Into the Mines of Moria

Hey everybody!
Today on Game Day, I’m going to return to an old favourite, and look at the first deluxe expansion released for the Lord of the Rings LCG: it’s time to head into Khazad-dûm!

Khazad-dum

This box was released in January 2012, and was possibly one of the most-anticipated games for me ever! I had gotten the base game earlier in 2011, and had been enjoying the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle (and Massing at Osgiliath) excessively, so was really ravenous for more content. I seem to remember a time that, when it didn’t arrive before Christmas, I was distraught for a short time – it was really that anticipated!

As might be expected, this expansion is heavy on Dwarf cards, with two dwarven heroes to add to the mix, as well as a host of tricks and stuff to enjoy. It was this expansion that actually led to the Dwarf deck becoming the main archetype for a long time – more so than Rohan or Eagles, if I remember correctly. No discussion of this expansion would be complete without mention of the Zigil Miner controversy, either. This ally card allows you to name a number, then reveal the top two cards of your deck; if the cost of either matches the number named, you gain that many resources for a hero you control. Suddenly, players were almost spamming their decks with high-cost cards, and using scrying cards to see what cards were on top of their deck before naming the number, pulling all manner of resources. I personally thought this tactic was wonderfully balanced in Foundations of Stone, and elsewhere (I’ll talk about this more when I review the Dwarrowdelf cycle!), but the card was soon errata’d to cap the resources you could gain to two per-use. Things like this do distress me, as I primarily love this game for its theme, to the extent that I sometimes feel power-gamers who would be looking to abuse cards like this have no business playing this game! But I digress.

More important (to me) than the player cards, however, we have three new scenarios!

Khazad-dum

This is really what sets Lord of the Rings LCG apart from pretty much any other game out there, for me. With other LCGs (and other card games in this model), the monthly packs just give you new player cards to use to spice up your deckbuilding. Lord of the Rings LCG gives you new games each month, as each scenario plays different, with different keywords and effects that spice up more than just your player deck. The deluxe expansions have given us three new games, meaning there are just so many awesome options for this game! It’s a model that is really just fantastic, and is one of my absolute favourite aspects of the entire thing.

Into the Pit

The first new scenario is a combat-oriented thing, where you have a prescribed route through the great Dwarf city of Khazad-dûm, which is effected by locations being set aside before the game begins, and which are brought in by exploring the previous location.

Khazad-dum

There is a sense of real foreboding created by this first quest, as the first stage doesn’t allow you to engage enemies until you have cleared the East Gate from play – so you can have enemies piling up in the staging area just waiting for you to clear the gate before they leap on top of you! Once it’s gone, you proceed to the First Hall, before moving to the iconic Bridge of Khazad-dûm, where you cannot play cards! Gah! It’s a very specific kind of quest that makes some very specific demands of your deck, not least because the Encounter deck is big for this one! 50 cards from four encounter sets, not including the special cards above, which make for a lot of enemies, a lot of treacheries, and a lot of locations!

However, it’s not all bad, because you get the Cave Torch objective to help you through! This card is one of the aspects of the quest that make it super-thematic: you can exhaust the torch to place up to three progress tokens on any Dark location, a new keyword that features on 13 of the 16 location cards in the deck. However, if you do exhaust it, you must discard the top card of the encounter deck which, if it’s an enemy, will go right into the staging area, as the goblins are attracted to the light!

Speaking of goblins, there are hundreds of them in here! Well no, there are actually 14 enemy cards, though they all have an incredible synergy to create the sense of an endless swarm. Shadow effects and When Revealed effects abound here, creating a really nicely put-together deck that just hates you! A tough, but very enjoyable scenario all the same!

Khazad-dum

The Seventh Level

Seventh Level is one of my favourite quests. It’s actually quite nondescript as far as these things go, as you’re basically fighting orcs and goblins again, and discovering more of the dark of Moria, but it somehow feels good all the same. Possibly because it feels quite small-scale. Although one of the enemies in this deck is the Cave Troll!

Khazad-dum

The defining card of this scenario is the Book of Mazarbul, which is attached to a hero of your choice and allows that hero to quest while unexhausted, though said hero cannot attack. It’s perfect if you have a high-willpower, high-defense guy in your lineup, or if you have Spirit Glorfindel but no Light of Valinor, but otherwise it’s a bit of a meh card.

However, if you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, you’ll know I’m almost obsessed with the theme of a game, and allowing me to give the Book of Mazarbul to a questing hero is just fantastic, no matter what effect results!

Flight from Moria

Rounding out this box is another really iconic quest, the Flight from Moria.

Khazad-dum

This scenario is just amazing. For starters, it’s the first time in the game where we can encounter a Balrog, albeit one that just looms ominously from the staging area, and cannot be engaged by the players.

Victory Points are not a new thing in this game, but here they take on a whole new horror, as the Nameless Fear’s attributes are all based on how many points are in the Victory display. This will always be a minimum of two, as the first Quest card is basically put into the display once it is flipped to 1B. However, there are half a dozen other cards throughout this deck with VP values, and all manner of horrible things can happen to circumvent the does-not-engage rule.

Again, four encounter sets are used, largely because the unique set to this scenario is primarily treachery cards. Roughly half the deck is treachery cards. The fun in this scenario comes from the second quest stage – that is to say, the seven different Stage 2 cards in the quest deck! The basic premise is that you’re trying to find the way out of Moria, which is represented by drawing a random ‘Search for an Exit’ card from the quest deck. All of these have different effects, but only one will allow you to escape – however, an escape can only be effected if you have claimed the Abandoned Tools objective from the encounter deck!

Khazad-dum

It’s a really fun scenario, despite the fact that it pummels you without mercy. Definitely one of those that feels like it’s really expertly put-together. I’ve only managed to escape from the mines once, other times have seen me drawing either Heading Up or Heading Down almost alternately, which makes for some hilarious experiences, albeit ones that end in tragedy for my party. It’s definitely one of those that you need to experience for its awesome.

Throughout this box, also, there is some wonderful art, which I hope has been shown by the card selections in this blog. Specific mention should be made of Watchful Eyes, which is in the first two scenarios, and is something of a nemesis for me. I have never yet been able to avoid this card, which adds the top card of the encounter deck to the staging area if the attached hero is exhausted at the end of the encounter phase. Bah! I really hate it… It’s like the new Caught in a Web or something. Truly horrible.

Nightmare Mode

Khazad-dum Nightmare Mode

There are, of course, also Nightmare Mode decks available for the scenarios of Khazad-dûm, which I shall now show you, some of them being really enjoyable variants for the main game. I was a beta tester for these scenarios, so I might be a little biased, but still!

I mentioned Nightmare Mode in my run-down of the Shadows of Mirkwood decks, of course. Basically a tougher version of the standard mode, each deck adds 20 new cards to the deck, and removes a corresponding number from the standard deck.

Khazad-dum Nightmare Mode

Nightmare Into the Pit is one of my favourites, as it introduces a whole world of hate for the Cave Torch – predominantly through the Setup card itself, which gains a damage token whenever the torch exhausts, and forces the discard of the torch when there are five tokens there. Other little treats, such as the Patrol Sentry who attacks you as soon as you exhaust the cave torch, or Narrow Fissure, which cannot have progress tokens on it if the torch is ready, add to the torment, and really heighten the experience for me.

Khazad-dum Nightmare Mode

Nightmare Seventh Level is one of those quests that is improved exponentially in this manner. Remember I said this scenario was pretty nondescript? Well, it now has some crazy effects thanks to the idea of adding resources to goblin enemies to bulk their stats. We also have a boss-style enemy to combat in the shape of Overseer Maurûl. We suddenly have a really tight-knit scenario that forces you to try and breeze through it, and having the Book of Mazarbul attached to a hero is actually a severe handicap, as you’re one potential fighter down for stage 1B… It’s still a fairly straightforward scenario, don’t get me wrong, but it can be a real nightmare…

Khazad-dum Nightmare Mode

And finally, as if the standard scenario wasn’t bad enough, we have Nightmare Flight from Moria. We have three new quest cards, one of which gives us an alternative path to victory, though at a potentially terrible price. A new treachery card, An Evil Fortune, serves just to ruin our day by increasing threat and bulking out the Victory display, along with one that will break down willpower by the amount of VPs in the display. We also have a second enemy whose attributes work off the display! It’s generally quite terrible, but then, this is nightmare mode!

All in all, these scenarios are pretty damn great, and provide hours of fun with the game. One of the more noteworthy aspects is the claustrophobic feel the designers have succeeded in imparting to the game through these cards, where the artwork and the effects come together in a perfect synergy to create some really wonderful – and really terrible! – games. The player cards alone allow you to create some really extraordinarily powerful dwarf decks, and some of these cards are still staples over three years after their release. But the scenarios are where this box truly shines, and are heartily recommended to you all!

Buy it from amazon:
Khazad-dûm
Khazad-dûm Nightmare Decks

Week off, last day

Ah, this happened far too quickly! Doesn’t seem like five minutes since I was looking at the grand vista of a whole nine days off work!

This last weekend has been pretty quiet and uneventful as things go, at any rate. Yesterday I had the very exciting game with the new co-op scenario for Descent, Nature’s Ire, which I mentioned yesterday anyway, but just wanted to re-iterate how much fun these co-op scenarios are! Highly recommended, to all!

This afternoon/evening, I actually did a spot of miniatures painting, too!

Last September, Games Workshop brought out a fourth edition of the classic Space Hulk boardgame, which I initially resisted, but decided to just throw caution to the winds and snap up, as I fell entirely for the whole limited-availability thing. While I did build up the miniatures towards the end of that month, but it’s just been languishing in my spare room ever since. However, I had a small problem with one of the genestealers coming in the box broken, and GW replaced the entire sprue – awesome customer service, right there! It was the sprue with the Broodlord on, though I didn’t do anything with the extras – until today!

The adventure begins with #genestealers! #SpaceHulk #Warhammer

A post shared by Mark (@marrrkusss) on

I’m actually really excited to be painting these chaps, as I felt like the whole Space Hulk thing was a bit of an event, back in the day, so it’s nice to kinda get a bit more of that. I’ve so far only painted one base coat onto them, just the decking bits, but it’s good to be finally doing something with these miniatures, I have to say!

So now I’m in a bit of a quandary over the colour scheme I want to use. Part of me wants a traditional-looking game, with the purple and navy genestealers as per normal:

genestealers

However, there are so many interesting-looking colour schemes out there for Tyranids in general, I’m really not sure what I want to do! I bought a Maleceptor at the beginning of the year that I’m still planning to paint in Hive Fleet Eumenides colours, but we’ll see what happens. Crazy times, people – anything could happen!!

Speaking of painting stuff, I didn’t win the painting competition at my local store – though seriously, I never had any illusions of victory! More than anything, it got me somewhat out of my painting funk, but check out the winner:

Amazing stuff, I have to say. You can just about see my Saurus Oldblood under his wing, too!

So yeah, anyway, it’s been a fantastic week, over all-too-quickly, but at least next weekend is Easter, so at least there’re a couple of short weeks coming up! Marvellous!

March Madness: a monthly round-up

Hey everybody!
So I thought I’d try something kinda new here, and do a kind of monthly round-up or something, like a “this was my March” and so forth. No real reason, I just thought I’d do something a bit different and all!

So, March! It’s seen some exciting stuff happen, there’s no denying that. To start with, it’s been a very expensive month, as three kickstarters ended, starting with Nova Cry, a sci-fi card game that looked sufficiently interesting, and looked like pretty good value for what you get. You control a ship, its captain and crew, as you fight opponents or discover the galaxy, and it looks pretty great for the package, so I’m definitely looking forward to getting this – expected in June, too, so fingers crossed that works!

Ghostbusters boardgame Cryptozoic

The big one was Ghostbusters, just over £200 for a big bundle of miniatures in a co-op boardgame that looks like it might be great, but I’m disproportionately worried about how it’s going to turn out, considering the money I threw at it. I’ve already mentioned this, of course, but the amount of kickstarter exclusive stuff had me almost foaming at the mouth! I’ve pledged for what I think is everything, so I guess we’ll see what happens.

Finally, I backed a Viking-themed minis game called Blood Rage, which is from perhaps my all-time favourite game designer, Eric Lang. I hadn’t realised until coming across this game that Cool Mini Or Not is a game design company as well as the website where people vote for each others’ paint jobs, but of course, they’re the ones behind such things as Arcadia Quest, Rivet Wars, and of course, Zombicide. Blood Rage looks like it should be pretty great, anyway, and the minis are impressive, so we’ll see! Another one with lots of goodies to come!

Thanks to my week off, I’ve been playing a lot more games this month, which is always a good thing! Sometimes it feels like I don’t really have the time, but having dedicated the week to doing very little, it definitely paid off for me! Something I’m particularly pleased with is just how much I got to play Lord of the Rings LCG – twelve games, all told, including the start of my campaign project, which is something I’m looking forward to progressing with! I’ve said it before, but this game is the one I usually cite as my absolute favourite, which is bizarre when you realise how little I’ve played it recently! So it’s good to get back into that.

Of course, it hasn’t all been card games, as I also managed to take the new co-op scenario for Descent out for a try! Nature’s Ire is an enjoyable rescue mission-style of quest, where you get to fight the Merriod along the way! These have been my favourite Descent monsters since I saw a wonderful paint job someone had posted online, where they looked beautifully disgusting (you know what I mean!) Perhaps unsurprisingly, I can’t find them now, but anyway!

Descent is a super-enjoyable fantasy dungeon-crawler, one that I only wish I could play more often!

Now, I’m not that big a video gamer. In fact, I’m just not a video gamer. However, I came across Jesse Cox’s youtube channel late one night and thought I’d check out what he gets up to, and wound up watching this really entertaining three-part series of Dragon Age Inquisition. While it’s true that watching the game play does give me a bit of a headache, it’s nevertheless fun to listen along as the guys react to what’s happening, etc.

Speaking of which, I had a question answered by Wil Wheaton on tumblr this weekend, which kinda made my month! Not only because it meant he was somehow listed as #4 in my “biggest fans”, which was kinda hilarious. But anyhow!

ask wilw

I think it’s really great that celebrities of any standing would want to engage with their fans to such an extent, but it also got me thinking about just how ridiculously amazing stuff like the internet really is. The other week in work, I was part of a telekit that involved people from across North Wales and Anglesey, and kinda zoned out during it thinking about how amazing it is that we could have a conversation with people over 70 miles away as if they’re in the same room as us. Stuff that’s normally taken for granted, but it’s pretty awesome, I thought! The same way I asked a guy I don’t personally know, who lives on the other side of the world, a question that he then responded to.

I’ll stop, before my head explodes.

It’s been a pretty exciting month, so in celebration, I’ll leave you all with this photo of a lasagne I made. You’re welcome.

Next month – it’s my birthday! Sort of…

Week off, day five

Hey everybody!
So here I am, at the end of the week – this has gone far too quickly! The last two day have been pretty much a whirlwind too, and not in a good way. But still, it’s always good to have the time to just do nothing, or very little at least!

Obviously, more games with Lord of the Rings LCG have been had – at this stage, it would’ve been rude not to, I’m sure you’ll agree! Yesterday I started on my campaign, of course, then today, this happened:

I had just the two games with the game today, To Catch an Orc and The Dunland Trap. It’s about time I played more of the newer ones, after all! To Catch an Orc is the second scenario in The Voice of Isengard, which I’d not played before, and I was soundly thrashed! Lots of locations locked me out of the game, so I couldn’t even try to catch him! Bah. The Dunland Trap is one I’ve played before, but lost as I had a hero die on me in stage 3B. Tragic times. This time it came down to the wire as Aragorn was one wound off dying too. Tough times!

I’m hoping to get to some more of the Ringmaker cycle soon, anyway!

Star Wars Armada

This morning, I popped into the local games store and picked up the new Armada, then this happened:

Video-making is something that I recently looked into, and is pretty fun, I must say! It’s nothing too fancy, don’t get me wrong, but it amuses me and passes the time!

Anyhow. Armada didn’t initially impress me, but then I kinda changed my mind following the GenCon demo, though seeing the actual game now, I’m a bit underwhelmed. The ships look nice, and the cards and tokens are the usual quality stuff, but I really dislike those dials, that movement template, the ship bases… it all just looks so – well, ugly. Clunky. Boring and grey. I dunno, it just doesn’t look as sleek as X-Wing. The game looks like it should play really well, with a lot of tactical stuff, but I’m currently thinking it might look horrible on the table. We’ll see how this all goes…

Dark Gothic

Last week was GAMA Trade Show in Las Vegas, with quite a lot of good stuff coming out from some of my favourite publishers. The one I was most interested in was Flying Frog Productions, as they have previously announced their year’s products there. This year, they had some really fun stuff for Shadows of Brimstone coming out, but also a new expansion for Dark Gothic. If you missed it, here’s the Dice Tower’s interview with the Hill brothers:

Colonial Horror has an almost Arkham Horror sound to it, and the box looks quite a good size, so I’m hoping we’ll see some really awesome content come through! New heroes, new villains? Hopefully!

IMAG2546

I’ve also been painting again! Well, a little. I’ve had these Ogres going on for ages now, and have kinda done some layers onto them and whatnot. The Ogre Bellower (I think that’s what he’s called? The one roughly in the bottom-centre there) I’ve given a darker purple in the face, to try and give the illusion that he’s actually bellowing, and such. Not entirely sure how this will all turn out, but I suppose we’ll see!

I popped into the local GW today to put my entry in for the Paint it Red competition, and while I was there was given a sneak preview at tomorrow’s White Dwarf, and the Adeptus Mechanicus goodness. The models do look really great, and I have been pretty tempted to get them and whatnot, though I was more impressed by both the Leadbelcher spray, and a new technical paint called Martian Ironearth, which is basically Agrellan Earth but with a rusty orange-like hue. The spray will be really useful once I get back to painting Necrons, so I’m thinking I’ll get some of that, and I’m always in the market for new types of paint, so definitely, yeah!

There are two new kits up for pre-order now, though I’m resisting. Having sold off a lot of stuff lately because I had too much, I’m not about to start adding back to the pile of shame! But if you’re interested, check them out here and here!

Skitarii Rangers

And so it begins…

Hey folks!

You may have noticed that I’ve been playing a lot of Lord of the Rings LCG the past couple of days (if you haven’t, check out my posts, here and here!) I’ve finally decided to try the Saga Campaign that follows the books, which started at the back end of 2013 with The Black Riders.

I tried this once, shortly after it came out, and was roundly thrashed! I suppose it was my own fault; I tried out a highly thematic Hobbit deck, against a scenario that is just plain vicious. My threat spiralled up to 50 and one of my heroes died very quickly – and this was in easy mode. I therefore retired the box and left it alone.

Until now!

See, no matter how much past and/or future whinging that occurs, I actually love the Lord of the Rings LCG, and the past few days have really just reinforced that. So after a whole bunch of miscellaneous scenarios hitting the table, I’ve decided to do something a bit serious, and start the campaign! What’s more, I’m going to share the experience with you guys – no need to thank me, it’s my pleasure! As I haven’t looked at any of the Saga expansions for the game as part of the blog, I’ve therefore decided to do a sort of combined thing where I take a look at the quest I’m playing, followed by what will probably be a report of how badly I did!

So!

Campaign Play

The Black Riders came out in 2013 as I said, and features scenarios that cover roughly the first half of The Fellowship of the Ring. The first of these is called A Shadow of the Past:

A Shadow of the Past

Before I begin this blog series, then, I think I ought to explain a bit for the uninitiated about how Campaign Play works. While we’ve seen some fairly crazy setup instructions for quests in the past (I’m thinking specifically of The Steward’s Fear, here – crazy but awesome!), this new mode of play adds a new type of card, the Campaign card, which details specific setup instructions for the quest when you’re playing in campaign mode. This allows players to enjoy the scenario as a standalone experience if they so desire, with “normal” set-up instructions just for that scenario. So here, we have cards that are instructed to be set out of play until specific times, which is nothing out of the ordinary, but the campaign card stipulates further cards that should be added to the encounter deck or staging area as appropriate.

Mostly, these cards are of the Boon and Burden variety:

A Shadow of the Past

Boons and Burdens are integral to the campaign experience, as highlighted in a preview article by the designers. You shuffle them into the encounter deck, or attach them as appropriate, and they help to add a certain continuity to the scenarios when you play them as part of the campaign, so if you complete A Shadow of the Past, you have “earned” Gildor Inglorion, who goes into the campaign pool and is used in future plays. Other scenarios have other campaign cards they attract, which can help (or hinder!) you as you progress through!

A Shadow of the Past

Today, then, I played the first scenario from The Black Riders, A Shadow of the Past. It’s a really tough beast to crack, though playing Saga scenarios comes with an added benefit: a fourth hero!

A Shadow of the Past

Like the Hobbit Saga expansions before it, we get a 0-cost hero for the adventure, who can be used exactly like a normal hero. Frodo Baggins is part of a new Fellowship sphere, and collects resources that can be used to pay for Fellowship (and neutral) cards. Unlike Bilbo in the Hobbit boxes, we don’t lose the game if Frodo leaves play, though Frodo does have the One Ring attached to him, and if that leaves play, then we lose the game.

As I said, this scenario is tough, due in part to the large number of locations in play. The object of the game is to escape the Shire via the Bucklebury Ferry, while avoiding detection by the Black Riders themselves! Fourteen location cards are waiting in the encounter deck, however, and today I faced Location-lock very quickly, and it was only by managing to get a Northern Tracker on the table that I could deal with the five locations spread before me! Terrible times.

There are only two types of enemy in the deck – Evil Crows and five Black Riders. These last are terrible, though easy mode will remove two of them for you. Even so, you want to engage them on your own terms if at all possible, as they have five attack points and six hit points (buffered by the four defense points!) There are a number of effects within the deck that interact with these Riders, and they also have their Black Steeds lurking in the encounter deck as treachery cards, lowering their engagement cost by 10! Crikey!

The deck I was using was my general-purpose “Fellowship” deck, headed up by Thalin, Faramir and Aragorn. The high starting threat is intended to be offset by an all-purpose awesome, as I employ almost all of the tricks the game has given us so far to buff Aragorn in particular, but also the Ranger and Dunedain traits. Alongside this, I’ve tried to assemble a variety of allies from across the card pool, in the hope of ending up with a truly cosmopolitan deck!

Today’s game demonstrated this to great acclaim, and while I didn’t manage to get everything moving exactly as I planned, it nevertheless felt like a great start to my campaign, and that “cosmopolitan” feel to my Fellowship really came through by the time the game ended:

A Shadow of the Past

So there we have it! One down, at least nineteen to go! The rules insert stipulates six boxes in the Saga line for Lord of the Rings, and so far we’ve seen two Saga standalone expansions, The Old Forest and Fog on the Barrow-downs. I don’t yet have the latter, though the former is up next in this exciting series!

I honestly don’t know how often I’ll be posting these kinds of blogs, but they’ll be sprinkled throughout the coming weeks and months, not necessarily on game days (as today shows!), but keep reading for more!

Week off, day three

Well, my week off is going splendidly! Turns out it was precisely what was needed, I must say! Lost of gaming, lots of resting and living life in the slow lane. What life should be about, really!

I do like to get out and about and explore the local area, which has some pleasant hidden corners. I’m quite close to a village called Minera, which has a lot of lead mining bits and pieces – if you’d like to know more, I wrote a blog about three years ago as a culmination of my research into the whole history of the place. You can enjoy that here, anyway!

Adventures with Elves has continued, which has been very exciting, I must say!

I’d thought of playing some entirely new scenarios, but in the end I decided to go for some “iconic Middle-Earth location” scenarios instead. So I went Into Ithilien, which is something I’d not done before – Heirs of Númenor came out about a month before I was caught up in the circus of moving, and by the time I was settled, Against the Shadow had begun and it kinda fell by the wayside. As time wore on, and the reports had come out of how “impossible” this scenario is, I decided not to bother. So it was a lot of fun to play a scenario that is now, what, over two years old, not least to see what all the fuss is about!

I think I might let the elves rest up a bit now, as they’ve been run ragged over the past couple of days! I’ve got a new deck built, a more general-purpose deck that features a whole melange of characters in a true Fellowship, so we’ll see how that goes when I come to attack the Ringmaker!

Star Wars Dark Times

But the most exciting thing from the last couple of days has to be this!

I think I mentioned this before, but every Easter I re-watch the classic Star Wars trilogy, which is always made so much better when that’s combined with some of the classic literature. Last year I seemed to steam through novels and short stories, but was thinking the other day that I probably won’t be doing that again this year. Instead, I’m going to focus more on the comics, so I’ve started early with the Dark Times series!

Last month, I took a look at the Darth Vader series from Dark Horse, four story arcs that kind of intersect into this series, along with at least one novel – James Luceno’s Dark Lord – all taking place in the months following Revenge of the Sith. The events of the series are actually set up in the preceeding Star Wars ongoing series, Republic, and in fact the individual comics maintained the numbering, meaning the Republic series eventually ran to 115 issues, overtaking the original Marvel run that ran to 107. Bit of apocrypha for you there!

Republic #79 – 80 is a two-part story arc Into the Unknown, which follows the escapades of two Jedi in the direct aftermath of Order 66: Kai Hudorra and Dass Jennir. It’s a really nice story that shows some really intense scenes that the film didn’t really convey, I felt. I mean, there were some moments, but Into the Unknown really explores this more, as we see the choices those surviving Jedi made about their futures. It’s available in the ninth volume of the Clone Wars series, which should be on everyone’s shelf because it also collects the conclusion of the Quinlan Vos storyline!

Dark Times begins proper with The Path to Nowhere, as we follow Dass Jennir immediately following the charge down the hill that ends Into the Unknown now that he has teamed up with the Nosaurians. In order to escape the now-Imperial patrols, Jennir and his ally Bomo Greenbark escape with the help of a rag-tag band aboard the freighter Uhumele. They discover that Bomo’s family has been taken to Orvax IV to be sold into slavery, so head over, only to find out the tragic truth that his wife was killed trying to prevent their daughter being taken. Jennir discovers who bought Bomo’s daughter, but when her fate is revealed, he reveals himself as a Jedi to the rest of the crew, who are not too happy to have him aboard.

Path to Nowhere is a grim story, no bones about it, but it’s also a really amazing entry into the timeline (Legends notwithstanding!). Doug Wheatley has produced some absolutely incredible art in these pages – the series was actually delayed by almost a year all told, because of getting the series to this awesome standard. Some of the panels, such as the townscape scenes, are a true visual feast!

Orvax_IV

Parallels is a much smaller-scale story. The crew of the Uhumele is trying to offload some merchandise but the deal goes sour, and bad things start to happen! As a parallel story (chortle chortle), we see Master K’Kruhk in the aftermath of Order 66! This guy became something of an EU legend; after his appearance in Jedi Council: Acts of War, he became something of a series regular in the Republic line immediately following Attack of the Clones. With his iconic hat, he kept popping up time and again – most surprisingly in the Legacy series!!!!!

I have to say, Parallels was not as enjoyable a story for me as Path to Nowhere. The artwork sometimes looked a little sloppy, especially in comparison with the earlier series, but I kinda disliked the fact we didn’t get more Dass Jennir! When I first read this series when it came out, I kinda rushed through it, and the plot never really stuck with me as being that great. Now that I’ve read it the second time around, I have to say, it still wasn’t all that memorable.

Part of this, I suppose, is that the next storyline in the Dark Times series really overshadows it. Vector was a massive event in Star Wars comics back in 2008. It was a twelve-part crossover of all four of the ongoing series Dark Horse was publishing at the time – Knights of the Old Republic, Dark Times, Rebellion and Legacy – and follows the story of what happens when a Jedi comes across a Sith amulet. It’s actually a phenomenally well put-together story, and I was hugely impressed with the logistics of the storyline. The promise from the event was that it wasn’t just some sort of Marvel-like gimmick to make readers buy more series, but instead each story would be self-contained and propel its respective series forwards in new ways, but if you read all twelve issues, it also formed a really great story in and of itself. And boy, did it deliver!

The Dark Times segment of Vector runs to just two issues, and we once again see the crew of the Uhumele trying to offload their merchandise. That merchandise turns out to be the stasis canister Celeste Morne was placed into at the end of the KotOR arc! Worlds collide! Darth Vader shows up to try to take possession, things go haywire, and the Rakghoul plague is once again active within the galaxy. This merchandise has had a question mark over it since Path to Nowhere, and I really liked seeing how that turned out. Even now, seven years after I first read it, I still love how this tale plays out!

From there, we head to Blue Harvest. Fans of Star Wars lore will know that Dass JennirBlue Harvest was the fake film that masked the filming of Return of the Jedi back in the early 1980s, and while attempts have been made previously to reference this little bit of Lucasfilm lore, this is possibly the best of them all. We’re back to Dass Jennir, as he makes his lonely way in the universe. He’s now looking a lot like Obi-Wan will end up looking on Tatooine, which is a little distracting really. We follow his attempt to earn a living by dealing with a gang problem on Telerath, but finds the situation is a lot more complicated than it first seemed. It was a lot of fun seeing how he goes about dealing with the gangs – a group of Chagrians, and another of T’surri, making sense of the Blue Harvest of the title.

We also get some glimpses of the Uhumele crew, as they begin to miss Jennir. Another Jedi shows up, a Verpine of all species, who asks the crew to help him locate Jennir. I must admit, I was uneasy about this, as I felt it was some sort of trap cooked up by the Empire. Vader is still hot on the heels of any rogue Jedi survivors, and there are a few panels where we see the wider galaxy once more. It’s pretty awesome, though the story does feel oddly finished, as Jennir steps in to deal with the T’surri survivors.

The storyline continues almost directly in Out of the Wilderness, which pulls together a few plot strands into another really nice tale. Jennir left Telerath with his erstwhile employer, though they are shot down over the desert wilderness Prine. However, the arc begins with one of my all-time favourite sequences, as an assassin sneaks aboard an Imperial Space Station/Prison facility to conduct some intelligence theft, just as Darth Vader arrives. Very nicely executed, and totally makes up for the terrible name (ISO-L8 – because it’s a prison…)

Jennir eventually hooks back up with the Uhumele crew, who have been sadly depleted since they were last together, and there is something of a sense of coming-together after the intervening arcs. I suppose this is another reason why Parallels fell short for me, as it almost exists outside of what feels, to me, like the main storyline of the Dark Times series. Sure, the Uhumele oddballs are there, but even so, it just doesn’t really measure up to the rest of it.

Doug Wheatley is back for both of these arcs, and once again we have some really luscious panels of artistic awesomeness. Overall, Path to Nowhere, Blue Harvest and Out of the Wilderness make for some really compelling Star Wars reading – and Path to Nowhere especially is one of the all-time greatest EU stories I have ever read!

Volume six in the series, Fire Carrier, picks up from Parallels, and follows K’Kruhk and the padawans as they attempt to find sanctuary. It’s actually a really interesting story, although a lot of it does feel like it’s trying to set up the fact that some Jedi did survive Order 66, particularly K’Kruhk, who had by now already made his appearance in Legacy. So it’s more about the journey than the destination, but something very interesting (to me, anyway) takes place within these pages.

We have some exploration of Imperial loyalties here, as we’re introduced to Commander Teron and Captain Denimoor, veterans of the Clone Wars both. When K’Kruhk arrives on Arkinnea, Teron appears to take an interest in him, and while I was at first convinced he’d bring Vader down on them, it turns out Teron fought besides the Whiphid on Saleucami, and still remembers the honour of those times. Teron helps K’Kruhk establish himself on the planet in isolation, a new Jedi temple for the training of the padawans.

It’s a really interesting story, as it shows that some of those in the Imperial hierarchy didn’t necessarily go along with Order 66, and perhaps resent the clones for the possibility that they are operating with a hidden agenda. It’s something that Blue Harvest also touched upon, where Vader asks if Lieutenant Vill has a similar order to eliminate him if the Emperor saw fit. This idea of commanders in the army of the Republic suddenly switching loyalties is woefully under-explored, but definitely needs to be looked at again since the EU slate has been wiped clean. Sci-fi and Fantasy stories are often guilty of using a broad brush to draw the details, Star Wars sometimes more than most, but we really need to see stories like these in the future to provide that depth.

Well, I think so, anyway!

A Spark Remains, the final volume in the Dark Times run, is really quite a good story too, following a plot by Dass Jennir and the Uhumele guys to assassinate Vader. We actually get a lot of closure during this arc, and while it ended before the announcement that Marvel would take over the license, it is tempting to think there was some effort to wrap up the Dark Times run.

The best thing, for me, about this run was returning to a character who first appeared in the Into the Unknown arc mentioned previously, Kai Hudorra. Leaving the Order to become a gambler, it turns out Hudorra has done very well for himself indeed! The crew arrives to persuade him to help taking down Vader, along with the Verpine Jedi Beyghor Sahdett who showed up during Blue Harvest. There was always something a bit off about that guy, and now we finally get to find out what that is! I wasn’t entirely convinced at first by this, though the eventual payoff to this story was pretty good.

Kai Hudorra

Kai Hudorra is an interesting character to me, and I must admit, if I were a Jedi who survived Order 66, I’d probably head off to hide out in the galaxy and make my living as a gambler!

File:Republic Emblem.svg

Dark Times is a really great series. I’ve said it a lot up there, but Path to Nowhere is one of the best Star Wars stories ever written – in both comics and novels (and, even, films!) For longtime readers of the Republic ongoing series, it is almost a must-read, as it shows a lot of characters from that series.

Something that saddened me somewhat was how little time we spent with the Empire – we see Vader, we see the Emperor, but never for very long (outside of Path to Nowhere, of course). I suppose you could argue that the four Darth Vader standalone miniseries are a part of the Dark Times run, as they are quite heavily-intertwined. Spending time with the galactic fringe, and following the adventures of a Jedi in hiding at this time, is hugely enjoyable of course, and in many respects more than makes up for that.

I really don’t know how much more I can say this, but it’s really great – and if you only ever read one Star Wars comic produced by Dark Horse, it ought to be Path to Nowhere!

Buy it from amazon:
Path to Nowhere
Parallels
Vector vol 1
Blue Harvest
Out of the Wilderness
Fire Carrier
A Spark Remains

Dark Times Omnibus 1
Dark Times Omnibus 2

Tales of the Arabian Nights

Tales of the Arabian Nights

Hey folks!

Time for another Game Day – yep, they do come round fast, don’t they!! Today I’m taking a look at a real gem of a game, the positively venerable Tales of the Arabian Nights.

Originally published in the mid-1980s by West End Games, the game was released in a third edition by Z-Man Games in 2009, which was promptly snatched up! The game is just awesome, and if you’re a fan of adventure boardgames, of roleplaying boardgames, of storytelling boardgames, of choose your own adventure books, of orientalia, or all of the above, then this game is waiting to fill a void in your life.

Now, before I plow ahead with a series of jumbled thoughts, I should probably point out that I felt the rules at first were a little overly-complex. Not worryingly so, just take a little to get used to. But that could just be me. Anyway!

Tales of the Arabian Nights

The game is played on an early medieval map of the known world,  centred on Baghdad, the city of peace.

Tales of the Arabian Nights

The game has got a very rich Orientalism that employs an Islamo-centric vibe that, so I’ve read, a lot of people find uneasy (to say the least) in the modern world. I’d just like to say that the theme of the Arabian Nights demands such a vibe, so if you’re coming to this game expecting something else, then more fool you. Anyway! You play the role of one of the great characters from that enchanting epic, such as Aladdin, Sinbad the Sailor, or even Scheherazade herself!

Tales of the Arabian Nights

Once you’ve chosen your character, you pick two values for Destiny and Story scores that must together add up to 20. This becomes your win condition, and is kept secret from the other players. I’m not normally a fan of this type of mechanic (it’s a major turnoff for me in Catan), however it doesn’t normally bother me in this game, because I’m so invested in the adventure that I generally don’t care who wins.

So how do you get Destiny and Story points? Why, by having adventures!

Tales of the Arabian Nights

The Book of Tales is the heart of this game, and accounts for the box’s incredible heft. Full to the brim with adventure, it is consulted throughout to determine the course of your character’s adventure. Let’s take a look how the turn moves:

A character moves according to his wealth, so a poor person can move by land and by sea only to a maximum of 3 spaces each. The more wealthy you are, the easier it is for you to procure transport and move faster. The highest wealth rating in this game is Fabulous, which really says it all for me! When you have moved, you have an encounter, drawing a card from the deck that will be one of three types:

Tales of the Arabian Nights

The character encounter (represented by the Enchantress above) changes depending on the time of day – as the encounter deck is cycled through, you move from morning, through to noon, and then night. A location encounter (the Dendan) changes depending on the space you’re on, shown by different-coloured jewels. Finally, the City encounter is a card that allows you to interact in different ways with different cities – if you’re not on that space when you draw it, you take the card and can play it on a later turn when you arrive there.

But what are those numbers for? This is where the Book of Tales comes in. At the start of the book are a series of matrices. When you have an encounter, you turn to that matrix and roll two dice, which determines what it is you encounter (in a location encounter) or the mood/aspect of the character.

Tales of the Arabian Nights

Ali Baba has encountered the Pearl Diving location encounter while at Shiraz, which is a city, so I turn to matrix 12 in the book, as that matches the space I’m currently on.

Tales of the Arabian Nights

I’ve rolled a 3, so I encounter a Garrulous Soldier! The letter after the encounter in the matrix refers to a second table I need to consult, the Reaction Tables. This is a separate, three-page thing with a series of tables that allow me to determine how I react to the encounter.

Tales of the Arabian Nights

I’ve decided I’m going to attempt to Hire the Garrulous Soldier, so I then roll the Destiny Die! This is another six-sided die with plus, minus and blank spaces; if it’s a plus, you add one to the result of the Reaction Table, a blank just is what it is, and a minus (as I’ve rolled here) takes away one. So my die result above directs me to paragraph 836 of the Book of Tales, and my adventure begins!

Tales of the Arabian Nights

Or maybe not! While I do get a Destiny Point, I’m driven Insane!! The bold italics results of stories refer to Status cards, while the regular results refer to Skills tokens. Skills allow you to affect the result of your adventures, while Statuses have more of a blanket effect on the game:

Tales of the Arabian Nights

Yes, in this weird and wonderful land you can become sex-changed! There are all sorts of things that can happen in the land of the Arabian Nights, which is what makes the game so much more than just rolling dice and consulting charts.

As a child, I had a lot of books. Really, I had hundreds. Among these, there was a small nucleus of five or six that I would return to time and again, small hardbacks of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Aladdin and the Lamp, The Thief of Baghdad, Sinbad the Sailor… The sense of adventure and wonder was something that had truly captivated me, and to this day has never let go. I’m still a voracious reader, but it’s no exaggeration to say that nothing I have encountered since has had quite the same allure.

If you love the exotic tales and yearn for the adventure, then this game is a must! And while I’m throwing recommendations around, here’s an excellent choice of soundtrack:

I do love a bit of orchestral splendour from Rimsky-Korsakov, and Scheherazade is a no-brainer for this game! Ah, takes me back to my clarinet-playing days (that solo at 13:50 really does turn you purple…)

In order to write today’s blog, I thought it’d be fun to try playing this game solo, as it’s something I’ve often thought would work in theory, but hadn’t yet tried. Well, I’m pleased to say it’s pretty marvellous, and requires minimal tweaks! I’ve since discovered there is an actual official solitaire variant, along with a Storytelling variant that sounds pretty amazing, but anyway.

Tales of the Arabian Nights

My game began pretty well, where I’d drawn the “Seek Love” quest (oh, the irony) and completed it on turn 3 or 4. However, I hadn’t realised what I was getting myself in for! The Married status that results requires your character to return to an Origin city whenever he has an encounter in another city on the board – I quickly found myself in a bitter marriage, which had turned plain bizarre when I wound up changing my sex! Through an unlucky series of turns, I became both Insane and Scorned – oh, it’s almost funny! When I found myself Ensorcelled to boot, I’d lost all free will as my Reactions and Movements were chosen at random.

I think my lowest point was when I was forced to rob a dying hunchback. I managed to lose these pesky statuses, though in constantly returning home I was surprised at how many babies I was producing – especially given my sex-changed state! On one particularly unlucky encounter, I became Imprisoned and Wounded while in my origin city, all for avoiding some strange customs! And there I was, with six children to care for!

The game took an unexpected turn when I wandered into a strange land where a surviving spouse is buried alive upon the death of their partner. Luckily, my spouse died (I’m a terrible person), and after a period of surviving by killing other surviving spouses, I escaped that awful land, and made it into the Valley of Diamonds! A few turns later, I converted the entire Undersea Kingdom to Islam, but none of these achievements were enough to fill the void left by the now-regretted death of my beloved, and just when I was considering ending it all, I rediscovered the Sex-Change Spring and returned to myself!

Buy it from amazon:
Tales of the Arabian Nights