Wave Five!

X Wing Wave 5

My goodness me, have you guys seen this?! Wave Five of the X-Wing miniatures game has been announced today! We’ve only just had the big ships for the Alliance released, and Wave Four previews haven’t completely finished, and yet here we have some more!

That said, they do look really pretty, so I’m sure I could find a place for them in my collection. When I’ll actually get to play with them is anyone’s guess, of course, but even so – the promise of adding Lando, Dash Rendar, Mara Jade and Ysanne Isard to the roster for this game is extremely exciting, to say the least!

swx23-layout swx24-layout

The third quarter is looking to be really interesting for Fantasy Flight Games!

He’s Calling Again!

Hey folks! Welcome back! It’s Tuesday, which can only mean one thing – yep, that’s right, time for me to put another of my favourite board games on show! This week sees the turn of another of Fantasy Flight’s Living Card Games (LCG), The Call of Cthulhu!

Call of Cthulhu LCG

Somewhat based on the HP Lovecraft short story of the same name, it is a card game for two players, where you control factions from the Cthulhu mythos as you struggle to win stories – the first person to win three stories wins the game. Now, you may have discovered, in reading these blogs over the past few weeks, that I am something of a Lovecraft nerd, and furthermore, I really enjoy board games based on Lovecraft’s work. However, I did hesitate a bit about doing a blog on this game, because I’m hardly an expert at it (my stats on boardgamegeek tell me I’ve only actually played it nine times, although that is more than I’ve played the Star Wars LCG…) But, I really like this game. And this is my blog, so I’m just gonna talk about whatever I want! So anyway.

There are eight mythos factions that you can play – seven in the base game, and the eighth released in a deluxe expansion after the fact. As described in the Star Wars blog linked earlier, a LCG is released in waves of six-pack cycles – for Call of Cthulhu, these are called Asylum packs, fittingly. Call of Cthulhu became the first Fantasy Flight LCG to stop releasing small pack expansions back in October 2012, instead moving to the release of one deluxe expansion every four months. While initially, fans of the game feared that this move would spell the end of the game, so far those fears have proven unfounded, as four deluxe expansions have been released since the announcement, with a fifth recently added to the upcoming list, and no end in sight. Anyhow.

The eight factions are roughly divisible between good and evil, reflected in a couple of in-game mechanics such as cards with ‘Heroic’ or ‘Villainous’ traits. However, this is not really a balanced universe, much like Lovecraft’s own work, where the boundaries between good and evil are so very blurry. The Agency and Miskatonic University are both pretty obvious good-side factions, and the four Mythos factions of Cthulhu, Hastur, Shub-Niggurath and Yog Sothoth, are all very much on the evil side. The other two, The Syndicate and The Order of the Silver Twilight, are much greyer. Silver Twilight is ostensibly a good faction, but that is a nebulous connection. Syndicate is even more so.

Call of Cthulhu LCG

Whenever I play, I tend to include Silver Twilight as often as possible because I love the whole secret-society thing. For illustrative purposes here, I’m playing Silver Twilight/Hastur vs Cthulhu/Shub-Niggurath  – deckbuilding in this game is encouraged to mix two factions, though as much as possible good and evil factions are separated – Heroic and Villainous cards cannot be on the same side at the same time, but that doesn’t preclude a Miskatonic/Yog Sothoth deck, for instance.

I play all of the Fantasy Flight LCGs (when I get the opportunity!), and something I particularly enjoy is seeing the similarities and differences between them all. Here, something that is really innovative, I find, is the resourcing system. In most games, resources are built up automatically each round, and are often kept track of with tokens. Here, however, the very cards in your deck become resources! Each card has the faction symbol on the top and the bottom – at the start of your turn, you can choose a card from your hand to convert into a resource, removing it from the game and placing it upside-down under one of three face-down cards that form your domains (seen at the bottom of the picture, above). Players can sometimes gain more domains in the course of the game, but generally they have three, in each of which they place cards to build up their economy. Card costs, printed on the top left of the card, must be met by the number of cards in a single domain. It’s really quite ingenious, and can lead to some pretty agonizing decisions over the course of a game – you’re almost encouraged to “waste” space in your deck by putting in cards for the express purpose of resources, or else you’ll find you have to use precious cards as resources in order to play the game. Fantasy Flight have very recently put together a very astute pair of articles on this precise gameplay dilemma, as it appears to be something that new players really struggle to cope with – here’s part one, and part two is here.

Call of Cthulhu LCG

As well as faction cards, there are also neutral cards that can find their way into any deck. Something that I found early on was that each faction is definitely good at something, sometimes to the exclusion of anything else. Neutral cards can therefore help to bulk out your strategy by adding in some of the blanks.

As I said above, the game is played by two players fighting over story cards, which are arrayed on a small board across the centre of the table. Each story card has four “struggles” along the side of it, and the person who has the most matching icons at each of the four struggles triggers specific effects. Players commit characters to story struggles by ‘exhausting’ them, which basically means turning the card on its side. During the Terror struggle, the person who loses must drive one of his characters insane, removing them from that story. During the Combat struggle, the person who loses must choose one of his characters to take a wound, which more often than not destroys that character. The winner at the Arcane struggle can ready a character, and the winner of the Investigation struggle can immediately add a success token to the story card. After this, the characters remaining at that story have their skill values tallied, and the person with the most skill adds a success token to that story. If you have successfully driven off all of your opponent’s characters, or if no opposing characters were committed, you get to place an additional success token. Stories need five successes to be won, but as you can see, you can potentially place three successes in one round.

Call of Cthulhu LCG

Once a story card has been won, the victor has the option of triggering the one-time effect on that card. These effects range from universally beneficial to universally damaging, so a player can choose not to trigger them if he so wishes. In a nutshell, that is how the game works, so it’s really quite straightforward, but as one of the longest-running LCGs in Fantasy Flight’s stable, there have been a whole slew of new mechanics released since the base game came out in 2009. All sorts of tricks can be played to skew the advantage to your side, such as the card shown attached to the central story, above – forcing three additional terror struggles to be resolved at that story each round!

Something that I really like is the addition of the Conspiracy cards. Basically personalised Story cards, you can see one of these in the previous picture of the Hastur/Silver Twilight play area. Conspiracy cards are played in addition to the Story card lineup, and each player can have one in play at any time, so there can potentially be five cards to be fought for. While the main Story deck has one of each struggle, Conspiracy cards are often skewed towards the faction to which they belong, so Miskatonic University, which isn’t very good at surviving Terror struggles but excels at Investigation struggles, have Conspiracy cards with additional Investigation struggles in place of Terror struggles, etc. Conspiracy cards count towards your Story cards for victory, so you could theoretically win the game by winning three of your own Conspiracies!

Call of Cthulhu LCG

On the face of it, it is such a simple game – throw characters at stories, resolve conflicts, and try to win those stories. However, perhaps because of its longevity, there are now so many little bits and pieces going on that you have a truly immersive experience when you play this game. That said, the game has always had subtlety from very beginning, and this has only been amplified over time, to create one of the greatest of all card games. Perhaps because of that depth, however, it doesn’t find its way to the table for me all that often. I stress again, it’s not a difficult game, it’s just a complex game (there is a distinction there, trust me!) But as such, it doesn’t lend itself well to “fancy a quick and easy game?” situations. Which is a shame, because it is an unjustly neglected masterpiece of the LCG world. Aside from the fact that the art on these cards can be absolutely amazing at times, I often find myself building decks just for the sheer joy of seeing how all the cards could possibly interact, unsure precisely when I’m going to get to play it again.

Call of Cthulhu LCG

There is so much that I like about this game, I just cannot recommend it enough! It’s just wonderful! I have to say, as well, I really applaud the direction that Fantasy Flight has taken with the distribution model. While I didn’t hate the asylum packs, it can mean a massive gaming budget each month with so much new stuff coming out. As it is, the deluxe expansions they have released have really drawn together a much more thematic feel to them. In two broad categories, we have so far seen a pattern of two boxes each devoted to a specific faction, followed then by a more thematic box with a spread of cards for each faction. While I would definitely recommend picking up the asylum packs if you can pick them up, you can really have an awesome time just with the base game and the deluxe boxes – heck, you can have an amazing gaming experience with just the base game!

Call of Cthulhu LCG

Buy it from amazon:
Call of Cthulhu LCG
Secrets of Arkham – cards for all 7 factions, plus a new Story deck
The Order of the Silver Twilight – adds the game’s 8th faction
The Shifting Sands – an asylum pack that adds a third Story deck
Seekers of Knowledge – focusing on Miskatonic University
The Key and the Gate – focusing on Yog Sothoth
Terror in Venice – the pleasures of the Carnevale!
Denizens of the Underworld – focusing on The Syndicate
The Sleeper Below – focusing on Cthulhu

Different Paths

It’s another Star Wars short story! Read Part 1: Chasing Shadows here!


The citadel loomed large in the viewport as Rando brought his ship into the compound. Every time he made this run, he found himself vaguely uneasy, but the credits were just too good to pass up. Maybe soon, he’d score enough to make a living elsewhere in the galaxy… maybe the next time…

There’s always a next time, he thought wryly, as he eased in the repulsorlifts to settle his ship down on the landing pad.

Rando was one of those rare breeds of criminals who didn’t really have an opinion on the course he had plotted for his life. An explosives and demolitions expert, he had drifted through the galactic fringe for years now, selling his skills for the simple pleasure he got from blowing things up. He didn’t think of the destruction and pain he caused as right or wrong – all he knew was that he liked doing it. If people would pay him to do it, then all the better.

And Vrandil paid well, that was for sure.

The landing cycle complete, Rando powered down the engines and eased himself out of the pilot seat. His ship, a trusty Starmite-class freighter he had named Big Blue in a wonderfully uninspired moment after the hull colouring – faded now, of course – creaked slightly as the engines cooled. Locking his blaster in the small safe just behind the pilot seat, he headed for the hatch and Vrandil.

***

Vrandil was a patient man. A Koorivar, his greatest life ambition was the collection of power through money. During the Clone Wars, his ambitions had been frustrated when Passel Argente had sent the species into disrepute through his ties to the Confederacy, and following the establishment of the Empire, virtually all Koorivar had fled the galaxy for the Corporate Sector. His legitimate business in ruins, and his ambitions crumbled, Vrandil had fallen back on some less savoury contacts to begin anew, albeit in the shadows. He now headed a modest network of saboteurs and assassins, allowing himself some vengeance against the Empire that had brought him so low. While he didn’t consider himself a rebel, he nevertheless accepted any contract against the Empire, though usually confined his erasure activities to the corporate world. Thanks to lucrative contracts with Corellian Engineering and Cybot Galactica, Vrandil had regained some of his former prestige.

Vengeance was frowned upon in Koorivar society as ‘unprofitable’, but that didn’t matter to Vrandil. Where was Koorivar society now, anyway? Trampled into the gutters, thanks to the Empire.

He still maintained his citadel on Murkhana in Auril Sector, far enough away from the prying eyes of Coruscant, but close enough to the Perlemian. It made sense to stay. The planet wasn’t what it used to be, of course. The thriving centre of commerce, a powerhouse of Republic fiscal might, it was now a shell of its former self. Nobody would bother him, thinking all the Koorivar had left. Vrandil’s own citadel was largely mothballed, one or two rooms being kept in use while the echoing corridors were left to gather dust. But Vrandil liked it that way, it kept business associates off-balance. Even those rooms he did use were kept in a dim gloom. The whole place had the feel of a house that had been carefully abandoned, which was in some ways a metaphor for Vrandil’s own life.

Right now, the echoing steps coming from the central corridor could only mean one thing: Rando has come for his money. Without staff as such, Vrandil ran his organisation by hiring freelancers when the job needed doing, and while some people were marginally passable, some were downright nauseating. Rando was a middling sort. He was just odd, a bit of a loner from what he knew of him. No denying that he got the job done, but there was something vaguely unsettling to Vrandil, whose years of dealing with a wide variety of species had given him some insight into behaviour. He had subcontracted demolitions experts since starting his new life who had a certain insanity to them, and some who were cooly professional. Rando was just dispassionate, almost disinterested in his chosen line of work. Vrandil found it disturbing, as it made dealing with him difficult. For a species accustomed to reading body language to gain leverage in any situation, the Koorivar found himself floundering whenever he used Rando. But there was no denying his skill.

Presently, the slightly dishevelled, slightly unkempt human came into the gloom of what could be called Vrandil’s audience chamber, and snapped the Koorivar out of his meditations.

“Rando, welcome back”, he got up from his couch in a smooth, fluid movement, preferring to look at his employees on the level. “I hear great things following your work on Felucia.” He smiled at the other man, his thick, greenish-purple, rubbery lips parting to reveal his black, pointed teeth.

Rando looked unfazed. “Thank you, Mr V. Have you got my money?”

“It is in the case to your left”, he gestured to the metal box that sat in a thin beam of light coming through the shades over the windows. “As we agreed, eight thousand in hard currency.” Vrandil thought he would never get used to having to deal in real, physical money after his years spent with credit transfers.

Rando punched the release on the polished cubirian case and cast his eyes over the credits inside. “I thought we’d agreed on twenty thousand for this job?” he asked, not looking at Vrandil.

The Koorivar wondered how far he could push the other. “Eighteen, Rando, you remember that I’m sure? Ten in advance, and eight with the successful completion.” He stroked his hands carefully, eyeing the demolitions expert as if he were about to himself explode.

Apparently, he wasn’t. “Oh, okay then.” Rando closed the case, apparently satisfied. “Can I keep the case?” he asked as he picked it up.

“Of course, I can always get another.”

Rando nodded shortly, almost as if to himself. “Let me know if you have any other jobs, won’t you?”

“You’ll be my first contact, Rando, don’t worry about that.” That smile again.

Rando nodded once again. “Right then, I’ll see you, then.” He turned and left. Vrandil watched him leave on the security monitor, unable to quite believe he’d managed to short the explosives expert on yet another job.

***

Former Senator Giddean Danu sat back at his desk with grim satisfaction. The Koorivar had kept his word, and the Imperials had been ambushed on Felucia. While official figures were difficult to discern, the official news networks had at least reported this act of sabotage, which Danu hoped meant it had hurt them badly. They’ve obviously bought the reports of Gossam rebels, and this will only help to back that up, he thought. He steepled his fingers under his chin in reflection. Of course, having actual Gossam allies would be a great boon. It might be worthwhile investigating. He knew that overtures had been made to the Neimoidians, though he did not know the outcome yet.

Giddean Danu was fundamentally opposed to violent action. Having been the senator for Kuat since before the Clone Wars, he had always striven to find a diplomatic solution, no matter how frustrating things had gotten during the war. But then Palpatine had declared himself Emperor, and everything had changed. Danu had been a signatory on the Petition of Two-Thousand, whose aim had been to force the Chancellor to rescind his emergency powers – for all the good that did. He had initially feared for his life in the wake of the New Order, as many of his colleagues who had also signed it were killed in mysterious circumstances. However, Bail Organa and Mon Mothma seemed to have made it through unscathed. Indeed, Mon Mothma seemed to have become emboldened by that, and had developed into something of a firebrand within the senate.

As for Danu, the pressure had been too much. The appointment of Thichis Kuras as Moff for the Kuati Sector had been the final straw. It wasn’t enough that Kuras was a member of a lesser family than Danu, but the entire position of Moff had undermined any authority Danu had as senator. In complete exasperation, Danu had resigned his office and retired to his family’s holdings, where he had eventually resolved to fight against a political system that he felt was laughing at him. He kept up with political news from the re-named Imperial Center, and from his contacts with fellow senators Organa and Bana Breemu he learnt of the growing resistance to the Imperial yoke. It hadn’t taken much to find someone in his family’s starship manufacturing company with the contacts that led him to Vrandil.

Danu puffed out his breath in a resigned sigh. Gone were the days of his political conservatism. Palpatine had made him a radical – a lawbreaker. Like billions of beings across the galaxy, the Emperor had turned Danu’s life upside-down, and in the process, he had changed as a person. Time to get on with it, he thought to himself.

Game News and More!

It’s Saturday, so where would your day be without a visit to my blog? Where, indeed! As you may have guessed from my recent postings, this past week has been a bit hectic because of Wednesday’s exam, but now that’s finished, I’ve got my four months off, so I’m hoping to get back onto something approaching awesomeness, and I’ll be sharing it all with you! Yes, you are lucky.

Something I’m particularly excited about is my upcoming writing project. Remember last month, I wrote a short story set in the Star Wars universe, and promised more to come? Well, I’ve got lots of ideas kicking around at the minute, and on Thursday night (or, more accurately, Friday morning, as I couldn’t sleep) I started to write the next installment there. It’s something that I’m really looking forward to moving on with, so will be sharing as and when I’ve written them 🙂

It feels really weird to have the time to write, now!

I’ve not been reading much lately, because of the revision schedule I had, but I have finally made it to a couple of short stories in the last few days. First of all, on Thursday I got the new Star Wars Insider magazine, which has a short story set just before – and then during – the end of Return of the Jedi. It has the distinction of being the very first new-canon story, and features a squadron of B-wing pilots. A slightly inauspicious start, as io9 put it, but it was enjoyable all the same, so I’m looking forward to the conclusion next issue.

Haggopian

Secondly, I read the short story Cement Surroundings, by Brian Lumley, which can be found in the second volume of his work set in the Lovecraft/Cthulhu mythos. I’ve wanted to read Cement Surroundings for a long time now – amazon tells me I’ve had the book for eighteen months, already – as it is the first appearance in the mythos of the Ancient One, Shudde M’ell, whom fans of Arkham Horror and related games will know only too well! This story is the first set within the mythos that I have read that was not written by HP Lovecraft, but I have to say, I really liked it! Not as flowery – or as ‘gothic’, I suppose – as Lovecraft himself, Lumley’s style is a bit more direct, albeit with similar Lovecraftian turns of phrase. The situation similarly harkens back to the baroque prince: an elder scholar-type returns from an expedition abroad with a dark secret of having uncovered something untoward, and is slowly unhinged by the experience. In this case, he has discovered the burrowing Cthonians, offspring of Shudde M’ell, and is swallowed up into the earth from his house in the desolate North Yorkshire moors. The narrator, an author we are told, later disappears in similar circumstances, and the story ends with a short police report that writes off the experiences as mere publicity for what is supposed to be the author-narrator’s latest work. It is a whole lot better than I’ve described it, anyway, so I can definitely recommend you check it out if you get the chance! I’ll definitely be checking out more of Lumley’s work soon, I think.

Cthonians

I got really excited on Monday, because it was the festa della repubblica, the Italian National Day. Perhaps what was more exciting for me, though, was having my tweet favourited by Dante!!!

I’ve had something of a love affair with Italy since my mid-to-late teens, and finally getting to go there last year was just immense. I’m hoping to go back soon, though that will of course depend on funds! You can bet there’ll be a blog coming out of that, anyway! I’ve been off-and-on trying to learn the language for years, as well, and while I think I got away with it when I went to Milan, I’m hoping to put more of an effort in for when I go again.

This week has seen some really exciting game news, as well. First of all, we got the news on Monday that the nightmare decks for Khazad-dum are available. This may or may not mean much to you, but anyway. Lord of the Rings LCG is, like, my absolute favourite card game in the universe. When I get the time, I’m planning to write a blog just basically praising it to infinity and back. Without going into too much detail just now, suffice it to say that the nightmare decks alter the original game play quite a lot, but I was part of the beta test for Fantasy Flight Games for these decks, so I’m particularly looking forward to getting the ‘real’ ones!

That news was followed on Tuesday by the announcement of the sixth expansion pack in the Ring Maker cycle for the same Lord of the Rings game. Earlier this year, The Voice of Isengard was released, which really got my year off with a bang because we finally got a Saruman card for the game! In case you’re wondering, Saruman is my favourite character from Lord of the Rings. Anyhow. The model for this game is they release a deluxe expansion, then a cycle of six smaller packs that use specific cards from that deluxe box to function. All of this will become clearer soon, if you’re floundering, so don’t panic! I can’t wait to share my love of this game though!

There was big news on Thursday when the next deluxe expansion for the Star Wars LCG was announced, too! This is the first ‘proper’ deluxe box for this game, though I suppose it follows the model established by Edge of Darkness last year by expanding two of the game’s factions, while providing cards for the other four also. I’d been hoping we’d see more thematic expansions, rather than factional ones, but they may be working on a Call of Cthulhu-style model of giving us factional boxes then thematic ones. I don’t know. Anyway, even though I don’t play this game, as I’ve already said, I get excited when I see what’s coming up for it as if I were a keen player, so that was big news for me!

Finally, yesterday brought us news (though I only saw it this morning) of the next cycle for the A Game of Thrones LCG. This is, I believe, the longest-running of the LCGs from Fantasy Flight Games. Along with the core box and six deluxe boxes that each expands one of the game’s great families, we’re currently in the middle of the eleventh cycle of chapter packs for this game, with the twelfth cycle being announced yesterday. Pretty phenomenal, really! Part of me was wondering if they would put the game on hiatus while GRRM writes the sixth novel, but they keep churning out the expansions, and the game has a thriving meta from all accounts, so fair play! The new cycle does look pretty exciting, if I’m honest – though not because of the Arryns finally making it in. I really like this idea of supporting high-cost characters, so I’m intrigued to see where that goes.

There was also an announcement about the next expansion for Android: Netrunner, yet another LCG that I buy into. Set in the dystopian future of megacorporations and cyberhackers, it’s a really good game, though I do have to be in the mood for it. Fantasy Flight have also announced a new LCG that will be coming out this summer, I’m guessing it’ll most likely be around GenCon as was Netrunner, set in the Warhammer 40k universe. I’m not a 40k fan – despite having spent £90 last year on the Horus Heresy boardgame – so wasn’t overly thrilled when they announced it. In fact, they stopped producing the existing Warhammer: Invasion LCG in order to make room for this, so I’m kinda annoyed by it, but it does look interesting enough, so I might pick up a core set and give it a whirl. It looks very similar to a game called High Command that my mate Tony has, from what I’ve skim-read in previews, and that’s enjoyable enough. But anyway, we’ll see I guess! They gave us another preview of that this week, which is why I’m going on about it now, in case you’re wondering!

I suppose I should keep an open mind, anyway, as I wasn’t overly fussed on Netrunner when that first came out, but it took a game for me to see that it was actually enjoyable, so I’m prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt. Which I’m sure you’re very thrilled to know!

Speaking of gaming – check out the above tweet! It appeared in my feed on Friday from @LoveArchaeology, and really made me laugh! Who remembers the original GameBoy? It’s now a museum piece! Crikey!

 

 

The War of the Worlds

Hey everyone! It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve actually made any post of substance here, what with the exam and all, but now that that’s all behind me I’m hoping to be writing some more. I can already hear the shouts for joy. Today, I thought it would be nice to reminisce on a book I read almost twelve months ago, and which I was utterly captivated by, HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds.

War of the Worlds

Yes, that’s right, it was only a year ago that I got to this cornerstone of the science-fiction genre! Quite shameful really, considering Jules Verne has been with me for so many years now. But anyhow. Despite my penchant for Verne – when I was 10, or 11, Journey to the Centre of the Earth became the first book that I was truly lost in, and just could not put down – I’ve never really considered myself to be a big fan of sci-fi, per se. Yes, I know I’m obsessed with Star Wars, but that’s different. I mean, real hardcore sci-fi stuff I usually have to be in the mood for. Largely because it involves so much physics that I can’t keep up. But anyway. Early sci-fi, like Verne and, as I now realise, Wells, is much more my cup of tea. I mean, it’s all so civilised, somehow!

War of the Worlds appears to be more famous nowadays for its famous radio broadcast in 1938, where, due to the manner in which it was narrated, listeners believed it to be a genuine news broadcast. The book has, nevertheless, been a massive hit, and certainly to my peripheral understanding, is a seminal work of the genre.

When I read the book last year, I was immediately captivated by Wells’ style. I’m not going to launch into some literary critique, because I’m hardly qualified to do that, but I can tell you that the writing is plain and immediate, which I think suits this type of story immensely. A first-person account of the Martian invasion of Earth should, after all, have some immediacy! The Martians are what I suppose you’d call ‘classic’ aliens, with advanced technology that allows them to first of all make the journey in this pre-space age, but also to adapt to the atmospheric differences between the two planets, as seen in the rapid construction of the tripods. The Martian weapon of choice is the heat-ray, which I think I’ve read somewhere is the first appearance of a ray-like-gun in a science-fiction novel.

There is a sense of urgency as we follow the narrator around the countryside, dodging Martian patrols as he tries to make his way towards London, which really drives the story along. The character of the Curate has got to be one of the most annoying I’ve ever come across, but even that can’t detract from the general greatness! There is a sequence where the two are hiding in a deserted house when they find themselves trapped there due to the arrival of more Martians, and I was absolutely glued to the page at that point!

I had no idea how the story would end, as I’ve never investigated any of the films that have been made about it, so was propelled through to the conclusion to find out. I have to say, it felt a bit cheap at first – the Martians, it turns out, have no immunity to Earthly bacteria, so die of a microbial infection. However, when you take the book as a whole, it all just makes so much sense that yes, the ending is actually very plausible. In all, it’s a really well-written story, that balances excitement with sensible, well-thought-out mechanics. Marvellous!

It’s definitely worth checking out, and at less than 180 pages, it won’t take up too much time. But you may then find yourself, like me, wanting to check out other stuff from the pen of HG Wells..!

…and I’m done!

Sat the exam yesterday, so aside from waiting for the results, A200 is now done! It feels quite strange, if I’m honest. For the past eighteen months I’ve been relentlessly studying for my degree, with modules frequently overlapping, causing something of a rearguard action to catch up before starting. But now, I have four months off before the next module begins – it’s been so long that I can’t remember what I used to do with myself to pass the time!

Unlike what appears to be the majority of my fellow students, I’ve really enjoyed A200. Granted, the module had its moments, largely where number-crunching was concerned, but on the whole the experience was really good. Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of this is that it teaches you how to be a historian.

For me, history is far, far more than just a sequence of jolly good stories that took place between tens and thousands of years in the past. Most importantly, it teaches critical thinking, but as an academic subject, it also teaches you how to come to your own conclusions, how to see an argument from all sides, and how to find out stuff you need to know to make an informed decision. All stuff that’s really handy to know in the real-world.

For example, the second block in this module is on the European Reformation, so we learnt all about Luther’s Protestantism, Calvinism, and the English Reformation. The essay we then had to write asked us to discuss the extent to which John Calvin’s Reformation in Geneva could be considered ‘a French take-over’ (Calvin was, of course, French). To answer this, we had to look in depth at the state of things in Geneva in the mid-sixteenth century, and analyse primary sources as well as the subsequent historiography, and come to a decision whether it was a take-over or not. In doing so, we looked at the situation through the eyes of both Calvin and his Pastors, and the native Swiss, and weighed the evidence accordingly. This practice of seeing a situation through several sets of eyes, and scrutinising sources that survive from the time as well as historical interpretations of them, are all life-skills that, I believe, have helped to make me much more level-headed nowadays. Perhaps if more people studied the mechanics of history, we’d have much less violence in the world?

I freely admit, I’m not very good at sums. I was never very interested in maths at school, and am more inclined to run away from a string of numbers when I see such things nowadays. So when it came to the fourth block, on the transatlantic slave trade, I felt like the proverbial fish out of water. However, the block taught me a very valuable aspect of the historian’s craft, that of using all available data to come to an informed conclusion. Reams of data on the numbers of people taken across the sea were involved here, but it pointed out some very intriguing insights into this period of history, and has shown me just how important figures are when looking at the past.

My absolute favourite bits of this module, however, are a toss-up between blocks one and five. Block one dealt with England, France and Burgundy in the fifteenth century, which had me enraptured from the get-go. Burgundy! Wow. Essentially a study of state formation during the second-half of the Hundred Years War, it was really fascinating to learn so much about this time period. Particularly gratifying, for me, was an in-depth look at the Wars of the Roses. It’s always been such a shame, to me, that we don’t study this time period while in school, but then the influence of France, and the Continental emphasis on British history during these years would perhaps make the subject too unwieldy for year 8 pupils…

Block Five dealt with state formation during the nineteenth century, when all sorts of weird and wonderful things were going on throughout Europe. Starting with a re-evaluation of the Industrial Revolution, the block took in the French Revolution, the Revolutions of 1848, and the formation of Prussia/Germany and Italy. I know a thing or two about Italian unification from having had something of a love affair with the country since my mid-teens, so it was fairly straightforward stuff there. But it was all just so fabulous, I can’t begin to tell you how enraptured I was – particularly coming on the heels of all the misery of the slave trade in block four.

An honourable mention should also be made of Block Three, which was all about the Wars of the Three Kingdoms but began with a somewhat brief discussion of the Thirty Years War – this was a real eye-opener for me, and has become something of my favourite war, if one can be said to have such a thing! It certainly prompted the purchase of more books on that subject, anyway!

Yesterday’s exam, then, could probably have gone better. I revised for weeks, but in the event I revised almost all the wrong things! I think I managed to make a decent acquittal of myself in two of the questions, but I feel I definitely let myself down at the final hurdle, where I chose to discuss the role religion has played in causing and aggravating conflict throughout the years. By this point in the exam, I was experiencing serious hand-cramps from having been writing for about two hours straight, and I think that might have made me want to just get it over with. But we shall see. I think I get the results in August, so not long to wait. I hope that my results from each of the six essays will carry me sufficiently to have a respectable pass, but there is a little niggle at the back of my mind that keeps telling me “you could have done better…”

So anyway. Four months off! Brace yourselves…

There’s something lurking…

It’s Tuesday, so that means it’s game day here at spalanz! Today I’m going to do a small blog on a game expansion, largely because I have an exam tomorrow and need to keep the little grey cells ticking over on that. So following on from Arkham Horror last week, I’m going to take a look at ome of the smaller expansions, The Lurker at the Threshold!

The Lurker at the Threshold

Chronologically  the penultimate expansion for the game (not counting revised editions), the Lurker was the final small box released. Each of those expansions is closely associated with a particular Ancient One from the base game, and Lurker is aligned with Yog Sothoth, a being who transcends time and space. Within the mythos, the Lurker at the Threshold is an avatar of the Ancient One, and the “collaboration” between Lovecraft and August Derleth explores this.

…great globes of light massing toward the opening, and not alone these, but the breaking apart of the nearest globes, and the protoplasmic flesh that flowed blackly outward to join together and form that eldritch, hideous horror from outer space, that spawn of the blankness of primal time, that tentacled amorphous monster which was the lurker at the threshold, whose mask was as a congeries of iridescent globes, the noxious Yog-Sothoth, who froths as primal slime in nuclear chaos beyond the nethermost outposts of space and time!

Anyway.

The expansion includes all-new cards for the base game. In addition to new spells and items, there are also several new decks. Firstly, there is a Relationship deck, which provides a relationship between you and the player to your left. These often provide bonuses or other special effects to emphasize the cooperative nature of the game. The other decks all interact with The Lurker himself, a new Herald that follows on from those first introduced in Dunwich Horror.

The Lurker at the Threshold

The Lurker appears to be something of a benevolent force, providing help to the investigators almost as if he were a Guardian. However, it is help that comes at a price. If the investigator accepts the aid of the Lurker, he must then take a Dark Pact card (seen below the Ancient One sheet in the above picture); of themselves, these Pacts also seem to be quite helpful, offering you the alternative of accepting power tokens over losses to sanity, or indeed to spend in the place of clue tokens. Unfortunately, the other deck associated with the Lurker is not so welcome. The Reckoning deck (the cards to the right of the Ancient One sheet above) comes into play whenever a gate opens. Reckoning cards function with varying degrees of hindrance to the investigators – from causing you to move to an Other World, to forcing the discard of clue tokens or the loss of sanity or stamina, based on how much power you have amassed.

Another new component in this expansion is the new gate stack. Unlike in the base game, where the gates open to a single Other World on a specific location, the gates in Lurker at the Threshold have been “modified” so that all sorts of craziness goes on, from gates to multiple Other Worlds:

The Lurker at the Threshold

to gates that actually move around the board:

The Lurker at the Threshold

It’s very fitting, and ties nicely into the special abilities of Yog Sothoth from the base game, with whom I would only ever play this expansion.

I would say that this is my joint-second favourite of all the Arkham expansions, alongside The Black Goat of the Woods and second only to The Dunwich Horror. Playing with the Herald (and, quite honestly, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t) adds in so much variety, the gamble of accepting the Lurker’s help can make for some really awesome role-playing-esque moments! Indeed, it was during a game with this expansion that I first tried my hand at writing some weird fiction! For your general amusement, I present: There was something lurking on the threshold…

Harvey Walters knew there was something lurking on the threshold of time and space, though his research at Miskatonic University had failed to uncover any real clues. How could he know it was Yog-Sothoth, waiting to devour the town of Arkham? Making a deal with renowned gangster, Michael McGlen, he determined to conquer the other worlds and find the clues necessary to piece together some form of defense for this town.

The two men split up early in their quest, Harvey heading downtown while Michael focused his search on the Uptown area. By a strange twist of the mythos surrounding Arkham, both men found themselves switching places, and gates to other dimensions and worlds began to blossom like the petals of a rose. The hunt was on!

Michael, perhaps less accustomed to the perils he was facing than his more academic partner, began to show the signs of strain at first. After an encounter with an Elder Thing, he began to suffer from Panic, but strove on in his quest, despite Hearing Voices at almost every turn. He roamed through Southside, meeting Professor Armitage at the Historical Society who offered to accompany him. Perhaps it was the companionship of another of these academic types that bolstered his spirits enough to investigate Rivertown. After a near-disastrous adventure through The City of the Great Race, he decided to remain where he was, shielded by the “safety” of the Black Cave he had found. Oh, how wrong he was. While roaming the twisting, winding passageways, he found a friend in the hulking figure of Tom “Mountain” Murphy, but the trio were soon to know peril like no other…

Harvey Walters, disturbed by the rising level of terror in the town, was furiously gathering clues from every corner, and using his eldritch wisdom to seal gates once he had explored them. His years at the University had taught him a thing or two about spell-casting, and his facility with the Sigil of Hermes Trismegistus gave him an edge in his battle with the occult powers swirling through the town. His exploits had earned him enough renown that, stopping through Ma’s Boarding House, he earned the help of his fellow academic Oliver Grayson, who offered to lend his own knowledge of the occult in the quest against the Great Old One. 

Alas, terrible news soon reached the pair of professors. 

Michael, while remaining with his allies at the Black Cave, had twice been sucked through portals to other dimensions, and yet both times had managed to see himself returned safely to Arkham. However, it was on his way back from the Plateau of Leng that catastrophe struck. By a cruel twist of fate, his luck ran dry and the gangster was lost in time and space – the very realm of Yog-Sothoth. The worst was presumed, Michael had perished in his attempt to return one final time to this world, and it can only be assumed that his companions also perished in the void. 

Harvey and Oliver were on their own.

It was now that Harvey began to give in to temptation. His eldritch knowledge had made him aware of a presence, a Lurker on the Threshold of time and space, that could perhaps help him as he made a final push to liberate the town of Arkham from the pall of the Great Old One. With a copy of the King James Bible for some measure of comfort, if not protection, Harvey entered into a Soul Pact with the Lurker. After a fight with a dreaded Cultist, during which he contracted a Blood Disease, Harvey further gave in to the Lurker’s promise of power by making a Blood Pact with the fiend. Whether he shared this with Professor Grayson or not is unclear. 

The two professors now made a last-ditch attempt to seal the gate to the Plateau of Leng, perhaps doing so in memory of their fallen comrades. Harvey immediately used his arcane gifts to Find the Gate back to Arkham, and with all of his knowledge combined from the clues he had amassed against the coming of Yog-Sothoth, managed to seal the sixth gate through to the other world. 

Nobody rejoiced in Arkham that night. Nobody would ever know that they had come within terrifying moments of being plunged into the horrifying abyss. 

When Harvey Walters eventually regained his consciousness the following morning, he was still clutching to his battered copy of the King James Bible…

goo

The Lurker at the Threshold

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The Lurker at the Threshold