Category Archives: Boardgames

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.”



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.