AireCon Or What I Did This Weekend …

So it happened and I am certainly feeling the after effects of two car journeys over 4 hours in length over the course of three days. But this slightly tired blogger made his way to the Saturday and Sunday of AireCon 4 and had a right royal time of it.

Before I begin, I think it is very important that I give out some thanks to all the people who made my time up there so enjoyable. Firstly my gratitude to the fine team behind AireCon who let me go there in the first place – Ben, Mark, Ric and Nabil. I would like to thank Mike B from Who Dares Rolls for being my convention Yoda. Also many thanks to Jay of Breacher 18 and Luke from the Broken Meeple for making me feel most welcome in their company. And just a general ‘huzzah’ to all to lovely people I met there – be they fans of gaming or exhibitors showing off their wares.

AireCon was held over two floors of the Harrogate International Centre – with the ground floor being devoted to the events and the top floor featuring the exhibitors, stalls and gaming library. The library was extensive (approximately 350 titles provided by Travelling Man) and I had more than enough opportunities to give some unknown titles a try. Very much enjoyed conquering celtic tribes in Inis and although I am not sure how I did, I somehow was able to come out the winner in Ponzi Scheme (games that I will need to talk about in more depth in future – definitely expect an Inis discussion).

The exhibitors section had a good variety of goods for sale – naturally lots and lots of games; but also accessories, art and candles inspired by Lovecraftian mythos courtesy of Eldritch Essences. The was a Bring and Buy section that was always busy and full of people looking for a bargain. My offer to buy Charlie from WDR a replacement copy of the Lost game from there was met with the derision it deserved …

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The part that really interested me from the exhibitors section were the display games – and I’m imagine that all of you are clamouring to hear my thoughts on them. Well –I will let you know about a few that I had a go at …

What you see here is The Football Game by The London Board Game Co. The designers, Simon and Mark, were happy to chat through their intention to put together a game that recreated the feeling of a football season, with easy to play mechanics but one that offered you plenty of tactical options. You roll dice each round to see which of your players score you points, then play cards to modify these points. There are also dice that mean your players may be effected by injuries; knocks and events. It’s all done very neatly.

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The artwork is a mixture of bobble head style football figures and the bright colours that one may remember from the old Roy of the Rovers style comic strips. There are plenty of references of football slang, terminology and popular culture, which clearly shows the love that the designers have for football as a sport. And the decision to concentrate on a season, rather than a game has paid off. Most clever of all was the way of winning – teams move up and down a table that is broken into descriptions rather than numbers eg. Relegation, Lower Table, Mid Table etc. Depending on the starting value of your team, you will gain more victory points for where you finish. A poor team that somehow finishes mid table, will score more points than a better team there. The game becomes less about who has the best team and who gets the best out of what they have – think of the points as board confidence or fan’s backing

The Football Game has already funded through Kickstarter and is due to land in April this year. It is one of my finds of the Con.

Four Elements is a dexterity game that the designer Robert told me started out with him and his friends flicking draught pieces and Jenga blocks at one another. The aim is to knock the opponent’s king piece off the table by flicking laser cut pieces of different designs at each other. Each element utilises different shapes and can be formed by players into a variety of different defensive patterns and set ups.

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It reminds me of the old Vikings and Barbarians game Crossbows and Catapults, but done in an abstract style. The pieces are big and bold – and there were plenty of children stood around the tables gleefully smashing bits of plastic into one another. The Kickstarter for this is due at the end of April.

Next I was able to take in Ominoes – an already released abstract strategy game by Yay Games that involves attempting to move dice around a grid and form blocks of matching symbols. The designer, Andrew Harman, took me through a game that was easy to pick up and also, as I found out, very easy to mess up when the board starts to get crowded. Match symbols is easy, but when you have to move a dice of the same symbol three spaces before you place it, it can become very tricky. You can also move your opponent’s dice and there are wild cards that let you mess with opponents or score points in all manner of various situations. All of this was too much for my befuddled mind and I got soundly beaten. However, Ominoes is an absolute delight.

Sub Terra from Inside The Box Board Games is a co-operative game that combines the tile exploration of Betrayal At House On the Hill and the player roles of Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert, with a dash of survival horror thrown in for good measure. We all took the role of cavers that had become trapped in a system riddled with hazards and horrors lurking in the darkness. My geologist (selected on the basis that his beard was the best of all the illustrations) and his friends wandered around for a good while, negotiating gas pockets, floods and cave ins. These were all triggered by a deck of cards that represent both which hazard occurs this turn and also the length of time our cavers’ lamps will last (last card goes and the players lose).

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The system would appear to reward a safety first approach – players being able to check out the next room for an action before moving. However, players can also throw caution to the wind and jump straight into the unknown, which can end very badly. However, when the monsters spawn in the cave they will chase the players down, so any such care suddenly goes out of the window. The game does not have an absolute win/loss end game. Players are given an end score dependant on how many of them find the exit and make it out. Our group were unfortunately split up by the time the exit revealed itself – and the Scout and I decided our hides were worth more than the poor saps left in the caverns, stepping out into the lovely sunshine and a silver reward ranking in the process.

The game has been successfully funded via Kickstarter, but there are late backer options available. The game flows well, is paced almost perfectly and cranks up the tension to near fever pitch when the game comes to its end.

My next port of call was the frankly gorgeous looking Gloom Of Kilforth which the designer, Tristan Hall, was pleasant enough to run myself and Mike through. It is a fantasy quest card game with a Gothic edge that has been brought to life through the artwork of Ania Kryczkowska. I am susceptible to a little bit of good old fashioned questing and the art and design immediately drew me towards it.

Tearing my eyes away from the folder of pretty pictures, as I sat down I was pleased to find that there was a very solid game behind the beauty. As we struck out into the world to complete our individual hero’s sagas (a unique path chosen at the game start to determine how your character can win), we venture through forests, plains and mountains encountering many places and creatures as we went. Mike’s Vampire Rogue very quickly defeated a Hobgoblin, who appeared to be sat upon a treasure hall, before spending a lot of time looking for a hidden place of power (the Unseen Bridge was not just a clever name). My Elf Priest ended up chattering with a goodwife, finding a hidden shrine and finally being robbed all over the course of a single turn. As Mike completed the first part of his Saga with ease, Tristan explained more about the game.

The game can be played either competitively or co-operatively with players either facing their own unique adversary or a combined foe. Tristan has also built the system to ensure that no player runs away with the game but in a fashion that works it into the game as a tactical option, which felt seamless.

I’ll be honest; Gloom Of Kilforth utterly blew me away by how well-crafted it is. It has hit its Kickstarter targets, but there are late back options available.

War Of the 9 Realms was the offering from Wotan Games and took its cue from Viking mythology. Intrigued at the promise of mortals and Gods clashing over the world of Midgard and the fact that the game features twelve sided dice (which any serious dice fan will tell you are the best), I sat down with Mike to see what happened when a bunch of Vikings try to kick the seven bells out of one another.

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What actually happens is you get a nice hex based skirmish game with a unique units and abilities. To attack you roll a number of dice equal to your attack (and modified by whatever skills you may get or fate cards you use) and have to beat the defence value of the target. You score a wound for each multiple of that defence value you get – or for every 12 you roll. Beat the targets would value and they die. Kill the opponent’s leader and you win. Seems simple enough?

However, there is a nice system of action management alongside this game. You get a number of actions points each turn, which you use to move, attack and trigger other abilities. If you do not spend them all, any leftover can be used to counter attack against anyone that targets you.

Furthermore there exists a second way of winning – feeding the Ravens. Essentially this boils down to a battle of attrition – whereby ever wound is added to the Blood Cauldron track and once this maxes out, you can claim victory. This was the way I was able to beat Mike and as you can see by the picture, he’s overjoyed by it …

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The entire process took 20 minutes and was good, Valhalla inspired fun. We got to see some other parts from the finished game that would feature more warriors, various board and other factions that, but still maintaining the easy access that made the game a hit for me. It also promises a second play style, Epic which gave the factions unlockable abilities by spending Valour points. Lawrence, the designer, has stated that Epic play is also balanced against normal play – so players can tailor the game to their own skill levels. The game was on Kickstarter last year and unfortunately did not make its target, but Lawrence is planning to give it another go this year, and I for one, am hoping it succeeds.

My final game of the event was City Of Kings – another fantasy quest game that featured a world conquered by evil and a group of heroes breaking out from the last city to reclaim the world around it. This game was big – a large dual-sided tile map and unique player cards (approximately A4 size) upon which you track your experience, equipment and wounds. In addition there are numerous cards, tokens and other pieces that make this the behemoth it is.

In addition to exploration, the game also incorporates worker management, as each character has a wagon they can be sent out to harvest resources in newly uncovered mines, lumber mills and other locations. This leads to a resources management system as the workers ferry items back to the city, before using them to craft new items to help the heroes upon their quests. At times it felt like a board game version of Command and Conquer. There was a lot going on here and I’m still a little confused by how much was happening, but I was attracted to a lot of the little nuanced things that the game did. The morale system for example, that drops when a hero is defeated. If the heroes are beaten down one too many times, the morale hits zero and the game is over. Also the chance that when workers start gathering resources, they may cause too much noise and build up tokens in that increase the chance of something coming to take a look. The Kickstarter for this starts at the end of March 2017.

Regrettably that was the end of my AireCon adventure – my panel appearance was unfortunately cancelled (I guess no one wanted to see me. Excuse me I have something in my eye …). But that did not detract from what a cracking weekend I had and what a great experience it was to share with all the people at the Harrogate International Centre.

Here is to many more conventions in future and a return to AireCon 5 next year …

AireCon – Here We Come!

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The working week is done. So that can only mean one thing – that I am about to get into my car and do the rather long drive up to the North of England and hit AireCon. Regrettably real life prevents me making the full Friday to Sunday experience, but I will be there bright and breezily tomorrow morning.

 

Since I started Prepare For Boarding, I never thought that it would end up with me getting an invite to convention season and I am very much looking forwards to seeing what delights the convention and Harrogate has to offer.

 

I have also been asked to sit on one of the panels, so if you are going and want to gaze upon the visage of the idiot who writes this stuff, feel absolutely free to come to see me at 5pm on Sunday. There is a panel on tonight at 5pm which will feature the lovely Mike from Who Dares Rolls amongst others.

 

To anyone going, I hope you enjoy it and if you see a tall bearded man bumbling around, not sure as to what he is doing there, please feel free to say hi

Riding Solo

I have a pretty large family – five of us in total living under the one roof. And whilst we may not all be of the right age to enjoy certain games (although Peppa Pig Memory Game is a stone cold classic according to my daughter), we genuinely play a fair bit together. However, there are circumstances when our interests will not intersect and no matter how hard we beg or cajole, our friends and family will not budge on their desire to play it. My wife, for example, has no interest in anything sci-fi related, no matter how much I enthuse on them. But for myself, what options are left for me to scratch that itch.

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I have already discussed the online tools that allow you to enjoy some of your favourite gaming experiences in a previous blog. But this entry takes us to a much darker place. Today we discuss solo gaming …

 

Just before I go on – if you do play a solo game, I must give the following advice.

 

DO NOT CHEAT. I AM TALKING TO YOU, YOU BIG CHEATER.

 

You’ll only be doing yourself a disservice. Let us continue …

 

Picture a solitaire game. You are thinking about the card game aren’t you? The way that bored office workers have entertained themselves since the days of Windows 3.1 (yes, I am showing my age … again). But Klondike patience as it is also know, was basically the only way that a bored child could entertain themselves on long train/plane journey when I was young. Turning some cards to achieve a mainly random outcome was hardly the most thrilling of pursuits. But it kept you busy.

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Thankfully we have evolved since such times.

 

Or have we? As my first memories of a more advanced single player game actually date from something released in 1989.

 

Advanced Heroquest by Games Workshop actually came with solo rules built into the system. Although you couldn’t play any of the pre-designed adventures, it gave you a way to create random dungeons and popular them with monsters. Furthermore it also produced a monster intelligence system, whereby creatures would react in a different way depending on their “role”. Therefore sentry type monsters had a chance of running off to find their buddies rather than fighting the heroes themselves.

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There was a few problems with this approach – it relied upon a lot of charts. So many charts that it really put the “crawl” into dungeon crawl as you had to roll up the type of room you found; the number of exits; the type of monsters; number of monsters and then monster behaviour. Nothing felt intuitive and the randomness became grating at times (there is one scout in front of your entire party – he charges you when it would be much more likely he would run off to alert people). However, this type of approach can still be found in games like Warhammer Quest, although made much more streamlined.

 

I think you can breakdown solitaire play into two major groups – those which present themselves as a puzzle to be cracked (similar to cooperative games) and those that have a degree of automation to allow you to sim the adversaries behaviour (as in the example of Advanced Heroquest). The later is likely to become more and more populr, as we start to see game utilising Apps to recreate the dungeon masters of old. Although a clever card based system can also reproduce this equally as well (look at the Lord Of The Rings Card Game for an example of this – flexible, simple but still incredibly challenging to overcome).

 

Irrespective of the style or type of game you choose, I normally pick up a solo game for one of three reasons. Firstly, as detailed at the start of this article – I have an itch to scratch and no one else wants to play a particular game with me. For example, my family are very rarely interested in anything from the Games Workshop universes, so when I want to bring out my copy of Death Angel, it is usually just me trying to crack the game. Similarly with games that appear complex, I will usually find myself playing those myself.

 

The second reason tends to be filling a bit of time – much in the same way that I would have done with patience in days gone by. Here I am looking for quick and easy to set up solo games – something like Onirim or Hostage Negotiator that promises a quick play time and is a little more involved or better themed than a normal deck of cards.

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Finally, and the type of solo play that I probably engage in the most, is the experimental style. Here I will normally take a game that has capacity for 1 or more players and try approaching it in a different fashion, but by doing so I am not negatively affecting the experience of other players who might find my style either aggravating or in the case of a co-op, counter intuitive to the group’s goal. Games that I tend to do this with usually have a long set up and play time, or convoluted rules that need a proper assessment and run through. Usually I am scheduling an afternoon or evening out of my schedule to account for the time I am likely to spend going through this.

 

I hope you can see that solo games are not just the sole preserve of solitaire anymore and that to step outside that comfort zone of the social experience of gaming can be worthwhile ever now and again. It would never replace playing with my friends and family, it is a worthwhile experience for various reasons.

 

Give it a whirl. You may surprise yourself.

AireCon 2017

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Despite my rantings here for over a year (congratulations on your tolerance), I have never had the joy of attending a board games convention. Well, all of this looks like it is coming to an end, as over the weekend of 10th – 12th March 2017, I should be attending the third iteration of AireCon at the Harrogate International Centre.

I’m very excited to do so and seeing what delights will be on offer. AireCon are already promising a library of over 350 games courtesy of Travelling Man with which to whet you gaming appetite. They are also putting on a gaming team tournament over the course of Saturday 11th March 2017 during which eight teams of four gamers will battle for supremacy (and a trophy) over a series of classic tabletop games (finishing with a Pandemic finale).

In addition there will be a bring and buy sale (and if you know me, I love a good rummage for a bargain), as well as several games producers showing you their new shiny. Medusa Games, Mantic, Hall Or Nothing and Inside The Box are just some of the companies attending

They are also promising podcast panels featuring several well known broadcasters including Polyhedron Colider, Breacher 18, the Broken Meeple, Touican Play that Game and Yog-Sothoth. Mike B from Who Dare Rolls is also making the trip up North, so hopefully he can get on board with that as well.

So – a chance to meet me and a weekend of games. Sounds like a bargain to me, right? Hopefully I shall see you all there …static1-squarespace-com

Turning Japanese

Whilst I was growing up, my only real knowledge of Godzilla was the 1970s Hanna-Barbera cartoon, which proudly demonstrated no affiliation with the original Japanese monster movies. Essentially a soldier, a scientist, a kid and Godzilla’s cowardly nephew (yeah – really) travelled the world in their boat and summoned Godzilla himself to help fight various monsters and villains. What you need to take from this is that a) it wasn’t very good and b) child me was an idiot.

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It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I came to know of the Japanese monster movie (also known as Kaiju – yes, that’s where Pacific Rim got the name from). And as someone who loves B-movies and rubber suited monsters (we had original series Doctor Who back then), I really enjoyed the ridiculous nature of a random creature destroying much of a major Japanese metropolis. And of course, when these beasts met that was only ever one outcome – a big monster scrap. Naturally with more destruction added into the equation.

I do also accept that there were two Hollywood Godzilla movies, of which we shall discuss no more of …

This more rambling introduction than usual is all to bring us to one of my favourite lighter games, than nonetheless, gets plenty of play with both my friends and family. It’s one of the perfect ways to start a gaming night whilst you are waiting for everyone to arrive. It’s a lot of fun to play with your children due to the quick action and fun design. And you get to have monsters punch the ever living snot out of everything. I refer to Richard Garfield’s King Of Tokyo published by IELLO.

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Yes Magic: The Gathering fans … that Richard Garfield.

The concept behind King Of Tokyo is simple, a group of monsters based upon various classic kaiju stalwarts, decide to descend upon Tokyo and fight until only one remains. The aim of the game is to either generate 20 victory points (I like to see these points as representative of how much of the city your trash) or by reducing the other monsters to zero health. And you do this through playing Yahtzee

Wait – don’t go! I haven’t lost it …

Each turn monsters roll a 6 dice and collect points based upon what they roll. Just like Yahtzee you can keep dice and reroll others to try and get the best results for you. The dice are designed for the game and have a number of different symbols upon them. Each has a different outcome on the game.

The number facings (1, 2 and 3) are one of the ways to generate points. A set of three gives you that number of points. For each extra one you roll gives you a bonus point on top of that (so four 2s score 3 points for example). The claw symbol allows you to attack other monsters and the heart symbol heals a point of damage. The lightning bolt gives you a point of energy, which allows your monster to evolve new abilities from the power card deck.

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The other way to gain points other than the dice is to control Tokyo itself. At the start of the game, Tokyo remains vacant and is only occupied when one monster rolls a claw result. That monster gains an immediate victory point and gains two victory points if it is in Tokyo at the start of its turn. In larger games, there are two control points in Tokyo – the city and the bay, which means more than one monster, can be in play there. From its place in Tokyo, the monster can also attack all other players. Each time it rolls a claw result, every monster outside of Tokyo takes a point of health damage. However, the reverse is also true and being in Tokyo also means that everyone can wail on you.

Whilst you are in Tokyo, you are also prohibited from healing damage, so you have to judge when may be a good time to get out. After taking damage, a monster can volunteer to retreat and the player that attacked them takes their place (gaining a point in the process). This normally results in very cagey play to begin with, as no one normally wants to jump straight in and paint a target on themselves too early, but very frantic game play later in case someone if getting too many points and you are desperate to knock them out of the city.

The power cards add another level of variance to the games. Before the game starts, three cards are turned face up and players can spend energy points at the end of their turn, to buy them. They can also spend 2 energy points to sweep the board and replace with three new cards. The cards come in a couple of flavours – keep card which give monster new abilities and discards which are one off effects like victory point boost or damage monsters.

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These cards are I believe where a lot of King Of Tokyo’s game play variance comes from. As depending on what card you get, will determine the way you try to achieve victory. If you get Shrink Ray or Acid Breath, you will want maximise the damage output as much as possible. Using abilities like Psychic Probe (where you can force others to reroll dice) and Herbivore (which gives you points for not attacking) will result in a more passive ‘rack up the points’ style. Nicely the cards never result in any game breaking combos, so whilst they may give a player an advantage, they never tip it too far into unfairness. There are few dud cards in their (Monster Batteries anyone?) but these are few and far between.

The graphics and design are bright and bold and each of the player pieces is distinct from one another. The dice are chunky and easy to read. The player board has great dials upon them that allow you to set point and health easily through the game. Each card is illustrated in a very light hearted style that permeates the entire game. The only minor complaint I would have is the green energy cubes. For a game with big, bold components, why give us these fiddly little things? You can almost guarantee that after packing the game away you will find a couple on the floor a few days later. But it is a very minor matter for an otherwise brilliant design.

The gameplay flows very quickly, as you would expect – roll the dice three times and see whether you want any cards. As a result, games do not last longer than 30 minutes. Whilst theoretically players can get knocked out after three player turns, you would have to be incredibly unlucky for that to occur. The first player elimination doesn’t tend to happen until about 5 or 10 minutes from game end (if indeed anyone gets eliminated). However, if you have a problem with any form of player elimination, you will not want to get involved with this.

I do have quibble with the monsters themselves – despite the various designs they all play exactly the same and the only difference is aesthetic. You do feel that a giant robot should play different to a Godzilla like creature. And that a cybernetic ape should be different to those. There is an expansion, Power Up, which gives you unique evolution cards to your creatures. A part of me can’t help but feel this should have been included in the basic game. But perhaps that’s me trying to find fault.

A sequel called King Of New York has also been released featuring new monsters, specific buildings and location on the game board, as well as a US military that fights back. However, for quick knockabout fun, I will always go back to the original.

King Of Tokyo take an older concept of dice game and puts a bold and beautiful skin upon it. It is designed to pitch you into a chaotic monster melee and see who comes out the other side on top. It’s something I would heartily recommend to anyone’s game collection, as pretty much anyone can pick up and play it. It’s simple stompy and silly fun.

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.