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.