massive legend behind it to not let the players get put off by complex “in-house” story politics. I’d say TWAG nails it by striking aimage6 balance between having a general enough narrative that any gamer can jump right and have fun. If I performed an action but was interrupted by “Dijkstra’s raiding group”, I felt compelled to find out a bit more behind this struggle with Dijkstra and in doing so gain a better appreciation of the internal narrative. It’s nice little touches like that make the game feel balanced and a joy to play.

The second gripe about the games mechanics is one of those things that’s just going to be subjective till the day we all die. Look. I get it. Loads of new games have “fixed” many of board gaming’s early design features by virtue of designers pandering to modern cultures obsessive need to be constantly entertained. What once was “roll & move” is now the “bluffing mechanic”. That’s what is popular now. And like every other trend that has ever existed, these things will pass. The point I’m trying to make is I don’t think there is anything wrong with “missing a turn”, or drawing a card that says “nothing happens”, as long as its done in the right way, and I believe TWAG does it THE RIGHT WAY.

image8The game is so bleak and is constantly piling misfortune on top of you like a dump truck of sorrow, that whenever I drew a “nothing” card I was genuinely happy. Now if a game can paint such a grey, dead and unforgiving picture of the world that when “nothing happens” it makes you happy, I say bravo. That’s my kind of game.

The thing is, what the game actually is, is a race. Each character is trying to tight rope walk across this arid landscape in order to find the path of least resistance. So once again, if I have the misfortune of being “delayed” on my turn, that’s destiny pulling the brakes on the ol’ victory train. You’ve just got to think how roll with the punches and still end up on top. Yes it’s been done before, and yes it’s frustrating to lose under seemingly random conditions, but that doesn’t make it a bad thing. Stuff like that, and patience, and thinking, is what separates board games from video games. I like that I can take a breather and plan (however futile it may be) my next move. It suits this game. Don’t get me wrong though. I’m not trying to be a Luddite and nay-say everything that’s modern and sparkly. I love how innovative board games have become and how they continue to push the envelope, but all I’m saying is that I don’t need every single game to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes I like simple. And the Witcher Adventure Game is just a good, simple and colourful game. What more could you ask for?

 

Review: Coup…How good is your poker face?

Image

IMG_0319[1]‘The Resistance’ is pretty much an institution in board gaming by now. Thats just a fact of life. If you turned over a rock in the desert, you would find a table of neurotic board gamers shrieking in a high register “I’m not a SPY!!” So when Indie Boards & Cards announced back in April on Kickstarter they were reskinning the original Coup with a Resistance theme, we came running like a crack addicted bullet train. Well the time has come, and its finally arrived.

As the government starts to collapse around you, up to six players seek to take control by influencing key figures in a political poker game. Each person is dealt 2 cards, the Duke, Ambassador, Captain, Assassin or the Contessa. These cards represent officials that you have leverage with. You’ll take turns claiming you have favour with one of the aforementioned characters, using their powers to get money, kill your political opponents or gain more influence, all in the aid of funding your coup d’ etat. However, any of your opponents can contest your supporter, and if you are caught trying to take advantage of the situation without the favour of your claimed political figure, you lose influence. On the other hand though, if you DO have the support you claimed to have, your challenger looks like a fool and he/she loses their influence. Once you’ve lost both of your supporters, you are out of the game and need to take a seat on the losers couch with Sarah Palin. Ultimately though, just like a sword fight between immortals, there can be only one. The last back-stabbing politician standing wins.

One of the cool side effects of ‘Coup’ is it fleshes out the narrative that ‘The Resistance’ started. In the latter you witnessed events from the perspective of freedom fighters in a corrupt dystopian future, whereas in ‘Coup’ you get to see how high rollers do business. The next time you finish 5 or 6 games of ‘The Resistance’ you won’t have that hollow feeling of a bad come down anymore. Now you get to see the other side the story. While the grunts are fighting the good fight destabilizing the status quo, others are ready to step in and seize control in these opportunistic times.

IMG_0320[1]Even if you’ve been living in a cave for the last 4 years and you’ve never heard of ‘The Resistance’, ‘Coup’ is a sublime game by itself. Its wickedly fast, super tense and just oh so exciting. When you’re holding on to your last card and the turn is going round, you’ll be frantically scheming trying to ready yourself for your next move. You’ve decided to bluff holding the Duke, which will gain you the 3 credits to pay for the Assassin that you are actually holding. Its finally your turn, you try to sneak those precious credits in unnoticed. As your fingertips just touch the prize, you think “YES! I’ve done it. No one will suspect a thing”. You start to slink the money towards you when you hear the challenge from across the table, “Like Hell you’re the Duke! I’ve got the Duke”. You can’t show weakness but your backs up against the wall, inside your screaming, “WHAT AM I GOING TO DO???” You play it cool, time to show them what you’re made of. “Are you sure you want to make that call?”, a cold look of steel about your face, but really your legs are like jelly jumping castles. Your challenger hesitates, not wanting to lose their last card in a rash decision. He begins a retort but you cut it short, “Fine, just means one less of you I need to eliminate”. You reach for you card confidently, ready to flip it over, it’s do or die anyway, then you hear the withdrawal, “Alright. Take the money…this time”. You think to yourself, “Yes! A life-line. Now all I have to do is…”, the person next to you chucks 7 credits your way, “I’m couping you. You’re dead”. Your head drops between your chest and the table erupts into laughter. This is the sort of entertainment you just can’t put a price on. ‘Coup’ is an absolutely awesome game. Get it or you’ll get left behind.

Android: The Universe – Pt 1.

introAs usual it’s taken us a long time to write anything for the blog. For once it’s not down to sheer laziness though….well maybe a little. It was summer! Can you blame me??? Mostly however, we’ve been focusing a lot of our game time hacking the Android universe. Now I’m sure our twitter followers are sick to death of hearing us harp on about Android, which by the way, is the single most useless game to tweet about since your “#Android” tweets just get lost in a sea of OS spam. Nonetheless, I get the feeling that there is some hesitation from gamers about getting into this series. It might be the mixed reviews floating around the net about both Android and Infiltration (both of which were made by acclaimed designers), or maybe board gamers are a little reluctant to get sucked into yet another “collectible” card game like Netrunner. Whatever the cause of this trepidation, I thought it was high time to write why we enjoy these games and why it has become our favourite tabletop franchise. So coming up in the next few weeks we’ll have a look at the all the games in the franchise. Today however, we start with the big boss. The one that started it all….

Android

Why are streets always wet in detective movies?

Why are streets always wet in detective movies?

Android is a murder/mystery story building game set in the dystopian future city of New-Angeles. Mega corporations run the sprawling network of the city, which your investigator needs to navigate, gather information from and try to solve the murder. In my humble opinion, Android is probably the most underrated game in the history of documenting things & calling it “history”. Alas, I am but one man though. Where ever you look on the net that reviews things made out of cardboard, it gets tagged with that dreaded “so-so” review score. Fans love it because of the setting and story, but those that hate it scream from the rafters about the mechanics. Mostly I think it’s a big misunderstanding about the point of the game. I can’t blame them though. Before its release Fantasy Flight really pushed the role play and mystery solving angles on this game. Which I’ll admit, sounds like an intriguing prospect and is indeed what caught my attention (Who wouldn’t want to see a Sci-Fi Noir, D&D and Clue hybrid?) but that’s not really how the game pans out. You’re never actually trying to find out who the murderer is as you already know this from the start of the game. Well, that’s not quite right either. Actually you have possible SUSPECTS that you’re trying to pin the murder on. This is probably the biggest point where people start to jump off the Android ship. People were expecting a “whodunnit” story game that plays out as you go gumshoeing along, somewhat along the lines of Arabian Nights or Agents of SMERSH; instead they got a highly strategic puzzler. I for one love that! And here are a few reasons

image(3)The game possesses such varied mechanics that interleave with one another. Each layer adds different strategies you can employ to win the game. Firstly you can attempt to pin the murder on a suspect by mounting evidence against them, or as. While your detective chases up leads around New-Angeles, you have the option to uncover evidence. Don’t worry; you won’t be shouting obscenities at each other just yet. That’ll come later. You’ll take a token from the evidence pool and place it on a particular suspect involved in the murder case. Depending on the value of the token, it’ll determine if the suspect is innocent or guilty. Usually, the point of the game where derogatory utterances begin is when a player places evidence on a suspect, and you refer to the 2 “hunch cards” you were dealt in the beginning of the game, one showing you a guilty suspect the other an innocent citizen, and of course, said player is building a case against your innocent hunch. Or at least who you believe to be. After all, you’re only going by your ‘dick’ instincts.

image(6)However you need to keep hunches secret for as long as possible. If your opponents find out who you’re building a case against/in favour of, they might employ “Humanity Labor” to put hits out on your suspects. Once there are 3 hits on a suspect, he/she is dead, removed from the game and potentially lost a player a ton of precious victory points. That’s not the only cuss inducing method in your quest for evidence though. There are also these nasty little tokens called “alibis”, which as we all know from day time soap operas, seriously derail the plot line. Alibis have the power to “reverse” evidence, as well as synapse with your brain, forcing you to shout out random portmanteau expletives. Subsequently, the word “funt” now adds colour to many more situations in our daily lives. Thanks Android! Surprisingly though, building a case against a suspect isn’t the most important thing on the board, although it is a really fun part of the game. Back and forth bluffing will potentially have you offload evidence on one suspect as each player battles for their hunch card, only to have him eventually assassinated! Meanwhile, the unsuspecting mining clone ‘Mark Henry’, sits with +1 point in his case file, making him the guilty party and netting another player 15 valuable victory points.

You could also try your hand at resolving your characters “plot cards” as a means to gain VP. When the game begins, each player is given a plot card that instructs them what to do in order to progress onto the next stage of the plot. This could be anything from discarding player cards to choosing how you are going to fight. Basically, as you journey around New-Angeles you will do things. Doing things will get you “baggage”. Which is sometimes good…

image(2)Raymond enters a seedy club on the south side of town. He feels the eyes of every patron scanning him up and down. They’re wondering if Raymond is going to kick up a stink and nose around in things that should maybe be left well alone, or is he going to just be the predictable jaded alcoholic cop that he is and take a seat at the bar. You play one of your “light” cards. “Hey, didn’t you fly in the 21rst division?” Ray cuts through the tectonic beat of the clubs sound system and turns to the sound of the voice. He sees someone vaguely familiar to him. It’s an old war buddy he used to fly with. Rather than make a fuss or drown his sorrows at the bottom of a bourbon alone, Ray pulls up a seat, places his order with the waitress and begins to reminisce about the good ‘ol days. The guy gives Ray a free “dropship pass” and Raymond gains 1 GOOD baggage for entering a “nightlife” location during this plot line. Sweet. – (This was actual gameplay by the way)

On the other hand though, sometimes baggage can be bad….

image(9)The bioroid Floyd overrides one of his prime directives in the hopes of getting a deceitful lead on the case. You play one of Raymonds “Haunted by the Past” cards. By now Ray has had a few too many drinks anyway. He barely manages to stand himself up with some semblance of dignity and stumbles into the clubs bathroom where the music is less deafening. After splashing some water on his face he takes a long deep gaze at his reflection in the mirror. The voice in his head starts to murmur as it normally does. The memories come flooding back and all of a sudden Raymond can’t breathe. A hand reaches out to help, “Hey buddy, you okay?” In a panic Raymond lashes out and starts throwing punches. Flailing in a drunken stupor like an unbalanced spinning top, and then darkness. The next thing Raymond sees is his own two feet staring back at him, as he slowly realises he’s waking up in a dumpster in the alley out back. He gains 2 “bad baggage” for fighting like a chimp. Bollocks.

Fantasy Flight made no secret of Android being a story driven game, which comes to much woe for players who just aren’t into roleplaying (or a bit rubbish at it), but that’s fine. No problem. You can delve into the cards text as much as you like or just go straight into what the cards actions are instead. In the end, you’re trying to score your plot cards with a positive amount of baggage to get the maximum amount of victory points.
image(7)Even if you’re not a storyteller kind of group, there is a THIRD way to play (and possibly the highest scoring yet most understated in the rules). In the top corner of the board is a puzzle board, and instead of placing evidence on a suspect after following a lead, you have the option to uncover a piece of the conspiracy. What this means is that you are trying to build links between some of the corporations in the game with the current murder case. “There’s more to this case. I just know it. Someone else was involved.” You place a puzzle piece down and try to connect a continuous line between the corporation spaces on the outside of the puzzle. Unlocking these can fundamentally change who will win the game. Sometimes a space grants that a certain currency token count towards your victory points or maybe it affects the results of plots, or maybe you get to place a hit for free, or maybe…There’s a lot of options here and having a good look at the puzzle will greatly improve your chances at winning. Not merely because of the links you’re trying to uncover, but also because there is a second dimension to the puzzle…yup, you guessed. That’s right, bingo…No, really. It’s bingo! This can net you a whole mess of points, but if you focus too much of your time on trying to uncover the conspiracy, you’ll have no time to chase any real leads on the case and your left holding a crumpled, sweaty bunch of newspaper clippings, with indecipherable hieroglyphics hastily scribbled on them, trying to convince the commissioner that it’s all connected to lizard men, screaming “Can’t you see?!?! There! It’s in the numbers! It’s so obvious!”

Whoever is the best at managing these three criteria and scores the maximum amount of score wins the game. I cannot stress though how interwoven these areas are. Things you do in one area might affect another. Each action you spend completing one area leaves your guard down on another, opening the door for another player to take advantage. There is still a bunch of details I could still go into, like each characters special abilities that you need to manage, the process of paying for card play, the movement system, just trust me, this shit is deep. It’s massively competitive, extremely strategic, complex in its subtleties and is as heavy as a cake eating convention.

image(8)Therein lays its main points of criticism though. Yes it’s a big ‘ol fat ass of a game, but just like Jabba-the-Hut, it has an endearing quality. The people, who enjoy this game, will almost always say it is a masterpiece. I understand where the criticism comes from though. Android is like a pink elephant in the board game world. Not in the sense that it sticks out (Because that’s impossible when your hash-tag is #Android) but rather it’s both a fascinating & unique creature, as well as clumsy & frustrating. As much as I didn’t want to talk about the theme since it’s the most obvious draw of the game, I will say that I think it’s not the theme in itself that people love, nor is it the mechanical elements that give the game colour, it’s the fact that the game needs to be played or approached as if it were a giant dystopian rubix cube. For us it’s HOW the mechanics are played out in relation to each other that makes it fit so well with the theme. The world of Android feels rich and therefore should be interacted with in a complex manner. If there was a stripped down version with streamlined rules, the glue that holds it all together would start to disintegrate and the experience would just fall apart. Despite its caveats you can net yourself a copy on Amazon for nearly NOTHING!! It would be foolish not to give it a go….and X-mas is around the corner.