Category: Review

Review: Perfect fit sleeve roundup

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

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

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

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

Review: Arkham Horror – The Card Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Bolt Action – Armies of Germany 2nd edition

germanarmy2ndOne nice thing that Osprey and Warlord Games is doing with the new edition of Bolt Action is pretty much keeping all the older army books usable. No updates will be made to them. The exception though would be the german army. When Bolt Action first hit, the germans seemed to have gotten stuck with the first army book curse.

A hallmark of 40K was that with each new edition, there would be several new codex books released updating all the races. Commonly the first book would end up being ‘underpowered’ compared to the other armies that were released later. More cool ideas and better balancing (or imbalances) would come out after a new edition was released. Typically the first army book would have point costs and choices that seemed ideal on paper, but after a few years of essentially further playtesting from the community at large, later releases of army books would have better options and point costs more in line with their relative value on the tabletop. Sadly, this was viewed from many the same for Bolt Action regarding the germans.

I’ll start off and cover stuff that hasn’t much changed from the first edition. You still get a nice product that covers the german army and various units that were seen throughout the war. There is a brief historical overview of the conflicts and different theaters the german army participated in, then a breakdown of the force organization and options for a reinforced platoon, followed up by theater specific force lists. The layout follows the new format seen in the force lists of the 2nd edition book, which I think is a little easier to read and digest. I haven’t gotten too deep in the lists, but for the most part it seems the costs and unit options are the same as the first version.

The german army has a few new nation rules though. The replacement of fallen NCOs and Hitler’s buzzsaw (LMG and MMGs get an extra d6 shooting) are still in place. One big change is that all german officers get an extra die for giving orders to other units. In effect a 2nd Lt. acts like a 1st Lt., and a 1st Lt. pulls 3 dice like a captain, etc. which is a big change. With the right deployment you can get very effective turns activating several units within command range. I like this new rule for the german army and it’s something that somewhat reflects the discipline and leadership much of the army had in WW2.

The other new nation rule which is a little more flaky is Tiger Fear. Every enemy unit that sees a vehicle with this special rule acts as if it has an additional pin except for orders to fire on that vehicle. Now for a Panther or an actual Tiger, I could see this as a nice flavor rule. But this also applies to the Panzer IV which to me sort of pushes that into OP territory. You suddenly have a medium tank that can make it difficult for enemy units being able to advance and take objectives, simply by seeing it on the table. I expect Tiger Fear to be heavily house-ruled for many people.

You have a scattering of a few new units. Ambulance vehicles can now be chosen which operate as both a transport and as a medic unit, which is interesting. Additionally there is a special section at the end which covers units and vehicles that had night vision gear for those night fight games.

The Good – This is a fairly comprehensive book for players that want to field a german army for Bolt Action. You get a lot of options including several special units and theater lists that cover much of the war including a few that have some special rules for engagements at certain time periods (such as limited fuel for the end of the war, or unreliable new production panther tanks that were mid-war). I like that the german army also has a few extra nation-specific rules which can bolster their force some. As typical for these books there is a lot of great Osprey artwork and photographs, along with a comfortable layout to read the unit choices and costs.

The Bad – Aside from the few extra paragraphs for the nation specific rules, you aren’t going to find much different from the first edition. There are a few minor changes here and there (such as light infantry mortars no longer being able to fire smoke rounds). But essentially the point costs and unit selections are just about the same. On one hand you might be pleased with this, meaning you don’t have to alter up the composition of your platoons much. But on the other hand, if you think there were glaring imbalances with point costs for certain units, they are likely still there.

The Verdict – If you are a new Bolt Action player and fancy fielding a german platoon, this is a must buy. You get so many options and choices, along with lots of theater-specific lists to let you dabble in more historic TOE forces, it’s worth getting. It’s also an attractive book with a lot of material to offer a decent source of information for both painting and modelling, as well as a touch of history.

If you are an older player of german forces, this might be worth picking up. You could likely take a pencil to the older edition and mark down the few special rules and changes to some key units. Other than that, you could simply commit the new nation rules to memory and work with your old book. You aren’t going to find much here that is new or different from the first edition. In fact, I’d say embrace a more environmentally sound choice and possibly get the PDF version and alter the few special rules in your old print edition manually.

It’s an attractive book and the new nation rules are worth noting. However it’s likely not something you absolutely need to have a print version of if you’ve got the older edition (just use the new nation rules). Yet for new players, the 2nd edition is certainly something to buy if playing a german army. A pleasant book with some more material other than just unit profiles and force selectors to serve as an enjoyable light read for a german army enthusiast.

Review: Bolt Action Second Edition

I am a long time fan of Bolt Action and enjoy the game immensely. It’s a bit Hollywood but for skirmish WW2 gaming it gets a lot right. Another bonus for me is that it’s small enough in scale to offer some narrative potential with scenarios.

I’m not going to go much into the mechanisms of the game as my first review pretty much carries the same opinions as before. You instead for the most part have some refinement with the rules with the new edition. The game still has some parts that are a tad gamey, but some of the more glaring rules and wonky tactics that were in the first edition are curbed some.

This won’t be an exhaustive list but I thought I’d highlight a few changes focusing on some of the more notable ones. Likely the biggest change regards officers. Leaders now can potentially have multiple units to activate under their command. Most allow for 1-2 units within 6”, but higher ranking officers increase this to 12” and up to 4 different units.

If an officer successfully passes their order test (note the Down order is exempt from this), they can pull and assign extra order dice. The assigned units still have to pass their orders, but you can get quite a few units getting that extra boost to act while in the presence of an officer. This is a really great rule. Before the benefits of officers were minor unless working with a lot of inexperienced troops. Plus there was not much incentive to take higher ranked officers. This rule completely changes that and makes leadership have a greater impact on the game.

bolt-action-2-coverSome other notable changes to orders were also made. Rally now is not subject to pin modifiers to see if the order is passed, but the unit still only removes D6+1 pin markers. There is a small change to Ambush. If at the end of a turn you want to return a unit’s order die, on a 4+ the unit can immediately execute a Fire order before doing so. Just a little way to get something out of taking a unit off Ambush, if nothing ever presented itself during a turn to trigger it.

Another big change is that the Down order provides at -2 penalty to shooting at infantry and artillery units. This is a pretty hefty defensive bonus. Likely this will make the option of just hitting the dirt due to excessive fire more enticing for units and a solid tactical option. Not to mention those pesky air and artillery observers being able to evade fire.

Assaults no longer take off pins automatically for units fighting in hand to hand. Also target units can return fire automatically if they have not been given an order. Veteran units still have a heavy advantage in assaults, but at least it emphasizes Rally orders for removing pins. Another change is that assault weapons (like pistols and SMGs) get one additional attack if they successfully inflict a casualty, not automatically double the number of attacks. This lowers the effectiveness of these weapons in assaults (units that are Tough Fighters get this too), trimming down their ability to tear through units as before.

As weapons go, there are a few key changes. I always felt LMGs were lacking in the game and it seems that Warlord has listened to the community. Both LMGs and MMGs now throw an extra die when shooting. Another tweak for fixed weapons is that they can make a special Assault move, rotating in place towards any facing, and still be able to fire (with a -1 penalty to hit). These slight changes now make units like MMG teams a little more fearsome.

Flamethrowers were always a bit of a divisive weapon, especially vehicle flamethrowers. Now they don’t automatically hit and instead hit on a basic 3+ ignoring any modifiers for cover or units that are Down. Vehicle flamethrowers now only inflict D6+1 hits instead of 2D6. The plus side is that all flamethrowers now only run out of fuel on a 1 (instead of a 1-2 for man-packed flamethrowers).

Likely the biggest weapon change is in regards to HE as templates are used to determine the number of hits. I’m on the fence some with this. One aspect I cringe about is that the game now can get a little finicky with a player maneuvering templates around. The basic rules are that a player must always try and place a template to hit as many enemy models as possible, and they cannot also target friendly troops.

This limits the number of potential hits, especially for light mortars but it does add some consistency with the number of possible casualties. The plus is that across the board all HE weapons can potentially inflict more pins. Also there were some weird instances in the first edition where you might target a small weapons team and only be able to hit that unit, despite it being positioned close to other enemy troops. This certainly adds some tactical value to spreading different squads out to avoid being hit by large HE rounds.

There are a couple of notable changes to vehicles too. Empty transport vehicles can now fire one weapon. I love this change as it encourages armored transports to be used and having more importance on the battlefield other than just carting troops around. Mind you, the same rule for empty transports being destroyed if ending a turn closer to enemy units is still a thing.

Another change is that a player decides to fire either a main weapon or the co-axial MG, not both. This really cuts down the firepower of tanks. There is also a pretty big change with recce vehicles. They can only make an escape move if they have not been given an order die. It certainly makes using these vehicles for scouting more difficult, but also reduces the abuse some players had with these vehicles taking pop shots and scooting behind buildings to avoid return fire.

Additionally if opting to fire pintle-mounted weapons the tank is considered open topped. This is a small change to differentiate them from tanks with just co-axial weapons. However likely the pintle mounted guns are also flak weapons, and that now has some greater use on the table.

Certain weapons can now provide flak support. When a plane comes in due to an air observer, each flak unit can try to attack it, rolling to hit on a 5+. If scored total hits are 3 or more the plane is either shot down or sent away. I love this rule. It makes using air support a bit trickier to use (and possibly encourages the more expensive artillery observers instead). Lastly, it gives a greater role to flak weapons and encourages a player to add a few as a potential counter to air attacks.

There are some more small bits and tinkered rules (dense terrain, reduced assault rifle ranges, changes to sniper teams, etc.). Overall they are pretty much a refinement and incorporation of a lot of popular community house rules. Some of them shift away from truisms of the past editions. Now you have a reason to take a higher ranking officer. Now full infantry squads can re-roll failed order tests until they suffer a casualty, meaning investing in a large squad can get some tangible benefit other than just being able to suck up a lot of hits (which works especially well with inexperienced troops).

The book has a total of 12 new scenarios. Six of which are more meeting engagements, where the other 6 have clear attackers and defenders. Unfortunately, three of the scenarios are still a Maximum Attrition type of game, where you just have to kill as much of the enemy as possible. But the wrinkles in setup and some scenario specific rules shake them up some.

Much like the previous book, a truncated army force list is provided for each major nation. This time Japan is also included. Fans of a particular nation will eventually want to pick up the army books, but the lists in the book are serviceable and provide options to field a robust platoon. Lastly there are some other supplemental rules for night fighting, rules to incorporate more players, larger forces with multiple activations, and even multi-national forces.

The Good – The second edition is more an assembling of tweaks and house rules than a full blown rework of the game. For the most part this is great news. Some of the changes likely will mean players have to adjust their tactics (leaders with multiple activations, and units no longer automatically removing pins in assaults are a few). There is still that random order activation. Pinning units to degrade morale and effectiveness is still there. In short it’s still Bolt Action.

I like that more scenarios are presented. I’m especially glad to see them mine other games for some fun scenarios (like a classic 40K cleanse mission).The sprinkling of scenario specific rules also helps reinforce that Bolt Action can be very much a narrative historical game, and also an enjoyable tourney game.

The artwork and layout is pleasant, with each section having a nice heading on the outer edges of the page. There are more examples and more diagrams. And typical of Osprey books, lots of great art and pictures including a concise timeline of key historical campaigns and engagements to spur on ideas for possible battles in different theaters of the war.

The Bad – This isn’t a simulation game. There is still some abstract mechanics and you are going to get some pretty shifty tactics from players. With the addition of officers being able to allow multiple activations, some might feel the random initiative is simply too chaotic for their tastes over an IGOUGO system. And lastly, it’s still point based. You are going to get those guys making cheese platoons and trying to game as much out of the force lists as possible.

Another minor quibble is that the background of the pages have this stressed border graphic that appears like flock. All the pages on the right have what appears to be a smudge of gunk. While for a page with a sparse layout of figures and pictures, it doesn’t stand out. But for me it gets a little distracting having it among paragraphs of text.

The Verdict – I love Bolt Action and the 2nd Edition is certainly an improvement of the former rules. There are a lot of small changes and enough so that I would consider picking up the new edition. However if you only play the game once in awhile, likely you could get away with just sticking with the old rules and try to scoop up a new QRS/player aid.

It’s still a great, robust set of rules. It doesn’t lend itself too much towards being a staunch historical game. There are plenty of opportunities to play out those ‘what if’ games, and a few of the mechanics might be too abstract for die hard WW2 wargamers. Not to mention some platoon force lists that will likely make someone well versed in historical TOEs tear out their hair. But it gets so much right.

Bolt Action is chaotic and the concept of throwing a lot of fire at a threat to force it to hit the dirt, so your troops can maneuver, is still there. It’s just such a fun set of skirmish rules. And I particularly enjoy how the game encourages players to dig into historical books and fish out odd units. If you want to field a platoon of Moroccan Goumiers that fought in the Italian campaign, you can do that. That to me demonstrates how pliable the rules can be.

So like with my original review, Bolt Action is still a fun, WW2 skirmish game. And if a die hard fan or a new player interested in getting into historical gaming, the second edition is very much a great book to pick up.

Review: Android – Netrunner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Armourfast Sherman M4A2 75mm

Anyone that’s been reading my blog for a while will know I am a fan of the 1/72 scale Armourfast kits. These are not high quality models. However for 20mm wargaming they are excellent. Cheap, pretty easy to put together, and they come 2 vehicles per kit. If you are going for building up an armor platoon, they are an especially a good buy.

I finally finished up my 20mm Pacific US Marines and wanted to get a tank for my list. I recognize that Stuarts are likely the most popular choice but I wanted something a bit more fearsome, so I went the M4 route.ShermanA

The Armourfast Sherman kit was a snap to put together. I would say one hiccup was fitting the turret peg into the hull. The turret peg isn’t molded into the turret and instead you’ve got to assemble it. Not an issue, but I found the hull hole where the peg fit into was a bit tight. Filing it down and putting a tad too much pressure meant twisting the turret peg some. I pulled it apart quick enough, straightened everything out, and filed the hole some more for an easier fit. However fair warning and ensure that the peg fits well into the hull before assembling (rookie modeler mistake from me as usual).ShermanB

The details of the tank are okay. The pintle mounted 50 cal fits well. As per other Armourfast kits the inside tread wheels are more to be desired and are empty molded plastic without any details whatsoever. The plus is that you can’t readily notice them unless looking at the tank from a lower angle. Another plus is that as a single model peice it’s easy to assemble the tread wheels to the hull.

There are no stowage options and if wanting to add some personality to the model, you’ll have to go the route of pillaging other model kits for that. There are also no decals for the kit, so that is another thing I’ll have to pilfer from other kits.

The details of the tank hull stand up to painting well enough. Yet I’m a bit miffed with my choice of a wash. My original base coat had a nice dark shade for the tank treads but the difference between the hull became quite muddled after a wash coat. Still it’s a serviceable tank model for tabletop wargaming and good enough for 20 mm Bolt Action.

Review: Space Hulk: Death Angel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bolt Action: Empires in Flames

EmpiresInFlamesWarlord games has been diligently releasing their theater specific books and I was able to finally snag a copy of Bolt Action: Empires in Flames, their Pacific campaign book. This details quite a few parts of the entire Pacific and East Asia conflict from the initial invasions of Japan into China during the second Sino-Japanese war, engagements in Burma, to the final allied island-hopping offensive to take back territory from Japan. As with many of the previous books it not only covers some scenarios, special troop types, and unique rules for these games, but also provides brief historical background overviews of the conflicts.

The book is broken down into sections first dealing with the 1937 outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war, then detailing the rapid conquests Japan had during the initial part of WW2, up to the final years of the war (with Burma and the other major allied offensives being their own section). There are only 8 scenarios listed in the book, but taking a page from Ostfront, there are lists of scenarios out of the main Bolt Action book that are recommended as ones that would be applicable for that period of the war.

Although the scenario count is limited, many have some unique layouts in terrain to give them a twist from your typical games. Additionally, they employ some special rules incorporating night fighting, mines, or amphibious assaults, or ones more specific to the stress troops had in a jungle environment (like exhaustion, monsoon rains, or deep mud). There are also quite a few suggestions for the density and type of terrain that should be on the table for these games. I’ll admit it’s a little disappointing more rules weren’t included but there is enough to add some wrinkles to your typical game which could capture that feel of jungle fighting.

One thing that stands out included in the book is a complete army force list for Chinese national forces. If hankering to duke it out during the initial Japanese invasion into China, this book has you covered with some Japanese theater specific lists. But along with that is a complete list of units and vehicles that would be thematic for the Chinese national army at the time. It certainly is a very niche force, but an interesting option if looking for something different in your typical Pacific theater games.

Along with this new force list are also some new units for both Japan and the allies (both US and Britain), including rules for Mongolian Russian troops. There are a sparse number of heroes and a few vehicles. Most of the new units are for infantry troop selections. Rules for horse limbers and mule-packed guns are also presented as troop options.

Amphibious rules are presented, as well as rules for night fighting, city fighting, and minefields. There are some additional rules that attempt to capture the challenges of fighting in the jungle (monsoon rains and deep mud). Another interesting rule tweak is exhaustion. This rule potentially strips away troops from infantry and artillery units. Exhaustion can also impeded Run orders (units must always check leadership, even with no pins) and units in reserve are more difficult to bring in. It’s a bit of a gamble if playing with the jungle specific rules for exhaustion as it can randomly effect just the attacker or just the defender (or possibly both sides).

The Good – The book provides a nice overview of the different types of engagements that typified warfare in WW2 for this region. Touching on the years up to the start of the war, along with the initial part of the Japanese military campaign is also welcomed, as it’s something not quite visited in typical WW2 rules.

The theater-specific rules are okay and having additional units are always welcomed. The detailed scenarios aren’t groundbreaking but do offer some different challenges from your standard Bolt Action game. It’s especially nice to have a complete army list and theater-selectors for a Chinese national force, which certainly stands out from your regular Pacific wargame book.

As with many other Osprey books, the art is great. It’s well organized and having the special rules dedicated in a single section at the end of the book is nice.

The Bad – There is a lot of ground and history to cover, but it would have been nice to provide some more scenarios. As with many of the other books, a fair number of scenarios are presented more as generic battles with a Pacific flavor rather than detailing a specific battle. Even though the horse limber rules are presented again, it’s a shame the rules for flag bearer units weren’t included.

The Verdict – Empires in Flames is a niche book. It certainly is for a player wanting to focus on the Pacific war. Most of the rules covered have been seen elsewhere in other campaign books (although it’s nice to have them collected in one book here again). So if looking for tons of new rules, some might be disappointed.

Additionally the number of scenarios provided might be considered a little sparse. However the ones provided offer a nice snapshot of the particular types of battles seen in the Pacific. There are quite a few suggestions for table layouts, special rules, and theater-selector lists to use too.

I think Osprey has hit their stride with putting these campaign books out. Empires in Flames manages to present a wide range of different conflicts in the Asian region well. I don’t consider this book a must have for everyone. But if war in the Pacific is your bag, you’d be remiss not to pick up this campaign book. It’s got a lot of meat in between its pages to keep a Bolt Action fan happy.

Review: Harbour

From Tasty Minstrel Games, Harbour is a 1-4 player game where players are competing trade brokers in a fantasy harbour. It is a compact game that will play in about 45 minutes or so, easily allowing you to get in a few games in one sitting. It revolves primarily around selling and producing goods, all the while trying to buy up special buildings for additional options during your turn and victory points. Once a player has a total of 5 buildings (including their starting warehouse building), the game ends.

Turns run pretty simple. A player moves their meeple to an unoccupied building, and then takes the action on the building to the best of their ability. If goods are sold, the market is adjusted to reflect new prices and the next player takes their turn. Simple.

Each player has an initial warehouse building which tracks the number of different goods that they hold. There are four types of goods (fish, stone, wood, and cattle) and the price of these goods range from $2-5 dollars. Paired with these prices is a required minimum number of goods for that particular type which must be in your warehouse if wanting to sell. As a mental cheat sheet, the price of a resource equals the minimum number of stored goods (so if stone was $3, you’d need at least 3 stone in your warehouse).
The catch to this is once you sell a good, you sell everything, regardless of the actual price of the goods. So if you’ve got 5 wood stored away and decide to sell it for a measly $2, you have to unload all of it. None of it can be saved for later sales (although certain building types allow you to bypass this restriction).

Added to this is a very fluctuating selling market. It’s hard to describe effectively without diagrams, but essentially goods that are sold move down a track and reenter the market at the lowest value. All unsold goods move up in cost (and the required number of stored goods needed to sell). Depending on the value of the good sold, you can really shake up the market. Low value resources won’t change the market much, but selling higher value goods can really alter the prices of everything else. What compounds this is that most buildings are $6-8 so you are always selling 2 or more resources to get the cash needed to purchase them.

Aside from a winning condition, owning buildings means that other players have to pay a good to use it. Buildings themselves have different abilities which typically allow for the gain of goods coupled with losing some others that are owned, or the shifting of the market. Some buildings also have other properties that allows for storage of more resources, cheaper building prices, or allowing a player to use an opponent’s building for free.

Players can purchase a limited choice of buildings out of a deck of 36 different kinds. Most abilities for buildings are shifting the loss of a few goods to get a small gain in another, or just adding one or two goods to your warehouse. There are a few buildings that allow for gaining of more resources depending on owning particular building icons. However these are few and far between.

Another layer of variation is that the game comes with different player abilities and starting buildings. You have the option of starting out with everyone having a generic player mat. But you can also choose from 14 different player mats with different abilities and matching building types. So out of the box there is quite a lot of variety making room for a different play experience from game to game. You also can play the game solo playing against an AI opponent, so you can stretch the game play even further

The Good – Harbour is a fun little game of worker placement and resource selling. There is a surprising amount of variation in building and player types that give the game a lot of replay. It plays pretty fast and the manipulation of market prices and gaining of select goods is engaging. It’s not overly complicated but certainly will make you think some in how to tangle out what goods to work on and the opportune time to sell and purchase buildings. The artwork is light and whimsical capturing a fun fantasy theme of a fictitious harbor. You get nice, thick, card stock building cards and chunky, wooden resource tokens too.

The Bad – While the market moves prices in an interesting way, it practice it becomes exceedingly difficult to predict. It’s almost too volatile in a 3-4 player game and certainly favors the player that can jump into selling goods early. While there is some room for having a combination of buildings to gain a lot of resources, typically you are only having a net gain of 1 to 2 goods a turn.

This leads into my major gripe with the game. It just seems to end too quickly. You really can’t construct an engine with owned buildings before the game ends. It also creeps into a snowball effect for the few players in the lead. Once they have an advantage of a building or two, it’s almost impossible to catch up.

The Verdict – Harbour is an okay game. Hands down for the price you are paying (less than $20) it’s an immense value. The small box offers a lot of replay and can even offer an engaging solo game. However, while there is room to explore different strategies there never seems enough time to fully develop them.

You’re in a frantic race to gain the right goods at the right time and if you miss out, you can really fall behind. If an opponent is in the lead and can capitalize on another market opportunity, you’ll find yourself in a deep hole that’s too hard to get out of for a victory. So you have to usually jump into buying what buildings you can afford right now, over planning a turn or two to try and pick up other buildings that could offer a deeper ability interaction with others you own.

In the end, I don’t find Harbour a bad game. For such a small package, there is a lot of enjoyable game in the box. But it’s not an amazing game. While the play is engaging and you have some interesting choices, the market is so volatile and the building types so limited in function, it doesn’t allow for a lot of strategic maneuvering. It’s an enjoyable game. But oddly for how much it allows for some careful planning and thoughtful choices during play, other bits like the constant market price swings just make that decision process squandered some.

I think the most saving grace is the price, box size, and card variety. It leaves a small footprint on your shelf and doesn’t sink deep into your wallet. If looking for a relatively light worker placement game with some market interaction, Harbour isn’t a horrible buy and you can squeeze a large amount of play out of it without it getting repetitive.

[House Rule: Players only get to use another player’s building for free if they own more top hat buildings than their opponent. Getting top hat buildings is pretty easy to do. This tweak allows for an advantage if a player delves into owning multiple top hat buildings allowing for a potential strategy. As RAW, it’s a little too to easy to counter by simply gaining one top hat building.]

Red Army – Wargames Factory

WGF-W2003-2For a long while now I’ve been pretty much sticking with 20mm for my Bolt Action platoons. I’ve accumulated quite a few different nations dabbling both in the Pacific and European theaters. Usually when I jump into a wargame I end up picking up enough models to fill out a couple of armies. It’s just so much easier for me to spark someone’s interest in playing when I’ve already got an army for them to try out. So for Bolt Action, going 20mm was not a problem at all for me.

However I realize that if I was dumped into a gaming scene where I’d be typically playing against folks with their own armies, well, I guess they might frown a little on me pushing around 1/72 scale troops and tanks. So I wanted to work on another nation army that would be a ‘proper’ 28mm scale and settled on fielding a Russian force. One aspect of my choice was that I’d be able to dig up some 1/48 scale armor and vehicles. I could have chosen some other smaller nation, but rounding that out would likely be difficult. The downside of course would be that I’d have to whip up a lot of models. Russian armies work with having lots of bodies so I certainly wanted to look into plastic kits.

There are a few options out there but in the end I decided to make the bulk of my troops from using the Red Army box sets from Wargames Factory. These are pretty nice sets of around 30 figures with a variety of small arms. Most weapon options are for Mosin Nagant rifles and PPSh-41 smgs, but there are quite a few DP-28 lmgs and various sniper rifles also. My complaint would be that I wish there were more rifles. You can get about 15 figures with rifles from a box set. From my 2 sets, I wanted to squeeze out a 3rd rifle squad but it looks like I might have to stick with making that a smg scout squad instead (was able to get a free 12 man rifle squad though for a total of 3 rifle heavy units).

The figures are pretty well sculpted with a fair amount of detail. It’s hard plastic that is a snap to assemble with cement and they don’t appear to have excessive mold lines (although there are some and you can see from the photos I still need to trim more). Another small bit I love about the box is that lipped bases are also provided. There are a couple of prone figures that don’t get any benefit from the bases, but it’s a nice touch.
There are a variety of heads but most are with helmets with a smaller proportion having caps. There are a some officer caps and a few female soldier heads also. As a nice touch, you have the option of making a couple of female troops which is cool. Something historically accurate and adds a little variety to how your force looks on the table. I made one of my sniper teams women and working on converting my field medic to be female.
As pistols and other accessories go, the sprues are a little lacking. They are present but in a limited number. However there are tons of ammo pouches and field kits. So certainly you can deck out your troops to have some additional details. I will grumble some that the entrenching tool and canteen are modeled as a single piece which somewhat limits options for attaching them.

Arms are modeled individually and at first I sort of groaned looking at this, worried how much of a chore it’d be to piece them together properly. However each arm is paired by letter along with a matching body figure making it a much easier process. Still, you’ve got individual arms, heads, and other gear kit bits to glue. Expect your assembly of troops to take a while.
Nonetheless the end product is fairly good. They are digital sculpts but they look like they can handle some detail rather well. I’ll complain about wanting more rifles, but there are enough different weapons between smgs, sniper rifles, and lmgs to provide lots of options. While most of the bodies are single sculpts, with movable arms and heads you can get enough dynamic poses to give the models variety. Adding more kit options and about 5 body figure types, you end up with enough to make your force look engaging with plenty of differences in poses. Hands down, the quality and price for these kits are hard to beat and are an exceptional value for wargaming. Well worth looking into to bulk up your Russian force.RussiansD