Gaming catch up, and more!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View this post on Instagram

Seeing the new year in with this #nowReading

A post shared by Mark (@marrrkusss) on

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

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

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

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

Mists of Zanaga

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

Runebound Mists of Zanaga

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

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

Runebound Mists of Zanaga

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

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

Runebound Mists of Zanaga

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

Runebound Mists of Zanaga

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

Runebound Mists of Zanaga

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

Runebound Mists of Zanaga

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

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


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

Lord of the Rings LCG

Hey everybody!
It’s my birthday today, so for today’s game day, I thought I’d ramble for a bit about my favourite game of all, Lord of the Rings LCG from Fantasy Flight Games!

Lord of the Rings LCG

It’s my favourite for so many reasons, not all of them linked to how wonderful the game is to simply play, but also my memories of playing it over the last seven years. I’ve featured the game on my blog before as a game day extravaganza, but I’ve recently been playing more of it again, so I wanted to talk a bit about my enjoyment of these games, and see where I go from there!

I’ve been playing the Shadows of Mirkwood and Dwarrowdelf quests once more, which are some of my absolute all-time favourites. I’ve been trying to play them all, rather than going through those that I know I enjoy and skipping the others, and it has led to me almost rediscovering these early packs as if they were brand new! For instance, the last time I played A Journey to Rhosgobel prior to this most recent playthrough was 2012!

Getting to play these old favourites has really taken me back to my glory days of gaming, when I had so much more time for these sorts of things. In particular, I remember how excited I used to get to take delivery of the latest Adventure Pack, and would have tried it out within days (if not hours!) of getting it. I recall my first plays with The Dead Marshes being almost at the dead of night, as I just couldn’t wait to give it a go! Happy times, indeed.

As the game matured and evolved, though, I think that faded for me, as the quests seemed to get harder and harder almost on purpose. Some of those from the fourth cycle onwards (the Ringmaker cycle) felt a little like they were too much like a game, and not as much like an exploration of Middle Earth, and I seem to recall it was around this time that my attention waned somewhat. I’ve certainly never been as excited for the latest expansions to arrive since – although Sands of Harad was perhaps one exception!

I recently gave a couple of new scenarios a try, while still intending to play through the entire game from start to finish, and I think it surprised me at just how difficult things have become! Sands of Harad has been on my radar for a long while now, as I love the desert theme and whatnot, but I was a little surprised at how brutal the first quest was – having an automatic “you lose” if there are no progress tokens on a quest, as well as a proliferation of enemies to keep you pinned down and make questing difficult, seemed a far cry from the banks of the Anduin! The Nightmare decks for scenarios are supposed to represent an opponent tweaking his deck to give you a slightly tougher challenge, but I thought this was quite tough to begin with, so would hate to see how bad Nightmare mode makes this one!

I’ve been using an elven-themed deck, which features a lot of comparatively new cards from the Ringmaker cycle. I’ve previously talked about the deck here, and you can see the full breakdown in that blog also. However, I think I might need to include some of the newer-still cards if I’m to make it through these new scenarios!

Shadows of Mirkwood

Of course, my all-time favourite scenario remains The Hills of Emyn Muil. It’s widely dismissed by the internet community as being “too easy” and has been consigned to oblivion since 2011. But I would vehemently defend this as being the most thematic, Tolkien-esque expansion for the game that FFG has ever produced. Nowhere is the breadth of Middle Earth more clearly brought to the tabletop than in this expansion, as we wander almost lost and aimless through the expanse of Emyn Muil, desperately trying to pick up the trail of Gollum once again. It manages to capture the feel of the books, and even that of the movies, so amazingly well that I always look forward to playing this one. It might be easy to play as a game, but as a gameplay experience, it is just nothing short of wonderful.

The Dwarrowdelf cycle is one that I feel another special sort of kinship with, though I always feel like I need to play with my Dwarven deck whenever I head into the Mines of Moria. Part of that is a game reason, of course, as the deck includes a lot of cards designed to work with the Underground locations within that cycle, but even so, there is a very strong theme here that comes from the fact that Dwarves were the first deck archetype to be really supported in the game.

The cycle is obviously FFG trying to tell the central story from Fellowship of the Ring, as the merry band of heroes travels through the Mines on their way to Lórien, from the time when the company didn’t have the licence to produce games based on the books themselves. While we’ve since had the Saga expansions that actually tell that tale, I still enjoy the Dwarrowdelf cycle for what it is: an attempt to tell an original tale within the framework of the novel itself. I like it, anyway, and I think I’ve returned to this cycle much more than I’ve attempted to play through the Saga expansion itself!

My recent playthrough of the three scenarios from Khazad-dûm this past weekend has shown that, between some luck and the amazing synergy that a Dwarven deck can build, the scenarios are nowhere near as difficult as they once were. I think it’s not so much the whole Dwarrowdelf cycle support for the theme, but also the two Hobbit Saga expansions that really helped to flesh out the archetype – the increased bonuses granted for having more than five Dwarf characters in play, combined with some of the cheaper generic Dwarves from the core set and early packs, really help to build the theme early on.

For reference, then, here’s my Dwarf deck that I enjoy:

Dáin Ironfoot (leadership)
Óin (spirit)
Ori (lore)

Allies:
Glóin
Gimli
Dori
Bifur
Bofur
Fili
Kili
Dwalin
Zigil Miner
Longbeard Orc Slayer
Miner of the Iron Hills
Longbeard Map-Maker
Erebor Hammersmith
Erebor Record Keeper
Erebor Battle Master

Attachments:
Song of Battle
Song of Kings
Ever My Heart Rises (2)
Dwarrowdelf Axe (2)
Narvi’s Belt (2)
Boots from Erebor
Legacy of Durin (2)
Hardy Leadership
Cram

Event: 
Khazâd! Khazâd!
Dwarven Tomb
Untroubled by Darkness (2)
Durin’s Song (2)
To me! O my kinsfolk! (2)
Lure of Moria (2)
Strength of Will (2)
Daeron’s Runes
Ever Onward
Ancestral Knowledge (2)
Fresh Tracks (2)
A Good Harvest
We Are Not Idle
Quick Strike
Sneak Attack

The deck is one of my favourites, though as I said above, it can get on-line pretty quickly and make short work of some of these earlier scenarios. There are a lot of effects that trigger of specific location-types, which means I probably wouldn’t bring it out if I knew there were none of those locations coming in the deck. The return of Underground and Dark locations in the Ered Mithrin cycle has made me think once more about seeing how this deck fares with those newer scenarios, though, so I may well give it a go in the near future!

Lord of the Rings LCG may well be coming to the end of its life cycle soon, as it feels very much like FFG is winding down the game. It has grown significantly over the last 7 years, and it’s currently their longest-running card game still being produced, with a card pool that really shows that. While I do appreciate the fact that core set cards remain valid in decks built to take on the very latest expansions (the above example with Sands of Harad being a case in point), I think there is a general pervasive feeling that the game is coming to its end, with the current Ered Mithrin cycle feeling very much like one last hurrah through Middle Earth before it’s done. Seeing scenarios that re-use encounter sets from the core set, as well as returning to mechanics such as Underground and Dark locations, feels very much like a last ride through the fan favourites before calling it a day.

I will naturally be saddened to see the end of the game, should that come to pass, but I think, of all the games I own, this is one that I have kept coming back to, and will keep coming back to, time and time again. Not just for the wonderful memories it has given me, or the beautiful card art, or the breathtaking narrative each Adventure Pack brings, but just because it’s such a good game, overall. It’s a fantastic adventure game, while managing to be as under-stated as Tolkien could be.

I just love it!

Runewars

It is a time of war. The scribes and sorcerers of the land of Terrinoth, having begun to tap into the power of the mysterious dragon runes, have unwittingly set the wheels of conflict in motion. Though they comprehend only a fraction of these artifacts’ true potential, the rulers of the realm understand all too well that he who controls them controls Terrinoth. The leaders of Human, Elf, Undead, and Uthuk Y’llan raise massive armies and march against each other. At the same time, brave heroes venture forth from their home cities on perilous quests, with the hope of claiming a dragon rune for their king and eternal glory for themselves.

Yes, folks, it’s time to look at another juggernaut of a board game in today’s game day blog, as we lift the lid on the second coffin-box game in as many weeks – it’s time to look at Runewars, the fantasy board game of conquest, adventure and fantasy empires from Fantasy Flight Games!

Runewars

This is one of those games that I had held on to for a number of years, before finally sitting down to a game with my buddy Tony in the summer of 2013. Looking back, I think it was the first proper tabletop wargame we had played up to that point, although we both didn’t really know what we were in for when we sat down to it!

In Runewars, you control a faction fighting over the ancient land of Terrinoth – either the human Daqan Lords, the Latari Elves, the undead Waiqar, or the Chaos-infused Uthuk Y’llan. Your goal is to expand your own empire and defeat your foes, controlling the territory that encompasses the most dragon runes in so doing. The game was designed very much as a re-implementation of one of Fantasy Flight’s earliest games, Battlemist, with the same factions as seen in the earlier game, but with new mechanics and ported over into the same universe as Runebound and Descent which, around the same time, were doing really well – you can read all about this over on the official site.

You can recruit heroes along the way to help in your cause, which is where we see the link with the more familiar Runebound universe come in, as we see familiar faces from the earlier game, but this is (I think) the first time we have been able to play with the new style of faction-driven Terrinoth games, which later encompass such games as the new Battlelore, the Runewars Miniatures Game, and my old favourite, Rune Age.

The game was incredible. It is a little bit daunting, for sure, but as we got into it, the gameplay just flowed, and while I don’t remember who won, I just remember being so excited by it at the end – it was quite a rare reaction, really, and the only other game I can remember having a similar experience with was Mansions of Madness. There’s a dual-layer to the game, as you control armies with which to conquer the land, but also have a hero miniature who is questing for the dragon runes. There is a real depth from a resource-management, empire-building game which comes from the whole Seasons mechanic. It’s really excellent, but as I say, the amount of stuff going on in there can be quite daunting at first.

Of course, it’s not going to be for everyone, and outside of a single expansion, Banners of War, there seemed to be very little love for the game. I think that’s perhaps due to the fact that this game came out towards the end of the period of time where boardgames like this were really popular. I’m not intending to sound like some kind of hipster-snob here, but around about 2010-12, boardgames underwent the evolution from being in two quite distinct categories of “serious and heavy” and “Monopoly and stuff”, to being a lot more accessible across the board. Companies shifted with the times, and seemed to stop making games that were specifically targeted at hardcore board gamers, and instead made games that strove to be streamlined and accessible to all. Wil Wheaton’s TableTop has had a profound effect on this sort of thing, as well.

As a result, games like Runewars, and last week’s Horus Heresy, have been a little bit sidelined. It is a bit of a shame, as I do feel there is still an audience out there for the sort of game that takes an entire afternoon and evening to play through.

Runewars Miniatures Game

Interestingly, though, Runewars didn’t end with the whimper of being forgotten on the shelf. Back in 2016, FFG announced a new miniatures game set in the same universe, with new miniatures and a new game system that used a lot of the mechanics previously seen in X-Wing. It was announced shortly before the news broke that FFG and GW were parting ways, the timing suggesting the move was initiated by FFG, though GW have long since held the notion they wanted to take back control of making their own games. Most notably, of course, the game features rank-and-flank combat with a movement-tray style, which was no doubt intended to replace Warhammer Fantasy Battles for all those people who found Age of Sigmar somewhat lacking.

The Runewars Miniatures Game looks amazing, and is so far still going really strong, with new expansions coming out all the time. Having seemingly replaced both Runewars the board game, and Battlelore, I’m really happy that the game has, up to now at least, managed to retain its traction with the market.

I’m in that place now, where I’m not really looking for this sort of game. But I know that, had I not discovered Games Workshop in my quest to learn how to build miniatures, I would most likely have picked this game up, and be hopefully trying to recruit new players to test out my armies against. It’s really cool to see FFG producing games in this market, and while I may not be buying into it these days, I still love the fact that Runewars is living on!

The Horus Heresy

Hey everybody!
It’s Game Day here at spalanz.com, as I try to re-establish the old favourite series of blogs for the month of December. Today, I’m sticking within the now-established theme of being obsessed with Warhammer 40k, and taking a look at possibly the most expensive two-player game I’ve ever bought – it’s The Horus Heresy, from Fantasy Flight Games!

This massive box was originally suggested to me by my erstwhile gaming buddy Tony, who was I think intrigued by the lore of the thing, and suggested we give it a go. Well, give it a go, we did, back in 2013, and what an incredible gaming experience it was! I mean that insofar as it was quite the juggernaut of the board game, coming in that huge coffin-box full of cards and miniatures, and of course the 3D game board!

I honestly don’t remember a lot of the intricacies of the rules from more than five years ago, and I think the fact we only ever played it once is probably quite telling there. Notably, of course, this game stems from the time before I actually started to build and paint (and play) the GW miniatures, so my exposure to this sort of thing came exclusively in card- and board-game formats like this. The video above does a fairly decent job of explaining the rules, which include card-based combat in the same manner as Mansions of Madness, something I do quite enjoy from a game.

I think the main problem with getting this to the table more is the sheer size of the game, though. It took me almost an hour to set up before the game (not an uncommon occurrence, as you can see from fellow blogger Roemer’s Workshop, when he took a look at the game!) and pretty much an entire weekend to get the rules straight in my mind. I must say, though, once we got going, I seem to recall it was pretty straightforward to play the actual game. While being no strangers to card-based combat games like this, I think there is still a strange element to playing this sort of game, as we probably just prefer to use dice!

FFG Horus Heresy

Fantasy Flight always make wonderful games, of course, and while the miniature quality is of course nowhere near that of Citadel miniatures, they are nevertheless decent enough for gaming pieces. The Primarchs themselves are cardboard stand-ups, however, which is slightly disappointing, though they do use some classic art, which I suppose isn’t a bad thing! Returning to Roemer’s Workshop, you can get a better idea of the game and its components in his follow-up blog, here.

As a board game telling the story of the Siege of Terra, I think the game does a really good job of keeping on-theme while still allowing for the game to actually play itself – you’ll never be doomed to eternal defeat if you play Horus, but you’ll certainly get the sense of what the story is all about. In my game with Tony, I was playing the Loyalist side, and actually lost due to a Spaceport victory (though Horus was on the brink of death when that happened, I’d like to mention!) so it is definitely possible.

FFG have, of course, stopped producing Games Workshop games, so this is no longer available. GW have themselves started making their own board games set during the Horus Heresy, although have not yet made an attempt to capture the iconic events such as the Siege. Maybe when the novel series reaches this point, they might? I recently sold my copy on ebay, as it had been so long since I played it, I just couldn’t ever see this game coming back to the table. That isn’t to say it’s a bad game, at all, it’s just a very particular type of game, and I think it somehow belongs to the older Fantasy Flight style of game, when they made things that were pretty heavy-going and gamer-centric, rather than being the more accessible sort of thing they produce these days. But that’s probably the subject for another blog!

Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress – first impressions

Hey everybody,
Had my first game with Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress at the weekend, so thought I’d re-institute the Game Day blogs while we run up to the festive period by looking at this beast!

Blackstone Fortress

At its heart, Blackstone Fortress has a lot in common with the earlier Silver Tower game. We have a co-operative adventure for four heroes delving into the labyrinth, with the mechanics of destiny dice and activation dice being common to both iterations. There have been some tweaks, which has led to many people calling Age of Sigmar in general something of a test-bed for 40k and its related games.

I’m not going to call Blackstone Fortress a re-skin, as there is more to it than that. But there are enough similarities between the two so that, if you’re familiar with one, then you’ll be able to get cracking with the other quickly enough. Once I got going with this, I certainly had no problems running the adventure along.

Blackstone Fortress

The biggest draw, for me, was definitely the miniatures. I try not to buy these games purely for the minis, as I want to enjoy the game aspect of the box. I am extremely guilty of having been suckered into this game purely for the fact that the minis look amazing, and so very different to anything we’ve had so far. Negavolt Cultists and Traitor Guard are just fabulous, while plastic Ministorum Priests and Navigators are just phenomenal! One of my driving reasons for picking up the game was that I have a concept for Armies on Parade that a lot of these miniatures really fit into, so in a way I dropped a lot of cash on picking up some minis that look fantastic.

However, the game itself is actually really quite good!

There are some very specific set-up instructions that I don’t remember from Silver Tower, which help to balance the game somewhat and introduce you to things slowly as you begin with the prospect of lower-level adversaries to fight. The game features an in-built levelling system whereby, each time you end an adventure, you add in a Legacy card that either gives you more enemies to fight, or increases the difficulty of the current selection. Combat is not always a given, either – during set-up, you create an encounter deck, which are split into combat and challenges, and it just so happened that I drew a combat to start things off. Challenges are almost out-of-game things where you need to build a tower of dice in 20 seconds, or whatnot. I suppose this is what GW meant when it came to the RPG aspect of things.

Blackstone Fortress

Something else that has an RPG element is the cleanup step at the end of the encounter, called the Precipice step as it involves returning to the main space station where all the adventurers’ ships are docked. There, you get to trade the strange archaeotech you discover for some upgrades – there are six ships included in the core set, and each of them has a distinct flavour, such as bizarre xenos tech on the Rogue Trader’s vessel, military hardware on the Kroot Mercenary’s ship, Prayers and such on the Priest’s vessel, etc. It’s all quite thematic, but I wasn’t entirely sure of the value of a lot of the upgrades – possibly due to the fact it was my first game…

I’d been hoping this game would be something akin to Shadows of Brimstone, though with a better quality of miniature and a much slicker implementation. The gameplay itself is actually really straightforward, and like I said earlier, it wasn’t a huge concern for me once I got going. The structure of the turn is fairly straightforward, if a little packed with stages, and there are some bits that I found myself forgetting at first, such as the Event phase at the end. The main problem, I found, was that the rulebook feels very much like it has been separated into three separate booklets for no good reason. There is the actual Rulebook, which only includes the rules for set-up, and then some advanced rule stuff; the Combat book actually includes most of the rules you’ll need to reference during the main body of the game, and the Precipice book has all of the after-game stuff like buying stuff and whatnot. It felt clunky for the amount of booklets I was leafing through each time, and I do believe it could have been organised much better, with just one big book that also includes the Background material included within a fourth booklet.

Blackstone Fortress

This isn’t a dungeon-crawl in the sense that Silver Tower is, as the Combat cards re-invent the board each time you draw one, and place adversaries for you to overcome. The AI that drives these adversaries is, if I’m honest, fairly basic – being a hex-based map, there are often a lot of decisions to make as to where best to move the adversary, and I can imagine a lot of players would position them in such a way as makes it easier on the explorers. I did like the Reinforcements idea, though, whereby enemy models can potentially always come back, even if you’ve gotten rid of the entire group. I was seconds from getting all of my explorers clear of the maze near the end, when a group of six Traitor Guard reappeared and blocked Thaddeus from joining the others, causing the game to continue another couple of turns. Talk about dramatic!

Blackstone Fortress

I think this is where the game is really going to shine, though, in terms of the storytelling and the drama that it can create when getting these moments in-game. There are a lot of moving parts to this game, and a lot of things to keep track of. While it does work fine as a pure co-op adventure, the rules state that for five players, one will take on the role of a GM almost, and control the adversary groups as well as the additional stuff like Initiative. Doing that, I can see the game being a lot more involved and, dare I say, enjoyable as you feel more like you’re actually fighting against the fortress. But these are my initial thoughts, and increased familiarity with the game might see me change that idea.

Blackstone Fortress

Overall, I think the game is a really good implementation of the Warhammer Quest core ideas. It doesn’t really feel that much like a simple re-skin of Silver Tower, but instead there is so much going on that you really feel in the 40k universe. If you’re already familiar with the setting, then there’s a lot to enjoy as you work your way through the adventure.

I think a lot of people may be a little bit confused, or misled into thinking this is a Legacy-type game, with a lot of mileage out of your actions in one game spilling over into the next. This isn’t a Legacy game in the sense that Pandemic has made us understand it. There is the opportunity to not so much level up your character, but certainly to create a narrative around them in the spirit of an RPG, and you can buy upgrades to add to their abilities.

The confusing aspect, I think, is that there is a Legacy card deck, and GW have made a big thing about the sealed envelope that signifies the hidden heart of the fortress, to be opened only after you’ve defeated four strongholds (basically a more narrative, drawn-out Combat step). Once you’ve done that, you get to open the envelope and find what was waiting for you all that time. I’ve notheard of anybody who has opened one without completing the adventure yet, so at least it has captured some people’s imagination, but this is really where any similarity to the Legacy genre ends.

It’s definitely an enjoyable game, and there are a lot of storytelling possibilities within the game, but the main roadblock for it is the same as that for Silver Tower: you’re paying £95 for a type of game that you can get for probably half that price elsewhere – and where the miniatures come pre-assembled! Unless, like me, you’re invested in the lore, and you love the look of these new miniatures, then I can imagine you’d be better off going elsewhere for your space-faring co-op adventure.

Games Workshop have recently come out to say that there will be expansions, more news of which will be coming in the new year. This is an exciting prospect, as they’re using this game as a way to explore the dark corners of the 40k universe, and based on what they’ve done with this already, I cannot wait to see where they go next with it. I hope we will see some rules to add selected pre-existing miniatures as adversary groups to the game – possibly through card expansion packs, as we only really need the Legacy cards, the Adversary stat cards, and maybe a themed mission or something to bind it all together. I’ve talked in the past how they could use this to introduce something like plastic Flayed Ones, but I don’t know if this could actually happen. However, I also hope we won’t have to wait 12 months before we see another big box for the game. I’d like to see something that basically expands the game with a smaller-scale version of the core set: a couple more explorers, with a couple more adversaries, and maybe a mission or two with the appropriate tiles, etc. It’s certainly going to be interesting to see just how much love they give this game, though!

Join me next week for another Game Day blog, where I’ll be shining the spotlight of awesome on another game from my collection!

Blackstone Fortress previews!

Oh my goodness, this game could well be epic!

So, we’ve all seen the trailer and stuff since last week, and the excitement has just been building ever since. While I was, at first, reasonably sure I’d be picking this up – hoping that it would feature more Rogue Trader models that could potentially fit in alongside the Kill Team expansion to create a more interesting warband – I’m now entirely certain, and in fact I need it in my life yesterday.

The heroes of the game I can almost take or leave. True, space pope does look hilarious, and I’m really excited for the Navigator dude, but the others are all a little bit too much of a mixed bag for me to be that interested in them. I suppose if they hadn’t gone so wide with it, and had kept it more like the Rogue Trader stuff, so players had the choice of taking on roles from among his crew, then it might have felt a bit more like a crew on an adventure into the fortress in search of riches. As it stands, it feels a little too much of an eclectic group for me to feel all that involved with them.

I do hope, though, that they follow a similar trajectory for Silver Tower, and bring out card packs for a number of different such heroes, so we can hopefully create a different lineup. Though I’m not 100% sure that could work, as the pre-existing heroes of the 40k range are all rather too combat orientated. This game feels like it needs a more mundane set of characters, though I suppose Elucia Vhane’s crew could potentially be seen in this setting… Oh, who knows?!

The adversaries are, for me, where this game is shining brightest. With these guys, it doesn’t matter that we’re seeing a mixed bag – the fact that there are so many disparate elements to this is making me think that maybe we’ll get adversary upgrades for things like Necrons or Tyranids in the future, as well! But as with Kill Team Rogue Trader before it, we’re seeing GW use these boxed games to introduce a whole host of interesting miniatures that they wouldn’t perhaps otherwise make for the tabletop game. For sure, new plastic Chaos Marines are getting a lot of people excited, and the Traitor Guard are certainly exciting me in ways I hadn’t thought possible, but we’re seeing a whole rogue’s gallery of miscreants here that I would love to see expanded upon at some point into their own Codex.

Much like Imperial Agents brought a whole host of different subsections of the Imperium under one umbrella, it’s not entirely outside the realms of possibility that we’ll see something similar for Agents of the Dark Gods, a sort of Chaos Undivided book that could bring forth elements of the Dark Mechanicus, Traitor Guard, Rogue Psykers and the like.

Of course, these sorts of games don’t always have to be the herald for a new army, and we can quite happily see miniatures for the game that have nothing to do with regular 40k. It would be nice, of course, and they do include a mini-dex in the box that has the datasheets for all of the models, but I don’t think it’s a requirement. It’s just nice to see so many different corners of the 40k universe finally realised in plastic miniature form.

What has gotten me most excited for this game, I think, is the expansion promises for the future.

Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress is the basis for a brand-new series that’ll expand your game and allow you to continue your adventures. Future expansions will contain new battles to fight, enemies to conquer and champions to choose from. You can buy Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress in the confidence that the game will be supported for a long, long time to come.

My first thought when I read this paragraph was that it feels an awful lot like Shadows of Brimstone, with a dungeon-crawl co-operative adventure game, the expansions promising new heroes and adversaries as well as new adventures. It’ll be interesting to see how they implement this, of course, and whether we can expect to see the same sort of slew of releases as for Kill Team, or else just one box every so often that includes a new play experience – much like board games of old having the big-box expansion treatment. Regardless of what I’d said earlier, I think it might be too much of a miss if we simply had re-boxed enemies to fight like Necrons or Tyranids, as I would much prefer them to keep this with a one-way relationship into regular 40k, and allowing us to use these models with the main game.

In an ideal world, I feel like we should have maybe two big-box style expansions a year, which feature new tiles and cards and adventures to play, then a couple of new adversary groups, maybe half a dozen new heroes, and all the necessary gubbins to use them in games. If we have to go for smaller scale expansions as well, then I reckon we should just stick to new adversary groups for the game, and be done with. Although I would love to see themed warbands of heroes such as the Rogue Trader crew, or maybe some kind of updated Astra Militarum group of randoms. An Inquisitorial warband would seem like a natural choice, too, though that may be the next big thing for Kill Team, so we’ll have to see. There are definitely options out there!

However, this could be a good way to look at replacing some of the awful finecast still out there with good quality plastic miniatures, for instance a new box of Necron Flayed Ones might be entirely likely to show up within a Blackstone Fortress, so why not release them for this game as part of the line-up, and then replace them in the main range over time?  I’m not super-familiar with other armies’ finecast woes, but I’m sure this could work for Flayed Ones, and potentially Dark Eldar Mandrakes also.

I am just so excited to see all of these new enemy models, it’s finally making me think of starting a Chaos army in some depth. Not Death Guard, or even Thousand Sons, but just getting some regular Traitor Guard, maybe a couple of Marines, and then just adding in these randoms like the Beastmen, the Dark Mech stuff, and some Cultists. The important thing is that it is an interesting force, so hopefully we’ll see expansions to this range that will, in time, allow it to be fielded as a fairly decent army!

But of course, this is not to do a disservice to the actual game. I’m definitely guilty of cannibalising these board games from GW and never bothering with the actual game inside. I think this is definitely one that I want to try and play for its own sake, and not get too involved with the clutter of the main tabletop game. It feels like it will be such a good experience, I just really hope that it’s the success it deserves to be!