The Raft Lookout

To celebrate the new year, I’ve decided to introduce a new section to the blog. In semi-regular intervals, I want to present new(ish) gaming-related stuff that caught my eye. For the first installation, I’ve found four items which might be of interest to you.

Peter Pig has launched The 15 Mill, a new pdf magazine “that promotes the use of 15mm miniatures and modeling in wargaming”. As 15mm is a scale very dear to my heart, I find this a commendable enterprise! What is even more exciting is the fact that each issue will include a small game (or “gamette” as they call it), and for each of those games, Peter Pig will produce a special pack of figures.

15mill gamette 1 th eduelThe first figure pack is now available: it’s a lovely set of duellers (so we can get an idea what the first game will be about…). The magazine itself contains all sorts of useful articles and is not limited to Peter Pig-related topics. It is available for free, so why not give it a try and download it here?

cover-smallThe end of 2018 saw another new magazine launch, namely TooFatLardies’ Lard Magazine. It supplants the old Specials, which have been published bi-annually since 2004. In contrast, the Lard Magazine will be an annual publication. However, it looks much more professionally, with a clear and modern layout. As to be expected, the content is of high quality: over 170 pages of Lard, covering all sorts of Lardies games like Bag the Hun, Chain of Command, I Ain’t Been Shot Mum and Sharp Practice. I found the two articles on Kriegsspiel especially fascinating: one on playing it over the Internet and another one on using it to generate tabletop battles. The magazine is available for £6.00 and is highly recommended to all fans of TooFatLardies!

littlewarstv_logoLast summer, a new YouTube channel called Little Wars TV was launched. Produced by an US wargaming club, it features impressive production values. Each episode is centered on a battle, which is recreated on the tabletop. However, this is not your usual blow-by-blow battle report with monotonous dice rolling filmed by a shaky hand camera; rather, it is a professionally filmed and, what is most important, edited account of what happened on the table, interspersed with statements by the players about their plans and reactions. Furthermore, each episode is introduced by a short discussion about the historical context of the battle. This is also very cleverly presented: while it is short and succinct, there is always a short critical discussion about contenting interpretations of the events. The games themselves are also very interesting and it is evident that a lot of thought went into scenario design, with some clever twists and surprises for the players. I also like that, while most of the battle are rather large affairs, they mainly use smaller scales – and those look very good, making nonsense of the trite argument that only 28mm looks good in visual media. Little Wars TV is not only very entertaining, it is also a great inspiration which manages to showcase the best about historical wargaming.

As you know, I’m very interested in co-operative gaming, so I’m happy to see that co-op mechanisms increasingly make their way into the realm of miniatures wargaming. After Andrea Sfiligoi’s pioneering Sellswords & Spellslingers,  Joe McCullough has recently released Rangers of Shadowdeep.

257695Joe is the designer of Frostgrave and the new game seems to share core mechanics. However, it is fully cooperative, with players working together to accomplish different missions. In contrast to SS&SS, which is more of a construction kit, Rangers has a fully developed background world and the characters seem much more pre-defined, each being a ranger with a companion. I’ve not bought it yet, as I still feel like I’m not finished with SS&SS, but I might succumb to the temptation as I’m interested in how Rangers approaches co-operative play. The rules are available via wargamevault as a pdf ($20.00) or as a printed book ($30.00).

And 2019 might bring even more co-operative miniatures gaming goodness: Alternative Armies have announced no less than two sets of co-operative rules: one called Doom Patrol for special operations through the ages and another one, which is in development and might or might not see the light of day, for robots cleaning out a space station. You’ll find more information here as soon as I get it!

Advertisements

Review: Gloomhaven

I’m usually quite resistant when it comes to new & shiny and when I first heard about Gloomhaven, I shrugged it off as yet another Kickstarter hype. However, the more I read about it, the more intrigued I became. When I finally watched the review on Shut Up & Sit Down (which, incidentally, is one of the best video reviews I’ve ever seen) together with K., we both looked at each other and decided: we want this game! I have to admit that I also had a hidden agenda: we’ve been playing D&D with our nephew, but I was really tired of being DM, so I hoped that this game would supplant D&D and get us back to gaming with the kid more often.

IMG_0655

After lugging it home from the local games store – the box weights around nine kilo – K., the nephew and I opened the box and sorted the contents. There really is a lot in there! We were especially fascinated by the sealed stuff – things that you only unpack when certain conditions are met during play.

Gloomhaven is basically a glorified cooperative dungeon crawler. It is also a legacy-style game: The game itself changes permanently when you play it. For example, when you unlock a new scenario, you put a sticker on the map. This, of course, reduces the replay-value, but as the game is designed to take around 100 game session to complete, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem – it will keep you occupied for a long time to come.

IMG_0657

At the core of the game is a card-driven mechanic: Each character has a unique set of action cards which can be played to move, fight and do all sorts of cool special actions. There are no dice – again, each character has his or her unique deck of combat modifier cards. The interesting thing is that those decks can be changed by adding or removing cards, so the probabilities will change with the development of the character – something that would be hard to achieve with dice.

Apart from the single scenarios, which seem to be more or less dungeon bash games, there are also all kinds of events during the travels and in the city of Gloomhaven itself. Together with the branching paths of the scenarios – a finished scenario may unlock two or possibly more other scenarios – this really comes as close to giving the feel of an RPG as a board game without a DM might get. The designer himself compared it with a chose-your-own-adventure book, and this seems about right.

We’ve played three games now. During the first, we where quite overwhelmed by the cards and their interactions, and I already became a bit nervous if this is the right game for us. However, during the second game we already got the hang of it. Gloomhaven is often called a Euro game because luck doesn’t play as big a role as in other dungeon crawlers and knowing when to play the right combination of cards can be the key to success. As a matter of fact, this is not something I usually enjoy, as I prefer a more spontaneous and narrative style of play and get bored by the meticulous bureaucratic planning required by some Euro games. However, when we played it, it worked fine with our style of gaming. Admittedly, after our first abortive try we chose the lowest difficulty setting, which is much more forgiving. And as we are more into it for the story and the crazy action than for the puzzle-solving, we will keep it that way until we are proficient with our characters.

cover

That Gloomhaven manages to convey a sense of narrative after no more than three games does say something about this game. The branching scenarios as well as the event cards create unique decisions that almost from the outset help to define the group and the characters. Will you be reckless? Will you just do the jobs offered or will you stick your nose into things that shouldn’t concern you? Will you be kind to people you meet, or will you prey on them? Such is the stuff stories are made off.

If you want a unique gaming experience and if you have a dedicated group of two to four players who enjoy an RPG experience without anyone wanting to do the hard work of DMing, I can highly recommend Gloomhaven.

Review: XCOM: The Board Game

Last week, Sigur introduced Virago and me to XCOM: The Board Game. In contrast to my mates, I’ve never played the computer game, but when I was a kid, I avidly watched the British TV series UFO, which seems to be the inspiration for the world of XCOM.

cover

XCOM is a cooperative game where the players take to role of the staff of an international organisation defending the earth from aliens. To start with, I have to say that the artwork is not my style. I was a bit surprised by the dark and serious tone, as I expected more of the cheerful camp of the TV series. But then again, contrary to what I might wish this is not an adaptation of the TV series. I like the look of the models though, and Sigur’s paint job transformed them into stunning playing pieces.

The innovative and (for me) new thing about the game is that it is app-driven. That means that an app is taking the role of ‘game master’, pacing the game, declaring events and helping to resolve them. I was first pretty sceptical about such as set-up, as I enjoy the tactile element of tabletop games and wasn’t sure if I wanted digital devices to intrude into this.

1

When you start a game, you first have to choose a scenario and a difficulty level. Each turn is divided into two parts: a real-time phase were things happen (declared by the app) and an evaluation phase where you see if everything you did actually works out. This is a similar mechanic to Space Alert; however, this is also where the similarities between the two games end.

In XCOM, there are several roles for the player to take: there is an Operations Chief, who distributes the funds needed for every action, there is a Captain, who choses missions and sends out soldiers, there is a Chief Scientist who organises research and finally the Commander is responsible for space and air defence.

The interesting thing about this game is that the roles are not only very distinct, they also force you to really concentrate on your job. Conversely, you have to rely on your fellow team members to do their job, as you usually don’t have the time and the information to help them in their decisions. This leads to a kind of tunnel vision, which probably models pretty well how large organisations function. With a good team (and our team was good!) this is also a mode of cooperation that seems to agree with me much more than that of Space Alert, where each action has an immediate influence on each other’s actions and you have to coordinate basically everything all the time. However, the drawback is that player interaction is rather limited, and player interaction is what usually makes cooperative games fun as well as challenging.

Nevertheless, thanks to its strong theme and the interesting mechanics, XCOM is a fun game. With the real-time element and the clearly defined roles it is also unlike other cooperative games I know. I’m sometimes still flabbergasted by the variety of good coop games out there!

4

In the end, the only thing I’m still not completely comfortable with is the app: While it works well in the game and is not intrusive, there still remains the fact that, in a couple of years, the game will no longer be playable. I still don’t like this idea. But I guess this is a topic that would deserve its own blog post…

Make it so!

Lately, I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather, so there was not much gaming (or even painting) going on. However, a couple of days ago, we had some friends over and decided to try a game I’ve had lying around for a while: Space Alert.

Cover

It’s a cooperative game with two unique features: First, it comes with an audio-CD, which provides the instructions for the different scenarios. Second, the main part of the game runs in real-time. Basically, you play the crew of a starship and have to make sure the ship survives before heading into hyperspace. The computer voice, which is provided by the CD, gives you information on threats you have to counter. You can either shoot at them or transfer energy to the shields. However, energy is a limited resource and somebody better be in engineering to make sure that enough is available where it is needed.

IMG_0530

During the second part of the game, all the things you have decided in the real-time environment (and ‘programmed in’ with cards) are resolved and you can see how you have done and whether the starship has survived.

The game is great fun and demands real team work. This is not as easy when a countdown is running and information is coming in all the time. During the first game, which was a training mission, everybody was running around the ship and doing his or her thing, resulting in comical scenes were people were moving past each other without coordination. 

As the game is short – the real-time part of the training missions takes 7 minutes, after which you will need about 15 minutes for the resolution phase – we tried the training mission again. We managed to survive in the end, but considering that this scenario did not use the full rules yet and there are several more different kinds of threats to come, advanced missions are not going to be a walk in the park!

I really like the game. Real-time planning definitely adds to cooperative gaming and the experience is very thematic – it’s a game that really gives that Star Trek experience.

st-games21