Scum & Villainy!

Picked up wave six of this game from the local store today, £75 well spent, possibly…!

 

So there we have it!

I’m thinking about signing up to an X-Wing league at my local store, can’t really decide if I want to do that yet if I’m honest. But anyway, it’s a thought!

Game Day Extra!

Hey folks!

As if my little exploration of Thunderstone wasn’t enough for you guys, I’m doing a little extra blog here to wax lyrical for a moment on the upcoming Ghostbusters game from Cryptozoic, which is currently halfway through its time over on kickstarter!

Ghostbusters

This thing has been doing really well since it launched earlier this month, I think it’s around 300% funded right now. I backed it pretty much straight-off, going for the Mass Hysteria pledge:

Ghostbusters

Lots of nice bits and bobs there, and the added bonus of getting all the stretch goals as well. Currently, we’re looking at some pretty exciting stretches, too – six new ghosts, one new ghost group, two extra heroes, more building tiles… Very exciting stuff there! I’m currently a bit on the fence about adding anything more to my pledge for add-ons for even more ghosts, as I feel a bit like I’ve had kickstarter burnout following Shadows of Brimstone back in 2013, but given the sheer volume of kickstarter-exclusive material here, it’s very tempting.

(On a side note – Gozer is a ks exclusive… while the game predominantly takes its look from the comics, I’m surprised that the big boss of the first movie would be only ever available during this campaign…)

Anyway, it looks like it should be a lot of fun, so I’m definitely looking forward to seeing it arrive later in the year (such is my hope!). In the meantime, checkout the playthrough video here:

Thunderstone!

Hey everybody!

It’s game day once again here at spalanz.com, and today I’m taking a look at a real classic of the deck-building genre – today under the spotlight of awesome, I’m taking a look at Thunderstone!

Thunderstone

Before I launch headlong into this blog, I should perhaps start with this caveat. Thunderstone is, like Runebound, one of these games that I’ve had for years and years, and is actually currently out of print. So this is a blog in the vein of my Runebound entry from last year, where I look at the awesome that was. Whether you can still find it for sale remains to be seen I suppose, though if you can I suggest you snap it up at once! It has been supplanted by Thunderstone Advance, which I have not yet managed to play, and which appears to be similarly difficult to come by the base set. At any rate, let’s begin!

Thunderstone is a deck-building game from what I suppose is the next generation of such games: Dominion, which started it all, is simply about building a deck; in Thunderstone, as with Dark Gothic and Marvel Legendary, you’re building a deck for a purpose in-game. So, rather than trying to buy cards with victory points in order to stand a chance of winning at the end, you’re building a deck to fight monsters, who are worth victory points. In a fairly unique move, this game has two distinct play areas – the village, and the dungeon – and you are fighting monsters in an attempt to find the fabled Thunderstone, which signals the end game.

Thunderstone

If all of this sounds complicated, then it really isn’t. Allow me to explain!

In common with pretty much all deck-building games, you begin with a basic deck, in this case made up of 6 militia cards, 2 daggers, 2 torches, and 2 iron rations (all shown above). At the start of your turn, you have the option of either going to the village, where you can buy cards depending on how much gold you have, or you can delve into the dungeon and fight monsters, depending on how much attack you have. Both of these mechanics are, I think, superbly done. Let’s take a look first at the village…

Thunderstone

The village contains eight different card types, such as items, weapons, allies and spells. It also includes four different hero types, who are also available to buy. These heroes are classic fantasy classes such as clerics, wizards, rogues and fighters. Each hero has three levels, with the weakest on top, and you have the option when in the village to level up your heroes. Remember the militia you start with? You can also level those guys up to level one of any hero currently available.

ThunderstoneHow do you level up, I hear you cry? Well, you gain XP when you defeat monsters; you can trade that in for the number listed in the bottom-left corner of the hero card to gain a hero of the next level. So for 2 XP, you can level up your Chalice Quester for a Chalice Defender! Militia cards all have a 3 in the bottom-left, and as stated, can be traded in for a level one hero (hero levels are shown in the middle-left, in the crossed-swords icon).

Thunderstone

Each village card has a number of symbols and icons on, showing how much it gold it can generate (the coin in the top-left); the weight (under the coin on, for instance, the Warhammer); the cost (the number above the description, so the above Lightstone Gem costs 6), and how much light it gives (the Lightstone Gem gives 3). The iconography in Thunderstone can take a little getting used to, I freely admit, but it is really quite straightforward. The thing you need to remember is that the game has a fairly strict sense to it – however, it makes so much sense, this isn’t really a bad thing. In fact, this is perhaps one of the most sensible games you’ll ever hope to play!

If you remember two basic things, this game begins to really shine. Firstly, heroes can only use items if they’re physically strong enough. Secondly, the deeper you delve into the dungeon, the darker it is. Makes sense, right? Let’s delve into the dungeon, and see how this is implemented!

Thunderstone

The game features monster groups, such as the above Enchanted and Doomknight Humanoids. These monsters have a strength value listed in the top-right; a Victory Point total in the bottom-right, and XP bonus in the bottom-left. Defeated monsters are put into your discard pile, and will later generate gold for you when you go to the village (coin icon in the top-left again). At the beginning of the game, you select three monster groups and shuffle them together – then, the Thunderstone itself is shuffled into the last ten cards, so you will always have to go through at least 20 monsters to find it. These cards are then arranged into the dungeon hall thusly:

Thunderstone

Dungeons are dark places, as I’ve said, and in order to fight these guys, you need to have the combat strength to do so, but you also need to see them! Working out from the dungeon deck itself, each monster has a light penalty which also needs to be dealt with, descending from -3, -2 and -1: so Lord Mortis, being in the first dungeon hall space (called the rank) in the above picture, has a light penalty of -1. However, monster cards often mess with this in differing ways, such as Lord Mortis’ additional -1 light penalty. However, you can overcome this penalty with sheer brute force – if you don’t have any light-giving items with you, but you do have enough strength to defeat both the monster’s health value and the light penalty, you can still defeat them. I suppose it’s like you’re just wildly flailing around in the dark in a blind frenzy…

Thunderstone

In the above picture, then, the Thyrian Squire is fighting Lord Mortis with a Flaming Sword. First of all, the Squire has a base attack of 2. His strength is 6, so he can easily carry the sword, which only weighs 5. The sword adds 3 attack, giving the Squire a total of 5 attack, while also providing one point of light. Lord Mortis has 4 health, but has a light penalty of -2 – he’s in the first dungeon position, but adds to the initial light penalty. The sword cancels one of those points, but there is still one remaining. Any remaining light penalty is doubled before you work out if you actually beat the monster, so in this example, the Squire doesn’t actually defeat him (unless you were to use his ability and discard one Food card for more attack points). So the hero is defeated (which just discards him), and the monster retreats into the dungeon, going to the bottom of the deck, and the other two move up the hall, with a third backfilling from the deck.

Thunderstone

When you defeat a monster, it goes into your discard pile and can later generate money for you. Some monster cards, such as the Pegasus shown earlier, have a little cog next to an ability – this is a bonus the card will grant to you when you play it on later turns. However, most monsters aren’t nearly so helpful, and feature Battle effects, such as the Knightmare shown above. These effects take place as the battle resolves – destroyed cards still contribute their attack value, but some effects will just decrease values, which take place before the battle is resolved. Always best to make sure you can defeat these guys before you go delving, though it can sometimes be a good idea to go up against them anyway, to force them to retreat into the dungeon. Especially if you draw some really tough monsters into the hall on your first go!

Thunderstone

Sometimes, however, it’s just better to go to the village. The above hand only generates 3 attack from the militia, plus 1 from the dagger, and 1 point of light from the torch. However, it also generates 5 gold if you go to the village, and in the early game it’s always worth buying stuff!

Thunderstone

Especially when that 5 gold can net you a flaming sword!

Thunderstone

I really enjoy this game! It was actually my first deck-building game, before Dominion, before DC, and before Legendary. It’s particularly good for having nicely implemented ‘legitimate’ solo rules that pushes a new monster out into the village each turn, adding a timer mechanism to the game – at the end of the game, you compare your VP total to that of the monsters in the village pile. For years, I hadn’t come across these rules, and had been playing it ‘straight’, but have recently tried this variant and I must say, it has a whole new feel to the solo game, like you’re actually in a race to stop the bad stuff, rather than just trying to kill 20-or-so monsters while waiting for the thunderstone to just show up. Marvellous!

There are a slew of expansions for this game, too – some of them are promo packs that add a single new type of deck (heroes or monsters, predominantly), along with small box expansions that add new ways to play the game. One of these, Thornwood Siege, builds on this idea of monsters in the village in a really thematic way – I’ll be taking a look at these expansions in coming blogs, anyway!

The game is, unfortunately, out of print nowadays, and even the Advance game seems difficult to get hold of. Surprising, considering AEG are a pretty big company for games publishing (Smash Up is another of their games), though they seem to be focusing more on Legend of the 5 Rings nowadays. That’s a nice game, my friend Tony bought it recently and we tried it out, though it’s in the CCG model that I disapprove of!

As I’ve said, this game is one of the most sensible games I’ve yet encountered. The mechanic of strength and weight means you don’t end up with ridiculous things happening, and is fairly reminiscent of the hands mechanic from Arkham Horror. The light mechanic is where this game also shines (ha!), and something that makes complete sense. As such, these things add up to make Thunderstone a really immersive experience.

The game is not without criticisms, however. I think my biggest gripe about it is the fact that monsters go into your deck, which can often clog your hand with fairly useless cards. They grant gold, of course, and some grant additional abilities, but they can be really annoying at times. The mid-game often becomes a boring cycle of drawing and discarding, rather than the more adventurous feel to the early rounds! Such meta problems are not enough to turn me off, however, and I can still heartily recommend this to anyone if you can still find it!

All About Vader

Hey everybody!
I’ve recently been reading the Darth Vader comics published by Dark Horse between 2011 and 2014, four arcs written by Haden Blackman and Tim Siedell. Bit of a mixed bag, if I’m honest, and pretty much all of them suffering from just-another-story-syndrome. Back in the day, we used to get Star Wars stories that formed a cohesive narrative, predominantly in the novels of course, but series like Star Wars: Republic and Star Wars: Legacy showed that the comics could do that just as well. Following the release of Revenge of the Sith, however, both Dark Horse and Del Rey seemed to make a conscious effort to move away from providing an actual timeline, and instead opted to “tell a Boba Fett story” or, as is the case here, “a Darth Vader story”. The result tends to be a story that exists in a vacuum and, by the end of it, leaves you wondering just what the point of that was, in the grand scheme of things.

So let’s take a look!

Darth Vader and the Lost Command

Darth Vader and the Lost Command kicks things off with Vader leading a search for the son of Grand Moff Tarkin (who knew?) into the Ghost Nebula. There, they uncover a conspiracy for the Atoans to secede from the nascent Empire, under the leadership of Admiral Garoche Tarkin. It’s a pretty good story, actually, with some awesome fight scenes and a small cast of compelling characters.

We see an interesting side to Vader here, where he is still stricken by the concluding events of Episode III. It’s a device that we see used first in Empire: Betrayal, which was published as the prequels were still being made, and seemed at the time to be a cheesy way to tie-in, but in retrospect seems entirely appropriate. That Vader’s memories here are being affected by the Atoan Shaman, Saro, is just more interesting, as we see what Vader had hoped his future would be. Very interesting, anyway!

This miniseries was the only Star Wars story I read in 2013, and the first that I read following my moving house that year, so has some fond memories for me in that respect, as well. However, it is still well worth picking up. Unfortunately, Dark Horse only collected it, and the other Vader series, in hardback, which just messes with my shelf-edge presentation too much, so I have kept the original comics individually instead. I’m strange like that…

Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison

Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison is a more curious beast. Published in 2012, it tells the story of another insurgency against the nascent Empire, led by an instructor in the Imperial Academy on Raithal, a general named Gentis. His motivation is actually very compelling, that he is driven to despair over seeing so many of his sons killed in Palpatine’s name. However, as the story moves along, I found myself asking “so what, you’ll kill the Emperor, set yourself up in his place, and start having other peoples’ children die in your name? Jackass.” But maybe that’s just me.

The story is told from the point of view of one of the Raithal cadets, Laurita Tohm. Disfigured in a terrorist attack on his family’s gas mining station, Laurita emerges as an ambitious lieutenant who I was worried would turn out to be one of these “I’m a good Imperial” types, but actually proved to be quite ruthless as the story got going. Gooooooooooooooooooooooood. The ending was really quite unexpected, but so very, very appropriate that I actually laughed aloud! Does that make me a terrible person? Well, possibly, but it was a good ending.

Something I was very excited about, seeing the cover of issue 4, was the appearance of Grand Moff Trachta. First introduced in the aforementioned Betrayal storyline, he has become one of my favourite Imperials, something that has really been heightened by the fact that, for years, he had only made one appearance in the literature. I’m going to be writing about the Empire storylines when I get to them, but for now, suffice it to say that he’s always struck me as a real Imperial’s Imperial, and I’ve longed to see more of him. However, his appearance in Ghost Prison, while entirely justified, fell much flatter than I’d hoped. In the end, he’s the one who turned out to be the Imperial-with-a-conscience, and the character felt cheapened for it. It felt like Blackman was trying to foreshadow the events of Betrayal by showing his disapproval of Vader and his methods, but I don’t think Trachta is the type to confide his feelings about the Emperor’s Enforcer to a cadet he barely knows. Hm.

Of the two Blackman stories in this series, Ghost Prison definitely feels like “just a Vader story”. The whole point of it seems to show the Dark Lord to be a ruthless leader, but we already knew that. So, hm.

Darth Vader and the Ninth Assassin

Darth Vader and the Ninth Assassin was published in 2013, and has always struck me as a wonderful title for a comic book series. As I’m sure you all know, Star Wars was heavily influenced by Oriental culture, and the title of this arc sounds like a samurai movie or something. To me, it does, anyway.

This story was pretty good, too. I’m always a bit wary of such things – a wealthy industrialist’s son is killed by Vader, so he goes after revenge by hiring assassins to kill Vader, it seems so ridiculous a plotline! But then, we the audience have seen what Vader is like – in-universe (at least, in-Legends-universe), Vader is a shadowy figure sent by the Emperor to make things happen. Outside of the inner circle, very little is supposed to be known about him. As such, these kinds of plotlines are kinda forgivable.

Something I really enjoyed about this story was the headless serpent thing. The Star Wars universe is supposed to be vast, where all manner of strange things take place. Seeing weird cults like this reminds us (reminds me, at least) that it really is full of all manner of stuff. I thought it was done really well, and the focusing-crystal thing that Vader finds on that moon didn’t actually feel cheesy at all (read it – you’ll know what I mean then!)

The conclusion was also really effective, with the Emperor proclaiming his dominion over Vader. Completely in-character, and quite creepy for it. All in all, this was a cracking tale, and ushered Tim Siedell into the expanded universe oh-so-late! Well worth picking up, even if you can only find it in hardcover.

Darth Vader and the Cry of Shadows

Darth Vader and the Cry of Shadows is the fourth in this quartet, and like Ghost Prison before it, is told entirely from the point of view of someone other than Vader. It’s actually an old Clone Trooper who’s doing the talking – an embittered clone who has come to hate the Jedi since they abandoned him to die, and sees in Vader something of a kindred spirit. However, things aren’t as rosy as he first thought in the New Order, and he eventually escapes for a more humble life.

Clone Troopers with minds of their own have become a disconcerting theme in the wake of the Clone Wars cartoon series, one that must surely make the old clonemasters of Kamino pull their metaphorical hair out in the face of such failure. However, this comic shows that in a different light, and it actually becomes pretty compelling as a result! Despite the fairly grim narrator, there are some moments that made me chuckle.

A lot of this one, however, felt a bit like some of the old Empire issues – particularly, To the Last Man. I suppose people want to see the Empire having crushing defeats as well as unbridled victories, but there were a lot of panels that put me back on Maridun with Lt Sunbar. That’s not to say it was a bad thing, of course, it just didn’t feel particularly fresh or anything. Coming towards the end of Dark Horse’s run in 2014, it’s almost tempting to think they shifted resource away from the Star Wars line to bulk out their other titles and ensure a continued readership into 2015, and certainly these issues are quite full of full-page adverts for their other titles. Maybe I’m just being cynical, however.

At any rate, the main point of this story seems to be that, once again, Vader is a ruthless leader. In fact, there were a couple of points where Vader felt like an incompetent leader – while these stories are all set in the early days of the suit, Anakin was never supposed to be that bad in the Clone Wars. As someone who always led from the front, it surprised me that he would stay back here. Anyway. For me, this was a disappointing finish to the series, but the strength of Lost Command and Ninth Assassin tends to overshadow anything overly negative.

So there you have it! A bit of a mixed bag, and all of them unfortunately fall into the “just another Vader story” category. With Marvel’s ongoing Vader series starting imminently, I’m intrigued as to what they’re going to do about these things. The Marvel series is to be set between IV and V, of course, whereas all of these stories take place immediately after III, but given that Kieron Gillen basically has only the slightly nuanced movie villain to work with, it’ll be interesting to see what happens to the character this time around.

There are nevertheless some really good books to be found in this series – don’t let the Legends banner put you off!

Buy it from amazon:
Darth Vader and the Lost Command
Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison
Darth Vader and the Ninth Assassin
Darth Vader and the Cry of Shadows

Marvel-lous!

Captain America The Winter Soldier

So I watched The Winter Soldier today, that turned out to be a pretty great film in the end! Something that continues to please me about the MCU films is just how good the sequels are. So many films get unnecessary – even embarassing – sequels, it’s good to see these proper continuation-style stories. I’m no longer a big comic reader, having burned myself in the past buying £100s per month, but The Winter Soldier is one of those classic storylines, like the Age of Apocalypse or Civil War (oh, hey, wait a second!)

It was categorically awesome to see the Falcon enter into the universe at last, though this film drops so many exciting bits and pieces into the mix that there were some really exciting reveals here! As ridiculous as it sounds, however, I was actually more interested by the mid-credits scene, where we get our first look at both Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, who are of course set to star in the upcoming Avengers sequel, Age of Ultron. Exciting times there. While we probably won’t actually get a House of M movie, I’m still excited to see Magneto’s kids enter the MCU (oh, sorry Fox, that’s right, they aren’t supposed to have that tie anymore, are they…bah!)

Now, I love a good chase sequence. That whole thing with Fury in the hummer was just awesome, I have to say! One of many fantastic set-pieces in the film, many of which unfortunately run far too shortly, if I’m honest. Cap’s escape from the Triskelion was great, but could also have used some more. The finale was really excellent, though. How I wish that really had been Jenny Agutter kicking ass, instead of a disguised Natasha…

Anyway! Really good movie, looking forward to next year’s Civil War now – especially if we might actually get Spider-man in this one!

Marvel Legendary Villains

I also had a game with Marvel Legendary: Villains today – aptly enough, against Nick Fury. It was a bit of a peeve for me that there isn’t too much variety among the villains you can play in this game – the ‘regular’ core box feels like it has a broader base to choose from. At any rate, this was the first time in a long time where I’ve lost a game of Legendary – I didn’t seem to have the right mix of villains coming out, and Nick Fury’s effect on a Command Strike really whipped me. However, it was still a good game.

To round out what is quite the Marvel-centric day, here’s Felicia and Ryon Day playing Lego Marvel Super Heroes in their own inimitable style:

I do so love Geek & Sundry, and Co-Optitude, while it isn’t something that I thought I should like, not being a video gamer and all, this whole series is actually pretty damn great! Definitely worth watching, and investigate some of the other stuff on the channel!

The Legacy

Ah, Drizzt. I’ve been loving this series for years now – you can read all about that here, of course! Last night saw me finish the seventh installment, The Legecy.

The Legacy

The book picks up right off following the last one – in fact, it starts as the last one is ending! HOWEVER! (Oh, ahem… here be spoilers!) We see Bruenor Battlehammer preparing for the wedding of Wulfgar and Cattie-Brie, when the report of goblin activity in the lower mines draws the dwarves out to investigate. A series of dungeon-delving adventures ensue, with Drizzt separated from the others. Why? Well, because we finally get to see what his family has been up to since he left Menzoberranzan in the Dark Elf trilogy!

Following the raid on the Do’Urden compound that left all but Dinin and Vierna dead, things have been pretty rough. Dinin has fallen in with the mercenary band of Braegan D’arthe, headed by the flamboyant Jarlaxle, while Vierna has become obsessed with recovering her former glory. Are the Do’Urdens really out of favour with Lolth? Vierna’s ability first to wield a snake-headed whip, then to turn Dinin into a dreaded Drider (remember the spoiler from the board game?!), to say nothing of her ability to summon a yochlol, seem to point to the fact that they are once again on the up. However, the behind-the-scenes machinations of House Baenre might point to a more convoluted theory. Following a long period of mine chases, Drizzt finally manages to defeat his sister in combat, but Wulfgar is killed by the yochlol, leading to an utter desolation in Mithral Hall.

Dun dun duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuun!

For me, this book turned out to be quite difficult to categorise. On the one hand, I really enjoyed the return to the Underdark, and seeing the evil drow once more. It was really good to catch up with the surviving members of Drizzt’s family, and to see what evil schemes were being hatched this time around. However, the repetitive nature of the book, with the bulk of it taking place in the twisting corridors beneath Mithral Hall, it felt, well, repetitive.

Artemis Entreri is back, in a completely unexpected manner, and I really enjoyed seeing him once again, though his obsession with battling Drizzt did begin to wear a little thin after a while. Just what all those shenanigans with the bat-wings were towards the end, that was just a little too goofy, as well. Not really sure about that at all.

Wulfgar was a real jerk for the majority of this book, as well. Seeing his character development, while it did kinda make sense, annoyed me so utterly that I was actually glad to see the yochlol eat him. A part of me, of course, hasn’t actually written him off yet. Until I see his mangled corpse, I’m not entirely convinced. As an aside, I got the impression that Salvatore, seeing how successful the character of Drizzt became in his trilogy about Wulfgar, decided to kill off the barbarian in order to concentrate on the elf. Of course, I don’t yet know if he’s really dead – along with the ‘no body rule’, I’m suspicious because of the fact they turned up Aegis-fang in that mound of rubble, but no sign of the big guy. Hm.

I am, however, trying to avoid reading anything on this subject, in case it proves or disproves my suspicions before I read the rest of the books!

So a strong beginning, but a bit of a mess the longer it went on. I’m actually going to take a break for a while, as I want to get reading some other stuff, so will likely move on to book eight after a couple of weeks. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next, though!

Plastic crack

Hey everyone,

Feeling in a bit of a pensive mood lately, I have to say. It’s been very busy in work lately, which is giving me very little time for much else really. I’ve been trying to get some more painting done, but it hasn’t really been working out for me, sadly. This weekend just past, I managed to get some base coats on some Ogres, but yeah…

Mournfang and Ogres, part 2! #Warhammer

A post shared by Mark (@marrrkusss) on

I’m forever surprised at just how much stuff I have waiting in the wings, I should probably pick up the pace a bit! That said, I’ve also decided to sell some of my bits on ebay, I’m hoping by clearing the decks a little it might become a bit more manageable. Well, anyway.

I’ve been feeling a bit like the miniatures have been taking over my life somewhat, though. Back last summer, I decided to get that practice mini in preparation for Shadows of Brimstone, but enjoyed myself so much with it that it just exploded. Part of that, of course, was down to a relationship breakdown at the end of August, which saw me buying Warhammer stuff to take my mind off things. Six months on, nearly, and I’m still buying things, though lately I’ve been feeling it’s more out of habit than anything else.

Pile of Shame

The pile of shame, to date, consists of 45 kits, which have set me back about £1400. Shocking, though by most peoples’ standards I get the impression it’s actually pretty modest. Well anyway. I’m still quite annoyed with my lack of restraint here, anyway.

I’m not planning to completely ditch the miniatures of course, as I do really enjoy building and painting. But I’m hoping for more balance here in the coming weeks and months.

(I just remembered I have Space Hulk, too…)