And more Talisman – The Sacred Pool!

Right after our first play of Talisman 4th edition with the new Highland expansion comes the announcement of The Sacred Pool, another small expansion with no board and 4 characters (none of which I could tell by the cover of the box).  Looks like it adds  some more alternate ending cards to throw in the mix, quest rewards (instead of using the Dungeon reward cards when you complete a warlock’s quest) and a few more characters and a new twist: being able to become neutral rather than just good and evil.

As for Highlands– the board is a lot like the Dungeon, and while the creatures are weaker, the Highland deck has a lot of zany movement cards that make a run to the end of board a bit trickier than the Dungeon.  It’s a good expansion but it’s not the City board I’ve been waiting for.  What’s more, trinkets are a great addition to the game, and I hope they incorporate them into the other decks as soon as they can.  The alternate endings are the best and now we have 5 randoms and the Warlock’s Quest as the sixth.  Though the ‘Boss’ ones are boring (fight a 12/12 creature), the rest of them are good fun.  We drew the Battle Royal card to end our game and it was a hoot. The Vampiress, easily the weakest of the three characters left in the fight, had a spell that would have allowed her to win if any of the other characters rolled a 1, but it didn’t happen.*

One thing Highland’s does not solve is that there’s still no use for gold– once you have 4-5 you’ll never find anything to spend it on unless you are really down on your luck with losing lives.  Having a stack of 15-20 is ridiculous but happens quite often.

As for the new characters–we had almost all of them out during our first play.  The Valkyrie isn’t all that great (as well as being weaker than the 2nd edition version), and the Highlander himself is laughable, but the Alchemist, Sprite and Vampiress are powerhouses to be sure.  We didn’t get out the Rogue (who’s 4th edition incarnation now has boobs!).  The sizes of the miniatures seem even SMALLER than the Dungeon expansion– though these were fairly cool sculpts if you can look past that they are less than 25mm and made of some shitty soft un-paintable plastic.  As Talisman is a Games Workshop game at it’s core, it’s sad to see them not putting out a set of miniatures– even if they were cast offs from their other lines.

*Our first Highland game was played with our dear friend John, who Talisman, the entire staff at Fantasy Flight and Games Workshop, as well as the gods of luck at Talisman all hate with a passion that is astonishing to watch– he had 3 characters killed during the game and quite remorselessly at that.

Rackham announces "City of Thieves"

Rumors of Rackham’s demise are yet again being proved a gross exaggeration.  City of Thieves looks like it picks up where Caldwallon left off, but as board game.  Even if it’s quite bad like Rackham’s last card game, will still be awesome for the miniatures.  Looks like some sort of multiplayer war game ala Necromunda but with more of a board game structure.  We’ll see where the bear shits in the buckwheat with this one after it’s released at GENCON.

Link with more info from Table Top Gaming News.

Gaming Hoopla

Saturday was spent sitting at various tables in a giant room with a giant stone fireplace placing pieces of plastic, wood and cardboard on top of other, usually larger, pieces of cardboard.  This was Gaming Hoopla.  As a pure gaming convention, I would rate it a definite 1 on the binary scale.  No mucking around with lines to see celebrities, no big announcements, no wasting time at vendors digging through boxes of old mouldy stuff looking for deals (there was only one selling about 50 games at most): it was all about sitting down and playing games.  People were exceedingly friendly and would either just ask you to play a game or, as you were sitting down to play something, would ask to get in on the action. My only complaint was that the room (though big) smelled of MEAT the entire time and giant wafts of MEAT-AIR would blast into the gaming area from the kitchen.

Games I got in on:
Agricola
Rush N Crush
Dungeon Quest
Arcanum
El Grande

My favorite was probably Rush N Crush. It just really captured the feel and intensity of a race with guns (and I won by wrecking my buddy’s car right at the finish line).  Though it may not be a play all the time game, I think I may pick it up.  All in all, a great little CON in the town where it all started and a good time.

Fantasy Flight DUNGEONQUEST!

Yeah? Oh yeah! Fantasy Flight must be hitting their numbers re-releasing the holy grails from Games Workshop’s golden age because we have yet another awesome edition to the roster:  DungeonQuest. This and Mummy’s Tomb I never got my grubby teenage hands on so I am fired fired fired up about the re-release (and was wondering why the original version’s price kept dropping on ebay the last few months). Great news and more info.

Small World for iPad review

Small World was one of the big board games of the last year and I picked it up like many based on reviews of it and it’s predecessor Vinci.  I found it OK, but it didn’t totally grab me the first few plays.  After about 6 plays however, it really started to grow on me.   The game works well in that Euro/Ameritrash hybrid genre that we keep seeing in recent days, but what I like about Small World best is that  is an asymmetric strategy game and like the granddaddy of all asymmetric board games, Cosmic Encounter, has a lot of room to grow.  While  Small World oozes with theme and comedy, the board is totally insane on the eyes and in all honesty I think I would prefer the theme of the original version (Romans, Greeks, Carthaginians, etc.) to the wacky fantasy theme– but the fact is, the game sold a lot and it’s quite fun to play once you get the hang of it–and now we have the first launch title of interest for the iPad making some history last week.

The only reason I’m exposed to the iPads is due to work– no one I know personally has plans to pick one up in the short term.  As frivolous as it is, I must admit the iPad  is an awesome piece of consumer electronics: far better than what I expected both in size, readability and responsiveness despite a terrible name that somehow passed muster with everyone at Apple with a dirty mind.  That said, I’ve really only used it to read some comic books, watch an ASL video and, of course, play some Small World.

So what is Small World?  In short, 2-5 players try to conquer a piece of cardboard with a map on it, scoring points for the number of regions on this piece of cardboard they control at the end of their turn.  To do this, players choose a combination of a Race, like elves, dwarves, orcs, wizards and a Skill like berserk, commando, Ethereal, etc.  This gives players an adjective, noun combo i.e.: Commando Amazons (a favorite for many reasons), Berserk Trolls, and so on.  Each combination gives a player a number of Race tokens and two means to break the rules of the game: one with his Race power and one with his Skill power.  The player then attacks parts of the piece of cardboard to score as many points as possible. Each player turn is scored, and whoever has the most at the end of 10 turns is VICTOLY.  The key funny business in the game is that players can choose another race after sending their original race into decline.  Knowing when to decline your race and what race/skill combinations to select based on the board conditions are the painful and fun choices for players.

With the iPad version, you can play with another person sitting in front of you (there is no online play and no computer player) in the same way you would the board game, but without the box, pieces of cut up cardboard and cardboard map.

First, I want to make note a few flaws in the iPad version of Small World in terms of gameplay.  The game crashes sometimes after a race is selected.  You can tell when this happens as the player’s name and score disappear from the map screen and though you can mess around with the active buttons on the screen– the game will not continue.  This is exacerbated by the fact that the game does not save it’s state on exit, so if you exit the application for any reason, you have to start over.  This is a bit odd as just about every application on the iPod touch had the save state feature, even the real time ones like Field Runners.

Second, the iPad version is only two player.  This may put some people off who are used to the wonderful backstabbing and mystery score of the 4 and 5 player games, but after playing quite a two player games, I’m slowly becoming convinced that it may be the better way to play.  With two, the game plays extremely fast and you can predict fairly well what powers your opponent will choose, when they will decline and where they will enter the board.    This is very tough in a 3-5 player game as so much is going on you basically hang on for the ride and hope for players not to notice how well you are doing (Merchant Wizards seem great for this).

The final issue I had with the game is that when selecting my stack to drag to a space to attack, it didn’t pick up that I was trying to select it as well as I would have expected– you have to have your finger/appendage directly on the stack to move it.  This may seem a ridiculous complaint, but when  someone hands it to you in a morning scrum and you have to take your turn before anyone notices, you want to go fast fast fast.

That said, let’s get into what’s awesome about the iPad version of Small World: It plays fast, fast fast!  No digging through stacks of counters, or searching for the 3 and 5 gold coins in your game box, nor counting your gold in secret means that 2-player games can be over in done in 10 minutes at which time you can be on to another game or doing something else, like finishing your morning scrum.  What’s more, the multi-touch means you can check out your gold total while the other player is taking his or her turns.

Pondering the race selection as Spider looks on at something else entirely.

The graphics look extremely crisp, and it’s very easy to pick out what is what, especially if you are used to the insanity of color that the boardgame tends to become during a game.  Small World, good gameplay aside, is all about the funny illustrations and the iPad does them all justice here–though the screen does get awful greasy…

greasy
All the touching makes for a real greasy iPad in mere moments of play.

Except where noted far above, the UI and interface is spot on. If you are a veteran Small World player you will know exactly what to do as soon as you start playing, it’s that intuitive.  The only confusion came when one was selecting a race and want to go back to the map, then back to the race selection screen.  There is no button or link– you just touch the screen (this was a d’oh moment).

If you have an iPad and have any reason to try to have fun on it, you should pick up Small World. It’s dirt cheap and if you even play it 2-3 times you will have well spent the cash; chances are you will play 10 to 20 times that number in a single week.  I’m very impressed with the hardware and am very much looking forward to many more board games on the device.  Books? Movies? Tax Software? BLEH.  Board games are what the iPad was built for.

Parent's basement finds

While the amount of stuff in my own basement that I’ve lost track of continuously grows, the amount of stuff in my parent’s basements diminish by the year as they pawn off boxes and furniture with random drawers filled with gaming erm… jewels.  This weekend I ransacked my dad’s basement and here is what I dragged out of darkness.

Swords and Spells

While I’m a big fan of the D&D as the wellspring from which most gaming today flowed, the game itself has a history of pretty terrible rules, many of which exist in the nether realms of these small books from back when I was in kindergarten. This little book could be the very reason Games Workshop decided to make Warhammer Fantasy Battle back in the day as the rules are really just that bad: and to think, I actually played this as part of some early 80’s D&D campaigns.  This will probably sit in my basement shitter for a month or so and then get put away along with all the other old D&D stuff.

Ah Paranoia–an RPG with near 100% death rate for the Player Characters during any given SESSION, let alone a campaign. Sure sure, there were 6 clones of the PC’s each, but that basically meant that no campaign could go more than 6 sessions for fear of the entire cadre of characters being wiped out. It was fun and a refreshing change from dungeon crawling or being driven insane by elder things back in Jr. High, and this is certainly the best edition. Like many of my boxed games hidden away in dark recess of my basements, this came with some extras. In the bottom of the box looks to be the complete chit-set from the Ogre influenced Battlesuit game as well as a mess of stand up cardboard armies from Steve Jackson.  I’m assuming they were used to represent the characters during their ill-fated adventures.

The reason for my delve into the dank basement over the weekend was to search for a copy of the original Squad Leader, which I remember seeing in someone’s attic/basement/shelf back in the 80’s. While Panzer Leader is really not what I was looking for, I grabbed it anyway. It had a touch of mould on the box, but everything else looked great for it’s age and the counters are surprisingly high quality compared to today’s games. In addition, the extras include a chrome-plastic Transformers weapon, a few cavalry figures from THIS comic book ad, a staff from one of the lava dudes from Crystar the Crystal Warrior, a mess of counters for some Napoleonic SPI game and what looks to be the Dark Tower dragon (with his base broken off).

All in all, some great and terrible finds.  Sadly I could do the same sort of crap hunt in my own basement and be just as surprised.

Up the ASL

I spent 30 minutes Wednesday night rearranging AT-43 army lists and setting out the minis as board game night was just two this week.  Yet, instead of the gorgeosity made pre-painted plastic and massive 3-d Space Hulk terrain boards (good job Mouth), my friend wandered around my basement perusing my collection of games until I opened a random drawer and said: “Hey, how about ASL?” half jokingly.  I winced when he said “OK!” without hesitation.  “ASL The premier game system of tactical-level World War II combat uniquely combines soundness of design with attention to detail and ease of play.”  The last part?  Really?  The last time I tried to play, we stopped after the first Defensive First Fire phase (i.e. about 10 minutes into the game for experienced players after set up) and my head was spinning.  While both of us that tried it that first time are hardcore miniature gamers and myself (embarrassingly) have played hundreds of hours of Close Combat from Microsoft, we just didn’t get it– not in the least.  The rulebook sat in my basement shitter for about a year and was perused here and there with still not even the gleam of understanding. Then it went back in the box for an undetermined length of time until last night when, hand in hand, were able to ditch the mental flaccidity and get straight up inside the ASL.

Adding a few beers, a general disregard for the minutia of the rules and just rocking through the phases allowed both of us to get the game-at least on a high level, without support weapons, using a scenario with low counter density, and making constant, probably game changing, rules mistakes.  What’s more, we were both able to see clearly why the game of ASL has survived for going on 2 decades: it’s fucking good.  The array of extremely painful choices you have to make during the game are astounding and even the most basic scenario we played gave us a deep colon of tactical depth to plum.  It basically starts with a few American squads in the middle of a town as the Germans advanced through the woods to the south, then reinforcements come on the battlefield,  squads run to wood buildings in the town and shoot at each other, then some run away and a few are eliminated. That’s it.  How could cardboard pieces on a piece of colored cardboard compare to something like Company of Heroes? I’ll tell you:  tension, almost ZERO down time (this is key) and a really elegant means of determining LOS and fire modifiers made a scenario that we had played in tons of different games since Saving Private Ryan came out uncannily compelling.  I’m not sure what it is, but I want to bend back the rulebook and get up inside the ASL again.

Rise of the Machines

beatings by a machineA computer has beaten a professional Go player. It’s pretty shocking really as compared to Chess, where humans do not stand a chance, Go presents incredible problems due to the sheer number of places that a stone could be played in any given turn.  Humans can instantly eliminate 95% of the spaces of play on the board and focus on the areas that most need a stone; seeing the strategic as well as the tactical implications, reading eventual shapes long before the actual stones are played. A computer, coming from the much more flatly tactical game of chess, would have to crunch through all the possibilities, eliminating each only when the entire tactical line of possible moves was ruled out.  This proved to be impossible, and for many years computers could barely keep up with middling amateurs (of which I don’t even rank near middling).  All I can conclude with is we should be prepared to kneel before our robot masters sooner than later after a breakthrough like this.

Talisman HIGHlands

HIGHLANDHearkening back to my mental state when I first became fanatical about Talisman (1991), Fantasy Flight has announced the newest BOARD expansion for Talisman 4th edition: HIGHLANDS.  This puts to rest for awhile the debate about the City expansion being released.  Included will be 6 characters– obviously one is the Highlander, and from the tiny pic of the box cover I see the Valkyrie (awesome!) , but I can’t pick out any of the others. I do see a total of three sets of boobs there though.