The Root of the matter

2018 turned out to be a even better a year for board games than I originally thought (and the year was pretty awesome to begin with) and that’s on account of this little wargame called ROOT. I had the game on order at my local game store for quite some time, but it was sold out after the kickstarter arrived last summer. It finally came in and I’ve played four times, twice with adults, and twice with kids. Like Rising Sun, Eclipse, Blood Rage and Lords of Hellas, ROOT is one badass fucking game.

A lot of people know and have played this since it’s release last summer and for good reason. The the game has a lot of elements from many great games (GMT COIN games, Dune, Magic Realm, Fief, Armello, and a bunch more to boot) and all that got poured into a mixer and through massive amounts of playtesting, it came out quite good.

Root is definitely the hotness now on BGG and the second printing is likely going to sell out. I’m amazed that people on BGG like this one as it is a brutal wargame for most factions, and totally in your face (much like Dune) right from the outset. What’s more, it has PHASES of turns rather than the typical 2-actions and then play passes to the next player that’s very popular right now (for good reason). Maybe the era of thousands of shitty co-op games, or games with little to no interaction while you build your own little economic engines is starting to be over. One thing I felt while playing is if you like this, I think you could like Advanced Squad Leader quite a bit…

The core element to Root is that the factions are so very different it seems at first that you are playing a different game on the same map, however, your goals will conflict with nearly everyone else’s goals almost all of the time. As the factions are very different, you may not like playing as some of them, which could interfere with your enjoyment of the game. Here are the factions (that I’ve experienced) and which to pick based on what type of person you are. The conflict between the Marquese de Cat and the Eyrie is the central conflict in Root so I would pretty much always have one or both of those in a game, but it’s OK not to like nor play either of them ever, as long as some of your friends like them.

Marquies de Cat: This is the Atreides of the game, or the human Imperium in Warhammer 40k– they have taken a savage fucking beating from all the other factions in the games I’ve played, and it seems like they can get nullified completely mid-game with no chance to win. However, they have a lot of options for how to proceed and have very strong area control early game. Play them if you like building stuff or being in the thick of the fighting all the time. I’ve played them three times and find that they are easy to play, but VERY difficult to do well with.

Eyrie: This is the super-aggressive faction, (think Tyranid swarm) but glass jawed. The other players can see what you are planning and act accordingly. Play them if you like to just wreck shit (mostly the Cats) and play an all-out-war faction. While they can be hamstrung and they are the only faction that can loose victory points, If they get rolling, they are very difficult to stop.

Woodland Alliance (i.e: the ‘loafs’): These guys remind me of the elves in a bunch of other games. Few warriors on the board at one time, none at the start of the game in fact, but can hit all over the place and are costly to attack. They can score a lot of points, yet are very fragile to disruption and interdiction. Play if you like to play the quiet game until such time it’s no longer time to be quiet and if you like to punish people that attack you and gain from it.

Vagabonds: Rather than an army or faction, this is a single dude wandering around the forest. There are a bunch of different vagabonds you can play with as well. I’ve been in games with the Tinker, Wolf and the insane Pumkincat-thing. Some of them have crazy effects (the Possum…wow.). Some vagabonds are helpers, some are basically serial killers. Playing the Vagabond is ‘adventure’ mode with quests for the win OR Fist Full of Dollars/Yojimbo style where you can work with or hurt various factions in the game to score points, then go hide. Frankly, with newer players, the Vagabond has the best chance to win since they are left alone FAR too long and too often. In a few of the games, the vagabond was very peaceful, but in one, it destroyed a third of the shit on the board by the end. Play this if you like to sneak around, don’t want to bother with area control and possibly get really good at destroying the other faction’s armies. Root would just be a war game without the Vagabond, and I think it REALLY shows how cool the design of the game is to have a faction that is so incredibly different from the others like this.

I haven’t had a chance to play as the Riverfolk Company or Lizard Cult yet.
Out of the factions, I like de Cats the best so far personally, likely because everyone attacks me in every game anyway and playing them is a big ass come at me bro with bells on.

While I recommend the game, one thing to note is that Root is a wargame, like the excellent Lords of Hellas, it rewards aggression and is highly interactive, the opposite of something like Brass or Ticket to Ride.

Frostgrave Again!

Here are some shots from our day of Frostgrave this weekend. Fun stuff! A great, very cheap to get into game of wizard warfare in the frozen city. This was only my second (and third) time playing, so I can’t make a ton of comments having only 8-10 hours of play in, but there are some things I really dig about it. It’s easy to build a warband, the most difficult thing being selecting spells/school of wizardry. The rules, while a bit sloppy on the edges, are very clear with the entire game being run off of two D20’s per player (of different colors). The dice in the game matter, especially since it’s a D20 rather than a smaller die size. If your dice are hot, you are going to do really well, if they are in the shits, you are going to be eating snow and frozen mud. While some players have found this abhorrent, I believe this is a feature of Frostgrave.

Stuff I don’t like all that much is archery being very powerful. I can’t attest to this over many games played, but you can do a ton of damage to a warband via archery. This was a common problem in the early days of Mordheim as well though…. make sure your tables are chock full of cover (it is a ruined city after all).

You need to remember as a player that your non-wizard/apprentice figures are FODDER. They don’t level up and they can be replaced pretty easily. My initial warband was a couple of dogs, two templars, a thief, an archer and (usually) a summoned bear. Templars are slow but horrifying to face in combat. Like two handed guys in Lord of the Rings SBG, you pair them with a normal dude and have the two-hander attack for a +6 fight score with +2 to the damage– which is enough to break armor with a roll of 6 on a D20 for most troops. I may have gone with a barbarian but I couldn’t find any painted miniatures.

One of my games took FOREVER on account of the fact that there isn’t a ‘bottle out’ rule like in Necromunda/Mordhiem and the fact that there was fog and mud EVERYWHERE. You can get your little maings to fight to the death no matter how outnumbered or outclassed. Matt complained about his luck, but the fact is, that shit happens when you play with unpainted miniatures. He should know this by now.

Otherwise, I’m going to let the pictures speak for themselves.

I’m proud to say that both my witch and his/her apprentice are rockin g-strings!
The first battle revolved around this magnificent Inn
My Witch trapping a summoned imp on the balcony with treasure…

Lords of HellASS!

We’ve gotten a couple games of Lords of Hellass and I have some initial thoughts. This is one of those hero/RPG/PVP/Conquest war game type of games and one that comes off at first as a total mess of subsystems, but is an enjoyable whole.

This game gets some love initially from me as I had a summer where my buddy Dan and I played through this old Apple game called “Return of Heracles” where you take on the role of various Greek heroes and heroines and try to complete quests. We would run until our hero got killed and then the next guy would take up the mantle and try to make a run. I had some attraction to this game since it was announced, but didn’t get in on the kickstarter and stuff (way too many kickstarters….).

Subsystems is the name of the game when you sit down to learn and play Hellass. Your hero has their own powers, you can fight with your armies, you can fight monsters with your hero, you can complete quests with your hero, you can build monuments with your priests, and so on. It’s a lot to learn, and not all of it is easy. Take your first game and call it a learning game right from the outset. I know a lot of people are heavily competitive and want to win all games, even to the point of withholding information from other players the first time they play in order to win. See below* for how to win your first game of Hellas without having to learn many of the rules.

Despite the game’s subsystem madness, I enjoyed it quite a bit, and if two of my friends didn’t own it already, I would definitely pick it up. It is very very ameritrash, in your face and not coop at all, which is refreshing. Nor is the game a false-Ameritrash game like Scythe (a Keyflower-like Euro that looks like an ameritrashery war game). You must compete against the other heroes and their armies, often directly. There is a lot of shit all over the table, cards, miniatures, tokens but it’s nothing like say Warrior Knights (from fantasy flight, not the GW version). Yet the game is not super long, which is a massive plus.

The Gods are well worth mentioning. They are these awesome multi-part monument miniatures that you slowly build over the course of the game to give your hero level-ups when your priests go pray. You MUST build these and get priests to level up. Priests are tied to the number of temples each player controls on the board. This set of mechanics allows people that are into the war/area control part of the game as a strategy to stop others who are trying to level up their heroes in order to take on monsters and quests for the win.

On the flip side, Quests, when completed, allow the heroes to take over parts of the board for free! There is some nice interplay between the sub-systems, and you cannot just go all-war in the game (unless it’s your first time playing).

All in all, Lords of Hellas is pretty crazy to learn not due to the overall complexity or individual complexity of the systems, but due to the amount of subsystems there are. The game won’t be super easy for new players to get into vs experienced players, but it gets a big fuck yes from me because of the theme, the miniatures, and the gameplay. I have a soft spot for games that feel like a mess like this (ie Dungeon Degenerates) where players have TONS of options and nothing seems optimal, but are actually pretty tight when you learn the game. We’ll see how Hellass stands the test of gaming time.

*to win your first game. Take Laconia (Sparta) as fast as possible, grow a ton of hoplites and go for the area-control win. Other players will be goofing around with the other parts of the game (hunting monsters and doing quests, making statues) that you should be able to pull out a win in turn 3 or 4.

Fav RPG books of 2018

Anyway these are not necessarily from 2018, but just books that I took a fancy to throughout the year.

Shinobigami Modern Ninja Battle Game

I finally got the final PDF of the rules and printed them up and have read them cover to cover. If you like Hillfolk or Fiasco, you can see where they got all their inspiration for those games from (this and Tenra Bansho Zero). Looking forward to running this. I have not played this yet, so I can’t truly review the game itself.

Down Darker Trails

While this uses an inferior D100 system to Mythras, Down Darker Trails is an incredible supplement to CoC for the old West. It’s extremely thorough in it’s descriptions of the era and nature of roleplaying in the old west with monsters without getting totally overboard like Deadlands (which is cool too). The adventures in the back of the book aren’t too great, but it would be easy to wing something with this source material. With the rate at which I’m able to run games, this may never get played, but it’s a great read.

Runequest Glorantha/Guide to Glorantha

These are excellent RQ books, especially the Guide to Glorantha which finally laid out to me what the heck is going on. While RQ requires a lot of player knowledge of the setting, it’s much easier to have it all consolidated in a couple of books than all over the place. No matter what system you may choose to run RQ with, the Guide to Glorantha is a must read.

For play in 2018 year, we continued the Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign, but some of the players got sick of the non-levelling up and general low power level of the game (with silver=experience, it can be rough to level up), so we are going to switch to Mythras after the current campaign arc is done.

My favorite game from 2018 is probably DCC, we’ve had a lot of fun with friends and the kids with the game and adventures. My favorite RPG event of last year was the 2 day 13th Age level 1-6 switching GM’s every 3 hours.

STraaaahd game and 5E

I want to do a serious post about my thoughts on 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, the system and where I think it’s great and where I think it’s sort of lacking.

We had our monthly Straahd session a week or so back and it was a good one, we ended up in our first (that I was there for) combat with the vampire himself and one of the characters was completely destroyed in a single round, which always keeps you honest.

While I think 5E is excellent, there are times when, compared to my other d20 faves (13th Age and DCC) it can fall flat like when BLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT

BLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT

PAFFFFSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!

The best games of 2018 – boardgames

To say 2018 was a good year would be odd, to say it was a bad year would be inaccurate. What we have before us friends is an absolute DELUGE of games. More video games, more board games, more console games and more (shitty) iphone games than you can even count. It’s like humankind shifted in the late 90’s from enjoying games occasionally to it being the absolute raison d’etre for human existence and that it only matters if a game is NEW and not if it’s GOOD. It may be said that this was the year where historians ages hence say that all people wanted to do from here on out was play games, and that would be great if we had some star trek level of egalitarianism and technology to support people just gaming, but neither will ever happen. As a gainfully employed American, here’s to the wayward distractions from the fall of the West.

Board games

Keyforge

Coming out near the end of the year meant we didn’t get a ton of play time with this one, but I’ve now played 15 or so times and it’s an excellent game. We haven’t had a ‘tournament’ day yet where we open random decks and go to town, but that’s coming. If this was multiplayer, I think it would be the best CCG ever made.

Rising Sun, pointing.

Rising Sun

This is my favorite game of 2018 by far. Really an excellent follow up by Eric Lang after Blood Rage. I was very skeptical of the battle system, but it works brilliantly. He trashed a lot of early designs to get to this one and you can tell he was going all in to make the best area control game he could. It’s a toss up at this point between busting this out or Blood Rage, and that’s saying something! If you’ve been stuck fucking around with Scythe (a euro)– this is the real deal.

Games I didn’t play from 2018

Auztralia

This is Martin Wallace’s follow up to A Study in Emerald. It’s a train game, a bit like Brass but with monsters. Will get to the table soon!

Root

Looks like a solid COIN game. I probably should have kickstarted this one, but theme wise I should probably pick up Cuba Libre or Pendragon instead. The art is Armello-esque.

Western Legends

This is going to hit the table, but just hasn’t yet. This is an old west Talisman-style game and should be fairly good for a few plays but I’m not sure long term. I kickstarted this on a whim so we’ll see!

New BRASS (Birmingham)

I’ve played Brass a few times but never owned it, so I’m looking forward to busting out this LAVISH ass version of the game.

Dice Hospital

I have to get this to the table. The theme is not my favorite but I think my kids will love it.

Gateway: Uprising: Deck-builder area control games

We played Gateway: Uprising the other night which is the third deck-building with area control mechanics mash up game I’ve played and figured I’d write a bit since this type of game has held my interest for a while.

After Martin Wallace’s A Few Acres of Snow, this type of game became a thing with follow ups of Mythotopia and finally A Handful of Stars.  Deck-building with area control is a very  interesting style of game for me, creating player controlled asymmetry like Ascension or Dominion, but with a physical area that is controlled or conquered by players as the game goes along (so they are not as boring as Ascension and Dominion…).  There’s a lot of potential for “wow, I’ve never seen that before” in these games as well as having actual player interaction during the game instead of none.

Gateway: Uprising is a game of various wizard-lead factions (like the Great Fish!) in this very strange city that is having some immigrant and crime problems.  Your factions is built from cards you acquire which are either support cards, merchant cards or army cards build out of the various smaller factions in the city.  Support cards are single play and discard as are merchants, but Army cards stay on the table until destroyed (and they are destroyed often!) at which time they get shuffled into your deck.  Your goal is to score more points than your rivals after time is up or take over all the regions of the city which is instawin.

Unlike Mythotopia/Handful of Stars, locations in Gateway do not become cards in your deck. I was rather surprised by this as the city locations in the game don’t seem to do much except get attacked! You could win the game by not setting foot in the city at all if your faction could pile up enough victory cards (runestones).   However, if a Wizard faction controls the entire city of Gateway, they win the game immediately, so other factions are forced all into the city to make sure no one gets control.

Another interesting twist with Gateway is that there are monsters that show up which can and will destroy the city if not dealt with, generated via an event deck.   So…. this is how the game gets it’s ‘co-op’ tag on the box. It is necessary for the players to work together in order to hold off the horrifying monstrosities that continuously attack the city.  Co-op though, it’s really not. When the monsters start to destroy the sections of the city, it is then easier for one faction to take the entire city over and fighting between factions intensifies.

One thing Gateway has in spades is SOUL.  The art (by concept artist Sean Murray) on the cards and the city itself is superlative and is some of the best I’ve seen in a game for awhile (Rising Sun and Blood Rage aside).  The artist obviously loves Ian Miller/John Blanche as the cityscapes on some cards look straight out of The Enemy Within!  Like Dungeon Degenerates, this is a game that could justify purchase on the weird art alone.

In contrast to the rather dry Mythotopia and Handful of Stars, the goals that your faction has (kill monsters, dominate the city, kill the city guards, kill off the other player’s army) are clear from the outset, unlike the sort of vague ‘go forth and get points’.  Players being able to instantly win with full board control in Gateway is another excellent aspect that obfuscates a bit of the point salad that is inevitable with these types of games.

Mythotopia and Handful of Stars have player’s controlled areas scattered across the map at the start of the game, forcing them to fight with others or neutrals in order to consolidate some sort of defend-able empire and score points.  Gateway: Uprising starts with the city in the game controlled by no one, and the gangs/factions have to stake claim to the board as they go.  I find this a superior method, especially since Mythotopia feels pretty messy when you first start out and you immediately ask yourself why on earth you, as a fantasy lord, would control areas scattered randomly across the country side like this?  You have no sense of your faction or loyalty or what you are trying to do—it doesn’t make much sense.  I chalk that up to Mythotopia being one of Wallace’s ‘mechanics tests.’  Handful of Stars feels a bit better in this regard since the board represents 3 dimensional space and you are an alien faction (with a special power) rather than a generic fantasy lord.  I think both the Wallace games would be better, albeit LONGER if they started the players with a single star system/region or off board to start the game.  This would be a major design change since resources to play and buy cards come from the regions/planets themselves.

The rules are OK, there are some gaps we found in the rules (like, if regions are destroyed, do they count against the ability for a faction to control the city? It never says), so you have to make some judgement calls.  Components are good but the big hexes are not cardboard, they are very thin card and get moved around easily.  

Anyway, Gateway is pretty cheap (I got it lightly used for 15$) and well worth having in the collection (the box is small too for those of you with limited shelf space). I like it better than Mythotopia, and about the same as Handful of Stars. Gateway is far easier to set up to play than HoS is though!

 

this is one crazy ass beast.