Monday, December 28, 2015

Game Report - Brewers vs Engineers

Since returning to blogging I have not written up too many game reports. I've gotten out of the practice bringing my camera with me on game night. Additionally I've been focused on playing and improving my games of Guild Ball, so have not done a lot of analysis and thinking during or after the game. All that said, I made a point of packing up my camera a couple weeks ago and bringing it out to a game with Ben. Ben had just picked up and assembled his second Guild Ball team, Engineers, and was looking forward to learning how the team worked. I've been working to figure out how to play my Brewers better and specifically how to get some solid use out of Spigot.

A bit of time has passed since this game and I've already run an entire tournament plus played a couple other games in the interim. I'll be trying to remember as much as possible from my game, along with some of the drivers behind my decisions.


Ben used a very basic Engineers team with Ballista, Mainspring, Ratchet, Salvo, Velocity, and Collosus. I think this is a great way to start out with a new team, getting the feel for the basic team players before expanding your selection with Union players. You should be able to get a solid feel for the role each player on a team fulfills and then be able to make smart choices on where to substitute and swap out. Ben Deployed in a fairly standard line across the board, keeping Collosus in the center of his line. I had the kick-off so this made sense to me.

On the Brewers side I decided to also role out with a fairly standard Brewers setup. Tapper, Scum, Spigot, Stave, Friday, Hooper. I needed to figure out how to use Spigot more effectively, and was hoping to find the rumored damage dealer I've been hearing Hooper is. I kept Friday in the line as she's a fantastic striker, and of course no Brewers team is complete without Stave. I had the kickoff so chose to kick with Stave. I like using Stave for my kick-off as it allows him to move up the field before the game starts. This gives his impressive threat range for his barrels a solid grasp on the center of the board. I'm also not concerned with his poor kick stat as he has enough to place the ball over the mid-line. I'm starting to set the ball centered on the mid-field line, knowing my scatter (minimum 1 inch) will always carry the ball across. This becomes tricky if your trying to kick at an angle, which I do not regularly do. In this case the ball flew straight forward, halfway to Collosus. I was comfortable with a plan for knockdown to spring the ball from from whoever ended up holding it.

I drew out my Guild Plots and chose Sideline Repairs, Don't Touch the Hair, and Knee Slider. Against the Engineers I was expecting a lot of ranged knockdown coming my way, along with a fair bit of damage over time. I suspected I'd be able to score with Friday and considering I only had a single striker, the Knee Slider would come in handy to return back toward midfield after a goal. Don't touch the Hair is always a solid choice, and I planned to move aggressively into Ben's line and engage as many Engineer as I could. This would give me an opportunity to slow down some of his attacks.

Turn 1

Turn 1 left me feeling a bit like I was playing my Union team. Ben moved forward with Collosus and his team, providing me the opportunity to use Stave to knock down and push Collosus close to my lines. This opened up multiple options for charging in to attack Collosus. I was not expecting to take him out on Turn 1, but aimed to put a fair bit of damage onto him. Following my initial knock-down and push I began moving my additional models into position to provide bonuses from Ganging up. Scum shifted over and Friday moved up the field and his Collosus with Dirty Knives, penalizing his defense and preparing him for the charges.

I started the attacks with Spigot walked in and rolled a bunch of dice on his single attack. 5 for the attack, 2 for ganing up, and an additional 3 for Collosus being knocked down and -2 defense from the knives. I only realize after the fact I should have had more due to Spigot's Floored trait granting extra dice against targets whoa re knocked down. After rolling and removing failures and armor, I was left with two full playbook results and a single success on the second wrap. Not horrible on a single influence attack. I left Collosus with damage and moved on through the turn. Hooper came in next with a charge, rocking 14 dice on a charge. Although he did fairly well, I  shorted myself several dice overall. The calculation should have gone:

  • 6 dice base TAC
  • 4 dice on the charge
  • 1 dice for knocked down (def 2 to def 1)
  • 2 dice for dirty knives (-2 def off def 2)
  • 3 for ganging up
  • Total of 16 dice
Even with the 14 I rolled I was able to dump a load of damage on him due to Hoopers Shove the Boot in trait. At the end of the battle it was enough to take the guy out and score me my first 2 points in the match.

I knew that going into Turn 2 I had to hold off Ben's shooting and also get the ball  from Mainspring, shoot, and preserve my own team. I also figured that Ben would be looking to blow up Mainspring considering this was his first game and I'd ended the turn with model's grouped up nicely enough for it to have good impact.

Turn 2

Turn 2 started with Ben activating Ratched and tossing out a grenade along with overclocking his totem. This set-up the bug for a nice explosion and solid effect against my grouped up team. I used Friday's Shadow like to bounce into the bug and her low momentous tackle to grab the ball away from him. Ben played Protect your balls but wasn't able to grab the ball back. This left Friday able to move across the field and take a shot on goal, scoring and then Knee Sliding over to cover Velocity. Ben kicked the ball back out onto the field, leaving it sit near Ballista and Salvo, resting on the ground so it wouldn't get knocked free by a thrown barrel.

Following that action the score was sitting at 6 - 0 in my favor and Ben felt he needed to try and balance things out. He moved Mainspring forward, attacked for a point of damage on Spigot, then blew himself up. This did some damage and dumped fire out on three of my players, but also gave up an additional 2 points to me for an 8-0 score. This left me 1 goal out from winning the game. I activated Stave with the intention of putting out the fire and knocking Ben's models around a bit. I was successful in knocking Ballista away from his team, causing Ben some challenges in getting him back into position to support the team via momentum generation. 

Ballista needed to get back into a better position so Ben stood him up and walked him back toward the scrum. He finished up his turn knocking down Stave and popping his legendary play in the hopes I'd start wracking up some damage. Unfortunately for Ben this was not my first time facing Engineers and I had already accomplished a lot for the turn. I didn't have a driving need to re-position and suffer the damage and was able to suffer out the remainder of the turn staying still in the minefield. Ben continued through his activation, activating Salvo and pushing my models around a bit for some minimal damage. He left the ball laying in the open field, hoping he had blocked it out enough with Ratched, Ballista, and Salvo to keep me from getting anyone to it. I chose to complete my turn by moving Spigot through the minefield to block out Velocity on Turn 3, hoping to get initiative but positioning in case I did not. If Ben got initiative I had Velocity covered by two players. If I got initiative I had Spigot positioned so I could make a run to retrieve the ball with Friday then jump back into Spigots Football Legend aura to make the shot on the goal. Ben took the last activation to move Velocity toward the ball and hope to provide some additionl protection against my team grabbing the ball and shooting.


Turn 3

Turn 3 started with Ben taking the initiative but surprising me by activating Ratchet and tossing some grenades out. I suspect this is due to his inexperience with Engineers, as he only slowed down a couple players I already had late in my activation order. I'm not sure if he missed the goal threat from Friday or simply underestimated her ability to get to the ball and score. I am aware that Ben had been suffering knockdowns from Stave through the game, and he may have been trying to mitigate Stave's threat range on the board, spotting that I'd given him 2 influence.

I activated Friday and using her shadow like dodge plus sprint was able to slip through his lines and grab the ball. Friday thenThis left Friday in a tenuous position, engaged with Velocity but also in football legend range. Despite losing dice from engagement and having a blocked line to the goal (we played this incorrectly), I decided it was worth the chance to win the game and made a 1 die roll. I ended up making the goal and winning the game.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Rise of the Kage (and Docks of Ryu) Review

Today we're going to look at Rise of the Kage and it's first expansion, Docks of Ryu. I received this game and expansion together a year after backing the kickstarter. Overall the kickstarter was a success, delivering only a month after the expected delivery date. Considering I received them together I wanted to review both the core game and expansion with the same review. The expansion does not change the game, it simply adds two new boards, 3 new ninja's, 1 new boss, and 3 new guards. All that said, let's get onto the review!

What is Rise of the Kage, Who makes it?

Rise of the Kage (RotK) is a stealth themed miniature board game for 2 - 4 players. One player controls a Boss and guards while the other 1 - 3 players control 3 Ninja's infiltrating the area to accomplish a hidden mission.
  • Game: Rise of the Kage (and Docks of Ryu expansion)
  • Company: GCT Studios
  • Website:
  • Players: 2 - 4
  • Play time: 45 minutes 
The combination of the base game plus expansion delivers a load of models to the owner, with the kickstarter delivering double models for each guard and ninja (alert/unalert & detected/stealth).  Players will choose 1 boss and 3 ninja's for the opposing sides, with each of the 3 game bosses bringing a specific set of guards to the game. These guards are assigned to each boss from a set of 9 different guards, split evenly between 3 levels of expertise.

How's it play?

RotK is a stealth game that also uses a fair bit of combat between the Ninja's and the Guard players. Each turn will begin with the Ninja's charting their movement on the board by placing footstep markers starting with each Ninja. The Ninja's do not need to complete their movement, but they can only move along the path as specified, including needing to double up on steps in a square if they wish to retrace their steps. Once this is complete the Ninja's will activate in initiative order and attempt to complete a number of actions along their defined path. These actions include searching objective markers, opening doors, sneaking past guards, and even fighting those same guards. Each Ninja has a variable number of force and stealth dice, defined by their specific characteristics. Force dice must be used for force actions (i.e. kicking down a door, attacking a guard) and Stealth dice must be used for stealthy actions (i.e. picking a lock, searching an objective, sneaking around). Ninja's can always add extra dice to their tests, but if a Stealth dice is not included then the test makes noise. Additoinally, any time a Ninja fails a test they make noise.

Noise is important for the guard and the Ninja's want to strive to be as quiet as possible. Each instance of noise will generate a noise token which the guard player will subsequently be able to use as additional actions for the guards. Furthermore, the first time each Ninja generates noise will advance the guards alarm meter and the time until morning track will advance if any Ninja makes noise. If, at points during the game, the alarm or morning tracks ever reach the end the Ninja's lose the game.

Every mission requires the Ninja's to sneak through the board searching to gather objective tokens on the board. Once a number of these tokens are collected, specified by the Ninja's random mission, the Ninja's will roll a dice and hopefully trigger the escape condition for the mission. The dice will be rolled upon collection of subsequent objectives until the escape condition is met. At that point the Ninja's will determine the specific exit (one of the 3 Ninja deployment points) and need to move to that exit point. A secret selection of the objectives will be traps, triggering when the Ninja's successfully searches the objective token. The traps cause noise and can damage the Ninja's. Regardless of being a trap or an objective, the Ninja searching an objective (successful or not) will draw a card from the Ninja equipment deck.

Once the Ninja's have completed their turn the guard player will draw a hand of cards from the guard deck and proceed. During the guard turn action tokens (number determined by the threat level) will be allocated to guards to perform actions. Guards can move around the board, attempt to detect hidden Ninja's, call for help, and attack detected Ninja's. There are a large array of choices provided by the guard deck as well, ranging from extra movement or attacks for the guards to limiting the movement of the ninja's to recruiting extra guards to the board. Before ending the guard turn there is also the opportunity to recruit new guards to the barracks locations.

Play proceeds back and forth until the Ninja's have succeeded or failed their mission.

What's innovative or different? What's fun?

RotK uses a couple of fairly innovative mechanics in the game. The first and most innovative of these is the Ninja's path used at the start of the Ninja turn. Placing these footsteps on the board and then proceeding along them is a pretty interesting part of the game. It requires the Ninja player to really plan out what they are doing and determines so many portions of the game. Overall it's one of the mechanics in the game I really enjoy.

Other mechanics this game uses are action points and action cards for the Guards, and hidden missions for the Ninja's. The combination of the hidden mission plus the random & hidden exit spot really combine to raise the challenge level for both the Ninja and the Guard players.

Overall the game has a high level of challenge and works as a puzzle to figure out.

Overall quality of the game

I'll start by discussing the quality of the models and components in the game. The game boards for both the core game and the expansion are very nice. They are a woven linen type material, suitable thick without being unwieldy, and fold up in quarters. They fit nicely in the box even after I had to cut the plastic for better box control. The cards for the variety of decks initially seemed good but over ~10 games I'm finding they are just a bit too thin. The cards are starting to wear a bit through shuffling, and a small number of beginning to peel at the corners.

The models included in the game are very nice. GCT has discussed their choice to use a softer "rubbery" plastic for the models so that they stand up to rough use in a board game. Specifically they wanted to assure the models could be "swept" off the table into a box without the danger of pieces breaking. Considering that they were able to achieve an impressive level of detail on the models. The models need a bit of a hot-water dip to straighten out staves and such, but overall the detail is very good, nearly reaching the level of a war-gaming model.

Box control is a bit lacking in this game. GCT made an attempt to provide molded plastic inside the box to hold all the components, but unfortunately was unsuccessful. Once the models are taken from their bags they will not fit into the space provided. I ended up needing to cut the molded plastic then store the different models in separate bags, using the enlarged space.

I'll discuss the rules and rule book last. Overall this is the worst rule book of any game I've played to date. Furthermore, the rules are incredibly convoluted and confusing, requiring an inordinate amount of work to figure out and learn. This game is much easier if one person puts in the work to learn to play then teaches everyone else. At certain points the language is so obscure that its effectively no help at all. As an example of this, I'll share:
"If during a ninja's search action, the search token is revealed to be a trap then the guard player performs a force test against the ninja, modified by the reaction value. If successful, the ninja sustains a wound. The token is still added to the ninja player's mission pool. When a trap is revealed it always generates a noise token."
This is particularly obscure when you look at a Ninja's reaction value and realize this is typically a positive number. So what's being modified here? I and my locals are guessing this means the Ninja's armor is increased by the reaction value since a "better reaction" should protect the Ninja from traps. That's certainly not clear from the wording. 

Recommendation and thoughts

I like this game, but I am really like challenging games. I feel like the game is more difficult for the Ninja's than necessary, being very slanted toward the guards winning. Furthermore, I feel the guard action deck is excessively large and could have been reduced by half and still viable.

Although I enjoy it, I will have a very hard time getting it onto the table in my gaming group. Overall my group feels that the bias against the Ninja's and unclear rules are too much of a barrier to cross to play the game. This becomes especially evident where there are other games on our shelves with cleaner rules. Unfortunately, I suspect even an errata or FAQ from GCT will come to late to save this for my gaming group.

As much as I wanted to give this a positive review, I cannot. Rise of the Kage appears destined for a solid layer of dust at the bottom of my gaming library.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Guild Ball - Brewers Team Review

The Brewers have been a tougher team to get my hands around than the previous teams I've reviewed. I used them briefly (less than 4 games) in the era prior to the kickstarter arriving and really liked them. I thought I had a good handle on how they played at that point in time, and expected to jump right back in once I got them painted. Now that my team is painted and I'm putting them on the table, I found myself mistaken at how they played. I've dedicated a solid two dozen games to working out the team and I feel like I have a decent handle on the basics. I will say in these opening comments, the brewers are the team I'm having the toughest time winning games with. I can see their strengths and they are fun to play, but they just don't quite deliver what I want them to do in game, specifically for my play style.

Brewers Team Overview

The Brewers are intended to a team focused on melee damage second to the Butchers, if the prevailing interwebz information is to be believed. There is a very nice article on the Muse forums that has been re-represented in an article on the Ozball blog that shows the distribution of team characteristics.  My own experience differs in a couple areas to this in some specific ways.

The Brewers as a team are very good at knocking down opponents. Many of the players have knockdown results as a first or second choice on their playbooks, often as a momentous result. Brewers also have a fair bit of damage to serve up, but I find that it's actually a bit behind the damage capability of a solid damage focused union team. Many of the damage choices the Brewers have are not momentous or the damage support options (such as Commanding Aura) are not momentous or easy to reach.

One of the areas I find the Brewers do succeed is in pushing the opponent around the field. My experience with the team indicates their strengths to be knockdowns and pushes overall. Unfortunately I have not found a way to turn this into a scoring solution as effective as goal scoring or take outs. Many of my opponents are aware that the sides of the board are a dangerous place to be when facing the Brewers, thus choosing to congregate closer to the middle of the field.


Oh Captain my Captain...... Tapper is the only captain in Season 1 who does not have a legendary play. In place of that he gets one of the more interesting heroic plays in the game. Tapper has the ability to convert a single momentum into two influence once per turn, then allocate those influence to a friendly guild model within 4 inches, including himself. This means he is very capable of generating his own momentum via attacking then generating additional influence to finish beating down an opponents model. Tapper has a decent damage spread in his playbook, along with the typical Brewers easy access momentous knockdown. He also brings along Commanding Aura, via playbook and directly paying for the ability. His commanding aura is just shy as useful as Blackhearts (in the union), bring a bit harder to reach and non-momentous. Despite that, he is able to use this ability to support his teammates when they are dishing out damage.


Brewers bring a cat to the field as their mascot, a cat who will forever be in the shadow of the playtest version of itself. This cat may not do the crazy attacking damage the playtest cat did, but she is an amazingly fast model. Shadow like plus Unpredictable movement combined with a 6"/8" move make this kitty very capable of zipping around the board. She's a good little ball carrier, combining UM with her 5+ defense and being able to be called across the board by Friday. Often the toughest choice is when to give it the ball vs keeping it close to Tapper for his extra influence generation via Tappers Tactical Advice.


Friday is the Brewers in team striker, and she operates very similar to other strikers in the game. 6"8" move, 3/8" kick, a 1 success momentous tackle, shadow like, and a heroic play which replicates super shot on other strikers. Friday picks up some extra defense from being near Spigot, which she prefers do to his Football Legend trait anyway. While within 4 inches of Spigot she can jump up to a 5/11" kick if she's used her heroic play, plus has a 5 defense. This makes her a real danger for snap shots as well as straight shots on the goal. Like some other Brewers, Friday has a playbook that is "shorter" than her TAC, making it possible to wrap playbook results pretty easily. She is able to dish out some damage, but really wants to be throwing out dirty knives when not positioning to shoot on the goal. Overall she is one of my favorite strikers in the game, although she is a tier down from Flint and Mist.


Spigot tends to play the role of damage dealer or bruiser in my Brewers team, although he appears to be built with a heavier focus on support. He's got Football Legend (extra kicking) as a trait, Tooled Up (extra damage) as a character play, and Times Called (extra movement) as a heroic play. He can pretty quickly trigger Balls Gone via his playbook, a quick way to get the ball and also has a single success momentous tackle. Overall he seems ideal in a support role but for some reason I always find myself not using him that way. At the St. Louis Open I watched a number of Brewers players using him to buff their team, which really showed me where I was using him wrong. I just have not been successful since then in changing how I use him. I suspect my overall win ratio with the team will jump once I can train myself to focus on Spigots support abilities in place of his damage track in his playbook. Spigot is one of my favorite models in the Guild Ball range, I really like both his spilling tankard and his broken bottle.


Talking with Mat Hart recently I was presented the idea that Hoopers role on the Brewers team is one of enforcer, bruiser, and damage dealer. Here's another sign that I just do not understand the team as I should, as Hooper often is one of the models I cut from the line-up to replace with another option. Hooper is very resilient with Tough Hide and a decent damage track combined with a 3+ def and 1 armor. His playbook has damage in it, which get's increased due to his trait adding +1 damage to playbook results on a knocked down target. My challenge here is his first two (of 3) damage results are non-momentous, forcing him to grab at least 5 successes in order to deliver momentous damage. His knockdown is on 3 successes, higher than most other Brewers, and he has a momentous push on 1 success. Overall, Hooper is a good player but I'm finding I prefer Stoker or a Union choice over him most of the time.


I would argue that Stave is the poster player of the Brewers team. He is certainly not very fast on the field, but has one of the largest and most noticeable impacts on the game of any player in a team. Stave has access to the very solid momentous knockdown as the first choice in his playbook, but this is not what he really does best. Stave's signature barrel is really what people will notice, to the point of often forgetting he has a playbook at all. Stave is able to hurl his barrel 6 inches, causing a 3 inch AOE on impact which can knock down and then push models hit. The combination of knockdown plus the 4 inch push is incredibly useful for a variety of uses including springing the ball free from hard to tackle models, making target models more vulnerable, and for positioning opposing players to your teams benefit. Stave projects an 11" - 13" threat zone on the table, threatening careless models on the flanks of the field with being knocked into the crowd for a fairly easy take-down.


Stoker is one of my favorite models on the Brewers team, but that has a lot to do with how much I enjoy painting up fire. Stoker is a bit maligned in the general Brewers community, which is something I'm not sure I competely understand. This misunderstanding may be why I have trouble winning with the team however. Stoker brings a couple abilities to the table which are fairly unique, adding extra damage to play book results on a target with the burning condition and extra influence if positioned near Stave (Tactical Advice: Stave). This ability mitigates his fairly low influence stat, allowing him to contribute 2 influence to the team in place of 1. Stoker also has access to the same Magical Brew trait that Hemlock brings, permitting him to shed conditions for free once per activation. Aside from this Stoker has 3 different character plays which all apply the burning condition in different ways. He can simply light someone on fire, light someone on fire and do damage, or light a terrain feature on fire along with anyone in it. Add to this a 1 success momentous double push (in a short playbook) and Stoker can move the opposing players around the board very effectively.

Union Additions

There are 5 season 1 Union players who will play for the Brewers team, Gutter, Hemlocke, Rage, Fangtooth, Avarisse & Greede. I have primary focused on playing pure Brewers guild to get the best feel for what their models do. I can see some real benefits to swapping in Rage or Gutter as a damage dealer to the team. I can also see times when having Hemlocke on the team will be good, simply to toss out some poison and blind affects. I'm not confident that A&G contributing a 7th activation can be best used by the Brewers, although I'd love to hear a strategy for that. Fangtooth fits in nicely, adding in additional knockdown. His biggest downside will be the risk of slowing down an already slow team with his aura.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Easily Distracted

Wow, it's been a fair bit since I posted to the blog. I find it equally interesting that the delay came after a write-up about a particularly disappointing game I played. The Halloween SDE game did not kill my gaming, nor did it kill my blogging, no worries there. Really the gap has been caused by a couple reasons.

First among those was work and holidays. Since November 9th I've been booked solid with work as I try to negotiate some new deals and prepare for 2016. This year has been much different from previous years, caused by the first dramatic change in my professional responsibilities within the past 8 years.  I took on a new role earlier in the year, effectively a demotion due to a corporate acquisition, and I'm struggling to adapt to the new role. Overall it's very frustrating and counter-productive to be at odds with the corporate practices, especially in an organization where the corporate objectives counter the corporate practices. Add to that my daughters birthday, Thanksgiving, and my own birthday and things have been a bit hectic.

I also spent some time traveling over the past month. This is not anything new to those who've read the blog for a while, or those who listen to my podcasts. The difference here was this was weekend travel for pleasure. I attended the St Louis Open, a Guild Ball tournament nestled on the tail end of the Warmachine Weekend convention. I had a great time meeting up with Mat Hart (Guild Ball creator) and JamieP (Guild Ball lead play tester) along with my Guild Ball Tonight co-host Phil. I also had a chance to grab some great games with a host of other Guild Ball fans through the weekend, although did not get to play in the tournament itself.

Basically all this means is I'm easily distracted. I'm finding it ironic that I'm having trouble sitting down and getting back in the groove of writing. It seems every time I get going something pops up to stop the progress and derail me. I do mean ironic because it's not a consistent distraction. Overall it's been very frustrating, as I have a series of partly written articles waiting to be completed and posted. Since the last post I've gotten in a number of new games learning my Guild Ball Brewers. I'll have a team review coming up for them once it's finished. I also got in more games of Rise of the Kage, enough to finally write up a solid review of the game. I've been playing a bunch of Blood Rage, which deserves it's own review as well. This is all before talking about new Guild Ball tactics and specific models and model combinations I want to write about.

So, I'm back on track as of the publication of this post. The blog is not dead, there was just a short delay.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Assault on Von Drakk's Manor - Super Dungeon Explore

Halloween has recently passed and I spent the night with a group of friends playing one of my favorite games, Super Dungeon Explore. Well, it was one of my favorite games but we'll return to that. My wife and I put together a full spread of snacks and food to sustain a robust party of gamers, invited over 3 other couples, and proceeded to conduct our assault on the evil Von Drakk. In this game I was playing the consul, which raised the ante for the group as I have never been beat when playing consul in SDE. We had 1 gamer with SDE experience, his wife and mine who have played but are not experts at the game, then 4 friends who have read the rules but not played the game before. Looking at a 7 hero game I knew we'd need some modifications, but I've had ample experience with 1st edition SDE and felt comfortable making those adjustments.


I made some adjustments to the Forgotten King rule set for this game based on the increased number of heroes and my own experience playing. I used the Von Drakk manor tiles, with the first board set-up on the graveyard side as the outside courtyard for the manor, then 5 additional tiles on the manor side to represent the manor itself. The manor tiles were set up as a T, with the wings set off the tile closest to the courtyard, off the second tile the heroes would encounter.

On the monster side, I ran a full set of Skeletons, Necromancer, and two Dust Mages. I had 2 spawning points of Witches, skull bats, and spiders. I also had the paired spawning point from the Stilt-town Zombies box set. The Zombie Shacks were set-up as the spawning points for the first two tiles, followed by the Witches and Spiders in the wings, finishing with the Skeleton gravestones on the final two tiles of the manor. I chose Von Drakk (of course) as my dungeon boss, then used the following as the mini-bosses:
  • Death Specter
  • Captain R
  • Succubus Vandella
  • Shadowmode Candy
  • Gruesome George 
Lastly I had 16 rattle-bones as my creeps, which I deployed the full complement of with initial board setup. The full Creep deployment was one of the changes I made to the FK rules, not completely understanding how creeps deploy with the explore cards. This let us use a full compliment of creeps in the game, with limited re-spawns later during the game. 

Our intrepid heroes dared Von Drakk's wrath with a very solid party assaulting the manor. We had Princess Ruby leading the charge flanked by the Sister of Light and the Paladin. Support was provided by the Glimmerdusk Ranger, Hearthsworn Dwarf Warrior, Hexcast Sorceress, and the Royal Warden planning to collect some overdue taxes, thus justifying the invasion of poor Von Drakk's privacy.

The table was set-up, party chosen, food served, and drink made plentiful. All of this added up to the making of an exciting night of SDE for our group, and after a basic primer/reminder on the rules we dove into the game, expecting a play time of around 4 - 5 hours for completion.

The Game

In order to speed along the game and provide a fair chance to the players, I made a modification to how activation would work in the game. We would have 2 heroes activate in sequence, then switch to the Consul activation with a choice between spawning monsters or activating 8 skulls worth of monsters and all the creeps. Considering I had Skull Bat's on the board and they are insignificant, I chose to activate them with the associated witches from their spawning points in place of waiting for heroes to wander onto their tiles to activate them. Loot was still awarded for each kill of a significant monster (not a creep or had the insignificant trait), with a limit of 3 loot per 2 heroes activation. Once Mini-Bosses and the Dungeon Boss was spawned, they would also activate for free during the Consul 8 skull activation in line with the FK ruleset.

The heroes set to work with gusto, launching immediate attacks on the poor rattle-bones and zombies greeting them. During their assault on the welcoming committee I took the opportunity to fly in some witch reinforcements from deeper in the manor. The heroes proceeded strongly in the opening turns, slaughtering rattlebones and zombies and collecting a fair bit of loot for the party. In fairly short order the party faced their first tough decision, determining the profitablity of attacking and destroying the grabby house spawning point or continuing to remove random enemies from the board. The party held off, cleaning off the bulk of the monsters on the board tile and only putting some damage on the house itself. Once they felt secure and prepared to face the first mini-boss, they began an earnest attack on the house.

Unfortunately for them I had also taken time to prepare. One missed attack left my grabby house with only a single wound remaining, the perfect time to respawn a nearly full spawn, take the final wound on the grabby shack from the spawn, and spawn out Greusome George. In concert with this I brought in my witch reinforcements and turned some of the heroes into toads, weakening the onslaught of the party. Grabby zombies kept the party in place, preventing them from moving over and delivering a transformative kiss to the toad, returning him to his dwarf form. We realized at a later point in the game that I had been performing the paired-spawning point spawns incorrectly, only applying the spawn wounds to the individual spawning point instead of to both. I blame this on mixing up 1st edition, FK classic, and FK arcade mode rules. Regardless, I set to work with my spawn of critters, intending to hobble the party on this first board and set them on their back feet as they progressed into the manor. Overall this was a fairly epic opening battle, as I have come to expect from my experience with 1st edition SDE. I was able to kill one of the heroes (the paladin) and nearly took out the dwarf (in toad form) before the party took down George and his cohort, using the princess coin to bring the Paladin back.

As the final swings were taken on George and he was getting eliminated, I began to prepare the next wave of challenges for the second board of the manor. Spiders moved forward with the remaining rattle-bones, and witches began to line up their swoop by attacks to transform new heroes into toads. The party had been suffering from some flank attacks I launched through one of the secret doors linking the deeper manor with the courtyard entrance. They quickly moved to block access to that door, and sent forays through themselves, sniping at my back lines as I prepared. This forced me to adjust my strategy a bit, shifting some of my skull bats and other skeletons to guard the secret passages deeper in the manor.

The party milled around a little bit and spent time on their cleared board grabbing a treasure chest and fending off small skirmishes of monsters, preparing for the next battle. This milling around and farming was something I had not experienced previously in SDE. I felt it would be a bad idea to spawn my second tile with minimal or no monsters just to add the damage and spawn a mini-boss, so I began to launch waves against the party. Frustratingly, after clearing the first battle the party had killed so many monsters they were all nearly full of equipment (4 slots each, 28 pieces of loot/treasure) to the point they were starting to discard loot as it was picked up because it was not optimal. My own mighty monster spawns were only at a single static defense star due to only a single mini-boss having been killed.

I was at a disadvantage and would need to rely on my Consul experience and solid tactics to swing the battle my direction. I knew I needed to kill off a hero before the party could spawn and face my second mini-boss, weakening the party through that action. Idealy I wanted to kill the paladin with his healing potions, or Princess Ruby with her buffs. I had to settle for launching an all out assault on the Dwarf, sending in 2 Rattlebones, 4 zombies, and a vomiting Pudge zombie. I also parked my voodoo doctor (shamble priest) nearby and used his ability to make all the zombies attack a second time. Everyone but the priest had mob, the attacks resulted in:
  • 2 rattlebones attacking 1 time with 5 blue dice each
  • 4 zombies attacking 1 time with 5 blue dice each
  • 1 pudge vomiting for 5 blue plus 1 red dice 
  • 1 vodoo priest making all 7 of those do the same attack again
That assault should have killed the Dwarf and possibly left me needing to put damage on at least 1 other hero. Instead it had almost no effect due to the loot the party had piled onto the players. The damage that was dealt out was restored by the paladin, then the paladins potion was quickly restored (with a second potion due to the potion bandoleer) in the next round. The party proceeded to quickly chop through this wave of monsters, kill off the witches, and take out another spawn plus Shadowmode candy in fairly short order. At this point we all were tired and realized 4 1/2 hours had passed and they party had only gotten to the second tile of the map. We called it at a draw, as neither the heroes nor I as the consul could truly say which way the game would go. The party felt confident in camping out tiles until they had optimal loot, and I was formulating strategies to blow up my own spawn points to gang up on the party with multiple mini-bosses.

The Aftermath

Prior to the release of FK I was averaging 2 games of SDE a year, with some occasional spikes to 3 or 4. I consider this one of my favorite games, and have spent a lot of time painting the models and convincing people to play. It has always had some issues but I have had tremendous amounts of fun as both the Consul and a player. I really looked forward to the release of FK, both for an update and optimization of the 1st edition rules and for the introduction of cooperative play.

I am still pending my review of the cooperative play so will leave full comments for the review. This was my first game of FK Classic, which is the updated version of the 1st edition SDE rules. At the end of this game my immediate reaction was a desire to sell off my entire SDE collection and cancel my current kickstarter pledge for the next expansion. I was frustrated and hugely disappointed as the game we played on Halloween was not the game I have grown to love over the years. In polling my players who had played this before, they also ranged from disgusted to not being willing to ever play this again.

As a balance, the players who had never seen SDE previously thought the game was fun but far too long and in need of something to make it a bit better. They had more fun from the group playing than the game itself, with the game actually taking some of the fun out of the group (but not enough to ruin everyone's enjoyment).

I've decided not to sell my stuff and am taking a couple weeks to back off and consider how to "fix" the game to better represent the SDE I loved. I may just revert back to the first edition rules using the updated FK edition cards, but I'm not sure overall. I'm especially frustrated that this experience mirrors the complaints on the SDE forums. Specifically that the game takes too long (now), the party has no incentive to move forward through the dungeon, and ultimately it becomes a simple dice rolling exercise while the party grinds away at the monsters.

 I'm open to comments from any readers out there. Do you have thoughts on my game or any suggestions on where things went badly? Any thoughts on how to "fix" it or even feedback on what I'm missing that your seeing in your FK games.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Libertalia Board Game Review

I am a fan of the Wil Wheaton you-tube show Table Top and occasionally come across some game gems I was not aware of prior to watching the show. Libertalia is one such gem, a game that was not only fun to watch on Table Top but has since become a favorite game in my collection. I asked my wife to watch the video simply to get a good laugh at the interplay between Seth Green, his wife Clare Grant, Wil Wheaton, and Karen Gillan of Doctor Who fame. Watching the game play my wife suprised me by asking me to pick up a copy of the game, which she thought looked like a fun game the family would enjoy playing. I jump at the chance to grab games my family will play, so quickly ran out to get a copy for the house. So, what's Libertalia you ask.... continue reading!

What is Libertalia, Who makes it?

Libertalia is a pirate themed board game for 2 - 6 players. Play proceeds over 3 cruises (rounds) with each cruise broken down into 3 day/night segments plus a return to the harbor. Players are dealt identical hands of 9 cards from a deck of 30 possible choices. These cards comprise the choices for the crew looting the islands on the cruise each day. Let's take a look at the basic's of the game before jumping in:

How's it play?

Libertalia starts with laying out the board, having each player choose their pirate captain (technically just choose a color) and then dealing out the hand of cards. One player will shuffle their 30 card deck and draws 9 cards. While this is going on, another player will randomly draw 6 sets of loot tokens from the "Booty Bag", each set equal to the number of players, and place them on the board so everyone can see what booty is available each day. After all this, the player who drew 9 cards will read them out and everyone will build an identical hand of cards. Everyone is now ready to play.

Play proceeds across 4 phases (Sunrise, Day, Dusk, Night) per day, 6 days, then a single return to port. During the Sunrise phase everyone chooses a card and places it on the ship, which are then revealed and ordered from lowest to highest "rank", comprising the ships crew for the day. During the Day phase, each member of the crew will process any Day powers printed on the cards, from lowest to highest rank. Dusk sees the highest rank process dusk powers then choose a booty token from those available on that day of the cruise, proceeding through this step to the lowest rank crew member. Following this players will place their crew member cards into their pirate den and then process Night powers for all crew in their dens. This concludes one of the 6 days on the cruise/campaign and play proceeds to sunrise on the next day.

Following the completion of the Night phase on the 6th day the ship returns to port and players resolve any port powers for crew members in their pirate dens. Den's and graveyards are then discarded, loot is tallied and then returned to the "booty bag",  and end of cruise scoring takes place. New loot is drawn for the next cruise, 6 more cards are drawn to form the next hand, and play proceeds until 3 cruises are complete.

Each player begins each cruise with 10 doubloons, and can earn more doubloons through abilities on their crew members. Scoring comprises adding the total doubloons at the end of a cruise, moving the score tracker, then resetting to the starting 10 doubloons for the next cruise. It's important to note that only 6 new cards are dealt during the second and third cruise, indicating your hand can be comprised of additional cards held back during earlier cruises.   

What's innovative or different? What's fun?

Libetalia is a game of perfect knowledge, where each player is using the same set of cards and resources within the game. This means it becomes a game of remember what your opponents have played, anticipating which card they will play on which day, then bluffing which card you will play when. There is a fair amount of strategy in determining the best time to make use of different crew member powers, contributing to a variety of ways to earn the most doubloons during a cruise. Additionally there is strategy involved in holding back specific crew from earlier cruises when they may be able to benefit you more in later cruises of the game.

There is also some thought and fun in picking specific types of booty at specific times. One piece of booty, the Sabre, allows you to murder one of the crew members in a players den to each side of you. Another, the Spanish Officer, kills off your own crew member before they make it back to your den at the end of the day. These two selections are useful in cases when you pick them up and also when you can force your opponents to choose them by taking an earlier pick of booty during the dusk phase.

Anyone who is a fan of pirates will also enjoy this game. The crew members on each card are a lot of fun to read, and the flavor text is very in theme with a variety of pirate movies and books. My own group and family thoroughly enjoy declaring "AAARRRRR" when revealing our played cards, taken directly from the Table Top play through of the game.

Overall quality of the game

I want to take a moment to talk about "box control" for this game. Box control is what the producer has done to help organize and coordinate the contents of the box and board game components. Libertalia is a game containing 6 decks of 30 cards each, card board money tokens in 3 denominations, a bag of loot tokens, 2 central play boards and 6 individual player boards. Additionally there are flags and player tokens for each of the 6 players to track score and mark out-of-play cards. Asmodee has done an excellent job with forming the interior of the box with a mind toward excellent box control. There are places for each of the decks and all the components, keeping things nicely organized and easy to get out of the box and set-up to play.

The game quality is excellent across the board, with a nice thickness to the card decks, thick cardboard on the booty tokens, and a fairly durable pirate ship board. The rule book is very easy to understand and the layout is excellent, both on the text being easy to read and follow and containing many excellent pictures and diagrams.

Recommendation and thoughts

I love this game, my family loves this game, and 3 game groups I've played with also love this game. What is more interesting, my mother-in-law who only likes a few games (Yahtzee, exploding kittens, Quarriors) really enjoys this game and has requested we bring it on vacations to play. Overall this has enough complexity to keep hard-core games like me entertained and engaged while also having a simple enough game-play that lighter gamers such as my wife can enjoy playing. I am pleased to see how seamlessly the game combines those two play styles allowing both types of players to be involved in the same game sessions without becoming frustrating.

This game has a strong recommendation from me.