Monday, October 10, 2016

Minx the Maligned (Guild Ball)

The following article is a mix of opinion and tactics specifically centered on the Union player Minx. I was torn on which label I wanted to apply and decided it's best to go with both and leave it at that. It's not uncommon that outside my local guild ball group I hear disparaging comments about how Minx is not very useful. I specify outside my own play group as my local area has come to respect her through multiple games against my own teams where she is included. I particularly like her in my Captain Rage Union list, there she plays a key role "turning on" the team. I've also gotten good use from her in my Hunters teams, although she does not play as strong a role there as in Union. She's been available since the release of the Kickstarter but is not regularly used. I suspect that's going to change as more time passes and players realise the fantastic tech she brings to team. I'm going to do my part ahead of the curve and help explain where and how she plays best.

Minx - Looking at the Card

I think it's best to start out looking at her card and digging into the basic mechanics of what she does. Looking at the front of her card we are immediately struck my her exceptional movement stat of 7/9. Minx can swiftly move across the board and appears to threaten 10 inches for her attacks. We see a fairly basic TAC, Kick, and the "average" defence on her. Then we reach the second eye catching point on her stat line, which is the 2/2 influence. As a player when you see an influence stat that is equal such as 2/2, this should trigger a question and cause you to scan the card to see if there's a reason for the odd stat. In this case, we find on the back of her card that Minx is furious, charging for free. Overall this makes her a very efficient model, bringing 2 influence and able to charge a target 10 inches away for free without using that influence.

Moving to Minx's playbook and character plays we find she has evenly spread momentous damage on 1, 3, and 5 successes. This points toward her being a damage dealer with nicely placed momentous damage generation. It also means that on a charge, should she get enough results to wrap, she can easily take advantage of damage buffs such as commanding aura and tooled up. On her playbook, we find two interesting character plays, both of which can be triggered from her playbook non-momentously. Screeching Banshee applies a movement penalty to the target model along with delivering 2 points of damage. Marked Target is more interesting, being able to be triggered as well as paid for with 1 influence. This is an 8 inch ranged play which applies a movement bonus for models charging the target the play was applied to. This threat extender can be incredibly helpful to "known threat range" models who want to charge into combat.

Swapping over to the back of her card we catch sight of a couple more interesting tidbits. The first, Furious, I mentioned above and is part of the key nature for Minx in a team. Furious lets her charge a target without influence, getting at least one attack. The second eye-catching trait is Damaged Target. This ability increases Minx's charge range by 2 inches when she is targeting a damaged model for her charge. This increases her overall threat range to a very impressive 12 inches. The third trait is one that's often forgotten but can be useful in niche situations. Follow-Up allows Minx to utilize her 7-inch jog to stay engaged with a model that moves out of her melee range.

Reviewing all of the information and stats for Minx we find the ideal situation is one where she can charge someone 12 inches away, hit them for 3 - 4 momentous damage then bounce away using the double dodge at the top of her playbook. This makes her a finisher model, supporting the rest of the team with both 2 influence to be assigned elsewhere and the final 2 - 4 points of damage for a take out.  If looked at in those terms she is just ok, not an amazing model at all.

One wonders why I would be writing this if that were all?

The Union team led by Captain Rage

Minx can be played with multiple teams but I feel she truly shines in a Captain Rage led union team. She brings some incredible utility to that team which increases the overall effectiveness and threat of the team. My current favorite team roster for Capt. Rage includes Minx, Coin, Gutter, Avarisse & Greed, and Mist. This team brings a total of 12 influence to be allocated turn 1, plus the Bag of Coffers influence allocated during the turn. Often turn 2 will see a desire to allocate 4 influence to Rage, 4 to Gutter, and 3 or 4 to Mist, draining the base pool of allocatable influence. This means that the other models, in this case Minx and A&G, are left with no influence. This is not a problem for Minx as she can still charge for free, adding some additional damage to a select combat. Almost more important, Minx can charge from "seemingly nowhere" to set up a gang-up bonus for a targeted combat. This becomes very beneficial for Capt. Rage when using Bloody Coin.

The second, and somewhat more important, value Minx brings to the team is Marked Target. Minx is able to extend Capt. Rage and Gutter's threat range. Of these two models, Capt. Rage has the more important threat range to extend. Typical opponents will be accutely aware of Capt. Rage's 7 inch charge / 8 inch threat range and endeavor to stay outside of it. Savvy opponents will often consider "Quick time" on Rage, extending that threat to 10 inches and will stay out side that. Minx can often charge into that range, hitting to trigger marked target and adding an additional 2 inches to increase Capt. Rage's threat to 12 inches. Even when she cannot charge, such as during turn 1, giving her a single influence gives a 1 dice chance to land Marked Target on an opposing model within 15 inches of Minx's starting point. It's especially useful to use Coin to give Bag of Coffers to Minx, giving her the influence and a bonus time for the character play when activation is not an issue.

Lastly and least important is her actual damage. Minx being able to charge an engaged target, attacking in range of Capt. Rage's legendary play can deliver some reliably good damage. In this situation she should be rolling 11 dice, averaging 5 hits for a momentous 4 damage plus a 2 inch dodge. Often she will spike this roll to 6, 7, or 8 hits and escalate that to 7 damage, 2 momentum, and a 2 inch dodge. It's a fairly nice finisher to a turn where she was not allocated any influence.

Minx vs Gutter with Blackheart

I've been fairly vocal about my disapointment with Gutter after the April errata, specifically when played with Blackheart. On Guild Ball Tonight I commented that I have switched to using Minx in place of Gutter because I felt she was better. This is a good place to discuss this comparison and where my preference comes from.

Following the April 2016 errata Gutter moved from a reliable control player to a damage focused player, specifically utilizing Scything Blow for her damage. Many people point out that Gutter still have a 4 inch chain grab along with reliable momentous damage. I always hear the stories about Gutter getting multiple scything blows off on models that get grouped up, thus delivering amazing results and incredible take-out's to generate points.

I'll point out that this is not untrue, in specific situations. Gutter when is an amazingly dangerous player when used to focus on maximising damage via scything blow. I'll go further and say that in specific teams (Butchers and Capt. Rage) she is a top choice among players, almost critical for a Capt. Rage team in my opinion. That said, she's not as good with Blackheart.

Blackheart benefits Gutter in two ways, via crowding out her target and via Commanding Aura. Commanding aura will grant +1 damage to playbook damage results and +1 TAC while attacking a target within the aura. In these situations, where Gutter can position appropriately to not endanger Blackheart or another friendly model, Gutter generates moderate results. She will be attacking with TAC 7 (base 5, +1 for gang-up, +1 for commanding aura) which only reliably generates 4 successes. This means that Gutter can choose momentous 2 (becomes 3 damage) or momentous scything blow (3 damage to everyone in 2 inches). Not bad damage, especially if she positions to get multiple people in range. Maximising this attack to get 12 damage by using all 4 influence on attacking means Gutter had to start within 8 inches of the target model and be able to walk to a position where she is not within 2 inches of any friendly models. She'll aim to pick this position to also have 2 or more enemy models in range.

Let's lay that out as a list:
  1. Must be within 8 inches of 2 enemy models
  2. Cannot end within 2 inches of a friendly model
  3. Blackheart is already engaging the target model she'll be attacking
That's the "ideal" situation that can be reasonably expected to scything blow and put 12 damage on 2 models.

Looking at Minx in a similar situation we can start by making a couple assumptions. The basic one is we assume Commanding Aura and engagement, but that the target model has not taken any damage yet. In this case Minx can charge the model from 10 inches across the board and will be making her first attack with 11 dice (base 5, +4 charge, +1 gang-up, +1 for commanding aura) and reliably generating 5 successes on the hit. This will do 4 damage, followed up by 2 attacks at TAC 7 doing an additional 3 per attack. Let's compare with the following list:
  1. Must be within 10 inches of the target
  2. Blackheart is already engaging the target model she'll be attacking
The comparable damage is 12 damage to the single target (possibly 12 to 2 targets in an ideal situation) vs 10 damage to a single target. Gutter took 4 influence and had to be closer to the target. Minx was further away and only required 2 influence. Gutter generated 4 momentum while Minx generated 3 momentum.

I have found that the more often I play savvy opponents, both locally and at the top tiers of tournaments, those opponents know how to counter Gutter. They watch for her and since she's a threat they focus on removing her or mitigating her threat. Minx tends to slip under the radar more and is not considered as much of a threat, or considered out of range to get into combat. When I combine this with her Marked Target being useful for Decimate and Blackheart charging, extending both their threat ranges, she is far more useful to me. Gutter can still chain grab, but in a team that cannot boost her number of attacks or drastically increase her damage on character playes, every chain grab is less effective damage she delivers.

As such, Minx is better with Blackheart. Spelling it out here are my reasons:
  1. Greater threat range
  2. Similar damage range (10 - 12), same threat if her charge spikes to 1 additional success.
  3. Only 1 less momentum generation (which becomes same if Gutter has to chain grab)
  4. Better team enablement with Marked Target

Conclusion .... for now

This should give you a good handle on how to start including Minx into your lists. I think she works very well with both Union captains, as you can see above. Minx also plays for Masons, Butchers, Hunters, and Morticians. I will write a future article about how she works with the Hunters, suffice it to say I think she's very useful in that influence constrained team. I think she fits well with Butchers as well, enabling the build of a team that's almost completely furious. I don't think she brings as much use to Morticians nor Masons, not really filling a necessary niche in those teams.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Painted Models - Hunters

During the Summer I typically have the opportunity for a Work-Cation trip to New England. This is a two week period of time where my wife, mother-in-law, and kids get to go to the beach and I settle myself out on the porch and work. One of the high points of this week is the relaxation and an increased chance to paint. This, along with Christmas, is typically my highest level of yearly productivity for painting miniatures.

This year I brought a number of things with me including my entire hunters set. These were already primed and I had been waiting to paint them before playing them. I'd stumbled around trying to figure out a good scheme for them for a while. I thought I wanted a fall theme but was having trouble picturing the right combination in my head. Thanks to "The Art of Wargaming" on facebook, I found the scheme that fit the picture in my head. While I certainly do not compare to their level of painting, I am pretty happy with my table top quality Hunters.

Overall I'm happy with the way the team looks, and I particularly like how they look when all together. Here's a group shot of the whole team.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Improving "The Best 4 days in Gaming" with Geek Nation Tours

This year my family and I attended Gencon 2016 with Geek Nation Tours. Yesterday I wrote about my background with Geek Nation Tours and the Head Geek Teras. I also talked about why we (my family and I) chose Geek Nation Tours for our Gencon 2016 trip and how the lead up to the convention was improved being part of the tour. I also talked about the madness that was our trip to Gencon, starting nearly a week before the actual convention. I want to talk about and review the actual Gencon experience through the filter of being part of the Geek Nation Tour experience. As you can tell from the title, I certainly have a favorable view on GNT and what they bring to the table for this type of event.

Arrival - Tuesday before Gencon 2016

We set out from Chicago mid-morning on Tuesday, stopping at the Albanese Candy Factory for some gummy bears and then grabbing lunch before arriving at the JW Marriott in Indianapolis mid-afternoon.  We knew our tour guide, Alex, would be at the hotel but were not sure how many people were showing up early and what the schedule was. We unpacked our car onto a bellhop cart then left it with the Valet, heading into the hotel to get checked in. Alex was easy to spot, camping out right as we entered the hotel and easy to find. He was familiar with us as part of the tour once we introduced ourselves and was as cheery as I've experience Teras to be each time we've run into each other. Although Teras was not going to be leading this tour, Alex made the matching first impression and things were off to a good start. He even knew our specific details and mentioned he'd already checked on our cot, which we were unsure we'd be able to get with our room. The tour guide knowing those types of little details is a very personal touch, and just overall a nice thing to encounter.

Just prior to heading to the desk to check in, Alex mentioned there would be an informal dinner and get-together that evening with the other tour arrivals, and asked if we thought we'd be attending. I nodded, mentioning that we'd be trying to locate friends who were in town early, but might be dropping by, I wasn't sure. Following that I headed out to check into the hotel and get up to our room. Even though we were on a tour, Marriott was very accommodating and added a note to my file as a Marriott Gold Member, giving us Concierge lounge access due to my hotel status.

Pre-Gencon Gaming

There is a gaming group in Indianapolis known as the Kentucky Fried Gamers. Each year they coordinate a pre-gencon gaming day on the Wednesday before Gencon for their club. Geek Nation Tours has partnered with them for a couple years now and gotten tour participants access to the gaming. This is a really fun set of games, with a great group of gamers, in two fantastic venues. We chose to take part in a "still in development" role-playing game known as Playthings, being run for us at Scotty's Brew Pub downtown Indianapolis. Although the traditional drinking spot for the 501st Storm Troooper brigade, there were no Storm troopers in attendance on Wednesday. We (my wife, daughter, and I) did have a fantastic time playing in a private session of Playthings. It was a lot of fun as we got a chance to role-play living toys (i.e. Toy Story) with the game developer.

Geek Nation Tours events/dinners

One of the really great parts of Geek Nation Tours is the nightly dinners they host for the tour group. Each dinner at Gencon was scheduled with a pre-dinner gaming time, followed by the dinner itself, followed by more gaming. These events not only provided a fantastic and reliable gathering point for the end of the day but also a quieter spot for gaming with friends. These dedicated gaming spots are particularly hard to find at Gencon, with the post-convention evenings filling up every available spot (table, couch, chair, and even floor) in the hotels surrounding the convention.This year GNT set up an opening and closing dinners in the JW Marriott hotel bar/lounge restaurant, a dinner at the local Brazilian steak hour Fogo De Chao, and 2 dinners at the in-hotel Italian restaurant.  Each of these nights also featured speakers from gaming companies (CMON, Osprey, Mantic, Steamforged, etc) and open gaming with tour provided games.

Of particular note was the opening and closing dinners. The opening dinner featured a couple of benefits to tour participants which really set it apart. First, GNT tour guide Alex went and collected everyone's tickets and badges for us, saving tour participants from standing in the long Gencon lines to pick these up. All our necessary Gencon entry paperwork (badges and tickets) was delivered to us at dinner, along with a set of Geek Nation Tours branded T-Shirts, Bowling Shirts, and Yoga pants for the women. Then, over dinner, tour participants were treated to short introductions and presentations from industry insiders such as Ronnie Renton, owner of Mantic Games, talking about new releases and the hosts of podcasts such as the D6 Generation and the Nerd Herders. Following dinner, GNT had the podcasts hosts split off to smaller groups for dedicated role-playing sessions for the tour participants. This was used as a mixer for the tour, giving everyone a chance to be introduced to the other attendees. Likewise, the end of tour closing dinner was attended by the founders of Steamforged games, who gave insight into their first Gencon experience along with talking about their upcoming releases and a number of spoilers for Guild Ball, Dark Souls, and a new paint line.

Throughout Gencon these nightly dinners were a fantastic place to meet back up with the tour participants each night. This was also a great fall-back for dinner plans should something go wrong or plans be lacking, along with a comfortable and quiet(er) environment to grab some games. Each night the dinners were attended by different personalities from within the game industry who spoke about their experiences (Dave Taylor) or talked about what their companies were releasing (Osprey, CMON) along with giving demo's of their games. The more intimate dinner environment provided ample opportunity to connect with these company reps and "industry insiders" on a personal level for each of the tour participants.

"Save me GNT!!!"

We had one experience at Gencon 2016 where Geek Nation Tours really shined, although through no undue effort nor expectations of their own. A group of friend had pulled together some last minute plans to grab dinner at the RAM restaurant, a venue famous at Gencon for completely redecorating their venue and reprinting their menu in tribute to Privateer Press Warmachine. This is a notoriously difficult reservation to get during Gencon, with very long waiting time for a table. Our group had called ahead and had a reservation for 10, and we headed out to check in and eat. The whole group was excited, including my 17 year old daughter and one of our friends teenage niece. Upon arriving we were told that we'd have an hour wait despite our reservation, and we settled into 2 separate tables in the bar area (away from the actual bar). Our group was showing up and finding each other over a period of 20 minutes, with the first group including the teenage niece grabbing the first tables. My wife, daughter, 2 friends, and I were with the second portion of the group, getting there 5 minutes later. When we arrived the waitress had already taken the first set of drink and appetizer orders. We settled into the tables and as we began to order, my daughter was singled out by the waitress and told she could not sit with us and would need to leave the bar due to being under age. Despite being a fair distance from the actual bar, and despite other clearly underage people at the next table (and elsewhere in the bar), we decided (irritably) that we'd step outside of the bar area to wait for our table. My wife, daughter, 2 friends, and I stepped outside to wait.

After a long wait our names were called and we were led to our table. The restaurant was understandably packed, but we'd had a reservation and things were looking up. The hostess proceeded to lead us to a table with 6 chairs around it. This confused us, as our reservation was for 10. On inquiring (not me, the person who had made the reservation) why the table was only set for 6 we were told that we could squeeze 2 more seats in to make it for 8. We repeated the question on how squeezing 8 people was supposed to accommodate 10 guests, per our reservation, to be told by the hostess and the just arriving waitress that we'd have to squeeze further to make everyone fit. We were also told that if that was not sufficient for us we'd have to wait at least an additional hour for them to put together another table. As our group grew increasingly frustrated we were confronted by the waitress asking why we we couldn't just wait another hour and go back to our tables in the bar (which we'd already vacated and had been grabbed by other patrons waiting).

At this point my wife, daughter, and I were disgusted with being treated fairly badly. I understand they had no need of our patronage, being filled to capacity during Gencon. This type of behavior by restaurant staff was frankly despicable, and we will not return in the future to that establishment. We all realized at this point that we had a very good alternative, although we could not invite our friends along. We (my wife, daughter, and I) could retire to the Geek Nation Tours dinner at the hotel Italian restaurant, and be welcomed as valued guests into a friendly environment where we were not squeezing and people actually wanted us around. We decided to leave the restaurant and catch up with our friends later that night for a more enjoyable gaming experience.

As expected, the Geek Nation Tours dinner was fantastic. The food was good and we enjoyed ourselves far more with the service than we would have in the over crowded RAM and the simply rude and entitled wait staff. This stark contrast in dinners was something that really stands out as an unintended plus to the GNT planning and group as a whole.

That personal touch

Geek Nation Tours really added a personal touch to the whole Gencon Tour, demonstrating their dedication to making sure everyone on the tour enjoyed themselves and didn't miss anything. Tuesday evening following our arrival we (my family and I) were hustling and bustling getting situated and trying to figure out who was in town. As I know a lot of people in the game industry this was a hectic time trying to track down who was in town, who wasn't, and where everyone was. During this time I received a couple text messages from a number I didn't recognize, all of which were asking where I was and if I was going to make it out to dinner. At the time I disregarded those messages while trying to get my own coordination completed. It was only later that I realized, reading through these pings and check-in's, that the messages were from Alex, our tour guide. He was concerned that he'd seen us check in, then we'd disappeared and had not joined him and the other early tour participants for dinner and games. This is one of those things that becomes incredibly touching when you stop to think about it, as it was unsolicited and completely unexpected.

My wife talks about some of the ways our tour guide Alex really improved the overall Gencon experience personally for her. Following our arrival on Tuesday through the end of the tour on Monday, Alex made a point of greeting her by name whenever they ran into each other. He recognized her each time they passed and made a point of stopping to chat and check in with her. This may seem like a small thing, but when you consider Gencon had over 60-thousand unique attendees and the Geek Nation Tour had 20 or more participants, this is impressive. Alex spotted her not only in the hotel hallway and common areas, but also in the very crowded Gencon vendor and gaming halls, then made a point and time to chat with her about how her day and convention was going. This personal touch was the type of attention she really enjoys, adding a touch of brightness with each encounter.

Tour participants and guide

I would not feel this review was complete if I didn't take time to talk about the tour participants and our tour guide Alex.  I have to admit up front that while I have a bit of a public persona due to hosting a couple different podcast (Gamers Lounge, Guild Ball Tonight, Hobby Sofa), I'm not exactly what people would call a "joiner". My wife tends to be the friendlier person when it comes to making connections and such. Add to that my typical convention experience (Gencon and Adepticon) has me running around meeting up with different groups and friends throughout the convention. I'm rarely lacking in activities and this found us (me more than my wife and daughter) ducking out of some of the GNT dinners and events to catch up with other friends during the convention.

Even considering all of this, my wife made some friends and all of the tour participants were particularly welcoming. On our first night we greeted a couple who were looking fairly "new" and just a touch lost, inviting them to join us for a demo of an unreleased game I'd gotten my hands on. (Shadow Games by Steamforged Games). Throughout the convention my wife and daughter met up with that couple during the other dinners and both wives have built a bit of a connection following the tour.

The other important part of talking about people on our tour is Alex, our GNT Tour Guide. Alex was fantastic as not only a tour guide but also as a person to drink and game with. He appears well connected in within the gaming industry as a whole, and it was interesting to see him connected to many of the same gaming industry connections I have. We had a very enjoyable time chatting about various topics throughout the tour, and it was only at the very end of the tour he realized I was the host of a podcast he listened to. Perhaps only other podcasts hosts fully understand this, but it's sometimes refreshing to be a bit "incognito" and unrecognized for a time, as often being a recognized host can color (positively and negatively) peoples reactions to you. Alex (as mentioned above and here) was a champion throughout the tour, which would not have been as enjoyable or excellent without him.

 Thoughts and Review

 Every single encounter I have with Geek Nation Tours increases my overall appreciation for what they do and how great they are. After taking part in 2 tours and one off-tour event I can honestly say that one of my first considerations for trips is GNT. I say trips, not just conventions, because my daughter and I have looked at going with GNT to New Zealand for their Hobbit tour. During Gencon a number of our friends took notice of our experience (specifically the RAM dinner) along with one or two sneaking into some of the after-dinner gaming and access to industry insiders. They were all as impressed as I was, and asked a lot of questions about cost and how it works. Cost is not going to be fixed for each person and each tour, but I will say that my total trip for the three of us with GNT ran around $5K. We felt that this was well worth the money we spent when considering everything included.

I look forward to future tours with GNT, and highly recommend them to anyone looking to make a trip. Even if you're not typically considering going with a tour group, look at the GNT packages and you may find one that fits your needs!!!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Pre-Gencon 2016 with Geek Nation Tours

This year my family and I decided to take the trip to Gencon 2016. This is not an insignificant undertaking, trekking 3 of us nearly 600 miles across the country for a 7 day visit to one of the largest game conventions in the world. Of course we decided to make things a bit more complicated in a couple ways. First, we realized the week before Gencon my 17 year old daughter got an unexpected week off. This opened up the opportunity to leave for our drive earlier than expected, allowing me to attend a Guild Ball tournament the Saturday before the event. I checked my hotel points (thank you work travel) and realized we had enough to cover a couple contingencies. We subsequently decided to add an additional 2 day excursion to Chicago onto my trip to play Guild Ball due to my daughter having never been there and Chicago being one of my wife and I favorite cities in the US. This resulted in a 9 hour drive to Indianapolis, an all day Guild Ball tournament, a 3.5 hour drive to Chicago, 2 days of sightseeing, then a 3.5 hour drive to Indianapolis to check into Gencon. Gencon runs Tuesday until Sunday for us, then a 9 hour drive back home on Monday.

Let's talk a little about Gencon tickets and lodging. The Gencon experience begins in January of the year prior to attending for most people. This is when the initial badges go on sale along with Gencon housing opening up and becoming available. Attendees who wish to stay anywhere approximately close to the convention center have approximately 5 minutes to get online on the specified day and log into the system to wait in a digital queue hoping to get a hotel room. This is an absolute nightmare, and I don't actually know anyone who ends up getting decent rooms out of this. Most of the attendees I know pay very high prices for rooms which are typically a couple blocks away from the center. Months later this exercise begins again to grab up event tickets for events you want to participate in. Make sure you know the time and date to jump online to get lucky on some placement in a digital queue and hope the 1K or more people ahead of you int he queue don't buy up the event tickets you want.

All of this is not to say Gencon is not an excellent experience. There are some specific frustrations that build up which are typically alleviated once you attend this monstrous event. Once we experience Gencon and return home it's the joy of the actually long weekend gaming that we remember, not the frustration in the beginning. 2016 was different however, we found a way to improve the overall experience. Geek Nation Tours.

My background with Geek Nation Tours

I've been somewhat familiar with Geek Nation Tours for many years, initially encountering Teras (the Head Geek) when he started advertising a geek focused tour company at Adepticon. He is an incredibly nice guy, even for the notoriously pleasant Canadians, and we spent time talking about podcasting and 40K. At the time I thought the idea of his venture was cool but was not convinced it was for me. My Adepticon trips are well covered on the lodging, travel, and activities front so I didn't see the need for a tour company.

Teras and I stayed in touch through the years, often catching each other briefly at Adepticon and Gencon. In 2014 I ran into the first challenge I'd had with Adepticon registration, missing out on both the discount room block and logging into the registration late and missing out on events and the VIG registration. Working through my frustration I decided to reach out to Teras and see if he had rooms left. I ended up joining the 2014 Adepticon tour, getting my VIG registration and solo-room for the same price as my basic late registration room cost would have been. In addition I was able to take part in some of the tour activities and dinners which were an absolute blast!!! After missing 2015 I ended up with some oddball plans for Adepticon this year so things did not work out for me to take part in the Geek Nation Tours group. Despite this, Teras had opened up one of his tour events to Adepticon attendees, the Industry dinner, which I was able to attend and really enjoyed.   

Geek Nation Tours @ Gencon 2016

My experiences with Geek Nation Tours left no doubt in my mind that when it came to Gencon I wanted to attend as part of their tour. My wife and I mapped out the budget and set out in late 2015 to make this happen. A basic Geek Nation Tour package for Gencon includes lodging, dinners each night, your Gencon badge, and transfers (taxi/shuttle/etc) from the airport if your flying in. The lodging pricing is set based on a double-occupancy assumption, with an option to pay a bit extra if you want a room to yourself.  This is a well prepared package which Teras and his team has set-up and works for most everyone who travels in. Of course I am a special snowflake and had to muck up the works on this, but isn't that half the fun???

We had 3 people traveling to Gencon together, my Wife, my 17 year old daughter, and myself. We wanted to share a room and planned to drive to Gencon. We also wanted to have all three of us be able to take part in the tour activities, particularly the nightly dinners and gaming. I reached out to Teras and we were able to work out those minor changes to the tour package, doing lodging as double occupancy for my wife and I as full tour members and a discounted tour rate for my daughter as she didn't need lodging costs covered. We came to an agreement on pricing, I gathered up the money and sent it off to him, and we were registered for the Gencon 2016 tour. That's when the real fun began.

Ok, let me first comment on one of the biggest motivators for us to join the tour. Having planned tours for as long as he has, Teras and Geek Nation Tours is able to reserve excellent hotel rooms at the events attended by the tours. At Gencon he has a reserved room block each year for his tour in a hotel adjacent to the convention center. This is incredibly important to both my wife and I as we prefer the convenience of walking straight into the convention from our hotel. This year the rooms were at the connected JW Marriott, with only a short walk across a catwalk (air conditioned no less) to get into the venue. These are some of the toughest rooms to get (and most expensive), and we didn't have to think about it at all. Once we signed up with GNT we knew we'd be at our preferred hotel location.

That special GNT touch

It was after the actual tour registration that we started to experience the true value and benefit to being part of Geek Nation Tours. The first nice touch was an email from Teras containing three badge codes and a  nice set of instructions on how to use them. Our Gencon badges being part of our tour cost, these codes let us log into the Gencon system and add our badges to our accounts. The process was incredibly easy and now we knew we had both badges to attend Gencon and a good hotel room at the event.

Over the next couple months we got fairly regular updates as Teras learned more information about what was going on at Gencon. He made sure to send out reminders to all the tour participants for early reviews of events and other types of activities. He also monitored the coordination an annual practice where GNT and the Kentucky Fried Gamers team up for a day of pre-gencon games. As part of the tour we were given access to this game day on the Wednesday prior to Gencon, and Teras helped us stay abreast of the news and register for those days events.

Along came the dreaded day of trying to register for Gencon events. The week leading up to this day Teras went to extra efforts to set-up a dedicated Facebook group for tour participants along with keeping everyone reminded and up to date on how registration would work. The morning registration would go live the tour facebook page become a general group chat for participants discussing and coordinating events they would want to do together. Everyone on the tour was very friendly and there was an active discussion. Hints and tips for getting desired events were freely shared and then registration went live, with all the tour participants commiserating as our wishlists of event processed. The whole experience became fun opposed to the typical drudgery watching your digital queue number tick down.

Once this was complete we continued to receive regular updates for our tour right up to our arrival in Indianapolis. As this post is getting a bit long I'll split the review up into 2 articles. Come back tomorrow (or go to the next post) for "Improving "The Best 4 days in Gaming" with Geek Nation Tours"

Monday, August 22, 2016

All the Games

I have recently returned from Gencon 2016 and found myself in a place where I am conflicted, overwhelmed, and incredibly blessed all at the same time. I'm finding myself the embodiment of "The Golden Age of Gaming", with too many games and not enough time nor groups of friends to play them all. It's a strange place to be, as my collection sis beginning to resemble one of those board-game box walls you see behind certain Internet game reviewers.

I realize how blessed I am overall with 3 regular gaming groups (2 weekly and 1 quarterly) plus a family that plays games. In addition to that I have a wider group of friends who enjoy games but do not play regularly, only when we sporadically get together. This leaves my choices of games split into multiple categories, my hard-core gaming groups, my family games, and party or lighter games my extended friends would enjoy. I can be fairly honest in saying Gaming itself has become my hobby. This is a shift from being focused strictly on miniature games where the "hobby" was defined as the gluing, building, painting side of the game activities.

Readers may wonder what type of expense my current game hobby carries. I've been very aware of this and watched it fairly closely over the past two years.  Kickstarter has helped a great deal in managing the overall expense of collecting games to play on both the board game and miniature side of gaming. I'll occasionally have spike of expense in a month where a really exciting kickstarter is coming to a close or where a lot of stuff is released all at once. Those months can push my totals up to $200 - $300 spent, although they are not overly common. On a regular basis, outside the spikes, I'm spending $50 - $100 per month on games. Add in a spike for Gencon or Adepticon then  two big kickstarters a year and I'm averaging a yearly gaming expenditure around $1800. Keeping in mind that's just to put new games or game accessories in my hands, not including any travel or lodging for events or such.

I don't think that's too bad. I could even take time to look at what I'm playing and how often to try and figure out if I'm getting that much value from my spending. I could, but it wouldn't make much sense. Overall I have the overwhelming feeling I with I had more time for games simply because I'm not playing all the games I want to play enough times. This begs the question, what are all the games?

All The Games

Miniature Games

Guild Ball is a tabletop skirmish sports game played with teams of 6 models. It's my primary miniature game currently, the one I play regularly and attend competitions for. I am also a pundit for the game company (Steamforged), which means I give demo's of the game, run tournaments, and generally support the local Guild Ball scene. I am really loving nearly all aspects of Guild Ball and it takes up a lot of my gaming time. I am regularly getting at least 1 game a week played and traveling for competitive Guild Ball events on a monthly basis.

Wrath of Kings is a steampunk fantasy army scale game played on an open table, typically 4x4 or 6x4. I have two armies for WoK, a Goritsi army comprised of Werewolves and Vampires, and a Shael Han army comprised of Monks and naked monk-women..... and a Dragon. I enjoy this game as it's mechanically light but tactical enough on the table to provide room to dig in. I have enough models to construct multiple different forces without adding anything new. I still pick up the random new model or book when it's released, but overall I don't spend much here. My group was playing a game every other week at the beginning of the year but this was sidelined due to involvement in a campaign board game (Kingdom Death to be mentioned below).

Arena Rex is a small scale skirmish gladiatorial game I've recently picked up. this was a kickstarter I was not involved and was exposed to at Adepticon 2016. The models are fantastic but I did not look closely at the game play during the convention. Mid-July 2016 I learned that a group of friends I see a couple times a year had picked up the game and dove in fairly heavily to learning to play. Keeping this in mind I gave the game another look and decided to pick up a force. I grabbed 7 models and a mat and was satisfied. At Gencon 2016 (early August) several people in both my regular local game groups became hooked and picked up multiple forces across the group. Although I was a bit earlier to the game they jumped in and it looks like a game we'll start getting to the table locally. Overall it's a very quick game lasting approximately 20-30 minutes per session. This means it can be a quick to play side game or one where we get multiple games in a fairly short period of time. I've gotten limited number of introduction games played but expect this to ramp up fairly quickly.

Dead Zone by Mantic just released a new version of it's rule set, making some key changes to how things work. My friend John has almost everything for this game and I tend to borrow his models when we grab a game. It plays fairly quickly, although not as quickly as Arena Rex. The new rules  seem to have streamlined the game a bit and we had fun trying out our first couple games. I only get to play this when John brings his set to the store and we have not predetermined on another game, but I would not mind getting more games in. I see an opportunity to use my 40K Eldar models as stand-ins for the Asterian forces in Dead Zone, which would be cool to see on the table.


Currently I have five (six) games in my roster which fall under Pseudo-Boardgames. These are games with models that should be built and painted, some level of character or force customization, and are played primarily on a board of some type. I have 2 more "campaign" style games coming toward the beginning of 2017 which fall into this lot as well.

Aetherium is the game I consistently claim to be the best game of 2015, along with one of the best games not enough people are playing. Aetherium had a successfully kickstarter and released in 2015 with its starter box and 2 full factions of models. This Cyberscape miniature board game plays like a tabletop miniature wargame within the confines of a board game. 2016 saw the release of a third faction, with promises for 2 additional factions by the end of 2017. This is a highly tactical game thats a ton of fun to play and not overly complicated to learn the basics. I would love to get more games of this in, and expect that will happen now that 3-player games are easier considering 3 different factions in game. I believe Aetherium suffers from a lack of major distribution limiting exposure to a wider audience.

Kingdom Death Monster is an intense campaign style board game with some amazing miniatures as part of its line. This game pull's no punches when it comes to providing a high risk immersive experience to the players, very much targeting mature gamers. Violent death, horrible injuries, dismemberment, and soft-core porn style models combine with beautifully sculpted miniature for both the players and the horrible monsters they are fighting. This is one of the best games I've played in 2016, although the mature material, assembly and painting requirements, high price point, and limited quantities put this game out of reach for most gamers. The base game will cost $400 if you picked up one of the retail copies, $650 and more for the majority of people trying to buy a copy on Ebay. It's a campaign style game where you and your friends will play multiple sessions across weeks (likely months) before you reach the end of the game. Our group has completed one full campaign and are looking forward to playing our next campaign in the fall.

Drakerys is a new game to my collection which I kickstarted in conjunction with my daughter. We chose to go with the base armies, Humans vs Orcs plus added in a fantastic dragon which caught my daughters imagination. Subsequent to a demo at Gencon 2016 my wife decided to jump on board and chose the Elf army for herself. This is more heavily on the tabletop war game side of gaming than the board game side, but comes with some nice pre-printed mats (cardboard and neoprene) for playing the game on. This keeps the game partially in the board game space as I cannot see playing without the provided mats. Drakerys is firmly seated in the classic fantasy realm with magical elemental vortexes set-up at the start of the game which are used to summon elementals who serve in your force and fuel the magic spells cast by the army wizards. Additionally there is a massive dragon which can be hired into your force or can work as a dangerous neutral element on the battlefield. This is newly in my collection but I'm looking forward to getting more games in, even if its just with my family.

Star Wars X-Wing and Star Wars Armada fall firmly into this category due to being played on an open table (often on a space printed mat) but not requiring any painting or assembly of the models used. I picked up both of these games to play with a combination of my daughter and a couple key friends who played them. On both fronts the drive to play these games has dropped off but I'm not yet committed to selling off my collections. To be fair, my collections are fairly conservative in relation to some other games so if I get these games on the table twice a year with either my daughter or key friends then I feel like I'm ahead. 

Super Dungeon Explore has been in my collection for a long time, and was once among my favorite board games. I place this in the Pseudo-boardgame category because of the level of painting required to get this on the table. Painting up the SDE models makes such a difference in the enjoy-ability of the game I think it's necessary. The Forgotten King update for SDE was released in 2015 and changed my opinion of the game overall. I am very disappointed in that update, but am hopeful that the 2.0 update coming early 2017 will remedy the issues injected in the game with Forgotten King. There are signs that Soda Pop Miniatures has heard the complaints from the community and are taking strides to fix things, but only time will tell. Although I'm not searching for time to play this, I'd still step up to playing an original version game and look forward to seeing how they fix the 2.0 version of the game.

The Board Games

Zombicide is one of the games I wish saw table time more often. My family and I began playing through Zombicide last year, starting with the introduction mission of the first box set. We had backed the season 3 kickstarter which included both the base set and the expansion set. This was a great deal of fun, leading to us picking up the season 2 set (base plus expansion) as well in preparation for completing the mission thread in the season 1 rule book. Suddenly our regular play dropped off and now it's been a couple months since we've sat down for a game. This is a game I continuously look to get back on the table with my family as we all enjoy playing it.

Forbidden Stars is a Warhammer 40K based strategic control game with a semi-variable sector of space. It has Space Marines, Chaos Space Marines, Eldar, and Orks all battling for control of a sector which has recently become available via clearing warp storms. I had a fairly low expectation for this game due to it being 40K based, but was very wrong. This fantastic title from Fantasy Flight games has a great deal of depth to it as ships track through the open void creating paths for planetary assaults to be launched into enemy territory. I picking this up with the idea that if I played it once a year it was worth the purchase. I'm averaging 2 games a year at this point and am enjoying the game. I'd love to see it on the table more, but I'm getting the value I expected.

Castles of Burgundy falls into a category I like to call the "Damn you Adam" set of games. A couple times of year I get to take working vacations to New England (Northeastern USA) and get games with some friends in the area. Inevitably there is a couples game night with my friend Adam, who tends to introduce me to a new game (or 3). This typically results in my heading out and purchasing a new game. Castles of Burgundy is a Euro-style game where your worker placement is trying to picking up specific territories which can score you points. There's a fair bit of strategy and overall the game is determined by your strategy playing the game (little or no luck). This is a game that's a lot of fun but I have not tried it with my local group yet. My wife and I have also not decided to try it as a 2 player game, although we should.

Fireteam Zero is a light campaign game with limited character development but lots of monster killing goodness. The game comes with 4 heroes, 2 sidekicks, and three families of monsters which scale up across 3 levels (base, elite, boss). The heroes are part of Fire Team Zero, an elite commando team sent to investigate mysterious and suspected supernatural situations during World War II. Each monster family has it's own set of stories tied to it to play through. I had decided that I was not going to start introducing this game to my family or local group until I had the models painted up (considering it was a fairly small number of models to paint). Painting took much longer than expected, only recently completing. I have played through the initial mission of one monster family twice now and the game looks to be a lot of fun. Now that everything is painted I'm looking forward to seeing this on the table.

Xia is another "Damn Adam" game which was originally a kickstarter yet I picked up retail. Xia is a space exploration game with randomly laid tiles and pre-painted spaceship miniatures. This is a very fun game which some of my locals have compared to the video game FTL. The components for this game are absolutely fantastic which only enhances the already excellent game play. This is one of those games that my gaming group enjoys when I bring it to game night, but also a game that only makes it's way out periodically. There's an expansion coming in 2017 that will likely spur some increased play right after the release.

Tides of Infamy is a pirate themed exploration game with random sea/island tiles laid out in a random map each game. Players have 3 pirate ships which they sail out to discover islands, goods, and fight each other over goods. My wife absolutely loves this game with my daughters enjoying it as well. This makes it a very nice family game to pull out for an hour on a weekend afternoon. There are two styles of combat resolution for the game, both using a deck of cards. The first plays like the card game War, while the second is more akin to Poker. We're playing this as a light game so have stuck with the War style combat resolution. A lot of fun overall.

Blood Rage is one of the best recent games to be released, second to Aetherium last year simply because I'd choose a game of Aetherium over Blood Rage where possible. Blood Rage is a viking themed battle game that includes giant monsters, area control, card drafting, and card based combat resolution. It's an exciting mix of game mechanics that comes together for an incredibly thematic fast paced game. It's easy to teach to new players and has depths of tactics for experienced players which shift with every game. This is also a game where it's incredibly difficult to have a run-away win. Players feel like they are in the game all the way to the end, with a constant possibility to jump back ot the lead with just a couple moves. A great game that doesn't get played enough simply due to the pure quantity of good games on the market.

Scythe is the new hotness from Stonemaier Games, a kickstarter, a "Damn Adam" game, and one of the top rated board games from Gencon 2016. This is a fairly pure eurostyle game set in a post-"Big War" alternate history setting. This is a simple game to learn and a difficult game to master. The basics for game play are making a choice on the "action" playmat between 4 zones of actions. Each zone has a top and a bottom action which can be completed. Top actions are things such as producing resources or moving game pieces on the board. The bottom actions are things such as deploying a Mech or Building a new structure. There are 5 factions in the game, each with their own "faction" playmat and unique faction abilities. The "faction" and "action" playmats are randomized each game, providing a tremendous variety of gameplay even if you get the same faction. Overall a really great game and one that's good enough for me to start considering other Stonemaier games.


I am blessed to have the disposable income and understanding family that let's me obtain, own, and play all these games. I'm blessed to have the available leisure time to do so much gaming. A big part of the second has to do with a combination of multiple groups of great friends plus making time to exercise my gaming hobby. I set aside specific time each week to join friends at a local store and game. This is similar to TV time for most people, I just cut back and don't watch as much TV.

I'm both intrigued and mildly concerned that I cut off my board game list with at least 4 additional games plus a category of party games still to go. I felt this overall article was getting pretty long for reading. I'll definitely revisit the part game portion in an article of it's own, as I think readers would be interested in a list of good games for 5+ players.

I often consider my experience gaming and my contacts in the gaming industry with an eye toward moving my career and livelihood into that space. I've not yet found a way to maintain my current lifestyle and income level moving into the board and tabletop gaming space. Although it's a large industry it's still made up of low margin and small increments of income when compared to the executive management of IT and IT Consulting space I'm currently in. It's staying as my retirement plan for now.

Rome Rise to Power

The Group Games - Front Line No Komrades, Dark Dealings, Nevermore, Evil Baby Orphanage, Libertalia, New Salem

Machi Koro



Monday, August 15, 2016

Rise of the Kage - Revisit

Last December I wrote a review of the board game Rise of the Kage and it's associated expansion, Docks of Ryu. I shared this review to Board Game Geek in February of this year, receiving a couple replies. Anyone interested can go back and check out either of those links for my original review. In summary, I felt there was a good game potential but was unable to recommend the game due to imbalance between the two sides and nearly incomprehensible rules.

In March of this year (2016) an update set of rules (2.1) was released for the game. Along with requests from the company and recommendations from others who support the game I was interested to see if things had been fixed. I agreed to work on my gaming group to get this back in circulation with an eye toward revisiting my earlier review. It's took several months but I've gotten two games in with the new rules, one as the Guards and one as the Ninja's.

What is Rise of the Kage, Who makes it?

Nothing in this section has changed since my review, the game is still a stealth themed board game with a host of miniatures. It's listed as supporting 2-4 players, with 1 player taking the role of the boss and guards while the other 1-3 players take the role of the Ninja's.There are 3 Ninja's and 2 Boss's in the base game, with another 3 Ninja and a Boss in the expansion plus 1 extra Ninja from the kickstarter. Ninja players will pick 1 Ninja from each of 3 clans to settle on their team of 3.
  • Game: Rise of the Kage (and Docks of Ryu expansion)
  • Company: GCT Studios
  • Website:
  • Players: 2 - 4
  • Play time: 45 minutes 
I'm not in complete agreement that this is a game for 2-4 players. The refinement of the rules for 2.1 have further convinced me that this is a 2 player game that can accommodate up to 2 additional players for a maximum of 4, but plays ideally with 2 players.

Whats changed with how it plays?

Some of the basics for how the Ninja's work within the game have changed. First, the Ninja equipment cards have been clarified to be placed "into play" either face-down or face-up on the Ninja play mats. This limits the amount of cards they can have "in hand", additionally making even face-down Ninja cards targets for some guard actions. A second change, which is a fairly major change to the game, is the removal of the "pathing" originally required. Now, instead of predetermining the path the Ninja's will take, the Ninja's can take up to 6 squares of movements with an additional 2 upon sacrificing dice on the turn. This removal speeds the game up marginally without removing any key portion of the game. Overall the pre-pathing was an innovative touch but not necessary for the feel of the game.

Noise tokens work the same as before in relation to the Ninja's, but have changed in how they function for the guards. First, only a single noise token may be used on each guard for an extra action. This limits the blitzing of several noise tokens on guards that could occur previously. Additionally, Noise tokens are required in order to play guard cards during the Ninja turn. This significantly limits what the guards can do in reaction to the Ninja's. Although Noise tokens can be saved over rounds, there are other changes in place that create an environment where stockpiling is not the best choice.

Guard cards is one of the largest changes I saw in the 2.1 rule set. Guards now only receive a single card at the begining of the game. Following this first turn, Guards can onlyl draw new cards by purchasing them at the start of the Guard turn with either noise tokens or guard action tokens. In this way a limit on the guards power has been put in place, restricting guard resources by providing the 3 choices of:
  1. Buy guard card to play
  2. Take actions with a guard on the table
  3. Recruit new guards to the table
The guard deck is still a massive deck, despite some limited trimming of the cards with the 2.1 rules. Although this will ensure nearly endless replayablity it also means that the guard have a hard time digging for cards they may wish to play.

Quality: The 2.1 Rules

The cards are still a little thin but the boards and models continue to be wonderful. I'm happy with the plastic quality, despite needing to rebend some of the weapons with hot water. What everyone should be focusing on for this revisit is have the rules been improved?

 The rules have undergone a significant improvement in both clarity and streamlining. There are clear sections that walk through the set-up of the game, with pictures that help clarify the process and explanations where you would expect them to be. The step by step process of a turn is much clearer to understand and it's finally clear what a Ninja and Guard can or cannot do during their activation. The rules have been split into basic and advanced rules, with some sections (such as guards becoming alert) being added to the advanced section. This provides two levels of play for easier access to the game.

There are minor areas where we still struggled to find a reference to how a specific action or situation would be resolved, but overall the game has cleared things up tremendously. Additionally, there is an index which is pretty good (although could still use some improvement). A lot of work appears to have gone into improving the original rules, with clear evidence that the public was listened to during the process.

Recommendation and thoughts

I still like this game and believe I could get it onto the gaming table with new players for at least a first try. It's a challenging game but is no longer completely one-sided in favor of the guards. It's moved to being a mid-length game for 2 players who want to face a challenge.

I'm not confident there's enough improvement to overcome the initial bad feelings my gaming group had toward this game. In the current age of gaming it's tough to recover space on the table after a poor first impression. My own group does not have any other stealth style games to compete with Rise of the Kage, which increases the chance of this being played. In those groups who have another alternative and were disappointed in the original, I'm not sure the changes are enough to recover from the early misstep.

I can't say this is making it to circulation in my group, but I can say it's back to being an option. This is an improvement and completely due to GCT taking the time to rewrite the rules for the game based on community input.