Adventures in the Corporate Sector

A bit of a departure on Prepare For Boarding next. When I started the blog, it had been a fair bit of time since I had been part of a regular roleplaying group. My old group fragmented about 8 years ago, due to a variety of relationships developing; changing jobs; having children and in one extreme case; moving to Canada (thanks a bunch Chris). So we unfortunately our adventures in the Star Wars universe came to a rather abrupt end. Until a few weeks ago, when by some quirk of fate, our brave adventuring souls actually found ourselves together once again in Southampton. And the prospect of dusting off the campaign was brought up …

We are playing Wizards Of The Coast’s old Star Wars RPG: Saga Edition (now out of print). It used a fairly stripped back version of the old 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons rules that was more suited to the Star Wars universe and focused on intense bursts of action. Our Game Master had set out the scenario – our PCs were in the Corporate Sector (so neutral in the Galactic Civil War) shortly after the events of Return of The Jedi. The New Republic had been declared, but the Empire was still a significant force, albeit in retreat.

Our party consisted of Gungan medic Toc; Trandoshan mercenary Krokgar; Human gambler Casian; a Kel Dor corrupt lawyer Neb; a Human sharpshooter called Brooks; and my Human scavenger and tech specialist Jerex. And as ever, our adventure starts with the Gungan doing something stupid.

Our GM plunged us into a fire fight with some private security guards at a star port, during which Toc decided the best course of action was to try and break his way into a Firespray parked there to turn against the attackers (think Boba Fett’s ship). After only succeeding in electrocuting himself and triggering the alarm (whilst the rest of us dealt with the guards), we found this ship was actually the possession of a Hutt with a large and rather scary retinue. In exchange for not killing us on the spot, we were told to heist an ‘item’ from the corporate HQ of a nearby sector. And he even let us borrow the Firespray to get us there (the Gungan redeeming himself with a stonking Persuasion check).

Of course nothing is ever simple – the ship had a dead man’s switch hardwired into the navigation computer that would detonate if we tried to fly off the prescribed course. Jerex of course looked about whether such a device could be disarmed, but was rapidly dissuaded. Instead we reviewed the information we had been given by the Hutt. We found a brief overview of the corporation; the fact that what we were hijacking was an experimental drug and a 14 digit number that no one recognised.

Arriving at the planet, we concocted a story that we were representatives of an engineering and medical supplies firm that was looking to conduct business on the planet (plus bodyguards as a heavily armoured six and a half foot tall lizardman is difficult to pass off in the boardroom). Finding out that there was an unveiling of the drug in a few days’ time, we decided the best way to gain access to the drug was to try and infiltrate the party. After being redirected to the hotel and very helpful hotel owner (and some excellent persuasion – and a bit of bribery from Casian), managed to put us in contact with a local fixer that could get us ID and entry … for the right price of course.

After meeting the fixer and his converted battle droid bodyguard (of whom the group were immediately suspicious), and some hard fought negotiations, the price was set to provide us with IDs, suitable attire and passes to the unveiling. The fixer even threw his droid in to escort us (and if that didn’t set off alarm bells, nothing would). The droid even had a hidden compartment that would allow us to smuggle the drug out.

We had a bit of downtime between this and the corporate party, so the team went about their own pursuits. Casian, Toc and Neb decided to partake in some gambling, which naturally ended in a bar room brawl (when doesn’t it). Jerex took his time to try and access some public records on the corporation, coming out with a poorly scrawled map (great at the Use Computer check – less good with the Gather Information).

The corporate event was sufficiently swanky and there were several local businesses and dignitaries there. With Krokgar and Brooks pretending to the be our company bodyguards, they brought the party’s weapons through with them. Neb and Jerex cased the joint as best they could – noticing that there were lower level to the building that could only be accessed via a key card, as well as some possible Imperial’s present. Toc was able to get in the good books of a local noble Ithorian, who provided plenty of background the to the planet and companies provided you had the patience to listed. Brooks tried to watch the droid without bringing attention to himself (and utterly failed in the process). Finally Casian tried to ingratiate himself with Neuro Corp, a rival company that was here, in case they were trying anything ‘funny’ (also less than successful). It was after this, the presentation was set to begin.

The group filed through to the presentation auditorium, where the CEO Ryaan, gave a promise of a new wonder drug with anti-aging and regenerative properties, as well as the prevention of cybernetic rejection. Ryaan stated that they were looking for investors, which meant that at the events conclusion Toc rashly approached him with the offer of 1 million credits if they could speak privately. When asking for proof of this level of investment, Casian managed to bluff his way into a private meeting, getting Krokgar and Jerex invited too. Neb and Brooks decided to stay at the party to keep an eye on the droid and look out for any issues.

Keeping an eye on the droid for Brooks was providing a more difficult state of affairs, as he watched him wander off and vanish in a turbolift to another part of the building. The opposite lift was also carrying the other members of the party to a lower level that contained the building’s labs and conveniently jammed the party’s comlinks (this was the point on of the party stated ‘I have a bad feeling about this.’). It was here Ryaan demanded to know who the party worked for. Toc tried to bluster his way through, when Jerex gave Casian an idea. Stepping forwards with possibly the ultimate 50/50 gamble, Casian advised that they were Rebel Intelligence sent on behalf of General Calrissian to keep the drug out of Imperial hands. Ryaan stated that he would happily hand the drug over to us, provided we had the correct ID codes to prove our story. As a number of armed guards filed in the room, Jerex remembered the code on the dataslate outlining the job, and entered it into the terminal as Ryaan demanded. After what seemed like an eternity (GMs love to drag that stuff out) the code was authorised and the party were handed a ray shielded container and instructions as to where in the building we drug could be located, along with the wishes ‘May the Force be with you.’

As the other group went about retrieving the drug, Brooks and Neb continued to keep an eye out for the droid, who did emerge from the turbolift and immediately wandered out of the party. Brooks gave chase, once again failing his checks to keep an eye out for the droid’s actions. However, he did eventually catch him talking to some Stormtroopers and pretty soon, twelve of them were heading into the party. Neb had taken this opportunity to scout out a back exit to the building and was already telling the rest of us where to go after we exited the turbolift.

The Stormtroopers entered the hall and demanded everyone freeze as they were under arrest. Our group took this as an opportunity to cause as much chaos as possible. Neb tried to direct their attention towards the members of the Neuro Corp party; Casian tried to bluff the Stormtroopers in that he was there to help; and Jerex, who had the drug in his possession, decided to pull a fire alarm. The large crowd scattered in the panic and Jerex mingle into the surge heading towards the rear exit, escorted by Krokgar, Brooks and Neb.

Casian found bluffing Stormtroopers less easy than he thought and instead took the approach that blasting them may work better. Both he and Toc were suddenly involved in a firefight, which Krokgar realising was a bit more fun than making your way to the exit, decided to join in with. As he started bludgeoning Stormtroopers, the two humans and Neb had a helpful protocol droid point out where there was a speeder waiting. They headed in this direction, only to be cut off by three Stormtroopers. Using the doorway as cover, Brooks and Neb were able to drop one each, whilst Jerex sprinted to the speeder and leapt in.

The situation worsened when the battledroid that betrayed the party arrived and pinned down Brooks with some shocking accurate firepower. However, this had given time for Jerex to hotwire the speeder and hitting the accelerator, drove straight at the droid and smashed it into the ground, where Brooks dropped it with a shot from his rifle. The final Stormtrooper did not last long from the combined firepower of the characters. Pausing only to sling the remains of the droid into the speeder, they drove off.

Back in the main hall, the fight was going less well. Toc and Casian had been blasted into unconsciousness, whilst Krokgar was wrestling with a couple of Stormtroopers that were attempting to pin him down and stun him. At which point, the three characters that had retreated to the back swung the speeder to the front door and re-entered the fight. The remaining Stormtroopers were eventually brought down and the PCs grabbing, their unconscious comrades, headed off towards their ship with their cargo in tow.

Of course this is not the end of the matter, but was the end as far as the GM was concerned until next week. There are questions over what the droid’s purpose was at the HQ. Why was it working with the Imperial forces? What had it removed from the corporation? How did the Hutt have a Rebel code? And what stupid thing will the PCs invariably do next?

Getting Your Feet Wet

Co-op games are great, aren’t they? I love a good bit of co-operative play. In fact it seems that almost all of my recent purchases have been about playing together nicely with friends. Having a family gather round a table for a fun game – only to scream at some cards and inanimate pieces of cardboard that are just trying to repeatedly screw with you. Who doesn’t want to get on board with that?

I’ve spoken about the concept of co-op games in the past and despite having discussed it in passing a number of times, I realise that I have never shared my experiences with you of one of the first true co-op games I’d played. Well surprise, surprise – this changes today. I give to you Forbidden Island published by Gamewright and designed by probably the master of the genre, Matt Leacock.

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Forbidden Island sets the players as a group of adventurers and treasure hunters, who have heard of four artifacts of great value located in a previously unknown island. These artifacts are hidden upon the island by an early advanced culture that did not want the treasures removed. In order to do so, they set up the island to sink should any interlopers arrive. Interlopers exactly like our players. So what occurs in a frantic race against time to find the treasure before either they; or your helicopter; or your entire team sink to the ocean depths.

The game begins with the difficulty being set by the players – essentially determining how quickly the island is going to sink. Then the island itself is set in a cross shaped pattern as seen below;

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This is randomly created, so there is no guarantee as to where the various locations will be. The most important locations are the various sites where the treasures may be found (as shown by a picture of the treasure on the bottom of the card) and Fools Landing, where the helicopter awaits the players. Each of these locations is double sided – a full colour illustration on one side and the blue shaded one on the other, to represent the area being flooded.

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Players are then dealt a character card, which represents the profession and abilities of their character. Examples of which include the pilot who is able to go anywhere on the island once per turn, or the explorer being the only person able to move and interact with areas diagonally. The players are also given two cards each which either have a picture of an artefact on it or a useful ability such as sandbags to prevent flooding, or a helicopter lift to get about easier. Then the island begins to sink …

This is done by dealing out a number of cards from a location deck. Each location on the board has a corresponding card in this deck. Once the card is dealt out, the location is flipped over to represent it being flooded. If the location comes out of the deck when the area is flooded, it sinks and both cards are removed from the game. This is a very bad thing …

Each turn a player gets three actions which they can choose from the following list – they can move a square; trade cards with another player in the same square as them; shore up a flooded location by turning it back over or find a treasure if the conditions are met. They can repeat actions if they wish – so spend all three actions shoring up three flooded locations next to them.

Then they draw two cards from the deck which may provide addition artefact cards or could also contain the dreaded Waters Rise card.

Let’s make no bones about this – everyone hates Waters Rise. This card will make the table groan in unison or yell all manner of abuse at it. Because it does two things – it increases the water level track (which is how you set the difficulty at the start of the game) which can cause you to draw more cards when you flood the island. It also makes you shuffle the location cards already drawn and puts them back on top of the undrawn location cards. These means flooded locations are more likely to sink in future.

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After this takes place, you draw a number of location cards again and even flood or remove cards as required. If either Fools Landing or the locations of the treasures sink before you find them, its game over the Island has beaten you.

So the only way to win is to find the artifacts, but how do you do this? It all comes down to those cards we mentioned earlier. Once you have four copies of a single type of artifact in your hand, you can go to one of the locations and trade them in for the artefact itself. Collecting cards is easy right? It would be if the game didn’t have a five card hand limit – some people may find this frustrating, but I have no problem with the game forcing you to make some difficult choices as to what to hold on to.

Get the four treasures, make it to Fools Landing and play a Helicopter lift card – congratulations. You have beaten the Island and your characters are now wealthy beyond their wildest dreams.

One of the best things about Forbidden Island is that it is simple without being shallow. The game states that it’s for ages 10 and up. I regularly play with my son who is 7 and he understands it perfectly. There are summary cards for every player that details possible actions, so you always know your options. And you have to carefully plan out your turn in order to get the maximum benefit to the group. But the options are not so many that you a plagued with possible doubt over the next step. It means that the game does frequently stick to its 30 min approximate game length.

As a result it’s also wonderfully accessible for new players and non-gamers. My wife, who would not describe herself as a gamer by any stretch, could understand and get on board with it very quickly. One of the reasons for this would be the clarity of the board – everything is very clear from a moments glance. It doesn’t take it too long to realise how screwed you are …

The pacing of the game is very good – it builds nicely with everything appearing to be in control at first, before thing start spiralling out of control. Then you have to make those tough choices – which locations do you sacrifice to the waves in order to concentrate elsewhere. You will fail a lot at this game as a result, but it rarely seems unfair. Normally you are able to track back to a choice you made and understand that if you had done thing differently, you may be celebrating a win right now.

The production quality is exceptional – lovely art on the cards and good quality components. It comes in a same metal tin and even the interior of that if well thought out with a space for everything to go (yes – I am complimenting a box). The artifacts are great as well, with miniatures for each one. It does make you wonder why they had to give you generic pawns for the characters pieces. A nice meeple wouldn’t have broken the bank, would it? But really if that’s all I can criticise about the design, I’m really splitting hairs.

Another minor criticism I would have about the game is the card collecting. It doesn’t really feel like you are active in search out the treasures – more like you are wandering around and hoping something drops out of the sky. At the start of the game, you can fully concentrate on making sure the island is staying afloat whilst cards drop into your lap. For players that this may bother to the point of distraction (of which I am not one), I would suggest you look at the follow up game, Forbidden Desert.

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The puzzle like nature of the game does also lend itself to alpha player syndrome, which is tough to avoid if one of those characters is part of your group. Discussion should be encouraged within the solving of the Island, but it should never be one player’s will imposed upon the others. My suggestion is to make your point and then shut up – the other people have to be in control of their actions.

What the game does bring is plenty of replay value. Even though you may have played the game a dozen times or more, you know each time will be challenge. And if you think you have cracked it, you can take the difficulty up by a notch and be drawing more flood cards quicker – essentially putting a tighter time limit on getting the treasures and getting the hell out of there.

Forbidden Island is not my favourite co-op game of all time. I do prefer the sequel or the more story based Eldritch Horror. But that doesn’t make it a bad game at all. It fits a nice niche for me – for speed, simplicity and challenge that very few co-op games can hope to match. And if you have stumbled upon the blog and want to try some of the games I waffle about, this may just be the perfect place to get started.

Is This Me Getting Prudish?

Firstly a warning – some pictures shown in this article may not be suitable for younger children.

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This week’s blog all came about by watching some friends of mine squabble. That’s probably an exaggeration – squabbling is a childish matter that devolves into petty name calling and someone storming out which never happens with my friends … well, sometimes it does, but I digress …

Let’s just say there was a bit of a debate about miniatures in games. And not the discussion I have heard about the merits of having miniatures and the expense that they may add onto the product. No – this was more about miniature design and direction this design may have taken.

Basically it was all Conan’s fault.

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Anyone with a passing interest in the fantasy genre will have encountered Conan the Barbarian at some point. In 1932 the first of a series of stories were written about the character by Robert E Howard and the character has been features in films, comics, video and tabletop games. The most recent of these games has been produced by Monolith following a successful Kickstarter campaign.

It is fair to say that intellectual property of Conan has some issues – mainly that the opinions demonstrated by the characters and the narrator are very much rooted in the time they were written – the 1930s. Therefore, there are pervading themes of racism and sexism contained within. And it is the later of these I wish to discuss. The female characters of the Conan stories, with a few notable exceptions, are fair, delicate, lily-white skinned beauties that just seem to throw themselves at Conan’s feet whenever he even looks in their direction. Indeed, even the stronger female characters are also not immune to the main character’s charms and surrender to his romantic intentions. Furthermore, the illustrations that accompany these stories tend to see them clothed in little more than three pieces of small fabric and some string. And in reproducing these characters in miniature format, Monolith has sought to reflect these illustrations.

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And here was the point of the conversation – are these overly sexualised female models really necessary in the modern tabletop gaming?

Female characters tend to have a very clear way of being presented in fantasy games, and indeed the genre as a whole. Whilst male warriors are decked out in suits a plate armour, woman seem to believe that the best protection is afforded to them by wearing a chainmail bikini.

Miniature games have als always had an image problem. We gamers have been stereotyped as geeks and nerds with limited social skills and questionable personal hygiene. And we need to accept that the hobby is mainly (but not wholly) populated by white males (so we have to apologise for this and Donald Trump now …). Furthermore, this community has been seen in the past as insular and unwelcoming to people that it see as outside the “norm” of what a geek is. Speaking from personal experience I have seen evidence of this being true and the contrary. It can be argued that miniatures of this type do not act to contradict theses perspective of either the hobby or the people that tend to occupy it.

The counter argument to this is that Monolith are simply reflecting the source material- these characters are part of what made the Conan stories the success they were. And I do have some sympathy towards that particular viewpoint – when I think of the Conan, the cover illustrations are one of the familiar associations. There are several classical stories where the behaviours or opinions contained within are not compatible with modern sensibilities. Shakespeare’s play for example, demonstrate lines or actions that would be unthinkable in current circumstances.

However, if you were to give this viewpoint carte blanche, the many Cthulhu Mythos games should then reproduce the racist and anti-Semitic opinions contained within HP Lovecraft’s original writings (and let’s be clear on this – HP Lovecraft was a massive racist). Nobody would play those games if we did so. And therefore it becomes clear that on some level we are required to censor parts of historical works that we find unpalatable.

However, this is not just an issue with historical works. Figure hugging armour seems to be incredibly popular with miniature manufacturers – despite the questionable protection that such equipment may provide. The company Kingdom Death, have taken this to a more extreme level with the introduction of their “pin up” range, which is even more sexualised versions of existing miniatures. This trend has been followed by the makes of Infinity, which calls into the question the reason why? I can see no other reason than the desire to titillate. This is to say nothing of some of Kingdom Death’s other offerings (which by choice, I will not be displaying or linking to), which I do find offensive, deliberately controversial and also, just a very poor miniature.

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Over the past year we have seen Prodos Miniatures Space Crusade and Blood Rage both criticised for their depiction of female miniatures, with the makers of the upcoming Mythic Battles: Pantheon also receiving similar remarks about some of their sculpts. It is clear that this matter is no going away and you suspect that some of the designers may be courting this controversy as a means to improve sales or drum up publicity (this is just supposition and not based upon any proof).

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Ultimately we are all adults and able to make the choices appropriate to us. Conan is a game reflective of its source and as a result, there I can see justification for their design choices. It is also clearly not a game for children.

However, I will be making a choice to not buy this game, as Conan is not an intellectual property that appeals to me. And I simply cannot accept the need to make overtly sexualised miniatures either for shock factor or for the basis that this appeals to the male audience. I had hoped that as an industry and we as consumers have evolved beyond that. I would rather that a design is a study of a character, rather than a challenge to see how little clothing can be placed upon a female character.

Despite what this article may suggest, I am not a believer in censorship. I fully believe that people have the right to free expression, but also that there is a right to challenge that expression and not disengage if you are not happy. However, I return to my belief in gaming as a social experience and anything that may alienate people from the experience can only be detrimental to the hobby. Where a game’s art or stylisation alone, rather than its complexity or subject, prevents my family from engaging in our hobby, is not a game that I will partake in.

If that makes a prude, then perhaps that is something I will have to learn to live with …

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

I’d never been previously referred to a board game as charming. I might have used the terms “exciting”, “interesting”, “dull” and a few got the non-committal “meh”. But charming? I’d never found something that would ever really fit that moniker. And then I watched an episode of Tabletop and saw the featured game on sale second hand. And that was when I first became aware of Dixit.

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Dixit is a card game created by Jean-Louis Roubira and published by Libellud in 2008. The main components of the game are a series of colourful cards, each of which features a series of abstract illustrations. Each player takes six of these cards and starting with the “Storyteller”, attempts to describe an image from their hand whilst placing the card face down on the table. The other players then also place a card from their hand face down that they believe matches this description. The cards are shuffled up and turned face up. The other players then secretly vote on which card they think the Storyteller chose. After voting is completed, the players score points and the Storyteller role passes to another player.

The scoring works on the Storyteller being able to only get some of the players to vote for their card – making it too obvious or too obtuse will gain the Storyteller no points and every other player scores 2. If some players vote for the right card, both they and the Storyteller get 3 points. The other way to score is tricking people think you card is the answer when it isn’t your turn – you get 1 point for everyone you able to convince to vote for you.

That is Dixit in a nutshell. Literally all you need to know. Because the simplicity of Dixit is one of its absolute joys. The game plays like it is some beautifully weird dream, where logic and fact are hindrances. Instead it is about emotions, feelings and intuition – you are playing with the concepts brought up by these cards instead of the actual images themselves.

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Take this card for example – the description “hourglass” would see you giving away 2 shiny point to your other players. But what about the concepts it raises? Time. Rejuvenation. Change. All of these words could describe what is being shown here and all are correct. The question is will your other players think the same as you? Can they make the same associations with the strange scenarios placed before them?

The descriptions you give do not have to be single words either, although some people may find that easier. You can quote books or films. Use poems, noises or actions to tell the tale of what is on your card. Anything association that your mind makes is a valid play in the game.

I remember using the words ‘AT LAST SIR TERRY WE MUST WALK TOGETHER’ to use as a description for the card shown earlier during one game. Some of you may remember that these were the words used on Sir Terry Pratchett’s Twitter feed to announce his sad passing. They were also words spoken by Death from his Discworld series, who is associated with hourglasses to measure the lifetimes of mortals. Another player picked up on this connection and voted for the card.

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The reliance on the use of the imagination also makes this a wonderful game for children, who are given freedom to let their ideas flow and manifest themselves in whatever terms they can think of. From my own experience, I can tell you that this game is not challenge for them, as my sons regularly do well when they play with my wife and I. On more than one occasion I have been well beaten by both of them.

Design wise – you cannot fault this game. Everything is just built towards this theme of bizarre child-like wonder. The cards are large and wonderfully drawn. The score track is built into the box and the markers are like wooden rabbits. Rabbits for heaven’s sake! It’s odd and yet somehow makes some sort of weird sense when you put this game together as a whole.

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The only downside with this game is the limits that the number of cards places upon you. Whilst I have been able this game several times with the basic components, sometimes you will hit a brick wall with a card and you can only think of those descriptions that have been used in the past. Thankfully there are a number of cards packs that have been released to ensure that you can expand your play experience. The cards also fit rather neatly into the original box with little fuss.

There is a reason Dixit is a multi-award winning game. It works on so many levels – as a gateway game for people first getting into the hobby; an inspiration to people’s imaginations; an educational tool for children; or just an experience like no other. If you have any interest in tabletop games, there is simply no excuse for you not to have played this game. Try it and I’m certain you will be charmed just as I was.

Ghost and Games

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Halloween is soon upon us and that means the season of ghosts and ghoulies galore. And my kids complaining that their costumes either don’t fit; aren’t scary enough or are too scary.

I’ll be honest – I’ve never been one for Halloween. As a child, I didn’t particularly enjoy dressing up and I never went trick or treating. It always felt a bit forced. But before you start worrying unnecessarily about my deprived childhood, in recent years my feelings towards this season have mellowed somewhat and I have even hosted my own party (believe me – it was a big step). And in honour of my Halloween themed decorations, food and playlist (of course Thriller was on it), I also had been thinking about great games suited to this season. Try these at your peril …

Betrayal At House On The Hill

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You’ve probably read my previous blog post, you always knew this was going to be on there. I shall not go over old ground, but this is basically a haunted house exploration where one of the players will turn on the others at a critical time.

Why is it so good at this time of year? Not because it is scary, but because it fits in with the fun around Halloween. It’s random nature and unbalanced scenarios means that you are less focused on winning, but on having a good time as you poke about the spooky mansion.

There has also been an expansion set recently released for the game, Widow’s Walk, giving you even more options for the “scares” you can inflict upon your fellow players.

Once you can get your guests over the intimidating looking box and its contents, people will soon get into the spirit of things. I’ve had plenty of casual players jump into this and have a really good time. Not one of the kids – but no one I have introduced this to has ever walked away unhappy with it.

World Of Darkness

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The first of two roleplaying games on the list and I have particularly fond memories of this one. I was first introduced to White Wolf Publishing’s roleplaying game system in my early teenage years and it was very distinct from the fantasy games I was playing at the time. The first book I owned, Vampire: The Masquerade, was set in a slightly twisted “gothic-punk” modern world, where vampires were the secret rulers, but were forced to keep their identity concealed from the wider public. Gradually we say more and more supernatural creatures revealed to us – werewolves, magi, wraiths and more inhabited the world, where the pervading sense of corruption and decay were repeated themes. However, the Kindred of the first book were always my personal favourite.

Describing itself as a game of personal horror it encouraged players to explore very adult themes. It did not shy away from controversy and one very memorable release was related to the effects of the Holocaust on the wraiths (which from my own opinion was handled in a very sensitive and mature fashion, without exploiting or sensationalising this horrendous evil).

White Wolf eventually brought the original World of Darkness to its end (no – Games Workshop were not the first to blow up their intellectual property) and released the new Chronicles of Darkness in 2004. And whilst the background changed, the fundamental questions of humanity and the monsters relation to it (both internally and the wider community) remain.

This is a slow burner of the game and not one to be rushed into. You cannot produce this on the evening and suggest a game. But if you have been building a campaign in time for this event, is it not the perfect time?

Dread

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A roleplaying game I have only played once and witnessed being played twice. But on each occasion it has given me a very strong impression. It designed to be played in a single setting and is a collaborative story telling experience, where the players are characters within a horror setting and their goals are basically to survive – much harder than it seem.

Each player creates their characters after being given a questionnaire by the games master. They are encouraged to think about the answers and their responses are designed to shape how they would react to certain stimuli. Then they are place into a scenario of the games master’s choosing and the game begins.

There are no dice or cards in this game – it is done solely with a Jenga tower. Yes – that wooden block that infuriates you at family gatherings. Every time you have to do something that your character is not skilled at or is under pressure, you have to pull one or more blocks from the tower. If the tower falls, your character is going to die.

Dread has tension galore; especially when that tower is teetering and you know that one wrong move and you are done for. I have seen people change their minds about actions make silly decisions just to avoid making that pull. If anything represents the blind stupid panic of the horror movie participant, this game may be it.

Dracula’s Feast

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This card game is currently on Kickstarter, but thanks to the joys of print and play, I have been able to give it a whirl recently. It is a social deduction game set at Dracula’s castle during a masked ball. Each player is a random monster seeking to uncover the identities of other players so you can be last monster standing. They do this by asking questions of the other guests, asking them to dance and attempting to publicly unmask the other participants.

Each monster has their own unique powers though, which makes the game more complicated. Some characters are allowed to lie about their identity (unless stated otherwise, you must always tell the truth). Others have alternative ways to win in addition to the usual way of working out who each other player is.

The theme a very light hearted monster setting and the art is reflects this nicely. Each game only takes about 10 minutes and can work as a nice little ice breaker before an evening of longer play. The best thing for me about this game is that unlike my previous suggestions, my children can play it. Indeed, my first play testing was done with 3 7-9 year olds and they all got up to speed very quickly.

Dead Panic

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Something you don’t want to do anything too deep on Halloween. Sometimes you just want to play zombie whack-a –mole. And on such occasions you should never, ever play Zombies!!! Instead you should play this.

Dead Panic is a tower defence game where waves of the undead will assail the players and the players have to beat them back. At the centre of the board is a cabin and zombies will approach from all sides. There are a number of zones in which the zombies will cross to reach your shelter and you need to have the right cards in hand to attack each of those zones. The key to victory is making sure the zombies don’t reach the centre and start ripping your shelter asunder.

The best thing about Dead Panic is that it is fairly accessible and a good way to get younger players involved in the Halloween board game fun. The game last about an hour and is good knockabout fun without some of the darker elements of the other games I have suggested.

I know I have barely scratched the surface of the horror/Halloween game collection, but hopefully this will give you all a starting point. My own criteria were to ensure I could cover as many different types of players as possible and keep both ardent tabletoppers and non-gamers as involved as possible.

May you have a very Happy Halloween.

D.I.V.O.R.C.E.

ffg-gw

I have discussed both Games Workshop and Fantasy Flight Games numerous times over my time of writing this blog for a variety of reasons. Both have had a major impact upon my gaming history. They publish games that I still enjoy to this day. And they are really key players in the tabletop gaming market. So the recent announcement that they are ending their association naturally came up on my radar.

In the heady days of 2008 an arrangement was made between FFG and GW. FFG were given the access to GW intellectual property to design games around, as well as the opportunity to reproduce some of GW’s older catalogue of board games that did not fit within their current Warhammer and Warhammer 40k universes. And it was a match made in gaming heaven. For all of the criticisms of GW’s Tolkien inspired fantasy world; it did possess some unique elements and the perpetual feeling of dread and impending doom. Furthermore there was always a good dollop of black humour in their creations that can be absent from some of the more po-faced fantasy worlds.

FFG have a reputation of publishing well-polished games that give a lot of consideration to theme and playability. As GW were concentrating on their two main game systems (three if you include their Hobbit/Lord of The Rings system); it made perfect sense to allow another company to explore some more specialised areas of the GW universe.

FFG almost immediately scored a big hit be republishing the classic GW title Talisman – a game which does depend on a fair degree of luck, but is often fondly remembered by gamers of a certain again (of which I am one). They then gave us a series of games that just one of could have justified the entire agreement – Space Hulk: Death Angel; Chaos in the Old World; Blood Bowl Team Manager; Forbidden Stars. Only recently the long out of print Fury of Dracula, was released to widespread acclaim.

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For some the writing was on the cards with GW returning to the board gaming industry, although the cynic in me suggests that several of these were designed to sell more models for their ‘core games’. Although I won’t deny that some of them are great fun (of which I will discuss later). Perhaps more relevant is the impending return of Specialist Games – starting with Blood Bowl at some point this year. The areas that FFG previously had the freedom to explore are now being looked upon again and perhaps GW would rather they have full control over this.

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Does this herald some major problems for GW or FFG? Of course not. GW have always put their miniatures first and will probably consider to do so. They are arguable the world’s best miniature design company and provided they keep on putting out quality kits, they will keep on going. FFG doesn’t need to sales of its GW licensed products to function – it has the major cash cow that is their Star Wars license. Plus rights to publish games based around several other major intellectual properties.

Unfortunately the big loser in this state of affairs is us – the ordinary customer. Because as of February 2017 we will no longer be able to buy some particularly nice products and it is probably unrealistic to expect GW to start reproducing them in house. And whilst we might see versions of classic GW games crop up elsewhere (Black Industries previous made versions of Talisman and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay which later went to FFG), some of the other games are unlikely to be see again.

So FFG and GW – thank you for 8 years of great releases. For the rest of us, catch them before they are all gone.

An Ancient Darkness Stirs …

HP Lovecraft was an American writer from the early 20th century. He was responsible for a fairly impressive body of work that was mainly disregarded at the time as ‘pulp fiction’ but is now considered one of the most influential horror writers of all time. The Cthuhlu Mythos (named after the dreaded Elder God sleeping beneath the ocean) with its themes of forbidden knowledge, insanity and the gradual doom of civilisation, have influenced the works the many novelists, musicians and screenwriters

But since you are reading a board gaming blog, you are probably all aware of this. Because everyone loves a Cthuhlu game. And this blog is about my favourite, Eldritch Horror.

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Eldritch Horror is published by Fantasy Flight Games and was first released upon an unsuspecting world in 2013. It is based upon a far older game, Arkham Horror, first published in 1987. Arkham Horror took a band of investigators in the 1920s based around the US city of Arkham, where they had to tackle a series of challenges to prevent an ancient evil from being unleashed upon the world. Eldritch Horror takes this idea but spins it into a world spanning epic pulp adventure, where the band of heroes crosses the globe seeking ways to undo the machinations of great and powerful monsters.

Eldritch Horror is not just a change of scale however. For all the plaudits the Arkham Horror has received during its long run, it has had a reputation for fiddly interactions, complex rules and being difficult to teach. Eldritch Horror was an attempt to strip this back and provide a more streamlined play experience that did not take half the preparation time in explaining how it works to new players.

The game starts with set up, during which you need to select the Ancient One (the name of the adversaries you need to fight against) is threatening the world. Each Ancient One is a fearsome ancient deity that is awaking from a long slumber and the players must co-operate to prevent this. Each Ancient One is represented by a double sided card, which explain the process by which they awaken, any special rules that happen over the game and what happens if the countdown (the Doom track) reaches zero (it’s normally very, very bad).

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Players then select their investigators, the various characters who have been given a glimpse at the terrible truths of the world, and now have a chance to put it right. Each has a different set of statistics, equipment and special actions. The many characters come from a variety of walks of life – for examples a soldier, politician, sailor, spy, shaman – each with a rule that reflects how their role aids their investigation. They also have health and sanity scores – basically the games hit points.

After the game is prepared with a number of clues, monsters and other phenomena placed in the board, the first mystery card is uncovered. These are the ways you win the game – defeat 3 mysteries and you prevent the Ancient One’s awakening. These mysteries will see you have to travel to specific locations, seek out items and do a variety of actions. Each mystery deck is also unique to each Ancient One. Seems simple right? The game begs to differ …

The game is broken down into three phases – firstly in the player phase each characters takes two actions from a list of 6 (there are more added in later expansions). These are moving, resting (healing), preparing travel (for bonus moves later), acquiring assets (buying goods), trading with another player and a special character action. Acquiring assets is particularly well done. In order to buy anything, you need to roll you influence ability and the number of successes determine how much you can buy. Short of cash? You can always take out a loan to buy extra, but this normally comes back to haunt you later …

The second phase is the encounter phase. Firstly the investigators will fight any monsters on their space. Each monster is represented by a double sided square token – you cannot see the monsters abilities until you fight it and turn it over. You will have to take tests upon your Will and Strength statistics in order to fight.

Testing abilities is a very simple mechanism – you roll a number of six sided dice equal to your relevant score, which usually ranging between 1-4, plus any bonuses you may get from items or allies. Then any dice rolls a 5 or 6 is a success. Some tests just need a single success. Others may force you to remove dice from your pile or need more than one.

In the case of combat you will have target numbers for will and strength. For every success you roll under the target, you will take a point of either sanity or health damage. Then for every strength success you have rolled, you also do damage back to the monster. As a result, it is possible to kill some monsters, but still be grievously wounded yourself in the process.

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If you investigator kills all the monsters, or was in an empty space, you must then take an encounter card corresponding the space you are on. The cards normally have a variety of encounters upon them, reflecting whether you are drawing them in the wildness, cities or at seas. Major cities have their own encounter decks. These cards will normally give you a test to make or an opportunity to gain skills or spells, normally at a cost. The outcome of the encounter is explained on the card and may result in you gaining condition cards.

Condition cards are a lovely mechanic whereby you are dealt a random double sided card. These include things like Back Injury; Paranoia or Agreements. The backs of the cards are never shown to you unless a trigger is reached. Once the trigger event occurs, you will flip the card over to see what the full extent of the condition is. Your Head Injury condition could reveal itself to be a concussion or more serious brain damage, but you will never know until you turn that card.

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The third phase is the Mythos phase – this is when very bad things normally happen. Every tunr you draw a Mythos card from a deck that you built at the start of the game. These will have various triggers, which may cause you to advance the doom track, create more “gates” (rifts between worlds) or spawn additional monsters. Some may force the players to discard cards or suffer sanity or health damage. There are cards that place additional problems on the board that force you to divert resources away from the main task in hand.

Are there issues with Eldritch Horror? Well nothing is perfect, but any quibbles I would have with it are minor. It does take up a lot of room – you need a dining table for all the components to be put in the right place. And be prepared to give up at least 2-3 hours to get this game done (dependant on player numbers – the most I’ve done is with 4). I would also complain about the initial box contents – despite how much is contained within, there are frankly not enough cards avoid repetition of encounters. Thankfully the first expansion, Forsaken Lore, solves this issue and needs to really be considered a mandatory purchase very soon after picking up the base game.

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Perhaps the biggest problem is the title, Eldritch Horror. If you are looking for a horror game, this is not it. My experience of playing is that this is a world-spanning pulp adventure, much more akin to an Indiana Jones movie. And do you know what? I genuinely don’t care …

Eldritch Horror is a spectacular game – and I do not use that term lightly. The faults I find with it are easy to overcome and what you are left with is a brilliant experience in board gaming. It does not treat you nicely; as even any small victories are hard won and come at a price. In order to beat even the easiest of Ancient Ones takes a great deal of planning and a lot of luck (I think my win percentage against Azathoth still remains somewhere in the region of 30%-40%). But despite this difficulty and the length of the game, it never feels like a chore. Instead when you emerge at the end, you have shared a joint experience – an epic story that will see many twists and turns. And to emerge victorious, you know that you have earned it.