There is only war!

Hey everybody!
Well, after the exciting launch of the new edition of Warhammer 40,000 at the weekend, there really could only be one game that would be featured on my game day blog today! This isn’t going to be any kind of exhaustive account of the game, but more some of my initial thoughts after getting the new starter set and having had a flick through the rules. So let’s take a look inside the Dark Imperium!

Warhammer 40,000 Dark Imperium

Warhammer 40,000 8th Edition is amazing. While I haven’t yet had a chance to field any of my armies in the new rules, I can still say that this is the most excited that I have ever been for this game in the last three years, and I’ve been fiddling with army lists and devouring rules, building and painting more miniatures, and generally basking in the glow of the new for a while now. 7th Edition confused and scared me, and given the fact that this is supposed to be a game that you’re supposed to play for fun, that’s just weird. By contrast, 8th Edition seems much more straightforward, while retaining a degree of depth.

I had a total of three games played during 7th, so I’m not about to launch into a comparison of the two editions, but I may still make the odd comment. To begin, though, I think it’ll help to go over the phases of the game and see how the whole thing is structured.

So, once you’ve chosen armies and missions, and have gone through the various stages of setting up your miniatures on the table, the game begins with the Movement phase. Models all have a Movement characteristic, which is now representative of the individual models rather than a stock number for a particular unit type, no matter that unit’s biology. I do like this, as it makes things much easier because everything is right there on the datasheet for that unit, rather than having to remember stuff all the time. (I’ve ranted about this before, though!)

Next comes the Psychic Phase. Something that I usually don’t bother with, having my main army as Necrons and my second army as Dark Eldar, the Psychic Phase is nevertheless something that I really like the look of, and has been one of the reasons I’m so keen to get moving on my Genestealer Cults army! Things have been simplified, so that you now attempt to manifest a psychic power by rolling 2D6, and Deny the Witch just means roll 2D6 and beat the test result. Seems very straightforward, rather than gaining all those warp charge dice, and using some to do things with and all the rest of it.

The Shooting Phase has changed insofar as units can split fire, and the roll to hit is now a target in the unit’s profile, for example 3+ for the Genestealer Primus, rather than having a Ballistics Skill value that is subtracted from 7 in order to find out what you need to roll. BS, indeed. There is still the nonsense about rolling again to see if you wound the target, comparing the strength value of the weapon to the toughness value of the model you’re shooting. It seems unnecessary to have to roll twice to see if a shot was fired at a unit, but at least there’s no longer the need to memorise a massive table of what you need to roll to actually wound somebody – now, there’s a very simple chart that does simplify this element a great deal. My main issue though is that this element is still in the game, to begin with! In real life, if I shoot you in the head, the odds are it will cause a wound, you know? Anyway… There are still Saves to be made, either armour saves or cover saves, and this involves another change, as weapons have modifiers to these saves on them now. I like this, as it makes a lot more sense to me. For example, going back to our Primus example, he has a Save of 5+. However, if you’re shooting at him with a Necron Immortal wielding a gauss blaster, those weapons have -2 Armour Penetration, meaning that the saving throw is made worse by 2. So that Primus needs to roll a 7 or more to avoid that wound, on a single D6. I don’t know if you’d ever use Immortals for that sort of attack, but the Primus does have five wounds, and could be the Genestealer Cults’ warlord, so it could be useful!

After shooting comes the Charge Phase, where you can charge an enemy unit within 12″ by rolling 2D6 and moving, before which the enemy has the chance to fire Overwatch at you. This is an out-of-sequence shooting attack, where all shots hit on 6+ regardless of the previous Ballistics Skill business, to reflect the panic I suppose. Whereas previously this could be detrimental to your charge, as you had to remove casualties from the front, meaning you might not have enough models to get within melee distance, now the controlling player chooses where his casualties come from, so you can remove models from the back if you want.

The Fight Phase has changed insofar as the charging unit will go first, now that Initiative has gone. I’ve talked about this before as well, how I liked Initiative and stuff, so I’m a bit gutted about that. Apart from that, though, it does still feel mechanically like 7th Edition. You charge, you pile in, then you slug it out with hand-to-hand weapons. This is pretty much the same as shooting before, though you use the Weapons Skill value to determine hits. I’m looking forward to seeing how my Necron Lychguard fare this time around, as the warscythes do look to be quite beastly in close combat – hitting on 3+, then wounding most often on 3+ also with a -4 AP and 2 wounds per hit, that looks awesome! As an example, a unit of five Lychguard would make ten attack rolls that hit a Genestealer Cults Chimera on 3+, they’d wound on 4+ because the strength and toughness are both 7, but due to the AP, the Chimera’s save would be 7+. It’s too early in the day to work out probability, but I’m sure it would be glorious!

Interestingly, you don’t get the additional dice for charging – I guess getting to go first in combat is bonus enough!

Finally, the Morale Phase checks to see how many models from a unit died that turn, and adds that number to a D6 roll. If the result is higher than the Leadership value of the unit, you remove models from that unit equal to the number of points higher you rolled. So if you roll a 5 and 4 models were slain from a unit of Neophyte Hybrids, their Leadership is 7 so you remove two more models from that unit.


These are the core rules of the game now, so a lot of it has indeed been simplified. However, there is a strong element of Age of Sigmar in this game insofar as each datasheet for each unit contains unit-specific rules. While the core rules are therefore just 8 pages long, there are tons more rules in the place of the universal special rules that took up a chunk of the core rulebook previously. Sure, things like the unit types rules have been drastically simplified, and these changes are definitely for the better, as it makes it so much more straightforward to seeing just how a unit works. I’ve rambled about my difficulties in trying to find the rules for Triarch Praetorians previously, needing two different books and about four separate pages within those books just to figure out how the models work. None of that exists now, really. If you know the 8 pages of rules, all you need in front of you is your own datasheet for that unit, and away you go.

(Of course, there are army-wide rules that still exist, such as the Reanimation Protocols rule for Necrons, which aren’t detailed on each and every datasheet. So you may still have a little flicking around to start with.)

I love the fact that the datasheets have everything you need to know, even down to the most common weapon loadout profiles. True, I’d have preferred to have seen every weapon on there for even greater ease, but I imagine some units might get quickly over-loaded. But these things are few and far between. In the main, if you want to know what a weapon on your model does, the rules are there on the same page as that model.

The three ways to play thing, ported pretty much directly from Age of Sigmar, is also really cool as it allows the game to be more things to more people. If you like picking out an awesome element from the narrative and re-creating that, you can do that. If you want to have an equal points-level, you can do that as well. Points have been taken one step further, by having an overall “power” level for a unit, based on roughly 25-3o power for every 500 points. While initially it seemed that power levels were being decried as worthless, over the launch weekend it seems that pretty much everyone at my local stores were talking in terms of power rather than points. It seems to be a great way to quickly build a list and start playing, rather than spending an evening working out the exact cost of your army. Of course, if that’s your thing, then you can still do that.

What’s even more interesting to me is the fact that there are 8 pages of core rules, the majority of this blog so far having gone over them, but there’s an additional Appendix that adds in a bunch more rules that you can add in to however you choose to play, meaning you really can make 8th Edition as complicated as you like.

I think the rules overall are a great way to invest a lot of narrative into the game, and I’m really looking forward to getting some games in soon!


As always with a new edition, we also get a new Starter Set for the game, which has previously come with all of the dice and templates that you need, in addition to a rulebook and lots of fantastic miniatures. Well, this edition doesn’t use templates or special dice, but we do get the full hardback rulebook, along with some truly spectacular miniatures in the new Dark Imperium box!

Warhammer 40,000 Dark Imperium

The factions included here are the Primaris Space Marines, and the Death Guard. So it’s a bit similar to the last box, Dark Vengeance, which featured loyalist vs Chaos space marines, but the miniatures here are really quite spectacular. I think the painting video where Duncan paints the Lord of Contagion really shows how incredible these new guys are!

Of course, people are a bit twitchy about the new Primaris marines spelling the end of the current Space Marine line, but I’ve got to be honest, I think these guys look amazing. I’d been back and forth over whether I liked them, before finally settling on a yes a day or two before the release. Having now had the opportunity to actually build and paint some, I think this is what Space Marines should have always been. The Mk VII armoured chaps will always hold a special place for me, and I plan to continue building and painting them for my Novamarines, but I think the Primaris are certainly a worthy addition to the universe, and I can’t wait to see what we get in the multipart kits that will inevitably follow later in the summer…

You get the full hardback core rules, which alone cost £35 and accounts for most of the weight of this thing, as well as short “codexes” for each of the factions that have some paint schemes, some fluff, and the datasheets (they even include the points values for them, if that’s something that interests you!) And of course, you get 53 beautiful (if disgusting, in the case of the Nurgle stuff) miniatures. £95 seems like a lot of money, don’t get me wrong, but it also feels about right for what you get. Burning of Prospero came with 47 miniatures, and a separate game, for the same price. So it does seem to be fairly standard – and of course, if you manage to get it for less, then go for it!


With three ways to play the game, straightforward rules for the game, and an increasingly phenomenal miniatures catalogue with which to populate the game, Warhammer 40k has never seemed more exciting! Locally, 8th Edition seems to have garnered a lot of interest among the “never playing 40k” crowd, and while I’ve long been interested in the game, I’ve never been more keen to finally get some regular games in!

Cold War: CIA vs KGB

Hey everybody!
It’s another game day here at spalanz.com, and this time around, it’s a small-scale game that is falling under the spotlight of awesome, the two-player Cold War: CIA vs KGB!

Cold War: CIA vs KGB

This is a game that I first came across five or six years ago now, when the revised edition came out from Fantasy Flight Games and I managed to pick it up for under a tenner. The Cold War isn’t an era that I’m super familiar with, though since I had been to Berlin in 2008, I’d grown a lot more interested generally in that whole era.

The game is basically a bluffing game, where the players take on the role of the CIA or the KGB and send a variety of operatives on missions to control global territory and win the ideological struggle of east vs west. Let’s take a look at some of the cards!

Cold War: CIA vs KGB

The CIA and the KGB each have the same resources to draw upon, from the deputy director the the master spy or the assassin. The cards all have the same abilities, they just have different artwork to indicate the faction they belong to. Each of these agents has an initiative (the number next to their photograph) and an agenda (the text boxes on the right). We’ll get back to these things in more detail in a moment.

Cold War: CIA vs KGB

The objective of each game round, representative of one year’s struggle in the Cold War, is to win influence over a country or event that is determined at the start of that round. Each of these Objectives is worth a victory point (the number in the bottom right corner), and is fought over by agents recruiting Groups of people to aid them in their attempt to exert influence there. This is shown by the Objective’s Stability, the large number in the centre of the card there. These Objectives also have a population ranking, and agents can never recruit more Groups than the number of population icons (on the bottom left of the card). Let’s take a look at some Groups:

Cold War: CIA vs KGB

These cards all belong to one of four factions – political (purple), media (blue), economic (gold) and military (green) – and have a power rating from 1 to 6, as well as an ability common to that faction. These Groups are used by players to attempt to gain influence over the objective, and a player can recruit enough Group power up to but not exceeding the Objective’s Stability.

For example, the Egypt Objective shown above has a population of four, and a Stability of eleven. A player may recruit the Police (4), Bankers (6) and Artists (1) Groups in order to attempt to gain control of the Objective and claim its 20 victory points. If both players have managed to accumulate 11 power-worth of Groups, then the Bias icons (in the top right of the Objective cards) are used to break ties – for Egypt, the player who has the most political (purple) power would win, but if no player has any political power or those numbers are tied, it then comes down to economic (gold) power, and so forth.

If a player has more power than the Objective’s Stability, he causes civil disorder and his agent is revealed, and removed from the game “as his superiors disavow all knowledge of the agent and his activities and abandon their agent to his doom”. Wonderful stuff!

Assuming civil disorder has been avoided, the player with the most power places his domination token on the Objective – but the struggle isn’t over yet! The two agents are then in for Debriefing, where they are revealed and their agendas are resolved in initiative order, lowest to highest. Three of the six agents have separate effects that happen, depending on whose domination token is on the Objective – for instance, if the Master Spy is resolved, and the KGB token is on the Objective, the CIA will actually get to claim that Objective for themselves.

Cold War: CIA vs KGB

So that’s the basic gameplay for Cold War: CIA vs KGB. There is so much to the actual game turns, of course, as you attempt to bluff your opponent and fight over the Objectives round after round. The individual effects of Groups can cause a lot of back and forth as the game goes on, and right up to the point where the agents are revealed, you never really know if you’ve won the Objective that turn. There is so much to immerse yourself in, as the stock 1960s-era photos help provide that definite feel for the world of the game.

Curiously, though, it’s the sort of game that generally flies under the radar, I feel. The box is tiny – I purposefully took that photo at the start from quite a way off to try to show you that it’s the sort of game you can very easily travel with (even more easily than Space Hulk Death Angel, whose entire contents will fit into a deck box). It’s not the usual sort of flashy thing that you see on the shelves of your LGS, like the fantasy and sci-fi things that more often than not take up room there. There are also no expansions, just a simple collection of 59 cards and a couple of cardboard tokens, yet the enjoyment you can get out of this is just great!

I just love it!

Assassinorum Execution Force

Hey everybody!
It’s time for game day here at spalanz.com, and today I’m taking a look at a boardgame from Games Workshop that I’ve had hanging about for roughly two years, but only recently have gotten round to the building of all the minis in there. It’s time to assassinate some Chaos renegades!

Assassinorum Execution Force

Assassinorum Execution Force came out in 2015, and was the first actual boardgame Games Workshop had put out in a number of years. The game comes with a number of repackaged miniatures from the Chaos Space Marines range of Warhammer 40k, and four of the Officio Assassinorum assassin models that, up until fairly recently, couldn’t be found anywhere outside of this box/ebay. The Chaos models are primarily cultists, but also include three push-fit marines, and a Sorcerer Lord. There are obviously some other bits and pieces necessary for the game, all of which can be seen in the video I made back when I first got my hands on this thing:

So the object of the game is for the four assassins to stop an evil ritual the Chaos Sorcerer Lord Drask is trying to complete, by discovering a teleportation room within the Astropathic Sanctum (the main board) to travel to the Temple of Shades and then fight him. There is a 15-turn clock on the execution force, and if this track ever reaches the 16th space, the ritual is completed and the assassins have lost.

Let’s take a look at the game pieces:

Assassinorum Execution Force

The models are pretty old for the Chaos forces, and have some pretty awful mouldlines on them. In the interests of speed, I only properly cleaned the Sorcerer and the three marines, with the cultists just clipped off the sprue and pushed together. The assassins, however, are quite beautiful models, and definitely deserve some attention. I’m thinking I might leave the majority of these minis unpainted, although the assassins do really cry out for a bit of attention, so I might get round to those soon enough…

Assassinorum Execution Force

The board is beautifully illustrated, and shows the dark corridors of the astropathic sanctum that feel quite claustrophobic when you start playing. The thick red lines across the terrain denote walls that really serve to limit line of sight and movement, and it didn’t take long to really get into the theme of the game as you cautiously position the assassins for maximum advantage!

All of the Chaos forces are referred to as Renegades throughout the game, and move along an AI system that is actually quite hilarious at times. All over the board, there are small red arrows that denote how a Renegade will move, several of which have options between 1-6 for which you throw a dice. I think the idea is that no two paths will ever be exactly the same, but it can lead to models almost pacing up and down like some kind of Beefeater sentry, or just meandering around in a circular path. There are some great rules that determine how and when the Renegades notice the assassins, however, and while they can seem a bit fiddly at first (there are three pages in the rulebook devoted to this, including illustrations and flowcharts), it actually becomes quite straightforward over the course of the game and, while I might not call it intuitive, it’s nevertheless easy enough to deal with.

Assassinorum Execution Force

So the mission is kinda split into two sections: find the teleportation chamber within the astropathic sanctum, then teleport to the Temple of Shades for the showdown with Lord Drask. There are a number of sections across the board that have a light shading to them: these denote empty rooms that are placed from a Room deck onto the board whenever an assassin has line of sight to the space. A Chaos star on the room (like that one above) instructs you to place a cultist on there, though that cultist cannot act this turn. To counteract the random element of placing rooms that may be the teleportation chamber within the first turn or two, you actually draw a number of tiles indicated on the board, and pick the lowest-numbered tile (such as tile 2 in the above photo). While the teleportarium itself is tile 5, you need to spend a turn to activate it, which is done through tile 11, the control bank. So out of 12 tiles in total, it’s going to be a while before you can actually move to the Temple of Shades. Nice!

Assassinorum Execution Force

While you move around the board, you’ll inevitably end up fighting the Renegades. The combat system is actually really straightforward, and I was surprised there wasn’t much more to it. If you have line of sight and are within 6 squares of a Renegade, then you can shoot using whatever weapon is listed on your assassin’s card – in the Eversor’s case, he has his Executioner Pistol, which rolls two dice (the red blobs). The highest result is chosen from the dice rolls, and compared with the target’s Resilience. If the hit equals or exceeds the Resilience value, then that target takes a wound. If he has wounds equal or in excess of his Stamina, then he is killed. So in the above example, the Eversor has rolled a 4, which equals the cultist’s Stamina, so the cultist is removed as a casualty.

Assassins have a range of five actions they can take, but can only perform two on each activation. However, each also has special rules on the reverse of their card that can allow them to take extra actions, or perform the same action twice.

Once all four assassins have activated, it’s the Chaos phase. During this phase, the familiar miniature moves one space on the Temple board (that ritual track mentioned earlier), then a number of Event cards are drawn equal to 1 plus however many cultists are On Alert (more shortly), up to a maximum of four cards. These cards range across a variety of awful things, from global buffs to the Renegades, to deploying more Renegades such as the Chaos Space Marines!

The Renegades all then move along their pre-allotted paths determined by the board as mentioned earlier. All Renegades are generally said to be On Patrol, but if a model was just placed on the board as the result of a room being revealed in the previous assassins phase, he won’t activate until the next round. Any Renegades that have seen an assassin within their line of sight will go On Alert, as will any who were within 6 squares of an attack by an assassin in the previous phase. These Renegades will move towards the nearest assassin, and either shoot or fight it as necessary. All assassins only have two hit points before they’re out, though all can attempt to heal in the next turn (and the Eversor can ignore wounds on a 5+ anyway).

Assassinorum Execution Force

The game progresses back and forth like this while the assassins search for the control bank, then move to the teleportarium and swoop in to attack Lord Drask at his dastardly ritual. Lord Drask is a 3HP model, with some pretty horrible attacks. However, in my introductory game I managed to defeat him by the Culexus assassin getting a hit thanks to the animus speculum, then the Vindicare assassin using his deadshot ability to score two hits at +2 to the dice roll if he hasn’t moved this turn. Pretty decent, in the end! However, the Callidus assassin was offered up as a sacrifice in order to ensure the sorcerer lord didn’t target the Vindicare, beating the poor shapeshifting assassin with his force stave.

Operation Deathblow was a success!

Assassinorum Execution Force

This was a really enjoyable game, with a pretty straightforward AI for the Chaos Renegades, and a lot of tactical depth for how to deploy the assassins each turn. It didn’t take long to learn, so I wasn’t glued to the rulebook for the entire game, though some things did obviously require reference when they cropped up.

Each of the assassins also has a pair of Talents, which can be used by spending tokens throughout the game. I found myself hording these for the most part, and only expending them during the final battle, however they do seem to be quite useful, such as the Culexus’ psyk-out grenade that can stun the Renegades but actually wound the sorcerer, or the Eversor’s frenzon that allows him to perform an extra action as mentioned. I might try again soon with using these a bit more often to see how effective they can be throughout the game.

While replayability is often an issue with a variety of games, Assassinorum: Execution Force has a sort of built-in mechanism to entice players to once more go up against the sorcerer lord, through the Achievements on the last page. I mentioned Operation Deathblow above; this is the first in a group of ten achievements that rewards you for just completing the game. Other achievements include using only a single assassin all game, or only a single assassin for the final battle, or leaving no models alive on the astropathic sanctum board. GW has also published twelve more achievements, such as limiting your assassins to 1HP, or each assassin only being able to heal once for the whole game. (Without knowing it, then, I also managed to achieve the “Right Between the Eyes” achievement in my first playthrough, having the Vindicare use his deadshot ability to finally kill Lord Drask!).

Tired of playing against the sorcerer lord? How about trying out the game against Lord Drask once he has ascended as a Demon Prince?! These rules give Drask an extra HP, and allow him to shoot any assassin within the Temple of Shades with his Warp Gaze, regardless of walls!

Further, the new-look September 2016 White Dwarf also provided rules for all four of the Chaos Demons types to replace the cultists. These rules are actually really nice, and it’s a shame that, to date, they haven’t been made available online. Demons don’t have any ranged weapons, so only fight the assassins when they are adjacent to them, but they can be quite deadly in doing so! When it comes time to confront Lord Drask in the Temple of Shades, these demons are upgraded to one of either a Champion, Standard Bearer or Hornblower, which gives them area-affect powers or additional HP. As if that weren’t enough, this issue of White Dwarf also featured nine further achievements that work specifically with the demon rules.

Assassinorum: Execution Force is a real blast to play, and while it has now disappeared from the webstore, I still nurture some hope that we might get some rules for protagonists other than the assassins to go up against the denizens of Chaos. Though I guess that might be covered by Overkill…

Kickstarter Burnout?

Last week, I read this really insightful article on the place of Kickstarter games in today’s gaming culture, and was inspired to take a look at my own experiences and opinions on the pre-order system for today’s game day blog.

Now, I’m not exactly a kickstarter expert, although I have backed a modest number of such things over the years. A quick look at my boardgamegeek collection shows a total of 5:
Fallen
Ghostbusters
Journey: Wrath of Demons
Lagoon
Shadows of Brimstone

Along with 4 previously owned:
Blood Rage
Draco Magi
Nova Cry
Red Dragon Inn 4
(Additionally, I’ve bought games like Thunderbirds and Xenoshyft: Onslaught after the kickstarter backing period, though both of these games have since been sold on).

I’ve talked about quite a few of these games on my blog over the years, as it happens, and I’m still intending to feature Shadows of Brimstone at some point in the not-too-distant future (maybe when I eventually get everything that I paid for…) Looking at this list, however, after reading the article from The Opinionated Gamers, has made me think about my history with Kickstarter in general, from the heady days of 2013 when I was chomping at the bit for games like Fallen and Shadows of Brimstone. In particular, it’s made me consider how I feel about the system these days.

My brief history
So I actually used Kickstarter originally to support Christopher West, who made a lot of the maps for the Star Wars Miniatures game. I think I bought four of his map packs in total, and they were really nice, solid products that I was happy to include within my game collection. At the time, I wasn’t playing a massive amount of board games, having recently split up from my ex (who had initially introduced me to tabletop games like Carcassonne). I bought the maps, used them a couple of times, then slowly moved away from SWM anyway.

Then, somehow, I discovered Slugfest Games were making a fourth Red Dragon Inn game via Kickstarter, and so returned to the site to check it out. I think I managed to get in at the very end of the campaign, but still got all of the nice exclusive drinks and stuff. Score one for me!

It was RDI4 that seemed to set me off the rails, though, as I would browse KS for other tabletop games similar to those old stalwarts of my collection such as Runebound, and it was with no small measure of excitement that I discovered Fallen. There are a lot of issues with the company here, which I won’t get into now, but Fallen itself is actually a really good game. It has beautiful art, and plays fairly straightforwardly, though is really quite the immersive experience. Definitely a good card game.

Fallen

Over the months, I backed a series of other, progressively bigger games, including the behemoth that is Shadows of Brimstone. I’ve talked about this game extensively on my blog already, though still haven’t managed to do an actual game day blog on it. At any rate, you may already know that I dropped thousands of dollars on the game (I’m actually in it!) and yet, once the core games were delivered, I was distinctly underwhelmed. With the arrival of games like Blood Rage and Journey, I began to re-evaluate my relationship with Kickstarter and, while both these games have incredibly impressive miniatures, I found that there was a distinct lack of something to these games.

The Problem (I think)
The Opinionated Gamers talk about “the chrome” of these games, and the allure of the shiny, and I think this is a very valid point in this situation. A lot of successful games on Kickstarter have a lot of shiny parts. Be it the glossy fantasy art that graces the cards of Fallen, or the intricately sculpted miniatures in Journey, these games have gone all-in on their style. But how is the substance? Is it even there? Shadows of Brimstone uses a fairly simple game engine that Flying Frog Productions have used in pretty much all of their previous games, yet it has elements added on to make it slightly cumbersome. This is a bit of an exception, because by and large you know what you’re getting from FFP. Other games do feel a little bit hit and miss, and I think this could well be due to the home grown nature of Kickstarter games.

Journey Wrath of Demons

Take Journey: Wrath of Demons, for example. This is a co-op game where players have the option during combat of cleansing the soul of their demon opponent. It sounds like a really neat concept, and from what I remember of the couple of games I’ve played, it was quite interesting, but otherwise the game is the standard dungeon-crawl-style of game with an Oriental setting. Xenoshyft: Onslaught is a deck-building game where you buy cards and they go directly into your hand; otherwise, the game plays pretty much like Thunderstone. These games feel a bit like the designers came up with a cool idea during a game of something else, and decided to implement it on their own. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it does often feel like, once you’re past that shiny new mechanic, there isn’t really a great deal of substance underneath the game – certainly not enough to compete with those games from established publishers.

The Opinionated Gamers article also mentions playtesting as being more rigorous with established companies, though many Kickstarter games have the promise of “years of development and testing” and the like, and not just those from companies like FFP or CMoN. Being an optimist, I’m inclined to believe them, and I don’t think I’ve yet played a game that doesn’t feel playtested.

Of course, new companies using Kickstarter are – in my experience – more concerned with showing off their beautiful components for their games, and I think this is the major problem with a lot of these games, that they’re all about style over substance. Journey does look beautiful, down to its anatomically-correct bull miniatures, but the gameplay hasn’t been good enough to draw me into playing it any more since September 2015. I haven’t touched Shadows of Brimstone in two years, save to move the box into my closet. Once I’ve seen all of the shiny new stuff, I’m actually quite apathetic towards these games – largely because there isn’t much actual game there.

Ghostbusters board game Cryptozoic

Cryptozoic’s Ghostbusters game was actually pretty decent, with some flavourful mechanics that did actually engage me enough to play a campaign with it, and while I’ve hardly been playing it every weekend, that’s probably more to a shift in my gaming life recently towards fewer large-scale games. Of all of the Kickstarter games that I have, Ghostbusters is probably the only one I find myself wanting to play more of. Though I freely admit that’s probably as much down to my nostalgia for the franchise.

Nowadays
These days, I avoid Kickstarter like the plague. I usually blame my burnout on Shadows of Brimstone, the game that I spent over $2300 on, as the parts that I have so far received, three and a half years after the campaign ended, were distinctly sub-standard. Tony, my regular gaming buddy and the chap who often encouraged my Kickstarter excesses, has completely embraced it and, together with his partner Lee, has backed dozens of projects in recent years. All of these games tend to be miniatures-heavy, though all of them tend to be consigned to the bottom of his pile of games, in favour of stuff like Last Night on Earth and Lords of Waterdeep.

This seems to be the problem with KS games for me. They look amazing, but looks aren’t everything, and I doubt anybody would want to play a dull-as-hell game just because it looks so pretty. There needs to be more than just awesome models to keep you wanting to play it, and even if you feel you need to keep playing it to get your money’s worth (like me and Shadows of Brimstone, for a while!) it’s eventually going to wear on you.

At the top of this post, I mentioned that I previously owned 4 games that I had backed via Kickstarter, and have bought more at retail that I’ve since sold on as well. In addition to this, I’m actually considering off-loading Journey, though I’ll admit that I want to try it again before I do. I think this attitude towards these games does say a lot for my current view, at any rate. There just isn’t enough substance to a lot of these things to make me want to keep them, despite the amount of money I spent in backing them.

I did back the second Ghostbusters game Cryptozoic put out last year, and am cautiously awaiting its delivery, but right now, I think I’m done with Kickstarter. I think I’m just not that interested in pledging my support for a game that is essentially something I already have, just with a couple of minor tweaks and a re-skin. I think I have enough games already, and I’m not really keen on adding more, even if they do come with a myriad of associated micro-expansion “KS Exclusive!” miniatures…

Assault on Hoth!

Hey everybody!
It’s game day here at spalanz.com, and today we’re going retro, as I showcase one of the classic Star Wars games of the 1980s! Lord Vader may start his landing, because we’re launching an Assault on Hoth!

Star Wars Assault on Hoth

This game hails from 1988, and was one of a quartet of actual boardgames put out by West End Games while they held the Star Wars licence. Much like Escape from the Death Star, I have vivid memories of trying to play this with my brother but, being four years old at the time, the finer nuances of tabletop wargaming were somewhat beyond me…

Reading through the rulebook now, Assault on Hoth is very clearly a tabletop wargame in the mould of such things as Runewars or Battlelore from Fantasy Flight Games, where each player commands an army (in this case, of cardboard stand-ups) and attempts to secure an objective as they each fight over a hex-based map. There are Imperial units, and there are Rebel units, and the Imperials are trying to storm the Rebels and destroy the shield generator, while the Rebels are just trying to escape from the planet.

Star Wars Assault on Hoth

The game is played quite simply, in one respect, as activation is taken care of through a deck of Action cards. Over the course of the game, these cards are continually flipped over, and reshuffled, allowing the players to move and/or fire with their units. There are also two Action cards that allow players to draw an Event card; these cards hold the keys to Rebel victory, as there are a number of ‘Transport Away!’ events that, if you accumulate five of them, will win you the game. The other Events are reinforcements for both sides, allowing the war in the tundra to continue.

The Rebel player can also win by wiping out all Imperial units on the board, which I suppose is a useful backup plan, given that you’d otherwise have to just cycle through the Action deck continually, hoping to draw five ‘Transport Away!’ cards.

So, how does combat work? Well, I’m glad you asked.

WEG is of course famous for the Star Wars RPG they published during the 1980s and 90s, which was a d6 system. Most of their other games also leant heavily on the d6, and Assault on Hoth is no different. If an Action card allows you to attack with one of your units, the card will stipulate a Fire Strength, which denotes the amount of Fire Dice you roll. These are specialist d6 dice that feature a Vader helmet on two sides, a lightsaber on another two sides, and blank faces on the remaining two sides. Vader helmets only matter for the Imperial player, and lightsabers only matter for the Rebel player. There is a chart on the board that shows both the Fire Strength of each unit in the game, as well as an armour value for that unit. If the number of successes you rolled on the Fire Dice equals or exceeds the armour of your target, then that unit is destroyed, and removed from the board.

Star Wars Assault on Hoth

Something that is interesting here, however, is that range can modify your shots. The board is divided up into hexes and ‘macrohexes’, groups of seven hexes that can affect your ability to fire at targets. Basically, you select your target, then count the number of macrohexes between the two units, and reduce the fire strength by that number. For instance, a Heavy Trooper shooting at a Light Trooper two macrohexes away would have his fire strength of 4 reduced by 2, meaning he would only roll 2 fire dice. This is still possible, as a Light Trooper only has an armour value of 1, but there are times when you cannot roll the number of successes to equal your target’s armour.

Terrain also makes a feature, marked out by dark blue patches of rough rocky trenches and the like. If you fire at a unit that is on rough terrain, the fire strength is also reduced by 1.

Star Wars Assault on Hoth

So we’ve got all the classic hallmarks of a tabletop wargame, from terrain and cover to armour modifiers and even specialty dice. There are also cinematic moments, where the Rebels can fire harpoons at Walkers and the like, and the dramatic reveal of the Luke Skywalker Hero card, where the Rebel player can reveal that Luke was riding in one of the five starting snowpeeders, and thereafter use the Force to aid in his attacks.

However, for all that, the game is very straightforward. The rules actually state that ‘Assault on Hoth is not a complicated game’, which is no doubt meant to be in its favour, though I can imagine that some people might be turned off from that. While there can be an incredible depth to playing the game at first, it can also quickly evolve into a much more mundane, waiting game to see whether you pull that fifth ‘Transports Away!’ event card, of if you manage to park your units in the right place on the map to just pick off any Imperials who happen to wander too close to the Shield Generator.

The main thing this game has going for it, almost thirty years after its initial release, is that it is a wonderfully thematic recreation of the first half hour or so of Empire Strikes Back, and can be tremendous fun for the right pair of Star Wars enthusiasts to sit down and battle for an hour or so!

The game is incredibly expensive on ebay right now, and of the four WEG games, I think has always commanded the higher price on the secondary market. While I always thought Star Warriors was the more popular game, clearly Assault on Hoth has got something going for it after all this time!

It’s worth noting that there was an “expansion” for the game that WEG released through their RPG supplements over the years, that used the Assault on Hoth board game to depict the conflict between the role-playing Rebels and the dread Charon in Otherspace II: Invasion. A new deck of Action and Event cards was provided to depict the conflict, essentially providing a new way to play the game.

Star Wars Assault on Hoth

Much like Escape from the Death Star, this game is a classic of Star Wars gaming history, and one that is always of interest for me, despite never figuring out how to play it all those decades ago!

Retiring from Conquest

Hey everybody,
Recently, I’ve been looking over the games that I have, and checking through several of those that I have decks set up for the LCGs I follow, and have decided to retire all of those from Warhammer Conquest. The game died when FFG and GW parted ways, officially at the end of February this year, but the nails were firmly in the coffin back in September when the announcement came. The game was actually pretty popular at my local game store, and I had hopes that I’d still be able to get in some games, including trying out some new decks, but Arkham Horror LCG has definitely supplanted it as the LCG of choice, and I’m left with rather a lot of cards that I’m not really doing all that much with! But then, I’m kinda used to having games like this…

Fun fact: Anrakyr was the first #Necrons character I painted! #WarhammerConquest

A post shared by Mark (@marrrkusss) on

Before I dissolve all of the decks I have set up, however, I wanted to record for posterity here the Necron deck that I built up a year ago when the Necron box first came out, and subsequently tweaked with a couple of the cards from the subsequent Planetfall cycle. It did quite well for me on the couple of trips out I had with it, so I thought it’d be useful to have in case I ever find some fellow hipsters and decide to get back into this down the line!

Anrakyr the Traveller
Pyrrhian Eternals (5)
Slumbering Tomb
Awake the Sleepers
Pyrrhian Warscythe
Harbinger of Eternity
Mandragoran Immortals
Immortal Legion
Warriors of Gidrim
Immortal Vanguard (3)
Doomsday Ark (2)
Praetorian Ancient
Lychguard Sentinel (2)
Hyperphase Sword (2)
Tomb Blade Squad (3)
Canoptek Spyder
Canoptek Scarab Swarm (3)
Hunting Acanthrites
Reanimation Protocol (2)
Drudgery (2)
Defensive Protocols (2)
Sautekh Complex (2)
Defense Battery
Ratling Deadeye
Noise Marine Zealots
Sacaellum Shrine Guard (2)
White Scars Bikers
Kroot Hunter (2)
Sybarite Marksman
Kabalite Halfborn
Saim-Hann Kinsman

There are ten out-of-faction cards included at the end here because of the subtheme Necrons have, that of enslaving other people (not something in the fluff, but whatever). There are soldier units in there for the Mandragoran Immortals to take advantage of, warriors for the Immortal Vanguard, and scouts for the Tomb Blade Squads.

Overall, it was a lot of fun to play the couple of times I got it to the table, though I think it’s quite unfortunate that the game ended with the Necrons such a comparatively under-developed faction. Of course, the enslavement mechanic means you technically have a much bigger card pool than pure-Necron, but even so… it would have been nice to have had another cycle, and see what more we can get out of the pool!

Amonkhet!

Hey everybody!
It’s game day again here at spalanz.com, and today I’m taking a look through the new Amonkhet expansion for Magic the Gathering!

Amonkhet

This is the 74th expansion for Magic, which is kinda mind-boggling to think of. The set is heavily inspired by ancient Egypt, and takes place on a plane ruled by the elder dragon Nicol Bolas. While Bolas himself doesn’t appear in the set, plenty of the art evokes his iconic twin-horns, and the theme is heavily implied that the people of Amonkhet are awaiting his return, not aware that he is a planeswalker.

The story of the set follows on directly from that of Aether Revolt, where Tezzeret had caused the revolt on Kaladesh before being confronted by Liliana over his master Nicol Bolas’ current whereabouts. Tezzeret had revealed that the dragon was residing on Amonkhet, which is coincidentally the location of one of the four demons Liliana had sold her soul to, Razaketh. The Gatewatch resolved to confront Bolas, against the wishes of the newest member Ajani, who instead travelled to Dominaria to try and get more allies.

Amonkhet

So, Amonkhet!

There are a number of new mechanics and themes for this expansion, which combined make it feel like a totally new plane, to me. Aside from the fact that the artwork is unusually consistent for a Fertile Cresent theme, it just feels somehow exciting to me! So let’s take a look at some new mechanics.

Amonkhet

First of all, we have Cycling coming back. This is the mechanic that allows you to pay a cycling cost and discard the card with Cycling, then draw a card (there is also a version that allows you to search for a card type). It’s a pretty great mechanic that really just gives your cards extra utility, and makes it a little less shaky to include some cards that you may otherwise not want in your deck, as if you draw them late in the game they still have a use.

Amonkhet

-1/-1 counters are back, though this time without a name such as Wither or Poison. There is a lot of movement around these counters, where some creatures enter the battlefield with a number of counters on themselves, and you can move them around or take them off when they deal damage, or whatever. Of all the new features of the set, this is the one that feels a little too clunky, and seems to require a full build-around to make it work.

Amonkhet

Exert is a new keyword that is fairly straightforward. When a creature with Exert attacks, you can choose to exert it for an additional benefit, though that creature will then not untap during your next untap step. It’s a fairly decent effect mostly, and is probably the mechanic that I’m most excited to build a deck around right now. So stay tuned for that!

Amonkhet

Embalm is definitely among the more flavourful mechanics introduced in the set, and while the intricacies feel like they may be too much to keep a track of, it’s something I’m again thinking of building a deck around. A creature with embalm gives you the option to bring it back from the graveyard as an embalmed token copy of itself, except it’s a white zombie in addition to its other types. So a creature such as Aven Wind Guide above is out on the battlefield, giving your other creature tokens flying and vigilance, then it dies and goes to the graveyard. If you choose to pay its embalm cost of four generic, one white and one blue, you can exile the card from your graveyard and put a token on the battlefield in its place. The big drawback is touted as exile, meaning you could at most get one reactivation of the creature, but I might see how that sort of deck would look sometime soon.

Amonkhet

Finally, we have another graveyard mechanic with Aftermath, a split card mechanic that allows you to cast the top half of the card as a normal instant or sorcery, then the bottom half of the card only from your graveyard, paying that half’s mana cost. The card design is just insane, and I have to say that I’m not a fan of it personally (to the extent that I don’t currently foresee myself including any of these cards in a deck for aesthetic reasons). But they’re here, and I suspect that there will be more in the next set, so yeah…

Amonkhet

While they’re not mechanics as such, it’s also worth talking about the Gods of Amonkhet here. Each colour has its own god, such as Bontu the Glorified for black here, and each has its own Monument artifact card that allows you to cast creatures of the god’s colour for one generic mana less. Each of the gods is a creature, with a colour-specific keyword, and is indestructible, but cannot attack unless a specific state has been achieved, such as with Bontu needing to see a creature die under your control. Furthermore, each of the gods has an activated ability that will allow you to achieve that state, such as Bontu sacrificing a creature for one generic and one black.

There is also the theme of the Trials of the Five Gods going on in Amonkhet, and each of these trials has a colour-specific enchantment that does something when it enters the battlefield, such as the Trial of Ambition forcing an opponent to sacrifice a creature. The Trials are at uncommon, while there are also associated Cartouche aura cards at common that attach to a creature for a benefit, and bounce the Trial back to your hand, making sure you can repeat the effect of them. I find the Cartouches much more exciting than the Trials, but for theme’s sake alone, I think it’s necessary to include them in a deck!!

Amonkhet prerelease

So, I’ve been talking a lot about building decks so far in this blog – let’s take a look at my Prerelease deck from Amonkhet:

Creatures
Ahn-Crop Crasher
Bloodlust Inciter
Bontu the Glorified
Doomed Dissenter (2)
Emberhorn Minotaur
Gravedigger
Nimble-Blade Khenra
Plague Belcher
Trueheart Twins
Wasteland Scorpion (2)

Sorcery
Blazing Volley
Pursue Glory
Wander in Death

Instant
Brute Strength (2)
Fling

Enchantment
Cartouche of Ambition

Artifact
Edifice of Authority
Hazoret’s Monument

Land
Cascading Cataracts
Mountain (9)
Painted Bluffs
Swamp (7)

I didn’t make it to prerelease this year, being absorbed in my degree work and house-hunting, and basically forgetting about it, despite having signed up for it! So I thought it would be cool to work out a deck from my pool anyway, and came up with the above. I was so pleased to get Bontu in my pool, as I had been hoping to get a copy of her for Standard or whatever. My pool overall would have been pretty decent – much better than that of my last prerelease experience! And I would have gotten to play black/red, my favourite combo!

Well, let’s see what happens when Hour of Devastation is out!