Journeys in the Dark

Hey everybody!
It’s post 300! Never thought I’d see the day… to celebrate the fact that I’ve been churning out so many posts here at spalanz.com, I’ve decided to go for a fairly special post to mark the occasion, and bring you all a game day blog that takes a look at a game that has been mentioned here so often, it’s gotten a little silly: it’s time for Descent!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, today I’m looking at the juggernaut of dungeon-crawling games, designed by Kevin Wilson and originally released from Fantasy Flight Games back in 2005. Set in the fantasy world of Terrinoth, the game features a one-vs-many mechanic, pitting a group of heroes against the evil Overlord. It was released in a second edition in 2012, and being a huge fan of the Realms of Terrinoth, I snapped it up! While it has seen depressingly little table-time from me, a spate of co-operative adventures has since been released that supports solo play for the game, and has allowed me to enjoy the game at last!

So let’s take a look…

First of all, the heroes. There are eight heroes in the base game, sub-divided into four archetypes – warrior (red), healer (blue), mage (yellow) and scout (green). Each of these is further subdivided into classes, with each archetype receiving two such classes in the base game. Each class has its own deck of small cards, which provide the hero with some starting items and abilities, as well as skills that can be bought by leveling up your hero. Always fantastic when a game allows this!

In a similar manner, the Overlord player has a deck of Overlord cards he can use to counter the efforts of the heroes, which starts as a generic deck of cards but can branch into particular specialties. The Overlord mainly interacts with the heroes by deploying monsters, as well as using the Overlord cards to affect gameplay. Furthermore, the Overlord has access to powerful Lieutenant packs that give even more options:

Lieutenant packs feature plastic miniatures instead of the cardboard tokens used to represent Lieutenants in the game. As usual with FFG, however, they’re much more than just a new figure. They also come with a Plot deck that adds an extra level of storytelling for the Overlord, a deck of cards that is paid for with threat tokens that are gained whenever the Overlord defeats heroes, completing quests, etc. However, threat tokens, when paid, are given to the heroes as Fortune tokens, which can be used by them to re-roll dice and stuff. It can be a powerful trade-off! Also included is an Overlord card that allows you to bring that Lieutenant into any game as an Agent, replacing one monster group with a version of the Lieutenant that is somewhere between full Lieutenant and Monster. There are loads of Lieutenant packs out now, and they’re all very much worth it for the range of options they bring to the game!

The game follows a specific scenario, and supports a campaign-mode of play whereby scenarios can be linked to form a real adventure, and character-leveling becomes more important as the game goes on! There is a campaign book included in the game that details how each scenario is set up, using specific tiles and monsters, as well as other tokens to represent items or search opportunities for the heroes.

Descent: Journeys in the Dark

The Overlord, as mentioned, has access to a fairly decent collection of monsters here, but there are also Hero and Monster Collections available that re-implement classic monsters from the first edition of the game, in new sculpts that look pretty awesome! I’ve looked at those elsewhere on this blog, of course, so let’s stick with the base game for now!

Descent: Journeys in the Dark

While the game is scenario-driven, combat forms a main part of the experience, and the system used by Descent is actually really nice, I think! To start with, there are a whole load of weird-looking six-sided dice for the game, which have all manner of symbols on them to indicate successes and failures.

Descent: Journeys in the Dark

The dice fall into two categories: attack and defense. Attack dice range in potency from yellow through to blue and up to red; the defense dice follow a similar pattern, from brown, through to grey and finally to black. Shown on the attack dice are heart symbols, indicating how many wounds the attack does. The numbers indicate how far the range is – so if you’re using a ranged weapon on a monster six squares away, but you only roll one 2 on your attack dice, the attack falls short. There are also lightning-bolt glyphs, called surges, which can allow you to trigger a special effect by spending them. On the defense dice, the shield icons are used to cancel any heart icons rolled by the attacker on a one-to-one basis. Let’s take a look:

Descent: Journeys in the Dark

Here, Grisban the Thirsty has rolled three hits (with a range of 6, but as this is a melee attack the range doesn’t count) against the Merriod, and has one surge that he can spend to trigger the effect on his Chipped Greataxe to deal an additional wound; the Merriod can cancel two of these, so will take two damage from this attack.

The number of dice a hero or monster rolls are shown on the respective cards – monsters have cubes above the picture (for a generic, cream-coloured monster) and below (for the red, master monster), while item cards will show the coloured cubes on the right border. Item cards often have a hand limit, similar to Arkham Horror – Grisban’s axe in the above picture has two hands in the bottom-left corner, so he can’t use any other items in his attack.

Descent: Journeys in the Dark

There is a lot of depth to Descent that I’m not really getting across in this blog, for the simple reason that it’s a game you really need to play in order to truly experience. It can be quite complex to get everything moving, as evidenced by the 36-minute Watch It Played video, but the experience can be exceptionally rewarding for both sides when you do it right. That said, it’s not the sort of game I tend to go for (despite owning the fairly-similar Mansions of Madness), and the Overlord is much more the antagonist rather than more a DM, but it’s still got so much to commend it that I can never stop gushing about it whenever I get to play!

Catching Up!

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a good documentary, although my Sky planner is full of the things. I’ve decided to try and catch up with a lot of the stuff I’ve been recording, anyway, starting with this two-part series on the Incas. I was always very interested in the Incas, the Aztecs and all that sort of Pre-Columbian, meso- and south-American history when I was growing up, but somewhere in my late teens I seemed to lose interest.

While Machu Picchu is probably the most famous Inca relic, this documentary has introduced all sorts of other sites that look absolutely incredible, principally among them (to me), the Moray agricultural terraces shown in my tweet above. Designed to facilitate crop cultivation at high altitude, it’s another of the really humbling scientific innovations of the past!

Sleeving my entire #LordOfTheRings #LCG collection. Not even halfway done yet… #games

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I’ve decided to sleeve my entire Lord of the Rings LCG collection, a project that has been going on fitfully this past week, but is sufficiently mindless to occupy my while catching up with these things. I think I’ve used around 30 packs, which has allowed me to sleeve four decks, along with pretty much all of the scenarios released to date – not counting print-on-demand or Saga stuff. It’s a demanding task, but hopefully will be worthwhile in the end! Lord of the Rings, I’ve recently realised, is my most-played card game, and I’m concerned that the player cards might not hold up much longer. As it is also my most-beloved card game as well, it’s time to make some effort to protect it against wear and tear, methinks!

Time to relax #StarWars #novels

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve been enjoying a return to some classic Star Wars with The New Rebellion, one of my all-time favourite stories from the Bantam era! Published in 1996, the story details the efforts of the Force-sensitive Kueller to set himself up as a new Emperor. Some of the story is a little, well, daft, with occasionally unclear motivations for the characters, but overall, it still stands up for me. I really enjoy the way the story is paced – it’s a big book, 532 pages in paperback, and has pretty much exactly the right amount of story within its pages. This could so easily have been padded out to form a trilogy, which would probably have diminished its impact, I would say. Lots of plots, lots of intrigue, and lots of subterfuge, with Han returning to his smuggling roots, Luke doing some Jedi stuff, and Leia going up against former Imperial senators. Even the droids have a significant part to play in the plot! Really good stuff.

Only a couple of things really detract from it. First of all, the chapters are fairly short, and a significant number of them end on cliffhanger-style “tune in next week to see if Han survives being shot in the ass” sorts of things, which kinda gets old after a while. Also, the title kinda bothers me. While “rebellion” is defined as armed resistance to the established order, within the context of the GFFA, “rebellion” conjures a different sort of sense to that which is portrayed in the novel. We see very little of Kueller and his forces until the very end, which is kind of necessary for the plot, but this means the novel is primarily one of intrigue and subterfuge – the sort of novel that I really, really enjoy, but it just feels like the title is a bit misleading.

But that’s all pretty secondary. The novel is great, and if you can still manage to find a copy, I can definitely recommend you pick it up!

#StudioGhibli #awesome

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Last week, I read this excellent post from fellow blogger, travelling in my bookcase, which reignited my interest in Studio Ghibli. I was first introduced to these anime films back in 2008 by an ex-girlfriend, with the classic Spirited Away, and really enjoyed the everything about it. We watched a couple of others, which I also enjoyed, and while I had often thought of getting some of them to watch again since we broke up, it wasn’t until now that I did anything about it. Having had an amazon voucher burning a hole in my pocket for about three months now, I hope you’ll agree, I’ve made a sound investment with it!

In the coming weeks and months, anyway, I’m sure these will be featured as I get through them!

#PathfinderACG #Pathfinder #DrunkenMaster

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Games now. Last week I finally got round to getting a copy of the new Wrath of the Righteous core set for the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, having had the character pack and adventure pack two delivered from my Paizo subscription. While I haven’t actually played a game with it yet, I have found myself returning to the Rise of the Runelords game, playing with Sajan, my drunken master Monk, which has been pretty good anyway! I’m still only playing through Burnt Offerings, so there’s still a long way to go, but it’s good to be within this universe once again, though the card game can be quite repetitive so I’m not intending to play this a lot. But I have made up a new deck using the Wizard class deck, for the necromancer, Darago. Looking forward to seeing how that works with the adventure! The class decks are pretty exciting, anyway, so it’s good to see they’re going to be putting some more out this year – including that for the Monk!

Since watching the new Titansgrave series from Geek and Sundry, combined with the recent focus on the Pathfinder ACG, I’ve been feeling the need for a RPG adventure in my life. Soon, hopefully!

On the subject of card games, though, FFG has released a couple of expansions for the LCGs in the last week, and taken another look at the upcoming Great Devourer for the Warhammer Conquest LCG. The Tyranids were always going to be fun to play, and the previews for this box definitely support that idea. Of course, I’m still looking forward to the Necrons more than anything, but it looks great all the same. Some guys have recently started a LCG group at my local store – after that demo of Android Netrunner I gave, no less! – so I’m hoping to get in some more games there.

The Thousand Young expansion for Call of Cthulhu is another deluxe expansion that’s looking pretty exciting, as does Attack Run for Star Wars, the latter bringing a brand new Fate card that looks really powerful! I’ve recently made up a Sith deck for this game, in the hope that some more games aren’t too far off. We’ll see, anyway!

Remember this? It was set to be released in June, I seem to remember, but that seems to have been pushed back to next month now, I suppose in reflection of the Marvel comics being delayed, too. I haven’t kept up with the comics in years, but the Secret Wars storyline does sound vaguely interesting. Beware of following that link if you want to avoid spoilers for the comics, however!!

What’s that Volume 1 all about, on the lower-right? Hmmm!

I haven’t played Legendary for a long while now – not since February, in fact – so should probably make some effort to correct that soon… I’ve finally found the new Fear Itself expansion to Legendary: Villains on sale here in the UK, so looking forward to seeing that when it arrives in my hot little hands… I seem to recall reading somewhere Iron Man will be a commander in his enchanted armour…

While we’re on the subject of comics-based games…

DC Teen Titans

The fourth core set for the DC deck-building game, Teen Titans brings, well, the Teen Titans to the game, with playable heroes such as Red Robin, Wonder Girl and Beast Boy. Man, I love these names! The most interesting aspect of this one is the Ongoing Abilities that certain cards will have. Something that very few deck-builders incorporate (as far as I can tell), it’ll be interesting to see how the game plays when you have more options available to you on your turn. It’s coming out next quarter, along with another Crossover Pack with the Arrow TV series. I’ve not watched the series, unfortunately, but I believe it’s awesome. However, this pack uses stills from the show rather than comic-style art, so I’m currently thinking I’ll pass on this one. Later in the year, we’re getting Legion of Super Heroes with some time-travel mechanic, and then a Watchmen Crossover Pack, presumably before the end of the year, which gives a co-op with defector flavour to the game. Interesting…

Behold! The Dwarrowdelf!

Hey everybody!
It’s another game day, and time to look at some more of my favourite card game: it’s time to enter the Dwarrowdelf, in Lord of the Rings!

Dwarrowdelf cycle

This was the second cycle for the Lord of the Rings card game, published throughout 2012. Following on from Khazad-dûm, the cycle featured a thematic story whereby your fellowship begins the cycle escorting Arwen through the Misty Mountains, from Lothlorien to Rivendell, at which point Elrond asks you to investigate reports of unusual Orc activity within the Mines of Moria. The encounter sets use cards from the Khazad-dûm box, so there are lots of goblins here! The cycle also continued the theme from Khazad-dûm with increasing the Dwarf cards in the game, leading to a beautifully-synergised deck type. While the Hobbit saga boxes really rounded that archetype out for me, the cards from just this set are enough to make some very powerful decks that can be both fun to play as well as being wrecking-balls. I’m not going to talk much about the player cards here, as I tend to think of them as a separate issue – the cycle is all about the quests!

However, it would be remiss of me to do this blog without mentioning the Secrecy keyword. It basically lowers the cost to play cards, provided your threat is below 20. This seemed like such a difficult feat to accomplish for most of the cycle, and led to two-hero fellowships seeing a surge in popularity – particularly when packs one and two gave us the brothers Elladan and Elrohir, who have a wonderful synergy together. But then pack six hit, which I’ll talk about later, but which has a really hilarious built-in way to use Secrecy really well.

The Redhorn Gate

Dwarrowdelf cycle The Redhorn Gate

This one is pretty brutal.  The idea is that you’re moving through the tops of the Misty Mountains, escorting Arwen home to Rivendell. This is simulated wonderfully by having the tip of mighty Caradhras staring at you from the staging area from the very beginning, which you can’t travel to until you reach the quest card that makes it the active location, at which point it makes everybody -1 willpower. That might not be a bad thing, but there are so many effects here that remove people with 0 from the quest (or even, the game!), which makes this a really difficult one to overcome. Of course, you can use your Northern Trackers to place progress on it in the staging area and try to remove the threat that way, but that always just feels a bit like cheating to me. It’s a great quest, highly thematic, and one that I often find myself returning to for just one more jaunt through the mountains!

Road to Rivendell

Dwarrowdelf cycle Road to Rivendell

The second quest is similar to the first, as we’re still escorting Arwen to Rivendell. It introduces the new Ambush keyword, which sees enemies make an engagement check against everyone when they’re turned up from the deck – they’re usually quite squishy enemies, so you can usually kill them pretty handily, but their often-high attack might mean you won’t get to fight back! It also features what I think is the most controversial card in the entire game, Sleeping Sentry. This treachery card deals one damage to each exhausted character when it is turned up from the deck, then every other character is exhausted, so you can often see your fellowship fall apart when this card makes an appearance. If it’s played as a Shadow card, however, you must discard all exhausted characters – the potential for the game to end right there is huge, especially when the quest cards in this one have a massive amount of progress needed. It seems a bit lazy, but it’s also pretty thematic, when you consider the damage a sleeping sentry could cause to a small band of folks on the road. However, the almost arbitrary way it can cause the game to end if it’s turned up in that way has led to a lot of hate, but there are a lot of player cards that can deal with such things – remember, it’s When Revealed, not Forced, so you can cancel these things, but it can still crush your game, and remains my most-hated card in the game.

The Watcher in the Water

Dwarrowdelf cycle The Water in the Water

I won’t lie, this pack nearly killed my enthusiasm for the game back when it was first released, and in fact I would go as far as to say it has never returned to its former heights following the release of the Watcher in the Water. Having escorted Arwen to Rivendell as an Objective card, we now received the daughter of Elrond as an ally character that saw a lot of geekgasms back in the day. We also had our first repeat-hero, a new version of Aragorn that fits more with his persona as Strider.

This quest, however, was just a bitch to get through. I have since completed it multiple times, and while I wouldn’t say it was easy, it wasn’t as bad as that first attempt. There were just too many tentacles! I think I was completely enveloped within the first two turns, and just gave up in sheer frustration. There are two victory conditions here – either kill the Watcher, or solve the riddle on the Doors of Durin and enter the mines. The riddle here is to match the first letter of the top card of the encounter deck to any number of cards from your hand. If you have the Doors in your victory display, then you can win, which is perhaps easier than going up against the regenerating Watcher. Of course, if you’ve got a fellowship that can just tank its way through, then that might be the preferred strategy!

The Long Dark

Dwarrowdelf cycle The Long Dark

The fourth pack has gained a bit of a reputation for being a really easy quest, much like Hills of Emyn Muil in the last cycle, but it’s one of my favourites (albeit not, perhaps, in my top ten), due to the thematic nature of the whole thing. We’re back to the cave torch from Khazad-dûm, and lots of cards that once again emphasize the claustrophobic feel of the mines. There is also the Lost mechanic, which I find super-thematic here. Certain cards – mostly the new locations – make players take a Locate test, whereby you can discard a card from your hand to discard the top card from the encounter deck; if that card has a bold “pass” printed in the bottom-right, then all is well. If not, you can do it again, or else something bad will happen, and you’ll be forced to trigger any Lost effects in play. These effects are usually terrible, such as returning enemies into play or discarding allies, etc. It’s meant to represent losing your way in the dark, of course, and I find it comes together pretty well – the only thing I don’t like, of course, is how there aren’t many encounter cards in the deck to support it – much like the Escape test in The Dead Marshes, actually!

It’s a great quest, that also features an Objective boon that is the first since the Massing at Osgiliath. Durin’s Greaves give a +1 defense bonus to a hero, which can be really useful with the amount of goblins swarming around you! The idea of giving us useful stuff to find in the encounter deck would be reworked with style in the form of boons in the Saga expansions, of course, but while we have had such cards before, The Long Dark is, to me, the first time I’ve wanted to go through an encounter deck specifically to find something like this.

Foundations of Stone

Dwarrowdelf cycle Foundations of Stone

Without a doubt, the highlight of this cycle for me. Foundations of Stone sees our intrepid fellowships broken up, as we’re washed away part-way through the quest! There are essentially two encounter decks here – a sort of generic thing made up of cards from Khazad-dûm that you’re most likely sick of seeing by now, then, following the splitting of the party, the specific Foundations of Stone deck, which features all sorts of horrible things as we find ourselves in the very depths of the mines of Moria. It’s a terrific mechanic that sends each player to his own staging area, a mechanic that has been reprised a few times since in fact, though as I only ever play this game solo (by choice, actually), it doesn’t have much of an impact.

We get two more Objective boon-cards that make us work for them this time, but more important than that, we get the Lovecraftian Nameless Things in this scenario! When this pack was first announced, I thought it was a hilarious counter to the Zigil Miner controversy that I mentioned in the Khazad-dûm blog. If you remember, the Zigil Miner gives you resources equal to the cost of cards he turns up from your deck. At this time, the meta saw players pack their decks with expensive cards to maximise on this effect – only to then have these Nameless Things swoop in and attach cards from your deck to them, the cost of which dictating their attributes. So we suddenly see people facing Elder Nameless Things that can deal 15 points of damage, because you have expensive cards in your deck – it was great! Having never seen the point in being a power gamer, I permitted myself a hearty chuckle at that, I must admit.

Regardless, Foundations of Stone is just an amazing experience, and I highly recommend this one!

Shadow and Flame

Dwarrowdelf cycle Shadow and Flame

The final pack rightly has that feel of encountering the big boss in a video game, as we go up against Durin’s Bane, the mighty Balrog of Moria! This is actually a real pig of a quest, I’ve always found, and as such I have never really attempted it. The object of the game is to defeat the Balrog by pushing it into the Deep Pit, the only way to remove it from play. Indeed, the new keyword Indestructible was brought into the game specifically for the big guy, ensuring that he would never be killed, even if you managed to deal the enormous 30 points of damage it would take! Unfortunately, Deep Pit only enters play through quest card effects, so you need to quest as quickly as possible, but Durin’s Bane is considered engaged with every player and, with an engagement cost of just 1, will be attacking you each and every round. The one respite is that, upon setup, your threat counter is set to 0, kinda giving you a free pass – and, as mentioned earlier, giving you the perfect time to play those Secrecy cards!

As always, if the regular game doesn’t hold enough challenge for you, there are Nightmare decks available for all six of these scenarios, giving you more hurdles to overcome than ever!

Dwarrowdelf cycle Nightmare Decks

I had the dubious pleasure of beta-testing these, though the group was organised into six, with one person having a scenario – and lucky me, I got Shadow and Flame! However, it’s a trend I’ve noticed with a lot of the Nightmare scenarios for this game whereby the new deck improves greatly on the original design. That’s not just to say that the original deck wasn’t really that good, but the Nightmare cards merely bring even greater synergy to the deck, and increase that feel of playing against a real person, or whatever.

It would be easy for the game designers to make the scenario harder by throwing in some really tough enemies, some high-threat, high-quest locations, and a couple of treacheries like Sleeping Sentry. However, these 18-19 cards have a meaningful impact on the encounter deck as a whole, and serve to enrich the gameplay experience, even if they also feel much more impossible to beat. Shadow and Flame in Nightmare Mode is a great example of this, as it includes cards that can attach to Durin’s Bane like weapons, making him a much more interactive enemy than he once was. Of course, that’s probably not what you want to see, but I can appreciate a well-made deck even if it’s being used against me. The other scenarios also have more tweaks that make them play more focused and such, as well.


I’ve had my ups and my downs with the Dwarrowdelf cycle. When it first came out, it nearly quashed my enthusiasm for the game, as the quests would get ridiculously difficult to play through with the cards available at the time, should you play thematically as I do. Indeed, if I’d written this three years ago, I’d likely be ranting about how this game has been killed by the power-creep. Over time, this has naturally diminished – especially since the new Dwarf synergies that came out with the two Hobbit Saga boxes. As a result, I feel that I can now enjoy these games for what they are: some highly thematic games with some truly immersive experiences. Don’t get me wrong, these quests can still prove to be a real challenge, and I still get beaten by stuff like Redhorn Gate, but I don’t think I would talk anyone out of getting this cycle for their collection.

Shadows of Mirkwood is still my favourite, and I think the roleplaying aspects of Against the Shadow might mean that cycle is also up there, but Dwarrowdelf has some awesome and epic moments to commend it.

Definitely worth the time returning to the Mines of Moria!

Happy Free RPG Day!

Hey everybody!
It’s June 20th, so that means: Free RPG Day! It’s the eighth such day this year, where publishers print small modules or adventures designed to grow the number of folks playing RPGs, which I think is just superb! I’m celebrating by taking a look at the brand-new Force and Destiny beginner game from Fantasy Flight Games!

Star Wars Force and Destiny

The third and final iteration of their Star Wars RPG line, Force and Destiny brings Force-users into the game properly (previous rulebooks included basic information on Force-users, but this is where you really get the meat for such characters).

The beginner game features two books, including a pared-down version of the rulebook (which will be out later in the summer, if they hold true to form), along with an adventure book that details how the beginner game unfolds. Alongside this, there is a short pamphlet that features an introduction to the game, including an iconic opening crawl to be read beforehand:

All of that is aimed at the Games Master. There are also four character “folios”, pre-generated characters designed to let players get into the game without going through character generation for themselves (this usually forms the bulk of the rulebook, after all):

Star Wars Force and Destiny

And finally, we have maps, tokens, and specialist dice:

As with all Fantasy Flight products, this game looks beautiful. I believe the beginner games are pretty basic, designed more to give players the introduction to the game than to really set the world on fire, and most people seem to get them for the maps and, at one time, as an easier way to get more dice.

FFG’s Star Wars RPG uses custom dice designed to make things easier to tell the story, rather than simply focusing on numerical targets as with the Saga Edition RPG, for instance. So you roll to see if you succeed at a test, and the dice will not only tell you that, but also just how well you succeeded or failed. Or you might succeed, but something else goes wrong. It sounds like a really excellent way to tell the story, and I’m hoping that it won’t be too long before I can get to try this out for myself!

swc130-obi-wanghost

The adventure features seven encounters designed to tell the story of a rescue mission undertaken by the four heroes who have folios in the box. The first four are fairly straightforward things, designed to get new players (including new GMs) comfortable with the RPG experience. There is an interlude, which demonstrates levelling-up a character, and while it’s not online yet, there is also mention of a follow-up mission called Lure of the Lost, as well as two more character folios for download. This follows the previous Beginner Games with having more content while we wait for the main core rules to arrive.

The rulebook here is a mere 48 pages long, so around 400 pages shorter than the main core rules will be! It features just enough information that should allow players to have further adventures with the system beyond that included in the adventure book, so we have rules for talents and equipment, as well as NPC adversaries the GM can throw at the players. The map is double-sided, so you can play with different locations if you so wish, as well.

All in all, it’s a great little product that should get people up and running in the game system, even providing stuff to allow you to go beyond with more adventures. Obviously it’s no substitute for the core rulebook, but it’ll do the job for new players while providing veterans with enough to keep them going. Highly recommended!

meditation

If you’re wondering just what the hell all this RPG stuff is all about, and struggling to see how rolling some dice can be any fun whatsoever without any kind of board or card additions, then I suppose this is the ideal opportunity to show you this. Following on from the success of Tabletop, Wil Wheaton has now got the fabled RPG show up and running, Titansgrave! I finally got round to watching the first two chapters last night, and it was insanely good – take a look here if you don’t believe me!

Titansgrave sounds like a truly great series, it definitely has the right sort of folks to make it a classic for me, at any rate. Certainly looking forward to seeing how the series shapes up from here on, anyway!

Free #RPG day 2015 #swag

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My (second) trip to Orkney

Hey everybody!
Yesterday, I got back from a trip to the Orkney islands off the north of Scotland, my second such trip there. While the weather could have been better, I have to say, it was still a pretty amazing experience, as I got to see much more than I did last time. It’s still only my second trip to Scotland, which is pretty crazy when you think where the islands are actually located…

Scotland

Anyway. I arrived late on Monday due to delays flying from Edinburgh, and as I was leaving early on Thursday morning, I only had two full days there. And how different the weather was on each of those days! To start with, anyway, I visited the famous Neolithic village at Skara Brae again, as it’s kinda required when you’re on the island, being so famous and all…

If you followed the link to my earlier blog above, you’ll notice just how much better the weather was this time around, which you can really see when you look out at Skaill Bay:

102_1546

It was pretty beautiful, I have to say!

From Neolithic living to the Iron Age now, and I next revisited the Broch of Gurness. Still a jumble of stones, it’s nevertheless an interesting and imposing structure:

The weather was already beginning to change here, and didn’t improve for the rest of my trip.

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To the south of Mainland Orkney is a small collection of islands linked together by road. This was only made possible following the construction of three concrete-block barriers built during World War Two by Italian prisoners of war, who also converted two Nissen huts into the stunning Italian Chapel:

The Churchill barriers were built to protect Scapa Flow, the body of water surrounded on three sides by islands which formed the safe harbour for the British Home Fleet during both wars. More on that later, anyway.

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Day Two was very grim, though some really awesome sights were featured nonetheless!

From a very wet and windy Standing Stones of Stennes and Barnhouse village, I trundled off to the reasonably-dry Kirkwall, the capital of the islands. I’ve been here before, of course, though this time managed to visit the Cathedral properly, as well as the Orkney Museum, which has some pretty amazing stuff!

The museum was really interesting. It’s always good to visit places like Skara Brae and see where folks lived in the past, but the items on display in the museum show a much more intimate level of detail that I, for one, find really fascinating.

From Kirkwall, I took a long route along the south of the island, pretty much skirting Scapa Flow. The second-largest natural harbour in the world (after Sydney), and as well as providing the safe harbour for the Home Fleet during the wars, it was also chosen as the place to scuttle more than 70 German ships following their defeat in World War One.

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About mid-way along the coastline is the village of Orphir, which has the remains of an Earl’s Bú, which I believe is analogous to a manor house (rather than the Palace of the Earl of Orkney at Kirkwall), and in the Norse years, this would centre on the drinking hall. Orkneyinga Saga, collected in (I think) the twelfth century on Iceland, tells some pretty colourful stories that take place around this area, and is well worth investigating if you have the time!

The round church at Orphir is also the only such example in Scotland, modelled on that of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It also has a great view over Scapa Flow:

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To conclude, it’s back to the Stennes area, and the mighty Ring of Brodgar!

I was staying at the Standing Stones Hotel, which is not far from the collection of monuments that make up the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, and I must say, the hotel was really nice this time around. Especially, the food! My goodness, it was immense…

food collage

The entire trip was pretty great, though I’m still not a big fan of flying. I’d like to go again, and do a spot of island-hopping, as there is so much more to see on the other islands, but I think if I do, I’d definitely drive up and take the ferry…

Until next time!

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Embrace your inner-alien!

Hey everybody!
Game day comes around again, and today I’m shining the spotlight of awesome over one of my very favourite games. It’s time to embrace your inner-alien, as we look at Conquest of Planet Earth!

Conquest of Planet Earth

Published by Flying Frog Productions, this game is a bit of a departure for them in some ways, but in terms of components and even some mechanics, it’s very much up to their usual top-quality work.

You take the role of an alien race, represented by the usual over-sized, thick card stuff:

Conquest of Planet Earth

These cards look pretty straightforward, but tell you some very important stuff – your strength, and your intelligence. At the start of the game, you draw Event cards equal to your intelligence, and these allow you to alter the flow of the game in various ways:

Conquest of Planet Earth

The object of the game is to, well, conquer planet earth – represented by a number of locations laid out across a number of game boards. This is really where this game becomes really different for the company (aside from the fact it uses art rather than photographs, of course). On your turn, you have a number of actions you can take, such as moving your aliens or landing reinforcements if you’ve had anyone destroyed. Some Event cards will have a cost to play, and gaining Alien Menace tokens to trigger your race’s ability will also cost you. You roll a d6 to determine how many Action Points you have, which you can then spend on your turn.

Conquest of Planet Earth

I’m using the single-player set-up for ease of reference here. You start the game with your own board and a central board that has the Capitol City location at the centre. As the game progresses, you move your aliens (the flying saucer markers) around the board, revealing locations and fighting the resistance there. So the board will change with each game, as you draw different locations to populate it.

Conquest of Planet Earth

The locations have two things in the bottom corners – a population total in the left, and a resistance value in the right. When you move any number of aliens into the location, you must fight a number of times equal to the resistance value. To do this, you draw a Resistance card – in the above example, I’ve got the awful luck of the US Army Artillery. They have a strength of 4, and my Vyborian Arbiters each have a strength of 3, but additionally, the Artillery has a special effect of its own, which can potentially wipe my aliens out before the combat has begun!

To fight, I roll a d6 for the aliens, and another for the Resistance – the game handily comes with 8 white and 8 orange d6s, so you can do this at the same time. We then each add our total strength to the result, and if the Resistance wins, the aliens are destroyed and removed from the table (they can come back, as mentioned earlier). If the aliens win, however, and there are no more fights left to happen at that location, they can place a Conquest marker there, which gives them Terror points equal to the location’s population (the bottom-left icon). You need 8 terror points per player to win, so playing a 4-player game, you need 32 points.

Conquest of Planet Earth

There are also Resistance Heroes, such as the War Veteran shown above. When you draw a Hero, you continue to draw until you get what’s termed a ‘full Resistance’ card, which can sometimes lead to you having multiple cards contributing to one battle. However, hope is never lost, because if you roll a natural 6, it counts as a Crushing Victory and will defeat the opponent no matter how highly they rolled, so even with one alien against a whole load of Resistance fighters, you can potentially carry the day! Also, remember those Event cards the aliens have? There’s one in there called ‘We Come In Peace’, which lets the aliens automatically win the combat!

Conquest of Planet Earth

However, aliens aren’t the only ones with Event cards, and once the alien turn is over, a Resistance Phase happens where the Earthlings try to fight back! An Event card is drawn from a separate stack, with the red text happening (always bad for the aliens), as well as a number of other horrible steps, such as liberating locations (removing Conquest markers), and the even-worse Tech Breakthrough. The humans have a deck of Human Tech that can provide significant buffs to their Resistance, which is just awful when you’re trying to conquer the planet…

Aliens have access to similar stuff, though – the aptly-named Space Stuff deck that allows you to gain additional effects, useful allies and upgrades, and even bonus Terror Points. Very handy!

Conquest of Planet Earth

The game is reasonably straightforward to learn, and like FFP’s other titles, has a multitude of optional extras. I’ve been going through the Co-Op game in this description, which pits the aliens against Earth’s heroes; the Competitive game is broadly similar, though without the whole Resistance phase as you’re fighting against the other aliens to conquer as much of the planet as you can (first to 8 Terror Points wins). In addition to the usual shenanigans involved in competitive games, there are also some small differences, such as the Event cards all forming one big deck, and the use of Command Tokens rather than rolling for Action Points. These tokens determine the first player in the round also, with the lowest-revealed token going first. So it’s sometimes a trade-off to go first but have fewer options available to you. That said, there’s also an Event card that will give you +2 Action Points, so you’re never truly stuck…

Conquest of Planet Earth

This game is just great! I bought it nearly two years ago now, having previously not really bothered all that much with it, thinking it wasn’t as good as FFP’s other offerings. How wrong I was! True to form, the game embraces the beloved 1950s sci-fi B-movie awfulness with gusto, and if you get into the spirit of a ridiculous alien race blasting through the Resistance as you try to overcome the planet, it can be a really hilarious experience! It’s a really straightforward area-control game, and plays relatively quickly, helped mainly by the clear rules. As ever with FFP, the focus is most squarely on theme and gameplay fun rather than overly-complex rules systems.

There has thus far been one expansion released, Apocalypse, which I’ll take a look at in another blog, as well as three new alien races in webstore exclusive packs. All of this adds nicely to what’s already there, anyway, making a great game just more enjoyable.

I’m not sure how many other ways I can say it, though – it’s a great game, and you should definitely investigate it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Buy it from amazon:

Painting time! and more

Hey folks!
Hope everyone has been having an excellent weekend – aside from the weather, it’s been pretty good for me, I have to say! I’ve been slowly working on a couple of Necron things lately, mainly in the interests of finally doing stuff with models I’ve had hanging about for ages. About three weeks ago I built up a trio of Canoptek Wraiths, and have finally begun the process of painting! There’s another painting competition at the local GW store – Paint It Green – so I thought I’d enter with this chap, given that my Necron scheme relies on lots of green:

Finally! Base colours all blocked in! #Necrons #Warhammer

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The base colours are pretty much done now, though I haven’t managed to get any more done to it yet. As with the Catacomb Command Barge, I like the look that results from just having the base colours blocked in, so while it might not be enough to win a painting competition, I’ll stick to my usual MO, I think.

True to form, I have dozens of unfinished, half-painted miniatures hanging about the place, and I’ve moved on to yet another model – the C’tan Shard of the Deceiver!

"To the stars, boys!" #Necrons #Ctan #Warhammer

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I believe the Nightbringer is the more powerful of the shards, but I just love the pose on this one! While, on the whole, the finecast took minimal preparation (very few airholes), putting it together has shown that some greenstuff will be required here. I want it to be something of a centrepiece model for the army – even though I have lords and stuff who are probably more important, the fact that this guy is just so tall (though, oddly, he’s smaller than I thought he’d be) means I want him to stand out. The “official” colour scheme has that wonderfully burnished gold-with-cream-cloth look, but I’m currently thinking of orange-yellow with perhaps a purple cloth. It may well tax my painting skills to actually do this, but I’m looking forward to it.

Once the other stuff has been painted, of course…

As well as the new C’tan, I took delivery of some pretty damn exciting stuff lately, as well:

new games

Awesome! The new Battlelore army packs are very exciting, bringing more options for the existing Daqan and Uthuk armies in the base game. While I’ve only played it once, it was a lot of fun, and I look forward to being able to play it again very soon! The third army was recently announced, of course, which is also very exciting, but I think I’ll always be an Uthuk kinda guy at heart! Rune Age has shown me the truth of that!

Battlelore Hernfar Guardians

Battlelore Warband of Scorn

A lot of the Hernfar Guardians models were broken upon arrival – all told, six models were in bits. FFG has really good customer service, though, so I’m hoping they will replace them, as I don’t think I’ll be able to glue them back. We shall see, anyway! The big Siege Golem comes in parts that snap together, much like the Roc thing in the base game, just in case you were wondering – in the montage above, he’s been dry-fitted together, but I think I’ll glue him together to make sure he stays put.

As for the new Descent stuff, well that’s just all sorts of awesome. Descent is a game that has been languishing in the unplayed pile for far too long, though the recent spate of co-op scenarios has enabled me to get it to the table for solo games, if nothing else! I’ve been enjoying these Hero & Monster collections, the first three of which I took a look at back in November.

The most recent release, Visions of Dawn, included a new hero sculpt for Nara the Fang, who was originally released as one of four promo heroes for the original game (with crossover hero cards for Runebound and Rune Wars). The new sculpt appears to have retconned his entire species, but it’s still an awesome-looking miniature, and inspired a game with the new Dark Elements co-op scenario that I had a short while ago, but have only just now had the ink to print out the rules!

Descent Dark Elements

I also love the Merriods!

Descent is one of these games that I’ve mentioned an awful lot on this blog now, so I think I should probably devote an up-coming game day to the game. Keep your eyes peeled for that!