Category: Board Games

Review: Combat Commander – Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New mini-expansion for Arkham Horror LCG announced

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.

What’s next after the revised Netrunner core?

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.

Lumped in with these big boxsets is a unique campaign expansion, Terminal Directive. Honestly for the value I would advise this be your first expansion purchase. 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 third 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 Terminal Directive 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 Terminal Directive. 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.

Arkham Horror Card Game box insert from Go7 Gaming

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.

Board game stores in Germany: Brave New World

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.

Terminal Directive box insert from Go7 Gaming

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.

Review: Codenames

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now’s the time to get into Netrunner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’d go with waiting and only consider picking up an old core set if you could get it dirt cheap. Consider the data packs as a decent yardstick for comparative pricing (so $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.

New Netrunner core set announced.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Above and Below

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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