Review: Codenames

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Now’s the time to get into Netrunner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’d go with waiting and only consider picking up an old core set if you could get it dirt cheap. Consider the data packs as a decent yardstick for comparative pricing (so $20 USD for a new core isn’t bad). Same with the old data packs. There are so many being rotated out, you are likely better off getting 2 copies of the new core set rather than collecting the entire first 2 data pack cycles. But if you only want to purchase a pack or two? It might be worth buying those packs then.

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

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

28mm Russian heavy weapons teams – Plastic Soldier Co.

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

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

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

RusHVMedMortar

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

RusHVATRifle

RusHVATRifleB

RusHVATLoader

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

RusHVMMG

RusHV

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

New Netrunner core set announced.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frostgrave in Summer: The Complex Temple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Above and Below

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spartan Games closes shop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Custom foamcore box insert for Arkham Horror: the Card Game

For a couple of games I have, especially card games, I’ve taken to making box inserts. With the right materials for construction it’s actually pretty easy to do and cost a fraction of commercial products. One thing that stood out for me regarding the Arkham Horror LCG box though was its reduced box height. My Netrunner box was a snap to whip up, mostly as I just had to match the height of the box. It was already large enough to store cards on their side. The Arkham Horror box is much thinner, making it a little more of a challenge to get assembled.

I ended up creating a square box frame that would keep cards stored in two main compartments laying on their side. I cut the sides so that it was about 4mm wider than a sleeved card. Keep that in mind as some sleeves can be significantly larger than the dimensions of the cards, so you want to take that account in any measurements. You don’t want to accidentally make the frame too small, crimping and bending up your sleeved cards. Another point, don’t bother with putting a base section for your insert. With enough center support sections you can create a frame that will hold up fine in the box and as an added bonus have more space to work with. My frame slipped snugly into the box.

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To support the box frame more, I separated each main card compartment into two using a single piece of foam board. I then carefully measured the two parallel, center boards and added another pair of sections so that each could hold a small number of cards, perpendicular in orientation to the cards in the main chambers. This center compartment was also kept hollow to store any odd little bits (more on that later). I ended up with a very sturdy foam insert with a well supported center to keep the box from buckling.

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A couple of points on construction, you want to use foamcore board that is about 2-3 mm in thickness. You can use thicker pieces of foamboard however I find that after lining up the sides and multiple sheets used to make compartments, you end up losing a lot of space in the box, so thinner is better. I also used a hot glue gun to assemble the pieces together initially. It will pretty much set immediately and give you a pretty strong bond. I can then go back and add PVA (i.e. white, or Elmer’s) glue to all of the joints and set it aside to dry overnight. To add even more strength with thicker foamcore, you can use sections of toothpicks as dowels along with PVA glue.

For ease of getting cards in and out, I cut a notch into the foamcore supports used to separate the compartment sections. This was so I could easily get a finger in to pull out cards, yet didn’t remove too much material to weaken the section of the card. You could try cutting a round notch but practice a few trial cuts before you do. I found cutting round edges a little difficult to do with foamcore board over straight edges.

As to the actual dividers for different cards I used sections of foamcore cut shorter than the width of the cards. I also kept them loose and didn’t secure them to the walls of the insert. Right now I am unsure how many expansions I will be getting and how the card types will expand, so I wanted to maintain some flexibility. However I certainly wanted lots of sections to properly divide many of the cards, especially the encounter card sets. Cut with a tight fit in the box they actually have enough resistance to stand up by themselves (although over time the edges will get worn). Once I get a feel for how I want to separate my cards, I can secure them using a little PVA glue.

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The center compartments I have for pre-made player decks. Currently I am using one to hold the encounter deck of the first scenario. Also you can make out the center section. I trimmed a few thin sections of foamboard and placed them in here. Some other scenarios can have many locations, so these thin sections can provide a better visual representation how locations are linked to each other. In the end I have a pretty nice little foam insert, with enough room to keep my tokens, investigator cards, and other bits secured in ziplock bags.

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By not using a single sheet as a base (and instead just relying on the box itself) I was also able to reduce the overall profile of the box allowing the lid to sit securely on it. My rules and campaign books lay on top of the insert and the cross design gives it plenty of support. The box is certainly thicker but not so thick that the lid won’t keep secure.

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You can certainly buy frame inserts that are great quality and reasonably priced. However with a little effort (I cranked mine out in an evening), you can make a similar insert at a fraction of the cost and be just as functional. Don’t be put off trying your own hand at making foamcore inserts. They actually are a pretty easy project to do.

Frostgrave in Summer: The Well of Dreams and Sorrows

Our summer Frostgrave campaign is in full swing and I managed to get another game in. This time I’d be going against another necromancer. Seriously, I think it’s just about everyone’s favorite school fluffwise with the pals I play with. Last time I fared okay but didn’t really get any treasure.

We were playing a good scenario to get early in the campaign, the Well of Dreams and Sorrows. Basically your regular Frostgrave game with a large well in the center of the board. If your wizard is able to drink from the well you get a whopping 100 XP. But you need to approach this with caution. You will face your demise instantly if pushed into the mysterious pool.

This was another game I got wrapped up in and forgot to take enough photos or get proper notes. Having my stomach full from a tasty brunch didn’t help either. Hee hee, the downside of playing at a restaurant can mean a lot of distractions. At least it was a bit to early in the day for a pint and I settled on having several cups of coffee instead.

My opponent went all out with his warband. A templar, knight, man-at-arms, two trackers, a few infantrymen, and a handful of thieves meant he had a lot of hard hitting troops. I had a pittance of roughly 100 gold in my coffers so I was pretty stretched thin. I picked up a warhound and an infantryman to get my warband up to capacity.

I decided to deploy clustered up behind a group of buildings. Fortunately I was able to cast Reveal Secrets and get a bonus treasure that I could plop down just outside my deployment zone. The other treasures were pretty far though and would take much more effort to reach. I decided to get my wizard to rush the center and bring up my apprentice along one side, with an archer and warhound centered on the left corner. My opponent also decided to have his wizards approach the center. That well was too tempting to drink from.

First turn I approached and a thug was able to scoop up some treasure scryed from Reveal Secrets. I had my archers clamber up into position to cover my advance. I decided to get cocky and have my warhound charge ahead and get up into the face of a knight, while my archer fired off a few shots. No hits and my warhound was dropped almost immediately, but I did get a chance to hold off my opponent for a turn.

That plan went pretty much to naught as my opponent turned around and cast Fleet Feet allowing all those soldiers in clunky armor a chance to get some extra inches in movement. My opponent was able to get within proximity of most of the treasures on his side of the board, meaning more and more creatures might wander in on the table. I ended up getting both a ghoul over on my right, as well as a pair of zombies move in on my left. Unfortunately due to line of sight issues, they decided my warband were the more tasty targets and shuffled towards my men!

Fearing some pop shots to take out my low armored thugs and thieves, I had my apprentice lay down some Fog to cover my advance up to the right. I had my main wizard try to supplement her defense with Enchant Armor which failed. I moved by men up towards the well as did my opponent, while both our wizards lingered some in the rear.

Honestly the game became a bit of a blur as we burned through turns. The approaching knight on my left was a hassle compounded by the zombies going after my archer. He was able to snag some treasure and get off the board while by archer was fighting zombies. Both my archers peppered a few men, shaving off some health but unable to kill any. Fortunately my opponent was in the same situation and I compounded his difficulty some landing Blinding Light a few times.

The right side became a bloodbath, with the ghoul tearing through my men. I scrambled my apprentice out of the way and out of sight to avoid any chance of it attacking her. I managed to finally kill it between shots from my archer and a pitched melee with my soldiers. My thief won out but was severely wounded in the process. The lone thief was easily picked off by a few enemy soldiers that were able to close in.

In the center of the board the necromancer stepped up and drank deeply from the well. I had my man-at-arms attack and bogged the wizard down in hand to hand. I decided the tempting offer to drink from the well was too much and spent a critical action sipping from the well myself. Another soldier entered the fray with my man-at-arms, won the combat, but did no damage to my soldier. I was a bit smug with my plans but forgot an important rule, the winner of the combat could break off or push their opponent away 1”. He promptly pushed my soldier into the well, instantly taking him out of the game!

Wanda was no slouch in combat however. I turned my attention to the necromancer and was able to land Blinding Light on him. Eventually he was able to dispel it but my opponent decided his wizard had enough and ran behind some cover. Between shots from my archer and her wielding a magical weapon, she was able to dispatch any remaining soldiers. Pretty much free and clear, my wizard and apprentice ran off to try and secure some treasure. They both were able to fend off any enemies and frantically tried to position themselves for casting spells.

In the end with quick movement and Leap spells my opponent was able to get 4 treasures off. I was able to get my wizard set to carry off some treasure. A swift cast from Push got her to the edge of the table, but there were no more turns and I was stuck holding it, just out of reach from getting back to base camp.

Another game where I managed to secure the board, but unable to seal the deal and get treasure off the table. Push helped get troops out, but it’s simply too difficult maneuvering them afterwards to get into a good position to get them off the table. I knew Transpose could not be counted on, but it’s really hurting not being able to shift troops around with that spell either. I can’t bitch too much as most of the game I was able to get initiative and finally able to cast a fair number of spells. Drinking from the well helped too, and from previous unused XP, Wanda was able to acquire 4 levels.

For my treasure, I got a little gold and couple of scrolls of Invisibility and Control Undead that will come in handy. My man-at-arms was wounded and both a thief and warhound ended up in a shallow grave out among the ruins. Essentially 3 soldiers down and only a measly 120 gold in my coffers. I’ll have to think some on how to fill out my warband. Being a man down for the next game will be difficult but I don’t think I can quite dump the wounded soldier being so low on cash. Gotta mull on that for a while what I’ll do for the next game.

Review: Terminal Directive

Terminal Directive, the new expansion for Fantasy Flight’s Netrunner LCG takes a different approach from past big box sets. It presents itself as a small, mini legacy campaign. For 2 players, each side takes control of either a mega-corporation or a cyber-hacking runner trying to unravel a mystery. Not to give too much away from the story, in this near future mankind has colonized the moon and other planets. Labor is mostly done by either genetically engineered clones or androids operated by sophisticated AI. Androids are particularly ubiquitous in the Netrunner world and adhere to something similar to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, they can’t kill a human….or so everyone thinks. Because that is just what Terminal Directive revolves around, an incident where an android has apparently murdered several humans.

The game incorporates a legacy element. Each player accesses a particular set of cards detailing the story. They are offered a choice between two major paths, a proactive stance taking the ‘predator ethos’, or a more reactive, defensive position as a ‘protector ethos’. These choices dictate what special cards might be added to the player’s deck. In addition special tasks and abilities are added to an individual playerboard. As the player completes certain actions during the game, they mark off their progress and eventually may attain permanent abilities and effects.

Some actions might be related to trashing a certain number of corp cards, or giving a player a certain number of tags. Some are conditions that the player wants to avoid (eg. the corp player cannot spend a click to draw a 2nd card during their turn). If they break these conditions they get some cards that are detrimental to their deck, hindering their actions during future games until they can remove them by completing certain in-game events.

As you play through the campaign, more story is revealed. Additionally as you achieve certain game conditions, you get new abilities, new cards, and an ever expanding number of ethos choices. Much of the game is hardwired in choices to try and allow the opponent to catch up some initially. This is either done by introducing handicaps to the other player, or allowing the player lagging behind access to more powerful cards. Eventually though after 9 or so games, you will come to the end of the campaign with a final winner.

You are free to use what is available in your card pool for your deck. Also in between games you can freely change the composition of your deck (aside from your ID). However I feel the game is really centered on working with just cards from the core set. If you throw in access to a bunch of cards from different expansions, you might get some wonky play from the legacy campaign.

Terminal Directive is an interesting take on the past expansions for Netrunner. Because in addition to the campaign specific cards, stickers, playmats, and legacy elements are 163 cards split between 4 factions. HB, Weyland, Criminal, and Shaper all get new cards and IDs, including some faction-specific agendas and a few neutral cards. Unlike the campaign specific cards, these are all tournament legal. The breakaway from the past focus on 2 specific runner/corp factions of past expansions is a pleasant addition to the game. You will want to add these cards too. This set has some solid cards that will supplement just about any faction deck.

The Good – It’s a departure from past Netrunner expansions that offers a minigame with a narrative mystery story. The legacy format and progressive decisions help make for a different experience from your typical Netrunner game. As the cards go, it is a solid expansion adding a lot more options to the core set. The components are typical for your Fantasy Flight card game offering quality cardstock and art.

The Bad – The legacy game is clunky. There are a lot of small conditions to keep track of. Overall the game does a decent effort of trying to reign in an early runaway victory, but momentum of several wins are hard to break, especially if your opponent fails to stave off their initial caution task (adding more hindering cards to their deck). Even for an experienced player, you need to slow down your gameplay making sure that each action doesn’t trigger any game conditions.

The legacy game also has points where you need to access specific cards and objectives once their conditions are met. While cards are added to your deck between games, you have to immediately update your PAD playerboard, breaking up the flow of the game. The narrative of the story is also clunky. It would be so much better having options of the story based on the ID you selected. Instead you get a story based on some unseen third persona that feels tagged on. Overall the story is rather underwhelming.

In addition, I wish more was also put into the packaging. You get a clump of cards broken up by being either corp or runner, rather than individual packs for each section of the story. Lastly there is a ton of empty box space. So much so that the actual contents are deceiving given the huge empty box.

The Verdict – The legacy game within the expansion is underwhelming. You do get a different player experience going through it and I dig FF trying to explore different play styles with Netrunner. Some parts of the legacy game work but others don’t. The biggest damning flaw is that the story progresses independently from the Terminal Directive IDs you choose. For such a supposed emphasis on the choices and evolving narration it’s sort of a let down that you have no real control over the major players of the plot. Nonetheless it’s a departure from the common Netrunner game and while it’s a mixed bag, overall I appreciate the different experience it provides.

However you can’t ignore that it is an expansion for people currently playing Netrunner. In that light it is a solid purchase. If you just have the core set and wondering what to get next, Terminal Directive is the expansion to buy. For the money spent you get solid cards that build on 4 different factions and also has a small legacy game to mess around with. Long time players are also going to enjoy the card selection and as it’s considered a big box expansion, the set is exempt from rotation. If looking to delve more into the world of Netrunner or currently a rabid player, this is a great purchase.

[TIP: If you want to stretch out the life of TD, scan all the stickers instead. You can cut and paste them onto a copy of the playboard. I also scanned copies of cards with updated text and kept them aside as a reference during play. If you read the story cards to yourself and work with copies of the provided stickers, you can play through both sides of the campaign with one box avoiding the legacy elements of ripping up cards and adding permanent abilities to the PAD sheet.]