More Board Gaming Fun

We are really busy with board games at the moment. Two days ago, friends invited us to play Talisman. The host is a real fan of the game – in fact, he told us that it’s his favourite board game! I’ve never played before and therefore was very curious, especially since it’s a classic and I was interested in how it would put up in relation to modern board games.

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Each of us drew three characters and we could choose one of them. I took the Prophetess, who has some fun abilities. K. was the Grave Robber, while the others were Sorceress and Doomsayer. The game itself is quite fun: You walk around the board, trying to improve your abilities and get equipment so you can enter the dangerous inner regions and finally grab the Crown of Command. The rules are not complicated and the adventure cards provide fun and dramatic encounters. I liked the narrative developing around my character, who was not very powerful but managed to get into the inner regions rather soon. I was the first to have a talisman, but when I decided to tackle the area where the crown was (with the help of a daemon I had befriended with a spell) I was thrown out immediately. Better luck next time!

As the game can go for a while, we decided to split it over two sessions. We took photos of the board and collected all our cards in envelopes, so we can continue as soon as we meet again.

Talisman shows its age in some aspects: It’s quite dependent on luck and dice-rolling, it’s a rather long game and player interaction is not very high. However, it nevertheless is great fun. Drawing an adventure card is always thrilling and the upside of the luck dependency is that the game is rich in variety. I’m certainly looking forward to finishing our session – and I’m still confident that I can get my hands on this crown!

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Another board game we played last week was Mice & Mystics. I bought it some time ago specifically for my nieces and the older one finally wanted to give it a go. She just turned seven and never played anything other than kids games, so I was curious how she would do. At first, it seemed that she was a bit over challenged and I wasn’t sure how much she liked the experience. However, her parents told me that she talked about nothing else than how cool this game was for the rest of the day and she keeps pestering me to have another game, so I guess she did like it. We were also joined by our nephew, who is now 13 and an old hand at geeky board games. He was a real gentleman and contributed a lot to make the game a great experience for his younger cousin.

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Mice & Mystics is a cooperative dungeon crawler mainly aimed at kids. The rules are simple but interesting enough to demand sound tactical decisions. The story is exciting, but it never gets brutal – characters can’t die, they get captured if they have a certain amount of wounds, meaning they can be freed by the others and continue playing. This makes it easier for younger kids, as you are not out of the game if you make a mistake (like in Zombicide). Also, I really like the miniatures and being a fan of anthropomorphic animals I had them painted up a while a go.

Virago told me that his girls also love Mice & Mystics, so it’s highly recommended if you want to introduce your offspring to geeky board games.

Dungeons & Dragons

Role-playing has now become a regular thing for us. Apart from running the occasional game for the nephew, the group that started out almost exactly a year ago still meets. However, we recently changed from Dungeonslayers to the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

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This move was motivated mainly by watching Critical Role. For those of you who never heard of it, Critical Role is a series broadcast by Geek&Sundry where you basically watch a bunch of voice actors play D&D. This is surprisingly fun and after listening to a couple of episodes, K. and I got completely sucked into the story. Highly recommended if you want some background to your painting!

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Critical Role is also a great advertisement for D&D, as it shows the system at its best: engaging characters with clear profiles, dramatic stories and exciting battles. Fortunately, my mate Alex also liked what he saw and had already started to buy the books. After a quick deliberation, the group decided to take the plunge and we converted our Dungeonslayers characters into D&D characters.

Now the first thing I realised is that RPG books don’t come cheap! The next time someone complains about the price of wargames rules, I’ll point out how much one of the D&D books costs. Mind you, I don’t think RPG books or wargames rules are overpriced. Considering the amount of work that goes into them and, more importantly, the amount of gaming you get out of them, I actually think the price is fair.

And the production value of the D&D books is very high. They’re nice hardcover volumes with a clear layout and lots of inspiring illustrations. The rules are presented in a well structured and concise fashion and they even have an index.

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There are several things I especially like: For one, I like how they incorporate diversity without making a fuss about it. The illustrations show male and female characters, the latter clad in sensible clothing, and they also show characters with different skin colour. Second, the rules stress the importance of the narrative and of story-telling. Take the Dungeon Master’s Guide’s advice on running a campaign, for example: Instead of presenting a semi-educated treatise on how to model the economy of the country your campaign is set in (something that was abundant in my roleplaying youth), it gives clear and concise hints about how to structure and develop the narrative of the campaign. In a word: it gives you the information that matters for playing the game, not for inventing a world for its own sake. I also like character creation. The addition of a background is a great thing to give your character profile and it really encourages role-playing.

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We’ve now had a couple of games and while we are still a bit shaky with some of the rules, it’s been great fun for all. We’ve even been joined by two new gamers. I’m looking forward to having many more games of D&D!

On the Painting Table

Not only am I a lazy painter, I’m also conservative and don’t normally change a technique if it works. Nonetheless, I have recently become a bit dissatisfied with my very limited set of skills. Basically, what I do is apply two layers of basecoat, paint the details, apply a wash, varnish. That’s it. This works ok for 15mm, but with 28mm figures, it tends to look a bit sloppy. However, reading about all this fancy shading and highlighting stuff always left me intimitated and being a bit colourblind, I often can’t even tell the difference between photographs of different stages of the painting progress as seen in glossy magazines!

Fortunately, my mate Sigur is a real wizard with the brush – in fact, he’s so good he runs his own figure painting studio, Battle Brush Studios. Two weeks ago, he offered to drop by for an afternoon and give me some basic hands-on introduction into miniature painting. He ended up spending several hours showing me how to layer the colours, how to apply highlights and shading and how to do tricky bits like black surfaces or hair. I have to say that several lights dawned on me when I watched him! Things are so much more comprehensible when someone actually shows and explains them and when you can ask questions. Sigur is a great teacher – maybe he will start to offer workshops. I for one would certainly attend.

This fox from the fantastic Oathsworn Miniatures range was started by Sigur and finished by me. The tunic, the bow, the quiver and the arrows were my first attempts at painting highlights and I think it looks ok.

I’ve slowly started trying the new techniques on some spare Mexican figures. It’s slower than my usual routine, but it’s also fun and rewarding, even if the result is not always as good as I’d wish it to be.

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I’m also going to try it on some 15mm figures – there are some more crewmembers for the ship I want to paint.

I’m a gamer at heart and my primary objective has always been to get stuff ready for gaming. I certainly have no ambition to become a first-rate figure painter. It is, however, nice to add new skills to my repertoire and to be able to actually choose what to do (instead of having to default to the one thing I’m capable of). I don’t have to paint highlights, but now I feel I can if I fancy doing it.

Thanks again Sigur for showing me some techniques. Sometimes, old dogs do learn new tricks!

Apart from the painting, I’ve done some quick terrain building for our ACW games. I’ve made two decrepit huts and started to build an emplacment for a large gun guarding the coast or a river.

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Mass Battles for RPGs

As you know, I’m DMing an RPG group at the moment. Recently, our intrepid band of adventurers ended up helping to defend a village against a small army. They organised a militia, collected allies and prepared for battle. And now I had to think of a way to play out this battle in the course of an RPG session.

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There is an old D&D supplement called Heroes of Battle which deals with just such questions; however it solely concentrates on the characters’ actions and treats the course of the battle as a narrative controlled by the DM. On the other hand, there are of course lots of fantasy mass battle rules out there, but those focus on the units and don’t leave much space for role-playing the actions of heroic individuals.

I wanted something that was very easy and quick – learning detailed wargames rules would interrupt the flow of the narrative and would be too much effort for one small game. I also wanted to have the players’ characters in the center, so their actions would have a crucial influence on the outcome of the fight, while still making it feel like a unit-based engagement.

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After some pondering, I decided to use Neil Thomas’ One Hour Wargames for this task. The rules are very simple and therefore easy to explain, but they also leave a lot of room for amendments.

What did I add? First, I allowed the players’ characters to take command of individual units. The activation was changed from IGO-UGO to an initiative-based sequence like in RPGs, the initiative of the character in command of a unit deciding when it would be activated. Also, characters could make an action each turn, such as attack or do magic, and the effect of their roll would give the unit a bonus for its attack roll (or, if the character made a healing spell, it would restore a couple of hit points).

Those effects were not overwhelming – a +1 or a +2 if the character made a successful attack action. For a critical hit, I decided that the unit would get a +2 and could roll two attack dice, chosing the best one. Successful healing would not restore more than 2 of a units hit points.

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After the players laid out their plans, I made a small sketch of the terrain. I’d already prepared small cardboard markers for the units, spontaneously adding some for the allies the players had made – they managed to convince a band of Orcs to fight in their side!

As far as I can tell, the game was a success. The rules were easy enough that they didn’t distract from role-playing, but the whole thing still made the players feel that their tactical decisions mattered. And, thanks to a well-planned ambush and their orcish allies, the villagers beat the numerically superior enemy!

Experimenting with One Hour Wargames has been great fun, and I can highly recommend to give it a try.