The Lost Realm

Hey everybody,

I’m not sure if I’m actually going to reinstate the whole Tuesday-game-day thing in 2021, but hopefully I can write more about my games here as the year goes on! We’re now in Lockdown #3 here in the UK, where staying home is pretty much the new way of life for us, so what’s better than playing loads of games, right?! Today, I thought I’d have a bit of a ramble about my latest endeavour, playing through more of the Lord of the Rings scenarios that I’ve never explored. Given that the game ended last year (well, went on hiatus), I’m probably a bit late to this party! But it’s among my all-time favourite games, and I want to devote more time to it.

Lord of the Rings LCG

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might have noticed a slip here – I’ve long thought of Lord of the Rings LCG as “my favourite game”, even when it was curb-stomping me, and even when I wasn’t playing it regularly. Now, however, I’m much more into Arkham Horror LCG as being a better overall game experience, though I come back to Middle Earth for the nostalgia trip!

Anyway.

Over Christmas, I decided to make the effort to play at least one full cycle from one of the five or six later ones that I’d never taken the time to explore, and settled eventually on the Angmar Awakened cycle. This one begins with The Lost Realm deluxe expansion, which brings the game into the north of Middle Earth, and explores the area to the north of the Shire, in the Lost Realm of Arnor. Hence the name!

There is a very strong Dúnedain theme developed across the player cards of the cycle, where the main focus is around engaging enemies. It was recently pointed out to me that this theme was telegraphed from way back in the core set with Son of Arnor, which I find pretty neat.

As the cycle moved on, and certainly as further cards came out in subsequent cycles, we’ve seen the Dúnedain theme become quite strong, rewarding players for engaging multiple enemies (although, I have to say, there are few defensive cards associated with the trait than I’d like!) It’s almost a high risk strategy, which sort of brings me to the next new thing in this cycle, Valour. A lot of cards have two effects, labelled Action and Valour Action. The Valour Action can only be triggered if your threat is above 40, but usually gives a much bigger effect – such cards have effects like ‘ready a character you control’ for the normal Action, and ‘ready all characters’ for the Valour Action.

But let’s talk about the quests in this box!

There are three, of course, and they’re all pretty middling difficulty, if I’m honest. I think this is due to the new Side Quest mechanic introduced in this cycle – cards that are shuffled into either your player deck, if it’s a player side quest, or into the encounter deck, and which act as an alternative to the main quest going on. Obviously, they depend upon being drawn to have an effect (although the second scenario, The Weather Hills, does instruct you to set one up in stage 2B), and having one (or more!) in play can make things extremely difficult!

Side quests are almost like extra active locations, in a sense – progress is placed there instead of the ‘main’ quest, and completing the quest does not advance the quest deck. Player quests can have some powerful effects, whereas encounter side quests can bolster enemies in play, so need to be removed!

The first scenario is Intruders in Chetwood, and serves to set the story up. The heroes are helping the Dúnedan Rangers in clearing out some Orcs that are marauding through Bree. In many ways, it’s similar to scenarios of the past – we have the objective-ally Iârion whom we need to keep alive, in a scenario full of enemies and nasty effects, some of which can trap him.

The Weather Hills is a bit more brutal, as we pursue the Orcs into, well, the Weather Hills. However, it seems that there is foul sorcery afoot! There is an objective card in play that collects tokens when enemies are defeated and, when flipped over, acts as something of a timer for the quest.

We pursue the Orcs into the old border fort of Amon Forn, where we discover the remnants of some depraved ritual having been carried out. Rescuing at least some of the prisoners from Bree, we take them to Fornost and have a chat with Aragorn, no less! But then – the sun goes down, and all hell breaks loose when Thaurdir, the spokesman for the prisoners, turns out to have been an undead wight!!

Deadman’s Dike tasks us with defeating the undead hordes roused by Thaurdir, though it is very much a ‘just survive’ type of quest. Thaurdir cannot be defeated, but if he doesn’t have damage on him equal to his hit points when the final progress token is placed on the quest, we haven’t yet won!

The story ends as Thaurdir escapes with Iârion captive, and we swear to his younger brother Amarthiúl that we will help to rescue him.

It was a bit odd for me to be playing a deck that included Amarthiúl from the start, although his hero card wasn’t released until the penultimate pack in the cycle! I’ve been playing two-handed solo, which is a completely new experience for me, and was actually a whole lot of fun – not least because I was finally able to experience both the Ranged and Sentinel keywords, so that was good! Whether it was helped by the fact I’ve been playing Arkham Horror in this manner for a while now, I found this way of playing really quite straightforward, and didn’t really get that confused by everything that was going on. The one concession I made, though, was to not pass the first player token.

The scenarios were really good, I have to say. I played the first one years ago, but don’t remember doing too well. However, aside from a miserable failure with the first Harad quest back in 2018, this box marks the first time in a long time that I have played “new” quests in this game! So that was pretty exciting to realise! There is a lot of theme in the scenarios, I think, and they don’t seem entirely impossible when playing with two decks, so that is nice! I was playing Standard mode, and still managed to make it through each one, at any rate – though I have read online that this was the first cycle that really tried to address the issue of scaling the game for 1-4 players, rather than assuming an optimum two.

At any rate, this was definitely an enjoyable experience for me, and I think it’s gone a long way to rekindling my love for the game, after the sound thrashing of the Ring-Maker cycle before it putting me off for years! As far as the Angmar Awakened cycle itself goes, I was a play-tester for that, so have played each one back in the day – albeit with cut-out bits of paper with text and no art! Not that I remember a great deal about it (it was 5 or 6 years ago, now), but I’m looking forward to going through the cycle in pursuit of Iârion, so stay tuned for more updates!

Horror in your Dreams!

Hey everyone,
It’s game day here at spalanz.com, and for today’s festive offering, I’m attempting to revive my custom of playing Eldritch Horror! There are still a couple of expansions that haven’t yet made it onto the blog, so today I’m going to investigate The Dreamlands, a big box expansion that first came out back in 2017.

Eldritch Horror: The Dreamlands

As with both of the previous big box expansions, Mountains of Madness and Under the Pyramids, The Dreamlands comes with a new side board for the main game, featuring locations from HP Lovecraft’s Dream-Cycle stories such as Ulthar and Dylath-Leen. Travel between these boards is, however, much easier than previously seen, as an investigator can either spend 1 clue or test Will -1 while performing a Rest action, and immediately move to the Enchanted Wood location. During set-up, three gates are drawn from the gate stack, ensuring each is for a location not on the Dreamlands board – these locations then receive Dream Portals which also link the boards together. It’s all quite thematic, and depending on where the locations of the Dream Portals are, can make things fairly straightforward to travel back and forth.

Eldritch Horror: The Dreamlands

The expansion is very much in the vein of more of the same, as we follow the now-established formula for these things, with two new Ancient Ones, about eight new investigators all from the Arkham Files universe, more cards for the base game locations as well as item decks, and then cards for the new board, and in this case an Expedition-style deck called the Dreamquest deck, which functions in the same way as previous iterations by giving you more complex encounters to follow. There are, of course, Prelude cards that allow you to determine how you’re going to use the new content if you like to structure things that way, and there is a small deck of Adventure cards that work with the Dreamlands board if you aren’t using a Dreamlands Ancient One.

Eldritch Horror: The Dreamlands

For my first game, I went up against Atlach-Nacha, created by Clark Ashton Smith as the spider god who spins a web between Hyperborea and the Dreamlands. I seem to recall always being fairly creeped-out when playing against this Ancient One in Arkham Horror, though that’s likely due to my arachnophobia. Here, Atlach-Nacha feels like a fairly straightforward Ancient One to overcome – it is more than likely down to the Mysteries that I drew, of course, but I didn’t feel like there was a great struggle as I went around the boards. True, only one of the three mysteries that I drew required me to have Research Encounters, so whereas normally I can be a little bit frustrated with the lack of clues spawning and so forth, here it didn’t really come to pass. I was also very lucky with Luke Robinson gaining the friendship of the cat unique asset which grants you five clues, as this happened just when I needed it!

Atlach-Nacha

The second Ancient One included in the box is Hypnos, who I’m fairly sure has been upgraded from simply a Herald (or was he a Guardian?) in Arkham Horror. Hypnos always works with the Dreamlands board, and has some fairly interesting mechanics for advancing his mysteries. He also has three separate decks of special encounters, which is really neat!

However, I feel like neither of these Ancient Ones is particularly nasty.

I don’t mean this to sound in any way disdainful when I say that this expansion gives us more variety without really breaking any of the rules of the base game, because it really isn’t a bad thing. Eldritch Horror has, in many ways, provided nothing but more of the same in each expansion. The Focus mechanic is back from Mountains of Madness, and that is pretty much the only change from the base game. Everything else is self-explanatory once you start playing, and while we get some tweaks on existing concepts (more Conditions that are actually boons, for example), there’s very little to confuse the uninitiated.

The eight investigators included are all familiar faces with new artwork, some of them are quite welcome having been staples from the core set of Arkham Horror, but only now making their appearance here.

There isn’t really a great deal more that can be said, if I’m honest – the expansion provides much of what we’re used to seeing from Eldritch Horror at this point, and continues the trend as we would expect it. The side board is interesting, with some thematic stuff going on to enjoy, and overall any fan of the base game will appreciate this for its strong ties in to the theme of the source material. I don’t think I’d say it is my favourite of the Eldritch Horror expansions, but it does its job well, and that’s all that we can ask!

Eldritch Horror: The Dreamlands

Searching for Carcosa… and finding it!

Hey everybody,
It’s been a whirlwind of a ride, but I’ve made it through to the end of the Path to Carcosa campaign! What a glorious campaign it was, too. I’m going to talk about the final two packs first – with spoilers, no doubt – and then give you all some of my thoughts on the whole thing. But let’s start with Black Stars Rise.

This one has got to be the most complicated setup that I have seen from any of the scenarios to date! It’s unique in that it doesn’t have an Act deck, but instead uses parallel Agenda decks. When we place doom during the mythos phase, we get to choose on which Agenda it is placed – however, doom in play does count towards both Agendas, so it is possible (and indeed happened to me!) for both of them to advance at the same time! The crux of the matter is that we’re trying to prevent the cultists of Hastur from enacting the ritual to bring him back into reality. We’ve come to Mont Saint-Michel to prevent this ritual, and I do feel like the designers are messing with me when it looked quite clearly like there was a good and a bad Agenda, but these obviously proved to both be terrible events! Why did I think one might be better?!

I really enjoyed how this scenario seems to be holding out on us. There is just so much that we don’t know, or at least that I don’t know – we’re almost just hoping for the best each time. And the fact that the setup is so randomised, subsequent play-throughs of this scenario will still be the same, I don’t think it’s likely I’ll have any benefit of experience that is sometimes seen when you play through a scenario again.

The way becomes clear when we investigate the Abbey Church, and a whole other suite of location cards opens up – that was quite a revelation, really! Investigating through the church, however, leads us on to the path we have been pursuing since we woke up in the theatre – for me, I plunged into the water in pursuit of Lost Carcosa!

Campaign Log
Well, I opened the path below, and have gained an extra point of conviction. In addition, I’ve gained 2 experience points, so immediately spent that to upgrade Ashcan Pete’s Lantern, and swapped out the Archaic Glyphs from Daisy’s deck in favour of an Otherworldly Compass. I know it’s late in the game to be doing this, but I’m mindful of my experience in Dunwich, and want to be sure that I’m maximising that experience!

The finale of the piece, Dim Carcosa follows a similar theme to the Dunwich Legacy, where we jump through the gate and into the Other World. while some people may find it a bit repetitive, I personally like it as a call-back to the board game, and having those adventures in other realms adds to the cosmic horror that I’m here for.

This one is again a little different, as each location is double-sided with a Story card (similar to the VIPs back in The Last King), and so they all start out in play and complete with all of their clues. The stories on the back of these cards are revealed by gathering the clues from them at the right point – they don’t auto-flip as soon as they have been investigated. This is because a lot of them will allow you to deal direct damage to the Unspeakable One himself, Hastur!

There are three different variants of this particular Great Old One, and the variant you face very much depends on the way the campaign has been going up to this point. For me, I had much more conviction than doubt – and so I found myself going up against the toughest of all three! This is a wonderful mechanic, as it represents the fact that you’ve not kept that healthy scepticism – you haven’t stayed rooted in the real world. Consequently, you’re so convinced that what you’re experiencing is real, you bring into being a much more powerful Elder God. It’s really well done, and shows how the choices you make throughout the campaign really have an effect.

Something that I really enjoyed about this one, too, is how the Act/Agenda cards incorporate call-backs to the earlier scenarios, such as the party and the asylum, before requiring you to take an attribute test to see if you remember these things happening before. It’s really representative of the truly shattered state of your psyche at this point, and I got a real thrill from seeing these when they came up!

And speaking of shattered psyches, I thought this was quite funny in that, during setup, each investigator takes a sanity hit equal to half of their total sanity, and taking madness throughout the game doesn’t eliminate you – you’re basically beyond the edge of reason at this point, after all! However, there are a lot of cards in the encounter deck that get nastier if you have no sanity left. It’s really thematic for being in this particular Other World, and I really enjoyed it.

Did I win? Well, I think so! Daisy managed to do a lot of damage to Hastur through investigating locations and turning over those cards to deal 1 or 2 points of damage per investigator to him. I had a couple of very lucky draws from Ashcan Pete that allowed him to do 4 points of damage per hit, though in his toughest incarnation, a -1, 0 or +1 Chaos token counts as an auto-fail, so I had to really over-commit to make sure I pulled out the -2 or worse, which would allow me to actually get the damage on him! For the win, I then threw my Lantern at him to deal the final 2 points of damage. Felt really weird, but I guess that tattered yellow robe is really flammable!

Campaign Log
Well folks, the investigators prevented Hastur from escaping his prison, although it was at the cost of 2 physical trauma each. I had 0 victory points on the board, but did gain an additional 5 points for all of my experiences. Most importantly, however, the investigators won the campaign!

I still don’t know why the end of a campaign gives experience points, although I suppose it can be used if you want to try out a standalone scenario. I’ve seen some theories that it’s future-proofing against adding special scenarios to the end of campaigns, but who knows.


Anyway, it’s time to give my thoughts on The Path to Carcosa as a campaign. Unless it’s not immediately obvious from having read through this series of blogs over the last few days – I really enjoyed this one! I think the fact that it was completely new to me really helped here, because at several points during The Dunwich Legacy campaign, I did have that sense of having been here before, etc, and while it didn’t ruin things for me, it still felt a little like re-treading old ground. But I think that could also have been due to knowing I had lots of new stuff waiting for me to get to, so I wanted to get through it!

I first read The King in Yellow – well, I read the first four stories of that book – back in 2016. Some of the story beats I may have missed, for sure, but I was blown away by how close A Phantom of Truth came to the source material, and really enjoyed that aspect of the game. In the main, though, I think this campaign tries to be its own thing – it takes as the starting point the idea of the macabre play, which has been developed so much within the confines of the Cthulhu mythos, and really runs with it, incorporating along the way stuff from In the Court of the Dragon, and I think the onyx clasp comes from The Yellow Sign, but we don’t have such a reliance on the source material as in the last campaign. Which I think is a definite plus, because it blows the possibilities right open.

I’ve read a review of this campaign that describes it as a full flowering of the campaign possibilities of this game, having shown how the principle works during the Dunwich Legacy. I think that’s pretty on the nose, although I have no idea how future campaigns play (we’re currently in the middle of the sixth full cycle, remember!) Seeing how the story unfolds from scenario to scenario, and the changes that are made along the way, it was really informative of what could be done. Even down to the stuff with changing tokens added to the Chaos bag between scenarios, there was so much going on! I was very impressed each time.

The new Story cards in particular were very impressive, and add that extra point of narrative to what is already a very story-driven game. I don’t think I ever really felt like the game was forcing me to play a specific way, or trying to lead me to a specific conclusion. The doubt/conviction mechanic, something that I’ve read quite negative opinions for, does seem to lead to very different set-ups as we go. Playing one scenario often depends on how you did in the last one, and less on whether a specific thing happened. I think it helps that the narrative often has the scenarios spaced out with days or weeks between them, but here it felt so much more like a choose your own adventure, rather than being guided through a pre-set game as was the case to some degree with Dunwich.

I’ve talked about this before, but throughout the campaign, I was really not sure about any of the choices I was making, from the start I felt really torn over whether there was a “right” or “wrong” choice to make. It was difficult at times, and I had that sense of paranoia, maybe I’m doing things wrong, you know? I think it was during or after the third scenario where I decided to just go for it, and see how things went. I think I tried to play it in character, and go with that feel of believing the events around me, with the sense of trying to investigate the mythos, as opposed to trying to stay cynical and doubtful of things.

It’s a mark of the design of this campaign, though, that these choices are taking me down such divergent paths that I know I could play this again and have a really different experience. That said, I feel so exhausted by the whole experience that I’m not sure I’ll be playing it again anytime soon…!

The Dunwich Legacy concludes!

Hey everybody,
My campaign has drawn to a close, and the Dunwich Legacy is over. I thought I’d take some time today on game day to talk about the last two scenarios in the campaign, and also share some reflections before I move on to my next campaign with the Arkham Horror LCG!

Where Doom Awaits involves climbing to the top of Sentinel Hill in an effort to stop the ritual that Seth Bishop is trying to enact. The scenario manages to stage the ascent by tying location discovery to the Act deck, meaning that you can’t simply charge up the hill to see what’s going on. The encounter deck has also got a lot of nasty surprises in it, including this horrible little beastie that nearly saw Roland Banks off for good!

This scenario definitely felt like it was a straightforward one, I think the fact that the Agenda deck needs 12 doom before the first card is flipped helps somewhat to keep the pace slow, although there are a lot of cards in the encounter deck that will flip the various locations, removing the clues from them and causing all manner of chaos. Fortunately, by this time in the campaign, I’ve got a lot of cards that allow me to discover extra clues on my way, which makes clearing out locations fairly easy.

Campaign Log
The investigators entered the gate, as we saw off the evil Seth before he could do any further damage. We also gained 6VP though in all honesty, at this point in the campaign, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with it, so left it in the bank (along with the 3VP from the last game).

Onwards, we go!

To be fair, it felt right not to upgrade the decks between scenario VII and VIII, given that the last one ended with us being sucked through the gate to the other world! Lost in Time and Space is perhaps the most straightforward setup of any game, having just one location in play, with most of the locations in the encounter deck. Interesting twist, I’m sure you’ll agree! The Act deck allows you, as an action, to discard the top 3 cards from the encounter deck, and put into play one of the locations revealed.

The game can be quite difficult without taking those actions, although I must say that I felt the starting turns quite relaxed, as I took the time to try and get my resources together – much like I imagine the investigators would be steeling themselves against the mind-bending chaos of being lost in another dimension.

There are still horrible monsters to contend with, but this scenario definitely felt like it was the kind of exploration thing that it should be, as we attempt to find our way out of the rift and back into real space. There are two locations that will lead to The Edge of the Universe, from whence you can begin to find your way home, and if you don’t manage to get to them for a while, it can feel like your sanity is being tested with treachery cards like Collapsing Reality that force you to take horror or damage. I found myself having to take extra notice of the locations I was investigating, to ensure that I wasn’t letting one that would lead home to be discarded.

The scenario has some great interplay with the locations, and it really feels different from the others of the campaign – indeed, each scenario of this campaign has felt different in some way or form, which is wonderful – it’s not simply about killing enough monsters, or investigating enough locations – in the case of Lost in Time and Space, it’s more about simply surviving, and victory is actually gained through lasting out long enough to resign from the game.

Campaign Log
So how did things finish up? Well, the investigators closed the tear in reality, which is always a good thing, though it did come at the cost of both physical and mental trauma (two points, each). We did, however, get a bonus of 5VP, and more importantly, the investigators won the campaign!

Some stats for you now. Over the course of the campaign, we earned 35 experience points, which was spent on eight upgrades for Akachi, and nine upgrades for Roland. That’s surprising, really, when you think that only a couple of those cards were upgraded from 0-cost to 4-cost. I think the investigators ended the campaign with 14 experience still in the bank, but I’ll get to this in a bit.

Some thoughts
I love this campaign! Coloured for sure by my love of the original source tale, of course, the campaign basically forms a sequel where the impact of dispatching the spawn of Yog Sothoth is examined in each of the academics who went up Sentinel Hill on that fateful day. There is an interesting designers’ note in the back of the campaign notes that talks about this inspiration, and is nice to see where the idea came from.

There are some great stories to be told from playing through the campaign, as well – I mean, my own start with the campaign couldn’t have been less auspicious, as I ended up destroying the Clover Club and gaining the ire of the O’Bannions! As the campaign went on, it was great to see some call backs to the events of the very first scenarios, as well, with the outcome of Extracurricular Activity being felt in Lost in Time and Space – that was a very nice touch!

When I played through this one last time, first of all I only talked about the start of the campaign on my blog and didn’t get to the other scenarios, but I ended up with a very different tale unfolding – I feel like it went much better for me, as far as my memory serves. I certainly didn’t blow up the Clover Club, that’s for sure! Even though I have played it before, I didn’t really remember the story beats, which made for a much more exciting game. I could remember things like the hidden chamber in Blood on the Altar when I got to that point, and the ascent up Sentinel Hill was somewhat familiar, but in the main I don’t remember what I was supposed to do (or how I played it last time), so I couldn’t game the game, as it were. I think it helps that there are so many different paths that you can take – most scenarios have at least two resolutions, with some having as many as four, informing the subsequent games so that each replay will indeed feel different.

However, in terms of the deckbuilding, there did come a point where I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my investigators, and so felt a little bit paralyzed by choice. I suppose not knowing what I might be facing made it so that I didn’t really have a plan, so I didn’t know where I wanted to go with it all. As such, I ended up with almost half of the total earned experience not being used. Part of this is definitely also down to not being too familiar with the card pool, but it felt a bit odd giving out 6VP at the penultimate scenario, although I suppose some groups may have fared much worse than me, and might well have needed it to stand a chance!

Something that I thought quite interesting, I barely saw any of the Story asset cards during the entire campaign. Maybe I’m just rubbish at shuffling, but Akachi Onyele had custody of the Necronomicon, as well as having Henry Armitage and Zebulon Whateley in her deck – and none of these cards saw the light of day at all. In the very last scenario, Roland drew Professor Warren Rice to help with his investigation attribute, but that was the single benefit of the whole campaign! I don’t really know what point I’m trying to make with this one, however, because these cards are important more in terms of how the story unfolds – the fact that the Necronomicon can get you resources and improve your investigation is almost arbitrary. But I suppose it would have been nice to have seen them further down the line, as if there were a rule that allowed you to start with the card in play (much like a Permanent card).

All that said, however, the campaign was just wonderful, and I am really pleased to say that I enjoyed it a great deal. Some rules still elude me to some extent, but in the main I thought the gameplay felt very fluid by the time I was mid-campaign, so it definitely helps to play a lot of the game to understand the basic rule interactions so that you can then concentrate on the story aspect. This is definitely one of those games where the story comes through so well that it can sometimes knock you over!

Fantastic stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree! Now, though – it’s time to start a new campaign, with new investigators. I’m heading to Lost Carcosa, and I need to assemble my team… much like with using Akachi for this one, I think I want to use a class that I don’t have any experience with, so I’m probably going to have a Survivor, but I’m not sure about the second one. Maybe a Rogue, maybe a Seeker. Stay tuned, though, as I plan to write up blogs for my plays with all of the Arkham Horror LCG – it’s really become a firm favourite!

Necromunda: at last!

Hey everybody,
Tuesday is of course game day, and this is one that I’ve been looking forward to featuring on my blog it seems like forever! Of course, I’ve talked around it for years, but at last, it’s time for Necromunda!

The Game
There are a ton of rules for this game that make it a really immersive, RPG-style experience, but this is my first game so I’m keeping it simple. It absolutely isn’t going to be my last, however, so I’ll be exploring more of these rules in future blogs! I’ve covered a lot of the basics in my earlier Getting Started with Necromunda blog, but let’s revisit that to begin:

The Basics
Necromunda Underhive is a skirmish game where players control the members of a gang, vying for supremacy in the Underhive. At its most basic, the game is quite straightforward, consisting of three phases in each round. To begin, players roll off to see who gets Priority for that round, then all the fighters are readied.

The Action phase sees each gang member activated, alternating between each player. Each fighter can take two actions. There are a number of different actions available to players, grouped into basic actions (which can only be taken once in each activation), simple actions (which can be taken more than once), and double actions (which take up both action slots for the fighter). So for instance, moving is a simple action and so can be taken twice, while shooting or fighting is a basic action that can only be taken once, and charging is a double action (though it does allow for a fighter to make a free fight action if he or she ends that charge in base-to-base contact with an enemy gang member).

Resolving both shooting and close combat attacks works exactly the same as regular 40k, whereby fighters make a ballistic skill / weapon skill check, and if it is successful, make a roll comparing the weapon strength to the target’s toughness and referring to the usual to-wound chart. The target gets the chance to save against the attack (unless the weapon’s AP value negates that), and damage is inflicted. If a fighter is reduced to 0 wounds, they are taken out of action. There is an end phase which, in the basic rules, is only there to mark the end of the round.

Necromunda Underhive

For this game, I was basically soloing my way through, controlling both Delaque and Van Saar gangs that approach the 1000-credit mark. They’re fairly similar in make-up, with a Leader, a Champion carrying a fancy weapon, and one Ganger with a fancy weapon. Van Saar, as a more expensive gang, unfortunately have one less ganger, but we’ll have to see how each side fared!

My Delaque gang consisted of the following:
Leader (flechette pistol, shock stave, throwing knives) – 185 credits
Champion (grav gun, web gauntlet) – 260 credits
Ganger (long rifle) – 90 credits
Ganger (shotgun, stun grenades) – 100 credits
Ganger (paired autopistols) – 70 credits
Ganger (autogun, stiletto knives, smoke grenades) – 110 credits
Ganger (web pistol, bio scanner) – 170 credits

985 credits in total

In contrast, my Van Saar gang was just:
Leader (combi las/melta, hystrar-pattern energy shield) – 310 credits
Champion (rad cannon, rad grenades) – 265 credits
Ganger (paired plasma pistols, frag grenades) – 205 credits
Ganger (suppression laser) – 115 credits
Ganger (las carbine) – 95 credits

990 credits in total

Necromunda Underhive

Van Saar are known for being very shooty, and very expensive, and this is very clear here – two fewer gangers than the Delaque bunch, although early in the game this didn’t seem to matter. The ganger with paired plasma pistols was able to take advantage of the mistake of the Delaque leader in coming out in the open like we’ve seen above, and was able to get an embarrassingly clear shot at him!

This is the first place where I got a bit lost in the rules. In regular 40k, you’re trying to reduce units or characters to 0 wounds. Here, however, we’re not quite doing the same thing. When a fighter takes enough damage that he is reduced to 0 wounds, you roll an injury dice to see what happens – either a Flesh Wound (which reduces the fighter’s Toughness characteristic), Serious Injury (which knocks the fighter prone, turned face down on the board), or Out of Action (removed from play). At the end of the round, you have a chance to then stand back up or remain prone, by rolling the dice again. Now, any flesh wounds reduce the toughness, and if the fighter is reduced to 0 Toughness, they are then removed from the game. It’s a nice mechanic to ensure that your model isn’t going to be one-shotted into oblivion (although, of course, that is possible by rolling Out of Action!) and once I’d gotten my head around it, it was nice to see that the game will actually let you play with your toys, you know?

Necromunda Underhive

There is a definite need to have plenty of bodies on the table, which put the Van Saar at the disadvantage here, as mentioned. It’s good to have fancy weapons, for sure, but it’s no use if the fighter wielding that weapon cannot get to use it! Which brings me on to learning point number two!

My Van Saar Champion has a rad cannon, and being Van Saar, he’s hitting on 2s. Along with a d6 each time you roll to shoot, you also roll the Firepower dice, which has the ammo symbol on one face that shows the weapon is out of ammo. The first roll with my rad cannon guy, I rolled a 1 and the ammo symbol, so I did the grand sum of nothing on my turn, and was then shot by the Delaque Leader, causing him to be prone and pinned. On each End Phase roll, he remained prone and pinned, meaning he did the grand sum of nothing for the entire game! 265 credits wasted!

Necromunda Underhive

Something that I think is really, really cool about this game is the depth into which the rules go for pretty much everything. Once you get the basic flow down, it feels like a very real game. For example, on your fighter’s activation, you can use one action to Aim (Basic) to add 1 to the hit roll, and then use the second action to Shoot (Basic), where you may find yourself rolling the ammo symbol on the dice. The shot will still be fired, but if you survive to your next activation, you then need to make an ammo check to Reload (Simple) before you can then attempt to Shoot (Basic) once again.

Something that I really like, and hadn’t realised until about halfway through the game, is that a fighter wielding two weapons with the Sidearm trait can shoot with both as part of the same Shoot (Basic) action – normally you can only make one such action on your turn, as you can’t make the same Basic action twice on your activation. Sadly, the Van Saar ganger dual-wielding plasma pistols had run out of ammo on one of these at the time I realised this, but I still had my Delaque ganger with dual autopistols. Fabulous!

Necromunda Underhive

A lot of the game, I feel, will come alive when you play through the scenarios and link everything in a campaign. There are so many rules that involve stuff like opening loot caskets, gaining credits and advancing gangers with different weapons and gaining skills. I’ve not had a chance (or, really, the need) to properly investigate the rules for campaign play, but it seems absolutely like the RPG-feel that I was expecting.

For those of you wondering, the game resulted in a Delaque victory. I was playing a vague sort of scenario whereby the Van Saar gang was trying to re-take some territory from the Delaque. The first round was a lot of positioning, then there were two rounds of shooting and door-opening, before the fourth round resulted in utter carnage! Two Van Saar gangers were reduced to 0 Toughness, and two Delaque gangers took advantage of pinned and prone Van Saar fighters to charge and administer the coup de grace. Seeing his entire cohort killed off, the Van Saar leader conceded.


I’m glad that I’ve finally been able to get the game to the table, even if it was just a solo adventure to see how the whole thing works. Much as with Warcry recently, though, I felt as though it was an entirely fine way to play, getting to grips with the rules interactions and so on. However, I’ve got something lined up hopefully for the day when we can play games with actual living people once again! Delaque vs Orlock, should be a lot of fun!

This game is awesome, and I can’t wait to share more here on the blog as time goes on, and more games are played! Exciting times!

Expanding the Mansion

Inside abandoned hospitals, secret laboratories, and forgotten cellars, scientists are conducting depraved experiments that will drag humanity to the brink of the abyss. Only a small group of investigators can discover the truth and put an end to these mad plots before it’s too late…

Mansions of Madness Forbidden Alchemy


The first expansion for Mansions of Madness, Forbidden Alchemy, delves into the sort of laboratory horror that filters through some of HP Lovecraft’s short stories, as we look at the strange goings-on in the private laboratories of crazed scientists. It’s been three years since I looked at the base game on this blog, and even though a lot has happened in that time, including a second edition of the game and me selling off my own copy of the first edition. But I still want to get round to exploring the expansions here, almost as a retrospective or comparative, looking at how things have been implemented across the variety of Lovecraft games in the stable!

Mansions of Madness Forbidden Alchemy


Forbidden Alchemy is the type of small-box expansion for the game that gives us very much more of the same. We get some new investigators, again some classics from the Arkham Horror stable, and classic monsters like the Byakhee. There is, of course, the over-arching theme of mad scientists and the like, but in the main the expansion is fairly straightforward, if I’m honest. I always find it quite curious when talking about expansions like these – they’re the sort of expansion that I appreciate, because sometimes when I like a game, I just want more of the same. Sometimes an expansion for a game will greatly change the base game, almost to the point where you wonder if you’re playing the same thing, and while that can be nice to change things up a bit, sometimes you just want a new hero to try out, or whatever.

Mansions of Madness Forbidden Alchemy

There are new puzzles in this box, themed of course around Alchemy, although these do change things up from the base game’s puzzles in that you don’t have the same kind of correlation between the investigator’s intellect and what they’re trying to do, but instead it’s all a bit random. Very thematic for the expansion, but I don’t think they’re necessarily better than the earlier puzzles.

The expansion is wonderful, though, for the scenarios it includes, featuring none other than Herbert West and his foul experiments! Crawling hands trying to grab the investigators when they least expect it… nice!

Mansions of Madness Call of the Wild

Call of the Wild was the big box expansion for the game, which featured a slew of new components for the game, and was themed somewhat around the Dunwich Horror. We go outside of the mansion this time around, and have scenarios that actually involve that forsaken hill where the Horror was banished. 

Mansions of Madness Call of the Wild

This expansion literally blows the game wide open, not only simply by virtue of being outside, but a lot of the structure of Mansions of Madness has gone, but in a good way. You’re not forced to follow a specific chain of clues to reach the objective, but rather can gather clues with almost total freedom. This sea-change necessarily means that the stacking of Objectives has also been replaced with a more flexible kind of end game in sight, and it’s really quite something!

There is a scenario that is a sort of whodunnit, where you can question townsfolk and gain them as allies as you try to discover a cult leader; there is a scenario where the investigators are trying to hide ritual pieces that the keeper is trying to discover, in order to enact a pre-chosen ritual. There’s a weird sort of dungeon-crawl type of scenario where you’re trying to escape a misty forest, and you build the map as you go. 

Mansions of Madness Call of the Wild

We also have the Dunwich Horror itself, in a scenario that sees the keeper trying to summon it, and the investigators trying to complete tasks set for them by Zebulon Whateley in order to foil these summoning efforts. 

It’s really everything you’d expect from a big-box expansion, though. The altered gameplay that comes from being outside and not having to complete the clues in strict order, along with a raft of stuff that, some of it being highly themed to the new set, but still can be added in to the base game if you so wish. 

Mansions of Madness is one of the great Ameritrash games where the theme is prioritised over everything else, although of course this game doesn’t just paste a theme onto some random basic game engine. There is so much going on in any game that it can make for a really immersive experience. The expansions are very nice additions, although Forbidden Alchemy did have a lot of trouble when it first came out, requiring the inclusion of a set of cards to replace “broken” components of the game. That did make for a very confusing box opening, I must say!

What I find quite interesting about this game is how it chooses to implement the mythos side of things. Call of the Wild is nothing like Dunwich Horror for Arkham Horror, or The Dunwich Legacy cycle for the LCG. It’s probably closest to the latter, in that both games take aspects from the source material and re-imagine them, but MoM has an extremely tenuous link to the Lovecraft tale, while at least the LCG tells a fairly compelling tale set in the aftermath of the story itself. 

Forbidden Alchemy has no real antecedent in the other mythos games, of course, although it does scratch a very nice itch from the source material. Lovecraft himself was very interested in modern science, and I think if he had had the money, would absolutely have been one of those gentlemen scientists with a private lab in the basement. Quite a few of his stories include some form of science, with tales like Herbert West – Reanimator and Cool Air having almost the main focus of the story being on pushing the limits of scientific discovery. It’s definitely a lot of fun to see that given some attention within FFG’s stable of Lovecraft-themed games, in my view!

Mansions of Madness is now in its second edition, where the keeper has been replaced with an app, allowing for a fully-cooperative game experience. I’ve not really looking all that closely at the second edition, having pretty much downsized my collection when I moved house last year to a core of games that I regularly played, and the Cthulhu-themed games were pretty heavily hit. To all appearances, though, MoM2 is going well, with the most recent expansion, Path of the Serpent, being released twelve months ago. With five expansions that all look to be somewhat along the lines of big box entries, it definitely seems to be doing well for itself!

Playing Magic: Cult of Rakdos

Hey everybody,
It’s been a long time since I have talked about Magic on my blog, but it’s been something that I’ve been drifting back towards in recent days, so I’ve been looking over some of the decks that I’ve had built over the years. I’ve written quite a few of these “playing Magic” blogs, focusing on a few of the Ravnica guilds such as Dimir and Orzhov, but not yet on the colour combination that I perhaps enjoy more than any other: red and black! So it’s finally time to get to “my roots”, as it were, and talk about the Cult of Rakdos!

Rakdos Lord of Riots

Rakdos is unlike any of the other Guilds on the plane of Ravnica, in that they’re a sort of madcap band of circus-folk who are all bound by their hedonistic worship of the demon, Rakdos. The black and red cult has appeared now in three different sets, starting with Dissension in original Ravnica back in 2006. The guild mechanic here was Hellbent, an ability word that gave additional or enhanced effects to a card if you have no cards in hand.

Return to Ravnica gave us Unleash, a mechanic that allows you to choose when casting a creature to place a +1/+1 counter on it. If you do, it then cannot block, but is obviously buffed for as long as it remains in play. (Indeed, a counter placed from any source will prevent the creature from blocking). As far as the link to Rakdos goes, it’s fairly thematic, given the fact that the creature will only be concerned with attacking.

Finally, Ravnica Allegiance has given us Spectacle, which is a sort of re-imagined version of the ability originally chosen for Rakdos – if an opponent lost life this turn, you can cast the spell for its Spectacle cost rather than its casting cost. It’s also thematic for being so similar to the ability of the guildmaster himself, Rakdos Lord of Riots.

Rakdos

So let’s get down to my deck!

Creatures
Rakdos, Lord of Riots
Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch
Spike Jester (2)
Goblin Deathraiders (2)
Rakka Mar
Kiln Fiend
Hellrider
Rakdos Cackler (2)
Rakdos Shred-Freak (2)
Gore-House Chainwalker (2)
Rakdos Drake (2)
Exuberant Firestoker

Instants
Staggershock (2)
Shock (2)
Showstopper (2)
Virulent Swipe (2)
Rally the Forces

Enchantments
Lightning Talons (2)
Deviant Glee (2)
Madcap Skills
Anthem of Rakdos

Artifacts
Rakdos Keyrune (2)
Rakdos Signet
Rakdos Cluestone
Veinfire Borderpost

Land
Rakdos Guildgate (4)
Rakdos Carnarium (2)
Blood Crypt
Swamp (7)
Mountain (8)

There are a couple of things that I’ve considered changing about this deck, but I’ve had pretty decent luck with it so far that I’ve not really done anything about it just yet.

The bulk of the deck is of course Rakdos-centric, which is a lot of attacking power and Haste creatures. A lot of people don’t value Enchantments much, because of the fact that they die with the creature they’re attached to, but I do like to have some in my decks for the abilities they can grant. And I do recall one particularly memorable game where I had the Hellrider deal just one point of damage to my opponent, which let me bring Rakdos himself out, and the pair of them consequently won me the game while equipped with Deviant Glee and Lightning Talons, respectively! By contrast, the only artifacts included in the deck are concerned with mana-fixing, which is probably something that isn’t going to be a problem with the majority of the cards included, but they’re also really on-theme, so I find it hard to argue with that!

I mentioned Hellrider being a useful way to ensure Rakdos comes out, but there are a couple of direct-damage spells (of course!) that can help to ensure I’m able to deal damage to my opponent if need be, as well as the Exuberant Firestoker who, for quite a while, was almost cut from the team. However, even with creatures that have Trample or Flying, I need to make sure I can get the big guy out as much as possible. There are plenty of ways to pump him throughout the deck, which can win me the game if need be – Rakdos with Lightning Talons was a 9/6 Flying & Trample demon badass, but with Virulent Swipe he can be an 11/6 Flying/Trample/Deathtouch nightmare! Add in a Rally the Forces and he’s giving out 12 points of damage in the air – Trample ensures at least some of it gets through, and First Strike will kill off any chumps before they get a chance to kill him as well. If Anthem of Rakdos is added into the mix, there is the potential to one-shot a player! He can be such an incredible threat, it’s worth adding in the additional insurances to make sure he can be cast!

Exava Rakdos Blood Witch

Of course, the deck isn’t entirely about the Lord of Riots. He’s not an expensive card to buy, normally, but his availability has decreased significantly since I first got into the game, it has to be said. So the deck was never going to be a showcase for my favourite cult leader. We’ve got Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch, who acts almost as a focal point for the Unleash mechanic, allowing me to play those creatures on the turn they come out as she gives anything with a +1/+1 counter Haste. There are plenty of creatures and plenty of direct-damage spells that I can still stand a very good chance here, even if the Lord of Riots is stuck at the bottom of my deck. I don’t need him to win, but he’s really great when he hits the table!

I’ve talked before about encouraging the aesthetics of the deck in having cards in the same frame, and so on, and here I wanted to keep that sort of look of the deck as having the pre-M15 frame. I should probably try to make another deck from the new Rakdos cards in the new block, as I’ve got quite a few that I think might go together to make a decent re-imagining of the classic combo of black and red. Might be a blog for another day soon!

Rakdos

Outside of the Ravnica cards, I’ve gone pretty wide this time in the deck, including stuff from original Zendikar block, and even Shards of Alara. I feel it’s worth mentioning here the Borderposts that I’ve included in the deck – I’ve come across a lot of hate for these cards online, as people seem to condemn anything that isn’t a fetchland as worthless. However, it’s worth noting that you can pay 1 generic mana and return a land to your hand to play the card, rather than paying the three-mana casting cost. Turn one, then, being able to play the post provides some immediate fixing on the same speed as a Guildgate. Again, I’m aware that Guildgates are hardly the go-to lands but, playing against a lot of land removal allows me to keep my colour fixing in artifacts like these and the Keyrune etc.

Of course, it’s basically an aggro deck, so there are a lot of creatures involved, with a lot of combat tricks to buff them (and keeping the Kiln Fiend happy!) I’ve been thinking of more stuff like this going into the deck, to have more value coming from casting spells – Guttersnipe springs to mind, of course, but as I’d said before, I’ve had decent success so I’m not in too much of a rush to change things for now. I also have only 9 instant cards in the deck, which I don’t think is enough to consider building a spells-matter strategy into it at this point.

Rakdos

It’s a lot of fun playing these sorts of decks, I find, as you usually don’t find yourself playing for very long, so can get in multiple games and, thus, get to see a lot more of the deck.

There are a lot of great cards that can find a home in a deck like this, although they do tend to lend themselves to a certain type of card as time goes on. I’ve found myself having collected a large number of Magic cards over the years, and so find it a lot of fun to physically go through the collection and build decks that include all manner of weird and wonderful cards and effects. It’s also one of the reasons that I think this game is always going to be around for me – I might not play it anywhere near as often as I used to, but it’s something that has been a big part of my life for quite some time, and will doubtless always remain there, ready for me to come back to it when life allows! I suppose that’s the beauty of the game, in that a deck like Return to Ravnica-era Rakdos (and we’re talking 2012 here) will always be fun to play, no matter what has happened in the game. There’s another reason why I keep coming back to Magic – that timeless quality of it just being a really good game!

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle

Hey everybody!
Today is my blog’s sixth birthday – can you believe it?! It’s also game day, so we’re going to be taking a look at the Harry Potter deck-building game from The OP (formerly USAopoly), Hogwarts Battle!

This came out a few years ago now, and I got it for my wife back in 2018 for a birthday present, a little apprehensive as I know deck building games can be a little difficult to get into. Of course, time was I had a plethora of the things, from Dominion through to Marvel Legendary and Thunderstone. Comparisons will be made with several of these as we go through, inevitably!

The game is quite straightforward, really – the core game is for four players, each of whom takes the role of Harry, Ron, Hermione or Neville. There have been expansions that bring both Luna and Ginny in as playable characters, but we won’t be getting to these in this blog.

It is quite cleverly structured over seven “years”, marking each of the seven school years that each book covers. Each hero comes with a starting deck of ten cards, including the currency cards (the currency of the game is called ‘influence’) as well as some special cards that give you an idea for how you might like to take the construction of that hero’s deck. For example, Ron has the ‘Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans’ card that rewards you for playing Ally cards, so maybe you’ll want to buy some Ally cards from the market.

The market contains these Allies, as well as Magical Items and Spells. There’s no real rhyme or reason to how these cards work – some Spells will allow you to gain attacks, others will give you influence, while others still might let you draw cards. The same is true of the Items and Allies, as well. From game four onwards, there are also dice involved – more shortly – and the ability to roll these dice comes across a variety of cards, also.

But what’s the point of the game, I hear you cry?

There are a series of Villains that need to be overcome by our intrepid heroes, each themed around the point in the story in which they appear for the first time (although there are, of course, exceptions). For instance, in Game One, the enemies are Draco Malfoy, Crabbe & Goyle, and Professor Quirrell. Once Lord Voldemort has made his return, he forms a kind of boss villain for the heroes to overcome, and more Villains are revealed from the deck to attack the heroes through their various means. For instance, in the photo above, we see Fenrir Greyback prevents heroes from healing themselves, which is quite the horrendous effect when you have other Villains, like the Dementors or Quirrell, who cause you to lose health each turn.

In addition, there are Dark Arts cards that get flipped over at the start of each turn. These are basically the game’s way to fight back on a more interactive level – the Villains might be quite passive or situational, allowing turns where they actually don’t have any negative effect on the heroes’ progress. The Dark Arts event cards, therefore, ensure that something will always happen to affect the gameplay.

Finally, there is the Location deck, which shows both how many of these Dark Arts events to draw each turn, as well as tracking the Villains’ progress towards defeating the Heroes. See, when Heroes are reduced to 0 health points, they are merely Stunned – discard half of your hand, rounded down, and then at the end of the turn, reset your health to 10 and continue. Hardly the most grievous of effects! However, the Locations provide something of a clock for the game, making sure that things don’t fall into that holding pattern. As the Villains place more progress markers on these Locations, showing the influence they’re gaining over the wizarding world, more Dark Arts events will be drawn, causing more pain and suffering for the Heroes.

So that, in a nutshell, is the game!

It’s very similar to the DC deck-building game, I feel, in that you have a deck of villains to defeat (although DC brings them out one at a time). However, it isn’t really like any of the other deck-builders that I’ve played, as there are a variety of things that make it fairly unique. For starters, the starting deck each hero has includes more than just basic cards – sure, some of the cards, like each hero’s pet, feel a little basic in their effects, but the starting deck of ten cards covers much more than the basic ‘attack and currency’ style. I really like the fact that these decks provide that sort of base for how you might like to take the deck as you purchase cards for it, too.

The “Year” structure is also something that I really like. When I first opened the box, I had the idea that it might be a game along the lines of these Legacy-style games that started with Pandemic back in the day, giving additional content that is added in depending on what happens within the game. Well, that’s not entirely untrue, of course, though it isn’t quite so “secret envelope” style here – instead, you basically get a base game and all six expansions for it in one box, and you grow the game a little more organically than perhaps some of these Legacy games have it.

Something that I particularly like is how the heroes change over the course of the game, and also the extra gubbins that get thrown into the mix along the way.

As you move up the series of games, your hero “levels-up” twice, at Game Three, and then again at Game Seven. When you begin, you just have your hero; then with Game Three your hero has an effect that will trigger when something happens – for example, Hermione can choose for any one hero to gain one influence when she plays four or more spells. For Game Seven, that ability changes from “any one hero” to “all heroes”.

In addition, in Game Six you get to choose one “Proficiency” that gives your hero more in the way of choices – a second, always-on ability. In the previous picture, we can see that Hermione has chosen the Arithmancy Proficiency, which allows her to interact with cards that make use of four House Dice. These dice make their appearance in Game Four, which is something of a mid-point both in terms of the series as a whole, and the complexity of the game here. We get four dice that give bonuses to all heroes such as giving extra attacks, extra resources, drawing cards or healing. However, some of the Villains and the Dark Arts events make use of the Slytherin die (the one that has more attacks on it), with negative results for the heroes.

These dice are also instrumental in the final battle, as Horcrux cards are introduced. In Games Five and Six, Voldemort is the final Villain to be defeated, with the single caveat that you must have defeated all of the other Villains first. For Game Seven though, you must also destroy the six Horcruxes – that is, roll a House Die and, rather than apply its effect, use it to place a marker on the Horcrux card. These cannot simply be ignored, however, as they also have always-on effects that will often trigger along with the Villains and the Dark Arts events – meaning that, on your turn, it is quite possible that you can go from full health to 0 due to the accumulated horrors of the Dark Side!

It all builds up quite nicely as things progress, although you don’t get to keep the deck that you’ve built up over the course of an entire “campaign” – with the start of each Game/Year, you re-set back to your starting ten, although this isn’t all that much of a handicap when you take account of the fact your hero card has leveled-up by Game Seven, and you also have the Proficiency from Game Six.


For Potterheads, this game is wonderfully thematic, with a lot of cards that kinda make sense when you think about what they do. ‘Expecto Patronum’, for instance, allows you to push the Villains back by removing their progress from the current Location, as well as granting you additional attacks. ‘Lumos’ allows you to draw cards, etc etc. A lot of the moving parts of the game, particularly on the Villains’ side of things, work really well together, too – a shining example of this is Lucius and Draco Malfoy, who interact with the Location cards in a nightmarish fashion. Adding Barty Crouch Jnr into the mix, who prevents progress tokens from being removed from the Location, can cause all manner of problems for the heroes!

However, the game is not without its flaws. For starters, there is no way to thin out your deck, which is a staple of pretty much every deck-builder I’ve played. Being able to cull the basic cards from your deck when you’ve managed to build it up is quite important, but even when you’re playing in Game Seven, and you’re up against Lord Voldemort himself for the final time, there is still the chance that you might draw a hand of five ‘Alohomora’s, which is just a pain in the rear at such a critical point!

There are also no “always on” cards. DC has “kicks”, and Legendary has “Maria Hill”s, where you can (usually) always buy at least one standby card that isn’t really part of the main market. The potential for heroes to be locked out of the market by seeing very high-cost cards very early on is definitely there, and there have been many points where we’ve ended up buying chaff cards simply because they’re the only ones we can afford, or to clear them out of the market stack. I think the game designer has suggested a fix whereby you skip your turn (that is, you don’t purchase anything or assign any damage) and you can wipe the market clear or something. But I’m never really a fan of these kinds of after-thoughts!

There are also a lot of promo cards out there. I’ve talked about my aversion to such cards before, but I find it quite strange when a game like this has promo cards that feature fairly significant characters – the Dursleys and Seamus aren’t top-tier characters, don’t get me wrong, but they’re characters that appear in every novel; I’d have thought therefore that they would be in the main game. Of course, there’s also the issue of the effects these cards have on the game, and a spell like ‘Silencio’ is massive for it to have been left as a promo. This is a co-operative game, for sure, and the idea of there being “chase rares” or something is quite bizarre, but for completionists such as myself, it does feel a little irksome that these cards are out there in the wild!


But the issue of promos shouldn’t, and doesn’t overshadow what is otherwise a really fun gaming experience. There’s a lot to enjoy here, from the straightforward deck-building experience, to the way the game builds up from year one through to seven. I think more than anything, though, I enjoy this game so much because it brings my wife, who is not a gamer, to the gaming table with me, and we can spend the entire evening going through each year and having so much fun. Definitely a winner in my book!

Star Wars Galaxy Guides (part one)

Star Wars West End Games Galaxy Guides

We’re going a bit retro today!

Easter is fast approaching, of course, and it’s always my favourite of the chocolate holidays, as I like to reminisce about the times I’d spend off school, endlessly watching the original trilogy. Today, I thought it could be fun to look back at some of those books that came out for the West End Games RPG back in the 1990s, when the Prequels were a far-off land and all we had to go on was the story of the Rebels and their fight against the Empire! In all, twelve Galaxy Guides were produced, and they served almost as a series of books that gathered up a load of stuff that could help the GM with designing games. There was a lot of background on the setting, reams of NPC profiles, and sample adventures that could be run to make use of a variety of material. Let’s take a look at the first six!

Star Wars West End Games Galaxy Guides

The books that deal with the movies are told from the perspective of Voren Na’al, an Alliance Historian who himself had stats to allow him to be used in the game. The idea was that Na’al was preparing a report for his superior, Arhul Hextrophon. While these books all date from 1995, it wasn’t until 2012 that Na’al and Hextrophon were retconned as the two assistants who hand the medals to General Dodonna during the closing ceremony of A New
Hope (Hextrophon is on the left, and Na’al is on the right:)

While the movie books deal pretty much with the events of the films in chronological order, with material on the locations and the characters from each, there are also plenty of sidebars and the like with mini-stories. Most of these are the kind of throw-away things such as interviews with minor side-characters, although worth noting here is that one such tale is how Biggs Darklighter came to join the Rebellion, the mutiny on the Rand Ecliptic, which was later spun out (and altered) into the four-part comic series Darlighter, one of my all-time favourites from Dark Horse.

Galaxy Guide 4 is the first look at Alien Races, and again is written as an in-universe publication, this time as an Imperial Catalog of Intelligent Life in the Galaxy, commissioned by Darth Vader himself. A lot of these species were invented for the RPG, and helped to inform the burgeoning expanded universe at that time, as was the case with a lot of the WEG products.

Star Wars West End Games Galaxy Guides

These books are all really great for the amount of lore that they contain, featuring the backgrounds on a whole host of both significant and minor, background characters. We get the fascinating backstory on General Dodonna, and his thrilling escape from the clutches of the Empire as he came out of retirement to help lead the Rebels, for instance, which sounds like the sort of thing that could be spun into a novel, these days! A lot of the denizens of Jabba’s Palace have backstories that are the basis for the short stories in the Tales from Jabba’s Palace anthology, too.

There are also many characters that were created for the RPG that became quite significant in this lore – we see this in the backstory on Dodonna, where his former comrade Adar Tallon once again gets a mention. Tallon was created for the early adventure, Tatooine Manhunt, and became something of a regular non-movie supporting character for a number of WEG books. There is a care to the way that WEG went about spinning out the universe created through three movies into the massive juggernaut of the Space Opera genre that it became, and that really comes through when you see the amount of depth the writers went into.

Something that I really like about them is the mini adventures that they all include – or, as is the case with Galaxy Guide 6, it’s what the book is all about. There is so much to enjoy about these sourcebooks even now, for the lore that they contain, but it’s always really nice to remember just how much these books were intended to be used as gaming aides. It’s really one of my great regrets, never actually getting round to playing the WEG system, although I did talk about it with a group of friends back when we were all in college. Sigh!

There is some truly great stuff in these books – of course, I am biased, as this is the lore that I grew up with. Given that the Disney universe feels distinctly different to me right now, it’s really nice to read through these books once again, and come upon the stuff that I know and love.

Looking forward to getting back to reading through books 7 to 12 next!

The Dunwich Legacy campaign

Hey everybody!
It’s campaign time for today’s game day, as I bring you my first thoughts and news on how I’ve fared with playing through the first two encounters of The Dunwich Legacy campaign.

Back in June, I played the first scenario, Extracurricular Activity, and this past weekend I finally got to the second scenario, The House Always Wins, so thought it probably time to give some thoughts here as I’m way behind with playing this game!

I was playing my Jenny Barnes and Ursula Marsh decks, one that has a strong emphasis on investigating locations, the other that is attempting to be a bit of an all-rounder deck. I don’t think I did too badly in the first scenario, but the second was a bit close to the wire for me, as all hell seemed to break loose and I was close to losing the game!

Professor Warren Rice was last seen working late at night in the humanities department of Miskatonic University.

The Dunwich Legacy deluxe expansion was the first such for the Arkham Horror LCG. As with all such deluxe expansions, we get two scenarios in the box, along with all of the new investigators we’ll have for that cycle, and a bunch of the “filler” cards that get used across each of the different scenarios in the cycle. What I found quite interesting, having come at this game from my long-standing Lord of the Rings obsession, is that the deluxe box used some of the filler cards from the core set too, something that wasn’t seen in the older LCG until the seventh deluxe box.

The premise of the box is that Dr Henry Armitage, that venerable old stalwart of the Arkham Horror universe, has enlisted the help of the investigators to find two colleagues – Professor Warren Rice, and Dr Francis Morgan. The investigators can choose whether to go find Rice first, or Morgan. Without really thinking about it, I set up Extracurricular Activity first, so found myself on the trail of Warren Rice!

Arkham Horror LCG Dunwich Legacy

I find it difficult to get going with Arkham Horror LCG games, because I haven’t played it enough to get a real feel for the game. Lord of the Rings LCG has seen my table so often over the years, I can go for a long stretch without playing it, and still pick it up quite easily. With Arkham Horror, however, it always takes me a lot of time and effort to get back into it. Unfortunately, I invariably then play just one game before packing it all away once again… bah!

In my attempt to ensure I found Professor Rice, and thinking that I was playing the scenario, I inadvertently allowed a horrible monster to attack the students in the school… whoops… I managed to conclude the scenario (I wouldn’t really say “win” by spending clues in the Faculty Office, discovering the professor bound and gagged in his own closet. The fiends! Ursula has now got his ally card added into her deck, which is nice!

Campaign Log:
The investigators rescued Professor Warren Rice.
The investigators failed to save the students
2 VPs were won by each investigator.
Ursula Downs has identified the solution.

In front of La Bella Luna stands a man in a pinstripe suit who sizes you up as you approach. “Enjoy yourselves,” he says with a snake-like grin as he holds open the restaurant’s front door.

Just over two months after starting on the campaign, I returned to it this weekend with the second scenario in the box, The House Always Wins. We’re going to the Clover Club, a decision that I found frankly bizarre when the expansion was first announced, but what the hell!

After the events at the University, my intrepid duo of Jenny and Ursula now entered the sleazy life at the speakeasy, as they attempted to track down Dr Morgan. First of all, I have never played a game where I managed to gain so many resources and do so little with them as when playing this one – I think Jenny managed to gain pretty much the entire bank of resources by the end of the game!

This scenario really pleased me, though, as quite a lot happened that felt quite thematic for the sort of story we’re telling here. It came right down to the wire, with the agenda one doom counter away from the club collapsing around me!

Campaign Log:
Naomi has the investigators’ backs.
Dr Francis Morgan was kidnapped.
1 VP was gained by each investigator.

“I’m afraid I must apologize. There’s something I didn’t mention to you earlier.” Dr Armitage then spins a tale you would scarcely believe had it not been for your harrowing experiences earlier that night…

I really enjoyed playing through the two scenarios in this expansion. While they were separated by months, it’s nevertheless quite easy to pick up the story, and whether through the design of the game itself, or just the fact that I’m wired that way anyway, I thought it felt like a well-matched pair of games, despite the different locales.

The Dunwich Legacy is set several months after the events of The Dunwich Horror, one of my all-time favourite Lovecraft stories. While nothing in the deluxe expansion really feels like it bears anything but the most tangential relation to that story, I do get the feeling that we’re gearing up for a cycle of adventures that deals with the fall out from the destruction of Wilbur Whateley’s brother.

I think it’s interesting to see the comparisons between this game and Lord of the Rings LCG, which took quite some time to develop its campaign play system. I mean, there was always an element of narrative thread running through a cycle from the off, but it wasn’t really until the saga expansion idea that we began to see a real campaign implemented. Right from the off, Arkham Horror LCG gives us this, with real consequences in-game for the events of the previous outing, and adding cards to our decks if we manage to discover certain things, etc. It’s quite fascinating really, to view this game as an evolution of the older game, and I find it interesting to read comments from folks who have praised this as almost the pinnacle of the co-operative LCG. I say this, because I find the campaign structure to be so well-integrated overall that it becomes almost impossible to play a scenario out of step with that campaign. I mean, for sure, there’s nothing literally stopping you from doing exactly that, just picking up a mythos pack and going at it, but the game is so narrative-focused, and the story of the campaign is so deeply ingrained that it becomes almost cheap to just play it for what it is. Of course, I’m not trying to say that Lord of the Rings LCG is better because you can so easily play those packs as a stand-alone adventure, but I feel like there could well be a limited replay value to Arkham Horror LCG that I hadn’t previously considered.

I said earlier that I haven’t played the Arkham Horror LCG enough to feel like I’m all that fluent with the gameplay yet, which could well be in part due to this limited replayability issue, but I’m hoping that I can change that soon. Having played through the core set campaign two or three times in a previous effort to get into the game, it does feel really nice to finally be moving on with the game, and experiencing more of the stuff it has to offer, as that experience can feel quite stale, even with a year or more between each play through.

All of this may sound like I’m actually quite down on this game, but I’m definitely looking forward to moving ahead with the campaign and seeing how I fare in the rest of the cycle and beyond!!