Friday, 12 August 2016

Gencon - I see more games in my future

Not being present at Gencon this year I have to live vicariously through the multitude of updates from BGG and various other sites. Here are the things that caught my eye through the telescope of the internet:

I've been intrigued by the Lord of the Rings game that FFG have had out and now they are planning another coop LCG I can actually get in on at the start. I'm a massive fan of Netrunner and the video that Team Covenant put out of the demo only served to peak my interest further. Definitely one for the christmas list as it releases in quarter 4, probably.

Mansions of Madness 2
Despite coming with a hefty price tag the app integration in this looks really neat. One of the issues with the first game was the unwieldy setup and it sounds like the app eliminates a lot of that straight off the bat. It's really gratifying to see a company like FFG experimenting in this way and really pushing at the boundaries of what a Tabletop game can be.

Runewars: Miniatures Game
FFG breaking into the last big arena they don't really have a share of, yet. This could be really interesting and I have seen plenty of rumours floating around that it may also signal the end of their relationship with GW. Not totally convinced by that as I think it does GW a lot of good to have their IP reach a wider market, but I guess we will just have to wait and see.

Dragon and Flagon
Don't know much about this other than it seems to be about a pub brawl in a fantasy tavern with robo rally like mechanics. The components look gorgeous though and if it can replicate the fun and chaos of Robo Rally that would be ace.

My excellent friend Gregor Hutton has snaffled one of these for me as you can't get it in Europe at the moment due to some strange licensing shenanigans. Never played one of the panic games but this just looked a bit too awesome to resist. Might be one of those games my wife will play with me as well as she is a massive star trek fan! First impressions when I get it to the table.

I love the idea of the legacy games but my group were less than enthused by the Risk and Pandemic reskin. A game built from the ground up sounds ideal and I'll be eagerly absorbing reviews of this until it hits these shores.

New Angeles
Yes back to FFG, but you have to admit they are on fire at the moment. A massive sprawling board game specifically designed with a high player count in mind rather than adding expansions to accommodate those players! Count me in! That and the fact that it is set in the Netrunner universe.

Not heard much about this at Gencon but is from the same designer as Suburbia which is a personal favourite of mine. I really love games that involve building something up from the ground and Suburbia has always been fun for the little stories that emerge as you play, Looking forward to it releasing soon and giving it a shot.

There are loads of games on their way now that Gencon has been and gone and Essen is just round the corner. It's hard to see the smaller games from this distanceI'll do another on of these after that show and I'll be sure to write up a review of these as I get to play them.


Wednesday, 10 August 2016

July Playtest Meetup

The local playtest group met up once more recently bringing 3 games to the table and a lot of design discussion. 

First up was a bit of a first for us which was a group sending us their game to be playtested. Lantern: Lost in the Dark, won the Moray Game Jam boardgame track this year and they have been very busy promoting the game at Expo and the like. 
Game Setup, sleeved cards.
We had 6 players and since the game advertised itself for 8 players max we got stuck in straight away. The game revolves around a bunch of investigators looking into goings on at a mysterious location and trying to find out about the evil that lurks within. As you venture through the various rooms you pick up Stress and spend Oil, running out of Oil meaning you all lose and getting 10 or more stress turning you into a monster. 

We dove straight in, reading over the setup and getting stuck into our first rooms. We found quite a few rules clashes as we made our way through the rules and found some of the items our characters had to be immensely powerful. For instance one character has a book that could give all other present investigators -1 stress. We saw very little reason not use this pretty much every turn. We had to make quite a few rules calls based on what we thought should happen but that is to be expected in a game in early playtest. 
A bit further down the Rabbit Hole
However one of our biggest issues with the game was at the moment we aren't sure what feel it is supposed to evoke. A lot of the investigator names are puns, like Earl Grey, evoking a pulp feel but the game drips with a more creeping horror vibe from a lot of the cards and current layout. We really felt the team needs to pick one direction to go in and it would be really interesting to see a good, creepy horror game on the market.

Overall we didn't really enjoy the game in it's current form. We never felt we were in any trouble at any point and the most stress we ever had was 5. The team has a lot of levers they can pull to change the feel of the game and I hope they will continue working on it as the core mechanic of oil and stress is interesting and could be really honed into something great. We wish them all the best with the future development of the game and will be happy to give it another try. I would also like to try it with a smaller player number as we guessed that might change the feel of the game a lot. 

Next up was a game I had missed out on playing last time about being a celebrity called Scandal which Steven had brought along. This was a tableau building game and as you probably know I am a great fan of any game where I get to build things and have stories emerge from what I build. So it was with this game which shows a lot of promise despite still being in early stages of playtesting. The designer had changed the scoring from the previous version of the game and it certainly didn't feel that cumbersome to me. 
Scandal in play
I really like the building of the tableau and there are some interesting decisions to be made about what suits you play out of your hand and how you score at the end. There are Scandal cards that you could buy as a kind of Gotcha element in the game and there was much discussion about different ways to use those. They were originally meant as a catch up mechanic which I can totally understand but I felt I was spending so much time figuring out how to get my tableau sorted that I forgot they existed and when I was hit by one it almost slowed me down too much. Plenty of ways to do it and the core of the game is good enough that the designer can now start playing around with those mechanics. 

Last but not least was one of my own creations currently titled 'Minions'. This is a game that has been simmering under for a while now and I was really glad to get it back to the table for another swing at it. The idea is that you are all minions in a James Bond style world really looking forward to taking on the henchman position that has been recently....vacated. You do this by working together on projects that the Mastermind demands, whilst try not to help out others projects too much, after all when review time comes round you want to advance the most up the ladder. The core of the game revolves around the idea of as you climb the ladder, you become more powerful but have less resources thus forcing you to order other people about as best you can. 
Minions in play
It worked pretty well, much better than an earlier version that had you hiding dice behind your hand for your bidding. This version has the dice value on cards that you also play to make yourself more interesting, worked ok. The ladder climb and fall is still not quite right as I really want you to feel under pressure at every review, that you could fall down the ranks as easily as you climb. At the moment the catch up in the game seems good so I will need to be careful playing with that mechanic. You also play way too many cards to make up your guy so I need to turn that lever down a bit so you are more interesting.

We had 6 people which was good turnout but I would really like to grow the meetup to handling a couple of tables at once. I am going to try and throw the message out further for next time round as we only need a couple more to allow us to test a couple of games at once, which would be perfect. I'm really happy to see new faces every time and I hope the fruits of our labours will eventually reach a wider audience!

Friday, 8 July 2016

Can't Stop - First Impressions

Late night in the bar saw myself, Gaz and Rich breaking out Rich's copy of Can't Stop, something of a classic game that I had never had the opportunity to play.

Can't Stop is a game that sees each player with a number of coloured tokens and 3 white tokens to place each round. Each round you roll 4 six sided dice and form them into two pairs leaving you with two seperate totals. You then put one of your white meeples on each of the numbers you've rolled. If you have rolled the same number twice then you can place a meeple and move it one forward up the ladder.
Before it begins
You then have a choice. You can pick the dice up and roll again, placing white meeples if you still have any and moving those you already have on the table in the matching columns. Or, you can stop and place your coloured meeples on the spots for the white meeple. This choice continues until you choose to stop or you fail to roll any numbers that would allow you to place a white meeple or move one of them. If you do fail then all your progress is lost!
I turned out to be pretty good at this!
This game is the Push your Luck mechanic absolutely boiled down to it's simplest possible interpretation, much as Skull is the Bluff mechanic at it's most pure. Harder to get numbers have smaller ladders than easier to get so their is a lot to think about with the numbers you choose to make. Their is a lot of pleasure in watching others roll, the look on their faces as they pick up the dice and consider just one more go! 

Playable in minutes, taught in seconds and loads of fun you can see why this is on so many classic list of games. 

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Blades in the Dark - So it begins

I've been champing at the bit to get Blades in the Dark, John Harper's latest RPG opus, to the table recently and on Sunday last I finally got my chance. I was running this game for a totally new group and not my regular gaming chums so I was a bit nervous about making a good first impression. On top of that two of the group were pretty new to roleplaying so I felt the expectation of making sure everyone had a good time and also introducing them to a more indie style of game.

We got going a little later than I had planned but I still hoped to get through Character and Crew creation and the first heist. Character creation was a breeze, ending up with a Hound, Leech and a Lurk and some background details for the world as we figured out where everyone came from. I like that kind of thing in character creation where the players create parts of the world as they attach themselves to it, helps really invest them in the game from the off. Best detail was that Leech's vice revolved around Knitting for Pleasure.

Going with the default theme of a group of Thieves we covered the basic rules and then got to it with the setup provided in the book.

Confronted by Baszo Baz, the leader of the Lampblacks as to their intentions now a gang war was on, the group took the easy route out and decided to work for him. Bazso immediately put them to work stealing part of the Red Sashes war chest. Laying out the location of one of the high end drug dens that have had a lot of activity around it they set about infiltrating it with a Stealth plan.
The Leech went in the front looking to run a distraction, pitching some new drugs to the man in charge of the den. The Hound and the Lurk went in the back, the engagement roll allowing them to bypass the initial infiltration. Once inside we had a flashback to an earlier stealing of some blueprints, loving the flashback mechanic.

Meanwhile in the offices of the White Crow, the drug den they had infiltrated, the Leech was making some inroads in selling her questionable concoctions to the Red Sashes. Initially wanting to try and draw out the leader of the Red Sashes she decided against the Devil's Bargain I offered her to make that happen and made her way out into the main den. 

Sneaking around the Den the Hound and the Lurk had narrowed down the possible locations from the blueprints to two separate parts of the den. Splitting the party, always the best plan, the Lurk headed to the kitchen and the Hound to the basement. The Lurk snuck into the Kitchen, unfortunately knocking over some pots and pans stacked behind the door alerting the staff that were in there. Trying to Sway his way around the problem, and succeeding, one of the staff went off to find the madame running the floor of the den to confirm he was a guest. The other, well he met with the pointy end of the Lurk's answer to him being alive.

Our Leech was just coming down the stairs when she met the member of the kitchen staff looking for the madame. A brief conversation had him all turned around and back towards the kitchen. On seeing the new wall decorations of white and arterial blood he began to have a thought that was quickly snuffed out by the application of more of the Leech's drugs. The Alarm clock I had started was halted in it's path, for now.

The hound having found the stash in the basement was in need of the Leech's lock picking expertise whilst the Lurk dealt with the mess in the Kitchen, barricading the door and letting himself out the back. The others quickly dealt with the lock and snuck out of the sewers as they heard commotion from up above and they made there way back to their lair.

Bazso was impressed and they are bound to get some more work from him in future. The Red Sashes are destabilised but the Leech now has an in with them and wit will be up to the crew to see how that all plays out.

I really enjoyed running Blades. It felt very smooth, even for a first time out, and the basic system is very easy to grasp. I'd kept this heist reasonably simple due to time constraints, but next time I hope to make things go a bit longer by throwing a few more complications their way as they do what they do.

Monday, 20 June 2016

May Playtest Meetup

I didn't manage to get to the last Playtest meetup but my friend Aaron tookover the hosting for me and sent some notes about the session. Only just gotten around to looking those over so here is a wee report, edited from Aaron's notes.

We had 3 games on show and 5 participants, 2 of whom were just there to play.

First up was a tile based game  tentatively called Robot Factory. Reminded me of ticket to ride but where you also have to build the board from tiles as well. You play tiles in one of 5 different types that need to link together to form a path that matches the patterns on the cards you play. The path can snake orthogonally and tiles can be used in multiple paths. Then you have to claim those tiles by playing a piece on them. Trick is, you'll probably have to use some of your opponents' tiles too to make your pattern but each tiles can only take a certain number of pieces (between 1 and 4). There's a trick in the play then of arranging your pattern but also trying to claim the tiles in an order of priority so you don't lose out. It was pretty much a complete game. We commented on possibly needing to run the numbers on each of the 4 scoring methods to make sure they were balanced but it could be played as is, only tweaking possible the length of the patterns or score values on the tiles. 

Robot Factory

The designer is a computer programmer and had run the game through his own computer analyses already. He's now looking for the human commentary on play and to try it with more than two players. He's to lay a theme over it too, and is considering it being about trying to build robots to given patterns. everyone enjoyed it. It's definitely got the potential to be a great app too - in fact it says app all over it - which the guy could code himself. 

Aaron brought back Queen's Court, now with that working title replaced with the real name given to me by a play tester at a different session: The Last Dance. He wanted to test more that 4 players and got a 5 player game. Pleasingly it still works, though he still wants to account for an increased play time from 60 minutes to 75. He's also now started putting in the background of the country falling apart whilst the nobles dance into the mission cards.  The friendly frustration of being knocked out of place is now there in the game and to a level where it's just a frustration for one move and people enjoy the back and forth with it. 

Last Dance
Steven brought Scandal back, mostly as before in terms of rules but now wanting to test out some sample artwork and also how best to have the scoring boards and pieces. Still plays well in under an hour. Everyone loves how it creates a story for the career you build with cards. 

Thanks very much to Aaron for hosting and I am looking forward to getting some of my own designs to the table this coming Sunday. If you would like to learn more about any of these games please check out previous articles where there are longer form descriptions of the games.


Sunday, 12 June 2016

Games Expo - Day 3

The last day of expo saw an earlier rise than I would have liked due to check out being at 12. Packing up everything was a slightly sad affair as I knew I would be saying goodbye to an excellent weekend soon but there was still time to get some more gaming in. 

With one of our number fallen by the wayside temporarily and the other heading off to an RPG session I headed back to the NEC to wander round on my own. Hitting the Trade Hall early had the benefit of it being a lot quieter so I could make my way round at a more leisurely pace. I didn't stop to get demos of as many things as I would have liked and will definitely try and put in more time on that next year. I mostly spent my time pawing at shiny things and wondering what to take back in my limited suitcase. 

I wandered the trade hall as methodically as I could trying to see absolutely everything. I paid particular attention to the smaller publishers, having been in that situation myself, and tried out Game of Shame and Legends of Dungeon the later being from a Scottish group of developers I hadn't heard of before. I also had a look at Surviving: One month in which was one of many games that I saw at the con with a pixel art style. Seems to be very much the 'in thing' at the moment. 

Legends of Dungeon

Surviving: One month in

Close up of the tiles. Very nice.

Once our fallen comrade joined me in the trade hall we continued to wander trying out Odin's Ravens from Osprey Games and eventually buying 'Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space' which finally adds a hidden movement game to my collection. Full review of that once I get it to the table, beautifully presented though and I love the art style. We poked our head into the Bring & Buy when it was a little quieter, but nothing really grabbed my attention. 

2-3 more hours saw us mostly done as fatigue kicked in and we decided to head back to the Hilton for some food and games to round off the weekend. My friend had bought Star Trek: Five Year Mission for a bargain prcie and we got through a few rounds of that before it was time to go our seperate ways.

I had an absolutely ace time at Expo and I can only see it continuing to go from strength to strength every year. Maybe I'll go back some year as an exhibitor but for now I'm content to go as a punter and sample the very best of what the gaming scene at home and abroad has to offer whilst surrounded by good friends, good food and a great con. 

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Games Expo - Day 2

This was my first day entering the Trade Hall of the Expo and I knew it was going to be big. However, I wasn't quite prepared for the change in pace from last year. Occupying the cavernous interior of Hall 1 in the NEC, which was literally big enough to drive a double decker bus into courtesy of Wotan Games, the place had a really nice noise and buzz to it. Hundreds of Traders were there from smaller outfits like the Battle of the Bands guys to huge behemoths like Mayfair.

Nice stand guys!
I loved the buzz of the trade hall and how diverse the attendees were in every way. There is something for everyone in that trade hall and I can only imagine that will be the case even more so next year. I talked to several of the traders in there and it was interesting hearing a lot of them now thinking of the con as a much bigger deal then they previously had. I think Expo has now arrived at that point were it can join the International Big Cons, like Origins and Essen, and I have no doubt it will continue to grow over the years.

You can just see the bus!
I don't tend to buy a lot at big cons like this, partly due to me flying back and having limited space, but also as I like to keep my collection small. Wandering round I had demos of a few games, First Impressions of which will be up soon, but I especially made a bee line to the Backspindle Games stall to get a shot of Codinca. You can read my first impression of the game here but know that I bought it on the spot. A lovely puzzle game with a beautiful presentation. I really love how nice the artifact of the boxes for games are becoming and Codinca has a dinky little box with a lovely magnetic closure to keep it's nice chunky tiles in.

Codinca, sorry for the fuzz, camera issues.

Further wandering showed us minis that I will never buy but marvel at anyway in the level of detail, previews of the Labyrinth board game, demos of Guild Ball, the knowledge that Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space was now out in deluxe format, and that Chaos Cards was now doing Broken Token stuff. The last of these is an outfit that does MDF storage boxes and they have always looked great. However they are states based making their reasonable prices unreasonable after shipping and taxes. I picked up one of the mini card holders and it works a treat for Eldritch, definitely planning to pick up some more.


Broken Token's mini card holder

At 2:30 I headed to the Playtest Zone to get Conspiracy to the table and had a blast getting feedback from people. It went down fairly well but I need to work a lot on the clarity of the cards, which I sort of knew anyway.

5 Player Game

3 Player game

After I finished up we headed back to the Hilton and took up residence on top of the Beer Bus. Proceeding to eat ourselves stationary and, along with everyone else I might add, drinking the Beer Bus literally dry we had an amazing night talking rubbish, playing Skull and generally having a laugh.

Kings of the Beer Bus!
Much as I love gaming, the thing for me with expo is the people. It's a chance to catch up with good friends I don't get to see nearly often enough. Sitting on top of the Beer Bus was a highlight for me, and it was because I was surrounded by good friends, great atmosphere and delicious things to eat and drink. What more could you ask for!