Procrastination, part two

Well folks, the last weekend before my exam has been and (nearly) gone, and my revision is still near-nonexistent! Basically, I don’t exam well, so the sooner this is over, the better!

I *should* be revising…

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What I have been reading, of course, is Star Wars stuff! I finished reading Darksaber yesterday, which I’ve been off-and-on reading for the past fortnight or so. It’s a book that I remember enjoying a lot when I first read it all those years ago, but as with a lot of these novels lately, I’m finding I’m less impressed with it.

Last year, I read the Jedi Academy trilogy, which was a bit of a let-down, too. Following that trilogy, we have the so-called ‘Callista trilogy’, written between Barbara Hambly and Kevin J Anderson. Children of the Jedi, by Hambly, sees Luke take on the re-activated superweapon Eye of Palpatine, during which time he falls in love with the disembodied spirit of former Jedi Knight Callista Ming. The weapon is destroyed, during which Callista manages to re-inhabit human form, though as the expense of her ability to use the Force. The book is about as dire as it sounds, thoughI seem to remember there are one or two moments that were interesting, but otherwise it doesn’t really warrant the effort to read it.

Darksaber forms more of a sequel to the Jedi Academy trilogy, as we see what some of the trainees have been up to over the past year or so. Written by Kevin J Anderson, the plot feels a bit more galaxy-spanning than his previous trilogy – indeed, it feels a little more ambitious overall. In addition to the Jedi trainees, we also get to catch up with Admiral Daala, who did indeed survive the events of Champions of the Force, and Captain Pellaeon, who has been wandering adrift since Thrawn’s defeat at Bilbringi. Two further storylines see the Hutts building a superweapon, and of course, Luke and Callista continuing their story trying to find Callista’s powers.

As typical for many of the Bantam novels, movie references are heavy and innovation tends to be weird. I mean, we revisit many of the movie locations, often on the slimmest of reasons (we even get to meet up with the Wampa from Empire Strikes Back again!), while new places include Dorsk 81’s home planet where everyone is a clone, and a luxury resort carved into a comet that is primarily used to mine water. Movie references can often be nice and grounding when you read tie-in material like this, but in many of these books the references are contrived and gratuitous, and can sometimes feel downright lazy, if I’m totally honest.

I actually feel really bad for criticising this book, as I really liked it back in the day, but the simple fact remains that it just isn’t all that good as some of the more serious Star Wars fiction. It definitely feels like a kids book that is taking itself a little too seriously at times. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bashing on kids books, but when a book is sold as adult fiction, I expect it to be pitched at an adult audience, even if the subject matter is Star Wars. The biggest thing on this is Luke and Callista. Something I found quite strange is how they seem to agree that their relationship isn’t worthwhile unless Callista has her Force powers, which comes across as elitist and weird, basically. Eventually, Callista discovers she can use the dark side, which just isn’t worth it, but she decides it might be best if she leaves Luke rather than being reminded of what she used to have. The whole storyline plays out as perhaps the worst sort of soap opera. I remember reading an article that stated Lucasfilm had decided Luke and Mara would end up together, but because the Bantam novels weren’t released in any sort of chronological order, stuff like this would happen as other women were brought into his life. In this respect, Anderson has a bit of a rough time trying to resolve the situation set up in Children of the Jedi, after Lucasfilm had decided Callista would not be the woman for Luke.

Kyp Durron is back, Anderson’s pet character, and while he isn’t quite so insufferable in this book (largely due to the fact he isn’t in a large portion of it), he still gets to brood wonderfully and rubbish like that. Daala is her usual fearsome-yet-ineffective self, as she tried to unite the Empire, kills a load of the squabbling warlords, but still manages to balls-up the whole thing.

The title story involves Durga the Hutt and his efforts to create a superweapon with which to terrorize the galaxy. It’s actually pretty hilarious, and while some of it is a bit too simplistic, like it’s more suited to a children’s book than anything else, but has the distinction of seeing the first ever Rebel speaking-character from the movies being killed off. Remember General Madine, from the Death Star II assault briefing in Return of the Jedi? Well, he gets killed. The character of Durga the Hutt was created for this novel, where he isn’t really much more than a pantomime villain, but he was further developed during AC Crispin’s excellent Han Solo trilogy, where the Hutt storyline of that book series is just wonderful. We also get to meet the Imperial Engineer, Bevel Lemelisk, who created the Death Star project and had been introduced primarily via the West End Games RPG.

Speaking of the RPG, I also read the Barbara Hambly short story Murder in Slushtime, from the Adventure Journal. The story involves Callista among a whole load of Gamorreans, following the events of Darksaber. The Adventure Journal has got some really great stuff, and not just the short stories – there are articles that provide settings for RPG campaigns that are really significant, as they were subsequently used by the novelists. Murder in Slushtime is a kinda throwaway story, which is sort of a murder-mystery that shows us a whole load of Gamorrean culture that I’m not entirely sure we ever wanted to know! This is only increased by the RPG article that follows. Who knew Gamorrean boars wrote love poetry when they felt all romantic during the wintertime?

The Callista storyline is ‘resolved’ in Planet of Twilight, which is perhaps the second-worst Star Wars novel of all time. I haven’t actually read it in decades, but it feels like a collection of shorter stories, or perhaps more like a short story that has been elongated beyond all business, with another couple of stories stuck on to try and mitigate the fact. Luke searches for Callista, but when he actually finds her, they merely agree to go their separate ways from afar – I mean, they don’t even converse, they just nod to each other from across a valley or something. It’s generally unsatisfactory, but there we have it.

I should probably return to the revision…or, at least, try to…

Against the Onslaught

Hey folks,
Welcome to another game day! Something exciting for you all today, I’m taking a look at a game that I only had delivered last week, but has really captured my imagination. It’s time to go up against the alien onslaught, in Xenoshyft: Onslaught!

Xenoshyft: Onslaught

This is a kickstarter game from Cool Mini Or Not that has recently come out in retail, the campaign having ended in June last year. I missed the kickstarter, I came across it following the Blood Rage campaign, when I thought I might check out CMON’s website to see what else they’d done. A co-operative base-defense card game sounded interesting, and the rest is history.

Something that initially drew me to the game, besides the co-op thing, is the look it has. There’s almost a Warhammer 40k feel to it, with the human players (Imperial Guard?) going up against big bugs (Tyranids?) in the hope of just outlasting them. When I cracked open the game and was looking through the cards, this came across further in the top-level soldiers you can purchase – a collection of battle suits (Tau?) I actually made a first-impressions video back when I had the game delivered, check that out here:

The game is really a lot of fun, anyway. It belongs to what I’ve previously referred to as the second-generation of deck-building games, distinct from the more ‘pure deckbuilding’ of Dominion, and more akin to stuff like Marvel Legendary or Thunderstone. Actually, Thunderstone is a great comparison, because in terms of mechanics it has a very similar feel to that game.

Xenoshyft: Onslaught

You play a division of NorTec Marines, and at the start you receive a location card that you are tasked with defending. The game is set up with soldier character cards on the left, and nine items on the right – these items are chosen at random, though at least one will be dictated by the location card. They’re in stacks of five, but when a stack runs out, rather than triggering an end-game, you just replace it. You start with chump characters as well as resources – here, ‘xenostathem’, a rare mineral that you’re mining. This mineral attracts the alien fauna of the world, and the more you have, the more rabid that fauna gets.

The object of the game is basically to survive over nine rounds, which are broken into three waves. During wave one, you face comparatively easy monsters, and only have access to some troops; during wave two, you have tougher monsters, but you can now purchase better troops, and the same in wave three. You can also trade in your 1-resource xenostathem for 3-resource in wave two, and 6-resource in wave three, so that it becomes easier to get more resources in one go.

At the beginning of the turn, you draw a hand of six cards, and also one free resource from the bank. You can then buy whatever you like, and it goes into your hand immediately. This is a real game-changer for the deck-building genre, and veterans will realise just how powerful a mechanic it is. But it also makes complete sense, right? You buy stuff, so you get that stuff right now, rather than investing in it for a long-term yield – I’m buying guns and stuff, after all, not stocks and shares! You then place any soldiers you have in a lane, equipping stuff to them as you see fit.

Xenoshyft: Onslaught

The aliens then come out to play, and are dealt face-down into their lane. Combat begins by turning over the right-most alien, and damage is dealt simultaneously:

Xenoshyft: Onslaught

In the picture above, the drone deals two damage (bottom-left, the red bullets), and has two hit-points (the green plus), while the ranger deals four damage because of the card he is equipped with. So the ranger deals more than enough to kill the drone, and the special text on the weapon card allows him to deal the excess damage to another enemy in the lane. This is really useful, as you can potentially kill off enemies before they get to you. However, some enemies have a ‘reveal’ effect that triggers when they’re flipped over, and when you deal damage in this way, that effect would still trigger.

Soldier unit cards stay in place until they are destroyed, when they’re discarded and the soldier to their right moves up to face the onslaught. Aliens move in a similar manner, with the two sides coming together until one is wiped out. If the soldiers outlast the four aliens, they stay in place for the next turn; if the aliens defeat all four soldiers, however, they then deal their damage to the base, which has 15 hit points per player. If the base is reduced to 0hp, then it’s game over, man!

Xenoshyft: Onslaught

Some other things include the ability to level-up your chump cards by ‘burning’ them – which means putting them back into their starting piles. This effect usually reduces the cost of another unit card, which can be very useful! Your location card, in addition to giving you extra cards to your starting hand, also has ongoing abilities it grants, such as lowering the cost to purchase cards, or giving you free cards.

To sum up, this is a great game. I’ve played it a few times now, and have lost every time. But it’s never a bitter loss – I mean, it always feels like I need to try again and I might just actually win if I do. The lane mechanic does feel a little like Thunderstone, but I think that’s more a superficial thing, and the game as a whole definitely feels like its own thing. The buy-it-and-get-it-now mechanic really stands out for me, though, and the theme of fighting off these giant bugs is just fantastic!

This is a kickstarter game, so naturally there are exclusives that you won’t get at retail. Looking at the campaign’s page, these range from Commander cards for your marines, which seem a bit overpowered, three packs of ‘experimental items’ and three of reinforcements, which serve to add some options, and a batch of more aliens. I honestly don’t feel like I’ve missed out on too much from this, I have to say – while some of these things look interesting, like that Lone Wolf ‘heroic militia’ card, I’m not going to lose sleep on the thought that I have ‘an incomplete game’, as I know a lot of completionists often feel about such things. One of the things I love about this game is just how tough it is, how I feel like I’m really slogging it through hell on this planet, and the addition of powerful unit cards like these strikes me as skewing the balance of the game.

The page also shows two mini-expansions, featuring a new location and some new items. Those look interesting – the Grafting Laboratory, in particular! Not ks exclusives, I hope they’ll be released soon for the enjoyment of all!

Buy it from amazon:
Xenoshyft: Onslaught

Long weekend bits

Hey everybody!
It’s Geek Pride Day today, the date marking the anniversary of the premiere of A New Hope in 1977, and while I only realised this at 9pm (having a week off work makes me lose track of the date), I feel like I’ve nevertheless managed to celebrate in style!

I’ve been playing a lot of games, which will be featuring here in the coming weeks as Game Day blogs, you should be really excited about that. Tomorrow’s is a really nice game I only took delivery of last week, but has already managed to brutalise me quite a number of times. You’ll see more when the blog hits, of course, and I’m sure a lot of you will know what I’m talking about when you read it. I also got in a game with an old favourite, and with the juggernaut of Ameritrash, Arkham Horror. That was a good one. But enough with the teasing.

I also did some faffing with plastic, building up enough Necron models for a Canoptek Harvest:

It's harvest time! #Necrons #Warhammer

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I haven’t done anything else with them yet – in fact, they haven’t moved from atop my bookcase since I took that instagram photo yesterday. But they’re there, and they look awesome, so yeah…

I have an exam a week on Thursday for the degree I’m doing, which is not something I’m particularly looking forward to as I never ‘exam’ well. I’m also hopeless at revision, as it all turns to just so many words on a page and nothing ever sinks in. We’ll see what happens, of course.

For the past week or so now, I’ve been up to my armpits in html as I’ve been designing a website as a kind of test of my skills in web design. The site is very much in beta right now, though improving as the days go on. It’s on the subject of opera, something I’ve not talked about on this blog before, but which I enjoy very much, so by all means if you’re interested, take a look! Feedback is always welcome, too!

While that has proven to be a massive time-sink, I’ve still taken the opportunity to catch up with the last couple of episodes of TableTop – the Libertalia episode is one of the funniest I’ve seen, I think! Definitely a highlight of the season for me – not least because I knew next to nothing about the game.

There have been some really great episodes this season of course (Dead of Winter and Stone Age leap to mind), but yeah, well worth a watch I’d say!

I also finally got round to watching the first episode of Dollhouse, the Joss Whedon series from, what, six years ago now? It’s a pretty compelling watch, though had a bit of a weird start as it took a while to really explain what was actually going on. Looks typical Whedon stuff, anyway, with lots of beautiful girls doing badass stuff, but even with all that aside, it’s something I’m intrigued by, so I’ll hopefully be getting some more of that in around the revision!

I’m not serious!

Hey folks!
It’s a long weekend again, something always to be cherished! I’ve been celebrating with some games, which is unsurprising to long-time readers – Arkham Horror and Lord of the Rings LCG have both made an appearance thus far, and I don’t doubt that many others will join them before the weekend is over!

May has otherwise been a pretty sparse month for gaming, I think due to other commitments that have engulfed me – namely, the degree. Yesterday, however, I had a day off, and after getting a new tire for the car (I know how to live), I popped along to the local games store for a couple of games.

First up, I’d been asked to give a demo of Android: Netrunner, which appeared on my blog not too long ago, and was utterly decimated by my opponent in his very first game! I played as the Runner (as per), with my classic Shaper deck, while I gave him a Haas/Bioroid deck that was basically the list from Creation and Control, with a couple of other cards added in. We played with open hands, and all his cards were played face-up so as to explain the game as it went along, but yeah… decimated!

I suppose that shows the beauty of how this game works. The deck is really well-made, so pretty much runs itself: a lot of ice, and just enough agenda points, and I just couldn’t get in. That said, I did have some pretty bad draws, only ever drawing two icebreaker programs (despite using two Diesel cards). I’ve only ever played against Weyland Consortium, so it was interesting to see how another corp plays. He liked it, anyway, and hopefully we’ll get some more plays in.

X-Wing

Following that, I had two games of X-Wing, the first using the squad above that centred around Vader. It’s something I’ve wanted to try for a while now, since I started on this X-Wing rediscovery and all! My usual strategy, of ‘just fly around and shoot stuff’, worked really poorly, as I couldn’t do anything to stop Matt’s usual reliance on Biggs. I lost, but it took time to lose!

That was followed by an impromptu game where I made the following squad up on the fly:

X-Wing

Luckily, there were some other X-Wing players in the store, one of whom suggested Fel and loaned me some upgrades to use. It ended wonderfully badly, as the interceptors were picked off quickly, and Echo, while doing some damage, still didn’t do enough before following them. My Obsidian Squadron Pilot, however, turned into something of a star turn – at one point, he managed to score three critical hits when targeting Horton Salm at range 1, the Y-Wing only evading one! However, it still wasn’t meant to be, and he followed his fellows into the cold void.

Looking back over previous games in general, a trend emerges of me doing really badly. These two X-Wing games in particular have just served to highlight that. Being at the store however, with other folks there offering me advice and stuff, it occurred to me that my poor track record doesn’t actually bother me in the slightest. And I think the pep-talk before that second game really underlined the fact that I’m just not a serious gamer.

I’ve probably mentioned, dozens of times now, that I’m not a very strategic player of games. I will usually attempt to put some sort of strategy together in card games like Lord of the Rings or Android Netrunner, but my past experiences have shown that it is so very rare that any kind of strategy will actually come together, so nowadays I tend not to bother with those sorts of things. Part of me feels that card games like these have a much higher luck aspect than most people give them credit for – while you can build a deck that looks perfect, you’re still going to shuffle that deck before you begin, so there’s no way you can reliably get those cards that you need into your hand to allow your chosen strategy to unfold. While many such games will include cards that let you search portions of (or even your whole) deck for cards, you’re usually limited to the number of specific cards you can include in your deck, so if you don’t draw any such “scrying” cards, you’re going to be hampered.

I read a lot about people who have unmitigated success with games like Lord of the Rings, who espouse their chosen strategy as The One etc, but I often wonder how many games they’ve actually abandoned before the first turn is over, because their opening hand (and mulligan) didn’t contain those key cards. Personally, I never mulligan in card games – maybe it’s something I should start thinking about…

Returning to the X-Wing example, the upgrades I was loaned for Soontir Fel were clearly designed to do some pretty awesome strategy, but that guy was shot out of the sky on the second turn due to poor dice rolling on my part. Dice hate me anyway, of course, but that’s by-the-by. There was a look of some horror as my fighter ace was shot out right from under me, almost like I had betrayed that upgrade combo I’d been given. Or worse, that I just didn’t get the game enough to play it properly. Whatever. I actually had more fun playing with my Obsidian Squadron Pilot than I did with that strategically-perfect Fel, because it gave me the chance for some role-playing, as I told the story of a pilot, fresh from the academy (so he remembered all of the lessons because they were still fresh), wanting to make a name for himself by flying alongside the legendary Fel but, when he was shot down, decided to go out for revenge and show that he was a legitimate part of the Empire’s finest. He rolled those three crits on his first attack after going in for revenge, which really just fueled the story.

But you know what? When the game was over, the one thing we were all talking about was how that nameless pilot managed to survive for round after round, trying to avenge Fel – not the wonderful upgrade combo that should have let Fel last longer than just two rounds.

This is why I’m not interested in power-gaming. This is why I will always play the theme decks over the power decks. The opportunity to create epic storytelling adventures will always appeal to me over the opportunity to win. I may not be classed as a serious gamer, but I definitely have fun with these things. And I think my opponents do, too.

Weekend away, and other bits

Hey everybody!
I’m recently back from a weekend spent in the south of England, which was quite simply splendid! I went to Oxford for a long weekend, somewhere I haven’t been for years now, but it’s one of my all-time favourite places to be, so I was looking forward to that quite a lot! In the event, while I spent most of Sunday there, I don’t feel like I got to see enough of the place, having spent most of my time at the Ashmolean Museum, but even so, it’s a wonderful place, and I’m hoping that I can go back very soon!

I also went to Winchester, which has been on my to-do list for years now, but unfortunately was caught in the torrential rain on Monday, so didn’t hang around half as long as I should have. I managed to see the cathedral, and the statue of Alfred the Great, but sadly that was that! Thoroughly soaked, I abandoned the trip for another time – hopefully July!

I’d hoped to fit in so much while I was down there, but was sadly rained off. Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being back there. Winchester looks like a lovely place, and Oxford is almost a spiritual home for me, so I’ll be planning that return soon, anyway!

While I was there, I also finished reading Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, which I actually posted about yesterday. It’s a tremendous book, and following my Heir to the Jedi excitement of last month, I feel on something of a Luke kick. Perhaps surprisingly, there aren’t that many stories that really showcase him, though, so I’ve resumed by reading with Darksaber, which will feature here soon, no doubt!

I’m a bit surprised that I haven’t really been playing many games lately. In fact, I haven’t done so at all this month! Perhaps explaining the somewhat rushed game day blog yesterday. I’ve arranged for another game of X-Wing on Friday, though, so if nothing else, there’ll be that to look forward to.

There hasn’t really been a great deal of news on the boardgame front lately – not that much that interests me, at any rate. Except, perhaps, for this:

Call of Cthulhu Mark of Madness

FFG are churning out the Call of Cthulhu deluxe boxes, that’s for sure! The Hastur faction’s box, looks like a lot of exciting stuff will be coming from this one when it arrives in the autumn! I enjoy running Hastur/Silver Twilight, so definitely looking forward to this one!

FFP have a new ad for the upcoming Caverns of Cynder expansion for Shadows of Brimstone, which is looking really nice! Only one new enemy for the world, though apparently the hellbats from the Jargono box will be usable as “lava bats”, so that’s interesting.

But yeah, otherwise it seems to have been a quiet time on the game front lately…

The Shadows of Mindor

Hey everybody!
I’m back from my sojourn down in Oxfordshire, which was spectacular and will no doubt be featured properly in a blog before the week is out! While there, I finished reading Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, which I’ve on/off been reading since I finished Heir to the Jedi last month.

It’s a novel I’ve read before, back in 2010 I seem to remember, but being a big Luke fan and fired with enthusiasm following the new book, I decided to revisit it. It’s pretty good, too, with a lot of action and stuff, even though it’s one of these that is just set in a single location.

The book’s villain is the EU’s legendary Blackhole, who is here revealed to be Cronal and Lord Shadowspawn as well. Confused? Well, you’re not the only one! Last month I took a look at some of the early newspaper-strip comics in The Early Adventures, where Agent Blackhole made his debut in the story Gambler’s World. Blackhole was later featured in an article in the now-defunct Star Wars Gamer magazine, which basically reaffirmed his link with Imperial Intelligence, and also that with Carnor Jax, who also uses black-armoured stormtroopers in the first arc of Crimson Empire. Stover elaborates on all of this, working in links made between Blackhole and the Lord Shadowspawn mentioned in the Dark Empire sourcebook, as well as with the Cronal mentioned in the Gamesmaster Screen from the West End Games RPG. This link had already been made in The Dark Forces Saga, a series of articles on the Wizards of the Coast site for the RPG. The whole is an elaborate collection of references into a truly beguiling character, though perhaps some more background could have been given for his shining role in novel form…

The book also brings us characters from Stover’s earlier Shatterpoint, which kicked off the Clone Wars publishing program back in the days between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. We see Kar Vastor and Nick Rostu again, with some interesting moments that really help to bridge the gap between the two trilogies. Something I really liked was how Nick thought Anakin had died protecting the Jedi Temple, while of course Luke knows otherwise. It’s also fleetingly mentioned, but there’s something of the sense of, just where did Vader come from? One minute, Palpatine has Anakin by his side and all is well, the next, the Jedi have attempted to take over, Palpatine declares the Empire, and suddenly there’s a big black-armoured chap with him. It’s something I wish we could see more of, anyway.

Finally, the book also brings back another early-comics character, the Mandalorian Fenn Shysa. He and Leia had had something of an awkward relationship in the pages of the Marvel ongoing series back in the day, and it was fun to see how Han reacts to all that.

The story is a bit gritty at times, but overall it’s really interesting. Shortly after the Battle of Endor, the rebels arrive in the Taspan system and all hell breaks loose as they’re trapped by Lord Shadowspawn/Blackhole’s forces. The battle is often rough, though it’s great to see Lando in military command, all while being rather dashing. There are echoes of Return of the Jedi, as Blackhole tries to manipulate Luke before realising he has a sister, and turning his attentions to Leia. On the subject of the last Princess of Alderaan, we see a really interesting side of her here, when she is able to completely deflect Blackhole’s brainwashing while unconscious. While we often hear how strong-willed she is, it’s nice to see this actually demonstrated here.

If I had to make any gripes about it, Luke comes across as far too serious for the majority of the time. Obviously, some pretty intense stuff is happening in his life, but still, it could lead to some fairly one-dimensional storytelling, but luckily just manages to avoid that. I’m a big Luke fan, though, so I’m naturally going to be biased!

All in all, a good book, and well worth digging up if you haven’t already done so!

Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor

Here be Monsters!

Hey everybody!
Game day here at spalanz.com has a more relaxed tone today. I’m actually on holiday at the moment, but if this scheduling lark works, you’ll be enjoying this blog on Tuesday all the same! I thought I’d share a couple of reviews I wrote initially on boardgamegeek of two of the print-and-play villains for A Touch of Evil: the Shadow Witch and the Delion Dryad!

The Shadow Witch

I suppose this is more of a first thoughts than a review, as I’ve only played one game against this villain, but I just had to share!

First of all, the web exclusives from FFP get a really big thumbs up from me, as I love to see companies promote and support their games in this way. It’s also a nice way to get some really crazy mechanics into play without upsetting the more mainstream physical product, if that makes sense. That the Shadow Witch was ‘released’ for Hallowe’en is extremely apt, because this is one scary villain.

At first glance, the Witch appears to be quite the pushover – indeed, four combat and five wounds would seem like a bit of a pushover, and her ‘Basic Game’ stats only pump her up by 1 combat for each ‘remains in play’ card. While not exactly easy, it is still nonetheless quite straightforward to cancel such cards, so provided you can control things so that you aren’t forced into a Showdown, it should be fairly straightforward to win. Her Basic Game minion chart is also fairly, well, basic really.

But the Advanced Game is where this villain really shines, and I think if you want to play against her, you’ll want to be playing the Advanced Game every time.

First off, the Shadow Witch has the most interesting effect to date on any villain, that of gathering clues. This really helps to make you feel like you’re on a real investigation into the Witch’s past, and I am such a big fan of this idea I want to try to incorporate a similar thing into all my future games! Not only is there a thematic point to this, but there is a very real game reason for doing so as well.

See, the Shadow Witch has some insane methods of pumping herself up with combat dice. As well as having +1 for each Mystery card that ‘remains in play’, she has +1 against any hero with less than Spirit 4 (get thee to the Church!), +2 for every Little Secret revealed on a Town Elder in your Hunting Party, and an astonishing +6 just for being in the Showdown! You’ll definitely want to be on the trail of those clues, just to counteract this ability!

As if that wasn’t bad enough, she’s also very good at killing off the Town Elders. I think every villain has an ability (certainly, most of them) centred on the “Murder!” Mystery cards, bringing out extra minions and whatnot. The Shadow Witch forces a roll against the Town Elders’ Honour, and for every Elder’s Honour that matches the roll, they get a Transformation marker. If these markers equal their Spirit, they are killed, removed from the game, and a Shadow Spectre haunts the town in their stead. Wonderfully thematic! In the basic game, there are 7 of these Mystery cards, but with expansions that number can be as high as 11. That’s a good reason to want to get Sophie the Midwife on your side, if you can!

These Shadow Spectres also loom out of the miasma thanks to a horrible event, the Wrath of the Shadow Witch, which discards the top two cards of each location deck, any allies discarded by this being removed from the game and replaced with these Spectres. Wow. Again, the base game has five allies that can fall foul of this (in my game, three of them left us for good because of it), with as many as 11 more added in with all the expansions.

That would be bad enough, of course, but wait! These Spectres have an additional effect of their own! While a Shadow Spectre is on the board, you draw an extra Mystery card at the start of the Mystery phase! Adding to the chance you’ll get one of those cursed “Murder!” cards, or even something that will remain in play!

By far my favourite mechanic of the Shadow Witch, however, has got to be Solomon the Cat. Remember that marker from Something Wicked, that could represent the Familiar Cat that lurks on the Forbidden Island? Well, here he has a name and a neat little effect that kicks off at the start of each Mystery Phase. Vaguely reminiscent of The Horseman Rides Tonight, he zooms off around the board from Random Location to Random Location, but instead of attacking you, you have to pass a Cunning 5+ test or pay the consequences, rolling on Solomon’s little chart. It’s all basically bad stuff that can happen – indeed, the villain sheet tells us he wanders around “spreading misfortune wherever he goes”. However, if you happen to have the keyword Strange, and fail your Cunning test but then roll a 6, you can get extra Investigation, or 1 Clue. Very handy that, but unfortunately very difficult to pull off – with the exception of Heinrich Cartwright from the base game, every Strange Hero is rolling at least 3 dice for the Cunning test. Unless you roll like me (that is, badly), you might not make it work. Solomon is a fantastic mechanic, however, and I think I’d like to see more of that if this game continues to be expanded.

The Shadow Witch has got to be one of the most original and, I feel, complex villains we’ve seen in this game so far. The game I’ve just played against her was absolutely brutal, but all the more awesome for it!!!!!

The Delion Dryad

Having enjoyed myself so much reviewing the Shadow Witch last time, I thought I’d turn my attention to the first web exclusive villain this time, and regale you all with my thoughts on the Delion Dryad!

Aside from the fact that I really like the look of this magik plant, I really enjoy going up against her in the game, as everything is made so much more interesting due to her abilities! There are some really crazy things going on here as well, that often require a lot of keeping-track, but I find it just makes for a more immersive game.

With the basic rules, the Dryad is already fairly tricky to get round. 6 combat and four wounds doesn’t sound particularly difficult in light of the villains we’ve been seeing in The Coast particularly, but when combined with her Sorceress ability, which makes each hero need a combined Spirit and Cunning of 8 or more or else you only hit on a 6, things already look tough. You’ll need to go off exploring a lot, or else train at the Church and/or Magistrate’s Office before you can actually take her on. So an early-game Deadly Encounter might set you back further than you’d like.

The Basic Minion chart also provides a use for the Living Trees minion markets included in the base game, which is a really nice touch! What isn’t nice is that they are a lot more deadly than the Angry Trees that you might encounter in the Olde Woods deck, rolling an extra fight dice. The event on this chart increases the amount of secrets the Town Elders get, which can get out of hand pretty quickly if you’re unfortunate enough to roll this event. The Dryad also has wolf minions that, in the basic game, have a set number of wounds so you actually have to defeat them, much like the Timber Wolves you can encounter in the Olde Woods.

The Olde Woods is, as you might expect, quite the theme for the Dryad, which is explored further in the Advanced Abilities. Her Dark Spirit of the Woods ability is particularly atmospheric I thought, and as (bad) luck would have it, when I was eventually forced into a Showdown with her it was actually in the Woods. When there, both she and her minions get an extra fight dice, though on the plus side non-Showdown fights and defeated minions are worth an extra one investigation. However, during the game if you’re caught lingering there, you’re attacked on the roll of 1, 2 or 3. A really nice touch, I thought.

She has two really quite distressing abilities, one of which has already been mentioned here as perhaps being a bit too much. Shadow of the Season gives the Dryad +1 Wound Marker whenever the Shadow Track moves into a new stage, either forward or back. So if you’ve been stockpiling Reassuring Speeches to play once the track has moved down low enough to buy a lair card before you drive it back up, you might want to rethink that strategy. “I think not!” really helps, though, as you can perhaps get it down far enough and then just keep it there.

The second ability, Control of Nature, has her spawning Living Trees at Random Locations at the beginning of every Mystery phase. These trees are already no pushovers, but if you leave them too long, all six will be on the board and you’ll be forced instead to move the Shadow Track each Mystery Phase. (As an aside, I’m not exactly sure why the Villain Sheet states you should do this if the number runs out, as this is already in the rulebook as written).

Each Villain, of course, also has an advanced effect that kicks off at the Mystery card “Murder!”, and the Dryad’s is, in my opinion, perhaps the best of them all (as much as I enjoy the Nutcracker’s ability, I should add). The Delion Dryad, we are told, is ‘a powerful force of nature’ who uses spells and witchcraft ‘to enchant all those who would challenge her domination’. As such, her Enchantment effect causes any and all Town Elders with Cunning equal to or less than the roll of a d6 to gain an enchantment marker. At the start of the Showdown, all Town Elders in the Hunting Party plus one other chosen by the first player must make a Spirit 4+ test and, if they don’t roll as many successes as they have enchantment markers, they join the Villain as an Evil Elder. This is just genius, in my opinion! If you want Lord Hanbrook’s extra fight dice, or Lady Hanbrook’s ability to ignore the first hit, then you’re going to have to keep them well and truly on your side! (The Dryad has new keywords, however – Magik and Plant – so both the Reverend and the Magistrate don’t affect her with their abilities).

Luckily, there are ways to prevent these enchantment tokens from piling up, though they aren’t exactly easy. First, the aforementioned Reassuring Speech can be used to remove all tokens from one Elder – which is good, though there are of course only two copies in the event deck. Victor Danforth and the “I Say…” card could be of great use here, of course. The only other way is through the event Creeping Brambles on the advanced Minion Chart. If you pass an Honor 6+ test, for each 6+ rolled you can remove one enchantment token. The advanced Minion Chart, however, also changes the Nature’s Lure event to one that adds enchantment tokens, instead of Secrets, to the Town Elders.

Lastly, as you might perhaps expect, the Delion Dryad is Flammable, so highly susceptible to Fire items, as are her Living Trees minions. So while you have a Torch and you’re fighting her Trees, you get +2 Fight Dice in your favour. Against the Dryad herself, you can discard that Torch to get +4 fight dice until the end of the round, so when you’re up against this one you’ll want to head to the Blacksmith as soon as you have 4 Investigation under your belt!

For all this, however, I still found her a fairly routine Villain to beat. Some really nicely thematic abilities, and the wonderful Enchantment effects, but otherwise it wasn’t too hard a slog to fight her. With just the base set things are a bit different of course, though up against her with Adrianna, from Hero Pack 1 and who determines her fight dice first (to say nothing of forcing rerolls for 2 investigation each), things like the Living Trees lose a lot of their threat. But anyone equipped with a Hunting Rifle will have this edge.

I still really like her, I think the theme that comes out of this Villain is tremendous, but given all the expansions we’ve had since, I feel that some of the edge has been taken away from her.

Delion Dryad

These characters are awesome and, along with the Volgovian Nutcracker and Krampus, are a whole load of fun that can be added into the game for a new experience. Recommended!