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Everyone Dies in the End – Arkham Horror the Card Game

Aaron Thorne
United States
Valley Park
Missouri
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Arkham Horror has been a significant product line for Fantasy Flight Games for a number of years now. I personally have invested more money into the Arkham Horror 2nd edition board game than I care to think about, and there have been multiple spin offs from that property besides. A recent one of those is Arkham Horror the Card Game, which is part of FFG's line of Living Card Games. The base game comes with the cards to play three different scenarios that make up a small campaign that takes place within everyone's favorite town full of crazies, Arkham, Massachusetts.

Like in the board game that the card game is based on, each player takes on the role of a specific character. The base set provides enough cards for one or two players to play five different characters with good variety in their abilities and play styles. The instructions recommend starting play as the Federal agent, Roland Banks, so for my first play I used the standard starting deck for Roland and gave it a whirl. Standard decks are 30 cards, plus whatever specific cards you get in addition to that. Players can, of course, modify the starting decks within the bounds given for the character. For example, Roland gets cards from two different sets, plus generic cards, plus a couple specific cards that only that character uses.

Just like in the Arkham Horror board games, your character moves around a map. Each character has a smaller sized card that represents where they are on the board, and the board itself is made up of cards specific to each scenario. For example, the very first scenario takes place within a house, so the location cards for that scenario all represent different rooms in the house. In the second scenario, the location cards represent different parts of the town of Arkham.

As noted above, my first play used Roland Banks by himself in the first scenario. Without giving away the scenarios (letting the story be uncovered during play is the best way to go with games like this), I won the scenario, though in the end it came down to getting a lucky counter draw to defeat the main enemy, which I only had about a 25% chance of pulling off. But a win is a win, so I was ready to move on to the next scenario.

Game play is similar enough to the Arkham Horror board game that if you have experience with that system you should pick up things quickly. Just like in the board game each turn your character gets a limited number of actions. You can move, search for clues, fight monsters, draw extra cards, etc. Characters normally each get three actions per turn. This seems like a good number. It is enough to let you accomplish things on your turn, but not enough to let you accomplish everything you want to most of the time. Wasting your actions or spending them frivolously without a specific plan is a good way to lose a scenario in my experience. Also also just like in the board game, there is a deck of Mythos cards that generally cause bad things to happen. Maybe a location gets locked and you have to break the locked door to investigate the location. Maybe a monster attacks you. Maybe you lose an item you have played. Each turn each player draws one Mythos card and applies its effects.

When your character survives a scenario you gain experience, which you can spend to buy new cards for your deck. Cards can cost anywhere from 1 to 5 experience points, and always replace another card in your deck, rather than simply being added. I ended up using Roland's experience from the first scenario to purchase a new card that soaked sanity damage, which he doesn't have a high threshold for. I also purchased an upgraded version of the Beat Cop card. This is an interesting idea in the game, where some cards are available in multiple versions, and you can trade out a weaker version of the card for a stronger version by paying the difference in card levels in experience points.

My second play was, naturally, the second scenario. Here my luck started to turn for the worse. The second scenario has you running around the town of Arkham looking for specific people on a map with nine locations. I only found two of them (to be honest, one of them found me), and the second one almost killed me before I could deal with him. The results of the second scenario impacts setup for the third scenario, so when I did my third play using the third scenario, I was starting off in a relatively weak position. My bad luck from my second play followed me into the third play, and in the end my character was eaten by an eldritch horror from beyond time and space and I lost the campaign. Good times!

One difference from the board games is that there are no dice involved. Randomization is instead handled by drawing counters from a bag or a cup. Instead of the counters having numbers on them, like you would get from rolling a standard die, the counters usually have modifiers on them that change the trait rating of your character, and can either help or (usually) hinder your character in what they are attempting. Each character has different high and low traits. For example, Roland is good at fighting, but bad at stealth and sneakiness. Wendy Adams, the Urchin character, is the opposite. Some counters have special symbols, the meaning of which changes from scenario to scenario. You can change the difficulty of scenarios by changing the specific counters you use. I was playing an “easy” game and I still got wiped out.

Undeterred by that miserable failure, I played the campaign again. This time, even though I am playing solitaire, I played with two characters, Roland Banks again and the forementioned Wendy Adams. The characters are quite different in strengths and abilities, and the increased tactical possibilities of having multiple characters made my second play through more enjoyable. My fourth play was scenario 1 again, and this time little Wendy Adams was the one who killed the big bad guy, backstabbing him when he was engaged in combat with Roland.

My fifth play was a replay of the second scenario, and this time it went much better from a results perspective, with four of the target characters being found and dealt with before time ran out. Poor Roland got knocked out by a Nightgaunt, though, which was a bummer. When characters are eliminated in play from losing all of their health or sanity, they are not necessarily permanently killed (though it can happen), but if they survive they earn permanent “trauma” which causes them to start the next scenario in the campaign with wound or sanity tokens. Poor Roland gets to start scenario 3 with one of each now.

After five plays I must say that I really like this game. While the use of set scenarios does somewhat limit its replayability, the fact that you can replay the scenarios with completely different characters will give replays a different tactical feel for at least the first couple dozen times through. There are also official and fan-made scenarios and campaigns available to extend play, and the game doesn't cost that much for the volume of play you can get out of it. I currently rate this game an "8," and is a keeper for me.
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Fri Sep 7, 2018 12:08 am
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Struggling On in the Face of Impending Doom - We Must Tell the Emperor

Aaron Thorne
United States
Valley Park
Missouri
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We Must Tell the Emperor is a States of Siege game published by Victory Point Games, though as of the time of this writing it is out of print. The States of Siege game system is intended for solitaire play, and always presents the player as the defender where multiple enemies are moving along paths to the character's base, which you must keep the enemies out of. The first game in the series is Israeli Independence, but there have been many more games that use the same core system. We Must Tell the Emperor puts the player in the position of the Imperial Japanese military during World War II. You must fend off American, British, and Chinese offensives while maintaining your military forces, prestige, and oil resources. There is an expansion pack that the publisher sold for the game, but I do not have it, and only own the base game.

We Must Tell the Emperor is played in a series of turns. Each turn, you turn over the top card of the Event deck. The card tells you whether any enemy armies move along their tracks, whether you lose or gain any resources, whether there are any die roll modifiers for that turn, and how many actions you have. The use of actions is what gives the player agency in the game. You can't control what the cards do to you, but you can choose how to spend your actions. Actions let you fight battles (only on specific turns), attack enemy armies on the board to force them to retreat along their path away from the islands of Japan, attempt to gain resources, or in limited situations place an encampment. The player will generally have between two and four actions per turn.

The Event deck is divided into three different stages. All of the early war cards are played before any of the mid war cards are played. All of the mid war cards are played before any of the late war cards are played. The player is trying to survive until all Event cards have been played. You can also win by knocking out three of the enemy armies. The player loses if an enemy army occupies Japan, if the army and oil resources end the turn at zero, or if at any point all three resources are at 0.

My first play ended with the American Nimitz army occupying Japan during the late war stage, which gives you a historical end result, but it is still a loss. The game started relatively well, and I even was able to knock out the British army fairly early on, but I had some pretty bad luck with dice rolls and had a hard time getting new resources to replace what the Event cards took away from me. I also had trouble conducting attacks against the Chinese army, it never seemed to want to move. I also had terrible luck whenever I fought a named battle, never once getting a good result. Ah, well, sometimes the dice just don't let you win.

My second play was almost a copy of my first. I lost again, in late war, two cards in. I lost due to total collapse. I rolled terribly on the battle table. What was different, is that I lost while the Nimitz army was in the “1” space on its track, instead of at the Japanese Home Islands. So as far as I am concerned, that is an improved performance. Very slight improvement, but improvement none the less.

My third play was an even bigger improvement. I still lost in the late war, but I was in the last half of the late war cards before total collapse came. I had much better luck with the dice this time, and in fact I only failed to get the best result on Battle rolls once. I held the line pretty much everywhere until the late war cards started, and all at once I started failing every single resource roll. So many “1”s! The basic flow of the game is that in the early war cards your forces are in the ascendancy, and you need to do as well as you can to push enemy armies back and stock up on resources. During the mid war stage you start to lose more resources and military positions, but you also have some opportunities to make improvements. During the late war stage, though, everything starts collapsing at once and you are just trying to hold on as long as possible.

Every States of Siege game has something in the game mechanics to differentiate it from other games in the series. We Must Tell the Emperor has Battles. Nine times during the game (assuming you survive that long, of course) specific historic battles will occur. You may, if you spend an action to do so, roll on the battle table when the Battles occur to see whether you win or lose the battle. Some, like the Battle of Pearl Harbor, favor the Japanese player, but many or simple even odds for a good result, a bad result, or a neutral result. My own experience has been that good luck with Battle rolls can really help improve your positions in the game, but sometimes the rewards just aren't enough to warrant a roll (which costs an action, so that means you aren't doing something else you might want to do). The flip side is that losing a few battles can really hamper your position, as losing battles generally loses you resources that you will desperately want once you enter the Late War stages.

My fourth play went almost the same as the first two plays, except that I got to the third card of the Late War stage before total collapse occurred. For my fifth play, feeling a need to change things to try to get a different result, I tried the optional rule of playing the event cards in historical order. This is done by stacking the deck in numerical order, from 1 to 58. This is the only time I felt my lack of the expansion pack, as there are missing numbers, so obviously there are additional cards in the expansion pack that would have fleshed out the deck. Oh, well. Anyway, I did quite good with this play, getting deep into the Late War deck, before the Chinese forces conquered Japan with only three cards left.

I have now played this game enough times to know that I do not enjoy it as well as the other States of Siege games that I own. It does a good job of showing the flow of events during the Pacific War from the Japanese perspective, but I don't find it that much fun. The difficulty is brutal, and it feels like ultimate victory would only come from a lot of luck, not player skill. As such, I am not sure that this game is a keeper.
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Sun Dec 17, 2017 10:28 pm
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From Out of Chaos Comes More of the Same – Myth 2.0

Aaron Thorne
United States
Valley Park
Missouri
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The game Myth has a troubled history. It was originally offered in a Kickstarter campaign, and some people spent a lot of money to get the game and a bunch of expansion material, and then it turned out that the rules were confusing to many and they found it hard to understand how the game should be played. This upset some people. If you checked the message boards here on the Geek after the game was released, you could find people thoughtfully trying to figure out how to play the game, as well as people gleefully bashing the game for its confusing rules and play materials. Sometimes one person played Jekyll and Hyde, swinging between the two approaches from post to post, or even within the same post! It was crazy times.

I do not have any Kickstarter experience with Myth, having picked up my copy and all subsequent expansion material that I own via retail channels. The game is fairly expensive, it is true, but the components are good quality. While the game is sold as a board game, in its heart the game is a miniatures skirmish game and the figures are priced accordingly. To get enough minions and captains plus a boss for any of the expansion races released with the original game cost easily over $100 unless you found a good discounter. And there were four expansion races, plus extra equipment cards, quest cards, and so on. You could easily drop more than $500 if you tried to get everything. Back in 2015 I got some friends together to play the game, and we confusedly and happily banged around with it for half a dozen sessions before getting tired of being confused by the rules and moved on to play something else. We liked the game, but were annoyed by the game at the same time. I guess that explains those people in the forums that couldn't make up their mind!

However, Megacon Games would not abandon the game, and they released a second edition of the rules, referred to as “2.0,” with the intention of making the game easier to understand and play. They sold an upgrade pack including a new rule book and a bunch of replacement cards on their website, and I bought it. I also picked up the skeleton and cyclops race figures and some additional board tiles. Then I sat on everything until just recently when I finally broke it out again to see how the 2.0 rules work. So this set of plays is for a game that I somewhat know how to play, but I am playing with the updated rules for the first time.

As it turns out, the 2.0 rules really don't change actual game play. All of the basic mechanics are still in place. The rules are better organized this time around, so the rule book is clearer and you can actually find stuff when you go looking for a rule, which is nice. The 2.0 rulebook is noticeably shorter, though, with all of the “fluff” and character background description removed. One major change, though, is in the codification of the styles of play. In the original version, you could play many types of games. First was a “free-form quest,” where you just laid down tiles and monsters and started killing stuff with no quest giving you a reason to do so. You played as many tiles as you felt like, and then you declared the game done. Next were “Chapter Quests,” where the players draw a chapter quest card and setup the table to align with the requirements of the quest. Some of these chapter quests could chain into additional quests for longer adventures, and some were stand-alone. Next were “Act Quests,” which tended to be more elaborate and more story-driven. Last were “Story Quests,” of which the rulebook contained five. These each had three acts that were performed in order, and if you completed a Story Quest your character could earn a title, which provided a few benefits. The 2.0 rules streamline this down to “Adventures” and Story Quests. The “Adventure” acts like the old “free-form” style, except that on many tiles you will be drawing Quest cards to add some story action to your game.

For the first play, we had a three player game, using the Soldier, Archer, and Apprentice characters. We decided to play what 2.0 calls an “Adventure,” and semi-randomly picked a 6x6 forest path tile to lay down. This tile size gives the option of picking a trap or a quest, and we landed on a quest. The quest “The Hand of Darkness” was drawn from the adventure deck. This quest has the setup of a group of refugees arriving, having fled from “the Darkness” and its terrible hero. The quest supersedes the standard tile setup rules, so instead of a hunting party we got six minions, one captain, and a mini-boss. We decided to stick to base game components and had some Grubbers, a Mucker as captain, and Yardu as mini-boss. The quest goal was to kill everything but the mini-boss while never having anyone's threat rise to or above five. We were able to handle the minions and the captain without difficulty, but Yardu was another matter entirely. He wounded all heroes and even took down the Archer before all other figures were cleared from the board. So we ended up winning the quest, but ended up calling the game after just one tile, as we were down to two wounded heroes and we weren't sure another tile was survivable. So that was a bit anticlimactic.

One thing to note about Myth is that, even in 2.0, the basic setup is that you start each game fresh. Any equipment your character picked up in prior games? Gone. Any gold your character picked up in prior games? Gone. Unspent serendipity? Gone. Any potions you found and didn't use? Gone. If your character has titles (awarded for defeating bosses in 2.0, rather than for completing story quests in the original version) then they can keep one equipment piece per title between games, but that is all you keep. I'm not sure why the rules are written that way, but it annoys me greatly. Why would the soldier immediately lose that mace he found after the adventure is over? There is no good reason.

For the second play, we actually got through two whole tiles! We started on a 6x4 with some crawlers and a trap. That was easy to deal with, and the trap (falling stuff) even took out on the crawlers for us. Nice. Then we moved to a 12x12, which had a quest to help a merchant who got his goods stolen, as well as a lair. Ah, that blasted lair. It took us FOREVER to take out that stupid lair. I probably shouldn't have insisted on setting the lair on the far side of the board, as it took us many turns just to get to it, and it kept spawning minions (and even a captain) while we slowly trudged up to it, wading through minions along the way. We didn't take much damage, but it just took a long time. Once we finally cleared the tile we were all tired and called the game at that point.

One frustration that many people have had with Myth goes beyond the issues with the rules and gets at the fact that Myth simply isn't the game that many people want it to be. Myth is a dungeon crawl game without any real story to it. The rules barely hint at a setting, but provide no real information on it. Why are the characters running around bashing monsters? The game doesn't tell you. Where do Grubbers come from? The game doesn't tell you. What is the point of all of this blood, sweat, and tears? Other than the sheer fun of the gameplay, there is no point to it. This game is all about the mechanics and rules systems. And those are good! I really enjoy discussing strategy with my friends for the right order in which to take actions to maximize the impact. The way that the “Darkness” turn only happens after a certain number of action points are spent really adds to the tension as you plan out your moves. All of that works really well, and when a plan really comes together and you wipe out a whole bunch of monsters in a series of attacks it feels really good. Admittedly, I always seem to have the wrong cards in my hand at the wrong time, no matter what character I play, but I can't blame the game for my own terrible luck.

For our third play we decided to change things up and try one of the Story Quests, Stone of Life. In Myth 1.0, Stone of Life was one of the story quests in the back of the rule book. However, we played the 2.0 version of Stone of Life which we downloaded from the Megacon Games website. Well, we started to play it, but we all died in the first Act. We switched up characters, with only the Soldier holding over from prior play. Replacing the Archer and Acolyte we had the Brigand and the Hunter (a special character from the MERCS: Recon Kickstarter campaign that has similarities to the Archer). The first tile went super easy, as it was just avoiding a trap. The second tile was murderous, as the lair on that tile is twice as tough as a normal lair, and for every minion we killed it spawned two before we finally killed it. Unfortunately, most everyone was poisoned and before that tile was cleared we were down to just the Soldier, with one hit point left. He actually did better than we figured on the third tile, taking out the captain and a couple minions before succumbing to the inevitable and dying under a swarm of crawlers.

For our fourth play we were able to wrangle in another player, so we had four characters: soldier, acolyte, apprentice, and brigand. We played an Adventure that lasted four tiles. Things were going great until the fourth tile, a 12x12, which had a quest that put a bunch of minions, a lair, and a captain on the board. You couldn't wound the captain until a character standing next to the captain performed three non-combat actions to remove its protection. Then you could kill it and complete the quest. You know how I mentioned I have terrible luck with card draws? My luck infected the entire table, because it took us no less than 16 attempts to get three successes, and we only need a six or higher on a d10. While everyone was impotently trying to get those non-combat actions completed, the lair kept spawning more and more grubbers and muckers and we got annihilated in a swarm of greenskins. I don't know that we ever even got within 3 squares of that stupid lair.

After a couple failed games, I had trouble getting people to play the game any more, so I am ending this series of plays at four instead of five. As I mentioned above, Myth is a game that is all about the game play. If you enjoy it (and I certainly enjoy parts of it), it can be a real blast. However, Myth for all of its strengths is lacking what most people want: an actual campaign. Most other dungeon crawl-style miniatures games have at least a framework of a story to make the players feel like they are accomplishing something and moving the story along. Myth doesn't have that, by design, and the game really misses it; it just feels like a story should be there, but it isn't. Oh, well.

I am not sure when I will play Myth again. I could try to sell it or trade it, but I still like the basic concepts and rules mechanics enough that changing some rules to make it the game that I want it to be might be worthwhile. Also, the physical components are excellent. I run a D&D game periodically for some friends, and the last time we played I used the Crawler and Creature with a Thousand Legs miniatures in the game to represent giant ants and their queen. It worked great. Some of the tiles would also work quite well as game maps for D&D or another fantasy RPG. There is a good game in here somewhere, but is it worth the time and effort to build it, when there are other dungeon crawl games out there that probably give me what I want? I don't know that it is.
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Sun Dec 10, 2017 11:41 pm
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If Teamwork Was Easy, Everyone Would Do It - Sentinels of the Multiverse

Aaron Thorne
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Valley Park
Missouri
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The editor couldn't ignore the numbers in his spreadsheet any more; sales were down, and the company was going to have problems if they couldn't get the numbers back up. He called in his senior writer to brainstorm ideas.

“How about a limited series?” asked the head writer. “We could pair two of the most popular members of the Freedom Five, Legacy and Wraith, and have them battle against a resurgent Baron Blade.”

“Sounds interesting, but haven't they both fought against Baron Blade before?”

“Sure they have, but as part of the Freedom Five, not independently. We'll have one of the Baron's allies stir up trouble elsewhere, so when the Baron makes his move only the big two are left in Megalopolis to stop him!”

“Well, write up a plot summary of the first issue and have it on my desk by 4PM.”


Sentinels of the Multiverse is a comic book superhero cooperative card game. Two to five players each pick a hero to play, which is represented by a deck of cards. Then everyone together picks a villain to fight and an environment where the fight takes place. If you are familiar with major comic book superheros then you will recognize a lot of the character concepts. There is a super powered person, there is a super rich person with lots of gadgets, there is a super fast person, there is a combat suit wearing person, there is a super strong person, etc. All of the characters are original to the game, though, so even though the general archetypes are recognizable, they all have their own spin on things.

Gameplay is pretty simple. You start with the villain turn. You perform any “Start of Turn” events, then you play the top card of the villain deck, then you perform any “End of Turn” events. These events could be attacks or effects that modify the play environment or the characters. Then each of the players takes their turns, which consists of playing cards, using powers, and drawing new cards. Then you perform the Environment turn, which plays just like the Villain turn and adds annoyances (and occasionally benefits) from the local environment that the players have to overcome. This continues until the villain is defeated or all of the heroes are defeated. If one or more heroes are defeated but not all, then the game continues (and defeated heroes still get to take a special action on their turn) until all are defeated.

For my first play, I played a two-player game. Legacy (the game's “super powered person”) and Wraith (the game's “rich person with gadgets”) tangled with Baron Blade (this game's “rich industrialist bad person”) in the city of Megalopolis. The game did not go well for the players. It took over half a dozen turns before Legacy got a card on the table that let him attack, and that gave Baron Blade the time to get multiple defense platforms in play (you can't attack Baron Blade if a defense platform is in play). The environment didn't help, as at one point we had multiple monorails plummeting to the earth while the heroes were trying to fight minions. Even though Wraith was doing damage to multiple targets per turn, by the time the players turned the corner and started doing serious damage each round they had each taken so much damage themselves that they weren't able to seriously threaten the villain. In the end, both heroes went down on the same turn on a direct attack from the Baron. Afterwards, from what I read on the internet, I learned you aren't supposed to play with just two heroes. A two player game should have each player controlling two heroes, for a total of four, is what seems to be the right way to go. That makes sense, because that gamewith just two heroes was crazy tough, though bad card luck also had something to do with it.

“What is this garbage?” yelled the editor. “Who is going to buy a story where the heroes get defeated and the earth is destroyed? How am I supposed to sell more issues with this?”

“Calm down, boss.” said the writer. “It's a plot twist! At the last moment Baron Blade's equipment malfunctions, and everyone is transported back in time!”

“What?”

“Seriously. They find themselves in a land before time, with dinosaurs and huge plants and stuff. Kids love dinosaurs! There Legacy and Wraith meet up with a super strong early human who helps them defeat the Baron!”

“I can't believe I actually hired you.”


This is a game where the character you have can radically alter the way the game plays. Some characters are straight-forward “hit things hard” types, but others are more obtuse and indirect, with powers that impact the overall environment instead of just directly attacking enemies. In the rulebook there is a table that gives a complexity rating for each of the heroes, from 1 to 3, with the lower numbers supposedly being easier to learn to play, so you can use that as a guide if you aren't sure what character you should pick. In addition, the order that players take their turns can matter. For example, Legacy has abilities that impact what the other characters are doing, so if Legacy goes first then everybody gets the advantage of those abilities from the beginning. As you get familiar with the characters, you will develop a feel for the right order to use and which ones you like best.

For my second play, we kept most of the same setup as before, but made two changes. First, we added the hero Haka, as I had a chance for a three player game and that is the character I wanted to play. Second, we changed the location to Insula Primalis (aka, Dinosaur Country) because my friends are silly. This game went WAY better than the first one. Everyone got attack power cards in their initial hands, and the environment actually helped more than hindered us, even if the volcanic eruption made me nervous for a few minutes. Baron Blade barely had time to get any support cards out before every hero was pummeling him. Haka was amazing, doing all sorts of damage all over the place. Even with three character instead of two, this game took less than half the time that the first one did, we beat the villain so fast.

“I though you were an idiot, but this script for issue two is surprisingly good.” said the editor. “I love the part where Wraith uses her grappling line to sweep everyone out of the way of the lava flow from the volcano. Ooh, and the part where Haka goes ape nuts on those poor minions of the Baron? Genius how he goes berserk and hits his own new friends in the process. And then Wraith punched him right back! So good. And then Legacy destroyed a defense platform, scragged a gun turret, and punched the Baron in the face with the same blow? Fantastic. So what's next? How do they get back to their own time?”

“Patience, my dear boss, patience.” said the head writer. “Issue three is going to shift gears to the rest of the Freedom Five. Remember how the team was intentionally split by Baron Blade by having one of his villain allies draw the other three members of the team away? Issue three covers that action.”


For my third play, things were much changed. The remains of the Freedom Five (Tachyon, Absolute Zero, and Bunker) were on Wagner Mars Base fighting Omnitron. While I had played games against Baron Blade before, this was my very first crack at Omnitron. It didn't go well. Omnitron has a crazy powerful weapon called the Electro-Pulse Explosive, which deals every hero damage each turn based on its hit points, and it starts with 15! And I drew it on the first turn! It was amazing that we were able to knock off over half of Omnitron's hit points with the damage that stupid thing was dealing. And, of course, once you deal with the first one there is another one hiding in the deck. Omnitron was a crazy hard villain to beat, but I'm not sure that these three heroes were really the best choice, either. Tachyon draws lots of cards, and Bunker does consistent damage, but Absolute Zero hurts himself? And then heals himself? And then does strange stuff that I could never figure how to really focus onto defeating enemies. He needs a basic “punch that bad guy” kind of power.

“So the Baron used a special computer virus to mess with the automated weapons factory on Mars, and make it go crazy. Tachyon, Absolute Zero, and Bunker head up there on the Freedom Flyer to find out what is going on, and then all sorts of drones built by the factory attack them.”

“Okay,” said the Editor. “And then what?”

“Well, they blow up a lot of drones, but more keep coming.” said the writer. “So when the meteor storm hits the base and the oxygen leak happens and the biodome catches fire, the team retreats, leaving Mars in the hands of Omnitron.”

“So the heroes are defeated again?”

“Yup.”

“Nobody is going to want to read stories where their heroes get defeated by the villains, man. Write it again.”

“Wait, boss, wait. This is just an opportunity to bring in a different group of heroes in a cross-over special so that they can defeat Omnitron. More heroes means more books sold, right boss? That's the point, right boss?”


for my fourth play, I am dipping into the cards from the Rook City expansion, the first expansion for the game. This adds new heroes, new villains, and new environments. I had Omnitron descend from Mars and attack Rook City, so that was my villain and environment. I decided to use a four hero team this time, consisting of Tempest, Ra, and Fanatic from the base game; and Mister Fixer from the Rook City expansion. These four heroes beat poor Omnitron into pulp. Tempest had cards that let him deal a lot of damage per turn and Ra and Mister Fixer were both dealing decent damage per turn, but the game hinged on Fanatic. Remember the Electro-Pulse Explosive? Two of those made an appearance, but Fanatic has a card called Chastise that lets you seal off a target. This target can't take damage, but it can't deal any damage either. Fanatic had one of these when the first explosive showed up, so she sealed it away until the team was ready to deal with it. That was a huge factor in what otherwise felt like a relatively easy win for the hero team.

“I like this team.” said the Editor. “Fanatic, Ra, and Tempest really work together well. Mister Fixer mostly punched robots, but that meant the rest of the team could focus on Omnitron and not have to worry about getting overrun by drones.”

“Exactly, boss.” said the Writer. “When I was looking through our files on older heroes, I figured I could write some cool action sequences related to how these heroes' abilities interact with each other and get a 'whole is greater than the sum' type of effect.”

“So where do we go from here?” asked the Editor.

“The final issue of the series sets up Haka for his own series. Legacy and Wraith return from the past when Wraith re-configures some of the still-functioning equipment from Baron Blade's platform, and Haka insists on coming with them. This allows for some humorous events as Haka tries to interact with modern culture and equipment, without much success. But Wraith has an idea, and takes Haka to Rook City to introduce him to her friend Unity.”

“Unity? Isn't she the girl that builds the robots?”

“Exactly! Opposites attract, right? Wraith thinks that Unity would make a great girlfriend for Haka, so she sets them up on a date. Wraith and Legacy are watching from the bushes as hilarity ensues when Haka tries to eat lobster at a fancy restaurant.”

“This is a terrible idea.”

“No, boss, it's not. See, after all of the comedy of Haka and Unity going on a date, Ambuscade the Hunter attacks! He learned that Haka is an ancient man from pre-historic times, and believes that this makes Haka the greatest trophy in the world, so the greatest hunter in the world, Ambuscade, must bag him. Ambuscade attacks in the middle of Haka's lobster dinner, Wraith and Legacy burst out of the bushes to help their new friend, and then there is a big fight all around the city.”


While you can certainly play this game with three people, four seems to be the sweet spot for me. The way that the game balances varying numbers of players is that many of the villain cards do “H” damage, where “H” is the number of heroes in the game. So if you are playing with three heroes, then those cards do three damage, if you are playing with five heroes, those cards do five damage, etc. While I have won with three characters, four heroes games feel more fun because of the greater variety of hero actions going on. I have yet to play a five player game, but maybe those are even funner.

Anyway, for my fifth play we got a little silly again. We played Wraith, Legacy, Haka, and Unity against Ambuscade in Megalopolis. The game started with Ambuscade invisible and heavily armored with some sort of grenade launcher, and he did lots of damage in the first couple turns. Haka and Wraith quickly got cards out that did a lot of damage in their own right, though, and once Ambuscade's cloaking device and shields were destroyed he was taking at least 10 damage per turn and not dishing much back. I don't think Legacy made a single attack all game, but he was adding to the other characters' damage and he was doing a lot of defending, which worked well. Unity didn't really accomplish much in the way of defeating Ambuscade directly, but one of her bee bots did get rid of an annoying card that was giving Ambuscade extra damage, and her raptor bots dealt with the monorail environment cards surprisingly well. In the end, the good guys won, the bad guy lost, and a good time was had by all.

“Wow, Haka really does like to hit things, doesn't he?” asked the Editor.

“It's what he does best.” said the Writer.

“I do like how Haka and Unity supported each other in this battle, maybe you are on to something with this relationship you are writing for them. But do you think our normal market is going to be interested in that?”

“Come on, boss, it's the Twenty-First Century now, girls read comics, too. And why wouldn't our normal market want to read a comic where a huge dude punches bad guys in the face, and gets the girl at the same time? It's the best of both worlds!”

“Well, okay. This story seems a bit rambling, but it does have cross-over appeal with different teams, and in introduces a new character and some new plot lines we can mine in the future, so let's get rolling on this.”

“You got it, boss!”


I like Sentinels of the Multiverse a lot. The characters and villains all play differently from each other, so there is a lot of variety just in the base game, never mind adding in the expansions. The game is challenging, but not impossible. On top of that, the characters designs are generally interesting and there are many opportunities for some light role-playing during the game. The fact that it is a card game means that the randomness in the card draws can be a determinant of victory or defeat, but that is the nature of all card games and good play of your cards and your character powers is still important. I don't play much in the way of superhero games, and I don't read much in the way of superhero comics, but I still think this game is a keeper.
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Thu Oct 5, 2017 6:51 pm
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Stay On Target - Hornet Leader

Aaron Thorne
United States
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Missouri
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Hornet Leader is a solitaire game of naval fighter combat, designed by Dan Verssen. There are two versions of the game. The one that I have (and am therefore playing) was published by GMT Games in 1991. Dan Verssen Games published an updated version a few years ago, but I don't own that and don't know anything about it. In Hornet Leader, you are the leader of a squadron of F-18 Hornets aboard a US Carrier somewhere in the world. You get missions, and you fly them. You want to destroy your targets without losing any planes or pilots.

The game revolves around campaigns, of which the game comes with ten. Some of them are easier (shorter) than others. For example, I started with the “Central America” campaign, which has you flying missions against some country in that region. I settled on Nicaragua for no real reason. This campaign is short, consisting of three missions total. Each campaign card tells you the number of missions in the campaign, which target cards to remove from the target deck, modifiers to enemy fighter and Surface to Air Missile (SAM) coverage, and the score sheet for the campaign.

One issue that I ran into (an “issue” solely for the purposes of this blog) is whether to consider an entire campaign one play, or one mission as one play. While the Central America campaign is short, the World War III: Mediterranean campaign has 15 missions! That won't do. I landed on a compromise of treating one session (where I sit at the table and play one or more missions, as time allows) as one play. We'll see how that goes.

In my experience, close to half of your play time will be setup, which reflects its importance. First, you draw a target card and a mission briefing card. The target card, obviously, gives you your mission target. This card provides you with the score sheet for the mission, enemy fighter and SAM coverage, the damage score per hit on the target, and the suggested number of Hornets to send on the mission. The mission briefing card provides other information, including the range to the target (short, medium, long), the weight points available for weapons and pods, whether it is a day or night mission, the number of load areas available to use on your Hornets, the Certainty range (impacts SAM placement), and the Special range (your chance of having special events).

You then do initial SAM (and Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA)) placement, which is what intelligence THINKS is at the target. After that, you load ordinance on your planes. Each Hornet has five hardpoint areas. Two are dedicated to Sidewinders (short range air-to-air missiles), but the other three are available for a wide array of missiles, bombs, and pods (anti-SAM or nigh-vision). You will, naturally, be somewhat guided in what to arm your planes with by the nature of the mission, and the amount of expected SAM and air cover. You still have to make decisions, though, and they can matter.

For my first play, I got in two missions. My first mission was an attack on an anemy Communications Center, with a pair of Hornets. It was a day mission at medium range. The target has no air cover, and only light SAM coverage, so this should be a simple mission to use to ease into things. I grab a couple HARMs (anti-SAM missiles) and some bombs and Maverick missiles (air-to-ground that can attack targets outside of your immediate zone) for my Hornets. I then get a special event of F-117 Stealth Fighter support. So now I have a pair of 117s with bombs to aid me. I got a nasty surprise from an event on the way to the mission zone when I ran across a SAM battery. I needed to spend five HARMs to not get shot at, and I only had two. So I got shot at three times, each with about a 50% chance of destroying or damaging a plane. I got real lucky and they all missed. Once at the target, because I had already used my HARMs (which let you attack first against enemy SAMs), I had to endure the enemy SAMs without being able to take them out first, but they didn't get lock on my planes. The AAA came close to damaging one of my Hornets, but it didn't. It turned out that those 117s were important, though, because while I only scored two hits on the target with my Hornet's bombs and missiles, I scored five hits with the bombs from the 117s. That was enough to get complete success in the mission. On the way back to the carrier I got an event of “Avionics Failure,” which gave me a negative modifier to the Hornet check roll. At the end of each missions, you roll to see if your pilots are any worse for wear after their mission, and if any of the Hornets need to be taken out of service. One of my pilots ended up “Shaken,” (which means they can fly the next mission, but at negative modifiers) and one of my Hornets went down (which means it misses a mission before it can fly again). Not too bad.

My second mission was somewhat of a disaster. I had a night mission against an air defense battery, and on top of that I had a Munitions Shortage special event, so I didn't even have enough N-pods to give all of my Hornets night-vision radar. The target had no air cover, but heavy SAM cover all around, and my rolls for SAM placement put large long range SAMs EVERYWHERE. My planes would be taking fire coming, over target, and going, and there wasn't anything I could do about it because that stupid munitions shortage meant I couldn't load enough HARMs to deal with it all. I did end up with some A-10 support as a special event, so that was good, but I couldn't give them any E-pods to help avoid the SAMs, again because of the stupid munitions shortage. Gah. We ended up surviving the SAMs (only one A-10 was damaged), but the heavy AAA over the target destroyed one of my Hornets and we didn't do enough damage to the target to overcome the loss of points due to the lost plane and pilot, so the mission was a failure.

The next day I sat down to play again, when I looked at the campaign card and realized that I screwed up on the second mission. I had rolled for “Moderate” SAM coverage in the approach zones to the target, but the campaign reduces all “Moderate” to “Light” results. That really changes things! So, I decided to replay the mission with the proper SAM coverage. It took slightly over 20 minutes start to finish, and this time I was able to reduce all SAMs on my approch and over the target with HARMs before they could get a shot at me. The planes also avoided the AAA and we got 11 hits on the target, destroying it about twice over.

The last mission of the campaign was a big one, a daytime raid on a command post. This mission calls for eight Hornets, and Heavy enemy fighter coverage. Luckily, I got a special event that gave me AMRAAM missiles, which improves my long-range air-to-air ability. I split my planes into two groups: four to handle the enemy fighters, and four to attack the target (which due to the campaign modification had only light SAM coverage all around). I ended up facing six enemy fighters, and at the end none of my Hornets was damaged or destroyed and only one enemy plane remained. I also scored 14 hits against the target, when only five were needed to get complete success, so I really obliterated that command post. My event on the return to the carrier was beneficial, so I totaled up my points and I gained a Complete Success for the campaign! Even if I used the original result from the second mission, that would still give me enough points for a complete success.

One thing that becomes quickly obvious in this game is that it is not a simulation of jet combat. All combat is abstract, with no actual maneuvering for position, The simulation here is for commanding a carrier-based squadron, not for actually flying the planes. The Speed of Heat this is not. While you have many decisions to make during the game, they are strategic (what weapons to mount, what pilots to use, what direction of attack to take, whether to use evasive maneuvering, etc.) and not tactical.

My third play consisted of the first two missions of the Iran campaign, which runs for a total of 6 missions. The two missions had very different results. The first mission had eight Hornets attacking an Arms Plant. I assigned two Hornets to air cover and six to ground attack. This was a bit risky, because I had a 20% chance of running into six enemy fighters (which would overwhelm just two Hornets), but the ground target needed nine hits to completely destroy it and I wasn't sure that four Hornets could do the job. It ended up working out well. I had one Hornet damaged by SAMs on approch, but the other ground attack Hornets eliminated all SAMs and AAA on approch and at the target, and they carried lots of Mk. 83 bombs to ensure destruction of the plant. My air cover also destroyed all four enemy planes, so it was a complete success. The second mission did not go well. It was an attack against enemy ground forces. First, I had no E-2 coverage, which gave me multiple negatives on the mission. Second, I had a rack failure that cost me a Maverick missile. Third, while there were no SAMs at the target or on approach, the AAA at the target destroyed one of my two ground attack Hornets. The bombs on the other Hornet didn't do much damage. My air cover did easily sweep aside the enemy MiGs, and I did recover the pilot from the destroyed Hornet, but I ended up with a final result of Complete Failure for the mission.

My fourth play again consisted of two missions. I am now familiar enough with the rules to do two missions in less than two hours. My third mission of the Iran campaign was another failure, though this time I didn't lose any planes. The target was a chemical weapons plant, and I rolled poorly for my attacks against the target, only scoring three hits when eight are needed for complete success. My fourth mission was my first against a naval target, being a Minor Naval Strike. This let me use Harpoon missiles for the fire time, and they are interesting because they are most effective when fired from an approach zone, instead of in the target zone. I ended up with one approach zone being completely free of SAMs, so I just started in that zone and launched all of my missiles, scoring enough hits to achieve complete success. I wish they were all that easy!

My fifth play consisted of two night missions to finish off the Iran campaign. First I was assigned a night mission to attack a SCUD missile site. This went swimmingly, as all enemy fighters were damaged in a surprise long-range attack, and then finished off at close range. Then, we were able to neutralize all SAMs on our attack vector and we successfully bombed the snot out of the target for a complete success. All I needed was another success to win the campaign, but in the final mission disaster struck. The target was a communications center, which called for only two Hornets. There was only light SAM cover at the target, so I only took two HARM missiles. However, the target-bound event was a hidden SAM site. I only expended one HARM against it (keeping the other to take out the long-range SAM at the target), and then I rolled horrible and ended up with one Hornet destroyed and the other damaged before we even got to the target. So that mission ended in complete failure, but even worse is that the destroyed Hornet had my Leader in it. He ejected successfully, but was lost, and per the rules if you lose your Leader that ends the campaign. Points-wise it would have been a draw without that. Stupid SAMs!

So that is the game. I really like it. Once you get the hang of it the game plays quickly, and there is a large variety of targets and events to keep things fresh. The game can feel random at times, but that is the nature of solitaire games that use dice or cards to handle opposing forces, and I don't hold that against the game. I rate this game an “8” and will definitely be keeping it in my collection, even if it is old.
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Wed Jul 5, 2017 10:35 am
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I Thought They Said This Landing Zone Was Clear - Boots on the Ground

Aaron Thorne
United States
Valley Park
Missouri
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Boots on the Ground is a wargame published by Worthington Games. The game is interesting for a couple reasons. First, it is set in modern times, and reflects a generic middle-eastern city where “Allied” forces combat “Insurgent” forces. It could be Iraq, it could be Afghantistan, it could reflect a future peace-keeping exercise in Syria, that kind of thing. The second reason the game is interesting is that you can play it a few different ways: solitaire with one squad, cooperative with two squads, competitive (2-player) with two squads with both players on the same side, competitive (2-player) with one player running the insurgents, and competitive (3-player) with one player running the insurgents and two Allied players either competing among themselves or cooperating.

The rules are fairly simple. I will approach the rules from a Solitaire perspective (the way I am playing the game), as there are only minor tweaks for multi-player games. Each turn, the player may activate a single unit, or an entire “team,” meaning a group of adjacent units. If you activate a single unit, you can use the special ability of that unit (sniper has better odds to hit and better range, medic can heal units, etc.). If you activate a team, every unit can move and fire using the basic stats and no special abilities come into play. Once that activation is complete, you then draw an “Intel” card, which tells you what the insurgents do on their turn. Maybe new insurgents appear, maybe existing ones move, but every time every insurgent that can fire on the Allies does so. Only if the card states that the Insurgents don't fire do they hold their fire. Otherwise they merrily blaze away at your soldiers whenever they can.

Fire is handled with opposed D6 rolls. The attack subtracts the defender's roll from their own to get a final result. A positive result means that the target is wounded or killed. A negative result is a miss, though a very negative result means the attacker was wounded by counter-fire. There are a few modifiers, such as angle of attack modifiers for the attacker and cover modifiers for the defender, but otherwise fire combat is very simple and straightforward.

For my first play, I played the “B Avenue Marathon” scenario with one squad. Because it is my first play, I used the “Newbie” rule and added two generic G.I.s to my squad. I played a couple rules wrong, but it didn't help me because we lost three squad members before even getting two blocks away from the starting area. I needed to get four of my six squad members to the target zone across the map in 30 turns. I lost in 9 turns. That is not good! My inability to roll high for the Allies, or roll low for the Insurgents, meant that I really had no hope. Dice matter in this game.

My second play was with the “Hostage Run” scenario, again solitaire with one squad. This scenario has you cross the map to rescue hostages, and then escort them off the board. We got a little farther this time down the map, but we still got murderized by the insurgents. The main problem I am having is that you just don't know what the card draw will show for the opposition force to do. Maybe new forces show up, maybe ones already on the map move, you just don't know. This makes it hard to make an optimal decision about how to progress towards your goal. There are almost always too many windows and doors at which enemies could randomly appear to minimize risks, you just have to hope to get lucky, which through two failures hasn't been much fun.

A word about the rulebook: I don't like it. Specifically, if I want to look up a rule, I have a devil of a time finding it. In some cases I swear what I am looking for isn't even in the rulebook. Case in point, when an Allied soldier gets injured, you flip the counter over. If it gets injured again, you put a Critical marker on the counter. The critical marker has the number “-2” on it. What does that mean? I can't find anything in the rulebook that explains it. What I did notice is that the wounded side of Allied counters has stats on it, just like the uninjured side, and stats are generally the same for attacks, but movement is always one less when injured. Thus, I have ruled that the “-2” on the Critical marker means that a critically injured soldier moves two less than normal. I can't find that in the rulebook, but it makes logical sense to me, and thus the Medic's ability to move wounded units at his own speed actually becomes useful.

For my third play I decided to revisit the “B Avenue Marathon” scenario again, and this time I won! It even seemed, dare I say it, somewhat easy. I did lose one soldier to a cowardly attack in the back, but for the entire game I only drew one card that added a new insurgent. That was lucky. Also lucky was the fact that the first four turns the Insurgent forces didn't move or shoot. Additionally lucky was the fact that my soldiers actually could hit their targets, killing over half of encountered Insurgents on the first shot. I really don't expect that string of good fortune to carry over the the next play, but I'm enjoying it while it lasts.

By my fourth play I am getting the hang of this game. I played a new scenario, Bldg. 26, which requires you to move most of the way across the map and capture a large building. I was able to take the building without losing a single soldier, though three of the six squad members were injured by the time the last Insurgent was taken down. Strategically, as long as the Allied forces are not outnumbered, they should be able to win any specific encounter. You have to use decent tactics, and not have terrible luck with the dice or cards, but the Allied units are just better than the Insurgents, and it takes three hits to remove them from the map, instead of one. Of course, there are a lot more Insurgents in the world, but the only number that matters is how many of them are firing on you in any specific turn. Don't be afraid to advance slowly when advancing quickly would stretch your line too tin and put you in view of more windows and doors than you can handle, as that is where Insurgents will always pop up.

For my fifth play I played the scenario “Hot LZ.” This places your squad in the middle of a square of Insurgent-occupied buildings, and instructs you to escape to a specific zone on the board. I think I technically won, but out of six squad members only three lived to make it to the target zone, and all were wounded. Other scenarios have victory conditions that require a certain number of units to accomplish something, but this one doesn't say anything like that, so I think as long as one squad member can crawl into the target zone you win. Thus, a winner is me, and after a bad start I ended my run of five plays with a winning record.

Overall I have come around to this game. It did take a few plays to get the hang of it, but I am now at the point where I can play a game from setup to completion in 45 minutes or less. This means that even if I get a run of bad luck and lose, scenarios don't take so much time to play that I can't give it another try. The game rules are a bit simplistic, and in my opinion the rulebook is too sparse and doesn't explain enough, slowing down game play until you figure out how you want to handle whatever unexplained situation has arisen. Keeping in mind that this is a GAME, and not a simulation, I give it a solid “7” rating and will be keeping it in my collection.
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Fri Jun 9, 2017 7:04 pm
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Dungeon Crawler Redux

Aaron Thorne
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Missouri
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The name of this blog is “Play Five.” The concept is that I play a game five times to learn it, and I write about my experience and what I think of the game after five plays. With the game Dungeon Crawler, I did not do that. I played the game three times and declared myself done. I know why I did that (you can read why in the original post), but that decision did not sit well with me. “Play with a higher encounter level!” people posted in reply. “It makes a huge difference!” people posted in reply. So, I decided to correct my mistake and finish out my five plays. To do that, though, I wanted more cards. I found a box of old Unbound booster packs for a very reasonable price, and added those 280 cards to the 140 that come with the starter pack, tripling the number of cards available to me.

When moving from the Beginner game to the Standard game, it isn't just the higher encounter level or deck size that really changes things. It is the fact that you have to build the Crawler and Dungeon decks. Some people really get excited about deck building, but I prefer to just sit down and play. However, in this case you can really change up the way that the game plays by building specific types of decks. For example, for my fourth play, I decided to do a goblin themed deck. You can only use four of each specific card, so I had four goblins, four goblin sneaks, four goblin summoners, etc. That didn't get me to 80 cards, so I added lots of traps and then I just randomly tossed in the remaining dozen or so cards I needed to get the Dungeon deck to 80. The Crawler deck was mostly randomized, but when I picked my party (see below) nobody had a tactics skill of 3, so I made sure to not include any 3 point tactics cards.

Becaue I was playing against mostly goblins, I utilized my new characters from the booster packs and ended up with a party of mostly Gold Dwarves. I had the Warrior from the starter set, and then I added the Gold Dwarf Priestess, Gold Dwarf Brawler, and to round things out a Barbarian Medicine Man. I also got one new Quest card in all 280 cards from the booster pack, for which you need to get 3 “Mastermind” events in the grave. That's great, but I only got 2 “Mastermind” cards! Aargh! I wanted to play with the new Quest, though, so I just used Gravaxin cards and declared that in this game they are Masterminds and not Gravaxin. It worked, but that is a perfect example of what I hate about random booster pack card games. I am glad the publisher has moved away from that model in recent years. Anyway, this play was harder than anything I had encountered before, though I still won, and with no casualties to boot! Everyone was injured, and about ¾ of the way through three of the four characters were one wound away from death, so it was fairly tense but in the end I prevailed by completing two quests (not the Mastermind one. Go me.

Another element about deck building is that based on the Dungeon cards you use, the game can play out very differently. For example, with my goblin-based deck I ended up with a bunch of cards with a Stamina of 0. This means that those cards go away at the end of the round. So the goblins can really swarm you and overwhelm whatever defense you have since they are so cheap, but they can't keep that up round after round. For my second play I decided to make an undead themed deck, and most of those are tougher monsters with stamina that lets them stick around round after round until you kill them. This ended up being what did me in. Since I have won every game to this point I decided to go for an Elite game. This uses decks of 60 cards, but gives you only 3 characters with an encounter limit of 5, same as the standard game. The increased durability of the dungeon cards, plus the fact that I couldn't draw weapon cards to save my life, meant that the undead just kept building up and building up until I was pounded into dust. I think I needed better weapon cards in my deck, because a lot of the undead I was looking at have armor, which makes them even tougher to wound. Live and learn, or in the case, die and learn.

Now that I have played a couple of the other game modes, and used extra cards to build customized decks, I can see what the designer is getting at with this game. You could easily have a set “dungeon” that you throw a variety of adventurer parties at, or you could have a set “hero group” that you throw at a variety of dungeons. This has improved my opinion of the game to a “7.” I do believe that the starter deck format is flawed, though, as a player won't get the full experience of the game without buying expansions. In fact, if I hadn't felt bad that I didn't play the game five times, I never would have picked up more cards to allow me to experience the game the way it is meant to be played, and therefore my opinion would have stayed lower. The starter should come with 200 cards: 5 characters, 5 quests, and 95 crawler and dungeon cards. This could allow a player to get a feel for deck building while still not providing all of the cards the game has to offer, thus enticing the player to search out expansions for more variety. Ah, well, it's easy to tell other people what to do without worrying about the cost.
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Sat Feb 25, 2017 2:03 pm
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An Infestation of Fun - Bugs

Aaron Thorne
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Missouri
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Bugs is a straight-forward card game about trying to get bugs out of your yard, by sticking your neighbor with them. The cards represent either one of nine different kind of bugs, a swarm (wild card), or action cards. Each turn players want to play cards from their hand, either bug cards to add to the swarm or an action card (changing direction, skipping yourself, etc.) to keep from having to play a bug card. If a player can't play a card, they have to take the entire swarm into their hand. Once someone plays their last card, the round ends, and players score one point for each card in their hand. At the end of six rounds the game ends and final scores are compared.

The playing of bugs follows a rule that you always have to play a higher total number. This can be done by playing one or more bug cards of the same type as the top of the swarm, but can also be done by playing enough bugs of a different type that have a total value that exceeds the current number. For example, if you started with two “1” value cockroaches, you couldn't play one “2” value earwig, but you could play one “3” value robber fly. Or you could play one “1” value cockroach, because even though a total value of “1” is less than “2,” it is the same type of bug, so that increases the swarm value to “3.”

That's basically the rules. It seems simple, but I obviously had a hard time with it, because in my first play (a four player game) I got completely destroyed. I never won a single round, and three times I had ten or more cards in my hand at the end of the round when someone else went out. I ended up with 44 points, while the winner (who won two rounds) only had 14. I need to pay more attention or something. The second play was a short five-player game, played after the main game was done at my standing Thursday game night. I scored 18 points in the first round. Eighteen! I ended up with more than double the points of the next worst player. I think I might be bad at this game.

Or, you know, maybe I just needed to figure it out. In my third play I trounced the competition, going out first on four of the six hands and ending up with only nine points total. I have figured out that sometimes you want to pick up the bug swarm instead of playing cards, especially if that lets you exterminate an entire set of bugs. Exterminating sets might also help the other players (by removing cards from the game) but it can certainly be helpful to you if you are paying attention.

My fourth and fifth plays were back to back, with very different results. The first one saw me almost come in last place, and my performance in the last two rounds was pretty bad. However, in the fifth play while my performance in the first few rounds was not good, I won the last two rounds, and barely moved into the winning position, having one less point than the next closest. In fact, my father had been in the lead until he had a disastrous final round, getting stuck with seven cards when I went out.

Overall, I enjoy this game. It is not complex, and is not the greatest game ever, but it has enough strategy and different ways to approach play that it is enjoyable with a wide variety of players (adults, children, gamers, casual players, etc.). I rate the game a “6” on just its own merits since it is so simple, but it works best as a nice filler game before or after heavier games, and thus it fills a good role in my collection. For me, this one is a keeper.
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Sat Feb 25, 2017 2:36 am
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A Hard Way to Earn a Credit – Corellian Smuggler

Aaron Thorne
United States
Valley Park
Missouri
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In the 1990s, Shadis magazine was one of the coolest things in gaming. It had lots of articles for all different kinds of games, and it even had a couple solitaire boardgames in different issues. One of those, from issue 27, is Corellian Smuggler. This game is set in the Star Wars universe, and gives the player a Millennium Falcon clone and a universe in which to make money and cause trouble.

The gameplay is quite simple. The game comes with six different scenarios, each with different goals, but the basic routine is the same for all scenarios. At the start of each day you must pay living expenses for all of your crew as well as docking fees, and then you roll 2d6 to see what random encounter you have that day. This could result in nothing happening, or dealing with a corrupt bureaucrat, or being attacked by a native creature, or lots of other possible encounters. Assuming you survive that, each character in your crew gets to take an action. This can be attempting to repair ship damage, loading new cargo, delivering contraband, healing wounds, etc. If you want to move to another system you normally just roll for a random encounter and then move.

One complicating factor in all of this is the presence of Imperial forces everywhere. Each turn you roll for Imperial Entanglements at your starting location. If you move to a new system, you have to roll again when you arrive. This is problematic if you are smuggling anything. If you aren't, you still might get detained and whatever goods you have on board confiscated just because they think you look shifty. This can be problematic for you, as I found out in my first play.

In my first play, I only made it eight days before getting arrested. I played the first scenario, which starts you out with 1,000 credits and a damaged ship. You win the scenario by repairing your ship. Unfortunately, this costs more money than you have on hand, so you have to take jobs to make the money to repair your ship. The main excitement came from the daily spaceport random encounters. I first got into a couple blaster duels, and then I got Corrupt Bureaucrat four straight times! I always paid the idiots off, but this ended up biting me in the rear because on the eighth day I was flying into Gamorr to deliver some goods when I got detained by the Imperials. They confiscated my (completely legal!) goods, and fined me 400 credits. Because I only had 300 on hand at the time, I was arrested and my game was over. Imperials are jerks.

The mechanical core of this game is rolling on random tables. Every day you will make at least two rolls on encounter tables; one at the start of your turn (based on your location), and one for Imperial Entanglements (unless you are in the wilderness at Hoth or Yavin). You also make encounter and Entanglements rolls when moving your ship from system to system. Other than that, you have a limited set of actions you can take every day. I find the variety of actions to be sufficient to keep the game from getting too repetitive. There are some simple combat rules (space combat is very reminiscent of the game Queen of the Skies) and the ability to hire crew. In addition, you have the ability to customize your character through the use of skill points, which let you boost your skills so you get better at stuff. In addition you can get the Luck skill, which gives you six re-rolls per level. If you roll terrible like I tend to do, you will need as much of this as you can get!

For my second play, I replayed the first scenario. This time it wasn't non-stop Corrupt Bureaucrats, and I even ended up with some beneficial events. The scenario lasted 12 turns, which earned me 4 skill points. I could have ended it after 11 turns, but I had not much money and a good delivery which netted me over 1,000 credits, so I wanted to make that delivery and start the next scenario with some solid funds. This play got pretty entertaining, actually. On day three I took my crew on a Drunken Spree, and somehow ended up with a cache of contraband weapons for free. This could have ended terribly, but somehow I rolled low for Entanglements and no stormtroopers came for me, until RIGHT AFTER I delivered the weapons on turn four. At which point I was detained and fined the maximum amount, but such is life. At least I wasn't arrested this time!. On turn five, I spent all of my money to do some repairs and then I threw caution to the wind and found a job smuggling weapons to Tatooine. Again, somehow I rolled low and the Imperials never caught wind of what I was up to, and on the next turn I netted 3,000 credits! Unfortunately you have to pay your crew at the start of the turn, so I lost my crew because I had no money to pay them until I could make the delivery later that turn. That kind of sucked, but that's the way life goes on the space lines, I guess. Once I had all that money, I went to Sullust and sat tight, spending my money until my ship was mostly repaired. I even picked up a Partner on Sullust (like a crewmember, but they are free forever). Groovy.

My third play did not go as well. I moved on to the second scenario, which has you breaking an Imperial blockade of the Corellia and Calamari systems on behalf of the Rebellion. I started out doing well, but had some bad die rolls and ended up getting arrested on Kashyyyk after Imperials found weapons (and a stowaway) in my secret hold. My fourth play was the same scenario again, but this time I made it to the end. I didn't make as much money, but not getting arrested is infinitely better than having tons of credits but losing. Anyway, this game was very fun, and after four plays I am familiar enough with the rules that it takes me on average about 5 minutes per turn to play. I ended up making eight deliveries to the blockaded systems, which is the average win condition. I got into shootouts with stormtroopers a couple times, I purchased a pet womprat and an astromech droid, I hired a Calamari smuggler to join my crew, and I had my hyperdrive knocked out by a stray asteroid and spent a turn stuck in space until I could repair it (which is why you want an astromech droid on board, naturally). This fourth play was the most fun I have had yet with this game.

I have now played the game enough that I have figured out the rules. The way the rules are written is unfortunately confusing. Rules are just kind of shoved wherever they fit on the page, so things don't really flow with any logic that I can determine. And some things aren't really explained. If you are Stuck in Space, where are you on the map? The rules don't say. Are pets and droids full crewmembers that can be assigned actions? The rules don't say. What is the cost to repair Vacuum Suits? The rules don't say. Stuff like that is annoying, but I just come up with rulings and move forward. It is a game shoved in the middle of a magazine, so I'm not going to flip out over a lack of quality control. The more I play the more I can see what the designer is attempting to do here. Speaking of the designer, it is Dan Verssen, who is now a famous wargame designer who runs his own company. He has designed many solitaire games over the years, most of which are much more complex than this one, and many of which I own. It is fun to play one of his earlier, simpler designs.

My fifth play was tons of fun. I played the third scenario, which requires you to chauffeur a Rebel strike team around to all of the “Garrisoned” planets and destroy the garrisons. Through good die rolling and liberal use of luck points, I was able to destroy all five before the 15 turns were up, so I got the maximum result. This was an action-packed scenario; I fought lots of stormtroopers, and even got into a space fight with two TIE fighters (which shot my ship up real good before we finally got them). I ended up with a lot of Wanted counters on the board, including eleven (!!!) on Corellia, but the mission was accomplished. Go team!

The more I play this game, the more I enjoy it. The variety in scenarios plays a huge role in keeping the game a fresh experience. You have to get used to the game mechanics, and that takes a few plays. If you are the kind of person that likes to “role play” your board games (as I do), then this game is right up your alley. Assuming you like Star Wars, of course, but even if you are neutral on that IP the mechanics work pretty well. A note in the rules suggests using this game as a basis for a roleplaying campaign (the West End Star Wars RPG had just issued its 2nd edition at the time of publication, if memory serves correctly) and I can totally see that working, as there are a lot of story and roleplaying ideas here that could be a lot of fun. I rate this game a solid “7” and will consider taking this with me on some upcoming business trips. I have only played through three of the six scenarios, so there is still a lot of game to go.
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Sun Feb 12, 2017 8:46 pm
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Dungeon of Cards – Dungeon Crawler

Aaron Thorne
United States
Valley Park
Missouri
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I am a big fan of “dungeon crawl” games, or really any “RPG lite” experience that I can play solitaire or with friends. I have some excellent games of this type in my collection (Warhammer Quest, Descent: Journeys in the Dark), and some... not so excellent ones. What I have never found is a card-based dungeon crawl game that really scratches that “dungeon exploration” itch for me, outside of the Pathfinder card games. Those are so story focused, though, and I would like something a bit more flexible. So, a few years ago, when I found the starter set for the Dungeon Crawler game at my local store, I picked it up. I only recently decided to break it out and give it a whirl. Let's see if this can be the first card-based dungeon crawler to really impress me.

The Dungeon Crawler starter set comes with 140 cards: 5 characters, 5 quests, 65 crawler cards, and 65 dungeon cards. This game was originally released with a fixed starter set (what I have) and then random booster packs, making it effectively a collectible card game. The game has since been re-branded as an “Expandable” card game with seven different fixed-card expansion packs available from the publisher, as of the time of this post. I mention this because I have the first edition starter, so the rules are setup for you to play different types of games depending on the number of cards you have available. I have enough cards to do a “Beginner” game, so that is what I played for my first play (and all subsequent plays). In this game you pick four of the five character cards to use, and three of the five Quest cards. You decide if you want to complete 1, 2, or 3 quests for the win. If you have more cards you can do more elaborate games, with higher difficulties, but all I have is the starter, so “Beginner” games is all that I can do.

For my first play, I randomized the characters and quests. I got the Cleric, Scout, Thief, and Stormcatcher (think 'weather wizard') characters, and the “Evil Has a Name,” “Axis of Evil,” and “The Stars Align” quests. The way the solitaire game works is that the “Crawler” cards are used by the player to aid their characters, using them to aid in attacks, aid in defenses, aid in avoiding negative effects, or otherwise helping you accomplish things and keep people alive. Each round you pull “Dungeon” cards until you exceed the Encounter Limit for your scenario. For Beginner games, this is “4.” It can be higher in larger games. Dungeon cards are rated from 0 to 3, so you just keep drawing cards until you reach the Encounter limit. If you end up drawing a card that would put you over the limit (say the limit is “4,” and you have a total value of “3” in play and draw a “2”), you stage that card to add to events next turn. Thus you try to burn through the Dungeon deck before you burn through the Crawler deck. If you do that, you win. If you accomplish your set number of quests, you win. If you burn through the Crawler deck before the Dungeon deck, you lose. If all of your characters die, you lose. I won my first game, though admittedly I handled a few of the rules wrong, not all of which I was able to backtrack on. Oh, well. I won through running the Dungeon deck down to 0. Near the end I had the unique goblin enemy (that's the guy pictured on the game box) and a bunch of enemies beating on me. We couldn't kill the big bad because he had the Stealth trait (which means I can only target him if he is the only viable target), but all we had to do was hold out long enough to run the deck down and win. I lost one character, but that was a sacrifice I was willing to make.

For my second play, I again randomized the characters and got the exact same set of four as before. My quests were a bit different, though, with “Den of Evil,” “The Stars Align,” and “Rescue the Damsel.” I decided to play until two quests were complete. I got the Damsel trap pretty early and was able to beat it, so that was one quest down on the third turn or so. Then, having plowed through about ¾ of the Dungeon deck, I met the “Den” criteria of having 30 characters in the Grave (discard pile), so that gave me the two quests I needed to win. No characters died this time, and frankly it was a bit of a cake walk, with only three wounds being suffered the entire game across the party.

Basically, this is a combination of a math game and a trait-matching game. The math element comes from the combats, where you need to match Adventurer power against enemy stamina, or match Adventurer stamina against enemy power. As long as you can do that, you are fine. In the games I have played so far, I rarely had trouble doing that. The trait-matching element comes from the fact that most of the Characters you encounter have a variety of traits, which boost them in a variety of ways (immunity against certain attack types, bonus power if the Adventurers don't attack with a specific trait, etc.). You, as the player, have to use your Crawler cards to counteract the enemy Character's traits. Or, as happened to me most frequently, I found that I could ignore them because the math was often heavily in my favor.

For my third play I decided to kick up the difficulty, such that I needed to complete all three quests to win (or run down the Dungeon deck). I used the Gold Dwarf Warrior this time, and ditched the Gypsy Stormcatcher character. My three quests were “The Stars Align,” along with the two quests the rules say are the hardest, “Axis of Evil” and “Den of Evil.” To be honest, “The Stars Align” (requiring only 4 Dungeon cards of value 0, 1, 2, and 3 to be in play) was the only one I didn't meet the criteria for. I won the game, by running the Dungeon deck down to nothing. Again, it wasn't even really a challenge. I suspect that the “Beginner” game is probably intended to be fairly easy, and I must admit that I find the lack of challenge to be a problem. Without m cards I don't see any point in continuing to play the game.

I looked on eBay, and found that I could pick up an entire box of 26 booster packs for about $1 per pack. That is still about $25, just to see if additional cards (and the deck-building aspect that comes with additional cards) makes the game more enjoyable. I thought about it, but this game doesn't really grab me, so I don't want to spend extra on it in the hopes that it becomes more enjoyable with more cards. Thus, I am ending this playthrough after only three plays. My final verdict is that the game itself is fine, and the mechanics work. However, you need to really like constantly doing arithmetic and matching/countering traits to enjoy the gameplay. In addition, the starter set cards get familiar fast, and you are likely going to want some extra cards to keep things fresh. The lack of mechanics that interest me, and the need to invest more in it with uncertain returns, means that this title is gonna get traded away at some point. I give this game a "6" out of 10. You math lovers out there might find more value from this title than I did, though.
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Thu Jan 19, 2017 12:52 am
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