Hellboy: The Board Game

Hellboy the board game

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

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

Hellboy the board game

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

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

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

Hellboy the board game

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

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

Hellboy the board game

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

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

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

Hellboy the board game

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

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

Hellboy the board game

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

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

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

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

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

I like it, anyway!

Hellboy the board game

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

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!