Fearful Symmetry

I'm an author who loves to play board games and RPGs. I write supernatural thrillers for Tor, SF for Balzer & Bray, and some other stuff here and there. I keep a blog on my personal website (www.fearfulsymmetry.net), but I review a lot of games there, and figured I may as well mirror them here.

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My review of Rune Age

Dan Wells
United States
North Salt Lake
Utah
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I just posted another review, which I mention here in case anyone follows the blog and might be interested.

The review on BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/article/7821226
The review on my website: http://www.fearfulsymmetry.net/?p=1444

Coming soon: my undying love of road trip RPGs.
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Wed Nov 9, 2011 6:36 pm
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I'm getting into Warmachine

Dan Wells
United States
North Salt Lake
Utah
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So remember a few weeks ago when I posted about cutting back on the number of games I buy? That same effing night my friend Howard invited me over to try Warmachine, a tabletop miniatures game similar to Warhammer and...other tabletop miniatures games. There’s honestly not much sense comparing it to something, because you either know what I’m talking about or you don’t. If you do, good, we’ll get to you in a minute. If you don’t, here’s the basics: you have a bunch of toy soldiers that act as game pieces, and instead of playing on a board you play on a table dressed up to look like a battlefield, stretching anywhere from "pieces of cardboard that say ‘forest’ on them" to "fully-pimped model train-style scenery." Your soldiers can move a certain number of inches, shoot a certain number of inches, and so on. It’s arguably one of the oldest forms of boardgaming--it’s like Chess without all the layers of abstraction--and I used to be really big into it. As I sit here in my office, not six feet from me are two huge plastic bins full of all the old models and terrain I used to play with all the time; specifically, if you’re interested, Space Wolves, Dark Eldar, and Warhammer Fantasy Dark Elves. I’ve got a lot of stuff. And pretty much the day my oldest child learned to walk, I put it all away and left it. I’ve moved it three times as we’ve changed houses, but I’ve never actually used it. I don’t know what that says about me.

That’s actually the reason I got into HeroClix, which happened to debut right about the same time my daughter’s mobility did. Expensive metal models that I had painstakingly assembled and painted--and the paints that accompanied them--were too fragile to have lying around where my daughter could break them, but HeroClix models are pliable, pre-painted plastic. Heroclix also had the benefit of using smaller armies and shorter games, which made the time investment much easier for a new father to deal with. In light of all that, it seems kind of weird that now, ten years and four kids later, I’d be getting back into the modelling aspect of the hobby, but what can I say? By the time you have five kids you either know what you’re doing or you’re wanted for murder; five kids are WAY easier than one, because you’re going into it with four kids’ worth of practice. Add in the fact that I’m self-employed in a job I love, so I have more time and less stress and a more established routine over which I have more control, and there you go. I started to feel the tabletop wargaming itch on my book tour last Spring, and Howard dealt the killing blow to my reticence with a quick game in his living room two weeks ago. I bought an army just a few days later and began putting it together.

Warmachine, specifically, is kind of a steampunk skirmish game; you have fewer models than in a Warhammer army, and they have more special powers. It actually plays kind of like Herocix in that sense, but with the focus shifted from action economy to action planning. If that makes any sense. Your team is centered around a warcaster, who channels magic into both spells and warjacks, which are giant, steam-powered robots. You can add in other little units as well, like infantry and cavalry and monsters and so on. Having spent copious amounts of time poring over the different kingdoms and factions, I eventually settled on my first instinct, which was the empire of Khador, a kind of czarist Russian-inspired army full of stern Kommanders and grizzled woodsmen and big, burly warjacks heavily reminiscent of early Soviet tanks. In case you’re curious, my starting army box (the new two-player starter, which I split with my brother) included:

Kommander Sorscha, who can cast some cool freezing spells.
A warjack called a Juggernaught, which is kind of like a walking brick with an axe.
A warjack called a Destroyer, which is like a Juggernaught with a cannon.
A heavy infantry unit called Man-o-War Shocktroopers, who are kind of like men wearing mini-warjack suits. They also have the most ridiculous weapon I’ve ever seen, which is a snub-nosed cannon mounted on the front of a shield. I can suspend my disbelief for steam-powered magic robots, but a shield-mounted cannon aproximately as long as it is wide just makes me laugh and laugh and laugh.

This force I supplemented with a few extra units designed to fill out the "grizzled woodsmen" element of the army:

Widowmakers, a small, mobile unit of expert snipers.
Kossite Woodsmen, a unit of extremely light infantry with almost makeshift weapons, but with the ability to sneak in from any edge of the map and ambush the enemy from behind. They’re the ultimate example of "this is our spooky, inhospitable forest, and we want you out of it."
Yuri the Axe, a solo character who’s like a Kossite Woodsman amped up on "living alone in the wilderness and fighting bears for food."
A Wardog, which is just a heavily armored mastiff who tries to murder anyone who gets too close to your warcaster. I got him mostly because he looks like my dog, an English Bulldog named Charlie, and the thought of Charlie tearing up my enemies on the battlefield was too awesome to pass up.

So that’s what I’ve got. I put them all together, added some texture to the bases, and am now slowly priming them in preparation for painting. I also modified the Destroyer model a bit, lengthening the stubby little barrel into something more approaching a traditional tank gun. I’ll probably keep you updated on my progress, including pictures once I have something worth showing.
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Wed Oct 26, 2011 10:28 pm
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My thoughts on Conquest of Nerath

Dan Wells
United States
North Salt Lake
Utah
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My intention with this blog was to mirror some of the game reviews I post on my own website, but unless I've missed something on the back end a single BGG posting can't be both a game review and a blog entry. Luckily for me, this system is easily circumvented with a link: here is my BGG review of Conquest of Nerath!

http://boardgamegeek.com/article/7722400

The short version: I loved it.
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Tue Oct 25, 2011 7:54 pm
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Writing the Future

Dan Wells
United States
North Salt Lake
Utah
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I invented CDs when I was 12.

To be fair, CD technology already existed before that, even if it wasn't very common, and it's not like I invented a working prototype or anything. What I did do was play a lot of roleplaying games.

Stay with me here.

I played a ton of roleplaying games as a kid (and still do). I didn't get into Dungeons & Dragons until college, but I played other, similar games with all sorts of themes and settings, mostly science fiction. In one of them, there was an adventure supplement detailing a force of self-replicating killer robots, which I loved because I'd just read Fred Saberhagen's Berserker series, so I dove in and started making up all kinds of stories about them.

In one such story I wanted the heroes to find a message that one robot had left for another, and I knew it couldn't just be a piece of paper--these were robots, they needed appropriately robotic forms of writing. Never mind that the more practical way for robots to communicate would be wireless transmission; I needed a physical note, so I started to think about what kind of a note a robot would leave. They had incredible sensors and optical magnifiers, so they could see letters that were very small, and they had powerful lasers so they could write on anything, and with incredible precision. What if, instead of paper, they wrote on sheets of metal or plastic, and in letters so small that they couldn't be discerned with the naked eye--so small, in fact, that they would be perceived not as individual letters but as a reflective sheen on the surface of the metal? A human would see it as just a shiny disk, but a machine could read entire libraries stored on it.

Sure, I got some details wrong--my disks didn't spin, and they stored the information differently--but that's not the point. The point is that science fiction presaged real technology. This is not a rare thing: science fiction writers have been creating the future since the beginning of the genre. Remember Captain Kirk's communicator? Early cell phone engineers have essentially admitted to basing the flip phone on that design; science fiction created it, and the real world copied it. In this case, the real world has progressed so far that our cool science fiction ideas now seem outdated--flip phones are practically quaint these days.

How about our vocabulary? The website io9 recently did a short post on common scientific terms that originated in science fiction (http://io9.com/5850293/10-words-you-might-think-came-from-sc...), and a lot of them are downright shocking. Have you ever had a computer virus? You can thank Dave Gerrold for the term, coined in a short story in 1972. How about robotics? Isaac Asimov, 1941. Genetic engineering? Jack Williamson, also 1941. It was a good year for speculative fiction.

We live in a time where the real world is catching up to science fiction, making the imaginary real at an ever-increasing rate. In Dick Tracy, 80 years ago, Chester Gould posited the two-way wrist radio, eventually followed by full visual communication in the two-way wrist TV; today we have pocket computers so powerful, and so connected, we can do all of this and more. In Ender's Game, 26 years ago, Orson Scott Card predicted a world where politics and social change were played out in a vast web of computer-based essays; today we have blogs and websites so vital to our culture they've basically replaced traditional newspapers. In The Social Network, a mere one year ago, Aaron Sorkin wrote about a world where millions of people connect in a virtual space--and it was nonfiction. We're catching up to our science fictional future, and we're surpassing it.

Entire books could be written, and many have been, on the impact our science fiction has on our reality. I'm more interested in the process than the effect--the creation of new ideas, new fields of study, and new fictional concepts that will become tomorrow's science. Isaac Asimov was thinking so far ahead of his time, he named an entire branch of now-common engineering. Who's doing that now? Who's extrapolating our current technology so ambitiously that they're presaging and inspiring tomorrow's greatest discoveries? Science fiction is the surest and clearest proof that art not only portrays but creates truth; it blazes new trails for the real world to follow. Who's going to take up that challenge and fire our imaginations?

The first space shuttle was called the Enterprise, explicitly because the engineers who made it and the astronauts who flew it were inspired by Star Trek to a lifelong love of science, discovery, and wonder. That was decades ago; today we are dismantling our space program altogether. We need writers and artists to remind us once more how amazing the future is--to reach out and beckon us onward.
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Wed Oct 19, 2011 4:51 pm
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My Boardgame Addiction

Dan Wells
United States
North Salt Lake
Utah
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This is a blog post first posted to my website, www.fearfulsymmetry.net. I reproduce it here in its entirety.

I love games. Not so much video games, though I do play them occasionally. I’m talking about boardgames and card games; the kind of games where you read a rulebook and sit down with your friends and move little thingies around on a table. I LOVE them. And I am buying too many of them, and I need to stop.

Let’s take a look at the list. In the past few months I have acquired Nightfall, Battleship: Galaxies, Conquest of Nerath, Rune Age, Gears of War, Ikusa, and Star Trek: Fleet Captains. Over the next three months I am eagerly looking forward to Mage Knight, Legend of Drizzt, Risk Legacy, and Civilization: Fame and Fortune, and that’s after winnowing the list down to a still-not-necessarily-manageable size (I cut out all the Conflict of Heroes games, for example, and two different Napoleonic wargames). Dear game companies: I realize that I’m probably single-handedly propping up your industry with my addiction, but I need to take a breather. Can you please stop making awesome stuff? I barely have time to play the ones I have.

I’ll be reviewing all of these games over the next few days, because I love you so much, but first let’s talk about the ones I’m not buying. This week sees the release of two new sets of incredibly popular collectible games--both games that I love--and I have made the painful decision to not buy into either one of them. The first is HeroClix, a superhero-themed minis game (ie, "toy soldiers"), which is releasing a new set with a Superman theme: all of Superman’s greatest allies and enemies, together in one set. There are a few figures in this set that I’d like to have, but nothing that I need, so I’m just saying no altogether. I’m not a Marvel-is-better-than-DC guy; Green Lantern is my favorite superhero, and the new Wonder Woman comic is one of the best I’ve ever read. I just have no real interest in this set for some reason. The Legion of Superheroes figures look cool, though, so maybe I’ll...no. I will be strong. No more HeroClix until December, when the Hulk set comes out, and I’ll have to make another very painful decision.

The other collectible game I’ve been looking at is the mother of them all, Magic: The Gathering, which I like a lot but haven’t played in a long time. They just released their new set, called Innistrad, which has a gothic horror theme that I absolutely love. The art is evocative and gorgeous, the monsters are spooky, the villagers are terrified--how could I not try it out? So I went to a prerelease and tried it out, and...I don’t know. It didn’t work for me. It’s the same old Magic, which is good and bad; the new theme just didn’t come across in the gameplay. If I want to play a horror game I have Nightfall, Mansions of Madness, Betrayal at House on the Hill, Last Night on Earth, and so on. If I want to play a game of Magic with some horror tropes pasted on, Innistrad is an option, and I know that if I invested a ton in it I could build a really meaty theme deck about werewolves or possessed children or whatever, but for now I’m going to stay away. I have to make some choices, and Innistrad doesn’t make the cut. (I may change that tune when the next set comes out and develops the theme further, but we’ll see. I doubt it.)

There are many, many games that I want, but I trimmed the fat and kept only the absolutely coolest, must-have games on my 'get this' list. Mage Knight is ostensibly based on an old fantasy minis game by WizKids, the same people who make HeroClix, but the new one is a boardgame far removed from both the mechanics and the flavor. What makes it so appealing is that it’s designed by Vlaada Chvatil, a Czech game designer who combines the 'efficient use of resources' mentality of European games with the 'dragons and robots beating each other up' mentality of American games. In Mage Knight he combines fantasy questing with territory control, sprinkled with a bit of deck-building (the gaming world’s hot new thing), used in what appears to be a very cool and clever system. I desperately want it, but I have yet to convince myself that I need it, no matter how clever it looks. I have quest games and army games and deck-building games a-plenty, and I don’t think I need any more. That said, it’s still on my 'get this' list for now.

Legend of Drizzt is a dungeon-crawler in the same series as Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon, which I have praised effusively in the past. They’re very simple, even slightly abstracted, takes on dungeon delving, with cooperative mechanics based on 4th Edition D&D and a very slick monster automation system that scales well for different numbers of players. The games are simple and fun, perfectly filling the slot between 'I want to play a fantasy adventure' and 'I don’t have time for a big game.' Legend of Drizzt is exciting because, well, it has Drizzt, and Wulfgar, and Artemis Entreri, and all the other characters I know and love from the Bob Salvatore books. How could I not get this game?

Civilization: Fame and Fortune isn’t really a full game, it’s an expansion for the board game version of Civilization. It will add new nations, new mechanics, new map tiles, and most importantly a new player, bringing the total to five. I realize that I shouldn’t be complaining about this, because some people have no game group at all, but my game group is so big and active that we rarely ever get a four-player game on the table. Five is still problematic, but the game is a lot of fun and this will help us play it more often. Hooray!

The final game on the list is the weirdest, and the one I’m most excited about, and the one that if you’d told me a month ago I’d be excited about it I’d have slapped your dirty mouth. Risk, despite the fact that pretty much everyone in the world has played it, is a horrible, horrible game: the balance is off, the mechanics are silly, and meaningful strategy is virtually impossible. There have been a few versions I enjoy, such as Godstorm and 2210, but none of them stand high enough in their category to overshadow something like Conquest of Nerath or even Runewars. I never play Risk because there is always, invariably, something more interesting to play instead. So how could someone make me excited to play it again? By adding what is essentially a world-shaping campaign mode. Risk Legacy, due sometime in December, has the most brilliant gaming concept I’ve heard of in ages: physically altering the board, and the game itself, as you play it. Do you build a city in a certain space? Then you get to name it, and every time you play on that board that city will be there--until someone destroys it. Continents will be named by their conquerors; battles both glorious and horrific will be remembered by later generations; rules will change and grow as the game world goes on, and your battles will affect not just the current game but every game thereafter. You are creating, then, a literal legacy each time you play the game. Lots of boardgames have campaign modes (though not nearly enough of them), but I’ve never seen this type of thing reflected so extensively. It’s an almost sinful idea, writing on the gameboard and ripping up the cards, but that’s part of the allure. A game that never resets itself, where your decisions can never be unmade. I’m fascinated. I’ll probably buy multiple copies of this one, because that’s the kind of innovation I love to support.

So now you know what I’ll be spending my money on and/or getting for Christmas. What about those seven games I listed first, the ones I’ve already played? Watch this space, and I’ll review them all.

Editor's Note: in the couple of weeks since I wrote this post about promising to stop buying games all the time, I bought Chaos in the Old World, the Horned Rat expansion, Forbidden Island, and a starter army for Warmachine. In my defense, my wife and I just had a baby, and buying new games is my default form of celebration.
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Mon Oct 17, 2011 5:46 pm
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Please allow me to introduce myself

Dan Wells
United States
North Salt Lake
Utah
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This post will not be big, though the blog itself is likely to be. As I said in the blog description, I'm an author will Tor and Balzer & Bray; I mostly write supernatural thrillers (code for "horror") and science fiction, though I occasionally branch out into other stuff. I keep a blog on my website (www.fearfulsymmetry.net), but since a significant percentage of my posts there are boardgame-related, I thought it would be fun to mirror the game posts here on BGG. If you guys are interested I can mirror them all here, or talk more about writing and publishing, or whatever you want. Your wish is my command.

My typical schedule is two posts a week, one about writing and one about games, which will mean one post a week on this BGG blog. This week will be bigger, since I'll start by reposting my two or three most recent reviews.

I love interaction, so if you have comments or questions I'd love to hear them.
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Mon Oct 17, 2011 5:20 pm
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