Weekend nerdifications and Talisman ruminations

Excitement!  Battleblock Theatre was released onto a very expecting public recently and I had the good fortune to NOTICE it on XLBA in order to que it for download.  Needless to say, anything related to the Castle Crashers team is likely to be pure gold– and it is.  I had to peel myself off the TV to stop playing (due to crying and screaming of childrens).   Unfortunately, the game is too difficult for young kids without any experience with Contra or Mega Man– but the skills built in Battleblock will carry a child through a lifetime of side scrolling gaming.  While my daughter said she will never play the game again due to her failed jumping at all times, I will likely build a level just for them in the level editor to ease them into the genre.

That said, the height of nerdery this weekend was (finally) a game of Talisman 4th edition with the City expansion.  While the city was the worst of the 2nd edition expansions, Fantasy Flight has done good work bringing the board into the 4th edition paradigm.  Essentially, if you have a lot of gold, you go to the city to buy stuff or get transport to where you need to go.   It’s much easier to get around in and still has a jail as well as three guilds that can be joined (no Sheriff).  Just a few games back I was complaining that there were ways to accumulate tons of gold but no good place to spend it that was readily available.  Sure you may have gotten lucky and pulled a trainer and the like from one of the decks, but until City came around, gold was only used for healing up lives lost and buying a horse when available.  With all the expansions, the Adventure deck is so gigantic it’s rare that you will see the same cards at all in many games.  We have not, since the second expansion or so, flipped the Adventure deck– and this happened quite a bit in the older versions of the game.  This makes games more surprising, but you certainly can’t count on some of the core items (Wand, Ring, Unicorn, Runesword, Warhorse) coming up.  With City, you now have more control over your item build for your character.  It will be easier to say” ‘for this game, I would like to get X and Y objects to help me win’ and go and get them rather than just hoping they will come up.  The new full plate is pretty cool (4+ armor save and +1 strength).

after four hours of talisman!
after four hours of talisman!

Comparison with 2nd edition’s City brings up the question of “advanced” careers in Talisman which were not included in the new City expansions.  As Talisman was a GW game and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay has a career advancement system, 2nd edition Talisman added in the idea of advanced careers that can be purchased to upgrade your hero. There were not a lot of choices here but there were two in particular that were a bit of rapening if used correctly.  First was the High Mage.  Any high-craft hero could become the high mage by simply depositing a magic item in the city.  This gave a character two (!?) spells per turn and added and additional 2 craft.  Remember, unlike the new addition, players could not turn in defeated monsters for Craft so that 2 Craft is pure gold in 2nd editions. What’s more since 2nd ed. Talisman Dragons added a ton of magic items to the game, it was an easy thing to get some shitty magic trinket and suddenly be the most powerful spellcaster in the game with a quick trip to the city.  Most underpowered/low tier characters would immediately attempt to do this as their first set of moves in the game.   While still not on par with the Monk (who is laughably underpowered in 4th edition), Astropath or Prophetess, the High Mage was boss of almost all the other characters since the 2 craft bonus put him above all of the craft-attackers like the Ghoul, Wizard or Sorceress.  All that said, I do not miss the advanced characters.  It was a neat idea for the game, but wasn’t built into the entire system (I could easily see a talisman clone where the entire character leveling was choosing new careers) so felt like a bit of a shoddy addon– a much loved shoddy addon mind you.

I hope to get another Talisman game in this year– the next purchase in that line is Talisman Dragons which seems a bit overly complicated for what it brings to the table.  What next for 4th edition?  It’s got to be Timescape.  There’s no other place to go!


Our year in board gaming 2012

This year I didn’t get a ton of gaming in compared to previous years.  That said, the games I want to play have narrowed quite a bit as what we don’t have is TIME, so faster games are getting played more.  Gone are the weekends where we could conceivably play something for two days in a row or for even 8 hours straight.  Anything over 4 hours is really never going to hit the table again unless it’s either really good or there is some exceptional circumstances.

End of the summer and Fall was slower for gaming as usual, but there was some fervor for a few games that made people really want to get out and push some wood on cardboard.   Mostly, that fervor was around Eclipse, which is the clear winner for best game (and most played)  over the course of this year. I got in 18 games of it, and seeing as most Risk-like strategy games I own have been played maybe 3-5 times ever, that’s saying something.   The game is almost perfect for the 4X space genre and really, my complaints about it are the mediocre alien art rather than anything to do with the game itself.  The first expansion is also excellent.  While Eclipse games can sometimes be a bit boring if all the players turtle up or get a bad draw (or are eliminated)–it’s due to lack of experience on how to rack up the points.  While totally dominating the 4X space genre (bye bye Twilight Imperium), Eclipse by no means takes the place of Cosmic Encounter as both the best sci-fi board game and best board game ever made but shit– it’s close.

Other than Eclipse, Glory to Rome is my second favorite for the year.  While an older game, it had a reprint this year and it kicks ALL sorts of ass.  It’s what we all wanted Race for the Galaxy to be and just didn’t know it at the time.  There are just so many paths to victory, and while you are trying to set up your own stuff, like Race for the Galaxy, there’s much more interaction with other players.  I think this will get played an absolute TON in 2013.  Easy set up, easy to play, difficult to win and a Knizia level of nastiness makes for a total winner.

Second tier games that I liked but got pushed out by the two above:  King of Tokyo is the first of the equals here.  I love this game and will play it any time but it’s really light, doesn’t have  much strategy and I can see some people not liking the randomness of it.  There are some tough decisions to make in the game, but at it’s surface, it seems all about just rolling dice.   The dice are a factor however, so this is why I like to play 3-4 games in a sitting to even all that random out.  Secondly is the Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre.  This is a fun little game but with too many players, say 5+, the turns take forever and because you have to win 2 rounds the game can take 3-4 HOURS to get through.  Sitting down to just play a single round is well worth it.  While light and not very strategic, the art and getting to yell out the spells makes it a solid game to play when you don’t have a ton of time.

The last two are games I wanted to like, but am not sure about.  First is Blood Bowl Team Manager.  While a solid concept, I became frustrated in two four-player games where I was the last player to go on the first season of each game, limiting my play options.  It seemed impossible to catch up in either game and made me think that this is a serious design flaw.  While I love Blood Bowl, and Team Manager is a cool concept, I can’t see this hitting the table due to this balance issue.  In contrast,  In Nexus Ops, the players after the first get a bonus to their cash to balance out the power of the first turn.   Team Manager has no such fix and from my few plays at the wrong end of the table, it needs it.  Secondly: Feudality by Tom Wham.  This is also a fairly light game with a lot of randomness to it.  I’d describe it as Catan with fighting.    While enjoyable to play, the same dice issues that I have with Catan creep up in Feudality and it doesn’t seem like you can knee-cap the player closest to winning easy.  I don’t expect it to hit the table all that much.

Games that fell by the wayside this year a bit.   First off is Warhammer Fantasy Battle. I hate to say it but I only got in a few games this year while painting a lot more than I usually do.  I assume I’ll get in another game before the end of year, but this SHOULD have been played a lot more than it was.   Sure I could have packed up my shit and gone to the GW store any given Sunday for a game, but it’s tough when you have a basement set up with a table.

Secondly, I only got to play Cosmic Encounter FOUR times this year.  That’s a crying shame and has to be rectified in 2013.

I did get in some old stuff this year that proved to be pretty awesome.   The first was Epic 40K, the third iteration of the Space Marine rules– yes the ones that TANKED after 6 months of support from GW. I was surprisingly pleased with the rules and wish now that I had played it a lot more in the heyday (if there was one) for this ruleset.  Bolt Action uses these rules (essentially), so if you are looking at a modern iteration, that’s where to go.  Following the old GW vein, I was coerced into playing 40K, a game I rather loathe since the new ‘mass close combat’ style rules came out, but in it’s 2nd edition which still has some tactical depth for the scale with individual models rather than moving globs of models en masse (which is ok for EPIC scale, but 28 mm skirmish? No).

Shockingly, Advanced Space Crusade got raised out of the dust and played.  This is one of Games Workshops pinnacles of design with both a campaign game and tactical game wrapped in one.  While not something I could play a lot of, it’s a solid experience and one of GW’s best 40K offshoots.

So that was 2012– what is there to look forward to in 2013?  First off is Talisman City.  Fantasy Flight is tackling one of the more difficult to design expansions to Talisman.  If the success of Dungeon is any indication, I have a lot of confidence that City will be excellent.  Talisman has a ton of expansions at this point and I’ve played with all of them but Dragons, which looks like a lot more work than integrating the rest of the expansions.   Moongha Invaders is the next on my list for 2013– and a kickstarted I’ve supported.  Other than that, there’s not too much that’s coming out next year for board games that I know of now.  I’m sure there will be something to grab at my hard earned cash and if not, there is always Eclipse…

GenCon 2011

I actually made it to the Con this year, family in tow just off a weekend+ of strep throat for me and the missus as well as my car getting totaled in a t-bone on the way to work.  We were crossing our fingers up to the last minute that the one uninfected shorty in the family would stay healthy and she did: in her body at least.   After 5-6 hours at Gencon, I will never be sure if she’ll be right again.  As any attendee is well aware, some of the things viewed there can never, ever be unseen.  There was one moment of almost-regret when, while being dragged through the morass in the dealer hall by her and her cousin, we essayed into a dank waft a malodor the likes of which neither of their young, unblanched olfactory organs had experienced before.   While I winced and imagined the sort of lifestyle choices that accompanied such a reek, they just pushed on, dragging me to whatever corner of the dealer hall their fancy took them.

Saturday I was free from the burdens of unprotected sex and I while I missed the Shadowfist world championship by 23 minutes, it gave me ample time to wander around and get some demos and shop.  Here are some of the results I can remember.

Ventura: new game by Fantasy Flight dealing with the Condotierre period in Italy.  Interesting take on the whole ‘hexes make up the board’ mechanic that Nexus Ops, Kings and Things and Twilight Imperium use.  You draw and lay the tiles nearest your own controlled area, so the board builds out form a conflicted center.  All and all, an easy, fairly elegant area control game that I would have picked up immediately had the price point not been… drum roll please: 80$ !  That’s what I would expect to pay for a big box hobby game like Descent or Ikusa.  While it seemed like a good game, the price point is going to crush it.

Blood Bowl League Manager:   An insta-buy when it comes out, this was the belle of the ball for me.  I was highly skeptical they would be able to pull this off, and they did!  It’s a little deck building a bit of bluffing, some luck and the most important part: they integrated the block dice really well into the whole game mechanic.   Essentially, you have a deck of your players and you play them on different games that make up a season.  It’s abstracted but essentially represents you pulling out all the stops for a game with a player position for whatever effect in that game.  If you have more strength than the opponent for each game, you win and get whatever benefits the game provides.  This could be more player cards, some team special abilities or special coaches (or just fan factor).  Whoever has the most fan factor at the end of the league wins.   Looks like it can scale with players and really easy to play a short game or a really long campaign.  Can’t wait to get my hands on this one.  FF ran out of their 300 copies on Friday morning, or so I heard.  Damn.

Rune Age:  Another new one from Fantasy Flight.  I half-heartedly tried to get into a demo of this but after looking over someone’s shoulder and seeing how Dominion-esque it was, I took a pass.   Some will like this a lot.  Unless someone says it’s not like Dominion at all, I’ll take a pass on this one.

Talisman Dragons: it was there, but after the 10 hours worth of games a few weeks back, I was just not ready to pick this up yet.  Definite purchase, just later in the Fall.

Shopping.  I was tentatively looking for some Dreamblade stuff and it was found only at one booth and fairly expensive.  I missed last year’s con, but there was plenty around in 2009 to be had, mostly for a song.  It’s a solid area-control miniatures game and with the figures super cheap, no reason not to pick up a bunch.  As they ramp up in price; not so much.

AT-43 was also on my list, and I found one booth with a couple of very cheap items I needed, and another booth with a bunch that was half off retail, but still expensive for my tastes.  Again in 2009 there was  a ton to be had (mostly due to Fantasy Flight’s liquidation) but that well has very much dried up.  AT-43 is an excellent game and I’m quite close to having a Therian and Red Block army of some size to meddle with.  Along with AT-43 is the old 3.5 Confrontation stuff– amazing minatures for the most part and one booth had a bunch, but they just didn’t have anything I really needed.  I may be kicking myself someday for not breaking the bank picking some of it up.   The main issue is, I paint so slowly the stuff will sit in boxes for a decade before a brush hits it at all.

Warhammer: I found a booth that had TONS of bits and I will be hitting that every year that they make it.   I would literally spend the whole con going through their shit. They didn’t have anything exceptionally old, but had a mess of stuff for any and all of the big box GW games (Necromunda, Blood Bowl, BFG, Man O War, etc).

Sadly, I didn’t buy a single ‘new’ game to say, like most years,  “a ha! I got this at Gencon, we must play!”  This is due to blood bowl league manager being sold out and Ventura– well 80$ was just too much to spend.

"I'm not sure what that smell was my childe, let's move on quick!"

Shadowfist.  Though I missed the nationals Saturday morning, I did make it to the invite-only tournament for past tournament winners, which started right after the morning tournament final concluded after a 4 hour final!   I was able to pull out the win after getting a tie in my first game, winning my second game after a long slough (thank you petroglyphs!) and winning in short order the three man final.   In the final against ascended and architects (least that’s what I saw), I started strong and got a High Noon face off using a foundation character (thank you Yellow Senshi Chamber!) and a ring of gates out (protecting from stuff going back into my hand which my deck hates).  The Ascended player laid out bull market (5 power to all players) as a response to the end of my turn, allowing me the power to lay out a site and be at play and take for my next turn.  Then he announced that he had gotten all Feng Shui in his draw.  Now, getting all Feng Shui at a time like that really sucks, but to announce it in the final of a tournament–it basically said to both myself and the other player that he was pretty much out of denial cards and we needed to go for the win.  The Architect player to my right brought out some little stuff, but couldn’t take a site (thank you Final Brawl!) and after gaining 4 power in addition to the 5 from the Bull Market, I was able to lay out a foundation character, a Big Brusier and have a power left for a confucian stability to stop the inevitable zzzzzap (which came in the form of an Op Killdeer).  Going for the win, the brusier got redirected onto a 9 body site (he’s only 8 fighting) , but my foundation character’s damage was redirected onto that 9-body site via the yellow senshi chamber, reducing it to a feastable number for the big brusier, for which the table had no answer.  All in all, I got real lucky with my draws and was able to capitalize on both the bad luck of the other players as well as some mistakes on their part.

The deck list is here.

My MVP cards:

Character: Big Bruiser

Event: Blue Meditation

Edge: Shield of Pure Soul

Feng Shui: Petroglyphs

State: none in deck

After winning this and the Wisconsin state championship this year after many years of tournaments of just barely not making it into the finals, I’m looking at a long decade or so of getting my ass handed to me in competitive play as I well deserve.  Bring it!

Summer Gaming Deluge

Well I had a week off and gaming got friggin’ done.  A lot of it.  Game after game of Shadowfist, two 5 hour + games of Talisman 4th Edition, Dragon Lairds and a weekend of  handful after handful of D10’s being thrown for Exalted to top the shit off.    Thanks to everyone that suffered through the debauchery, the rump-gasps, rank foists, dank, oppressive basement conditions and cursing as it was probably the most solid week of gaming I’ve had since 2004 or so.   To have two days in a row that consisted of waking up at 10AM, stumbling around trying to find food and the preparing for a few hours for another almost all nighter of the ultimate nerdery is really a gift that one at my stolid age and life-choices shouldn’t be allowed to have.

Shadowfist:  Some great games were played  and beatings delivered (as usual).  My only issue is that 4-player is the maximum enjoyable size.  Five player just starts to break down, not the game engine at all, but the ability for players to play with the intensity that a multiplayer CCG requires for that long of a time.  I’d rather get 2-3 three player games over the same span of time than one big-ass five or six player game.   My decks did OK, with the exception of my A-list deck, which did phenomenally well in the hands of some of the less experienced players (I never played the deck myself).  One player, we’ll call him STEVE, got Ting Ting, the Golden Gunman and Steven Wu out onto the table at the same time.   Even though he didn’t win that game, this was a moral victory forever.    The most interesting deck I saw out of the group was a horrific use of Bonechill by Mouth.

Dragon Lairds:  Becoming a favorite, though one person, we’ll call him SCOTT, wins every game all the time.  While this is derivative of another game (can’t remember the name), I wouldn’t play without the Tom Wham (and friends) art work.

Talisman 4th Edition:  Like Shadowfist, if you have more than 4 players, you’re just not going to be able to sustain the intensity over 5 hours of play.  Though the two games we got in were fun, I think that’s quite enough Talisman until the Dragon expansion is released this Fall.   The new horse deck is great as well as the trinkets and non-item rewards you can get, though I am still wrestling with the ability of players to gain Craft from monster trophies.  Overall though with more than 3, I would say this is just not going to be on the menu for a long time to come.   Notable is that someone tried to play the Monk (who got awful nerfed in the new version) and failed.  This is understandable when your only power is to have +3 to normal Combat.

Exalted: What can I say, I know the issues everyone on the internet has with this game and yet when we play it, it’s  hellaciously fun.  Not as much combat happened during the sessions we played compared to the last session with these characters, so only a hundred dice hit the table instead of hundreds and hundreds.  I’d been planning to run one of the (very few) published adventures (with some tweaks) for the game and it worked out well, inserting some of my own characters in here and there and decreasing the difficulty when an experienced RPG gamer pulled a Steel Reserve fueled newb mistake and wandered off during a dungeon crawl portion only to be jumped and nearly destroyed by one of the most obvious traps ever conceived.  While the combat has an awesome amount of crunch, I’m still not totally sold on social combat.  It’s interesting, but one of my players mentioned immediately: “if this is dropping my willpower, why wouldn’t I just instantly attack?”  Exactly.  In two instances of social combat from published adventures, both have antagonists that speak through other mediums so they cannot be instantly attacked (Return to the Tomb of Five Corners and Daughter of Nexus).  That’s telling about what players are apt to do during social combat when up against an actual enemy.  From reading the interweb tubes over the last year or so, and my shock at antagonists from the Scroll of Exalts with 50+ charms, I was thinking of converting the whole campaign to Feng Shui or FATE, but after these sessions I just don’t see the point.  I won’t mince words though that Exalted is a heavy bitch of a game to prep for and run as a GM, and as you get to higher power levels, well nigh impossible.

Yet another Talisman Expansion!

I’ve gotten in only a couple plays since the Sacred Pool expansion (they were great games and it’s a solid edition to the game) and now we have an announcement of the next Talisman expansion, not city— not Timescape: DRAGONS! With the 2nd edition Dragon expansion setting records for prices for ink printed on cardboard, I can see why FF would take on this subject.   Their take on it looks very different from both 2nd and third editions, no big tower in the middle of the board (but a new board space to replace the center region), no giant corner section to further balkanize the game, and, because it’s Fantasy Flight, looks like a boatload of tokens.  Six new characters are included, looks like a Dragon Hunter, a Dragon Priestess, some sort of barbarian, what looks like a Harpy and an elf with strange pants.

I don’t get in enough games of Talisman, granted, it’s a 3-4 hour game but I’m hoping when this comes out, I’ll be able to get in a game or two out of pity from the game group for my purchase…

Talisman Sacred Pool – There can be only one!

We finally got a 5-man game with the new Fantasy Flight expansion to Talisman 4th edition: the Sacred Pool.  Starting characters were Rogue (Scott), Highlander (moi), Valkyrie (Cain), Vampiress (Jeff) and Gypsy (Chris).   None of the new characters were selected even though the Magus and Dark Knight were drawn.

I was the Highlander and pretty much everything went my way during the game, however, tactically (and I know some may roll their eyes at this because it’s all just random rolls right?), my goals were to get at least one strength increase from the main board before hitting the Highlands, then, if possible, clip a few magic items off the craft ladies (Rogue, Vampiress or Gypsy) on my way to the Dungeon, barring death, then head up to the Middle and Center region FTW.  I was able to slip through the Highlands and crush the Eagle King: getting the one-shot teleport item as a reward.  I then hit the Vampiress and grabbed a +2 craft Sword off of her, which really helped during my decent into the dungeon (highlander ain’t the smartest bloke to start).  The hapless Highlander wasn’t able to beat the Lord of Darkness on the first try– but that just gave him an excuse to rush right back into the dungeon for more beatings.

During this time, both the Gypsy and the Vampiress fell prey to the Highland ICE BRIDGE space in comical fashion and were replaced by the Prophetess and the Ghoul.  The stack of cards sitting on the ice bridge  space was a veritable mountain of goodness, but no one else attempted it during the game.   This brings up a  key point with Highlands and Dungeon–I very much prefer to play the game with the published variant stating that once you start to go into one of the side boards, you have to declare that you are leaving to go the other direction– and then you cannot switch to go back through the board until you have exited the board itself.  Without this rule, no one would ever land on the Ice Bridge space on purpose.  Since the Highlands are relatively easy for weak characters, there should be some danger in getting to the relatively weak Eagle King.

We didn’t get too into the newest mechanic from Sacred Pool, the quest reward deck. I think only myself and one other person were able to pull from the deck during this game.  That said, I love it.  It’s simple and builds on the importance of the Middle Region.  Next time we play, I want to combine the Quest Cards with the Warlock’s Quest ending card and see how it works with a deluge of quest reward cards hitting the table.

Anyway, the Highlander made it to the middle and a Battle Royale was drawn which pulls all characters to the middle for a throw down if they have a Talisman on them.  This eliminated all but the Valkyrie who was summoned to the Crown of Command space only to be struck down by the highlander (after some spell chicanery that might have let her win with a little luck).