Alchemy in the Hinterlands

Hey everybody!
It’s about time I wrapped up that look at the Dominion expansions I started back in July last year, don’t you think? It’s been on my mind, anyway, so let’s get to it – starting with some Alchemy! (If you haven’t already, make sure to read my blogs on the Base Game and first Expansions!)

Alchemy was the first small-box expansion for the game back in 2010, and introduces a new resource to the game: Potions. Potions cost 4 gold, and come into play when you’re looking to buy some of the particularly powerful cards that form a strategy of top-deck manipulation. There’s also the new victory card Vineyard, which is worth VPs for each 3 action cards in your deck at game end, which can be particularly good for rewarding you for getting cards you need to play the game anyway. However, you don’t want to go buying up all the Potions cards as you would the big money cards, as you still need the gold to make them work for you. It’s an interesting expansion, though probably not one you want to mix in with other expansions.

Hinterlands is another interesting expansion, though a curious one, at that. I once read a review that called it “the Dominion players’ expansion”, which fits quite well, really. There is a broad theme of orientalism in the box, though in terms of mechanics, it’s just filled with interesting cards that bring about some interesting gameplay decisions. There’s no over-arching strategy to speak of, you just get more of the same but in a sort of niche way – it’s the sort of expansion you’ll want if you already own several expansions, but not if you’re looking to get your first. Ironically, Hinterlands was actually my first expansion for the game, bought primarily because I was interested in that orient flavour.

Dominion Dark Ages

Dark Ages is something of a behemoth expansion. The most card-heavy non-base-game product in the line, it has 500 cards for you to enjoy whole new ways of playing the game. Let’s take a look…

Dark Ages professes to be all about the trash, and all about the upgrade. Rather than Estates, players start with the Shelter cards in their hand, which provide you with bonuses when you trash them, allowing you to do stuff right off the bat. There are two cards that allow you to gain new cards when trashed, Urchin (to gain a Mercenary), and Hermit (to gain a Madman). These new cards can be quite powerful, but won’t stay with you for long. There are also Rats cards that can overrun your hand, which I find quite thematic!

A lot of the cards in Dark Ages have a sort of dingy, “used-up” feel to them. In a sense, this is the antithesis of Prosperity, where everything is new and shiny and expensive. It’s quite a nice feeling, in a weird kinda way! This is nowhere more plainly seen than in the Ruins cards – five sets of ten different cards that evoke earlier versions, such as Ruined Market or Ruined Library. These cards have a 0 cost but are generally not as good as other cards on offer. But at least they will allow you to get something you can later use if you’re running short of money. Continuing the theme of trash-interaction, there are cards that directly work off the trash pile, including the Rogue, which actually allows you to take a card from there. Some very interesting concepts and ideas available here, anyway! I actually found it took some getting used to this one, and would probably recommend playing some of the others first.

Finally, we have Guilds. Released back in 2013, at the time this was said to be the final expansion to the Dominion game line. It’s another that comes with metal coin tokens (shiny!), and features a new mechanic around overpaying for stuff. The coin tokens are therefore used to facilitate overpaying to gain maximum effect without spamming your deck with gold cards. A lot of positivity came out of this box, largely due to the theme of overpaying and such. Because you will likely go through the game gaining a lot of gold, it’s also one that combos well with Prosperity and all those big money shenanigans. A wonderful addition, at any rate!

As a postscript, let’s talk briefly about the new Adventures game that came out earlier this year. Some new card types come in the shape of Event cards, which grant an effect when purchased, and Reserve cards, which can be set aside for when you need it most. Duration cards make a return (originally introduced in Seaside), and there is a Traveler card that can be upgraded much like Dark Age’s Urchin/Mercenary or Hermit/Madman combo. It sounds like another solid expansion, at any rate, though I haven’t bought it so don’t know how it actually plays.

But there you have it! The full trawl through the game line of Dominion. I must admit to feeling fairly tired of the game these days, as I find myself sticking to the more thematic deck-building games such as DC or Marvel Legendary. I’ve had some fun with Dominion, don’t get me wrong – it can be really awesome when you set up a mega-combo that lets you buy half a dozen cards and draw most of your deck, for instance. But ultimately, it’s still just down to basic mechanics, without much in terms of theme coming through. You buy cards for their in-game effects, and nothing else, so it can be quite mechanical. Sure, some cards will have that flavour about them – Market forever springs to my mind – but I don’t feel it in the same way as I do with other games.

Dominion should definitely be tried at least once by any serious gamer, even if you’re already familiar with other deck-building games (indeed, particularly if you are familiar with them). However, I’d definitely advise caution before you drop a ton of money buying the expansions all at once, as I did…

Buy it from amazon:
Dominion
Dominion: Alchemy
Dominion: Hinterlands
Dominion: Dark Ages
Dominion: Guilds
Dominion: Adventures

Legions of Death!

Warhammer 40k Conquest Necrons

Well this is some very exciting news!

I have been a huge lover of the Necrons pretty much since I got into Warhammer 40k, and when FFG announced the Necrons would be in Conquest, I was very excited. That it has taken over a year to get them is a little rough, but finally!

I find the enslavement mechanic a little interesting. In Warhammer 40k, Necrons can only ally with Chaos Space Marines as allies of convenience, and everyone else is come the apocalypse, yet here we see them able to ally with any other faction (even Tyranids, it seems?) as the Necrons have enslaved them – presumably with some kind of scarab? It’s interesting, anyway, and could lead to some funky decks as we see rank-and-file space marines alongside Necrons.

Out in the first quarter next year, I can’t wait to get my hands on this bad boy and rediscover the game!

A Touch of Evil – revisited

Hey everybody!
Tuesday is Game Day here at spalanz.com, and for today’s blog I’m taking a look at a game that has already come under the spotlight of awesome here: A Touch of Evil!

A Touch of Evil

I’ve been playing this game a lot recently with only the base game, something that I tend not to do with these kinds of games very much. And this is really what I thought I’d write about today. You can see all about the game in the earlier blog, where the mechanics are explained and whatnot. I’ve been really interesting in my own attitude to gaming lately, so I thought I’d explore this instead, and see where it goes. It might not end up being a very interesting blog, and I may not do many more like it, but let’s see, anyway!

A Touch of Evil

A Touch of Evil is a perfectly fine game in and of itself, and you can have a whole boat-load of fun without any expansions. However, I always find myself playing the game with at least one, and when I’ve played it without any in the past, I’ve always had something of a mediocre experience with it. I find this really interesting, and it got me thinking back to my very first games with it.

I was introduced to the game by an ex-girlfriend, and we played quite a lot of it (though she always preferred the same company’s Last Night on Earth). The fact that it can be played competitively or co-operatively, as well as the historical theme, has always greatly appealed to me. We bought it when it was new out, so obviously for a long time we could only play it with the base game, but we still did so, and we still enjoyed it. As expansions came out, we added them in, and always had a good time – but this is where the interesting thing (to me) comes in. Once Something Wicked had come out, we never went back to playing with just the base game. Even if we were using a base game villain, we’d still use the Echo Lake board.

A Touch of Evil

When I bought it for myself, I bought the entire line in one go, though still played the base game by itself at first, to get to grips with it once more. As I said, I’ve come back to just the base game a few times since, as well, but it has always felt a little lacklustre to do so.

But why?

The game didn’t fundamentally change when Something Wicked was released. Sure, there were more mechanics going on, but the components of the base game are still the same as they were when it was released, so why should something that posed a decent challenge and provided lots of fun suddenly stop doing so?

I suppose the obvious answer here is a change in my own skill level. As my familiarity with the base game increased, I could prepare and play accordingly. However, while this might be something of a knee-jerk response, I don’t feel that it really holds up to scrutiny. The fact that the game involves drawing from decks of cards and rolling dice means that any level of skill is mitigated by the high luck aspect. There are some location cards I’ve forgotten about because I haven’t encountered them all that regularly. There is too much random going on in this game to be able to properly assess the damage certain mystery cards can provide, meaning that almost any card is simultaneously both dreadful and an easy pass, depending on the game state right there and then.

Strategy in such games all-too-often boils down to stock up on items and then go after the villain, even if it means paying 12 investigation for a lair card. Sure, there can be micro-strategies happening, such as always sending your female investigators to fight the succubus, but in the main, there’s not a lot else that can be done.

However, if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you’re not only an amazing person, but you’ll know that I am a huge fan of thematic play, and I will rarely go into this game thinking “I’ll just stock up on stuff and then go in all-guns-blazing”. I like to explore the board, and even when I’m drawing seemingly random encounters, I like to see how I can weave these things into a narrative that is telling the story of the game. Immersing myself in the experience, I like the fact that I don’t get to fight the villain until the end (more often than not, at least!) as it lends an air of mystery to the game. I keep coming across packs of wolves, and what was that succubus all about at the covered bridge? Oh no, it’s a vampire!

A Touch of Evil

However, playing thematically will only take you so far, and I think the issue – for me, at least – is just that I’ve been spoilt by expansions. The base game for any game line will invariably give you a good, all-round experience of the game, but it won’t be particularly mind-boggling (at least, not anymore). It falls to the line of expansions to enrich the gameplay experience further, once you’ve been pulled in by the initial purchase and like the basic mechanics. A Touch of Evil is no different to a whole host of other games in this regard, and I could have really picked any other game in my collection to write about in this sense. In the case of Something Wicked, we have more locations with complex encounters, we have more villains with more complex mechanics, the whole game is taken up a step by the addition of this board. If you add in The Coast, you’re in for the night with that game setup! However, once you’ve experienced that sort of craziness, by paring it back to the base game once again, I for one feel like I’m having a fairly basic experience, which I think is the crux of this entire issue here.

Expansions aren’t always necessary, and can sometimes feel like a real train-wreck. Other times, expansions are necessary to the continued enjoyment of a game, but fail to deliver as they only provide a more-of-the-same feel. Yet other times, expansions add a whole new dimension to a game that makes them virtually inseparable to the main game. While I’ve always been a great lover of expansions, this has always stemmed from the fact that I like variety, and new ways to play a game, though I am opposed to expansions for the sake of it. A game like A Touch of Evil certainly falls into the category of needing more expansions, and those that we have for the game have served to enhance the experience immeasurably. You don’t need expansions to enjoy the game for what it is, but I feel you certainly need them to ensure you continue to enjoy the game.

What about you? Can you play just a base game and enjoy it forever, or are you more of an expansion fiend?

Here be dragons!

Hey everybody!
Welcome to game day here at spalanz.com, where Tuesdays are brightened by the exploration of games from across my collection! Today is the turn of what I think is the most expensive game I have ever bought, simply because I came to this on the aftermarket: it’s time to take a look at Thunderstone: Dragonspire!

Thunderstone Dragonspire

This is an expansion to the Thunderstone line from AEG, released back in 2011, but like many deck-building games, it functions as a second core set rather than simply an expansion. Despite the name Dragonspire, there aren’t all that many dragon cards in the game, which is a little odd – however, the second Promo Pack released for the game line features ‘dragon – humanoid’ monsters for the dungeon deck. Combined, these two games cost me nearly £200 to pick up back in 2012, which seems a bit ridiculous now, but being a completist I couldn’t really not have them in my collection!

Thunderstone Dragonspire

But were they worth it? There certainly are some interesting cards in this set, but I’m not so sure. Much like a lot of deck-building games of its type, it features just more of the same style cards. Unlike, for instance, Marvel Legendary, there isn’t really much of an over-arching theme for the set. The promo pack has some interesting cards, such as those shown above, but overall, I find some of the smaller expansions like Wrath of the Elements more enjoyable.

Thunderstone Dragonspire

I’m going to guess this is precisely because this is a second core set, and so feels like it needs to provide the general experience rather than going off on its own. Of course, there are new things here – not just the plastic XP tokens that replace the XP cards from the base game, but also certain “dungeon feature” cards such as the traps and the treasures that make the game a little more interesting when you delve into the dungeon:

Thunderstone Dragonspire

I must admit, I’m kinda surprised at how dismissive I’m being of this expansion! Of course, it’s not to write it off as no good, or not worth the time or money. But it’s a curious beast, and perhaps not worth the £185 it’s currently available for through amazon

How about you?

Prosperity at the Seaside!

Hey folks!
It’s Tuesday, so it’s game day here at spalanz.com! Today, we’re taking a look at some of the expansions to that behemoth of a deck-building game, Dominion! There are lots of these, of course, so I’ve decided to split the expansions into two groups, so we’re going to start at the beginning!

Dominion came out in 2008, and after a second core set, Intrigue, was followed by its first proper expansion in 2009, Dominion: Seaside. This is actually a great expansion, as it takes care of some of the principal weaknesses of the base game. Firstly, it brings in Duration cards that are orange in colour, and are played into your play area as normal. However, they provide an action for you next turn as well as this one, so it allows you to form more of a strategy for what you’re going to do. Secondly, there are cards that allow you to set cards from your hand aside, in particular the Island card that allows you to set aside it and another card for the duration of the game. This is particularly good for deck efficiency in keeping victory cards out, while still allowing them to count at the end of the game.

Overall, Seaside is a really strong expansion to the game, and you should definitely consider picking this one up if you’re a fan of the base game!

Seaside was followed by Prosperity in 2010. The second big-box expansion, Prosperity is all about the big money. Big Money is a common strategy in Dominion, of course, where the objective is to convert all your copper to lots of gold, which will allow you to buy up all the Provinces and win the day. Prosperity works with this by having a lot of expensive cards, including the more expensive Colony victory card, but it also has a lot of interesting Treasure cards anyway, such as Contraband that gives you 3 gold and allows you to make an extra buy (but the player to your left determines what you can’t buy). Counting House is actually an interesting card when working within the Big Money strategy, as it almost encourages you to keep those Copper cards in your deck.

Both of these expansions come with metal coin-like tokens, which really excited the nerd in me, as so many games like these have cardboard tokens for such things. Prosperity also includes victory point tokens, because there are a few Action cards like Monument, which will give you +1 VP token when you play it.

Cornucopia came out shortly after Prosperity, and is a more small-scale expansion to the game. The main mechanic here is that some cards will give you bonuses for having different cards in your hand or deck, such as Harvest, which gives you money for each different card on the top of your deck. There are also the five Prize cards, only one of each is included in the game. They come into play with the Tournament card, where you gain a Prize for revealing a Province from your hand. They have some fairly interesting abilities – certainly, they’re useful – and it’s nice to have something that rewards you for having Provinces in your hand (meaning playing with the Islands from Seaside might lead to some interesting decisions).

Dominion promos

Finally, let’s take a look at the five promo cards available for the game!* Out of all of these, my favourite is the Walled Village card, which was released at Origins 2011 to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Carcassonne winning the Spiel des Jahres (the original German-language card is actually named after the French town). Its effect is a little too specific, if I’m honest, but it’s just the fact that it’s Carcassonne, y’know? Awesome times!

All of these expansions are really good additions to the line, providing a lot of more of the same while also introducing new strategies and a couple of extra mechanics. Dominion remains a very straightforward deck-building game, and these expansions manage to enhance the experience while at the same time keeping the gameplay fairly uncluttered and clear. I must admit, I’ve not played with multiple expansions, but the basic rules for choosing kingdom cards will mean that your games will never get truly complicated, allowing you to enjoy the game for its own sake, rather than providing an exercise in remembering rules. In this respect, they continue the tradition of German games being among the most clear in the world.

However, I kinda like the complexity that US designs have added into the deck-building mix. Dominion is actually fairly abstract, and while it can be a very rewarding experience to set up the perfect chain of action cards that allow you to do all sorts of shenanigans on your turn, ultimately I find it can be a bit stale after just one or two plays. Other deckbuilders, particularly Thunderstone and Marvel Legendary, have an actual gameplay mechanic, where you’re building a deck for a specific purpose, and I’ve become such a fan of these types that the pure deck-building of Dominion seems somewhat lacking. It’s great to come back to every once in a while, but I wouldn’t honestly say it’s something I love, even with expansion goodness added in.

So there you have it, my first-look at some of the Dominion expansions available. Not sure when I’ll get to the next lot, but hopefully it’ll be soon. At any rate – if you enjoy the base game, you’ll pretty much enjoy any of these, as they all work great with just the base game alone, offering new and exciting opportunities and combos that are definitely worth investigating!

Buy it from amazon:
Dominion
Dominion: Seaside
Dominion: Prosperity
Dominion: Cornucopia

*The promo cards are available through the boardgamegeek store, and there are actually now six such cards – the Prince came out in June last year. 

The Undead are coming!

Well, I am a very excited chap today! Not only do I now have a week and a half off work (just when the weather is set to turn bad…) but I’ve finally caught up with the awesome news from earlier this week regarding the upcoming expansions for Battlelore!

Battlelore

Battlelore is a game that I’ve only gotten to play once, but loved it – not least because I love the lore of the world. It’s a Terrinoth game, so set in the same world as my beloved Runebound, though it has the factions in common with Rune Age and other Terrinoth 2.0 games. I’ve talked about some of the expansions that have been announced for it before, such as the army expansions to the base game, as well as the standalone neutral chaps, which are all very exciting of course, though I still feel aggrieved about not getting to play the base game for ages!

The closest game to this is the aforementioned Rune Age, which I love and play as regularly as I possibly can. In it, the Waiqar the Undying faction are among my all-time favourite factions to play (though I think I’m still a Uthuk Y’llan at heart). There’s a lot of magic implied in the necromancer faction, which has made them the natural opposite to the Latari Elves I suppose, so it’s interesting to wonder if we’ll get those chaps for Battlelore next year, maybe. Folks have been crying out for more armies for this game pretty much since it began, so it would be nice to see that.

Part of me is also hoping that Battlelore expansions will pave the way for more Rune Age further down the line. Back in the day, Rune Age and Runewars seemed to almost co-exist as one was expanded then the other in an almost-leapfrogging manner. Runewars came with four fantasy races, and its expansion brought more troops; Rune Age was then expanded with those more troops and two new factions. While Runewars appears to have been superseded by Battlelore as FFG’s tabletop wargame in Terrinoth, I still hope a connection is made with the card game, and more stuff comes out in due course!

Battlelore

The fact that the expansion model looks like a wargame does worry me a little. Simply from a financial point of view, of course, I prefer having one boxed expansion rather than these multiple smaller things. I also prefer to have boardgame expansions in a solid box with all the bits kept within, not these plastic things that you have to destroy to open. It looked like Imperial Assault was going to follow this trend, while Descent certainly appears to have shifted to that sort of expansion model. It’s a bit worrying, as we see individual stuff like the Razorwings and the Mountain Giant coming out singly, but I suppose there’s no real requirement to get these things straightaway. For the completist collector, it’s a bit of a nightmare, but having so much awesome stuff coming out is nevertheless really exciting!