A Workshop of Games!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Star Wars thoughts

Oh my word, have you guys seen this?!

I have been in a bit of a Star Wars flunk lately, after having been burned by mediocre (or less) Star Wars novels and comics coming out from Disney. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been enjoying the new films, it just feels a bit like everything else on offer has been just stale, somehow, and uninteresting at best.

Well, I think I’ve just stumbled across the thing that will get me back among the stars, with the announcement of Star Wars: Outer Rim, from Fantasy Flight Games! It’s not a co-op game, but looks like it can be played solo, which is always an interesting point for me these days.

There’s no mention in the article of any kind of AI or beating a game engine, but rather just trying to become the best scoundrel in the galaxy. Of course, I imagine there would be some kind of way to make it enjoyable solo, though I do feel it might end up a bit like playing a deck-building game without any opponents. Certainly sounds like a fun time with more players, as you each race across the galaxy trying to gain influence and the like! Sounds a bit like the much-vaunted Firefly game, which I’ve never played but hear pretty much nothing but good things about!

It looks like an encounter-based system that should be a lot of fun, and being designed by Corey Konieczka – the man behind Eldritch Horror and Rune Age among others – I have high hopes that it will be an immersive experience as well.

My love of Star Wars has been on a definite decline recently, though, so I’m really glad there has been something like this come along to kick-start it once again. The upcoming release of the ninth installment of the main Saga hasn’t even got me this interested, though I think this has a lot to do with internet-fatigue. You know, I kinda liked how different The Last Jedi was from all the other movies, in the same way that I’ve come to appreciate the Prequels more and more for being different to the Original Trilogy. The Sequel Trilogy (are we calling it that, now?) has been markedly different, for me, and while there have been some hiccups for me along the way, nevertheless I think they’re telling an interesting story in their own way. If all of my frustrations with these sequels could be boiled down to one thing, it would be that we still haven’t really yet gone wider in the universe. I guess that’s my own problem, because the OT wasn’t particularly wide, but the EU we had for years did a very good job of filling the rest in, so it still felt like a whole universe. I suppose once we’ve had all of the plot holes filled in with Episode IX, we’ll hopefully get some novels that can go back and tell us more about Snoke, the First Order, how the Rebellion became the New Republic which became the Resistance (though I believe that is starting already). I suppose I just need to try and give it some more time.

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And now, this! #StarWars #Solo #nowReading

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I started to read Last Shot back in July last year, and had to give it up as a bad job roughly halfway through. I read a few more books, got married, and then came back to finish it in, I think, October – mainly because I hate to leave a book unfinished, even if it’s a bad book. And this, in my opinion, was a bad book. It suffered, for me, from having an author who seems determined to only use the movies as reference material, and begins to incorporate all manner of ridiculous, annoying things in here, because he doesn’t know anything else. The Ewok slicer just got on my nerves, and the Gungan prison warden in Kessel made me want to punch the book multiple times. I mean, there was just so much wrong about this book that it just annoyed me to pick it up and try to read it.

I’m not going to attempt to do a full review of it on my blog, because I’ve been trying to cast all memory of it from my mind, but suffice it to say, I did not enjoy this one, and as it happens, I’ve been pretty much away from Star Wars since. I suppose it’s just part of this burn-out, where I’ve still not really read an enjoyable SW novel since the excellent Bloodline, and the comics are so bad I’ve actually stopped buying them month after month, as I’ve only marginally found one or two interesting, at best. I’ll probably do another catch up with them at some point, but otherwise, I’ve just been feeling decidedly unimpressed with the new stuff.

In all honesty, I don’t think this has got a lot to do with my nostalgia for the old EU, either, as there was plenty there that was, shall we say, less than inspiring? But it’s a shame, because I think there has been some good stuff to come out since the Disney take-over, and for me, one of these has actually been the Solo movie. I’ve been quite disappointed with the internet reaction to this, as while there were some odd things, and some unnecessary things, overall I thought it was actually a good movie, and definitely worth its place in the movie-verse.

Details seem to be pretty scant as to what new movies we can expect from Disney post-episode 9, which I find to be quite curious. Solo was, apparently, the most expensive Star Wars movie ever made, and that it failed to make that back at the box office seems to have put the nail in the coffin – or at least, the brakes on – any further movies being developed. Maybe they’re just waiting to see how well IX does before they announce anything further? At any rate, while I’ve not been enjoying the new films anywhere near as much as I enjoyed a movie with Lucas at the helm, I’ve still been finding a lot to enjoy in these new offerings, and I think I’m over that initial fear of Star Wars-saturation. It’s been a long slog since The Force Awakens started us on this road, but I’m hopeful that, once we’re out of the communications blackout that always seems to surround making an “episode” movie, we’ll have a lot more to look forward to. And, y’know, I hope they finally go wide and let some really talented and imaginative authors explore this new universe and finally flesh it out for the fans!

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!