Playing Magic: Dominaria & Battlebond!

Hey everybody!
For today’s game day blog, I thought I’d take a look at another of my Magic decks that I’ve recently been enjoying, as well as throwing the spotlight on a couple of the recent sets for the game.

Magic Dominaria

Dominaria is first Magic set for a very long time to come out as a standalone expansion, part of the new three-and-one expansion model that will apparently allow for greater design space or something. There has been a lot of tinkering with the structure of Magic expansions in recent years, and we’re in the latest iteration of that now. Anyhow!

Back in the day, Magic began its life on the massive world of Dominaria, but has since moved around the multiverse and investigated a slew of new worlds. For the first time since 2007, we’ve gone back to where it all began, in celebration of Magic‘s 25th anniversary this year. Consequently, we’ve got something of a nostalgia-trip for a lot of people who were playing the game back in the day, as the story involves all manner of classic locations and characters, including Jhoira, Teferi, Jaya Ballard and Karn. It’s not all nostalgia, however, as we also get to catch up with Liliana and Gideon, who have journeyed to Dominaria on the trail of Belzenlok, the final demon who holds a piece of Liliana’s contract.

The set has seen a couple of rules tweaks, such as removing the term “mana pool”, and also a reworked border for Legendary permanents that was first tested out in the last Duel Deck, Elves vs Inventors. The new Legendary frame helps to distinguish these cards as, given the nostalgia theme of the set, there is a major focus on these sorts of spells. A new game term features in the set, Historic, which groups Legendary cards, artifact cards, and the new type of card, Sagas.

Dominaria Sagas

Sagas feature across all five colours, and generally have beautiful artwork reminiscent of an illuminated manuscript or stained glass. They all have three “chapters”, and enter the battlefield with a lore counter that allows the first chapter to trigger. After the third counter is placed, chapter three triggers then the card goes away. At first I was a little bit underwhelmed by some of these Sagas, and struggled to find a place for any of them in my deck, until of course I came to build the deck I’m talking about today!

Even for a relative newbie like myself (it’s been barely three years since I’ve been playing), seeing a lot of the artwork on these cards, and the returning themes and characters, it can be quite the nostalgia trip in itself. I’ve spent a lot of those three years collecting up older cards, and while I’m perhaps not as immersed in the lore of the original plane as I could be, it is still a lot of fun seeing this blend of the older stuff with the new Gatewatch vs Bolas storyline. All in all, a great set!

Magic Battlebond

Battlebond is the summer supplemental product that is focused on Two-Headed-Giant, the format where two players take on two other players. There is a theme of e-sports in the game, as the set takes place on the plane of Kylem, and specifically the arena of Valor’s Reach. Here, two-on-two combat is the spectacle that everybody is interested in, as combatants strive to defeat their opponents with flair and style.

In keeping with this theme, the set re-introduces the Partner mechanic from Commander 2016, this time using specific paired creatures that you or a team-mate can search for when one of them is put into play. There are 11 partnered pairs, including a pair of Planeswalkers, Rowan and Will Kenrith. While the set is designed for 2HG, Commander was another format consideration for a lot of the new cards, and these Planeswalkers are an example of that, having the first on-card reference to a Commander outside of the Commander products.

This is a supplemental set, and while there are a few new cards in here, there are also a healthy dose of reprints, most notably Doubling Season. I was unbelievably lucky to actually pull one of these when I bought a few packs upon release, so I’ll have to find a good use for that soon!

So what have I been making out of these two sets?

Garna the Bloodflame deck

I love Black and Red, I’m sure I’ve mentioned this already here on the blog. After floundering around for a bit, I decided to look at building a Dominaria-block deck around Garna, the Bloodflame. It’s an interesting card that seems a little bit niche, and is perhaps symptomatic of the need to create Legendary creatures at both rare and uncommon in the set. I still wanted to use a lot of the Cabal-themed cards from Dominaria, so now supported them with some of the red, Keldon-themed cards. Finally, I added in some of the Azra cards from Battlebond (the half-demon creatures) and produced a fairly aggro-based deck that still manages, for me at least, to maintain some depth to it.

Creatures
Blaring Captain (2)
Cabal Paladin (2)
Champion of the Flame (2)
Garna, the Bloodflame (2)
Josu Vess, Lich Knight
Mindblade Render
Rushblade Commander (2)
Stronghold Confessor (2)
Urgoros, the Empty One
Verix Bladewing
Whisper, Blood Liturgist

Instants and Sorceries
Diabolic Intent
Warlord’s Fury (2)
Blessing of Belzenlok (4)
Fervent Strike (2)

Enchantment
Demonic Vigor (2)
Frenzied Rage (2)
Lighting Talons (2)
Rite of Belzenlok (2)

Artifact
Blackblade Reforged

Land
Cabal Stronghold
Cinder Barrens (2)
Dragonskull Summit (2)
Mountain (9)
Swamp (11)

The deck is primarily focused around having fun, and uses a lot of cards that tend to do quite well without the need for specific combos to be set up. My favourite way to play the game, in many respects. Admittedly, a few of the cards here (particularly the Azra cards) feel a bit shoe-horned in, as there aren’t a great deal of Warriors to care about. I’m also not 100% sure on Josu Vess staying in the deck, but I think that this is a deck that I will be coming to time and again, and tinkering with it as new things catch my eye. The core of Dominaria-themed cards is there, which has something that is just so quintessentially Magic, that I’m sure it will be a lot of fun to bring new stuff into the mix alongside these things as time goes on.

I still need to investigate what Core 2019 has to offer me, in this respect, to say nothing of the upcoming Commander 2018 edition!! I think Xantcha, Sleeper Agent could be a fun include in here…

Magic Lessons

Hey everybody!
In celebration of the return of Spellslingers to Geek & Sundry, I thought I’d publish this quick blog about a couple of decks that I’ve been using to teach the game of Magic to my girlfriend Jemma. We’ve been playing a few co-op games already, but I was keen to get this to the table as one of my favourite card games, although wasn’t entirely sure how. The results of these lessons are still a bit sketchy for the time being, but hopefully things will prevail!

I’d initially thought about introducing the game with Standard decks that are based around one of the tribes of Ixalan – I’ve already got a Vampires deck built, and have since built up Merfolk (really fun – watch out for that to be featured here soon!), Dinosaurs (both Dino Soldiers in R/W, and the big beasts themselves in R/G), and Pirates (just B/U), along with two further tribal decks; Wizards (from Dominaria) and flying birds of doom (U/W from the current Standard).

However, some of those things are potentially too confusing, so at the weekend I put together two 40-card decks that used cards from across the period when I was really getting into the game: Tarkir block, and both M15 and Origins core sets. The first deck closely replicates one of my all-time favourite decks to play, B/W Warriors!

Creatures:
Mardu Hateblade (2)
Dromoka Warrior (2)
Herald of Dromoka (2)
Arashin Foremost
Mardu Hordechief
Sunscorch Regent
Hand of Silumgar (2)
Chief of the Scale
Chief of the Edge

Enchantments:
Infernal Scarring
Raiders’ Spoils
Abzan Runemark (2)

Instants & Sorceries:
Coat with Venom (2)
Rush of Battle

Artifacts:
War Horn
Prism Ring
Hewed Stone Retainers

Lands:
Plains (8)
Swamp (6)
Scoured Barrens (2)
Evolving Wilds

MTG Scoured Barrens

The Warriors deck is fairly inexpensive – of course, it’s made up from cards that I already had in my collection, but it costs under $7 to construct via Card Kingdom, according to tappedout.net – and synergises well with itself overall. I’ve included the Sunscorch Regent as I wanted a big finisher type of card, but more than anything I wanted to show a variety of cards and, overall, the variety that is inherent throughout the game!

I’ve steered clear of a few of the more complex Warrior cards, as I was trying to be mindful of the keywords and rules concepts within the deck. As it stands, Vigilance and Deathtouch are quite key here, but then they were key to the deck anyway. Double Strike also features through Arashin Foremost, which in retrospect could be quite tricky to grasp. Rush of Battle was another key card for the deck, and introduced Lifelink – fortunately, that isn’t too difficult to deal with. Finally, Raid is on a couple of cards, but as the effect is printed on the card, it doesn’t really matter too much.

But what about the second deck? For this one, I chose Blue-Green, one of my favourite colour combinations that doesn’t involve Black, and went with a much broader theme of making creatures huge. Prowess was a natural include as far as rules goes, so the card pool was widened somewhat to include enough cards with this effect.

Creatures:
Druid of the Cowl (2)
Beastcaller Savant
Umara Entangler
Saddleback Lagac
Soulblade Djinn
Paragon of Eternal Wilds
Paragon of Gathering Mists
Jhessian Thief
Vedalken Blademaster
Armorcraft Judge
Lotus Path Djinn
Ridgescale Tusker

Enchantments:
Temur Runemark
Elemental Bond
Military Intelligence

Instants & Sorceries:
Lifecrafter’s Gift
Awaken the Bear
Dragonscale Boon
Gather Courage
Anticipate
Titanic Growth

Lands:
Forest (8)
Island (7)
Thornwood Falls (2)
Evolving Wilds

MTG Soulblade Djinn
I was looking to create a sense of balance within the decks at first, and had included the green dragon from Fate Reforged, Destructor Dragon, but as it turned out I think that was one creature too many – I’m not that great at building Prowess decks, as I invariably want to include too many creatures! Having already got the Ridgescale Tusker in the deck, I think that’s as big a creature as I need. This is another deck you can put together for under $7 via Card Kingdom according to tappedout.net, so the whole experience should be pretty cheap and straightforward if you fancy recreating any of these decks!

The deck does take a little more work than the Warriors deck, however, as there is some element of timing for when to play certain cards. We’re not talking combat tricks here per se, just the sequencing between cards that place +1/+1 counters, and cards that interact with those counters. For example, the sequence of Ridgescale Tusker putting counters on each creature, followed by Lifecrafter’s Gift that puts counters on each creature already with a counter on it, before Armorcraft Judge drawing you cards for each creature with a counter on it.

As it happens, Jemma took the Warriors deck – “lots of little men who support each other to fight” – while I was left with “a handful of creatures that want to be made huge”. It was a good choice, on reflection, as the U/G deck definitely had the tougher time of things.


Magic Lessons

A lot of people on the internets will tell you, when introducing somebody to the game, to stick with just vanilla creatures, and even to avoid Instants and Sorceries for the first few games, instead just duking it out between the creatures you’ve summoned. Stick with mono-colour, avoid all the complicated stuff, and just get the basics down.

I disagree with that approach to some extent, as part of the joy of playing Magic comes from that variety that I mentioned at the start, and the combination of cards working together to produce the deck. If you scale these things back, you lose some important parts of what makes the game so much fun, and I think you risk introducing the game as being quite boring.

“So it’s just, my creature kills your creature, until somehow we manage to kill each other?”

“No no, it’s actually a lot more fun than this! We can play other cards to influence the game, and create combos between creatures and keywords and effects!”

So why don’t you just include some of those cards from the outset?

I do agree, though, that you should absolutely stay away from Counter magic when teaching the game. If you’ve got a player trying to figure things out, and all you’re doing is cancelling their stuff, that is just a recipe for disaster. Similarly if they have the Control deck – at even the more basic level, it requires some skill at the game to know what to allow and what to counter. I think you should try to ignore the Stack as much as you can – of course, explain when cards can be played, but try to avoid talking about “in response” and the like. The few Instants that I managed to cast, I played effectively as Sorcery cards, and not as combat tricks in response to blockers being declared – that can be confusing and feel almost like the person doing it is cheating.

(However, I often use pump spells and other combat tricks almost as deterrents, and will pump the team with an Instant in the pre-combat main phase. It works particularly nicely with Boros decks, I’ve found!)

Something I think that can be quite subtle, and that a lot of people seem to overlook, is to make sure you play correctly when teaching, almost as a demonstration. Sure, let the other person order their lands above their creatures or whatever (Jemma actually had her lands on the left, and creatures on the right, which made me itch a little). But make sure your own board is clear, the lands are organised, the enchantments and artifacts are together, the creatures are together, etc. Tap and untap correctly (I’m terrible for just “slightly turning” a card when I tap it…) and generally be a good example of how to actually play!

Keywords
Okay, so sure, keywords can be tricky, especially if you don’t know what they mean. For the B/W deck, there was Deathtouch and Vigilance, and while I took care to ensure Deathtouch instances always included the explanation of that keyword, Vigilance unfortunately was not explained on the card. Similarly with the U/G deck, Prowess was always explained wherever it appeared, but there were instances of Flying and Trample that were not explained, so could cause problems when trying to remember. However, with perhaps the exception of Prowess, all of these keywords feature across a very wide range of Magic cards, so I think it’s really important that you get used to them from the start.

These keywords are also really quite symbolic of the colours they appear in – Vigilance in White, Trample in Green, etc. It’s important to see that these flying creatures can’t be blocked by non-flyers, so you need to come up with another plan. It makes the game much more interesting than just a case of throwing generic 2/2s against generic 3/3s. Magic isn’t about that, so why give that impression?

A note about Double Strike though – if I’d thought some more, I would probably have left that card out, so instead chose to explain it as basically doubling the damage dealt, and was careful not to block when doing so. You don’t need to be explaining the finer points of First Strike damage to somebody on their first ever game.

MTG Druid of the Cowl

Interactions
A lot of the joy and excitement that I get from this game comes from the interactions between cards, and colours, and I especially enjoy seeing those interactions work across block sets, as well. By only including basic creatures and basic lands in a starter deck, you remove so much of that from the game, and run the risk of making the game seem incredibly bland and unimpressive. At the very basic level, even a simple pump spell can make things seem more interesting.

I think the most complicated these introductory games became was when Jemma had a Hand of Silumgar with an Abzan Runemark attached, along with Chief of the Scale and Raiders’ Spoils out. That simple 2/1 Deathtouching Warrior was now a 5/4 Deathtouching Warrior – and then she played Rush of Battle to make it a 7/5 Deathtouch Lifelink Warrior! In contrast, I managed to draw 14 lands almost consecutively, and only had a Vedalken Blademaster out.

Needless to say, I lost both of our games…

Should you throw games when introducing somebody new to that particular world? A lot of the advice Warhammer players dish out is that yes, you should. By all means try, and deal out some damage, but don’t play at your normal level and smash face. Well, I think the same thing is true for introducing Magic to people. Don’t try to win too hard – not difficult for me with the U/G deck I was playing, but if I’d been playing the Warriors, I would perhaps have kept back some of the pump spells to make sure I didn’t overwhelm the board and demolish her.

I think it’s important to give a new person a good overview of the game, and allow them to play some cards, but it’s equally important to show them that it isn’t going to be a walk in the park. You don’t want someone to think, “Oh, that game’s really easy!” after a couple of games. So by all means, I’ll attack with that massive beast creature that I’ve just dumped some +1/+1 counters onto and pumped with a Titanic Growth. I might even throw some trample in there. But I’ll also make sure to block with my mana dorks, and put myself behind sometimes. I’m not trying to win a GP, I’m trying to get another human being into playing this game with me!

MTG Sunscorch Regent

Did it work?
On reflection, the Warriors deck is perhaps a little over-powered, in that it works extremely well. In theory, the Blue/Green Prowess deck should allow you to make creatures enormous, and could be really strong as well, but I think it needs more refinement if that were to happen.

For the first game, we played with open hands, and I was providing perhaps too much advice and guidance, such as who to target with certain cards, which creature to play at which point. I was doing so as fairly as possible, as I wanted to impart some of the strategy and stuff. It also helped that I was land-flooded and she could see that I wasn’t being nice, but that I couldn’t actually play anything to respond. For the second game, we went with the standard approach, although Jemma did still ask questions about if a certain play was possible. Warriors are fun, and the deck is very tight-knit, but it did become quite confusing for her when trying to remember who was buffing who, and how they were doing it.

However, for someone who freely admits she is no good at the strategy, she made some really strong plays during that second match, which I think vindicated my choice of not using just generic decks to play the game. When we’ve been playing Elder Sign and Eldritch Horror before now, she has made very good calls on what we, as a team, should be doing, but I think the fact that she was suddenly playing against me in this game made her feel like she couldn’t deal with it. Persistence showed she can, though, and so I hope we’ll get to play some more soon!

Have you tried to teach someone Magic? How did it go? I’d be interested to read your comments below!!

Vampire thoughts

Hey everybody!
It’s game day once again here at spalanz.com, and today I have something that I think is fairly interesting to share with you all: I’ve been thinking once more about Magic the Gathering, and have made some tentative steps into getting back into the game!

Remember at the back end of last year, when I tried my hand at a B/W Vampires sealed deck? Well I’ve been trying to do something more with that, making it more interesting while keeping it just within the Ixalan block rather than trying to be a full Standard experience. Well, I’ve been shuffling about with things, and while it might not be the best of decks out there, I thought it was cool enough that I wanted to share it here for game day!

Creatures
Bloodcrazed Paladin (2)
Anointed Deacon
Sanctum Seeker
Vicious Conquistador (2)
Skyblade of the Legion
Duskborne Skymarcher (2)
Legion Lieutenant (2)
Bishop of the Bloodstained (2)
Inspiring Cleric
Paladin of the Bloodstained
Skymarch Bloodletter
Elenda, the Dusk Rose
Vona, Butcher of Magan

Instants & Sorceries
Pride of Conquerors
Rallying Roar
Vampire’s Zeal (2)
Costly Plunder (2)
Call to the Feast (4)
Arterial Flow (2)
Queen’s Commission (2)

Enchantments
Raiders’ Wake
Mark of the Vampire

Artifacts
Pillar of Origins (3)

Lands
Unclaimed Territory
Forsaken Sanctuary (4)
Swamp (9)
Plains (9)

One of the things I really wanted to try with this build is making a ton of Vampire tokens, getting really aggressive with them, and if they die, then they just make Elenda bigger – or the Bloodcrazed Paladin, of course, if I can flash him in for a few +1/+1 counters. Having a lot of pump spells in there also should help to make those tokens more than just meh, and I particularly like things like the Sanctum Seeker and Bishop of the Bloodstained for causing direct life loss rather than having combat as the only way to win with an aggro deck.

I’ve built a lot of Vampire decks along the way, of course, and while I think I’ll always prefer B/R Vampires such as this deck from Shadows of Innistrad, I do like the way that Black and White plays in general, which is why so many of my decks over the years have been in these colours. I should also look into building a Mardu Vampires deck – along with building up this deck to a full 60 cards, I’ve had a number of thoughts on tinkering with the Edgar Markov Commander deck from last summer, too.

I think there is plenty that can still be done to this deck to improve it, and to that end I’ve got a few singles on order to help refine the play somewhat, including a second copy of Elenda. My first build of any deck tends to be a little bit wild as I try to jam in as many copies of interesting cards as I can, before finally trimming things down to more efficient methods. I mean, the aforementioned B/R Vampires deck ran like a dream, and I’d like to see if I could do the same thing with this build in B/W.

Crucially, I’ve had no opportunity to test this deck yet, so I’m hoping that I’ll have some further insights once I’ve managed to get in a few games. My time for Magic-playing has been almost non-existent for the past year, so I think I need to re-evaluate things and see if I can get back into game nights and whatnot!

Anyway, I think the fresh new look of Dominaria has gotten me intrigued enough that I’m once more buying Magic products and seeing what’s occurring in the multiverse, and I’m excited to see what’s coming up next in my deckbuilding adventures!

My first game with Tau

Hey everybody!
It’s time once more for a games day blog! Well, it has been some time. I wanted to talk about my experiences with playing Tau for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and my thoughts on both building the models and building my army. So I’m going to ramble for a bit about Tau – sit back, and enjoy!

My 1000-point list was, I think you’ll agree, slightly odd-looking. Well, that’s because I don’t know what I’m doing with Tau, and the list was built very much along the lines of, let’s throw some stuff together and see what happens. I was playing with Bork’an Sept rules, adding 6 extra inches to rapid fire and heavy weapons, with the Seeker of Perfection warlord trait, which adds 1 to the wound roll for each hit of 6+. Finally, I was using the Puretide Engram Neurochip relic to gain a command point on a d6 roll of 6 when an opponent uses a stratagem. Nice!

I have to be honest, though – I’m not sure how I did in that game! I think I managed to get the hang of certain things, and I could definitely see how the army wants to play after a couple of rounds, but I don’t really know if I won or lost. I was playing my usual opponent Robin, though this time he was playing Inquisition rather than Orks, which was a turn up for the books!

We played Burn & Pillage from the Open War cards, and the Twist we drew was Double or Nothing, drawing two extra cards: Acid Rain (yay) and Meeting Battle, which divides the armies into three (each), and one of these chunks is brought on each round. That was useful as it allowed me to bring on my army in small doses and get used to it that way.

The game went fairly okay, I think. I’d set up in the middle, and brought on the Pathfinders and Pirhana first. The Pirhana was quite useful as a melee tool, something I didn’t think I’d do with Tau. The Pathfinders probably could have been used better, but I suppose I was just getting used to them! I then brought on the Breachers, the Ethereal and the Devilfish (which had the Strike Team inside – not the Breachers! Whoops!) For the third deployment, I brought on my Commander and the Crisis Suits.

I think my main take-away from the game was that Marker Drones are very useful, but the Pathfinders are a much cheaper source of Markerlights, so I should use them to light up the field each turn, rather than worrying about saving their pulse carbine shots instead. I couldn’t quite get my head round to the idea that the bodies should be doing something useful, while the drones should be left to paint targets on everything. That clearly isn’t the way to go!

I like the idea of a gun-line, but I was a bit all over the place during this game due to the nature of the Open War cards. I think for my next game with them, I’d like to deploy as an actual gunline, and use some Fireblade support to get an extra shot off. Indeed, I want to look heavily into supporting the idea of a Tau gunline force, and have been tinkering a great deal with my list over the last few weeks.

The Coldstar Commander is something of an all-star, really, though I feel like I used him badly. The ability to advance 40″ across the field is actually really good, but I wasn’t making nearly as much of it as I should have been. He’s modelled with a Target Lock, as well, so there’s no excuse not to be dashing about and firing that high-output burst cannon all over the place. Definitely one to use again in the future, that!

The Crisis Suits are an iconic part of the army, for me, and I really want them there at the centre of all things. However, I once again did barely anything with them – I think the accompanying drones did more damage than these guys when it came to the battle! I think the fact they were the single most-expensive unit in the army made me a little over-cautious, and I ended up doing very little with them. So I think I need to re-evaluate my options for the future, there!

Overall, though, while people have been saying the codex isn’t as good as that of Necrons or Drukhari, I’m not that familiar yet with the army to feel that it is particularly bad. But I can say that my list was a bit too all over the place for comfort, and I’ve been weighing up a few options for alternative (and bigger) builds for the future. At the minute, then, this is what I’m looking down the barrel of:

I’m currently thinking a lot about playing larger-scale games, as I haven’t really explored anywhere above the 1000-point level in 8th Edition yet. So I’m going to be building towards 2000-points, but wanted to get there slowly. I’ve got most of this list actually built up anyway, and have recently picked up some more Crisis Suits in a second Start Collecting box so that I can really round things out. While I haven’t organised it as such in the above list, I have three detachments within this list, granting me a total 8 command points to use throughout the game – a very small Battalion, a fairly small Outrider, and the real meat of the force contained within the Vanguard, which itself covers more than half the total points.

I like this list because it feels like it puts the battlesuits at the centre of things, rather than the troops. The Pathfinders are there for Markerlights, mainly, though as there is the potential for redundancy here, especially since there are also six Marker Drones in the list, having the pulse carbines will be useful as well. The thought is that the Warriors will form a gunline, with the Fireblades peppered among them alongside the Pulse Accelerator Drones, which will fly off at the start of the battle to aid the pulse rifles of the Fire Warriors.

While I’m on the topic, I really like building Tau armies that use Fireblades as a cheap utility HQ, freeing up another HQ slot for a fancy Commander that can go off and do his own thing.

I freely admit that I may have been seduced into including the Broadside simply because he looks amazing. The heavy rail rifle reminds me of a longer-ranged dark lance, and I so often whiff on the damage rolls and end up getting just one point of damage that I’m invariably wary of such things now. However, the Bork’an Sept Stratagem does allow for a re-roll on random damage like this, so I suppose that will be useful!

The Ghostkeel, so far as I’m concerned, is a bit of a distraction carnifex, and I’m not particularly fussed as to what happens to it. 200 points is an expensive distraction, for sure, but it is a very pretty model, so I’m sure it’ll draw a lot of attention. Keeping the drones around will give any shooting attacks -2 to hit, so it could very possibly just walk (fly?) up the table and threaten virtually anything, firing six shots from the Cyclic Ion Raker from 30 inches away, and the Target Lock will allow for it to keep moving and firing that heavy weapon with no penalty. Add in another two shots from the fusion blasters, and it should take a lot of the heat off the other stuff I’m bringing!

I feel like I’ve been on a bit of a pendulum swing for 8th Edition so far, from building armies without a tremendous amount of thought for the CPs, to agonising over how I can get that third Battalion in there for the additional points. I think the Drukhari codex has seen the apex of the CP struggle, and I’m now getting a lot more conservative again – or, I should say, I’m back to building the kind of armies that I want to build, and not adding in an entire Spearhead detachment just because I want to add in a single Broadside. Anyway!

8 command points should be a fine number, especially if I’m sticking with the Puretide Engram Neurochip. There aren’t a tremendous amount of stratagems that I find myself wanting to use, after all. While in my first game, I didn’t use a lot of them because I was concentrating on getting the units to do what they’re supposed to do, I think on the whole there are some fairly underwhelming stratagems contained within the book, which I guess might be where a lot of folks are coming from with thinking it underpowered. There are a small handful of stratagems that I can see myself using, such as Repulsor Impact Field or Uplinked Markerlight, but on the whole I find them really quite situational, and also very specific as to the units they affect.

Maybe having underpowered stratagems is a way of balancing some of the tremendous firepower that the Tau can bring to bear in a battle.

At any rate, those are my rambling thoughts after my first game with the Tau!

Cities in Ruin!

Hey everybody!
It’s the first game day of 2018! It’s also the first game day in quite some time! With several life-changes going on these last few months, it’s been difficult to devote any real time to board games, but as per my Boxing Day tradition, I managed to get Eldritch Horror to the table, with predictably wonderful results! I sat down to no less than three games this time around, as the game proved to be a huge hit with my SO Jemma (and, it takes so much time to set up, once it’s there you might as well settle in for an afternoon!), and for the middle game we tried out the latest small box expansion, Cities in Ruin!

Eldritch Horror Cities in Ruin

This expansion brings one of my favourite Ancient Ones to the game, Shudde M’ell. The world-cracking king of the Cthonians originally appeared in the Dunwich Horror expansion for Arkham Horror, and of course was created by Brian Lumley in his short story Cement Surroundings. One of the non-Lovecraftian creations that has managed to retain significant traction among the mythos today, it’s also one of my favourites to go up against in Arkham Horror, so I was really looking forward to seeing how he’d be implemented in Eldritch Horror.

Like Yig and Ithaqua before him, Shudde M’ell has become so much more vicious in his Eldritch Horror incarnation!!

Eldritch Horror Cities in Ruin

Starting at 15 doom, Shudde M’ell looks like he should be fine, starting at the same point as Azathoth from the base game. However, true to form, he gets to destroy points on the board, which is where this expansion becomes a bit of a beast.

Eldritch Horror Cities in Ruin

To start with, Rome is ‘devastated’ – the city is wiped off the map, and all that remains are crumbling ruins. During set-up, three eldritch tokens are placed on the doom track and, when the doom counter reaches those, there is the chance that more cities will meet a similar fate.

Of course, they’re not really gone in the sense that you just skip over them if you’re moving through Europe, or something. When you arrive at a devastated location, rather than drawing from the normal deck you instead draw one of the Devastation cards, complex encounters that can net you useful stuff from poking about in the ruins. I found these to be particularly interesting, as the card will present you with a choice, and you can actually choose to resolve the failure part instead of the pass part, each of these then involving some kind of test with rewards for passing and detriments for failing. We’ve seen a similar thing with some Other World encounters, where you can still fail even when you passed the first part of the encounter, but even so, it’s interesting to see the depth going on in the game right now.

The other deck is, of course, the Disaster deck, which is drawn when finding out where on the map is going to be hit next. Shudde M’ell has got three in-built disasters in terms of the doom track anyway, but there are Mythos cards and other ways that can bring about Disasters, which range from destroying cities to removing all of the travel tokens from the game, as sea voyages become too perilous. It’s an added dimension to the game that I really enjoyed, especially if you’re relying on a specific location to buff a skill, or gain a spell, etc. I think it’s a tremendous addition, and I’m happy to say that there are additional Prelude cards included in the box to allow you to use the Disaster deck even if you aren’t trying to fend off Shudde M’ell. Excellent stuff!

Eldritch Horror Cities in Ruin

The investigators are more from the Arkham stable, I particularly liked Bob Jenkins and his ability to trade items with anybody on the board. We also get new assets and artifacts, conditions and spells, as well as new encounter cards and mythos cards that all help to bring in the feel of a monster lurking beneath the surface of the world – though without being quite so overt that you could still shuffle these into the deck and play against Yig, for instance. There are also Expedition encounter cards that make Shanghai and London possible locations, which I quite enjoyed – especially considering there is a Disaster that destroys these locations as well!

All in all, Cities in Ruin is another excellent expansion in what is becoming possibly the best game line Fantasy Flight is publishing right now! It’s certainly my top board game of the moment, and I am forever just bowled-over at how amazing these expansions are. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the expansions for Arkham Horror as much as the next man, but I feel that these for Eldritch Horror are designed with such care and attention that every single one of them has been so much more than simply, “more of the same”.

Definitely worth picking up if you enjoy this game!!

Mansions of Madness

Hey everybody!
Happy Halloween! While I don’t really go in for all the spooky stuff personally, I always try to feature a thematic game here on my game day blog, and today’s offering is something I’ve been wanting to get round to for a long time – let’s enter the Mansions of Madness!

Mansions of Madness

(This blog is about 1st Edition, which is currently the only edition that I have played).

Mansions of Madness is an utterly fantastic game. I need to tell you this right at the top, because this entire post will be coloured quite significantly by my love of this game. It was released back in 2011, I picked it up a year later, and had my first game with it around Christmastime. As usual, I played with my regular gaming buddy Tony, and we played through the first scenario, The Fall of House Lynch. While we were certainly enjoying playing the game, despite taking time to actually learn the ropes as we went, once the game was over we had a sort of joint moment of awe at what we’d just experienced. Despite the fact that this game took place almost five years ago now, I can still remember, quite vividly, both of us sort of leaning back from the table when it was over, and letting out a simultaneous “whoa” at how good this game is. Immersive just doesn’t seem to cover it. The game was spectacular – it was incredible, in the very truest sense of the word!

Okay, so enough with the rhapsodizing, let’s take a look at the game.

Mansions of Madness is a one-vs-many game that has its closest parallel (for me) in Descent, where one player takes on the role of the Keeper, while the rest of the group play as the standard stock of Arkham Investigators. The Keeper is an interesting role because, unlike the Overlord of Descent, he is part antagonist but also part DM, and I feel sometimes that people might miss the subtlety of this. Sure, as the Keeper you’re trying to defeat the Investigators, but there is a responsibility to ensure that the story that the game is trying to tell is told. If you play as the Keeper and sit there brooding evilly all game, then it’s not going to be a great experience. I’ve always played this game as the Keeper, so I guess I have more to say about this part than that of the Investigators.

Mansions of Madness

Let’s start with the board. Mansions of Madness is a scenario-based game, and you get five of them in the core set. The board is modular depending on each scenario, with room tiles placed as shown in the set-up guide. It is then the Keeper’s responsibility to “seed” cards in the rooms according to his own set-up guide. Each scenario has up to six distinct parts where the Keeper can make a choice – does he pick choice A, B or C for part one? These story choices determine which Clue cards are seeded into the rooms. The rooms also include items that the Investigators can claim, but many also have traps or locks to overcome before they can be discovered. The set-up guide is crucial for ensuring the cards are placed so that they are encountered in the correct order – locks are no good on the bottom of the pile, after all!

Mansions of Madness

Once the cards are placed, the Investigators set about exploring the Mansion. They’re trying to solve a mystery that is read out by the Keeper at the start of the game, and Mansions of Madness is one of the relatively few board games where flavour text simply must be read during the course of the game! It certainly helps with the theme, and relates to what I was talking about earlier, where the Keeper is part-DM in his role. The Investigators don’t actually get to know ahead of time what they need to do to win, so it’s critical to pay attention to the story, and not just charge about trying to gather up stuff. Though, like any good RPG, it’s always good to get stuff! It’s really cool how the Investigators get to actually make real-time choices about what to do, based on the story being told, and not just some random whim.

Something that really blew me away when I first played this game was the fact that the Investigators will often come across some locked item, either a door or a suitcase, and in order to overcome this obstacle, they need to solve a real, actual puzzle. Normally in these sorts of games, a player would just roll some dice and add a modifier to determine this, but no! There are a variety of different puzzles that you have to physically solve, such as the wiring puzzle shown above. Harvey Walters can have an Intellect of 7 (more on this shortly), meaning that he has up to 7 moves in this puzzle. Moves include rotating a piece 90º, swapping adjacent pieces, or removing a piece entirely and drawing a new one. In the above example, I actually managed it in 5 moves, which is fine for Harvey, but other characters might not fare so well!

Mansions of Madness

When you set up your Investigator character at the start of the game, you take the character’s card, then choose one of two Strength cards, and one of two Intellect cards, which give you the total stats for that character in the game. It’s an interesting way of mixing things up and, while you can’t alter your stats over the course of the game like Arkham Horror, it’s still a nice way of ensuring Investigators don’t always feel the same right out of the box.

The Keeper can interact with the Investigators in a variety of ways, using a currency of threat points. Over the course of each round, the Keeper gets a number of threat counters equal to the number of players, and he can use these to pay the costs on a number of different cards, such as the Mythos cards or Action cards. These can be played to either slowly increase the madness, or to suddenly go all-out and really spring the traps of the mansion!

Several of these cards do direct damage to the Investigators, and in true Arkham Horror-style, the Investigators can be both physically and mentally crippled over the course of the game. However, it’s not all shadowy-Keeper versus the Investigators, as there are a variety of monsters lurking in the dark places of the mansion, and the Keeper can use these to attack the Investigators head-on. Unlike in other Arkham-universe games, the monsters in Mansions of Madness are actual miniatures, though they also come with cardboard chits that slide into their bases for that classic Arkham Horror feel.

Mansions of Madness

The combat system in the game is card-based, which I seem to remember was somewhat in vogue around this time, with a few big games featuring cards rather than dice to resolve attacks. Dungeonquest has a similar kind of system, off the top of my head…

Mansions of Madness

So, rather than simply rolling dice and adding modifiers for strength, you determine what class of monster you’re attacking – humanoid (blue), beast (brown) or eldritch (green) and determine what weapon, if any, you’re using to go at it. You then draw cards from the appropriate deck until you find a card you can resolve – that is, a card that describes an attack with the type of weapon you’re using. There is still a dice element involved, as the cards will often ask you to test your Strength or something, but it’s overall a very different implementation of playing a board game.

You’ll no doubt notice that the cards above are split in two – this is because the same cards are used if an Investigator attacks a monster, or a monster attacks an Investigator. In my experience, it can be quite common for these decks to cycle through at least a couple of times over the course of a game, though subsequent expansions brought out more of them to add some variety!

Mansions of Madness

In addition to all of this, there is also an Event deck going on irrespective of what both Keeper and Investigators are up to in the mansion. This Event deck consists of five cards, one of which is drawn after a set number of turns has elapsed, and its effects are resolved by the Keeper based on the story choices he made during the set-up. In the Fall of House Lynch scenario, the Objective card is revealed when the fourth event card is drawn, and this Objective then determines what happens. It’s an interesting way to keep something of a timer on the game, ensuring that you don’t end up just endlessly wandering about durdling, but in all of the games that I’ve played, I have never felt like these cards got in the way of the flow of the game.

Indeed, the whole game in general just flows very smoothly. For sure, it flows much better if you have experienced players – particularly an experienced Keeper – but despite the weight of stuff in the core set box, it does actually feel quite streamlined and, dare I say, intuitive when you start playing. Don’t get me wrong, there are a bajillion moving parts in this game, and it can be something of a nightmare to deal with, but if you just sit back and immerse yourselves in the story, you will be rewarded beyond your imagination!

I hear that Second Edition has streamlined the game somewhat, not least by relegating the role of Keeper to an app. I thought it surprising the new edition finally added actual new Investigators to the pool of Arkham Horror denizens – Agatha Crane, Carson Sinclair and Father Mateo join the ranks of Harvey Walters, Jenny Barnes and “Ashcan” Pete! I was initially dismayed to learn that the Keeper had been removed, and it strikes me that the app feels more like playing a video game than a tabletop board game. I haven’t actually purchased the new edition, but I’m nevertheless intrigued as to whether the new Investigators will make the shift into those Arkham games that I do follow!

Interestingly, there was an article published on the FFG website earlier this year that talked about Mansions of Madness – and more broadly about Arkham games in general – and their family-friendly theme. It’s not something I’d thought about before, but these games can actually feel like a horror movie when done right. Is that the sort of thing you want to play through with your kids? Mansions of Madness has a rating of “ages 14+”, while Arkham Horror is 12+, which I’m really surprised by. Though I suppose the threat in the older game is somewhat more magical, whereas games of Mansions often involve blood-crazed maniacs trying to hack off your leg with an axe, and the like. There’s something more visceral, I suppose, and it can be quite terrifying to younger children if you have a good Keeper…

At any rate, I cannot recommend this game enough, certainly at this time of year!!

No longer Standard: Innistrad

Hey everybody!
There’s a distinctly horror-filled theme to game day blogs this month, as we approach ever-closer to Halloween and, today, I thought I’d share with you all a deck that I’ve built for Magic the Gathering that sees a lot of stuff I never thought I’d use in a deck! We’re headed to the plane of Innistrad, where vampires and werewolves prowl the night, and it’s all the people can do to invoke the angels to keep them from harm!

Innistrad

Innistrad block came out across 2011-12, and features the expansions Innistrad, Dark Ascension, and Avacyn Restored. As per usual, we had several new mechanics featured in the block, the most famous of which being the double-faced cards. These cards have no card back, but instead feature a day and night side, with text that describes the conditions under which the card turns from its day to its night side (and sometimes, night to day). The card never leaves the battlefield, so any auras or counters remain on that card after its transformation. The mechanic was predominantly used on human cards that transformed into werewolves, though there were a couple more instances (including a knife that turns into a demon).

This really serves to highlight the gothic horror theme of Innistrad, which is perhaps one of the most flavourful sets ever released for Magic the Gathering. There are predominantly five tribes explored over the cards in the set, each tribe belonging to an allied colour pair: the aforementioned werewolves in red and green; vampires in black and red; zombies in blue and black; spirits in white and blue, and humans in green and white.

Innistrad

Innistrad, as a horror-themed set, also featured graveyard mechanics such as Flashback (first seen back in Odyssey), as well as wider graveyard strategies in general. Morbid was a mechanic that granted creatures benefits if another creature died this turn. Dark Ascension continued the horror theme by giving us Undying cards, which triggers when a creature without +1/+1 counters on it dies, bringing the creature back with such a counter. Fateful Hour is an ability that triggers if your life total is 5 or less, often providing a last-minute boost for creatures in some way. Despite often being overlooked, I think this mechanic is one of my favourites purely for the theme!

Finally, Avacyn Restored brought more new mechanics, including Miracle, a card that could be cast for its Miracle cost if it is the first card drawn that turn – the card frame was changed slightly to show that the card was a Miracle card, and led to players doing that weird sliding the card across the playmat towards themselves to ensure the card didn’t hit their hand before they cast it. Soulbond allows you to pair a creature with another creature, and both of them get a specific ability as a result. Both mechanics featured across all colours except black, which saw a return of the Undying mechanic and an emphasis on controlling just one creature (as the opposite of Soulbond).

Innistrad block is widely said to be one of the best in Magic’s recent history, with many people praising the theme as well as the play environment. There are a lot of notable cards from the set, though perhaps overwhelmingly worth mentioning here is Liliana of the Veil, the second Liliana planeswalker card, and a card that is widely agreed to be the second most powerful planeswalker in the game.

MTG Liliana of the Veil

Sadly, I don’t have enough kidneys to sell to afford a Liliana of the Veil, so the deck I’ve been tinkering with for a while is centred instead on one of the Angel cards from Avacyn Restored: Bruna, Light of Alabaster.

Bruna, Light of Alabaster

Bruna is a blue/white angel who can draw all of the auras to herself from across the battlefield, graveyard and your hand whenever she attacks or blocks. It’s an interesting mechanic that I had originally given some thought to much earlier in the year – back when I was in my Commander phase, as it happens! I do like auras, despite the fact that you risk losing them all if the creature they’re stuck to dies, and have collected up quite a few across my collection. In addition to this, I wanted to try out making a deck that focuses on Humans, a tribe that I usually don’t bother with as I prefer the more fantastical creatures on offer! So, looking through my Magic collection at the Innistrad-block cards specifically, I came up with this deck as a sort of Angelic Humans blue-white aggro thing:

Creatures
Alabaster Mage
Bruna, Light of Alabaster
Captain of the Mists
Elgaud Shieldmate (2)
Goldnight Commander (2)
Goldnight Redeemer (2)
Gryff Vanguard (2)
Herald of War
Lunar Mystic
Nearheath Pilgrim (2)
Tandem Lookout
Thraben Valiant (2)
Veteran Armorsmith
War Priest of Thune

Enchantments & Artifacts
Angelic Accord
Call To Serve (2)
Divine Favor
Holy Strength (2)
Tricks of the Trade (2)
Scroll of Avacyn (2)

Instants & Sorceries
Break of Day (2)
Ghostform (2)
Glorious Charge (2)
Inspired Charge
Mass Appeal (2)
Skillful Lunge (2)

Land
Forbidding Watchtower
Glacial Fortress
Island (7)
Plains (8)
Seraph Sanctuary (2)

Bruna, Light of Alabaster

It’s nothing special, but there are some fun things going on there that make me happy, so I can’t complain too much! I do want to look at the mana base some more, and there are a few cards I’d like to include to further help the strategy (Champion of the Parish is top of that list!) But I thought I’d play with this thing first, and see where it takes me from there!

Innistrad is definitely one of those sets that has stood the test of time, with plenty of flavourful cards that I find myself coming back to time and again. Well, I do love me some vampires!!