Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Days of Wonder: Online

Best of Both Worlds
In today's world of iPads and handheld gaming, its been exciting to see the growing trend of board games finding their way to a digital format.

Days of Wonder, in my opinion, has been on the forefront of this movement. By the time that I had gotten into the hobby, they already had a version of Ticket To Ride for PC/Mac/Linux. It provided a great way to get a quick game in when I didn't have another player available or I wanted a small distraction when watching TV. The initial download comes with the original USA map. Many of the expansions (USA 1910, Europe and Switzerland) are also available for and additional purchase.

Back in 2011, they also released a digital version of Memoir '44 for PC/Mac/Linux. This game featured a freemium model of play. The game itself is free to play and an account initially starts with a certain amount of in-game gold. Each game requires a certain amount of gold based on the chosen map and scenario, with additional gold available for a small fee. This game features a wide variety of expansions and maps and can either be played solo against a computer opponent or online against another person. Recently, Memoir '44 has also been made available on the Steam platform.

Since then, Days of Wonder and began to release some of their games on iOS. Ticket to Ride has a version for the iPad and iPhone/iPod and Smallworld is available for the iPad. Both games have pass n play as well as online asynchronous gameplay.

Personally, I think that this transition is great for the hobby. These versions lower the barrier to entry and makes games much more accessible to new players. The game itself takes care of any initial set up, lowering the time it takes to get a game started to just the time it takes for the game to load. Another great thing is that the games themselves can track and enforce rules, freeing the players to focus on their strategy instead of having to reference rules over small details. In Ticket To Ride, for example, no matter how many times I play, I can never remember starting hand size; TTR Online takes care of that for me.

Obviously there are drawbacks to these as well. First of all, there just isn't the same feel and impact of looking at a small screen as opposed to seeing the board, large and real. There's also just the feeling of board games that can't be replicated. There's something satisfying about slapping down the winning card, feeling the dice in your hand or keeping your hand on your piece as you take one last second to analyze your move. In fact Eric Hautemont, CEO of Days of Wonder, talked to Ben Cachura at Penny Arcade about how the success of their apps has actually increased sales of the physical game. As great as it can be for a family to be able to play a quick game at a restaurant, nothing can replace the experience of setting up a game on the dining room table.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Congrats Dice Tower!

The Dice Tower
Back when I first got into board gaming and was spending way too much time browsing Boardgamegeek, I was trying to find a good podcast to listen to. Over and over again, I was reading about The Dice Tower and its host Tom Vasel. The name was everywhere and so I finally decided to check it out.

After listening to an episode, I was hooked. It was funny, clever, had reviews on games (both new and old) and a variety of guests and opinions. This was exactly what I had been looking for. Since then, The Dice Tower has become my second source of board game information (after BGG). Tom Vasel himself, has become my favorite and most trusted reviewer. He does a great job of explaining a game in clear terms and really breaks down the pros and cons of a game. Whenever I hear of a new game, I immediately check if he has reviewed it, preferably in video form.

Tom started his show seven years while he was a church pastor in Korea with another member of his game group, Joe Steadman. Since then, it has grown into a weekly show, a huge series of video reviews and an entire network of podcasts, videocasts and blogs with many contributors from around the world.

This morning, Tom released the 250th episode of the Dice Tower. This is a huge milestone and a I'm so gracious to have so much content to enjoy and amazed how he has grown so much in the last seven years. So congratulations Tom, Eric and everyone involved in the show. I look forward to many more years.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Gamestorm Wrap-up

I had a blast at Gamestorm. For almost 32 hours straight, pauing just long enough to eat and sleep, I played as many games as I could. I got in 14 total, most of which I had never played before. I liked most of them, loved a couple and was fortunately only a couple fell short of my expectations. I may talk about more of these in detail later on, especially as some select few make their way into my collection. Until then, here's some brief thoughts of what I got to the table.

Cargo Noir was the first game of the weekend. I had played it once before as a demo at my local game store. I am a huge fan of Days of Wonder games. This is a light, auction game with a smuggling theme. The theme is a little thin, but makes for a nice atmosphere as the players bid for weapons, uranium, art and more. This one is on my wish list; just want my wife to try it first.

Wrath of Ashardalon is the second in the Dungeons and Dragons adventure game series. I own the first one, Castle Ravenloft, but have not tried the others. This is a great game system that allows for a quick dungeon crawl experience without too much hassle. I haven't finished playing all the scenarios in Ravenloft yet, but this one is also on my wish list, albeit a little farther down the list.

Pitchcar was a time kill for 10 minutes as I waited for one of my scheduled events. Its a light disc flicking race game. It plays pretty fast and could be a lot of fun with a large group and great for a party. From what I've seen the price tag is a little more than I'd like to pay, so this is a pass for now.

Formula De is a deeper racing game, based on Formula 1 races. This has some great push your luck aspects as you try not to blow through curves too fast in fear of risking your cars integrity. I played with 9 other players which slowed down the game quite a bit. I played once before with only 5 and that went along at a nicer pace. Has basic and advanced rules which make it great for gamers of all skill levels. Would gladly play again, especially a longer race. Lower on the wish list, but may pick up one day.

Mansions of Madness is a Lovecraftian game. 1 player takes control of the cultists and monsters within the evil and corrupt mansions while the other players, as the investigators, try to stop the onset of the ancient ones. We tried to teach ourselves, which slowed us down quite a bit as he rules are quite beefy and theres a lof of setup. It has some really nice story-telling components but was also bogged down by a weird puzzle mechanic. I'll be passing on this one.

Cosmic Encounter is a classic game, first published 28 years ago. I've been wanting to play it for quite awhile as it has some mechanics that I really like, such as player negotiation and individual player powers. The game has some really quirky alien abilities but still manages to self balance really nicely. It was clear to see that this game has had decades to be polished. I don't think I'll be buying this one, but I'd definitely like to play again.

A Game of Thrones is based on the popular book series by George R.R. Martin. Another game that I'd heard a lot about and been interested to try. We tried to teach this to ourselves, but luckily a kind stranger walked us through. Didn't really click with us though; we played 3 out of the 10 rounds before calling it quits. Couldn't tell if is was trying to be a political negotiation or a war game. Passing on it, but could be convinced to try again with experienced players.

Wiz War is a reprint of a classic game. We grabbed this right after Game of Thrones and it was almost a 180 as far as game feel goes. Very light and quirky with clever spells and mechanics. Not sure how long I could play it but was fun for what it was. Only game we played twice since it played so fast. Would definitely play again, but probably won't buy.

Red Dragon Inn is a light filler game. Players act as adventurers hanging out at a bar, trying to get each other drunk. Had a fun and light theme. Played pretty fast, but kind of mindless. Will pass on this one.

Lords of Waterdeep is a new D&D themed euro-style worker placement game. This was by far my favorite game of the weekend. Had really tight mechanics. The theme, while kind of pasted on, still worked really well and made sense. Another game where you just can't do everything you want to do and have to make some really hard choices sometimes. Great game. Top of my wish list.

Battlelore is the fantasy themed addition to the Command & Colors series of games. I had this for a short time but quickly traded it off. I much prefer Memoir 44 which feels more streamlined and polished. I've heard that when you get into the more advanced campaigns of making your own general and using the lore deck is really good. I just like the simplicity of Memoir and would rather get a game done quickly and easily. Will continue to pass.

Kingsburg is another game that I've been wanting to play for a while. I've heard a lot of comparion to Alien Frontiers, which I like a lot, and just as many citations of differences. They both use dice placement as the central mechanic, but apart from that there aren't that many similarities. In this one, dice are used to influence the King's court in order to gain resources and military strength. Has a very cut throat feel to it as its very easy to get blocked by other players. Really liked this one. On the wish list.

Space Hulk: Death Angel was the final game of the weekend. This is the only game I played that is currently in my collection. I usually play this one solo so it was nice to play with other. Based on the Warhammer 40k universe, the players act as space marines to make their way through a series of rooms, clearing out the aliens. Its a fun little card game with some great strategic decisions that can fall apart easily with unlucky die rolls. Very difficuly to win and we did not fair well, losing in the 3rd room. Still, had a lot of fun though.

Final Score Sheet:
Total Games Played: 14
Total New Games Played: 10
Favorite Game: Lords of Waterdeep
Biggest Disappointment: A Game of Thrones
Excitement For Next Year: Enormous

Friday, March 23, 2012


Game day!
Today I'm heading up to Vancouver, WA to attend the 2012 Gamestorm, a local gaming convention. As a fairly recent resident of the Portland area, this will be my first time attending.

Its been a long time since I've been to any kind of convention. I went to a couple comic and sci-fi conventions back in my teens. I'm really looking forward to seeing the gaming floor and how everything flows.

The entire convention started yesterday and will run until Sunday. Unfortunately I have other responsibilities to I'll just be there today and most of tomorrow.

I'm hoping to be fairly active on tweeting what I'm to to (follow at @cphpitts) but if I get too involved in gaming, don't be mad.

Be back next week with some reviews of what I got to get to the table and thoughts of the convention as a whole.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

RPG: Combat vs Story

My first real experiences with D&D were playing in Wizards of the Coasts' Encounters program. This is a weekly event run by local gaming stores. They feature 'seasons' of adventures that take characters from levels 1 to 3 over approximately 13 weeks.

I wasn't able to regularly play until the 3rd season, The Keep on the Borderlands. If you asked me what the story was for the adventure I would not know what to tell you. I remember there was a betrayal, and a couple dragons and I'm guessing a keep.

The point being that when I started roleplaying, I was much more interested in the combat aspect of the game. 

Most RPGs have a mix of combat and story telling. They're two sides of the same coin. Without story, you may as well just play Risk over and over and without combat and conflict, the story can get boring and stagnant. It just so happened that I held one side in higher regard than the other. I've recently noticed, however, that my tastes have changed.

Last Friday my D&D group wrapped up the Cairn of the Winter King, the 4th level adventure included in the Monster Vault boxed set. It was a nice little dungeon crawl with a nice variety of combat encounters and skill challenges. Story-wise though, it fell a little flat.

The basic (slightly spoilery) premise is that while venturing through the town of Fallcrest, the adventurers find a winter storm in the middle of summer. Snow covers the land and the town is in danger of running out of supplies. While in the middle of investigating this strange occurring, a flying ship lands and unloads a swarm of undead soldiers. After the soldiers are dealt with, the talking masthead of the ship reveals that someone has stolen the scepter of the Winter King and he wants it back. The thief is soon found and the heroes take the ship to return the scepter. 

When the ship arrives in the frozen lands of the north, they find the lair of the Winter King has been entombed in ice for unknown ages. However, the hallways are slowly beginning to thaw and all sorts of monsters and creatures are waking up. Fighting through the ice palace soon leads the party to the frozen body of the Winter King. When the scepter is returned, he wakes up, and obviously tries to kill everybody. 

I will admit that its a very cool premise, but the story just feels so one directional and there's so many questions with no answers. There's no real backstory of who this King is. No idea of why and how long he's been trapped in ice. There's so much potential of unlocking secrets that the adventure doesn't provide.

I'm sure that the right DM and the right group could add so much to this to really make a memorable adventure, but out of the box, its much for combat focused than story. 

The previous adventure, The Reavers of Harkenwold (provided in the DM's Kit) was a much beefier adventure. Granted, it had two levels worth of story as compared to Winter King's one. But it felt so much more open-ended. The players found themselves in the large area of Harkenwold. The region has been overrun by a  mercenary group known as the Iron Circle and needed help freeing themselves from their grip. From that introduction, the group had free reign to go where they wanted and slowly build up a resistance group. It definitely had a more epic feeling of a larger world that what the players could immediately see, as opposed to the narrow view that was presented in Winter King.

Again, I'm not saying that Cairn of the Winter King was a bad module, just that it was more combat focused. If that's something your group wants, then I highly recommend it. For those that are looking for a deeper story, you might want to look elsewhere.

Have any of you noticed a shift in your gaming tastes? Do you love an epic and engaging story? Or do you just want to stab everything that moves.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

7 Wonders (First Impression)

7 Wonders by Antoine Bauza
I finally got a chance to play 7 Wonders tonight with my games group. I've heard a lot about it since it came out back in 2010, mainly regarding great design that allows up to seven players to play in around 30 minutes but still have deep and engaging gameplay.

The main game mechanic is a card draft. Each player starts the game with a small deck of cards, selects on they wish to play, then passes the remainder to the next player. The beauty of this mechanic is that it keeps everyone engaged constantly and keeps play moving at a good pace.

The goal of the game is acquiring victory points from a variety of cards that deal out different resources, such as military strength, technological growth, commerce and straight points. The games is played over three phases, at the end of which each player compares their military strength to their neighbors, new decks are dealt out and the draft begins anew. At the end of the game, points are scored in various means for the different development paths. All these are totaled up and the player with the most points is crowned the victor.

My game board
Part of the reason that this games works well with so many players is that everyone is only concerned with who is on their immediate left and right. In addition to the military aspect that I mentioned above, you can buy resources from the players next to you and only those players. Essentially the game boils down to a large collection of three players games being played around the same table.

For me, this game scratches a similar itch to that of Dominion and Alien Frontiers (which I'll get around to eventually) in that I can't know what the game has in store for me nor my strategy until everything is dealt out and the game starts. There's so many thing that a player can do and focus on that you can't do everything. I could easily see myself playing this over and over again and playing a different way each time, which I love.

I will say that explaining how this game works can slow things down the first time or two its played. It could be slowed down a little bit by players with analysis paralysis, especially the first couple games when its hard to see the bigger picture of everything. However, with games being so fast, it could also be just as easy to just get through a practice game or two and then begin the real competition.

I really enjoyed this one and look forward to playing it again, hopefully soon.

Mari0: Match made in heaven

Mario + Portal Gun = Huge Success
Portal and Mario are two hugely popular, revolutionary and amazing games ever. It was only a matter of time before someone thought they could make each other better.

Well the fine folks over at did just that. The game feature the classic platforming of Super Mario Bros. but adds the spice of the portal gun, allowing Mario to teleport around.

The default game is an near-exact port of Super Mario Bros from the NES; the only difference being that Mario now wields the Portal gun. The gun alternates between firing a blue and orange portal onto any flat surface. Once both portal are placed, Mario (or anything else) can teleport between them freely. This also adds great opportunities to force goombas to fall into a hole that leads them directly to a nearby pit. Or redirect bullet bills to take out your enemies. This is a fun way to re-experience the classic game.

Mari0 also features the ability to create and load mappacks. It comes preloaded with one that tilts the mash-up scale the other way. The levels are still 2d platforming, but they have more a Portal vibe than a Mario one. There's turrents and button and companion cubes and all of that goodness. Just as with the main game, this is a great combination of the franchises.

If you're a fan of Portal and Mario, I highly suggest checking this out. It will be a nice diversion to pull out every now and again.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Abandon Ship (Ye Land Lubbers)

One of the latest games that I've been exposed to at my gaming group is Reiner Knizia's Abandon Ship, published by AEG. Its a light family game for  3-7 players and plays for approximately 30 minutes.

Object: At the beginning of the game, each player is given a cardboard token with three colors on it. These colors correspond to different mice. The player is trying to get advance the mice of these colors while hindering the others.

Components: The game comes with 7 wooden mice of various colors along with 7 corresponding 6 sided dice and an additional white die. All of these pieces are nice and solid and seem to be able to handle handling quite well. There's a bunch of cardboard pieces for secret objectives bonus points and showing how fast the boat sinks. These are also very nice thickness and feel nice. The final and coolest piece of the game is the ship board. This comes in two pieces, the background/waves as well as the ship itself. The ship is separated into 30 levels with spots at the top to distinguish the order that the mice escape the sinking ship.

Gameplay: The starting player takes the pool of dice and rolls them once and then selects on of the dice to use. Each face of the die has either a number, an arrow or an anchor. If the chosen die has a number showing, the corresponding mouse moves up that many spaces. An arrow moves it up to the next mouse in front of it, and the anchor moves it back to the mouse behind it. After performing the action, the die is removes from the pool and those remaining get passed to the next player. This continues until there are no no more dice available to roll.

When this happens, one of sinking tokens gets flipped over and a number is revealed. The ship then sinks that number of levels. If sinking would cause a mouse to go below the waves, then the sinking stops and that mouse and its die are removed from the game.

While all this goes on, players are trying to get their mice to the top of the ship. The catch though is that the first mouse scores no points. Only the second, third and fourth place do. This means that while you want your mice to be fast, you don't want them to be too fast.

Appeal: The day after playing this, my wife and I started talking about buying it. We both thought this would be great to play with the family and that fact that it goes up to 7 players is a big appeal. It may not have the deepest strategy, but its a fun, fast game that should appeal to a wide variety of players.

I highly recommend this game for anyone whose group or family may have a couple non hardcore gamers. Its different enough to cause others to take notice and the board is a fun to play with.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Gaming by Myself: Pandemic

Pandemic by Matt Leacock
There are times when I get the urge to play a game and there's no one around to play. These are the times I'm glad to have Pandemic designed by Matt Leaock.

Pandemic falls into a category of game known as the cooperative games. Basically, instead of trying to conquer, outbid or ruin each other, everyone playing is one the same team. In the case of Pandemic the players take the role of researchers, scientists and medics who try desperately to stop four diseases (represented by colored cubes, hence the post title) from running rampant across the globe.

One of the nice things about cooperative games is that they're easy to play solo. Since there's no conflict between players, I can just take a couple roles and play normally. Which is what I've been doing a lot of lately.

The only problem is that I keep losing.

About a week or two ago I picked a couple random roles (Researcher and Operations Expert) and got it. It was a horrible defeat, with mutiple losing conditions triggering at once. Since then I've resolved to keep trying that same setup until I win.

I'm 0-4 at the moment. Sure there's things I could to to make it easier on me. I could ramp down the difficulty or picks new roles that sync together better. But I love the challenge. And when that day finally comes when I save the world from total destruction, it will be a glorious day indeed.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Wil Wheaton's Tabletop

Hey! Its Gordie Crusher!
Yesterday Wil Wheaton sent a tweet from the Geek and Sundry panel at Wondercon that he would be hosting a new web show on  Geek and Sundry called Tabletop. As far as I can tell, there isn't too much information available at the moment, but it appears to be Wil and his amazing friends playing board games and wisecracking.

His guests will include other stars of the Geekdom such as Felicia Day of The Guild and Grant Imahara of Mythbusters. From the promotional trailer I can identify the group playing Ticket to Ride, Smallworld, Zombie Dice and Pandemic.

As odd as it may sound, I'm already a huge fan of watching Wil play games. He has been involved with the great Acquisitions, Inc. podcasts and video casts from Wizards of the Coast, promoting D&D 4e. I'm sure his quick wit and competitive fierceness will carry over to this new show.I'm also very excited for the growth in the hobby this may bring. Wil has a huge following of fans and I'm sure not all of them have experienced the joy of board gaming.

Tabletop will show on Geek & Sundry every other Friday starting on April 2.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Mass Effect 3 Review (Guest Post)

This is a guest post from Arthur Lender. Also posted on his blog Conflictor.

*This is a SPOILER-FREE review for Mass Effect 3.  I will not discuss any reveals or important plot-points in the game, nor will I speak to the controversial ending that has so polarized Mass Effect fans.*

Mass Effect 3 is the last chapter in BioWare’s sprawling science-fiction epic.  You once again take the reins of Commander Shepard, Earth last and best hope against the galaxy’s ongoing threat, the Reapers.  They’ve come to Earth, and they will stop at nothing to destroy all organic life, starting with humanity.  To defeat this threat once and for all, Shepard must unite the other races, convince them to commit military and scientific resources, and make a decisive stand against this synthetic scourge.  To accomplish this difficult task, he must navigate the complex political relationships between the races, make peace in the face of centuries of war, and race against the machinations of the Illusive Man and his Cerberus forces.

In typical BioWare fashion, Mass Effect 3 is all about story and decision-making.  From the beginning, you customize your own Commander Shepard.  Gender, class, physical features…the choice is yours and goes a long way toward personalizing the experience.  Indeed you can import your character from Mass Effect 2 (which might have been imported from the first Mass Effect), providing an impressive story through-line.  BioWare ambitiously promised character continuity throughout the trilogy, and they’ve absolutely delivered on that pledge.

Mass Effect 3 will be very familiar to veterans of the series.  The controls and gameplay are pleasantly unchanged.  You will still encounter a wealth of characters and gather allies to join you on the Normandy.  The conversation wheel is back, providing you with dialog options that may or may not increase your reputation, or paragon and renegade statuses.   It’s all extremely well executed with uniformly strong voice-acting and a dramatic soundtrack.

The graphics are noticeably improved, adding a welcome level of detail throughout.  While graphics have never been the cornerstone of the Mass Effect series, the added realism only serves to deepen the narrative.  The same is true for the combat.  Shepard is more mobile, able to move from cover to cover smoothly.  Sprinting into a dive and landing behind a barrier is supremely satisfying.  Mass Effect 3 may not be the best example of a third-person cover-based shooter, but they borrowed enough genre leaders to make it very functional.

Enemy AI has been improved as well.  Your target will use cover effectively, plant turrets, and even lay down smokescreens to obscure your vision.  There are a variety of enemy types, weapons, special abilities, and tactical decisions to make.  All of this makes for a more visceral combat experience, even if your squad-mates require a bit of handholding.

Fans of the series will be pleased to note that class-based weapon restrictions have been removed.  Instead, there’s a weight encumbrance mechanic that slows down the recharge rate of your special abilities depending on the number/weight of the weapons you carry.  So while my Adept could carry a sniper rifle, shotgun, and assault rifle in addition to his pistol and SMG, doing so would slow biotic ability cooldowns by 200%.  Not a good choice for an Adept or an Engineer, but perfectly reasonable for a Soldier that depends less on special abilities.  For a game that is all about choices and tradeoffs, this was an elegant solution in balancing and differentiating the classes.

The big new feature is, of course, multiplayer.  Many fans decried the decision to add multiplayer to a game so rooted in a single-player experience, but rest assured that BioWare intended to include multiplayer from the beginning.  It was simply too difficult and costly to implement for the first two games.  It’s also completely optional in Mass Effect 3, and doesn’t impact the single player experience in any way.  It was intended to be a fun, game-extending diversion, and it is just that.

Mass Effect 3 sets a new bar for video game storytelling.  From the very beginning, you are emotionally invested in Earth’s plight and the seemingly impossible mission Shepard embarks upon.  Especially if you’ve imported a character from the previous games, you are treated to appearances from many familiar faces and see the consequences of your previous decisions.  Thanks to improved graphics and combat, the mechanics of the game are now nearly on par with the narrative.

That is not to say that the experience is perfect.  There are occasional collision detection and texture pop-in issues.  Some of the new characters are downright unpleasant, especially meathead James Vega voiced by Freddie Prinze Junior).  Instead of completely doing away with the much maligned planet scanning mini-game from Mass Effect 2, they transformed it into a hunt for “War Assets”.  You scan systems instead, trying to find hidden resources.  It’s streamlined, sure, but you’re still firing probes onto planets and still buying fuel to travel between systems.

Despite these questionable elements, the game absolutely shines.  BioWare is a master of their craft, and Mass Effect 3 is their greatest achievement to date.


Friday, March 16, 2012

The Age of Dragons

During last year's Free RPG Day I picked up a quickstart guide of the Dragon Age RPG from Green Ronin. It took me a while to get it to the table, but I was able to pull it out this last week with my D&D group.

The rules were pretty easy to pick up. The only dice needed were three basic 6-sided dice, with one being unique to act as the dragon die. For all attacks or skill checks, the player rolls the dice, adds any appropriate modifiers and compares it to the target number, whether it be the armor of a foe or just a number representing the difficulty of the task. The dragon die serves to show how well the task was accomplished (just barely catching on the ledge as your character falls vs doing an awesome ninja flip to land on your feet.)

The other key point is the 'stunt mechanism'. If doubles are rolled, then the character gains a number of stunt points to use to add an extra benefit, such as dealing extra damage or even attacking again. This adds some nice cinematic flairs and can lead to cool moments.

From a GM stand-point, I felt that combat rounds flowed quickly (though entire encounters felt a little laggy). Stat blocks were simple and well laid out so running multiple types of enemies never felt over-whelming. They even include favored stunts to keep the monster focuses and moving.

I asked my players to share their thought with me so I could post them as well. One wrote:
It's a thoughtful system with some clever mechanics.  I like that it only requires D6s, I think the special abilities that result from rolling doubles is interesting though a bit too random for my liking.  The game seems to make good use the Dragon Age setting and background, but the game-play itself feels a little sluggish.  Combat isn't particularly action-packed, and seemingly simple encounters can take longer than they should due to unlucky dice rolling.  I think other games mitigate this effect better by providing more options or more balanced bonuses.  What was particularly missing for me was that cinematic flavor and sense of heroism that the video game provides.  Perhaps at higher levels, in a more involved module, those qualities would shine through.  As it stands, however, I'd rather see Dragon Age as a campaign setting for a richer, more flexible RPG system.
All that being said, I'm not sure if I favor it more than D&D 4e. It definitely has some nice elements, such as the stunts and simplicity of characters, but at the same time I was surprised at how slow combat still felt, although I'm sure that would become less of a problem as the the group got more used to the system. I'd like to try it again one day as a PC, but for now, I'm happy with my d20.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Summon Some Fun

Master of fun
Today is an exciting day for me. The newest releases of the Summoner Wars line arrived at my local gaming store and are patiently awaiting me.

Summoner Wars is a great game from the kind people of Plaid Hat Games. It takes the fun and tactical strategy of a traditional miniatures game but condenses it in a deck of cards.

Each player takes the role of a summoner in one of the games many factions (currently 16 available). Using the deck as a resource, the players leads an army of their units along a gridded battlefield in an effort to strike down his opponent. Last player with their summoner left alive wins.

The gameplay is extremely easy and broken down into six easy steps. First the players draws back to five cards in his hand. Then, using a pile of discarded cards called the 'magic pool', he summons new units onto the board. He can then play any event cards which will either buff his own creatures or hinder his opponents. The next two phases are movement and attack, in which any three units can perform those actions. Finally, the players can choose to discard any number of cards into the magic pool. Sacrificing weaker cards to hopefully bring out stronger units in later turns.

The brilliance in the game lies in its simple gameplay but wide diversity of factions and play styles. Some factions rely on brute force and charging into combat head first. Others rely on keeping distance and sneaky tactics to move swiftly around the board. The two newest factions add further variety and chaos to the board.

The Mercenaries hinder their opponent ability to summon and have special cards that allow their units to appear  almost anywhere on the board. The Filth's units all start off as weak creatures but can mutate into giant monstrosities with longer reach, the ability to fly or even deal massive damage.

Also released recently was the reprints of the original two starter games, Phoenix Elves vs Tundra Orcs and Guild Dwarves vs Cave Goblins. My first experience was playing my FLGS' copy of the Elves/Orcs set so I'm looking forward to finally having a copy of my own.

For the sake of completion, I should also mention that the Talaya's Spirit and Piclo's Magic reinforcement packs were also released. These reinforcement packs offer more cards for the factions so that a customized deck can be built. I haven't gotten into this aspect of the game yet and I don't foresee doing so for a while. The factions are extremely well balanced as is and I would hate to start messing with that too much.

This is a fantastic game and I highly encourage anyone to check it out. The newly reprinted starter sets are a great way to get into or you can go big and buy the Master Set, which comes with six factions and a deluxe board as opposed to the paper one in the normal starters. Either way is good and you'll eventually find yourself with everything anyway.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Smallworld gets a little bigger

Days Of Wonder has announced their latest expansion for their Smallworld franchise. This makes me happy.

Smallworld is light fantasy themed war games that plays from 2-5 players. It features a large variety of races and powers that will make up each players force. The  object of the game to collect victory points by occupying  territories across the map over a set number of rounds. 

The game has had a handful of expansions in the past, mostly increasing the variety of races and powers to create more combinations to choose from. In 2011, a new basegame, Smallworld Underground, was released which features terrain types, races and small twists to the rules.

This new expansion features a system to create custom maps with terrain tiles and a set of scenarios to play with. Nothing too specific has been released yet, but I'm hoping for a system similar to their Memoir '44 series, where there will be a certain map set up, with certain goals and maybe even predetermined race/power combos to choose from.

Set to be released in July of 2012, I'm looking forward to see what this expansion has to offer.

Fistful of Munchkins

The Chinese version. Cause I can.
Munchkin is perhaps one of the most polarizing games in the boardgaming world. Some people love it and will gladly buy all of the 5,000* box sets and expansion backs. Then there are others that would rather run screaming off a pier into a piranha infested lake. I'm in the middle.

I picked up the game years ago when I first started getting into the hobby. I had heard a lot about it and wanted to check it out for myself. Luckily I got it pretty cheap with a coupon at Barnes & Noble as I'm not I would have ever paid full price.

The basic premise of the game is that its a spoof on the traditional RPG/Fantasy dungeon crawl. Each player is an adventurer who takes turns kicking down doors, facing monsters and collecting treasure. Do this enough and you'll slowly go up in level, until one player reaches level 10 and is crowned the victor.

The criticism comes from the heavy and over-powered player interaction. Players can play cards from their hands to either help or seriously hinder their opponents (usually the latter). They can makes monsters stronger, steal treasure, or even knock them back down to level 1. As a result the game can either take 30 minutes or 3 hours, depending on the luck of the cards and just how back-stabby the players are feeling.

The cards have a certain charm and I'm of the fan of the illustrations by John Kovalic (who also does a great webcomic, Dork Tower). There's also a decent, if not shallow, sense of humor on the cards, which mocks the standard fantasy tropes. Some people will love it and some will start groaning after the first couple plays.

If this seems pseudo-interesting, but am not a fan of fantasy settings, then you're in luck. Munchkin comes in all sorts of flavors. There's the sci-fi Star Munchkin, the vampire based Munchkin Bites!, the lovecraftian Munchkin Cthulhu, the action packed Munchkin Impossible, the badly dubbed Munchkin Fu, the heroic Super Muchkin, the adventurous Munchkin Booty, the outlawish The Good, The Bad, and the Munchkin and finally the undead Munchkin Zombies. Or if you're a huge nut, you can buy everything and mix all the sets together.

Munchkin is definitely not for everyone. Its not even something I want to pull out all the time. But if you're with a group of friends and can resist from taking a game too seriously and don't mind getting a duck on your head, you can have a good time.

*Only a slight exaggeration.

Monday, March 12, 2012

flower: the most beautiful ungame

so pretty
I just bought myself a PS3 this last Christmas. Which means I have six years of games to catch up. I'm slowly working my way through the highlights, including Assassin's Creed and inFamous, but the game that has struck me the most has been the PSN exclusive flower.

Before I continue, I'd like to say that I hesitate to even call this a game; its an experience. And I say that in the least pretentious way possible. It has no score, no time limit, no enemies and no way to die. There's not even an option menu.

In flower you control a gust of wind. You start each level by blowing a single petal off a single flower in a field. As you proceed through the level, you blow by more flowers, causing them to bloom and taking more petals with you, forming a gorgeous string of flower petals that follow your every movement. The game is controlled using the PS3's six-axis controls, allowing you to gracefully guide your way by simply moving your controller. A single button is used to accelerate your speed; releasing the button slows you back down.

Every detail about this game is meant to be serene and comforting. The visual are beautifully rendered, the music is calm and relaxing and dynamically changes as you pluck more and more petals. Each level is followed by a montage of scenes from the field you've just blossomed.

As I'm sure you can tell by now, I'm a fan of this game. Its a wonderful piece of art and a great experience. However, I need to finish off this article with a quick story with some background.

My wife is awesome and supportive of my geeky hobbies. She enjoys playing board games with me and I can convince her to join me in the occasional game of Mario Kart. But when I first downloaded the demo of this game and I started playing she did something she's never done in the five years I've known her; she asked to have a turn. Needless to say, we bought the game that night.


I've been mulling the idea for this blog around in my head for awhile. I even started something similar at the end of 2011 where I took a more broad approach of the geekdom. That one fizzled after a couple months, but from those ashes will rise a new blog that will focus on a slightly more specific topic. Games.

I took some time to day to see how some of my favorite blogs started. As I did my quick research I noticed a common thread. They all just started writing. No pre-tense. No delusions of grandeur.

They wrote. Someone else read. It grew and evolved. So here we go.

I love games. Everything from video games to board games to roleplaying games. Put a controller or some dice in my hand and I'm a happy boy.

Don't expect the reviews of the latest and greatest games here. I dont have nearly the time nor the money that I'd like to keep up on my hobby.

I will talk about the gaming I am able to get in. Games that my wife will actually play with me and gaming with my family. I will talk about PS3 games that came out 5 years ago that I'm finally getting around to playing and about how my Wii doesn't get enough TLC.

I hope to have a semi-regular schedule. At least three times a week. But we'll see.

So thank you for reading thus far and I hope you stick around and comment every now and then.