Vampires!

Hey everybody!
So this weekend, I had one of the Commander 2017 decks delivered, Vampiric Bloodlust, and have spent a couple of days thinking about mixing it up a little with some of my favourite Vampire cards from recent memory!

Commander 2017 is the tribal-themed set, and while previous years have seen five preconstructed decks released around November time, this year we’ve got just four decks, and they’re out three months early! Colour isn’t a thing, so we have two-colour Cats, three-colour Vampires, three-colour Wizards, and five-colour Dragons! I kinda wanted them all, of course, but settled just on the Vampires right now.

Vampires is probably the tribe I feel most at home with out of all of them, having made a couple of decks that I’ve featured on this very blog with the bloodsucking brutes (you can see those decks here and here!)

Vampiric Bloodlust

There are five Legendary Creatures in the deck, two of whom aren’t actually Mardu-coloured so don’t really lend themselves to the deck as it stands. I wanted to use the front-man of the deck, Edgar Markov, as my Commander. The vampire theme is really strong with him, after all, and as I knew I wanted to go really into that here, I think he’s the best man for the job. His abilities, anyway, are rather marvellous:

Eminence – Whenever you cast another Vampire spell, if Edgar Markov is in the command zone or on the battlefield, create a 1/1 black Vampire creature token.

First strike, haste

Whenever Edgar Markov attacks, put a +1/+1 counter on each Vampire you control.

So not only do you get to create tokens, you also get to buff your entire team! Wonderful stuff. I say “entire team”, of course, because pretty much the whole damn deck is made up of Vampires! I’ve got a couple of cards in there from Tarkir block that will help to keep the theme going. So let’s take a look at the cards I’ve been fiddling about with!

Vampiric Bloodlust

First of all, I wanted to go with my old favourite of lifegain-and-drain, along with some of my favourite Vampiric buffs around right now. Stoneforge Masterwork is a particular favourite from Oath of the Gatewatch, which gives the equipped creature +1/+1 for each Creature type you control that shares a Creature type with it.

Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief is included in the deck, though for this particular deck really bounces with her latest incarnation from Battle for Zendikar, Drana, Liberator of Malakir. Suited up with Stoneforge Masterwork at the head of an army of Vampires, she could be doing some pretty decent damage! At least, I hope so!

Vampiric Bloodlust

Battle for Zendikar block, and Shadows over Innistrad block have both got some really terrific cards to use in a Vampire deck, of course, so I’ve been plumbing some of those depths! I mentioned it in a previous Vampires deck blog of course, but Stensia Masquerade is a really great card for this. The deck also comes with Rakish Heir, another favourite of mine for this kind of deck. Putting the counters on these cards is good and all, but then what, right? Well, that’s where Mer-Ek Nightblade comes in, making the counters count. Heh.

Edgar Markov is, of course, Sorin’s grandfather, so it’s pretty flavourful to get one of the Sorin Planeswalkers in there. I quite like Sorin, Lord of Innistrad, though Sorin, Grim Nemesis could be useful, and his -X should work well with the included Sanguine Bond. It’s quite annoying that we have Sanguine Bond but not Exquisite Blood, which would perhaps have been the more appropriate card to include. Not to mention, that card needs a reprint!

So anyway, I’m going to be taking a bit more time to go through the deck and sort it out so that it plays a bit more how I’d like. Stay tuned folks, it should be glorious!

First and Only

Hey everybody!
I think I’m slowly getting somewhere with the new house after The Great Move 2017 – still waiting for someone to come fit a new kitchen, but these things can’t be rushed, it seems… Anyway! I have the internet again, which is a joy, as trying to write blogs on my phone is a nightmare, so less of that now!

While waiting for everything to fall into place and whatnot, I’ve been reading a few things I’d been putting off for a while. Sure enough, they’ll no doubt all make their merry way onto this here blog in due course, as I ramble inanely for a while, but today I wanted to talk about the Gaunt’s Ghosts series that I’ve just started to read anew, starting with the opening novel, First and Only.

YEAH! #Warhammer40k #GauntsGhosts

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This book series, by the venerable Dan Abnett, was originally published all the way back in the mists of time known as the 1990s, and I have memories of picking my way through it sometime after starting work in the early 2000s. Not really being a 40k enthusiast at the time, I didn’t really get a lot out of it, and it’s therefore small wonder that it had been the first and only 40k novel that I read for about a decade.

However, I’m back now, and I’ve been buying up the books in the series ready for my glorious return to it! Ever since Horus Rising, I’ve always had a real soft spot for Dan Abnett, and look forward to starting any of his 40k novels with gusto.

First and Only is the introduction to the Tanith First & Only regiment of the Imperial Guard, led by Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt. The novel is told in pretty much linear fashion across six Parts, each separated by a single chapter entitled “A Memory” that usually then foreshadows something in the subsequent Part. The structure is quite novel, to me, as I don’t really think I’ve read a full-length novel told in the same manner.

The story follows the Tanith regiment, nicknamed Gaunt’s Ghosts, and their rivalry with the Jantine Patricians as they take the forge world of Fortis Binary, which has been tainted with the warped powers of Chaos. After the battle, Commissar Gaunt comes into possession of a memory crystal that provides the catalyst for the main thrust of the story. Gaunt and his Ghosts become pawns in the ambitions of Lord General Dravere’s efforts to become Warmaster of the Sabbat Worlds Crusade, and the Ghosts eventually learn that the crystal holds information that could provide the tipping point for Dravere’s bid for power.

Dravere is helped along the way by the Inquisitor Heldane, who has appeared since in Abnett’s Eisenhorn trilogy (for me to know – he may also be elsewhere, of course, but I was excited to see a familiar face pop up!). I thought the handling of the antagonist group of Heldane and Dravere, and the Jantine Patricians, was actually quite interestingly done – the story pits the Imperium against Chaos, but Heldane and Dravere aren’t truly on the side of Chaos, yet remain viable threats to Gaunt and the “good guys”.

While this is definitely military sci-fi, there’s also the sniff of a spy thriller around the central act, and I particularly enjoyed the almost le Carré-like inclusion of Gaunt’s spy-friend Fereyd. There is definitely a lot going on in the book, and once I’d managed to get into it, I have to say that I really enjoyed it and devoured the story in no time. (It helped that I was stuck on a train for a couple of hours on Friday).

I have to say, though, it did take me quite some time to get into the book. Quite early on, we’re introduced to what feels like the entire regiment, and it felt like a lot to take in. As time wears on, however, it’s relatively straightforward to keep track of who everybody is, but having a cast of 20+ people from the off, and trying to keep them all straight in my mind, did prove a little difficult at first!

But that’s a minor quibble. The book is fantastic, with a really well-told, cinematic story that is totally worth picking up. I know a few people who re-read them every so often, and I can definitely see myself joining those ranks as time goes by!

Attack on Titan

Well, Cryptozoic have been churning out quite a few Cerberus-engine games since I last took much significant notice of them! Enjoying DC as much as I do, though, I’ve not really felt the need to take too much of a look. But at a recent games night, my usual gaming buddy brought over Attack on Titan, and we gave it a whirl. Both of us are old hands at the usual Cerberus stuff, so I wasn’t expecting too much to change – boy, was I wrong!

The game is superficially the same, with a main deck of cards, a basic deck that you start out with, and a currency system based on power. However, this game is based on the anime of the same name by Hajime Isayama, and deals with the idea of humanity living behind massive walls as defense against the roaming Titans, who eat humans at will. As such, the game is set out with five districts, and cards are revealed from the main deck into each of these districts at the start of the round. This idea essentially replaces the line-up, anyway. Furthermore, there are four Archenemy Titans stacked into the deck at the start of the game, timed to appear at specific intervals – these Titans are placed into a district and must be fought before they destroy the walls. If the heroes defeat all four Titans, they win; if the Titans destroy all of the districts, or if they manage to kill three heroes, or if the main deck runs out, the heroes lose.

So it’s a co-op game, which I quite enjoy anyway, but I was especially grateful for that this time around as it was a difficult game! There are regular-style Titans throughout the main deck, as well as good stuff for the heroes to buy, and these things will also attempt to knock the walls down. At first, the game felt a little bland, as we weren’t really doing all that much, but once the first Titan showed up, followed swiftly by the level-one Archenemy Titan, the game escalated quickly. Archenemy Titans have a hit-points level that needs to be reached before they can be dealt enough damage to be defeated. To add insult to injury, they’ll also regenerate lost hit points if you can’t defeat them there and then! Brutal!

It was a really fun twist on an established formula, and one that I definitely enjoyed as a change. Co-op games are always a lot of fun, and while I wasn’t familiar with the source material, having Tony on hand (who is a massive manga fan anyway) certainly helped there. But I don’t think it’s particularly important to know the story to enjoy the game – as usual with theme, it did lead to some cool moments, such as the idea of Titans being on the outside battering walls down, and the like, but it was still a tense game without any prior knowledge.

Attack on Titan

GenCon 2017!

This year is the 50th anniversary of GenCon, the greatest four days in gaming, and I’m finally catching up on all of the new stuff that’s been coming out so far!

Star Wars Legion

I mentioned this yesterday of course, but the new big thing seems to be the upcoming miniatures game set in the Star Wars universe. While the miniatures come unpainted, unlike the old WotC game, they do nevertheless look pretty great, and I’m seriously tempted by this! Trouble is, I haven’t played Imperial Assault anywhere near as much as I should have by now, so I’m wondering just how much gameplay I’d get out of this… But it looks so good!

I mean, look at those tables! Nice…

This thing seems interesting! A GM-less RPG set in the world of Terrinoth and designed by one of the people who brought us Eldritch Horror?! Sign me up! People have been clamouring for years for a Terrinoth RPG, and while this wasn’t exactly what I’d been thinking of, it’s nevertheless sounding impressive as hell. Can’t wait!

Of course, there’s plenty of big news coming out of Fantasy Flight right now, including Legend of the 5 Rings, Fallout and Twilight Imperium 4th Edition. I’m not entirely sure about any of them… So many games right now! I’m finding it hard to commit to anything anymore, I mean I only have so much space to store these things, after all!

I do enjoy a bit of Firefly, and have been thinking about getting some kind of game to continue the experience! This looks pretty good, I have to say!

There are some cool pictures of the upcoming Forbidden Fortress expansion for Shadows of Brimstone, and we’re actually seeing some really cool pictures of the stuff that’ll be coming out from the kickstarter I backed all those years ago – maybe one day soon I’ll actually get a hold of it! We shall see…

I’m back!

Well folks, it’s been a roller-coaster of a time, moving house with all manner of internet problems, but I’m now back!

Been taking a look around at what I’ve missed, and blimey! There’s so much good stuff! I don’t really know where to start, but I’ve just noticed this, take a look!

It’s the miniatures game I’d been hoping for back when FFG had the licence. Imperial Assault is good, don’t get me wrong, but I always enjoyed Star Wars Miniatures back in the day, and this looks like it could be similar!

Oh my god, you guys – it’s Necromunda! Obviously, I wasn’t in on this back when it was first came out in the 90s, but after all of the hype back when Shadow War Armageddon came out, I got interested in the older game. And lo! The classic is now coming back. Exciting times! The minis previewed on the Warhammer Community website don’t really look all that great, though, I have to admit – I think it’s probably more to do with the paint job, of course… I guess we’ll see!

I need to take a look at the rest of the stuff I’ve missed over the last couple of weeks… Hope you’ve all been having an excellent summer so far!

Star Wars RPG, Fantasy Flight style

Hey everybody!
Game Day is upon us once more here at spalanz.com, and today I’m taking a brief look at the Star Wars role playing game system from Fantasy Flight Games, which is kinda involved, so this blog may get a little sprawling! I’ve previously looked at Star Wars RPG systems from West End Games (here!) and Wizards of the Coast (here!), so this is just the latest in the illustrious line of such products! Let’s get to it!

Star Wars RPG

The Star Wars license has been held by FFG since 2011, though they had a few problems with both their card game and the X-Wing miniatures game, so they didn’t actually publish any games for roughly a year after procuring the license. At GenCon 2012, they unveiled the RPG system as a tri-part thing, three distinct books that would focus on three distinct aspects of the galaxy far, far away, but all of which would be compatible with each other. The first of these to come out was Edge of the Empire in 2013, which dealt with the galactic fringe. It was followed by Age of Rebellion in 2014, which dealt with the military of the rebellion, and finally Force and Destiny in 2015, dealing with Force users and the Jedi remnant.

Each of these core rulebooks also came with a Beginner Game, which featured maps and tokens, as well as a slim beginner adventure that teaches you the game as you play, and of course the dice you need. The Star Wars RPG was designed by Jay Little, who had previously been behind the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying series, and is a huge lover of custom dice.

But before we get into that, let’s take a look at the character stuff!

When you play the RPG system from Fantasy Flight, you create your character as is standard for such things, picking a species and career, the latter giving you a choice of three specializations. For example, using the Edge of the Empire book, you might choose to be a Twi’lek Explorer, which will give you a choice of following the Fringer, Scout or Trader specializations. Each of these three has a unique talent tree in the book that describes the arc your character can expect to follow. The way that character creation works in this system is quite closely driven by story, and the book constantly asks you to think about this when you go through to make your character.

In addition to this, there is a further level added to the creation of your character that is somewhat unique to each strand of the RPG. For Edge of the Empire, that level is called Obligation, and represents “a debt, nemesis, duty or other motivating factor that drives your character’s efforts on the fringes of galactic society.” (The mechanic returns as Duty in Age of Rebellion, and Motivation in Force and Destiny). A lot of RPGs use this story element to help propel the story forward, and a good GM will be able to weave these sorts of strands together as a part of his or her overall narrative to tell a truly immersive story.

Star Wars RPG

So, what about the dice?

There are a number of different dice in the game, which all help to tell the narrative of the game you’re playing. Narrative dice? Yep, you heard that right. As a player, you have a pool of these dice that you roll when specified by a particular task. Dice can be added to or taken away from your pool by the GM to help reflect the narrative better.

The blue and the black d6 are boost and setback dice, and are added to the pool to reflect the fact that your character might be particularly good at what he or she is doing, or might be trying to accomplish a task under fire.

The green and the purple d8 are ability and difficulty dice, and reflect the core of how good or bad at accomplishing a task your character may be.

Finally, the yellow and the red d12 are proficiency and challenge dice, and act as modifiers to the d8 versions, either reflective of just how good or how bad your character may be.

There are, of course, a whole bunch of symbols on these dice, and the way they interact can appear a little daunting at first. However, once you get into it, the dice are actually fairly straightforward to deal with. Adding and subtracting dice, cancelling one result with another, it all becomes fairly straightforward. The beauty of the system, however, lies in the real narrative possibilities of these dice – they don’t just tell you if you succeeded or failed at a task, but help to tell the story by telling you how well or badly you did:

The dice do take some getting used to, don’t get me wrong, but they’re certainly one of the most interesting aspects of this game system!

While the Force can be used in Edge of the Empire, it didn’t really come to the fore until 2015’s Force and Destiny. Force powers work much like any other skill, of course, and you roll the white d12 to see how many Force points you roll to use on powers. Force and Destiny brought the Heal, Misdirect and the classic Battle Meditation powers to the fore, with each power following a tree akin to the career options, and as your character advances through the game, he or she can essentially level up within a chosen discipline.

The RPG has had a fair number of expansions for each of the three strands at this point, with adventure modules and sourcebooks for many of the career options available to help immerse yourself in the Star Wars universe. Naturally, Edge of the Empire has seen the majority of these, though the others are catching up. The interesting thing to note about the way these expansion books work is how specialized they are. While there have been a handful of sourcebooks on locations (such as the Corellian sector’s Suns of Fortune), and of course, adventure modules, the sourcebooks are predominantly focused around a career path, meaning that you won’t want to buy every single book if you’re playing a Colonist, for example. I find this interesting because it’s a much more consumer-friendly way of expanding the game than previous editions, which have usually incorporated rules that everybody would want to get their hands on within all manner of different books. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a RPG group for a while now, so I don’t know if this is still the case, but I’ve heard of groups where the GM buys everything and lets the group make use of it, as well as people picking and choosing what they get. If you’re heavily invested in just one player character type, then, you could feasibly get away with just buying one book, plus the core rules.

FFG have also released The Force Awakens beginner game, which has so far not led into a fourth branch of the RPG, but rather felt more like a bit of a cash-grab. It’s a good way to introduce people to the game system who may have only jumped in once the film was released, of course, though the system is otherwise flexible enough that I would imagine you could set your games wherever you liked in the timeline. Notably, while some mention of now-Legends stuff has been made, there aren’t any “Knights of the Old Republic sourcebook” style products; instead, the system feels a little bland by giving you all the tools you need to create an adventure entirely of your own choice. I say “a little bland”, because I think I’d prefer to tie my adventures more firmly into the narrative – certainly, that’s how I’ve run campaigns in the past – but by structuring the game in this way, FFG have actually left the universe pretty wide open. I mentioned in my Saga Edition blog that WotC ended their run on the RPG with a sourcebook that provided you with all of the tools you would need to forge a narrative entirely on your own; well, FFG started at that point, and have continued to provide books that are more along the lines of helpful nudges than hard-line stuff.

Star Wars RPG

All in all, I have strangely mixed feelings about the FFG role playing game. I want to like it – heck, I want to love it – but I’ve never quite been able to truly dive in. I think I enjoyed my time with Saga Edition so much, I just want to keep a hold of my d20s and never let go! That is my idea of a Star Wars RPG. Strangely, then, I think I’ve become the crazy old guy who shouts at the kids with their new fancy dice (though I’m not as bad as the guys who still play the West End Games version…)

Welcome to New Phyrexia

Hey everybody,
I’ve been thinking about doing something on the plane of New Phyrexia for a while now, as it’s one of the more fascinating aspects of Magic the Gathering lore to me. So sit back and enjoy the oil-slicked ride through metallic hell, as we take a look at what once was Mirrodin!

New Phyrexia

New Phyrexia was the 55th expansion for Magic the Gathering, released in May 2011 as the third set in the Scars of Mirrodin block. The storyline of the block is really what I want to focus on today, though I also have a deck that I’d like to share involving some of my all-time favourite cards from the set.

So, back in the day, the arch-villain of MtG lore Yawgmoth had been using the process of phyresis to cure ailments among the Thran people of Dominaria, a controversial process that earned Yawgmoth the worship of his creations, but he was declared a traitor among the Thran themselves. Yawgmoth took his knowledge to the plane of Phyrexia and refined his ideas, creating an entire kingdom of these half-dead, half-metallic things. Over time, the Phyrexians plotted to invade Dominaria and claim the plane for their own, but in this they were thwarted by the temporal bridge between Dominaria and Phyrexia being sealed.

New Phyrexia

During the Brothers’ War, Urza and Mishra inadvertently reopened this portal, allowing the Phyrexians access to Dominaria. The Phyrexians, under the leadership of the demon Gix, sided with Mishra, however their plans of invasion were once again thwarted. This pitted Urza against Phyrexia for a long conflict that eventually saw the artificial plane reduced to a smoldering ruin.

Centuries later, the golem Karn built a new plane of mechanical perfection, initially named Argentum, and left the construct Memnarch as ruler. Memnarch, however, was corrupted by a black oil from Phyrexia and transformed the plane into Mirrodin, in an attempt to become a Planeswalker like Karn. The oil was somehow sentient, and sought to rebuild Phyrexia on Mirrodin. However, rather than reproducing the original hive mind of Phyrexia, the rebuilding has influenced all five colours of mana, leading to five factions within the military conquest.

These factions are led by the Praetors, which are introduced into the game via their Legendary Creature cards: Elesh Norn, Jin-Gitaxias, Sheoldred, Urabrask and Vorinclex.

New Phyrexia

I think the Praetors are perhaps the most iconic part of the set, with pretty much all of the cards still seeing a lot of play in formats like Commander. Each of the five has a huge effect that impacts the board, often in quite an obnoxious manner:

Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite – buffs your creatures while causing all of those creatures controlled by your opponents -2/-2;
Jin-Gitaxis, Core Augur – you draw cards at the end of your turn, while reducing your opponents’ hand size by seven;
Sheoldred, Whispering One – returns a creature from your graveyard at the beginning of your turn, and forces your opponents to discard theirs;
Urabrask, the Hidden – gives your creatures haste, but causes your opponents’ creatures to enter the battlefield tapped;
Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger – doubles the mana your lands produce, but causes your opponents’ lands not to tap on their next untap step.

These guys can be particularly oppressive, though obviously being creatures, they can be vulnerable.

New Phyrexia

The defining mechanic of Scars of Mirrodin block was Infect, of course – creatures with this mechanic deal damage in the form of -1/-1 counters to other creatures, and poison counters to players; if a player ever has 10 poison counters, he loses the game. While Infect had been featured on black and green creatures in Scars of Mirrodin, then white creatures in Mirrodin Besieged, it finally made it also into red and blue in New Phyrexia.

The set also included “Phyrexian mana”, coloured mana that could alternatively be paid for with 2 life. A very black effect, Phyrexian mana actually appears on 34 cards across all five colours. Additionally, we get some returning mechanics, including Proliferate, which adds another counter of a kind already present on a card or player. Which makes it the perfect partner for Infect, and brings me to my deck!

New Phyrexia

Creatures 
Butcher of Malakir
Captivating Vampire
Crimson Mage
Falkenrath Exterminator
Guul Draz Assassin (2)
Indulgent Tormentor
Malakir Bloodwitch
Massacre Wurm
Mephidross Vampire
Nirkana Cutthroat (2)
Ob Nixilis, Unshackled
Onyx Mage
Quag Vampires (3)
Rakish Heir (2)
Sheoldred, Whispering One (2)
Stromkirk Captain (2)
Vampire Hexmage (2)

Instants
Grim Affliction (2)
Uncanny Speed
Vampiric Fury (2)
Volt Charge (2)

Enchantment
Lightning Talons (2)
Raid Bombardment (2)

Land
Akoum Refuge (2)
Blackcleave Cliffs
Blood Crypt (2)
Dragonskull Summit
Lavaclaw Reaches (2)
Molten Slagheap (2)
Sulfurous Springs (2)
Swamp (6)
Mountain (6)

This deck has been evolving from something much more Phyrexian, into a more general kind of black/red punishment style of deck. I was trying to evolve it into a Modern viable deck, looking at more lower-CMC cards, and I’ve purposefully started to invest in shock lands for this reason! Sheoldred is still in charge here, of course, and rather than going a bit half-assed with some Infect creatures, I’ve instead decided to use Proliferate cards to work in tandem with the Vampire mechanic of adding +1/+1 counters when they deal damage. Proliferate will also work with the storage lands, and the level-up cards, though I’ve since removed some of these.

There are still a couple of cards that I’m thinking about swapping out, but it’s been fun to pilot so far!