Written and Directed by Chris Bailey (@mopeycomposer)

Adapted for Session Report by Keith M. Sandler (@slightmisplay)

Wruze “Roo”, half-drow rogue— Gab-tron

Osrick, human fighter – Clark (@this_isnt_clark)

Phlaxen Phlox, halfling ranger- Laura (@lbsamuelsson)

Sawiya “Boo” Bu, air genasi (wizard?) – Sarah

Captain Valla, half-elf pirate (fighter?) — Erin 

Jarren, human (quarter-elf) ranger — Keith (@slightmisplay)

Scene i

INT, Dungeon, Day/Night???

The party is split, Jarren in the north room, the remainder in the room with the secret door where we had taken our rest.  

Osrick hears Jarren’s cry for assistance and comes into the room to his aid.  Jarren frowns.

JARREN: Great.

Jarren is able to drag a nearby table to barricade the door that is being assaulted in his room.

Meanwhile, the secret door in the other room is being forced open from the other side, despite the party’s efforts to block it.  Whether it’s gnolls or gnomes (svirfneblin!) or gnus, it seems they’ll be entering.  Now.

Back in the north room, Jarren gives Osrick a knowing look.  Osrick returns it with an unknowing nod.  Jarren pushes the table back away from the door and whips it open, reaching through it to grab, hopefully, a gnome throat or collar.  It is not a gnome.  It’s a gnoll.  Jarren realizes this as his hand flails futilely at the creature’s crotch.  

The room to the south is being invaded by the gnolls including the larger, fiercer gnoll that appears to be their leader.  The party gives up on trying to close the door, now concentrating on beating back or slaying the assailants.  Phlax takes a spear hit, making her into a shish-ka-hobbit.  She counters by scrambling through the fiend’s legs, stabbing upwards at his femoral arteries as she goes.  She succeeds in dealing out pain and carnage.  A good thing, as the hits have not exactly kept on coming owing to the strong defenses of these enemies.  The party misses the good old days of carving up slices of Jell-o.  The thing drops from Phlax’s attacks even as one of his underlings follows though the doorway.

Osrick comes to Jarren’s aid, as another gnoll joins the fray at this doorway, as well.  Osrick deals out some sword hits to the lead gnoll, but Jarren can’t penetrate the creature’s defenses with his own shortswords. Jarren drops the swords and takes aim with his crossbow at the lead gnoll, firing a bold into its filthy mouth and through the back of its throat.  Its eyes go dark, and Jarren grabs its’ slouching head, and fires through it again, hitting it’s companion.  

The battle in the southerly room is going the party’s way, even as some of the svirf’s enter the chamber.  They do not appear to be hostile, but they are extremely wary of Roo.  Racial slurs are uttered in Undercommon towards the half-drow.  

Osrick and Jarren continue their pursuit of their gnoll through the large chamber back towards their comrades.  It’s a classic flanking maneuver, and they are good at what they do.  The second gnoll is slain, and Jarren seeks high ground atop one of the large tables, trying to get a clean shot at the gnomes beyond the secret door… should it become necessary.  There are several svirfneblins in this chamber, as well, that Osrick and Jarren are eyeing as potential threats or bargaining chips.

Scene ii

The svirfneblins appear to be negotiating with Roo… but his translations do not make things seem copacetic.  The recurring theme, according to the drow, is that they may not are able to defeat us now, but they will most definitely kill us and/or take all of our stuff when we sleep.  

Roo now notices that his legs feel heavy, sluggish.  He remembers the fourth amethyst retrieved from the far room.  And the note attached to it.  

I should grind this up in case I ever need to play a Treant.

The party isn’t entirely sure what this means, but the consensus is that the gem contains some properties of… making someone’s legs feel like they are stone or rooted in the ground.  

As untrustworthy as Roo is, he’s the only one who shares a language with the svirfneblin, so we’re stuck with him as our diplomat.  It is not a good situation.  The svirfneblin are not forthcoming with any information that seek— how long they have been here, when the gnoll attacks started, what this place is, or what in the hell is going on here— but they are willing to bring us to their camp or home to negotiate.  Perhaps we can learn the locations of the remaining items we seek (headpiece and staff).  

Jarren doesn’t trust the gnomes… or Roo… so he warily leads the rest of the party, staying steadily ten feet behind Roo who in turn trails the deep gnomes.  The entire group heads through the north door from the large “battle” chamber.  It’s a long corridor, but it’s lit (AF!!!), so that’s a plus.  We haven’t travelled far when we hear a nasty weird voice treating with the gnomes, apparently bargaining or seeking tribute in the forms of gems.  The source of voice approaches the party.  It doesn’t look pleasant.  It’s a strange creature apparently made of rock and earth, with legs, eyes, and arms arranged on its squat body outside of what most of us upworlders would consider natural.  It’s head is crowned with a maw or mouth.

Jarren wants to destroy this abomination against the natural order immediately, but Roo wants to bargain with it.  They split the difference and leave the corridor, Jarren and Boo closing and barricading the door with a nearby bench.

As he further realizes the effects of the amethyst on him, he tries to get rid of it, but it appears to be stuck to him.  He tries to shake it off, but it remains on his hand, sliding around like a Michael Moshun contact juggling routine or some sort of slapstick comedy shtick.  He then tries to wipe it off like a booger, to no avail.  Plhax refuses to even touch the cursed thing when asked to try to take it off.

Someone (possibly not Osrick or Roo this time!) proceeds through the door in the southwest corner of the large chamber.  Because the party clearly does not have enough options… or problems.  

Scene iii

The group heads into what appears to be a large amphitheater or coliseum.  Jarren immediately has visions of the party being forced into mortal combat against one another, staring at the menacing volcanic glow high above the north end of the theatre.  

Roo wants to grind up the cursed amethyst and snort the dust, but there’s no time for that.  The comrades hear a hauntingly serene and beautiful song emanating from an… angelic?… creature near the lava glow.  Phlax, Sawiya, and Jarren are enthralled, succumbing to the siren song.  Which is Enya.  It is always Enya.  The three thralls (that’s fun to say) find themselves unwittingly proceeding up the aisle way stairs of the amphitheater towards the song’s source.  

Stadiums.  We’re being summoned by sirens into doing stadiums.  This is horrible. We continue our sluggish trek towards the top.

To be concluded…

Theatre of Horrors: Act II

Written and Directed by Chris Bailey

Adapted for Session Report by Keith M. Sandler (Slight Misplay)

DM – Chris Bailey

Wruze “Roo” – Gab-tron
Osrick – Clark
Phalxen Phlox – Laura
Sawiya “Boo” Bu – Sarah
Captain Valla – Erin (not present this session)
Jarren – Keith

Scene i

Int., Dungeon, Day/Night???

JARREN: Guys! We could use a little help in here?

Jarren fires his crossbow at the approaching gelatinous cube. Osrick does the same before falling back behind Jarren toward the two doors.

JARREN: So help me if you open that other door, Osrick.

Osrick eyes the other door as other party members come to assist, shooting at the disgusting but geometrically organized intruder. The cube puts forth a hand… tentacle… thing towards Jarren, attempting to throttle him. Jarren is too quick and dodges beneath he pseudopod, slicing at the strangeness with his pair of short swords.

SFX: Phlip!!!!

A new cast members appears in the large room where the rest of the party originated in this dungeon theater. She is short. She is plucky. She has a whip. She is extremely disoriented. She is Phlaxen Phlox.

The gel cube pursues Jarren further down the hall, cutting off the door to the south. His only remaining choices are to go through the door to the north, be squished and absorbed by the gel, or… fight his way through the cube? He steels himself for just this, when his comrades from the south door are able to reduce the gelatinous abomination to a puddle of inert but still caustic goo.

“What colour is the gelatinous cube?”


“Oh, gods… it’s not even flavoured Jell-o. No grapes. No tangerines. No marshmallows. What sick and twisted fiend would create such a thing and let it loose upon our world?”


Jarrin wipes the ooze from his weapons and snatches up the amethyst which is now lying on the ground before him. He also finds the sword which Osrik has been eyeing and hands it to him.

JARREN: This what you were so interested in?

OSRICK: Yes!!!

Jarren rolls his eyes. Osrick does not notice or does not care. The rest of the party collects the other shiny bits (gems and coins) found in the disintegrating remains of the gel, the acidic sludge burning several of their fingers as they do so. The party regroups back in the mannequin room… except for Osrick who decides to open the north door in the hallway, and Osrick Jarren who follows him with an audible sigh… which Osrick again does not notice or care about.

Scene ii

Osrick opens the door. The room beyond seems well appointed, containing a bed, a table, and a tapestry on the east wall. It also contains two hyena-headed demonic-looking humanoids muttering about “killing them all.” They spot Osrick, so they’ll start with him. Battle ensues!

Again, Jarren calls out to his comrades for help. Phlox has recovered from her teleportation sickness and joins the rest of the group in the hallway as the beasts emerge from their room to combat the party. Osrick falls back out of the fancy room into the hallway, followed by one of the nasties who is taking up the doorway. These baddies are much harder to hit than the gelatinous cube. Because they’re not just semi-sentient jell-o.

Roo takes a shot with her hand-crossbow, trying to thread the needle and shoot past Jarren. She critically fails, hitting Jarren in the thigh.

Boo contemplates faerie fire, but it doesn’t seem to be worthwhile due to the positioning of everyone, so she casts Sacred Flame, hurling a ball of divine fire at the beast in the doorway. Phlox lashes out with her whip at the assailant, trying to spin him back into the room behind him at Jarren’s urging. It doesn’t work out, but she does give the creature some severe whip-lash. (Hey-o!) Roo bests the creature, and the one remaining in the room advances on Jarren who had flung a hand-axe at him unsuccessfully a moment prior. The two spar for a moment before the beastie decides we’re not worth dying for, at which point he turns and flees. Jarren takes the opportunity to throw a dagger into the back of his neck, taking him out.

Jarren gives Roo back her crossbow bolt after extracting it from his leg.

JARREN: I believe this is yours?

The group is now a bit worse for wear and explores the chamber ahead with an eye for defense to see if they can take a quick breather before further exploration. Their efforts prove fruitful— a potion is found, as well as some loot on the fallen monsters including the third amethyst! Yoink! Also, the tapestry conceals a hidden door! There are no plates on the wall near this one, the party notes. Also, Roo’s keen eye for Under-architecture detects the presence of a secret door on the west wall, apparently operated by a moving brazier beside it.

Roo gives Jarren the remains of her healing potion, and the group takes a bit of respite after sealing off the doors as well as possible to prevent any intrusions and pulling down the tapestry to gain a clean view of the door in case any unwanted visitors should call upon us.

Scene iii

After the rest, Roo opens the secret door.

A battle rages within the large chamber beyond. A group of gray-skinned deep gnomes (svirfneblin!!!) are engaged in combat with more of the hyena-demons (gnolls) including a larger one who appears to be their leader. Jarren wants to explore the north door to see if the party can flank whoever emerges victorious, but Roo’s hatred of the deep gnomes gets the best of her, and she fires her hand crossbow at one of the svirf’s (Larff) provoking a cry in Undercommon:

“What the fuck?!”

The party then closes the secret door, hoping to wait out the battle. Roo explores the door beyond where the tapestry had been. Jarren proceeds north to look for a tactical advantage.

In Roo’s room, she discovers another amethyst (wait… a fourth???) with a note attached to it with alchemical advice. Roo also finds a costume jewelry crown.

Jarren’s room is well-appointed as the previous one was, with a door on the west wall, apparently leading into the chamber with the gnomes and gnolls. (That’s a lot of gn-words, but we haven’t seen any gnu’s yet.) That’d be gnarly.) Upon the table in this room is some sort of seeing stone, containing within a scene of a monologue apparently cut short by the performer’s flight from the stage. Jarren searches the rest of the room, but as he does so, the door to the battle chamber is forced open. Jarren slams it back shut, overpowering those on the other side. Once again…

JARREN: Guys! I could use some help here…!

To be continued….

Theater of Horrors

Act I

Scene i

Theater of Horrors

Written and Directed by Chris Bailey

Session Report by Keith M. Sandler (Slight Misplay)

The Players:

Jarren – Keith (Slight Misplay)

Sawiya – Sarah

Captain Valla – Erin

Osric – Clark 

Wruze – Gabi

Phlaxen Phlox Wombleale – Laura (absent this session)

Scene i

Int.  Dungeon.  Day?/Night?

The party awakens, with the world’s worst teleportation hangover, in what seems to be the backstage area of some sort of theater.  Predominant in the room is a large pile of junk, mostly wooden left-over scenery and prop pieces from our take of it, as well as a large tapestry depicting a slice of life from a small town.  On either side of the tapestry, mounted on the wall, are two plates, decorated with icons.  One is of a hand, one is of a sword.  Also in the room are about a dozen of what appear to be mannequins. 

[DM Note: There are 2 skeletons–(one now destroyed, the other still in-animate.]

These life-size figures depict different characters or archtypes— a knight, a hobgoblin, a skeleton, an old lady, a barbarian, a priest, and an elf forest-warrior.

The party rummages through the rubble in the room, looking for anything of use or a clue to where they may be and why.  Our memory is hazy on or purpose here.  We don’t find any clues, but there is a door hidden behind the rubble on the west wall, adding to the doors on the north and south walls as additional points of exit.

Gabi wastes no time in causing mischief, putting her hand on the hand plate.  Instantly, she disappears to the rest of the party, finding herself in the town depicted by the tapestry.  She is very content to stay there for a while.

Jarrin decides to test a theory.  He crosses the room intending to drag the skeleton’s hand to the plate, but before he can work on his hypothesis… the skeleton animates, attacking him!  A battle ensues, and a hobgoblin zombie mannequin also animates, drawing other characters into the fray.  We remember that Erin was careful not to touch the priest mannequin on her way across the room.  The zomb-goblin seems to be exuding some sort of effect which plays on our emotions, but we are too strong of spirit for it to have much of an effect on anyone at this point.

We defeat our strange assailants, Gabi returns, and we trek through the south door as we remember some of our purpose here— we must find pieces of a magical staff for our employer.  We may be in or near the Underdark (UNDERDOOOOOM!!!!)  We know not what dangers may be present, but there must be some, otherwise, why would a group of rough and tumble adventurers such as us be sent on such an errand?  

Scene ii

In the south room (after a small connecting hall), there is a wardrobe full of costumes.  Gabi, now back with us and extolling the virtues of tapestry-land, rifles through the clothing looking for any objects of our quest… or anything flattering for her to wear.  Further back in the room is a desk with some pages on it.  There’s also another southerly door.  Through it Jarrin goes.

The room he discovers contains two busts on tables, one of a man, one of a woman.  Jarrin picks up the woman head, and it immediately animates and begins spouting speeches even as it glows in different colours.  The colours change seemingly with the personality of the voice.  Is this some sort of idol to theater gods/goddesses?  As the head glows black, Jarrin drops the bust on the floor as he shouts to his comrades to come join him and help in this investigation.  As he proceeds back to collect his party, the male head animates and begins speaking… in riddles…

[DM Note: Note that you vaguely recognized the, white at-rest version of the head as a statue of Neutralia, goddess of neutrality, and patron goddess of the theatre. As the head animated, it seemed to give speeches that corresponded to various different alignments. Also, you remember that the object you are looking for is called the Staff of Neutralia.] 

The party gathers, and the riddles are cleverly solved (by party members better at this sort of thing than Jarrin).  As the correct guesses are made, gems spew forth from the mouth of the male bust.  One of them is one of the items we are looking for!  The others are shiny and somewhat valuable.  

Scene iii

The head being out of riddles and the other head being exceedingly annoying (drama chicks… amiright?), the party heads back to the room they started in.  Two more mannequins have been animated— the old lady and the barbarian.  Neither seems as zombie-like as they had before.  They seem confused and not very helpful.  Gabi wants to slay the remaining mannequins outright.  Jarrin takes issue with this.  They haven’t caused any harm, and some of them, when animated, seem to be innocent, at least for now.  Should they threaten us, we can make that call.  The issue seems to be settled for now.  

Scene iv

Jarrin and Clark head through the north door.  It’s dark in this room.  There’s a dead end to the left, and the corridor proceeds further to the right.  Clark has a torch and sees the glitter of copper pieces on the floor by the dead end.   He enters to collect it despite Jarrin’s protests to exercise caution.  Clark proceeds down the corridor and spies… a floating sword!  Being a swordsmith… sorry, being the WORLD’S GREATEST SWORDSMITH, he proceeds to investigate, reaching for the sword.  It’s now apparent there are other items floating in the hallway.  


It’s too late.  Clark’s extendedhand slows as it enters some transparent but visceral substance.  

JARRIN:  Fuck. 

Jarrin realizes also, that he’s left Gabi in the room with the mannequins.

JARRIN:  (calling back to party)  Guys!  We need some help in here!!!

Jarrin draws his bow and shoots at the symmetrical gelatinous monstrosity sliding down the hallway, Clark’s hand still within. 

Annnnnd SCENE.

Say… In the Dark…

Session Report: King of Tokyo: Dark Edition, May 8-9, 2020, and slight review

While browsing for some new ships to add to my budding X-Wing collexion, I noticed the new Dark Edition of King of Tokyo was being heavily promoted.

I’d played the original King of Tokyo about a decade ago (at least it seems that long ago) at a Unity Games con (R.I.P.), and I liked it enough to gift it to a friend of mine who is heavily into Kaiju. (I don’t have enough monster movie interest to feel right using that term, just like I will never be able to sign off with “peace” without feeling like a tool, but that’s neither here nor there).  I never got around to purchasing this game myself, as I’ve seldom played light or filler games in the past few years, and the artwork in the edition I had played was also fairly cartoony—not really my style.  I eyed this game off and on over the years, thinking it might be fun to try with the kids at some point, but it was never really a priority.

Recently, L has been expressing interest in playing Rampage (now re-named Terror in Meeple City, but we all know what it really is) with me the kids.  This, of course, re-triggered my obsessive need to round out my collection.  I mean, I can’t just have ONE gigantic-monster-smashes-city game on my shelf, right?  The demons in my head spurred me onward, the quick glimpses of the new Dark graphics pushed me over the edge, and I pulled the trigger.  

The kids were excited to see what was in the package that had arrived Friday morning.  No sooner had they glimpsed the box art when I heard the words come out of Ash’s mouth, “Can we play this game today?”  I remembered this game as being quick, easy to teach, and accessible even to small kids.  Yeah, the box says ages 8 and up, and my kids are 5 and 7.   But my kids are gamers.  And smart.  Fuck what the box says.  “Yes,” I answered.  Yes we can.”

“Can we play this game today?” 

“Yes. Yes we can.”

But back to that box.  I was immediately impressed with the outward presentation of this game.  The stark colours and clean presentation set this apart from the previous edition had played.  This is clearly intended to be a grown-up fluffy, light, dice-chucking kids game.  A beautiful touch is the cardboard that has the name of the game along with play time, number of players, and appropriate ages for the game… is a removable “out-sert.”  Once that is appropriately chucked in the trash, the box top has no words, just the graphic of a glowing gigantic lizard peaking through the smokey gray cityscape through which it is tromping.  It’s… quite stunning, really, and a far cry from the cartoony graphics of the previous version.

The kids were, of course, excited to get playing.  The board’s graphics are simple and functional, and the board itself is surprisingly small for a game about monsters smashing up a city.  Honestly, this game doesn’t really need much of a board at all, but the inclusion of one just… adds fun.  There are circular spots for Tokyo City and Tokyo Bay as well as enough room outside both of those locations to park your monster while they lick their wounds or prime their next onslaught against the monsters occupying the actual locations.  It’s going to be crowded out there with 4-6 player games, but that’s kind of the point.  Also present are simple and language-free graphics explaining the requirements of the new Wickedness track as well as the benefits to moving into and/or remaining in Tokyo City/Tokyo Bay. Also new to this edition, is the board art, which is darker (surprise surprise) with some excellent touches such as craters filled with glowy green ooze.  And it’s embossed.  They didn’t need to do that.  But they did.  And, boy, am I happy they did.  I was just as impressed with these little touches as I was when I first unboxed Space Hulk (see blog entry).  Actually, I was more impressed.  I expected a game at Space Hulk’s price point to be of the highest quality.  For King of Tokyo, this touch wasn’t necessary at all.  But it adds another touch of class.  The board itself is a mere quarter of a “standard” fold-out board, just filling out the now seemingly-standard box size for modern non-epic games.

Ash remarked at the board size, which prompted me to ask him, “What does that tell you?  Do you think you need a big board to have a fun game?”  He was about to find out.  Ash picked the mecha-dragon (because, duh) , and Scarlett chose the pink bunny mech.  I opted for the traditional Godzilla style monster.  In my head, it’s a tarrasque.  And it will always be a tarrasque.  The characters have no special powers other than looking cool,, which they all do very well, so this was a nice change from some of the more involved games I’ve been playing recently with Ash (X-Wing, Gloomhaven, Ghost Stories) where further explanation is needed before starting to play.  I don’t think I talked at all about the rules before we started chucking dice.

And these dice.  Let me tell you something, if your central game mechanic is rolling dice, you would do well to make your dice hefty, easy to read, and pretty.  And have your players roll at least two at a time.  It’s about hand feel, people.  And this game… far exceeds what a dice throwing experience needs in order to be fun.  These dice are big.  These dice are heavy.  The numbers and icons are clear.  You get to throw six dice at a time minimum each turn.    And then roll them again.  And again.  The previous version of this game had chunky dice, as well.  But these… with their smokey gray base colour and bright green icons…  these dice are a step above.  These dice are wonderful.

While discussing components, I should also note that the card artwork has, I believe, also been updated, and while maintaining a bit of cartoonish quality, the fonts of the card titles evoke more of a Creature Double-Feature UHF movie night vibe, which is a welcome bit of nostalgia for me.

This game is just simple enough for that to be possible, even with young children.  Scarlett was as engaged as I could hope for until her giant robot bunny fell.  Ash was even more invested.  The smile on his face as he contemplated his rerolls, weighing character abilities vs. healing vs. damage dealing vs. points…  it was marvelous to see.  This was the most tense game I’ve ever played against my seven year old son.  There is enough luck to mitigate and skill differences.  The cards and new wickedness tiles are simple.  I did have to read and explain them to Ash at first, as he’s not great with reading small text yet and with fully internalizing how they translate into rules, but he’s excellent with remembering what things do, as has been evidenced by his fielding an 8-ship Imperial squadron against my Rebel scum in X-Wing.

A great part of this game is how light it is, being fueled by the dice mechanic.  Certainly there are strategies and tactics to employ in order to decide which dice to keep and reroll depending upon your current strategy, but… there are dice…  there are so many dice.  And, like I said, these are very very VERY good dice.   Still, there are decisions to be made based around how your beautiful, meaty dice roll.  Do you go for straight victory points and try to outrun your opponents to 20, potentially capturing more powers via the new Wickedness tiles on your way?  Do you try to whittle away your opponents’ health or try to heal yourself?  Do you try to go sideways and enhance your powers to do any of these things by purchasing cards?  All of these are viable, and they allow for both strategic play, but they also require a bit of improvisation to your schemes, because, again, DICE.

After Scarlett dropped from our first game, Ash and I slugged it out for a while.  Now, I’m not one to let my kids win at games.  Or anyone for that matter.  I don’t believe in it.  But I don’t always play my absolute dastardliest against my children, especially Ash, as I’m trying hard to help him overcome his defeatism and sore-loserdom.  I didn’t have to worry about that this game.  He kicked my ass.  He played exceedingly well, and seeing his mind work as he decided whether to and which dice to preroll was a father’s joy.  And it paid off for him, as well.  He beat me soundly our first game.

Slight Misplay:  I didn’t quite understand that the new tiles are tiered, with 4 3-level cards, 4 6-level cards, and 2 10-level cards, so I had misdistributed them in our first game and accidentally grabbed a super-powerful card for level 3.  It was easy enough to ret-con a turn or two after.  I don’t believe the rules specifically call out the difference between the tiles, but the tiles themselves do have the appropriate level number on them, so mea culpa.  Ash still dominated me this game.

After our game, Ash quickly asked if we could play again.  

Yes.  Yes, we can.

We played the two-player variant this time, as Scarlett decided she’d had enough after her bunny had been clobbered in the first game.  The two player variant gives players energy instead of VP’s for entering or remaining in Tokyo City.  I quickly understood that this meant this would be a more card-driven game, and I wondered if Ash would be able to keep up with that new dimension.  He did, and I also had some revelations while playing this head-to-head variant, all of them good ones.  

First, changing the bonuses for occupying Tokyo does a splendid job of exactly what it intends— creating a longer (though not by any means long) game, allowing both players to still pursue multiple paths for victory.  With players not getting directly closer to victory by entering Tokyo, the mechanic emphasizes the other paths to victory which are still the core of the game.  You’re still trying to pound your opponent into submission, but now to get a VP win, you need to be a bit more savvy with the cards and with your dice assignments. There is still, also, a tense decision to be made about whether or not to remain in Tokyo City or to yield, since you cannot heal yourself in Tokyo, and since it’s much easier to remain in the city since you only have to withstand one assault from your opponent to do so.  

My second revelation was due to the emphasis on cards (since you’ve got to do something with all that energy you’re acquiring). Because of this, I was forced me into a style of play I don’t usually gravitate towards in a light game— meta-play via cards.  But Ash and I both found the cards so straight-forward that we were both able to utilize them not only on their own, but also to synergistic effects with other cards and tiles we had earned.

Thirdly, and possibly most importantly, even head-to-head with only two players with a dice-driven mechanic, this game allows for incredible tension and turn-to-turn tight tactical decision-making.  There were several turns where I thought I was going to destroy Ash and possibly make him cry.  However.  I did not.  I could not.  Between the dice and his own clever play, my plans were dashed, and, you guessed it, he turned the tables on me without me having to pull any punches at all.  Quite to the contrary, I found myself on the ropes scrambling to fight back for my monster’s life for the last two turns, those same turns on which I thought would grant me the victory for certain.  And then he won.  And it was glorious.  

This was the tightest game of anything I’ve every played with Ash.  Even when I thought I’d be pulling a fast one on him, sneaking a victory through clever card buys, he managed to stay one step ahead of me and knock me back on my heels.  He decided that was enough of the game for the day, which was, admittedly, plenty.  I wondered if he would be enthusiastic about playing again any time soon. 

We found ourselves with a little extra time on Saturday, so Ash quickly agreed to play a three-player game with L.  Unfortunately for Ash, his mother picked him up after the first turn, but L was very enthusiastic to keep playing, so we continued on with the normal rules until she secured a win.    To my pleasant surprise, she asked to play again!  And we did, this time using the 2-player rules,  Again, we had a very tense game up until I was ultimately able to eke out a victory via card-play.  

I have to say I’m extremely satisfied with this game, even pleasantly surprised at how much more enjoyable it is than I had remembered.  It’s well-exceeded my memories of a quick, fun, dice-romp and has moved up in my estimation as tense and tactical game whose enjoyment fills every minute of the play-time.  This quick play-time ensures that this game doesn’t overstay it’s welcome on the table.  It also means this game will see the table more often than some of my other household favorites such as PitchCar, Fireball Island, and X-Wing, also owing to the quick and simple set-up.  Also, the game has a “let’s play again” factor, and the short play time encourages that… as does the desire for revenge for your fallen monster. The game itself plays well with both children and adults, offering interesting and accessible decisions for both, and it scales well for all player counts I’ve tried.  I’m sure this game will make the rotation of post-Thanksgiving games… If and when social distancing/lockdown/quarantining ever ends. 

Dark Edition definitely adds a level of beauty and class to the experience with the new art and graphics, while also contributing a simple but impactful, and most importantly fun, addition to the already elegant rules.  This is a game I will proudly display on my shelf alongside Rampage, breaking out both for a monster game night while blasting Blue Oyster Cult’s Godzilla and‘s excellent Monster Attack!!! track.  The new Dark Edition is an excellent chance to pick up this game if you don’t have it already, thoughI don’t think the new edition warrants a rebuy by anyone who already owns the original or King of New York based on the new rules addition alone. Unless you really like the art. And chunky chunky dice.


Return of the King

Session Report- Lord of the Rings co-op game, 4/21/20

Players: L, Ash, Scarlett, me

I did something last night I hadn’t done in over a decade.  I played the classic Knizia Lord of the Rings co-operative board game.  This was the first modern designer board game I had ever purchased, and I remember being awestruck by the simple mechanics (back before I knew what mechanics were even called), the co-operative play (again, I’d never encountered this style of play before), and how thematic this game was, evoking scenes from the books and movies with such a clean presentation of event titles and simple mechanical consequences.  I remember playing this game a lot with my old group, all of us Lord of the Rings fans, and adding in the Friends and Foes expansion and eventually the Sauron expansion, as well.  Like many co-operative efforts, this game lost a bit of its luster once we beat it for the first time.

When I read The Hobbit to my children two years ago, I found myself disappointed, not in my children’s reactions (Ash cried at the end, which made me exceedingly proud), but with my own experience revisiting the text and world of the book.  Would this prove to be a similar experience?  Would I bring my children and girlfriend back to the Shire only to discover that it was no longer as I remembered it, either because the world had changed… or I had?

Why did I even bring this to the table in the first place?  Why do I even include it in my collection, nestled between War of the Ring and Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation on my fantasy strategy shelf, and not relegate it to my Euro shelf, almost a museum of my modern gaming origins?  Why, when this game’s innards haven’t seen the light of day in over a decade, does it not simply live in my cold storage cabinet, far from the sanctity of my “live” collection?

Laura has been wanting to rewatch the movies for a while now, and it seems that the kids have forgotten more than they remembered of Middle-Earth, Tolkien’s world being overrun in their little minds by Star Wars and Disney Princesses.  As Laura had never seen the extended versions (le gasp!) and with us having a bit more time on our hands these days, we’ve begun rewatching the films, punctuated by my daughter’s whispers of “my preccccioussssss.”  I’m a theme junky, so some sort of LotR game was destined to happen.

In addition, the kids have been a bit challenging to game with lately.  Ash has had consistent issues with sportsmanship and sore-loserdom, and Scarlett hasn’t really engaging in the higher level games that appeal to Ash.   I should note here that Ash is 7 and Scarlett is 5, so these issues aren’t overly concerning to me, but I’ve been doing my best to address them.  I thought a co-operative game with overt tie-ins to a movie trilogy we are currently watching would be a great opportunity.

Before even setting up the game, the kids and Laura had decided upon their colours, Ash departing from his usual favourite of red in favour of yellow, making him Frodo.  Scarlett took red for Sam, L took the green Pippin, leaving me with Merry.  I went through the rules and was pleasantly surprised at how simple this game is to explain to both adults and children.  The common cooperative mechanic of “do something bad, then do something good” was easily accessible to the kids, and the tile bag (snatched from the Sauron expansion) provided a nice tactile activity for the kids on their turns.  The kids were also very excited to have a chance to hold the One Ring, though they were a bit disappointed that they didn’t become invisible when putting it on.  

“Okay, I have GOT to read these books.”

–Ashford Grayson

Ash read his card text like a champ, made good use of his joker symbols and special ability with a few reminders and coaching, and was overall engaged with the game.  A key moment for him was jumping to my character’s aid by using a special card to push me back three spaces on the corruption chart when I found myself  staring at Sauron block from a space or two away.  Thanks, buddy!  Also, upon seeing the Ghan card on the Mordor scenario board, Ash asked who that character was.  When told he was a character from the books and not the movies, he exclaimed, “Okay, I have GOT to read these books.”  Love this guy.

Scarlett did a good job of identifying the symbols on her cards and distinguishing the white and gray hobbit cards for one another when we quizzed her at the beginning of the game, but she still opted to play “open-faced sammiches” which allowed us to help her play and stay engaged with the game.  We definitely used her as a support character, which she was more than fine with and kept her mind engaged and her hands out of the tile draw bag.  She had some awful tile-pulls, which prompted a nice explanation of how while you can’t really be “bad” at drawing tiles or rolling dice… sometimes it’s fun to pretend it’s someone’s fault.  Which it is.

Scarlett’s shining moment was actually just before the game began:

“Everyone’s always after the ONE RING.  It’s all about the ONE RING.

Why don’t they just get their own?!”

–Scarlett Poe

Gods I love her.

Both kids were entranced with the prospect of using the ring.  L and I did our best to provide recommendations on when it might be most effective, but ultimately, we let the kids have their final choice in the matter.  A nice combination of the game design and our tactics allowed for each of us to have a turn as ring-bearer during this game, and for the most part we used the ring to skip one or more die rolls on the main track.

I was impressed that our first attempt lasted longer than the first scenario board, though we did start Sauron on the 15 mark for this first game.  I was increasingly astonished at each further board we conquered until we found ourselves in Mordor.  I had been repeatedly cautioning everyone about how difficult this game was, how much harder things would get in subsequent boards, and how we would most likely lose and could try again another time.  Ash actually seemed quite okay with this.  He was happy with our progress and seemed okay with the prospect of us losing in the end.  

We did a nice job of strategically and selflessly giving up shields for event spaces in Mordor, chugging along on the main travel line while also making good progress on the friendship track.  We mostly ignored the other tracks on this board.  To my surprise, we found ourselves within two spaces of Mt. Doom, and I had a secret weapon in hand for the final challenge awaiting us.  L was able to use a special card to hand me the last needed card to complete the travel track, and after the die roll at the end of that track was completed, we headed to the end game.

I had reserved my Belt card just for this purpose, ensuring our win by avoiding my initial die roll to toss the ring into the fires of Mt. Doom.  We.  Freakin’.  Won.  The feeling to me was similar to the last time I remember winning this game.  It was, of course, exciting to win, especially with L and the kids and it being our first play together.  On the other hand, the nature of the win, using a card to ensure the victory, left me feeling a bit unsatisfied.  While the use of a die roll to decide the ultimate fate of our game (and all of Middle Earth for that matter) can seem on paper to be unfair and random, there is a lot to be said for the drama and tension created by the entire game resting on a single roll of the dice.  Ash seemed satisfied and excited with the win, but in retrospect, I should have used the Belt to avoid the die roll on the last space in Mordor and proceeded with the die rolls to preserve the excitement, especially considering none of us were in any danger of being eliminated from the game.  I could also have held onto the Belt to save the day and win if things looked even bleaker after several failed die rolls at Mt. Doom.

Nonetheless, it was a very satisfying evening overall.  The game still impresses me as a masterful piece of design linking seamlessly with the theme in a very economical way.  The lack of text on most cards not only make the game seem very clean, but also make it much more accessible and understandable by children, and the mechanics overall are as elegant as one could possibly hope for in a game that evokes such a strong narrative feel of the source material.  Moreover, the game is tense, challenging, and fun, both for adults and kids.  The art by John Howe is simply gorgeous, and Scarlett was actually disappointed to have to use a friendship card because she didn’t want to give up the picture of Sam eating soup.

Despite keeping the kids up well past their bedtime, and Scarlett being in one of the wackiest moods I’ve seen, everyone had fun through the game and are anxious to play again with the normal difficulty… and then add expansions.  Although my tastes have shifted away from euros over the decades, it was a real treat to play a masterpiece by one of the all time masters of game craft.  The art and overall production of my copy (the original Hasbro box is the one I own) supports clean mechanics that avoid being dry and stale.  One rule in particular stood out for me this play-through.  Players being allowed to share any and all information about their cards and intentions is a contrast to games like GloomHaven, in which discussing numbers and other specific are forbidden.  This really shone when playing with my kids, and combined nicely with the iconography of the mostly text-free cards to allow all of us, including Scarlett, age 5, to engage in full strategy and tactical discussions before each turn.  The artwork is gorgeous, vibrant, and evocative without being intrusive or distracting to gameplay.

Misplays:  None, really!  I did have one moment when I attempted to use the Belt to avoid a die roll when using the ring, but I looked it up quickly afterwards and ret-conned the move before the next player (L) took her turn.  It’s a testament to the elegance of this game that there is not much room for mis-remembered or misinterpreted rules.

Until next time.  Onward!  


A Quick Bite

Alex and I had thought it would just be the two of us this Saturday, so we started planning to try out Star Wars: Rebellion, but as it turned out, M decided to join, and then Jon-Boy decided that bringing his kids over to play with Alex’s brood would be a nice outing for his family, so we ended up getting Fury of Dracula (2nd Ed.) to the table for a pre-Halloween horror game session.  Oh, and Liz joined in too this time, for her first (!) play of Fury of Dracula.

I was able to get the game set up and check on the inevitable rules questions I thought of before we all sat down for some dinner, and the game got underway quickly after we ate, with minimal rules recaps.

I was Drac, of course, and I started off in Rome, making my way up the Italian peninsula and dropping a new vampire in Florence on my way.  I dropped bats and fog in northern Italy to delay and mislead the hunters, and I moved up toward Mina, but my hopes for an early snack on her were dashed as she moved to the water to check out the British Isles.  I had thought of beginning there, as it was left completely empty at the start of the game, but I’ve played out that gambit too many times for it to be exciting at this point.

The hunters were able to glean my trail and origins, but the bats and fog did their job well, and I was able to mature the new vampire before the hunters could reach her.  Since the hunters had found my initial trail, it was decided that England was a waste of time and effort, so she headed back to the Continent during the second day.

I was able to position myself close to Mina– she stumbled into me, and I used Wild Horses to end the daytime combat and throw her into an adjacent city, putting myself between her and assistance.  I then used an Event card to speed up the sundown and attack Mina at night.  I gave her a Bite using Mesmerism.  I was now one point from victory.

I used Wolf Form to move through the hunters down to Munich and then holed up in Venice.  They found my trail but were unable to adequately catch me, even using Resolve to Sense of Emergency my way.  Liz’s Van Helsing caught me, but it was nighttime, so even her stash of weapons (pistol, stake, knife) couldn’t withstand my powers.  I decided to keep playing out the combat even though I really didn’t need to, since I was assured a victory in two turns any way.

After that combat, there was really no other opposition from the Hunters, and I ran out the clock for an easy win.

I still really like this game, even the clunky combat system, but it was rather lonely being Dracula, and I didn’t really have too much pressure on me this game.  I think next time I may spot the hunters some resolve or require 7 vamp’s from Drac to win.

Misplays: Turns out we played Fog correctly.  Even though the text mentions that “other hunters” cannot enter or leave the space, it is intended that it affect the hunter who encountered it as well.

Slight to major misplay: Forgot, once again, to clear Drac’s trail after the vampire matured.  I’m not sure how this would have affected the outcome.  Probably not much.

Always nice to get this to the table, and I was very impressed that we finished a 5-player game in 2.5 hours!



Stronghold: The Misplaying

Jon-boy and I tried out Stronghold, 2nd Ed. Saturday night.  Overall, the game is fantastic.  I loved the asymmetrical play, and we both discovered more and more depth to the play styles of each side and the game itself as the game progressed.  Unfortunately, there were a TON of mis-plays and even more rules lookups.  I think the game took us a total of 4 hours play time including set-up.  We used Watch it Played’s video to aid with set-up, and that did help inform me about a lot of rules beforehand, but that didn’t stop us from misplaying a TON over the course of the game, including the win conditions themselves.

After being slaughtered by arrows and cannons, and being consistently malfunctioned on my siege machines, I did eventually mount a double-maneuver phase, attacking both far flank sections as well as the two front sections on the attacker’s left in a final push.  I used all of my orders, though one of them was nuked by Jon’s defender action, but it was fun watching him outguess me, as he knew I’d be trying to blow up his walls with my orcs and goblin fury through his defences somewhere in the midst of my four fronts.  He ended up choosing incorrectly, and my goblins (including some marauders brought in from the woods) were able to punch a hole and win.

Now, the misplays:

I think I’ve cleared all of these up after visiting a bunch, checking the FAQ, rematching Watch It Played, and re-reading the 1.3 rulebook (I think mine is 1.2 despite my copy being brand new.)

The biggest misplay/misunderstanding was in the victory condition.  I somehow read it as being that the attacker needed Advantage of a number higher than the defending strength (not just units), when now I see that it is MUCH easier than that for the attacker to breach, needing only ANY advantage over the strength of defending UNITS ALONE (not including wall pieces or heroes).  I’m also still miffed that the victory conditions are not called out clearly and plainly at the beginning of the manual and are reduced to a footnote sized sentence at the end of the assault phase.)  It also seems from the example in the rulebook that if the defender is unable to reduce the attacker advantage to zero through casualties, that the attackers win.  This seems to be the crux of the issue here.

Here is how it seems to work:  In the case of advantage, the opposite side must absorb eligible casualties in the amount of the advantage until the advantage is brought to zero.  If it is an attacker advantage being resolved, and the defender is unable to absorb the advantage in casualties because he does not have enough strength in units (NOT because he has units too strong to be killed by the remainder), the attacker wins.  Wow, even that sounds fiddly.  But at least it’s understandable.  Honestly, it would be much simpler with a battle board of some sort, or a simple cardboard track that moves from one contested wall section to the next during strength resolution.  At any rate, this is a VERY simple rule that was completely garbled by bad rules writing.    I’m also super-pissed that this isn’t called out at the very beginning of the rules but is rather hidden in small letters in the assault section.

Wall pieces cannot be removed by a melee attack.  I’m not sure if we actually played that wrong or if I just didn’t understand it.  I don’t think it would have come up except in the last turn anyway.

Objective cards are kept face up.  (Defender plans are kept face down.)

Marauders are added to the rampart on the appropriate section, not the wall as I had thought.  Also, I now see that it is ONLY the farthest rampart that gets these, though they can get them twice in a turn if two sets of units are moved in separate maneuvers from the previous rampart.

Orders are not contingent upon having the number of the type of units indicated on their tokens.  That was confusing but cleared up by the FAQ.

Bridge tokens are placed on the corresponding unoccupied trap space on the path.  I’d still like clarification/confirmation of this, but I’ll go with it for now.

Killed/spent attacker units are removed from the game.  (rectified after first turn)

Only four siege machines are allowed in play.  I had built five before realizing this.  We played it out with five.  (Why are their more hit and miss cards given in the game?)

Marksmen only are allowed in towers, no other units.

Adjacency is a mess in the rulebook.  It now appears that marksmen consider the towers on either side of their wall section adjacent, as well as the wall sections immediately after those towers.  Soldiers consider the next wall section over adjacent.  Heroes consider the next hero space over as adjacent.  The “castle gate” breaks adjacency for all units, requiring units to return to the courtyard in order to move to the other side of the stronghold.

It’s still unclear to me whether two equipment tokens of the same type (for example, two banners) are allowed in the same wall section, but it seems now that they are not, and the two equipment tokens must be of different types.

At least one maneuver must me carried out each turn.  This didn’t affect our game, as I maneuvered every turn, but I think this should have been called out more clearly.

It was very difficult to tell from where attacker units assigned to action cards should be taken, but after some hunting I was able to confirm that we played correctly in taking them from the supply on-hand and not the bag.

Barracks Train Troops action can be used multiple times per turn, clearing out hourglasses after each use.

Defender chooses the attacker casualty from the effects of the Ballista.  (Corrected in the FAQ.)

A lot of these could have been very easily called out in side-bars or bolded text in the rulebook.  I find it interesting now how I typically dismiss claims of crappy rulebooks and just wade in waist deep even though some of the people making the claims (like the Secret Cabal Gaming Podcast, for example) have serious cred.  It’s also a little depressing to me that I don’t have a mind of rules nor the time to consume and internalize them that I once did, but I’m okay with that, as that’s the price of having awesome kids.

Still, even with the horribly unclear rules, the game was a winner and definitely has the “let’s play once more factor.”  I honestly have been craving to just set up and throw down solo (kawa wookiee), but I doubt I’ll find the time any time soon.  So Jon and I will rematch as soon as we can.

The game has some excellent tactical play, very little randomness to my mind, and certainly feels like a fantasy castle siege.  The mechanics themselves are fairly elegant, though as I mentioned, the rules do not belie that fact.  But Jon and I both felt extremely tense the entire game, and that is a very very good thing.  I like that there are plenty more action cards to try and that both sides have a “want to do all of this but only have enough resources to do half of it” factor.  I hope that analysis paralysis does not become a major problem once we have the rules down, but I’m not too worried.

Overall, great game, and I’m only disappointed that it will take time away from Space Hulk, Hammer of the Scots, BattleLore, Dungeon Twister, Twilight Struggle, and any other 2 player strategy games I can’t think of, as this will likely only come out when Jon and I play without the rest of the group.  Still, I’ll bet I can coax Alex into a game at some point, maybe M or Steve the Blonde on the rare occasions we play 2-player only.

Now, when is that Undead expansion coming out…



The Chain


Descent–Labyrinth of Ruin Campaign

Let the Truth be Buried, Part One

After a long hiatus due to the birth of my daughter, we finally got back to the table to continue our Descent: Labyrinth of Ruin campaign last night.  We had a full table, including newcomer Stef, “The Doctor of Broken Hearts.”  He’s a non-gamer, but a very old friend of mine, so it was nice to have him over, and he was a good sport, and, frankly, did better with Raythen than Alex’s last outing with the ally.

I had selected Let the Truth be Buried for our quest, as it seemed to be both beneficial to the heroes as well as interesting in play.  M picked Volucrix reavers for her open group.   I think it was a very good choice, as the win conditions for the heroes necessitate eliminating all of these monsters, and the reavers have both numbers and strength on their side.  Plus, as Stef put it, “those guys look scary.”  Yeah, yeah they do.  We did have a bit of a rules discussion early on, trying to figure out the purpose of the master reaver’s “Ravage” ability when “Skirmish,” seems to serve the same purpose, but after a quick jaunt online, it seems that Ravage gives the master reaver the ability to attack twice even is skirmish is somehow disabled through Cursed or another game effect.  It seems a bit weak, but these guys are still a headache.

Our two goals being to defeat Splig and destroy the reavers, we sent Jain and Tarha down the corridor towards the zombies and reavers, and left Avric and Synd to rush Splig and his accompanying goblins.  Raythen gave us an early head-start on treasure, granting us the Treasure Chest card on the first turn with his Sharp Eyes ability.  The Helmet of Dusk or some such item was drawn, and Jon equipped it for Syndrael, granting her +1 to all of her attributes.  Nice.

Maranda’s goblin archers proved a tough group, and they showered Syndrael with arrows, the master archer finally dropping the knight in the first turn.  Ouch!  This was definitely one of the best beginnings M has had in a quest, and we were now very worried and fearful of her Act 2 monsters, as we were still using only Act 1 equipment.

M continued to hammer away at our tanks, even as Tarha and Jain fought their way through the zombies and reavers.  I believe Avric also dropped a reaver, but he, also, was defeated.  I think Rick spent most of his turns healing himself and Syndrael, with some occasional attacks interspersed.

M seemed to be having some trouble getting Splig into a good position to move the chain, but she was able to defend him rather well, consistently putting him out of reach of our melee attackers, putting the chain in their way, and surrounding him with goblins so that he could use his Not Me ability.

I sent Jain up ahead toward the last Reaver, using her Heroic Feat to run up to him and fire on him point blank.

Tarha ran away from the zombies attempting to engage her to try to get back to the main battle with Splig and the Goblins.  Jain eventually made her way across the bridge and rained arrows down on Splig, bringing him 1 point away from defeat, but her second attack that round, sadly, missed, and Jon, who had been rolling X’s (as well as crappy defence and other rolls) all night, finally redeemed himself and took down the King of All Goblins, giving us the win.

Slight Misplay: Jain must exhaust her Bow Mastery card in order to gain an additional surge on her attacks, meaning she can only gain one extra surge per turn.  I believe this only came up once, as typically she rolled an X during one of her attacks each round.

Another Slight Misplay: Yes, Jon DID have “Guard,” the class ability that gives him attacks of opportunity, so he likely missed a few chances to deal damage to nearby monsters.

Of course, we forgot about Splig’s Not Me! ability quite a few times early on, and we also did not realize that drinking potions does not count as an action, so there were certainly some missed chances to heal up stamina and health here and there.

The biggest misplay, I think,  was M’s who did not realize that it did not take an action to “whip” the chain at the end of each turn.  I think had she done this effectively a few times, she may have defeated Synd and Avric once more each. There was also some confusion over whether a hero should take damage when the chain end was moved out from beneath them, but I believe this only happened once before I caught on and clarified.

As this session ran overly long, we could only finish the first Encounter of this Quest.  It was a nice win for us, but I think the heroes are still nervous about the next Encounter, as we are in a sad state right now health-wise, and we are not thrilled with the special Falling rules of the next encounter.  We do always seem to pull out victories despite the challenges before us, but I’m sure M is hungry for a win of her own at this point, and I think that could present a real turning point for her, allowing her to choose future quests as well as giving her additional Overlord XP’s.

I will say that M seemed to play very well tonight, plotting monster placement to block movement and line of sight, and using cards whenever advantageous.  I did regret not being able to use Jain’s ability to trash one of her OL cards, but this game always does a great job of making you think very hard about your actions each turn and what you really have time to do.  M also did well to continually hammer away at the perceived weakest character, forcing Avric to constantly heal us or forcing us to stay close to him to utilize his healing aura.  Which is what he’s there for, of course.

Jon did a nice job, as well, of getting Syndrael right the heck in the way of Splig and his chain, but Maranda countered by “falling back” with Splig for a turn or two, effectively hiding behind the chain and goblins while waiting for the monsters to defeat or move her obstructions.  Eventually, of course, the goblin king had to emerge, and we had the hard task of killing him even as he displaced attacks to his henchmen a great deal of the time.

This encounter was also interesting as it was one of the first in which Tarha did not seem to be the key player for us.  I think she needs a new rune to match the power level of the new Act 2 monsters, though Blast and the Sun Stone are still nice power boosts to her original Arcane Bolt.  I know I’m also anxious to get Jain the Bow of the Eclipse, as her newly purchased Bow of Bone is already showing its weakness; not being able to get the additional green die once Jain has moved is very restrictive.  Syndrael also could use a serious weapon and armour upgrade.  Luckily , we were able to grab all four treasure tokens.  If we can pull of a victory in the next encounter, we’ll have another 300gp to add to our stash and buy more gear.

I’ll admit I was exhausted and ready for the game to be over when it ended, even as I was disappointed that we only got through the single encounter.  (Oh, StB– I was wrong– the last quest we played, Interlude: Fortune and Glory, WAS 2 parts.)  Just the same, I woke up this morning jouncing for another session, so hopefully with the summer coming up, we’ll be able to finish up this quest and carry on with the campaign quickly and consistently.  Hard to believe that it’s been about a YEAR since we began, but that’s adulthood for you.  So many games, so little time.


Fortune and Glory, Part 2: Out of the Skillet…

SR: 2/28/2015

Descent (2nd Edition): Labyrinth of Ruin

Interlude: Fortune and Glory, Part 2

“Can you feel it?  It’s close.  Three… three to open…?” the blind old lady muttered.

“I don’t feel anything but hurt right now,” Jain replied, “But I think I hear more of those fire bugs chittering down below.”  She swatted at her still-smoking cloak, smothering the last of the flames from their previous encounter.

A savage howl echoed throughout the corridors before them.

“Hell-hounds,” Syndrael pointed out as the howl was joined by several others.  “Sounds like a whole pack.”

“Nice boots…” Jain said to the elf.  Syndrael raised an eyebrow at the wildlander.  

Avric adjusted his armor and began to utter a prayer of healing.

Raythen trotted on ahead of the group.

“Well, let’s not sit here rusting, mates.” The dwarf said. “As they say, out of the skillet, and into the flame…”

Steve the Blonde had mathed this quest out pretty well before we began, and we knew that we would have a slim chance of success, even with perfect luck.  Our strategy was laid out— we would send Jain (with the prisoner) and Raythen ahead through the path of least resistance, following up with Tarha with the Sunstone to assist with monster blasting and potentially aiding with the lock.  Syndrael and Avric would rush the Hall to soften up the large monster group in case the first two search tokens proved unfruitful.

We started with Avric providing well-needed healing to the group (except Raythen, who we ruled could not benefit, not being a Hero.)  Tarha led the attacking with a well-placed blast, taking out a minion hell-hound, a minion lava beetle, and bringing the master hell-hound down to a single hit point.

Jain took Syndrael’s Elven Boots for the additional movement, and Synd used her special ability first off to give her and Jain an additional move action.  Syndrael was able to take out the master hell-hound and then Advance to the second line of hounds in the hall.  Jain used her own double-move/attack ability, giving her a total of 4 moves for her turn (Syndrael’s ability + Jain’s ability + standard move).  Raythen made his way farthest past the Lava Beetles that M had chosen as her small monster open group, but sadly was cut down on M’s first activation of her nasty master beetle.  His roll of double-null on his two brown dice sealed his fate, and he was down for the count.

Maranda pulled back with the hell-hounds, drawing each of them back in a defensive position in front of the remaining search tokens.

Our strategy remained in tact.  Jain rushed to the search token and hoped for the best.  SUCCESS!  Extremely fortuitous for our group.  Even with Syndrael positioned deep in the hallway, we knew it would be much tougher if one of the first two searches didn’t prove fruitful, as we would need to get the prisoner to the other side of the board to open her lock, and that would take valuable time.  A master ettin popped out of the open doorway on Jain’s side of the board, and as the party pulled back to regroup and take out beetles before they could reach Jain, the hellhounds rushed forward, as well.

The group did fairly well in closing the distance to aid Jain, but M did well in placing the master Ettin to block the corridor between them and their comrade.  Jain discarded the prisoner and the first lock, and took a swing at it for a couple damage.  Her next attempts would have been success, but M’s card-play took the wind out of our sails, nuking two successes in a row.

The rest of the party continued pushing onwards for a last stand at the secret passage, everyone but Tarha reaching the door.  The debate began over whether we should sacrifice the sun-stone to deal 10 damage to the last lock once Tarha reached us.  Steve was very reluctant to do so, as the advantages with Tarha were pretty big, but I was concerned that we would be too tight on time for any other options.  Luckily, Synd and Avric were able to deal some decent damage to the lock even as Jain completed the final attribute tests.

A small amount of damage remained to be dealt to the lock, and the monsters swarmed in at us.  Even with the hell-hounds now taken out by Tarha, we now had several lava beetles and two ettins breathing down on us.

The final roll came through during our 6th turn, and we were able to blast the final lock without using Tarha’s precious trinket.  Success!

This played out like many of our Descent outings— it started out looking nearly impossible for the heroes, then quickly shifted in our favour, then finally tensed up again as time grew short and we grew close to our objective.

I was a bit surprised that M chose Hellhounds as her large monster group, but I guess she figured their mobility and numbers were superior to a small group of slower-moving monsters.  I think I would have chosen something more menacing in her place— crypt dragons, demon lords, chaos beasts, or golems, but that would have presented its own challenges, as only one of them could bear its brunt onto the heroes at a time from the hallway due to their size.  Also, their movement and size would likely have prevented them from joining the others at the secret passage.  Us finding the unique search token on the first attempt was pretty huge.  We might have had a small chance of success if that had failed, with Synd being so far along the other side of the map, but it would have required a lot of work to get Jain and the prisoner back through the gauntlet of monsters to discard that lock.  I know M forgot to use at least one OL card near the beginning of the encounter, so that was probably a tough break for her, as well.

We did have quite a debate about the Pierce ability.  My position was that Pierce allows damage to be dealt up to the pierce number so long as sufficient hearts and shields were rolled, but Steve the Blonde felt otherwise, that Pierce merely negates shields.  The example we used to illustrate our point was, the hero rolls 2 hearts with Pierce 2, and the Monster defends with 4 shields.  In my argument, the hero would still deal 2 damage, the pierce providing unblock able damage for 2 points, but it appears that Steve is correct in that this example would deal NO damage, as the remaining two shields would then absorb the hearts regardless.  While I can’t find an official clarification on this, the rule does read “the ATTACK” ignores x shields, which seems to imply that Steve’s interpretation is the correct one.  (I have since been able to thematically justify this to myself, as well.)

Overall, a very enjoyable outing, and a nice way to go out before our hiatus for baby-welcoming activities, toddler birthday parties, etc.  We did manage to purchase some nifty Act I items for Jain and Synd, and we had fun advancing the class cards, as well.  I think we’re all excited to see how the heroes fair agains the tougher Act II monsters and the challenges ahead.


Fortune and Glory…? Yyyeah… Rrright…

Session Report: 2/21/2015

Descent: Labyrinth of Ruin Campaign

Interlude:  Fortune and Glory— Encounter 1

“‘A Prisoner Shall Lead the Way,’” Avric read the glowing script carved into the rock entrance.  “That mean anything to anyone?”

Murmurs and grumbles were the only answer for a few moments, then Syndrael spoke in her authoritative, lofty elven lilt:


“Nay.  Nothing about that in Hulldyr’s maps or notes,” the normally taciturn dwarf muttered as he fumbled among the cloth scraps found among his dead leader’s possessions.

“Only one way to find out then— in we go,” Jain led the way into the cavern.  “I’m just glad there are don’t seem to be any of those spiders that spit poison in your eyes nearby.”  Her voice echoed back to the others as they followed her into the darkness.

A door greeted them a short way into the corridor.  The grumbling ogrish voices from beyond were loud enough to be heard.

“We may have other problems, though,” Avric contributed.  “Of the big, two-headed giant type.”

“Two-headed ogres,” Syndrael corrected.  “They’re called Ettin.”

Widow Tarha remained in the rear, silent as usual.  As the group approached the door, a skittering noise emerged from the entrance behind them.

“Well, I have some good news and some bad news,” said Raythen as he made his way past his comrades to open the door.  “Good news is, there aren’t any of those giant poison-spitting spiders around.”

“And the bad news,” asked Avric.

“Well, how do ye all feel about giant lava-spewing beetles?”  The dwarf’s wry smile was suddenly illuminated by a fiery mass that emerged from the entrance and flew toward the party.

“Scatter!  Everyone in!  And close that door behind you!” the Widow Tarha broke her silence with a bark that the rest of them couldn’t help but obey.

The quest began as these usually seem to, with the heroes in a seemingly very difficult situation.  With an endless spawn point behind us, two Ettins to get through to where we could only presume M had placed our objective, and all of us poisoned due to a bad travel encounter on our way, we were ready for an uphill battle.  We decided upon our usual tactic of sending Raythen to scout for treasure, also using him as a dedicated door opener/closer when needed.  The first two Ettins weren’t too bad of a challenge, as they were forced by the corridor into single-file, and we only had to face one at a time, but the double-grey defense die was a tough challenge.  Jain was repeatedly stymied in her shots against them, and it was quite a different obstacle than the usual swarms of weak enemies we had faced prior.  Tarha was kept from effectively using her trusty Blast ability to its best effects, and M turned the table on us nicely with her choice of the Lava Beetles, as we now had to choose every turn whether to stay together to make best use of Avric’s abilities and concentrate our fire, or to spread out in order to avoid the lava blasts.

We found ourselves in a split-party situation mid-game, with Tarha having revealed the red objective/lava beetle spawn point just after the spider den.  Jain followed up, leaving Avric and Syndrael to act as rearguards for their hopefully hasty escape once the prisoner had been found.  The green objective token was where we suspected, as far as possible from the exit, so Jain used her fast movement to run to Tarha and grab the prisoner from her, making her way back towards the group.

We regrouped near the spider lair to find ourselves with enemies on many fronts due to the revealed spawn points and alarm.  We were all being battered.  Avric used his healing abilities several times to help us, and Syndrael tossed Jain a Stamina and Health potion, as well, which she used quickly and to great effect.  Alas, Jain still proved too tempting and easy a target, and she found herself defeated nonetheless.

Aided by the others, she staggered onward, and the group formed a moving wall, with Avric and Syndrael in front, Tarha and Jain in the rear, hoping to punch through the opposing wall of lava beetles and ettins that now clogged the next choke-point.  We had closed the door behind us, as well, hoping to delay the impending swarm of lava beetles from that section of the dungeon.  Jain’s yew bow continued to prove ineffective, and the OL was able to use the ranged and blast effects of the beetles to great affect against her unarmored person.  She found herself defeated once more even after the corridor was cleared.  Another ettin appeared, as M smartly used a minion lava beetle to keep the alarm active.  We thought we finally had a clear path to the exit, but M made another smart play by forgoing attacks against us and camping the master ettin on the exit tile, even as the lava beetles behind us blew threw their doors and began spewing their fire at us from afar.

Finally, we were able to defeat the ettin and carry our now-wounded prisoner out the exit.  Syndrael stopped for a parting shot at the nearby beetle, hoping to give it something to think about, but she missed completely and was forced to turn tail and run to give us a hard-fought and somewhat pyrrhic victory.

I did wonder a bit as to why M didn’t try to just throw Jain or any of the other characters back with the Ettin, but I can’t complain, as I do think we were all anxious to end the scenario.  I’m also still pondering how things would be playing out if she concentrated fire on Tarha to try to take the SunStone.  Soon that may not be an issue, as it may be discarded in the next encounter.  Also, I need to remember that the OL role is tough, with lots of moving pieces to keep track of.  It’s probably like our decisions on whether to search for treasure or concentrate on the objective at hand.  There are always many things you’d like to accomplish, but you need to prioritize and play situationally.

This encounter took much longer than I expected, as I had originally hoped to get through both encounters of the Interlude in one night.  Still, it was quite an enjoyable struggle.  M reveled in finally being able to use Blast against us, and I’m sure she was happy that Tarha was essentially neutralized for this encounter.  In retrospect, I wish Jain had taken the Sunstone from Tarha along with the prisoner, as that may have helped her chip away at some of the enemies she had faced, or at least gain a few extra fatigue points along the way.  (With her “swap damage for fatigue,” that may have made the difference between her being defeated at least once.”  It was impressive to see the kill-counts for both Avric and Syndrael shoot up this time, and I think Jain’s ineffectiveness was pretty good ammunition for my case to buy her a new weapon and some armour as soon as possible.

Hopefully we can finish this quest soon, as I’m sure we’re all anxious to see how our weakened party fares against the next challenge… and whether or not the prisoner was worth the effort.  We did well with the treasure-seeking this round, as that has been a crucial part of our overall strategy, but the 100gp quest reward will still be well-needed, particularly in light of Jain’s lackluster performance and the impending “leveling up” of the monsters in Act II.

I’m really digging how this seems to be a turning point in the adventure, both in the fluff AND in the balance of the game.  The group dynamic is much different with four hero-players, and it’s fun to see Steve the Blonde’s master strategist mentality balanced out by the “Let’s just Leroy Jenkins this bitch!” attitude that Jon can sometimes have.  I think all players contributed to the overall strategy and enjoyment of the game, and this was definitely one of the better sessions.  Even Jon is started to get into the game now, and for Rick to make the trek even with the impending bad weather, I think it’s safe to say that this is becoming a favourite with most of the group at this point.

I do wish I had more of the figures painted at this point for the upcoming scenarios, but with Space Hulk to finish and a new baby on the way, I don’t think that will happen for some time.

“Synd, let’s go!!!  We’re getting out of there!” Avric called back from the cavern exit.

The elf’s eyes blazed with vengeance as she held her position on the steps and took one last swing at the fiery insect before her.  Her blow merely glanced off the creatures chitinous exoskeleton.  She thought she heard it hiss as it’s tail illuminated with more fiery death.

“Right!  Coming!”  she yelled back as she turned and fled to the stairwell to join her comrades.  She arrived at the landing the group was resting at.  After barricading the door behind them, she turned to see the rest of the bloodied and battered party catching a breath.  Jain stood over the newly-rescued old woman and spoke.

“I sure hope this blind bitch was worth it.”