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!!

Getting started with Necromunda

Hey everybody!
It’s my 900th post, and I wanted to do something kinda special to mark the occasion. As it turns out, Blood Bowl isn’t the only game I’m finally getting into! I’ve talked about Necromunda a few times on this blog already, so I think it’s about time to take a look at the game in more detail. Think of this as something of a sequel to last year’s brief overview blog!

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.

Advanced Rules
At its most basic, that’s it! There are a number of scenarios in the main rulebook that add a few special rules to the game, but overall victory is still attained by taking gangers out of action. However, there are a number of Advanced Rules that feature in the book as well, which really add a layer of depth to the game that can be somewhat confusing at first, though seem to be well worth adding in to give the game that all-important depth.

Within the Advanced Rules, there are rules for activating groups of fighters at a time – activating up to two additional fighters when you activate a Leader or Champion – as well as a host of additional tidbits that make combat so much more interesting (and deadly!) Rules for running out of ammo, firing two pistols at the same time (flying through the air is optional), stray shots, as well as assisting and interfering in close combat attacks all add to the tactical nuances that make the game so appealing. There are also detailed rules for suffering injury at the hands of rival gangs.

The End Phase comes into its own with the Advanced Rules. If any gang member is seriously injured, the gang will need to make a Bottle Test, which functions similarly to the Morale phase of regular 40k, with the exception that you’re looking to compare the dice roll + number of gang members injured or out of action with the number of gang members who started the game. You then get to make a Recovery Test to see if those fighters can recover or succumb to their wounds. When a fighter is initially wounded, others close by need to make a Nerve Test to see if their bottle goes. In the end phase, those fighters who Broke have the chance of Rallying.

Gang Composition
The main Necromunda Underhive base game comes with two gangs, Escher and Goliath, each of which came with pre-populated fighter cards that dictate how to build the models to make a named gang. When founding a gang of your own, each gang has options for how many of each type of gang member you can include as a start: Leader (usually one), Champion (usually two), Ganger (usually no more than the combined total of other gang members) and Juves (usually unlimited). Each type of fighter costs a number of credits to purchase, and of course their wargear and weapons also cost credits. The main rulebook gives 1500 credits as the limit for a starting gang, though 1000 credits seems to be more normal in the few brief conversations I’ve had about the game.

Fighters can sometimes have access to skills that give them additional options during the fight. Weapons have traits that can give even more options. It all begins to feel a little bit confusing (and not a little unlike 7th edition 40k!) In this respect, then, I think it’s a really great thing that GW have given us the basic rules to use as something of a primer, to get used to things before adding in all of the more complex stuff. Of course, Necromunda has had so much released for it up to this point that it begins to feel much like a sandbox game, but I’ll get to that in a bit!

There are also Tactics cards available for each gang. These cards are split between generic gang tactics, and gang-specific cards. You create a deck of them at the start of the battle, shuffling the generic ones with those of your chosen gang, then the scenario you’re playing will dictate how many you can use, as well as whether you get to choose your cards or have to choose them at random.

Of course, I say these cards are available for use – GW has not been able to keep them in stock, and most of them are no longer available for purchase. While sometimes the card packs and dice sets they put out with a new release are somewhat bonuses to the main event, these cards actually have new and additional rules to them that make it quite difficult to get into the game if you haven’t been there for each release. I suppose it’s always possible that there are just supply problems and GW are trying to put these right, but for now at least, it’s going to be difficult for newcomers.

Necromunda makes great use of terrain, and while the base game does involve some scatter terrain placed onto a tiled board, with all the rules needed for encountering it in a variety of ways, there are rules for multi-level gang skirmishes that take place among the gantries and chains of environments such as the Sector Mechanicus terrain.

With the release of the Palanite Enforcers last weekend, there are now seven gangs available to use in the Underhive. GW have also given us rules for Genestealer Cults and Chaos Cults in the game, two of the more convincing factions from regular 40k that make the most sense for use here! I’ve talked at length in previous blogs about just how much I love the more regular factions like these, which consist of just average folks (if Genestealer Cultists can be called “average”!) that have that indescribable grim-dark feel to them. I mean, it’s arguable that these factions are more 40k than Space Marines or Tyranids! All of which just adds up to yet more reasons to love this game!

While each gang was being released across 2018, they were accompanied with a Gang War book. The first Gang War featured advanced terrain rules to allow for the famous 3D-style games, while subsequent books included the rules for the new gang as well as a Trading Post featuring new and exotic weapons that your gang can come across during campaigns. These books formed something of a treasure trove of ideas and really bring out the RPG-style element of the game that so many people love it for.

These supplements were combined into the Gangs of the Underhive hardback book that came out last Christmas, and the updated hardback Rulebook, much to the annoyance of players who had been buying these products as they came out. Personally, I was of the opinion that these softcovers did at least allow for players to, you know, actually play with their miniatures for a year or so, which can only be a good thing.

So far this year, we’ve seen a pair of hardback campaign books released alongside the new plastic kits each quarter, The Book of Peril and, most recently, The Book of Judgement. While featuring rules for the new releases, there are also campaign rules and a whole smorgasbord of additional bits and pieces that can colour games of Necromunda in new and interesting ways. The Book of Peril is possibly most noticeable for introducing the idea of the Guilds of Necromunda as factions, something that has been teased for a while now…

Necromunda Underhive is a game that I’m hoping to play soon, having convinced a couple of people at the local club to give it a try. While the base game is decent enough, of course, there are so many additional moving parts and rules that add so much depth to the experience that it becomes something closer to a traditional RPG than a simple boardgame. The game is so customisable that it really boggles my mind, and I find myself just itching to play it whenever I think about it!

So I’m finally going to be playing some games with this very soon. I’m intending to feature the game quite a deal more on my blog hereafter, as it’s a game that has really captured my imagination right from the outset. Look out for more content as the months go on, and hopefully I’ll even get to try a campaign or two! It’s going to be an exciting few months as the year draws to a close, let me tell you!

No longer Standard: Time Spiral

Hey everybody!
We’re going back in time for another game day blog here at spalanz.com, and another look at one of the classic sets from Magic the Gathering. Today, it’s time to return to 2006, and Time Spiral block!

Time Spiral

Time Spiral is the fortieth expansion set for Magic the Gathering, released on 6 October 2006. It is the first set in the Time Spiral block, the twelfth block set for the game. The set was notable for being the first to include a whole sub-set of cards, much like we’ve seen in recent years with Masterpieces – this time, it was a set of 121 “time-shifted” cards, which were reprints of cards from Magic’s history, using the older card frame but with a black border, and featuring a purple rarity symbol. The idea behind these cards was to represent the past invading the present, as there have been some horrible things happening to Dominaria on the whole.

Two hundred years previously, Phyrexia invaded Dominaria, but was eventually defeated, leaving the plane in ruins. It’s a thrilling tale, if a little on the bonkers side, and definitely something I’d like to feature here on the blog once I’ve managed to get my head around it! One of the important things to know is that Teferi managed to save his home by phasing it all out of reality, as you do, and has now returned to find the rest of the land a salt-sown wasteland. It’s time to get help from his fellow planeswalker Freyalise and sort things out!

Consequently, there is an element of despair to the artwork across this set. The basic lands look really quite grim and forlorn, with rotting forests and desolate plains, swamps filled with the rotting Phyrexian hulks and so on. We also get some factional warfare in the return of Rebel cards, which represent the three factions from the plane of Rath, first explored in Magic‘s third block, the Tempest block (part of the Weatherlight Saga, of which Time Spiral block is considered a continuation). Again, this is a really intriguing storyline, so I don’t want to go into it here, but suffice it to say, there is a real sense of eking out a living in the shadow of the apocalypse, something I always liken to the Midnight expansion for Runebound – while evil didn’t win on Dominaria, it was defeated at such a cost as to leave utter devastation in its wake.

Mechanically, the set gives us a massive eleven keywords, including eight returning keywords from historical sets (that time/nostalgia theme again), two brand-new keywords, and a keywording of Flash. The two new mechanics are Split Second and Suspend, two quite flavourful mechanics that seem to have become quite commonly-seen in formats like Commander, for reasons I’ll go into now.

Split Second is a keyword found predominantly on Instants and Sorcery cards that basically stops the Stack – while the card with Split Second is on the Stack, other spells cannot be played in response, though mana abilities, triggered abilities and special actions can still happen. A common way around Split Second is to un-Morph a creature such as Willbender, who can counter a spell when he is un-Morphed in this manner. It helps that Willbender was included in the set as a time-shifted card, too! Perhaps the most famous card with Split Second is Krosan Grip, though the keyword does occur in all five colours.

Suspend is a mechanic that proved confusing when it first appeared, due to timing issues of when such things could be played. Suspend is keyword that almost acts like an alternative casting cost: rather than paying the card’s mana cost, you can pay its Suspend cost and exile it with a number of time counters on it; when the final counter is removed, it is then cast. It can be confusing because cards with Suspend cover almost the entire breadth of card types, but you must be able to cast the card at the time you exile it – so you can’t Suspend a creature card in response to having to discard a card, say, unless you have an effect in play that would allow that (and Time Spiral gave players just such an effect by keywording Flash, such as with Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir). Furthermore, some Suspend cards don’t actually have a mana cost, but must be cast via Suspend – they aren’t considered to be “free” to play. An example of this is perhaps one of the more notorious Suspend cards, Living End. The Professor has an example Modern deck based on this card, which you can take a look at here:

Returning keywords and mechanics were plentiful, due to the nostalgia theme. Of course, having so many keywords in a set means there’s a lot to keep track of, and I think having Storm return in the set feels like a step too far!

Time Spiral storage lands

An often-overlooked part of the set, in my mind, is the Storage Lands. These are a cycle of allied colour dual lands that can tap for colourless mana when they appear, but you can pay 1 and tap them to add a storage counter to them. In later turns, you can pay 1 and remove X counters to add X mana in any combination of the dual colours. Cumbersome, for sure, but with effects like Proliferate from subsequent sets, these lands can fit into decks where counter-manipulation is part of the strategy for a nice additional bonus.

Planar Chaos MtG

Planar Chaos was released on 2 February 2007, and brought a few more keywords to the party, including Kicker and also Vanishing, which works almost like a reverse Suspend mechanic, in that it enters the battlefield with a number of time counters on it, and when the counters have gone, it leaves. A revised Fading, a lot of these cards are creatures who have effects that trigger when they enter and leave the battlefield, which can be quite useful if you can find a way to remove tokens quickly.

There were, in addition, a subset of 45 ‘planeshifted’ cards that are meant to function as part of the set, rather than being reprints of older cards. In Planar Chaos, these cards represent an alternate-reality present rather than the past catching up with the present, and consist of colour-shifted cards – the focus here is on cards that grant a colour an ability it wouldn’t normally have, but still denoting a path the colour could have had from the beginning – perhaps the most infamous being Damnation, the black boardwipe spell. Of course, there is a link for each card to the colour they are printed in – while boardwipes are generally the province of White (and, to some extent, Blue), it does fit into the Black theme of direct removal.

Pretty much all of these cards can be considered colour-shifted reprints, such as the aforementioned Damnation (in black) for Wrath of God (in white), or Brute Force (in red) for Giant Growth (in green); colour references in some may be shifted around to fit, but broadly speaking they are direct call-backs. However, they aren’t technically reprints, but new cards. As such, these cards were considered part of the main set, and so have a more general distribution.

MTG Planeshifted Cards

These alt-reality cards are reflected in the story, where Teferi allies with the half-elf Radha and the artificer Venser to attempt to close temporal rifts that have been opening across Dominaria. In order to close the rift above Shiv, Teferi loses his Planeswalker spark, though this will later prove to be a temporary loss.

Planar Chaos also introduced a cycle of Legendary Dragons in the three enemy “wedge” colours that form something of a mirror to the cycle of Dragons from Invasion (in the allied “shard” colours). These Dragons are notable for being the only way to play Commander in these colours until Tarkir block finally went deep into the wedge colours.

Planar Chaos dragons

There’s a pretty interesting article up on Channel Fireball from earlier this year, where author Josh Silvestri describes Ravnica/Time Spiral Standard as the best Standard, though precisely how much Ravnica contributed to that decision is possibly an interesting article of its own!

At any rate, Planar Chaos was followed by the third set, Future Sight, on 4 May 2007, and in keeping with the time feel of the block, included a subset of 81 ‘future-shifted’ cards that are printed in a completely different border, and often include extremely weird mechanics. The idea behind the future-shifted cards was to represent cards that could be featured in later sets of Magic – much like Time Spiral reached into the past for its time-shifted reprints, Future Sight was reaching into the future for a glimpse of what might be to come with these “pre-prints”.

The border on these cards was one of the most controversial changes in the game, supposed to represent the possibility that the card frame might change again (as it had in 8th Edition), although Wizards have since confirmed that the Future Sight border will never actually be used. It’s almost a similar story with the plethora of keywords introduced in Future Sight. In addition to pre-existing keywords such as cycling, dredge and hellbent, we saw Lifelink, Shroud and Reach become keyworded. The fun begins, however, with the catalogue of entirely new keywords, over a dozen of them, some of which have indeed become actual keywords on cards in present-day Magic.

Delve returned in Tarkir block as the mechanic of the Sultai, allowing you to remove cards from your graveyard to help pay for a card’s cost, while Poisonous was later re-worked as Infect in Scars of Mirrodin block; these are the most successful of Future Sight‘s possible new keywords. Gravestorm (allowing you to copy a spell with Gravestorm for each time a permanent was put into a graveyard this turn), Aura Swap (allowing you to swap an aura on the battlefield for one in your hand), Fortify (equip for Land cards), Fateseal X (the “hate scry”, allowing you to look at the top X cards of your opponent’s library and put any number on the bottom) and others have not yet returned, although sometimes I think it might be fun if they did bring one of these back!

Famously, Future Sight also features a couple of cards that include references that basically had no meaning within the scope of the game at that point. Steamflogger Boss with its allure of being able to assemble contraptions is probably the one that always leaps to mind, but at the time even the famous Tarmagoyf had reminder text that referenced the still-to-come Planeswalker card type.

In the storyline, the planar rifts continue to wrack Dominaria, with Freyalise giving up her own spark and her life to close the rift linking the plane with the alternative Dominaria (the one full of Phyrexian nasties). The only solution appears to be sending Karn, the only planeswalker known to have traveled through time itself, back to stop the original rents in reality by preventing the archwizard Barrin from casting the spell that obliterated most of Tolaria back in the day, when he was attempting to prevent the Phyrexians from moving on Urza. Finally, the planeswalker Jeska arrives seeking her mentor Karn, and her anger at the situation unwittingly allows her to bring back another of Magic‘s formidable enemies, Leshrac. But that’s a story for another day…

Time Spiral block

Time Spiral block is quite fascinating to me, dealing as it does with this after-the-apocalypse sort of storyline. It forms almost a lynchpin between old Magic and new Magic – the next block was Lorwyn, which of course brought us the original five Planeswalkers that formed the basis of the new heroes and stories. Names like Teferi and Freyalise would still loom large, for sure, but now it was all to be about Jace and Liliana, Ajani and Chandra. Interestingly, Future Sight was actually supposed to feature the new Planeswalker type of card, but the set already had so much going on, and the new type of card wasn’t going to be ready in time.

There is the sense of Magic‘s history that comes out of the set which, when you look through the list of subsequent expansions, is largely quite absent. Up to this point, the game had previously had a storyline that was set on the plane of Dominaria, told through multiple sets and featuring a cast of heroes and villains that had become quite well-established, if not well-rounded. Following the new card frame in 8th Edition, the game jumped around some planes, taking in Mirrodin, Kamigawa and Ravnica before stopping off once more on Dominaria for this block, before moving off into the multiverse and exploring such amazing places as Zendikar, Innistrad, Theros and Alara. It wasn’t until the 25th anniversary of the game last year that we finally had a return to the plane, and caught up with Teferi, Jhoira and the others. It’s almost like the design team wanted to swing by the original plane just one last time before they headed off into the vast potential of new and different planes.

For that, it’s almost a bittersweet set. I really like it for the flavour, whether people think the block has any power or not. There are a whole load of interesting cards in this block, and it’s definitely worthwhile taking a look beyond the handful of cards that keep coming up time and again in Commander or Modern.

Playing Magic: The Orzhov Syndicate

Hey everybody!
It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these “playing Magic” blogs, but in light of the fact that I’ve started to collect some cards again, and seeing as how we’ve just experienced another return to the plane of Ravnica, I thought it’s about time I wrote up a blog showcasing the Orzhov deck that I’ve been talking about in a number of my previous blogs! So without further ado, let’s get to it!

Orzhov Syndicate

The Orzhov Syndicate is a bit like the idea of a corrupt Church organisation, not all that far removed from real life, where the leaders are more businessmen than clerics, and who have a very temporal power through their control of all manner of deals. Indeed, one of the Guild-specific land cards in the original Ravnica block is Orzhova, the Church of Deals. There is a strong theme whereby even in death, a person’s debt is rarely paid, and so the Guild features a lot of ghosts and shades, with a few keywords that have come in over the years that play on that idea.

The original keyword mechanic for the Orzhov Syndicate was Haunt. Widely considered to be a terrible mechanic (head designer Mark Rosewater himself considers it “a mistake”), a card with Haunt will be exiled rather than placed in the graveyard, “haunting” another permanent on the battlefield. When the card it is haunting is itself then put into the graveyard, that action will trigger the Haunt effect of the original card, basically getting a second use out of it before both die.

During Return to Ravnica block, Orzhov had the mechanic Extort, which allows you to pay an additional white or black mana whenever you cast a spell, whereupon each opponent loses 1 life and you gain life equal to the total lost. Commonly referred to as “drain and gain”, it’s a great way to ensure cards have impact for you the whole game, and it’s the mechanic around which I’ve built my deck that I’ll talk about shortly!

During the latest Guilds of Ravnica block, the new Orzhov mechanic is Afterlife X, which creates X 1/1 Spirit creature tokens when the card with Afterlife X dies. I suppose you can think of this as a cleaner Haunt, or at least, a cleaner implementation of the idea of Haunt! It’s also extremely on-point for the idea of never quite paying off your debts to the Syndicate!

Unlike my Dimir deck, my Orzhov deck is all about the Guild, and goes heavily into the theme of Orzhov, using cards only from Ravnica and Return to Ravnica blocks.

Orzhov Syndicate

I’ll be the first to admit, this deck can be clunky as hell. Because of the fact that I’ve got the self-imposed limit of only including Guild-specific cards in the deck, it’s really difficult to reliably make the deck win. I’ve also included some cards in there for the sheer theme alone, and ordinarily wouldn’t consider using if I were trying to make the deck more playable. But it’s a lot of fun to build decks that are dripping with theme like this, so there is definitely that in its favour!

Creatures (25):
Obzedat, Ghost Council
Blood Baron of Vizkopa
Kingpin’s Pet
Treasury Thrull
Syndic of Tithes
Syndicate Enforcer
Souls of the Faultless
Maze Sentinel
Basilica Guards
Sin Collector
High Priest of Penance (2)
Tithe Drinker (2)
Orzhov Guildmage
Vizkopa Confessor
Thrull Parasite (2)
Crypt Ghast
Pontiff of Blight
Vizkopa Guildmage
Dutiful Thrull (2)
Basilica Screecher (2)

Instants & Sorceries (5):
Purge the Profane
Executioner’s Swing (2)
Obzedat’s Aid (2)

Artifacts (4):
Orzhov Signet
Orzhov Cluestone
Orzhov Keyrune (2)

Enchantments (4):
Gift of Orzhova (2)
Shadow Lance
Blind Obedience

Land (22):
Orzhov Guildgate (3)
Orzhov Basilica (3)
Orzhova, the Church of Deals
Plains (8)
Swamp (7)

Orzhov Syndicate

There are 15 instances of Extort as a keyword in the deck, though thanks to the Pontiff of Blight, every single spell being cast has the potential to gain Extort – and in case you were wondering, multiple instances of Extort on a card do indeed stack, so there is definitely the potential for some serious drain and gain shenanigans going on there!

Of course, Extort isn’t the only thing going on with the deck. There is a certain element of Control, thanks to stuff like Blind Obedience (a card I normally dislike playing due to the amount of hate it can attract) and the High Priest of Penance forcing some difficult choices to be made by any would-be attacker. The lifegain potential in the deck is high, due to the multiple instances of Lifelink outside of Extort, though one of the big areas this deck falls down is a failing to weaponize that. I’ve talked more in-depth on weaponizing lifegain in my Ayli Commander deck blog, though, and I think if I were to travel outside of the Ravnica block cards, it wouldn’t be too difficult to create a really punishing version of this deck.

Ultimately, this is meant to be just a fun deck that is really dripping with theme, and one that brings back fond memories for me when I was first getting into Magic the Gathering, watching Spellslingers and enjoying the interactions of the cards, as well as seeing just how much fun you can have playing this game!!

Hellboy: The Board Game

Hellboy the board game

It’s birthday week, and it’s Hellboy week, so it’s only right for this week’s game day to take a look at the recently arrived behemoth of a board game! It’s Hellboy the board game from Mantic Games!

Originally touted on Kickstarter almost exactly a year ago, the game smashed through its £100k funding goal, eventually getting to almost £1.5million during the funding period. Ironically, of course, this isn’t really that impressive for Kickstarters these days, though I suppose for a licensed product from an established company, it is fairly standard. Designed by James Hewitt, the brains behind none other than the recent Necromunda Underhive from Games Workshop, the game is basically a dungeon crawl, with the heroes going through a series of encounters with enemy minions as they make their way through the board towards the final boss enemy. Pretty standard fare, I’m sure you’ll agree. The system is pretty straightforward as well, without anything as complex as the classic dungeon crawler Descent.

Hellboy the board game

The game begins with the Agent phase, where each hero gets the chance to make three activations. It’s a co-op game, so you can mix and match just how you make these activations – if you’ve got a better explorer character, they might be the best choice to look into a room, before the heavy hitter can then wade into the fray and start punching things.

Once the Agents have had a go, there is the Doom phase, where the Deck of Doom advances (basically the game’s version of an AI, responding slightly to the hero actions) and the Impending Doom marker advances – this can trigger the end confrontation with the enemy boss, so acts as a bit of a timer for you.

After cleanup, the new round begins with the Enemy phase, where any enemy minions on the board get to do stuff based on a keyword activation system. The whole thing is fairly slick, and there is a tutorial game included in the box to run you through the process to get started. I’ve played the tutorial twice now, and think I’ve got a fairly decent grasp of how things go as a result.

Hellboy the board game

The game isn’t really designed as a campaign system, but more as pretty much a traditional board game – you sit down, you play, you pack it all away. There are four Agents included in the game (a whole lot more in the Kickstarter edition, though I believe the game currently only supports four-player tops), each Agent coming with two Starting Gear cards. You also get to choose a piece of kit that might come in handy from the Requisition deck – each card has a cost (such as the Warding Talisman, above, costing 3), and depending on how many Agents are on the trip, you get a budget to spend on these cards. It’s fairly thematic without being overly complex. However, as far as customization options go, that’s pretty much it.

It’s worth noting, as well, that Agents can only shoot if they have a ranged weapon card, whereas they can usually always make a melee attack due to having fists or whatever. It’s something that I felt wasn’t entirely clear in the rules, and while it probably won’t always come up, you may find yourself trying to shoot with an Agent who actually can’t do so.

Hellboy the board game

The game leads up to a Confrontation, usually with the big bad guy of the scenario you’re playing – in the tutorial game, that’s the Giant Frog Monster. These chaps are quite beastly, but with some lucky dice rolling, I’ve managed to survive fairly easily. I think this is probably due to the dice mechanic of the game.

During the course of the game, you get the opportunity to examine clues, which will in turn allow you to advance the Information Gathered track. This track also contains tokens at specific points – if the track is advanced beyond these points, you collect the tokens which, during the Confrontation, allow you to upgrade dice you roll when attacking the boss. The dice system is probably the most unique thing about the game that I’ve come across. On the agent sheet shown earlier, there are four skills shown in colour-coded blocks in the top-left corner. Hellboy has a melee characteristic of red, a ranged characteristic of yellow, and both examine and defense characteristics of orange. The dice system runs from yellow dice (worst) through orange (medium) to red (best), with black dice for super-best. When making a test, you roll three coloured dice plus the blue effect die – this die can be brilliant for you, doubling the highest-scoring die result, or removing it, and all sorts in between. It’s really quite a cool mechanic, and all sorts of in-game effects can improve or reduce your dice efficacy, such as having monsters in the same board area as you, etc.

Having two information gathered tokens during the Confrontation meant that Hellboy was punching the Giant Frog Monster with two black and one red dice, however, and during my second game with Hellboy and Johan, I made some spectacular rolls for both of them, meaning that, even though Johan was nearly dead (well, dead-er), I was able to defeat the monster after only a single activation of the big bad guy.

Hellboy the board game

The miniatures are pretty decent for gaming pieces. Since I became a Warhammer nerd, I’ve become super critical of these things, but even the plastic pieces are really quite nicely detailed, overall. I didn’t get the resin miniatures, but I’d imagine they’re even more detailed.

The Kickstarter box is an absolute beast, and certainly the biggest game I’ve ever bought. It manages to fit the core game and two full expansions inside, as well as a host of the Kickstarter stretch goals unlocked throughout the campaign. I find this quite an exciting experience, and quite interesting in the way that Kickstarter games work. I’ve basically bought a core game and two big-box expansions, with maybe three or four smaller expansions on top. I suppose I’m just used to buying into games at a slower pace!

Hellboy the board game

In addition to the core game, we get the Conqueror Worm and the BPRD Archives expansions in here. Conqueror Worm is a new scenario, alongside Nazi minions and, of course, the giant Worm itself as a boss miniature. The BPRD Archives expansion is a curious beast, as it is basically a whole collection of standalone scenarios that allows you to create whatever game you want. Rules for setting up the board, including which minions and bosses to fight, are all included on tarot-sized cards, and there is a veritable menagerie of enemy miniatures included for you to battle. I’ve not tried that method of play yet, but from briefly looking through the process, it seems quite straightforward, and there are promises for future expansions to include stuff for this deck constructor mode, ensuring that you can always use this expansion to create new games with the mountain of stuff available!

So far as Kickstarter exclusives go, there seems to have been a bit of a redesign for their inclusion in the box, and I do quite like it. There’s a design blog from James Hewitt that talks about how these things work, and the original concept of villains with their own Confrontations has shifted to the more modular inclusion of Fiend cards that allow these Lieutenant-style baddies to show up without waiting for the very end. I like this because the game can otherwise feel like a massive swing – from one minute battling minions to suddenly having a huge beast to contend with.

There is part of me that wishes we could get some kind of reward for defeating such villains, though I suppose I’m just thinking on a simplistic level. It’s not like every bad guy is carrying round bags of gold that they drop as soon as you defeat them!

On a similar note, I’ve seen a lot of people express disappointment online for the lack of a campaign system, and the inclusion of the sandbox-type BPRD Archives expansion seems to have been an affront to such people, who feel it lazy or somesuch. Personally, I think it’s a terrific way to expand the game, allowing for a whole lot of replayability, and the random-encounter feeling of the game is very much in keeping with the fairly random-encounter feeling of the comics. Sure, the storylines do weave in and out of each other, but there are a lot of one-shot-style adventures our intrepid heroes embark upon, and that is quite decently replicated here. It’s great for people who want those kind of one-off games, and you’ve got to remember, Hellboy pretty much exists as he is  in the comics: he doesn’t really level-up and become better at what he does, he just does it all the way through. Not saying he doesn’t learn lessons of course, but that’s what the Information Gathered track is there for.

It’s also how James Hewitt originally envisaged the game design, being modular and customisable like this.

I like it, anyway!

Hellboy the board game

Backers still have the Box Full of Evil to come, which features some more Kickstarter stretch goals and two mini-expansions, not sure when we can expect that to arrive at the moment, but hopefully it’ll arrive soon. In the meantime, it’s not like I don’t have absolute masses of game material to wade through and enjoy!!

Deathwatch vs Drukhari: a postmortem

Hey everybody!
Had a very disappointing game against Deathwatch yesterday, so thought I’d come along here and ramble about it for a bit. Because, y’know, why not?

I was playing at my local store against a guy I’ve played before, albeit with different lists. While in our previous match I’d been Necrons, he’d also included a different line-up and it was a smaller-scale game (1250 points, I think). We’d upped things to 1750, and I thought it was about time I brought out the Drukhari, given that I’ve not been playing them nearly as much since the Codex came out, and it’s really time to get my head around all the stuff they can do!

Firstly, then, my list:

It’s a list that I’ve used in similar configuration before, when I had a game back in December against Orks. I’d initially considered using Wych Cult models alongside the Kabal portion, similar to what I was talking about last month, but in the event I wasn’t going to get all of the models that needed painting finished in time. We both went over a bit, mainly because he was bringing Knights to the party, so I felt no shame in squeezing in a second haemonculus to make it two battalions for 13 command points. I made one of the haemonculi the warlord, putting both in their own Venom, then used the Kabal as the main thrust of my army.  The plan was to use the Kabal as a main threat and keep everything at range, while the Coven portion went up the sides and attempted to create a melee charnel house.

Deathwatch vs Drukhari, round one

This plan did not last nearly as well as I thought it might, given that I went second, losing a lot of my firepower and mobility thanks to both Ravagers being blown off the table, as well as two of the Raiders being brought down to extreme low health. Urgh! We were playing Supplies from Above, one of the new missions from Chapter Approved 2018, and one that I’ve played previously in a smaller-scale Necrons vs Tempestus Scions game, and can be a lot of fun in the smaller setting. With a lot of table to cover, though, it proved to be a different experience.

I’d initially placed my objectives near the centre thinking I’d create a bit of a killzone for my Raiders to just deliver massive broadsides each turn. Unfortunately, that didn’t really come to pass! My first shooting phase, I managed to kill one guy – just one guy! Really poor rolls made it quite difficult to get much further. I did use the Fire and Fade stratagem to then move one of the Raiders out of the way of the Knight that was breathing down my neck (which is how it came to be neatly wedged between the scenery pieces in the centre of the picture, above).

With my Ravagers gone so quickly, though, I decided to just not even bother with the Knights, and tried instead to focus on keeping to cover as much as I could, and go for the troops. The mission requires you to control objective markers at the start of your turn, but they move at the start of each battle round, so I shifted my focus to that in the hope that I’d be able to weather the storm coming my way!

My opponent had switched up his list from last time as well, and rather than having everybody carry storm bolters, instead went for a mostly-Primaris build. Which was, as I’m sure you can imagine, a sheer delight. Everything having two wounds suddenly made what heavy artillery I had left become more viable against troops, as shameful as that may be to fire a dark lance at an infantry blob! As an aside, I’d built the majority of this army during the changeover from 7th to 8th edition, when the dark lance was king. However, I’m really thinking that the remaining Raiders I have to build and paint will all be disintegrator cannons, instead – 5 points cheaper, and two more shots. Sure, the strength and AP aren’t as good, but the chances of hitting with the cannons are so much better than with the lances. Somehow, whiffing with three shots at 15 points feels better than whiffing with one shot for 20 points. But anyway!

The one bright spot for me was having taken the risk and walked up the Wrack squad carrying the Hexrifle along the flank to shoot directly into the face of the Watch Master – I wasn’t sure I’d be any good suffering the penalty for moving and firing a heavy weapon, but there’s something wonderful to be said for actually making the Hexrifle shot work: 6 to wound and an unsaved wound at that meant two wounds came off the Watch Master. Delightful.

Deathwatch vs Drukhari, round two

Turn two was utterly appalling for me. I lost everything except the Coven Raider and Venom, and just kept rolling poorly for all of my Kabalites. The fact that two squads of ten veterans deep-struck in, one of which came down into my deployment zone for a two-pronged attack, really saw the pain. I’d deployed an Archon on foot, which you can see just to the centre-right of the above photo, and intended him to be quite the distraction. As it happened, he managed to pull most of the fire from that back-field deep strike, and his shadowfield broke on the third roll. Nobody can really withstand 12 shots to the face, can they? But it meant my Warlord had that much less coming for him, while somehow I managed to shave another two wounds off the Watch Master by again rolling perfectly for the Hexrifle!

Nobody expects a melee-orientated unit like Wracks to have a sniper rifle hidden in their midst, and so pretty much every game I’ve used it, this squad has been woefully misunderstood. Splendid!

If only the rest of the battle was going splendidly, of course. As a point of note, I always forget about Power from Pain. I even had the cards right there in front of me to remember, but I still forget to make the FNP save from the first battle round. Thankfully, my opponent was a good enough sport about it and let me roll after the fact, which did net me two Kabalites back from one of the squads – though I suspect he did so fully aware of the fact they weren’t really a threat to him at this point!

Due to the insane amount of firepower coming at me, when my actual second turn came around, I had very little left to do, so just charged a bunch of Covens units into the backfield deep strikers, and successfully managed to eliminate a Jump Captain and the squad of ten he came down with. There is something to be said for the brutal efficiency of a Talos, Cronos, Haemonculus and Wrack squad working together. Can’t wait to complete the family and add some Grotesques to the roster!


Despite it all – Hellfire rounds to the face, Knights with ridiculous anti-vehicle hatred all around me – we ended in a draw. The Court of the Archon came in really handy having disembarked from their downed Venom in the centre of the table, as each is a separate unit so they all scattered to secure three objectives, with only the Sslyth losing his during the third battle round. We agreed to call it a draw after his turn though, as the store was 20 minutes from closing and I knew it would take at least that long to pack all of my stuff away!

I can’t remember the last time I won a game of 40k. Well, actually I think I can, but it was a long time ago. At any rate, losing games is very often more valuable an experience than winning. My opponent for this game is a self-advertised newbie, and I think our game last night was his fourth, having won one, lost two, and now drawn one. The usual advice for new players is to let them win their first game, but that really is a double-edged sword, for it may lead a person to think the game is easy, or that it will always be like that. Losing, however, makes you re-evaluate your choices, both in the list and in the game. Even though we called this a draw on victory points, I definitely felt like I lost this one.

I ended the battle with 8 command points left. If you end a game with any CPs left, you’ve likely done something wrong, and I very definitely don’t yet know the full potential for the stratagems Drukhari can employ. In a game situation, though, I hate to stand there, flicking through my cards or the Codex, trying to come up with a strategy on the fly, though often I end up doing so regardless. Not making full use of my command points was definitely a mis-step from me, and leaving one of my Raiders out in the open was just asking for trouble when there is so much heavy firepower on the opposite side of the table.

A great excuse for this game was that I was playing at right angles to my deployment zone. Hear me out on this one: we were playing Hammer and Anvil deployment, but the tables in GW Chester are set up as one long line down the centre of the room. So my deployment zone abutted another game going on, and I couldn’t properly get behind my minis to see what they could see, etc. Trying to figure out lines of sight as best I could was, well, difficult at best! I really shouldn’t have been the gentleman and accepted the poorer of the two zones.

I usually have poor dice rolls, and so I try to mitigate that by going for an almost horde feel to the armies I play, and try to have lots of weapons in the hope that the weight of numbers will mean I’ll get at least some hits. But even for me, last night’s game was a shambles. However, there were some successful shots in there that were, unfortunately, saved. Another cardinal sin here – I paid for splinter racks on all three of my Kabal Raiders, 10 points each. I promptly forgot about this, and cannot remember if any of the drive-by attacks rolled 6s. Argh! The agony is real.

People talk about Blasters being amazing, but it’s a similar situation to the dark lance, putting a lot of faith (and points!) into just one shot. I’m starting to think that I might well just keep things real simple in my next game, and have three squads of ten with just splinter rifles, or maybe add in a splinter cannon for each but otherwise strip them back completely. 70 points for a 10-man Kabalite squad isn’t exactly a bad situation to be in, after all. Keeping things cheap in this manner will open the door for adding in more stuff as well, naturally – maybe a 5-man Kabalite squad in a Venom, where I can perhaps get a bit fancier?

The other thing that has been running around my mind for a while is to just forget about the whole Obsessions thing, and run a Drukhari army without trying to straightjacket it into Kabal/Cult/Coven. There are enough options outside of the Obsessions to do this comfortably, though who knows if it would actually be viable? At least I could use my Reavers without having to think about a Succubus or maxing out the Outrider detachment…

All of this talk leads me to the main point I have to make, though: I’m just not that experienced with my Drukhari force yet. I said at the top that it was a very disappointing game, and that was really a disappointment with myself and the tactical choices I made throughout. I love Dark Eldar, not necessarily for the fluff but the playstyle is a massive puzzle that I really enjoy solving each time I bring them to the table (except, perhaps, when that puzzle is being destroyed before I even have a chance to pick up the next piece!) However, my hobby-butterfly mentality often sees me flit from one army to another, and never really getting the hang of anything. As it happens, I’m hoping to move house this summer, so in the spirit of anticipating some upheaval in the next few months, I probably won’t have the time to flit from project to project, and will therefore have to commit to something. If I actually manage to find the time to play any games, it might be worthwhile to stick with the Drukhari and see if I can really refine how I want to play them…

A Shadow in the East

Wow, you guys! Wow!

Lord of the Rings LCG is getting an eighth deluxe expansion pack, A Shadow in the East, and it sounds spectacular! We’re heading to Rhûn for this and the subsequent Vengeance of Mordor cycle, and I for one simply cannot wait!

The three quests that come in the expansion are all a little reminiscent of the Against the Shadow cycle, with their urban feel and sinister cults, but there is also the added feeling of the oppression of Mordor, with the idea of mysterious ruined temples built in honour of Sauron. Wow!

This has been great news, I have to say. It’s always exciting to see more come out for this game, which I have frequently said is my all-time favourite board/card game in my collection. We’re getting new quests of course, and we’re travelling to another new area of the map, so what’s not to like? Some very interesting new theme and mechanics coming on the cards we’ve seen spoiled so far – and we’re getting The One Ring once again!

I’m not sure whether this new Ring card will make it into my decks (although I’m also wondering whether it will be a stipulation of playing the quests?) as I’m a fairly cautious player at times, and reducing my threat elimination level by 5 to play with it seems a bit too much for me! But I’m sure, in time, I’ll try and experience how it changes things – especially seeing as how there will be new cards that interact with it, as well.

The first double-sided Hero card is here, too! I’m sure I’ve seen fans speculating about the possibility of a Sméagol/Gollum card for years, so I’m sure there are plenty of folks excited by this! With two cards shuffled into the encounter deck that give him a chance to flip to the Enemy side, I can see having the Ring’s ability to counter encounter cards in this way could be quite powerful! He’s otherwise quite decent-looking, and his cost is splendid! Reminds me of the Spirit Glorfindel from back in the day!


I’m really excited to see a new deluxe expansion – I’ve been concerned for a while now that The Wilds of Rhovanion would be the end of the game in its paper form, as it seems to have a real “last hurrah” feel to it. You can read more about that here, though! There is still some strong speculation online that the language used in the announcement feels a bit final – “it has all led to this” etc – plus the question of just what was happening within the time period the game is supposed to be following, leading many folks to think we could be in for news of the final expansion pack soon.

Previous LCGs from Fantasy Flight have come to an end when they have about this much content out there for them, of course. We’re coming to the end of the eighth cycle for the game, which has also included seven deluxe expansions and eight Saga deluxe expansions, as well as eleven standalone expansion packs, not to mention all of the Nightmare expansion packs! There is a heck of a lot of content out there right now for this game, and while the amount of content doesn’t always equal bloat for a game like this, there is nevertheless quite a high barrier to entry at this point, and I wonder if the designers might be feeling the need to draw things to a close. I guess we can but wait and see on this.

At least we’re in for more Lord of the Rings LCG for a while yet, and I cannot wait to see what we’re going to be up to in this upcoming cycle! I think it might be time to crack out some decks and see how far I can get once more!