Category: Review

Card Caddy deck boxes

Occasionally I am out and about doing gaming stuff in public. For a lot of my board games that use cards, it’s helpful having decks stack up neatly in discard and draw piles. This is especially so when handling sleeved cards as sometimes these piles can be a little slippery, where an accidental knock can spill out your cards all over the place. And while deck boxes are great for transport, they can’t serve any additional purpose on the table.

Enter the Card Caddy. It’s an inventive design where a protective deck box can be opened up into two sections. Even better, the separate sections can be linked together with each half capable of holding a full stack of cards.

I picked up a few different caddys. A couple of standard card size packs, and double-decker ones which are designed to hold larger decks of sleeved cards. The pic here shows a double-decker caddy and a single deck as a comparison (the blue colored caddy). Both can accept sleeved cards but I’ve found the single size box won’t hold many sleeved cards. I found the double-decker box can comfortably hold about 50 or so double sleeved cards (figure about 80 regular sleeved cards).

They lock together by sliding each half in grooved slots. It’s pretty easy to take apart, but I found the double-decker a bit more tricky to assemble. Nothing that’s a deal breaker but it certainly takes a lighter touch compared to the single deck box. The deck boxes are sturdy and feel like they could take some light punishment and still protect the cards.

I’m glad I picked them up. If I had my druthers I would have skipped getting a single deck box and just gone with the double-decker. Most of my games lean towards larger decks and typically use sleeved cards. Regardless though, they are a nice product and a great way to transport and have a storage solution on the table to help keep everything stacked nicely.

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28mm Plastic Soldier Co. Russian 45mm AT-gun teams

I’ve been a long time fan of playing Bolt Action in 20mm. However I figured if I ever jumped into a local gaming scene I might be in a bit of a pickle using minis at that scale. I had a hankering to field a Russian force and decided to do it in the ‘proper scale’ of Bolt Action using 28mm figures.

There are lots of choices out there for models and I went with some cheaper plastic sets. Looking to round out options I wanted to try and get some different unit choices. One of which was a small AT gun team. I’ve freely admitted my love of Plastic Soldier Co. before and used their models extensively for my British and German 20mm platoons. For Russians, PSC makes kits both in 15mm and 28mm, so I was in luck.

The 45mm AT-gun team kits have parts to make 2 guns and a total of 8 crew members. It’s a very flexible kit for light AT guns, as there are barrels to make a 43mm M-1937 and a 45mm M-42 AT gun. Yet, the box name is somewhat a misnomer as there are barrels to also make a 76mm M-1943 (OB-25) regimental gun which could be used as a light howitzer. PSCRusAT2

I went ahead and made a M-42 45mm AT gun (pictured left below) and a light howitzer (pictured right below). While the M-42 was made throughout the war, it was certainly phased out as German tank armor was improving. If going the min/max route most folks would likely spend the points for a ZiS-3. But if focusing on an early war platoon, this kit is a great resource.PSCRussATA

The details on troops are a little muddied but not bad for digital sculpts. Another small quibble is there is no instruction sheet/diagram for assembly of the guns (but not too difficult to work out). Assembly was pretty easy but the barrels and trail supports had to be sanded down some to fit within the gun frame.

PSCRusAT1

PSCRussATCrew

Despite my small niggles, overall it’s a great kit for the value and wonderful for wargaming. A good buy if looking for early-mid war AT options for Russians in 28mm.

1/48 Tamiya Russian infantry and tank crew set

tamiya-WW2-russian-tank-crew-and-infantry-setSo a long, long, long while back I picked up a handful of 1/48 Germans and Russian infantry from Tamiya. I was thinking about having a couple of squads to do some quick and dirty skirmish gaming with some odd rule systems. This was long before Bolt Action was on my radar and they sort of languished in a pile of unopened model kits. As I started working on a full Russian platoon in 28mm scale and decided to add these models into the mix of my force.

I’ve got a metric ton of Wargames Factory Russians which are pretty good figures. So having some other miniatures from a different manufacturer would be cool to add a little variety. There are 13 figures in the kit including a couple of tank crew members. For the most part they are in light, cold weather garb with a few light cloaks and a couple in winter coats.

Most are armed with PPsh-41 smgs and a few have Mosin Nagants. One carries a DP lmg and there is also a soldier pulling a Maxim mmg. As functionality for independent models to push around on bases, there are a few in sitting positions, so it’d require some base modelling to make them work. However on the flip side it’s great to have a few sitting models as I can use them to indicate a tank is carrying tank rider troops.
TamyiaRusA
TamyiaRusB
I ended up having 8 models including a soldier with a lmg to form just that, a tank rider squad. They have a lot of nice detail. Scale wise they match up pretty well with Wargames Factory figures (right) however against some 28mm Plastic Soldier figures (left), they are a little smaller in bulk.
Tamiya Russian Comparison
If you wanted to pick up a few figures that were smg-heavy, this is a nice kit to get. Also, if you wanted a few figures to represent tank riders, it’s certainly a great kit to buy. They have good detail and are pretty easy to put together. Mind however that you’ll also have to get a few bases though. If looking for a small squad in winter gear to supplement your force with a scout squad or tank riders, check these figures out.

Review: The Dunwich Legacy expansion for the Arkham Horror LCG

I’ll peg this as more as a cumulation of thoughts rather than a proper review. This full campaign expansion for the Arkham Horror card game has since been released for a while now, and after a few playthroughs I decided to give The Dunwich Legacy a look over. This uses the classic Lovecraft story, The Dunwich Horror, as a backdrop for the expansion. I’m not going to go through much of the cards as you can dig through tons of other podcasts and such to get a rundown of individual reviews, or you can see them yourself. I will go over the highlights of the scenarios and talk a bit how the campaign was overall. I’m also going to try and give this a light spoiler treatment. I don’t want to dig too deep into the workings of the campaign to allow for people to have some fun if they haven’t played it yet. But fair warning that some of the story elements will be discussed.

The campaign itself consists of a big box expansion with 6 mythos packs (small deck expansions). In the Dunwich Legacy you’ll get 5 new investigators along with 2 scenarios that kick off the campaign. As deck building goes with the investigators, each of them have a little twist compared to the ones included in the core set. All investigators utilize one class and the neutral cards as primary sources for cards from level 0 to 5 experience. However they can have up to five level 0 cards from any other class. What’s refreshing about these investigators are they seemed to be designed with the intent to compliment core set investigators and the limited card pool that comes along with it.

My biggest compliant with the core set that it was a deck construction game without much opportunity to actually build decks. Plus the more investigators you add, the more difficult (to downright impossible) it was to make decks. The Dunwich Legacy investigators address that. I dare say that if you invest in this entire expansion cycle, you could get away with playing 3 investigators using just a single core set. Deck building will be tight and you’ll hit some rough patches with some scenarios but it can be done. Unfortunately with a 4th player you are still going to have to go the route of getting another core set. However I like that they broke away from investigator deck construction format that stuck with the main class plus one other, allowing you to stretch out a single core set a little more.

The investigators themselves are fairly solid. I think of the lot maybe Jim Culver is the weakest of the bunch with the others being pretty formidable (and some might say broken in the case of Rex Murphy). This certainly adds a lot more re-play to even the base game. The investigators still adhere to their class archetypes for how they play. But each has a different feel that diverges from the core set investigators which is great. Now a bit more onto the campaign itself.

Spoilers below! (Sorta…)

The campaign expansion opens near Miskatonic University in Arkham. The players are recruited to find individuals that assisted Dr. Henry Armitage in a strange incident that happened months ago in the remote village of Dunwich. Out of the box the campaign offers a branching story. You have two scenarios and can choose either to tackle first, with each having a minor wrinkle to how they play depending if you are playing it first or second. It’s a pleasant change from the linear paths and I hope it’s something that is explored more in future releases.

Extracurricular Activities – The players are trying to explore the sprawling Miskatonic University campus, looking to find one of Dr. Armitage’s colleagues. A tweak to this is that a few key locations are locked away and cannot be accessed. If players can eventually take control of an NPC (Non-player Character) ally, they can get to these locations. Once things are underway however, a clock to the scenario starts ticking down. The players have a choice how they tackle this new challenge. An interesting aspect is that players can ‘win’ this scenario but still ‘lose’ adding additional difficulty to the campaign.

The House Always Wins – A change of pace from the typical dreary locales, this scenario takes place in a speakeasy that also doubles as a gambling den. The players must investigate the area under the watchful eyes of various mobster types. If they discover clues while a mobster is at the same location, they can incur their wrath.

A wonderful twist to this scenario is that the initial investigation has the players discover clues through different means by either spending resources or discarding ally cards. This comes into play shortly as the scenario has a sudden-explosion-everything-in-chaos moment that ratchets up the tension. Players will be thrown into a situation where every action counts. So ditching resources to help move the act cards quickly can also mean less choices to handle more difficult obstacles that come up later. It’s a great balance of risk versus reward.

The Miskatonic Museum – This scenario has the players trying to search through a museum after hours in hopes of finding a translation of the Necronomicon. Rather than have an encounter deck filled with horrible monsters, there is a single phantom-like creature slowly stalking them. It’s a different take on the typical monsters in the game which I appreciate. However the results are a mixed bag. The monster is more of a harasser that builds up in power but never seems to be that much of a threat. It instead becomes more a monster that’s managed through evasion and damage mitigation.

Still the scenario has a nice feel of trying to search through sections of the museum. Also there are different ways to approach key challenges, including a choice right at the onset of the scenario. Lastly, if the players are successful they are offered a dangerous asset of the necronomicon itself. The card ability is tempting, especially for Daisy Walker, but there are unforeseen consequences for the players if they take it. A fun choice to make campaign playthroughs a little different each time.

The Essex County Express – This scenario takes entirely in a train traveling to the rural village of Dunwich and the investigators soon learn that things have gone horribly wrong. They are in a frantic race to move from car to car, ever trying to get to the engine of the train. With different train cars and engines, along with a variety of orientations of the locations, this scenario has a fair amount of replay. It can also lead to some wildly challenging games where some are horribly difficult, and others fairly easy.

Overall though I love the concept. Players soon learn to carefully glean clues from the agenda and act decks, as they can find out the hard way how the scenario agendas progress. I can totally see future scenarios where a similar progression and how locations are altered can be used in different environments (like a sinking ship, with investigators hurriedly traveling between ship compartments). The outcome sort of falls flat though. It’s more of a hard win/fail of sorts for them.

Blood on the Altar – The players have finally entered Dunwich where things seem awry. This is a wonderful scenario. Players are tasked with finding key locations and have a choice of either fighting or solving their way to a win. The outcomes of the scenario can be either crippling or a mild inconvenience. This scenario can result in unique allies being removed from the game, making the outcome have far reaching consequences for the campaign as a whole.

The scenario also introduces an interesting creature encounter card. Whippoorwills are aloof creatures that are more of a hindrance than a threat. Players have to spend a fair amount of actions to remove them. They add a clever mechanism to adding difficulty to the scenario over a static condition that a player accumulates.

Undimensioned and Unseen – The Dunwich village is now under threat as several creatures rampage through it. What breaks up this monster battle is that players must first discover a key location and obtain items that will allow them to attack the creatures. One great aspect of this scenario is particular locations can also interact with the creatures. This gives the scenario a fun cat-and-mouse type of play, allowing the investigators to manipulate the creatures through judicious use of location abilities.

This scenario also has a similar vibe to Midnight Masks from the core set. Players are set with a practically impossible task. They have to try and do as well as they can and might have to just cut their losses and resign. It doesn’t mean the end of the campaign, but by not completing their objective in its entirety can make other scenarios far more challenging. It can be a difficult choice whether to soldier on and be eliminated, trying to fight to the last, or run for their lives. Used judiciously in a campaign I can appreciate this, and it works well here. However the scenario as a whole is pretty much a monster hunting battle.

Where Doom Awaits – First let me give some appreciation to the designers of the game regarding a decision how this scenario resolves. Throughout much of the campaign (rightly) if players fail they can still carry on. Metagaming, players realize there is another scenario pack to the campaign, and likely rest on that knowledge knowing if things get too difficult, they can lick their wounds and try again for the final scenario for the campaign. The designers went with a decision that might surprise some people. I dig it and appreciate the direction the campaign takes because of it.

Now onto the part where I piddle on this scenario. Throughout the campaign, players can build decks to get around having a poor lore skill to investigate for clues. This scenario dumps that on its head. There are specific location abilities that investigators must utilize to advance the act deck. If the players cannot do so, there may be negative outcomes with severe campaign consequences. What adds punishment to this game element is that the location abilities can only be attempted by an investigator once during their turn. If you have a low lore skill character, you will probably lose this scenario. I just feel it’s a poor design choice.

Now the scenario itself can be all over the place. The variety of locations along with an encounter deck that has a kitchen sink makeup, means you can have wildly different plays. Some games will be pretty easy. Some will be incredibly difficult. I like that you need investigators that can fight as well as others that can scoop up clues.

However it’s marred by the abilities on key location cards which require a once per turn attempt to investigate. If ever there were scenario errata needed, it would be for this one. Something needs to tweak how the game progresses (ex. if an investigator fails, they can attempt the location action again). However how the mechanics of the card function, even standards like flashlight are useless so something else more drastic might be needed. This effect sort of breaks the scenario and given the larger repercussions to the campaign as a whole, it can leave you with a sour taste in your mouth. Which is a shame as what follows this scenario is so great.

Lost in Time and Space – How this scenario plays out is interesting. There is a single location in play and players must go through the encounter deck to discover more. Further, the paths from the locations twist and turn about, where you find in order to proceed to key act locations you have to work through several already on the table. This process gets more difficult as locations can disappear, needing be be drawn again from the encounter deck. Further, players and creatures can find themselves teleporting from location to location. It can be a frustrating experience, but at the same time it captures that chaotic, warping sense of a constantly shifting landscape with ever degrading sanity hampering the investigators.

As a small bit on the agenda developments, as each agenda rolls out players make tests based on past events, even those from the first couple of missions. I really enjoyed that part. It wasn’t a perfect fit, but still a pleasant attempt at demonstrating the lasting consequences of past actions. Additionally I enjoyed the possible resolutions for the scenario and also for the campaign conclusion. You can potentially be lost forever and still manage a heroic win.

The final showdown can be avoided or be a slugfest with the elder god, Yog-Sothoth. Much of the encounter cards and locations chip away at the player’s sanity and this greater abomination does the same. You might consider the scenario a little too lopsided towards mental damage, but I feel it fits the theme of the final locations well.

Final Thoughts – A key theme for many encounter cards is running through a player’s deck by discarding undrawn cards. One particular encounter card will inflict immense physical damage if a player runs out their deck. This essentially adds a timer to the game as they’re unlikely to survive this effect. Fortunately the players are exposed to this early on and can try to mitigate it as they gain experience. However it does introduce a different time challenge for the player which I like.

I will admit some elements are hamfisted with how they are added to the campaign. I love outcomes with some scenarios that add a specific weakness to your deck. But there are also ones where you add a random weakness or chaos token for no real reason except to ramp up the difficulty. Similar effects based on outcomes and choices from the players just feels much more enjoyable.

Overall Dunwich Legacy has more hits than misses. Being the first big expansion campaign, I don’t think it strayed much from the core set experience which is good. Yet the designers still managed to get some mechanisms and scenario elements that add to the typical game you’d get from the core set. I bite my tongue a bit though with giving it a glowing recommendation because a critical end scenario (Where Doom Awaits) can certainly thrust the player into an unwinnable situation. The story environments also knit well, with only a few that feel out of place (Essex County Express). Overall it just seems to capture a more intimate experience with most of the scenarios revolving around Dunwich, which can potentially lead to this otherworldly environment. Maybe people wanted a globe trotting adventure, but I enjoyed the more rural locations it went for.

As of this review there is another complete expansion out, with a third being released in the next few months. Players will certainly be spoiled for choices and possibly these other expansions might eclipse the Dunwich Legacy. But if looking for an expansion with classic Lovecraft theme that builds on the core set, interesting investigators, useful player cards, and offers a full campaign experience, the Dunwich Legacy is a fun one.

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.

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.

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.

28mm Russian heavy weapons teams – Plastic Soldier Co.

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

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

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

RusHVMedMortar

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

RusHVATRifle

RusHVATRifleB

RusHVATLoader

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

RusHVMMG

RusHV

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

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.