Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Edinburgh Playtest Group - January Meetup

A new year saw me sorting out some things in my local playtest group in order to let it grow over the following year. One of these was to pin down a regular day each month for the main meetup, the 3rd Sunday of every month, and so the 15th of Jan was our inaugural 2017 meetup. The other was to write up playtest reports more frequently, so here we go.

There were 5 of us there and the first game to hit the table was Keith's Robot Factory, a tile laying puzzle game.  I hadn't gotten along with very well in it's last iteration, but I'm happy to report that the game feels a lot stronger now. Previously I had felt I wasn't really in control enough of the board, but now I did, with a lot more options to manipulate things. The addition of  some neat mechanics to encourage people to stay together in the central part rather than branching out made for a much more interactive experience. Some suggestions were made to restrict the size of the board to further emphasise this element but all in all a really solid improvement on the game.

Trying to complete the paths in front of me

Next up was Steve's game Scandal, which now has nearly all of it's art done and is looking pretty neat. A quick playing game of the vagaries of fame, the game feels a lot smoother now that it had done in a previous iteration. The core mechanic evolves around set collection with the curve ball of scandal cards disrupting your plans. We talked a bit about the fiddliness of how scandal cards enter the deck but all in all it's a solid game.

Game end state. 

My illustrious career.

We had a brief break as I floundered putting together Minions before I realised I hadn't finished the new version! Make sure you take working prototypes along to meetups kids!

Moving swiftly on to Mark's Wreck and Ruin, I found myself once more in post apocalyptic wasteland. We played a few turns of a slightly tweaked version of this game and I think it's a really solid and chaotic, in a good way, design. We had previously chatted about making the factions more assymetric but the game feels pretty good at the moment, coming down to the point where it just needs the final bumps ironed out.

Trying for some tactical blocking. Didn't work!

My Upstart game, about investing in Tech Startups, hit the table after a long time, and I was keen to see how the changes I had made would work. Answer, not well. We played a few rounds before I called a halt to things and we had a good chat about what I wanted from the game and how that might be achieved in the context of a single deck game. Always good to bounce ideas off fellow designers and I am already working on a new version. Totally forgot to take photos of my own game, next time.

Aaron didn't get to test this time but he is top of the list for next time. This is another change I am making to the group after a call for more structure to the sessions. Every time a designer gets to test a game they go to the bottom of a list. New comers will get priority at the top of the list as I want to keep the group open and welcoming to those who might just turn up on the day. As designers playtest everyone gets pushed up the list again until they are towards the top of the list and get to playtest again. This should be relatively simple to maintain and will give everyone and idea ahead of time as to if they will get a chance to get a game to the table in this particular session.

A good start to the new year and I am working on growing the group over the following year alongside making a logo for the group and possibly hosting a large playtesting event sometime later in the year.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Sub Terra - Kickstarter Preview

It should have all been so simple: a quick trip into a cave system for the Corporation to do some research, nothing could possibly go wrong. Unfortunately you fell through to the sublevels and need to get out before your light fails. What was that noise? You might not be alone down here....

Such is the premise of the latest game Sub Terra from Inside The Box Board Games a tile laying, co-operative of racing against the clock. Inside the Box kickstarted Statecraft last year, and are taking this effort to kickstarter next week. Peter Blenkham, the boss of the operation, was nice enough to invite me to preview the game over Tabletopia.

Out of the 8 starting classes each player chooses 1, though the number chosen scales for different number of players, 2 each in the case of the game I played. Each character comes with a couple of abilities, one passive and one active, which will change the nature of the way you make your way around.  I chose a Scout, good at rushing ahead and avoiding the nastier tiles and an Engineer, who could make their own path and mitigate the damage from cave-ins. Peter took a medic, you can guess what he does, and the Bodyguard who can scare off the horrors that lurk in the caves.

It's worth mentioning that the representation amongst the characters is excellent in Sub-Terra, something I know that Peter has worked hard on. As board gaming grows and grows this is something that needs thought about more from designers. The excellent Shut up &Sit Down really have led the way in critiquing games from this perspective, something I hope to support in my own reviews.

On each characters turn, keeping in mind you might be controlling more than 1, you get a couple of action points to move around the cave system. You can get more by exerting yourself at the risk of taking some damage and at moments when the clock is ticking down there is a great calculation between taking the slow and steady path and pushing to the end. These action points can be spent to forge ahead quickly, explore slowly, administer to your wounds, put up rope lines and similar.

The tiles you move over are beautifully illustrated with an underground landscape that strikes the right tone between gritty and mysterious. As you rush to find the exit to the system you will come across many potential hazards: gas, slides, cliff edges, water, squeeze spaces and things that go bump in the night.

At the end of each round you reveal a card from the event deck, which changes construction dependent on the difficulty level that you choose, and that may trigger one of the tile types. Gas will leak, floods will appear, things will move in the dark and the entire sub-system will tremor. As these events occur your path to victory changes and/or becomes more treacherous giving a good feeling of having to think on your feet and adapt to the ever changing conditions of a treacherous underground realm.

Our game at the end, all our Explorers have made their way out of the system!

Our game lasted just about an hour, which is the playtime that the team are aiming for, and throughout I always felt I had significant decisions to make. You split up a lot to try and get through the system as fast as possible, but then come back together as routes are blocked off or you need to help fellow explorers who have fallen by the wayside. At one point by Engineer fell down a slide tile twice, unable to get back to the main path. My scout forged ahead, risking ending up in a difficult position to forge a path to the end of the slide. It was a risk but paid off, and it was a nice moment of joining forces to defeat a puzzle the game had set in front of me.

The Sub-Terra Kickstarter launches on Tuesday 10th of January and has a load of stretch goals planned already. The game is a tense, claustrophobic race against time that should provide a lot of replayability as you try out the different combinations of explorers and delve into the depths of this co-op.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Collecting my thoughts

Over the Christmas period my family were very generous with board games to the point where my shelves are now creaking. I've written before about my belief in curating your collection such that it is active i.e. the games actually get played rather than gathering dust, but I think it is a point worth revisiting along with the current status of my collection.

I added Takenoko, Colony, Cry Havoc, Captain Sonar and an expansion to Eldritch Horror over the Christmas period leading to this rather fine shelfie:

That is Doomtown in the Folders

Small Games in the Drawers, all my Eldritch is in two boxes for now! Netrunner on the bottom left.
You can gaze upon my current collection here at BGG:

Excluding expansions, games I have previously owned and items currently in my Trade/ Sale pile I own 54 unique games and honestly that is probably too many. With the new additions I definitely have some cross over i.e. Kemet and Cry Havoc are both strategy games of the man-on-maps variety and it will take some time to noodle out what will stay and what will go.

Games that are likely to go over the course of this year include the following:

Eminent Domain: A good game with a terrible name, but I think my group has gone off deckbuilders. Hasn't seen play for a while and I am not sure really what gap it fills any more. 

Settlers, which I have a lot of nostalgia for, but I think Takenoko fills that spot much better and with a lot more charm. Design and presentation have moved on so much since the early days of the current boardgame boom and I just think games like Takenoko and Lords of Vegas make for a better introduction to the hobby. 

Smallworld, I've had a lot of fun with Smallworld but it just doesn't see a lot of play and again has crossovers with Cry Havoc and Kemet. 

Spyfall: I do like Spyfall but Codenames seems to get to the table more when I have a lot of people to accommodate. I would hope that Captain Sonar may also fill that player number requirement as well.

Twilight Struggle: Barely played my copy as I don't really have an opponent for these deeper kind of two player experiences. I'll either have to track someone down or give it the boot. 

I am more determined than ever to make sure the games in my collection are played over the course of a year and to that end I will be tracking plays as much as possible, bound to forget a few. Anything not played by the end of the year is going to get traded/sold. 

Although I may be missing some game types I feel the collection is pretty complete for my group. My game cafe of choice has a good selection and people with much larger collections than me, so hopefully I can get some plays in of whatever the New Hotness turns out to be this year.

My real hope is that I get to know the games I own better, and in doing so focus down on what I really like about those particular designs and in doing so improve my own critique and creation.


Thursday, 22 December 2016

Iain's 'Alternatives to the usual' game list

It's that time of year when we sit around with our family and try not to murder each other over the outcome of a roll in Monopoly. Surely I can recommend you some better games to play then the usual fair? Without further ado:

So you want to play Lords of Vegas

Lords of Vegas was on my list last year and it remains a firm favourite with me, and I think a great gateway game. A tense, push your luck battle for Vegas before it was Vegas as you rush to claim the best plots to build your fabulous casinos. This game really feels like you are gambling all the time, and tempts you to take that risk with the glittering prizes on the other side of the dice roll.

So you want to play Mysterium

Still the most attractive looking game in my collection, I mean just look at this thing:

Mysterium is a beautiful game where you all play psychics meeting at an old scottish manor house to noodle out how the ghostly occupant was killed. One of you will play the aforementioned victim, handing out psychic clues in the form of tarot cards showing strange, ethereal images on them. The others will try and guess what the ghost could possibly be on about and there may be a real murder as the Ghost tears their hair out trying to make themselves heard. Oh yeah, the Ghost doesn't speak throughout the process.

So you want to play Codenames

A brilliantly subtle and clever game, I've covered Codenames before in this review and since then a Pictures version has come out which I still haven't got my hands on. I've heard the sequel takes the game to another level and I look forward to hearing about it from relatives who I have gifted it to.

So you want to play Trivial Pursuit....

I actually have very little experience with alternate Trivia games. I've heard good things about Wits and Wagers and the Timeline series looks interesting and has recently had a Star Wars one added.

So you want to play Dobble

Dobble was my game of Expo 2015 and that tiny box still delivers a lot of fun and laughs. Several games exist inside it's metal shield and they are all great. This is cheap as chips as well so do yourself a favour and pick it up

So you want to play Mafia de Cuba

Ok so these two games aren't really similar but you are looking to entertain a large number of people with a single activity then Mafia de Cuba is the game for you. Lush presentation in the extreme helps everyone get into this game of gangsters on the take and the best thing is you can choose how involved you get in a particular round by the role you choose. Outrageous accents mandatory.

There is nothing wrong with the classics if you enjoy them, but I urge you to try and sample some new games, maybe the ones above or ones from the excellent column in the Guardian or suggested by the always entertaining Shut up and Sit Down. The best games leave you with stories to tell and it is this aspect, more than any other, that keeps my collection fresh as I try to shape it for my group. Try one of the games above, I promise you won't be disappointed.

Merry Christmas


Monday, 5 December 2016

Arkham Horror: The Card Game

Ever since Fantasy Flight Games announced an Arkham game in the LCG format I have been interested. I have had a load of fun playing Eldritch Horror and the idea of a more compact game in that vein and coop to boot was to good a concept to pass up. 

First things first, you should play this game without reading any spoilers at all. I am going to avoid them completely in my review and I suggest when you open your game that you do not look through all the scenario cards. Doing so will spoil some enjoyment of the game.
A game in full swing

Arkham Horror: The Card game is a fascinating mash up of LCG concepts with an RPG underlay. The deck you might build in a competitive game like Magic or Netrunner in this case represents the character you are going to take into the story that the game creates. This decks contain equipment you might use, allies you can call upon, spells to conjure and events to help you on your way. 

The scenarios are where this game gets really clever. In the core there are 3 scenarios making up a campaign called Night of the Zealots. Each scenario has an Act deck, which advances as the investigators make progress in the scenario, and an Agenda deck, which acts as clock for the machinations of the forces that plague the good people of Arkham. I can't say too much without spoiling but the designers are already playing some very clever tricks with the space they have created. I was genuinely surprised by some of the moments during my playthrough of the campaign and I can't say that about many games. 

An Encounter deck, made up of different sets of cards depending on the scenario, sets obstacles in the way of the investigators to be overcome, on top of anything the scenario throws at you. Finally there is the chaos bag which is made up of a number of tokens drawn to decide the outcome of the various tests you will encounter. 

Let's visit the deckbuilding for a moment. Each investigator has their own rules for deckbuilding which is a neat trick in and of itself. However the cards you put in your deck at the start of the campaign are not the be all and end all of this process. As you advance through the campaign you gain experience depending on how well you do in a given scenario. This experience can be used to buy better versions of the cards in your decks or give you access to allies, equipment and other cards you didn't have access to before. This is a fascinating series of choices that you are presented with in between scenarios, as you try and hone your deck to deal with the challenges ahead.

I have been immensely impressed with Arkham Horror: The Card Game. The rulebooks are some of the best that FFG have produced, and I would be the first to call them to task for such things. The designers have created a fascinating design space that they can now play with and they are already showing signs of having fun with that space. Arkham is a huge amount of fun, with emergent stories, great decisions and fascinating design philosophy behind it. A strong start for a game that I am sure will grow into something amazing.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Legends Untold Preview

I’m always happy to help out some fellow designers especially a local group like Inspiring Games. I first met them down at UK Games Expo where they were demoing their upcoming game ‘Legends Untold’, an RPG in a box style affair that sees you delving into caverns and dungeons to complete various missions.

They recently put out a call for people to preview ‘Untold Legends’ and they were good enough to shove a pre-production copy into my hands. I’ve had a chance to play through the game in solo mode but the game can take up to 4 players.

The first thing that will hit you about the game is there is a lot going on. There are quite a few moving parts to your character made up of their class, some talents and equipment. This is not a bad thing however as each part of your character is reasonably straight forward to understand and the combination of weapons and talents to turn you into a powerhouse is one of the attractions of a game with RPG-like character building.

Quick aside here but an important one. Our hobby is getting progressively more inclusive and I love to see designers considering this when commissioning the art for their games, so kudos to the team for including male and female characters and not overtly sexualising the later.

Pick a character, any character.

You get a mission to complete and descend down into the depths of the dungeon. The location cards are really nicely illustrated and very evocative of the areas you are exploring. The version I received had playing card sized locations but I believe these are going to be larger during the Kickstarter. Each location tells you whether barriers lie ahead, what encounters you are likely to have and also the light levels that are present as you enter and exit. The later is important for scouting ahead giving you a real feeling that you are picking your way through the dark places of the world.

The location cards are really nice!

Missions aplenty!

The core of the system comes down to a 3d6 roll vs a target number with your talents and equipment providing a variety of bonuses and abilities to manipulate dice rolls. As you move through the dungeon you will be called upon to scout between locations, tackle barriers, engage with mystical devices and strange denizens of the dark places of the world. The encounters you have are varied and interesting with a lot of scope to play around with the core mechanics as the game evolves.

Another of the core mechanics which I loved was that of time. A lot of the encounters you have will take up time, represented by a ticking deck of cards made up of the scenarios you aren’t using. On the mission card you will have a timer that tells you when to resolve an event on those cards, which may or most likely will not, benefit you.

This gives a really interesting feeling of controlling your own experience of the game as you are constantly considering your choices in how to tackle the various encounters you come across. Will you take your time and think your way past the Gas Vent, bringing on another event more quickly, or will you just plunge on through and hope for the best betting on not breathing in any toxic fumes.

On my own solo journey into the depths I encountered strange crystals, flooded passageways, irascible goblins and giant spiders that wanted to eat my face. Each mission is different giving you a lot of game from a small box and as the game expands and grows the variety is going to get even more compelling.

Getting ready to descend into the depths

I really liked ‘Legends Untold’. The team have set out to give an RPG feel out of a card game and that is precisely what they have done. The game has a really interesting design space that can be used to come up with all sorts of adventures down the road and I know they have big plans for the world they have created and in the support they plan for the line. This is a really promising start from a small company and I look forward to seeing more of their work in the years to come.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Blades in the Dark - 1 chef enters, no chefs leave

It's been a while since my Blades group has gotten together but we managed to finally get back up and running just recently. Diving back in with glee I checked over my prep from last session, seeing that I had actually done some, and made a few notes. I wanted to lay out the turf map more before the players and I had a few jobs on offer as well!

After their initial tussle with the Red Sashes they had a visitation by a rather jovial ghost who wanted his ex-second in command murderised. This was Roric leader of the Crows faction, or at least used to be before he had a fatal case of getting stabbed. They considered this offer and a couple of others I threw at them, including a follow up job from Baz, who once again wanted them to obtain something for him on the side.

Going through how claims and turf worked I then just laid out all their possibilities, they are a Shadows group, and let them have a think about where to go. They decided to get themselves a network of informants, which we quickly concluded where related to Scott's characters connections. Hitting them up for info. they were under the thrall of Ulf, a dangerous Skovlander who would find them and deal with them if they were even seen dealing with anyone else. Deciding that murderising him was the only way to go they set off to Tangletown where he was based for a good old fashioned assassination.

The Leech, Una, and the Hound, Hallam, strode in the front door going for the direct approach to meet Ulf and set him up for a grisly end to be perpetrated by the Lurk, Idrim, who was making his way up the back of the boat.

Focusing on Idrim for a moment he rolled to Prowl his way onto the boat only to screw it up monumentally. A chef made his way out of the kitchen on top of the boat and proceeded to piss off the side onto Idrim's head. Wondering where the noises of protestation were coming from below, the chef looks down to see a man attached to a rope climbing his way up the side of the boat. He raises the alarm!

A little earlier Una and Hallam are making themselves comfortable and keepin an eye on Ulf, figuring out a way to get him on his own. Surrounded by his men, and telling stories to some children, Ulf finally shoos away the kids and stands up to greet a new arrival. Turning to see who it is Una and Hallam recognise the leader of the Red Sashes, Mylera Klev, entering with her bodyguards (I had decided on this due to a 5 on the engagement roll). They greet each other, and make their way into a private area of the bar, which is basically a small converted shipping container.

Meanwhile, somewhere more sneaky, the Lurk is hanging from a rope whilst a Chef sets off the alarm, a bell on the prow of the boat. Weighing up his options, he plunges a grappling hook into the chest of the chef, using him as a weight to repel off the prow of the boat and into the water. The lurk's approach has been ruined!

Using the commotion caused by the chef raising the alarm the Hound gets himself on top of the shipping container and listens in to Mylera trying to recruit Ulf to help her out in Crow's Foot. Hallam is spotted and in order to get out Una fires of a smoke grenade. Cutting the ankles of the men standing above Hallam, about to kill him, one of them strikes back, narrowly missing a deep cut on her back. As she falls, Hallam scoops her up and jumps off the ship into the awaiting water, where the Lurk meets them in a boat.

Seeing Mylera leave they quickly decide to take a shot at her! The Lurk grabs a grenade from the Leech and makes off after her. Scurrying along the rooftops, tracing her path below, the Lurk briefly loses sight of her and decides to drop down nearby for a better look. Something is afoot though as there is no longer one Mylera, but 3! With bodyguards! Unsure which is which he decides the better of it and retreats with the other two to their hideout.

This mission went wrong in all sorts of ways but it was an absolute blast for everyone. We all loved how much drama the game gave us depsite the team screwing up, and they didn't come away completely emptied handed. They now know what my Red Sashes clock is all about, but who knows what Baz is actually up to. I am really enjoying the sandbox nature of the game and the players are being fantastic which really helps!