The grandfather

Morning everybody!
Today I’m going to make good on something I’ve been talking about, it seems, since my blog began. I’ve been looking at a lot of my favourite games over the course of this blog, a fair few of which are deck-building games. Almost par for the course, one game has been mentioned in those blogs that I have yet to get to – but no more! For today, I’m going to throw the spotlight of awesome onto Dominion.

Dominion

This is the original deck-building game – the game that has spawned so many since:
Street Fighter
Marvel Legendary
Thunderstone
DC Deck Building Game
– Ascension
Dark Gothic
Arcana
Rune Age

The list goes on and on. All of these would not have been possible without Dominion, which first saw the light of day in 2008. The game is gloriously simple – you are trying to score Victory Points, which you get through buying cards. In order to buy these cards, you’ll have to buy other cards. From your starting hand, you have to build your deck to gain the cards you need from an available pool. When either three stacks of cards in this pool have been run down, or when the highest-scoring Victory Point card stack has run down, the game is over and the player with the most VPs wins. It’s very straightforward, but it can also be very strategic, and a whole lot of fun!

Dominion

Dominion

You start the game with a basic hand of seven Copper cards and three Estate cards, so the lowest score you will ever have is 3 VPs. The strategy comes from the Kingdom cards, which are the ones that allow you to do stuff to manipulate the basic flow of the game. On your turn, you can buy one card, you can play one action card, then you have to discard any unplayed cards and draw a new hand. Action cards can allow you to do other stuff, however:

Dominion

Being able to set up chains like the above is something that I love about this game:
– You use your action to play Festival, which gives you 2 more actions, as well as allowing you to buy up to 2 cards, and gives you an extra 2 gold to use;
– You play Market, which gives you another action as well as another buy and another gold, plus allows you to draw another card (3 gold/2 buys/2 actions left);
– You then play Village, giving you 2 more actions and drawing another card (3 gold/2 buys/3 actions left);
– You then play Smithy, to draw 3 more cards (3 gold/2 buys/2 actions left);
– You then play Woodcutter, which gives you one more buy and two more gold (5 gold/3 buys/1 action left);
– Your final action is to play Workshop, which allows you to immediately gain any card from the Kingdom costing up to 4 gold (5 gold/3 buys left).

Depending what gold cards you drew in your initial hand (with this sequence, you could potentially have four additional cards in your hand with this action chain resolved), you have a lot of options now!

Dominion

The other “strategy” that seems to be popular is the Big Money idea of buying up Gold cards as soon as you can, and trashing your Coppers. The idea being that you can then have a better chance of buying Province after Province and getting a high score that way. I put the quotes there, however, because this seems like an extremely boring way of playing – aside from missing out on the depth that comes from the various action cards, it just seems really meh. The other thing to remember, of course, is that the VP cards don’t do anything for you in-game, so if you go on a buying spree like this, you run the risk of clogging up your hand with cards that you can’t do anything with.

Dominion also includes player interaction, with certain action cards being attack cards. One of these, the Witch, gives your opponents Curse cards that are worth negative VPs at the end – having a Moat can help to ward off these attacks, however.

Dominion

Player interaction isn’t really what Dominion is about in the core set, however, as you’re trying to build your own domain rather than hindering others from building theirs. Later expansions do build on this, however, with more attack cards coming. And luckily, there is a whole slew of expansions for this game!

Dominion

I’ll be taking a look at these in another blog. I was originally intending to include them all here, but each expansion introduces new mechanics that, taken together, would create something of a monster blog. However, I will mention the next box in the set, Dominion: Intrigue.

Dominion Intrigue

This is basically a second core set for the game. While the expansions focus on adding new Kingdom cards, Intrigue does this but includes all of the money and VP cards you need to provide a self-contained game. As with pretty much all of the Dominion line, the experience is very much a ‘more of the same’, however there are some differences. Intrigue introduces hybrid cards that provide VPs as well as in-game effects, as well as focusing on cards that present the player with a choice in how they are used.

Dominion

The last box I’ll look at here is the replacement basic cards.

Dominion

This box includes new art for the base cards used in the game, some of which is really very nice, I have to say! The base cards included here take in those from the entire line, so we also have stuff from Prosperity and Alchemy.

Dominion

When I first came across this, I was a bit confused as I thought it could potentially undermine the need for the base game – getting this box and one of the expansions would allow you to play the complete game. However, it’s not really cost-effective to do that, as the core box is cheaper than two combined boxes. But anyway.

Dominion is a subtle and elegant little game, with a lot to enjoy about it. While I tend to vacillate in my enjoyment of it, as I sometimes find the collection of victory points a little less than stimulating, I nevertheless appreciate it for what it is. If you’ve never played a deck-building game before, you should definitely try it. Even if you’ve played one of the other games mentioned at the beginning of this blog, you should still take a look at the grandfather of them all!

Buy it from amazon:
Dominion
Dominion: Intrigue
Dominion: Base Cards

Rune Age

Hey everybody!
Tuesday is once again game day here at spalanz.com, apologies for missing it last week! Today, therefore, I’m doing something a bit special (for me, at least), and taking a look at the first card game I ever bought for myself: Rune Age.

Rune Age

I’d played card games before, of course, but after splitting up with my ex, I’d stuck to just the one board game, Runebound. After a few weeks of indecision about investing in the Lord of the Rings LCG, I eventually decided to try a smaller card game from FFG first, thinking I’d see what they’re like and whatnot. As I love Runebound so much, Rune Age seemed like the logical choice so, taking the plunge, I bought a copy. I still remember sitting down, having set up the cards as described by the manual, and feeling a little nonplussed by how to start. However, that didn’t last long, and away I went! The game was fantastic, and the rest is history!

Rune Age is a deck-building game from Fantasy Flight Games, designed by Corey Konieczka, who is, at the time of writing, the Executive Game Designer at FFG. Set in Terrinoth, the same universe as Runebound, the game is in what I have been referring to lately as Stage 2 of the company’s Terrinoth games, the post-Runewars phase. In case you don’t know, Runebound and Descent (1st edition) were set in the universe, where heroes battled monsters as they went up against various threats, such as Vorakesh and High Lord Margath. Runewars came out at the end of 2009 and changed the world significantly – while there were still heroes, the predominant feel was now of warring factions, as the game universe was blended with that of Battlemist, a game from the late 1990s that was somewhat derivative of Warhammer/D&D. Battlemist was designed by FFG’s CEO Christian Peterson, so it’s perhaps understandable that he would want to reintroduce some of his earlier ideas into his current games line-up. Runewars brought four factions to the table: the Daqan Lords, the Latari Elves, Waiqar the Undying, and the Uthuk Y’llan (each one derivative of the Empire, High Elves, Vampire Counts and Chaos Daemons from Warhammer, respectively).

Rune Age came out in mid-2011, and translated much of the sprawling wargame of Runewars into card-game form. The same four factions were featured, using the same four unit types in each, and the card game even included one scenario called Runewars. The choice of a deck-building game is perhaps a little odd, but overall the format really works well. Looking back, I’m still really impressed with it, and would say it’s one of the best non-collectible card games that I own.

So what’s it all about?

Players take command of one of the four fantasy races and compete in one of four scenarios while building their deck. Unlike, say, DC or Street Fighter, where the goal is to acquire victory points – and, even, unlike Thunderstone, where you build your deck to delve into a dungeon, but you’re still competing for victory points – Rune Age has different victory conditions depending on which scenario you play. It’s this aspect that makes it truly a breed apart from the other deck builders out there, and really makes the game fresh each time you come to it.

If you didn’t want to watch the video, or you just like to read my rambling discourse, then continue!

Rune Age

Each of the four scenarios is different, ranging from all-out war to fully co-operative. Each one also uses different cards from which the players build their decks, leading to different gaming experiences in each scenario. So let’s have a look at each one.

Rise of the Dragonlords

Rune Age

This scenario should be familiar to anyone who has played the base game of Runebound. Players are trying to defeat the dragonlords as they appear, including Kalladra (of DungeonQuest fame) and Margath himself, before defeating one final card, the scenario objective itself. The dragonlord cards can give you bonuses when you come up against the final objective, so that you stand a better chance, and the person who does so is declared the winner. I play most of my Rune Age solo, and this scenario is fine for that, as you’re fighting the event deck itself.

Runewars

Rune Age

This is an all-out war scenario, and Runewars fans will no doubt appreciate the nods to the wargame here and there. Basically, players are fighting each other, besieging each others’ home realms and friendly cities, in order to eliminate each other from the game, with the last faction standing declared the winner. At the outset, the players receive one random Dragon Rune card each (the two cards at the bottom-left and -right of the above picture), which provide varying bonuses to the players throughout the game. When you eliminate a player, you also take control of his Dragon Rune, and you can use it instead of your own. I haven’t played this much, as I’m not a big fan of player elimination games like this. Plus, if I want to play Runewars, well, I’d play Runewars!

The Monument

Rune Age

Another race game, in The Monument the players are trying to build their faction’s beacon of power. As you can see in the picture above, each faction has a unique Monument card that has a gold cost in the bottom-right corner. The object of the game is to get enough money that you can build your monument with one hand of cards before your opponents do. The “evil” factions seem to have the upper hand here, as their monuments are cheaper than the “good” factions. There is less player interaction than in Runewars, with each player trying to gain enough gold while the event deck itself messes with everyone. While some cards will provide gold bonuses, much like the dragonlords in the earlier scenario, there are also cards that force the discard of gold-providing cards throughout the game. I quite like this scenario, as it has the right amount of competitive play for me. And, as you’re trying to build your monument while the event deck tries to stop you, it also works reasonably well solo.

The Cataclysm

Rune Age

And finally, we have a fully co-operative scenario. Again, fans of Runebound will no doubt be pleased to see this one, which utilises a similar mechanic to The Cataclysm adventure variant to that game. While in previous scenarios the players have been fighting against the event deck to varying degrees, here the event deck is really out to get you. The object of the game is basically to survive against it, and if the players manage this, they all win – however, if anyone is eliminated, the players as a whole lose. Now, I really liked the Runebound adventure, and I do quite like this one, too – however, I must say that this scenario can be brutal if you’re not focused on it. I’ve played it a few times, but I believe I’ve only managed to outlast it twice. Really good one, this one!

As I said before, each scenario brings with it its own cards. Now, players obviously have their own ‘barracks’ of cards to buy that make up their particular faction, but there are also neutral cards for purchase, which can often really help you. These cards are divided into two types, units and tactics:

The unit cards are similar to the unit cards in each faction’s barracks, but the tactics cards are similar to event cards in other card games, providing a one-time benefit when played. As you can see, each card has an icon in the bottom-left corner, which denotes to which scenario it belongs; the scenario objective cards show these icons on their reverse, allowing you to build up the central play area for each scenario. This is a really impressive way of going about things, I feel, and one of the ways the game is kept fresh each time. The only other game I’ve played that comes close to this is Thunderstone, but without any specific rules, that game all becomes a little random.

Anyway. The other feature that is available in the central play area, besides the money cards, are the Neutral Cities. These correspond to the eight Free Cities on the original Runebound board, and a proportionate number of them are available for each game at random. They provide bonuses for the players, but they must first be won! They also have some of the best artwork in the entire game:

Rune Age

This brings me on to the currency of the game, something that I also really like about it. Gold is obviously a currency, but you also have Strength, denoted by a shield icon, and Influence, denoted by a jewel icon (that last also a nod to Runewars). A card’s cost is displayed in the bottom-right corner, and the bonus it provides is shown in the top-left. This used to confuse me no end, and indeed, whenever I introduce new people to the game, it confuses them, as well, because most people (myself included) automatically assume the cost is in the top-left. Anyway, it’s a small point, but still. The city cards shown above also have a number below their Influence value, which is their auto-defense bonus. I’ll get onto that shortly.

Rune Age

We’re ready to begin!

As is usual with deck-building games, players begin with some money and some comparatively weak-powered cards, and try to refine their deck as they go. Usually, it’s rare that you can take on one of the enemy cards within the first couple of rounds, as you’re mainly building up your deck. Players can, however, use their low-powered units to build up their home realm by buying Stronghold cards (shown in the bottom left of the above picture), which have a Gold and a Strength cost. These cards provide Influence, which is used to buy the neutral cards in the centre, either units, tactics or gold. Influence is also used to keep cards in your hand – ordinarily, players discard their hand and draw back up to 5 cards at the end of their turn, but if you have a particularly useful card, you can exhaust an Influence card to keep it in your hand.

When you go up against an Enemy card, you play your units down and compare the strength of your army with that of the Enemy. Some Enemies will force you to roll the attrition die, which will possibly subtract strength from your army depending on how many skulls you roll. If you equal or exceed the Enemy’s Strength, you defeat it, and either claim it as a Reward, or else place it in the discard pile.

Rune Age

Unit cards have various effects that often lead to some wonderful synergy, and my favourite faction to play for this is the Uthuk Y’llan. Above, you can see that my total army Strength is 13; however, I have also played the Battle Cry tactics card, which adds 1 Strength to each unit in my army. 17 is still not enough to go against the Rise of the Dragonlords objective itself, but this is where the synergy comes in – my Chaos Lord has an ability that lets me wound one participating unit, which I have used on my Berserker (hence he’s slanted a bit), whose own ability allows me to add 2 Strength to that unit, giving me 19 in total. I rolled one skull on the attrition die, which leaves me with 18, meaning I have defeated the objective and won the game!

The mechanic of wounding cards reflects the bloodthirsty nature of the faction. It basically means, at the end of the combat, that card is ‘destroyed’ – put back where it came from, either the barracks or the central play area – rather than discarded.

In addition to attacking the event cards, players can attack each other throughout the game by conducting sieges. When doing this, the besieging player declares his target and lays out his army, while the defending player lays out his. If the besieger is going after one of the Neutral Cities, that card’s auto-defense bonus is added to the defending player before the siege is resolved and, if the siege is successful, the city changes hands. If the besieger is attacking a player’s Home Realm, however, he deals as much damage to that Realm as the defending player didn’t block – all Home Realms can take up to 20 damage before that player is eliminated.

Rune Age

I’ve had a lot of fun with Rune Age, but was overjoyed when, in April 2012, an expansion was announced for the game: Oath and Anvil.

Rune Age: Oath and Anvil

This expansion offers a whole host of awesomeness to the original base game. Foremost among this are two new factions, and two new scenarios.

 

The scenarios reflect what I have now taken to calling Stage 3 of the Terrinoth games, which coincided with the release of Descent 2nd Edition, which was released shortly before Oath and Anvil. One of the scenarios, Ascent of the Overlord, is basically the game of Descent brought under the Rune Age formula. One player is the Overlord, against whom at least two Allied players are fighting. The Overlord is trying to eliminate these players, with help from the event deck, which provides a series of boons to him that the Allied players will need to work towards to defeat.

Rune Age: Oath and Anvil

The second scenario is called The Quest for Power, which replaces the Neutral Cities from the base game with eight Landmark cards, including such notable places as the Obsidian Library (as seen in Runebound: Island of Dread), as well as the Empyreal Vale, the home of the Latari Elves. The scenario is called “complex” by the rules sheet, but isn’t really all that difficult to grasp. Players are competing for Power in a similar way to competing for Gold in The Monument scenario. Power is represented by an icon on each Landmark card, and players collect this Power on their Home Realm in the shape of damage tokens. Players receive Power tokens at the start of their turn equal to the Power provided by the Landmarks he controls. Players can besiege each other and either steal the Landmark or steal 2 Power tokens, and the first person to 20 Power wins. Marvellous!

 

The Quest for Power is definitely my favourite of the new scenarios, as I enjoy the jockeying for Power than results from the game. It’s also somewhat less confrontational as, while you are besieging other players, you’re not trying to eliminate them in the same way as you are in Runewars, so for me this is an improvement on that earlier scenario.

Rune Age: Oath and Anvil comes with an absolute slew of cards, however. Obviously, both the new scenarios also come with new neutral cards you can buy:

Rune Age: Oath and Anvil

There is also a new group of cards called Mercenary cards, which I was really excited about when I first read about them. Basically more neutral cards, these guys can be added to any scenario following a nicely-executed system. Where the scenario icons are located on the usual neutral cards, mercenaries have a wax seal with I or II in it – you take two different I cards, and one II card, and add them to the set-up along with the scenario specific cards.

Rune Age: Oath and Anvil

Most of the mercenary cards tend towards player-vs-player play, so as I play mostly solo I don’t get an awful lot of use out of these guys, but there are nevertheless some really good cards here, and the entire mercenary mechanic is something that I really like. As you can see, with cards like the Flesh Moulder and the Shadow Dragon, we’re seeing a lot more of Descent in this game than ever before.

Finally, but by no means the least, Oath and Anvil gives the core set factions and scenarios new cards. You may have noticed that the two new races have six unit cards rather than four? Well, with two new units apiece, the core races aren’t forgotten:

Rune Age: Oath and Anvil

Oath and Anvil introduces a new unit type, Mythic units. These Mythic units are represented by a golden shield in the top-left corner, and are extremely powerful members of your faction’s army. In addition to their effects, Mythic units are discarded when they are destroyed, meaning you only have to buy them once (which is a good thing, considering their price!). Something that I thought quite interesting at the time was that the new units introduced in this expansion corresponded to the Runewars expansion Banners of War, which was released shortly after the core set for Rune Age. The new scenario cards are a nice feature, as you can often cycle through these cards quite a lot, depending on how well the game is going, so it’s nice to introduce some fresh blood like that. (There is also the option of playing Rise of the Dragonlords fully co-operative with a variant introduced here).

Rune Age: Oath and Anvil is, quite simply, a required purchase for any fan of the base game. The vastly increased gameplay options presented by the box contents can lead to even more hours of fun, and I can highly recommend getting it if you haven’t already. The new races have a wonderful, distinctive feel to them, and the new scenarios add a nice twist to the whole.

Rune Age

I’ve often seen Rune Age in comparison with the other Terrinoth games from FFG. When it was released, it was highly comparable to Runewars while retaining strong links to Runebound (which wasn’t as dead back then as it is now). Oath and Anvil has brought a big portion of Descent into the game, while retaining the original feel. While Descent remains at the forefront of FFG’s Terrinoth line-up, the recent news from GenCon that we’ll be seeing more for Battlelore has got me wondering whether there will be a move to integrate Rune Age more fully with that game. There are already strong ties, of course, but those are more by accident than design, as Battlelore drew as strongly on Runewars as Rune Age itself originally did. Whether there will be further integration when we see the new Battlelore stuff will, I suppose, remain to be seen.

Indeed, it’ll be interesting to see if there’ll be anything new coming for Rune Age. Christian Peterson did say at this year’s In-Flight Report that, unless they categorically say so, no game on the FFG roster is actually abandoned or dead. I have previously contacted the company suggesting the use of Print on Demand for new scenarios, rather than generating a whole new box of material, but while they thanked me for my input, nothing has yet appeared. We’ll see what happens next year I suppose, when Battlelore has had its new stuff.

Until then, get yourself a copy of this game, and bask in its excellence!

Buy it from amazon:
Rune Age
Rune Age: Oath and Anvil

More Legendary!

Hey folks, welcome back!
After a short break, I’m here again with the second in my two-part look at the Marvel Legendary deck-building game, Legendary: Villains! You can read about the first game in the series here!

Marvel Legendary: Villains

Legendary: Villains was released earlier this month and eventually made its way into the UK market last week. It follows almost exactly the same basic premise as the original Marvel: Legendary deck-building game, but with a couple of twists around the Villains theme, along with some more mechanics and stuff. It’s not really an expansion as such, as it’s more a “new” core set, but completely interchangeable with the earlier game.

I had my first game with Villains this weekend, and it was pretty awesome, I don’t mind telling you! But so far, this is the only game I’ve had, so this will be much more of a ‘first impressions’ blog than any sort of review. Once I have some more games under my belt, I think I’ll come back here and add in some more thoughts; then, once I’ve had a full-on game with heroes and villains combined, I’ll be straight back here with more!

So yeah. The basic premise is that you’re playing the Villains of the Marvel universe, and you’re fighting against the heroes and their Plot to disrupt your schemes. In the same way that you start the first game with S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and buy up heroes to take on the villains and, eventually, the Mastermind, in Marvel Legendary: Villains, you start with Hydra agents to help you buy villains so that you may take on adversaries and, eventually, the Commander.

Marvel Legendary: Villains

As you can see above, the game comes with a new playmat. This time, the board is replaced by a light rubber mat that rolls up into the box but unfurls beautifully for play! I kinda want one for the original game now…

Right out of the box, there are some truly lovely themes present. My favourite is the Bindings idea. Analogous to Wounds, the Bindings can be disposed of into the deck of the player to your right, rather than KO’d, in a mechanic called Betrayal, reflecting the back-stabbing nature of villain coalitions! Secondly, the adversaries are – or have been – part of the X-Men have a tactic called X-treme Attack, which reflects the team-up nature of the heroes. Hopefully as this game is expanded, we’ll see more of that!

Marvel Legendary: Villains

The villains are a pretty classic line-up, featuring a cross-section of the comics including members of the Sinister Six, Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Foes of Asgard, and the unaffiliated Ultron. Two of the Masterminds in the original game return here as playable villains, Magneto and Loki, but you can also play as the Kingpin, Mystique or Electro, among others.

The adversaries are likewise a good selection of the various teams, including Marvel Knights (Black Panther at last!), Uncanny X-Men, Avengers and Spider-Friends.

Marvel Legendary: VillainsIf nothing else, I’ve suddenly become really excited at the thought of seeing hero versions of some of these guys in the upcoming expansions for the original game!

A new mechanic for the Villains game is the New Recruits. Chump cards like the Hydra agents, New Recruits are gained through a variety of card effects rather than purchased outright, and when played they are immediately returned to the pile rather than kept in circulation through your deck, representative of the negligent way that villains deal with their chaff soldiers. At first I was a bit perplexed by these guys, as there are 15 cards in the deck, but I was only gaining one or two at most. Then suddenly the combos started to kick in as I trimmed out the Hydra folks, and I found myself with five or six, which eventually combined with the other effects in my deck to give me something ridiculous like 22 attack points! Really pretty amazing when things like that happen!

Marvel Legendary: Villains

The Commanders are all classic team-leaders from the comics, three of which have already made it into Marvel Legendary at the time of this writing. In the game I played at the weekend, I went up against Odin, who always leads the Asgardian Warriors, and has a tremendous effect whenever a Command Strike (Master Strikes in the original game) are revealed.

That brings me on to another cool twist this game has. In the original game, the villains are revealed from the deck and move across the board as they attempt to flee the city; at game-end, for every escaped villain, the players lose a victory point in final scoring. In this game, however, the adversaries are revealed from the deck and move across the board as they attempt to smash their way into the villains’ Lair. The five city spaces are reversed here, so while the villains are escaping from the sewers through the bank, onto the rooftops, into the streets, then over the bridge and out of the city, in Villains the adversaries are doing the reverse. Once they smash into the Lair, they enter the Overrun pile and affect final scoring in the same way as the original villains. However, adversaries who smash into the Lair also force you to discard one of the villains in the Lair as they work to defeat you! It’s little things like this that make me enjoy the game all the more!

I really enjoyed Villains. It plays almost exactly like the original Legendary, but with enough little twists to feel like a completely new game. It also has the benefit of being the fifth product in the line so far, so there has been quite a lot of development put in since the original game came out. As such, it’s a really nice, nuanced game while still remaining accessible to new folks. It’s a bit of a silly point to make, as well, but the game succeeded at its basic level of allowing you to play as villains and making you feel like you’re playing villains. It’s not simply a reversal of the original game, “for villains read adversaries” and such, but instead a really elegant game appears through the card effects and, indeed, the actual gameplay. If you thought you wouldn’t buy this because you prefer to play the heroes, I would still recommend it for the truly original take on the Legendary game.

So yeah, another awesome entry into the Marvel Legendary line-up, and one that I’m looking forward to checking out more as the weeks march on. And, as promised above, when I get that awesome smash-up of Heroes and Villains working together, I’ll be sure to let you guys know how it goes! I’m thinking Galactus would be the best Mastermind to go up against…

Have you had a game with Marvel Legendary: Villains yet? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Legendary!

Hey everybody!
Time for some games-talk. Because I don’t talk about games enough, as you know. Today I’m going to talk about a couple of related deck-building games, so get prepared for a two-parter as I present: Marvel Legendary!

Marvel Legendary

From the good folks of Upper Deck (with decades of experience in the trading-card business), Marvel Legendary came out in 2012 to what was a phenomenal response from the gaming community. With the launch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the IP had arguably never been so hot, particularly after Joss Whedon’s first Avengers film had been released earlier that year. To have a game that used this world would be an incredible boon to any business’ share price, but the success of the Upper Deck card game effectively gave them a licence to print money. From what I have seen, enthusiasm among the gaming community has remained at a near-constant high ever since, culminating in the recent release of a companion game, Legendary: Villains. I’ll talk about that in the second part of this blog, however.

I’m not going to go into any great depth over the theme of this game, as I imagine the superheroes from the Marvel stable have entered into the collective consciousness of the world sufficiently that people like Spider-Man, Captain America, Wolverine and Hulk are all pretty much staples of pop culture.

Marvel Legendary

The basic premise is pretty much the same as the other deck-building card games that I have previously mentioned on my blog, Street Fighter and Dark Gothic. There are one or two subtle differences, though, which make Marvel Legendary a much stronger game in my opinion. While the players aim to build a deck to defeat the evil Mastermind much as happens in Dark Gothic, there is a Scheme that the Mastermind has put into place that the players are trying to foil, and sometimes victory isn’t down to simply defeating the big bad. In addition, there are a number of villain groups that the heroes must fight, all of which are tied quite strongly to a particular theme (Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Spider-Foes, etc). Each Mastermind has a specific group of villains he always leads, for example Magneto and the Brotherhood, and it’s touches like these that really make the game stand out.

 

Of course, the Marvel Universe has had a whole host of team-ups in virtually every combination imaginable, so when you select which heroes and which villains will be playing in the game, it promotes a creative side to come out and explain what’s going on!

Marvel Legendary

You start the game, as expected, with a deck of basic cards, which allow you to buy stuff as well as fight stuff, though at the beginning you often can’t really fight anything unless you’re lucky. The villains (in the green sleeves above) emerge from the deck and, as the game moves along, they move across the board from right to left, trying to escape the city. It’s up to the heroes to prevent that, as any escaped villains at the end of the game will cost you victory points. Also within the villains deck are scheme twists and masterstrikes. The effect of scheme twists varies depending on which Scheme you’re playing (the scheme card is above the Mastermind, on the left), and the masterstrikes vary depending on which Mastermind you face.

Marvel Legendary

The heroes you can buy all have different effects, some can allow you to buy better cards and some will allow you to attack more powerful villains. When you’ve eventually got enough attack strength, you can fight the Mastermind. There are four cards underneath the top Mastermind card, and the players need to defeat each one before the Final Showdown happens, where you have the opportunity to defeat the Mastermind once and for all! (That’s actually an optional rule, but I like it so much I usually always play with it).

Marvel Legendary

The villains all do different stuff, much like the heroes, most often when you fight them. Some villains have an “Escape” effect, which only takes place if the villain is pushed out of the Bridge space on the left of the board. Others have an “Ambush” effect, which takes place when they are revealed. Either way, if you defeat a villain, it goes into your Victory Pile, and at the end of the game, the points in the red circle on the right of the villain cards are added up, with the victor being the person with the most.

It’s a really nice game – fairly straightforward if you know deck-builders, hugely satisfying as a game as well as having the deck-building aspect to it. People who are Marvel fans will enjoy it (at least, the Marvel fans I’ve introduced it to have!), and generally speaking, it’s worth the space in any game collection.

There have been three expansions for the game so far: one big-box expansion, Dark City, that brought slew of X-Men and Marvel Knights into the game (DareDevil! Yay!) as well as adding some new mechanics; and two small-box expansions for Fantastic Four (Galactus!) and Spider-Man. I believe another small-box expansion is on the horizon for Guardians of the Galaxy, which will tie in with the movie that’s due for release next month (though the game expansion is likely due around October).

Most recently, however, they’ve released a sort of companion game, Marvel Legendary: Villains, which forms the subject of my next blog

Dark Gothic

Hey everybody!
It’s Wednesday, but it’s also a game day here for spalanz.com, as today I took possession of Dark Gothic, the new deck-building game from Flying Frog Productions! A pre-order from way back when, I’m quite excited to finally have it in my grubby little hands! So to confuse you all by posting a game blog on a non-game-day, here we go!

I’ve mentioned deck-building games before, of course. The basic idea is to make your deck as you play the game, rather than make a deck of cards with which to then play a game. There are now loads and loads of deck-builders on the market, the most popular, I presume, being Dominion. I have quite a few in my own games collection, so that always begs the question of why add yet another? Well, my friends, there are two reasons why Dark Gothic has made it into my collection:
1) I love games! and
2) It’s Flying Frog! Their games are downright awesome!

Dark Gothic

So. Is it like Dominion? Is it like DC/Street Fighter? Is it like Marvel Legendary? Is it like Ascension? Is it like Thunderstone?

Well, the answer is more yes than no, of course. It’s basically what you would expect from a deck building game in the manner of DC or Street Fighter (caveat: I have never played Ascension, so it could be like that, too). You play a monster-hunting hero trying to rid the countryside around Shadowbrook of supernatural evil monsters. You have a starting deck of cards, and on your turn you can buy cards from the line-up if you can afford them. These cards will allow you to improve your starting deck so that you can go up against the monsters. Once three monsters have been defeated, the game is over, and the hero with the greatest amount of investigation (victory points) is crowned the top monster hunter. That’s pretty much it!

Dark Gothic

In case you haven’t realised by now, the game is set in the same universe as the company’s A Touch of Evil, so re-uses a lot of the photo artwork on the cards. We also see familiar faces in the heroes, who come from across the boardgame’s line of expansions:

Dark Gothic

The main deck is made up of gear, location, ally, event and minion cards, which should also be familiar to fans of the boardgame:

Dark Gothic

The villains of the game, however, have pencil drawings for their cards:

Dark Gothic

All of the cards are sourced from right across the run of expansions for A Touch of Evil, though there were one or two intriguing points that made me sit up and pay attention. First of all, there is a completely new villain, the Creeping Terror (villain card is on the left of the above picture) who does not have a place in AToE (yet!) but does appear to be based on an enemy from the upcoming Shadows of Brimstone. Also of note is the hero version of Charlotte Dubois, who is an ally in The Coast – perhaps we’re seeing a preview for a Hero Pack 3..? I really hope we haven’t seen the end of the AToE game line, anyway!

This is really part of the appeal of this game for me: I am a huge fan of A Touch of Evil, so it was really cool for me to see the cards for all the different stuff that I’ve come to know and love being reused in this game. Especially things like the event cards, such as The Hour Is Late, shown earlier. Whether this will diminish my enjoyment of the game as I get used to seeing the cards in their new incarnation, I don’t know. But it was an aspect that I really enjoyed for now, at any rate!

There is a fairly simple charm to a lot of deck-building games, and Dark Gothic doesn’t disappoint in this regard. It’s a fairly straightforward game, and I would probably say that if you are familiar with any of the aforementioned games, you can pretty much wade straight into this one without feeling all at sea. Indeed, if you’re familiar with DC/Street Fighter, you can pretty much give the rulebook nothing more than a cursory glance!

On the subject of the rulebook, however, I do have one minor gripe: it wasn’t all that obvious just how to buy cards/fight enemies. You’ll notice that the cards from the main deck have icons along their left side, as well as icons along the bottom? Those on the left are the card’s cost, and those on the bottom are the effect the card grants. However, I wasn’t sure at first if I had to meet every cost requirement or could in fact choose which one to pay. I think I’ve settled on meeting every cost, as otherwise the main villains would be far too easy to beat! It’s also not entirely clear how the Shadows mechanic works, but when you sit down to play the game you realise – as with the Shadow Track in the boardgame – game effects cause cards to be placed into Shadows, it’s the sort of thing you just have to play the game and discover for yourself.

But all of that aside, it’s still a very enjoyable game, especially if you’re a fan of the board game but don’t have the time/energy to get all those bits out. (My initial, one-player game with Dark Gothic to investigate the rules was actually over in 15 minutes!) There’s a thread over at boardgamegeek.com that perhaps sums up a lot of my own thoughts about the game, however I would cast them in a more positive light. While Dark Gothic certainly isn’t about to shake-up the deck-building world, I think the similar feel to others already on the market lowers the bar to entry significantly, meaning that you can pretty much pick up the game and play. A lot of games nowadays have essentially similar mechanics, but try to distinguish themselves with all sorts of weird and wonderful rules-twists, but sometimes that isn’t necessary for a good game.

So far, there has been a vague announcement for an expansion: The Forgotten Island Game Supplement, which I’m guessing is based off the island in Something Wicked. Not sure whether that will prove to be the model for future additions or whether a more big-box approach will be taken. But then, nobody seems to know anything more about this supplement beyond its name! (I have sent the company an email, and any news will be posted here forthwith!) For pre-orders, a promo villain was made available, essentially the Delion Dryad web-villain from the board game. I assume that she’ll also be available from the FFP store soon enough, anyway.

Dark Gothic

Dark Gothic is true to the Flying Frog credo of good games that allow players to just enjoy themselves, and I’m definitely looking forward to playing more of this as time goes on!

Buy it from amazon:
A Touch of Evil: Dark Gothic

Dark Gothic

Street Fighter!

Street Fighter deck-building game
Street Fighter deck-building game

Well, good people of the internet, it’s finally here! It’s nearly two months since I nearly burst several blood vessels in my excitement over the discovery of a Street Fighter card game, and lo! it has finally arrived in my hot little hands this very day! Oh, I am very excited! The game is published by Cryptozoic, who have done quite a few deck-builders now, including the popular DC game, and 3012, one of their early efforts that I feel is greatly overlooked.

A deck-building game? I hear you cry. Well, yes – a card game where you basically build your deck as you play the game. I think it was Dominion that started the trend, and my own game collection includes quite a few of these, such as Thunderstone and Marvel Legendary. Each game is broadly the same principle – you start off with a basic hand of cards, which you use to buy better cards, and thus the game moves on. There are often many twists, as it can otherwise be a pretty boring thing (one of the biggest criticisms of Dominion, from what I’ve heard). Thunderstone, for example, involves some dungeon-delving, and both the DC and Marvel games involve powering-up your deck in order to take on super villains and win the game. While there are very few games that I could say I dislike, the whole deck-building genre is something that I can usually take or leave.

However, Street Fighter!

As a kid, I was never all that into video games, but Street Fighter was one of these cult events that I can always make an exception for! Not that I played it that much, but still, it was a part of my childhood that I fondly remember – ahhh! The Street Fighter card game was therefore an insta-buy for me, and when I got home this afternoon to find it waiting on my doormat, oh, the joy begins!

Gameplay set-up
Gameplay set-up

The game is played very similar to the DC game, as both use the ‘Cerberus Engine’ (a game engine is just another name for the mechanics). You have a starting hand of fairly weak cards, with additional cards available to purchase, some (like the Kick cards) are in a stack to the side and available until that stack runs out; the rest form the ‘main deck’, and comprise Heroes, Villains, Equipment and Superpowers. Unlike in DC, Location cards form a ‘Stage’ deck, also to the side. This deck effectively replaces the Super Villains in the DC game, and acts as a sort of timer, that tracks the game’s progress. There are 14 oversized Super Hero cards, as in DC, but the neat little twist here is that, once the players have chosen their Super Hero for the game, the remainder act as ‘Stage Bosses’, which you must defeat in order to gain the current Location in the Stage deck – when the Stage deck runs out, the game is over. Also unlike DC, the Super Heroes don’t have a printed ability to use throughout the game, but instead a ‘Counter Attack’, which is resolved when you’re defeating the Super Hero in its Stage Boss appearance (and is analogous to the First Appearance – Attack that the DC Super Villains have). I thought that was pretty cool, anyway! Each location corresponds to a level in the video game, and the card art uses the same graphics that the video game used for the backdrop to the fighting. Nice!

Street Fighter deck building game

While the Super Heroes don’t have any printed abilities of their own, there is a new type of card added to this game, ‘Ultra’ cards. These are similar to the characters’ special moves in the video game, and at the beginning of the game are placed under the Super Hero card. As the game progresses, you have the option of buying the Ultra card as you would a card from the main deck lineup. Some cards in the main deck have either attacks, which allow you to attack other players, or defense, which allows you to defend against attacks from other players or from the Stage Bosses. Ultra cards, however, have both attacks and defenses, and can be used for either purpose.

At the end of the game, you total the amount of victory points you have (starter cards are worth 0, and weakness cards are worth -1; all other cards are worth at least one point, and some have special conditions that increase their worth depending on the amount of specific types of cards you have), and the person with the most points is declared the winner. It’s really that simple!

I do enjoy the DC game, and have frequently played it solo to try to get the best possible score, or to defeat the Super Villains in a set amount of turns. Most deck building games can be played in this way, though very few are all that satisfying. Street Fighter, however, begs to be played with more players, due to the amount of attack cards.

I was always a fan of Vega
I was always a fan of Vega

I do love Street Fighter. I tried this game out solo earlier today to get a feel for it, and that level of interactivity was something that was definitely missing from the game. However, I can definitely see how this game would be awesome with more players!


Street Fighter Blanka promo

But let’s talk about promo cards for a minute. Many companies produce promo cards to promote their games at organized play events, and Cryptozoic is one of them. However, while that is a very noble cause, and a wonderful idea, promo cards often become so sought-after that it can become a serious problem. And Cryptozoic promo cards are some of the very worst for this. For the DC game, they produced a promo Super Hero, Martian Manhunter. I don’t go to game events, as I can’t justify the travel expenses. So instead I spent more money buying the promo card on the aftermarket than I had done on the game itself. An expansion for DC was released this year, Heroes Unite, which has two promos associated with it. I was one of the lucky ones to get my copy shipped with one, but spent as much as I’d spent on the game buying the second promo card. It becomes an untenable situation, and one that has, time and again, made me question whether I can continue to support the publisher’s games.

See, I’m an obsessive completist, as many gamers are, and cannot abide to think of having an ‘incomplete’ game. And this is where the problem lies. One of my favourite publishers, Flying Frog Productions, insist that they would never produce a promo that altered the gameplay of any of their products, so have produced maybe a handful that are strictly alternate-art cards for their games, which often ship with their web-exclusive mini expansions. I have no problem in supporting a company by buying their content directly from them, especially if I’m going to get a nice little promo into the bargain! My favourite publisher, Fantasy Flight Games, produce alternate cards as promos for game events, but never produce actual promo cards. And this is how it should be, in my view. Promo cards should not be additional content, but variants to the main game. Yes, you can play DC without Martian Manhunter, but that doesn’t stop the fact that there are more heroes out there that you can play with if you’re willing to part with the money. You can play Street Fighter without Blanka, but that doesn’t stop the fact that he’s out there, and can be yours for more than the price of the actual base game itself.

It’s time game companies stopped supporting this shady aftermarket by producing what are essentially mini expansions as promo material. Anything game-changing deserves to have a wider audience than just for those with wallets big enough to pay the exorbitant prices eBay sellers charge. Take a stand with me!

(Yes, I’ve purposefully stayed away from mentioning Wizards of the Coast, who are perhaps the very worst offenders for promos. All I will say on this subject is – thank goodness the Star Wars game license no longer resides with them!)

But enough of my rant. I’m off to write some more essay. I’ll end with a quote from a favourite web personality of mine: Until next time – play more games!

 

Street Fighter deck building game
Enjoy a bit of Chun-Li!