Hellboy: The Board Game

Hellboy the board game

It’s birthday week, and it’s Hellboy week, so it’s only right for this week’s game day to take a look at the recently arrived behemoth of a board game! It’s Hellboy the board game from Mantic Games!

Originally touted on Kickstarter almost exactly a year ago, the game smashed through its £100k funding goal, eventually getting to almost £1.5million during the funding period. Ironically, of course, this isn’t really that impressive for Kickstarters these days, though I suppose for a licensed product from an established company, it is fairly standard. Designed by James Hewitt, the brains behind none other than the recent Necromunda Underhive from Games Workshop, the game is basically a dungeon crawl, with the heroes going through a series of encounters with enemy minions as they make their way through the board towards the final boss enemy. Pretty standard fare, I’m sure you’ll agree. The system is pretty straightforward as well, without anything as complex as the classic dungeon crawler Descent.

Hellboy the board game

The game begins with the Agent phase, where each hero gets the chance to make three activations. It’s a co-op game, so you can mix and match just how you make these activations – if you’ve got a better explorer character, they might be the best choice to look into a room, before the heavy hitter can then wade into the fray and start punching things.

Once the Agents have had a go, there is the Doom phase, where the Deck of Doom advances (basically the game’s version of an AI, responding slightly to the hero actions) and the Impending Doom marker advances – this can trigger the end confrontation with the enemy boss, so acts as a bit of a timer for you.

After cleanup, the new round begins with the Enemy phase, where any enemy minions on the board get to do stuff based on a keyword activation system. The whole thing is fairly slick, and there is a tutorial game included in the box to run you through the process to get started. I’ve played the tutorial twice now, and think I’ve got a fairly decent grasp of how things go as a result.

Hellboy the board game

The game isn’t really designed as a campaign system, but more as pretty much a traditional board game – you sit down, you play, you pack it all away. There are four Agents included in the game (a whole lot more in the Kickstarter edition, though I believe the game currently only supports four-player tops), each Agent coming with two Starting Gear cards. You also get to choose a piece of kit that might come in handy from the Requisition deck – each card has a cost (such as the Warding Talisman, above, costing 3), and depending on how many Agents are on the trip, you get a budget to spend on these cards. It’s fairly thematic without being overly complex. However, as far as customization options go, that’s pretty much it.

It’s worth noting, as well, that Agents can only shoot if they have a ranged weapon card, whereas they can usually always make a melee attack due to having fists or whatever. It’s something that I felt wasn’t entirely clear in the rules, and while it probably won’t always come up, you may find yourself trying to shoot with an Agent who actually can’t do so.

Hellboy the board game

The game leads up to a Confrontation, usually with the big bad guy of the scenario you’re playing – in the tutorial game, that’s the Giant Frog Monster. These chaps are quite beastly, but with some lucky dice rolling, I’ve managed to survive fairly easily. I think this is probably due to the dice mechanic of the game.

During the course of the game, you get the opportunity to examine clues, which will in turn allow you to advance the Information Gathered track. This track also contains tokens at specific points – if the track is advanced beyond these points, you collect the tokens which, during the Confrontation, allow you to upgrade dice you roll when attacking the boss. The dice system is probably the most unique thing about the game that I’ve come across. On the agent sheet shown earlier, there are four skills shown in colour-coded blocks in the top-left corner. Hellboy has a melee characteristic of red, a ranged characteristic of yellow, and both examine and defense characteristics of orange. The dice system runs from yellow dice (worst) through orange (medium) to red (best), with black dice for super-best. When making a test, you roll three coloured dice plus the blue effect die – this die can be brilliant for you, doubling the highest-scoring die result, or removing it, and all sorts in between. It’s really quite a cool mechanic, and all sorts of in-game effects can improve or reduce your dice efficacy, such as having monsters in the same board area as you, etc.

Having two information gathered tokens during the Confrontation meant that Hellboy was punching the Giant Frog Monster with two black and one red dice, however, and during my second game with Hellboy and Johan, I made some spectacular rolls for both of them, meaning that, even though Johan was nearly dead (well, dead-er), I was able to defeat the monster after only a single activation of the big bad guy.

Hellboy the board game

The miniatures are pretty decent for gaming pieces. Since I became a Warhammer nerd, I’ve become super critical of these things, but even the plastic pieces are really quite nicely detailed, overall. I didn’t get the resin miniatures, but I’d imagine they’re even more detailed.

The Kickstarter box is an absolute beast, and certainly the biggest game I’ve ever bought. It manages to fit the core game and two full expansions inside, as well as a host of the Kickstarter stretch goals unlocked throughout the campaign. I find this quite an exciting experience, and quite interesting in the way that Kickstarter games work. I’ve basically bought a core game and two big-box expansions, with maybe three or four smaller expansions on top. I suppose I’m just used to buying into games at a slower pace!

Hellboy the board game

In addition to the core game, we get the Conqueror Worm and the BPRD Archives expansions in here. Conqueror Worm is a new scenario, alongside Nazi minions and, of course, the giant Worm itself as a boss miniature. The BPRD Archives expansion is a curious beast, as it is basically a whole collection of standalone scenarios that allows you to create whatever game you want. Rules for setting up the board, including which minions and bosses to fight, are all included on tarot-sized cards, and there is a veritable menagerie of enemy miniatures included for you to battle. I’ve not tried that method of play yet, but from briefly looking through the process, it seems quite straightforward, and there are promises for future expansions to include stuff for this deck constructor mode, ensuring that you can always use this expansion to create new games with the mountain of stuff available!

So far as Kickstarter exclusives go, there seems to have been a bit of a redesign for their inclusion in the box, and I do quite like it. There’s a design blog from James Hewitt that talks about how these things work, and the original concept of villains with their own Confrontations has shifted to the more modular inclusion of Fiend cards that allow these Lieutenant-style baddies to show up without waiting for the very end. I like this because the game can otherwise feel like a massive swing – from one minute battling minions to suddenly having a huge beast to contend with.

There is part of me that wishes we could get some kind of reward for defeating such villains, though I suppose I’m just thinking on a simplistic level. It’s not like every bad guy is carrying round bags of gold that they drop as soon as you defeat them!

On a similar note, I’ve seen a lot of people express disappointment online for the lack of a campaign system, and the inclusion of the sandbox-type BPRD Archives expansion seems to have been an affront to such people, who feel it lazy or somesuch. Personally, I think it’s a terrific way to expand the game, allowing for a whole lot of replayability, and the random-encounter feeling of the game is very much in keeping with the fairly random-encounter feeling of the comics. Sure, the storylines do weave in and out of each other, but there are a lot of one-shot-style adventures our intrepid heroes embark upon, and that is quite decently replicated here. It’s great for people who want those kind of one-off games, and you’ve got to remember, Hellboy pretty much exists as he is  in the comics: he doesn’t really level-up and become better at what he does, he just does it all the way through. Not saying he doesn’t learn lessons of course, but that’s what the Information Gathered track is there for.

It’s also how James Hewitt originally envisaged the game design, being modular and customisable like this.

I like it, anyway!

Hellboy the board game

Backers still have the Box Full of Evil to come, which features some more Kickstarter stretch goals and two mini-expansions, not sure when we can expect that to arrive at the moment, but hopefully it’ll arrive soon. In the meantime, it’s not like I don’t have absolute masses of game material to wade through and enjoy!!

I’m 5 years old!

It’s birthday week here at spalanz.com, and today not only marks Easter Sunday for those of you who like to gorge on chocolate eggs (such as myself), but it’s also the 5th birthday of my blog! Who’d have thought, after such inauspicious beginnings back in 2014, I’d be here now?! Well, I’m not exactly sure where here is, as I’m usually just found rambling on about miniatures or books or comics, really.

It’s to comics that we’re going to be turning in the coming week, however, as I return to my time-honoured tradition and mark the birthday week with a series of blogs devoted to a favourite thing in multiple media. For my 5th year of blogging, I’m going to be talking about Hellboy!

No, I still haven’t seen the new movie, but if I’m honest, I liked Ron Perlman’s Big Red far too much to be interested in anybody else trying to don the right hand of doom. You can expect me to ramble about the 2004 movie, it’s 2008 sequel, the comics, and of course, the new board game!

Hellboy

Back in 2004, I saw the original Hellboy movie and was a little bit obsessed. Pretty much instantly I bought up all of the graphic novels that were out – just the first five, at the time – and pretty much devoured them in a weekend. It was glorious. But then, my enthusiasm seemed to shift as Elektra came out, and I started delving pretty heavily into Marvel. It was around the same time as House of M, and so I ranged pretty widely, forgetting about Hellboy and the BPRD. Over the years, I’ve been keen to get back into it and rediscover the first five chapters of the story, but also see what else the comics have to offer – I was pretty surprised to discover how many books are in the library now for the beloved half-demon! This coming week, then, I’ll be returning to my “roots” with the story up to Conqueror Worm, and then in the months and years to follow, I plan to continue my look at the graphic novels for the BPRD, and various spin-offs from the main storyline.

Happy Birthday to me…

A Shadow in the East

Wow, you guys! Wow!

Lord of the Rings LCG is getting an eighth deluxe expansion pack, A Shadow in the East, and it sounds spectacular! We’re heading to Rhûn for this and the subsequent Vengeance of Mordor cycle, and I for one simply cannot wait!

The three quests that come in the expansion are all a little reminiscent of the Against the Shadow cycle, with their urban feel and sinister cults, but there is also the added feeling of the oppression of Mordor, with the idea of mysterious ruined temples built in honour of Sauron. Wow!

This has been great news, I have to say. It’s always exciting to see more come out for this game, which I have frequently said is my all-time favourite board/card game in my collection. We’re getting new quests of course, and we’re travelling to another new area of the map, so what’s not to like? Some very interesting new theme and mechanics coming on the cards we’ve seen spoiled so far – and we’re getting The One Ring once again!

I’m not sure whether this new Ring card will make it into my decks (although I’m also wondering whether it will be a stipulation of playing the quests?) as I’m a fairly cautious player at times, and reducing my threat elimination level by 5 to play with it seems a bit too much for me! But I’m sure, in time, I’ll try and experience how it changes things – especially seeing as how there will be new cards that interact with it, as well.

The first double-sided Hero card is here, too! I’m sure I’ve seen fans speculating about the possibility of a Sméagol/Gollum card for years, so I’m sure there are plenty of folks excited by this! With two cards shuffled into the encounter deck that give him a chance to flip to the Enemy side, I can see having the Ring’s ability to counter encounter cards in this way could be quite powerful! He’s otherwise quite decent-looking, and his cost is splendid! Reminds me of the Spirit Glorfindel from back in the day!


I’m really excited to see a new deluxe expansion – I’ve been concerned for a while now that The Wilds of Rhovanion would be the end of the game in its paper form, as it seems to have a real “last hurrah” feel to it. You can read more about that here, though! There is still some strong speculation online that the language used in the announcement feels a bit final – “it has all led to this” etc – plus the question of just what was happening within the time period the game is supposed to be following, leading many folks to think we could be in for news of the final expansion pack soon.

Previous LCGs from Fantasy Flight have come to an end when they have about this much content out there for them, of course. We’re coming to the end of the eighth cycle for the game, which has also included seven deluxe expansions and eight Saga deluxe expansions, as well as eleven standalone expansion packs, not to mention all of the Nightmare expansion packs! There is a heck of a lot of content out there right now for this game, and while the amount of content doesn’t always equal bloat for a game like this, there is nevertheless quite a high barrier to entry at this point, and I wonder if the designers might be feeling the need to draw things to a close. I guess we can but wait and see on this.

At least we’re in for more Lord of the Rings LCG for a while yet, and I cannot wait to see what we’re going to be up to in this upcoming cycle! I think it might be time to crack out some decks and see how far I can get once more!

It’s the GAMA Trade Show 2019!

Hey everybody!
It’s the GAMA Trade Show, and as I have done in the past, I’ll be keeping an eye on the proceedings to see what we’ve got to look forward to in the coming weeks and months!

First up, it’s none other than Games Workshop, who have just updated their community site with a first look at the next expansion for Kill Team – Elites. I mean, of course they have – not to be too proud of myself, or whatever, but I saw this coming a good while ago

We’re getting all manner of delights here, from terminators (as we can see on the cover) to Drukhari Grotesques! It was almost prescient of me, then, to have just bought a pair of these delights!

For all my cynicism of expanding the game like this, I am actually looking forward to seeing how it continues to grow – the danger, of course, being that it will soon turn into just low-point 40k if it isn’t careful. But so long as we continue to get intelligent choices with reasonable rules behind them, why not, right? Just let me take Lychguard now!

I suppose this also answers the question, where has the Thousand Sons faction box been?

Along with a Kal Jerico model for Necromunda, we’re also getting a Halfling team for Blood Bowl, with promises of more announcements to come in the next couple of days!

…let’s see what else is on offer!!

Next generation of the DC Deck Building Game, with the Rebirth branding? Very cool. Not sure about the more board-gamey aspect with moving cardboard chits around – it is supposed to be a deck building game, after all – but linked campaign scenarios and character progression do sound like they should be a lot of fun. Gonna keep my eye on this one!

You know, I’d forgotten about the two Fortune & Glory expansions until reviewing last year’s GAMA blog, but now that I’ve had my memory jogged, I really feel the need to have them in my life! It feels like Shadows of Brimstone has taken over Flying Frog, and with the third kickstarter for this game currently ongoing, I have to wonder if they have their sights set anywhere near the more traditional games manufacturing route. Not that I’m trying to be bitter or anything, but I do miss their games like Fortune & Glory, and A Touch of Evil. Last year, they were in the middle of making sure the Forbidden Fortress SOBS game was shipped in time, pushing the FANG expansions back to the first quarter of 2019. Well, we’ll just have to wait patiently for something not weird-west related to arrive, I guess!


GAMA day two has arrived, and my goodness, how exciting is this:

Traitor Command, the next Blackstone Fortress expansion, gives us a Traitor Commissar and a Chaos Ogryn, both of whom look delightful gentlemen – and will have 40k rules, to boot! Awesome! Forging alliances with unlikely friends sounds interesting, too…

I’ve said it before, of course, but I really love how GW are using Blackstone Fortress to explore these weird and wonderful bits of the 40k universe. The Commissar in particular looks like a stunning chap, I’m really looking forward to snapping these up when they’re out!

Warcry, the skirmish game set in the AoS universe and first teased a few months back now, has finally been shown off to be really quite the interesting game! Pitting different Chaos warbands against one another, at first it sounded like it might be a bit too exclusive – I mean, what about us Death players, right? But whether Chaos is just the first wave or not, it’s difficult to not be enamoured with at least one of these factions, particularly the cute looking devil-bats! I like it, which I’m a bit sorry about, as I feel like it might well become another juggernaut like Kill Team, and I’m not sure my bank balance can cope with that!

I really like the look of those pit-fighters with the welding masks, they remind me of Haemonculus Covens creations among the Drukhari, and I’m sure plenty of us will be using them for Grotesque conversions as these things move along. The scenery looks pretty amazing, too!

Not sure, of course, but this could tie in with the rumours of Warriors of Chaos/Slaves to Darkness getting an overhaul soon. I suppose we’ll see!


At any rate, that appears to be that! Plenty to look forward to from Games Workshop, who appear to have taken over with their exciting announcements of new stuff! Nothing from FFG, though the distributor Asmodee has announced a deal with Cool Mini Or Not, which may bring those incredible games to the masses (personally I try to avoid CMON as I find it difficult to resist them!)

It almost feels like the landscape of boardgame news has changed, and the big trade shows are no longer that important for getting a picture of what’s coming up next. Even the big daddy of them all, GenCon, hasn’t been that explosive for the last year or two. Is it a result of Kickstarter seemingly taking over the world of boardgame production? Speaking from an entirely personal perspective, it seems like the companies I used to watch – FFG in particular here – just aren’t knocking it out of the park anymore, with nothing really overwhelming me with its excitement. Meanwhile, established companies like Cryptozoic and Flying Frog Productions seem to be using Kickstarter more like their business model than not, and it’s leading to an over-saturation of stuff. Shadows of Brimstone has been a case in point here – when that stuff eventually found its way to me, it was like receiving 5+ years’ worth of expansion material in one hit, and I’m not sure I want that from a board game. Has our modern sense of impatience and always wanting the next thing caught up with us, to the point where we suddenly need everything for a game right now? All of these companies using Kickstarter to distribute games, and somewhat by necessity producing almost an entire game’s run in one go just to ensure the crowdfunding, seems to have led to a point where they just don’t have anything new to announce, because we had it all in one hit a year or two ago.

Makes me wonder what GAMA 2020 will have in store for us…

A Workshop of Games!

Hey everybody!
So I’m a little late to this party as well, but given the amazing line-up of new stuff that we’ve seen previewed at the New York Toy Fair from GW. I’ve come across quite a bit of negativity towards some of these things while looking around at the online reaction, which is a bit of a surprise to me in some respects, but I suppose you can’t please everybody! At any rate, let’s dive in and take a look at some of the upcoming goodness:

I want to start with Storm Vault, a co-operative dungeon-delving game that looks like it only includes Stormcast Eternals as the playable heroes, from the look of the box. I originally wasn’t even sure if it was a miniatures game, as I couldn’t see any in the promotional shot of the game board, but I think they’re up there in the top right corner:

This does look kinda neat, and reminds me a lot of Talisman, for some reason. They’re both GW IP games, I suppose, but it has the feel, from the scant info we had revealed, of that kind of adventure game. It looks like the four Chaos gods play a part in the proceedings, too, which is interesting…

I’ve still not played Warhammer Underworlds yet, shame on my, but this seems like an interesting take on things. Aimed at new players for the game (so, me) it features what looks like two of the Easy-to-Build kits for Age of Sigmar made into warbands that can be used here with training wheels, and then taken further into the main game. I do love the Nighthaunt, after all, and I am looking to get into Shadespire/Nightvault, so I think this could well be a good buy.

I do see the perspective of those players who already have been playing the game, and perhaps begrudge having to get this if there are unique cards that they will no doubt need for more competitive deck builds, but I think all too often we’re bound up with the loud voices here online who decry such enterprises by game companies – all the while, without realising that they just aren’t the majority target audience for this sort of product.

While there was also talk of the new Funko Pop range, and this Space Marines Heroes thing, by far the most interesting and exciting announcement to come from the event was, of course, this:

Combat Arena appears to take the principle of Gorechosen and supplants it to the 41st millennium, with generic hero-types being thrust into a pit-fight set aboard a space ship. All of them are Imperium heroes, and so a lot of people seem to be a bit confused as to why such folk would be fighting one another, but there we have it.

The game might well be a complete dud, but I’m definitely willing to give it a try. Most importantly, though, the game is bringing to us five new plastic miniatures of iconic figures from Warhammer 40k, from the Primaris Psyker to a third Rogue Trader mini!

Apparently, this is a prequel to the Blackstone Fortress game, and these minis will feature in an upcoming adventure pack. What on earth does that even mean? They’re going to be coming out in a Blackstone Fortress-branded box, so we shouldn’t buy this game if we want the minis? Or will they start to release rules for existing minis to be used in Blackstone Fortress, simply as card packs or whatever? The basing for all of the minis previewed at the event has the same scheme as the other game, so it very much looks like it’s a tie-in, but I’m not sure I quite get it at the moment.

Anyway, the minis look fantastic, and I really can’t wait to get them in my collection. I really appreciate how interesting GW is making their universe through the introduction of new models or re-imagined sculpts for classic models within these sorts of boardgames. I hope we see more stuff like this come out for a long time to come, as we see all manner of weird and wonderful creations for the game. And yes, of course I would like to have rules for 40k included, and maybe even crossover rules for Blackstone Fortress and Kill Team as well. I’ve already been working on building a Chaos force that uses all of the weird stuff from Blackstone Fortress, and I’m still thinking about how to fit the Elucidian Starstriders into an Imperium list – I don’t care if they aren’t competitive, I just love the fact that the lore is being fleshed out on the tabletop, and the more esoteric corners of the 40k universe are being explored in this manner!


You know what else I’m really enjoying about this announcement? The fact that we’re seeing Games Workshop actually beginning to realise the promise of their own company name, and produce a whole smorgasbord of games for us to feast upon. When the FFG licence ended, I was a bit disappointed because I have enjoyed their offerings in the board game, card game and RPG formats for a long while. Thinking that GW might only want to concentrate on their big three tabletop wargames, I was anticipating a lack of anything further. But here we are, with a whole slew of new games as well as new takes on the existing games stable, and I think it’s just glorious! Combat Arena or Storm Vault may well be throwaway games that people only buy for the minis and never once look at the game itself – heck, I pretty much did that with Gangs of Commorragh when that came out, though I have still got all of the game material for that one waiting for me to one day take a better look at it. But there are so many games being produced now with incredible new miniatures that they can probably afford to have a couple of duds on the shelf. If Combat Arena is only remembered as the place where that sweet new peg-leg Rogue Trader first came out, then that’s fine, because we still have stuff like Warhammer Underworlds, Necromunda, Blackstone Fortress and the like that have been, from all accounts, runaway success stories. But if people are still enjoying Combat Arena years from now, and either clamouring for official rules for Sly Marbo to be written, or playing with fan-made rules for using a Genestealer Patriarch, then that is awesome, too. The important thing to take from this, I feel, is that Games Workshop are trying, and I love them for it!

Gaming catch up, and more!

Hey everybody!
I tend to talk about Warhammer a lot on this blog, which I suppose is fine because it is my blog and all, but every so often I like to branch out a bit and take a look at the wider world, and see what’s going on that I might have missed! Well, I thought today would be one such branch, as I take some time to catch up with what I’ve been up to and whatnot!

I read this article on New Year’s Day, and I feel weirdly sad to see Christian Petersen leave FFG. I suppose it’s just a bit of fear of the new, and while I haven’t really been all that into FFG games of late (there was a time when they were the only publisher I bought from), I still feel a sort of attachment to the company, and of course, its CEO. I used to enjoy the In-Flight Reports during GenCon, and always thought he sounded like a cool guy. Hopefully we’ll continue to see amazing quality games coming from the company, anyway, and I hope we don’t get too much of a shake-up when he is replaced. Although I remain quite firmly convinced that Lord of the Rings LCG is going to be saying farewell soon enough!

There was another preview for the Arkham Horror LCG on the same day, showing Tarot cards as a new type of player card for the game, which sound like an interesting idea. Over the festive period, I started the ball rolling with building a couple of new investigator decks for the game, as I’m intending to finally get around to the Dunwich Legacy! It’s been a few years now, of course, but I’m looking forward to seeing what the game has in store for me as I venture beyond the core set! Stay tuned for updates on that one – Arkham Horror LCG is definitely a fun game, and if you’re a fan of the lore, it certainly has a lot to offer!

In 2018, I played a grand total of 47 games. I used to play that many in a month, so this is a definite down-turn, but in December I started making a conscious effort to try and play more. That was certainly helped by playing the Harry Potter deck-building game with Jemma over Christmas (I’ll have to get round to featuring that on the blog sometime soon!) Excitingly, she has said that playing that game has made her better-predisposed to trying stuff like Lord of the Rings again, so hopefully we can trudge off into Mordor together soon!

Though I’m not sure we’ll be playing much Magic anytime soon…

The new set, Ravnica Allegiance, is coming out at the end of the month, and is quite exciting for me as it features two of my very favourite guilds, Rakdos and Orzhov. While I did buy some bits for the last set, Guilds of Ravnica, as it only had Dimir as a guild I usually play I wasn’t entirely fussed with it. I did actually build a Boros deck, as I ended up with a lot of those cards in the packs I picked up, and I do like playing Boros on occasion, but I am particularly looking forward to the Rakdos and Orzhov cards this time around, as well as another perennial favourite, Simic!

I feel quite excited about this set, even if I don’t get to play anything of it. We’re getting some exciting new cards for some of my favourite guilds:

The new mechanic for Rakdos is Spectacle, which offers an alternative casting cost if an opponent lost life this turn – in keeping with the classic Rakdos, Lord of Riots guild leader, naturally. They’re discounts on some cards, and increases on others to yield enhanced effects. Speaking of the cult leader himself, he’s getting a new card – Rakdos, the Showstopper – as are many guild leaders of old, such as Lavinia and Zegana. Each guild also gets a new Legendary Creature, which will be fun for Commander, and there are a couple of new Planeswalkers, including Kaya for the Orzhov (last seen in Conspiracy 2, so that’s fun the ghost assassin is now in a regular set).

Orzhov is getting an interesting new mechanic, Afterlife, which creates a 1/1 Spirit token when the creature with Afterlife dies. It wouldn’t be Orzhov without seeing Teysa again, and of course she’s back with new token shenanigans, which I’m sure will make her a powerhouse when she comes into the wild. Granting tokens vigilance and lifelink is lovely, and causing a trigger to occur twice just makes Afterlife so much more powerful on its own. She’s going to be a hit, I’m sure – I’m just a little sad I probably won’t be able to get her outside of a lucky pack opening!

Simic has Adapt, which allows you to put +1/+1 counters on a creature if there aren’t any by paying the Adapt cost. Given the number of counter-synergies within Simic guild cards alone, I can imagine Commander players are going to get a whole lot of fun out of using these mechanics with older iterations from the guild. I can certainly see myself adding in a few to my Prime Speaker Zegana deck, for sure! New Zegana still gives some card draw, but acts a bit like a Lord for all cards with a +1/+1 counter on them, giving them trample. Very handy. In case you aren’t interested in beating your opponent down the traditional way, Simic also has an alternative win condition with Simic Ascendancy, which allows you to put growth counters on it whenever you add a +1/+1 counter to a card – if Simic Ascendancy has 20 or more growth counters on it, you win! Cards like Hydroid Krasis, which enters the battlefield with X +1/+1 counters, or Combine Guildmage, who gives you an additional +1/+1 counter on any cards entering the battlefield for a turn, or Biogenic Upgrade, which allows you to distribute three +1/+1 counters across creatures you control, then to double the counters on that creature, will definitely help you get Simic Ascendancy close to 20 growth counters! Of course, that’s the dream, but even so!

I think it’s safe to say that I’m a lot more excited for Ravnica Allegiance, at any rate!!

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Seeing the new year in with this #nowReading

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Finally, I thought I’d have a brief ramble about a book I finished reading at New Year, United States of Japan. Taking as its starting point that the Axis won World War II, we see a very different take on the West Coast of America, as Japan is in charge of most of the area. There are pockets of American resistance, fighting out of the Rockies, but Japan holds California in an iron grip. The majority of the book takes place in the late 1980s, but it’s a lot more technologically advanced, with everybody using porticals (basically, smartphones) to play games almost constantly. This activity is strictly monitored by the authorities, so when a game called Unites States of America is suddenly made available, showing an alternate take on the end of the war, these rebels are shut down with maximum prejudice. The whole thing ends in a rather shocking denouement in San Diego, with the future fairly unsure for our protagonists.

I went into this novel with a bit of trepidation, as I wasn’t sure it was going to be all that good. I’m not entirely up on my Japanese culture, and there were a number of references to it peppered throughout, but I found the book really easy to read, and positively raced through it. I do enjoy alt-histories like this, and I love a good post-apocalyptic storyline, so the fact that both elements were combined here was really quite fun.

One of my main frustrations with the book, though, was that I found myself wanting to know more about the wider world than we were getting from the story. WW2 was said to end in 1948, then the novel leaps forward 40 years, with only a few fleeting references to what Germany was up to in Europe and on the East Coast of America. I know Peter Tieryas has written a second book within the same universe, which seems to deal more with a specific aspect of the universe than seeing things from a wider perspective, but I find myself wanting to know more of what this world could look like! Hopefully there will be a third book that might see that.

At any rate, it was a real discovery for me in the final days of 2018, and I would say it’s definitely worth a read if you’re into alternative takes on stuff like this!

Mists of Zanaga

Happy Christmas everybody!
Whether you’re celebrating in style, or just enjoying a pleasant Tuesday, I hope you’re all having a fabulous day. While it is Christmas Day for many, it’s also game day here at spalanz.com, and today I thought it would be a great time to take a look at one of the classics – and take the opportunity to finish a series of board game reviews that has been on hiatus for nearly three years! Let’s take a look at the fifth and final big-box expansion for Runebound: Mists of Zanaga.

Runebound Mists of Zanaga

Mists of Zanaga is a jungle-themed expansion for the classic fantasy adventure game from Fantasy Flight, and was released all the way back in 2010. In the same theme as previous big-box expansions, such as its predecessor The Frozen Wastes, we are transported to a new realm within Mennara. The game’s storyline involves the survivors of the Dragon Wars sailing across the ocean and finding the mythical lost realm of Zanaga, populated by the jungle-dwelling makhim, and the singhara of the savannahs, as well as savage orcs and savage barbarians who live in the ruins of a lizardmen empire.

Beneath this land dwells the demon Tarakhe, whose taint has touched the land with pollution. We have met this primal force in the previous expansion Island of Dread, where it was known as Assif Shib-Sa. The makhim have devised a plan to rid their lands of the taint of Tarakhe by awakening one of the other primal gods who created Zanaga, in the hope that the two deities will defeat one another…

Runebound Mists of Zanaga

As with all big-box expansions for Runebound, we get a new gaming board as well as new heroes, new adventure decks, new items to buy, and a couple of new mechanics. The expansion should be noted for having possibly the best ever design for the back of its adventure cards, but anyway!

The new mechanics for this game involve the Rituals – these cards, like the adventure decks, are coloured green through to red. Whenever you draw an encounter, you add a Ritual token to the card – when defeated, the token is placed on a Ritual card with a corresponding icon. When these ritual cards are completed, they are used to determine which ancient god will be awoken to defeat Tarakhe. After the first three Ritual cards have determined the god you will face in the final showdown, that god’s card is flipped to its Omen side, and further completed Rituals will trigger the effects of these Omens until the players can confront the god himself.

Runebound Mists of Zanaga

Moving around the board is pretty much the same as we have come to expect, and we also get survival gear as is common for the big-box expansions. Crucially, there is also a Lost City token that comes into play when certain Rituals are completed – you need to be on the Lost City space in order to confront the ancient deity.

Runebound Mists of Zanaga

While the game is basically Runebound but with different characters and adventures, I find myself completely drawn in to the theme of these expansions, and I rarely find myself feeling like I’m having the same gameplay experience with each one. However, while Frozen Wastes feels cold, and Sands of Al-kalim feels hot, Mists of Zanaga doesn’t really have the same sort of environmental feel to it, as weird as that may be to say about a board game. The closest this one comes to having something global going on is the Roaming Monster track, which effectively replaces the Undefeated Monster track, re-implementing the idea in an interesting way.

Runebound Mists of Zanaga

Each monster encounter card features a terrain symbol on the right-hand side. If you don’t manage to defeat the monster, it goes along the bottom of the board on the Roaming Monster track. In subsequent turns, if you end your movement in a hex that does not feature an encounter or a market, you must check if your terrain matches any of the Roaming Monsters; if it does, then you have to encounter that monster, if not then you draw a new card and add it to the track. It does add an element of danger to the game, in that it does get you thinking about how you’re going to move this turn in the same way that the cold mechanic in Frozen Wastes and day/night mechanic in Sands of Al-kalim makes you think like that. The new survival gear we get in this expansion allows you to re-draw encounters, escape encounters, or change the results of the movement dice in order to make this easier, however, so there is that.

Runebound Mists of Zanaga

All in all, Mists of Zanaga is a solid expansion for the game. It feels somewhat like the least complex of the big-box expansions we have available, though at the same time the Ritual mechanic is perhaps the most intense of all the new things we have seen. I suppose it is this that sets the expansion apart from all the others, as it strives for an Aztec/Mesoamerican flavour to the storyline, which does come through quite well to my Euro-centric way of looking at things. There are some classic fantasy tropes for the jungle setting such as lizardmen and frogmen, and I think jungle-fantasy is not often done so that this expansion gets a definite feel of uniqueness to it.

The mechanic of awakening primal gods has often felt a bit like Arkham Horror to me, probably due to the terminology used rather than anything else. The talk of Omens and Awakening Gods has the definite feel of one of the many games from the Lovecraftian stable of FFG, to my mind! Gameplay-wise, of course, the game is very definitely Runebound.


With no further expansions for Runebound Third Edition since Unbreakable Bonds in July 2017, the future of Runebound itself is a bit shaky.  I don’t really want to see it go away, but I feel to some extent like this type of game has had its day. I talked about the culture of making boardgames more accessible in my Runewars blog earlier this month, and while I do kind of see a place for games like that, I’m not sure about those like Runebound. I suppose there are just more streamlined adventure boardgames out there now, and Runebound just feels a bit like it belongs where it belongs. People do like mass army games, but I think the adventure boardgame needs something more than Runebound can provide. The Witcher was a case in point, where the theme to some extent drives the game. I’m not entirely sure about Runebound, which has been continually lambasted for its vague, generic, bland fantasy setting. Personally, I love it, but that is more to do with my own history with the game. Looking objectively at it now, there is very little to help it stand out from the crowd. It definitely belongs to another time, and I think that could well be why FFG are choosing to look at new ways of implementing the Terrinoth setting, such as the RPG and the new card game, Heroes of Terrinoth.