Frostgrave in winter: final expedition

In preparation for my last game of the league I decided to see about creating a large construct and was successful casting it with my apprentice. I tried to cast a more reasonable spell of Create Scroll with my actual wizard but fizzled that out of game spell. I spent my out of game actions then picking up an archer to replace a casualty and the potion vendor. I got cold feet picking up any potions though as my gold reserves were pretty low. One aspect of our ranking was based on the amassed cash and treasure we gained, so I decided to hold off on getting any.

Our last game for the league would be somewhat like the first, just a simple mission to get as much treasure as possible without any other special scenario rules. The only change would be that creatures enter on the board on a 12+. We set things up facing across from each other and set about trying to haul off at much loot as possible. My warband was 2 archers, 2 thugs, 3 men at arms, a barbarian, and a hulking large construct. I set up in two groups moving in on either side of the board with my archers set on high ground.

My opponent’s warband led by a summoner.

I was facing off against a summoner which brought a construct of his own! Honestly the game was a bit of a blur. My wizard got pelted once with a crossbow and horribly failing several spells meant losing a chunk of health. Both of my groups moved up and tried to secure what treasure they could. I focused several turns of fire on a single ranger but was unable to land a hit.

My thief manages to scoop up some treasure.

My apprentice is slowly surrounded by creatures.

A medium construct wanders in from the left flank.

For much of the game I simply could not get any low casting spells off, and finally was able cast Leap a few times on a thief to get them off the board with some treasure. Having creatures wander into the battle on a 12+ meant that a slew of beasts and undead were on the board. I just seemed to get the preponderance of creatures though. A pair of wolves and a medium construct came in on the sides and quickly got stuck in with my forces, while an armored skeleton and a pair of zombies shuffled off towards my apprentice from my side of the board.

My opponent moves forward, summoning imps ahead of his troops.

‘Boss! Don’t worry I got that imp right in my sights.’ SPLURCH!…wet sounds… ‘Aw nuts.’

Meanwhile my apprentice is fighting for her life.

All the while my opponent was able to rapidly summon imps and demons, bolstering his forces. I decided to get one of my thieves around some high walls and allow for them to slip away with a Leap spell, as a summoned imp scampered towards my wizard. A archer tried to line up a shot while the creature was free of any cover and failed to land a hit. The imp was then upon my wizard, rolled a 20 to hit, and did a whopping 8 points of damage dropping my wizard.

A pair of wolves finally turn their attention to my opponent’s soldiers.

My thief sneaks off the battlefield, while my archer finally gets that pesky imp.

Morgana gets caught up in the slog of hand to hand combat.

I ended up getting in a mire of wandering creatures while my opponent was able to get 4 treasures off the board to my 2 piles of loot. He did get a few of his soldiers wounded, but was able to clear out his side of the board and limp his units behind cover (or off the board). With my wizard gone and my apprentice caught up in a melee with wandering creatures, I was unable to get any spells off. I dig manage to get my large construct into the fray with Leap, but eventually it was cut down by the armored skeleton. A one health creature just took so much effort to drop.

In the end my opponent got the lion’s share of treasure and came away with a nice haul of coin and an orb of power. I did get a few grimoires which was nice and likely could pad my treasure earnings. While my wizard recovered from their wounds, they only managed to get a smattering of XP while my opponent was able to walk away with 3 levels!

Drawing my total for the campaign, Elvira the Enchanter emerged as a level 10 wizard with some XP change to spare (1075 XP). Bitches’ Brew had 235 gold in the treasury along with some other items. 1 scroll of health worth 100 gold, 2 potions of healing (50 gold total), a potion of invisibility and of invulnerability (100 gold total), 3 grimoires (750 gold at 250 each) and a level 3 staff of power (250 gold).

My total treasury was worth 1485 gold and another 1075 XP meant I had earned a paltry 2560 points. A pittance compared to my other league mates. Hee, seems Elvira will soon find herself walking down the steps of the old dilapidated inn she chose as a base, only to find a cold fire, and an empty hall as her apprentice and hirelings have sought better prospects elsewhere.

Review: Perfect fit sleeve roundup

I vary some with sleeving my cards for games. Usually I don’t but some games where you handle cards a lot or need to shuffle in select sets of cards like deckbuilder games, I usually sleeve them. When I got into Netrunner I decided it a solid idea to sleeve my cards and went the route of at least using perfect fit sleeves for them. For a lot of my gaming I am super casual, so no need to have opaque sleeves, but I figure if I ever hit up a tourney I’d have an easier time if I used snug fitting clear sleeves. So I set about getting some that turned out to be a bit of a mixed bag.

Mayday green – Stated dimensions of 63.5 x 88 mm, these at first blush these looked a winner. They were reasonably priced, and interestingly had some overhang at the top but it was minimal. However of the three packs I got, I ended up regretting my purchase. Seems one of the packs might have been stored under something as many of the individual sleeves and sleeve pockets were stuck together needing to be peeled apart.

Separating them didn’t help. Despite vigorous cleaning of the sleeve surfaces, I ended up having cards that always got stuck together. It was horrible. I would have cards that clumped up when shuffling or I’d end up picking up multiple cards when I drew. I even would be struggling to find copies of cards to only find out they were stuck to the backs of other cards. You can see a photo of how bad some cards stuck together (note there are 4 cards I’m holding).
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KMC perfect fit – With dimensions of 64 x 89 mm, another big name brand was KMC, a japanese product of perfect fit cards. These were the real deal. A snug fit with no overhang compared to the Mayday cards and best of all, no problems of sticking together. A touch more expensive but worth it. The downside was they could be hard to track down, so I looked at some other alternatives.
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Ultrapro Pro fit – Dimensions at 64 x 89 mm, I heard some horror stories for certain card types these were too tight and could bend the cards they were sleeved in. Maybe a few years ago this was the case but whatever manufacturer glitches they had, they must have worked them out. These are a snug fit without bending the cards. Best of all they didn’t clump up or stick together like the Mayday sleeves. A good choice if I couldn’t pick up KMC sleeves. They also matched up well enough in size if I had the two sleeve types mixed together, as I couldn’t notice a difference between the two.
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I won’t say the Mayday sleeves ended up a complete wash. I think for the right kind of game, they work well enough. For my Combat Commander: Europe cards, they work great. Those cards are a bit larger than my Netrunner cards and are of thicker stock. So sticking isn’t much of an issue. I also used Mayday sleeves with my Race for the Galaxy and Dominion games. You don’t really need to shuffle those much and at least with Dominion, you are working with 30 cards or so which doesn’t seem to be that hard to mash a few cards together if they clump up a little.

However for my Netrunner decks, I’ll certainly be going with KMC or Ultrapro clear sleeves from now on. They fit snug and simply didn’t suffer from the sticking I saw with Mayday.

Frostgrave in winter: the living museum

The last expedition into the ruins wasn’t quite a complete disaster, so I went about revisiting the composition of my warband. I opted to keep a pair of thieves and 2 archers but let all my thugs go. I ended up with 3 men-at-arms and a raging barbarian. With my trusty medium construct in tow, I had a pretty formidable force behind the Elvira the enchanter and her apprentice.

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This time we would be playing the living museum. Somewhat similar to the previous game except this time I could expect construct statues to be running amok rather than just smashing whoever was in contact with it. Initially I deployed with archers in a central ruin tower, with wizard in a group to the right and apprentice in group to its left. My few thieves would be scurrying up the middle. The prize was a central square of ruins that held all the treasure.

First turn I had rushed in, used telekinesis to drag treasure near away from a statue. With my other men-at-arms rushing in. Morgana, my apprentice fizzled her Strength spell on the construct. Undaunted they moved forward.

My opponent was the same elementalist as last time and he deftly moved in with his apprentice lurking in the corner of the table. A few marksman and a tracker clambered up a central tower, facing off my own archers. The elementalist successfully cast Elemental Wall cutting off much of the approach from my apprentice, forcing her to try and go up the side of the ruin square. Meanwhile my opponent rush in and at the end of the turn most of the treasure was surrounded by the elementalist warband. As they approached a pile of treasure, an armored skeleton moved in the side of the board while a small construct stumbled onto the table on my side of the board.

My wizard successfully cast a strength spell on a man-at-arms but ended up getting shot by a crossbowman. My apprentice used a scroll of elemental bolt on a tracker which was successful and hit, but did a pitiful amount of damage. My thief scrambled in and got a hold of some treasure while the group around the wizard piled into the center of the ruins.

My opponent finally picked up some treasure and then the constructs came to life. Of the three he picked up, most activated closer to his men which was fortunate for me. But he was able to have other soldiers get stuck in while the others dragging treasure slipped away. The enemy wizard cast another elemental wall sealing off the direct approach to his flank, effectively cordoning off my apprentice.

The center ended up being a huge scrum. we ended up getting wrapped up in engagements against the constructs. The enemy warband suffered much of the brunt losing a man and getting some wounds due to melee with the constructs. Opponent lined up and fired off several shots at my wizard wounding her badly. My archers returned fire trying to focus on one tracker but was unable to land any effective hits.

The next turn Elvira cast Leap to get a thief off the board and then attempted to get behind some cover, securing some treasure. I gathered some other treasure with my other thief and began to trek off the board, moving at a crawl due to carrying a haul of loot.

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‘Get over there boss! You should be safe behind the rubble.’ THUNK ‘Aw nuts…’

The following turn Elvira spent her action turn drinking a potion of healing and trying to gather herself, as my Morgana the apprentice fizzled another Leap spell. Frustrated by not being able to get a spell off, she rushed forward with the others and began to clamber over the elemental walls. This time, the opposing marksmen lined up solid shots against my wizard dropping her. Through casting Leap spells, my opponent was able to get 2 treasure off the board.

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My thief struggled to haul the treasure closer to the board edge. While my lone apprentice and several soldiers finally got over the wall and rushed in. My opponent a few turns before smashed their demon in a bottle and it charged into a combat with one of my man-at-arms.

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‘For WANDA! Er… Morgana!’

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The next turn a tracker on the ground lined up a shot and dropped my apprentice in one hit. Afterwards his group began to fall back as I cleared much of the ruined square. He moved his wizard around the ruined square sealing off any approach to the rear casting Elemental Wall. My warband made quick work of many of the living statues and the opposing thief in the square. But there was no turn 6, with my thief just inches from getting the treasure off the edge of the table.

Elvira recovered from her wounds but my apprentice was not so lucky and ended up gaining psychological scars, losing one of her will permanently. I had lost about half of my warband, but most recovered. I did permanently lose on my my archers though. In the end my warband had only got off one treasure earning a bit of cash from it, while my opponent walked away with three piles of treasure! I did manage to kill 3 constructs though for a fair chunk of experience.

However, losing my wizard and apprentice curbed my XP rewards a few points and I only managed to get one level. As Leap seems a popular spell to cast for me, I decided to drop the casting cost by one. Not quite the successful expedition I had hoped for and pretty much solidly cementing me in last place for the league.

Review: Arkham Horror – The Card Game

arkham-horrorlcgFantasy Flight has a lot of games with the Lovecraft theme and decided to jump into the Living Card Game (LCG) pool with a card version of sorts of their old traditional board game sharing a similar title, Arkham Horror: The Card Game. It’s a cooperative, 1-2 player LCG deck builder (but with a 2nd core box and likely more expansions up to 4 people can play). Players are investigators that discover there are terrifying things that go bump in the night but being the heroes they are, fight to ensure the safety of mankind. Sadly they’ll likely lose their lives or sanity in the process. The game is designed to play specific scenarios which can be just a one off session. However it really is designed from the ground up to form a longer linked campaign.

In the box you’ll find lots of cards which are split between those used by the player, and those for a 3 scenario campaign story. The cards for the campaign are generally split into locations and story events for a specific scenario, and other cards which form the encounter deck. The encounter deck represents different obstacles, challenges, and creatures the players run into during the game. Each story has it’s own set of locations and different pools of cards that are used to create the encounter deck. As it doesn’t have a static composition for the entire campaign, you will find some scenarios have unique challenges and monsters.

In broad terms each turn is split up into different phases. The first is the mythos phase, where a doom token is added to a scenario (agenda) card. Whenever the number of tokens match the value on the card, something horrible happens and the next agenda card for the scenario is put into play. Then continuing the mythos phase, each player in turn draws a card from the encounter deck. This encounter deck will be adding more monsters and unfortunate events for the players. In short, something terrible always happens to every player and they are in a frantic countdown before even more bad things happen as the agenda deck advances.

Afterwards the players have their turns. Each player has 3 actions which can be used to play cards, move to different locations, or do a core activity in the game, carry out an investigation. While each turn there is a slow accumulation of doom tokens, the players are rushing from location to location to try and accumulate clue tokens through investigation. If they gather enough clues, they get to advance a different set of scenario cards (act cards) commonly resulting in something to their benefit.

This is really the heart of the game. The players have to slowly accumulate enough clues through investigation to discover what is happening in the scenario and finally learn the major objective needed in order to advance the campaign (destroy a monster, gather enough clues in an area, succeed enough times with a particular skill, etc.). All the while the evil agenda cards are accumulating doom tokens and reaching story milestones that ratchet up the difficulty. Commonly for most of the scenarios there isn’t a hard failure, just punishing effects that wear down the investigators forcing them to capitulate the scenario. At least until the end of the campaign when players learn they either emerge victorious or gibbering madly from being driven insane (or a turned into a pile of bloody goo).

Players will continually be making skill tests. Each investigator has varying levels of 4 select skills measuring their reflexes, physical prowess, mental will, and how clever they are. If this value is equal or higher than a target number, they succeed at their check. Players can play cards to bolster these values. Every card will have some skill icons. For each one that matches the test being taken, they add to the player’s total skill value. It’s not so cut and dried though. For each check a player pulls a random token which modifies their skill total (and the tokens are immediately returned to the pool). Most of the tokens offer a penalty roughly 75% of the time, with some even making the check fail automatically. Essentially this is like rolling dice but with an uneven distribution of results.

As mentioned, cards can be discarded from a player’s hand to boost the skill value of an investigator, and other players at the same location can also contribute to checks. This offers a feeling of working together for key challenges. While a handful of card types are only related to skill checks or one time events, most provide a static bonus or abilities as permanent assets. Players pay resources to put asset cards in play with some being limited to available equipment slots for an investigator. An investigator can only carry up to two assets in their hands for example. Meaning if they had a flashlight and a knife, they’d have to get rid of one of them if they wanted to equip a pistol. Some assets are followers and can provide exceedingly useful abilities (as well as be a buffer for physical and mental damage), but a player may only have one follower in play at a time.

While assets offer static bonuses and reusable abilities, the cards can also be used to boost skill checks. This makes for a fun choice during play. Do you discard an asset to help with a critical skill check? Or do you push your luck hoping to make a successful token draw, so you can put that asset into play as a resource for other actions in the future? While cards that are discarded can eventually return to the draw deck (once a player’s deck is exhausted the discard pile is shuffled and made into a new draw deck), commonly players will not get a chance to see that card again for the game. It certainly has that push your luck factor and can be an agonizing choice sometimes.

Players can play investigators of 5 general class types from bookish seekers, to rough and burly guardians, to mythos sensitive mystics. Each class also dabbles in another investigator class type. These restrictions mean that there will be investigator cards that the player cannot use (being of a different class type) which encourages having another different investigator in tow to tackle a scenario. For a solo player, they have the option of playing one investigator as a true solo experience, or instead have a second investigator in play.

In addition to challenges being thrown at the players from the encounter deck, they can also can run into horrible monsters and fiendish human villains. These enemies will do damage to health and/or sanity. If a player ever reaches zero they are out of the game (but not necessarily out of the campaign). Players find they can either attack an enemy directly to inflict enough damage to kill it, or evade it by essentially stunning it for a round. Evading a creature can be critical. If a monster is ready and engaged with a player, any time the investigator takes an action that isn’t to fight or evade, the enemy gets to attack. This can be brutal as a player trying to move, draw cards, or play cards from their hand will always be having an engaged monster attack them. If they can evade the creature, they can then act without risking an attack of opportunity.

Another kink in the player’s plans are weakness cards. Every investigator has one card that is specific to them which provides some impediment. In addition, one additional random weakness card is added to a player’s deck. Out of 30 or so cards then, 2 of them will be some type of hindrance to the player. Every turn a player must draw a card from their deck, and they can also use actions to draw. While a player is putting assets into play and using cards from their hand to help with skill checks, they will quickly be going through their deck. Yet every time they draw, they are getting closer and closer to drawing a weakness card.

This is an exceedingly clever mechanism. Most cooperative card games depend on the card draw flood. You want to be drawing as many cards as you can to have multiple options during your turn. This curbs that strategy. Some investigator weaknesses can be crippling if a player is unprepared. The player will find the flow of the game changes where they are at a point of wanting a lot of cards and looking to draw that weakness card early in the game (where they have more resources to handle it effectively), compared to getting it later in the game during a critical time when every action and card counts.

While you can get wrapped up in how Arkham Horror is a board game, you can’t neglect that it is a LCG deckbuilder. There are strict rules for constructing a player’s deck. Aside from class card composition, players can only have 2 copies of each named card. As players go through a campaign they can earn experience which is used to purchase more powerful cards (or replace existing ones with more efficient versions). You are limited to decks of a particular size, so you will be continually throwing out cards to make a place for new ones. While the rules recommend starting with some pre-constructed decks, players will eventually want to dabble in making their own.

The Good – It’s an enjoyable implementation of the original board game that has a narrative, choose-your-adventure style of play. Many scenarios will end with multiple options and the decisions, successes, and failures from one scenario have an impact on future games. Cards have enough keywords and varying game elements to allow for some interesting card combinations. While you can certainly go the brute force route of dumping cards for bonuses into skill checks, there are some nuances to explore.

This also comes about from the enemies and challenges that the players face. Aside from hard numbers for wounds, damage, and combat skill values, some creature cards can also have abilities making them play a little differently from other monster types. Combined with limited resources, actions per turn, and the clever implementation of weakness cards, players will have lots of engaging choices during play.

The random tokens for task resolution is also a great idea. You can tailor the pool of tokens to make for an easier or more difficult game. With 5 investigators out of the box, you can get a fair amount of replay from the base game. The solo option is also enjoyable which doesn’t stray too much from the play experience you get with an additional person at the table.

The cards are standard playing size and of good quality with wonderful art. The tokens are of nice card stock and are an excellent means of keeping track of damage and resources maintaining that tactile feel.

The Bad – The token draw for skill checks will likely drive some players crazy. You can typically count on it being a bad modifier, meaning you always have to try and get your skill value +1 or +2 over the base number. This can be for naught as there is a 1/16 chance (if using the normal difficulty) of failing automatically. I like it, but I can see some might find it mechanically jarring, heavy handed, and too luck dependent.

The other criticism isn’t too easy to dismiss. You have a short campaign out of the box of three, linked scenarios. You can get a few replays out of the campaign, but some of the scenarios are going to be repetitive. The mystery of exploring different locations and advancing the scenario story will seep away and your will be shifting to a purely mechanical play mode. This is compounded due to it being a cooperative game with automated enemy actions.

Lastly due to the limited card pool and rigid deck construction rules, you really can’t get a deep deck building experience with the base game. This is especially damning with the number of character cards. Yes, you have 5 investigators out of the box, but you can only play certain combinations because each one pulls from the same pool of class cards that another investigator uses. Sure this will eventually be alleviated once more expansions roll out. And you can certainly buy a second copy of a core set to open up deck building. But it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Other games like Netrunner have so much more potential for deck building with just a core set compared to Arkham Horror.

The Verdict – Arkham Horror has a lot going for it. I really enjoy that it takes a narrative structure but there are limitations in how replayable it is. Eventually that shine of new choices and exploring locations will dull and plodding repetition will arise, switching the feel of the game to more one of a mechanical exercise than that of experiencing a story. The limitation of card variety for the investigators is another glaring detraction. I’m certain eventually the game will get stronger as more content is released, but out of the box I was disappointed with how limited the deck building potential was.

This can and likely will be tinkered with. The use of cards for advancing the story is a great idea. If you add a few variations of cards for locations and outcomes for the agenda and act cards, you will suddenly see that scenario which was so repetitive before become much more varied and enjoyable to replay. Something similar was used with another card game, Space Hulk: Death Angel and I will not be surprised if by the end of the year we see a special add-on pack that expands the core box campaign to include variant cards.

This touches on another thing that chafes me some. The notion of pushing getting another core set is absolutely wasteful. Almost half the cards will be just set aside and never used. All the scenario and encounter cards are redundant (not to mention the tokens and rules). It’s a shame that another product of just the investigator cards found in the core set isn’t available as separate purchase. Fantasy Flight really dropped the ball there. Having a $22 product with simple packaging for just a set of base game investigator cards would have been great.

In the end, Arkham Horror is very much a LCG. It is enjoyable. It captures some of the encroaching dread and doom in a horror-themed game (but after repeated play of the same content that will ease some). There is enough variety of card types and abilities to allow for interesting choices during play and also with deck construction. But it is solidly in that LCG camp of buying more cards and I think almost too much so initially.

It practically forces you to buy into the game getting more cards as the core set is so limited early on. I feel right now it’s a pass on getting. Wait until there are more expansions available so that if you want to jump into Arkham Horror, you can do so pretty quickly. If just looking to purchase the base game and see about getting more expansions 3 or 4 months later, you will be disappointed as you’ll see the limitations in the base set pretty early on. Better to wait some and have a larger pool of cards readily available to explore the deck building possibilities fully from the get go.

Thinking up a campaign for Gates of Antares

3_round_campaignGates of Antares is my sci-fi skirmish game of choice as of late. One particular aspect I enjoy about GoA is that it has embraces more narrative scenarios over just having your typical tourney smash em up. However, one thing the rules lack though is a set of campaign rules.

I’ve been thinking of some ideas to get a framework of rules together for campaigns. Digging around I fell in love with some stuff over on another wargaming blog, Steve’s Balagan. They worked up a branching campaign system which is concise, builds on previous battles, and doesn’t get mired down in a lot of rules. I love it. I still want to putter around with some ideas for dealing with casualties and resupply. I might dig into Star Army: 5150 for that, as they have some nifty rules for running a campaign game.

While I might consider working on some static campaign maps, I wanted to possibly consider using a random mission system for battles. There is some great stuff out there which looks nice. I may use the idea of a static defender and attacker to shake up the mission objectives some, but the rules I’ve looked at are pretty robust. I also enjoy that each side has some more hidden objectives to add to the flavor of a particular engagement. Certainly a bunch of great stuff out there to tinker with.

Frostgrave in winter: the complex temple

From my last drubbing into the ruins, I decided to lick my wounds a bit and not spend too much cash. I only opted to do one out of game action, hiring an archer to replace a casualty. My other wounded soldiers recovered, so I was entering this fight with a full group of soldiers and my medium construct. I was still going the cheap route with one man-at-arms, 2 archers, 3 thugs, and 2 thieves (plus my construct). Having an inn for my homebase was finally paying off being able to field an extra soldier in my warband.

I was going to need it though as my opponent this time was an elementalist. He also was running a pretty decked out warband with marksmen and rapid moving treasure hunters and thieves. This time we would be playing the complex temple. A pretty simple scenario with treasure being near a type of construct pillar. I felt I would need a few soldiers to be near each other and add in a few attacks to ensure the pillars were destroyed. Winning the first roll, I decided to let my opponent choose their board edge and I would get the first turn.

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I moved onto the table having two groups, each clustered around my wizard and apprentice. A few of the treasure piles were in close proximity and I would likely be able to get to them within two turns. I moved in and began fizzling the cast rolls for both my Fog and Strength spells. A great start.

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My apprentice moved up the right side and her supporting soldiers were able to dispatch the column in short order. A thief accompanying them scooped up the treasure and made a beeline to get off the board. I was getting a swing of luck gaining the initiative for the first few turns which helped.

‘Seems easy enough, Fred. Just move on in there and pick up that pile of treasure at the base of the column.’ CRUNCH! (wet sounds) ‘HOLY NUTBALLS!’

‘Seems easy enough, Fred. Just move on in there and pick up that pile of treasure at the base of the column.’ CRUNCH! (wet sounds) ‘HOLY NUTBALLS!’

I managed to get Fog off and cast it in front of my advancing soldiers to the left. This really borked up my opponent’s line of sight for both his casters and one marksman, forcing him to focus fire on my apprentice’s group. My apprentice cast Strength on my construct and I sent it to wade in and cause trouble with the enemy warband. At this point I tried to get a second pile of treasure only to have a column take out my thug with a single hit.

Added to all this picking up treasure meant we might eventually get some creatures wandering onto the table. I got a bit lucky getting a lowly skeleton to come in on my opponent’s board edge. It tied up a thief carrying some treasure. However my opponent finally destroyed it and got their thief off the board.

‘Back to back, men! Say, is that a wizard over there?’ ZZZZZOOOOOOT! ‘HOLY NUTBALLS!’

‘Back to back, men! Say, is that a wizard over there?’ ZZZZZOOOOOOT! ‘HOLY NUTBALLS!’

At another column a few wild dogs ran in and tied up my troops. Forming a tight cluster side by side, I figured I could get some gang up bonuses all the while allowing my thief to run off with the treasure. It got bloody and then my opponent decided to drop in a Grenade spell among them. Ouch. I managed to drop one dog and have my thief with the treasure get out of the combat with a Leap spell. The lone dog ran off and ended tying up my opponent’s apprentice for a couple of turns.

Things then really started to fold. My apprentice got pegged from a marksman and was wounded after empowering a Leap spell on my thief to get some treasure off the board. I decided it better to get her out of the battle rather than potentially risk losing her. My wizard got ventilated from a marksman too, and then from a Grenade spell which was dropped down among a cluster of soldiers accompanying her. Also wounded, Elvira decided to slip off the table to ensure +10 XP for surviving the fight and also not risk suffering any lasting permanent injury.

A treasure hunter from my opponent’s warband ran up and got my man-at-arms in a melee. He wounded him one round and the next round eventually took my soldier out. In retrospect I could have dropped the treasure and made a better go at it being supported by my archer. I was hoping to drop him in one round and then manage to stumble off the board being literally a turn’s full move from my table edge.

Instead my opponent was able to get their apprentice to pick up the treasure with a Leap spell. We managed to squeeze out a turn 7 and he successfully cast a Leap spell to get very close to a neutral table edge, but turn 8 never came. In the end my opponent got 3 treasures to my 2. I had also forgotten that if my wizard had interacted with a column they would get 50 XP (my opponent was sure to do that at least once during the game).

For the battle I played very conservatively and still lost 4 men, but all of them recovered. I only got off a few spells fizzling quite a few. However I did luck out managing to get the initiative for almost the entire game, and some clutch empowered Leap spells ensured I got some treasure. I also found out clumping up for a combat bonus is great until you get a bunch of Grenade spells lobbed at you.

With the XP I earned I was able to get three levels, buffing up my health and fighting skill. For loot I had gained a grimoire of Shield and had the XP to learn it, so I could add that to my spellbook. I also got lucky treasure roll discovering a Staff of Power that will be wielded by my wizard, Elvira.

As I had scrimped and saved for the earlier games, I also managed to stock up a decent amount of cash. Likely I’ll send my thugs packing while I pick up a few extra men-at-arms and maybe a barbarian for the next game. So while not a rousing success, the expedition wasn’t a complete disaster like the previous expeditions either. Yet at this point I am pretty sure I am solidly in last place for the campaign league.

Quick painting Russians – Contrast highlights and single wash

I’ve been plugging away at my russians making pretty good progression on them. I have a lot of figures to paint however. One of the nation rules for russians is you can get a free inexperienced 12 man rifle squad. That’s in addition to the three other squads I’m painting up. I’ve got a horde of comrades to paint.

Sadly, don’t have the space and set up to use an air compressor. That’s certainly something I want to dabble around with in the future. For now I’m stuck with hand painting everything. So I wanted to see about cutting corners some given I’ve have 50+ infantry to paint up.

Rather than put a lot of time into drybrushing highlights, I ended up using high contrast highlighting. The trick is to pick a lighter hue paint color and just touch on the clothing and parts that would catch most of the light. So you end up painting the folds and not the creases of jackets and tunics, lighten the top shoulders, highlight pant material around bent knees, etc. It will look a little off putting with the stark contrast, but that’s the result you want.
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You will end up following the highlight contrast with a wash. This is another trick I used to speed up painting some by sticking with one basic wash for the entire miniature. I use Vallejo paints and inks mostly. So I’ve got a nice selection of shades. However, for my russians I stuck with a single sepia ink wash for the entire figure. It’s a nice general wash that adds some tone to the figure and looks good over everything. More importantly, it helps blend in the high contrast highlights I gave to the miniature.
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One important bit is to soak up some of the excess wash that pools on the mini (particularly the feet). I used a paper towel corner that I twisted into a sharp point. Dabbing the end onto areas that have a lot of wash will draw up much of the excess, but leave enough behind to bring out the detail.

Some touch ups on the base, drybrush the boots some with a light grey, and a final sealing with a matte spray. Done. You get a nice effect by mixing the wash over the two colors of the tunic and pants. It’s quick and helps give some texture to figures that have a full uniform of a single color. A great technique if needing to speed paint a bunch of miniatures.RussianFinal

Netrunner has a new player problem

netrunnerI enjoy Netrunner and have been teaching a slew of players for a while now. There is something that seems to hinder getting players into the game though. A key point is that despite it having a decent core set, it’s just not that approachable to new players. What is looming in the background is this wall of cards that almost seems insurmountable to decipher and break through. There is so much and the pool of cards so vast, it becomes a deterrent to trying to learn. Compounded with this perception is the requirement of having to purchase a big box set of cards to get into the game.

I like the base game. The core set gives a nice spread of different card factions and best of all, certain cards are still staples in competitive decks today. Also compared to Magic and other CCGs, Netrunner is a complete bargain to get into. But oddly Magic seems to have a smaller hump to get into the game.

It’s the draft events. For Magic, booster drafts are highly popular. Players throw in some cash to buy a few booster packs and then draft a deck from a combined set of cards. Some additional support is needed by having several basic land cards for players to add to their deck. However, for new players it’s a way to walk away from a tournament with a set of cards that comprise a playable deck. These are pretty newbie friendly tournaments that don’t require a large initial investment.

Netrunner could use something similar. There are some draft packs that are available, but the drafting environment isn’t that newbie friendly. Fantasy Flight also has dabbled with offering the 2015 Championship Decks. These are corp and runner decks that are pre-assembled. Offhand I think it’s a great product to get people into playing Netrunner but there are some hiccups. One is that the corp deck isn’t currently tournament legal. Secondly, (aside from an apparent misprint for the card cost) the runner deck offers an odd milling strategy. However the idea is pretty solid and leads into a concept of offering Core Deck packs.

Essentially these core deck packs are teaching decks focused on a single corp or runner faction. Ideally the agendas would be all in faction. New players could buy a pack and have everything they need to play. The deck might dabble some into the other factions and have a small spread of neutral cards (more on that later). The key would be to not stack 3 of a specific card type. Instead have two at the most. With cards bleeding over into other factions, the decks could serve as an incentive to pick up another starter packs aligned with that faction, or possibly get a core set. And if a new core set was available, even better.

The pickle of course would be the tokens. You might go the route of having 2-3 mini sheets of tokens for tags, brain damage, a few virus counters, 8 or so 1 credit makers, and another sheet of just 5 credit tokens. But an alternative might be to offer cards with slot trackers on them to keep track of tags, and credits. Encouraging players to use coins, beads, and other tokens to push around on these cards to keep record of their resources. This leads into another point though of enticing new players to finally jump in for a Core Set 2.0.

Cards in the current core set are subject to errata, while some decks are simply illegal (and not just by by tourney play). Combined with the encroaching rotation, it would be a great time to consider a new core set. Not everything needs to be changed. Just a sprinkling of some new cards possibly introducing cards with similar abilities to those being rotated out with the first two data pack cycles. This is something die hard Netrunner fans would be interested in picking up to round out decks. And if a player has nibbled by buying in though core deck packs, they can finally get a full set of tokens and expand their pool of cards. Having their hands on neutral agendas in the core set might also be an especially great draw.

Another plus is that they’ve got some redundant cards to allow for more people to play out of the box along with previously purchased decks packs. Along with these core decks, now you could easily have 4 to 6 people to jump into a new core box and play for a night. Mind that this is something you can’t really do now with the current box set.

There are some obstacles to these core deck packs, especially the hump of having a full set of rules and enough tokens to play. However it’s worth expanding on the idea of ready-to-play decks and offering alternatives to buying into Netrunner rather than just snagging a core set. Something to keep in mind, these core decks don’t have to be super competitive to the tournament scene in general, just competitive to other core deck packs.

You could have events where players just have to buy a runner and corp deck of their choice and still be able to play right off the bat. If wanting to participate in other similar events, they could pick up a deck or two of other factions to switch things up some if wanted. This would also allow them to lessen the initial learning curve with a smaller card pool, as they don’t have to jump into the game with a core box of 7 different factions. In the end something like this might make getting into Netrunner a little less formidable, and potentially more approachable to new players.

Frostgrave in winter: the well of dreams and sorrows

Between games we use a structured turn order where you have limited actions. You can’t go all out and hit up every magic shop and recruit all the soldiers you want. You have to make some hard choices and are limited to a single action (while your apprentice can help out running off to handle another task). First, I decided to choose an inn for my base of operations. The route my warband was going, I was going to need all the bodies I could get on the table and having an extra warband slot would help. Also this sweetened the idea of getting more expensive soldier followers in the future, as I had room at my inn base to let them heal up if they got seriously hurt.

I first began trying to summon a medium construct which initially failed horribly by my wizard, Elvira. Fortunately it appears that Morgana, the apprentice, had been taking her arcane studies seriously and managed to cast it. At least I’d be able to fill in one missing slot from my two wounded soldiers.

For my two choices of actions I hired a thug for 20 crowns and then had my apprentice see what they could wrangle up at the potion vendor. Making my random rolls, I opted to pick up a lowly healing potion for 50 crowns. Feeling a bit more prepared Elvira likely spent the next evening planning the next expedition into the ruins to follow up on rumors of a mystical well.

My opponent and I decided to play the Well of Dreams and Sorrows scenario. This time around random creatures could potentially show up. One change from the rules was we rolled for a random monster the first time any model approached within 1” of a treasure token rather than when it was picked it up. This broke up the tactic of players being able to secure the area first and then get the fastest model to haul the loot in case a creature wandered onto the board.

I set up my warband into two clusters and my archer with his prized bow of +1 shooting ready to clamber up a tall building ruin. I’d be facing off against a summoner and figured that having a few bodyguards within reach of my wizard would be helpful if the opposing wizard summoned a demon nearby. I went second and scurried about using telekinesis to drag some treasure farther away from my opponent, while my apprentice cast strength on a nearby thug.

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Elvira, escorted by her retinue of thugs and a stone construct, eagerly nabs some treasure.

My wizard, Elvira was behind a bit of cover but peeking out to cast telekinesis last turn meant she could be seen by a crossbowman that took a shot. They rolled high enough to take off a chunk of health but my wizard could take the hit, after all I could cast Heal (as well as drink a potion of healing if needed). Meanwhile my left flank moved forward to secure some treasure. Sure enough, my opponent began to summon imps to harass my warband and my soldiers got stuck in.

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‘A summoner. Why’d it have to be a summoner? I hate summoners.’

I huddled up my wizard behind a wall and then took a gamble. Across the board another crossbowman was perched atop a ruin. I had a chance for my archer to take a shot against him and my wizard was holding a healing potion. I figured if I could risk being a target for a wild shot for one turn, I could pull a pile of treasure towards me, and next turn quaff my healing potion. I had Elvira peer out to cast telekinesis again, and dragged another treasure to within reach. Both my thieves managed to grab some treasure and began to scramble out of the area.

Then things got all pear shaped. My opponent lined up my wizard in his sights and fired off a bolt… rolling a 20. So much for risking waiting a turn to drink a healing potion. My wizard dropped to the ground doubled over with a bolt through her chest.

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‘That crossbowman across the way can’t possibly hit me from hea-THUNK!’

The left side began to fold also. My apprentice was getting peppered with Steal Health. I had scooped up some treasure and successfully whisked it away using leap, however both of us had approached most of the treasure on the board. While for much of the piles, no one had quite rolled a 16+ but eventually that was going to happen. Sure enough an armored skeleton was rolled on the chart. Now the way all the warbands were spread out, I was in a better position. For both sides of the board my opponent had moved up their wizard and apprentice. I had a 1 in 4 chance of the skeleton stumbling out of the ruins on my edge of the board… which is exactly what happened.

Morgana the apprentice was just far away enough to be out of its grasp for a turn. I had a choice. Do I have my bowman fire off a shot, hoping to take it out and cast Leap on a thief to get treasure off the board? Or instead do I try to back off, run away, and keep my distance from the armored skeleton? I chose to cast Leap, my bowman missed, and the armored skeleton got into combat with my apprentice. Two turns later the skeleton cut my apprentice down and shambled towards another soldier. To add insult to injury, my opponent’s crossbowman finally took out my archer.

On the other side of the board, the summoner in the opposing warband rolled decent for summoning a demon, but decided to push the casting roll for a higher result. Now a minor demon was rampaging about rather than a lowly imp. His warhound and demon rushed my other thugs and construct to engage in a melee. After a few rounds the demon tore through my troops, but not after losing much of its health (and the warhound getting cut down).

On the left side of the board I decided I had enough, having my buffed up thug climb the ruined building and take out the enemy crossbowman. My opponent obliged and ended up getting another two thugs to join the fray. At least in that combat I made a lasting impression, cutting down the crossbowman and and two other thugs, only to be taken out by his health being sapped away from a Steal Health spell. The game ended on the sixth turn and all of my warband members being either killed or off the board with treasure. To add to my trouncing, the summoner teleported up to the edge of the well and was able to drink from it before the game ended.

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‘FOR WANDA! Er… Morgana!’

The proof was in the pudding. I only managed to cast 3 spells to my opponent’s 8. A horrible outing combined with falling behind in the league further, as I did not get enough experience to level up but a few. I took a risk and got trounced with my wizard, and the same could be said for my apprentice. I’m a bit eager to get all my soldiers out and about to secure treasure. I likely need to have a few linger, especially for those random creatures that might pop up.

Fortunately all of the warband recovered, except for my bowman that died taking this magic bow with him (and 300 gold crowns!). I also lost my potion of healing I picked up for my wizard, Elvira. For the most part I’ve been very lucky with losses and got a feeling I am pushing fate. Eventually I am going to get hit with much of my warband succumbing to their wounds. I need to try and curb my losses some in future games.

Treasure was a nice haul though. I gained a grimoire of Embed Enchantment, got a little cash, and couple of nice potions of Invisibility and Invulnerability. I bumped up my health and fighting stats. I might consider looking into buying and learning Enchant Armor. However I am only sitting on 350 crowns and am worried if I get hit with a really bad game, I might be wiped out budget wise if I pick up a grimoire as they cost 500 gold each.

The good news though was since my medium construct was still alive I could risk casting a few superfluous spells and was fortunate to successfully cast Write Scroll twice. I ended up with a scroll of Healing and of Elemental Bolt. At least with those scrolls combined with the potions, I can ensure I have some defense (and a little offense) for the next engagement.

Frostgrave in winter: the first expedition into the ruins

Our campaign kicked off a few weeks ago and the first expedition into the ruins by Bitches’ Brew was a complete disaster. I faced off against a chronomancer who cleverly used an old ork Mordheim gang for their warband. I started off with a gamble trying to summon a medium construct before the game which fizzled horribly despite having a casting number of 11. Fortunately it was an out of game spell, so my wizard’s head didn’t explode. However it pretty much set the tone for the game which went into a downward spiral from there.

I mostly flanked one edge of the table with my apprentice and had my wizard head off to the center to scoop up some treasure.
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My opponent got two warhounds which headed off my apprentice and a barbarian that managed to get into a scrum with my wizard. Fortunately my wizard had a man-at-arms and a thug within melee distance to get into the fight.
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Unfortunately for my apprentice, the thug accompanying her tried to make a grab for some treasure and left her high and dry.
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All the while those precious turns I was locked in melee, my opponent could cast freely. While he wasn’t doing many direct damage spells, leaping a few crossbowmen up to a tower to try and snipe off my soldiers wasn’t pleasant. I managed to take out his barbarian and a thug from the game, but not before his warhounds dragged down my enchanter.
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In return he took out my entire warband save for an archer and two thieves that got a haul of treasure off the board (thank god my leap spells worked at least). In the end he cast 8 spells to my 3. I fizzled a lot of 8-10 casting spells too and had a fair share of abysmal rolls.

My opponent was able to only get 3 piles of treasure off including a grimoire and several choice scrolls. I managed to snag a +1 shooting bow. As for my other treasure I eagerly rolled to see what loot I found and rolled… a 1, just a measly 160 gold crowns. Even the gods of fortune were mocking my warband.

The good news thankfully was that my wizard and apprentice survived the encounter with only bruises to their ego. I managed to escape with much of my warband intact except for some scrapes and bruises. However one of my archers and the man-at-arms were far too injured to make another go and would have to sit out the next battle. I decided to hole up in an inn and make it my base of operations as I planned out my next expedition.

While my opponent got almost 4 levels of experience, I only got one. I decided to double down on enchant construct and lower its casting cost by one to a base of 7. I limped away from the battle with a couple of painfully learned lessons. I need to keep one caster well out of combat. While I wasn’t worried too much about losing my wizard, the simple fact that I could not cast anything several turns locked in a fight killed my chance for getting that precious experience from casting spells. Tactically I was fairly solid, as my soldiers were within range from both spell casters for most of the game. But I slipped up when I forgot they could do an intercept move. When my wizard and apprentice were rushed, I could have had another soldier step up to cut off my opponent. Something I need to remember next time.

I never managed to get a decent shot off between my two archers (mostly due to horrible rolls). But they did provide a threat and kept a few soldiers scurrying for cover rather than rushing to treasure. At the very least they also occupied my opponent’s crossbowmen with a few volleys back and forth as they tried to pick each other off. My man-at-arms though performed well. I have to admit having high armored troops helps a lot. While he didn’t have much success landing blows, that few extra points in armor meant my opponent had to really roll high to get any serious damage through. I might see about getting an armor enchant spell to toughen up my soldiers some in the future.