Lie To Me

I was bought a copy of Liar’s Dice as a Christmas present by a well-meaning friend. My love of board games is well known amongst my social circle (to the end that I ended up speaking with a couple I had never met before down the pub this weekend, thanks to my friend pointing out that the board game shelf there was ‘up your street’). So it was with the best will in the world that I unwrapped the cylindrical container and pulled out a fresh copy of the game. And as it was Christmas, we naturally played the game the same day. And the results …

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I think I need to interject here with a disclaimer. You will have come here expecting me to discuss a horrible mess of a game. And some of you probably consider Liar’s Dice to be that. And I sympathise. But this game is on my list of those to avoid for one simple reason.

I am absolutely dreadful at this game.

Liar’s Dice as the names suggests , is all about deception – so I am immediately at a disadvantage with my inglorious history at bluffing games. Each player starts with a cup filled with five standard six sided dice and are required to roll the dice under their cup, keeping the results concealed from the other players. Players are then required to guess how many dice from all the cups are showing a particular value (so you could declare that there are a minimum of four dice with a 3 showing). The next player either has to increase the value of the dice facing; the total number of dice or challenge the previous player’s call. If an increase occurs, the choice falls to the next player until a challenge occurs.

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Upon a challenge all dice are revealed. If the player making the claim on the dice was lying, they lose a dice from their pool. If the challenger incorrectly called the player a liar, they lose a dice. The game carried on until players have lost all their dice, by which point they are out. The winner is the player with dice remaining.

I can tell what are thinking right now – ‘You appear to be describing an accessible game that pretty much anyone can understand.’ Or you are thinking, ‘I’m certain they played that in one of the Pirates Of The Caribbean movies.’ Well you would be correct on both counts. Both my sons will happily play Liar’s Dice and in many ways this is part of the problem. And I want to make it perfectly clear, it is my problem …

When you are playing a game of Liar’s Dice and your seven year old son is shaking a cup full of dice, whilst your measly one rattles around in an empty mocking fashion, you know that something has gone horribly wrong. Perhaps if it was only on the odd occasion, it would be manageable. ‘He just got lucky,’ you can say to yourself. But after the third or fourth time in a row, you have to accept where the problem truly lies. So I suck it up, take the higher road and immediately ground him for having the audacity to beat me.

It’s called parenting.

Obviously, I did not actually do this. I can only put my problems with the game down to this, sometimes you get an absolute mental block with a game that you cannot seem to shake. Yes – I am very poor at bluffing games. Whatever my tells are, they are clearly shining beacons to my friends and family. But Liar’s Dice is also a game of educated guesswork and probability, which I am normally really good at. Statistics and odds are actually one of my strong points in gaming (which is probably why dice are so hateful to me most of time – just to prove my rationality wrong). And yet – Liar’s Dice laughs in the face of my logic and careful planning every single time.

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There are other parts to the game that I am less than fond on than my complete lack of skill. The game does suffer from player elimination and with a run of bad luck someone can be forced to sit out from an early stage, which is particularly painful in a six player game. The late game does have issues when players may only hold one or two dice each and you can get stuck in a situation where there is no good choice. You either have to make an obviously false bid or challenge on something you know to be true. I am not keen on these situations where there is not an obvious out for a player – it’s always good to have a choice.

One of the other problems I have with Liar’s Dice that it is a game of educated guesswork. Not that I have a problem with this style of game, but that Wits & Wagers exists. Because Wits & Wagers takes this theme and runs with it – quite simply if I want to try and make logical bets on the information I am provided, I cannot see a single situation where I would take Liar’s Dice over that.

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Having said that, Prepare For Boarding has always been about my opinions and experiences. And I have been pretty clear that you may find that enjoyment in something that leave me cold. It is worth remembering that Liar’s Dice is a previous winner of the 1993 Spiels Des Jahres for a version known as Bluff. There is clearly an audience for this game and unlike previous games in this series, I would not actively look to discourage you from trying this game. However, if I want to make leaps of logic or if I want to bluff with my friends, there are places I would much rather go that to a game where I can be regularly humiliated by my kids …

CCGs – Still Relevant?

The origins are lost in the mists of history (or my befuddled memory – which may actually be the same thing). I was a teenage and had just returned from holiday in some sunny location for two weeks. When I came back my friends had these curious decks of cards that seemed to represent monsters and spells being cast by wizards against one another. I was (still am) a geek and so naturally this interested me. Before long Magic: The Gathering had its terrible hooks into me and I was spending a heck of a lot of money on packs of cards.

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That may be unfair. I still like Magic: The Gathering, although I am no longer splurging money on it like it was going out of fashion. And before you turn away from this page in disgust, this isn’t a details discussion on Magic either (I have not got the time and you probably don’t have the patience to endure that). Rather I wanted to look at the concept of Collectable Card Games (or CCGs) as a whole and whether they were still a valid model of operation.

 

I am undoubtedly about to tell you fine readers how to suck eggs, but in the small chance that anyone here does not know what a CCG is, I shall elaborate. A CCG is defined by the collector purchasing random packs of cards and assembling them into a deck by which they can play the game by its rules. It is usually agreed that there must be some strategic element to this play to differentiate it from other trading cards that operate on more basic gameplay level (if indeed there is a game attached to the cards). There is usually a secondary card market attached to these games, whereby players can purchase individual cards in order to complete their collection. Trading cards between players is also a frequent occurrence (also leading to their secondary title of trading card games).

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Magic is the grand-daddy of all CCGs being released in 1993 and almost singlehanded responsible for the big boom of CCGs in the mid-1990s. Companies such as White Wolf; Decipher; Upper Deck; Topps and others all leapt onto the bandwagon. The success of most of these games (or conspicuous lack of it) demonstrated quite clearly that the market could not support a vast number of these types of games and it left only a few from the maelstrom standing by the current time. The vast number of ‘dead’ CCG is testament to that. Even Wizards of the Coast, manufactures of Magic found that within a couple of years of their initial release, they had to make cut backs of their staff.

 

However, CCGs still carry on to this day and the popularity of Magic, Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! shows no sign of waning. However , there is a question, at least in my mind, as to whether the model of the CCG is still relevant, particularly in the face of new means both of distribution and of gameplay.

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Returning to Magic , as of July last year, the card pool consisted of 16,505 different cards which stretched a period of 23 years. Consider owning all of those cards. Furthermore, try to deck build with all of those cards. That’s pretty intimidating.

 

‘But Adam’, I hear you cry, ‘There are formats that allow people to compete with more limited card pools.’ Quite correct. And limiting the pool by the means of Modern and Limited Magic does allow for players who do not have the collecting history to compete. But when you limit, it also places restrictions on the archetypes. Normally two or three key decks emerge which become the ‘big boys’ of each set.

 

This is not me complaining about tournament play, because I understand that it is a staple of a lot games. I have played in gaming tournaments myself with a variety of success (although never a Magic one). But what I am trying to demonstrate is to how intimidating the can appear to a new or to a casual player. Those players who are fully invested into the meta and have invested the time and money into either the luck of blind purchasing or by seeking out individual cards, have an effect upon those players who buy a few new packs a month and just want to play to enjoy. The game essentially becomes a competition between who has the biggest wallet rather than a balanced playing field.

 

I agree this this is not a problem restricted solely to the CCG environment. Certainly competitive play in any form of game often has people clamouring for the ‘new hotness’. One only needs to look at the development of the Warhammer 40k tournament community that became a quiet literal arms race over who could grab the biggest (and most expensive) models and slap them all onto the tabletop as quickly as possible. But is there an alternative …

 

Enter Fantasy Flight Games and their Living Card Game model.

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FFG were no strangers to CCGs prior to 2008. The had acquired the license to Chaosium’s old Mythos game and released it in 2004 as Call Of Cthulhu: The Card Game, having employed game designer Eric Lang to turn it into something more accessible than the previous iteration. And it was fairly well received still operating within the normal model. Then in 2006 everything changed.

 

An announcement was made that Call of Cthulhu would cease to release products in the normal distribution and would instead release monthly “Asylum Packs”. These packs would consist of 20 cards in triplicate, ensuring that any player purchasing them would get exactly the same cards as everyone else. The move proved so popular, that two years later they elected to re-release the entirety of the game via this format. Since this point, everyone of their game has been released in this format and has seen other companies adopt a similar approach (Upper Deck’s VS System relaunch in 2015 was produced in a similar fashion but with a different name).

 

The LCG system essentially means that deck planning and building is a very structured and precise process in which you know exactly which sets are needed. There are numerous deck builder systems online which can identify the cards and their relevant locations. Furthermore, the secondary card market does not really result in extortionate pricing because most players realise that there is no need to pay over the odds for a cards when it is relatively easy to get their hand on it by just buying the respective pack.

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Furthermore, as each new pack produces only 20 new cards, it means that players do not need an encyclopaedic knowledge of the cards in order to function effectively within the game. A smaller card pool produces much less opportunity for conflicts between cards or rule problems that can bog the game down unnecessarily.

 

However, this limited card pool has other problems. Certain towards the start of the game, the development of the ‘meta’ is almost glacial and one big slash release can weigh the advantage towards a particular faction or type of deck. In order to counter this, you will often find that release rates are accelerated in order to keep customers interested. Whereas Magic the Gathering may have four big releases over the course of an entire year, LCGs will have many more. I find less excitement in the release of a new card deck for something like Game Of Thrones, than the latest Magic set which feels like a huge event.

 

And whilst you may think the financial impact of the card game hobby is reduced by the LCG model, this is not necessarily the case. Say a LCG has 6 factions and you only are interested in one of them. Well each new set may contact 2 or 3 cards relevant to each individual faction. You are now buying a 60 card set for perhaps 9 cards. A deluxe expansion may be focused on an entirely different faction to the one you play, but will still have cards that you need for your side. The situation becomes worse with FFG’s Core set model, which normally requires that you buy 2 or 3 basic sets in order that you have multiple of several basic cards that you need (Test Of Will from the Lord Of The Rings LCG – I am looking at you!).     Like the CCG release model, you are still buying a lot of chaff in order to make the deck you want.

 

The game does need to be carefully managed as well, in order to avoid bloating. The original Game Of Thrones LCG eventually collapsed under its own weight, as FFG felt the need to introduce a new mechanic with each cycle. And as every cycle was legal in competitive play, you had to have knowledge of several additional rules beyond the base game in order to make it operate. Eventually, they had to release a 2nd edition – which meant that the card collection certain people had been cultivating for a long period of time was essentially worthless. There is no argument in my mind that the second edition is a superior product. However, I still resent the fact that I have a box of cards on my shelf that is essentially a nostalgia piece. For all its history and many different rules that it has implemented, I can still pick up my Ice Age or Legends Magic cards and play with them in the right environment.

 

I think what the current gaming environment shows around the two models is that whilst LCGs are gaining popularity, the presence of a gaming behemoth in Magic The Gathering means that it is highly unlikely that this will go away any time soon. FFG clearly also don’t believe that the type of distribution that CCGs operate under are dying, as recently they have produced a collectable dice game using a similar style of production in their Star Wars Destiny game. We also need to bear in mind that product styled towards a younger audience, such as Topps Match Attax football cards, also follow the CCG model and based on the number of cards my son appears to have, they also continue to be popular.

 

As much as anything, if you want to go down the card collecting rabbit hole, there is so much choice still available, that it is unlikely that you will fail to find something that appeals. And somewhere with the combination of theme, budget, play style, mechanics and countless other items, it has to be your enjoyment that should ultimately be the deciding factor.

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.