Monday, 30 May 2016

[review] Leaders: A Combined Game

It is almost three and a half years since I first saw Rudy Games demoing Leaders: A Combined Game, at Essen Spiel. From the initial glance at the booth as I was walking by, I noted it was some sort of version of Risk, and that was not too much of a surprise. Risk has been reinvented numerous times, and around the same time there had been the Kickstarter for Cthulhuwars. But, as I nosed in, given the look of the game seem rather modern, it was apparent something else was going on. It was a smart tech enabled game.

Leaders, like Risk, has the world board divided into zones which more or less represent countries or geographic regions. Like Risk, you have three types of units to use in the game, which are increasingly more powerful. And like Risk, regions are captured by invading with your forces and rolling dice vs your opponents defending forces. But that is where the similarities end. That is because Leaders uses a tablet and a more dynamic approach to how armies are deployed.

Let's begin with that latter part. While in Risk, unit pieces persist on the board from turn to turn, moving from region to region as an when needed, at the start of each player turn in Leaders, all excess units are returned to the base camp part of your game tile, and only 1 unit remains in a region you control. So, when you wish to attack, you deploy troops from this pool to you regions from which you are moving in from to attack. Furthermore, to limit this, you can only deploy into one of your zones a limited number of troops, determined by the resources points that zone generates for you. But, if you can, you can have troops deployed into zones, and have them attack a single zone. An attacked zone doesn't limit the number of attacking units that can enter. The defender of course can deploy from their pool troops to the attacked region, following the limitations that the attacker has had to follow with how they deploy troops. In this way, it is design to prevent "steamroller" type attacks that can happen in Risk, and it is unlikely for a player to wiped off the board before the very end game.

Leaders is also a smart enabled game, and that has massive implications. Leaders has a cold war theme, and so to represent that best, the tablet manages resources and secret actions. A player has the tablet and inputs the total resource points generated for each region they control, while the tablet is seen by all players. Then they have the tablet seen just by themselves, and begin to allocate the resource points they have, and perform actions. A turn begins with the results of what they did the last turn. Troops paid for arrive (and then are lost due to sabotage), and the results of research and diplomacy happens, and then the player is free to spent their remaining resource points (they may have lost some due to embargoes). New troops are paid for which will arrive the next turn. Tech is paid for, which can take a number of turns to be created. This can cover all manner of things like improvements to your army like having a die reroll, or improvements to resource points generation. You may also spend points to create diplomats and spies. Spies can be sent to perform espionage and sabotage, while diplomats can be used to cause embargoes, or to initiate secret alliances. And that there is the key point of the tablet in this stage. The other players have no idea how you are spending your points or the actions you are taking. This adds a whole new aspect to a game like Risk, an aspect that is more typical of a computer game like Civilisation.

Winning the game is not as simple as taking over the world, and that is unlikely. Leaders supports multiple ways to win the game. Depending on the number of players that there are, the winner needs to save up a certain amount of resource points, or reach the rank of "Leader" through completing missions (such as espionage, sabotage etc), or perform or research upgrades. This makes the game such that winning through total elimination of all player unlikely, and in fact most players will remain in the game until the very end.

A final point to note is that the game supports up to 6 players, with each playing as one of the following countries; USA, UK, France, Germany, USSR and China. Each faction has its own special rules, which adds a level of asymmetry to the gameplay.

I would highly recommend this game to players who are board of Risk, and want some that adds a new dimension to social gameplay.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

[UKGE 2016] Inside the Box Board Games

One of the companies I'm quite excited to see at the UK Game Expo is Inside The Box Board Games, and their most recently released game, 'Molecule', stood out to me as something different, and their design blog on their website got me interested in their next project too.

Molecule is a game of rival chemists racing to be the first to manufacture their target molecule. One of the first things that jumped out at me was the tiles as they look really chunky, and I'm a sucker for the tactile nature of placing tiles and considering connections. [The game also looks great as a teaching tool - Chris]

Having looked on the Kickstarter page it looks like people have been receiving their copies from March onwards, so hopefully we'll start to hear a little of how it plays soon, ideally we might even be able to get a hands-on look in a couple of weeks at the Expo.

Inside the Box also has a mailing list for their next Kickstarter project, 'Statecraft', something I wouldn't be surprised to see pop up in some form at the UK Game Expo. From what information I've found on their site it looks like you'll be playing as political candidates trying to increase your chances of election by making promises and decision that raise and lower your popularity with different groups.

Interestingly the cards have two sets of values on their faces and from the way they're laid out it appears that you can chose to take a stance one way or another on the issues relevant on the card to different effects.

As someone who plays a lot of boardgames on my lunch break I was drawn to the fact that both games seems like they’d be great for those of us with busy schedules as they are able to support small and large group sizes (2-6 for Molecule and 2-8 for Statecraft) and designed to be played through in comfortably under an hour.



Wednesday, 25 May 2016

[actual play] Kingdom Death: Monster - Lantern Year 19 - 20 - The Death of a Saviour

Aeson, Agarve, Alclemen and Aethra left the camp, knowing the that the King's Man lurked in the dark. But off to hunt they went. They followed the migration of the antelope, and came upon a fresh kill, with Aeson hacking away an organ from the corpse. Further did they travel, but as they stalked the antelope a large white lion attacked.

Blessed such that they were the hunters fought, and with skill made quick work of the lion, with Aeson gaining some mastery over the Twilight Sword he now bore.

With the lion dead, the hunters returned to camp as the skies opened and drenched the lands with acid rain. Some stone sizzled and bubbled, forming a metallic ore of some use. And the camp put their kill to good use, fashioning for the blue saviour Alcmene Alcestis, a lantern glaive.

Alcestis and her daughter Alcmene, Alcleme, and Asterion set out to face the King's Man that now stalked the camp. The fight began with some hope, a little hope, with Alcestis darting in and creating openings for the others to attack. Asterion, showing mastery of swords, attacked and hacked the King's Man with a steel sword taken from the first the camp had faced. Open wounds on the beast erupted with acid blood, and the monster's halberd ripped open the guts of Asterion and Alcleme, leaving just Alcestis and her saviour daughter to fight on. But it was no good.

Those survivors in the camp set out to find their missing brethren, and discovered their bodies and gathered their weapons. What remains were put to good use. The camp let out a cry, and a babble of different languages came from all present. Anthas Aiakos was overcome with the new language and his gibberings were unnerving to the others.

With the remains of their fallen brethren, and the resources already in the camp, they fashioned a beacon shield, something that should help defend against the worst monsters they would have to face.

The Twilight Knight returned and challenged Aeson, with Aeson proving his skill and learning more about the art of the Twilight sword. The knight promised to return. Aeson was getting old though, and he had much to learn in little time. The return of the knight was timely, as the people of the camp watched as the lantern horde began to dim. They were able to find a cavern below it, and there, waiting, was a cloaked being, somehow feeding from the lanterns. And it gave off a palpable aura of death. The camp discussed their plans, and the only option was to fashion a great weapon to slay the creature when it awoke.

So that was a hell of a TPK. And a waste of the blue saviour. I had hoped the bonus reach on weapon they got with the spear, and the King's Step on Alcestis, and the katar user, would be able to get through the hit locations and armour. But the dice just turned on me bad. 

[unboxing] Kingdom Death: Monster - Slenderman

Slenderman is a model I already own as a prerelease resin kit, but today I got my expansion kit plastic version. The model not only is stunning looking on the sprues, but the new sets of cards and options it brings are very cool. Slenderman replaces some of the events in the campaign, provides some new gear and some other options. Unlike other nemesis monsters, Slenderman gives access to a new innovation and access to new items that are made from him and the strange black liquid that you can get off him. Slenderman fights on first reading seem to revolve around some teleportation shenanigans and story wise he is a horror the survivors of the camp can barely remember. I will more than likely add him into my Dragon King campaign which will begin in a few weeks, and see what happens. 

Monday, 23 May 2016

[UKGE 2016] Things We Want to See - Dust Adventures

Dust Adventures is produced by Modiphius under license from Dust Studios. For context the rpg is based upon the popular wargame, created by Paolo Parente, and which has seen many guises, such as Dust Tactics, Dust Warfare, and Dust Battlefield (Warfare is notable for Andy Chamber's involvement). Dust is also seen as the a sort of legacy of Paolo's work while at Rackham. Dust features prepainted minis and is set during an alternate WW2, where alien technology has led to WW2 becoming drawn out, and mecha battle-suits and walkers dominate the theatres of war. Three major factions are available in the game; the Germans - who have been purged of the Nazis by the Blutkreuz Korps, the Allies - who rely on cobbling together stolen tech to fight their enemies, and the Sino-Soviet Union.

Dust Adventures is thus a rules light game for stories of espionage, battle, and perhaps even life behind the front lines, during this "Weird World War", where alien technology empowers the battles across the globe.

Character creation is reminiscent of Fading Suns, with a life path style to building a character. Dice rolls use symbol based d6s (basically you are rolling a d3), and dice pools are rolled with 5-6 being a success, and the other results adding specific effects to the dice result. Thus most rolls in the game are simple and require a degree of success, and combat is resolve with opposed rolls, where ties are broken by comparing the other possible results.

Ultimately the game poses an interesting setting, that oozes pulp adventure and noir thriller. Add in the mecha elements, and alien tech, and what we have is something that has the feel of Indiana Jones, mixed with some of the mecha action that makes Warmachine so popular. In many respects then the Dust rpg can be compared to the Iron Kingdoms rpg. Both rely on systems developed from their respective wargames, but both also use worlds at war, which draw on our own world history for inspiration. Where Warmachine is Napoleonic warfare amped up with magic technology, Dust is the WW2 on super science. But just because Dust rpg is derived from the wargame, that should not mean the only stories you can tell are about a team on the front line. You could play researchers looking for the next bit of alien tech, out in the depths of the Amazon, or perhaps you play a team of Mission Impossible type spies, looking to infiltrate the SSU and extract a valuable agent.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

[actual play] Kingdom Death: Monster - Lantern Year 18 - The Shield of Agelasta

Agron, imbued with a sense of destiny having seen a god fall to earth, led Anthas, one the strongest of the tribe, and youngest, Alclmen, and the green saviour, Odysseus, on a hunt for a lion. Together they had prayed at the tribe shrine and were ready to face the dark.

Out in the plains they came upon a sculpture made by the Lions. It was covered in trinkets, grass and human fingers. They all looked upon it and marvelled and began to understand better what they hunted. Travelling onwards they came upon a valley of jagged stone, and just barely got through without a cut or scrape.

Before them was a vale of golden grass. They were cautious, for in the grass a lion could lurk.They tried to wade through, but lost their way. As they left the grassy plains they witnessed a light on the horizon. There was screeching and wail, before a sudden explosion of colour. But the hunters should no fear and continued on.

It was as they travelled, Anthas suggested a word game, to pass the time, but the noise of their game attracted the beast they hunted. They were ambushed.

Helps that he's lucky!

Through careful positioning and well timed attacks, and Alclemen using the Cat Eye Circlet to foresee any potential trap the beast could be planning, the Lion was methodically attacked and killed by Odysseus and Agron.

Returning to the camp, the hunters witness a deluge of acid rain. And so as the others ran for cover, Agron danced in the burning rain. He would not be travelling on the hunt next as he was later found with burns across his skin.

As the camp gathered and prepared for the next hunt, they could see a familiar figure illuminated in the distance. The King's Man had returned, and this time Alcestis would ensure the camp would have their revenge.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

[actual play] Kingdom Death: Monster - Lantern Year 17 - The Death of a Star

The camp was met once more by a mysterious traveller, of the order of Twilight Knights. He handed them a package, and within, and Aeson drew from it the Twilight Sword.

Agarve, Shining Fool of Darkness, and leader of the tribe, led Aethra, daughter of Aiakos (who was murdered by Agarve), Agron, and Actor, son of Alcetis, out to face the returning threat to the tribe - the Butcher.

The hunters laid their trap, near many fallen pillars and a giant stone face. The plan was for Agarve to take some of the punishment, driven by her own madness of immortality, and for Aethra to form another front with her shield and her fathers legendary sword. Aiakos was to circle about the beastly man, and use his storm of attacks from his Katars to tear the Butcher apart, while Actor was to also launch supporting attacks with his spear.

The fight was bloody, with Actor using the horn helm to inspire the others to further heights of insanity, in order to prepare them for the deathly gaze of the Butcher. They all barely survived the mind breaking attacks of the Butcher, with Actor eventually falling to a series of brutal attacks and the Butcher biting at his face, ripping arteries open and smashing Actor's jaw apart.

It was by then that the Butcher was already seriously injured, and with Agarve drawing the beast's attention, Aiakos leapt through the air, rending the Butcher apart is a flurry of attacks, inspired by the way the White Lion would fight. In a flash the Butcher exploded, sending shattered lanterns about.

Returning to the settlement of Agelasta the returning hunters looked in to the sky and witnessed a blinding light. It was different to that which had previously illuminated the perpetual darkness of the world. Rather than bathing them in warm light, it was the night sky screaming and a single point of light radiating as waves of cloud expanded from it.

Aethra rested at the camp, her broken rib mending. She also gave birth to a fit an healthy son, Anthas Aiakos. He was much like his grand father and grew to be one of the strongest of the tribe, and a master of swords like his family before him.

Praying at their shrine the tribe prepared for the next hunt, blessing their armour.

Agron however was elsewhere. He saw a streak of light strike down in the distance. He travelled to what was a steaming crater, and saw a gigantic wing creature dead in the smouldering blast crater. From the chest of the dead beast a naked man emerged, and leaves as Agron hides. Seeing his chance, Agron slides down the side of the crater and pulls from the beast carcass a shimmering membrane, that he dons as a cloak. He looks down and sees how his hands now soaked with ichor, cause everything he touches to melt. Agron looks back up to the sky in the direction of the strange lights he had seen, and is able to see the stars for the first time, and understands that the dragon is a dead star.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

[UKGE 2016] Things We Want To See - Dark Souls the Board Game

Today I'm writing a preview of the Dark Souls board game that’s currently in the last few days of it’s Kickstarter campaign. 

The board game has been developed by Steamforged Games - creators of the excellent fantasy mob football game, Guild Ball. With the third computer game having been released recently and being stated to be the last in the series, it’s an interesting time to be seeing the universe converted into a board game as it’s a vast and rich world to play with.

The Dark Souls board game pulls from the three games in the series, but not their close family of Bloodborn and Demons Souls. Some bosses that have been revealed even come from DLC packs, with one of the stretch goals bringing everyone’s favourite great-sword wielding giant wolf with the infamous the abyss walker Artorias.

The Kickstarter campaign has gone very well, gaining it’s desired funding in only 3 minutes and rapidly tearing through stretch goals which have added lots of content to the core game and various small expansions included in the pledge.

Steamforged Games seem to have kept things moving along smoothly while also remembering not to promise the moon on a stick. They've improved variety of boss behaviour in a lot of the early goals rather than promising more and more add ons, which hopefully should keep each boss feeling true to their flavour and expected behaviours.

While there are some bosses in the Dark Souls series that serve similar purposes, such as there being a lot of giant guys with swords, the options that have been presented seem to offer quite a lot of variety. For example the three possible dragon bosses you could pick up they range from the rather traditional Guardian Dragon through to the cyclopean Kalameet and the horrific Gapping Dragon.

The game is able to be played solo or with jolly cooperation. Players pick a character from the available classes - which have been greatly expanded with stretch goals - and then set off from their bonfire in search of bosses.

The structure of the game involves striking out from the bonfire and exploring adjoining rooms, each one of which could contain enemies, treasure, or a boss.

Bosses have AI decks which dictate their movement, attack patterns and any openings they leave. As their decks don’t get shuffled you can learn the pattern to its movements and get an idea how to anticipate its attacks, at least until it gets to half health and, in typical Dark Souls style, gains a powerful new move and shuffles it routine.

After defeating the mid boss you place a new bonfire room and it becomes a checkpoint in your further adventures. The encounter deck is then swapped with a more difficult version and players can soldier bravely on towards the final boss.

One of the things that really stood out from the game-play videos that can be seen as part of the campaign is the risk reward mechanic that ties stamina to health, players can continue to act and burn through stamina but it fills in the same bar as taking damage so a player that tries to really push the advantage can leave themselves open. It feels very apt for the setting and feels like a great way to emphasise the danger of combat in the Dark Souls series.

While I’ve already backed the game I’m looking forward to getting some hands on time at the Steamforged Games stand at the UK Games Expo in Birmingham in June. (, it feels like it might scratch a similar itch to Kingdom Death while not requiring a multi week commitment to complete a campaign.