A catch-up!

Hey everybody!
It feels like it’s been a while, doesn’t it? After celebrating my blog’s sixth birthday, it seems like other things have come into play, and I’ve not had a great deal of time for much else… well, let’s see, shall we?

To start with – check it out! I’m calling these chaps done for now – last weekend, there was a painting competition at my local Games Workshop (that is, a competition that was held via facebook, given the current climate). The brief was to paint an infantry unit at minimum squad size, and while there are perhaps a couple of details I could improve upon, I still like the fact that I’ve managed to get these done! The start of my Blood Angels – so let’s see what comes next, eh?

In the meantime, I’ve decided to resurrect this old project, and have been putting some details on to the chap in the middle there with the plasma gun. They’re real nice models, as you can see, and while the trim there is quite fiddly, it’s nevertheless really gratifying when these things start to come together like this! Of course, it’s going to make it difficult to keep going with the entire platoon, for sure, but it’ll be worth it!

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This week, I’ve started to read The Emperor’s Legion, the first book in the Watchers of the Throne series by Chris Wraight. I’m only about a third of the way through it, but already it’s gotten me really hooked! I’ve felt a little let-down with some of the 40k novels that I’ve read lately, so it’s really nice to finally be enjoying one again! The book has three point-of-view characters, one of whom is a Silent Sister, and one a Custodian Guard. I’ve been considering building up the Custodians that came with the Battle of Prospero box back in the day, and I’ve also thought about getting on with the Sisters of Silence that have been built since 2016!

Yet again, lovely models!

Let’s move away from plastic now, and instead take a look at some paper products! Arkham Horror LCG is something that I want to keep playing, but haven’t really had a great deal of time for since baby Phoebe came along last year! I did manage to get through the entire Dunwich Legacy campaign before her birth, though, and it’s certainly whetted my appetite, and while I’d been buying all of the cycles without playing, the most recent cycle, the Dream Weavers, was the first one that I didn’t get. I was actually thinking about calling it a day with the Circle Undone, but now that we’re off to Innsmouth, I’m thinking I may need to invest in this one, as well!

The expansion feels like it’s a bit of a return to some aspects from the classic board game, with blessings and curses, and flooding locations!

As the Lord of the Rings LCG appears to draw to a close with the Vengeance of Mordor cycle, the fourth pack of which arrived last week, I think it’s time to get back into this game above all, and get playing more once again. I’m hoping that I can persuade Jemma to join me on this venture, as well – husband and wife against the shadow of Sauron, what could be better?

I’ll be sure to update you all with progress, at any rate!

Magic the Gathering is something that I’ve definitely moved away from in the last year or so. I think War of the Spark was the last set I bought cards from, and haven’t actually played the game for a long time! However, Ikoria has caught my eye because (a) it has massive creatures, and (b) we’re seeing a return of the Tarkir shards! There’s a massive creature in the Mardu colours (red, white and black – my favourite!) that is a “dinosaur cat nightmare” – I mean, what’s not to like?!

The Shards also get Ultimatums, there are new tri-lands with the land types so that you can tutor for them; the Tarkir dual lands are back, and we even get a new Narset planeswalker card! There are a lot of nice cards in this set, and a lot of them would fit nicely into decks that I remember playing and enjoying from back in the day. I need to fight the impulse to get some of these cards!! But they’re so nice…

Oh, Ikoria is testing my resolve not to buy more cardboard crack!


Finally, let me go off-topic now, and fill you in on what I’ve been doing in the couple of weeks since my last blog. I’ve started work on another blog – though don’t worry, I’ll still be sharing my ramblings with you all here! I’ve been learning French once again, after having gone sixteen years since I did my A levels, and thought it’d get me into doing a lot more with it, as I try to put everything that I’m learning into practice! So I’ve started a blog as I try to make sense of it all, which can be found here, if you’re interested in that kind of thing!

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle

Hey everybody!
Today is my blog’s sixth birthday – can you believe it?! It’s also game day, so we’re going to be taking a look at the Harry Potter deck-building game from The OP (formerly USAopoly), Hogwarts Battle!

This came out a few years ago now, and I got it for my wife back in 2018 for a birthday present, a little apprehensive as I know deck building games can be a little difficult to get into. Of course, time was I had a plethora of the things, from Dominion through to Marvel Legendary and Thunderstone. Comparisons will be made with several of these as we go through, inevitably!

The game is quite straightforward, really – the core game is for four players, each of whom takes the role of Harry, Ron, Hermione or Neville. There have been expansions that bring both Luna and Ginny in as playable characters, but we won’t be getting to these in this blog.

It is quite cleverly structured over seven “years”, marking each of the seven school years that each book covers. Each hero comes with a starting deck of ten cards, including the currency cards (the currency of the game is called ‘influence’) as well as some special cards that give you an idea for how you might like to take the construction of that hero’s deck. For example, Ron has the ‘Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans’ card that rewards you for playing Ally cards, so maybe you’ll want to buy some Ally cards from the market.

The market contains these Allies, as well as Magical Items and Spells. There’s no real rhyme or reason to how these cards work – some Spells will allow you to gain attacks, others will give you influence, while others still might let you draw cards. The same is true of the Items and Allies, as well. From game four onwards, there are also dice involved – more shortly – and the ability to roll these dice comes across a variety of cards, also.

But what’s the point of the game, I hear you cry?

There are a series of Villains that need to be overcome by our intrepid heroes, each themed around the point in the story in which they appear for the first time (although there are, of course, exceptions). For instance, in Game One, the enemies are Draco Malfoy, Crabbe & Goyle, and Professor Quirrell. Once Lord Voldemort has made his return, he forms a kind of boss villain for the heroes to overcome, and more Villains are revealed from the deck to attack the heroes through their various means. For instance, in the photo above, we see Fenrir Greyback prevents heroes from healing themselves, which is quite the horrendous effect when you have other Villains, like the Dementors or Quirrell, who cause you to lose health each turn.

In addition, there are Dark Arts cards that get flipped over at the start of each turn. These are basically the game’s way to fight back on a more interactive level – the Villains might be quite passive or situational, allowing turns where they actually don’t have any negative effect on the heroes’ progress. The Dark Arts event cards, therefore, ensure that something will always happen to affect the gameplay.

Finally, there is the Location deck, which shows both how many of these Dark Arts events to draw each turn, as well as tracking the Villains’ progress towards defeating the Heroes. See, when Heroes are reduced to 0 health points, they are merely Stunned – discard half of your hand, rounded down, and then at the end of the turn, reset your health to 10 and continue. Hardly the most grievous of effects! However, the Locations provide something of a clock for the game, making sure that things don’t fall into that holding pattern. As the Villains place more progress markers on these Locations, showing the influence they’re gaining over the wizarding world, more Dark Arts events will be drawn, causing more pain and suffering for the Heroes.

So that, in a nutshell, is the game!

It’s very similar to the DC deck-building game, I feel, in that you have a deck of villains to defeat (although DC brings them out one at a time). However, it isn’t really like any of the other deck-builders that I’ve played, as there are a variety of things that make it fairly unique. For starters, the starting deck each hero has includes more than just basic cards – sure, some of the cards, like each hero’s pet, feel a little basic in their effects, but the starting deck of ten cards covers much more than the basic ‘attack and currency’ style. I really like the fact that these decks provide that sort of base for how you might like to take the deck as you purchase cards for it, too.

The “Year” structure is also something that I really like. When I first opened the box, I had the idea that it might be a game along the lines of these Legacy-style games that started with Pandemic back in the day, giving additional content that is added in depending on what happens within the game. Well, that’s not entirely untrue, of course, though it isn’t quite so “secret envelope” style here – instead, you basically get a base game and all six expansions for it in one box, and you grow the game a little more organically than perhaps some of these Legacy games have it.

Something that I particularly like is how the heroes change over the course of the game, and also the extra gubbins that get thrown into the mix along the way.

As you move up the series of games, your hero “levels-up” twice, at Game Three, and then again at Game Seven. When you begin, you just have your hero; then with Game Three your hero has an effect that will trigger when something happens – for example, Hermione can choose for any one hero to gain one influence when she plays four or more spells. For Game Seven, that ability changes from “any one hero” to “all heroes”.

In addition, in Game Six you get to choose one “Proficiency” that gives your hero more in the way of choices – a second, always-on ability. In the previous picture, we can see that Hermione has chosen the Arithmancy Proficiency, which allows her to interact with cards that make use of four House Dice. These dice make their appearance in Game Four, which is something of a mid-point both in terms of the series as a whole, and the complexity of the game here. We get four dice that give bonuses to all heroes such as giving extra attacks, extra resources, drawing cards or healing. However, some of the Villains and the Dark Arts events make use of the Slytherin die (the one that has more attacks on it), with negative results for the heroes.

These dice are also instrumental in the final battle, as Horcrux cards are introduced. In Games Five and Six, Voldemort is the final Villain to be defeated, with the single caveat that you must have defeated all of the other Villains first. For Game Seven though, you must also destroy the six Horcruxes – that is, roll a House Die and, rather than apply its effect, use it to place a marker on the Horcrux card. These cannot simply be ignored, however, as they also have always-on effects that will often trigger along with the Villains and the Dark Arts events – meaning that, on your turn, it is quite possible that you can go from full health to 0 due to the accumulated horrors of the Dark Side!

It all builds up quite nicely as things progress, although you don’t get to keep the deck that you’ve built up over the course of an entire “campaign” – with the start of each Game/Year, you re-set back to your starting ten, although this isn’t all that much of a handicap when you take account of the fact your hero card has leveled-up by Game Seven, and you also have the Proficiency from Game Six.


For Potterheads, this game is wonderfully thematic, with a lot of cards that kinda make sense when you think about what they do. ‘Expecto Patronum’, for instance, allows you to push the Villains back by removing their progress from the current Location, as well as granting you additional attacks. ‘Lumos’ allows you to draw cards, etc etc. A lot of the moving parts of the game, particularly on the Villains’ side of things, work really well together, too – a shining example of this is Lucius and Draco Malfoy, who interact with the Location cards in a nightmarish fashion. Adding Barty Crouch Jnr into the mix, who prevents progress tokens from being removed from the Location, can cause all manner of problems for the heroes!

However, the game is not without its flaws. For starters, there is no way to thin out your deck, which is a staple of pretty much every deck-builder I’ve played. Being able to cull the basic cards from your deck when you’ve managed to build it up is quite important, but even when you’re playing in Game Seven, and you’re up against Lord Voldemort himself for the final time, there is still the chance that you might draw a hand of five ‘Alohomora’s, which is just a pain in the rear at such a critical point!

There are also no “always on” cards. DC has “kicks”, and Legendary has “Maria Hill”s, where you can (usually) always buy at least one standby card that isn’t really part of the main market. The potential for heroes to be locked out of the market by seeing very high-cost cards very early on is definitely there, and there have been many points where we’ve ended up buying chaff cards simply because they’re the only ones we can afford, or to clear them out of the market stack. I think the game designer has suggested a fix whereby you skip your turn (that is, you don’t purchase anything or assign any damage) and you can wipe the market clear or something. But I’m never really a fan of these kinds of after-thoughts!

There are also a lot of promo cards out there. I’ve talked about my aversion to such cards before, but I find it quite strange when a game like this has promo cards that feature fairly significant characters – the Dursleys and Seamus aren’t top-tier characters, don’t get me wrong, but they’re characters that appear in every novel; I’d have thought therefore that they would be in the main game. Of course, there’s also the issue of the effects these cards have on the game, and a spell like ‘Silencio’ is massive for it to have been left as a promo. This is a co-operative game, for sure, and the idea of there being “chase rares” or something is quite bizarre, but for completionists such as myself, it does feel a little irksome that these cards are out there in the wild!


But the issue of promos shouldn’t, and doesn’t overshadow what is otherwise a really fun gaming experience. There’s a lot to enjoy here, from the straightforward deck-building experience, to the way the game builds up from year one through to seven. I think more than anything, though, I enjoy this game so much because it brings my wife, who is not a gamer, to the gaming table with me, and we can spend the entire evening going through each year and having so much fun. Definitely a winner in my book!

The Dunwich Legacy campaign

Hey everybody!
It’s campaign time for today’s game day, as I bring you my first thoughts and news on how I’ve fared with playing through the first two encounters of The Dunwich Legacy campaign.

Back in June, I played the first scenario, Extracurricular Activity, and this past weekend I finally got to the second scenario, The House Always Wins, so thought it probably time to give some thoughts here as I’m way behind with playing this game!

I was playing my Jenny Barnes and Ursula Marsh decks, one that has a strong emphasis on investigating locations, the other that is attempting to be a bit of an all-rounder deck. I don’t think I did too badly in the first scenario, but the second was a bit close to the wire for me, as all hell seemed to break loose and I was close to losing the game!

Professor Warren Rice was last seen working late at night in the humanities department of Miskatonic University.

The Dunwich Legacy deluxe expansion was the first such for the Arkham Horror LCG. As with all such deluxe expansions, we get two scenarios in the box, along with all of the new investigators we’ll have for that cycle, and a bunch of the “filler” cards that get used across each of the different scenarios in the cycle. What I found quite interesting, having come at this game from my long-standing Lord of the Rings obsession, is that the deluxe box used some of the filler cards from the core set too, something that wasn’t seen in the older LCG until the seventh deluxe box.

The premise of the box is that Dr Henry Armitage, that venerable old stalwart of the Arkham Horror universe, has enlisted the help of the investigators to find two colleagues – Professor Warren Rice, and Dr Francis Morgan. The investigators can choose whether to go find Rice first, or Morgan. Without really thinking about it, I set up Extracurricular Activity first, so found myself on the trail of Warren Rice!

Arkham Horror LCG Dunwich Legacy

I find it difficult to get going with Arkham Horror LCG games, because I haven’t played it enough to get a real feel for the game. Lord of the Rings LCG has seen my table so often over the years, I can go for a long stretch without playing it, and still pick it up quite easily. With Arkham Horror, however, it always takes me a lot of time and effort to get back into it. Unfortunately, I invariably then play just one game before packing it all away once again… bah!

In my attempt to ensure I found Professor Rice, and thinking that I was playing the scenario, I inadvertently allowed a horrible monster to attack the students in the school… whoops… I managed to conclude the scenario (I wouldn’t really say “win” by spending clues in the Faculty Office, discovering the professor bound and gagged in his own closet. The fiends! Ursula has now got his ally card added into her deck, which is nice!

Campaign Log:
The investigators rescued Professor Warren Rice.
The investigators failed to save the students
2 VPs were won by each investigator.
Ursula Downs has identified the solution.

In front of La Bella Luna stands a man in a pinstripe suit who sizes you up as you approach. “Enjoy yourselves,” he says with a snake-like grin as he holds open the restaurant’s front door.

Just over two months after starting on the campaign, I returned to it this weekend with the second scenario in the box, The House Always Wins. We’re going to the Clover Club, a decision that I found frankly bizarre when the expansion was first announced, but what the hell!

After the events at the University, my intrepid duo of Jenny and Ursula now entered the sleazy life at the speakeasy, as they attempted to track down Dr Morgan. First of all, I have never played a game where I managed to gain so many resources and do so little with them as when playing this one – I think Jenny managed to gain pretty much the entire bank of resources by the end of the game!

This scenario really pleased me, though, as quite a lot happened that felt quite thematic for the sort of story we’re telling here. It came right down to the wire, with the agenda one doom counter away from the club collapsing around me!

Campaign Log:
Naomi has the investigators’ backs.
Dr Francis Morgan was kidnapped.
1 VP was gained by each investigator.

“I’m afraid I must apologize. There’s something I didn’t mention to you earlier.” Dr Armitage then spins a tale you would scarcely believe had it not been for your harrowing experiences earlier that night…

I really enjoyed playing through the two scenarios in this expansion. While they were separated by months, it’s nevertheless quite easy to pick up the story, and whether through the design of the game itself, or just the fact that I’m wired that way anyway, I thought it felt like a well-matched pair of games, despite the different locales.

The Dunwich Legacy is set several months after the events of The Dunwich Horror, one of my all-time favourite Lovecraft stories. While nothing in the deluxe expansion really feels like it bears anything but the most tangential relation to that story, I do get the feeling that we’re gearing up for a cycle of adventures that deals with the fall out from the destruction of Wilbur Whateley’s brother.

I think it’s interesting to see the comparisons between this game and Lord of the Rings LCG, which took quite some time to develop its campaign play system. I mean, there was always an element of narrative thread running through a cycle from the off, but it wasn’t really until the saga expansion idea that we began to see a real campaign implemented. Right from the off, Arkham Horror LCG gives us this, with real consequences in-game for the events of the previous outing, and adding cards to our decks if we manage to discover certain things, etc. It’s quite fascinating really, to view this game as an evolution of the older game, and I find it interesting to read comments from folks who have praised this as almost the pinnacle of the co-operative LCG. I say this, because I find the campaign structure to be so well-integrated overall that it becomes almost impossible to play a scenario out of step with that campaign. I mean, for sure, there’s nothing literally stopping you from doing exactly that, just picking up a mythos pack and going at it, but the game is so narrative-focused, and the story of the campaign is so deeply ingrained that it becomes almost cheap to just play it for what it is. Of course, I’m not trying to say that Lord of the Rings LCG is better because you can so easily play those packs as a stand-alone adventure, but I feel like there could well be a limited replay value to Arkham Horror LCG that I hadn’t previously considered.

I said earlier that I haven’t played the Arkham Horror LCG enough to feel like I’m all that fluent with the gameplay yet, which could well be in part due to this limited replayability issue, but I’m hoping that I can change that soon. Having played through the core set campaign two or three times in a previous effort to get into the game, it does feel really nice to finally be moving on with the game, and experiencing more of the stuff it has to offer, as that experience can feel quite stale, even with a year or more between each play through.

All of this may sound like I’m actually quite down on this game, but I’m definitely looking forward to moving ahead with the campaign and seeing how I fare in the rest of the cycle and beyond!!

Getting started with Necromunda

Hey everybody!
It’s my 900th post, and I wanted to do something kinda special to mark the occasion. As it turns out, Blood Bowl isn’t the only game I’m finally getting into! I’ve talked about Necromunda a few times on this blog already, so I think it’s about time to take a look at the game in more detail. Think of this as something of a sequel to last year’s brief overview blog!

The Basics
Necromunda Underhive is a skirmish game where players control the members of a gang, vying for supremacy in the Underhive. At its most basic, the game is quite straightforward, consisting of three phases in each round. To begin, players roll off to see who gets Priority for that round, then all the fighters are readied.

The Action phase sees each gang member activated, alternating between each player. Each fighter can take two actions. There are a number of different actions available to players, grouped into basic actions (which can only be taken once in each activation), simple actions (which can be taken more than once), and double actions (which take up both action slots for the fighter). So for instance, moving is a simple action and so can be taken twice, while shooting or fighting is a basic action that can only be taken once, and charging is a double action (though it does allow for a fighter to make a free fight action if he or she ends that charge in base-to-base contact with an enemy gang member).

Resolving both shooting and close combat attacks works exactly the same as regular 40k, whereby fighters make a ballistic skill / weapon skill check, and if it is successful, make a roll comparing the weapon strength to the target’s toughness and referring to the usual to-wound chart. The target gets the chance to save against the attack (unless the weapon’s AP value negates that), and damage is inflicted. If a fighter is reduced to 0 wounds, they are taken out of action. There is an end phase which, in the basic rules, is only there to mark the end of the round.

Advanced Rules
At its most basic, that’s it! There are a number of scenarios in the main rulebook that add a few special rules to the game, but overall victory is still attained by taking gangers out of action. However, there are a number of Advanced Rules that feature in the book as well, which really add a layer of depth to the game that can be somewhat confusing at first, though seem to be well worth adding in to give the game that all-important depth.

Within the Advanced Rules, there are rules for activating groups of fighters at a time – activating up to two additional fighters when you activate a Leader or Champion – as well as a host of additional tidbits that make combat so much more interesting (and deadly!) Rules for running out of ammo, firing two pistols at the same time (flying through the air is optional), stray shots, as well as assisting and interfering in close combat attacks all add to the tactical nuances that make the game so appealing. There are also detailed rules for suffering injury at the hands of rival gangs.

The End Phase comes into its own with the Advanced Rules. If any gang member is seriously injured, the gang will need to make a Bottle Test, which functions similarly to the Morale phase of regular 40k, with the exception that you’re looking to compare the dice roll + number of gang members injured or out of action with the number of gang members who started the game. You then get to make a Recovery Test to see if those fighters can recover or succumb to their wounds. When a fighter is initially wounded, others close by need to make a Nerve Test to see if their bottle goes. In the end phase, those fighters who Broke have the chance of Rallying.

Gang Composition
The main Necromunda Underhive base game comes with two gangs, Escher and Goliath, each of which came with pre-populated fighter cards that dictate how to build the models to make a named gang. When founding a gang of your own, each gang has options for how many of each type of gang member you can include as a start: Leader (usually one), Champion (usually two), Ganger (usually no more than the combined total of other gang members) and Juves (usually unlimited). Each type of fighter costs a number of credits to purchase, and of course their wargear and weapons also cost credits. The main rulebook gives 1500 credits as the limit for a starting gang, though 1000 credits seems to be more normal in the few brief conversations I’ve had about the game.

Fighters can sometimes have access to skills that give them additional options during the fight. Weapons have traits that can give even more options. It all begins to feel a little bit confusing (and not a little unlike 7th edition 40k!) In this respect, then, I think it’s a really great thing that GW have given us the basic rules to use as something of a primer, to get used to things before adding in all of the more complex stuff. Of course, Necromunda has had so much released for it up to this point that it begins to feel much like a sandbox game, but I’ll get to that in a bit!

There are also Tactics cards available for each gang. These cards are split between generic gang tactics, and gang-specific cards. You create a deck of them at the start of the battle, shuffling the generic ones with those of your chosen gang, then the scenario you’re playing will dictate how many you can use, as well as whether you get to choose your cards or have to choose them at random.

Of course, I say these cards are available for use – GW has not been able to keep them in stock, and most of them are no longer available for purchase. While sometimes the card packs and dice sets they put out with a new release are somewhat bonuses to the main event, these cards actually have new and additional rules to them that make it quite difficult to get into the game if you haven’t been there for each release. I suppose it’s always possible that there are just supply problems and GW are trying to put these right, but for now at least, it’s going to be difficult for newcomers.

Necromunda makes great use of terrain, and while the base game does involve some scatter terrain placed onto a tiled board, with all the rules needed for encountering it in a variety of ways, there are rules for multi-level gang skirmishes that take place among the gantries and chains of environments such as the Sector Mechanicus terrain.

With the release of the Palanite Enforcers last weekend, there are now seven gangs available to use in the Underhive. GW have also given us rules for Genestealer Cults and Chaos Cults in the game, two of the more convincing factions from regular 40k that make the most sense for use here! I’ve talked at length in previous blogs about just how much I love the more regular factions like these, which consist of just average folks (if Genestealer Cultists can be called “average”!) that have that indescribable grim-dark feel to them. I mean, it’s arguable that these factions are more 40k than Space Marines or Tyranids! All of which just adds up to yet more reasons to love this game!

While each gang was being released across 2018, they were accompanied with a Gang War book. The first Gang War featured advanced terrain rules to allow for the famous 3D-style games, while subsequent books included the rules for the new gang as well as a Trading Post featuring new and exotic weapons that your gang can come across during campaigns. These books formed something of a treasure trove of ideas and really bring out the RPG-style element of the game that so many people love it for.

These supplements were combined into the Gangs of the Underhive hardback book that came out last Christmas, and the updated hardback Rulebook, much to the annoyance of players who had been buying these products as they came out. Personally, I was of the opinion that these softcovers did at least allow for players to, you know, actually play with their miniatures for a year or so, which can only be a good thing.

So far this year, we’ve seen a pair of hardback campaign books released alongside the new plastic kits each quarter, The Book of Peril and, most recently, The Book of Judgement. While featuring rules for the new releases, there are also campaign rules and a whole smorgasbord of additional bits and pieces that can colour games of Necromunda in new and interesting ways. The Book of Peril is possibly most noticeable for introducing the idea of the Guilds of Necromunda as factions, something that has been teased for a while now…

Necromunda Underhive is a game that I’m hoping to play soon, having convinced a couple of people at the local club to give it a try. While the base game is decent enough, of course, there are so many additional moving parts and rules that add so much depth to the experience that it becomes something closer to a traditional RPG than a simple boardgame. The game is so customisable that it really boggles my mind, and I find myself just itching to play it whenever I think about it!

So I’m finally going to be playing some games with this very soon. I’m intending to feature the game quite a deal more on my blog hereafter, as it’s a game that has really captured my imagination right from the outset. Look out for more content as the months go on, and hopefully I’ll even get to try a campaign or two! It’s going to be an exciting few months as the year draws to a close, let me tell you!

Gen Con 2019!

Having somehow missed my annual blog roundup last year, I’m back with a look at the hot new stuff coming out of GenCon 2019 – spoiler alert: some of this stuff is really hot!

There they all go! It’s almost a tradition or something these days to see the geek swarm as the doors open on a Thursday! Wonderful stuff.

Marvel Champions LCG

I want to start with what was, for me, the biggest, most awe-inspiring, and most shocking reveal of the event so far: FFG have got the Marvel license. Well, maybe. I’ve not been able to find any further details on precisely what they can do – I mean, crikey, this announcement just came entirely out of nowhere and I’m still not entirely sure what it means for games. Where does it leave Upper Deck and Marvel Legendary? Hm.

A co-op living card game, to go alongside Lord of the Rings and Arkham Horror, is definitely an interesting move. The cards look similar to the heroes in Lord of the Rings, with their attributes running down the left hand side, and abilities down the bottom etc. The villain AI side of things appears a little more like Arkham Horror and the act/agenda mechanic, with a deck that can either attack your hero or work to advance their schemes.

I am particularly impressed with the news that the core set of Marvel Champions actually includes full playsets of all the cards, going against the grain of all previous LCGs. It’s a complaint that I’ve seen since the dawn of time, though, so I suppose it’s good to see the company work out that niggle!

However. I just don’t feel like I’m in the market for another LCG right now, and given that it does feel like an amalgamation of two other games that I already own, play and enjoy does make me think that I’ll likely pass this one over. I enjoy Marvel superheroes for sure, though not nearly as much as I used to enjoy them, and the theme is therefore just not strong enough for me to want to get this for the experience of playing a game in a specific universe.

On the subject of Arkham Horror, though, we’ve got another game set in the Lovecraft universe – Arkham Horror: Final Hour! This seems to be designed as a quicker game than the others in Fantasy Flight’s stable of Arkham Files games, and focused much more on combat than any of their previous games.

I’m not sure about this one, if I’m perfectly honest! There is still the element of investigation and discovery, as we attempt to find the clues to stop the ritual while beating back a tide of endless monsters and gribblies, and there seems to be a lot of interesting stuff going on from the image of the board up there, but there’s just something holding me back. Previous games have almost been built around the narrative and storytelling of the lore, and bringing that to the fore, while this just seems to be a little more on the punch-and-run style. I’ve definitely got my eye on it, and I think I’ll aim to get in a demo at my local store (as well as finding some videos on youtube in the fullness of time!) before making a final decision…

What else have we seen from FFG?

I gave up with Armada almost as quickly as I picked it up, but I saw these being delivered at the local store and had to chuckle to myself. £165 for a “miniature”?! Blimey. Apparently the base is bigger than the deployment zone, which I find silly, but I’m sure for narrative play it is a lot of fun.


Fantasy Flight Games used to be my all-time favourite games company, with amazing games that I used to enjoy playing again and again. I suppose my own life has evolved and I don’t really have the time for huge afternoons with intricate games anymore, though I’ve also noticed that there is a marked reliance on licensed games rather than sticking with their own stuff. I suppose that’s where the mega-bucks lie, and names like Marvel and Star Wars will certainly bring in the $$$. While there is a small part of me that is sorry to see things like Terrinoth go by the wayside, it’s still cool to see the company have a presence on the scene, and they are still producing amazing products, which has always been a hallmark.

However, I just don’t seem to feel the love for these things anymore. I suppose that’s probably because Games Workshop has sort of replaced them in my heart as favourite games company – so let’s take a look at what they’ve got to offer us from GenCon 2019!

Having recently announced my intention to get into Blood Bowl, I’m really impressed with the timing of this! Lizardmen are perhaps my all-time favourite Warhammer Fantasy faction, and I had been hoping I could pick some up to start my fantasy football journey with them, but alas it was not meant to be! I’ll definitely be picking these up though, as I just love them all!

Some of these skinks do look a little bit silly, though I love that dude prancing across the centre with the sun headdress on! What’s not to love!

So the Mirrored City has been shattered by the necroquake, or something, and the various bands of adventurers have made it out to find themselves trapped within a mountain range known as the Beastgrave. Well, something like that… I’ve still never played this game, of course, but I’m not sure that I like the Beastmen warband, as cool as some of the Gor models are, and the updated Wardancers are really quite divisive, aren’t they?!

I can’t decide, so I think I might wait this one out for now.

The manager at my local store is really excited for this one, though I’m not really feeling the love, either! My first thought was, oh it’s X-Wing in the 41st millennium, but I’ve no real idea what to expect here. Much like Adeptus Titanicus, I suppose I just don’t have the pedigree behind me to want this sort of game when it is so out of whack with the rest of Games Workshop’s products. Necromunda, Blood Bowl, and all the others are at least infantry-based miniatures games, and I can get behind them in a way that titan legions or airplane squadrons just don’t excite me as much.


So far, then, I’m not doing so well out of this year’s Gen Con, am I?! Stay tuned as I update this blog over the weekend with more news and opinions – who knows, maybe I’ll find a game that I actually like the look of!!

No longer Standard: Time Spiral

Hey everybody!
We’re going back in time for another game day blog here at spalanz.com, and another look at one of the classic sets from Magic the Gathering. Today, it’s time to return to 2006, and Time Spiral block!

Time Spiral

Time Spiral is the fortieth expansion set for Magic the Gathering, released on 6 October 2006. It is the first set in the Time Spiral block, the twelfth block set for the game. The set was notable for being the first to include a whole sub-set of cards, much like we’ve seen in recent years with Masterpieces – this time, it was a set of 121 “time-shifted” cards, which were reprints of cards from Magic’s history, using the older card frame but with a black border, and featuring a purple rarity symbol. The idea behind these cards was to represent the past invading the present, as there have been some horrible things happening to Dominaria on the whole.

Two hundred years previously, Phyrexia invaded Dominaria, but was eventually defeated, leaving the plane in ruins. It’s a thrilling tale, if a little on the bonkers side, and definitely something I’d like to feature here on the blog once I’ve managed to get my head around it! One of the important things to know is that Teferi managed to save his home by phasing it all out of reality, as you do, and has now returned to find the rest of the land a salt-sown wasteland. It’s time to get help from his fellow planeswalker Freyalise and sort things out!

Consequently, there is an element of despair to the artwork across this set. The basic lands look really quite grim and forlorn, with rotting forests and desolate plains, swamps filled with the rotting Phyrexian hulks and so on. We also get some factional warfare in the return of Rebel cards, which represent the three factions from the plane of Rath, first explored in Magic‘s third block, the Tempest block (part of the Weatherlight Saga, of which Time Spiral block is considered a continuation). Again, this is a really intriguing storyline, so I don’t want to go into it here, but suffice it to say, there is a real sense of eking out a living in the shadow of the apocalypse, something I always liken to the Midnight expansion for Runebound – while evil didn’t win on Dominaria, it was defeated at such a cost as to leave utter devastation in its wake.

Mechanically, the set gives us a massive eleven keywords, including eight returning keywords from historical sets (that time/nostalgia theme again), two brand-new keywords, and a keywording of Flash. The two new mechanics are Split Second and Suspend, two quite flavourful mechanics that seem to have become quite commonly-seen in formats like Commander, for reasons I’ll go into now.

Split Second is a keyword found predominantly on Instants and Sorcery cards that basically stops the Stack – while the card with Split Second is on the Stack, other spells cannot be played in response, though mana abilities, triggered abilities and special actions can still happen. A common way around Split Second is to un-Morph a creature such as Willbender, who can counter a spell when he is un-Morphed in this manner. It helps that Willbender was included in the set as a time-shifted card, too! Perhaps the most famous card with Split Second is Krosan Grip, though the keyword does occur in all five colours.

Suspend is a mechanic that proved confusing when it first appeared, due to timing issues of when such things could be played. Suspend is keyword that almost acts like an alternative casting cost: rather than paying the card’s mana cost, you can pay its Suspend cost and exile it with a number of time counters on it; when the final counter is removed, it is then cast. It can be confusing because cards with Suspend cover almost the entire breadth of card types, but you must be able to cast the card at the time you exile it – so you can’t Suspend a creature card in response to having to discard a card, say, unless you have an effect in play that would allow that (and Time Spiral gave players just such an effect by keywording Flash, such as with Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir). Furthermore, some Suspend cards don’t actually have a mana cost, but must be cast via Suspend – they aren’t considered to be “free” to play. An example of this is perhaps one of the more notorious Suspend cards, Living End. The Professor has an example Modern deck based on this card, which you can take a look at here:

Returning keywords and mechanics were plentiful, due to the nostalgia theme. Of course, having so many keywords in a set means there’s a lot to keep track of, and I think having Storm return in the set feels like a step too far!

Time Spiral storage lands

An often-overlooked part of the set, in my mind, is the Storage Lands. These are a cycle of allied colour dual lands that can tap for colourless mana when they appear, but you can pay 1 and tap them to add a storage counter to them. In later turns, you can pay 1 and remove X counters to add X mana in any combination of the dual colours. Cumbersome, for sure, but with effects like Proliferate from subsequent sets, these lands can fit into decks where counter-manipulation is part of the strategy for a nice additional bonus.

Planar Chaos MtG

Planar Chaos was released on 2 February 2007, and brought a few more keywords to the party, including Kicker and also Vanishing, which works almost like a reverse Suspend mechanic, in that it enters the battlefield with a number of time counters on it, and when the counters have gone, it leaves. A revised Fading, a lot of these cards are creatures who have effects that trigger when they enter and leave the battlefield, which can be quite useful if you can find a way to remove tokens quickly.

There were, in addition, a subset of 45 ‘planeshifted’ cards that are meant to function as part of the set, rather than being reprints of older cards. In Planar Chaos, these cards represent an alternate-reality present rather than the past catching up with the present, and consist of colour-shifted cards – the focus here is on cards that grant a colour an ability it wouldn’t normally have, but still denoting a path the colour could have had from the beginning – perhaps the most infamous being Damnation, the black boardwipe spell. Of course, there is a link for each card to the colour they are printed in – while boardwipes are generally the province of White (and, to some extent, Blue), it does fit into the Black theme of direct removal.

Pretty much all of these cards can be considered colour-shifted reprints, such as the aforementioned Damnation (in black) for Wrath of God (in white), or Brute Force (in red) for Giant Growth (in green); colour references in some may be shifted around to fit, but broadly speaking they are direct call-backs. However, they aren’t technically reprints, but new cards. As such, these cards were considered part of the main set, and so have a more general distribution.

MTG Planeshifted Cards

These alt-reality cards are reflected in the story, where Teferi allies with the half-elf Radha and the artificer Venser to attempt to close temporal rifts that have been opening across Dominaria. In order to close the rift above Shiv, Teferi loses his Planeswalker spark, though this will later prove to be a temporary loss.

Planar Chaos also introduced a cycle of Legendary Dragons in the three enemy “wedge” colours that form something of a mirror to the cycle of Dragons from Invasion (in the allied “shard” colours). These Dragons are notable for being the only way to play Commander in these colours until Tarkir block finally went deep into the wedge colours.

Planar Chaos dragons

There’s a pretty interesting article up on Channel Fireball from earlier this year, where author Josh Silvestri describes Ravnica/Time Spiral Standard as the best Standard, though precisely how much Ravnica contributed to that decision is possibly an interesting article of its own!

At any rate, Planar Chaos was followed by the third set, Future Sight, on 4 May 2007, and in keeping with the time feel of the block, included a subset of 81 ‘future-shifted’ cards that are printed in a completely different border, and often include extremely weird mechanics. The idea behind the future-shifted cards was to represent cards that could be featured in later sets of Magic – much like Time Spiral reached into the past for its time-shifted reprints, Future Sight was reaching into the future for a glimpse of what might be to come with these “pre-prints”.

The border on these cards was one of the most controversial changes in the game, supposed to represent the possibility that the card frame might change again (as it had in 8th Edition), although Wizards have since confirmed that the Future Sight border will never actually be used. It’s almost a similar story with the plethora of keywords introduced in Future Sight. In addition to pre-existing keywords such as cycling, dredge and hellbent, we saw Lifelink, Shroud and Reach become keyworded. The fun begins, however, with the catalogue of entirely new keywords, over a dozen of them, some of which have indeed become actual keywords on cards in present-day Magic.

Delve returned in Tarkir block as the mechanic of the Sultai, allowing you to remove cards from your graveyard to help pay for a card’s cost, while Poisonous was later re-worked as Infect in Scars of Mirrodin block; these are the most successful of Future Sight‘s possible new keywords. Gravestorm (allowing you to copy a spell with Gravestorm for each time a permanent was put into a graveyard this turn), Aura Swap (allowing you to swap an aura on the battlefield for one in your hand), Fortify (equip for Land cards), Fateseal X (the “hate scry”, allowing you to look at the top X cards of your opponent’s library and put any number on the bottom) and others have not yet returned, although sometimes I think it might be fun if they did bring one of these back!

Famously, Future Sight also features a couple of cards that include references that basically had no meaning within the scope of the game at that point. Steamflogger Boss with its allure of being able to assemble contraptions is probably the one that always leaps to mind, but at the time even the famous Tarmagoyf had reminder text that referenced the still-to-come Planeswalker card type.

In the storyline, the planar rifts continue to wrack Dominaria, with Freyalise giving up her own spark and her life to close the rift linking the plane with the alternative Dominaria (the one full of Phyrexian nasties). The only solution appears to be sending Karn, the only planeswalker known to have traveled through time itself, back to stop the original rents in reality by preventing the archwizard Barrin from casting the spell that obliterated most of Tolaria back in the day, when he was attempting to prevent the Phyrexians from moving on Urza. Finally, the planeswalker Jeska arrives seeking her mentor Karn, and her anger at the situation unwittingly allows her to bring back another of Magic‘s formidable enemies, Leshrac. But that’s a story for another day…

Time Spiral block

Time Spiral block is quite fascinating to me, dealing as it does with this after-the-apocalypse sort of storyline. It forms almost a lynchpin between old Magic and new Magic – the next block was Lorwyn, which of course brought us the original five Planeswalkers that formed the basis of the new heroes and stories. Names like Teferi and Freyalise would still loom large, for sure, but now it was all to be about Jace and Liliana, Ajani and Chandra. Interestingly, Future Sight was actually supposed to feature the new Planeswalker type of card, but the set already had so much going on, and the new type of card wasn’t going to be ready in time.

There is the sense of Magic‘s history that comes out of the set which, when you look through the list of subsequent expansions, is largely quite absent. Up to this point, the game had previously had a storyline that was set on the plane of Dominaria, told through multiple sets and featuring a cast of heroes and villains that had become quite well-established, if not well-rounded. Following the new card frame in 8th Edition, the game jumped around some planes, taking in Mirrodin, Kamigawa and Ravnica before stopping off once more on Dominaria for this block, before moving off into the multiverse and exploring such amazing places as Zendikar, Innistrad, Theros and Alara. It wasn’t until the 25th anniversary of the game last year that we finally had a return to the plane, and caught up with Teferi, Jhoira and the others. It’s almost like the design team wanted to swing by the original plane just one last time before they headed off into the vast potential of new and different planes.

For that, it’s almost a bittersweet set. I really like it for the flavour, whether people think the block has any power or not. There are a whole load of interesting cards in this block, and it’s definitely worthwhile taking a look beyond the handful of cards that keep coming up time and again in Commander or Modern.

Playing Magic: The Orzhov Syndicate

Hey everybody!
It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these “playing Magic” blogs, but in light of the fact that I’ve started to collect some cards again, and seeing as how we’ve just experienced another return to the plane of Ravnica, I thought it’s about time I wrote up a blog showcasing the Orzhov deck that I’ve been talking about in a number of my previous blogs! So without further ado, let’s get to it!

Orzhov Syndicate

The Orzhov Syndicate is a bit like the idea of a corrupt Church organisation, not all that far removed from real life, where the leaders are more businessmen than clerics, and who have a very temporal power through their control of all manner of deals. Indeed, one of the Guild-specific land cards in the original Ravnica block is Orzhova, the Church of Deals. There is a strong theme whereby even in death, a person’s debt is rarely paid, and so the Guild features a lot of ghosts and shades, with a few keywords that have come in over the years that play on that idea.

The original keyword mechanic for the Orzhov Syndicate was Haunt. Widely considered to be a terrible mechanic (head designer Mark Rosewater himself considers it “a mistake”), a card with Haunt will be exiled rather than placed in the graveyard, “haunting” another permanent on the battlefield. When the card it is haunting is itself then put into the graveyard, that action will trigger the Haunt effect of the original card, basically getting a second use out of it before both die.

During Return to Ravnica block, Orzhov had the mechanic Extort, which allows you to pay an additional white or black mana whenever you cast a spell, whereupon each opponent loses 1 life and you gain life equal to the total lost. Commonly referred to as “drain and gain”, it’s a great way to ensure cards have impact for you the whole game, and it’s the mechanic around which I’ve built my deck that I’ll talk about shortly!

During the latest Guilds of Ravnica block, the new Orzhov mechanic is Afterlife X, which creates X 1/1 Spirit creature tokens when the card with Afterlife X dies. I suppose you can think of this as a cleaner Haunt, or at least, a cleaner implementation of the idea of Haunt! It’s also extremely on-point for the idea of never quite paying off your debts to the Syndicate!

Unlike my Dimir deck, my Orzhov deck is all about the Guild, and goes heavily into the theme of Orzhov, using cards only from Ravnica and Return to Ravnica blocks.

Orzhov Syndicate

I’ll be the first to admit, this deck can be clunky as hell. Because of the fact that I’ve got the self-imposed limit of only including Guild-specific cards in the deck, it’s really difficult to reliably make the deck win. I’ve also included some cards in there for the sheer theme alone, and ordinarily wouldn’t consider using if I were trying to make the deck more playable. But it’s a lot of fun to build decks that are dripping with theme like this, so there is definitely that in its favour!

Creatures (25):
Obzedat, Ghost Council
Blood Baron of Vizkopa
Kingpin’s Pet
Treasury Thrull
Syndic of Tithes
Syndicate Enforcer
Souls of the Faultless
Maze Sentinel
Basilica Guards
Sin Collector
High Priest of Penance (2)
Tithe Drinker (2)
Orzhov Guildmage
Vizkopa Confessor
Thrull Parasite (2)
Crypt Ghast
Pontiff of Blight
Vizkopa Guildmage
Dutiful Thrull (2)
Basilica Screecher (2)

Instants & Sorceries (5):
Purge the Profane
Executioner’s Swing (2)
Obzedat’s Aid (2)

Artifacts (4):
Orzhov Signet
Orzhov Cluestone
Orzhov Keyrune (2)

Enchantments (4):
Gift of Orzhova (2)
Shadow Lance
Blind Obedience

Land (22):
Orzhov Guildgate (3)
Orzhov Basilica (3)
Orzhova, the Church of Deals
Plains (8)
Swamp (7)

Orzhov Syndicate

There are 15 instances of Extort as a keyword in the deck, though thanks to the Pontiff of Blight, every single spell being cast has the potential to gain Extort – and in case you were wondering, multiple instances of Extort on a card do indeed stack, so there is definitely the potential for some serious drain and gain shenanigans going on there!

Of course, Extort isn’t the only thing going on with the deck. There is a certain element of Control, thanks to stuff like Blind Obedience (a card I normally dislike playing due to the amount of hate it can attract) and the High Priest of Penance forcing some difficult choices to be made by any would-be attacker. The lifegain potential in the deck is high, due to the multiple instances of Lifelink outside of Extort, though one of the big areas this deck falls down is a failing to weaponize that. I’ve talked more in-depth on weaponizing lifegain in my Ayli Commander deck blog, though, and I think if I were to travel outside of the Ravnica block cards, it wouldn’t be too difficult to create a really punishing version of this deck.

Ultimately, this is meant to be just a fun deck that is really dripping with theme, and one that brings back fond memories for me when I was first getting into Magic the Gathering, watching Spellslingers and enjoying the interactions of the cards, as well as seeing just how much fun you can have playing this game!!