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Jason's Board Game Preview: Dead of Winter

Jason Cline
United States
South Whitley
Indiana
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Originally published at http://fortsackville.com/2014/06/jasons-board-game-preview-d...


In my last post, I promised to share my thoughts on Dead of Winter. Disclaimer: I spent the weekend of Origins demoing Dead of Winter for Plaid Hat Games, so I may be a bit biased.

Dead of Winter is the first in a series of games from Plaid Hat Games called Crossroads games. It was created by Jon Gilmour and Isaac Vega. In it, you and between one and four other players are survivors who have formed a colony in Alaska, after the zombie apocalypse has occurred. Now, before I go any further, I will say, I'm not a fan of zombie games. They're just not my favorite thing. That said, Dead of Winter provides a great twist on the theme. Each player controls a number of survivors who will be their "team". Throughout the course of the game, players may gain or lose members of their team. Each play of the game starts with an overall objective card. This is the main way the game can be won or lost. For example, one of the scenarios has the players collecting samples of the zombies, so the doctor in the colony can try to find a cure for the infection. Additionally, each player has their own secret objective that details how they personally can win the game. Most of the time, the secret object is "The players have completed the main objective, AND _____". Maybe your objective is to hoard food cards. and you have to end the game with four of them in your hand. Or maybe your goal is have no wound tokens on any of your survivors. There *is* a possibility, that there's a betrayer in your midst, who wants, for one reason or another, to see the colony fail. They will have a secret objective that details how they can win the game.

The board consists of 7 areas. The colony (main board), the gas station, police station, hospital, grocery store, library and school (location boards). The colony represents the collection of survivors that are in the colony (indicated by 45 spaces or so), the entrances that zombies can threaten (6 of them), the food reserves, the waste pile, turn and morale tracks, and a deck of cards that represents the crises (More on this in a moment). Each location board has its own entrance that zombies can threaten, a number of spaces that survivors can occupy, and a deck of cards that represents the things that can be found when that area is searched.

There are several things you have to worry about each turn of the game. First, you have to make sure there's enough food in the colony. You play food cards to add food to the supply. Second, you have to make sure that the various entrances aren't likely to be overrun by zombies at the end of the turn. Third, you have to make sure there's not too much waste. Cards that are played leave waste behind. A tidy colony is a happy colony, and keeping the waste in check helps keep your morale from dropping. Lastly, you have to worry about the current crisis. Each turn, a crisis will be revealed with a requirement and a penalty. For example, maybe you have to contribute X medicine cards to the crisis, where X is the number of players. Each turn, you can contribute any number of cards from your hand, face down, to the crisis. At the end of the round, those cards will be shuffled and revealed, and if the requirement is met, nothing happens. If not, something bad will happen, probably resulting in a loss of morale. Note that anything OTHER than the required cards counts as a negative card, which is one method that a betrayer could slow down progress. If morale ever drops to zero, the game is over and the colonists have lost (though a betrayer may still win).

You start with a semi-random hand of cards that could be food, medicine, fuel, etc. These supplies will quickly run out, though. You collect the resources you need to preserve the colony by venturing out of the colony and searching for gear and supplies. Every time you travel to a new location (and every time you kill a zombie) you have to roll an exposure die, that could result in a wound (each character can withstand 3), frostbite (A wound that recurs each turn), or even being bitten by a zombie (death and possible spread of infection). When a survivor is bitten, they die. If anyone else is at that location, the survivor with the lowest influence has to make a choice: Sacrifice the survivor, and stop the spread, or roll the die, and repeat the process if anything other than a blank face turns up. As you search each location, you will draw cards from the location's search deck. If you don't like what you find, you can "make noise" to search further,but each time you make noise, there's a chance of more zombies showing up at that location at the end of the round.

Let me take a moment to tell you about action dice. In Dead of Winter, you have action dice for your whole team. And you start each round with a number of action dice equal to the number of survivors you control plus one. You roll these dice at the start of the round, and the results of these dice determine what actions you can take during your turn of the round. Each survivor has stats that tell what number they need (or better) on a die to kill a zombie (combat rating) or search a location (search rating). You may spend these dice with whichever character you want, regardless of how many dice they've already spent. Dice can be spent to kill zombies, search locations, build barricades, clean up waste, and more.

This game has a lot of elements that really excite me. It's a true cooperative/semi-cooperative game, that negates the Alpha Player problem, by giving every person their own special win condition. It has a potential traitor, with a solid traitor mechanic. While the method of contributing cards to the crisis isn't new, it is wonderfully streamlined. The way that infection spreads is nicely done, by putting the decision into a player's hand. The theme is very fitting, and the story elements really work well together. But the thing that really sets this game apart for me is the part I haven't mentioned since the beginning of the article: The Crossroads cards.

Each turn, while you take your turn, the player to your right will be looking at a crossroads card. At the top of that card is some kind of criteria, like "If a survivor searches at the library" or "If the player has a survivor at the colony". If that criteria is ever met, the player reading the card will stop the game, and read the crossroads card. Many times, the player is presented with a choice that could gain the party a reward at a cost, or the players as a whole will vote on something, and sometimes, something just *happens*. The crossroads cards add a twist to the whole gameplay experience that still manages to be thematic, engaging and fun.

I played this game twice at Origins, and demoed it for 8 hours over the course of the weekend. After I finished, I still wanted to play it again, RIGHT THEN. The game is tense, rarely gets repetitive, and every game I saw was pretty close. Only once did the party seem to have an easy time of it, and even then, a few twists cropped up that made it dicey.

My only concern is the potential for the crossroads cards to become repetitive after several plays, but I honestly don't think that's likely to happen, considering that crossroads cards frequently don't activate.

Dead of Winter can be preordered from Plaid Hat Games, and should (hopefully) be released in July.
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Thu Jun 26, 2014 5:22 am
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Journey to Origins - Days 2, 3 and 4 (and a bit of 5)

Jason Cline
United States
South Whitley
Indiana
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Sorry for the delay in posting the rest of my Origins experience. As I mentioned before, immediately after returning from the show, we started moving. While we haven't finished, I'm making a bit of time to get some words out of me.

Day 2 is when things got busy. I spent the day demoing games for Plaid Hat Games. I admit, I was a bit on the nervous side, for some reason. It's one thing to demo and teach games, which I do quite a bit. It's another to do it when you're worried that the guy that makes the game for a living will think you're doing a bad job. I had a rocky start with Mice and Mystics, as it's been a while since I've run it with any regularity, though I feel like it went well overall.



After that, I transferred to the VGHS table. Video Game High School is an upcoming game from Plaid Hat Games, that puts you in the role of characters from the VGHS web series. If you aren't familiar with it, it's ok, the game plays well even if you're not, but I'm looking forward to checking it out myself. Imagine an alternate world, where one of the major sports is playing video games. VGHS is an easy to learn worker placement game, that I'll undoubtedly be picking up when it releases, hopefully in August. I'll do a bit of a write up on it later. I learned it, but didn't get to demo it, as we switched the table to Summoner Wars demos.

Summoner Wars I'm pretty comfortable running, and the rest of the demo day went smoothly. The big hit of the show for Plaid Hat, though, was Dead of Winter. During the day Thursday, many people watched, waiting to get into a demo of it. Since I was scheduled to demo it on Friday, I made arrangements to borrow it Thursday night, and learn/demo it in the Board Room.

I learned a few weeks ago that an old friend, who was a regular at Ginny's Midwest Comics, was living in Columbus, so I made arrangements to meet up with him, for the first time in around 15 years. He suggested dinner at The Melt, which I hadn't considered, even though we'd walked past it several times on the way to and from the convention center. Meeting up with an old friend is great, but discovering The Melt was another show highlight for me. A phenomenal menu of signature grilled cheese sandwiches, and 40 beers on tap. I won't go on and on about The Melt, but I will say I ate there 4 days in a row, 4 different sandwiches, and hand the same beer every time. I'm looking for excuses to take my wife to Columbus sometime soon.

On to the Board Room, where I found a table, and set up Dead of Winter. It didn't take long to have a table of 5 ready to play, including my housemate Brian, Bill Reed, and none other than Eric "The Voice" Summerer. Dead of Winter is another game that I'm not going to explain in great detail here, other than to say that I played it twice on Thursday, demoed it the following two days, and I am still excited to get my hands on it and play it again as soon as I can. Our first game was a ton of fun, with Eric reading the story setup and some of the crossroads cards for great effect. After two games of Dead of Winter (at 1 to 2 hours each) and 8 hours of demoing, I was pretty beat, and retired to the house for the night.



Friday, I spent the first 4 hours of the con demoing Dead of Winter, and I've gotta admit, I had a blast with it. Again, I won't go into great detail about DoW, as I want to do a writeup on it separately. But, when the Kodiak Colby promo crossroads card came up, I summoned Colby himself to read the card for effect.



After my stint at the PHG booth on Friday, I stopped by the Steve Jackson booth to get a T-shirt signed by John Kovalic. I worked at a convention in 2000 in Carbondale, IL, where John appeared, and he had designed the shirt for the show. I got it signed back then, and had it expanded upon, 14 years later. I also made arrangements with him to pick up the original for a piece of art I commissioned from him in 2012. Then, I joined 4 of my housemates at The Melt for lunch, as I had to share my find with them. We all had the Left Hand Milk Stout, and an amazing array of sandwiches (Ok, so I lied about not mentioning it again).

After lunch, I wandered the exhibit hall for the first time during regular hours. I was disappointed to not see WotC or Fantasy Flight Games, or several others, but I enjoyed what I did get to see. I ran into a few old friends, and caught up with them briefly.

After a brief trip to the Board Room, I retreated to the Big Bar on 2, to await the Secret Cabal Meetup. I believe I was the first one there, since I showed up 2 hours early. Mostly, I just wanted to start relaxing early. Another observation: Secret Cabal fans are a great group of pretty laid back people. I talked to several people throughout the event, and everyone was just really cool. This is an extension of my observation of my housemates, who were all, to a man, awesome.

Then we retired to the Cabalist House for a few games. Masquerade and Nothing Personal were my games of the evening.

Saturday saw me, once again, spending the early part of the day running Dead of Winter demos. Since this entry is running long, I'll just say it was fun. I wrapped up my demoing experience with Plaid Hat, and said my goodbyes, and explored the Exhibit Hall again, after learning that the auction had so few items to sell that it ended 4 hours earlier than the estimated running time. Then I went back to the Steve Jackson booth to wait for John to finish his signings. Though I had waited out the line the day before, I wanted to get something for my daughter, even if she's too young to appreciate it.



After he finished his signing, he ran to his room to get the artwork, and while he did, I sat at the booth talking to one of the guys from Steve Jackson Games for a while. 15 minutes into the conversation, I found out I was talking to Leonard Balsera, who is the lead developer for Fate Core and the Dresden Files RPGs, both of which I'm really into right now.

I ran into another old friend, whom I don't think I've seen in probably 10 years, and chatted with him and his wife for a bit. By then, it was too late to join anyone for lunch, so I made my way to The Melt alone, for my 3rd such meal in as many days. Then it was off to the Board Room for some more gaming. Played Ascension with a couple of strangers, and then joined a few of my housemates for The Great Heartland Hauling Company, followed by Runewars (Another partial game).

Finally, we wrapped up the evening back at the Cabalist House with several games of One Night Ultimate Werewolf. The next morning, we saw 3 of our numbers off for their long road trip home, cleaned the house, and vacated our 5 day home-away-from-home, not entirely in that order. The last 4 of us made a final excursion to The Melt for brunch, and prepared to be on our respective ways back home.

All in all, I had a great time. I was a little disappointed in the vendor participation and turnout at the convention, but I enjoyed the company of the people I met, I played some great games, had some great food, and just had a wonderful time of it all. I will definitely return to Origins, but it may be a few years before I can.
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Fri Jun 20, 2014 6:12 am
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Journey to Origins - Days 0 and 1

Jason Cline
United States
South Whitley
Indiana
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A few months ago, my cousin Seth asked me if I'd like to go to Origins. He was toying with the idea of renting a vacation house for a week, rather than springing for a hotel room. I'd never been to Origins, and I've wanted to for years. After talking it over with Jamie, I decided to give it a shot.

For the last several months, I've been part of Plaid Hat Games's demo team, and a few weeks before Seth asked, they put the call out for Origins volunteers. I sent in an application email, and was accepted.

Now we had to figure out how to get more people to join us. The vacation house idea only works if there are 7 or 8 people splitting the rent. We asked several local friends, and only one expressed an interest. Seth and I are both regular listeners of The Secret Cabal Gaming Podcast, and he decided to advertise the opportunity to the people in the Secret Cabal BGG Guild. We got our 8th person to join us just a few days before the show. Sadly, one member had to drop out due to family illness, leaving us with a total of 7 attendees.

Over the following several weeks we all planned the games we were going to bring and have available to play away from the convention.

This is the trip that almost didn't happen. With Origins falling on June 11-15, and our lease being up on the 15th, I was worried that the show might happen right as we were trying to move. As it worked out, we will be moving right AFTER I return from Origins.

Anyway, on to the trip.

Day 0:
We left Columbia City at about 4pm on Tuesday, and arrived in Columbus at 7:30. We met with the owners of the house, a very nice couple who are still converting the house into a full time vacation rental. The house is about a mile from the convention center, but there is a free bus that stops a block away, and goes right to the convention center.

Then we walked down to the convention center, just to get an idea of what the walk was like, and find dinner. John was nearly run over by a surly woman on a bicycle. We found a nice pizza place/deli/bar for dinner. As soon as we walked in, we spotted 4 tables playing Vampire: The Eternal Struggle. Seth and I split a large Lasagna Pizza (yes, Lasagna Pizza).

We returned home in the rain, and prepared for the first day of the convention.

Day 1:
I arrived at the convention center with Seth and John. Plaid Hat hadn't arrived yet, so I figured I couldn't get my badge yet. As John and Seth disappeared into the Board Room, I went to the customer service desk to buy my Board Room ribbon. It turns out I was able to get my badge, so after playing an upcoming game of Lighthouse Run, I went to the Exhibit Hall to help the Plaid Hat crew get the booth set up.





Colby Dauch, Alex and Isaac Vega arrived a few minutes later, and Isaac and I put the booth together. We got it knocked out in about an hour and twenty minutes. Then I wandered around the hall watching other vendors get set up, and then returned to the board room, where I spent the rest of the day.



Before we left, Seth and I stopped to talk to the Secret Cabal guys for a bit, who thought it was pretty cool that there's a house full of Secret Cabal fans at Origins this year.

The rest of the house members showed up throughout Wednesday, with the first showing up around 1:30 am, and the others arriving around 3pm. When we retired to the house for the night, we gathered all the games we brought, and took a few pictures.



Who needs a convention?

Games played:
0: Sentinels of the Multiverse x2 (teaching Seth and John)
0: Android: Netrunner (teaching John)
1: Lighthouse Run (learning)
1: Rune Wars (learning in Board Room)
1: Twilight Struggle (learned with Seth. He stomped me)
1: Android: Netrunner (teaching Seth)

Tomorrow, I'll be spending the day demoing Mice and Mystics at the Plaid Hat Games booth. I'll check in afterward.
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Thu Jun 12, 2014 5:25 am
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After Action Report: X-Wing

Jason Cline
United States
South Whitley
Indiana
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Originally posted at http://fortsackville.com/2014/01/after-action-report-x-wing/ by
travis price
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vincennes
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After Action Report: Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game

http://www.fantasyflightgames.com/edge_minisite.asp?eidm=174...



(Pictured above is as close as I will get to getting any X-wing)

I finally got to try out the award winning “X-Wing”. Granted it wasn’t the full robust play though with all the cards, but I think I got a good sense of the game play. It was more like a test drive, I took her out revved the engine a bit and see how she handled the corners. I was concerned I heard so many good things about it and being a Star Wars fan, I literally did not want this to be earth shattering good. I couldn’t afford it if it was.

It was simple we picked 4 ships from each side and didn’t worry so much about cost. I was around 80 and the rebels about 100. Luke’s W-wing (who I did kill), two Y-wings and Kyle Katarn’s ship, think it was Moldy Crow. I had Vader, an Interceptor with Fel, and two tie’s, one of which was an 8 point and the other 4 four (So I could see the difference in the order of action with ascending movement and descending combat).

I had a simple tactic, Tie’s up the middle and Vader and Fel sweep in on the edge. My opponent almost had the mirror tactic. I had some issue with my Interceptor early on that probably cost me the match, he wasn’t effective for two rounds maybe and then I never felt I got into a good proactive placement with him. I was hoping to swing him out wide and back in and got jumbled up at the edge of the board. It ended over all with undamaged Vader and Kyle Katarn literally base to base nose to nose and half damaged Y-Wing trailing about 4 inches behind me. It would have been fun to play out but I had a good taste of the system and asked a crap ton of questions. Enough to know several factors would have changed this engagement (we had too many red bootlegger turns, most of the fight stayed center board charging at one another).

The Good.. It is eye popping. The models and cards are all top notch. Game play seemed smooth. Critical hits seem to be a nice touch. The little twist dials and bases with the limited info displayed were a nice touch. All in all it was put together well and I think it shows in the popularity and success of the line. Honestly my quibbles are minor.

The Bad.. The place we really had trouble was the tokens. I was Vader I target locked someone and someone else target locked me (we both get two tokens) and then I had a focus token, and trailing behind me is the damage cards. It gets sort of busy on the board, not to mention you’re trying to use these cool flight templates and everyone else is littering the play field with tokens and damage cards. Not to mention added obstacles in model size (granted the nice models do look good, but a tad unwieldy). I think since everything hinges on base to base and with the way line of sight and flight templates work, ships should have been smaller then the base. It is critical to be as precise as possible in the movement. I would love this more at a 5mm stand of a full attack wings to field against Capitol Ships the size of current X-Wings. Maybe introduce a game with new scale call it Star Destroyer.

The Ugly.. Pure and simply the money needed to field some awesome and diverse squads is insane. Wow does it cost, I must be getting old I can’t justify it here with “X-Wing”. Three Millennium Falcons and I could get a cheap tablet. I wonder if Fantasy Flight will do anything on the battlefield side of the IP. I can see it now, squads of 5mm snow troopers running in front of At-At walker 5″ tall. They might actually get me with that one (or see some Sand People on Banthas matching single file to hide their numbers or Sandtroopers on Dewbacks razing Moisture farms.)

I always thought to beat Games Workshop at the mini’s game all you needed was a strong IP and pre-painted miniatures, so you can pop open the package and play. I know this wouldn’t affect true hobbyists into the painting etc, but for the average gamer or consumer hard to get them to commit to something at the level 40K is. “X-Wing” looks to be in the right place and right time to test this theory to a certain extant. At the current cost is probably still cheaper then Games Workshop in this respect.

I can see why folks are enamored with the system. Though for my tastes, I prefer a limited number of models in play. I am now leaning (thanks to this play though) towards actually getting the core set for Star Trek Attack Wing and a few expansions. I know it is different but the same. I just wished I could save money and just get a core set that was inspired from the Original Series: Couple Constitution class heavy cruisers, couple birds of prey and maybe a Klingon D-7 cruiser or two. Give me Kirk with Commodore Decker, Kang with Koloth and the Commander from Balance of Terror in one $40 box (maybe throw in Khan and the Reliant for good measure).

I think Sci Fi fans with cash to burn would enjoy this product, regardless of gaming experience. I have a shoe box of old Micro Machine ships and debating on buying after market bases and those templates and playing at the basic level without cards. I think I would be happy enough with the game as well like that. Regardless I look forward to playing again, next time maybe the dice will roll better. As always think about your gaming budget with this one especially. I think of all the games outside Magic, this one may get the most comments I have seen of any game around the shop. Sure a pack of 40K players could walk though and kill that sentiment, but average out of the blue comments in store or on Facebook and the ground swell of folks introducing this to their kids. This one is drawing a lot of attention.

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Thu May 29, 2014 7:20 pm
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After Action Report: Qwirkle

Jason Cline
United States
South Whitley
Indiana
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Originally posted at http://fortsackville.com/2014/01/after-action-report-qwirkle... by
travis price
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After Action Report: Qwirkle

http://www.mindware.com/p/Qwirkle/32016

I have been on a light game kick here lately, so it seems natural I would eventually dip into Abstract territory (not many abstracts I am curious about except maybe “Hive”). I am not opposed to Abstracts, but I generally like them quick and snappy. We played three to four two player sessions of “Dungeoneer” Tuesday and had some time left over. Still in the mood to play something, but different (I kind of over the weekend reached my two player “Dungeoneer” quota for awhile, I really wanted to see it at a three or four player variant anyways) and that’s when “Qwirkle” was pulled out. Right away my mind went to “Dominos” due to the game pieces. It is pretty much that, yet instead of pips it is various colored shapes and only one space as opposed to “Dominos” two sides. Chances are you’ve seen or played this already; it’s been around since 2006.

In a nutshell every piece you play gets you a point, for both lateral placement and the ones that cross existing pieces in play. There is bonus scoring to get six in a row of either color or shape. The rows need to be either of the same color or of the same shape. For some reason the way I played was if you had a row of shapes, you could only play of off it based on color. That may or may not be the case, I was told it wasn’t; I didn’t pursue it closer and look at the rules. I could easily see a next step house rule to play all different colors and shapes in the same row, but it would hurt the late game stage where you are trying to find the right alignment of existing placement to play.

The Good.. It played quick, had some good head scratching moments. Seems like a younger child could be able to play it and possibly benefit. I have son almost two and he recognizes color and traditional shapes (circle, square and triangle; oval and rectangles a little harder being so similar). He is on the cusp of understanding taking turns, but the alignment and scoring aspect may be too far beyond him (but I remember as a child playing “Dominos” just to make the ends match, so it could be played that way). And using numbers and putting them in the wrong order as opposed to shapes could do more harm them good in getting him to recognize the sequence of order that comes along with learning numbers at this point in time. I could really see this for him in a year or two, depending on how he develops some basic skills and patience.

The Bad.. For what it is not much. Most negatives are probably just little things like preference in piece size or shapes used, or wither or not you like abstract games. Would have been cheaper and more portable if they sold it more the size of “Scrabble” tiles, maybe though the heft of the pieces is nice. If it was for a small child, could there be pips on it instead of shapes to teach them counting. Sure, but wouldn’t that be too close to “Dominos”. The only issue we had was the hue of the colors and the lighting of the store, by them selves it may not have been an issue, but that combination of factors was annoying. It was just off enough in lighting we were to hold several up and look closely, so if you are color blind this could be tough.

The Ugly.. I guess the only ugly thing about this topic is why aren’t more “Qwirkle” games being sold and less “Settlers of Cataan”. I liked it more and I think would be good for kids. I haven’t checked Target lately, but this seems to be a quality of game that could do well in Mass Market.

I don’t know if I could do a full evening of nothing but “Qwirkle”, but if you open or close your game nights with a light game or rotate games though out the evening I would recommend this. I am unsure as group size grows how long play is, but I doubt it is much. For two players it was fast for me, granted a four player would be more consideration after each player until my next turn. You can count the colors and icons present and sort of develop an end game strategy on closing out the preferred spots based on what’s not showing. So those last two turns may be tedious depending on the type of players.

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Thu May 29, 2014 7:17 pm
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After Action Report: Dungeoneer

Jason Cline
United States
South Whitley
Indiana
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Originally posted at fortsackville.com/2014/01/after-action-report-dungeoneer/ by
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After Action Report: Dungeoneer: Tomb of the Lich Lord

http://www.atlas-games.com/dungeoneer/

Why “Dungeoneer”? I have looked at a lot of games over the years that might scratch a similar itch as a bridge for my traditional RPG’s and the video Games my wife enjoys. My goal was to find something in common; obvious answer was the basic ‘Dungeon Delve’. Character leveling, a setting we could agree upon, the finding of loot and slaying of monsters in a quest oriented structure much like the rigid mission based system of video games. Sadly when we first got married I tried “Hero Quest” with her and she wasn’t a fan of grid based positional nature of play or the fact it still boiled down to me the DM against her and most ‘dungeon delve’ games since still embrace that. So much so, if I ever look at a game with a ton of minis her eyes glaze over, knowing it will be a waste of cash for us at home. Around 2008 or so, I was in a game store and stumbled across “Dungeoneer”. I more or less liked what I saw on the box, it seemed like all you might want from a Dungeon Crawl in a streamlined play style.

“Dungeoneer” was a competitive dungeon delving game that 2 – 4 could play, where the dungeon building was akin to a tile laying game with cards, all this with a relative short play time and easy set up and the up tick was no grid based combat. Basically a player has a character, which resolves monster fights and deals with other skill checks by rolling a D6 and adding his appropriate ability trait. The players also had a Dungeonlord phase where they would direct threats against the other players. There are only three attributes: Melee, Magic and Movement (which is more like a catch all similar to dexterity in a D20 game). The goal is simple either complete three quests, which generally rewards a level upon completion, or be the last one standing, a method I win by more often than not backstabbing my wife as she has a run away victory.

It has a rather slick little design, I particularly enjoy the dungeon creation by drawing a card and placing it on the board, some of which are locales of interest with their own unique encounters, and others may just be a bend in the passage with a simple pit trap. Each card or section of the dungeon only counts as one space, so no battle grids but still has an element of movement/exploration. The most interesting thing that drives gameplay is Glory and Peril. As you progress though the randomly placed dungeon each card space has two ratings one for Peril and the other for Glory. Glory is the economy used to buy gear and boons. Peril is the economy other players will use against you to activate monsters and banes. There are two main phases of play, one where you direct monsters against other players utilizing their Peril and then your hero turn where you explore try to complete quests and gear up using Glory. Though this may be common in other games, my limited experience hurts me here, for me it was unique. (Peril really works for Video gamers of MMORPG’s, think of it as similar to Aggro.)

The game was more or less a hit at home. Sure we were playing head to head, but considering your opponent uses Peril you generated it is almost forgivable and you are limited by the cards in your hand or previous used monsters in your pack area. There is some tactical aspects when laying out the dungeon tiles, if she is on one side and you know she is looking for the Throne of Tyranny, place it on the other side of the map if you draw it. The quests have a lot of range; some are escort, others are skill checks to overcome a trap and some have specific monster challenges like a homunculus that lingers in the library. Due to the random dice rolling the game can very in length. The box says 30 minutes per player; I would expect that or more depending on how the dice are rolling, I don’t think we ever played a two player game past an hour and a half. All this and a relatively quick set up time; just pick your character and shuffle: a small deck for the map, a quest deck and adventure deck that contains the monsters, banes, gear and boons.

There are plenty of rules options that extend replayability. Some are little such as getting rid of the last man standing rule by utilizing a respawn. Others are larger in scope like one that splits the adventure deck; one player takes the role of Dungeonlord and he manages the monsters, banes and dungeon placement against a group of player heroes who have a deck of boons and gear. It is possible to merge the sets overall, as the outside maps have a few dungeon entrances and you could spawn a dungeon off to the side (though I myself haven’t tried it and it seems to be a bit much, would have to raise the overall quests needed for victory to go that route). Not to mention there are a few sets that allow for higher level characters which advances you beyond the initial 4 levels of the main sets.

The Good.. I think the system is tight and just enough game play balance in one set for an hour or so of 2-player Dungeon Delving. Overall the various icons on all cards could be a negative to process, but they give rather nice legend and order of play aids on the back of the Glory Peril tracker cards. The art and card quality is good and supports the trappings of dungeon delve the theme, needed a smidgeon more flavor text though. The actual play itself is fun and interesting, not to mention a very portable and easy setup for a medium robust game, which for a standard dungeon delve is unheard of considering most need miniatures and jigsaw cut out tiles etc. The tempo is emotionally gratifying as it seems to move quicker as you level and gear up becoming more proficient against the challenges, granted you will gain more Peril due to having increased movement (fancy way to say good reward payoff and the game starts to come at you a little harder, what’s the point of leveling if you don’t feel like you’re tougher). Good options for replayability either though rules tweaks or larger modifications like

The Bad.. The game comes with cards you cut out and make character standees, which I absolutely hate. I just took some old “Mage Knight” figs and busted them off the clix base and put on a traditional model base, not perfect but works well enough. Play duration can swing due to reliance on dice for task resolution; in preparation for Board Game Night I have played several games recently with the wife. One was 45 minutes and then same dungeon set and characters took an hour and half (we both rolled horrible that second time). First time player turns may be cumbersome, there is a nice turn order player aid though In the later sets they included some more situational modifiers and rules like a response powers, which I am sure added more depth, though may be a tad fiddly in a first time experience. Recommend start with Tomb of the Lich Lord.

The Ugly.. I would have preferred some more traditional fantasy characters (for the most part it is, but some of the character races and classes seem to be a stretch), but that may have been too cookie cutter bland of a decision on their part. They needed something for distinction amongst all the other fantasy games. Over all they had a chance for putting flavor text on the back of player cards that would have been nice, especially for the characters that seemed setting specific and I don’t think it would have hurt costs. Seems like a missed opportunity to push the theme and flavor that last step forward. More importantly I wish they had gone a bit further to find setting distinction. I could easily see Post Apoc wandering deserts with survival/scrounge based challenges or Sci Fi planet hoping and dealing with away missions or alien mysteries.

Overall “Dungeoneer” is pretty much what it says it is. I can probably be up and running with 4 players in about 6 minutes, maybe 12 with brief explanation of character card to get rolling. The wife, though not a fan of competitive head to head games, is satisfied and enjoys playing. It is smidgeon random based on the dice resolution, no more so then any other game, dice love them or hate them. When it comes to the core dungeon delve experience, I can’t think of any other game that has a quicker set up time and gives that core experience. The Dungeon Delve theme and flavor seemed to be held up well with the art and over all trappings and game play. Shame I haven’t tried “Cutthroat Caverns, Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, Descent, Dungeon Run” or several others so I can give a better impression against those.

For me it was obviously a worthwhile purchase and play experience. I have a box, roughly half the size of a shoe box with three of the sets in it, all the character cards pulled out for several options, a fistful of small dice for markers (green for Glory, red for Peril, black for hit points/level and white for resolution) and tokens and lastly a handful of mage Knight Minis to give it some eye candy. Granted I kitted my set out a touch, but at the low end entry point of $20 for one set and use what’s handy, not bad at all for what you get. I am looking forward to playing at the shop, since I never tried it with 4 players.

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Thu May 29, 2014 7:16 pm
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After Action Report: Castaways

Jason Cline
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Indiana
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Originally posted at http://fortsackville.com/2014/01/after-action-report-castawa... by
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After Action Report: Castaways

When I was in the Navy I wondered about being left adrift or stranded on a desert island. So in the past few months I have been very curious about “Robinson Crusoe” and “Castaways”. Overall I liked the game and maybe over scrutinized it, take that as a complement. As always, I know we got a few rules wrong during our play though, and I may not remember the exact nomenclature on a particular deck of cards, but I think I got the gist of how it goes with “Castaways”, but not a solid taste of the intended game play. We more or less played as a true co-op and didn’t hoard or undercut group efforts towards survival, and won easily as a group. Some might describe doing this more as an activity as opposed to a game based on the ease of victory going this route. The reason for this and I haven’t heard a reviewer bring it up is simple, the game is designed that a player will often be self serving and allocate manpower on things not to the over betterment of the group. A potential solution for that easy co-op victory is simple; every player only gets one meeple, not counting the first player meeple. Or something to this effect limiting that manpower effect. I haven’t tested this, but should garner the same difficult raw survival experience balanced in the game when half the group is running off into the woods to find story points.

“Castaways” is essentially a worker placement game with two split areas. A camp survival part, where you build fires or improve lodging and basically do all the little things needed to survive. And the exploration part, where you traipse off into the jungle and have events happen, both good and bad. Exploration is definitely the more fun of the two, provides more opportunity to gain story points and you get the narrative decision making dealing with the adventure and exploration encounter cards. “Castaways” is really geared towards the Exploration side of the house, more dynamic interaction with exploration cards and being the main source of story points, the primary path to victory with the rules as written. Granted everyone needs to live to the end the game to win, the camp chores may not be glamorous but nonetheless essential. But only one player wins via the most story points.

The story element comes in a deck of 100 adventure cards and the basic exploration cards. Those cards contain the narrative is written with a certain level of contextually vagueness so it can be pulled at any time and make sense, generally on par with most games using a mechanic like this. While the 100 adventure cards tend to have stronger elements because they lead to follow on cards later during exploration, so you get a sense of cause and effect. Regardless it is Flip, read some flavor text, occasionally make a decision and roll to see outcome. The ones I saw were of a traditional jungle island adventure of survival or period piece like in Robinson Crusoe or Treasure Island. So if your expectation of story is along the lines of an episode of ‘Lost’, don’t get your hopes up. But again I didn’t see all 100 cards maybe there is a random polar bear in there that spawns a water tight hatch under a bush and then a great big wagon wheel to teleport the island back in time.

The good.. Play was fun; I’m generally a fan of worker placement. The various decks made sense, and the iconography that held the mechanics together was simple enough. We, actually just by looking the game board, were able to surmise what some of the elements were without opening the rulebook. Overall good art and quality components, the look over all was colorful but kept that jungle motif. At least it wasn’t grim survival with the backdrop of Gilligan’s Island with coconut radios.

The Bad.. I don’t know if this would change over time as you become familiar with the components, but the set up looked rather tedious. I could almost see this as two separate games put together, I can’t help but formulize a method to pull apart exploration and survival sides. The rulebook looked rather sparse, we had a few things come up in play and made a table ruling to keep going, but post play we didn’t find a conclusive answer.

The Ugly.. I think the Semi-Coop aspect plays heavily into the over all game balance, not doing that robs the game of its teeth. And that’s why when you play as a true co-op you have more then enough manpower to accomplish what needs to be done in camp and comes off as easy. I may not be a good judge of the recommended play style considering we didn’t follow it. I am conceptualizing how I think it would go. It is like the players themselves and how strong they go down this path exploring for story points as opposed to tending the camp is what truly develops the level of difficulty and balance within the game. Due to this end, I have a slight concern the camp based decisions are at some level just smoke and mirrors; a penalty box for the less ambitious or those that have trouble with pushing their luck. The reason being is the essential balance described here; everyone takes a risk to go exploring; no one collected wood, the fire goes out, penalties ensue. Then the decisive push your luck personal choice each player makes to continue after story points or handle the camp issues for the greater good; maybe it goes a few more turns as folks are thinking someone else will give in and take care of that issue of collecting wood and getting the fire going. The group inflicts penalties though inaction and sets difficulty. So by shoving this into a true co-op experience; you’ll get an abundance of manpower that it wasn’t designed to accommodate and say “Castaway” was a walk in the park.

I had fun surviving in “Castaways”. I like the look of the board and all the camp survival stations. The items and adventure cards kept with the theme. I would like to play it again, especially more with the intended semi-coop style or with my one meeple variant to see how that differs (not to mention try “Robinsons Crusoe” and compare). All in all a worthwhile experience that deserves more exploration.

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Thu May 29, 2014 7:13 pm
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After Action Report: "Trieste"

Jason Cline
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South Whitley
Indiana
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Originally posted at http://fortsackville.com/2014/01/after-action-report-trieste... by
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After Action Report “Trieste

When I show up for game night, I generally want to play a big game for the evening. Not saying I don’t enjoy less robust games, but I secretly have this feeling maybe I was cheated if I don’t get one. So when one of these filler games pop out, I roll usually my eyes a bit. I think I am being unfair when I do that. After last week, I know can be grueling some times to fully reveal the nuisance in a robust game. So much so, I was actually in the rare mood for something like this. After all I brought Zombie Flux as my contribution for a potential game, so obviously I didn’t want to teach something big. Some of these filler games have really clean balance and slick presentation, “Trieste” is one I would rank higher then most. I haven’t played a lot of three player card games and unsure if something exists that may have a similar mechanic. Regardless, I had a fun time with “Trieste”.

“Trieste” consists of three player decks; each a faction consisting of City Guard, Merchants and Thieves, and a central draw pile of coins which is needed to play cards. Each deck plays slightly different and generally focuses on one of the other decks as the target for your victory condition. I played the City Guard, my goal was to arrest 7 Thieves. The Merchant wanted to get 11 coins plus the character level of the thieves in my jail. The thief wants to steal from the Merchant and gain infamy bonuses each time based on success and his character level involved. Granted as with all games I may have some of this off, but that is the general goal. Gameplay was simply, draw two cards either from your faction deck or treasurery deck, play a card, pay for it’s cost and do it’s effect. The City Guard would usually capture a thief, the thief generally would steal gold and merchant would turtle up and try to draw as much coin as possible to offset constantly being stolen from.

So the mechanics of this playing off one another was rather interesting. The Merchant depended on me to do my job so the Thief wasn’t constantly nipping at his gold. To a certain extent I wanted the thief to nip at his goal to keep him below that 11 threshold, as well as capture higher level thieves to elevate the coin he needed to win. There was some balance to the economy of playing cards. I was consistently hurting for coin to fuel my play, but I was generally getting a low level thief a turn. Seemed like the Thief and the merchant needed to build up a bit. It had asynchronous victory conditions and was a rather fast play game. Only thing we didn’t do was throw in the hero cards for each faction which could really make the game play sing.

The Good.. Art and card quality all seemed to be good. Granted I didn’t sit there with my finger nail and see if the edges flaked. The game play was fun and I highly recommend rotating around the factions. “Trieste” is a strong filler game, if you are waiting for the fourth player for game night, grab this and go. Though for my part, I think if you have a new player give him the City Guard deck. The others may be just as easy, but being the only one I played, I knew almost as soon as I drew my card what I would be doing. My real strategy decision was when do I go for a lot of coin and play the big cards.

The Bad.. Being restricted to 3 could be misconstrued as a bad element by some, though there is a niche for it (I was wondering what it would play like if you bought two full sets and played head to head with three factions available to each player and three different victory conditions with all the balance and flexibility, probably too much but I was thinking about it). I think the hero cards we didn’t play with may be an improvement, tactically it was light and I think needed a smidgeon more. I am unsure how much tactical decision making folk’s want out of a filler game, it seemed almost the right amount for me. Just thumbing though my deck I seemed to have only a few high level cards that were unique so limited options. I would recommend folks thumb though their deck and get a sense of what they could eventually draw.

The Ugly.. is really only two things. It had a fantasy theme (not my favorite) but when I read my City Guard cards there were titles like Police Raid or Undercover Agent, terms I wouldn’t associate with medieval times. I just felt maybe a shift to a more modern theme might make it a touch stronger, but considering the sheer number of period to fantasy games that litter the game store shelves I might be the only one with this hang up. With this play on the number three could have called it Triad (considering how obvious that it, it may already exist). But as it is the theme doesn’t really affect much. Lastly is the Victory Point Games box, I’m not a fan of it here or with Darkest Night, I could hammer them for it but I’m not. So I haven’t looked into yet but I know there are after market companies that sell everything from Faux X Wing Flight templates to Arkham Horror Card holders. I would really like a generic box, maybe one I could cut the slip cover off and paste roll it onto the box. Granted I probably need a new box for “A Touch of Evil” as the expansions and extra characters are pretty much pushing the limit there as well. So this issue isn’t just a Victory Point issue. This generic box product probably exists, just wish I didn’t have to look for it and I imagine the cost will be rather hefty.

“Trieste” is a pretty good filler game. There were some tactical decisions based on timing of when to play what. The draw mechanic is either from your faction deck or the general treasure deck with coin, so it sort of dictated pacing. There is a bit of decision when to play what or which deck to draw from, and is there perhaps something cheaper in the faction deck I would rather risk to find, plays into it as well. And occasionally reading the other players on what card might hurt him the most, based on what he has been playing, or is he building to something big by drawing a lot of coin. I played several low level guards as I was building up to a big card Fox Hunt and I knew those low level cards probably wouldn’t pay off. But you never know sometimes these things line up and pay off. So much like with “Trieste” some times things line up and a three player filler game will pay off.

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Fri Apr 11, 2014 3:18 pm
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After Action Report: "Elder Sign"

Jason Cline
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South Whitley
Indiana
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Originally posted at http://fortsackville.com/2013/12/after-action-report-elder-s... by
travis price
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After Action Report “Elder Sign

Last few weeks I have been able to get back out to the weekly board game night at Legends, our FLGS. Bonus being the Christmas season I have also purchased a few games for myself. As always a Co-Op’s reign supreme in my household, with 2 children below 2, timing is everything. “Elder Sign” ended up being a good fit for us at home, we just need to be done by midnight before the Mythos card is revealed or baby wakes up for a feeding.

“Elder Sign” is in one of five Lovecraft inspired Mythos games that Fantasy Flight Games produce (Arkham Horror, Eldritch Horror, Mansions of Madness, Elder Sign and Call of Cthulhu LCG). As always the component quality is top notch with FFG. The rules were coherent, and I had a little experience playing the app (though honestly I prefer the board layout and tactile feel of throwing the dice). Of these Mythos games it is probably the most accessible for lack of a better term intro game, but not necessarily a generic gateway game (but your mileage may vary).

“Elder Sign” in a nutshell; six cards are laid out that represent the core challenges you will face as a group in this co-op challenge to beat the Elder God. Thematically the cards represent the Miskatonic University Museum; I like that even in this, the smaller of the games, FFG still brings across as much theme and story as possible in the limited amount of space. By that the cards have descriptive text of say a ‘spooky aisle between gothic artifact cases, with the faint scratching on stone from off in the darkness’ that type of flavor. Not to mention there is some brand cohesion with game elements like the Mythos phase, same elder gods/monsters and familiar equipment names being utilized here as well as in the other games. Icons on each location card that represent what you need to roll and solve the challenge. Ultimately you are trying to get a certain number of elder signs, a reward for completing the location cards, to more or less banish the Elder One trying to break into our reality.

I guess the gamer in me is really drawn to the funky dice. The dice is the core element of game play to complete the challenges. There is a set of green dice with a few icons on them (there is an additional red and yellow dice which have better odds that represent spells and common item used though out the game). One side has a skull on it which represents peril; thematically this could be running from a monster or fighting a cultist. Another face is a few tentacles which is terror, could be the presence of the Elder God or some arcane facet of the current challenge. The last of the single face icons is a scroll, which represents knowledge attained. And last but not least, on several sides in differing amounts you have magnifying glasses that represent research and investigation. So to complete one of the cards, which would be replenished afterwards, and attain the rewards listed, hopefully containing a needed elder sign, you just roll the dice and try to get what the card asks. There is some nuisance to how you reroll the dice and items that either save dice or add in the yellow or red dice along with some location cards get monsters and other unique circumstances, but essentially that is it.

The good… for me is I love the dice (granted that comes with my curse of rolling horribly). The theme carries over well, with different Elder Ones that tweak the overall play experience and the end of round mythos cards to smatter on some more Cthulhu-flavor, usually as a detriment to the players. Again the art and quality is top notch. The wife, though not immersed in the genre, enjoyed playing.

The bad… aside from my horrible dice rolling and the reliance on random dice rolls to fuel success, really isn’t all that much. I guess only significant bad thing to say is no post play stories, like I can’t regale you with the bad luck or crazy chain of events that happened to us like in “Eldritch Horror”, I just don’t have that here. At best I can say the wife and I threw some dice.

The ugly… Thematically I do have one teeny tiny little issue; Lovecraft wrote dozens of stories and sometimes they don’t gel together, it does work in the broader sense of horror. At the end of the day I just have trouble with Mummies rubbing shoulders with a Deep Ones, it seems odd to me. They do that to extend the life of game and make each time you play different by what appears when and where, so I get it. But still in the back of my mind I can’t see a Mummy and Deep One roaming around together, maybe they play Magic when no one is looking.

Over all “Elder Sign” is a good game and really met my needs to continuing gaming at home; it has some thematic flavor, co-op and doesn’t take long to set up and play. Unsure with the success of the app if that helps or hurts the board game, I seem to know more people dabbling with the app then playing board games. If the thought of random rolling dice to meet success conditions is off putting, this isn’t for you. The theme is there, though it may be possible to look past it or again not the game for you (could play “Yahtzee” and maybe wear cowboy hats for a more refreshing Wild West flavor).

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Fri Apr 11, 2014 3:15 pm
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After Action Report: "Yggdrasil"

Jason Cline
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South Whitley
Indiana
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Originally posted at http://fortsackville.com/2013/12/after-action-report-yggdras... by
travis price
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After Action Report “Yggdrasil

I was able to play this game twice recently. I don’t own it and didn’t get a chance to peruse the rules too closely. So as always, this is my in the trenches viewpoint of playing “Yggdrasil”. I am a fan of Norse Mythology, so I was pleasantly surprised when Jeff showed up a few weeks back and I got an opportunity to try “Yggdrasil” out. Overall, since I was so enamored with the tales from my youth, I was a little let down that the game didn’t encapsulate me like the myths did.

“Yggdrasil” is basically the day of Ragnarok. As the Pantheon of Norse deities gather for one final battle against all the monsters of the world. There is I believe 6 major monsters or villains from the myths like Loki, Fenris and midgard serpent advancing on Asgard home of the gods. They have a few victory conditions; 1 of them makes all the way across the board to the throne of Odin, 2 make it to Valhalla (I think), or 3 get into the city proper. Granted I don’t have the rules handy, but that’s the gist. Victory condition for the players is making it to the end of the villain deck whilst trying to halt progress of the monsters. At the beginning of each player’s turn a card is drawn and that villain advances one step and usually has some special effect take place; like spawn a frost giant or something else to hinder the player’s options, not to mention the monster gets tougher to face as he advances deeper into Asgard.

The players chose a god at the beginning of the game and have a limited number of actions per turn. Which consist of various things like; confronting a monster to try and push him back a step, gear up with a magic weapon like Thor’s hammer, try to gain support by collecting Viking souls or look to aid from the elves. There is a push your luck element as you decide how many Vikings to use to ensure a victory in confronting a monster along with a dice roll (each Viking is a +1 to that roll). I guess the biggest tactical decision on the player part that really seemed to dictate strategy though out the whole game was utilizing and proper implementation of the special abilities of their particular god. There is an innate one which is generally used for his own benefit or a group bonus he can allow other players to utilize by going into a trance, which prevents him from encountering the main monsters.

The good… art was good and overall had a cohesive graphic design, a little on the darker side of the color palette. The game is a strong exercise in resource management with a push your luck element at times. The luck element appears not only in the dice rolling or when to take a chance and let a certain monster advance, but when you visit Earth to collect Vikings you draw them from a bag and have a chance to draw Viking or a Fire Demon. The game play trappings seemed to make sense, of course building up a magic weapon required you to visit the dwarves or traveling down the Bifrost the rainbow bridge to seek out Vikings etc..

The bad… I didn’t feel drawn into the theme as much as I would have liked. Overall gameplay came off more like an exercise in math and it concerned me. I have seen many people that enjoy that counting out of actions and basically figuring out the math puzzle presented by a board game. Ultimately that’s what this is a math puzzle hidden under a thin veneer of Norse Cosmology. So this notion how long would I play it or is there a short overall shelf life of enjoyment after figuring out the puzzle and special ability synergy kept bubbling up. I had to stop and ask myself was I actually having fun while playing, yes but maybe the game ran a tad too long and almost turned into a no. It was like a dwindling expectation, most games I get this emotional build up and investment moving towards an endgame payoff, this sort of winded down.

The ugly… I only played twice but that was where my head was at when we got done. Only thing I can figure is it stems from the game we won. After getting our weapons enchanted, calling on the souls of brave Vikings and calling in aid from our allies the elves. After long moments on the walls of Asgard, contemplating the next move and would the fortunes of war favor us. The sense of impending dread had been receding and then there was this calm still point (and I give credit to the others for figuring out our system before this point) we had a good grasp on how things would play out, we were fairly certain we had things locked down or managed. Sure there was the odd concern if this particular event happened etc, so there was still some decision making process involved or dice rolling. But after this break over point it was like I still have to go though the motions because it wasn’t a known factor how this would play out but everyone seemed fairly certain. And then later on it was quite literally all threats covered, there was nothing unknown that could upset the impending end now and then we still had like 6 turns to go. Then it happened, last card pulled from the deck, everything worked out. This was the reward for doing well. This, this was how Ragnarok Twilight of the Gods ended. Something feels hollow.

So who is this game for? If you like figuring out the puzzle in the system, give this one a look. I heard it was a good solo game, which I could easily see. So I wondered is it a good gateway game? A theme folks could enjoy, but not a really strong aspect; which could help not scare off a casual gamer (you don’t have to pronounce Mjoilnir to win). It is a Co-op, so it should inspire group interaction; so good for getting to know new people and see how they think. Not too heavy, so you can have some table talk. Unsure of the alpha gamer issue, but that issue may ultimately be about who you play with and not what you play. I do think it has too many moving parts and plays a little long to call it a good gateway game, maybe a good next step game.

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Fri Apr 11, 2014 3:12 pm
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