Board game stores in Germany: Brave New World

I do a bit of travel with work. I’m considering regularly making it a go to see different games stores in countries I visit. As for a recent trip to Cologne in Germany, I happened to track down Brave New World as a happy accident. It is firmly a board game store but also caters to the entire analog gaming hobby as a whole, including a nod towards geek culture in the manner of collectibles.

They carry a smattering of different miniature war games. Most notably Flames of War, Warmachine, and Bolt Action. However a few other plastic boxed sets for ancients and black powder systems can be found on their shelves. They also carry Reaper Bones Miniatures and provide a fair amount of miniature accessories like custom bases. This isn’t quite the miniature wargamers stop off, but they carry a decent number of models and you’d likely find bread and butter units here.

One thing as a miniature wargamer you’d definitely appreciate is the paint selection. They have full stocked racks of Vallejo and Reaper paints. Certainly an ideal place to pick up key colors and hues for modelling. It doesn’t stop there as they also have a wide variety of Osprey books for painting and technical reference. If you are a miniature wargamer, don’t be put off by the Magic and D&D at the store front, it’s certainly worth a visit.

The store also has a well stocked selection of RPGs. They carry plenty of Pathfinder books, as well as a selection from smaller publishers. Lots of other RPG accessories like dice, minis, and battle mats can be found. Interestingly the variety of WotC products are a little slim but all the core books (both in English and German) can be found aplenty.

This is all an aside from what the store really caters to, the board gamer. The selection is immense. Collectable and LCG card games, party games, euro and family games, and I’d be remiss to mention the variety of classic (and new) hex and counter games. I snagged a copy of GMT’s Combat Commander: Mediterranean and had to stifle the urge to pick up a few more. They are also a distributor of Victory Point Games and it was interesting to see their bagged titles having some shelf space. Commonly their games are something you can pick up only online and it was nice have something you could actually hold and browse through.

The full stock of board games is among several shelves that are densely packed, organized by title and a broad classification. You’ll find card games set in their own sections as with a few titles like X-Wing Miniatures, Runewars, Zombicide, and Arcadia Quest. I don’t think I can accurately describe the amount and diversity of games here. It’s staggering with likely hundreds of titles spread among the cult of the new, old classics, and a choice number of limited print run games. Learning the store has been open for roughly 15 years, you quickly can understand how they managed to get such an immense number of games.

Be ready to spend a bit of time when you arrive. The store is split between two levels and a few side rooms. There are a couple of tables set up for in store gaming. While I was there on a late Saturday afternoon a group of people were having an enjoyable time playing party games. The staff were friendly and patiently handled my questions from a typical American that spoke only English. If you are into board games and a fan of gaming in general, Brave New World is certainly worth checking out while in Cologne. I’ll give a special nod towards the hex and counter war gamer. You’ll find some treasures and modern titles among those offered at the store.

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Terminal Directive box insert from Go7 Gaming

While I found the legacy game in Terminal Directive sort of ‘blah’ I do feel it’s a great expansion to pick up. If anything just being a great value for your dollar for the number of factions it supports, adding a lot of quality cards to your pool. However a running joke from folks is the size of the box. It’s huge and the stuff inside takes up a miniscule amount of space.

Another thing looming for Netrunner is that rotation has finally hit, and a new core set will be out in a few months. So I wanted to think about making an insert for my box keeping all my playable cards in one place, with rotated cards being stored in my old core set box. I was all set to make something out of foam board and then I ran across custom box insert for Terminal Directive from Go7 Gaming. They offer organizers that are laser cut into HDF board. The product itself is a series of cut sheets in a ziplock bag, with a nice diagram instruction sheet for assembly. I also picked up a set of additional dividers.

They are cut exceedingly well and for the most part pop out with minimal force (almost with just a tap of the finger). However I will say some extra care has to be taken when removing the larger sections for the card organizer pieces. These took a little more effort and care to separate but mostly due to the fine edge cuts for all the individual teeth of the organizer section. The edges are cut with minimal scorching and practically no soot. I’d still give each edge a one over with a damp towel to make sure, but I didn’t notice any black smudges on my fingers handling the pieces.


Assembly was easy. The pieces fit together tightly and held in place, even without any glue. Just a dab of white glue on some key joints and I was able to assemble it in no time. However be sure to be patient and let the organizer sit overnight before throwing in your cards. Take care to read the instructions also. They are easy to follow but the pieces are similar in shape and the organizer certainly has a specific order for assembly. Best to make sure most of the pieces stay in their board mounts, and separate only the ones you want to work with instead of punching out all of the pieces at once.

The divider offers four main sections, with individual divider pieces. The individual dividers don’t require any glue and hold in place fairly snugly. The organizer also sits elevated in the box to provide some storage space for the campaign rules. A nice touch for allowing you to keep everything in the box and still allow easy access to cards.

I have my cards in Pro-fit sleeves. The capacity for the organizer is very generous. I was able to keep all my runner and corp cards from a single core, the big box expansions, and a few additional copies from draft decks all together. The only downside is the material adds some heft to the box. Other than that for about $20 you get a nice little card organizer. Yes, you could build your own out of foamboard. However the ease of assembly, time saved on design and construction, and an end product that is very sturdy material makes the Terminal Directive Go7 Gaming box insert a wonderful buy.

Travel in Chult for 5E

Picked up Tomb of Annihilation and eager to get my group into the adventure. It really looks fun. One thing stood out for me though was that a decent chunk of the game is a hex crawl. I wanted to dabble some in exploration of the island, but didn’t want the hex-by-hex movement the book suggested. Instead I wanted to farm out the overland travel system I used for Savage Worlds.

It’s an abstract system using milestones and marking provision levels using markers. The journey to a location is divided up into milestones, where each milestone reduces the levels of supplies one by one. If players reach a milestone and are out of provisions they suffer fatigue.

Random encounters and challenges are based on drawing cards. If a face card is drawn, something happens with the suit dictating what event occurs. They can range from getting lost, losing supplies, to even encounters with creatures. I tweaked it some to make it more friendly for 5E D&D.

Nearly all of the obstacles and challenges players will face require group checks. One pickle of course, especially dealing with rations, is there are magical items and spells that would likely counter any effects of obstacles during travel. To take these spells and equipment into account, players get advantage on checks that they make if they use (or have access to) such abilities.

I stumbled across a player friendly map version of a Chult which I like far more than the default blank hex map in the module. In addition for exploring the jungles of Chult, I had some additional rules…

Speed of Travel: For each milestone players should determine their speed. Normal speeds will cover 10 miles per day (a single hex), while traveling by canoe allow for 20 miles per day (2 hexes). The DM should determine the total distance traveled for a single milestone of the trip and decide what likely terrain types will be common for potential events during the trip.

If traveling at a slow pace, roll a d12. A roll of 12 results in the group being able to make up the distance traveled as if they were moving at a normal pace. Otherwise the pace is much slower and the total distance expected to travel for the milestone is halved. There is a bonus of +4 to any checks however as the slow pace allows the group to be better prepared to overcome any challenges.

If travelling at a fast pace the party will travel 1 and ½ times the total distance they normally would cover traveling at a normal pace to reach a milestone. Any checks made during the trip are at a disadvantage. Note this means traveling at a fast pace will cancel any advantage players get due to spells, abilities, magic items, or special equipment for ability checks.

Guides: The guides are a fairly critical part of the initial adventure and I wanted to have them serve some importance here. If a Hearts suit is drawn as an event, the guide makes a difficult Wisdom check (DC 15). If successful they can allow up to two players to make their Wisdom check with advantage to avoid getting lost.

Gear and Equipment: Some equipment like rain catchers can allow players to supplement the provisions they carry. These items will allow players to have advantage on certain checks.

Terrain types: The jungles of Chult are exceedingly difficult to travel and navigate. The region is hot and humid, making one consume far more water than journeys through other lands. The high canopy of trees and foliage make conditions of the jungle almost similar to that of the Underdark. Combined with the dark jungles is hilly terrain crisscrossed with narrow streams, and lack of unique landmarks and direct sunlight make orienteering difficult. Additionally, some regions covered with swampy water attract even more aggressive wildlife. These conditions and lands alter the resolution of events seen in typical overland travel. The normal rules for travel are used however some events may have a greater chance of occurring.

Undead Territory: Areas of lesser and greater Undead Territory are more likely to have a chance to encounter undead. A draw of Spades (2-Ace) indicates that the players have stumbled into an encounter. This is regardless of the terrain type.

Jungle: Deep jungle terrain not broken up by river or coastline is hard to navigate and the rough ground and heat make it more likely provisions will be consumed faster. The jungle also is a refuge for all manners of creatures. A draw of Clubs (8-Ace) means that players may lose one rank of provisions. A draw of Hearts (5-Ace) indicates that the group might become lost and add another milestone to their journey. A draw of Spades (8-Ace) results in a random encounter for the party.

Swamp: The additional water in this terrain makes it more hospitable to wildlife and the fetid marches can be a source for disease. A draw of Spades (5-Ace) results in a random encounter for the party. A draw of Clubs (5-Ace) means that players may lose one rank of provisions.

An example of a travel milestone– A group decides to head south through the jungle of Chult to explore unknown regions and then return to Port Nyanzaru. The DM decides this will take a total of 4 milestones. Two to travel a certain distance out into unexplored land and 2 milestones returning to civilization. They are prepared and have a full complement of rations and water, so they are at the Stocked provision rank and also are taking canoes with them. The DM decides that for the first milestone the group will travel for 7 days, and the group tells the DM they will attempt this first leg of the journey at a normal pace. Note if the players were trying to reach a specific location, the DM would still say the trip would require 4 milestones (2 to reach the destination and 2 to return to Port Nyanzaru), but the actual number of days per milestone could be greater, or less, depending on the map distance.

Looking over the map, the party decides plots a course that will try to take advantage of a nearby river. The group will try to travel 4 hexes (40 miles) in 4 days through the jungle. On the final 3 days they can cover another 6 hexes (60 miles) by canoe rapidly navigating through a great river. This might change however depending on what events transpire during the first part of the journey. The DM expects that at the end of the first milestone the party will have traveled 10 hexes at most.

The DM decides for this initial milestone the party will have three potential challenges. Two will certainly occur when travelling in the jungle, while the third might take place as the group is on the river (or still occur in the jungle depending on what happens). A player draws one card getting a 2 of Spades indicating no major event happens during the first leg of the trip.

A second card is drawn indicating a 7 of Hearts. The group might possibly become lost. They have a guide and a Wisdom check (DC 15) is made for the NPC which fails. This means even the guide is turned around and cannot help the players get through the thick jungle (not allowing the players to make any checks at advantage). The DM decides that a medium DC Wisdom (Survival) is appropriate. One player is a Ranger with the Forest as their favored terrain, and another has a magical compass. The DM allows both of these players to make ability checks with advantage.

Despite this help, most of the party fails their Wisdom (Survival) checks. The entire journey will take another milestone. The DM decides that the players still keep on track direction-wise, but get turned around some or make a bad choice trying to go a certain path leading to an impassable area, adding time to the overall trip. Instead of taking 4 days to travel 40 miles, the party takes 6 days to travel the same distance.

The last check for this milestone the DM decides will be on the river for one additional day of travel. The players have made it through the jungle and are now seeing what event might unfold as they travel by canoe. An ace of Clubs is drawn. Players make another medium DC Wisdom (Survival) group check to determine if they manage to utilize their rations effectively. Again most of the group fails their checks. The DM describes a large portion of food and fresh water is lost as a canoe capsizes. The group loses one rank of provisions and are now at a High rank.

At the end of the first milestone, provisions decrease another rank with the party supplies at a Sufficient rank. At the end of 7 days, the group has traveled 6 hexes. Forty miles through jungle and another 20 miles along the river. As time was lost and another milestone added to the journey, they didn’t travel as far as expected. This is a little open ended as they are not trying to reach a specific destination but rather poke around in unexplored territory. However now the group has a difficult choice.

They can press further, but due to early difficulty navigating through the jungles they’ve severely cut down the territory they can explore. If they were trying to reach a specific location they would have an additional milestone to their journey. They could cut their losses and spend another milestone to return back to Port Nyanzaru, or push on and see if they can get some luck. If they choose to travel further, they can hope when low on provisions they are able to forage enough from the countryside to supplement dwindling supplies.

I’ve used this system with great success in my Savage Worlds games. I like it as it keeps everyone engaged and contributing to the success (or failure) of the group. For 5E I’d consider not allowing automatic successes due to spells and abilities but instead offer advantage on checks. I’d also consider using the ability checks as suggestions and feel free to allow players to pitch the use of other ability checks if they can effectively describe their actions. Strength (Athletics) and Constitution checks might be alternates depending on the conditions and situations the players are tackling.I hope folks find some use for this in their games.

Review: Codenames

From Czech Games Edition, Codenames is a 2-8 person party game (4+ if you wanted a competitive game). It’s a light, word matching game where two teams pair off trying to correctly guess a number of cards before the opposing team does.

Each team has a codemaster that offers clue to their team. A series of cards are set down in a 5 x 5 grid along with a master key diagram. The key diagram indicates which team goes first and which word cards offer points to a team. Almost all of the cards in the grid will give points to one team or the other.

The codemasters take turns offering a single word clue and a number. The hint word should offer some clue to a matching word among the cards, while the number indicates how many cards could match that hint. As an example I might say Banana 2 in hopes that my team selects the word cards Yellow and Fruit.

Each team chooses one card and the cluemaster indicates if they were correct scoring a point for their team or, if they were wrong, scoring a point for the other side. If they were correct they can keep going. Finally, if they manage to select all the correct cards they have the option of choosing one additional card in hopes it’s the right one to score more points. The team with the most points wins the round.

Choose the wrong card for the other team? They immediately lose their turn and the other team scores that point. Also mixed among the word cards worth points are innocent bystanders. These cards not only are worth no points but also end the turn immediately (not allowing a team to try and guess additional cards). To add more tension, one spot among the word cards is an assassin. If a team selects a card that matches an assassin position on the key card diagram, they immediately lose.

It can be very challenging. Offer a poor hint, or potentially too high a hint number, it increases the odds they score a point for the other team (or even lose the game outright). But give too many hints specific to just one card, while being safe, you can find the other team slipping ahead, correctly guessing a majority of the cards with a bold, gutsy multicard hint. It has a wonderful push your luck feel as well as being a clever word matching game.

The Good – It’s a fun, light word game that is great for parties. You can play with odd number of people and still get a rather balanced game. The cards are of good stock and the dual print design is a clever idea. After you select 25 cards and play a round, you can simply flip them over for another round minimizing the fuss of setting up another game.

The Bad – You are certainly dependent on the quality of hints from one player. A botched clue round can likely sink a team’s chances of winning. As a small point, it’s not quite that universal of a game as the words are all in English. For people that speak English as a second language, they might have a difficult time as it’s essentially a word matching game.

The Verdict – Codenames is a quality party game. Fast setup, light rules, and quick play, you’ll get a lot of enjoyment from it. There are a large number of double sided cards (200) allowing for a variety of combinations, and 40 keycards means you will get a ton of replay out of it. A great choice if seeking to add a fun party game to your collection that uses word matching as a key element of play.

Now’s the time to get into Netrunner

Now is a great time to jump into playing Netrunner. Well, not quite yet. We’re still waiting for the release of the new core set but that should be in a few months. I like Netrunner. For a two player game the LCG is an amazing strategic deck builder, paired with resource management through actions and economy, and it’s asymmetric to boot. It really is a great game.

However over the years the number of expansions that have rolled out can make getting into Netrunner daunting. Part of this has been alleviated with rotation. In brief, expansions are released in cycles sets of cards. After a certain number of cycle releases, the oldest cycle expansions will ‘rotate out’ of the game for tournament play. This shakes up the competitive game some and keeps from having a card pool of 5+ years floating around, making the buy in for new players almost insurmountable for the tournament scene.

One caveat to the whole rotation thing is that a few expansions (commonly referred to as big box expansions) are evergreen products. These expansions are exempt from rotation. Like the core set cards, they will always be available for players to use in tournaments. But the new core set is a big deal. Not so much for the cards they are putting into the game but the ones being taken out, retired from the game forever.

There was some chaff in the core set. Some cards likely had big plans originally for being integral parts of the game, but never really went anywhere. Other versions rolled out over the years that were just better in every way to core set choices (I’m looking at you Access to Globalsec). So an opportunity to cull some binder fodder cards from the core is great.

I haven’t had much of a chance to play through updated core set decks. I did play mash decks with the original core set thoroughly though (offhand about 20 or so total games through all the factions). What I mean by mash decks here is gathering all the cards for one faction and their respective neutral sets, mashing them together into a deck, and playing (which is recommended for initial games). I lost a lot playing these types of decks. Rumors abound were that corp decks made this way were neutered some in order to push the concept to runner players that they need to be making runs. That key action is what the game is all about. Granted it wasn’t real deck building but it did allow me to effectively learn the cards and begin to see what gaps and advantages certain factions had. Offhand, even though poorly optimized, I feel the new core offers a better game experience with these type of mash decks.

Aside from some weak ability cards within the core set, you also had absolutely stellar ones. It’s one point I worry some regarding the future of Netrunner, that power creep might seep into the game. We might get some cards in expansions that surpass the core set (and evergreen expansions) in every way, making it almost a requirement that new players have to buy into all the available expansions to be competitive within the tournament scene. That was one solid thing about the old core set. Some cards were staples for competitive decks, even after years. I’m going to try and stay positive for now. Honestly though we have to admit that many core set cards were so efficient, so versatile, and were key parts to such powerful combos, they almost broke the game.

Yog.0 and Corroder were amazingly efficient breakers. So much so that, like the Criminal console Desperado, not only were they common in many decks, but set the bar so high for cards that followed almost nothing could match them. And if attempts were made to make something equitable, they’d likely introduce such a broken card it’d have adverse effects on the competitive scene.

Some cards like Parasite provided an interesting mechanic of grinding down ice and eventually destroying it completely. As a limited card, it was a game element that offered avenues for some interesting play. However it could also mushroom into some insane combos. Sifr was a console released later that is pretty powerful, yet with Parasite it morphed into an ice destruction machine. Throw in another core card, Déjà Vu, and you now had the potential to demolish 9 pieces of ice over a game, a combo being completely out of whack.

Scorched Earth, a staple card for tag and bag type of decks is also no more. That potential for tagging and flatlining runners is still out there, but harder to pull off. And with having a card like Scorched Earth being removed from the game, clearly is indicating the win condition of flatlining the runner is shifting over to more interactive mechanics.

This doesn’t encompass all the key strategies and deck types that the core set provided (not to mention 3 IDs for the game also being retired). What I want to illustrate though is that these cards being removed from the game have a huge impact on current competitive decks. This really shakes things up. Take any old podcast talking with authority about core standard cards for particular factions, or a plethora of published deck lists, and throw them away. They’re pretty much irrelevant now. That is how much impact this new core set has on the Netrunner scene.

I’ll quickly mention another big aspect of new cards moving into the core set are the inclusion of 3/2 agendas. Every corp now has access to 2 point agendas that only need 3 advancement tokens. That’s a pretty big shift in the game. As they will never rotate out they’ll likely have some wide reaching repercussions to Netrunner overall.

So if buying in right now are the old core sets worth it? A tough call. A fair chunk of cards are literally trash. Along with this are a good number of cards in the first two expansion cycles that are rotating out. Some will be shifting over to the new core set and still be usable. This reddit comment nicely gathers which expansion packs have cards that will be legal with the new core. But consider most expansion packs will be about $12-16 USD for roughly 20 unique cards with 3 copies of each card. For the current core set, you are losing a chunk of cards too.

I’d go with waiting and only consider picking up an old core set if you could get it dirt cheap. Consider the data packs as a decent yardstick for comparative pricing (so $25 USD for an unopened original core isn’t bad). Same with the old data packs. There are so many being rotated out, you are likely better off getting 2 copies of the new core set rather than collecting the entire first 2 data pack cycles. But if you only want to purchase a pack or two? It might be worth buying those packs then.

I’ll complain some here now. Yes, the new core sets appear more playable out of the box for people to pair off against each other. But it’s still saddled with an incomplete distribution of cards. So much so you’ll probably want a second core set at some point if delving deep into tournaments. As a casual player, that money would be better spent in getting evergreen, big-box expansions (especially Terminal Directive which is a solid first expansion purchase).

Regardless if Netrunner looked like an interesting game, now is the time to get into it. New players can jump in and enter the game with a more even footing compared to long time players. Not only is rotation hitting, but also this new core set. Everyone is learning novel things about the game and exploring new options. It’s far more dynamic that what we’ve seen in the past. This new core set has shaken up the established game and it’s wonderful.

28mm Russian heavy weapons teams – Plastic Soldier Co.

As I mentioned a long time ago I decided to break off from my typical 20mm scale for Bolt Action and try building a force in 28mm. I settled on a Russian platoon and got the bulk of my troops from Wargames Factory. Their boxed sets are nice but heavy weapons teams were non-existent. I looked around and settled on Plastic Soldier Co. as an alternative.

They have a pretty complete range of Russians available in 28mm. I had gotten the 45mm anti-tank kits and liked them. So I was eager to check out their heavy weapons sets too. There are 2 sets of sprues that come with each box with a variety of models for mortars, MGs, AT rifles, and other crew members.

For mortars you have both minis for the 50-PM 41 as well as 82mm medium mortars. Interestingly, the 82mm mortar has a rectangular base plate. I thought they typically had round base plates, so this might be some variant.RusHVLtMortar

RusHVMedMortar

There are also two sculptures of minis armed with AT rifles. One is prone firing the weapon and another is carrying it. Along with the AT rifle troops are prone loaders.

RusHVATRifle

RusHVATRifleB

RusHVATLoader

Akin to the AT rifle models, you have Maxim M1910 MMGs in poses either being fired or transported with 2 crew (which I didn’t assemble). There are additional crew members but they don’t appear to be feeding the MMG directly or hauling ammunition. I am using a few as spotters for my mortar teams and possibly field them as artillery observers.

RusHVMMG

RusHV

The models are pretty good. They have enough detail to stand out if painted, but I will admit they aren’t as crisp as some other minis I have from different manufacturers. Nonetheless you cannot beat the price, variety, and quality of the kits. They are a great value and not bad if looking for a number of heavy weapons to round out your platoon.

New Netrunner core set announced.

I’ll be dipped in poop. Fantasy Flight is releasing a new core set for Netrunner.

On other social media I’ve been lamenting about Netrunner a bit. It was odd that GenCon came and went and the official Fantasy Flight presentation made no comment about the game at all. When pressed there was a non-specific comment about the last data pack being released and potentially rotation hitting before the World’s tournament, but nothing else.

Quietly as the game has evolved and errata crept in, the core set was in a little trouble. Most notable was that Astroscript Pilot was changed so that only one card was allowable in a deck. That really broke the box in a way, making it impossible for a player to make a legal NBN deck out of the core set. Mind you this wasn’t a change made to reflect any tournament games, this was a full out change to the card. So some type of product was needed to fix it.

Additionally rotation for Netrunner has finally hit. To explain for some that are scratching their head, Fantasy Flight introduced a concept of rotating out older expansions. Their expansion packs are released in cycles with each pack part of an overall theme. After a certain number of cycles, earlier expansion packs will drop out of tournament play. The cycles are typically 6 expansion packs, each full cycle being around 120 unique cards. The idea is that after so many years there is a bloat to the competitive game from a huge card pool. Allowing expansion cycles to retire reduces the overload of cards new players have to take in and allow new expansions to do different stuff (since they don’t have to be worried about how it will combine with abilities from card X in the very first card expansion released years ago).

Aside from these expansion cycles however are larger, big box expansions (Terminal Directive is included in this). They’re considered evergreen products. The cards in these expansions, along with the ones in the core set will never rotate out and always be usable for tournaments. A nice stepping stone if you will, that allows new players to expand their card pool on a budget and never have to worry about their cards being retired in 4 or 5 years.

So now it looks like instead of another evergreen expansion, Fantasy Flight decided to go all in and release a new core set. From the blurb on the announcement page, it will be 247 player cards split between 133 Corp cards, and 114 Runner cards. Interestingly, while it will be a new player introduction to the game they will not introduce any new cards.

Something notable is that players that have data packs (card expansions) from the first two cycles, Genesis and Spin will already own all the cards potentially in this set. So it won’t be adding anything new. It also appears to answer a burning questions many have had. What will be replacing staples from the Genesis and Spin cycles now that rotation has come?

Many considered the Genesis and Spin cycles were core 2.0. They had cards that filled in a lot of gaps from the initial core set. So much so that a handful of cards are considered standards to competitive decks even years later. Now it appears that they might have a second life as part of the new core set (and more notably will never rotate out of the tournament scene).

Another very interesting change is the core IDs and a few other cards will be retired. It looks like HB: Engineering the Future has been replaced with Stronger Together. The runner factions have also had a huge shift. The Anarchs how have Reina Roja instead of Noise, while Shapers now have Chaos Theory instead of Kate “Mac” McCaffrey. This is a big change, especially for Anarchs. Some folks have always mentioned Noise was a little too disruptive to the normal game and it looks like from an introductory perspective, Fantasy Flight decided to go in a different direction.

Along with this of course is the removal of some core cards. Looks as if a few icon standards for Anarch (Medium, Parasite, Yog) along with Criminal (Account Siphon and Desperado) will be removed from the game. Another big corp card to leave is Scorched Earth. There’ll be some replacements but not quite the same. I’m surprised by this but think the undercurrent is these core cards have slowly strangled the design space, especially Parasite as ice destruction will always be hovering over any future combos because of this card. Aside from a new distribution of cards and IDs, it looks like there will be new card art. On another small note it also appears the box is a tad smaller in depth, more akin to the Arkham Horror LCG.

I do wonder if some cards might get reintroduced as doppelgangers in function for future cycles. I’m curious if some’ll sneak in the new expansion that was announced. Certainly hope a few will, but maybe it’s been decided that those cards from the core need to be retired for good. Either way, exciting times ahead for Netrunner.

Frostgrave in Summer: The Complex Temple

From my last game I had gotten some treasure but I’d be down a man unless I was willing to boot them out of my base camp to make room for a new hire. Having a pittance of gold, I decided to let my man-at-arms recover and go all in picking up a treasure hunter and a thief to replace some losses. This 100 gold spent pretty much wiped out my cash reserves. I figured I’d either go big or go home.

With my previously earned XP I decided to improve my defensive ability, bumping up both fight and health. A small bit folks tend to forget is that shooting is against a fighting roll of the target. The higher my fighting ability, the more likely I could have the awareness to duck and weave, avoiding arrows altogether.

I also decided to improve the casting of Push and Transpose. Of the two I found Transpose difficult to wrangle into using as there are so many positional requirements. You need 2 models within 10” of each other and also within line of sight to the caster. But I figured if I can manage a situation where I could set it up as a battle progresses, having an easier casting cost would be beneficial and a useful spell to have in reserve.

I’d be fighting another necromancer again. I swear the guys in my league are drawn to the dark arts. He had a fair number of infantrymen and nimble trackers in his warband. I got a bit of luck thrown my way though as he was unable to summon a zombie to bolster his warband at the beginning of the game. Still, being a body short for the scenario was not going to be fun for me.

We decided to play the Complex Temple where a series of strange columns are placed for treasure. In order to get any loot you have to ‘fight’ the column. The plus side is that all treasure is worth an additional 20 gold and if your wizard attacks a column, they get an additional +50 XP. For my coinless wizard, having an opportunity to get some extra experience was welcome.

I was able to have an additional treasure due to casting Reveal Secrets. However I had some trouble placing it due to the abundance of treasure near my deployment zone. One house rule we use is all treasure must be at least 6” from neutral table edges. We do this as regular troops with 6” movement have to take an extra turn to get it off the table, which in turn allows the opponent a chance to intercept soldiers hauling off treasure. But this also results in more treasure being centrally located, so unless I place most further towards the centerline, I have a hard time placing any extra treasure near my deployment area from the spell.

Quite honestly, this was another game I got wrapped up in and didn’t bother with proper notes or a lot of pics. The first turn I moved up my wizard with a thief in tow to snatch treasure from a nearby column. My wizard was lucky to win a round of combat and gained the treasure, but was saddled down trying to haul it out of line of sight. My crafty opponent lined his wizard up to keep me in his LOS. If I dropped the treasure and lost initiative, I was certain he’d cast Telekinesis to drag my booty just out of reach from my wizard and thief.

One of my thugs scampered in to collect treasure found by Reveal Secrets and began to haul it off the table. I would be able to secure some treasure at least. However the downside was I’d be another man short the entire game with my thug lumbering back to base camp with a chest in tow. I moved up my treasure hunter and infantryman, skirting a wall to avoid being a target for Bone Dart to see what trouble I could get them into.

My apprentice moved up to a column on my far right. The thug accompanying her was able to smash the column and gain some treasure. However with all these columns being cracked to pieces, the noise would certainly garner some attention. Sure enough a skeleton and pair of wild dogs ran into the area and made a beeline towards my apprentice and her comrades.

My opponent was able to easily secure treasure from columns on his side of the table. Casting Fleet Feet, his soldiers hurried forth and his trackers got up to some high ground to cause havok. I had my thug try to cut down the 2 wild dogs. One was killed but later during the turn the other tore him to pieces. I had my apprentice back up and cast Blinding Light on the remaining dog while my archer shot at the skeleton.

On the other side of the battlefield my infantryman threw caution to the wind and attacked. He downed a tracker and tried to get to grips with the Necromancer’s apprentice, but failed to reach him. I had my treasure hunter linger in back with hopes he could dash in and snatch up any dropped treasure.

With my wizard out of sight behind a wall, Wanda was able to drop the treasure and prepare to enter the fray, as my thief lugged the prize off the table. Meanwhile my opponent got his necromancer to smash a column and begin dragging away a pile of treasure. Casting a deft Leap, his other men began to scramble back to his base burdened by the loads of coin they found. All the while the necromancer hurried to a pile of rubble to cover his warband.

My opponent decided to get one of this fallen soldiers back into the fray casting Raise Zombie. My infantryman was now facing an apprentice and a newly raised corpse. I then pulled an ace from my sleeve and had Marsha the apprentice use her scroll of Control Undead. The zombie now a thrall under my control, the tables turned and my followers were easily able to dispatch the necromancer’s apprentice.

Finally able to slay the skeleton on my far right, my thief scooped up a pile of treasure. I had my archer drop out of position and make a run towards the rear. In the final turns of the game I was finally able to cast Transpose successfully and switch places between the archer and the thief carrying treasure. Now suddenly much closer to the board edge I was able to add another pile to the haul of loot I gained during the battle.

My opponent wrapped up the game retreating but got 4 piles of treasure to my 3. A fair outing but the necromancer warband still came out ahead. I came away with a fair amount of gold to fill my coffers to a respectable 220 crowns. I also ended up with a pair of grimoires of Control Construct and Awareness. I also ended up with enough XP (along with unearned XP) to gain 4 levels.

Aside from improving my health, I went ahead and put most of my points into improving Push, Blinding Light, and a risky focus on the spell, Transpose. Like Push, it’s a spell that needs a little maneuvering and placement to work. But if successful Transpose can really help get treasure off the table, or potentially ruin the plans of an opponent by throwing a creature their way.

I also walked away with few casualties. I only lost a thug and my man-at-arms would be well enough to fight the next game. I need to consider possibly spending some coin and get more sturdy followers for the last few games. The campaign will be wrapping up soon and I’m solidly in last place. But at least I haven’t had an abysmal expedition….. Yet.

Review: Above and Below

From Red Raven Games, Above and Below is a worker placement, resource management game, with a dollop of storytelling. For 2 to 4 players, each oversees the expansion of a village, slowly recruiting new villagers, and constructing new buildings to make your community flourish. However the location you established your new home is over a series of inhibited caverns which beckon to be explored further.

The game is played over a series of rounds. Each round a player activates a worker and conducts a specific action. This can be to harvest resources and gain coins, or to use coins to purchase new villagers and buildings. The worker you select is moved from a ready section on your individual play board to the exhausted section, indicating the villager have been used for the round. Play continues until every player has passed. There are a few free actions that can be taken which don’t require the use of a villager, such as selling and buying goods from other players.

At the start of each round, villagers move from the exhausted section on your player board to the ready area. However you are limited by the number of bed icons in your village. If you have only 3 beds and 4 villagers are tuckered out from working, you will have one of those villagers still too pooped to do anything the following round. There is a way around this using a special cider resource that acts as a temporary bed (spending the cider resource in the process). Note also that not all villagers can do the same actions. Some actions like constructing buildings, or training new villagers require a one with the appropriate icon on them (indicating their specialty).

In addition to readying your villagers, you also gain coins depending on the variety of goods you possess. Your outposts and buildings can produce goods, but it takes an action to harvest them. The value of the goods moves along a track in set increments. It does not matter the number or specific type of good, only the variety of goods matter. However the trick is that some goods are either rare, uncommon, or common.

Interestingly, you likely want to harvest rare goods first, as they are difficult to attain. It’s the common goods that you want to stack up and harvest later. Not only will they be worth more coins but they also offer more victory points (which I’ll explain in a moment). Note that if a player gains more goods similar to those already harvested, they stack up on spots already occupied on the player’s board and not in a new position on the goods track.

At the end of the game, a player will gain victory points based on the value of constructed buildings in their village. Certain buildings also have special end game goals. Some goals award bonus points for having the most villagers or the most buildings. Some may award extra points for certain types of goods, etc.

In addition to this you have victory points awarded for the goods harvested. You get points for each good you have, however their value depends on what spot occupied on the goods track. So a great strategy is to try and get uncommon and rare goods first to occupy the lower victory point spaces, as you won’t accumulate as many of them. Instead you want to wait on harvesting the really common goods as you can gain a lot of them easily, hopefully being worth more points individually at the end of the game.

All of which I described is your basic worker placement, resource management, engine building game. You get workers and buildings to produce certain goods and try to work out some special combo that will award you bonus points, giving you a goal to work towards earning as many victory points as possible. The twist however is the explore action.

As mentioned before, your blossoming village sits over a series of caves. As an action, you can send villagers down to explore the underground caverns. Almost every villager is capable of exploring, however their skill in doing so varies. You must first select at least 2 villagers to try and explore. You then draw a special cavern tile and roll a die with the result indicating what passage to read from an included book. The passage will present a situation and a choice for the player, along with the number of successes (lanterns) needed. The player states what choice they will make and rolls some dice.

The number of dice and chance of success is indicated by the icons on each villager. Some villagers are very able to explore and will award a single lantern on a 2 or better. Others may be more difficult to obtain lanterns but can potentially award more of them at a single go, while some, well, are just plain awful at exploring. If you obtain enough lanterns (successes), you are awarded a special reward along with the cave card that functions like another building. Fail and you get nothing. However you do open up a slot under your village, meaning you can later construct an outpost to occupy the caverns you tried to explore.

Some decent rewards can be obtained while exploring, not to mention effectively getting a free building. Even if you aren’t successful, you can still open up a slot to purchase unique cave outposts for your village. Also many rare goods can only be found exploring the caves. However some of the challenges while exploring can be dangerous. You might have a villager injured. Being injured is effectively a further exhausted step on the player board. At the end of the round they can be moved up to the exhausted slot using a bed, but will still be out of commission for the following round.

The Good – It’s an enjoyable little worker placement, resource management game. You have limited options and are under a short time frame to do them. There is so much you want to do during your turn, but the opportunities for doing so are limited. Meaning you have to strive and make the best choices possible. As with a lot of worker placement games, you are also in a race with other players. Take too much time getting enough coins accumulated and you might find that building you wanted scooped up by another player.

There are opportunities to do a little trading. Some resources are only for manipulating the status of workers. But as you have so few workers which recover only through having enough beds for them to rest in your village, you begin to explore other options to get villagers ready for the next round. So while cider and potions might not offer any coins or victory points, they can allow you to recover more workers for future turns.

The icons and design of the cards and tiles are well done and easy to read. The art is also interesting with a simple, muted, fantasy look. The components are well made and are of thick stock. The explore book is spiral bound, but is of good quality pagestock.

The Bad – I sometimes find the game could go just one or two more turns to really get your engine built. You can occasionally get stuck with some poor building and villager choices. There are ways to clear out buildings and get new ones, but it costs precious coins. While you can always get something out of the villagers or buildings, you might be wanting to work towards a specific goal and can’t quite snatch up the perfect villager and/or building to make your engine. So the randomness can be irksome. There is also a little bit of a learning curve as icons on the cards could be a little cryptic at times.

The exploring of the caverns is also a mixed bag. In reality, the number of villagers and lanterns you obtain rarely have much impact on the outcome. You can get lucky and snatch up a great reward, or you could be immensely successful and just have been stuck with getting a challenge awarding you only a measly common good. Despite the original feel of engaging choices through exploring, you begin to see a common thread in the types of choices you have. The explore portion of the game can be wildly unpredictable. So much so that it can feel the rewards are not worth the villager resources needed to commit to doing it.

The Verdict – At first glance this is your typical worker placement game which is not too innovative. However what sets Above and Below apart from other similar games is the cavern exploration. Yes, you get a certain vibe from the explore situations and they can be a little predictable. Be heroic and you’ll likely gain more reputation and likely more rewards. Act like a jerk or run like a coward and you’ll take a hit to your reputation (losing victory points) not to mention walk away with nothing. However I find this part of the game central to its charm.

You end up with this storytelling feel from the game as you play. Sure you can dump the theme and just go through the motions expanding your village, robotically gaining workers, and erecting constructions. And you can take a similar approach to the exploration portion as just a mechanical exercise. But if you embrace the narrative aspect of it, the exploration action can be a fun part of the game. And that opens up the experience such that you aren’t just building an economy engine, instead you’re recruiting people to slowly expand your village from a simple hut to a thriving community, with a vast number of cavern outposts to match the bustling structures you have above ground.

Above and Below is too light and likely too random for those wanting a deep, heavy, resource management game. However it has enough meat in the mechanics to make for interesting choices, which in turn results in the village engine you create though the accumulated buildings, outposts, and villagers satisfying. Wrapped up with this is the storytelling experience while exploring the caverns below, offering a choose-your-adventure style of play. It’s an enjoyable game. A worker placement game with a twist and worth picking up.

Spartan Games closes shop

It appears that Spartan Games is no more. I enjoyed their space fleet game, Firestorm Armada. But it looks like they couldn’t keep the company viable. A short snippet of their official statement:

“Rebel Publishing Ltd was formed in July 2002 and traded successfully for a number of years. Spartan Games was launched in 2008 and grew rapidly. However, the tabletop games market is challenging and has changed over recent years, and suppliers are predominantly a small number of large well-known names and several small, cottage industry, type businesses.

Initially the business outsourced production but following quality control and production management issues, manufacturing was moved in house between 2009 and 2011. Over this time and since, significant investment was made into machinery and infrastructure. The business also expanded to provide models for a well known video game, moving this into the tabletop games arena. However, significant new development costs, timing issues and the deflection of management time from the core games brands resulted in a significant trading loss for 2015/6. The business was able to continue to trade by raising additional finance and refocusing on core brands, and direct / online trading improved significantly. Results for 2016/17 were significantly improved.

However, despite this it continued to encounter challenging trading conditions and it became clear this month that the company could not continue to service its liabilities, particularly given the burden imposed by the amounts owing to finance companies.”

I wondered about them trying to expand too fast and dabble into too many systems. The Halo property was picked up and offered as another space fleet game which to me was sort of butting heads with Firestorm Armada. I heard there were rumors floating about having another trimmed down fleet ruleset for FA too. A reboot of sorts with Dystopian Wars also got a mixed reception with long time fans.

PlanetFall looked cool and appeared Spartan Games had some interesting ideas mixing it in with FA as a combined planetary invasion game. But makes me wonder with competition of Dropzone Commander, and Games Workshop always having Epic 40K in their back pocket, how the rule system would fare in the long run. It also appears some of their Kickstarter campaigns have been cancelled (see pic below).

I think fun, fleet game systems are sort of lacking and with the vacuum it looks like no one will ever take a real stab at them in the future. Either for fantasy or sci-fi, Games Workshop can just act as a market juggernaut with a re-release of old properties, essentially guaranteeing getting a chunk of cash from die-hard fans and out compete any newcomers. Shame.

If folks still have questions looks like email to spartangames@mail.com is your best bet.