Dorking out with the Dark Elves

The new Blood Bowl computer game by Cyanide has given many of us fanatical fans of the game a chance to sandbox with teams we either don’t have miniatures for or wouldn’t normally play.  However, with the arrival of the free patch to the game a few weeks ago, I can eschew all the other teams that I pretend to love and get right down to playing my all-time favorite, the ‘coaches’ team’ as my brother calls them: the insidious Dark Elves.

In reviewing the team in the computer game, I give the developers at Cyanide immediate points on the score board for absolutely NAILING the aesthetic.  Having started back in high school with First Edition Blood Bowl, the crunchy, spiky look of the original illustrations and models by Aly Morrison have stuck with me as the essence of how Blood Bowl teams should look.  While I thoroughly enjoy many of Gary Morley‘s sculpts for third edition (in contrast to 2nd editions more ‘sports-like’ armor), I think a few of his lineman models were phoned in, and this is especially true with the Dark Elves (circa 1994 mind you).

While I’ve played the Dark Elves in many leagues and tournaments, I hadn’t played them with the new Living Rule Book 5.0 set up, and had a bit of a shock as all I remembered was that the number of blitzers increased from two to four.  The major change in the roster is that the throwers have now been replaced by a runner (with a skill that I have never selected for a player in my entire career as a Blood Bowl coach: Dump Off) and the team has a new position: the Assassin with Stab (a new skill) and Shadowing. Unlike many teams, the Dark Elves have no ‘big guy’ to hold the line or push all the smaller players around, yet they are one of the best running teams in the game. How? Agility. Agility increases the Dark Elves mobility on the pitch by a vast amount and while you can pass the ball with them, it’s often short passes or even side/back passes, the real gains are made running through and sometimes over your opponents. That said, you are never going to out-casualty a bruiser team but that’s not what wins games: putting it over the line does and Dark Elves are excel in this region of play.

I’m going to try to shy away from telling you how to play the Dark Elves but I want to review each of the positions and how they synergize with each other.  Inevitably you’re going to see my slant as how I like to play, and that’s always up for discussion, or if needed, a quick game to show my superiority.

Lineman: Dark Elf lineman (and their cousin lineman for the Hight Elves) are the best lineman in the game, hands down.  They have average speed, average armor, average strength and an awesome 4 agility.  You could have a team of only Lineman and still win matches.  What really puts these guys into the win column is the combination of 4 agility, access to Agility skills (i.e. Dodge) and 8 armor.  They are one of only two teams that have lineman with 8 armor and 4 agility consistently across the team.  As much as your opponent will expect to beat up your elves, the 8 armor assures that you will rarely be taken off the pitch without some mighty blow action and as they progress, the Dark Elf Lineman have access to the ideal two-skill mix in the game: Block and Dodge.   Even without the Dodge skill your Dark Elf Linemen are able to dodge away on a whim to get into position for a 2-dice block somewhere else.  The best skills to get as they progress with normal rolls: Block, Dodge, Tackle, Frenzy, Dauntless.  On Doubles get: Guard.  Once you get 3-4 of these naughties with Block and Dodge, your opponents will be sweating it.  Do NOT bother with Dirty Player–it’s been nerfed so bad and these guys are so valuable: it’s a waste of a skill slot.

Runner: I’m still not sure what to think about the runner as he’s just not fast at all, living up to his name not in the least.  He can hold on to the ball with sure hands, but the replacement of Dump Off instead of Pass is quite confusing to me.  Dump off as a 3 agility player is a crap skill; most of the time the ball will simply land right near the opponent’s players in a scrum and you’ll wish you had just let it scatter normally.  With 4 Agility, Dumping off the ball has a much higher percentage of success, but I have really rarely seen this skill work well.   Also, you really don’t have that many issues picking up the ball to justify a slot for a player with Sure Hands; a Blitzer is quite a spot better starting with block to hang onto the ball. Runners are the only players that have access to the Passing skill set however, so if you are going to run a throwing game, you’ve got to pick up at least one (eventually). The best skills with normal rolls? Block, Pass, Nerves of Steel, Side Step.  Doubles: (let’s face it, he’ll be in a scrum or on the line like everyone else) Guard.

Blitzer: Here you have your storehouse of amazing potential for popping out the ball on defense and scoring on offense– and you can get FOUR of these naughty boys.  The 4 agility means they can get in places to lay a block that most other players can only dream of, and while their movement is nothing to masticate over, they’re fast enough.  That said, get Dodge first, then Tackle is a must as well as Strip Ball.  They cannot get strength skills like most other Blitzers, so on doubles, look at the strength skill tree for either Guard or Mighty Blow.   A Blitzer’s essential duty is to run through, over or around the opponents line, sack the ball carrier, pick up the ball and either pass back to a pocket or run it in for a touchdown.  Leap, while still dangerous with 4 agility, is awesome to get as a 3rd or 4th skill.  With four of these guys available, you can tailor two as defensive ends (tackle as second skill) and two as scoring machines (dodge as second skill).

Witch Elf: As tempting as these ladies are to have on your team, they cannot go it alone and need to be fostered and protected during their early, pre-Block career.  The only way to do this is, again, start with all lineman and a blitzer, build up your team and then add in the extra positions once your other players are toughened up.  That said, the Witch Elves are crucial to the later league/season success of the Dark Elves.  You will be praying to Nuffle at each skill roll for a +1Ag or +1 St as it will blast your naughty lady into the top of the scoring roster for your league.  Without stat upgrades they are still fast, dodgy and if you can get them Block and Dauntless, gift their opponent’s players with a trip off the pitch to see the fans more often than not.  Best normal roll skill progression: Block, Dauntless or Catch, Leap.  On doubles– get Juggernaut.  They are not blitzers, so keep them as far away from the opponent’s line as possible and have them run in for a Blitz only outside a big scrum. They are also not catchers, and you don’t need a lot of catch skills with their four agility. What’s more, as filthy as they are, I can’t stop staring at their sweet cans.

Assassin: The Assassin goes against one of my rules for playing a non-crunchy team (which the dark elves certainly are) and that’s to never ever rely on getting the opposition off the pitch.  That’s stuff the dwarves and Chaos teams do– not the elves.  The Assassin appears to be the Dark Elves answer to the ‘Big Guys’ on other teams, which, by the looks of the other big guys, puts him in the ‘maybe if I had a ton of gold lying around I’d get one of them.’  While shadowing is nice, I would love to see the Assassin get tackle and diving tackle– making him a dodging player’s nightmare, but leaving him a stomped corpse against any hardcore rushing teams.  Again, I would say that the Assassin is absolutely extraneous, and if you have one and have a roster of 16 players, he’ll rarely see his feet on the pitch.  I’m going to start a team with two of them as an experiment however, just to make sure (Note: it didn’t go well).

This is your future if Nuffle is with you.

If you are a new coach you may want to run the humans or orcs for awhile to get the hang of it. As noted above, the Dark Elves are IMO the coaches team, they have some glaring weaknesses (they are expensive) and they don’t have a very clear path to victory (i.e.: they aren’t tough, they aren’t fast and they aren’t the best passing team) but are not wussy elves that you will be worried about flying off the pitch with every armor roll.

Rules for Dungeonquest online

The rules for the Fantasy Flight version of the classic GW dice with death Dungeonquest are now posted online.  Having only played the old version once, while fairly recently, I don’t see a lot of changes to the rules except the combat which, in the original, was rock paper scissors.  The new method uses a mutual deck of combat cards and splits the attacks by ranged, close and magic.  Looks much better, but the play is the thing.  My only worry is that the combats must play out fast fast fast.  While it’s fun to watch the other players die, the key to this game is to keep the game moving as quickly as possible to avoid the inevitable angst of turn.  Needless to say, I’m looking forward to this bad boy!

50 Cosmic Encounters!

According to the board game geek as of Wednesday night’s game, I have played the Fantasy Flight version of Cosmic Encounter 50 times now– almost more than the total plays of all my other board games combined in the last couple years (aside from CCG’s).  Why is this?  Simply: Cosmic Encounter is the best board game there is. Period. That’s not to say it’s the only game I want to play, but it really is the stalwart standby that always delivers a great time.

That said, we have two more eliminated aliens from our COSMIC ANNIHILATION attempt to run through all the Aliens at least once: Guerrilla and Masochist join the Deuce, Amoeba, Leviathan, Tripler in the dead pile.

Blood Bowl CCG?

“a standalone game of deck-building action that takes 2-4 players through the cutthroat excitement of an entire Blood Bowl season, all in about an hour.”  Well this looks interesting and it’s being designed by the dude who made Chaos in the Old World so that’s cooking with gas.  Is it a CCG? That’s the question.  I doubt it as the game is certainly not infinitely expandable with a limited number of teams.  Like Dungeon Quest and the oodles of Talisman expansions, this is yet again something from Fantasy Flight that my money won’t be able to avoid.

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:
Rush N Crush
Dungeon Quest
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…

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.