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!