A long standing board game store in Seoul I never managed to visit has been BoardM. They have an extensive online store but also have a physical storefront in Seoul. I was finally able to give the place a visit and immediately lamented my failure at not visiting it earlier.
Located on the fourth floor of a small office building, they have an extensive selection of games both in English and Korean. The games range from modern classics, Kickstarter darlings, party and children games, to even heavier GMT war games. They don’t appear to carry much in collectible card games but instead carry box sets for many LCGs.
For the physical store, I dare say they have nearly 300 games on the shelf. They also offer a full selection of Mayday card sleeves as well as generic brands. Individual polyhedral dice can also be purchased. The owners were very friendly and fortunately for me were able to converse in English.
The store is well lit and fairly open with a cavernous ceiling. There are a few tables set up in one section to allow for in store gaming. However I’m not sure on policies the owners have for playing games on the premises.
While the store claims to have set hours of operation, in truth they’re flexible. Apparently the people that run the store are pretty active in conventions and other events. It’s recommended to call or text a day or so ahead of time to make sure the store will be open (you can find the number at the bottom of their online store page).
They do have an active online store and are willing to ship within Korea. I would recommend checking out the site before visiting the store. If you have a title you absolutely must have, it’s best to text them you’d like that game when arranging a visit. The owners will try their best to make sure it’s on the shelf for you to buy (pulling it from back storage if needed).
Getting to the store is a little convoluted. By subway you need to get off at the Bulgwang exit from either Line 3 or Line 6. You can use exit 7, but have to pull a 180 and then go left at the main intersection. However it might be easier to take exit 8, and then cross the street further up. The store itself is behind the Seobu Intercity Bus terminal. There is a branching street from the main road that you can follow which runs behind the terminal.
Mind that there is a basement area but this appears to be mostly for storage and stock for the online store. You want to actually enter the building and go to the fourth floor to get to the physical store.
I have to say the selection is impressive carrying both classics and the Board Game Geek hotness. The only hiccup is that it’s best to be sure to drop them a line before trying to visit. If wanting to just stop by, you might find the store closed. Regardless, they have a fantastic selection and it’s so far been the best place I’ve visited recently with the great stock of games on the shelf. BoardM is a must stop if checking out game stores while visiting Seoul.
I’ll peg this as more as a cumulation of thoughts rather than a proper review. This full campaign expansion for the Arkham Horror card game has since been released for a while now, and after a few playthroughs I decided to give The Dunwich Legacy a look over. This uses the classic Lovecraft story, The Dunwich Horror, as a backdrop for the expansion. I’m not going to go through much of the cards as you can dig through tons of other podcasts and such to get a rundown of individual reviews, or you can see them yourself. I will go over the highlights of the scenarios and talk a bit how the campaign was overall. I’m also going to try and give this a light spoiler treatment. I don’t want to dig too deep into the workings of the campaign to allow for people to have some fun if they haven’t played it yet. But fair warning that some of the story elements will be discussed.
The campaign itself consists of a big box expansion with 6 mythos packs (small deck expansions). In the Dunwich Legacy you’ll get 5 new investigators along with 2 scenarios that kick off the campaign. As deck building goes with the investigators, each of them have a little twist compared to the ones included in the core set. All investigators utilize one class and the neutral cards as primary sources for cards from level 0 to 5 experience. However they can have up to five level 0 cards from any other class. What’s refreshing about these investigators are they seemed to be designed with the intent to compliment core set investigators and the limited card pool that comes along with it.
My biggest compliant with the core set that it was a deck construction game without much opportunity to actually build decks. Plus the more investigators you add, the more difficult (to downright impossible) it was to make decks. The Dunwich Legacy investigators address that. I dare say that if you invest in this entire expansion cycle, you could get away with playing 3 investigators using just a single core set. Deck building will be tight and you’ll hit some rough patches with some scenarios but it can be done. Unfortunately with a 4th player you are still going to have to go the route of getting another core set. However I like that they broke away from investigator deck construction format that stuck with the main class plus one other, allowing you to stretch out a single core set a little more.
The investigators themselves are fairly solid. I think of the lot maybe Jim Culver is the weakest of the bunch with the others being pretty formidable (and some might say broken in the case of Rex Murphy). This certainly adds a lot more re-play to even the base game. The investigators still adhere to their class archetypes for how they play. But each has a different feel that diverges from the core set investigators which is great. Now a bit more onto the campaign itself.
The campaign expansion opens near Miskatonic University in Arkham. The players are recruited to find individuals that assisted Dr. Henry Armitage in a strange incident that happened months ago in the remote village of Dunwich. Out of the box the campaign offers a branching story. You have two scenarios and can choose either to tackle first, with each having a minor wrinkle to how they play depending if you are playing it first or second. It’s a pleasant change from the linear paths and I hope it’s something that is explored more in future releases.
Extracurricular Activities – The players are trying to explore the sprawling Miskatonic University campus, looking to find one of Dr. Armitage’s colleagues. A tweak to this is that a few key locations are locked away and cannot be accessed. If players can eventually take control of an NPC (Non-player Character) ally, they can get to these locations. Once things are underway however, a clock to the scenario starts ticking down. The players have a choice how they tackle this new challenge. An interesting aspect is that players can ‘win’ this scenario but still ‘lose’ adding additional difficulty to the campaign.
The House Always Wins – A change of pace from the typical dreary locales, this scenario takes place in a speakeasy that also doubles as a gambling den. The players must investigate the area under the watchful eyes of various mobster types. If they discover clues while a mobster is at the same location, they can incur their wrath.
A wonderful twist to this scenario is that the initial investigation has the players discover clues through different means by either spending resources or discarding ally cards. This comes into play shortly as the scenario has a sudden-explosion-everything-in-chaos moment that ratchets up the tension. Players will be thrown into a situation where every action counts. So ditching resources to help move the act cards quickly can also mean less choices to handle more difficult obstacles that come up later. It’s a great balance of risk versus reward.
The Miskatonic Museum – This scenario has the players trying to search through a museum after hours in hopes of finding a translation of the Necronomicon. Rather than have an encounter deck filled with horrible monsters, there is a single phantom-like creature slowly stalking them. It’s a different take on the typical monsters in the game which I appreciate. However the results are a mixed bag. The monster is more of a harasser that builds up in power but never seems to be that much of a threat. It instead becomes more a monster that’s managed through evasion and damage mitigation.
Still the scenario has a nice feel of trying to search through sections of the museum. Also there are different ways to approach key challenges, including a choice right at the onset of the scenario. Lastly, if the players are successful they are offered a dangerous asset of the necronomicon itself. The card ability is tempting, especially for Daisy Walker, but there are unforeseen consequences for the players if they take it. A fun choice to make campaign playthroughs a little different each time.
The Essex County Express – This scenario takes entirely in a train traveling to the rural village of Dunwich and the investigators soon learn that things have gone horribly wrong. They are in a frantic race to move from car to car, ever trying to get to the engine of the train. With different train cars and engines, along with a variety of orientations of the locations, this scenario has a fair amount of replay. It can also lead to some wildly challenging games where some are horribly difficult, and others fairly easy.
Overall though I love the concept. Players soon learn to carefully glean clues from the agenda and act decks, as they can find out the hard way how the scenario agendas progress. I can totally see future scenarios where a similar progression and how locations are altered can be used in different environments (like a sinking ship, with investigators hurriedly traveling between ship compartments). The outcome sort of falls flat though. It’s more of a hard win/fail of sorts for them.
Blood on the Altar – The players have finally entered Dunwich where things seem awry. This is a wonderful scenario. Players are tasked with finding key locations and have a choice of either fighting or solving their way to a win. The outcomes of the scenario can be either crippling or a mild inconvenience. This scenario can result in unique allies being removed from the game, making the outcome have far reaching consequences for the campaign as a whole.
The scenario also introduces an interesting creature encounter card. Whippoorwills are aloof creatures that are more of a hindrance than a threat. Players have to spend a fair amount of actions to remove them. They add a clever mechanism to adding difficulty to the scenario over a static condition that a player accumulates.
Undimensioned and Unseen – The Dunwich village is now under threat as several creatures rampage through it. What breaks up this monster battle is that players must first discover a key location and obtain items that will allow them to attack the creatures. One great aspect of this scenario is particular locations can also interact with the creatures. This gives the scenario a fun cat-and-mouse type of play, allowing the investigators to manipulate the creatures through judicious use of location abilities.
This scenario also has a similar vibe to Midnight Masks from the core set. Players are set with a practically impossible task. They have to try and do as well as they can and might have to just cut their losses and resign. It doesn’t mean the end of the campaign, but by not completing their objective in its entirety can make other scenarios far more challenging. It can be a difficult choice whether to soldier on and be eliminated, trying to fight to the last, or run for their lives. Used judiciously in a campaign I can appreciate this, and it works well here. However the scenario as a whole is pretty much a monster hunting battle.
Where Doom Awaits – First let me give some appreciation to the designers of the game regarding a decision how this scenario resolves. Throughout much of the campaign (rightly) if players fail they can still carry on. Metagaming, players realize there is another scenario pack to the campaign, and likely rest on that knowledge knowing if things get too difficult, they can lick their wounds and try again for the final scenario for the campaign. The designers went with a decision that might surprise some people. I dig it and appreciate the direction the campaign takes because of it.
Now onto the part where I piddle on this scenario. Throughout the campaign, players can build decks to get around having a poor lore skill to investigate for clues. This scenario dumps that on its head. There are specific location abilities that investigators must utilize to advance the act deck. If the players cannot do so, there may be negative outcomes with severe campaign consequences. What adds punishment to this game element is that the location abilities can only be attempted by an investigator once during their turn. If you have a low lore skill character, you will probably lose this scenario. I just feel it’s a poor design choice.
Now the scenario itself can be all over the place. The variety of locations along with an encounter deck that has a kitchen sink makeup, means you can have wildly different plays. Some games will be pretty easy. Some will be incredibly difficult. I like that you need investigators that can fight as well as others that can scoop up clues.
However it’s marred by the abilities on key location cards which require a once per turn attempt to investigate. If ever there were scenario errata needed, it would be for this one. Something needs to tweak how the game progresses (ex. if an investigator fails, they can attempt the location action again). However how the mechanics of the card function, even standards like flashlight are useless so something else more drastic might be needed. This effect sort of breaks the scenario and given the larger repercussions to the campaign as a whole, it can leave you with a sour taste in your mouth. Which is a shame as what follows this scenario is so great.
Lost in Time and Space – How this scenario plays out is interesting. There is a single location in play and players must go through the encounter deck to discover more. Further, the paths from the locations twist and turn about, where you find in order to proceed to key act locations you have to work through several already on the table. This process gets more difficult as locations can disappear, needing be be drawn again from the encounter deck. Further, players and creatures can find themselves teleporting from location to location. It can be a frustrating experience, but at the same time it captures that chaotic, warping sense of a constantly shifting landscape with ever degrading sanity hampering the investigators.
As a small bit on the agenda developments, as each agenda rolls out players make tests based on past events, even those from the first couple of missions. I really enjoyed that part. It wasn’t a perfect fit, but still a pleasant attempt at demonstrating the lasting consequences of past actions. Additionally I enjoyed the possible resolutions for the scenario and also for the campaign conclusion. You can potentially be lost forever and still manage a heroic win.
The final showdown can be avoided or be a slugfest with the elder god, Yog-Sothoth. Much of the encounter cards and locations chip away at the player’s sanity and this greater abomination does the same. You might consider the scenario a little too lopsided towards mental damage, but I feel it fits the theme of the final locations well.
Final Thoughts – A key theme for many encounter cards is running through a player’s deck by discarding undrawn cards. One particular encounter card will inflict immense physical damage if a player runs out their deck. This essentially adds a timer to the game as they’re unlikely to survive this effect. Fortunately the players are exposed to this early on and can try to mitigate it as they gain experience. However it does introduce a different time challenge for the player which I like.
I will admit some elements are hamfisted with how they are added to the campaign. I love outcomes with some scenarios that add a specific weakness to your deck. But there are also ones where you add a random weakness or chaos token for no real reason except to ramp up the difficulty. Similar effects based on outcomes and choices from the players just feels much more enjoyable.
Overall Dunwich Legacy has more hits than misses. Being the first big expansion campaign, I don’t think it strayed much from the core set experience which is good. Yet the designers still managed to get some mechanisms and scenario elements that add to the typical game you’d get from the core set. I bite my tongue a bit though with giving it a glowing recommendation because a critical end scenario (Where Doom Awaits) can certainly thrust the player into an unwinnable situation. The story environments also knit well, with only a few that feel out of place (Essex County Express). Overall it just seems to capture a more intimate experience with most of the scenarios revolving around Dunwich, which can potentially lead to this otherworldly environment. Maybe people wanted a globe trotting adventure, but I enjoyed the more rural locations it went for.
As of this review there is another complete expansion out, with a third being released in the next few months. Players will certainly be spoiled for choices and possibly these other expansions might eclipse the Dunwich Legacy. But if looking for an expansion with classic Lovecraft theme that builds on the core set, interesting investigators, useful player cards, and offers a full campaign experience, the Dunwich Legacy is a fun one.
Looking for a classic hex and counter squad level game, I had heard great things about GMT’s Combat Commander series and eventually was able to snatch up the first release after a recent reprint. Combat Commander: Europe (CCE) is a two player WW2 infantry game. This offers engagements both from the eastern and western European front, with units from Germany, USA, and Russia included in the box. It’s a squad level game. You won’t find rules for tanks of vehicles. There are some rules for offboard artillery but most action depicted will be small arms supplemented with MMGs, mortars, field guns and the like.
The game offers 12 scenarios along with rules to generate random engagements. As mentioned, this is presented as a classic hex and counter game. Lots of double sided cardboard counters and hex maps representing various rural terrain (with an occasional group of farmhouses thrown in) will be what you get in the box.
It’s an IGOUGO game with alternating turns. Players will try to hold specific points on the map for victory points. The value of the locations for some will be revealed at the beginning of the game, while others will have their value secret, known only to your opponent. In addition players earn victory points for eliminating units. If a player finds they’ve lost their entire force, they lose the game regardless of the captured objectives.
Another means of earning points is to exit units off the opponent’s edge of the map. Eventually those units recycle on as fresh reserves, but they can award a fair amount of victory points getting them off the board. However you can’t guarantee exactly when you will get reinforcements, so it can be a gamble (but can really pay off).
A critical bit about the game is the tracking of game turns. Different conditions can cause time to advance in the game. Each situation where time advances, it moves up a record track. When it reaches the scenario threshold, a player will roll randomly and compare the result to the current time track’s value. If the roll is above the time track value, the game continues until the time marker moves again (and another roll is made). Otherwise the game ends immediately. This random game end condition means players have to do as much as they can within the limited time allotted.
A key element that stands out for CCE from other wargames of this type is that actions and their resolutions are card driven. A player will have a set hand size (depending on whether they are attacking or defending) and will be only able to play a few cards from their hand each turn. The cards played represent command orders given to units. You can only move or fire a unit if you play a matching card order. Further, each unit can only be activated once per turn. A notable exception are leaders as they can activate other units within their command range (usually 1 or 2 hexes). You begin to see that leaders are the backbone of your platoon allowing for effective execution of orders.
After playing a specified number of cards, players may discard additional cards and then draw up to their maximum hand size, ending their turn. Individual cards have 4 simultaneous functions associated with them. They represent orders given during your turn and also as actions which can be played during either players’ turn. Cards also represent random events, and can serve as die results too. Every card has the results from two six-sided dice, and each deck represents roughly twice the entire possible outcomes of rolling 2 dice (ex. there is a 1 in 36 chance of rolling two ones, so in the deck at most you’ll have two double 1 dice results). This allows a player to figure out dice probabilities up to a point.
As mentioned you are limited in choices during your turn based on the orders in your hand. Actions are a little more flexible. A fair number of actions represent bonuses to movement, attacks, or defense, but some also allow firing opportunities. So yes, it’s IGOUGO but there is a chance for your opponent to interrupt your move order with an opportunity fire action, essentially simulating an ambush.
Mixed in with the 2D6 results are special events. These temporarily halt the resolution of an action and introduce some random event. You might have a weapon jam, or a unit get pinned down by a sniper, or a random hex might be engulfed in a fiery blaze. Fortunately they don’t chain event after event, however a decent number of cards in your deck will initiate them. So you can expect the unexpected playing and your plans might get a bit of fortune, but likely get a huge monkey wrench thrown into the works, as you execute orders.
Movement is done using a point system with each unit having a listed number of movement points. Equipment like MMGs or mortars are attached to units and typically hinder the total movement of a squad, while leaders will add to a unit’s movement. Various terrain will hinder movement costing a certain number of points per hex.
Firing is fairly simple to resolve. Line of sight is determined by terrain features passed through when lining up center hex points (which are well represented on the maps). Some terrain will reduce the total firepower of an attack while others block line of sight completely. A player can order individual units to fire, or use officers to select one unit as the base firepower of an attack, and then add one point of firepower per additional unit firing in the group. Eligible units for this group fire are those within the command range of leaders. Additionally leaders can add to the firepower of units within their hex, including adding to attack range.
To counter the effects of fire, the target has a base morale (usually ranging from 7-9) that can be increased if in cover. Each player draws a card to represent their 2D6 dice roll adding to their firepower or morale totals, respectively. If the target beats the attacker’s firepower result they are in good order. If the attacker’s firepower is greater than the defender’s morale total, the target breaks. On a tie the target is suppressed gaining a penalty to movement, firepower, range, and morale (or they break if the target unit was moving). If a broken unit gets another break result, they are eliminated. Simple.
Assaults are even easier to resolve. Units draw a card (i.e. ‘roll’ 2D6) and add their firepower. Whoever has the highest total wins with the other side is eliminated. On ties both sides are eliminated. Units have a chance to recover from being broken using a Rally order. However the enemy can also force breaking units to retreat with a Rout order themselves.
This challenge of deciding what cards to play and which ones to hold onto for future rounds makes the game. Do you discard most of your cards in hopes to get an order you need? Or do you hold onto actions to take during your opponent’s turn? Some orders like a Rout card can swing the tide on later turns, but do you keep it in your hand or discard it to increase the odds of getting a more flexible order that can be of more immediate use? These are the hard choices and managing your hand to commit effective orders is a central part of the game.
Units are limited to 7 ‘figures’ per hex. The unit counters are designated as single figure leaders, 2 man teams (which is really a 3-5 man fire team), or 4 figures representing a 10 man squad. This low number means you need to judiciously deploy and execute orders, and also emphasises the importance of your leaders. You can’t have huge stacks of units in a single hex and need to spread them out. However in order to effectively fire and maneuver them, you need oversight and leadership from nearby officers.
It can take some mental gymnastics to grok the idea of using cards for everything, including the ‘rolling of dice’ but once you grasp the concept you begin to appreciate the mechanic. Every draw of the card opens up a chance for random events, adding more havoc and obstacles to tackle. Actions representing flexible orders that can be played during your opponent’s turn are also a nice touch. This layers on the uncertainty of your turn. You can commit a large firegroup to suppress and potentially break a threatening unit, but your opponent might be able to counter with an action representing extra cover they have in their position. You might think you’ll be able to rapidly move up several units, only to find your opponent is able to play multiple opportunity fire orders which will break your units as they advance.
Another aspect of using a deck of cards is they serve as a marker for advancing time. When a player exhausts their deck, they reshuffle their discard pile and make a new draw deck. However this advances the time track, bringing the game closer to an end. There are also special event cards that initiate this reshuffle and time advancement. This small game element adds so much to the game.
Players will have a general idea of the turns expected in a game based on the amount of cards needed to go through their deck (especially if the Time! event card was already played for an order or action). But as the game progresses, this becomes more difficult to judge. Additionally while a player may want to frantically dig through cards to get the order they need, they are also rapidly increasing the chances of exhausting their deck, advancing the time track, and bringing the game closer to an end. They might want to work with cards in their hand, rather than trying to discard everything to draw a needed order (eventually forcing the game time to advance). It’s a great part of the game and ratchets up the pressure as turns progress.
CCE isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. You won’t have a cut and dried tactical experience playing the game. Instead you’ll start out with a few turns of pretty well executed orders and then hit a snag. Maybe you have the initiative slip away, as you can’t find the needed order, so you spend turns discarding and drawing while your opponent maneuvers on the battlefield. You might get some random event that bogs down a critical assault, or a key MMG position is nullified due to a jam malfunction. Instead you find yourself scrambling to make the best decisions with limited resources. This results in a highly narrative experience, where you’ll see heroic moments and things go FUBAR. It’s wonderful.
The Good – The rulebook is well written with nice components. The random mission generator is a great addition allowing you to create some interesting battles and the scenarios offer a fair snapshot of different periods of WW2. There are a good number of expansions that provide new armies and scenarios in other theaters. The cards are of thick stock. The unit counters have simple profiles listing key information, and the indication of a broken unit is simply a flip of the counter to the opposite side. The oversized map hexes allow for some spreading of counters around during play rather than having tightly packed stacks of units. The art design for much of the cards are historical photographs and the color maps are simple depictions of terrain features. It won’t win any awards but they do dress up the game some.
The Bad – It’s a game with small counters. Some key elements (tracking turns, victory points, etc.) can be a little fiddly and woe is the person that accidentally knocks the table near the end of the game. This is small unit infantry action and if you wanted an opportunity to throw in some armor, you are out of luck with these rules. The random event mechanic can lead to the unfolding of odd moments and how they break up the resolution of orders can make play feel disjointed at times. The aspect of random events and issuing orders based on your hand might not click for everyone. If you are looking for tactical experience with predictable set pieces and resolutions based on narrow, strict probabilities, CCE is likely not for you.
The Verdict – Combat Commander: Europe is a solid wargame. If you want a WW2 tactical skirmish game, this is a fantastic choice. You have to make thoughtful choices and the card driven order system adds a lot of friction to play. It’s the constant pressure of having to adapt to blossoming difficult situations that makes CCE shine. I dare say if you wanted to experience a miniature skirmish game without all the painting, figures, and terrain, this would be a good substitute. I will say with certainty though if looking for a hex and counter game for small unit action, Combat Commander: Europe and other editions (notably CC: Pacific) are great buys and highly recommended.
NOTE: The rules are actually well written and play is straightforward. However it might be a little challenging getting through your first game. Harsh Rules has a tutorial video (along with a part 2) that walks through all the basic rules of the game and well worth checking out.
One slight complaint I had with the base campaign for the Arkham Horror LCG was that after a few playthroughs things were going to get repetitive. You’d have the same location cards, the same agenda and act cards, nothing really would change and repetition would creep in. This is alleviated some in the 2nd and 3rd scenarios as there are excess location cards, throwing a little variety into the layouts for those scenarios. I mentioned a small expansion that could add some additional location cards would be great to stretch out the replay of the core set. Seems folks at Fantasy Flight had the same idea.
Return to Night of the Zealot is a new campaign that has just been announced. With roughly 60 cards, this mini-expansion supplements the original core set campaign, adding new agenda and location cards to provide a different experience. Additionally there are new monsters and encounter cards that ramp up the challenge. I’m happy to see this being explored for the core set. A small tweak like having additional location cards really opens up the replay potential for it.
In addition to the new scenario cards are new investigator cards. Most seems to be improved versions for those in the original box. Get a few XP and you can change out a couple of level 0 cards with better versions. On this point I am a little disappointed. It’s wonderful to have more investigator cards for the game, but I wish more were included to lessen the need for buying a 2nd core. Why not also include the full spread of neutral cards and a couple of key level 0 cards for every class? That could potentially allow 3 or 4 people to play and add a ton more value to this expansion.
It’s also alluded that there are challenges introduced into the game. Sort of some type of achievement which might offer additional rewards or player abilities. The details on that seem a bit murky, but might offer a fun side event to the main game. Lastly the packaging seems to allow for you to store all the core set encounter and scenario cards together inside this box, offering a better way to organize your cards. A nice touch to make the packaging more functional.
Despite my niggles, overall I am excited to see this. The jury is out, but I could see this as a solid ‘next step’ purchase for those wanting to get into the game a little more. I’m still working my way through the Dunwich Legacy expansion. Overall it’s great and the base expansion set adds a ton to the game, but I have a reservation with it.
The base expansion set only has 2 scenarios and essentially sets the stage for a full blown campaign. You really need to purchase all the mythos scenario packs to complete Dunwich Legacy. That is a huge buy in. Return of the Zealot offers additional play with just the core set and a smaller initial purchase. If you dig Arkham Horror but didn’t necessarily want to try out a long, extensive campaign, this product seems to be an ideal choice. Something to add to the core set experience, but not require you to purchase a ton of scenario packs to get an entire campaign.
We’ll see how it fares. Tad disappointed that more effort wasn’t made to expand the player count and open deck building options with this expansion. However I’m glad to see the campaign was revisited and some love given to it. Great to see cards added to offer a different play experience and stretch out the replay value of the core set.
So you’ve picked up the new revised Netrunner core set and wondering what to get next. Or maybe you are itching to jump in and are thinking about making a big initial purchase. Where do you start expanding your card collection? What are some ideal buys to stretch out the value of your first purchases? I’ve got bit of advice.
First qualifier on this is that thankfully Netrunner is a LCG (Living Card Game). That means you don’t have to mess around with any collectable aspect. When you buy an expansion, all the cards will be there in an even distribution. The downside is that if you wanted to hunt down a specific card or two, you have to pretty much buy the entire expansion pack it comes with. Still, as there is no collection aspect you can expect sets and expansions to get reprinted. Rarity isn’t part of the card pool, so you can take your time getting what you want (a big caveat regarding rotation though…more on that later).
The second qualifier on this advice is that you’ll be wanting to dabble in tournaments. If you envision playing with the same small group in a relaxed atmosphere, you don’t need to get too many cards. Limitations like banned or restricted cards from the Most Wanted List or tournament formats like Cache Refresh won’t really impact your purchases. If you are considering playing tournaments however, it’s something to think about especially regarding buying data packs.
The third qualifier on this is that I’m assuming you want to limit your initial purchases. At best you are going for a slow trickle of acquiring cards. If you are a completionist and have to get everything then there’s nothing for you here. Just run off and buy everything starting with the first two data pack cycles. For the rest of you here’s a couple of tips…
Play the core set – You might have already played the hell out of the core set. In which case you can move along to the next points. But if you are holding the core set in your hands at a store right now and thinking about also picking up some other expansions, don’t. Just take that core set home with you and play.
Play each faction. At the very least play (and play against) each corporation. You want at least eight games going in. I would consider even trying different runner factions against each corp. There are some advantages doing this, and something you should strive for before picking up more cards.
I would try the tutorial decks maybe once, but understand that the decks they use are illegal regarding influence and regular deck construction. In fact I’m sort of baffled why they did this. Instead go by the old core standard of picking one faction and all the neutral cards for them, shuffle the cards, and just play. Hold off taking a stab at deck building quite yet.
You will learn a lot. You will get an idea how each faction plays, including advantages and shortcomings. Another plus is by just using decks of a single faction and neutral cards, it will significantly lower the learning curve. Eventually the neutral cards will be familiar, so you don’t get overwhelmed with lots of new information as you’re playing more games.
Once you have familiarity with the card pool, you can start swapping out cards you don’t like for others keeping within the influence limitations and… boom. You are now deck building. It’s not that intimidating. Yes, after a few games making your own decks, you’ll get the hankering to buy more cards but at least you’re doing it with a firm knowledge foundation of the core set.
Do you need a second core? – Eventually you might want to. One gripe I have with the revised core is there are a lot of single card copies compared to the first edition. Still you have a group of cards that are much more useful with less duds than in the original core set. If the Netrunner bug bites deep and you find yourself super serious about competitive deck building, you likely want to consider getting a second core soonish. However you can also work with one core, buying other expansions, and still enjoy a deep deck building experience. My advice is to hold off on a second core and focus on purchases for expansions first, then revisit the idea of a second (or third) core later.
The deluxe expansions – Also known as the big box expansions, most of these focus on a single corp and runner faction. Once you’ve played a lot, you will likely figure out the runner and corp factions you like. Picking up a box expansion that has cards for factions you enjoy playing is a solid choice.
One snag to this might be the Data and Destiny expansion. Be mindful it only has NBN corp cards. The runner cards in this expansion are 3 ‘mini-factions.’ They are interesting and can certainly open up more play options for you, but I’d consider them for more advanced players and trickier deck construction.
A new expansion is in the works, Reign and Reverie. This 58 unique card, big box expansion is likely the best second purchase for growing your collection. It touches on all the factions for Netrunner. It has a new identity for all, including consoles for each runner faction (especially nice for anarch). More importantly, it adds a new agenda for all the corp factions. While corps can dabble in other factions for ice, assets, and operations, they have limited choices regarding agendas. They have to stick in faction or use neutral ones and having an additional choice makes this a strong buy. The first data pack in the Genesis cycle did the same. Clearly this is designed from the ground up to compliment the core set. Consider this strongly as your next collection buy.
Lumped in with these big box sets is a unique campaign expansion, Terminal Directive. Honestly for the value I would advise this to be near the top of your list (right after Reign and Reverie). You get 4 new IDs and a ton of good cards for 4 factions (rather than just focusing on a single corp and runner like the other deluxe expansions). As an aside, there is also an included legacy campaign game. The legacy campaign is lackluster, but as an expansion it’s a solid buy. I might only make Terminal Directive a fourth purchase if you are a diehard NBN, Jinteki, or Anarch player. Regardless, you certainly want this high up on your buy list.
Data Packs – Netrunner releases roughly every month small 60 card expansion packs, that have 3 copies of each card (so you’re getting about 20 unique cards per pack). These ‘data packs’ are released in a set of 6 and are considered an expansion cycle. Each cycle commonly has a theme among the cards, or introduces a new play concept. There are currently 6 full cycles that have been released, with a 7th on the way.
First point to be aware of is that rotation is in the game now. A while back FF decided that it would eventually retire expansion cycles. Note however the deluxe, big-box expansions like Reign and Reverie are exempt from rotation. These cards will always be part of the pool.
Mind you this is only for players in the competitive scene. If you play with your pals around the kitchen table, this won’t affect you. However as some expansion cycles have rotated out, I don’t expect those old cycles to go back into print. It’s interesting to note that while some cards are being retired, other cards from the first two expansion cycles hit with rotation are now in the core set. So instead of going hog wild for getting all the data packs, consider planning out your purchases.
Start with Kitara – This is the newest expansion cycle for Netrunner. Not everything is out for it yet and because of this you can slowly expand your collection of cards at an easy pace. Another key point is Kitara is the first expansion cycle released with the new core set in mind. I highly suspect the cards in this cycle will complement the core set well. Previous cycles were tied to older core set cards and some of those are removed from the game entirely now. I’d put money on most of the cards in this upcoming expansion having a high amount of synergy with the revised core.
This cycle will also be valid for a long time. As it’s the newest cycle it won’t rotate out so soon. By 2019 the Lunar and Sansan cycle will be on the chopping block. If you wanted to squeeze as much money as you can out of your purchase, I’d consider jumping in with Kitara and maybe go back as far as the Red Sands cycle over delving heavily into older cycles. There are some exceptions though.
Data packs with specific cards – Going this route will be highly dependent on you wanting to play particular deck types. Scorched Earth was a mainstay for kill decks but is no longer in the game. Escalation released a similar heavy hitting meat damage card, Boom! Working a kill deck you might want to pick up that data pack. If you are super keen on playing specific deck types, just buying particular expansion packs can be done. I’d tread this road carefully though. Use online resources like Netrunner DB to pick apart decks you like and track down needed data packs.
2017 Championship Decks While not released yet, you can expect that by Q2/3 of 2018 these decks will be available. These are noteworthy as they are the first champion decks that are compatible with the revised core. You won’t find any cards that are currently out of the game (either due to rotation or being removed from the core set). As another small bonus, if you want to have multiple playable decks on hand these commonly have a solid choices for economy cards, breakers, ice, etc. that they’ll have staple cards used in just about every deck. So it might be possible to have a couple of constructed decks handy and not have to constantly take them apart just for a few cards by purchasing these.
These would be my general suggestions for buying into Netrunner. Focus on a few of the big box expansions first, particularly Reign and Reverie. Pick and choose the smaller data pack expansions, and consider holding off and buying into the newest data pack cycle first. Yes, you can jump in and buy everything. But I’d buy slowly, learning much of the cards as you go, rather than drowning in a sea of cards only using a fraction for your constructed decks.
So a while back I posted a custom box insert I did for the Arkham Horror card game. I sort of have fallen in love a bit more since I first reviewed it, mostly due to the complete release of the Dunwich Legacy expansion. Sure enough once more cards were available and allowed for a deeper deck building experience, the game got some legs in replayability.
I also bit the bullet and picked up a 2nd core. My game group could regularly seat four players. While I found a single core and the Dunwich Legacy cards allowed us to craft decks for 3 players (with a little arm twisting), 4 players consistently was a little difficult. I also discovered with all the expansions and additional copies of the investigator cards, my little foam board box insert wasn’t going to cut it. Fortunately Go7 Gaming had just the product for me. They offer a box insert and dividers for the Arkham Horror LCG which is a great little card organizer.
I fell in love with their inserts, especially the one for Netrunner’s Terminal Directive expansion. That box insert was a snap to assemble and was cleverly designed. The question was would their Arkham Horror insert hold up to snuff?
Like all of their inserts the material is HDF board which is laser cut. The pieces pretty much just pop out of the mounting boards. Mind though that the longer sections that had teeth for the card dividers took a little more care to remove. Some laser cut products will have a lot of soot generated during the cutting process as the material is burned. I found even with areas that had intricate cuts, no excessive scorching or ash was on my hands as I handled the cut sections. But for extra peace of mind I would give the edges a quick run over with a damp cloth before assembly.
The instructions were clear and easy to follow. Take your time though. The box is well designed and pretty intuitive to assemble, however there are specific pieces that form the outside frame of the organizer and you can potentially muck up your insert assembling them improperly.
In addition to the box insert frame for the cards is an internal section and organizer for tokens. It forms a separate box that can be removed and has several individual dividers to customize it. The individual compartments are pretty spacious and I was able to easily store 2 full sets of player tokens from the core boxes. Sadly there wasn’t enough room to also keep the chaos tokens though. However if using a card divider, you could make an additional compartment to create one.
Speaking of the card dividers, these are a departure some in the material used for the box components. Rather than HDF board they are made of a clear acrylic. They are cut well and fit easily into the organizer frame without the need of any glue. All the while they sit securely in place without any loose play or rattling. One complaint though is it’s a bit of a pain to peel off the paper covering the individual dividers (but that might be due to short fingernails over anything else).
With the individual dividers assembled it was easy to add and remove cards. I found with penny sleeves I could comfortably hold 7 cards per individual section if the dividers were slotted back to back. Yet with more cards it was a little hard to remove and put back in. The dividers are also an interesting design as it creates a larger gap in the center of the box for space to hold the rule books, with an elevated side at the outer edge of the organizer.
The box insert sits a little higher than the base of the box, but the cover still fits snugly. All in all it is a great card organizer with plenty of small features to ensure your cards stay put, even if the box is tilted on its side. I even understand there are optional pieces that can be added to store the miniature investigator cards if needed. It’s a great product and given that you need so many separated sets of encounter cards, something to consider using if looking for storage options.
I do a bit of travel with work. I’m considering regularly making it a go to see different games stores in countries I visit. As for a recent trip to Cologne in Germany, I happened to track down Brave New World as a happy accident. It is firmly a board game store but also caters to the entire analog gaming hobby as a whole, including a nod towards geek culture in the manner of collectibles.
They carry a smattering of different miniature war games. Most notably Flames of War, Warmachine, and Bolt Action. However a few other plastic boxed sets for ancients and black powder systems can be found on their shelves. They also carry Reaper Bones Miniatures and provide a fair amount of miniature accessories like custom bases. This isn’t quite the miniature wargamers stop off, but they carry a decent number of models and you’d likely find bread and butter units here.
One thing as a miniature wargamer you’d definitely appreciate is the paint selection. They have full stocked racks of Vallejo and Reaper paints. Certainly an ideal place to pick up key colors and hues for modelling. It doesn’t stop there as they also have a wide variety of Osprey books for painting and technical reference. If you are a miniature wargamer, don’t be put off by the Magic and D&D at the store front, it’s certainly worth a visit.
The store also has a well stocked selection of RPGs. They carry plenty of Pathfinder books, as well as a selection from smaller publishers. Lots of other RPG accessories like dice, minis, and battle mats can be found. Interestingly the variety of WotC products are a little slim but all the core books (both in English and German) can be found aplenty.
This is all an aside from what the store really caters to, the board gamer. The selection is immense. Collectable and LCG card games, party games, euro and family games, and I’d be remiss to mention the variety of classic (and new) hex and counter games. I snagged a copy of GMT’s Combat Commander: Mediterranean and had to stifle the urge to pick up a few more. They are also a distributor of Victory Point Games and it was interesting to see their bagged titles having some shelf space. Commonly their games are something you can pick up only online and it was nice have something you could actually hold and browse through.
The full stock of board games is among several shelves that are densely packed, organized by title and a broad classification. You’ll find card games set in their own sections as with a few titles like X-Wing Miniatures, Runewars, Zombicide, and Arcadia Quest. I don’t think I can accurately describe the amount and diversity of games here. It’s staggering with likely hundreds of titles spread among the cult of the new, old classics, and a choice number of limited print run games. Learning the store has been open for roughly 15 years, you quickly can understand how they managed to get such an immense number of games.
Be ready to spend a bit of time when you arrive. The store is split between two levels and a few side rooms. There are a couple of tables set up for in store gaming. While I was there on a late Saturday afternoon a group of people were having an enjoyable time playing party games. The staff were friendly and patiently handled my questions from a typical American that spoke only English. If you are into board games and a fan of gaming in general, Brave New World is certainly worth checking out while in Cologne. I’ll give a special nod towards the hex and counter war gamer. You’ll find some treasures and modern titles among those offered at the store.
While I found the legacy game in Terminal Directive sort of ‘blah’ I do feel it’s a great expansion to pick up. If anything just being a great value for your dollar for the number of factions it supports, adding a lot of quality cards to your pool. However a running joke from folks is the size of the box. It’s huge and the stuff inside takes up a miniscule amount of space.
Another thing looming for Netrunner is that rotation has finally hit, and a new core set will be out in a few months. So I wanted to think about making an insert for my box keeping all my playable cards in one place, with rotated cards being stored in my old core set box. I was all set to make something out of foam board and then I ran across custom box insert for Terminal Directive from Go7 Gaming. They offer organizers that are laser cut into HDF board. The product itself is a series of cut sheets in a ziplock bag, with a nice diagram instruction sheet for assembly. I also picked up a set of additional dividers.
They are cut exceedingly well and for the most part pop out with minimal force (almost with just a tap of the finger). However I will say some extra care has to be taken when removing the larger sections for the card organizer pieces. These took a little more effort and care to separate but mostly due to the fine edge cuts for all the individual teeth of the organizer section. The edges are cut with minimal scorching and practically no soot. I’d still give each edge a one over with a damp towel to make sure, but I didn’t notice any black smudges on my fingers handling the pieces.
Assembly was easy. The pieces fit together tightly and held in place, even without any glue. Just a dab of white glue on some key joints and I was able to assemble it in no time. However be sure to be patient and let the organizer sit overnight before throwing in your cards. Take care to read the instructions also. They are easy to follow but the pieces are similar in shape and the organizer certainly has a specific order for assembly. Best to make sure most of the pieces stay in their board mounts, and separate only the ones you want to work with instead of punching out all of the pieces at once.
The divider offers four main sections, with individual divider pieces. The individual dividers don’t require any glue and hold in place fairly snugly. The organizer also sits elevated in the box to provide some storage space for the campaign rules. A nice touch for allowing you to keep everything in the box and still allow easy access to cards.
I have my cards in Pro-fit sleeves. The capacity for the organizer is very generous. I was able to keep all my runner and corp cards from a single core, the big box expansions, and a few additional copies from draft decks all together. The only downside is the material adds some heft to the box. Other than that for about $20 you get a nice little card organizer. Yes, you could build your own out of foamboard. However the ease of assembly, time saved on design and construction, and an end product that is very sturdy material makes the Terminal Directive Go7 Gaming box insert a wonderful buy.
From Czech Games Edition, Codenames is a 2-8 person party game (4+ if you wanted a competitive game). It’s a light, word matching game where two teams pair off trying to correctly guess a number of cards before the opposing team does.
Each team has a codemaster that offers clue to their team. A series of cards are set down in a 5 x 5 grid along with a master key diagram. The key diagram indicates which team goes first and which word cards offer points to a team. Almost all of the cards in the grid will give points to one team or the other.
The codemasters take turns offering a single word clue and a number. The hint word should offer some clue to a matching word among the cards, while the number indicates how many cards could match that hint. As an example I might say Banana 2 in hopes that my team selects the word cards Yellow and Fruit.
Each team chooses one card and the cluemaster indicates if they were correct scoring a point for their team or, if they were wrong, scoring a point for the other side. If they were correct they can keep going. Finally, if they manage to select all the correct cards they have the option of choosing one additional card in hopes it’s the right one to score more points. The team with the most points wins the round.
Choose the wrong card for the other team? They immediately lose their turn and the other team scores that point. Also mixed among the word cards worth points are innocent bystanders. These cards not only are worth no points but also end the turn immediately (not allowing a team to try and guess additional cards). To add more tension, one spot among the word cards is an assassin. If a team selects a card that matches an assassin position on the key card diagram, they immediately lose.
It can be very challenging. Offer a poor hint, or potentially too high a hint number, it increases the odds they score a point for the other team (or even lose the game outright). But give too many hints specific to just one card, while being safe, you can find the other team slipping ahead, correctly guessing a majority of the cards with a bold, gutsy multicard hint. It has a wonderful push your luck feel as well as being a clever word matching game.
The Good – It’s a fun, light word game that is great for parties. You can play with odd number of people and still get a rather balanced game. The cards are of good stock and the dual print design is a clever idea. After you select 25 cards and play a round, you can simply flip them over for another round minimizing the fuss of setting up another game.
The Bad – You are certainly dependent on the quality of hints from one player. A botched clue round can likely sink a team’s chances of winning. As a small point, it’s not quite that universal of a game as the words are all in English. For people that speak English as a second language, they might have a difficult time as it’s essentially a word matching game.
The Verdict – Codenames is a quality party game. Fast setup, light rules, and quick play, you’ll get a lot of enjoyment from it. There are a large number of double sided cards (200) allowing for a variety of combinations, and 40 keycards means you will get a ton of replay out of it. A great choice if seeking to add a fun party game to your collection that uses word matching as a key element of play.
Now is a great time to jump into playing Netrunner. Well, not quite yet. We’re still waiting for the release of the new core set but that should be in a few months. I like Netrunner. For a two player game the LCG is an amazing strategic deck builder, paired with resource management through actions and economy, and it’s asymmetric to boot. It really is a great game.
However over the years the number of expansions that have rolled out can make getting into Netrunner daunting. Part of this has been alleviated with rotation. In brief, expansions are released in cycles sets of cards. After a certain number of cycle releases, the oldest cycle expansions will ‘rotate out’ of the game for tournament play. This shakes up the competitive game some and keeps from having a card pool of 5+ years floating around, making the buy in for new players almost insurmountable for the tournament scene.
One caveat to the whole rotation thing is that a few expansions (commonly referred to as big box expansions) are evergreen products. These expansions are exempt from rotation. Like the core set cards, they will always be available for players to use in tournaments. But the new core set is a big deal. Not so much for the cards they are putting into the game but the ones being taken out, retired from the game forever.
There was some chaff in the core set. Some cards likely had big plans originally for being integral parts of the game, but never really went anywhere. Other versions rolled out over the years that were just better in every way to core set choices (I’m looking at you Access to Globalsec). So an opportunity to cull some binder fodder cards from the core is great.
I haven’t had much of a chance to play through updated core set decks. I did play mash decks with the original core set thoroughly though (offhand about 20 or so total games through all the factions). What I mean by mash decks here is gathering all the cards for one faction and their respective neutral sets, mashing them together into a deck, and playing (which is recommended for initial games). I lost a lot playing these types of decks. Rumors abound were that corp decks made this way were neutered some in order to push the concept to runner players that they need to be making runs. That key action is what the game is all about. Granted it wasn’t real deck building but it did allow me to effectively learn the cards and begin to see what gaps and advantages certain factions had. Offhand, even though poorly optimized, I feel the new core offers a better game experience with these type of mash decks.
Aside from some weak ability cards within the core set, you also had absolutely stellar ones. It’s one point I worry some regarding the future of Netrunner, that power creep might seep into the game. We might get some cards in expansions that surpass the core set (and evergreen expansions) in every way, making it almost a requirement that new players have to buy into all the available expansions to be competitive within the tournament scene. That was one solid thing about the old core set. Some cards were staples for competitive decks, even after years. I’m going to try and stay positive for now. Honestly though we have to admit that many core set cards were so efficient, so versatile, and were key parts to such powerful combos, they almost broke the game.
Yog.0 and Corroder were amazingly efficient breakers. So much so that, like the Criminal console Desperado, not only were they common in many decks, but set the bar so high for cards that followed almost nothing could match them. And if attempts were made to make something equitable, they’d likely introduce such a broken card it’d have adverse effects on the competitive scene.
Some cards like Parasite provided an interesting mechanic of grinding down ice and eventually destroying it completely. As a limited card, it was a game element that offered avenues for some interesting play. However it could also mushroom into some insane combos. Sifr was a console released later that is pretty powerful, yet with Parasite it morphed into an ice destruction machine. Throw in another core card, Déjà Vu, and you now had the potential to demolish 9 pieces of ice over a game, a combo being completely out of whack.
Scorched Earth, a staple card for tag and bag type of decks is also no more. That potential for tagging and flatlining runners is still out there, but harder to pull off. And with having a card like Scorched Earth being removed from the game, clearly is indicating the win condition of flatlining the runner is shifting over to more interactive mechanics.
This doesn’t encompass all the key strategies and deck types that the core set provided (not to mention 3 IDs for the game also being retired). What I want to illustrate though is that these cards being removed from the game have a huge impact on current competitive decks. This really shakes things up. Take any old podcast talking with authority about core standard cards for particular factions, or a plethora of published deck lists, and throw them away. They’re pretty much irrelevant now. That is how much impact this new core set has on the Netrunner scene.
I’ll quickly mention another big aspect of new cards moving into the core set are the inclusion of 3/2 agendas. Every corp now has access to 2 point agendas that only need 3 advancement tokens. That’s a pretty big shift in the game. As they will never rotate out they’ll likely have some wide reaching repercussions to Netrunner overall.
So if buying in right now are the old core sets worth it? A tough call. A fair chunk of cards are literally trash. Along with this are a good number of cards in the first two expansion cycles that are rotating out. Some will be shifting over to the new core set and still be usable. This reddit comment nicely gathers which expansion packs have cards that will be legal with the new core. But consider most expansion packs will be about $12-16 USD for roughly 20 unique cards with 3 copies of each card. For the current core set, you are losing a chunk of cards too.
I’d go with waiting and only consider picking up an old core set if you could get it dirt cheap. Consider the data packs as a decent yardstick for comparative pricing (so $25 USD for an unopened original core isn’t bad). Same with the old data packs. There are so many being rotated out, you are likely better off getting 2 copies of the new core set rather than collecting the entire first 2 data pack cycles. But if you only want to purchase a pack or two? It might be worth buying those packs then.
I’ll complain some here now. Yes, the new core sets appear more playable out of the box for people to pair off against each other. But it’s still saddled with an incomplete distribution of cards. So much so you’ll probably want a second core set at some point if delving deep into tournaments. As a casual player, that money would be better spent in getting evergreen, big-box expansions (especially Terminal Directive which is a solid first expansion purchase).
Regardless if Netrunner looked like an interesting game, now is the time to get into it. New players can jump in and enter the game with a more even footing compared to long time players. Not only is rotation hitting, but also this new core set. Everyone is learning novel things about the game and exploring new options. It’s far more dynamic that what we’ve seen in the past. This new core set has shaken up the established game and it’s wonderful.