Friday, April 18, 2014

Review: Cops & Robbers

Recently I was wading through the morass of gaming awesomeness that is BoardGameGeek when I came across a thread by a new game designer/publisher asking for a review of their game. They would even send a review copy for free for anyone willing to play it and write about it.

Having written a few review-type-things before, I decided to give it a go and try out a proper, official review. A few PMs later and a copy was winging it's way to my door.

That game is Cops & Robbers, designed by Kieran Billings. It is a simple, fun game about stealing loot and running from the fuzz. The game consists of three different decks of cards, aptly named Cops, Robbers and Loot:

Anything else would be confusing really.
Robber cards consist of sneaky tricks, bonuses to help you escape the cops and penalty cards to screw with the other players when they make their getaway.

Some of the most important types of Robber cards are Getaway cards which represent your getaway car and all the cool modifications you've made to it to better cheese it when the cops appear.

This would totally be my car.
The object of the game, of course, is to get loot. The Loot deck contains all sorts of shiny things to steal, although occasionally you end up with nothing. Too bad it still counts against you if you come up empty handed!

Finally you have the Cop cards, which you must evade to keep your loot. Sometimes your illegal activities draw no attention at all, but each Loot card means more cops, and sometimes you can end up caught no matter how crafty you are.

Games are either played until one player reaches a certain amount of Loot, or for a fixed time period, at the end of which the player with the most Loot wins. All players start with five Robber cards and must draw/discard back to five at the start of each turn.

During a turn a player may lay low and draw two more Robber cards for more heist options, or steal stuff, netting one Robber card and one Loot card to add to the pile of stuff to stash later. During either of these actions, a player may play other cards, including adding to their getaway car.

Alternatively, a player may try to stash the Loot they have stolen so far, triggering a getaway sequence. During a getaway, the player running draws one Cop card for each Loot card stolen and must have bonuses equal to the number of cops or more to escape. This might be simple, except that other players may play penalty cards to worsen your chances. Unless you have some bonus cards or some sneaky tricks, you'll find yourself behind bars quick.

What going to jail might look like.
If you escape, your Loot cards go to your stash and are off limits for the rest of the game. Loot doesn't count for your victory total until it's stashed, so it pays to get it done quick. However, if you are caught, you lose the Loot you haven't stashed yet, your sweet ride (i.e. getaway cards) and you lose a turn while you sweat it out in jail.

I have to say, I did have a lot of fun playing Cops & Robbers. I was a little worried about writing this review because the game is definitely not like my usual fare. However, it was a nice diversion, and I do like the design of the game. There are both "gotcha!" and press-your-luck elements, meaning you are just as likely to be screwed by your opponent as by your own decisions. The rules are simple and straight forward, and the game would be very good for playing with family, other non-hardcore gamers or as a light filler during game nights.

Being a preliminary copy, it has a couple of rough edges I would like to see worked up before its final release. The rules are simple, but the rulebook could be a little clearer in places. The Robber cards lack art right now, but Kieran promises that they will have more of the same great art (which is nearly finished).

In closing, I recommend giving Cops & Robbers a chance. Not only will you be getting a fun game, but you will be helping out a new game designer, which I think we can all agree is great for the hobby as a whole. The game isn't commercially available yet, but the Kickstarter campaign opens up April 20th and will continue until May 18th. Toss a few bucks at it and get a fun game! And in the meantime, check out the Devious Games blog for rules and updates!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Tabletop Day 2014 Mini-Report

I never remember when Tabletop Day is. I always miss it or find out it is coming up too late to plan anything fun. It would seem like an day I would be counting down to all year but somehow it always eludes me.

It is like the Saola of dates.
This year was no exception.

However, I did vow that after I got out of work and had dinner, I would devote the rest of my evening until midnight to gaming. Being that I found out short notice and I am filled with unmitigated hermit-ness, this was going to be a solo gaming experience. I'm fairly used to this situation, so I was well prepared.

I started with a game of Song of Blades and Heroes. While not a solo game per se, it is well suited to solo play since you never know when a turn will end. My dungeon adventurers went up against a combined force of dark elves, lizardmen and goblins. The adventurers lost half their numbers but ultimately prevailed. I did learn that lizardmen make excellent heavy hitters, especially with loads of goblins to hold down their target while they do the hitting. However, there is very little that can stop a combat 5 dwarf fighter once it makes contact, especially with a wizard giving magical support from the edge of a wood. My favorite part of the game came when the dark elf priestess and the templar came face to face in a battle of holy wrath.

The priestess retreated shortly thereafter, being combat 1.
After that, I went with The Lord of the Rings LCG. I chose the Flies and Spiders adventure from The Hobbit: On The Doorstep, as I hadn't played it before and it looked like a good challenge for my Leadership/Spirit dwarf deck. As uisual, I went with Easy Mode, because I like having a chance to win once in a while without devoting every second of my life to the game. It is an interesting scenario to play single deck solo, and actually a little easier because you don't have to manage two staging areas in the late game.

That said, I got mercilessly murdered by spiders on my first play through. Even though I began the game with Gandalf, my hand was otherwise pretty bad and I rushed the first couple stages. When I hit the Spider Glade, I found myself with too few allies to deal with the pile of spiders that came at me. Game Two was different, though. I started not only with Gandalf again but an Unexpected Courage on Dain to keep him ready. I slowed down a bit and had plenty of support in the late game.

The field two turns before winning the scenario.
Finally, as the night was drawing to the close, I decided to play something a little less brain-burning to wind down. I chose Castle Panic, which is one of my fave solo time-fillers.

The Goblin King brings a few friends to the board early on.
I won this game fairly easily due to a good series of hands. It was a fun game though and ended just 2 minutes before midnight! I managed to get all my games in before Tabletop Day ended!

So, that was my Tabletop Day celebration. It wasn't much, but it was a good excuse to get a few solid hours of gaming in and make use of the old underground lair for some me time. Maybe next year I can remember when it's coming up and plan some non-hermit activities.

I wouldn't count on it.
Here's hoping your Tabletop Day was more exciting than mine. Happy gaming!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Deep Dark Dungeons Dungeon Crawl Rules

For a while now, I've been playing dungeon crawls with Song of Blades & Heroes and Song of Gold & Darkness. I love both rulesets, but I've found SGD to be extremely focused on two players going head to head. This isn't a bad thing, but I prefer a more co-operative experience, especially one that can be played solo.

So slowly I began making small changes, adding random tables and generally fiddling around with each game until I think I am somewhere close to that goal. At the very least I'm having fun with it and I have been getting a lot of requests to see what I'm using, so I am ready to let people have a look-see at the rough draft.

I do want to stress that last part. These rules make sense to me and I'm not 100% sure I've articulated them properly. I've no doubt forgotten things I do and there may be holes I've missed entirely. I'll be happy to address any questions that pop up and there will most definitely be revisions in the future.

So, without further ado, here are the rules for Deep Dark Dungeons. Just click the link below to grab the PDF. You will definitely need copies of Song of Blades & Heroes and Song of Gold & Darkness. These rules do not stand alone and I may possibly have slipped a few other rules for other supplements that I've forgotten about as well.

Deep Dark Dungeons V1.0 (3/21/14)

I hope that everyone finds these fun and I'm sure that I'll get some good feedback on making the rules clearer. My hope is that maybe I will find the time and ambition to work this into a full SBH stand-alone game similar to Song of the Splintered Lands or Song of Arthur & Merlin. That might be a pipe dream because I am monumentally slow at this sort of thing, but one can always dream.

As always, if you like what I've done here and wish to support the cause, there is a lovely little donate button on the left hand of the page.

Happy gaming!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Battle Report: Defend The Brew!

Lately I've been jonesing for a Song of Blades and Heroes skirmish, and in the name of expedience, decided to play a game with basic profiles from the book. This is something I rarely do outside of teaching games, since the warband calculator is so damn fun. The narrative I had chosen, though leant itself toward something basic.

You see, a dwarven community with a fantastic brewery had caught the attention of a band of hobgoblin raiders. A frosty dwarven brew would be just the thing to quench their thrist after a long day of pillaging and warfare! While the brewers and craftsmen locked themselves behind sturdy dwarf doors, a small band of dwarf heroes prepared to defend the town.

The Attackers:
Hobgoblin Heavy Infantry Leader and 2 Bugbear Warriors
3 Hobgoblin Warriors and 2 Hobgoblin Archers (Crossbowmen)
The Defenders:
Dwarf Orcslayer, Dwarf Commander, Dwarf Dragonslayer, Dwarf Elite Crossbowman and 2 Dwarf Warriors
The attackers were 3 points over the 300 point limit, and the defenders were from a previously made list, putting them at a slight disadvantage because the Orc and Dragon slayers would be paying for abilities they wouldn't be using. To that end, I chose to swap the Dragonslayer's Lethal to Big creatures for this game.

The two forces set up ready to do battle, the dwarves seeking to use buildings to anchor their line, while the hobgoblins seek to gain some high ground.

The hobgoblins gain the initiative, sending the bugbears out to soften up the dwarves as the archers take the hill. The dwarves react by sending the Dragonslayer out to meet the bugbears head on and taking cover behind a building, trusting her combat skills to wreak havoc while making the goblinoids come to them.

The tactic pays off, as the Dragonslayer fells a bugbear in a single blow. The Orcslayer rushes out to assist and gets smashed in the face for his troubles, stunning him.

Taking back the initiative, the bugbear smashes the stunned Orcslayer into the dirt while the hobgoblin line advances. The archers rain a few ineffectual arrows down on the dwarves, the sturdy dwarf mail easily turning their jagged points.

Screaming oaths of vengeance, the Dragonslayer launches herself at the last bugbear and severs its head cleanly in a single stroke. The horrific display breaks the hobgoblin line, punching a hole for the dwarf warriors to rush the leader. They quickly hack him to pieces, sending the hobgoblins literally running for the hills.

At last the dwarven brew was safe. Songs were sung of the Orcslayer's brave exploits and the heroes enjoyed copious amounts of the finest ale for leagues around. All on the house of course!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

It's Adventure Time (Card Wars)!

I'm a pretty big fan of Adventure Time. I love the way it spoofs geek culture and find it pretty goddamn hilarious. One of my favorite spoofs is from the fourth season, when Jake and Finn play a game of Card Wars.

Don't know what I'm talking about? Well here's a taste:

As you can see, its pretty much one big send-up of Magic: The Gathering and CCGs in general. Being a gamer, I couldn't help but want to actually play that game, pig and all. So imagine my unbridled glee when I found out Cryptozoic Entertainment was actually making a real life version of Card Wars!

That's right, they didn't just make an Adventure Time card game. They actually made the game the characters play on the show. Obviously the hologram technology in the episode is a long way off, but for bits of cardboard and paper, they did a mighty fine job.

Cryptozoic has produced two double deck sets: Jake & Finn's decks (from the episode); and BMO & Lady Rainicorn's decks. Two themed decks together in a starter is a great deal for 20 bucks. So far, I have only acquired the Jake & Finn set.

It comes with Jake's 40 card Cornfield deck, Finn's 40 card Blue Plains deck, 8 oversized landscape cards (4 for each deck) and a bunch of tokens for damage.

The landscape cards come in sheets paired with 10 tokens or so, which have 1 and 3 marked on either side of them. I will say that the tokens are hard to punch out without ripping, and I find them a bit fiddly. I suggest finding two D10 dice for each player and a handful of small D6s to record creature damage. But, if you don't have that at hand, the counters work just fine.

The object of the game is to use your creatures and spells to reduce your opponent from 25 life to zero, thus becoming the Cool Guy and obtaining all the gloating rights that entitles. Plus, the Cool Guy gets to go first in the next game played, so there's that too. If no one is obviously the coolest, the first player is chosen randomly.

Probably not going first
Each player places their landscape cards touching each other in a row, then matches them up to form lanes. Creatures and buildings are played to these lanes in order to fight, and an undefended lane can be used to damage your opponent.

Each player shuffles and draws 5 cards. The starting player goes first and cannot floop or fight on the first turn. A card is drawn at the start of each turn and then a player has 2 actions to play cards with. There are 3 types of cards: spells, creatures and buildings.

Each card costs 0, 1 or 2 actions, and requires that many of a certain type of landscape to play. Spells are played for their effect and are discarded. Creatures are played directly into lanes and stay in play until they are killed or a player chooses to replace them with another creature from their hand. Buildings are played below a lane and affect that lane with it's abilities, remaining in play until an effect removes them or they are replaced like a creature. Cards can only be played on your own turn.

Some cards have the ability to floop to use abilities. This is basically tapping, like in Magic, so the card is turned sideways and stuff happens. Flooping doesn't cost actions and can be done anytime before or after an action is used. Cards may not floop during combat, so floop wisely beforehand.

Combat is pretty straight forward. Each non-flooped creature attacks one by one in the order you choose. If there is a creature in the attacker's lane, they both do damage to each other. If enough damage is dealt, a creature dies. Attacking an empty lane means you hit your opponent directly. A creature only attacks in its own lane, but cards can be used to move them around before battle to give you a "strateegic advantaage."

Overall, I find the game extremely fun. The rules are simple and straightforward, I love the art and the concept of making a game from a show rather than out of a show is a pretty neat concept to me. I like that I'm taking the role of Finn or Jake rather than waiting for my Finn or Jake card to pop out of my deck. I also like that combat has a spatial element to it, which is a lot easier to grasp than, say, Magic's combat clusterfuck. It also makes your choices of placement very meaningful and adds a good layer of strategy to an otherwise pretty basic game.

I also really like the landscape setup because it keeps the play area minimal. All the action takes place either on the landscape or directly below them. It's hard to find a CCG style game that can be played on a restaurant table or TV tray that doesn't turn into a sprawling mess. The games are also fairly short too, with most lasting less than 20 minutes.

You can also build your own decks. While the release format is 2 complete decks per box, you can mix and match the cards to build unique decks. As long as you don't include more than 3 of any card and have enough of each landscape needed, you can go to town. As the decks include only 1 of certain cards, getting a full playset of every card is a little price ($120) it's still far less than most Magic sets. Still, I'm perfectly happy with the decks as is and find learning to play each one part of the challenge, so I don't think I'll be deck building any time soon.

There are 2 things I don't really like about the game. The first is that the decks included in the Jake & Finn set have a complexity disparity. I'm starting to get the hang of Finn's deck, but it is obviously harder to play than Jake's. Finn's deck plays very much like a blue deck in Magic, with lots of tricks and creatures that are a little sub-par on their own but can be paired with some sneaky effects to get the most out of them. Jake's deck on the other hand, plays much like a red deck, with some direct damage and a bunch of really great attackers, so the learning curve is a lot lower. So, for new players, hand them the cornfields until they have a good grasp on the mechanics.

The second is that there is a major wasted opportunity in the set. You see, one of the pigs has a secret message to be decoded on it, and they included a little sheet of red plastic to decode it with.

This is really exciting at first, because you think you'll find some great secret, a tip or maybe a fun joke. Well I'm going to spoil this right now:

It's an advertisement. For the iOS game. That's it.

Crypytozoic took a fun idea and ruined it with marketing. Instead of having something that might drive sales of future sets by adding something fun for collectors, they chose the most boring route possible and made us all feel like a dumbass for staring through that little red piece of plastic. So yeah, toss that little red plastic card away. I assume the same is true for the BMO/Rainicorn set, but if it isn't I'll let you know.

All that aside, I can't wait to get the second set and start exploring the play styles in there. I'm intrigued by the name "Useless Swamps" for BMO's deck and (as a black deck player in magic) really want to see what kinds of funny cards show up in it.

I really recommend picking up at least one set of this game. It's light, fun, great for younger players and is a good way to get that Magic "fix" without busting out the 1000 card collection to cobble together a decent deck. Plus you get to be the Cool Guy once in a while.

Unless you suck at card games. A lot.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Grave Encounters

Thanks to one of my gaming resolutions, I have finished my first painted minis of the year. I haven't been quite reaching the 2 hours a week mark, but the resolution itself has at least inspired me to get off my ass, and I suppose that's really what resolutions are for.

The first thing I want to show off are some gravestones:

They aren't anything special, just extras from Games Workshop zombie sprues from almost a decade ago. I've had them forever and always wanted to do something with them. Strange Aeons calls for grave markers in some scenarios, so I figured I'd use these. They were basically free, plus one penny each for the bases. The pennies are great because they take up much less space than a 25mm base and are low to the ground, which is wonderful for small terrain pieces. Plus, you know, they cost a penny.

Of course, you can't have graves without something to come out of them:

I had 3 very creepy zombies from my Reaper Bones Kickstarter and it seemed like a perfect time to get them painted. I really love how Bones minis paint up and I didn't even bother to prime these. The undercoat went on like a dream and seems to be pretty tough on it's own. Not necessarily something I would do all the time but it's good to know for simple pieces like these.

The zombies I also painted up for Strange Aeons, but they have a hundred other obvious uses. I gave them blue glowing eyes to try for an arcane feel, rather than a virus or disease. These are zombies raised for purposeful mayhem, not a product of mere random chance.

You way notice the bases are a little different than my usual work:

On the left is the basing technique I have used for years. It's fine model train ballast held down with school glue and liberal layers of paint. It generally takes forever to dry but creates a nice, solid base with more texture than regular sand but not overwhelming chunkiness.

On the right I used The Army Painter's Brown Battleground Basing. I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, the bases get done in a single layer and no extra paint is needed. On the other, it's quite a bit chunkier than my usual basing and the color isn't 100% to my taste. The lack of a top layer of paint also makes it a little more fragile.

Here are the two materials side by side:

If you clicked the product link above, you may notice a big difference in the color. I was a little disappointed, as I was expecting a more even coloration that I could then drybrush with my chosen highlight. The way it is, the highlight is sort of included. Now, I could always add more paint but that sort of defeats the purpose in the first place. Still, for about 4 bucks it's an interesting alternative. It would be good for quick and dirty jobs, like the zombies, and I could keep the other basing for more detailed jobs. Of course my laziness may win out in the end and all my bases may end up covered in it.

So there you have it: gravestones, zombies and a mini basing review. That's all for now and happy gaming!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Strange Astronomy

I don't usually work in public. The noise, curious onlookers and general disruption is simply not conducive. But the sun was shining and an empty stomach can be just as much a distraction or more. So I packed up my papers with a few books and went down to university cafe.

I was halfway through my cup of coffee and scribbling in my notebook when I noticed him. A young man had seated himself across from me at my otherwise secluded table. I'm sure I scowled as I pushed my barely nibbled sandwich to the side, making a bit of room. Despite this, he smiled warmly.

"Doctor Iverson?" he said, extending a hand which I grudgingly took. "I'm an admirer of your work. I couldn't help but come over and say hello."

I was surprised, certainly. He was young, but not quite young enough to be one of my students. He was certainly not old enough to be the kind to consort with the sort of stodgy, aged academia that would be interested in the few papers I had published. His blue-grey suit and fedora combination certainly didn't lend itself to that conclusion. Despite it being eleven o'clock in the morning, he looked ready for a night on the town. With a raised eyebrow, I shook his hand.

"Astronomy doesn't get many admirers," I replied. "Certainly not my brand of theoretical astronomy. I'm not even sure my colleagues appreciate my efforts." I chuckled, though half serious in my sentiments.

He smiled again, and it struck me oddly, as if his mouth were abnormally wide. As I looked him over more, he seemed sickly pale. His large eyes, which at first I had taken for sparkling with interest, now seemed glassy. The hand he had proffered suddenly felt clammy and I withdrew my own, surreptitiously wiping my palm on my pants under the table. If he noticed and was offended, he made no sign.

"Someday they will understand, Doctor," he said, his voice sounding serious in contrast with his outward demeanor. "There are more things in heaven and earth..." he paused mid-sentence, making a gulping sound before continuing, "than you could ever dream of. Your work has the potential to touch the gods themselves."

At this statement I did laugh. "Well, I don't know about that. All I am doing is trying to find stars we can't see yet, the ones beyond our telescopes. Charting gravity wells and the like. If God exists, sir, I doubt he cares much about my work, mister..." I trailed off, realizing he hadn't given his name.

"Wells," he replied, "John Wells. God exists, Doctor, and is much different than we imagine. It was a pleasure to meet you, Doctor Iverson. I really must be going." He made that strange gulping sound again then stood, smiling that odd smile, and strode away with an odd, bow-legged gait that caused him to bob through a crowd of students before disappearing.

Bewildered, I shook my head and went back to my work. Unfortunately, I ended up returning to my sandwich as I could not finish my notes. In addition to being thoroughly disrupted, I had left my star charts in my office, though I thought I had brought them with me.  I'm still having trouble locating them and fear I may have lost them on the way to the cafe.

It simply does not pay to work in public.