Category: Board Games

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.]

Netrunner Counter Trackers

A while back I made some simple credit and click trackers for Netrunner. They weren’t going to win over anyone with how they looked but the cards were functional. I seem able to stretch my collection and get a few people playing but couldn’t say the same with tokens from one core set. I also wanted something a little more portable than lugging a bunch of cardboard counters around all the time.

One thing about netrunner is it uses a lot of tokens. I like keeping track of information using counters, but you can get an explosion of markers and tokens on the table with some decks. Because of this I wanted to expand the card trackers I made to try and also handle other card conditions.

I ended up making a universal counter tracker. You could use it for virus counters, tags, even advance tokens if needed. It is limited to being only able to track 12 counters however. Another smaller tracker I made was for recurring credits. Just a small card to slip under another indicating between 0 and 2 credits, helping keep track of what is spent during a turn.

The look and design are clunky, likely enough to make any serious graphic designer gag. However they are functional. You can find them in the downloads section. Hope folks get something out of them for their games.

Review: Sushi Go!

sushigocoverGamewright offers Sushi Go! which is a simple drafting game for 2-5 people. Players pretend to be sitting at a restaurant quickly snatching up tasty sushi from a conveyor belt. At the end, the hope is to have assembled the most delicious combination of dishes for an epic sushi meal.

Play is rather simple. A set number of cards are dealt out. Each player selects and plays one card, and then passes the remainder of their hand to the person next to them. This is repeated until all the cards are played. Cards are scored and then discarded. A new hand is dealt and this is repeated for another round. At the end of 3 rounds the player with the most points wins the game.

A few cards offer a flat amount of points, but most cards work in sets. Some require another card or two to be worth points. While other cards offer points for having the most of that type, and some even offer points having the second or third most number of cards. A few cards even can multiply the score of other types. Lastly you have the pudding dessert cards.

Unlike the other cards, puddings aren’t put into the discard pile at the round end. Instead they remain face up and continue to be added to as a set. They offer no points at the end of each round. Instead at the end of the game the player with the most pudding dessert cards gains 6 points, while the player with the least cards loses 6 points (if you have no puddings you are safe). As you continue to play cards until all of the dealt cards are exhausted, it’s quite possible to get stuck with a pudding card.

The Good – Sushi Go! is an enjoyable drafting card game. The cards are decent stock with colorful, cute art. Not to mention that as it primarily deals with numbers after a few plays you could almost say it’s a language neutral game. It’s simple setup and efficient packaging makes it a great travel game too (but mind you’ll still need some paper and a pen to keep score).

The Bad – While it’s a light game that plays quickly, it can get a little repetitive. There is some strategy to choosing what card to play, however there is also a lot of luck. This is especially true of the first few plays each round as you really have no idea what cards are being circulated around. One bad pass near the end and you can get sunk with having to play a card worth little to no points (or be stuck with a single pudding dessert tanking your point total for the game). If only plays up to 5 people, just squeaking it out of that player number range of being a good party game.

The Verdict – This is a wonderful drafting game. While it can’t seat the numbers to quite make it a good party game, it certainly is a great family game. The bright adorable art, fast play, and simple set matching make it something younger children can pick up easily after a few games. But the simple play is a little deceptive.

This isn’t a meaty drafting game like 7 Wonders or Among the Stars but there certainly is some strategy here. You have to be mindful of what other players are selecting and figure out what they might keep and what they’d be willing to pass. Do you gamble and work on a 3 card set for a chunk of points, maybe you play a worthless card to ruin another player’s chance of doing the same, hoping to get something good on the next pass. These can be enjoyable decisions and something that makes for a fun, light family game while also having enough engaging game play to keep adults entertained. A lovely little card drafting game that’s well worth picking up if looking for something to serve as a light filler for an evening.

Review: Perfect fit sleeve roundup

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

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

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

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

Review: Arkham Horror – The Card Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Netrunner has a new player problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Netrunner Click-Credit Trackers

I dig Netrunner. While I have reservations recommending it to folks, I certainly enjoy it. Lately I’ve lamented some on how much it has dominated my free time gaming. I find I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of deckbuilding and picking up cards for the LCG.

While Netrunner is rather portable, it does require a lot of tokens and markers. I also end up teaching players a lot and while I like the play aids that come with the game, I thought it could be better designed to incorporate both a click tracker and a reminder of player actions on one card.

In addition to that, I thought about using cards to also track credits. Splitting them up into single and 5 credit values on two different cards seemed acceptable. So I went to work and whipped some up on a single sheet.

They are ugly, amatuer designed aids, but functional. The trackers also don’t completely solve the token issue. You’ll still need tokens for bad publicity, tags, recurring credits, virus counters, and advancement markers. But with a little creativity and some different denominations of coins, you could likely cut down on the number of markers you need to lug around using the trackers.

You can print them up on cardstock, or use paper and laminate them if wanting something to take a bit more wear and tear (or just sleeve them like I did). I think they work pretty well. You can find them in the downloads section and I hope folks find a use for them around the table.clicktrackera

Review: Android – Netrunner

netrunnerboxIn the mid 90s Richard Garfield put out a CCG than embraced the cyberpunk theme called Netrunner which petered out. Almost 15 years later Fantasy Flight picked up the rights and converted it to encompass their futuristic universe, hence the name, Android: Netrunner. It’s a dystopian future where megacorporations truly hold control over every aspect of human lives.

Colonization of the moon and Mars has begun, along with the development of sophisticated AI, androids, and human clones which serve as slave labor and are essentially products bought and sold. Beneath all of this are human beings that go about their daily lives, scraping by, and essentially are at most drones and corporate slaves to their employers just like the clones and androids they encounter regularly. A few choose to explore cyberspace instead fighting for either ideals or profit against the megacorporations as runners, hackers that steal data from corporate assets.

Android: Netrunner (or just Netrunner) is a two player, living card game. Fortunately FFG dumped the collectible aspect. Instead they opted to crank out expansions with fixed numbers of cards. Want to expand your card pool? No random booster packs. Just pick up a small set of cards and you’ve got everything in that expansion. The gotcha of course is through the constant roll out of expansions, you get that lure of the Pokemon gotta-catch-em-all urge to keep buying into the game. Combined with a healthy competitive tournament scene enticing players to keep up with their gaming opponent Joneses, there is definitely a draw to buy new sets as soon as they are released.

I avoided the siren’s call of Netrunner for a long time. But I was in the mood to pick up a new deck builder game and the theme and aspect of a LCG was attractive. I did Magic and was not keen trying to get back into that game. The collectible aspect of Magic just wasn’t something attractive to me any more. So I jumped into Netrunner feet first and now regret that decision immensely. It’s not that the game is bad. Far from it.

The basic rundown of Netrunner is that the corp player has agenda cards in their deck up to a specific total. Each card will commonly be worth between 1 and 3 points. To score them the corp player has to play them and spend actions (clicks) and money (credits) to advance them to a specific sum. Once they do so, they can immediately score it for points. The runner however just needs to access it. The runner isn’t limited to accessing agendas in play. They can also access agendas in the corp player’s hand, deck, and discard pile. To prevent that from happening, the corp player will lay out defensive ice cards to sap resources or stop the runner. The runner in turn slowly builds up a suite of equipment and resources to bypass ice and access those agenda cards. The first player to 7 points wins.

It’s actually a pretty easy game to learn. However once you begin to play, especially as the corp player, you begin to see the route of winning isn’t so easy. The corp player only has 3 actions per turn (or clicks). To play an agenda is one action and to advance it each time also takes an action. Most agendas take must be advanced 3 to 5 times to score. That means it will usually take at least 2 turns to score. All the while, you have to hope that your defensive ice is enough to ward off the runner trying to pick up that agenda. And to make matters worse, the runner has 4 actions during their turn. So they have plenty of opportunities to bolster up their resources and programs to make a successful run.

Now mind you, it’s not just agendas in play, but also agendas you have in your hand or possibly the top card lying in your draw deck. Forced to discard a lot of cards in your deck? Those juicy agendas might now be in your discard pile, just waiting for the runner to scoop them up. And that’s the kicker. While the corp player has to spend cash and actions, slowly and painfully advancing agendas for points, the runner just has to slip past that ice and steal them.

It’s not all roses for the runner though. Some ice is tough and can be one of four different kinds. If the runner doesn’t have an icebreaker program installed, actions on the ice card will execute if the runner bumps into them during a run. Most simply end the run action but some ice can destroy those icebreakers installed by the runner, or force them to discard cards from their hand. This leads into another way the corp player can win. If the runner player ever has to discard more cards than what they have in their hand, they lose immediately. Given each player can only have 5 cards in their hand at the end of their turn, the prospect of hitting horrible defensive ice or a trap card in the corp’s play area becomes a huge threat.

To add to this tension is a simple aspect of hidden information. The runner puts cards into play face up spending an action and paying cash up front. Pretty much everything they do is open to the corp player’s knowledge (save the cards they are holding in their hand). The corp player installs their cards face down simply by spending an action. They can rez (or activate) their cards later, spending the cash when they want to do so. Granted a runner might expect that card gathering up advance tokens is an agenda, but not always so. Sometimes it can be a trap to wipe out the runner’s installed cards (or even worse, force them to discard almost their entire hand). All those defensive ice are also installed face down. While the corp player still has to pay cash to activate them, the runner has no idea if that face down card protecting the corp’s draw pile is huge wall, effectively stopping them until they can install the right icebreaker, or something pretty easy they can bypass.

It’s the hidden information and aspects of bluffing that make the game enjoyable. Add to that the limited actions each player can take per turn, combined with constraints of available resources (credits), and you have a fun game with high player interaction. Layered onto this are the various factions for both the corp and runners. You end up with a game that has a lot of variety in gameplay which is engaging and entertaining.

The factions and aspects of deck building are also a huge draw. You are limited to 3 cards of one type and decks which must have a minimum number of cards affiliated with a particular runner or corp faction. Along with this are rules for influence when building your deck. Each card is worth between 0 to 5 influence points. If you want to dip into another faction you are welcome to do so, but that subtracts from your influence total. There are some powerful cards which can provide great combinations with other factions, but they dig into your influence pool meaning you can only tinker some with another faction. Fortunately there are also neutral cards for both the runner and corp that allow the player to freely add to their deck and don’t cost any influence points (save for a few exceptions)

I think one notable problem with Netrunner is that it can consume your free time so easily. It’s said people live Netrunner, and I can see that. I fear I might end up ditching time to play other games so I can explore Netrunner further. It’s made me keen to keep tinkering with decks and work up wicked combinations, with the added excitement of picking up another expansion, opening up more and varied card options.

The Good– Netrunner is immensely enjoyable, engaging, with lots of variety in play, and plenty of cards to expand the game further. Thrown into this is the asymmetrical play experience and win conditions. It truly is a wonderful 2 player card game. Not to mention a game plays pretty quick (where a longish match might be 30 minutes at the most). Add to this a bevy of lovely card art and you’ve got a great game.

The Bad – There is an immense game knowledge curve. Learning the game is actually pretty easy. However gaining understanding of all the nuances of play is not, and Netrunner can be brutally unforgiving with mistakes. There is a huge divide between dabblers and folks that play a lot. It’s a combination of both knowledge and cards.

If you play a lot, you know the combinations of cards out there. You are better informed, more prepared, and in turn likely able to construct a deck that is fluid enough to tackle whatever your opponent throws at you. Netrunner has a lot of trump cards and hard counters for them. If you don’t read what your opponent is telegraphing with how (and what) they are playing, you will get smashed. Lastly, it’s a two player game and the core set can’t effectively create decks that more people can mine from if you wanted to do a four player dust up for an evening.

The Verdict – My opinions are in this odd juxtaposition for reviewing Netrunner. If you want to dabble, get a core set and a few choice expansions or data packs. You will find so much to explore and get a thoroughly engaging game that will last you a long time. Add to this a plethora of existing card expansions and you can squeeze years of gaming out of your purchase.

But to jump into the competitive scene it will take effort. So much so it might not be worth doing. You will end up seeing this game divide between casual players that have a lot of fun, and experienced players that go for the deep, engaging, play experience. And if constantly teaching new players, fans of Netrunner will always seem to be struggling to keep within these two camps.

Even as a relative casual player, eventually you’ll be armed with a wealth of knowledge of card types and set strategies. You’ll be able to quickly recognize if an opponent is potentially laying out an agenda to score, or setting up a devious trap. For a brand new player, it’ll take a substantial amount of time to get on a similar level of play, and they might not feel it worth the effort to do so.

It is a niche game. If you have 2 or 3 friends that are adept at CCGs you can get some mileage out of Netrunner. Spend another $30-50 to buy 2-3 select data pack expansions and you’ll have a robust pool of cards to make a variety of decks, more than enough to keep a few casual players occupied for a really long time. But throw a knowledgeable player into the mix and even hobbled with a handicap deck, those experienced players are going to tough to beat. That chasm with familiarity of the cards can be that deep.

To me that’s the problem with Netrunner and something that keeps me from recommending it to all but a few select gamers. To get the most out of it and willing to encompass the larger player base, you need to be committed. If you have the time and players, that might be worth it. Otherwise you will end up just playing once in a while casually. In the end that enjoyment might not go that far, as there are too many other games out there that offer immersive play with less of a learning commitment.

Being a completionist with board game reviews

MassiveBoardGameCollectionI don’t have a huge board game collection. It’s pretty modest. And over the years I thought it better to put up reviews for smaller titles or ones that seemed more the new hotness within the gaming circle buzz I hear. I didn’t feel a need to put up my thoughts for all the board games I own.

However I’ve sort of had a change of heart recently. Looking back, I realize there’s a reason why I’ve picked up certain games. Seems there is more than just being a fun game, but that they have mechanisms that satisfy a type gaming experience I want. They fit within my collection and fill in particular gaps with the types of games I own.

In that aspect I think there is something more to talk about with the games I have. So to that end, I’ll likely start going through my collection and begin to compile my opinions on them. Expect to see a few more board game reviews in the future.

Review: Space Hulk: Death Angel

shdeathangelSpace Hulk was always a favorite Ameritrash board game of mine. While it eventually got bloated with a lot of different expansions, the core game was a fun asymmetrical romp as one group were armored marines with big guns and the other a stealthy group of terrifying aliens seeking to surround and eventually overrun their opponent in hand to hand (or more aptly fangs and claws). It went out of print long ago but occasionally GW reintroduces it for a limited print run. It’s a fun game but not something I think worth picking up again especially as there are other options out there which are better games and just as fun (cough… Level 7: Omega Protocol… cough).

Nonetheless, Space Hulk has that draw and interestingly was something mined for a co-op strategy card game via Fantasy Flight Games. Space Hulk: Death Angel is a cooperative 1-5 player game, where players are teams of 40K space marines exploring a derelict spacecraft, seeking to purge it from genestealers during a salvage operation. They will either succeed in establishing the win condition at a final location (usually by eliminating all the genestealers), or die trying.

Players select a pair of combat teams, commonly one ‘regular Joe’ space marine and the other a special marine. They also get a specific deck of action cards that either allow the space marine team to move and activate a terrain card, support another marine, or attack. The special marine sometimes has different weaponry but will also have a particular ability associated with one of the action cards. So they might be able to do a cool attack with the attack action card, or shift around genestealers with a movement action card, etc.

After players select their combat teams, they line up in a random order in a straight line. The top group in the line facing one direction with the lower half facing the opposite direction. The players have to go through a series of locations represented by a deck. Depending on the number of players, there will always be a specific start location. However for the remaining deck, it will be randomly constructed from three possible cards for each location.

Players have to get through all four location cards and complete the end task on the final card (this doesn’t include the initial starting location for a total of 5 different areas). As a location card is revealed, additional terrain cards are placed in the line of marines representing doors, tight corners, or ventilation shafts. These terrain locations indicate potential spawn points for genestealers.

Players go through action cards in their hand and select one which both marines in their combat team will take for the turn. Each action card has a sequential number and turn order for actions occur based on them. After all the marines have completed their action, remaining genestealers in the area attack the space marines.

Finally, a random event is drawn to end out the turn. Sometimes it’s a boon for players but typically it is some added difficulty like genestealers shifting attack positions, or a marine’s weapon jamming up. The event cards also indicate where more genestealers will spill into the current area by drawing cards from specific piles. Lastly, some groups of aliens might also shift around based on having symbols that match with the drawn event card (more on that later).

Each marine has a range with their weapon showing the number of cards on either side in the formation line which they can shoot. They also have to be facing the direction of aliens they attack, rolling a d6 with special icons. The die has numbers ranging from 0 to 5, and half the faces have a skull icon. If the player rolls a skull icon they remove one genestealer card from the area (so a 50% chance).

When marines are attacked, they have to roll greater than the number of genestealer cards attacking them. So if they are facing five or more cards, they are dead. If a player loses both marines under their control, they are out of the game. Players can get around this by spending support tokens. They allow them to reroll either attack or defense rolls. However this can only be used on groups of genestealers that they are facing. If attacked from behind, they can’t get any rerolls.

Once a turn is over, players cannot use that action card for the next turn (and keep track using special tokens). Instead they have to choose one of the other two options in their hand. This restriction of actions, importance of orientation, and constant random shifting of genestealers means the limits of choices in marine actions lead to tough choices. You will be constantly wrangling your reduced options with other combat teams, trying to attack when you can, maneuver to offer support in future rounds, and pass off support tokens to other teams if needed.

Each location has a limited number of genestealer spawns. As cards are removed from their piles and added to the area (or are eliminated), the piles become exhausted and this becomes a condition to draw another location card. The marines essentially move deeper into the space hulk with new genestealer blip (spawn) piles created and new terrain cards added. The kicker is that all the genestealers from the previous location shift along in the same positions as the previous location. With more creatures constantly being added to the area, the threat of being overwhelmed ramps up. So the players are under constant pressure to keep destroying genestealers.

Not being able to freely select all your actions each turn is where Death Angel shines. Sometimes it can be agonizing to decide what to do and occasionally you have to sacrifice a marine so that others can fight on. It can be heroic and frustratingly challenging.

The Good – It’s a fun engaging game with some difficult choices. Despite being just a card game, it does manage to capture that feel of a group of marines exploring as you overturn new location cards, ever building up the tension as the hordes of genestealers keep coming, all the while ones from previous areas spill over into new sections of the ship.

The combat is brutally simple, but the positioning and management of limited actions adds to it. There is a small variety of location cards adding some replay value. Given that some locations have special abilities (like a means to teleport all creatures in play into space, or doors to cut off routes for the genestealers), this also adds some other key tasks for the players to focus on instead of just shooting genestealers. The cards are nice stock with the great, classic, gothic sci-fi artwork that you’d expect from the 40K universe. The designs and icons on the cards are also well done once you decipher what the particular symbols represent.

The Bad – Although it is a co-op game, there is still player elimination. Given that combat is so unforgiving, you can potentially see a team get eliminated early which sort of sucks for that player. While there are only 3 cards of each location type, given you have a total of 4 locations to go through, there is a decent variety in the box. The same however can’t be said for the space marines. After a few plays you’ll likely slip into using favorite teams with some having abilities that are more applicable in multiple situations compared to others (hence, you might consider them ‘better’ choices).

The game has a large amount of luck. Particularly with the position shifting of genestealer hordes at the end of each phase. You can have a great setup and support tokens to mitigate bad die rolls some, only to have it all fall apart as a horde of aliens have suddenly merged into another group and flanked a key marine. Along with this are some downright painful event cards (like some that can eliminate a marine instantly), all of which contributes to a game that might be too chaotic for some. While I like the randomness, you can indeed manage to get a series of bad draws of event cards that can pretty much tank your game.

The Verdict – I enjoy Space Hulk: Death Angel. It’s an enjoyable co-op strategy game that is light enough to get into quickly but still offers difficult choices. It has enough randomness in the setup and play to add replay which will break away from repeatedly using the same game to game strategies. The only stickler is that I wish there were a few more options for combat teams, or a variety of ability cards for existing marines.

This isn’t the same tactical experience of the original board game. However it’s still pretty fun and even in its abstract form of cards and piles of genestealers shifting around, you still get that experience a little of tense exploration, never quite knowing what the next section of the ship will hold. I think the limited action choice from turn to turn encourages you to talk with other players and try to get some synergy with tactics. Also, it provides a demanding solo play experience too. Given the small box and price, there is a lot of fun to be had inside. If wanting an abstract, tactical game with a sci-fi twist, this isn’t a bad choice.

[UPDATE: Some big news came out a few weeks ago regarding the licensing of GW IP and Fantasy Flight. Appears FF will not be continuing GW games. So it’ll be interesting to see if Death Angel gets picked up by someone else.]