I saved the world last night

Arkham was swarming with robed cultists, trying to bring down the end of the world. They were using the newspaper building to distract me with their depraved rituals, but I was able to foil their plans and ward the city against the blind idiot god coming down and destroying the world. Of course it was at the black cave, the nexus of their foul sorceries, where it all went down. The city was mad with anomalies erupting across neighbourhoods, but in the end it didn’t matter, because we live to fight anew. Azathoth has not claimed this world. For now.

Well folks, I had my second ever game of Arkham Horror (third edition) last night, and I somehow managed to win! I think it was almost entirely by accident, but I’m still claiming it as a success!

Arkham Horror third edition

Arkham Horror is still a long game, I think it took me close to 3 hours to play it, but that did include roughly 40 minutes of set-up time. I was really surprised, I think, by just how quickly I seemed to grasp the rules this time around – considering my only other game was in January 2021, I can hardly say I’m an expert but somehow things just seemed to flow better. The rhythm of what I can do as an investigator, for example, was quite easy to get into, and the structure of each round quickly became ingrained so that I was just able to play the game, rather than continually looking things up.

I think my investigator choice helped here, though. I was playing as Jenny Barnes and Dexter Drake, and both of them had ways to take an additional action very early on in the game. Jenny, with her pistols, was a combat beast, and Dexter was able to keep doom in check for as long as possible. I can’t say enough how much it helped to have those additional actions though, and I think that was probably how I was able to play it fairly quickly.

Learning Point #1: You cannot take the same action twice in each round! At least once I had Jenny move twice, or move, kill, move, which probably explains why it felt a lot easier this time around!

Arkham Horror third edition

Dexter was quite the beast at removing doom, as well, and I found it quite useful to send him into Anomalies to try to close those gates etc. Even when monsters found their way to him, he is able to evade them using his will attribute, making him quite impressive, I have to say! He’s a spellcaster, of course, but I found that spells just didn’t really come up for this game. He did pretty well as my clue gatherer, although I found that I had to focus his observation attribute to ensure he was able to spend the clues.

Learning Point #2: Focus tokens are only “spent” to re-roll dice, and not when you use that attribute! I was discarding the token when I took a Research action, but that doesn’t seem to be how it works!

As I’ve said, the structure of the game really seemed to flow this time around. It was useful having Jenny out hunting monsters, of course, because once the Action phase was done, there were often no monsters on the board to worry about. True, sometimes I was putting my investigators into a specific neighbourhood to get them to have an encounter there, in the hope of gathering clues – as such, once they had moved I found I was at a loss for the second (or third) action to take, and would just randomly focus an attribute, or get $1. Money is something I wasn’t really finding myself concerned with, as only a couple of encounters seemed to want me to have any, or didn’t really have any bad things happen if I didn’t spend any money.

Arkham Horror third edition

Now, I did wonder if I was playing it wrong at first, when I was using Jenny to attack monsters. If she is going on the hunt and actively engaging them, it seemed quite easy to kill them by having her roll 6 dice. Maybe I got lucky, of course, but nothing really seemed to be a problem for her – of course, by the mid-point in the game she was taking an additional action, re-rolling one of the dice, +1 to a dice, and so on, so her attack suite was quite formidable! Even the monsters with four health she was able to pretty much one-shot, so it wasn’t much trouble. It’s only in the monster phase that they attack the investigators, though, so the fact that nothing survived to get there worked really well.

Ultimately, though, there are only five pages of rules, which set things out really well and enable you to work out exactly what you’re supposed to be doing and when. While the game might look complicated, especially in terms of its table presence, but also the fact I said it takes 40 minutes to set up, it plays really well, and I’m actually surprised that I haven’t played this more since I originally got it out last year. There’s a reputation, though, for Arkham games to be quite sprawling, and stuff like second edition, or Eldritch Horror, even the LCG, come with that feel of “this is going to take all day!” when you play them.

Arkham Horror third edition

In comparison to second edition, I find third edition to be a real delight. The older game is one of the greats, don’t get me wrong, and you can really lose yourself in the mythos as you spend the whole evening playing. Games lasting 5 hours or more were quite common, and sometimes I quite enjoyed the fact that I could plan to play this thing all night. However, it does suffer from essentially being the same game each time, just with a different Ancient One and different investigators. The monsters are all the same, the encounters are all (mostly) the same, and so on. Adding in expansions does give you more monsters, more encounters, and more Ancient Ones, but you’re mostly doing the same thing each time. Later expansions tried to have different stuff going on as well, of course, but overall it’s very much the same premise.

Third Edition Arkham Horror is scenario-based, so whereas it could be said you’re playing the same scenario in the older game, here you’re tweaking almost everything to suit. The board layout is different, the monsters are different, the “mythos deck” / Codex is different, and so forth. You’re doing the same things, mechanically, but thematically you’re trying to accomplish different goals. I think having the scenario event deck is a great way to give more variety right out of the box, as otherwise you do only have 8 cards per neighbourhood, and we all know how stale that situation got for Second Edition. Having additional cards which get shuffled into the encounter deck when you’re investigating clues, which change given each scenario, is a great way to mix things up.

Arkham Horror third edition

I think this game is a great addition to the shelf, and in many respects it has improved on the last one. I sold all of my second edition stuff a few years ago, so no longer have it to play with regardless, but I remember it well enough that I can positively say this is a real step up. It makes the game a story, which was definitely missing from the last game – it could be really quite random and becomes really abstract by comparison. Sure, this game is still representative of battling the eldritch mysteries of the cosmos, but it isn’t quite so random. The monsters feel right for what you’re doing, for instance, and everything pulls together really well to tell a good story of what you’re trying to do. Having that narrative backdrop is really key, I think, and it’s probably a good portion of the success of the LCG, which is supreme at giving that kind of narrative.

I’m going to make a real effort to play more of this going forward, and I think before the end of the year I’m going to want to pick up at least the first expansion, which adds more of the same. I’m not entirely sure, of course, but I think there are more encounter cards as well as more investigators and so on, which is always a welcome bonus. After the Silver Twilight expansion that came out last year, I think there’s a feeling that the game might be finished already, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing as sometimes Arkham Files games can go on quite a bit! While I always love to have more game to play and enjoy, there is that danger of just repeating the old game’s line of expansions, so we can look forward to the Dunwich expansion, the Innsmouth expansion, etc. As much as I like the idea of getting more game to play, expansions for the sake of it aren’t the way to do this. I think that having stuff that adds more to the game, without necessarily cluttering the experience, is the way to go, and from my limited knowledge of the expansions for this game, it seems that’s what we have here. Arkham Horror third edition is a traditional FFG board game, where we have the base game and one expansion per year. As I’m getting older, with far less time for these sorts of things, that is exactly the kind of schedule that I think the company should keep to!

Doom in the Jungle!

We’re back, folks! Yes, it’s only been a few short months since I left Ursula Downs and Lily Chen in the Mexican jungle, but I am finally getting back to The Forgotten Age campaign.

The City of Archives

Arkham Horror LCG

So, following on from the Heart of the Elders, I knew we would be in for some weirdness as we had been abducted by alien Yithians at the end of that scenario. Well, for this one the investigators are basically Yithians themselves for the duration! Our minds have been transplanted and we’re wandering around the archives with Yithians observing our behaviour in their never-ending thirst for knowledge. Somewhat based on The Shadow Out of Time, having a knowledge of that tale did give me something of an idea for what I would be in for, although I do still feel fairly adrift at the minute with the campaign, not knowing where I am headed etc!

The scenario is definitely interesting, giving us the Yithian investigator cards for the duration. To begin with, we cannot use any Item assets as we basically don’t understand how our new Yithian bodies work. Then, we can use items but we’re still stuck in these bodies, and our hand size is reduced as a result. There are cards that will discard from our decks, making us approach the brink all the quicker, and this becomes especially important near the end, as we need to be able to draw up to a hand of 10 or more cards to advance the final act of the scenario. Throughout, however, it’s interesting how the enemies are Aloof and leaving us be, and the main threat comes from the slew of encounter cards we’re drawing.

We also need to complete six tasks, which influences how well we will complete the scenario. I was able to complete four of them, all with Ursula Downs, though at the last minute, Ursula took too much horror and was eliminated! It worked out well for me, though, because she had the most cards to draw – Lily already had a few cards in hand, so was able to get to 10 without any major problems and so could advance the act without her buddy in arms.

At the end, we are able to restore our minds to our bodies, but Alejandro is nowhere to be seen – the dastardly villain! I was able to get 7 experience points, so have taken the time to upgrade both decks for the final two scenarios. I already have 11 points left from the last two scenarios, so I definitely need to spend some of this! Though I’m toying with the idea of throwing in a side quest, almost as a “we need to take some time out after all that outer body experience!” but thematically it doesn’t really fit, as my investigative duo are in the middle of getting to this Nexus…

The Depths of Yoth

Arkham Horror LCG

This one was a very peculiar scenario, but the more that I think about it, the more I think I really liked it! There’s only one Act card, and basically you are forced to repeat the same action over and over again – collect three clues per investigator, advance the Act deck, add a depth counter to the scenario card, then reset and go again. When you get to five depth counters, you’ve gone down far enough and you can reach the resolution. Obviously, there are nasty things in the encounter deck, some of them are particularly nasty and you can see how they are designed purely to wear down the investigators. It’s an interesting take on the usual type of scenario like this, where you’re having to get to a set point, but instead of discovering a specific location at a specific point in the game, as we’ve seen with other scenarios where the location is put in by the act or agenda deck (or is the reverse of one of those cards), here we’re almost wandering aimlessly through the caverns, trying to find the Nexus.

Of course, I didn’t bring any torches with me, so I guess it could be different if you chose different supplies at the start of this journey!

It was interesting, to me, because it’s a definite race against the Agenda deck, which is quite big this time around. All of that Vengeance and Yig’s Fury comes into play here, as it decides how far into the Agenda deck you begin. There is an actual Yig ancient one card involved here too, but fortunately I was able to get to the fifth depth counter before he appeared.

Shattered Aeons

Arkham Horror LCG

The finale is here, and it’s another interesting scenario. We’re at the Nexus, and almost for the whole scenario, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was trying to do. At one point, I had the option to join forces with Alejandro but, thinking back to my experiences with how he sold us out to the Yithians, I didn’t want to end the world just yet. It felt a bit like each time I was able to advance the Act deck, the goalposts shifted, and I had to do something different. However, the final stage became pretty much a race through time and space as Ursula strove to explore as many ‘shattered’ locations while Lily went around beating up cultists, and we were able to do pretty well to mend the tear in the fabric of time, and win the campaign!

Any scenario that uses the Dark Cult and Ancient Evils decks together is a winner in my book, and basically this final game was an exercise in stopping Cultists from winning, classic Lovecraft for sure. I was a bit surprised when we didn’t end up going to a specific other world, but instead there are locations such as Yuggoth, or the shores of Ry’leh. It fits with the theme of a tear in the fabric of time, or reality, or whatever, but up to now I suppose I have been somewhat expecting the finale to see us travel to an outer realm.

I do like Central America as a location, and it does evoke that kind of Indiana Jones vibe by having us exploring hidden temples and forgotten ruins in the Mesoamerican jungle. The surprise, for me, was how we ended up going back to Arkham for a few scenarios as well, but I suppose it is the name of the game! It’s definitely been a wild ride, this time around!

Now, I’m not sure why The Forgotten Age is seen as a bad campaign. I enjoyed myself, even if I did find some elements difficult, or I was unsure what I was supposed to be aiming for. I suppose it all adds an element of mystery that I think is probably what this game is all about – you shouldn’t know what to do from the off, and decisions like whether to join with Alejandro were based on my experiences with him in-game, rather than from any other reason. It all helps to tell a story that I think is really interesting – I may not have trusted Alejandro at first, but I thought it was important to keep him on side. When he betrayed us, it felt real, somehow!

I think the investigator team I took with me this time, Ursula Downs and Lily Chen, really worked well for me. Ursula is built for investigation, and I was able to assemble a really good deck around her over the course of the campaign. I think it really shows how quickly she was able to explore those locations and just win, in the end. What a beast! Lily was a different kettle of fish, I think the whole she’s-a-mystic-no-she’s-a-guardian thing was a bit weird, and made deckbuilding for her a bit awkward at times, as there were Mystic cards I would have loved to upgrade her into, but couldn’t. I’m sure I missed some auto-include cards, as well, but I ended up with quite a beefy deck which, in a scenario like Depths of Yoth which is mainly throwing treachery cards out, she didn’t have a lot to do. I feel as though she needs some specific cards that are right for her, whether that’s more multi-class cards that she’s allowed to level into, or something more bespoke still. It’s definitely an interesting character design, but while she is one of my favourites from the Arkham Files, I don’t see myself playing with her again in a hurry.

On that note, however, I suppose it’s time to give some thought as to what to go for next! Now, I am leaning very heavily into the Edge of the Earth campaign, as I’m excited to see what that has in store for us. The Scarlet Keys is due out in about a month’s time, though, so I could give myself a break from Arkham maybe, and try that one when it’s fresh? I have a Trish Scarborough deck still built from ages ago, though, and I’m kinda keen to get that to the table for a game, so I might have a think and see how much the urge to play is there. I might well start on another campaign in the coming days, anyway!

Marvel Champions: it begins…

Last week, I started down the road of a brand new game, finally picking up a box of Marvel Champions. It’s almost three years old now, and has up until very recently just passed me by! After musing on it for a couple of days though, I decided that it was going to be worthwhile to pick up a copy – especially as my wife and I have recently been catching up with Phase Four of all the Marvel stuff on Disney+.

I’d decided that I was going to treat this as much as I could as a blind-buy, making no prior effort to learn how it plays or read up on any of the rules, instead going old-school and actually reading the rule book to learn how it plays. Novel, huh?

So, I excitedly picked up the core set (and £30 worth of sleeves), and set about learning the ropes.

Marvel Champions

The game plays a little bit like Lord of the Rings LCG, in that you’re playing against an encounter deck. I mean, you’re technically playing against a villain, who can attack your chosen hero, but the bulk of gameplay interactions seem to come from the encounter deck rather than anything else. The villain is trying to both complete his scheme and eliminate the heroes, while the heroes are trying to defeat the villain and stall his scheme. The core set comes with five heroes and three villains. This is, of course, a living card game, so there are a whole host of cards in the box to bulk this out.

Let’s start with the heroes. There are four spheres (I think they call them Aspects) from which you can choose to play, and each one has a significant bunch of cards here to support that. Each hero comes with fifteen signature cards, which to some extent will dictate the archetype that hero is leaning into, although heroes don’t seem to be tied in to any one Aspect. I have no real idea about how the deck building for Marvel Champions works just yet, because I’m trying to get to grips with how the game plays! But I believe you need to pick all of your cards from one of the four, and can’t mix. I’ll get to this in a future blog, when I have become more familiar with the game…

The villain is represented by a couple of cards, it seems, and similar to Marvel Legendary, you need to fight your way through a couple of iterations of the villain before you win. The villain has a scheme that he is trying to achieve, which seems to be somewhat similar to the quest deck in LotR (though if the scheme deck is completed, the heroes lose here). There is then the encounter deck, which is made up of sub-decks, again very similar to LotR. Here, though, it is less prescriptive, and I think you can choose what sub-decks to include alongside the villain’s main deck. I like this idea a lot, as I’ve read that further expansions have brought more and more of these sub-decks, which can change up how any villain plays.

Marvel Champions

The game round is actually really quite straightforward. You play cards and take actions, then the villain schemes and you draw encounter cards. During the hero phase, you play cards, discarding other cards to pay their cost. I must admit, I struggled with this early on because I didn’t want to discard those cards!! I also made a fairly silly mistake by discarding two of Spider-Man’s web-kick attack cards to play a third copy – the card deals 8 damage to the villain, so it’s pretty good!! Ah well. You can also take actions like attacking, or trying to thwart the villain’s scheme, by removing tokens from it. Hero cards are double-sided, with their alter-ego on the back. The side you end on will determine what the villain does when he activates.

In the villain phase, the villain will start off by adding a token to his scheme, providing a bit of a clock situation. Then, depending on whether you’re in your hero or alter-ego form, he will either attack or scheme. Attacking will deal damage, surprisingly, while scheming adds more tokens to the scheme. After that, you draw an encounter card and deal with that – either a minion, an attachment, a treachery or a side-scheme. Very LotR-like.

Side schemes don’t contribute their own threat level to the main scheme, in the way that Arkham Horror LCG counts the doom out on the table as a whole. That was a bit of a learning point for me during my first game, as I was a little worried that I was about to lose between the two schemes in play. However, side schemes here serve to basically annoy you, collecting threat each round but also contributing problems to you, such as drawing extra encounter cards or adding more threat to the main scheme. They’ll be in play until the heroes are able to thwart those as well, reducing them to 0 threat.

Marvel Champions

My first game was quite a surprise for me, as I was learning the ropes and whatnot. I think the first round had a bit of “is that it?!” to it, as I followed the rulebook to work out what I can do etc. I think it’s one of these games where you need to play it a lot with zero expectations of winning, as you try to get a grip on how your deck works and so on. Trying to evaluate cards for their utility – should I discard x to pay for y? – without really knowing what the game is about is always going to be fraught with analysis paralysis. But that’s okay, because you need to learn just what is going on, what is in your deck, and what you can do as a player. That’s going to take time, but hopefully I’ll be able to play it more and see just what it’s all about.

The other thing, of course, is that I was playing true solo, using Spider-Man against Rhino. There are going to be deficiencies when using just one deck, as you can’t cover every aspect of the game by yourself. I just don’t want to confuse the issue by trying to control two heroes just yet, and I want to get at least a basic understanding of the game before introducing it to Jemma.

The game did seem to be fairly quick to play as well – even my first game, where I was constantly back-and-to between my cards and the rulebook, only took about an hour. It seems like it is designed to be fairly light, fairly no-nonsense, yet still with enough tactical depth that you can really enjoy it as a game. It doesn’t play itself, of course, and you have a lot that you can do, but it doesn’t seem to be the kind of game that will take you a whole day to play. Not even a whole evening, really. Which I guess speaks to the fact it seems to be wanting to attract Marvel fans as well as card game fans.

Marvel Champions

In terms of learning the game by myself, though, it’s been a very interesting experience to go back to learning something by reading through the rulebook, and playing along step-by-step. I think I was strongly reminded of my first game with Rune Age, all those years ago, where I had followed the set-up instructions and it was time for my turn to begin, and I just sat there, not knowing what I’m supposed to do! Game rulebooks have improved since then, of course, and while there can be a lot of bumph to get through, designers are becoming clearer with how the course of a round is explained. I particularly like the fact that FFG have adopted as standard the two-book format of learn to play guides followed by rules references, so that the first book gives you everything you need to actually get going, but then the latter is there to explain some aspects, interactions, or complex cases as they come up.

I was surprised that I’ve been able to learn how to play this purely from reading the rulebook, which I realise is a fairly stupid thing to say because that’s the point of the rulebook, but still! So often these days, we seem to rely on watching videos on YouTube and someone else telling us how to play, someone else telling us how to build a deck and what the best ways of playing a game are. I have really enjoyed going old school on this, and learning to play from the rulebook, and learning how a deck works by actually playing it. It’s been a nice kind of bubble-game, almost, one that I’ve been able to get on with in my own time, and it’s been wonderful as a result!

Overall, I think I’m a very happy sausage with this game.

Marvellous!!

Hey everybody,
I’m very excited to announce that I’m now the proud owner of the Marvel Champions LCG! This is my excited face.

The game came out in 2019, and I suppose at the time I was busy with a newborn child so gaming wasn’t massively high on the agenda! However, I’d not really been that interested in picking up the game until I was looking into it a few weeks ago, when I was looking at the older Star Wars card games, and thinking about how a possible future card game could work. I was tentatively interested, but kept telling myself that I shouldn’t really get into another LCG. Marvel isn’t high on my list of fandoms, truth be told, either, and I had sold off my Marvel Legendary collection a while ago, thinking I don’t really need a Marvel game. Yet something kept nagging at the back of my mind.

Then my buddy Tony started talking about it earlier this week, and I did a little more digging. I have to say, the game sounds really quite impressive. I’ve only watched the preview video from FFG, and have otherwise steered clear of actual gameplay videos, instead reading a couple of general reviews and so on. It sounds like a really good game, with a lot of replayability and a lot to enjoy. It’s got me really keen – and so here we are!

I’ve decided, with this game, to make it a bit of a feature on the blog – I really am excited!

Something that has been running around my mind for a while now is how we tend to learn to play games nowadays. Back when I was playing games with my ex-girlfriend, we would sit down and take, potentially, a whole day to learn how a game works. Something like Arkham Horror was a weekend experience, playing real slow to make sure we were doing it right. Nowadays, though, you just type it into youtube or something, and away you go. However, I want to get “back to basics”, so to speak, and really try to discover the game by myself as far as possible first. So I’m really looking forward to this as I take the time to work through how the whole thing works.

I’ve also treated myself to some new sleeves for the game, too! For years, I have been using FFG sleeves, which I first bought for the Star Wars LCG and then bought massive amounts for both Marvel Legendary (weirdly!) and Lord of the Rings LCG. I’ve reused most of these since for Arkham Horror LCG, and Magic of course, but I don’t recall the last time I bought new sleeves for a game. So there’s more reason to be excited!

New sleeves, new game – it’s very exciting!

I’m also fairly impressed with myself, because I’m buying into a pre-existing game without going all-in from the off! From my somewhat limited meta research though, it seems like you don’t need to get everything for the game, as the model isn’t the same as other LCGs where the monthly packs provide an on-going narrative, but it’s closer to the older, competitive LCGs that basically boost your card pool, while providing playable heroes for your collection.

I’m looking forward to having a game that I can enjoy without trying to constantly meta-chase, and one that it might be nice to add to from time to time.

But for now, I have over 300 cards to sleeve…

No Longer Standard: Zendikar

Hey everybody,
It’s time for another one of these no longer Standard blogs! I wouldn’t say that I’m getting back into Magic per se, but I am definitely paying some more attention to the game once again, and have been enjoying looking through the collection to see what I have, and so on. Zendikar is one of the big planes that looms large in the lore, for me, and really seems to provide a certain something that really showcases what the game is about. I don’t really know what it is, there’s just something about this block, more so even than Ravnica or Innistrad, which just screams “this is Magic!” to me!

Zendikar was released in October 2009, and was the 50th expansion for Magic the Gathering, coming on the heels of the Alara block. Alara Reborn was apparently a bit of a dud, with 5-colour decks being pushed to the point where everything seemed a little bland, players were hyped for a new set on a new plane. The set brought us to a new plane within the multiverse, although we had seen the native Kor in earlier sets. Zendikar is also home to goblins and vampires, among others. The set was flavoured mainly around Land, with the new mechanic Landfall forming a big part of things. Landfall is an ability word that grants an effect when a land is played, so can become quite important if you get such a card early enough when you’re still building up your mana base. Land was also given importance by the inclusion of full-art land cards in boosters, the first time this was a thing in a regular Magic set. Players seem to love the full-art lands, but I’m not a big fan personally. However, they do excite the player-base!

One of the most important aspects of the original Zendikar set was the enemy-coloured Fetch Lands being printed. Allied colour Fetch Lands were a thing going back to 2002’s Onslaught, so having the cycle completed here gave people a lot more choice. Generally speaking, allied colour combinations get more support than enemy pairs, it’s just the way the game seems to be designed, so it’s always quite nice to get these things (especially for me, as I love Black/White and Blue/Green!) Fetch Lands also had a useful tie-in to the Land theme, as they would provide two Landfall triggers if that’s something you were going for. Of course, they’re not cheap, because they’re so sought after…

The style of Zendikar is quite distinctive thanks to the fact there are massive floating hedrons scattered across the plane. The theme was one of adventure, and I think this comes across when you look at the artwork on the cards, you can see there is that element of places to discover – somehow, the Zendikar artwork really manages to excite me into wanting to discover more of the plane! Priceless Treasures to be discovered was a pretty bonkers thing Wizards did to market the set, as well, by including cards from Beta and other early sets randomly in booster packs, including cards from the reserved list – they weren’t reprinted cards, but cards from the original print run that were obviously just lying about. So you could get one of the Power Nine cards from a booster, which is probably why booster boxes for Zendikar are so rare out in the wild, regardless of its age. It’s interesting, because when Wizards revisited Zendikar with Battle for Zendikar, they introduced Expedition Lands which were reprints with new artwork etc of powerful land cards from the past. Heretofore I hadn’t realised that this idea was a callback to the original marketing!

In addition to Landfall, we have Quest cards which are enchantments that gather quest counters on them, usually giving a reward at the end. A subtype of instant spells is the new Trap card, which have an alternative casting cost if an opponent did something this turn. Ally is a new creature subtype that was introduced, and will trigger off the number of existing Allies you have out on the board. Intimidate replaced Fear as a form of evasion, making the creature unblockable except by artifacts and creatures who share a colour with it. Kicker is back, and finally, the vampires of the set have the Bloodied effect which makes them more dangerous if an opponent is at 10 or less life.

The second set of the block was Worldwake, and was released in January of 2010. The set continued the theme of lands being important, and introduced Manlands (I think they now call them creature lands) which have the ability to turn into Elemental creatures until end of turn. Here we had the allied colour pairings; it wasn’t until Battle for Zendikar block that we had the enemy colour pairings. There are also Zendikon auras that you can attach to regular lands to make them into creatures. Multikicker was a new keyword introduced here that allowed you to Kick a card as many times as you could afford to pay the activation cost; you could then activate the ability on the card for each time you paid the cost. I like Multikicker for a late-game play, when you might have a lot of mana but not a great deal to do with it. It’s like including X-spells, where you can make an effect bigger the more mana you pump into it.

Worldwake brought us the first four-ability Planeswalker, too: Jace, the Mind-Sculptor. He’s a bit like Liliana of the Veil from original Innistrad block, in many ways – one of the mythical Planeswalker cards that excites the fanbase so much whenever the name is mentioned. His abilities are notorious, with a +2 that lets him look at the top card of a player’s library, then put it on the bottom; and a -12 that allows him to exile a player’s library and shuffle their hand to form their new library. Remember, if you can’t draw a card, you lose the game. Of course, Jace’s starting loyalty is 3, so it’ll take him a while to get there; also, he came out in a block that included the Planeswalker-killer Vampire Hexmage, who removes all counters from a card (meaning all loyalty counters in this instance, killing the Planeswalker). But he still gets consistently more play than the Hexmage, who is predominantly used in strategies to bring out Marit Lage from the Dark Depths – but that’s a story for another day.

Zendikar block concluded with Rise of the Eldrazi in April 2010, which was another large set and shifted its focus slightly to the massive Eldrazi creatures. They had been previewed of sorts on the card Eye of Ugin from Worldwake, but with no further explanation until this set came out. The set was innovative for the time, as it was the first time a block had had a second large set, which included basic lands and new mechanics etc. Subsequent blocks such as Innistrad would also have a second large set, but anyway. The Eldrazi are the focus here, colourless creatures native to the Blind Eternities, the space between planes, intent on destroying the plane by devouring its mana. It becomes clear in the set story that Zendikar has held these Eldrazi prisoner, but the hedrons are now opening and the Eldrazi are being released!

Annihilator is a new mechanic specific for the Eldrazi, and forces the discard of a number of permanents from the battlefield when that creature attacks – representing their huge, devastating effect. Level Up is a mechanic that I’m quite fond of – it allows you to pay mana to level up a creature, giving it more effects and potentially increasing its power/toughness. It’s similar to X-spells as I was talking about before, nice to have outlets for a lot of mana in the mid-to-late game. Rebound is one of my favourite mechanics, allowing you to exile a spell as it resolves, then you get to cast it for free at the start of your next turn. Getting twice the effect from a single card is great, and I think I’m still in that phase of including Staggershock in almost every deck I build!

There are ten Totem Armor aura spells that essentially act as a kind of protection for a creature. Normally, when a creature is killed, it goes to the graveyard with all of its auras, but these spells essentially soak up the damage and one aura would be removed instead. You can still outright kill the creature, but if dealing damage to it, the aura would go before the creature is damaged. I believe there’s a Modern deck that uses all the totem armor on a Slippery Bogle creature, and so pretty much any aura card with totem armor is very difficult to come by…

I really enjoy Zendikar as a plane, and I think it’s one of the player favourites from back in the day. When I was first building my Magic collection all of those years ago, I remember feeling particularly impressed at being able to get my hands on cards from the block, as it held some kind of mythical fascination for me that I can’t quite explain! Zendikar vampires are some of the best vampires though, and as I do enjoy a good vampire deck, it’s only natural that I’d want to get my hands on some of those cards. When I was first getting into the game, though, Battle for Zendikar was the first main set I was around for, following Magic Origins (which was my first set), so I suppose there was a kind of borrowed nostalgia at work as well. Seeing the new cards in comparison to what had come before was really interesting, and learning how the story had evolved was great.

Remembering Zendikar block

I’ve been playing around with a bit of a janky white/green deck to kinda celebrate the original Zendikar block, which involves a few of the block’s mechanics and stuff. I don’t have a massive back collection, of course, so it’s not going to be particularly amazing, I’m sure, but I thought I’d present it here nevertheless as a bit of a first draft. I’ve not bought Magic cards for a long time now, and I don’t know if I’m about to for this particular deck, but it might well be the deck that brings me back into the fold, as it were! Last month’s vampires were fun, but this one has weirdly got me really keen to play once more! At any rate, let’s take a look!

Creatures (16)
Armament Master (2)
Kor Duelist
Kor Sanctifiers
Lightkeeper of Emeria
Loam Lion (2)
Greenweaver Druid (2)
Mul Daya Channelers
Gnarlid Pack (2)
Aura Gnarlid (4)

Instants (5)
Might of the Masses (2)
Harrow (2)
Bold Defense

Enchantments (11)
Eland Umbra (4)
Mammoth Umbra (2)
Snake Umbra
Boar Umbra
Sunspring Expedition (2)
Khalni Heart Expedition

Artifacts (7)
Adventuring Gear (2)
Hammer of Ruin (2)
Trailblazer’s Boots (2)
Seer’s Sundial

Land (21)
Plains (7)
Kabira Crossroads (2)
Forest (8)
Turntimber Grove (2)
Greypelt Refuge
Stirring Wildwood

There isn’t really a great deal to this deck. There are a bunch of totem armor cards in here, and more equipment than I would usually want, but it’s all there to buff up the select few creatures that I have. Stuff like the Kor Duelist gets double strike with any equipment on him, but he’s only a 1/1, so he’s a prime target for some auras to buff him up. There are a few green creatures in there who are useful in a variety of ways, including the Aura Gnarlid who gets bigger the more auras are on the battlefield. There are some anthem effects, some landfall triggers, some ways to get extra lands out to make more use of these.

Green and white isn’t my natural comfort zone, it has to be said – in making this deck, I toyed with pretty much every colour pairing with white, but ultimately it’s a deck that I’ve built within the limits of my own collection. I’m sure I could refine it down with better creatures, or shift the balance of stuff so there are fewer auras but more lands or whatever (21 lands does make me nervous!) but for now, this is how I’m choosing to build it.

A celebration of Zendikar!

I really love Zendikar as a plane – I think it might even beat out Ravnica for me as my favourite plane. We’ve been back there twice now, with Battle for Zendikar in 2015 and Zendikar Rising in 2020. I wonder if the plan is to return to the plane every five years? BFZ was the first Magic set I was around for all the way through spoiler season, as I came to Magic in June/July 2015, and I have tremendous affection for it. I also have a lot more cards for that set than original Zendikar! Zendikar Rising is more of a mystery to me, as it came out after I had fallen away from the game. I know it is mechanically related to Kaldheim, with the whole Party thing, and I think I did get some kind of preconstructed deck for it back in the day, but I’ve not really been paying any attention so I think I might take a look at that sometime soon. Who knows? Maybe I’ll revisit the White/Green deck with cards from across all three Zendikar sets! Wouldn’t that be something…

Star Wars LCG: Rebel Alliance deck

Hey everybody,
I’ve been thinking about talking more in depth about my Star Wars LCG decks that I’m currently playing, so thought I’d do a bit of a write-up here today to showcase what I’m playing with, just because I really like this game and I really want to show that off! I started getting back into the game in April, when my wife agreed (somewhat reluctantly, perhaps!) to join me, so I put six decks together (one for each faction), and we started with Rebels vs Empire. We’ve basically stuck with those decks since, although I have tweaked them a bit since we first played, in an effort to try and make them play better.

Both the Rebels and Imperial decks are faction-pure, so there are no off-faction cards (or neutral cards, for that matter) included here. I’ve talked about this a little before, but I’m also limiting my deck-building options to the core set and first cycle for the time being, although both decks do have one objective set each from later in the game, mainly for flavour than for any other reason.

Briefly, deck-building in Star Wars LCG takes the form of objective sets (or “pods”) that are six-card sets you bring as a unit. Rather than building your deck in the traditional manner, therefore, you select ten (or more) objective sets and this creates your deck for you. You can only include a max of two copies of each set in the deck, although this does mean the usual restrictions around individual cards might be exceeded, and you end up with six copies of a certain card because it appeared in multiple sets. If this is confusing now, all will become clear when I come to talk about the decks!

Today, I’m going to talk about the Rebels deck.

Evacuation Procedure x2
The Rebel Fleet
Draw Their Fire
Mobilize the Squadrons
Decoy at Dantooine
Fleeing the Empire
Mission Briefing
Planning the Attack
The Defense of Yavin 4

It’s a very broad deck, and to some extent it does lack a certain consistency when being played.

Star Wars LCG

Evacuation Procedure is the only set to be included twice, and that’s mainly for Han Solo, I’m not going to lie! However, there are some really useful unit-leaves-play effects on the cards in this set, and the objective itself allows you to sacrifice units to remove focus tokens from stuff, so you can really make the most of those leaving play effects. You don’t just have to sacrifice the cards from this set of course, and there are plenty of chump cards throughout the deck that could also be used to trigger it.

Star Wars LCG

The Rebel Fleet is one of my favourite objective sets, as it includes Home One which is a great attacking unit that doesn’t require the edge to be effective. The objective itself can only be attacked by vehicles, giving it some evasion that can be useful. There’s a Y-Wing in here, which I enjoy, and the repair droid that can heal up Home One if needed. Target of Opportunity is possibly my favourite Fate card as well, as it allows you to get one point of damage on the objective you’re attacking, whether you win or lose the edge. Very nice, all-round useful cards in here.

Star Wars LCG

Draw Their Fire is the Ackbar set, but it’s not included here for the Admiral. Rather, there are a number of other cards that work well within the deck, such as X-Wing Escort that forces the enemy to discard a vehicle when it leaves play (meaning there’s one less to target The Rebel Fleet). I have a chump X-Wing that could be sacrificed to Evacuation Procedure, and there’s a Fleet Command Centre which gives me 3 resources, plus a shield token when I refresh. Heroic Sacrifice allows me to sacrifice a vehicle to destroy an enemy vehicle, again clearing the field for The Rebel Fleet, as well as triggering Evacuation Procedure.

Star Wars LCG

Mobilize the Squadrons is here for two reasons: Rebel Assault and Trench Run. There are a couple of chump cards I can sacrifice to trigger the effects mentioned earlier, and a copy of Covering Fire which provides another sacrifice outlet, but Trench Run is the card that turns the Death Star Dial into an objective whose destruction can win me the game, and Rebel Assault just deals a flat two damage to either a unit or an objective. The objective itself is nice as well, because it allows me to clear an additional focus token from an objective or enhancement when I refresh; having 2 resources itself, this means I can always get the maximum efficiency from the card. Pretty much an auto-include for a Rebel deck, I think.

Star Wars LCG

Decoy at Dantooine is an interesting set, because it’s quite sneaky. The objective itself has the effect of decreasing the Death Star Dial by 1 when an objective I control leaves play, which goes some way to negating the advance of the Dark Side. There is also an enhancement in here that has the same effect, meaning that if both cards are out together, there is going to be some Dark Side stagnation when my objectives are blowing up. There are a couple of events that allow me to return units to my hand, which can be quite tricksy, and the Wookiee Navigator unit allows for the same objective to be targeted twice in a combat, if he survives. That’s some fairly interesting stuff going on there, though interestingly I find myself thinking it might be a good target to swap out when it comes to refining the deck, despite how good the ability to decrease the Death Star dial can be.

Star Wars LCG

Fleeing the Empire is a bit of a flavour include, really, as it’s the original Princess Leia objective which in itself is quite funny. Leia never really leaves play – if she does, she is captured by the Dark Side player at an objective of his choice. So when that objective is destroyed, she comes back to my hand, and can be played again, and so on. You’re My Only Hope allows me to sacrifice a unit (again, feeding into the Evacuation Procedure objective from earlier) to draw cards, and force my opponent to discard a card, so that’s useful here. Stolen Plans enhances an enemy objective and allows me to draw cards when the objective generates a resource, which can be quite useful (though I did come unstuck once when I was so focused on getting the value from that card that I left the objective in play with 1 hit point remaining, and lost the game in the next round!) It also has Twist of Fate, which is my least favourite Fate card, simply because I don’t like those kind of “gotcha!” moments.

Star Wars LCG

Mission Briefing is included in the deck, but I don’t really know why anymore. It has Mon Mothma, though, and the objective allows me to draw cards when my opponent’s turn begins, so it works well in some respects, but I would say this is definitely ripe for being rotated out.

Star Wars LCG

Planning the Attack increases my reserve value by 1 while it is undamaged, so works well with the Leia objective set which can get me a load of Shield tokens. Jan Dodonna lets me draw cards whenever a Yavin 4 card generates resources, limited to once per turn, but there are a lot of these cards in the deck so that should give me some value there. I’ve got two chumps for sacrificing purposes, another Twist of Fate, and an enhancement that gets me more resources, which is always useful.

Star Wars LCG

Finally, I have The Defense of Yavin 4, which includes a few more vehicles and another Rebel Assault card. The objective itself can reduce the cost of vehicles by discarding cards, which might be useful for getting rid of cards like Twist of Fate, which I don’t like using! But there aren’t very many expensive vehicle cards in the deck – but I suppose I could use this alternate cost to free up resources to pay for other stuff.

So all in all, it’s quite a flexible deck that has a variety of things going on. I don’t think there’s really one massive strategy in here that all the cards are working towards; rather, there are just many different things that I can do to enable me (hopefully!) to win! It’s the kind of hodge-podge deck that I like to play, which has a large variety of cards to do a large variety of things with. It definitely needs some refinement, and I think it could do with some more play before I make any further changes. But the important thing is the fun factor. It doesn’t have a Luke in here yet, as the Rebel Luke didn’t come until further in the game, but there is a nice combination of big names and some cannon fodder – which is really what playing Star Wars games is all about, isn’t it?

I’ll be looking at the Imperial deck in a similar way soon, so stay tuned for that!!

Back to the Blackstone Fortress

I’m not entirely sure what has started this off, but I’ve recently been really into the Blackstone Fortress game once more, though this time I’ve been playing it more! When it was released back at the tail end of 2018, I was really into it, but played it just once before it was somewhat consigned to the pile, and it hasn’t really seen the light of day since!

Well, all that changed a couple of weeks ago, when I read through the rule books over breakfast, then just launched myself into a game!

Now, to start with, the miniatures are very beautiful, and cover some incredible corners of 40k lore. This game came out only a couple of months after Kill Team Rogue Trader, where we had incredible plastic sculpts for stuff like Death Cult Assassins, as well as the Rogue Trader herself and her crew. In Blackstone Fortress, we got another Rogue Trader model, along with a plastic Navigator, Ministorum Priest, and expansions brought plastic Crusaders, Primaris Psykers and more esoteric wonders. To say nothing of the adversaries!!

It was an incredible dive into the lore of the 40k universe, and I don’t think anybody really saw it coming.

But the game came to an end, after a good run of expansion content that brought us plastic ambulls, plastic zoats, and a Traitor Commissar, no less! It was phenomenal, but while I was collecting all of these expansions (except for No Respite, curses!) I didn’t really feel the need to play it further. Weird…

I think this is because at its core, once you’ve played a game with it, you pretty much know what you’re in for, and subsequent games feel very much like more of the same. I think a lot of the game happens in terms of the background and story, and it requires some element of storytelling from the players before you can really enjoy it. The raw mechanics of the game are a bit bland, and the fact you could be setting up four different boards, from in-numbered tiles, does mean that you’re in for a lot of downtime between actual gaming. There are definitely better dungeon crawler games out there, but given how dripping with theme this can be, not many of them compare in terms of the background fluff.

I suppose, then, that Blackstone Fortress is a massive vehicle for telling some awesome stories, as you play a Rogue Trader facing off against weird Dark Mechanicus cultists, or whatever.

The rules, while they’re not bad per se, are nevertheless laid out in a very weird manner. There are five booklets, three of which contain the rules of the game as it is played, but you find yourself flicking through at least two of them throughout. The Rules booklet itself tells you how to set things up, and also covers what are called “special rules”, though I’d say they are pretty much general rules that come up quite a bit. The Combat booklet covers what to do when fighting a combat, oddly enough. The Precipice booklet covers the bookkeeping part of the game, as well as the linked scenario stuff. Why these couldn’t have been bundled into one, slightly bigger book that covers everything in a better layout, I don’t know!

So, when you play Blackstone Fortress, you play an Expedition into the fortress. To do this, you create an Exploration deck that contains four challenges and four combats, and shuffle it together. The object of the game is to find clues and archeotech from the Discovery deck, and these Explorations will give you many opportunities to do so. The challenges range from all sorts of things, and often take place without the need for your miniatures, as you just need to roll dice, or whatever.

The combat is more the traditional dungeon crawl that we perhaps expect from the game, and requires a board to be set up that features enemies drawn from an Encounter deck. You start the game facing up to four enemy groups, but more can be added in over time (more later).

So, you set up the board according to the card you drew, with discovery markers placed and hostile groups set up essentially guarding those markers, and away you go. There are four phases to play through per round; Destiny, Initiative, Activation and Event. In the Destiny phase, you roll five black dice, discarding any doubles, and place these on the Precipice board. These dice can be used by any hero as basically an extra move.

In the Initiative phase, each hero has a mini card which is shuffled along with however many hostile groups are taking part, and these cards are placed along the Initiative track to determine player order. There are opportunities to mess with this order to some degree, swapping stronger heroes or those in need, etc. Each hero also gets four dice to roll, which are placed onto the hero card (wounds can decrease the number of dice you roll, however).

The Activation phase is where the action happens, and you’re moving around the board, searching those discovery markers, shooting up the bad guys, and so on. To take an action, a hero spends one of the dice from the hero sheet (and Destiny dice provide additional turns, though a hero cannot spend more than two per turn).

You don’t have to spend all of your dice, however, as you can save it for Overwatch, if you anticipate a hostile coming into range later in the turn. It’s an interesting rule that I forget (I forget a lot of stuff though!). When a hero’s turn is finished, they can attempt an Inspiration roll, trying to roll under the combined wounds value of all the models he’s killed off that turn; if you killed 5 wounds of models and roll a 4 on the d20, you get a point. These can be used to reroll dice, to search a hex or to flip your hero sheet to its Inspired side.

Hostiles activate according to a nice AI system that again requires the d20 to determine their behaviour.

Finally, in the Event phase, unless all heroes are out of action or in the exit tile, another d20 roll is made, consulting the Event table to see what happens, before heading into a new round. Generally, results from 1-10 are bad news, and 11-20 are good.

The explorers can choose to end the Expedition before all eight Exploration cards have been worked through, or you can play through them all – while it sounds like a lot of work, challenges are only a few minutes each, and Combat can be over in an hour. When it’s all over though, the explorers head to Precipice, the space station/port where their ships are docked. Considering this step has its own booklet, there are only three pages of rules for it.

To start with, you draw a Legacy card, which will either give a new global effect for all additional games you play if you’re on campaign, or it’ll be a new type of hostile you need to use in subsequent games, or it’ll be a Countdown card, which is a bit like a breather in that nothing bad happens, but if the Legacy deck runs out then you are out of time (more in a bit).

You then get to trade in any archeotech for the stuff each ship has to offer. Each hero receives a discount if they go to their own ship, and each ship has an effect that you can try to activate, with a specific hero’s ship giving that hero a better chance of success.

That is pretty much it, anyway! Once you’ve visited Precipice, the sequence begins anew, and eight more Exploration cards are drawn for a new visit into the Fortress. However, to make this more like a campaign game, there is a linked game system of The Hidden Vault, where players must overcome four Stronghold scenarios before attacking the Hidden Vault itself. To find a Stronghold, you must have already found four Clue cards from the Discovery deck, which you can use to start the process. There are only 12 Legacy cards in the game, and you’ll have at least four post-Stronghold Precipice stages where you’ll draw from this deck, so you only have a maximum of eight “free” Expeditions before the deck runs out, and you can no longer attempt to find the Hidden Vault.

It’s interesting, but I do feel that as a campaign system it does somewhat lack. I mean, you have almost no way to level up a character, as they always start out the same. The majority of stuff that you can pick up from Precipice is single-use, though when you defeat a Stronghold you do get interesting artefacts. There feels like something else missing, for me. I think it probably makes for a more streamlined game, having less bookkeeping to worry about, but it could have been so much better.

For the last few weeks now, I’ve just been enjoying playing essentially pick-up games of Blackstone Fortress, with a vague idea that I might try for a Stronghold just to see what that’s all about. It’s been a lot of fun, and I think playing the odd expedition has been better than just grinding through game after game in an effort to get to the hidden vault. You don’t notice so much the set up time because you’re only doing four separate boards, and some of those aren’t too big. It’s even quite thematic if you turn up the same board as a previous expedition, as it heightens the sense of the Fortress being a random place where all of this has happened before…

I’m really enjoying it, anyway, and I recently put together the minis from the expansions, so that I’m ready! It’s going to be a long time before I get there, of course!!

The Blood Harvest

Hey everybody,
It’s been a while since Magic has been at the forefront of my mind, but today I thought I’d once again spend a bit of time talking about a deck that I’ve been tinkering with recently. It’s an older red/black deck, which I think I’d originally built years ago – Vampires and Demons, Zombies and Wizards! It was, like many such decks, a bit of a homage to the deck I used so often with the android app, but has since evolved into something a bit more like my normal style of deck-building. Any time I’m building a paper deck, it’s hampered by the fact I didn’t get into the game until well after most of the legendary sets, such as Zendikar and Innistrad, so the card pool is somewhat limited! But still, enough prattling on, let’s look at the deck itself!

As always for me, it’s creature-heavy, but this one is particularly big on bodies.

Creatures (22)
Harvester of Souls
Blood Cultist
Kargan Dragonlord
Onyx Mage
Blind Zealot
Stonewright
Rakish Heir (2)
Bloodcrazed Neonate (2)
Markov Blademaster
Stromkirk Noble
Vampire Outcasts
Falkenrath Torturer
Falkenrath Aristocrat
Falkenrath Exterminator
Guul Draz Vampire
Kalastria Highborn
Vein Drinker (2)
Sangromancer
Blood Seeker

Instants / Sorceries (5)
Uncanny Speed
Dark Temper
Vampire’s Bite
Feast of Blood
Blood Tribute

Enchantments (5)
Curse of Wizardry
Raid Bombardment
Talons of Falkenrath
Maniacal Rage
Claws of Valakut

Artifacts (3)
Veinfire Borderpost
Onyx Goblet
Elbrus, the Binding Blade

Land (25)
Swamp (11)
Mountain (9)
Lavaclaw Reaches
Crypt of Agadeem
Smoldering Spires
Teetering Peaks
Akoum Refuge

The main idea behind the deck, then, is to just beat on my opponent with constant attacks. There are a few effects that don’t allow my creatures to block, emphasizing the vicious nature of the deck. There aren’t really any key pieces for the deck, either, which is something of a philosophy for me when making these kinds of decks. Far too often, you’ll be playing a game with an army out there, and key cards are getting removed in one way or another; for me, it’s much better if I can just keep going with whatever I have to hand.

The Innistrad vampires have the subtheme of +1/+1 counters going onto cards, and I was thinking about including some of the Proliferate cards from Scars of Mirrodin block, as I have done with my Sheoldred deck, but I think this deck is a little less involved than that one. If the cards can generate counters, then that’s great, and there are a couple of “target creature can’t block” effects to hopefully get some combat damage through to make it happen, but that’s not the force of the deck, really.

It’s just all about dealing damage, all the time. There’s a little bit of deathtouch, and a little bit of intimidate, but otherwise we’re not being too fancy here. Sometimes it’s just good to go all out and kill stuff, you know? The big lad in the deck is the Harvester of Souls, which would be nice if he had some form of evasion like flying, but I think deathtouch can be enough of a deterrent at times that he should still be able to get some damage through. I’ve got Falkenrath Aristocrat in the deck as well, who is quite a powerhouse in the right circumstances. I was actually trying to alter the deck up to include more humans to sacrifice to her abilities before I realised that I basically have one copy of her in the deck, so it became a bit silly.

There are a couple of cards that I can still see myself swapping out, though for the moment I’m leaving them where they are. Raid Bombardment is just a nice call-back to my deck on the app, but isn’t really necessary for the deck to work (it’s just good to have, as there are a lot of low-power creatures here!) Falkenrath Exterminator is another of these cards that I think I could potentially do without, but for the time being I’m leaving him in, as well. I was considering going heavier with artifacts at one point as well, but that’s gone by the wayside somewhat, too.

It’s definitely the type of deck that I enjoy playing. Relatively straightforward, no requirement to set up a combo and won’t fall down if some cards get removed. There are a lot of singleton cards in here, so it’s not vulnerable to stuff that discards all copies, and stuff. Generally, it’s the kind of janky deck that nobody expects, and can very often do well as a result! But it can definitely be vulnerable to -2/-2 effects…


Having written all of this up, I am now kinda tempted to try and make this into a much more “streamlined” kind of deck. You know, the sort of deck where you have 4-of everything for maximum efficiency, and whatnot. I probably won’t, of course, as I can’t afford it, but it’s an interesting idea!! The deck originated in an idea that I’d had for making a singleton deck (aside from basic lands), and included a lot more cards from Alara block. It’s interesting to see how it has been refined into the Vampire deck that it is today, at any rate!

Star Wars card games

Hey everybody,
I’m still so much in love with the Star Wars LCG, but for today’s game day I thought it might be an interesting idea to take a look at the LCG’s two predecessors, the CCG (from Decipher), and the TCG (from Wizards of the Coast), and maybe throw in a dash of conjecture for how a possible new card game could look.

Decipher published the Collectible Card Game between 1995 and 2001. The game works by players battling for control of central locations, which will give them the opportunity to “Force drain” their opponent – that is, deplete their deck. The game is purely card-based, and everything you need to play it is contained within your 60-card deck.

You play cards by generating Force from the locations depending on how many icons are on your side of the table, then use these to play cards to contest locations and so on. The number of icons you have on your side allows you to draw, face down, cards from your deck to then “spend” to deploy cards from your hand – these “resource cards” then go to the bottom of your deck to be recycled.

There were a host of sets released over the six year run, taking in the entirety of the original trilogy and episode one – it is thanks to Decipher that we have the names of many of the background characters in the films, or the previously unnamed “Commander #1” type roles. The game used movie stills for its artwork, which can seem limiting at first, but they ended up paying for models to pose as Expanded Universe characters, such as Shannon McRandle to pose as Mara Jade in several cards.

The game was a huge success, second only to Magic (and sometimes surpassing it) during its run, and has a tremendous following even now. Player committees have produced sets that encompass everything from the new sequel trilogy to the Darth Bane novels, and organising tournaments. It’s quite something, really, to think that the game has been officially finished for more than 20 years but is still going strong.

It’s mentioned in the video above, but the rules are complex. I mean, some games can be difficult to wrap your head around at the first play through, but this one is really, really deep. Even a game like Magic, which can lead to some very complicated interactions, seems to be pretty straightforward by comparison. I’ve seen articles online that call it an “open world” game, and it seems like Decipher basically churned out the cards and players were able to decide upon their own strategy for the win, from traditional space fleet combat to moisture farming. Seems a bit baffling to me, but at the same time, I think it’s really quite indicative of these kinds of older games, which were designed for gamer nerds and almost didn’t try to appeal to the mass market back then. Games could be quirky and weird, and you could make it your own, which I suppose is one of the reasons why it endures to this day.

I never played it, as the game was dead shortly after I really stepped off the cliff edge into Star Wars fandom, so it kinda passed me by, really.

It wasn’t long, however, before the game was replaced by Wizards of the Coast – within a year, WotC produced the Trading Card Game, launched with a set to coincide with Attack of the Clones. Over the course of just three years, there were expansions for the card game that covered all six movies, and delving a fair bit into the expanded universe, as well. We were once again using movie stills, though, so EU stuff was principally realised from video game stills, though Mara Jade was once again featured by a model.

This game has the distinction of being designed by none other than Richard Garfield, who came up with Magic and Netrunner. The game splits play into three arenas – space, ground and character. One person plays as the Light Side, and the other as the Dark Side, and the object of the game is to control two of these three arenas, fighting your opponent to clear his units out of an arena to move in. You generate Build points, which you use to play cards, and Force points, which you use when battling your opponent, but there is also dice rolling involved, leading to a fairly complex game.

At the start of the game, you get 30 build points to get started, thereafter you get d6 build points at the start of each round. When you build a card, you play it face down and allocate your points accordingly, so you don’t necessarily have to wait to play your important stuff, but instead get to work towards stuff from the get-go. That’s kinda interesting, to me. Each unit has three main stats: speed, attack and hit points. Speed is a bit like initiative, and tells you who gets to go first in combat; attack tells you how many d6 to roll, and everybody hits on 4+; and hit points are self-explanatory. Often, units will have abilities which require you to pay a certain amount of Force points to activate.

You also get Location cards, which are built like Units and play into one of the three arenas, granting your units there a global effect of some sort, and there are Battle cards, which are like event cards which you pay for with Force points, and grant you a temporary effect for a single battle round. In addition, Mission cards are built but have a one-time effect, and Equipment cards that you build onto units, and there are rules for Stacking characters on top of each other if, for instance, you have multiple versions of the same character. It’s quite a complex system, like I said, with the dice element and whatnot.

Indeed, both of these card games feel fairly unique in terms of their game play, and with the amount of rules both have generated over the course of their respective runs, it seems fairly dense to try to get into either game. I’ve read that the CCG was once considered one of the most difficult card games to play, actually.

I never played the TCG, either, although I did wind up with quite a lot of product for it, between various starter sets and the like, then shortly after I started work, and began collecting the Miniatures game, I dropped a lot of money on this, picking up a massive amount on the secondary market. I bought booster boxes of almost all ten sets, bought singles wherever I could find them, just because I wanted to collect the game. It’s now confined to a binder in my attic, though I still don’t have a complete collection.

I think the TCG solved the problem of C-3PO fighting a Star Destroyer quite well, splitting the game into the three arenas. The CCG reminds me a lot of Call of Cthulhu in that you’re fighting over a central run of cards, but I do like that implementation as well, and I think it has a lot of the hallmarks of the LCG in terms of players deploying units to contest dominance in a slightly abstract manner.

This brings me on to my thoughts for the future of Star Wars games in card form!

One of the big issues for me when it comes to any kind of Star Wars game is mixing eras. So having Princess Leia fight Darth Maul, for instance, just seems wrong. These games didn’t really police that, and it was really up to players to determine how wonky games could look. The LCG manages it the best way, in my mind, by limiting itself to the Original Trilogy timeframe, but that does mean that a massive chunk of Star Wars history is being missed out. A possible way around this, I suppose, is to have some kind of era mechanic, so the Empire could never fight the Old Republic, but that creates marketing issues, as you end up producing content for smaller sub-groups of your player base. Something that comes to mind, though, is making campaign boxes like Marvel Champions has, and theming these around specific battles. Maybe producing two small-scale boxes per expansion season, such as Battle of Endor for the OT guys, and Battle of Naboo for the Prequel lovers, could work?

Of course, you could also just take the line used by other games, and leave it up to the fans to police themselves…

I used to be all over having a co-op Star Wars game, something along the lines of the original design for the LCG, where you’re the Rebels fighting an encounter deck of the Empire, but I actually don’t think that is really what Star Wars is about. It’s kinda made for PvP play, so I am now favouring the more competitive style, even though it’s not guaranteed that I’d be able to play such a thing!

I think having units fighting over objectives does make sense, but rather than having your own objective deck that is being attacked as per the LCG, I think something more along the lines of the CCG might be nice, where both sides are trying to control a key location or something (which you play from your deck). These types of cards could grant you bonuses for successfully defending it, or could work against you if you lose control of it, and maybe you have to attempt to re-gain control later on. Actually, maybe that’s where scenario play could come in, and the game has a set of Story cards like Call of Cthulhu, but the set is, for instance, Battle of Hoth, and you get more of these per expansion season. So it becomes a bit like Arkham Horror but for opposing players, with an encounter deck that unfolds from round to round, or something?

I’m just typing the first thing that comes into my head at this point!!

I do like those sorts of games though, like 40k Conquest, where you’re not simply duking it out but you’re fighting for control of something. I think that could work well in Star Wars as well, because it solves the problem of Lando trying to fight an AT-AT or something, as well – you’re not directly fighting each other, but instead you’re committing your strength to a cause. The AT-AT might be a physical presence at the objective, but Lando might be working behind the scenes charming the officer in charge to blindside them. Of something.

Actually, the more I think about it, the Conquest LCG could work well re-skinned for Star Wars…

A Shadow in the East

Hey everybody,
Today’s blog is perhaps unsurprisingly taking us into Middle Earth, following on from last week’s exciting discussion of new decks for the game! I’m currently investigating the later cycles for the game, having pretty much stopped playing the game regularly during the fourth cycle, The Voice of Isengard. So, even though this expansion was released back in 2018, it’s new to me!

A Shadow in the East starts off when the heroes are resting in Dale, after the previous cycle’s adventures had concluded. Envoys from Dorwinion, in the east, arrive with news of spreading darkness – disappearances, mainly, but with no army for defence, the people have turned to King Brand for aid. The heroes volunteer for the mission, and off we go!

The first scenario, The River Running, reminds me a great deal of the first scenario from The Voice of Isengard – being relentlessly pursued by enemies, this time, Easterlings. We have a tremendous amount of pressure exerted through the Objective card, which forces the arrival of more enemies every third round. Coupled with this is a set-aside Side Quest, and the annoying number of Treachery cards which, for this scenario, function as attachments for enemies! Don’t get me wrong, I like that mechanic, and was surprised it took so long to be implemented in the game, but even so, it does make things so much more difficult!!

Assuming that we make it out alive, our next task is to head for the city of Dorwinion, built on the shores of the sea of Rhûn. Here, we learn that people have been disappearing, so we head out into the city to investigate.

Danger in Dorwinion is the second scenario, and bears a striking resemblance to the first scenario from the Against the Shadow cycle, The Steward’s Fear. We’re running round a city, ferreting out a cult; we have a random cultist enemy to defeat, and a random objective revealed to affect the game. It’s almost like being back in the realm of Gondor!

This scenario plays greatly around the threat level, and everything coalesces really quite catastrophically for the heroes, the way that the encounter deck just keeps on raising the threat. I actually lost half of the team when the Faramir/Dúnhere/Elladan side threated-out.

If we’re able to survive, one of the cultist prisoners tells us that cityfolk have been taken to a hidden temple in the Hills of Rhûn, and so we March onwards!

The Temple of Doom concludes the deluxe expansion, and is interesting to me in that it was complicated in terms of how it shakes up the main rules, but didn’t feel impossible like some third scenarios can be. We have a quest deck where each stage goes into the victory display upon completion; the number of stages there informs the threat level of the boss, Thane Ulchor, who cannot be defeated until there are 4 stages in the victory display, and there’s a side quest that cannot be completed until Thane Ulchor has 0HP left, at which point we win. That side quest is working against us though, as every fourth round it’ll force us to draw from the Power of Mordor deck; we have another boss, the Tower of Barad-Dur location (which can never be traveled to, and reduces the threat elimination level by 5), and three obnoxious objectives. With just five cards in the deck, the maths-savvy among us will realise that this means we have 23 rounds to defeat the whole thing (if you cannot draw from the Power of Mordor deck, you lose). But there are also other effects going on that will speed this up – yikes!

For all of the complicated goings-on here, it wasn’t particularly bad to play through, as the encounter deck is predominantly location cards and treacheries, and both decks I was using to play have got significant willpower output when I get them going, which has happened really quite well so far in this play-through! Regularly throwing out 20+ willpower for the quest, with numerous ways to re-use heroes for combat as well, has meant that it was fairly okay. I’m not trying to call it easy, far from it, but it didn’t feel that bad.

I wonder if I would find some of the earlier quests easier with these decks, as they benefit from the entirety of the card pool…

Story-wise, we have an unexpected call-back to an earlier villain (is it a spoiler if we’re over 4 years since this came out?) and we seem to be firmly in Sauron-country for the foreseeable future. There is a definite Against the Shadow feel to this cycle so far, so I’m intrigued as to where the story is going to take us as we move further into the cycle.

Difficulty ratings are not really something that you can really trust, yet I was still surprised that Danger in Dorwinion only merited a 5, when I was just one round from losing. True, I’ve lost to Passage through Mirkwood before now, and that rating is 1, but even so, this feels much more difficult than The Dead Marshes, but both have the same difficulty! Interestingly, it also shares that rating with The Steward’s Fear. But perhaps there’s a perceived ease about The Dead Marshes, as I’ve played that scenario quite a lot now.

This kinda brings me on to the next point, anyway. These later quests really don’t feel like the same game as those earlier ones. Maybe I’m just too struck on the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle, but I do have incredible nostalgia for that one, and there feels like too much going on in these later quests to really give the same sort of feeling. I can’t quite describe it, but I much prefer my hundredth run through Emyn Muil, say, than these new things. Maybe I’m just becoming a grouchy old man…

For all that, though, I am really enjoying finally getting to see what the later quests are all about. They’re often difficult, with a lot to keep track of, but it’s good to play them all the same. I don’t think I’m going to be in for an easy time of it, however, as I head into the cycle itself!