An RPG in a box, playable in a single evening. It's a lot of "pull a card and read the encounter" followed by lots of dice rolling. If either of those mechanics bother you, stay away. If you don't mind (and I certainly don't) then this is the best of the genre.
- A rich and detailed experience.
- High replay value.
- Cooperative play.
- Solo play!
- Art and production values to die for.
- A sprawling rulebook with almost no summary.
- Little rules that are easy to miss, and change the game when you get them wrong. (For example, we overlooked the fact that closing a gate banishes all monsters with like symbols. This made a lot of really awful monsters hang around much longer than they would have otherwise.) Expect to play the game incorrectly several times.
- The final battle is nothing but dice. (Who knew Nyarlathotep could be defeated by nothing more than the world's longest Yahtzee game?)
- It's long. Really, really long.
Arkham Horror is thick, meaty and completely immersive. This also means it takes a while, but that's not always a bad thing. It fills an evening to brimming with blood, terror and good clean fun. Recommended for players who enjoy the Call of Cthulhu RPG.
UPDATE: After several plays, the game is becoming easy—almost too easy. With a crack team of selfless, team-playing RPGers it's a pretty simple thing to win by sealing six gates or closing all gates while having the requisite gate trophies for victory. This drops the game to a 7, but it still gets the extra point for the whole Mythos thing (and the fact that it's easily handicapped).
UP-UPDATE: I have realized, with much dismay, that there really is no "horror" in Arkham Horror. It is extremely rare for anyone to get devoured, so much so that no one really ever worries about it at all. Also, the characters don't "wear out" like they do in the RPG—they are not eroded by repeated contact with the mentally-corrosive Mythos. Again, house rules will fix this (by having max sanity reduced by 1 every time you fail a Will check), but still, I shouldn't have to put the horror in Arkham... It shoulda been there in the first place.
My rating holds at an 8 for all the kicks in the knickers we get out of the experience, but just barely.
UP-UP-UPDATE: Forget all the whining. The expansions fix everything and take the experience to a well-deserved 10. So, an 8 for the base game, a 10 with any expansion (especially Dunwich—goddamn Dunwich).
ALSO: Have the First Player act as the "Interim Keeper" by drawing and reading encounter cards for all players. Makes it way more fun when you don't know what your choice (or failure) will bring when you have to make a decision. Allows for more storytelling, too.
FINALLY: I will always use the Injury & Madness cards from Dunwich and the Final Battle cards from Kingsport in every play.
PS. Played once with 8p—NEVER AGAIN. The sweet spot is most definitely 4p.
The Nyarlathotep expansion—we play with the Big N and the Dark Pharaoh herald.
Played this once, and incorrectly. The experience was... diluted. Looking forward to playing this for reals.
UPDATE: The problem with the first play was running the Permanent Exhibit with all the cards shuffled into the base game. This made the Dark Pharaoh cards very rare and the game near-indistinguishable from a base scenario. For our second play we used only the DP cards (replacing the Mythos, Gate and Arkham Encounter decks) and it made for a sweet bit of ugly: things looked utterly bleak by turn two, and when Nyarlathotep arrived (something that never happens to us anymore in the base game) we had only shut a single gate. Two players got scrubbed and it literally came down to the wire before we beat him back and shut him out of our world.
The Yog-Sothoth expansion—we play with the Big Y and Dunwich Horror herald.
Better than the base game alone, if by "better" I mean more uncontrollable wailing with less courageous investigators begging the brave for sweet release.
The new Injury & Madness cards are great—now when you go to zero Stamina or Sanity you can choose to dump half your stuff (Items & Clues) or end up with a crippled something-or-other or a mental illness instead. Ha-ha! That'll learn ya!
We play with one expansion at a time, so, Dunwich Horror alone, with Yog-Sothoth as the Great Old One...
The Dreamlands expansion—it's not the actual actual Dreamlands (dare we hope for such a thing?) and more like the threshold, the Gate of the Silver Key. Will probably play with Hypnos as guardian.
Don't much like Nodens or Bast—Nodens especially always felt like an anomalous tack-on in the Mythos. Unless you can think of his anthropomorphism as an unconscious overlay, i.e., he's just as horrible as everything else Out There but for whatever reason we see him as Poseidon/Neptune. But I'm really overthinking this, aren't I?
The Hastur expansion—we play with He Who Shall Not Be Named and the King in Yellow herald. (Yeah, I know the link is tenuous... but there you have it.)
I don't understand why we can't handle this one the Old Fashioned Way, you know, with a truck full of dynamite or simply setting that accursed theatre on fire and shooting everyone who comes running out. Should only take a turn or two, tops...
Bluffing, gambling, negotiation, backstabbing, outrageous reversals—this game has it all. And a thick, gooey science fiction theme to boot! The rules are simple, almost laughably so, but that's not where the game is. The game is in finding the most clever way in which to use those rules to your advantage, no matter how bleak the situation. Taken at face value, it's pretty lame, and I can see why some people hate it so. Add in a bunch of raucous, cunning friends and the game surprises and delights every time. I'm constantly surprised at some of the subtle ways "I'm screwed" moments can turn into a big win.
Negotiated (or even forced) multi-wins are great since they keep the playing time more than tolerable (read: occasionally too short—but what the hell, let's play again!).
Played our first seven-player (!) game of this with the "large group" cards mixed into the deck—fantastic experience. The extra cards were necessary as I think the deck would have been too thin without them. Even with the extras we very nearly had the entire thing dealt out at one point. So, big plus for the extra cards.
We will be ignoring the team rules... they just don't look very interesting.
(Even though we've thrown all the new aliens into the mix, I will only be counting this expansion as played when we use the "large group" cards for 7-8 player games.)
Oof, I think I may be full. Or at least the original Cosmic box is. With all expansions including this one packed in there I think we're pretty much set for more possible games than could ever be played, even in a transhuman/post-singularity "lifetime" where the thing that thinks it's me is like three viruses infecting an immortal pack of robochimps—forever.
Pretty sure this game doesn't "need" anything else!
(Even though we've thrown all the new aliens into the mix, I will only be counting this expansion as played when we use the Reward deck or Special Ships options.)
Space stations add to the fun & I love what the Swindler does to the metagame!*
(Even though we've thrown all the new aliens into the mix, I will only be counting this expansion as played when we use space stations.)
*I suppose I should admit that I have no experience with Cosmic beyond the FFG edition and all of the gut-bustingly hilarious sessions I've had with various groups... So you should probably assume I don't know what I'm talking about.**
**I'm the guy who glued actual googly eyes on the Squee card, for Pete's sake!
Well, if you lived next door to a pie factory, owned a gun and were immortal, then your life would be exactly like Dungeonquest. Every day you would wake to the maddening smell of fresh, hot pie; you would load your gun and hop the wall only to
get in a firefight with the geriatric security guard and catch a hot one in the neck
make it through the window above the jacuzzi-sized mixing tubs, briefly
get "raspberried" by a robot
And so on, forever, because while guns make you brave, pies make you stupid. And immortality makes you eternally susceptible to both.
Any game where you can get your head whacked clean off by a swinging blade on your first turn get an instant 8 in my book.*
Card-combat mini-game: Looks weirdly complicated at first, but gets easier with repeat play. Still, the setup, play, and cleanup just takes too long and feels at odds with the spirit of the game. Ultimately we ditched it for the DQ Combat Die, below.
First play: Combat was like hitting the pause button on the game to do this other thing, breaking the flow of play. It got to where one person was complaining every time combat occurred—since it stopped the game dead—and I learned to dread any combat. Not because it was necessarily deadly or scary, which would be nicely thematic, but because it seemed like such an incongruous bolt-on interruption of what was otherwise a hilarious character grinder.
UPDATE: Okay, I get it. The card combat is the one chance for player interaction in this, and does allow you to personally stick your finger in your neighbor's eye. I approve, I'm glad it's there, but I just wish it were more smoothly integrated with the rest of the game. It is literally possible for the person doing the cleanup to still be sorting & shuffling when their turn comes back around in a full 4p game!
UP-UPDATE: Bumping to a 9. This thing's potentially a 10, but I'm gonna make DQ work for it. The only thing holding it back at this point is the relative clunkiness of the combat system.
This is less of a game game and more of an experience—you play it for the express purpose of stepping into a dungeon and seeing what happens next!
And instead of being a "standard" fantasy dungeon where you murder everything in front of you and load up on loot, it's more of a "realistic" fantasy dungeon where you are mostly just there to supply the scary skeletons and spilled coins for the next adventurer.
The shockingly sudden unfairness of it is the game, and makes winning—even if you only crawled out with 20 gold to show for your suffering—super-sweet.
At its core DQ is a push-your-luck story generator. Anything done to monkey with that misses the point entirely, and, to my mind, breaks the game. There are lots of other dungeon crawl/home invasion simulators out there that do the superhero thing—this one's the Coen Brothers version where we are the stupid criminals, and get exactly what we deserve...
So let go of that rock in the middle of the river and just go with the flow:
√ Party at Hearst Castle √ Party at Alcatraz √ Strangle a wizard
This is my favorite kind of game, a choose-your-own-adventure book cut up and pasted onto cards.*
Now that we've played enough to get the rhythm of the thing I quite like it, especially the feeling of putting your own team together, via allies, and taking on different aspects of the mega-plot while coordinating with other globe-trotting groups. You can almost see the red arrows gliding from place to place while the adventure-travel music beats a tattoo of ominous progress.
The mechanical stuff's fine, I guess—I don't really notice it, which says a lot—but so far the emergent narratives have been fantastic. Which is all I really care about.
So, does this replace Arkham Horror? Not really. They're two different beasts. Arkham is a mechanically quirky and convoluted thing (facets I find charming) about three-fisted Mythos adventures in New England, while Eldritch is the cleaner, tighter, "more modern" global version. They're different enough to be distinct and enjoyed for the unique experiences they provide.
*For best effect, have the left-hand player draw and read the card for the active player—in dramatic fashion—while keeping the pass/fail results secret. Only tell them the choices, and then once made and rolled-for, the resulting outcome—don't give away any results they didn't get. This keeps things mysterious. (It's best for the left-hand player to do this as the right-hand player may still be doing bookkeeping while finishing up their turn, and it gives everyone a rotating slot as storyteller.
**Down to the wire: Mythos deck depleted, Cthulhu rises and we are just plain not ready for it. We will lose at the end of the round. Unless... Serendipitous ticket shenanigans see three investigators converge on R'lyeh as Jaqueline Fine, bleeding from every hole in her head, telepathically transfers five clues to Lily Chen, who is armed with the carbine. Suddenly, Lily knows exactly where to put the rounds, and taking aim just past the hissing bulk of sun-blotting noise-mass-terror that is The Sleeper Disturbed she plinks away at the writhing sigils gouged into impossible spires. And just like that, it's done. (Everyone was so excited we spilled coffee on the game, a fitting symbol for the indelible stain on the investigators' psyches that would color the rest of their (short) lives.)
The perfect gateway game for Reformation scholars?
This is one of those games you wouldn't end up playing unless you had a specific woody for the theme (at least one would hope). Me, I get all sweaty for it. The game has two issues that by themselves are no problem, but when combined work to kill it off:
1) It takes all day to play. Our "learning game" took eight hours; and
2) It requires repeat plays to really grok the interlocking systems and possibilities.
This isn't a problem for me, personally—I enjoyed the hell out of that long Saturday spent with friends in the early 1500s. But it will take insane levels of logistics to arrange a day off with a suitable quorum of six ("An all-day game where we LARP the Reformation? Holy crap—now THAT makes my pants fit funny!"). So really we're looking at Die Macher levels of replay... like twice a year, max. And that's a bummer.
If you're here asking, "Is this game for me?" take the Here I Stand Compatibility Quiz:
1) Does the idea of nailing stuff to a church door make you sweat?
2) Do you have five friends who would fight over being the Pope or Martin Luther?
3) Not counting those five friends, are you a social misfit who has no life such that you can spend whole days gaming without pissing any SOs off?
If you said "no" to any of the above, this probably isn't for you.
Provisional rating after one play = 8.
UPDATE: The second play rockets this to a solid 10. The first game was with five n00bs, the second with only three; both were six-player games. Even though it was fraught with error and much page flipping, it was an incredible experience. Can't wait to play it again!
Ideally, the ultimate game would be the seventh one, with the same six people; six games so that everyone gets a chance to play each power (as well as get all the kinks out of the system). That seventh one would be the Real Game, with no n00bs, no one getting hammered through ignorance, and everyone knowing what everyone else is capable of... I know there are at least two of us who are completely smitten with this game, and at least one other we can reliably convince to play, but I fear those other three slots will be forever sat in by n00bs playing for the very first time. Sigh. Time to install some more D-rings in the basement ceiling and break out the chloroform so I can collect some more, uh, dedicated friends.
UP-UPDATE: Fourth play, two n00bs. Rock solid. Also, we now have so many people up for this that we actually had two alternates waiting in the wings for an opening.
tl;dr — After 30 plays, this has become my most favorite game ever. It is a Masterpiece, a Magnum Opus and there is nothing quite like it. If you are even remotely into space science/exploration then this was built for you. Just take your time, ease into it and don't be in a hurry to swallow the whole shebang in one go.
40 Plays wrote:
This is the best version of the game. "Legacy" High Frontier—the base game with the Expansion, and the published rules and maps as they stood in October of 2011—is a perfectly tight 5p/two-hour experience that gets exponentially better the more you play.
Colonization complicated it out the yinyang and bloated it into a game that no longer fits inside most heads or a single evening. And I'm still not sure what 3rd Edition is doing.
Right now... just seriously geeking out on the science. Shot a rover at Mars and managed to get it there, survived the aerobraking maneuver only to lose it in a sandstorm.
Intrigued and really looking forward to a proper play.
UPDATE: First play. Mind blown.
UP-UPDATE: Rockets to a solid 9 after two more back-to-back plays, one of which saw the Japanese lose salarynauts over Venus, the ESA looping the screams of their brave aströnautes (breaking up on final approach to Comet Encke) in swanky discotheques, and the UN burning in three full crews over Mars, one after the other, grinding the same doomed mission over and over again. Twenty-four cosmonauts later, Mars was his.
It's not nearly as complicated or difficult as the rules would have you believe. This is the game that dares you to figure out how to play. While the living rules and other attempts at simplified rules, summaries, walk-throughs & etc. all help a great deal, none of them are as clear or straightforward as they could or should be. Once you do figure out how to play, the game's a lot simpler than it appears. That's not to say it's not complex, but the complexity arises from the potential bushiness of the decision tree growing in the sandbox.
The obtuse rule book and the effort required to sift through the spray of Internet resources to figure out just how to play the damn thing keep it from a truly-deserved 10.
The base game is more than enough for a good while. It's a pretty enormous sandbox—you've got the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars (Phobos & Deimos), and a spray of asteroids & comets, with a deep selection of tech to get you Out There... aaand no real direction.* It's simultaneously terrifying and liberating. You can run any mission you can imagine, any way you can finagle it. While it's daunting trying to figure out just what to do, it's exhilarating when a really complicated orbital ballet comes together—solar sail a crew module out from Earth to rendezvous with a freighter carrying a high-tech thruster built by robots at your factory on a distant rock, ditch the sail and burn for the outpost where you stashed some prospecting robonauts, pick them up, refuel on an icy asteroid and wing to the outer edges of the solar system.
Ultimately, the unfortunate effort required to figure it all out is more than worth it. There's no board game experience quite like it and I find myself daydreaming of the most harebrained and unlikely missions...
Can't wait to play more!
UP-UP-UPDATE: More sandbox sim than game. There is no "rubber-banding" mechanism to help those who fall behind, and whiffing on a single risky maneuver (aerobraking or hazard) can cost you the win.** This isn't a knock against the game at all—it's a simulation with a lesson to teach, and it teaches it well: space exploration & exploitation is expensive, difficult and dangerous. It's only for those with resolve and daring. A frontier indeed. When sitting down to roll through this it's best to adjust the mindset appropriately—it's an experience, a sim, a place to experiment and fail. Attempting to game it or play it in a "gamey" fashion will result in a crippled, unsatisfying half-experience.
Surprisingly, playtime has hovered around two hours, even for our five-player games!
UP-UP-UP-UPDATE: It's really, really hard to watch Taikonauts loot your billion-dollar landing site—using your flag to erase your footprints and your commemorative plaque as a hammer. It's the kind of vandalism that hardens hearts and launches nukes...
*The pre-fab "signpost" missions are a good start, but some favor different tech over others which puts you in the Catch-22 position of not knowing good from bad without several plays. Being a sandbox experience, failure is half the fun, right?
**You can avoid taking those risks by not going there or invoking the FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION RULE (spending 4 WT to skip the die roll)... but then your game will develop more slowly than those who accept the risk and dive in head-first.
Gutted for spare parts; I loan the patent decks (including the supports from the Expansion) out for new players to study—hilarity is magnified when everyone understands completely why things went horribly wrong.
This is the best version of the game. "Legacy" High Frontier—the base game with the Expansion, and the published rules and maps as they stood in October of 2011—is a perfectly tight 5p/two-hour experience that gets exponentially better the more you play.
As a lifelong and eclectic gamer it's my favorite game of all time.
Colonization complicated it out the yinyang and bloated it into a game that no longer fits inside most heads or a single evening. And I'm still not sure what 3rd Edition is doing.
After bending your head far enough around the flagpole to be able to grok the base game, this one comes along and ties it in a knot. And I mean that in the good way.
Nothing short of amazing, though the initial experience replaced the frustration of lack of funds with the frustration of a lack of tech that all worked nicely together. Adding in supports—and the supports of the supports, as well as the need to radiate the increasing heat-load of those support-supports—was akin to buying pants by winning a pie-eating contest; eat enough pies and you win the pants... That now don't fit. So you eat more pies to get some new pants and you see where this is going.
Once you do manage to cobble together a rocket that works you just go with it—the only thing I ever optimized on my Frankenship was the robonaut. I was afraid to monkey with anything else lest the whole thing bloat out and bust the seams in an undulating cascade of stuff needing more stuff.
All the tech that is magical and game-breaking in the base game (Zubrin, anyone?) is brutally balanced in the full game. That thing burns hot and even after dumping fuel through it as coolant you're gonna have to come up with four more therms of cooling. Also, the Metastable Helium thruster has a rad-hardness of zero, as in "nope". Suck it!
Fantastic, recommended, head-spinning—though only after the base game becomes too easy. You really oughta play that five or so times before diving into this.
[After one play without Politics, Combat or Events (though we did keep Solar Flares/CMEs because watching the angry Sun decommission someone's thruster is hilarious).]
Play time still hovered around two hours, even with all the extra doohickeys. Nice.
UPDATE: Gets better and better with each play. We bust Luna as a matter of course and don't use Politics, Combat or Events (we do, however, execute Solar Flares/CMEs). At some point I think I'll push for a "full game" with all options... and the Chinese.
UP-UPDATE: Playing the full game now, with all rules on—Politics, Combat & Events. On paper it looks like it would make the game longer (losing cards from Glitch, Space Debris and Budget Cuts... as if Solar Flares weren't bad enough) but in actual play these things only happen a couple of times per game. The rules overhead for all the extras is minimal and really pretty simple, with the end result being a tasty slathering of narrative. (When a spanner going 30,000 kph scrubs someone's crew module out of LEO, well, what's not to like?)
I am glad we stair-stepped it, though:
- Base game to - Expansion without Politics, Combat, or Events to - Full game with all rules,
waiting until we were all comfortable (and eager for a little something extra) before adding the next bit. For the life of me I can't imagine trying to learn Everything At Once as a n00b in a starter game. HF is truly a "deep experience" that requires familiarity and comfort with all the various details to realize its potential.
Rush it & play once... have patience & play for life!
My favorite thing about Magic is that it is a game with literally thousands of pieces, all capable of interacting with each other in amazing and surprising ways; this fact allows a player to truly "play their personality" like no other game does. Magic does an incredible job of evoking its theme—wizards duelling with magic spells—by having you first craft a library of spells (your deck) and then "remembering" them (drawing cards during a game). There is a big HOWEVER, however: the game is best when played in a controlled environment where all players have access to the same number of cards, e.g., limiting card purchases to a predetermined number of decks and boosters. Magic breaks down horribly when the arms race spirals out of control and then the rich kid wins. The very assets that make the game like no other are also the problems that plague and break it... And yet I've played it weekly since '94, and will continue to do so.
PS. This is the only CCG that actually makes sense as a CCG, that is, the mechanical act of drawing and playing cards is akin to flipping through the pages of a spellbook.
PPS. The hands-down best way to play if you don't want to get into the collecting aspect is to buy a couple of pre-constructed decks.
Gets me in a way that Battle Cry could not, as I lack the American Civil War gene. The game engine is excellent—a beer-n-pretzels wargame for those of us who are not hardcore wargamers.
UPDATE: Yeah, it's just playin' with plastic army men. But sometimes that's all you need.
Not so much milsim as BAM & BLANG!
UP-UPDATE: As I close in on 40 plays I suppose I must bump this to a 9; my interest is only accelerating and as a game system there is just so much to love here. And while it might seem like a "heavily-themed abstract" the sheer number of units, options, and scenarios makes every game unique.
Almost every scenario is wildly imbalanced (a nod to history), making any single play unsatisfying for someone; but when you consider a single match to be two games with the victor having the highest total medal count after playing both the favorite and the underdog, well, then the experience is very satisfying indeed. As the favorite you want to run that steamroller to victory as quickly as possible and minimize the underdog's score; as the underdog you want to simply last as long as possible and rack up as many medals as you can before you're snuffed. On the odd occasion when the underdog actually wins? Then it's time to dance around the table and flick infantry units at the loser.
Hand management, probability, and the sequencing of attacks are all neat puzzles that keep each turn interesting, even when you're the one getting pounded. And the whole time the setup just looks gorgeous.
There are more scenarios than I can probably get through in a lifetime... though I'll give it my best shot!
UP-UP-UPDATE: It's a 10, earned the hard way—through ever-increasing game-pleasure. The best scenarios from the expansions are engaging puzzles that not only bear repeat play, but unfold before you into larger and larger possibility spaces the more experience you get with them. Some feel as if you could play them endlessly without ever becoming bored*—the static setup is a puzzle that requires a dynamic solution, depending wholly on the interaction between how the cards come out, hedging dice probabilities, and your creativity in manipulating it all. Grinding the same scenario over and over is less about finding the optimal path (and solving it for all time) than it is about finding the way through the unique iteration right in front of you, right now.
Cards, dice, plastic army men, a historical veneer and functionally infinite replayability—this is very nearly the perfect game.
*Yes, I know this isn't true—but the subjective sensation of infinite fun propels me onward. Besides, should I be so lucky as to actually "wear one out" there are only a couple hundred more to dig into...
Garfield's best CCG. He cut his teeth on Magic, then over-complicated things with Jyhad—and got it just right with this one. We play a Very Good multi-player variant (The Big Sellout) where each Corp has a pet Runner in their employ; all Corps take their turn simultaneously, then all Runners go. We've played games with up to 8 people (4 Corp-Runner teams). The most fun I've ever had with a CCG, hands down.
SUPERDELUXE ADDED BONUS FEATURE!!!:
It plays perfectly fine with unmodified starter decks.
Unforntunately the reboot has lost the soul of the thing, with a shoe-horned IP inspired by Golden Age science fiction (missing entirely any New Wave or Cyberpunk sensibilities) and art & ethos lacking any real balls, grime or dehumanizing awfulness. I get the impression it's written & drawn by kids who don't know from Cyberpunk literature, having only barely tasted the trappings by sucking regurgitated anime from sippy cups.*
Of course the original is dated—because now we live in that world, having ignored the cautionary tales. We are all of us junkies at Disneyland, putting digital fixes ahead of outrage at unbridled corporate power, more than happy to trade privacy for convenience. We willingly carry surveillance devices on us at all times, even into bed- and bathrooms, much to our government's delight. Our most private lives are now blatant commodities. I could go on and on...
data mining - death by drones - cryptocurrency bubbles - machete-powered genocides - anthropogenic climate change - blurg - blurgety-blurg
The original's the best—authentic and faithful to the originating theme in both vibe and mechanics. It really makes me feel like a massive multinational swatting at the flies that dare rise from the muck... or a slum-bound addict with a used cyberdeck, some MIL-SPEC ICEbreakers and a death wish.
(Untold numbers of plays between 1996 & BGG)
Set includes the fabled porno-POGs:
Who the hell wrote:
I fell into the habit of using POGs as counters for collectible card games as the two fads came to prominence—peaking and subsiding—around the same time in the mid-'90s. They were cheap, plentiful, and many of them were decorated with seemingly random, head-scratching "art". This appealed a great deal to me.
I then came into possession of a "Milkcap Maker", a device that allowed one to affix any image onto stickered slugs... and the infamous "porno-POGs" were born, as well as the "World's Busiest POG" which contained more genitalia, mouths and hands on one POG than anyone thought possible at the time.
As of the date of writing (July 2012) we still use the POGs as counters and creatures in Magic: The Gathering and other games where a proxy bit is called for; they reside on the primary game shelf in a cigar box, well worn, well loved and still a part of most games though there are better, prettier options available. (The porno-POGs, however, remain hidden away in my old Netrunner collection as a secret shame—the collision of the Milkcap Maker and several years of Club International magazine a psychic boobytrap to be sprung by my estate holders upon my demise.)
*I fully understand that I am shouting into an eviscerating whirlwind on this one—the reboot is immensely popular, very easily eclipsing the original in market penetration and number of happy players. For that I am truly glad—the base engine is a terrific game that deserves to be popular and enjoyed—but as a humble student of Cyberpunk literature I find the reskin to be weak sauce. It's a sadly attenuated 6th-gen afterimage that vanishes upon blinking.**
I'm pregnant, but I think it'll be alright if I play this anyway.
IT'S SATAN'S BABY, BABY
UPDATE: Just came in the mail AND YES YOU NEED TO READ THAT AS A DOUBLE ENTENDRE
These guys are clearly making games to please an audience that consists only of themselves and their personal demons—without compromise. If you're not sure it's for you then it straight-up isn't—the velvet ropes are there to save the timid from any further discomfort.
But if you see yourself in this, if the howl from the page calls to something darker beyond the horizon of your eyes... well, then follow it home.
UPDATE: First play told an amazing story even though we botched a bunch of rules. If you think of this as a grindhouse simulator, a set of RPG skirmish rules, it ends up as a kick-ass party game. Can't wait to play again!
Have you ever played a game that felt like it was designed just for you? Meaning it's the game you've been waiting your entire life for, the one you would have designed yourself eventually—and that no one else you know likes?
This is an unabashed Talisman rip-off, overlaid with Insane Clown Posse's, uh, unique worldview. It's essentiallly everything you thought was really, really cool when you were 15 mixed in with a bizarre gnostic philosophy where apotheosis is achieved by simultaneous ascension and damnation.
And, holy crap, I love the hell out of it.
PS. Not a fan of the band—I'm not in their target demographic. But the game—a slice of heaven with a scoop of hell. Brilliant in an outsider art kind of way. I can't fully explain it; it just hits me perfectly right.
After one play, this is a slick little game. We're all fans of San Juan, and science fiction, so this one's a natural for my group. I was lucky enough to know ahead of time that this was multiplayer solitaire with minimal "screwpportunity" and was, like it says in the title, a race game. Bring your economic engine online, get it humming & working parasitically off of others' actions, rake in the VPs and end the game on your terms. At least, that's the idea. For me it was more like "guess wrong and waste several turns" and fall behind all red-shifted and small in the rearview scanners.
The integration of theme and design is very good—every card contains a nascent story.
STRATEGY NOTE: Doing nothing but feeding heavy metals to Planet Disco will not get you the win. No matter how cool it seems at the time.
Rating could rise (or decay!) with future plays. We'll see...
UPDATE: More plays, more of the game reveals itself. Wonderfully subtle, and requiring a deft touch—at this point I feel like I'm doing brain surgery with Mickey Mouse hands and usually the patient... dies. Most games that feel like this push you away and keep you from wanting to do the work to figure it out; this one is so captivating, so tip of the tongue, so almost-that-time I find I can't wait to play again. I feel there's a couple of metric tons of game in there, game that won't fully come to light until everyone is comfortable with the cards—much like San Juan (in which, I must admit, I only recently figured out when to pick Prospector—but when I got that it became a whole new game).
And, as Dave says, "Pursuing the military strategy is just fun."
So there's always that.
UP-UPDATE: 70 plays later...
Race for the Galaxy is a game that only opens up with experience—it begins as multiplayer solitaire; morphs into an actual race where the goal is to build an engine, pull into the lead and then end the game as quickly as possible; and finally becomes a game about knowing, intimately, what everyone else is up to in their tableaux so you can simultaneously draft off of their efforts while minimizing the amount of "help" you provide with your choice of action for the round.
That last bit is often never reached or grokked by the casual player, but it's truly where the game is—a player who doesn't pay attention to everyone else and chooses actions based on what they need most right now will always lose to the player who does pay attention and uses everyone else's play parasitically.
It can be obvious or subtle, and with good (experienced) players it becomes a very cagey game of quintuplethink, but to my mind it's well worth the work to get there. There are few games that reward the effort as thoroughly as Race.
Base game* Base game + Gathering Storm in GS box. Base game + GS + Rebel vs Imperium in RvI box. Base game + GS + RvI + Brink of War in BoW box. Base game + Alien Artifacts in AA box. Base game + Xeno Invasion in XI box.
*My second copy of this—gave the original away to my nephew in a selfish bid to create more players. The indoctrination took and converted six people!
Ship's Log, Scientific Cruiser Skłodowska-Curie, on-site at Alien Orb
Day 1: It's a goddamn circus out here. Ships from every upstart empire, commonwealth, federation, confederation and solar sway are buzzing around the thing, each declaring sovereign volumes and eager to plant the first flag. There are also a disconcerting number of derelicts in eccentric orbits. Initial scans show some of the crews appear to have committed mass suicide...
Day 3: After being violently rebuffed by what we thought were docking tubes, we decided to breach with a volley of science torpedoes. There is now a good-sized science hole in the structure through which we can begin our survey.
Day 7: We have begun packing up everything that isn't bolted down or running away. Not really sure what any of this junk is—at our scale cleaning protocols and warbots are pretty much the same thing. It all looks expensive, though.
Day 421: The damn thing shifts and shifts and shifts—losses stand at just under a thousand souls. The jumpdrive techs keep using the term "tesseract". Also, it turns out the "feeding tubes" dispense pellets that eat. I could go on but suffice it to say that Hell would be more hospitable—at least that place was made for people.
An epic sci-fi smash-n-grab. I really enjoy the unique flavor of the orb game, so much so it's the only way I'll play AA from now on. After all, it's the whole point of this arc! If I have the urge to go small-deck/simple I'll just play the base game or base + Gathering Storm.
"We dropped out of jumpspace and started the orbital bombardment before they lit us up. The asteroid we piggybacked from outsystem fell away as the fleet braked in high orbit. We traded fire for four hours until their cap city ate the rock. At mission time four hours, one minute, we opened the comms."
With the addition of the prestige axis the game executes a quantum upshift into the heady and intricate. The experience is best with experienced players, so you're either playing this with the people you've always played with or you're gradually indoctrinating newbs... Don't be in a hurry. So much of this is about knowing the massive deck, the strengths and weaknesses of the various strategies, the probability of ending up with a certain card. (Not to mention being able to intuit which actions will be played to maximize your parasitic benefit while minimizing how much you help your foes.) Jumping straight into the deep end is bewildering and much of what makes the game great will be lost on the drowning man.
The final result is a triumph in every possible way—gorgeous, evocative, vexing and just plain fun.
To paraphrase my friend Jas: Now it feels like a complete game, on par with the heavier Euros.
And I could play it forever.
PS. Keldon's brilliant AI implementation is my go-to digital time-waster—two AI opponents, all expansions, takeovers on. Though it lacks the delicious human element of outguessing, the rest of the experience is deep enough that it doesn't matter. And it's a great way to learn the deck and noodle with crazy strategies.
More of the good stuff. The best kind of expansion in that it doesn't so much alter the game as make it more of what it already is, makes it better by amplifying the best parts of the original.
Adding VP objectives to "fight" over (most planets, etc.) is probably the closest we'll get to direct confrontation in this system*... but then, it's an optimization race, not a brawl.
If you didn't like the game before, this won't do anything to change your mind—but if you do like it, this is a must.
UPDATE: Sure, the "robot" is just a couple dice and a flowchart—but I hate him so much. Doesn't he understand that I can chuck his dice into the ocean and burn his smarmy card? DON'T THINK I WON'T
UP-UPDATE: I consider the base game the "training wheels" version and this the default. I've started new players here with good results as the additional overhead does not make the game opaque to the uninitiated.
*At least until Race for the Galaxy: Rebel vs Imperium added takeovers. Now if you're gonna put on your galactic big-boy pants and stick a gun in the waistband you should expect to get teeth slapped out of your head by the civ next door that raises babies on steriods, orthodoxy, and murder.
Lots of cool stuff: new characters, PvP, and, of course, the eponymous nemeses.
As for 5-6p games... new stuff and play modes notwithstanding, I just don't see it working in a reasonable time frame. Like Talisman this is a storytelling game, and sitting idly by while spectating on the herky-jerky chapters of four or five other stories makes for oppressive downtime. In my experience 4p is the absolute maximum, with 3p being the sweet spot. Naturally, YMMV.
UPDATE: It's a game! It's an art project! It's a cruel psychological experiment! It's all these things and more... like a roller coaster full of plus-size swimsuit models* it thrills and titillates through the ups and downs. Only three games in and the burning of Earth 12769 already has a unique narrative. And this is without opening any packets. With sticker and Sharpie we have left our mark on this embattled world—the warlords of Thunderia, New Sparta and Sasquatchistan showing themselves to be more than willing to pop nukes in pristine old-growth forests and water the virgin plains with the blood of orphans in order to... to... uh, I used to know the reasons why, but now all I know is hate.
Don't fool yourself—if you're not defacing the hell out of this game you're not even getting 1% of the experience it has to offer. It's like the difference between masturbating to an underwear catalog vs. a threesome with real people. Tell yourself whatever makes you feel better all alone with your anal retentive proclivities, but if you're not putting your mark on it you are not playing the game.
This is, only three games in, among the best gaming experiences I've ever had.
*Or a gaggle of hairless, pouty, male underwear models flopped on a tatty sofa if that's your thing instead.
Aspiring interstellar overlords commit handpicked citizens to a mind-warping battle school where they are... changed. These agents are then dispatched on desperate missions across the cosmos—leading a surgical strike force of war-painted starships, or skin crawling with invisible tattoos that reconfigure into malware under certain wavelengths of light, or their skulls the vessels for a single dangerous idea.
Tomorrow, tomorrow belongs to the Ascendant—and there is no better way to leap for the brass ring than with a boot in your grasping rival's face.
An unalloyed slam-dunk. As a rabid Race fan I am obviously predisposed to love this, but honestly, Roll has far exceeded even my naturally high expectations. Added to everything that's already fantastic about the Mother Game we have a gorgeous feast for the senses—the spray of color, the sound of the dice in the cups, the shaking and slamming, the digging around in that black bag for deliciously textured tiles.
It's a sci-fi jacuzzi with built-in mind-massage attachment.*
UPDATE: 11 games in and the response from newbs is overwhelming—all of them have found this far more accessible than Race proper. I believe it has to do with the fact that any given Race game is completely hidden inside an opaque deck of cards, meaning that the game doesn't open up until you're familiar with the contents of that deck, and this requires either a bunch of boring study or many—so many—crushing defeats. With Roll, on the other hand, the dice give you a pretty big hint as to what's possible on your turn and so tend to drive play in more obvious directions right out of the gate.
Besides, fiddling around with the dice to "program" your turn feels like you're actually doing something rather than just looking at a bunch of cards and having no real idea of what to do next.
A Very Important Note on Space Marine Recruitment: As the recruitment protocols are a preëxisting component of the drinking water on most civilized worlds, the consumption of them constitutes retroactive consent. This is only important for the recruit's relatives as the recruits themselves are neurologically predisposed to be "just fine" with the sudden change in life-trajectory. Oorah!
NOTE: Rating is for the Runebound system as a whole—the base game, with nothing but the "Rise of the Dragonlords" adventure, pulls a solid 8. It soars to a 10 when considered with the plethora of expansions, especially the Adventure Variants (each with a different overarching plot).
A fun adventure game system from the "pull a card, read the encounter, roll some dice" family. Can be boring with dull people—it requires a certain amount of storytelling ability to make it interesting. Why do you get a plus to Diplomacy after you kill the Hill Troll? Because you made a backpack out of his scrotum, that's why. Plays best with 2 or, maaaybe, 3.
UPDATE: We managed nine plays out of the 1st Edition, and that was with no expansions. As this is a "Saturday afternoon" game (taking several hours) that means we got somewhere around two months' worth of Saturdays out of it. Two months of solid play off a single scenario. With all the scenarios FFG has been pumping out since 2nd Edition debuted, the replay value of this one blows through the roof, soars into orbit and then takes a hard left into a magical wormhole... who can say where it will end. Huge amount of bang-for-buck on this one.
UP-UPDATE: Tweaks that make for more gaming goodness, IMO:
1) Use the "shorter game" rules (essentially making it cheaper to level up).
2) Separate the massive market deck into three piles: the Tavern (allies), the Smithy (weapons & armor), and the Bazaar (a catch-all for familiars, magic items & artifacts). This allows players to really target the holes in their kit/entourage without endless turns of market-stepping loads of junk they don't need.
3) Ignore PvP. (This is a personal "play-style" choice as there's nothing wrong with it; we just found it slowed things down.)
While these tweaks speed up the game, I'm not saying the game needs speeding up. For a lazy Saturday afternoon (especially a bad weather one) this game expands to fill the time nicely. We've found that the above tweaks will take an afternoon game and turn it into a evening game. And that just means we get to play more!
UP-UP-UPDATE: 10 June 2015—Completed my set with an unopened, unpunched, sun-bleached Mists of Zanaga that had been kicking around an FLGS for God knows how long... (Well, for at least five years, right?)
A welcome respite from endless farming in the Brown Zone.
"Sack up 'n take yer beatin' like a man."
UPDATE: Rating of 8 based on box contents & rules. Actual play pending... but highly anticipated.
UP-UPDATE: First play had the Elves exterminating the Humans to the last child and then erasing them from the Chronicles of All Times & Peoples. THIS IS AN INCREDIBLE GAME. Makes Twilight Imperium look like a steam-powered jitney next to a Lamborghini... with a supermodel who's been eating cupcakes for the last six weeks draped most buxomly over the hood.*
Agricola, in its dreams, wishes it was this nasty.
PS. The heroes are just fine as is. They act as:
Spies! (they allow you to look at Dragon Runes so you know where the real ones are)
Saboteurs! (they can pop off spells in the midst of the enemy just before you attack)
Assassins! (they kill & loot other heroes)
Agents For The Win! (they can get you more Dragon Runes).
They don't need to lead armies if you're using them to best advantage doing all of the above. Besides, hero ≠ general... do you really want some homeless wizard who smells like cat pee leading an army it took you two years to amass?
*Or doing 'roids while hitting the weight pile and the tanning booth if that's more your speed.
"Luke, you’ve switched off your targeting computer. What’s wrong?"
Picked this up based on raves from Geeks I Trust™ and busted it out first thing Saturday morning... played so many games with my youngest son I lost count. Our ruckus woke my lazy teen who then joined in for, yes, so many games I lost count.
Sorry! Sliders has all the elements of the best dexterity games:
- It's rules light
- Instantly grokkable
- Uses skills or abilities everyone already posseses
- Observers think they have a shot at doing better than the person they just watched go.
I'm tempted to slap a 10 on this, and I expect it to end up there after a debut at a family function. We'll see what my regular game group thinks about this—they're old and crotchety, after all, with none of the childish glee that comes from flick-slamming another player's pawn into the netherrealm... okay, scratch that.
UPDATE: Okay, busted this out with my regular group of emotionally-stunted man-children who took one look at the box and made faces and directly questioned my manhood, mental state and geek cred... fast forward through More Games Than I Can Count™ and they were grappling with a new addiction, stunned and shamed that they just... couldn't... walk away.
Money Quote: "We should play this for money—five bucks a game."
Then, doing the This-Is-Not-Happening body-rock: "Just five more dollars... five more dollars..."
UP-UPDATE: It's a ten! I'll always be willing to play this, and really, who wouldn't at five minutes a game? The kicker for me was an extended session with my usual game group where we had five of us and hot-swapped the winner's seat. It's so good, and short, that the odd man out never got bored. In fact, the incentive to win became more than mere crowing-rights—it meant you could get a snack... and use the bathroom.
TL;DR —All the mechanical aspects of a complete RPG adventure in a deck of cards. And it's effing brilliant.
THE FOLLOWING IS CERTIFIED SPOILER-FREE
"B-Team! We're sending you in because A-Team went all 'dynamite and fire' on the situation. You'll be inserted an hour ahead of their arrival—get it right, save some lives. Dismissed and godspeed!"
One hour later...
B-Team is vomited from their pods into heaps, snazzy jumpsuits soiled with effluent, sweaty hair pasted in streaks on retching faces. Someone's crying. The Time Captain, curled up like a bug, lets out a wheezing croak:
"Need... more... dynamite..."
4 plays later: All the mechanical aspects of a complete RPG adventure in a deck of cards. It's up to you and your friends to actually breathe life into this, but for us, as veteran role-players, it was absolutely perfect. We banged out "Asylum" across two sessions, with the usually-busy players burning an entire Saturday afternoon (something that NEVER happens) for the final run-through. I pretty much want everyone I love who also loves RPGs to take a trip through this.
We beat "Asylum" (just barely) and the experience left us with the real treasure of such things: darkly hilarious emergent narratives that are on track to become Canon Lore in our group. And only the best adventures do that.
Now, I can totally see how this could fall flat for straight-up board gamers, and even for ardent RPGers—but I really appreciate how it hits somewhere in the middle. As an RPGer I'm not at all put off by the one-shot nature of the scenarios, seeing this as an elaborate board game–based RPG. With the lack of Game Master or any required prep (other than sitting down and flipping the first card), this will be our go-to for those RPG nights when we don't have a quorum.*
I'm down for wherever the system takes me.
*Of course, this means everyone will always show up so they don't miss out if we're one short, which is another way of saying it'll never get played again...
Spoiler (click to reveal)
The worst thing about Time Patrol is talking to the guy who you know is going to get eaten by the monster for the third time. The first time you have no idea, and so you're all "Hey, man, how's it goin'?" with honest, fate-ignorant friendliness. The second time you're startled to see him, and then you're flashing back on the whole monster thing, and like one moment it's him, right there, and the next it's how surprised and terrified and then resigned he looked getting gnashed and slurped and sucked into some kind of otherworldly gullet, and he's startled at your startlement because he doesn't even know you, man, and that look, that awful familiar look, reverberates between your two faces and the one he's going to make like 20 minutes from now when, you know, monster. But that third time, that's the really bad one. Once you convince him to come with—and he shouldn't, what with the way you're utterly failing to sell it: "Oh, we're not sorcerers, we're time travelers, you know, from the future,"—he's all gung-ho to get to it like right now and you're all, "Hey, look—a butterfly," and "How's your mom? Maybe you should write her a note," and "You know this is harder on me, right?" and then you take three steps to the left.
Asylum 3 runs, score of... 1. 2 runs as backseater, score of 34.
Elation & despair. One moment had me turning away from the table, staggering a few steps and then dropping to my knees in defeat; later, solving the central puzzle was a "tumblers of Creation falling into place" moment, the kind that causes four-hour erections.
The final encounter went the way most of our RPG climaxes go—disappointing if you were settled in with popcorn for a 20-minute action sequence—but hilarious from our perspective when "those guys" (us) show up at precisely the right time to make a hash out of everything in 30 seconds flat.
Yeah, now we can play the game as nature intended—as True Men.
While I was initially worried at how it would fit in, the Time Card is actually pretty nifty (day/night sides that flip whenever an Event is drawn; creatures get -1 in combat during the day and +1 at night).
But the star of the show is the Werewolf, especially when combined with the Reaper—now you have two forces of nature stalking the board for victims. It's especially good when using one or more corner boards... if everyone clusters up in the City, for example, you can expect the Werewolf & Reaper to converge there, creating a hideous oubliette where a simple shopping trip can end in horror.
Fantastic! Very different feel from the main game and other corner boards; tons of ways to make money and tons of stuff to spend it on. Pretty much solves the problem of being filthy rich and having nothing but crap to buy, akin to an old school episode of "Wheel of Fortune": "Yeah, I guess I'll take another water bottle." It's the standard destination for loin-girding if you're not getting any love grinding for levels in the wider world.
Also, the Wharf space is terrific: Pay one gold to warp to any space in the outer or middle regions (!). This goes a long way to minimize the amount of dicking around required to get to the Warlock's Cave or Portal of Power.
BUT BEST OF ALL ~ There are several cards (Corrupt Sheriff, Drunken Revelry, Taxation) that can yank clowns off the Crown of Command and send them straight to jail.
The 10 is just a randomly-generated placeholder rating until I actually play it this weekend. With beer. And children.
UPDATE: This is probably the easiest 10 I've ever given a game or expansion. The extra characters and spells are almost worth the price alone, with the entire dungeon region and massive stack of dungeon cards acting merely as sweetener...
So much to love in here, like when the Summoning Circle gets clogged with an entire zoo of awfulness that no mortal can conquer, or the fact that it ups the burn rate on characters (we went through four character deaths—before the purple-lightning-leaping-from-my-mouth-when-I-scream-your-name ending—in a three-player game).
Makes the game longer, almost twice as long for us, but I don't know how much of that was due to the fact that we all crammed in and oscillated in and out of the dungeon instead of ramping cleanly toward the Crown of Command.
UP-UPDATE: Played it as a stand-alone with the kids. Talisman in 30 minutes!
Pretty sure this will be a 10, but I'm waiting to play the Leprechaun before I commit.
So the Leprechaun pops into existence ♪ Hidilly-Hodilly-Hee ♬ and skips across the rainbow to his pot o' gold; after filling his pockets he heads off to the raucous stink of the City where he is savaged by a werewolf, robbed of his funds, turned into a toad and evaporated by the Holy Host.
Four new characters, a ton of new adventure cards, a huge number of new spells... not to mention the brand new Warlock Quest deck and, of course, the Grim Reaper Hisself!
This is a no-brainer for every Talisman fan—fighting over the Grim Reaper (shifting him back and forth in an attempt to get him to land on someone) adds even more balls-out screwage to an already nails-in-a-baseball-bat game.
An absolute must-have for every Talismanite!
"Well, well, well. Look at you all dressed up in spats and ignorance."
The stables and Quest Reward cards are cool. Also, one of the alternative endings is a true co-op game. Nice!
As for characters, the Dread Knight is pretty much the only one my #1 son will play—he comes with a graveyard-regenerating warhorse and gains a spell for every enemy he defeats. Bad. Ass. I'm partial to the Magus purely because he gets lugged around by a bevy of oiled slaves in his fabulous sedan chair.
"Tread with care, fools! Dump me in the mud again and there will be hell to pay! This time I swear it!"
Life is hard and the Gods are cruel; we toil for their amusement and even our best, most heroic efforts are but castles in the sand before the rushing tide. The Crown of Command dangles as a carrot on the end of a very beaty stick, existing only to see who will neck-stab whom for the illusion of control. We go now, doughty adventurers, hopping across this stage as toads to make the Gods—and perhaps ourselves—laugh. In the end, some lucky bastard will "win"—though he or she will most likely be consumed in capricious flames whence the curtain falls on this pointless shadow play.
This is NOT a nostalgia rating—I never got a chance to play this as a kid, teen, or college student. Though I probably would have spent an awful lot of time doing so if I'd had the chance...
This is a GREAT nerd party/time-waster/beer, pretzels & potty-mouth game. It has clumsy, outdated mechanics, "unfair" amounts of luck, and the ancient, tired and beaten-to-death Lord of the Rings/D&D rip-off theme.
And I love it.
This is, in many ways, the Ultimate "Gone-Stupid" Game. You can pull your brain out of gear and just coast along; it's one for those times when you would like to play a game, but life has hammered you down to the point where you just want to go "guh."
So roll a die, pull a card, read the result aaand...
UPDATE: Many people decry the random, binary movement system (roll a die and choose either right or left) but this simplicity is part of what makes Talisman great—it's the only game of its ilk in which downtime is not an issue. While Runebound begins to drag at three players (and becomes intolerable with any more), Talisman can support the full compliment of players and the turns literally whiz around the table. Roll, pick, do the thing, pass the dice. It's almost a party game, it's so fast.
PS. The new Fantasy Flight upgrade is fab! Looking very forward to a whole mess of expansions...
UP-UPDATE: With renewed family interest this has been hitting the table as a weekly event! The good news, other than getting to play one of my favorite "weird storytelling" games, is that all the kids are hot to paint the scads of minis. Several nights now I've gone to sleep only to wake to finished minis in the morning. If you can engineer this effect for yourself I highly recommend it.
The only minor downer is that what makes this game fantastic is also the one thing that can kill it. The utterly random element, so brilliant as a jumping-off point for spit-takes—like when the Leprechaun gets the Princess as a follower and ends up being lugged around in a front-facing baby carrier with a boob on each shoulder—can make the game excruciatingly slow when the cards don't come out in a useful manner. After a couple of games of watching others level up ferociously while I got in multiple fights with a Royal Decree, three Horse Stables, several Bags of Gold, and a New Age strip-mall (the Mage, Healer and some dude hawking tie-dyed bedsheets decided to clog up the Hidden Valley), I've come to realize that more than anything else this game requires stamina.
Fig. 1 — !!!
With all the Adventure Cards from all the expansions, I'm thinking I might need to go through and trim the deck down to tighten up the game... though I'm conflicted, as Talisman really is about embracing pure chaos and not every story should follow standard Fantasy tropes. Sometimes it's okay if the Ogre Chieftain's saga is one of administration, finances and horse-trading.
Epic in every dimension. And, despite all the ISC brouhaha, it plays just fine right out of the box.
UPDATE: This is still a great game, the experience growing more rich and nuanced as we become more familiar with it. This is definitely one of those games that requires repeat plays—difficult for most, I know, as the first couple of plays can be excruciatingly long and fraught with error. All I can say is stick with it; like the monster games of old the wonders in this box are only revealed through familiarity.
ISC and other tweaking:
The best version of this game is played with the Age of Empire & The Ancient Throne variants. AoE, found in the rulebook, lays all the public objectives out in a row and allows for long-range strategic planning. AT, an official variant found on Fantasy Flight's website, changes the ISC to 1VP if you control Mecatol Rex—in addition, it allows you to earn as many VP objectives as you qualify for, all at once.* It makes for a longer game (with no 2VP clock counting it down) but with far more interaction, with emphasis on the ACTION!!!
Take the best double systems and place them randomly around Mecatol Rex (so the first ring is made up of resource- and influence-rich gems of the Empire). Then build the other rings as normal. This prevents the usual layout of the galaxy—with players each residing in their own premium "turtle pockets" that are bordered with crap while the throneworld of Mecatol Rex languishes in a backwater ghetto. Surrounding it with double systems forces players to move fleets up the ladder and into sweaty proximity around Mecatol Rex for a turn (or so) of hard stares and eye-twitching until someone pulls the trigger on the Last War and makes the jump for Mecatol. With everyone having a fleet one hex out, the game becomes a Rolling Storm of Woe mitigated only by political shenannigans and shady trading...
UP-UPDATE: Aw, hell... who am I kidding? With the advent of the Shattered Empire expansion, this is a rock-solid 10. Slathered miles-deep in theme, diplomacy & intrigue, massive space fleet engagements & ground combat—there's nothing else like it. Nothing even comes close.
For more info, try my award-winning (!) session report:
A must-have for the base game—in fact, I don't really consider this to be an expansion at all as it's so well integrated with the original. It doesn't so much "fix" or change the nature of Twilight Imperium as it just makes it more of what it already is. Not just recommended, but required. (It bumped TI3 from an eight to a solid-forever 10 for me.)