Tabletop Round-Up – 17/08/16

Wednesdays are the new Mondays. Having recently moved house I have had to leave my old gaming group in Liverpool. I was sad to leave a lot of cool people but it has given me the chance to discover fresh gaming experiences with a new set of people. It has been interesting seeing how the two groups differ but some things remain the same in that everyone piles into the back room of a pub and has a lot of fun. Although now I have to drive that fun is a few pints less!


Players 4 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 90 minutes

Ankh-Morpork is an area control game set in the wacky city of the same name which featured in many of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. It’s a chaotic place where everyone has their own agenda to fulfil and where best laid plans can easily turn sour. Much like the river.


At the start of the game players are given a Personality card which tells them their victory condition. These include causing trouble, controlling regions on the board or hoarding cash. Players put one of their minions in three regions of the 12 region board and play begins. Play is controlled entirely by cards and players start with 5 in their hand and then draw back up to 5 at the end of their turn. These cards have one or more actions on and these actions let you do things like add more minions to the board, build a building in a region, gain cash, assassinate opponents minions and a whole host of other effects that can change the board state.

When a region gets a second minion in it then a trouble marker is assigned to that region. Regions in trouble can’t have new buildings placed there and mean that any minion in them can be assassinated. Regions can only have one trouble marker though and when a minion is removed from a region the trouble marker is removed. I guess that he takes the blame for all the trouble there! Play then continues until a player has satisfied their win condition at the beginning of their turn or the deck runs out (in which case the player with the Commander Vimes card wins or if he is not in play then the player with the most wealth is the victor).


This game is a lot of fun. I played with the full player count of 4 and it was pretty wild. Whenever I gained a foothold somewhere then another player would try to scupper my plans or rob a few coins from me. The variable win conditions mean you have to constantly guess what your opponents are up to as well as balancing your own actions. Are they causing trouble everywhere, placing buildings or just trying to run the deck down? It’s tense and staying on top takes luck as well as planning but if you keep your head down you might just win.

Terry Pratchett fans will get a huge kick out of this game too as most cards represent characters from the books that they will recognise. Even I remember Death, a great card I managed to steal from a player before being forced to discard by another. I laughed. Then plotted revenge!


This Weeks Addiction: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Kimmy has just been released from an underground bunker where she has been living for almost 15 years. She was lured in by a charismatic preacher who convinced her and 3 other women that the apocalypse was nigh and only the bunker was safe from the toxic wasteland that the world was about to become. Kimmy, who was 15 at the time of her abduction, is brimming with naive optimism after being freed and decides to move to New York to start a new life.

Reading that back it sounds like the blurb on the back of some dreary airport paperback but it’s actually the start of one of the funniest TV shows I have seen in years. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was created by Tina Fey who was also behind the highly acclaimed 30 Rock, a programme that I am also a great fan of and it has the same sort of comic cast and surreal one-liners. I love the way that jokes are casually thrown out there before zipping on to the next (‘The Smell? That’s just my new after shave Dutch Oven’) even if they are sometimes incredibly strange (‘Oh he never poops, they bred that out of them.’). There’s no wait-for-the-laugh cue or wacky expression to signal a funny. It just moves on to the next silly moment leaving you wondering if she really said that.

I just have the last episode of season 1 to go and I can’t wait. Every episode builds on the previous one and it just seems to get better and better. Anyone with a Netflix subscription and a pulse should definitely give this a go.


This Week’s Addiction: Magic: The Gathering

Magic: The Gathering is an obscenely addictive two player card game. Each player uses their 60 card deck to cast spells, summon monsters and ultimately try to knock their opponents life down to zero (from 20) while staying alive themselves. Cards can be one of 5 different colours (white, blue, black, red and green) which represent a different type of magic like aggressive red sorcery or powerful green monsters.


In many ways Magic is like the Call of Duty of card games. New cards are continually in development and all that extra stuff comes at a price. Magic cards are usually sold in random booster backs but for £3.49 RRP a pop for just 15 cards you can’t be sure you will be getting anything very useful. Magic players also have the reputation of being snot-nosed griefers but at least they are doing it to your face instead of over the mic so I guess the two are even there. This model attracts a lot of criticism with accusations of exploiting fans but the truth is that the reason Magic and CoD are so popular is simply that they are very good games. Both have simple rulesets with plenty of room for player improvisation and all that extra content keeps the game fresh and exciting.

It is easy to get carried away though, the constant stream of content and enormous card pool in Magic’s 25 year history can be overwhelming and it’s just so tempting to start buying it all up. Players with even mild acquisition disorders may find the urge to start splurging huge sums on boxes full of boosters and the card sleeves and boxes to put them all in. This is all optional of course but players who want to play competitively will need to sink money into getting the better cards. On top of this only the most recent expansions are legal in tournament play meaning that the killer deck you built for last year’s competition is no longer acceptable for this year’s.


But these issues are very minor as without a changing tournament card pool the metagame would stagnate into the same old power decks and getting decent cards as singles online is comparatively cheap. For casual play between friends nobody cares if your cards aren’t tournament legal and there are plenty of entry level pre-built decks to buy at very little cost.

I can definitely feel the tug of Magic addiction though. My Amazon wishlist is gradually filling up with Magic products and I almost bought three copies of a card called Zombie Apocalypse from magicmadhouse.co.uk because wouldn’t a zombie deck be cool so why not?

I didn’t though.

But I still might.


Tabletop Round-up 01/02/16

Bad winners are worse than bad losers. Just throwing that out there.

Roll for the Galaxy

Players: 4 (Plays 2-5)

Duration: 1 hour

Theme really is amazing. On one level Roll for the Galaxy is about sculpting a galactic empire through trade, technology and commerce but on another it’s just rolling dice and then moving them about! At the beginning of the game players are given 5 dice which represent the workers in their fledgling interplanetary kingdom. The sides of a die represent one of five phases (actions) that can be used during the game. The EXPLORE phase lets players gain money (used to put spent dice back in your control) or select technology/planets for future projects (both are worth victory points and may grant new dice or extra powers). DEVELOP and SETTLE let players build the aforementioned technology/planets. PRODUCE generates resources on planets so that the SHIP phase can turn them into victory points.


At the beginning of the round all players roll their dice in secret and sort them by symbol underneath a ‘phase strip’ that has the five matching symbols on it. They then choose one of the dice and assign it to one of the five actions on the phase strip in what’s called a ‘phase selection’. After all assigning has been done players reveal their dice. Players then use their dice according to the phase they rolled but only if that phase was chosen by a player during phase selection for that round. What this means is that you will be hoping that other players will select phases that you want or dice you rolled with that phase are wasted. This choice is where the real tension of the game lies and it’s very satisfying to see all your dice activated by other players. On the flip side it’s very sad when most of your dice are wasted that turn. Play continues until one player has 12 technologies/planets or until a certain number of victory points have been claimed from shipping (set by the number of players). The player with the most points is then the winner.

This game is pretty simple and once you are into the swing of things rounds fly by but it’s slow to get going. The rules seem pretty good but explaining them is another thing altogether and there was lots of head-scratching at the start when you are just rolling dice and looking at a load of symbols that don’t mean anything. Despite this I really liked this game. Phase selection is a key choice in mitigating the luck of your dice and it’s very tense when you lift your blind and see what other players have gone for (or not gone for). You will always have something to do it’s just a matter of how much!


There are plenty of other choices to make through the game too. Special abilities on tech/planets can combo nicely if you get the right ones and you can always fish for more if you don’t get what you want. In addition some grant you extra dice in different colours which might have a different combination of faces letting you specialise in various ways. It’s also worth noting that the components are really top notch with plenty of hard-wearing dice and sturdy tiles. In case you couldn’t guess I do like this game.

Mission: Red Planet

Players: 5 (Plays 3-6)

Duration: 90 minutes

Thankfully the poor devil who had to explain Roll for the Galaxy had an easier job with Mission: Red Planet which is a simple area control game set on the plains of Mars. Mars is split into 9 regions and the moon Phobos which is separate from the main board. Each of these 10 regions produces a different resource (worth either 1,2 or 3 points) which is hidden until a player lands some of their astronauts on them. At the start of the game players are given 9 character cards and a secret objective that can net them bonus points depending on some end of game conditions. A launchpad is set up with slots equal to one less than the number of players and one card drawn from a rocket deck is put on each slot. These rocket cards have a capacity and a destination for the rocket.


At the start of each of the games 10 rounds players choose one of their character cards and then reveal them simultaneously. These character cards put astronauts onto rocket cards but will have another effect as well such as launching a rocket prematurely, blowing up a rocket, picking up or looking at discovery cards (these attach to regions and affect end-game board state), moving astronauts and so on. The cards are numbered with the larger numbers getting to take their action first. Once these cards are used they can’t be used again until the player plays the character that brings them back to hand. Any rockets that are full immediately launch and at the end of the round they drop the astronauts onto their target region and a new rocket replaces them. Scoring happens at the end of the 5th, 8th and final rounds with points awarded for players that control a region. The number of points awarded then increases. At the end of the game those points are added to any end-game bonuses and the one with the most is the winner.

For me this game is the perfect balance of simplicity and fun but with the need to make some critical decisions. It can be so tense revealing those character cards, piling all your astronauts into that one key rocket and then hoping it doesn’t get blown up. When there are astronauts on the planet you then have to keep an eye on 2 fronts by making sure you are holding on to your key territories as well as filling rockets for further colonisation. My favourite character is the soldier which lets you kill an enemy astronaut and then parachute three others from Phobos onto any region on Mars. You can gain a lot of ground with this guy.


I love straightforward area control games and I would add this to El Grande and Tammany Hall as one of my favourites. These all have a very simple ruleset that you can pick up very easily but with their own subtle flavour. I would contrast them with Cthulhu Wars and Blood Rage which, for me, push the complexity a little bit too far and bog the game down a little. Mission: Red Planet comes highly recommended.


This Weeks Addiction: The Fall

I almost missed The Fall. The temptation of all those high budget US dramas on Netflix might make you think a 6 episode run of a BBC-commissioned crime drama was a little old-fashioned. You might think an Irish detective story to be old hat. You would be wrong. It’s incredible.

The Fall follows Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), a Belfast serial killer and Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson), the police officer trying to catch him. It’s a dark thrill that is utterly absorbing. We see Spector pick, stalk and kill his victims while Gibson and her team desperately scramble to identify the murderer. Dornan is totally convincing as the killer and portrays Spector with remarkable restraint. There are no wild displays of rage that would cheapen the character but a brooding violent intensity that is portrayed with a subtle change of tone or expression. Handsome and intelligent, it’s easy to feel yourself liking the empathic killer and the excitement of seeing him stalk through an empty house is dangerously infectious.

DCI Gibson is a veteran police officer, resilient and smart who enjoys a glass of red and a no-strings screw, a character who a few years ago would almost certainly be male. Anderson plays her so perfectly that she should be in text books about how to play a tough female lead without resorting to type. She is strong and practical without being bitchy or callous. It’s clear that when characters find her looks and strength distracting it’s definitely their shortcoming.

If all this talk of gender roles sounds a bit much then don’t worry. It’s just a theme running under what is a gripping series. Filmed in dark colours and with a creepy soundtrack, the end of each episode is almost like a relief but it’s one that ends quickly before pulling you right back in. It’s not gory or sensational but a slow burn that is deliberate and compelling. It kind of reminds me of that old series Cracker from the nineties but made in the style of Nordic dramas like The Killing or The Bridge. Ultimately The Fall is an intense character study by two fantastic actors. Season 1 and 2 are available on Amazon Video (included as part of Prime) and I would firmly recommend it.


Tabletop Round-up 18/01/16

In addition to the games below I also played Adventure Time Love Letter which is a version of Love Letter with art from the TV show and a few extra rules. Have you ever tried to watch Adventure Time? I tried once and thought I was having a stroke.


Players: 7 (Plays 2-8)

Duration: 30 Minutes

Codenames is a simple word game that is getting a lot of plays in the warm-up hour at my weekly game group. The bulk of the game is a few hundred cards each with a different noun on like bug, Spain, fighter, comic etc. 25 cards are randomly chosen and put into a 5×5 grid in the centre of the table and players split into two teams (red and blue). One player from each team is picked as captain and the captains get to see a secret card which is another 5×5 grid with squares coloured red, blue or beige (and one black) which corresponds to the word grid in front of everyone. On their team’s turn Captains have to give a clue consisting of one word that matches some of the clues of their teams colour and the number of clues it matches. For example, the clue ‘Batman 4’ means that the captain is trying to tell their team that 4 cards in the grid match their colour and are related to Batman somehow. The team then tries to guess the full complement of cards. If they make a mistake they have to stop guessing otherwise they keep going until they have made as many guesses as the number in the clue. The team that gets all their words first is the winner unless a team incorrectly guesses the black card in which case they lose immediately.


This game feels like it has been around for years. Like Balderdash and Taboo I am sure I played it with my family when I was a kid but it is less than a year old. The premise is simple and doesn’t require a huge vocabulary (like Scrabble) so anybody can join in this accessible word game. Rounds can be a bit slow if someone is trying to come up with a killer clue (my group are definitely guilty of this) so I would recommend using the egg-timer that comes with it to move rounds along at a brisk pace. The added time pressure makes the game a lot more fun and increases the chance of an awful panic clue that loses a team the game – far more entertaining than a good clue that someone took 5 long minutes of silent thinking to come up with.

Codenames is a solid party game that will inspire a lot of discussion in the right group. The fun wears thin quickly but if you have 15 minutes to fill and at least 4 people then it is definitely worth a punt.

Abyss: Kraken

Players: 3 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 90 minutes

On the surface Abyss looks like Guillermo Del Toro’s Little Mermaid remake but at its heart it’s a simple game of card collection with a bit of engine-building and auctioning thrown in for good measure. It’s a game I like and my full impressions can be found in a previous blog post but this one is about the expansion called Kraken.

Kraken introduces a few supplementary and a few new features to the game. The first are the new kraken allies that act as wild cards when buying lords. This is a pretty powerful effect as a wild colour can mean that you can get faster access to the lords that you want and so obtain special powers and points even sooner. There is a downside however in that players who take kraken are also forced to take an alternative currency called nebulises. More cash sounds nice but players can only spend them when they have run out of pearls (the regular currency from the base game) and nebulises count as negative points at game end (the player with the most nebulises also gets an additional 5 point penalty).


Bolstering this feature are new neutral lords called smugglers that help players dispose of their dirty currency as well as new lands (the next level of points after lords) that relate to those tainted nebuli. One thing that didn’t come up in our playthrough is a land that lets you plunder a new loot deck which is like a push your luck minigame that can net you a wide variety of points. The loot deck seems like a bit of a novelty but still nowhere near the sea monster part of the original game which ironically does feel like an add-on. I was hoping this would be fleshed out on an expansion but it still feels quite bare.

Due to a sub-par performance by me I am tempted to say that this expansion sucks as hard as the briney blue sea but actually this expansion is a great addition to a good game. It integrates smoothly in the main game without the need for extra boards or bolt-ons and I would easily recommend it to fans of Abyss.

The Grizzled

Players: 4 (Plays 2-5)

Duration: 30 minutes

The Grizzled is a co-op set in the despair and trenches of World War I. Players take the role of friends who join up at the start of the Great War and are trying to stay sane and alive until Armistice Day. The horrors of war are represented a deck of ‘trials’ cards which either depict threats (one or more of bullets, gas, whistle, snow, rain or night) or hard knocks (conditions which hinder the player and represent mental wounds on the soldiers. At the beginning of the game 25 trials cards are placed face down on an armistice card (the trials pile) and the rest are placed face down on a war monument card (the morale reserve). If there are no cards in players hands and the trials pile is empty at any point then players have made it to the end of the war and won but if the morale pile is empty then players have lost.


Each round (or mission) consists of four steps. The first is the Preparation where the mission leader (first player) chooses the intensity number of the mission. Players are then dealt this number of cards each from the trials pile. Then play proceeds to step 2 which is the Mission itself where players take turns to play cards from their hand either into the centre of the table (no-mans land) if it is a threat card or in front of them if it is a hard-knock card. If there are ever three of the same type of threat visible across cards in no-mans land then the players have lost the mission and those cards are shuffled back into the trials pile to be faced again. To stop this happening players can withdraw instead of playing a card which takes them out the mission and stops them from losing the mission if they have the wrong cards. If all players withdraw successfully then the mission is a success and all the cards in no-mans land are discarded from the game.

Players also have two other actions they can play. If a player has a speech token (obtained by passing the first player token at the end of the mission) they can nominate a threat type and all other players can discard one card from their hand that has that threat which is a great way of emptying players hands. The last action is to use their players good luck charm which lets them discard a card from no-mans land that matches their characters threat type. However once that good luck charm is used it can’t be used again unless regenerated.



The third step is Support. When players withdraw they secretly nominate a player to give support to. After a Mission is successful players reveal who they gave support to and if one player has received more support than every other then they get to either discard two hard-knocks in front of them or regenerate their good luck charm. If the mission was lost they only get to discard one hard-knock in front of them. Also, if a player has four hard-knocks at the end of this step then they have received too much mental damage and the players lose. Last of all is the Intensify stage where players count up the number of cards in their hands and transfer that number of cards from the morale reserve to the trials pile (to a minimum of 3) making victory further away and defeat ever closer.

I love the mechanics, theme and look of this game but it seems like it was just too easy to win. Maybe I have been beaten into submission by the gruelling Pandemic Legacy campaign I am currently playing through but I generally expect co-op games to present a real challenge. We played a 3 and a 4 player game and we were never really pushed that hard. Admittedly we didn’t play the speech rule correctly (there has been an errata rulebook published) and for the first game we played easy mode (for normal some cards have a symbol on that means you have to immediately play a card blind from the trials pile) but it didn’t feel like that would have made much of a difference. Maybe we stumbled across the winning formula or just got lucky, it’s certainly possible that we drew perfect cards but for lovers of co-op games I would be hard-pressed to recommend The Grizzled. I still like the game and would love to try it 5 player (apparently this is the most difficult player count) but overall I am a little disappointed.


Tabletop Round-up 07/12/15

Full disclosure: Last game night was an attempt to enjoy myself and stop worrying about a house move which is becoming ridiculously complicated. In an attempt to cure myself of a massive solicitor induced pain in the arse I self-administered many pints of Shropshire Gold. The views in this round-up may be affected by slight inebriation thus rendering them all bollocks. On we go!

7 Wonders

Players: 7 ( Plays 2-7)

Duration: 1 hour

If you like drafting then you will love 7 Wonders. Draft card, play card, repeat 17 times, end. 7 Wonders is a civilisation builder set over 3 Ages. At the start of the game each player is randomly dealt a Wonder Board which represents one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. At the bottom of the board are three slots that represent the stages of your wonder and a single resource type (either timber, stone, clay or ore) that your civilisation produces. Players are then given three coins and the game starts.

At the beginning of each Age each player is dealt seven cards from that Ages deck. Cards represent structures that you can build and come in a variety of types. Brown cards produce raw materials (either timber, stone, clay or ore), grey cards represent manufacturing (looms, glassworks or printing), blue cards are civilian structures (straight victory points), green are for three types of scientific research (points are awarded for collecting sets), yellow cards are commercial ventures (produce resources or provide coins), red cards are military (points at the end of each round depending on your neighbours military) and purple cards are guilds (points based on specific end-game criteria).


When a player gets their cards they choose one and pass the rest to the next player (clockwise in Age 1 and 3 and anti-clockwise in Age 2). Once all the players have chosen a card they are all revealed simultaneously and played. Many cards have a build cost such as coins or the symbols on other cards. For example a Baths requires one stone, if a player has a structure that produces stone they can build the Baths for free or they can pay a neighbour some coins if they have a stone producing structure. Alternatively a player can discard their card to get 3 coins. Lastly, players can play a card facedown into their next available Wonder slot (providing they can get the resources). Wonders mostly provide straight victory points but some grant a unique ability or some kind of resource. Play continues until each player has only two cards. They draft one, discard the other then that age ends and military points are awarded. At the end of the third Age you total up the points represented by your drafted cards and the player with the most points is the winner.

7 Wonders is one of those games where it is very difficult to decide whether you are doing well or not especially with the full 7 players. When the game ends and the scores are tallied from the huge combination of possible cards it can be a little anticlimactic after all that drafting frenzy. It’s a good game with a lot to think about but don’t be surprised when it ends in a whimper.


Mostly you will be looking at the civilisation you and your neighbours are building. Usually there is a good card to draft but you might want to forgo it so that the guy next to you doesn’t finish that whopping scientific combo. Do you want to build military structures or would that get you stuck in an escalating arms race? The game plays quickly and is a lot of fun especially with a lot of players as cards are swiftly passed from one player to the next. My description may make it sound a lot more complex than it is and the scoring is a bit of a mathematical exercise but for those that want a bit of a meatier filler it is well worth a shot.

Dark Moon

Players: 5 (Plays 3-7)

Duration: 90 minutes

Dark Moon is set in a failing spaceship where players are desperately trying to complete events before one of the ship’s three key systems breaks down. The twist is that some of the players are infected with an alien virus and are attempting to sabotage the mission and destroy the ship. At the beginning of the game players are dealt cards telling them whether they are infected or not, one player is randomly chosen as the ship commander and then the game starts.

The players as a group need to complete four events to win the game. If there is no event or one has just been completed the commander draws two event cards, chooses one and then discards the other. Each event card has a different difficulty represented by the number of successes that are needed to complete it. Difficult cards take longer to complete but can give some kind of bonus whereas easy cards may actually have a penalty on completion.


Success in Dark Moon is determined by rolling and submitting dice. The faces of the dice have a value from around -2 to +2 depending on the dice but there are always four negative numbers and two positive numbers. When a player rolls they do it behind their individual screen meaning that the other players can never be sure that they are telling the truth about all their rolls. Also whenever a dice is used the player loses it until the beginning of their next turn meaning players may not want to contribute too much even if they have rolled successfully, seeding suspicion in their crewmates minds.

On their turn players can take an action. They can attempt to Repair one of the ship’s 3 systems (engine, communications or life support) by rolling two dice and submitting one. If it’s positive then the repair is a success and one damage token is taken off that system otherwise it stays as it is. A player can Call a Vote on a fellow player they suspect which, if successful, confines them to quarantine limiting their actions. A player can Lone Wolf to place progress on the current Event card. They roll 3 dice, submit 2 and if they are both positive then they are successful. Infected players may Reveal as an action meaning they show their true malicious intentions and then get access to a set of alternate Infected actions to play on their next turn. Alternatively a player can Issue an Order to another player which gives them 2 actions. This sounds great but it they are infected then they may decide to take a reveal action and then an infected action without waiting for their turn.


After their individual player action the player draws two tasks from a task deck and chooses one to put to the team. In turn order players decide whether they can contribute to the task and if so they roll their dice (again in secret) and submit at least one to the task. After all players have submitted dice the totals are added up and compared to the value of the task card. If the dice total is equal to or higher than the value of the task card then one success token is played on the current event card. If not a key system gets damaged. Humans win when the fourth event card is completed and infected win if a key system takes maximum damage and is destroyed.

I am still not sure whether or not I even like traitor games. If the opportunity for the traitor to sabotage the game doesn’t appear then you are usually just playing a fairly basic co-op with one or two players playing sub-optimally, the big reveal never materialises and the players start coasting to a dull finish. My first experience of Dark Moon had been fairly pedestrian as every player (including myself as an infected) seemed to be rolling success after success. Any sneaky attempt at sabotage would have been fairly obvious so I just had to reveal late and hope for success. This play was quite different. As an infected (again) I decided to bomb a key task early which made it fairly obvious I was one of the bad guys but managed to damage a system almost to destruction. The identity of my key conspirator then fell between two players who were constantly submitting bad dice and failing tasks. Ironically neither of them were my infected buddy and it was actually the commander who had quietly been picking bad events from the beginning.



This second game was a lot more fun because it had a narrative. A player turned bad right from the start and through unlucky dice rolls the group tore itself apart with suspicion before an assumed innocent was revealed as the mastermind. This is when a traitor game works. Being surrounded by good people is important but a game like this must produce a story for it to work. Often this doesn’t happen and so the game dies on the vine and comes to an unsatisfying conclusion. For me personally this games length is definitely in it’s favour. It’s a bit longer than something like Saboteur where rounds can play in just 10 minutes but doesn’t go as long as Battlestar Galactica which can take almost 4 hours. 90 minutes is just enough time to get in a good story arc but not enough to feel like time wasted if very little happens. Dark Moon is a good game when it goes right and I would recommend it for those on the fence about the whole traitor mechanic. Just try and ignore the artwork that looks like a cover from a PS2 game!