Monthly Archives: April 2015

This Weeks Addiction: Sons of Anarchy

SAMCRO are out of control. A criminal biker gang led by a man determined to take his anger out on the world and ride his club through hell’s fiery gates, casually shooting any devils foolish enough to get in the way. So far the seventh (and final) series of the Sons of Anarchy has had more double-crossing and gang violence than the previous one and I am only halfway through. I am surprised they haven’t run out of characters to put a bullet through.

It’s ludicrous. Alliances are made and broken faster than playground friendships and problems are usually solved by shooting someone in the face or a short truce followed by shooting someone in the face. They still have all the gurning angst and leather-clad bromance of previous seasons but it’s been dialled back to accommodate a chaos of shifting allegiances and shootouts where the Sons gun down rivals who ineptly return fire A-Team style into the dust. It’s like the writers have gone mad.

In a good way. Because it’s just a thrill. I am sure if you sat down and started pulling at the plot then the whole thing would unravel faster than a Primark scarf but in the moment of watching you just go with it. The idea of bikers nonchalantly murderising their rivals while the police give a we-got-nothing on-em shrug may not be very realistic but it’s certainly exciting. Like going on a 5-star rampage in GTA only to get dropped outside the court house once the police overwhelm you. Getting off on a technicality probably. Or something.

I am going to enjoy every minute of gleeful violence in the last 8 episodes or so because even though it’s full of unsavoury killers who value Harley Davidsons over human life it’s a wild and crazy ride that I can grin at while my disbelief gets firmly suspended. Then I will go and do the washing up like a normal person.

Monday Night Tabletop Round-up 20/04/15

Beer, running and travel. The themes for last Monday’s games are oddly prophetic because I am going to be doing exactly those three things in real life when Moorfields station closes later this year!

Metric Mile

Players: 5 (Plays 1-10)

Duration: 45 minutes

Roll and move. A snubbed game mechanism amongst gamers who would say that boiling progress down to pure chance makes the whole thing pointless. So when one of the most experienced gamers in my group pulled a race game out his bag which involves rolling dice to dictate the movement of runners I was a little confused. However once I got into the game I realised that chance was only a small part of the race.

In Metric Mile players control runners (based on actual athletes like Seb Coe or Roger Bannister) each with a unique running profile that controls the distance that they run each turn, their stamina number and any penalties for being in the front of the race or losing contact with other racers. On their turn players decide on one of 5 different movement types: ease up, normal, pick up, forcing and sprint and roll dice to see how far they have gone and how much stamina they will have lost. The faster movement type you choose the greater distance you can make but there is a greater chance of losing more stamina too. If you run out of stamina then your movement is cut short and then next turn you roll on a special exhausted movement table that, as you can imagine, doesn’t move you very far. After ten turns the racer out in front is the winner.

I had never played a race game before this one and was a little sceptical about how one would play out but the end of this game was tense. It’s gameplay is basic but there are some decisions to be made like knowing when to sprint for example. Sprinting gets you some good distance but really eats away at your stamina and once you start you can’t stop. Also, the profile of each runner is a little different meaning that some high stamina racers will want a fast race all the way through but others will want to keep it slow and steady but be able to burst out the pack for a sprint finish. It’s very interesting. The roll and move aspect is nicely pitched too as the dice only affects your movement by 10-15% making it more about risk management than a random success generator.

Overall I was very pleasantly surprised by Metric Mile. It’s a lot of fun and the thrill of a 1500m sprint finish is surprisingly well captured. I am not sure how easy this one is to get as it looks like it’s made by a basement developer but if you can get a go then I would recommend it.

Furstenfeld

Players: 5 (Plays 2-5)

Duration: 90 minutes

Beer. Homer Simpson said it was ‘the cause of and solution to all my problems.’ Thankfully Furstenfeld is not about drinking it (I take care of that on my own) but it’s about profiting from it, hopefully building a lovely palace on your alcohol-fuelled gains.

At the start of the game 5 random pub cards are drawn (each with a level of demand in wheat, water and hops) and placed in the centre of the table at the bottom of a demand track. Players are each given an identical deck of building cards and a ‘furstenfeld’ player sheet which represents the 6 plots of land they can build on (initially three plots produce one unit of wheat, water and hops apiece). On their turn players draw three cards (adding them to one card they kept from the previous round), sell goods they have produced from their furstenfeld to one of the pubs and then build up to two buildings if they want/can afford to. Players then discard down to one card and put all discards on the bottom of their deck.

If a pub receives more ingredients of a particular type than it needs then the price it will pay goes down and may even go to zero but if by the end of a round they haven’t met their demand then it will creep up. Players need to exploit this fluctuating market and use the powers of buildings they place to pay for six palace buildings on their player sheet as the player to do so first is the winner. The catch is that the palace doesn’t generate any income and once built will take up one of the six plots on your player sheet. The more you build, the harder it becomes. In addition the price for palaces increases as more are built so if you wait too long then you will have to pay an awfully high amount to complete your palace.

The trick is knowing when to start building those palaces over your other more useful structures and remembering what cards are coming up from the bottom of your deck (and what order they are in). There is a subtle tipping point when you stop trying to be clever and just race for the finish. If you know you have enough in the bank to build over your plots then you need to start doing it. These simple mechanics require you to balance out your deck, your little economic engine and the demand of each of the three beer making materials. It can be enjoyed on a deeper level or just a devil may care builder. This frosty stein is definitely half-full.

Airlines Europe

Players: 5 (Plays 3-5)

Duration: 90 minutes

When gamers get sick of trains they turn to planes. Apparently Airlines Europe was a train game and then a plane game before that but was reskinned to appeal to new audiences every few years. Trains! Ugh. Planes! Ooh. And so on. So while you could apply it to taxi routes, drainage contracts, intergalactic trade or ice cream vans none of them would have cool plane miniatures. Squeeeee!!!

The game takes place across a map of Europe which features various cities and picks routes between them with each route having a few slots and associated costs dotted along them. Players start with a small amount of money and a handful of five share cards dealt from the share deck (in ten colours that represent 10 different airlines) and five share cards are played face up into the centre of the table. Around the board is a track that represents the value of each of the ten companies.

On their turn players can do one of four things. Buy a route (pay the cost to put the company of their choice in a spot on a route which increases the value of that company) and take a card from the centre (which is immediately replaced), play share cards from their hand (placed in front of them and then receive a cash dividend), swap share cards for a special 11th company or take money from the bank. Three score cards are seeded throughout the share deck and when one is drawn players score victory points based on the dividend cards they have played and the value of the companies. Having the most cards in a company gets you the largest points and so on with more points awarded to more valuable companies.

Investing in companies and building routes creates a lot of passive interaction amongst players. You want to build routes in the company you have the most shares in but then another player could just let you do all the work and then try and snaffle up all the shares. Do you focus on getting big in one company or spreading your bets for a smaller amount of points in many. It’s a tough balance and players heads are constantly swirling around the table to see what other players are doing and hopefully not piggybacking a crafty opponent to victory.

Naturally I was not an incredible businessman and my bottom-feeder strategy of trying to snatch second and third place points in multiple companies didn’t work. Whether this is even a viable strategy or not I have no idea but I enjoyed trying it and when you have fun coming (almost) last you know you have played a good game.

Monday Night Tabletop Round-up 13/04/15

Due to a disgustingly unfair amount of work (ie. some) I completely failed to write a round-up last week. It would have been a bumper size too as it was a bank hoilday all-dayer. Here’s the express edition. Tammany Hall (I suck), Ticket to Ride: Europe (I rule), Blood Bowl Team Manager (I really suck), 7 Wonders (cards, cards, more cards) and Stone Age (love tent). On with the latest.

Welcome to the Dungeon

Players: 4 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 20 minutes

This was described as ‘chicken’ on Monday and that’s not an unfair description for this minimal push-your-luck dungeon crawler. At the start of each round one player (last rounds dungeon delver) picks one of four heroes (barbarian, mage, thief or warrior) and places them in the centre of the table along with six pieces of equipment unique to that hero. Play goes clockwise around the table with players either drawing a card from a monster deck or passing. If they draw a card then they have two options, either to put it face down into the dungeon or discard it along with one of the chosen heroes pieces of equipment. Passing puts that player out for the round. Chicken!

Eventually there will only be one player left. They must then reveal one card at a time from the dungeon and see if they can use the remaining equipment to get past each monster. Monsters are essentially really only a number value so this is a swift process to see whether the player fights their way to glory or perishes at the hand of some lucky goblin. If all monsters are defeated then the player receives a victory card but if the hero should fall then they take a hit. Players win by being the first to get two victory cards or the last man standing (two hits and you are out the game).

This is the definition of a fun filler as rules are simple and play moves around the table at a brisk pace. It’s a little slice of silliness where knowing when to pass is part calculated-risk and part luck. The cute dungeon crawler theme fits it really well too and I loved how they boiled down the idea of an equipment heavy-RPG into just a few cards. For 15 minutes of fun you can’t go wrong here.

Shadow Throne

Players: 4 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 45 minutes

It would be interesting to see what this game might have been called had Game of Thrones not been so popular. It’s like one of those iphone games like Age of War or Modern Combat that remind you of another much more successful franchise. Thankfully, once you put its painfully generic title to one side Shadow Throne is a very unique blend of card-drafting and hand management.

The core of the game are a deck of character cards, each one belonging to one of the three factions and having an influence, a value and a price/income as well as some kind of special ability. At the start of each round players are dealt 6 cards, draft one into their hand and then pass the remaining to the next player. Cards are then drafted and passed along in this way until every card is chosen.

Players then select a card from their hand and play them simultaneously in front of them. Special powers are applied and then each card’s influence is then added to its factions power track. After four cards are revealed in this way players are awarded points equal to the value of cards they have played that match the faction that is highest along the power track. The power track is then reset, players are dealt 6 cards and a new round starts. Once a player has over 15 points the game ends and the player with the highest score wins.

The card drafting and selection is nice and simple with a lot of potential for depth but each round seemed to play out a similar way where once a faction pulls ahead in the power track then it’s too easy to fall in line and play cards of that faction. This is mitigated by having an increased cost for playing consecutive cards of the same faction but there was a definite pattern to each round. Also, card powers seemed to only have a minor effect, adding to a rounds predictability. I am guessing the designers were trying to minimise wild power swings but it would be nice to get a big surprise at the last minute. I may sound a bit down on this game which is not the case as it was good fun but a few more powerful cards could really add to the tension.

Space Hulk: Death Angel

Players: 2 (Plays 1-6)

Duration: 1 hour

Death Angel is the co-operative card-driven little brother of Space Hulk where a group of space marines explore a vast abandoned spaceship trying to avoid being torn to confetti by monstrous aliens (called genestealers) swarming through the vents. It’s a bit like Aliens complete with the same low, low odds of survival and total lack of courage under fire. Game over man.

Players take control of two-man fire teams that are randomly put into a line down the centre of the table. The object of the game is to get at least one of those marines safely through the last location card in a deck of 4-5 that are randomly assigned at the beginning of the game. Some locations have special conditions but in general the way to get to the next one is to empty one of two blip piles that aliens spawn from. Location cards also dictate terrain that is placed along the column of marines.

At the beginning of a round players issue one of three orders for each of their pair of marines, Support (place one reroll token on any marine), Move & Activate (each marine may swap with the one above or below him, change facing and activate terrain) and Attack (try to kill a genestealer in range). Each team also has a unique additional effect that they can use depending on the order that they choose. Genestealers then attack any marines they are adjacent to and are more likely to hit if there are more attacking at once. Finally a card is drawn from the event deck which has some effect on the game (usually bad, this is a co-op game after all) and dictates which terrain genestealers will spawn from and whether or not they move. Clear the last location card and the players win but if all marines have been killed then it’s all over.

It may come as no surprise to fans of co-op games that this game is tough, really tough. Marines die after one hit and once genestealers start clumping into swarms then the odds of losing a marine go from likely to almost certain really fast. Each round is like a little puzzle that you are just trying to survive through. It’s hellish. We managed to get through to the last stage which I thought was pretty good although by the time we got there the writing was on the wall. In blood.

Monday Night Tabletop Round-up 30/03/15

These Round-ups seem to be getting later and later. Next week is my game groups bank holiday all-dayer so expect 5 bullet points around mid June!

Blood Bowl Team Manager

Players 4 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 90 minutes

The original Blood Bowl was a mixture of American Football and Warhammer where fantasy races armoured up and took to the gridiron to bash each other around and occasionally score the odd touchdown. Blood Bowl Team Manager has the same theme but instead of playing an actual match, managers commit their players to highlight cards to win bonuses, sign star players and bring in the most fans (Team Manager’s victory points). Just like in the actual game the term manager refers to people around the table and player corresponds to the player cards in the game.

At the beginning of the game each manager chooses one of 6 races (human, orc, elf, dwarf, skaven and chaos) and then takes their starter deck of 12 player cards. At the start of each of the games 5 rounds, cards are dealt into the centre of the table from the highlight deck equal to the number of players as well as one special Spike! Magazine card (these are either an extra valuable highlight or some sort of special condition that affects that round, the last card is always the fan-rich Blood Bowl). Managers then draw 6 cards from their deck, reshuffling their discard pile into it if it is empty. On their turn, managers commit a player to a highlight, adding that players star power value to it. Once every manager has played their entire hand the round ends, managers add up their star power points at each highlight, winners get the appropriate payout and then all committed players are discarded. At the end of the fifth round the manager with the most fans is the winner. These underpinning game mechanics are very basic but built on top of it is a fun mix of player skills and abilities, and the extra powers that come from payouts.

Skills are applied when committing a player to a highlight. Tackling gives a player the chance to down another on the opposite side of the matchup by rolling tackling dice and applying the result. Downed players have less star power value and when a downed player is successfully tackled they are injured and removed from the highlight immediately. When a player applies the passing skill they move a ball token from the highlight to that player (or from an opposing player back onto the highlight). If you are holding the ball at the end of the round it contributes 2 star power points to your total. Sprinting lets you draw and then discard a card (enabling you to cycle out weaker players from your hand) and cheating (the only mandatory skill) places a random cheat token on that player which is revealed at the end of the round. Cheating tokens can contribute additional star power to a highlight or immediately give a coach some fans but they can also get that player sent off, removing them from the highlight. In addition there are also a variety of passive player abilities that affect the game as it progresses.

Payouts come in 4 types. Fans are just straightforward points but team and staff upgrades give you global abilities such as being about to re-roll tackle dice or gain fans for injuring players. Getting a clever combination of these to work with your team can really boost your chances of winning matchups and getting even more fans and powers. The most interesting bonus (for me anyway) is the chance to draft star players into your deck. These powerful signings can really swing the result of a matchup and may have a particularly dastardly set of skills and abilities.

Blood Bowl Team Manager has a lot more complexity than it’s simple first impressions. What I perceived initially as a straightforward ‘take that’ card game has a lot more elements to it and managers need to balance hand management with basic deck-building. They can also try to build a team that works like an engine, efficiently generating points from actions as well as winning highlights. Failing all that you can just pick the biggest team, draft the beefiest star players and just beat your opponent into submission. That works too. It’s probably more fun as well.

As a fan of the original Blood Bowl I had been wanting to try this for a while and I was not disappointed. More strategic thinkers might be frustrated when their orc blitzer comes crashing down but for me the back and forth nature of the game keeps it exciting all the way through.

Eight Minute Empire: Legends

Players: 3 (plays 2-4)

Duration: 20 minutes

Are you the sort of guy who likes moving little cubes around? Me too! Eight Minute Empire: Legends is a simple area control game where you are trying to gain as much territory on a group of islands split into multiple regions. At the beginning players are given coins (the amount depends on the number of players) to spend on their turn to buy one of six cards that are placed in a row at the start of the game. The card furthest from the deck is free but increase in price as they go along. Once a card is bought the cards all move down and a new one is drawn and placed next to the deck in the most expensive slot.

Once bought the player takes the action listed on the card. Cards let players place new cubes at their starting location, move their cubes around, remove opponents cubes or build castles (which provide another region in which to place new cubes). In addition to their initial action, cards may have a further effect such as enhancing subsequent actions or awarding extra points at game end.

After a set number of rounds (determined by the number of players) the game ends and scoring begins. Each player gets one point for each region they control (more cubes than each other player there) and one point for each island they control (control more regions in that island than each other player) plus any card bonuses they have accrued. Most points wins.

This short game does everything it needs to. Slick mechanics move it quickly along giving you a little dose of empire building without it getting boring. The title is slightly misleading as getting an entire game done within 8 minutes would be a tall order but it certainly lets you know roughly what you will be getting. For area control fans filler is a must.