Monthly Archives: November 2014

Alternate Character 2: Castle Ravenloft


After our somewhat lackluster time with Talisman, we still had about an hour or so left before we had to call it a night.  Rick was still in the mood for something “D&D-like,” but I wasn’t up for Descent at that point.  I had completely forgotten about the D&D adventure series sitting on my shelf!  I grabbed Castle Ravenloft, figuring it would be a good, light, hour-long dungeon-crawling romp.  (Wrath of Ashardalon would’ve been another option, but I still haven’t punched anything out of that one, my CR minis are already painted, and I don’t know the rules changes to WoA implements to the system off the top of my head… so that dance-fight was decided right there.)

I picked out the Dracolich mission, as I couldn’t think of anything cooler than taking on an undead dragon.  I was Kat the Rogue, as always.  Steve the Blonde was the Ranger, and Rick was the Dragonborn Fighter.

I became the weak link early on, getting downed by monsters and traps just a few turns in.  I had used up two of our… ahem… three healing surges by my fifth turn or so.  We were able to clear out some initial spiders and monsters, but soon we found ourselves facing a skeleton, two gargoyles, and a wraith.  The Alarm trap was quite annoying, popping up several extraneous monsters.  We also had the something-music environment in play for a while, which made us choose the worse of two baddies every time we drew one.  OUCH.   The encounters in this game are just awful.  We did have some luck in leveling up, as least Steve the Blonde and I did.  Rick couldn’t seem to roll above a 7 to save his life tonight, rolling “1”’s on multiple occasions.  “Why can’t you roll like that when you’re DM’ing?!”

After regrouping back on the stairs due to an encounter, we revised our “strategy” a bit.  We knew the Arcane Circle must be coming up in the tile deck, though we did mis-count due to having drawn several tiles from the bottom of the deck due to… sigh… encounter cards.  Steve the Blonde tried exploring the “neglected” passage off the stairway, but he was stymied by a flaming skeleton and then ran away (well, tactically retreated) from a kobold once Rick did draw the Dracolich himself.  That thing is nasty.  20 hp of badass.  We were lucky and smart enough to avoid his stronger attacks at first.  We did have a sound plan, as we placed the Laboratory containing the creatures phylactery quite close to my character.  Unfortunately, my character ended up being Immobilized for two turns; I could SEE the damned thing, but couldn’t reach it.  Several breath weapons, bites, and lightning bolts later, both Steve and Rick were down, and I was still stuck around the corner, simply hearing the screams of my comrades as the beast tore them to pieces.  With lightning.  Even with a few cheats and 3 healing surges, we didn’t get more than 2 hp off the Dracolich before being utterly defeated.


Man, as holey and fiddly as the rules are to this game, and as random and unfairly difficult as it can be, this game definitely has a FUN factor to it.  Even around midnight, I was tempted to just reset the game and play solo (kawa wookie!) to have another crack at it.  It’s not as elegant or polished as Descent, but it does have a lot of the same elements.  It is FAR quicker to play, learn, and set-up, and the programmed monsters means that no one has to be the odd-man out as the OL.  I think that Descent is a better game overall, for sure, but if I just want to open a box and play a quick dungeon crawl without thinking too much… WotC really hit the mark here, even with their crappy rules, second-rate story, and random random random play.  And the minis, while different and overall not as well-sculpted imo as Descent, are still super-cool.  Even when the Dracolich was off the board, Steve the Blonde was looking over at it saying, “Man, that thing is SCARY.”  Uh-yuh!


Rick was a bit down at his Dragonborn fighter sucking so badly.  Indeed, I was surprised at his lack of abilities causing more than one damage, and his support ability didn’t seem to help us much, though I will say we did “go it alone” more than we should have, especially me.  I did notice upon clean-up last night there were several other ability cards that Rick probably could and should have chosen to do more damage.  Also, if he could have rolled maybe more than ONE success all game, that might have changed his opinion.  Hey, it doesn’t matter what your skills are if you continually roll fuck-all-bullshit.  Still, the lack of ranged attacks is brutal for him, as it limits his tactics quite a bit.  Steve’s character was pretty awesome, I will say.



2 ranged attacks, exploring from a non-edge space, running attacks.   Very cool.  My rogue kind of let me down.  I really should have kept my distance from the monsters and focused on exploring and supporting the warriors.  I think I have an overly inflated sense of rogue survival abilities in close combat.  This might be due to my initial play of the game years ago, when I continually used Kat to chase after Steve the Bald’s wander-lusting character, saving him from peril at every turn as he continually strayed from the group.  I seem to recall more damage-y attacks with the Rogue, but I guess the haunting melody bringing out the more powerful monsters did impede our ability to one-hit kill most things.

As I said before, this is not the most elegant or polished game, but where it fails in style and elegance, it hits the mark in the overall fun and “one more game” categories.  (For my full review:  I definitely want to play this again, and soon.


Back-up Character #1: Talisman

We were two people short again for D&D, so Rick, Steve the Blonde and I looked for something else to try to scratch the fantasy itch.  Steve jumped at the chance to bust out Talisman again.  I will say, my last experience with setting up Descent did not have me leaping for it, as it can be a little overwhelming now that I have oodles of expansions.

Talisman was Steve the Blonde and my game of choice back in the day, on days when we didn’t feel like or couldn’t get a group together to play AD&D.  That’s Second Edition, mind you.  We had fun during setup, reminiscing about the old days, and we continually hunted for the elusive mis-printed “Bag of Glod” card.  I’m beginning to think now that this may just have been something we imagined, as no one pulled it this time round.  Still, it’s an inside joke now.

We dealt out three characters each as we went through brief rules explanation, but none of us was overly psyched with our choices… So we discarded the initial draw and dealt out three more.  Steve took the Wizard.  Typical.  I didn’t even need to look at the other characters once I saw the Assassin.  Rich discarded the Pirate and the Conjurer to take the Minotaur.  I always thought of that character as an also-ran, but the initial high strength is quite appealing, I will say.  Before we began the first turn, we decided to take the City out of play, as it adds too much complication for what we were in the mood for, and Steve wasn’t in the mood to go for High Mage, just as I wasn’t feeling the Sheriff this time round.

The game was one of the slowest, and definitely one of the more boring endeavors that we’ve undergone in a while.  I could tell that Rick was getting antsy and fed up, but he stuck it out.  Steve somehow, as always, ended up with oodles of items, followers, and high scores, despite some initial set-backs.  Rick struggled with some initial combats, including a pesky Ghast that popped up with a Serpent on the two-fer space in the Outer Region early on.  I believe that was originally drawn by Steve.  I kept looking for things to fight and kill, and I was able to topple assassinate a dragon and kill a goblin.  The chapel was noteworthy for becoming the residence of both a Ghost and a swarm of Vampire Bats.  Also, next door was parked the Holy Graille on one side, and the Holy Lance on the other.  All of us having Evil characters, these did us no good.  Rick was able to pick up the Cross, and he used that and the Staff of Mastery to exorcise the Chapel, which was nice.  He had an early foray into the Middle Region, as well, but eventually came back to the Outer Region.  He did have the fortune to have several Talismans at various points in the game, but he wasn’t quite powerful enough to attempt the Inner Region.

I decided to go for a hail Mary victory, inspired by Jon-boy’s initial underdog win with the game last year.  I went into the Dungeon.  Of course, Steve then followed me, eventually overtaking me inside.  He had recently lost all of his items to Raiders, and I think he finally realized that both Rick and I just wanted the game to end already.  I taunted Steve that to spite him, I would simply admit defeat if he got to the Crown of Command, ending the game before he would have a chance to take my one and only remaining Life Token.  (I am well-aware of the reverse-logic here.)  He hit the Treasure Vault a turn before me, but rolled poorly and ended up in the Middle Region.

I was up.  It was down to a single die roll.  I rolled…

A 6!

Crown of Command, here I come!  (Yes, I was quite glad we didn’t play with the random endings, though it may have been fun to just get sucked into the Horrible Black Void at that point.)  Steve and Rick quickly admitted DEFEAT, and I claimed victory.  And not a moment too soon.

I won.  More importantly, I beat Steve the Blonde.  I’m sure I must have beaten him at one point during our many many plays of this game in high school, but the vast majority of my memories of this game are of his munchkinned out High Mage turning me in to a Toad while obtaining every item and follower in the land then destroying me utterly upon reaching the Crown of Command.  But not this time.  I will not let him live this down in the near future… say, 20 years ought to do it.  It’s also fun that I won in the same slim-to-none way that Jon-Boy did during his first play.  I know that that gave him a positive view of the game during that session.

While I did enjoy this game a ton the last time we broke it out, this time was definitely a “you can never go home again” kind of experience.  I do love the nostalgia of the game, the art, the theme, and even the simple play.  But this game is a relic of a bygone era, when we didn’t care so much (if at all) about rules errors, balance, or anything else that has evolved in hobby gaming over the past 20-30 years.  I was saddened that Rick seemed to have as terrible a time as he did, as there is definitely potential for great fun and story-telling in this game.  But even Steve noted that this was a very boring session.  I still insist that there is little to no real strategy in this game, or rather, there are not many real choices to make.  Your optimal move is always to gain more strength, life, items, followers, and there are seldom more than one way to do that in a given turn or series of turns.  It was quite fun knowing and remembering all of the cards in the deck, knowing how things play together… There is something to be said for playing a game for over 20 years, even with some huge gaps in between.  There’s a comfort food factor that even our Chinese Food dinner couldn’t match.

Despite its flaws, I will be happy to break this one out again, and I will hope for a better session.  I do contemplate culling the decks for more balance, but ultimately, I think that’s more work than this simple but classic game is worth.

Friday Night Bites


I’m a bit behind in my session reports, so I’ll try to catch up.  Alex hosted game night, as Liz wasn’t working Friday night, which meant she could play or at least hang out with the rest of us.  Also in attendance— Jon-boy, M., Kelly, and my wife and son who left around the time we actually started playing.  The game was Fury of Dracula.  I claimed “it’s my birthday, it’s my game, you were Dracula last tiiiiiime,” and played the Count.  Alex/Liz swapped out playing Lord Godalming, Jon was Dr. Seward, M—with T on her lap at first— played Van Helsing, and Kelly played the often ill-fated Mina Harker.

The hunters spread out across Europe, but they conspicuously left the British Isles vacant, allowing me to utilize that initial gambit.  I began in Edinburgh, and was able to work my way South across all of the cities in England before reaching Plymouth.  The hunters had no idea where I was, but Jon began to have some thoughts of checking out the U.K.  The hunters were a bit disco-ordinated at first.  I’m fairly certain they inadvertently crossed one another’s paths at least once or twice in the initial rounds of the game, costing them valuable time.  Also, they did not employ the “starvation” strategy of not drawing Event Cards, that has come be popular in our group.  This allowed me to gather a full hand of advantageous cards (mostly Traps) rather early.  It also allowed for me to stump the hunters.

Just as I was contemplating taking to sea from Plymouth, Fortune smiled upon me.  Kelly/Mina drew the dreaded Evasion card, allowing me to pick up and go to any city on the board.  Seeing the large gap in Eastern Europe, and knowing that the hunters had previously been to numerous cities there and would probably not wish to return so soon, I decided to drop down there.  I believe it was Budapest.  Meanwhile, I had Jon/Seward stuck in fog in London as my Vampire was about to mature, and it was now the second day.  Before long, I had 3 Vampire points, and was well on my way to victory.  The hunters still had no idea where I was.

The hunters debated over using Newspaper Reports to find the oldest card in my trail.  Kelly raised an excellent point, as the hunters had not been keeping close track of exactly when the Evasion occurred.  Kelly observed that if they did not time it right, the Newspaper Reports would merely show a location in England before my trail “broke.”  I was impressed by her reasoning, and a little nervous that she might be on to me.  Alas, M shouted the newcomer down, the the hunters did exactly as I’d hoped and revealed the oldest card in my trail… which was still in England.  Jon worked his way up the isle but was unable to find my vampire before she popped.  Meanwhile, I tried to figure out a way to cross Europe and give Mina, currently in France, a bite during my next nighttime turn.  It was difficult to do, and I contemplated using Wolf Form and explored various routes, but then the hunters decided to move Mina back to Paris, which was well within striking distance for me now.  I attacked at midnight, feeling certain that I would win against the lightly armed Mina.

Jon had an amazing moment of opportunism.  He played a card that allowed any hunter to immediately escape a combat.  I was stymied.  Moreover, the hunters now knew exactly where I was.  I would have to scramble and make a tough decision on how to run out the next few turns.  Luckily for me, I had another Vampire to pop.  With daybreak approaching, I was ensured a win the next turn.  As the group decided to move Mina a mere stone’s throw away from our encounter location, I decided to go for the active route to victory.  I followed Mina to the adjacent city and went in for the kill during the small hours.

Mina had only Sacred Bullets to defend herself.  She did play Garlic, but as I had the advantage during nighttime and was hoping to bite her, not escape, that did not worry me.  I played Bite versus her Bullets, pointing out that a winning roll would give me the victory, as daybreak would give me my last VP.  I rolled…


I bit Mina, defeating her, and giving me a total of 7 VP’s, one more than I needed to secure victory.

I think the game went over well with everyone.  Fury of Dracula, with all its fiddliness, is quite accessible in concept.  It can be a bit difficult to balance play with new players, as with the experienced player taking the role of Dracula does not really allow for helping the newbies along without giving away the Count’s strategies.  Kelly played very well, and had several moments of insight.  Unfortunately, she was shouted down by M several times.  I do enjoy playing Dracula in these scenarios, as it is quite fun to watch the hunters talk themselves out of the winning plays.  I think it would be quite advantageous for new players to take a peek through the decks before play, particularly the combat items, as this can be crucial in their tactical planning.  At the same time, an overly complex explanation at the start can confuse what is at its hard a simple game to understand.  Kelly did want to jump right in after quick rules explanation.  The party was also hurt by Liz and Alex switching out roles to take care of kids’ bedtimes, and M left just before the last turn of the game, with Liz taking over.  If all of the hunters aren’t on their game and paying close attention, it can be easier for Drac to slip through their nets.

The game is a long one, but I did try hard to keep it interesting.  My initial goal was to take the battle to the hunters, in fact, but I couldn’t find a way to get to Mina from my starting place in England.  I wasn’t going to just give the game away by starting too close to the hunters, but I had hoped for some more combat early on.  Still, I’m happy with how I played, and I’ll take the victory.


Space Madness

“As I lie down, I realize that… All I wish is to get rid of this Obsessive Devotion” —Epica

My obsessive nature is no secret. Most of the time, when not actually gaming, my half-track mind can be sated by poring through rule-books, running over plots and character arcs for games and stories in my head, or just reading about or talking about games. My house typically has at least one rule-book in each room, if not a game box itself. Nary a day goes by when I do not text or e-mail someone about games we have played or will hopefully play shortly. I often fall asleep thinking of games. I’ve lost sleep thinking of them, as well.

Several times a year, however, “merely” gaming and thinking of gaming is not enough, and I fall prey to the blood fervor of what the Founders of the Secret Cabal call… Acquisition Disorder.

I want more games.

This is not an urge I succumb to lightly. Gone are the days when I was working at a game store and getting my games at cost, and longer gone are the days when I have no responsibilities to think of. I don’t have the disposable income I used to. It’s increasingly more difficult to justify any seemingly whimsical expenditures; the competitors for my monies are no longer other toys and crap I don’t need, but rather clothing for my present and future children, funds to keep the heat and lights on, and, well, nice meals out with my wife. Moreover, I’ve outgrown the Cult of the New mentality of my twenties, and I’ve refined my taste in games over the years. I know what mechanics I will enjoy playing, what will be likely to hit the table with my group and its sub-groups, and what components I will be able to revel in when not playing. I know how to read reviews with a discerning eye and understand what games will truly tickle my fancy and what will eventually just sit on my shelf as I glare at it with regret as to what I should have bought instead.

But sometimes, the demon’s call is too much. Sometimes the emotional beast trumps the logical mind. Sometimes there are games out there that are simply too freakin’ cool not to have.

Recently, my tractor beam has been fixed on…

Space Hulk, 4th Edition.

I know, I know. Falling prey to Games Workshop’s siren song of: Limited Edition!!! Buy now while supplies last! NEW NEW NEW!!!

I’ll admit that Space Hulk wasn’t even a blip on my radar until a couple of weeks ago. I had played and drooled over Steve the Bald’s copy when he brought over his 3rd Edition some years ago, and it was good, quite good, though I’ll admit I didn’t quite grok the strategies necessary to survive, and therefore win, as the Space Marines the couple of times it hit the table. But I love the theme. The mechanics are clean and elegant, even as it drips with AmeriThrashy violence and randomness. But it was, of course, limited edition. I had missed my chance, and I wasn’t really that disappointed. I let it go. I forgot about it.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I heard the announcement that GW was releasing a 4th Edition (or revised 3rd Edition, depending upon who you ask), but that it would again be a limited run, and that it was already sold out at Games Workshop. So it goes. Or so I thought.

I happened to stop in at my Friendly Local Game Store, as my son and I had both been on best behaviour during a night out at a nearby restaurant. While watching him run around the store yelling “Rar!” at all the monster pictures and figures, I saw it. Plain as life. It was just sitting on the shelf. And it was heavy as hell. It wasn’t until I held all twenty pounds of its awesomeness that my obsession began, but like a wave it swept over me, and I’ve been swimming, even drowning in it since.

The marketing gremlins at GW had done their job and done it well. The limited release, combined with seeing a real live copy for sale new-in-box, made me absolutely need to have it. I immediately envisioned hours and hours of cutting figs from sprues, assembling models, priming and painting them. And, of course, setting forth a squad of the Imperium’s finest that would impress my friends and frighten and confuse my enemies. Alas, I was $125 short.

I’ve spent my time since then caught in an obsession spiral. I’ve watched and re-watched review videos, painting tutorials, and unboxings. I’ve read every review on the Geek. I’ve had my Bug Hunt playlist (yeah, I’ve got a playlist for that) on repeat for over a week, dreaming of gene stealers lurking around corners as I immersed myself in the themes to Halo, Aliens, Starship Troopers, and others. Good stuff. But I’m still broke.

Some of this obsession may be my usual escapism. Some is likely my deflected grief over the loss of my mother several months ago. I will say, it does sting in a shameful way that I won’t get a birthday check from her next week. There’s also the fact that work isn’t going well, that I’m nervous about possible problems with my wife’s pregnancy, and that I’m still worried about what the future holds for my father.

But the fact remains. I want this game. I want it bad. It was easy at the beginning. I couldn’t have it. It would sell out before I could scrape together the dough for it. I just had to ride out my obsessions until then. But then I stopped back into the FLGS on the way back from a conference on Monday. It was still there. I had my Wayne’s World moment.

I had to get one of these copies.

I’ve tried justifying this purchase to my wife. It’s limited edition. It’ll be selling for twice as much on the collector’s market soon. It’s not just a game, it’s an activity— modeling and painting. It’s a game that fills the dungeon crawl niche for people that don’t like Descent. I’m sure this will go over well with Jon-boy, Alex, Steve the Blonde, and even M. Steve the Bald… well, he has his own damned copy.

But I have a birthday coming up, so I can’t just shell out and buy it. I have a kid that needs clothes, shoes, and a toddler bed soon. I have another one on the way that is gonna need… gulp… girl stuff. My wife will be out of work for two months when the baby comes, so even my recently-acquired overtime is spoken for. I spent all my discretionary funds on a Vitamix for my wife for our anniversary, and while it can do just about anything, it somehow cannot manufacture a new copy of Space Hulk or the money I need to purchase one. (I haven’t played around enough with the time-travel settings to see if I can somehow exploit that for this purpose.) I should also mention that my wife does give amazing gifts. She also purchases them months in advance, so I certainly cannot count on her having got me this gem that I just realized I absolutely cannot live without a mere two weeks ago.

This game will not solve all of my problems. I would certainly rather have two healthy children than a copy of Space Hulk. I will likely only be able to play it ever a couple of times, at least until my kids are old enough to check it out. I can probably think of other things to spend my money on. I could use a new car, a newer iPhone. There are plenty of things to buy or fix for the house. My wife can always use something pretty. I could stand another pair of shoes.

But still… we… WANTS IT!

The rationalizations I’ve given myself are truly outstanding. My dreams of assembling and painting the models… let’s be honest… I still have several heroes left to paint from RuneWars, my latest painting project. I haven’t even started on the heroes and monsters from Descent, which was supposed to be my next project. I’m not exactly lousy with free time these days, at any rate. I get around this easily, of course. The painting will help me relax. The other projects will help me prepare, hone my skills. I’m painting these to give my son an epic play experience when he is older. Blah blah blah. Gimme gimme gimme.

An exchange..

Erin: Will you even have anyone to play it with?

Me: Sure! Jon, Alex, Steve, other Steve, M… But you know I get a ton out of just looking at the pieces, reading the rules… and there’s the painting!

Erin: Can’t you just buy some figures to pain?

—Sound of crickets chirping… In the distance, a lonely wolf howls—

Now, I get an equal amount of pleasure from poring through rule-books, fluff-text, and components as I do from actually playing the games themselves. Something about the potential fun to be had. Like a DM writing an adventure but never playing it lest his PC’s screw it up. But I also find just component ogling and rules-reading to be a very rewarding experience. Seeing how the mechanics play out with each other, immersing myself in a rich world… And jeez, the freakin’ models, man!

But it doesn’t seem bloody likely to happen this time round, so until 5th edition comes out in another five years or so, I’ll continue to read up, watch vids, and, of course…