Board Game Stores in Seoul: BoardM

A long standing board game store in Seoul I never managed to visit has been BoardM. They have an extensive online store but also have a physical storefront in Seoul. I was finally able to give the place a visit and immediately lamented my failure at not visiting it earlier.

Located on the fourth floor of a small office building, they have an extensive selection of games both in English and Korean. The games range from modern classics, Kickstarter darlings, party and children games, to even heavier GMT war games. They don’t appear to carry much in collectible card games but instead carry box sets for many LCGs.

For the physical store, I dare say they have nearly 300 games on the shelf. They also offer a full selection of Mayday card sleeves as well as generic brands. Individual polyhedral dice can also be purchased. The owners were very friendly and fortunately for me were able to converse in English.

The store is well lit and fairly open with a cavernous ceiling. There are a few tables set up in one section to allow for in store gaming. However I’m not sure on policies the owners have for playing games on the premises.

While the store claims to have set hours of operation, in truth they’re flexible. Apparently the people that run the store are pretty active in conventions and other events. It’s recommended to call or text a day or so ahead of time to make sure the store will be open (you can find the number at the bottom of their online store page).

They do have an active online store and are willing to ship within Korea. I would recommend checking out the site before visiting the store. If you have a title you absolutely must have, it’s best to text them you’d like that game when arranging a visit. The owners will try their best to make sure it’s on the shelf for you to buy (pulling it from back storage if needed).

Getting to the store is a little convoluted. By subway you need to get off at the Bulgwang exit from either Line 3 or Line 6. You can use exit 7, but have to pull a 180 and then go left at the main intersection. However it might be easier to take exit 8, and then cross the street further up. The store itself is behind the Seobu Intercity Bus terminal. There is a branching street from the main road that you can follow which runs behind the terminal.

Mind that there is a basement area but this appears to be mostly for storage and stock for the online store. You want to actually enter the building and go to the fourth floor to get to the physical store.

I have to say the selection is impressive carrying both classics and the Board Game Geek hotness. The only hiccup is that it’s best to be sure to drop them a line before trying to visit. If wanting to just stop by, you might find the store closed. Regardless, they have a fantastic selection and it’s so far been the best place I’ve visited recently with the great stock of games on the shelf. BoardM is a must stop if checking out game stores while visiting Seoul.

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Review: GoA Strike on Kar’A Nine

Warlord Games a while back released a starter box set for Beyond the Gates of Antares. It’s is a smaller set with fewer models and designed more to be an introductory box set. Strike on Kar’A Nine is focused on Concord and Algoryn forces and provides a more ‘complete battle in the box’ compared to its other starter box.

First off I’ll commend the choices for armies within the box. Algoryn verses Concord is a better choice of introductory forces compared to the Ghar. The Ghar are cool. But they play completely different from just about every other faction. Even worse, new players will likely get stomped by them and their near impenetrable battle suits until opponents learn to play against their weaknesses (cough… net ammo… cough) and turn the tide, making Ghar difficult to play effectively. This faction just takes a bit more finesse to tune and play compared to other armies. As an introduction to the universe, Concord/Algoryn troops are better matched.

I won’t spend much time covering the minis in the set. You can likely dig around and find that info elsewhere. You get 10 Concord troopers and 15 Algoryn with a full spread of drones (plus 2 light drone platforms for the Concord). The figures are plastic and are nice sprues with a full range of options for weapons and gear. I’m really happy to see the Algoryn get plastic for rank and file minis. It certainly keeps the cost down when building up a force and they’re nice minis.

Aside from the minis you get a set of templates, pin markers, a full set of dice, including a few special order dice (which I’ll use for distortion dice as I’ve got sets in other colors for Bolt Action). Included is also a paper playmat and cut out terrain. There are also a few printed rulers and a cardstock reference sheet. A decent battle-in-a-box spread of goodies to allow people to get cracking (once they assemble all their multipart figures of course). The battle mat also has a full art poster so you’ve got something to throw up on the wall if you’ve got your own battle mat.



Along with this are several books. A short booklet covering the modeling aspects for assembly and painting tips/color schemes, an A5 (pamphlet size) edition of the rules, and an introductory scenario booklet. The introduction scenarios break the rules up into short chunks. They offer a short narrative setup and give precise force lists for most of them. If the rule basics aren’t covered in the scenario write up, they recommend the players to read specific sections. The first few scenarios just use a handful of models and cover movement and shooting at the basics.

As how the 5 scenarios progress, more rules and larger forces keep increasing until the full range of models in the box are used. It’s a good way to get people exposed and learning the game. Instead of dumping a full rulebook at their feet along with a 20+ forces to paint and assemble, they can learn the game in bite sized bits of information.

The scenarios are really small, truncated engagements. The first scenario has only 3 models (each with their own order die) for one player, while the other players has 2 two-man squads. The rules cover just the movement and fire rules with one player only trying to get their Concord troops off the table.

The second scenario ups model count introducing ambush orders and squad drones. The Concord player is trying to get to the deployment area of Algoryns with destroyed squads offering points. The third scenario presents larger forces including support drones. This third fight adds pins and details the full complement of orders like Down and Rally. It’s a big fight, but bonus victory points are awarded for getting forces off the enemy table edge.

The fourth scenario is more of a narrative battle. The Concord is recovering a drone while Algroyns need to destroy it. This adds sprinting and assault rules. Lastly, the fifth scenario is an all out battle adding additional ammo types for leaders and their mico-x launchers. Each scenario is designed to build on the previous, just adding additional rules once some basics are out of the way. A pretty clever implementation to make the experience of learning the game a bit easier.

Now onto the rulebook. As mentioned it’s a softback small sized edition that is somewhat truncated. The book covers much of the rules including terrain (a full 4 and ½ pages). They do provide a short overview of each faction and a smattering of the universe background. The rules do not have army lists which is fine. Otherwise complete rules save one thing, no vehicles.

This omission for the rules kills the set for me. I can’t imagine the extra 4 pages and a bit of added art layout would be a deal breaker keeping the costs down. Honestly I feel it would leave a sour taste that you buy into the game, a touted rule book included being somewhat the carrot to entice your purchase, only to find out vehicle rules are missing. You have to buy the PDF or hardback edition to get the full set of rules. It’s a poor decision on what could have been a great product.

Otherwise Strike on Kar’A Nine is a solid set. You have base forces for creating two armies, where you could focus on one faction and still have a handful of models to teach the game. You have a smattering of paper cutouts and battlemats to provide a full experience to GoA, all of which is portable and leaves a small table footprint. It’s just marred by an incomplete rule book.

So I have to make a plea. Hey Warlord, do a right for your customers and release the vehicle rules as a free PDF. It’ll be a nice nod of thanks to new players that bought into Gates of Antares through the Strike on Kar’A Nine boxed set.

Review: The Dunwich Legacy expansion for the Arkham Horror LCG

I’ll peg this as more as a cumulation of thoughts rather than a proper review. This full campaign expansion for the Arkham Horror card game has since been released for a while now, and after a few playthroughs I decided to give The Dunwich Legacy a look over. This uses the classic Lovecraft story, The Dunwich Horror, as a backdrop for the expansion. I’m not going to go through much of the cards as you can dig through tons of other podcasts and such to get a rundown of individual reviews, or you can see them yourself. I will go over the highlights of the scenarios and talk a bit how the campaign was overall. I’m also going to try and give this a light spoiler treatment. I don’t want to dig too deep into the workings of the campaign to allow for people to have some fun if they haven’t played it yet. But fair warning that some of the story elements will be discussed.

The campaign itself consists of a big box expansion with 6 mythos packs (small deck expansions). In the Dunwich Legacy you’ll get 5 new investigators along with 2 scenarios that kick off the campaign. As deck building goes with the investigators, each of them have a little twist compared to the ones included in the core set. All investigators utilize one class and the neutral cards as primary sources for cards from level 0 to 5 experience. However they can have up to five level 0 cards from any other class. What’s refreshing about these investigators are they seemed to be designed with the intent to compliment core set investigators and the limited card pool that comes along with it.

My biggest compliant with the core set that it was a deck construction game without much opportunity to actually build decks. Plus the more investigators you add, the more difficult (to downright impossible) it was to make decks. The Dunwich Legacy investigators address that. I dare say that if you invest in this entire expansion cycle, you could get away with playing 3 investigators using just a single core set. Deck building will be tight and you’ll hit some rough patches with some scenarios but it can be done. Unfortunately with a 4th player you are still going to have to go the route of getting another core set. However I like that they broke away from investigator deck construction format that stuck with the main class plus one other, allowing you to stretch out a single core set a little more.

The investigators themselves are fairly solid. I think of the lot maybe Jim Culver is the weakest of the bunch with the others being pretty formidable (and some might say broken in the case of Rex Murphy). This certainly adds a lot more re-play to even the base game. The investigators still adhere to their class archetypes for how they play. But each has a different feel that diverges from the core set investigators which is great. Now a bit more onto the campaign itself.

Spoilers below! (Sorta…)

The campaign expansion opens near Miskatonic University in Arkham. The players are recruited to find individuals that assisted Dr. Henry Armitage in a strange incident that happened months ago in the remote village of Dunwich. Out of the box the campaign offers a branching story. You have two scenarios and can choose either to tackle first, with each having a minor wrinkle to how they play depending if you are playing it first or second. It’s a pleasant change from the linear paths and I hope it’s something that is explored more in future releases.

Extracurricular Activities – The players are trying to explore the sprawling Miskatonic University campus, looking to find one of Dr. Armitage’s colleagues. A tweak to this is that a few key locations are locked away and cannot be accessed. If players can eventually take control of an NPC (Non-player Character) ally, they can get to these locations. Once things are underway however, a clock to the scenario starts ticking down. The players have a choice how they tackle this new challenge. An interesting aspect is that players can ‘win’ this scenario but still ‘lose’ adding additional difficulty to the campaign.

The House Always Wins – A change of pace from the typical dreary locales, this scenario takes place in a speakeasy that also doubles as a gambling den. The players must investigate the area under the watchful eyes of various mobster types. If they discover clues while a mobster is at the same location, they can incur their wrath.

A wonderful twist to this scenario is that the initial investigation has the players discover clues through different means by either spending resources or discarding ally cards. This comes into play shortly as the scenario has a sudden-explosion-everything-in-chaos moment that ratchets up the tension. Players will be thrown into a situation where every action counts. So ditching resources to help move the act cards quickly can also mean less choices to handle more difficult obstacles that come up later. It’s a great balance of risk versus reward.

The Miskatonic Museum – This scenario has the players trying to search through a museum after hours in hopes of finding a translation of the Necronomicon. Rather than have an encounter deck filled with horrible monsters, there is a single phantom-like creature slowly stalking them. It’s a different take on the typical monsters in the game which I appreciate. However the results are a mixed bag. The monster is more of a harasser that builds up in power but never seems to be that much of a threat. It instead becomes more a monster that’s managed through evasion and damage mitigation.

Still the scenario has a nice feel of trying to search through sections of the museum. Also there are different ways to approach key challenges, including a choice right at the onset of the scenario. Lastly, if the players are successful they are offered a dangerous asset of the necronomicon itself. The card ability is tempting, especially for Daisy Walker, but there are unforeseen consequences for the players if they take it. A fun choice to make campaign playthroughs a little different each time.

The Essex County Express – This scenario takes entirely in a train traveling to the rural village of Dunwich and the investigators soon learn that things have gone horribly wrong. They are in a frantic race to move from car to car, ever trying to get to the engine of the train. With different train cars and engines, along with a variety of orientations of the locations, this scenario has a fair amount of replay. It can also lead to some wildly challenging games where some are horribly difficult, and others fairly easy.

Overall though I love the concept. Players soon learn to carefully glean clues from the agenda and act decks, as they can find out the hard way how the scenario agendas progress. I can totally see future scenarios where a similar progression and how locations are altered can be used in different environments (like a sinking ship, with investigators hurriedly traveling between ship compartments). The outcome sort of falls flat though. It’s more of a hard win/fail of sorts for them.

Blood on the Altar – The players have finally entered Dunwich where things seem awry. This is a wonderful scenario. Players are tasked with finding key locations and have a choice of either fighting or solving their way to a win. The outcomes of the scenario can be either crippling or a mild inconvenience. This scenario can result in unique allies being removed from the game, making the outcome have far reaching consequences for the campaign as a whole.

The scenario also introduces an interesting creature encounter card. Whippoorwills are aloof creatures that are more of a hindrance than a threat. Players have to spend a fair amount of actions to remove them. They add a clever mechanism to adding difficulty to the scenario over a static condition that a player accumulates.

Undimensioned and Unseen – The Dunwich village is now under threat as several creatures rampage through it. What breaks up this monster battle is that players must first discover a key location and obtain items that will allow them to attack the creatures. One great aspect of this scenario is particular locations can also interact with the creatures. This gives the scenario a fun cat-and-mouse type of play, allowing the investigators to manipulate the creatures through judicious use of location abilities.

This scenario also has a similar vibe to Midnight Masks from the core set. Players are set with a practically impossible task. They have to try and do as well as they can and might have to just cut their losses and resign. It doesn’t mean the end of the campaign, but by not completing their objective in its entirety can make other scenarios far more challenging. It can be a difficult choice whether to soldier on and be eliminated, trying to fight to the last, or run for their lives. Used judiciously in a campaign I can appreciate this, and it works well here. However the scenario as a whole is pretty much a monster hunting battle.

Where Doom Awaits – First let me give some appreciation to the designers of the game regarding a decision how this scenario resolves. Throughout much of the campaign (rightly) if players fail they can still carry on. Metagaming, players realize there is another scenario pack to the campaign, and likely rest on that knowledge knowing if things get too difficult, they can lick their wounds and try again for the final scenario for the campaign. The designers went with a decision that might surprise some people. I dig it and appreciate the direction the campaign takes because of it.

Now onto the part where I piddle on this scenario. Throughout the campaign, players can build decks to get around having a poor lore skill to investigate for clues. This scenario dumps that on its head. There are specific location abilities that investigators must utilize to advance the act deck. If the players cannot do so, there may be negative outcomes with severe campaign consequences. What adds punishment to this game element is that the location abilities can only be attempted by an investigator once during their turn. If you have a low lore skill character, you will probably lose this scenario. I just feel it’s a poor design choice.

Now the scenario itself can be all over the place. The variety of locations along with an encounter deck that has a kitchen sink makeup, means you can have wildly different plays. Some games will be pretty easy. Some will be incredibly difficult. I like that you need investigators that can fight as well as others that can scoop up clues.

However it’s marred by the abilities on key location cards which require a once per turn attempt to investigate. If ever there were scenario errata needed, it would be for this one. Something needs to tweak how the game progresses (ex. if an investigator fails, they can attempt the location action again). However how the mechanics of the card function, even standards like flashlight are useless so something else more drastic might be needed. This effect sort of breaks the scenario and given the larger repercussions to the campaign as a whole, it can leave you with a sour taste in your mouth. Which is a shame as what follows this scenario is so great.

Lost in Time and Space – How this scenario plays out is interesting. There is a single location in play and players must go through the encounter deck to discover more. Further, the paths from the locations twist and turn about, where you find in order to proceed to key act locations you have to work through several already on the table. This process gets more difficult as locations can disappear, needing be be drawn again from the encounter deck. Further, players and creatures can find themselves teleporting from location to location. It can be a frustrating experience, but at the same time it captures that chaotic, warping sense of a constantly shifting landscape with ever degrading sanity hampering the investigators.

As a small bit on the agenda developments, as each agenda rolls out players make tests based on past events, even those from the first couple of missions. I really enjoyed that part. It wasn’t a perfect fit, but still a pleasant attempt at demonstrating the lasting consequences of past actions. Additionally I enjoyed the possible resolutions for the scenario and also for the campaign conclusion. You can potentially be lost forever and still manage a heroic win.

The final showdown can be avoided or be a slugfest with the elder god, Yog-Sothoth. Much of the encounter cards and locations chip away at the player’s sanity and this greater abomination does the same. You might consider the scenario a little too lopsided towards mental damage, but I feel it fits the theme of the final locations well.

Final Thoughts – A key theme for many encounter cards is running through a player’s deck by discarding undrawn cards. One particular encounter card will inflict immense physical damage if a player runs out their deck. This essentially adds a timer to the game as they’re unlikely to survive this effect. Fortunately the players are exposed to this early on and can try to mitigate it as they gain experience. However it does introduce a different time challenge for the player which I like.

I will admit some elements are hamfisted with how they are added to the campaign. I love outcomes with some scenarios that add a specific weakness to your deck. But there are also ones where you add a random weakness or chaos token for no real reason except to ramp up the difficulty. Similar effects based on outcomes and choices from the players just feels much more enjoyable.

Overall Dunwich Legacy has more hits than misses. Being the first big expansion campaign, I don’t think it strayed much from the core set experience which is good. Yet the designers still managed to get some mechanisms and scenario elements that add to the typical game you’d get from the core set. I bite my tongue a bit though with giving it a glowing recommendation because a critical end scenario (Where Doom Awaits) can certainly thrust the player into an unwinnable situation. The story environments also knit well, with only a few that feel out of place (Essex County Express). Overall it just seems to capture a more intimate experience with most of the scenarios revolving around Dunwich, which can potentially lead to this otherworldly environment. Maybe people wanted a globe trotting adventure, but I enjoyed the more rural locations it went for.

As of this review there is another complete expansion out, with a third being released in the next few months. Players will certainly be spoiled for choices and possibly these other expansions might eclipse the Dunwich Legacy. But if looking for an expansion with classic Lovecraft theme that builds on the core set, interesting investigators, useful player cards, and offers a full campaign experience, the Dunwich Legacy is a fun one.

Genesys initiative for 5e D&D

So I’ve been tinkering with initiative for my 5e games. So far my players have liked the variant I tweaked from Mike Mearls. But there are some rough spots with it. A big issue is players still losing actions due to their planned targets getting wiped out, essentially cancelling their action if they were just going to make an attack.

Another more critical issue is that there is so much in 5e based on the structure of movement plus an action in the game. If you stop using it, certain abilities and feats become useless or need some severe houserules to make them work. Another small point is that having that initiative bonus gets lost.

I picked up the Genesys RPG which is a more narrative based system, and one thing that stood out for me was how they handled initiative. I loved it and immediately scooped it up for my game. It’s structured but gives a little room for players to have some agency over when they act for the turn.

  1. Players and the DM determine initiative order as per 5E rules.
  2. Instead of a specific player, the initiative results indicate which side can act (either players or monsters).
  3. When it is a side’s ‘turn’, any player, creature, or group of monsters can act.
  4. A player or monster can only act once per round, but chooses when to take their action in the initiative order.
  5. Monsters should be broken up into groups of 3-5 and have multiple initiative rolls. NPCs also contribute an initiative roll. Solo monsters may potentially have one additional initiative roll.

To determine initiative for a combat I fell back to each player rolling on a d20 as per 5e rules. I break up the opposition into groups rolling for every 3-5 creatures, and add 1 additional roll if I have an NPC of note in the battle. Once initiative order is set, each character can take one action per round of battle. However the order is totally up to the players provided it’s their side’s ‘turn’ to act.

If I have multiple opponents, each monster can act only once during the turn. Further I try to break up the actions so that only part of the group activates when they are supposed to. I’ll roll twice for those 5 orcs, but up to 3 will act when it’s their turn. The other 2 will act when their turn rolls around later during the round.

Everyone loves this. It fits in well with the 5e rules. However it gives them the freedom to switch around the party order from round to round. If a cleric needs to get off a critical heal or buff before the barbarian makes a huge attack, they have the chance to do it. Players can coordinate their actions more this way. Another small bonus is that super high dex player can help the party get an action or two off before the monsters do each turn (provided they get a high initiative roll).

The downside is you do that that occasional battle where the monsters might get that alpha strike, being able to take all their actions first before the players due to poor initiative rolls. But the PCs in turn can tweak with the order of their actions, making what they feel are their best tactical choices deciding who goes when. So far it’s been a huge hit at the table and I feel a decent compromise to allow for some free form order of actions during the turn, but also fall within that move-plus-action economy that 5e utilizes.

Using round by round initiative for 5e

A while back Mike Mearls tweeted an initiative variant he had been playing around with. I caught wind of it through a video from Matt Colville where he gave his twists on the system.

I’m a fan of Savage Worlds and always liked the card initiative system they used. Every new round of combat everyone draws a card and then act based on the suit and value of their card. It makes for a dynamic turn and some unpredictability when everyone acts. Best of all if you flub your draw, you aren’t stuck for the entire battle going last.

Mearls was playing around with an idea of doing something similar. However you’d roll dice and your planned action would also influence the type of die you roll. Initiative starts and 1 and goes up. Lined up a shot and ready to fire off an arrow? Roll a d4. Locked in melee and ready to swing? Roll a d6. If you have to move and engage an enemy, you are rolling additional dice to add to your total.

This way relatively quick actions like firing a bow or swinging a mace will probably roll low, but more intricate actions and those combined with movement take more time and are more likely to act later in the round. This isn’t necessarily the case however and a player (or monster) might still luck out and roll very low. But like drawing cards in Savage Worlds, if you tank a roll you aren’t stuck for the entire battle taking your action last.

Another thing I like about this is that players can plan out some, thinking about their actions and adding a little strategy to the battle. The more simplistic the action, the more likely you can act before the opposition. Trying to run around doing backflips and taking bonus actions are possible, but also mean you’ll likely act later in the round.

I borrowed some ideas from Mike Coleville having larger, more damaging weapons use a higher-faced die. I also split up spells so that higher level spells used a larger die to determine initiative. Cantrips were slower action spells compared to melee and ranged strikes, but could still be fired off faster than casting prepared spells.

The pickle with this system is that you can get a blown turn where the opponent you were going to attack becomes a casualty from another player. Effectively this would cancel your action for the round if planning on just making an attack. I decided that if your planned action gets cancelled due to no longer having a valid target, the player could always make a movement action allowing them to set up for the next round.

I am still struggling some with figuring out how the opposition uses this. Commonly I just roll a d8 or a d10, allowing the players to have more chances to act before them. It works out some as there are those rounds where most of the party gets to act before the monsters. While there are also those occasional turns where I luck out rolling a 1 and having all the baddies attack first for the round.

So far my players like this. Most cut their RPG teeth on Savage Worlds and not getting stuck with a single initiative roll for an entire combat is something they appreciate. There are still some kinks though and having essentially wasted actions (especially those making melee attacks) is something I found players occasionally grouse over. Another issue is there are feats and abilities that revolve around rolling for initiative, and players dumping into a high dex so that they can get that initiative bonus lose out some. I might tweak with allowing a single reroll per battle for every +4 initiative bonus. Regardless it seems to be a hit so far and you can find my tweaks for an alternate 5E initiative system in the downloads section.

Frostgrave in Summer: Final Excursion

After several delays and a short hiatus due to holidays, we finally wrapped up our campaign. For our seventh and final excursion, unlike my last game we’d be playing no special scenario. Just a basic run and grab with a small twist. Wandering creatures would enter the table on a 12+ instead of a regular 16+, increasing the likelihood something would muck up the battle.

I was facing a necromancer that had a pretty tough warband. We both got off our out of game spells allowing me to add an additional treasure using Reveal Secrets and my opponent getting a zombie to add to his warband strength. Despite the normal scenario, we decided to go all out with the terrain and add an unusual feature. The entire map would be bisected with a deep stream that was uncrossable save using a few key bridges. Fortunately the span of the stream was just long enough to jump at a full 6” sprint.

The layout made the battle unfold over the bridges. I’ve come to realize my AAR is just a general impression of the entire game with tons of details missing. As per usual I got caught up in the action and didn’t record many notes during the fight.

My opponent was flinging bone darts left and right which kept my spell casters trying to hide behind cover much of the initial part of the game. Both my opponent and myself got initial enemies flung far forward on the table using Leap and Push, respectively. I was able to get my barbarian forward on the right bridge, while my opponent got his infantrymen across the bridge to my left.

I managed to get most of the luck regarding wandering creatures though. Most came in on the right edge and on his side of the stream. That tied up his wizard and retinue, allowing me to be more aggressive with my soldiers. On my left, I had a healthy distance covered with Push and threw my infantryman into the fray, allowing my thief to sneak off with some treasure.

To my right I backed up my barbarian with a man-at-arms and my wizard. All the while my treasure hunter sneaked around the back, securing some treasure. Only to have a swarm of undead spawn and start to shamble towards him. To my left I had quickly gathered a pile of treasure near my deployment zone with one of my thieves.


One of his trackers got hit with Blinding Light, effectively neutralizing him. His other archer got harassed by a pack of rats. They weren’t much of a threat, but for several turns he was locked in melee and could not get any shots off. This gave me some breathing room to pepper his advancing soldiers with my archers. My bowmen didn’t take out any key soldiers but certainly put the hurt on wounding a few.

The undead to my left kept pursuing my treasure hunter. However he was able to use his superior movement rate and had just enough distance to get away. My archer positioned himself to be closer to the creatures and on the following turn they clambered up a ruin wall to go after him instead. This allowed my treasure hunter to sneak off with some loot.


Of course my cunning plan of controlling the bridges went to hell when my opponent starting using Telekinesis to drag treasure over to his side of the stream! I had not time to waste and got my soldiers stuck in. I figured I had to hit him hard near his wizard and threaten him with my soldiers to keep him from positioning unclaimed treasure out of my reach.

The right side became a bloodbath, where soldiers dropped from each warband. But I managed to come out on top. However, quite ominously my opponent halted me whenever I tried to remove one of his casualties. He calmly corrected my actions with a, ‘No. Don’t take him off the board. It’s important to mark where the bodies are.’ I realized then I’d likely be knee deep in freshly raised zombies shortly.

Fortunately a bit of luck came my way and I was able to snatch the initiative for a round. I skirted my wizard around to get his zombie soldier in sight and used my scroll of Control Undead. The shambling follower lagged behind so my opponent had used it as a bodyguard for his apprentice. Now it became a follower for my warband! It harassed his apprentice, getting into a round or two of combat. His apprentice would manage to win rounds but not hit high enough to inflict damage. So he’d push off and then spend most of the next turn moving trying to keep his distance. At this point in the campaign, losing an apprentice would have been a disaster.

Taking that cue on protecting your apprentice, I had mine scurry behind some cover and try to stay out of sight. Both my barbarian and man-at-arms crossed the bridge to my right. They cut down the soldier opponents, including the poor blind hunter that could not shake off the effects of Blinding Light.

My opponent gathered up his Necromancer and flung bone barbs at his attackers, felling my man-at-arms and impaling my barbarian so much so, he eventually wounded him. I still hurled my barbarian forward trying to get into melee with his wizard. However the crafty necromancer kept his distance throughout for the remainder of the game.

In the end my opponent has cast nearly twice the number of spells I did. Despite having several spells that only needed 7 or 8 to cast, I failed them miserably. I can’t complain though as the initial part of the battle I got much of the turn initiative and was able to keep the pressure on his warband. At the conclusion of the fight, I had most of my warband intact where my opponent had most of his felled. Because of his losses, he wasn’t able to effectively get the treasure off the table. He got 2 piles to my 4, and I even managed to be holding a 5th for a slight bonus of coin and xp (one of our better house rules I think).

This was the last battle of the campaign for me, and I could not have had a better one. All the chaps in my league are a ton of fun to play against. In fact to be blunt I can be the most competitive bugbear of the bunch. I don’t know how they put up with me sometimes. I had dug myself in a hole the first battle of the campaign and never managed to get myself out. In points based primarily on getting treasure, I was solidly in last place for the league.

The big question for us was will we do another. We were all full of piss and vinegar at the beginning of the campaign. However time and schedules got swamped, and our ‘Summer’ league turned into a spring one. The progression and several fights are fun, but realistically we can only get one game a month in. Originally we hoped to get about 2 games a month in which would have been perfect for a summer league. Seems 7 fights are just too long for our schedules.

My other complaint is the progression. If we compress our league I might consider proposing doubling the XP and tweaking getting new spells, or more out of game actions. Maybe even increase the starting budget to allow for more base improvements, just something to give a boost to the warband management portion of the league. We adopted a rule that you could freely buy spells from your school at the grimoire vendor, in addition to random offerings. Likely reducing the cost for in-school spells would also be an incentive to get additional spells.

Ghost Archipelago is in my mitts. I doubt I’ll get into that too heavily and likely never even play a game. But we might lift the campaign rules and treasure tables from it. Seems to curb the excessive swingy results that you get in Frostgrave some. Might have to play [with our campaign rules] a bit more. Regardless, it was a fun league. Maybe this year we’ll revisit the ruins of Frostgrave again for another campaign.

Frostgrave in Summer: Genie in a Bottle

I had the gaming scheduling gods show me favor and was able to sneak in another game over the past few weeks. To break up the typical magic schools I faced throughout the campaign, my opponent would be a chronomancer this time. We were nearing the end of the league and I decided I needed every moving body I could get on the table. I opted to give my wounded man-at-arms the boot and hire an infantryman and barbarian as replacements to casualties I received from my last game.

This battle would be a challenge. There was a 25% chance each treasure picked up might create a genie that would wreak havoc on the table before eventually wandering off. Not having any spells that would cause magic damage worried me. I did have a magic weapon though. I failed to notice Banish as a spell within my school tool. In retrospect after my last game, having a chance to destroy a demon outright would have been useful, especially as a genie is also considered one.

Nevertheless I pressed ahead. I was successful in casting Reveal Secrets and made it a point to ensure when I placed treasure that I’d get a chance to put a bonus pile close to my deployment zone. Other than that, I stuck by a standard with my setup. I had two groups with my wizard and apprentice each leading one with my archers ready to clamber up some terrain and provide covering fire.

This pretty much was a repeat from last time regarding documenting the game. I just got caught up in the action and didn’t keep stringent notes. But it turned into an unusual game. Both of us were able to quickly get forces towards the middle and scoop up piles close to us. My opponent being an chronomancer was rapid firing Fleet Feet, giving his slower troops some additional movement each turn.

Being a crafty opponent, he was able to cast Wizard’s Eye at a perfect spot. That allowed him to fire off spells from a great vantage point over most of the treasure. It worried me enough to keep my casters out of direct sight. I could have tried to dispelled it but needed those precious initial actions to cast Push and other spells on my own warband.

The wizard’s eye went to great effect, as his boosted quick moving troops were able to gather treasure and then be targets of Leap, vaulting them off towards the table edge. I got my forces forward quickly with Push, but was unable to hamper any of his troops effectively. I easily was able to cast Blinding Light several times, including targeting his apprentice. But my opponent shook them off easily, practically maxing every willpower roll to dispel them.

My opponent made quick work of an infantryman that I rushed in towards the left. His soldiers cut him down and I tried to keep them at bay with archer fire. Meanwhile to my right I got a man-at-arms and treasure hunter up to take on one of his infantrymen. They were able to overwhelm him but then scattered as one of his trackers peppered my followers with arrows.

All the while my archers suffered the same fate of amazing defensive rolls from my opponent. In the end we managed to wound a soldier or two. But between ineffective hits and good shooting rolls that were shrugged off by high defensive rolls by my opponent, missile fire was ineffective the entire game. My opponent cast Elemental Wall to break up the table and get some cover for his men, however I was able to dispel it.

Between all the activity and melee at the middle of the table, I was able to scoot my thief forward and scramble off the table with some treasure. I also was able to manage a successful Transpose and a few more Push spells to get others carrying loot to away. For the battle overall, I did pretty decent getting 4 treasures, but overall for the league that wasn’t enough. I needed to prevent my opponent from gathering any treasure. They were able to get 3 treasures gathered, evading any arrows shot at them from my archer as they retreated towards their home camp.

What stood out from this game was that we had seven treasures on the table. Every single time we picked one up we were gritting our teeth waiting for the genie to appear… and it never did. Everytime we rolled under a 15. A couple of wolves and a skeleton roamed in but were quickly dispatched. Super strange that it never happened. We pretty much decided then on a new house rule for further games using this scenario. If the second to the last treasure does not spawn a genie, it will immediately appear near the figure closest to the last remaining treasure pile, ensuring that it spawns.

It was fortunate for us, but also a bit of a letdown as we were both expecting havok from the genie. I can’t complain too much though as I recovered 4 treasures and managed to get all my soldiers back alive. In the end I scored some nice scrolls of Summon Imp and Control Undead, two +1 staves, and a grimoire with Destructive Sphere. I decided not to invest in learning the spell as the elemental school wasn’t quite my strength. Instead I went about improving willpower, health, and my fight skill (which oddly enough doubles as a means to dodge arrows). I put my last level into Transpose hoping that with a roughly 50-50 chance of casting it now it might come into play.

One last game and our league will wrap up. Hee, have to see if I can manage to get out of my solid position of last place.

Alien vegetation terrain using straws

I dabble in 15mm sci-fi gaming and lately been using my models as proxies for Beyond the Gates of Antares. Getting terrain together can always be a bit of a chore and at times heavy on the wallet. You can get lots of railroad, medieval, and WW2 terrain easily, but sci-fi stuff is somewhat of a niche market. So inevitably I get to tinkering around making my own.

Vegetation is always something tricky. A really good source is simply aquarium plastic plants, but I decided to try and go the full craft route and thought of working with straws. By melting them partially, they fold open and get this weird pitcher plant type of look. I used a lighter and carefully melted the plastic passing it over the flame. I would also put a little heat on sections of the straw and carefully bend it some to give them a few kinks. Be mindful not to apply too much heat, otherwise you’ll end up burning another hole into the main section of the straw. StrawB

StrawA

A word of warning, too much heat and your plastic straw will catch fire. Not to mention the fumes are toxic as hell, so do this in a well ventilated area (I also had a fan behind me blowing the air away). After melting the ends of the straws, I used hot glue to mount them to some plastic card as bases. I then gave them a coat of primer. I tend to have trees and the like on individual bases so I can move them around. When painting them up I used primarily a green base coat along with some highlights of bright colors to draw out a lot of contrast.

StrawC

Thrown on some felt, they make for some decent vegetation that is a little different from your typical plant foliage. A pretty easy project and if given a more diligent paint job (compared to what I did), you can get some great looking plants.

StrawE

StrawD

Side Note: For 15mm terrain, straws can make for some decent obstacles too. Stacked and lined up, they can serve as large metal or concrete culvert pipes.

Review: Combat Commander – Europe

Looking for a classic hex and counter squad level game, I had heard great things about GMT’s Combat Commander series and eventually was able to snatch up the first release after a recent reprint. Combat Commander: Europe (CCE) is a two player WW2 infantry game. This offers engagements both from the eastern and western European front, with units from Germany, USA, and Russia included in the box. It’s a squad level game. You won’t find rules for tanks of vehicles. There are some rules for offboard artillery but most action depicted will be small arms supplemented with MMGs, mortars, field guns and the like.

The game offers 12 scenarios along with rules to generate random engagements. As mentioned, this is presented as a classic hex and counter game. Lots of double sided cardboard counters and hex maps representing various rural terrain (with an occasional group of farmhouses thrown in) will be what you get in the box.

It’s an IGOUGO game with alternating turns. Players will try to hold specific points on the map for victory points. The value of the locations for some will be revealed at the beginning of the game, while others will have their value secret, known only to your opponent. In addition players earn victory points for eliminating units. If a player finds they’ve lost their entire force, they lose the game regardless of the captured objectives.

Another means of earning points is to exit units off the opponent’s edge of the map. Eventually those units recycle on as fresh reserves, but they can award a fair amount of victory points getting them off the board. However you can’t guarantee exactly when you will get reinforcements, so it can be a gamble (but can really pay off).

A critical bit about the game is the tracking of game turns. Different conditions can cause time to advance in the game. Each situation where time advances, it moves up a record track. When it reaches the scenario threshold, a player will roll randomly and compare the result to the current time track’s value. If the roll is above the time track value, the game continues until the time marker moves again (and another roll is made). Otherwise the game ends immediately. This random game end condition means players have to do as much as they can within the limited time allotted.

A key element that stands out for CCE from other wargames of this type is that actions and their resolutions are card driven. A player will have a set hand size (depending on whether they are attacking or defending) and will be only able to play a few cards from their hand each turn. The cards played represent command orders given to units. You can only move or fire a unit if you play a matching card order. Further, each unit can only be activated once per turn. A notable exception are leaders as they can activate other units within their command range (usually 1 or 2 hexes). You begin to see that leaders are the backbone of your platoon allowing for effective execution of orders.

After playing a specified number of cards, players may discard additional cards and then draw up to their maximum hand size, ending their turn. Individual cards have 4 simultaneous functions associated with them. They represent orders given during your turn and also as actions which can be played during either players’ turn. Cards also represent random events, and can serve as die results too. Every card has the results from two six-sided dice, and each deck represents roughly twice the entire possible outcomes of rolling 2 dice (ex. there is a 1 in 36 chance of rolling two ones, so in the deck at most you’ll have two double 1 dice results). This allows a player to figure out dice probabilities up to a point.

As mentioned you are limited in choices during your turn based on the orders in your hand. Actions are a little more flexible. A fair number of actions represent bonuses to movement, attacks, or defense, but some also allow firing opportunities. So yes, it’s IGOUGO but there is a chance for your opponent to interrupt your move order with an opportunity fire action, essentially simulating an ambush.

Mixed in with the 2D6 results are special events. These temporarily halt the resolution of an action and introduce some random event. You might have a weapon jam, or a unit get pinned down by a sniper, or a random hex might be engulfed in a fiery blaze. Fortunately they don’t chain event after event, however a decent number of cards in your deck will initiate them. So you can expect the unexpected playing and your plans might get a bit of fortune, but likely get a huge monkey wrench thrown into the works, as you execute orders.

Movement is done using a point system with each unit having a listed number of movement points. Equipment like MMGs or mortars are attached to units and typically hinder the total movement of a squad, while leaders will add to a unit’s movement. Various terrain will hinder movement costing a certain number of points per hex.

Firing is fairly simple to resolve. Line of sight is determined by terrain features passed through when lining up center hex points (which are well represented on the maps). Some terrain will reduce the total firepower of an attack while others block line of sight completely. A player can order individual units to fire, or use officers to select one unit as the base firepower of an attack, and then add one point of firepower per additional unit firing in the group. Eligible units for this group fire are those within the command range of leaders. Additionally leaders can add to the firepower of units within their hex, including adding to attack range.

To counter the effects of fire, the target has a base morale (usually ranging from 7-9) that can be increased if in cover. Each player draws a card to represent their 2D6 dice roll adding to their firepower or morale totals, respectively. If the target beats the attacker’s firepower result they are in good order. If the attacker’s firepower is greater than the defender’s morale total, the target breaks. On a tie the target is suppressed gaining a penalty to movement, firepower, range, and morale (or they break if the target unit was moving). If a broken unit gets another break result, they are eliminated. Simple.

Assaults are even easier to resolve. Units draw a card (i.e. ‘roll’ 2D6) and add their firepower. Whoever has the highest total wins with the other side is eliminated. On ties both sides are eliminated. Units have a chance to recover from being broken using a Rally order. However the enemy can also force breaking units to retreat with a Rout order themselves.

This challenge of deciding what cards to play and which ones to hold onto for future rounds makes the game. Do you discard most of your cards in hopes to get an order you need? Or do you hold onto actions to take during your opponent’s turn? Some orders like a Rout card can swing the tide on later turns, but do you keep it in your hand or discard it to increase the odds of getting a more flexible order that can be of more immediate use? These are the hard choices and managing your hand to commit effective orders is a central part of the game.

Units are limited to 7 ‘figures’ per hex. The unit counters are designated as single figure leaders, 2 man teams (which is really a 3-5 man fire team), or 4 figures representing a 10 man squad. This low number means you need to judiciously deploy and execute orders, and also emphasises the importance of your leaders. You can’t have huge stacks of units in a single hex and need to spread them out. However in order to effectively fire and maneuver them, you need oversight and leadership from nearby officers.

It can take some mental gymnastics to grok the idea of using cards for everything, including the ‘rolling of dice’ but once you grasp the concept you begin to appreciate the mechanic. Every draw of the card opens up a chance for random events, adding more havoc and obstacles to tackle. Actions representing flexible orders that can be played during your opponent’s turn are also a nice touch. This layers on the uncertainty of your turn. You can commit a large firegroup to suppress and potentially break a threatening unit, but your opponent might be able to counter with an action representing extra cover they have in their position. You might think you’ll be able to rapidly move up several units, only to find your opponent is able to play multiple opportunity fire orders which will break your units as they advance.

Another aspect of using a deck of cards is they serve as a marker for advancing time. When a player exhausts their deck, they reshuffle their discard pile and make a new draw deck. However this advances the time track, bringing the game closer to an end. There are also special event cards that initiate this reshuffle and time advancement. This small game element adds so much to the game.

Players will have a general idea of the turns expected in a game based on the amount of cards needed to go through their deck (especially if the Time! event card was already played for an order or action). But as the game progresses, this becomes more difficult to judge. Additionally while a player may want to frantically dig through cards to get the order they need, they are also rapidly increasing the chances of exhausting their deck, advancing the time track, and bringing the game closer to an end. They might want to work with cards in their hand, rather than trying to discard everything to draw a needed order (eventually forcing the game time to advance). It’s a great part of the game and ratchets up the pressure as turns progress.

CCE isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. You won’t have a cut and dried tactical experience playing the game. Instead you’ll start out with a few turns of pretty well executed orders and then hit a snag. Maybe you have the initiative slip away, as you can’t find the needed order, so you spend turns discarding and drawing while your opponent maneuvers on the battlefield. You might get some random event that bogs down a critical assault, or a key MMG position is nullified due to a jam malfunction. Instead you find yourself scrambling to make the best decisions with limited resources. This results in a highly narrative experience, where you’ll see heroic moments and things go FUBAR. It’s wonderful.

The Good – The rulebook is well written with nice components. The random mission generator is a great addition allowing you to create some interesting battles and the scenarios offer a fair snapshot of different periods of WW2. There are a good number of expansions that provide new armies and scenarios in other theaters. The cards are of thick stock. The unit counters have simple profiles listing key information, and the indication of a broken unit is simply a flip of the counter to the opposite side. The oversized map hexes allow for some spreading of counters around during play rather than having tightly packed stacks of units. The art design for much of the cards are historical photographs and the color maps are simple depictions of terrain features. It won’t win any awards but they do dress up the game some.

The Bad – It’s a game with small counters. Some key elements (tracking turns, victory points, etc.) can be a little fiddly and woe is the person that accidentally knocks the table near the end of the game. This is small unit infantry action and if you wanted an opportunity to throw in some armor, you are out of luck with these rules. The random event mechanic can lead to the unfolding of odd moments and how they break up the resolution of orders can make play feel disjointed at times. The aspect of random events and issuing orders based on your hand might not click for everyone. If you are looking for tactical experience with predictable set pieces and resolutions based on narrow, strict probabilities, CCE is likely not for you.

The Verdict – Combat Commander: Europe is a solid wargame. If you want a WW2 tactical skirmish game, this is a fantastic choice. You have to make thoughtful choices and the card driven order system adds a lot of friction to play. It’s the constant pressure of having to adapt to blossoming difficult situations that makes CCE shine. I dare say if you wanted to experience a miniature skirmish game without all the painting, figures, and terrain, this would be a good substitute. I will say with certainty though if looking for a hex and counter game for small unit action, Combat Commander: Europe and other editions (notably CC: Pacific) are great buys and highly recommended.

NOTE: The rules are actually well written and play is straightforward. However it might be a little challenging getting through your first game. Harsh Rules has a tutorial video (along with a part 2) that walks through all the basic rules of the game and well worth checking out.

Frostgrave in Summer: The Living Museum

I should be calling this series Frostgrave in Winter now. It had been ages since our club was able to meet over the past few months but I finally managed to get a game in during January. I ended up going head to head with another Necromancer. I still was a little tepid to blow all my cash and kept a warband of thugs, archers, an infantry man, and a man-at-arms going. With my finances a little low, I felt it difficult to justify dumping it into heavy hitters. My opponent had a pretty fat treasury and fielded a barbarian, a few trackers, infantrymen, and a couple of thugs to round out his warband. I was pretty outclassed, and his figures were better painted to boot!

We had a pretty compact setup in the center of the table. Like the complex temple, treasure taken would randomly activate a statue creating a living construct. Surely we’d have a big scrum in the middle. I still didn’t want to risk a lucky shot with his trackers so I deployed in cover, broken up into two main forces. I had by archers and a thief stick at the periphery though. I lucked out and was able to successfully cast Reveal Secrets meaning I’d get one extra treasure close to my deployment area.


Fortunately I got the initiative and decided to move up and try for a spell. I successfully cast Fog which provided me a little cover from his ranged attackers and his apprentice. Those necromancers and their pesky Bone Dart was not a fun proposition to leave long avenues of open sight to my casters. I also successfully managed to cast Push from my apprentice and get an infantryman way forward in position near the statues.


My opponent moved in and slipped through the Fog, while his necromancer decided to throw a wrench into my advance and drop an Elemental Wall between our warbands. He began to scoop up treasure and unfortunately got the brunt of the medium constructs.

On the following turn I cast Blinding Light on his barbarian, making it susceptible to any nearby constructs. My opponent countered this getting his warband into the thick of the fight, tangling up the living statues before they could activate and cut down his barbarian. Your fight stat goes to zero and you cannot initiate any attacks making the barbarian an especially fragile target.

Honestly for the early part of the game, things were looking up for me. I got the initiative and managed to get off most of my spells, hitting his apprentice and his wizard once each with Blinding Light. They shook it off but losing the chance to cast LOS spells hurt. He flubbed a few spells and pumped up his casting rolls a few times too, meaning his necromancer was nearly at half health mid-game.

But things started to slip away for me. Most of the wandering creatures saw my warband as the more tasty morsels. I had to use my archers to dispatch skeletons and my apprentice to blind a minor demon that came onto the table. This alleviated a lot of pressure on my opponent that was able to take out several constructs, throw up another Elemental Wall, and start moving treasure off the board,


I turned around and Dispelled his walls and further decided to go all in with my warband, trying to take out his wizard. Sending in an infantry man and a man-at-arms, I figured round after round of attacks I’d eventually get a lucky blow in. Even if I could not kill him outright, I thought I’d be able to at least wound him. I was terribly mistaken. His necromancer pretty much aced all his fighting rolls and dispatched my followers. So much for my cunning plan.

That was enough to spook him a bit though, especially as my archers were essentially free to fire. I had lucked out on my Blinding Light casting roll for the minor demon and it wasn’t able to shake off the effects of the spell for several turns. My opponent was able to cast Leap on a few of his followers. Even a few peppered shots from my archers went wide and he was able to get his forces off the table. Meanwhile, a lone construct managed to take out a quarter of my warband, including my apprentice!

I was able to only get two treasures off. I got a good use of a Transpose spell and my thief scooped up an early acquisition that was found using Reveal Secrets. My opponent got 3 treasures to my two. I braced myself for the worst with my apprentice, but it appeared that Marsha was able to make it back to base camp in one piece.


I did lose a thug and my man-at-arms was severely wounded. I came away with a couple of potions and a paltry sum of gold. I also only was able to sneak out 3 levels of XP compared to my opponent that got 4 levels. A big chunk of this disparity in XP was my warband suffering so many casualties. With my newfound levels I buffed up my fight and health stat, and decided to throw a point into Transpose. It’s still a tricky spell for me to cast but I’m hopeful to be able to land it more consistently in the future.

The expedition was not quite suffering a drubbing, but not a rousing success either. I was really hoping for a third treasure and I found that the inflexibility of Push is a poor substitute to Leap. My opponents are able to clean up the board using that mobility spell. Regardless I am solidly in last place for the league. With only two more games left, I need a miracle match to hope in even going up a rank.