The Conqueror Worm

For whatever reason, back when my blog was 5 and I featured Hellboy during Birthday Week, I neglected to get to the fifth trade paperback in the series, The Conqueror Worm. Which is weird, because my goodreads profile tells me that I did read it back then! When I had first got into Hellboy, this was as far as the series went, and I had wanted to relive the early 2000s with my birthday feature, but never mind – let’s correct this oversight now, in fact let’s do so twice!

Firstly, let’s talk about the comic. Back at the start of 1939, the Nazis had attempted to commune with the elder beings floating around in space, sending up a dead body for one of these monstrosities to inhabit, but the plan failed before they could recall the rocket. Well, the rocket has been spotted in 2000 and the BPRD are dispatched to investigate! Hellboy and Roger are led to Hunte Castle in Austria by a local police officer, who later turns out to be Inger von Klempt, granddaughter of Hermann von Klempt, the Nazi scientist who led the experiment in 1939. Lobster Johnson, something of a Captain America figure from the WW2-era, and believed dead when the original Nazi plot was disrupted, reappears and teams up with Roger to destroy the castle’s power generators, while Hellboy is initially tortured by von Klempt and his cybernetic Kriegaffe (war ape).

The rocket lands and a gas comes out, transforming everybody present into frog creatures. Inger has been protected against it to some extent, but when the Conqueror Worm itself emerges from the capsule and begins to devour the transformed mutants, she asks her grandfather how he could possibly hope to control the beast. Hermann tells her, after the failure of so many projects to bring about Nazi domination, he just wants to watch the death of the world as the Conqueror Worm will awaken the Ogdru Jahad. Roger is able to kill Hermann, and Lobster Johnson then uses a lightning rod to attract a massive jolt of electricity to kill the Worm. After his experiences with the BPRD, Hellboy decides to quit, and travel to Africa.

In an epilogue, Rasputin’s ghost is taunted by Hecate, who herself is inhabiting the body of Ilsa Haupstein still contained within the iron maiden. Rasputin’s plans to release the Ogdru Jahad will forever come to nothing, as the only force capable of releasing them is Hellboy’s stone right hand. Rasputin screams in defiance, to the point where his spirit shatters; Baba Yaga collects a fragment to wear in an acorn around her neck.

The book is quite glorious, I have to say. Some of the panels have such a gothic imagery that it really speaks to the search through the lower depths of Hunte Castle, and the sense of foreboding and dread as if the gargoyles are watching Hellboy’s progress. There’s something of a 90s feel to some of the panels, as the Conqueror Worm goes about his business – a lot of the colours and shading brings to mind the Dark Empire series, for me. The story is just exactly what I think of when I think of Hellboy – crazy Nazi scientists with their doomsday plots, it’s all delightfully over the top. The epilogue though, is really quite eerie – there’s a sense of the evil puppet masters, behind the scenes going over their plots, and so on. I especially liked the addition of Baba Yaga at the end, as well.

All in all, very creepy, and exactly what I like in a Hellboy story!

Secondly, I played with the Conqueror Worm expansion for the first time not too long ago, and I was really quite impressed! For years, despite having the graphic novels, Hellboy to me was Big Red going up against the Nazis and their Project Ragna Rok, thanks to the movie portrayal. While the frog monsters make sense within the board game universe, it’s still really quite special when you get more into this side of the Hellboy universe. The expansion features five types of Nazis, plus the eponymous Worm himself, as well as new scenery and rooms, and the associated card decks, along with two new playable agents: Lobster Johnson and Roger.

I’ve played The Cold Shoulder scenario, and I found it to be really thematic for this particular storyline. I’ve talked about it before, but there are very few “big” stories within the Hellboy comics – for the most part, two parters are as long as things get. So it’s nice to see a big story like Conqueror Worm get the big expansion treatment here. The game starts out with the agents exploring the hallways of the castle until they come across a point of interest, which (spoiler alert) reveals the laboratory where the Nazis are containing the Worm itself. With this tile placed, the Confrontation begins, and in order to win you’ll need to place charges in specific rooms and blow the castle up. While the Worm only has a move characteristic of 1, that miniature is huge, and it’s really quite frightening to see it coming across the board at you! As it happens, I somehow managed to block it in a chokepoint with a piece of terrain, not sure if that was played correctly, but it did slow it down enough that I was then able to move through and place the remaining charges to rig the castle, and get out before it all went boom. Poor Lobster Johnson did actually almost give his life for the cause, though I was able to heal him enough before the final showdown so that we all made it through!

This was my first game with three agents, and I think it definitely helped, as I was able to do a lot on my turns, and the game overall felt like it went much faster for having those increased options. Of course, I’m not sure if I’d always want to do that because the game does scale up for more agents being on the board, but still, it was a lot of fun, and I thought this was perhaps the first time when I felt like the game was a real co-op experience.

The Hellboy board game is truly shaping up to be one of my favourites here, and in recent weeks I think I’ve now doubled the number of plays with it. I think it helps that we’re in that season when it’s good to hunker down with a game, and despite all of my rantings and ravings about Kickstarter games here on the blog, there is something quite exciting about opening up a massive box that is choc-full of trays and trays of miniatures. The Hellboy theme is just the icing on the cake, really!

I do have Hellboy volume 6, and I think I may have investigated one of the stories in there, but I’m soon going to be in uncharted territories with the comic book series. I’m hoping to increase the library there soon, branching out into the BPRD series as well, to see what that’s all about. As for the board game, I definitely want to see more of the BPRD Archives expansion, and start putting together my own case files, as well as trying out more from the core set. The only thing that kinda gives me pause on that is just the sheer amount of frogs… Having all of the Kickstarter goodness does make me feel like mixing things up with some of those other miniatures for some variety, you know? There are suggested rules for that, as well, so I’ll have to take a look into the wider game and see just how I can bring that about. I have clearly been spoiled…!

Arkham Horror LCG musings

Hey everybody,
In the spirit of musing on board games I seem to be in right now, I thought that I’d muse a little on what has very nearly become my favourite living card game in the last twelve months, Arkham Horror LCG! It hasn’t yet tipped Lord of the Rings from the top spot, only because I have such affection for the earlier game, but I’ve had such fun playing this one across three campaigns so far, it’s certainly getting there!

I haven’t played it as often as I would have liked in the last few months, unfortunately, but now that the nights are drawing in (and there’s a reasonable chance that I can get an hour or two, with the kids being more settled!) I am finding myself gaming a bit more once again, so I think it’d be good to get back into this one! I have The Forgotten Age, The Dream-Eaters, and The Innsmouth Conspiracy campaigns all still to play through, with of course The Edge of the Earth campaign coming out sometime soon – I’m getting that last for my birthday/Christmas though, so it’ll be a while before that hits the table.

I had embarked on a campaign idea for playing some of the standalone scenarios, using Trish Scarborough and Agnes Baker after playing through Return to Night of the Zealot, though Agnes’ untimely death kinda put a downer on that one! But I think I’ll try to give it a go soon, maybe bringing her back from the dead to try out the print on demand scenarios if nothing else. However, I’ve got so much stuff for this game now that I haven’t yet played, I really need to get a move on.

Arkham Horror investigators

The five Investigator decks for Arkham Horror LCG have been a bit like gold dust since they were released last year- I guess supply issues are to blame. They’re a mix of new faces and old favourites here, with some very interesting ideas incorporated within each one. Harvey Walters and Jacqueline Fine are of course staples from the Arkham stable, but Stella, Winifred and Nathaniel are all new to the mythos.

Each deck is mono-class, and comes with a full play set of two copies of each card. Several cards are core set staples, so it’s nice to see these included for those players who don’t want to buy a second set. They also have class-specific upgrades for the neutral skill cards from the core set such as Overpower and Manual Dexterity. That was an interesting idea, as these have always felt pretty much at home in some classes, though of course I’m not the only person to use them to shore up weaknesses in other classes, too.

Arkham Horror investigators

Jacqueline Fine is a very interesting deck, to me, as it seems to have one thing that it just leans into: chaos token manipulation. There are the usual spells to use willpower in place of fight, evade and investigate attributes, with the odd bits and bobs to improve the willpower to boot, and then a whole load of different things that will allow her to manipulate the chaos bag. It’s not something that I’ve really thought of a great deal, when playing Mystics in the past I think I’ve always been attracted to other ways of building them, with only a couple of these sorts of cards involved. Mystic is one of my favourite classes though, so I can totally see myself taking this one out for a spin soon!

Arkham Horror investigators

Winifred Habbamock is a Native American with a reckless attitude to the rules. The deck principally seems to be all about passing skill tests with flying colours, and the more cards committed to each test, the more you get to draw. Another interesting thing, I find, as it really seems to drill down into just one of the core principles of the class. There’s a big theme around succeeding by at least 2, which gives the deck some unity, and the usual Rogue tricks to get there. I’m not hugely experienced with the Rogue class, though some of their cards are quite fun and I do feel like it would be interesting to build up a deck around the idea of multiple cards committed to each test. 

Arkham Horror investigators

The only other deck that I’ve really looked at is Stella Clark, the postal carrier. Once per round, you can take an extra turn when you fail a skill test, and the deck is all about interacting with failure at skill tests. Stella is of course of huge import to the mythos for being the first trans character, which has been a huge thing for the game. Survivors are a complicated class to my mind, though, so it’s definitely going to take some time to get into this deck. While playing through the Carcosa cycle last year, I thought I was finally getting to understand the Survivor class a bit, but after effectively a year off, I suppose it’d be like starting again now! Building a deck around losing tests seems like such a risky strategy, though, I’m not sure I’m brave enough for that just yet!

Nathaniel’s deck, god love him, really didn’t inspire me, as it seems to be principally concerned with just combat, so I’ve already sorted those cards into my main supply. I haven’t really looked at Harvey’s deck at all, either, so again I think there’s some homework for me there as I try to make sense of what I have!

The Investigator starter decks are very impressive products though, for coming with a whole deck plan for how to upgrade it over the course of a campaign. Of course, it’s prescriptive, but it does mean you could get one of these decks and shuffle up and play, without the need for deckbuilding – something I know that a lot of people don’t really enjoy. For those of us with huge collections, they offer a nice influx of new cards with which to build different decks. Part of me wants to keep the decks built for now, and give them a try to see how they work, but then part of me thinks why constrain myself like that? I did try Winifred and Stella at the Excelsior Hotel a while back, but whether it was the luck of the draw, or maybe just the pairing, they really didn’t work well like that. I wonder if they’ve been designed to work together to some extent, as part of a 4-player game?

As I said at the top, Arkham Horror LCG has really quickly become one of my all-time favourite games, and I think a large part of that was to do with the fact I was able to play so much of it twelve months ago, working my way through three excellent campaigns. I have such affection for this universe, though, I suppose really it’s no surprise that it would be up there in the top three. Playing these Arkham games can be such an incredibly immersive experience, it’s really rewarding to have a game that has a real campaign attached to it, and that sense of not knowing what to do that I recall from the Path to Carcosa campaign really feeds into that – you feel that you’re really living this game, somehow!

My plan, then, such as it is, will be to play through a couple of those stand-alone scenarios to get myself back into the swing of things, before then getting to another campaign! I’m really drawn to the Innsmouth campaign, now that I’ve finally picked up In Too Deep, though I’m also thinking it would perhaps make some sense to go for The Forgotten Age, as I missed that one out last year. It’s not essential to play them in order, of course, but I think it might be good to do so regardless. I find it difficult to choose because I like all of these settings! Innsmouth, Mesoamerica, Antarctica, they’re all just delightful!

Hellboy Musings

It’s been more than two years since I took delivery of that big box full of evil goodness, and in that time, I’ve managed to play it a grand total of just four times. Four times! It’s shocking, even though I have moved house and had two children in that time! I honestly don’t know why I’ve not wanted to get it to the table, either, as it is a really nice dungeon crawler. It reminds me of Descent in many ways, but with a much more unique theme than the fairly generic (by comparison) fantasy realm of Terrinoth.

The box is huge though, being a Kickstarter game and all, full of miniatures that basically make up two fairly substantial expansions, plus a few smaller ones, as well as the main base game. It can be quite off-putting, and it has got me thinking about either splitting the box up, so that it’s much more clear what I’m looking for, or else making a list (who doesn’t love a list?) of everything and where it belongs. It never ceases to amaze me, when I look at this game, just what precisely is the actual base game.

I’ve played the tutorial three times now, as well as one of the “proper” case files once. The tutorial game is a bit drab by comparison to the main game, as I think a lot of other commentators have said. When I played the game last week, I did veer away from the tutorial and found it to be a bit better. You’re still going up against an incessant number of frogs though, which does get a bit boring… I think if you had the retail core set and played this tutorial, without any of the additional bits and bobs, I could well imagine a lot of people might feel this is hardly a game worth keeping.

Once you get past the tutorial game, of course, things can be pretty exciting. There is some level of customisation available through the Requisition cards, something that is almost tucked into the back of the rule book, but which does give a bit more to the game. In a two-player game, you get 8 points to spread around among the agents, from extra equipment to backup agents. The main thing, though, is getting to play with more of those wonderful minis that are weighing the box down so much!

Rasputin is of course a classic Hellboy villain, especially after his appearance in the film, and it was great to play against him in my one and only game outside of the tutorial game. But looking through the Kickstarter bits and pieces, and trying to get a sense of what it all is in there, and I’m particularly intrigued by the idea of the Unexpected Threats. This mechanic allows you to include up to three random enemies in the deck of doom – so you have the chance to come up against Ilsa Haupstein or Karl Ruprecht Kroenen, which again is rather magnificent to see! The scenarios are mainly geared towards that final Big Boss confrontation, while the comics do have a lot of small threats because so many of them are short stories.

The Kickstarter box comes full of stuff that supports the BPRD Archives expansion, a way to allow for near-infinite replayability to the game. The main Archives expansion comes with a series of generic case file cards, split into seven types, which are put together to create a custom scenario to play. So it’s a bit like a guided custom thing, if that makes sense. There are cards which determine the setup, the minions, and so on, providing random twists as we go much like the main case files. I think it’s really cool to see the expansions building on this, though, and giving yet more cards to feed into this custom generator. I’ve not really dabbled much at all with the expansion yet, mainly just looking through it all to see what’s in there. But there is something of the random nature of the Hellboy comics that comes through here, with the support to allow for games against random witches and swarms of bats.

With the additional amount of Kickstarter content, though, the possible case files become kinda ridiculous in their scope, and it really feels like an endless array of stuff that you’ve got to enjoy. I think this is an expansion that I can see being one of the go-to sets in the future, where I just fancy a bit of a random game involving all manner of weird stuff. I mean, while it seems meant to be completely random, there’s nothing to stop you from pre-selecting a couple from each deck, and then making the final selection random, to help give a bit more theme. Or perhaps pre-selecting the final confrontation, and the journey there will be a bit more random? The scope is fairly huge, really!

I’ve not made a tremendous amount of in-roads with the Box Full of Evil, either, but that thing is also choc-full of miniatures! It contains two expansions, plus additional bits and pieces from the original Kickstarter, such as the Oni and the Floating Heads. The sheer amount of options for this game is staggering, to say the least, and it’s going to take a long time to work through things! I suppose that’s part of the issue, of course, because the game has almost been designed for built-in replayability, with a myriad of monsters and such that make no two games exactly the same. It does this almost at the expense of any kind of campaign system, but then the comics don’t really tell a linear story.

But then, as I’ve said before, I kinda like the fact that this is a game that you can set up and play, without worrying about any bookkeeping. It’s nice to have the RPG feel of a campaign brought into some games, for sure – but some games are just nice to pick up and play, you know? And Hellboy is definitely one such game, designed for straightforward fun with next to no fuss. The co-op aspect is fantastic too, and the fact you can decide on the order of each agent’s actions, rather than each agent taking their whole turn at once, is a fantastic way to keep the whole group involved. I’ve read a few reviews where people recommend three agents at a minimum, and I can definitely see me trying this at my next game; two seems much more all-or-nothing, somehow. Certainly, in my last game we had our asses handed to us by the Giant Frog Monster!

That’s for sure part of the appeal of this game, however. It feels like it’s straight out of the comics, where Hellboy is routinely thrown into a brick wall by a wayward tentacle (gonna be sore in the mornin’!) but nobody is an absolute pushover if the team works together. It’s definitely one that I want to play more often, so hopefully I’ll be talking again about the game before we see the end of 2021!

Arkham Horror: Third Edition

Hey everybody,
Today’s game day blog has been a long time coming, let me tell you! Today, I’m finally getting round to talking about the third edition of Arkham Horror! I first played this game in January, and have been meaning to do a first impressions blog pretty much ever since! Having recently returned to board games to some extent, though, I thought now would be a good time to feature this game here. So, without further ado, let’s dive in!

Arkham Horror 3rd edition

The third edition of Arkham Horror came out in 2018, so I’m already late to the party. It’s had a pretty huge makeover since the second edition, as well, no longer having the traditional board that represents the city of Arkham, but rather a series of tiles that are interconnected to form the map for each scenario. This is now most definitely a scenario-driven game, as opposed to the classic “just try to survive” of the earlier version, which I suppose could be boiled down to the same game each time you play it, just with various tweaks and so forth.

Arkham Horror 3rd edition

Third edition is built to give you a new experience each time, through the use of scenarios tied to the Great Old Ones, rather than simply going up against them that we’re used to. The game was redesigned by Nikki Valens, who was also heavily involved (if not responsible for) the ongoing development of Eldritch Horror after the core set, and so there are a number of classic Arkham Files beats coming through loud and clear.

Arkham Horror 3rd edition

Each scenario has got its own win condition, and you don’t always know what you need to do to win. This was a little bit disconcerting to me at first, because I had a bit of AP as I tried to decide what to do with my actions. But then I just embraced it all and it’s actually an incredibly effective and thematic way to go about this type of game! The game uses this idea of the “codex”, a collection of cards placed next to the scenario sheet, which represents the changing objectives throughout the game. So you’re not simply trying to gather clues to throw at the monster, or whatever, and there are both success and failure paths to follow as the story unfolds. It takes some getting used to, but it’s actually really nice and very flavourful when you get into it.

The game is played across 4 Phases. To start with, there’s the action phase, where the investigators get to do their thing. The monster phase comes next, with monsters moving and attacking the investigators. The AI for monsters is somehow slicker than 2nd edition, which was itself quite nicely done. Here, they either move to a specific investigator, or to a specific location, or they just cause chaos by adding doom. Monsters are represented with cards in this edition though, which is a little more tricky to manage on the board than the tokens of 2nd edition or other Arkham games.

Arkham Horror 3rd edition

The encounter phase is next, and this is similar to other iterations where you draw a card and have a short adventure, usually involving a skill test of some sort. Some encounters have been seeded into the deck by the scenario, and will allow you to further the investigation with clues. The last phase is the mythos phase, where players draw a token from the mythos cup, and resolve its effect. These can spawn clues to spawn monsters, resolve the reckoning effects of cards in play, or resolving a headline – a new type of card that kind of acts a little like mythos cards of old. The tokens are interesting because there are also blank ones, which add an element of surprise, but you also don’t throw them back into the bag after drawing them until all have been drawn, so you can get an idea for how good or bad a mythos phase is going to be, based on what has already come out.

At its core, third edition is very much a blend of second edition and Eldritch Horror, with some new or streamlined elements that make it feel very much like a new game. While I’ve been happy to play and replay second edition many times, I think third edition has an increased replayability simply from the scenario aspect. The Codex is a very interesting idea as well, as it contains a bunch of numbered cards that are added in as determined by how the game is going, but are used in varying ways across the scenarios, allowing for some interesting gameplay as time goes on.

Arkham Horror 3rd edition

Gates don’t really exist in this edition – instead we have Anomalies, which don’t appear in every scenario, but are functionally the same as Gates of old. You can enter an Anomaly and have an encounter, which might help to seal it, or you can attempt to Ward Doom to prevent one opening in the first place. An interesting addition is the Remnant token, which some monsters leave behind when you defeat them, or from removing multiple Doom tokens with a Ward Doom action. They can later be spent for profit or to help with casting spells, which I find super thematic!

Third edition is a very different, very interesting game that I think definitely needs a lot more exploration to see what it has to offer. I find it a very interesting amalgamation, between Eldritch Horror and Arkham Horror second edition. There are also elements from the card game present, in terms of how the game is strongly tied towards the scenario, and being a big fan of that game it is very nice to see.

I do like second edition, and the opportunity that it has for telling your own stories. I do love Eldritch Horror, and the global scale of adventure and exploration that it gives us. I also love the card game, as has been well-chronicled here on this blog over the last twelve months! This third edition doesn’t have anything that I could say really detracts from it, in my view. It’s a solid addition to the game line, pulling elements from across several other games to make something very thematic from the previous version.

So far, we’ve had two small box expansions, and one big-box, coming at a rate of one per year. So we’re seeing a fairly steady stream, but nothing that seems to be difficult to keep up with. In a new move for me, I’ve not bought into any of these yet, although I have been eyeing up the most recent one, Secrets of the Order, as I love anything to do with the Order of the Silver Twilight! It will be interesting to see how these expansions integrate into the base game, in the fullness of time of course! For now, I definitely need to try and play the core set some more, even if I just play each of the four scenarios once! 

September Retrospective

Hey everybody,
Well, we are three-quarters of the way through 2021 now, and it seems pretty crazy to think that I wrote my January retrospective blog as potentially a one-off to cover all the random rubbish I’d been doing at the start of it all. It’s actually been a really great motivator, for me, to have these retrospective blogs now form a part of my monthly pattern, because it makes me want to do stuff to then report on at the end of the month. At any rate, September has been fairly busy for me, as I’ve had a couple of weeks off work that have enabled quite a bit of recreation – if you can call looking after two children under 2 “recreation”!

To start with, September is the month that I traditionally think of as my hobby month, as I have a lot of fond memories of really getting into the 40k thing way back when during this month. As such, I’ve tried to really recapture that essence, as far as the paternal duties would allow, and ended up with a fair few random projects on the go!

Let’s talk about my Zone Mortalis terrain progress first! I’m very pleased with this, and I think it’s all coming together really quite beautifully! I talked about the colour scheme that I’m using last month, so won’t go over that again here, but I’ve now expanded my repertoire into other bits like ladders and water tanks! The ladder was just painted Averland Sunset, shaded Agrax Earthshade, then drybrushed like everything else to give it that worn, lived-in look. The tank I’d wanted to paint orange, as I think it makes sense to have it follow the same pattern as the Water Guild big boy, but in the end it turned out more red. No matter, other tanks I’m thinking about painting different colours, anyway, so it’s not like it’s important to remember their colours. I’m very excited to get more terrain painted up – whether I end up getting more done by the end of the year, who can say, but to have any of it painted so far is, frankly, a miracle!

I’ve been doing odd bits with genestealers and have recently finished the Necron Triarch Praetorians, but my main focus has shifted to the Genestealer Cults, as I have decided that I really want to get some of these things painted up, finally! I’ve been working on ten Neophyte Hybrids this month, and slowly but steadily I have almost got the squad finished – a huge achievement, considering the amount of detail on them! They’re tiny, and the scheme that I’m following doesn’t allow for speed painting when it comes to these chaps – the armour, the fatigues, the cloth, the padding, the weapons, the skin (actual skin, and carapace), the dangly-doodads, it’s all just so time consuming!

But I think I’m really getting somewhere now, having finished the first of my ten-man squad, and I’m ready to move on to my next project in the list! Since writing the linked blog, however, I’ve reorganised all of my Cultist miniatures, and have a different ten-man squad make-up, so there are ten more shotguns coming my way soon! Once all the Neophytes are done, though, I should have a fairly straightforward task of finishing off the Metamorphs and the Truck, so I think I can definitely get this first part of the list painted up and ready by Christmas. Ready for what, precisely, I’m not yet sure, but still – it’ll be ready!

I’ve been generally immersing myself in 40k across the month, anyway, and have been enjoying myself immensely. I finally picked up the Drukhari Codex as well, and have been investigating that to build my first proper list for that army in 9th edition. I think Necrons are still edging out the Dark Eldar in my affections for 9th edition, though I am definitely looking forward to playing both armies when the time comes. I’m at that point in the year where I’m now thinking about what I can accomplish prior to the year-end, and in addition to the GSC, I’ve got 5 Wracks and 3 Grotesques on my radar. Though everything is a time-sink, so we’ll have to see how things pan out!

GenCon surprised me this month by, well, taking place! I always thought it was August, but I guess the pandemic has been causing chaos. There hasn’t been a great deal of anything that is exciting me, if truth be told, but I think that could be symptomatic of my relationship with the whole board game scene right now. I wrote a very long ramble about that yesterday, but basically I feel like Kickstarter games have been taking over somewhat, and I’m increasingly disappointed in how FFG have diminished over the years. GW have put in a decent showing at GenCon, announcing a few exciting projects that has my wallet in palpitations.

I do feel like I have been quite gloomy on the board game front, but it’s not really the case! I’m hoping to get in a game day with my buddy Tony some time in October, and I also have plans to once again check out the Hellboy board game, after thinking on that one quite a bit of late, also. So there should be some interesting bits and pieces coming to the blog in the coming weeks! I’ve also finally been able to pick up In Too Deep for the Arkham Horror LCG, so I am thinking about an Innsmouth campaign for the autumn – assuming that I have the time, of course!

All in all, it hasn’t been that bad a month – fingers crossed that I can keep up the pace into the final quarter!

A board game ramble

Hey everybody,
My big news for September is that I’ve actually been playing real-life games with real-life people once again! We went away for a week with the in-laws, and my brother-in-law brought Ticket to Ride: Europe along. It’s something he’d mentioned back at Christmas time, but with all the lockdowns and whatnot, we hadn’t really pursued the idea. Being a gateway game, it was perfect for the whole family to get together (although with six adults and a five-player game, it did mean that there was someone left over to act as the baby monitor…) I have played it a few times back in my heyday of gaming, but had since sold off because I had so many games that were going unplayed. Well, it looks like my wife is a bit of a convert, and so we might be investing at some point! I still have the app on my tablet though, so can always get some games in with the pass-and-play function there. But it was tremendous to be gaming once more, I have to say!

Ticket to Ride is one of those games that is so delightfully easy to pick up, and the strategy comes in actually playing the game, and not hidden within a plethora of rules, that I find it really a lot of fun. Sure, you can end up with turn after turn of not being able to do anything, but I suppose that’s the luck of the draw. I also don’t find it all that super-competitive to play so that I end up getting stressed by those types of empty turns. It was quite refreshing to play, after having spent a lot of time with Warhammer 40k! 

It also got me thinking about my relationship with board games nowadays, and this is something that was reinforced when I read this blog at the weekend. I strongly suggest you read this, as it is a very insightful look into the state of board games these days, and I echo a lot of the sentiments quite a great deal. Kickstarter games seem to have taken over the board game market these days, leading to a saturation that leaves me a bit confused about the lay of the land today. Due to the way Kickstarter works, games are only available for a short space of time and then gone, with very few making it to the shelves of the local store. There’s no “catalogue” to speak of, just a continual raft of new games, selling this cult of the new and the shiny.

It makes me a bit sad, because I feel like we’ve left those days of board games like A Touch of Evil or Runebound, and nowadays everything needs to come with a bucket load of miniatures to have that sort of mass-appeal. I think that the Hellboy board game is a case in point for me here. True, it was put out by Mantic, who do make miniatures games, and was designed by the chap who led the redesign on Necromunda, so there is a provenance there. But I’ve got some pretty huge boxes of stuff under my bed, which I really need to take a look at. But isn’t that just symptomatic of these types of big games, which have a lot of set-up and a lot of effort for a game, whereas you could be playing something like Ticket to Ride inside of a couple of minutes?

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the Hellboy game though, as it’s one of my favourite fictional universes, and one that I want to delve into more. The game seems a perfect vehicle for that, as we have a lot of elements from both the Hellboy and BPRD graphic novel storylines to discover. I think having a massive box of miniatures has put me off a little bit, though, as it has turned into something a little bit intimidating to work through. I can still remember my wonder when opening that honking big box of stuff, and seeing all of the various gribblies, and getting pretty excited for what this game was going to be, but then playing it seemed to fall a little flat as I just didn’t get the sense of exploration or whatever. I guess I need to give it more of a chance, but time is not something that I have a lot of these days!

For all that Kickstarter games have that allure, I have found myself selling them off because I don’t have the storage or the inclination to climb that mountain of miniatures that they come with! I’m not trying to bash these of course, and if you’re a Kickstarter fan, there’s no problem with that. For me, I find them pretty exhausting, and sometimes, they’re not even that good when it comes down to the actual gameplay. Shadows of Brimstone was a big case in point for me on that score, and I definitely had my fingers burnt with that one.

My regular gaming buddy Tony has long been a huge KS devotee, and together with his boyfriend Lee they’ve invested thousands into these types of big, miniatures-heavy, multiple-expansions-at-once sorts of games – to the point where they actually have too many games to ever really play and enjoy. Most of them have either never been played, or they might have been cracked open once to give it a go and that will be it. The half-dozen expansions that were part of the stretch goals are either still in the shrinkwrap or else have been looked at, and then returned to their boxes.

It’s quite sad, really, and I am also guilty of this, with the expansions for the Hellboy game that I’ve picked up still lying unwrapped under the bed. I definitely need to look at that one again, as I remember it being pretty good, but it seems so symptomatic of this whole situation – I’ve played that game three times, back when it was delivered in April 2019, but that has been it. Meanwhile, I’ve been playing Arkham Horror and Lord of the Rings quite a lot! Once that shiny and new has worn off, how great are these games in comparison with the old favourites?

I’m not about to launch into a sort of “back in the day” rant, but part of me does harken back to the time where you’d buy a game, then maybe 8-12 months later there’d be an expansion, then over the course of the next year you might get a couple more. With the Kickstarter model becoming seemingly more prevalent, you pretty much buy a game with at least half a dozen expansions in there as well. It seems a bit skewed and, in the case of me with the Hellboy box, it seems confusing when you have a whole bunch of stuff, only a small portion of which is actually meant to form the core game. But I do realise that is perhaps more of an issue with some companies, whereas others will provide a retail-level of game for you right off the bat, all nicely separated into their respective expansion boxes. I think the Hellboy box that I have is the equivalent of core set, two big expansions and about 4 smaller boxes.

The board gaming landscape has definitely changed, and I’m not so sure I want to keep up with it anymore. Like I said, though, if it works for you, then that’s great. I’m not really sure the new way is for me, anymore. I’ll pick up the Arkham Horror LCG for as long as that runs, but I don’t think there has really been anything that has grabbed my attention for a few years now in the mainstream (non-KS) market. Which I find weird, because I used to be such a fan of Fantasy Flight, but they appear to have really run themselves into the ground. Remember when the In-Flight Report would be an event at GenCon? When we’d have genuine excitement over what is going to come next from the company? Doesn’t really seem like there’s much going on now, outside of a couple of card games. Though I would guess that’s more on how Asmodee are choosing to run things.

There is also the other factor to consider, how my own circumstances have changed. I suppose I’ve moved from being a board gamer to being a wargamer, and have kept the small handful of games that I know I enjoy, but by and large I’m not all that open to buying a £40 game on a whim when that £40 could be spent on a new unit for one of my armies! I’ve become so much more invested in tabletop wargaming that I seem to prefer to spend my time marshalling the plastic crack, rather than playing board games. But the will is still there, of course, in the way that I enjoy stuff like Blackstone Fortress, how I’m looking at the new Kill Team and so on. I think I still want to play board games, and I will most likely still be writing about them here on the blog, though this has now primarily become a Warhammer 40k platform with the occasional card game thrown in!

I haven’t played games with Tony for years, and of course the pandemic hasn’t helped there, but we’ve been talking about recapturing the good old days, and I’m hopeful that soon, when things settle down a bit more with the kids and we can reliably have the evenings back, that we can maybe look at getting some games to the table. Perhaps play a few rounds of Magic as well, properly capturing the old game days (though with fewer 3am finishes…)

So, what was the point of this ramble? Well, I guess it’s just something that has been running round a lot in my head for a while now, and after reading Tavendale’s blog it got me thinking more and more about it. I’m not sure I have anything particularly enlightening to say, but it’s nice to get these things down on paper every so often, maybe spark some debate, or whatever!

Gen Con 2021

This one surprised me a little, I must be honest, but GenCon is being held in September this year? I always thought it was an August thing, but what do I know? The best four days in gaming must be a bit strange this year, although the main thing is that it’s back!

Let’s start with Fantasy Flight, whose In-Flight Report used to be the highlight of the weekend for me. Remember the days when they’d announce something spectacular, like Android Netrunner, and then they’d have limited stock to purchase during the convention? Here in 2021, it feels distinctly lacklustre, somehow, like there isn’t a great deal to be excited about. For sure, we have the long-awaited expansion for Outer Rim, which I know fans of that game will be excited by (I can’t believe I haven’t yet looked into that one, but then I guess my priorities have shifted lately!) There are a few games, like Keyforge and Marvel Champions, which I don’t play, so the only thing for me to come out of this announcement was the revised/consolidated Lord of the Rings LCG core set that is due, which will support 4 players out of the gate, and the promise of re-packaging complete cycles in a similar fashion to Arkham Horror LCG. And speaking of that game, they’ve also announced that they’ll be re-packaging earlier cycles to support collectors who have only now got into the game, starting with The Dunwich Legacy.

I thought it was interesting, though, reading some of the comments on FFG’s own facebook post about this, and seeing my own thoughts echoed. I used to be such a fanboy for FFG, but it seems that since they sold to Asmodee (well, for me I think the death-knell was the loss of the Warhammer licence) they’ve lost a lot of the creativity that I used to love. I mean, I used to go through their catalogue and just buy stuff to try it, on the basis that the company was top-notch. Now, I’m pretty much only buying Arkham games, and even then I’m not buying them all… But anyway, enough introspection!

Games Workshop are also at GenCon, and have announced a lot of interesting Kill Team stuff! The new warzone box, Chalnath, is due for release at some point, and does indeed feature T’au vs Sisters of Battle. The T’au Pathfinders kit will have an upgrade sprue, while the Sisters are a new unit, designed specifically for Kill Team. This is pretty much what has been speculated, and the fact that a new Sisters kit is coming out that looks so varied and stuff I think is proof that they want the Kill Team range to be its own thing. Of course, I imagine there will be 40k rules to follow, but it’s exciting. Pathfinders are a pretty full kit anyway, so adding in an upgrade sprue is a move that I can entirely understand – there are maybe only a handful of kits they can do this with, but it does make sense, rather than producing new kits all the time. The scenery is that from the first Kill Team box in 2018, so I’m thinking I might forego this one, in the hope that I can get the campaign book as well as the new miniatures separately. Otherwise, I could see myself with a second set of Sector Imperialis terrain!!

The new Sisters models do look very interesting though, and I like the idea of having a very customisable, essentially Sisters Scouts squad.

An actual Kill Team starter set is also due for release, as well as the Kommandos and Death Korps models coming out separately. This box won’t have the big buildings, just the barricades etc, but I think that’s a great idea because launching a new system with a limited edition box really does irritate me. At least now it looks like something that people can be excited for, rather than disappointed by.

We’ve also got our first look at Season Five of Warhammer Underworlds: Harrowdeep. This one sounds pretty good, and comes with the expected Stormcast vs Kruleboyz, so I’m excited for this one. I’m also wondering at what kinds of warbands we’ll see as the season gets underway – though I still haven’t picked up a couple of the s4 warbands that I’ve had my eye on… I need to get on that…

Well, the Necromunda news didn’t disappoint! This was unexpected, Outcasts are the new gang, coming with their own book that promises to be something of a treasure trove of Underhive junk that I for one cannot wait to see. The minis look like a great bunch of generic gangers, a nice addition of general 40k humans that, up to now, we’ve only had Cultists to represent. And the terrain is just astonishing! Who knew we needed a market stall like this?! I’m looking forward to getting to grips with these bits and pieces, should be great to fill out a more open area on the table without it feeling too crowded. Interesting stuff, at any rate – and I’m particularly pleased that all of this is coming out separately, it seems, and not tied into a big-box release. I’m already saving for the new Kill Team, after all!

I’m not all that impressed with the big Warcry announcement though, mainly because it wasn’t really an announcement but just a tease. Hm. I’m guessing some kind of drider-like creatures, new stuff for the setting as a whole rather than simply Spiderfang Grots, because otherwise why make such a fuss? Hm.

Kaldheim!

Following on from my catch-up with Magic a few weeks ago, today I thought I’d talk about the set that really caught my attention when I started to make some tentative steps at returning to the game. Kaldheim came out in February this year, and is a Norse-inspired set along the lines of Theros. The story heavily involves the planeswalker Kaya, who is one of my favourites as the only planeswalker in black/white, though as far as story goes, I’m not entirely sure what is supposed to happen on the plane. There are a lot of Vikings, clearly, and other cues from Norse mythology that link in quite well to the overall theme.

While the block structure is a thing of the past, WOTC has linked together the sets of a Magic “year” through a couple of themes, notably the tribal theme established in Zendikar Rising’s “Party” mechanic, and modal double-faced cards, where you choose which side of the card to cast as you play the card. In Kaldheim, all the nonland double-faced cards are Gods, which is quite fitting! The tribal organisation here is based around the ten realms of Kaldheim, which are analogous to the ten two-colour pairings. There is some development here of each realm, such as black and red (Immersturm) being a realm of fire and demons, though there isn’t really a great deal of development that you can do when you only have one set to showcase the entire plane.

The new mechanics of the set are Foretell and Boast. Foretell works in a similar way to Morph, where you cast the card face-down for 2 generic mana, and can later be turned face up for its Foretell cost. Morph cards were always creatures, even as face-down cards, but Foretell cards are exiled and so can’t be interacted with (except, I guess, by Eldrazi? I’m kinda new!), and you won’t know if it’s a creature or a spell that is about to be turned up. Boast is an activated ability that will only trigger if the creature attacked this combat. So it’s a slight drawback in that the creature has to survive that combat first!

Snow is back, first time in a main set since 2006 and Coldsnap, with more snow-covered lands as well as snow-covered dual lands, which is very nice! Snow creatures and other permanents (and non-permanents!) also feature, this time with a distinctive, frosty border! Nice!

I’ve been buying quite a few packs of Kaldheim, and a bundle. I’ve been investigating the different types of booster packs now available, and I really do feel out of my depth in this game right now. There are draft boosters and set boosters and collector boosters and some other types, with different cards that have different frames, that I don’t really follow all of the ins-and-outs, if I’m honest. Is there any need? Well the amount of content coming out seems to have had an effect on Standard becoming a bit cheaper, thanks to the number of packs being opened. But it feels a bit like the somewhat casual player – even the slightly-more-than-casual player like myself – might just be overwhelmed by the whole thing. I mean, it took me a weekend to work out everything, and I’m not sure I really get it, even now!

Anyway. Having bought up all these packs, I’ve been able to build a black and white deck that features the new Angels, or Valkyries as they’re called here. I opened three copies of Firja, Judge of Valor, a legendary angel cleric (party!) who triggers off the second spell, which is an intriguing mechanic. I haven’t built a Magic deck in a very long time, so this could be entirely awful, but I’m excited for new cards, so we shall see I suppose!

Creatures (20)
Firja, Judge of Valor (3)
Vengeful Reaper (4)
Hailstorm Valkyrie (4)
Cleaving Reaper
Doomskar Oracle
Starnheim Aspirant
Skemfar Shadowsage (2)
Elderfang Disciple (2)
Bloodsky Berserker (2)

Artifacts (2)
Valkyrie’s Sword (2)

Enchantments (11)
Valor of the Worthy (2)
Rampage of the Valkyries
Firja’s Retribution (2)
Ascent of the Worthy
Rune of Sustenance (3)
Rune of Mortality (2)

Land (27)
Snowfield Sinkhole (3)
Shimmerdrift Vale
Great Hall of Starnheim
Plains (7)
Snow-Covered Plains (3)
Swamp (8)
Snow-Covered Swamp (4)

The first thing you’ll probably notice here is that there are literally no spells. Well, no instants or sorceries, at least! This wasn’t by design, but purely accidental as I was building the deck and found nothing that I really wanted to include. This is very much a first-cut though, and could definitely do with refinement. I think it also speaks to the fact that I was doing it only with the cards that I had opened, without any real attempt to buy the singles that I wanted or needed. There’s also the element of sticking to just the Kaldheim set, of course, and the restrictions there. Strixhaven is an enemy-colour set, and there are a number of black and white cards in that set for the Silverquill college that I think might be a good fit, but I’ve not really investigated that set in great depth just yet. Of course, if we’re going to plumb the depths of my overall collection, I’m sure that the opportunities would be endless to get a really interesting deck ticking over! Might have to do that, at some point!

The basic plan for the deck is just to go wide with these angel creatures and smash into my opponent. There are some useful abilities and interesting things that might be possible, but I don’t think I’ll be making full use of any of them for the time being. Firja’s ability to draw cards when the second spell has been cast could be handy, paired with some graveyard recursion to get those others back from the discard side of the ability. There is some, for sure, but not a massive amount! Creating Angel tokens should be nice, though I do seem to run the risk of just having hundreds of creatures out with nothing really flashy – it could be a very blunt and obvious deck to play! I’m sure I’ll have a tinker with it though, and see what else I can come up with!

I do find it interesting to note how, in a recent video, the Professor was talking about the overwhelming quantity of new product coming at us this year, and made the comment regarding how can anyone be expected to remember the ten realms as a shorthand for the colour combo, as they do for the Guilds of Ravnica. While we’ve spent three entire blocks on the plane of Ravnica now, and so it can be reasonably expected that the guilds are quite well-known, I think he does have a point when Kaldheim only came out six months ago, but I had no idea the black/white realm was called Starnheim, and would forever refer to the deck as Orzhov.

I wonder if we’ll ever come back to Kaldheim? I suppose, if the story allows, why wouldn’t we, but we seem to have been dashing about so much lately, and we’re set to continue dashing into 2022, that it’ll be interesting to see whether there is ever the room to come back. Magic seems to be in an interesting place right now, where it is old enough that there is a nostalgia that can be banked on – returning to Zendikar, Ravnica and Innistrad, to say nothing of Dominaria, is always going to be a huge draw for people. Giving us new planes, such as Kaldheim and Strixhaven, Ikoria and the upcoming New Capenna, feels a bit like the design team trying to get away from the whole Gatewatch thing. But the constant new stuff seems to be just diluting the overall feel of the game, somehow. Added to that, the branching out into other IP does feel a little bit like the game is lost, maybe?  

At any rate, I am finding things interesting with Magic right now, almost as an outsider-looking-in. I haven’t played it for a very long time, of course, so even given my history with the game and my fairly substantial collection, I do feel a bit like I’m on the sidelines. Maybe that’ll change as life continues to get back to normal, though!

A little night Magic… (part two)

Hey everybody,
Following on from my last Magic catch-up earlier in the week, it’s time to finish up my look at what I’ve missed from the last couple of years. I left things at Jumpstart, which was released last summer – which was followed by Double Masters, which looks like a phenomenal set for reprints, seeing a lot of expensive cards being reprinted almost like the intent was to simply increase supply. Classic Commanders like Kaalia, Sen Triplets and Riku, as well as more recent stuff like Atraxa and Breya. Jace the Mind Sculptor also reappears, alongside the Swords, and the Filter Lands from Shadowmoor/Eventide.

This was followed by Zendikar Rising, a Return to Return to Zendikar set. This is a set of adventure and exploration, apparently, and returns specifically to the feel of the original Zendikar block, without the Eldrazi. As far as story goes though, we’re in the post-BFZ era, where the plane has been ravaged by the titans. There’s a lot going on here, so let’s get into it!

Zendikar Rising is the first set to see Set Boosters, which are different to Draft Boosters in that they’re not designed, well, for Draft. Instead, you get a different distribution of card rarity, and we have the introduction of something called The List, 300 cards from the game’s past which are not Standard legal, but offer a chance to get reprints (though at random).

In terms of set mechanics, there is a new Party theme which grants boons based on the creature types you have in play. Modal Double-Face Cards are a new type of double faced card that players can decide which face to cast (they don’t transform). These cards eventually proved to be the theme among the sets of the Magic “year” (it seems they’re not calling them Blocks anymore).

I adore Zendikar, the art is some of the best in the game, and I went through a phase of buying as much of the lands from that block that I could, which I’m quite pleased about. I’m also a fan of the Party idea, as I like the idea of assembling a proper type of Fellowship for my games. I think this is definitely a set that I need to look into soon!

Commander Legends is a draftable Commander set, which I just don’t understand how that’s supposed to work. There are 165 new cards, and almost 200 reprints. Drafting a Commander deck just seems odd – you’re drafting a 60 card deck, picking two cards at a time. You still have the colour identity stuff, though it is no longer a single-card deck. Weird. I don’t quite get it – though it is always handy to have Commander cards in circulation.

Commander meets Draft. Weird.

The next set is Kaldheim, which brings us to February of 2021. We’re getting there, folks! Kaldheim is Magic’s take on Vikings, and it kinda works. Much like Theros and Amonkhet, we get some fairly decent God cards which is always nice. Kaya is front and centre of the packaging, which is perhaps a reflection on WotC’s attempts to compensate following the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 (remember, they decided cards like Cleanse and Crusade were “culturally offensive” because they destroy black creatures and pump white creatures, respectively). Kaya is a fairly badass character in her own right though, and being a big fan of Black and White as a colour combination, I’ve appreciated her as the BW planeswalker since she first arrived in Conspiracy 2. Her role in the cinematic trailer makes it clear, in case there was any doubt, that she is amazing, anyway.

I’m getting too political here, let’s rein it in!

Kaldheim is somewhat tribal themed, with Giants and Dwarves, Angels (Valkyries) and Elves showing up. There is a huge development on Snow as a theme, moving on from 2006’s Coldsnap to have Snow on instants and sorceries as well as creatures (and of course, lands). I’m a big sucker for this, anyway – snow and fantasy games always reminds me of Runebound, one of my all-time favourite board games!

In addition to more modal double-face cards, and the second return of Sagas (again, something I like!) we have two new mechanics: Boast and Foretell. Foretell is a bit like Morph, which allows you to exile a card for 2 generic mana, and later play it for its Foretell cost. Boast is an ability that can only be used if the creature with said ability attacked that turn. All very interesting stuff, for sure.

I’ve really been sucked into the whole Kaldheim thing, and have actually been buying cards again – specifically for this set. I’ve been buying boosters and stuff, including Set boosters as well as Draft boosters, and have begun the process of creating a BW Angels deck. There’s a lot more to be said on this topic, so stay tuned for a blog coming on this, soon!

Something very strange has been happening with Magic though. They’ve announced that there will be sets released with themes from outside of Magic as we know it – called Universes Beyond – and they’ve released in paper Time Spiral Remastered, a single set that distills the essence of the original Time Spiral. Why? Who knows. Weird.

The first Universes Beyond set is coming sometime next month, and is set in the Forgotten Realms. I’m actually quite excited to see Drizzt on a Magic card…

The most recent set to release is Strixhaven: School of Mages, which came out in April and seems to be Magic’s take on Harry Potter. Well, not exactly, though it is described as “the magic school genre” – so that’s clearly a thing! The set is an enemy-coloured theme, spells matter theme delight – I think I’ve read somewhere that it’s the first set specifically devoted to enemy colour pairs since Apocalypse in 2001. Anyway, Strixhaven is a magical school that attracts only the best and the brightest. Among these are Will and Rowan Kenrith once more, who are really establishing themselves now in the lore of the multiverse.

Modal double-face cards are once again here, tying all of the sets of the “year” together, and we have a focus on instants and spells. Magecraft is a new ability word that triggers when casting instant and sorcery spells, and there is a new keyword that ties into the theme of the set, Learn. The keyword lets you either discard a card and draw a card, or to reveal a Lesson card from outside the game and add it to your hand. Lessons are a subtype of instants and sorceries that allow you to focus on a specific type of gameplay, their biggest thing being that you can “fetch” them with Learn cards. Seems a little one-shot-wonder to be of any real impact, but who knows? Maybe we’ll get more to support this type of thing in years to come.

Confession time: I’ve also been buying some Strixhaven cards. I’m a sucker for BW right now, and have been plotting another deck around the Silverquill college. There are five colleges in Strixhaven, each named after the Elder Dragon that founded it. Nothing to do with Harry Potter, whatsoever. Anyway – stay tuned for more on this deck, once I’ve figured out just what I’m trying to do with it!

Strixhaven brings us to the end of this two-part run-through the recent years of Magic sets! After the D&D set (in a similar move, Strixhaven is an upcoming sourcebook for the RPG, I believe), we’re going back to Innistrad once more, though I don’t know anything about that other than the set names appear to have been announced. I think I’ve got my work cut out for me in getting to grips with Valkyries and Ink-mages though, so I’m gonna leave it there for now!

Hopefully the challenges that parenthood has in store won’t interfere too much with me getting some more blogs written in the near future, so do check in soon when I hope to waffle on about my new favourite colour pairing of white and black in the most recent MTG sets!

A little night Magic… (part one)

Hey everybody!
It’s been a while since I’ve talked about cardboard crack on this blog, but following on from my discovery of some cards in the attic, which I mentioned very briefly in my May update, I thought I’d do a little bit of investigation into what I’ve missed in the few years since I last cracked a pack. What else am I going to do with my paternity leave, right?!

So let’s just remember that the last set that I was anything like present for was War of the Spark, which released in May 2019. Oh wow, so since I last shuffled up a deck of cards, I’ve had two children… wow! Since that time, I count six full sets have been released, the most recent of which is Strixhaven. But I’ll get to that later.

2019 saw a new core set, M20, the second of the new core sets to be released since they had been abandoned after Magic Origins back in the day. The core set was roughly based around Chandra Nalaar, although there doesn’t seem to have been much in the way of actual story for the set. Fair enough – it’s a core set, after all. Gimme the reprints I need!

After M20, the next set was Throne of Eldraine, which I do remember coming out as being something of a fairy tale set. Apparently it’s a top-down design based on Grimm’s tales and Arthurian legend. Sounds interesting! The storyline seems to be based around a conflict between the Knights and the Wild Peoples, with Garruk turning up to kidnap the resident king, but his kids manage to rescue him and ignite their sparks. The kids are Will and Rowan Kenrith, who I seem to recall came as partners in the Battlebond set.

There is a new card type in the set, called Adventures, which are spells stuck onto creatures. The video above shows how they work, but honestly, I just don’t get it. It’s not really like there’s a link between the two aspects on the card – the Adventure portion doesn’t seem to make the creature you can cast any bigger or anything, it’s like they had too many cards they wanted to fit in, so stuck 30 of them onto creatures and made up this weird thing.

Otherwise, Eldraine seems like an interesting enough set, and maybe I’ll look into that some more at a later date…

Moving on!

2019 also saw something called Secret Lair, which appears to be a very expensive booster game where you can get older cards reprinted. I’ve heard some pretty negative stuff about this whole thing, though, so suffice it to say I won’t be looking into these things.

Moving into 2020 now, the first set of the year was Theros: Beyond Death. A return to Theros, how delightful! The set is mainly focused on the Underworld of the plane, however, which the above trailer seems to show really well. Elspeth isn’t dead, or maybe she is but she’s beyond death now (eh? eh!) and we’ve also got Ashiok running around, one of my all-time favourite pieces of creepy-weird art from the game. There’s also a new Theros god, Klothys the god of destiny (in red/green, weird). We’ve got mono-coloured gods, the original five returning, plus five demigods, who I’m pretty sure we’ve seen previously as dual-coloured creatures. These demigod cards are more like their prequel versions? I don’t know.

The big news, to me, is that the set uses Sagas once more, the legendary enchantment type introduced back in Dominaria. Nice!

Despite COVID breaking out, we still had set releases almost as normal. Ikoria, Lair of Behemoths was next up, and is a set that I’ve previously mentioned as sounding interesting to me. It features the Tarkir wedges once more, and we have some pretty crazy-huge creatures (well, it is the land of behemoths!) The set is one of those for which I’d picked up some cards somehow without really realising! So I think I need to get in on this and see what it was all about!

This set is all about massive monsters, with a vaguely kaiju air to it. Narset is back as a planeswalker, by the way, in her original Jeskai colours as opposed to the blue/white of her last Tarkir incarnation. One of the big themes of the set is Mutate, a kind of “build your own monster”. Cards with this keyword can be cast for their Mutate cost, where they are attached to a non-Human creature, either above or below that target, and the two (or more!) creatures become one – that is, they’re considered to be the creature on top (for CMC and power/toughness) but with the abilities of all the other creatures below it. Interestingly, if the creature is flickered, then it comes back to the battlefield as individual cards.

There’s also the neat little keyword Companion, which is featured on some cards and instructs a deckbuilding limitation (such as all cards need to be a certain CMC or something), but allows you to include that card in your sideboard and then cast it – almost like a mini version of Commander. Originally, there were no particular rules around this, but later it was revised to cost 3 generic mana to cast your chosen Companion.

Having at least some of these cards has made me excited to start thinking about building decks with something of an Ikoria theme, so we’ll have to see if parenting duties will allow for that to happen!

We got the summer core set, M21, as well as a supplemental product called Jumpstart. This has been fascinating me since I’ve now taken the time to actually look into it and see what I’ve been missing. A massive set of over 500 cards, most of which are either reprints from the history of the game, or else ported over from M21, with just shy of 80 actual new cards. It’s not just new cards, but a new way to play – the boosters have 20 cards in them, and the idea is that you buy two, shuffle them together, and you play! The packs all have basic lands in them, but it’s kind of a case of just throwing together two random packs and hoping for the best, as there’s no way to plan a deck because of the random nature. It’s really quite fascinating, I have to say!

A MTG version of Smash Up? Interesting. It’s been a while, obviously, since I’ve seen a video with the Professor, but I feel as though any MTG product that he speaks well of must actually be worth looking into!

This blog seems to be running long, so I’m going to close up for now. I’m going to continue to catch myself up with the game that I’ve missed later this week, so stay tuned for more!