Kickstarter Burnout?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fallen

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

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

Journey Wrath of Demons

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

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

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

Ghostbusters board game Cryptozoic

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

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

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

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

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

Who ya gonna call?

It’s birthday week again at spalanz.com, as my blog turns two on Thursday – aww! To celebrate, I’m having another theme-week, though not quite as expansive as last year’s Indiana Jones week unfortunately. But it’s still amazing, as we once again return to a beloved franchise from the 1980s – it’s Ghostbusters!

I’ve got a couple of blogs coming later in the week that will be waxing lyrical on the movies and such, so you can definitely look forward to those, but it’s Tuesday, so it’s time for a game day blog – and one that I’ve been really looking forward to sharing with you guys: it’s the new board game from Cryptozoic!

Ghostbusters board game Cryptozoic

Well, it was new back last November, but anyway. This was a kickstarter game that was funded in March 2015, and eventually found its way to me later that year. It’s a relatively straightforward game, where you play one of the iconic four Ghostbusters – Ray Stantz, Peter Venkman, Egon Spengler, or Winston Zeddemore:

Ghostbusters board game Cryptozoic

(Other Ghostbusters are available…)

During the game, you get the opportunity to level up your character by busting ghosts, which gives your character additional skills – it’s a simplified RPG-style system, and one that I am pretty impressed by!

Ghostbusters board game Cryptozoic

Ghosts come in different classes, which roughly denotes how difficult they are to deal with, and feature the mechanics used to both move and trap them (more on this shortly). The ghost miniatures are all this clear-blue plastic, with the exception of Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (white, obviously) and Slimer (in green). Something I think is really cool is that whenever a ghost moves into another ghost, they become a bigger threat, turning into a ghost of the next class up! Wonderful!

The game is played according to different scenarios, outlined on their own cards:

Ghostbusters board game Cryptozoic

These cards show how to set up the map tiles, where to place ghost miniatures, etc, and feature the win conditions.

So let’s talk gameplay.

The game round is split between the Ghostbusters’ movement, any “end of round” effects, then the Event die is rolled. On a Ghostbuster’s turn, you have two actions to choose from, such as moving, aiding others, and combat. The main focus is of course combat, as you try to rid the streets of New York of all the paranormal manifestations!

Ghostbusters board game Cryptozoic

Importantly, to hit a ghost, you must have line of sight to it – so any terrain features outlined on the map can potentially block you. You also need to be no more than 3 spaces away from it. Each ghost has a to hit and to trap value on its card – when you’re fighting it, you roll a d6 and try to equal or exceed the hit value. If you’re successful, you’ll get to put a proton stream marker underneath that ghost (as shown above, Egon has hit the Boogaloo Manifestation once, so he gets to put one stream token under it). Class 1 ghosts only require one stream token to trap them, so if you hit them, you get to remove them from the board and place them on your character sheet; otherwise, the ghosts will continue to move around with that stream token under them until they are trapped – hit enough times to have stream tokens under them equal to their to trap value. When this happens, the Ghostbuster who put the final stream token on the ghost gets it, but anyone else who had stream tokens under the ghost gets 1XP. Ghostbusters also have some abilities to gain additional XP from their abilities.

Ghostbusters board game Cryptozoic

Once each Ghostbuster has had their allotted two actions, if the scenario card shows any end-of-round actions, they’ll happen, then the event die is rolled. This is a custom d6 with the Zener Card symbols (from Venkman’s test at the beginning of the movie?) – the scenario card tells you how many gates there are open on the map, represented by cardboard tokens as seen in the above photo. These gates also have the symbols on them, and if the symbol rolled matches an open gate, a new ghost will come out of it.

The way these ghosts come out is pretty nice, as well – there is another cardboard tile that represents a PKE meter, with numbers 1-8 around a central square. You roll a d8 to determine which square the ghost will emerge onto, imagining the gate tile as being the central square. The event die also has an eight-pointed Chaos star (if you’re familiar with Warhammer, you’ll know this one). This represents Chaos and each ghost on the map will move according to its reference card.

Ghostbusters board game Cryptozoic

This is a really fun game, I like it a lot! The rulebook isn’t particularly great, which made my very first game a bit confusing as I tried to make sense of what I was doing in terms of the round structure or whatever, but once I got past that, I think it went pretty smoothly and I quickly got into it – after which, I quickly discovered that I really loved it!

The basic game that you can get at retail has a lot of fun, but the kickstarter version has got a whole ton of extras, and it would be remiss of me to not mention this. To be blunt, the kickstarter campaign was a bit of a mess. Almost all of the classic movie stuff was kickstarter exclusive, including the librarian, Gozer and the dogs, etc, which was something of a bizarre move from such an established game company. As of the time of this writing, there is a second game up on kickstarter, which has a lot of this kickstarter loot available in add-ons, and anyone who picked up this game at retail should definitely look into that. It’s not all of the content, unfortunately, but it’s a lot of it.

The scenarios are where the game shines of course, and there are plenty of them to keep you going through so much gaming, and they are a whole ton of fun.

Pick up a copy today!

New stuff Monday!

So this dropped today, and I have to say I’m finally thinking this might be worth looking into now. I’m not the biggest fan of Suicide Squad, I have to say – always found it a bit unnecessarily violent, to be honest, but after watching the new trailer, I’m really interested… Might even pick up a graphic novel at some point, see if there’s anything to it…

The Ghostbusters II board game has gone live on kickstarter today, and looks a lot of fun! I have a blog upcoming for the first game soon, but suffice it to say, it is great. The second game looks to be just as fun – I’m particularly pleased to see Jail Jaw and Mail Fraud, two of the great ghosts from the toy line!

So excited for these things!!

Thunderbirds: First Impressions

Hey everybody!
Time for another game day blog, and today it’s time for a first impressions of a game I picked up a few weeks ago. 5-4-3-2-1 – Thunderbirds are go!

Thunderbirds board game

It’s the new co-operative game from Matt Leacock, funded via kickstarter earlier this year. I actually had no idea this game was happening, but walked into my local store last month and it was there for sale. The manager’s enthusiasm for the game was infectious, and within a day or two I’d bought it. However, I wasn’t really in any rush to play it until this weekend, despite the numerous jokes from him about buying games but not even taking the cellophane off. At any rate, I’ve had a proper chance to try this game now, so thought I’d come along with some first impressions for you all! This is part of something I’d like to do with this blog, anyway, in providing more structure to the game day blogs I keep churning out: during the month, I’d like to get at least one first impressions (though I guess that depends on whether I’ve tried any new games that month) and at least one really in-depth review, with the other blogs falling somewhere in between. Well, we’ll see how that goes.

Anyway!

So Thunderbirds, for those of you who don’t know, is a British TV series from the 1960s, using marionettes to tell espionage-style rescue stories set in the 2060s. I remember the show from the repeats during the early 1990s, where my dad’s enthusiasm for the show prompted little 8-year-old me to take an interest. Ah, the memories!

Thunderbirds board game

The game takes this idea of rescue missions as its basis, and features a Pandemic-style game-play as you have to both stop the evil machinations of the Hood while also performing rescue missions across the globe. Other mechanics from Leacock’s previous games, notably Forbidden Island, also make an appearance.

Thunderbirds board game

Players take the role of one of the five Tracy brothers, or Lady Penelope, and move around the board in the Thunderbird machines performing said rescues and foiling the Hood’s schemes. On your turn, you have four actions, and can also perform however many “operations” that you like. So you can move, rescue, take special actions, draw cards, and so on, but to facilitate certain actions, you have these operations, such as moving between vehicles on the same space, or defeating the sinister schemes. If you defeat all three Schemes before the Hood figure gets to the end of his track, then you win! If you fail to do this, or if you allow too many disasters to break out, then you lose.

Something that, I have to admit, I found a little difficult at first was the fact that anyone can pilot any of the Thunderbird machines. I know it happened in the show, of course, but it still felt kinda wrong to have Virgil in Thunderbird 3 and John in Thunderbird 4, but it was something that I soon got over. I was also surprised at the level of planning needed to get this game moving. In order to perform rescues and avert the disasters, you need to be in a specific location and roll higher than the disaster’s number on two six-sided dice.

Thunderbirds board game

It’s theoretically possible for any player to avert any disaster, as 9 seems to be the highest number to beat, while rolls of 10 are possible. In the above example, John is piloting Thunderbird 1 in Asia, so he can use the +2 bonus listed on the card to lower the difficulty. Of course, if we’d been playing more efficiently, we’d have used Scott in Thunderbird 1 as well, as he has a +2 bonus to any air mission, as well as getting at least one of the pod vehicles on the scene. However, with a roll of 8, John alone was enough to avert this one!

Thunderbirds board game

When you avert the disaster, you gain the bonuses shown on the lower-left corner of the card. These bonus tokens have a variety of uses, from allowing you to draw FAB cards (which provide useful, one-time bonuses and other events) to giving you extra actions or allowing you to construct pod vehicles to help in future disasters. They’re also required to stop the Hood’s schemes.

Thunderbirds board game

The Hood track features a mixture of events and schemes, and when the Hood figure reaches a set point along the track, either the event will trigger – usually crippling player actions until something is done, such as discarding a bonus token – or the scheme will be completed. The Hood moves along the track whenever a player uses an action to draw a FAB card, or if the Hood is rolled on the dice. As it happened, in my first game the Hood barely moved at all, as John’s ability while in Thunderbird 5 prevents the latter from happening, and you can draw FAB cards through spending bonus tokens without any drawback.

The schemes are numbered 1-4, and get progressively worse as you move through – from having to spend tokens in one place, to having to do two separate actions at progressively wider locations. It’s a great scaling mechanism, anyway!

Thunderbirds board game

The game is a lot of fun, and requires a great deal of strategic thinking in terms of where you’re moving to all the time. A lot of the appeal of this game will come from the theme, so if you remember enjoying the TV series during any of its runs, you’ll likely get a lot more out of this than someone who is playing it as a rescue-style board game as-is. For me, it brought back a lot of memories (“Rick – ping! – O’Shea!”), and I had a real blast moving around the board trying to avert all these disasters. I also really like co-op games, so it has that going for it as well. If you liked Pandemic, or Forbidden Island, then you’ll probably like this one as well. Definitely worth picking up!

Journey: Wrath of Demons

Hey everybody!
Time for another game day here at spalanz.com! I’ve been wondering if I should try to have some kind of structure to these things, so that each month sees at least one first look, one in-depth look, or whatever, but that might be too complicated for my easily-distracted mind to cope with, I’ll be honest. However, today we are indeed seeing a first look, as I delve under the lid of the newly-arrived kickstarter game, Journey: Wrath of Demons!

This was originally a kickstarter game from late 2013, which my friend Tony put me onto (as is normal for kickstarter games, if I’m honest!) but, as I was already heavily-invested in Shadows of Brimstone at the time, I was a little sceptical. I actually went in when an early bird pledge came available – still $170, but it was the sort of all-in deal that I usually go for with these types of games. As the campaign drew to a close, I was somewhat more invested with SoB, but still decided to go for a few of the add-ons, including scenery bits and some expansion stuff.

The campaign was actually pretty exciting, with a lot of additional stuff that really fired my imagination. Tony is really big into Oriental myth and legend, and while I have more than just a passing interest also, I wouldn’t say I know a lot of what I could expect in this game.

Journey Wrath of Demons

My goodness, there is a lot of amazing stuff in this game, though! It’s a co-operative adventure for 1-4 players, which is perhaps the principal reason I was attracted to it. A quest-based game is always to be enjoyed of course, and with all these minis, well it was kind of a no-brainer!

The campaign ended in November 2013, and it seemed to just languish in the ether until it finally started shipping a month or so ago. To some extent, I’d actually forgotten about it – definitely, my enthusiasm for the game had cooled. Of course, I had Shadows of Brimstone last Christmas, and while that was something of a let-down in quality, it still overtook pretty much anything else!

Until last Wednesday…

Journey Wrath of Demons

I took delivery of the game and, if I’m honest, right from opening the box I was really impressed with the production value. This is a miniatures-heavy game – in physical terms as well as game mechanics! – and the storage solution is perhaps the most elegant I’ve yet seen for a game. Three boxes, in which the miniatures are stored in plastic trays. It sounds so damn straightforward, but it just looks great in the box. There are cards and tokens, but the miniatures are really where the game shines, and are what add so much to the game.

So how does the game play?

Journey Wrath of Demons

As I said earlier, this is a quest-based game, with each quest having a different set-up. There are four pilgrims, characters controlled by the players, who are used in every game – if there are less than four players, someone is controlling more than one. I don’t really know enough about Chinese legend to comment on these, but the “main” pilgrim is a chap called Tripitaka, and if he dies the game ends. The pilgrims are doing something – in the above photo, I’m playing the introductory quest where the goal is to save the villagers being terrorized by the bull demons – and are opposed by the monsters, predominantly bulls of some sort in the base game, though expansions for undead and for spiders were part of the campaign, along with other random bits and pieces. Anyway!

Each pilgrim has skill cards and a weapon which upgrades as you gain experience throughout your games. On your turn, you can do the usual sorts of things like move and attack, rest to recover health, and “meditate” which causes you to spin the Fortune dial and potentially gain some useful Fortune cards – the dial is a ying-yang design, and should you flick to black, you must draw a Misfortune card, which can be damaging to you.

Journey Wrath of Demons

When attacking, you roll the custom dice – red dice are attack, and blue are defense. Each pilgrim rolls the same dice, but the skill cards give each something of a unique feel. In addition, you roll one, white pilgrim die, which determines how effective your weapon is. (There’s also a black die that some of the greater demons use). As you may know, I love custom dice, but these in particular feel really great. Combat is fairly exciting as you only have one chance to defeat each demon – if you don’t defeat it in one roll, then it’s staying around for later.

Something that’s really interesting about this game is how the combat works. If you roll enough attack power to defeat the monster, you now have an interesting decision to make – do you merely kill the demon, or attempt to cleanse its soul? Merely killing it will give you bad kharma points, while cleansing the soul will reward you with good kharma, but it isn’t a foregone conclusion it will work. You roll the white die in an attempt to equal or exceed the demon’s soul value – if you succeed, then all is well and the demon is removed from the board; if you fail, the demon is fully healed and you’ll have to go up against him once again.

I feel I need to mention the production quality of the game. The miniatures are superb, and the map tiles are really good, thick cardboard that feel really sturdy. The custom dice are also excellent. The cards, however, are much thinner than, say, CCG-style cards. The most worrying thing, to me, is the quality of the hero character sheets. They have three wheels – much like a FFG game – but the card for the sheet itself feels too thin to support them. Furthermore, there’s a movable plastic thing that tracks your health, but it isn’t really all that secure, and overall, the hero sheet is a real disappointment. Hm.

I only played the intro game last week, and it’s actually a whole lot of fun. I mean, it’s really easy, once you get the rules down, so I’m definitely looking forward to playing this a lot more and seeing more of the nuances of the game. I’ll hopefully get round to another blog, once I’ve managed to really get my teeth into this bad boy!

Journey Wrath of Demons

Enter the land of druids

Lagoon is the first world that ever was. Boundless spiritual energy flows through the land, and is the source of all the world’s magic. This divine energy nurtures the deepest, most ancient, and magical forests in all of creation. Lagoon’s eldest forest creatures awoke long ago, and are endowed with ancient wisdom and primeval power.

All was in balance, until divinity was split by the rise of humanity into three energies that now vie for dominion of Lagoon: Elemeen is the energy of the spirit, Vowelon is the energy of the heart, and Deonin is the energy of the mind. In the end, one of these three energies will become Lagoon’s destiny. It is up to humanity’s druids to unify Lagoon.

So I’ve finally gotten around to playing Lagoon, over seven months since it made its way into my grubby little hands!

I did a blog on Lagoon back in July, which was a sort of first-look kind of event, albeit one where I hadn’t actually seen the thing! You can read that here, anyway, though aside from sharing some of the gorgeous artwork that’s in the game, now that I’ve played it, I don’t really think there’s much value in that prior blog.

Lagoon

This is because the gameplay feels so different to how I originally thought it would – in the best possible way, I might add! I originally had the idea that the game was some kind of area-control thing, but that’s not exactly how the game works. Let’s take a look…

Lagoon

There are four druid paths that each have two circles within them. You pick a path to follow, and a circle to belong to, and that essentially forms your faction for the game. In the picture above, I’m playing the Stag circle, on the Path of Adventure – for reasons largely unconnected with the actual game, but anyway! All of my games so far have been single-player, as I’ve been getting the hang of it and so forth, but that’s not really an issue for now. However, it probably is worth pointing out that I have the kickstarter version of the game, so I have wooden tokens rather than card ones. Anyhow! Your circle comes with four acolyte (small) druids and one Eldrid, an elder druid denoted by the larger token (the one with the star on it). Finally, you have a player marker which shows if you use the basic explore action – more shortly. Also shown in the picture above are the seed tokens – more on them shortly, as well.

Lagoon

There are three types of hex tiles in the game, which follow the three energy types of Elemeen (yellow), Vowelon (red) and Deonin (blue). These tiles are called sites. There are additionally five types of sites, denoted by the symbol to the right of the name – for the base game, there is only one site that has any relevance, the haven site (shown by the company logo and also with a green tint to the text box), but future expansions are promised within the rules, which will use these types in some way.

For set-up, you need one tile for each colour, and one must be a haven. The remaining tiles are shuffled together and placed in a draw bag, and each player places one of their acolyte druids along with their Eldrid on the starting haven, and the game is ready to begin!

During your turn, you may perform as many actions as you are capable of, before play passes to the next player. Incidentally, the starting player choice is made by the person who most recently visited a forest going first – I always enjoy it when creative first-player choices are involved in games! Anyway. What are these actions? I hear you cry. Well, there are three basic actions you can play: move, summon and explore. When you move, you literally move a druid to an adjacent hex tile and flip it over to show it has taken an action. To summon, you move a druid from your supply onto a haven tile, flipping it over as you cannot take an action with that druid on the turn it entered play.

To explore, however, you draw a tile from the bag and place it adjacent to the others. All of the tiles in Lagoon are double-sided, and you get to choose which side you place. You then move a druid to the new site, flipping it to show it has taken an action that turn. You also flip your player marker to show you have used the explore action. Finally, you gain a seed token that matches the colour of the tile you just placed.

Lagoon

In addition to the three basic actions, sites will have specific actions they will allow if you have a controlling druid there. These vary from actions any druid can take, actions only your Eldrid can take, to actions that occur at a specific time (‘timely actions’, denoted by a green hourglass) and actions that will only happen once, as the tile is placed during the explore action (denoted by a green lightning-bolt). Finally, there is the Unravel action, which allows you to remove a tile from play, providing it is not locked – that is, that it won’t result in a gap between tiles.

Unraveling is really at the heart of the game. The object of the game is to control Lagoon’s destiny by moving it towards one energy. At the end of the game, the colour that has the greatest number of tiles on the table is the dominant energy, and the person who benefits most from that is the winner. This is a fairly complicated process to explain, but there are player-aides that show it all clearly, so it isn’t a problem when you’re actually playing!

Let’s say I want to steer Lagoon’s destiny to the Elemeen energy (yellow). Energies react to each other in specific ways, and Deonin (blue) threatens Elemeen, so I will need to control blue locations in order to unravel yellow locations. If I ever have three blue energy, I can attempt to unravel a yellow site. Energy is granted both from occupying sites, and from the seed tokens gained during the explore action. Some sites have a timely action that grants you additional energy of the colour you’re trying to generate.

To unravel a site, then, I need to have a druid on the site in question, and control three energy on the opposing energy in order to make it work. When a site is unraveled, my druid is returned to my supply, and anyone else who was there is simply moved to the nearest haven. As said before, you can’t unravel a site if it would split the board in two, and you also cannot unravel the last remaining haven. At any rate, when the site is unraveled, it is placed in your score area.

When the last tile has been explored, the game ends and Lagoon’s destiny is decided! In cases of ties, again there are ways for the energies to overpower each other and emerge victorious. Returning to the previous example, if Lagoon’s destiny turns out to be Elemeen (yellow), everyone with a yellow seed token left in their supply will gain one point per token, and each red and blue site in the unraveled pile will gain them two points. The person with the most points wins!

For solo play, the rules are slightly different and involve a ‘dummy’ player (called AJ, in case you were wondering!) who has three Eldrids from each of the unused paths, along with all of the unused druids from those paths, and he just flits around the board exploring sites and trying to unravel as much as possible. The rules were a bit confusing at first, but ultimately they worked really well, and it results in a different play experience that is well worth checking out, even if you don’t normally like solo variants.

Lagoon

I can highly recommend this game. Every game that I feature on this blog is one that is within my personal collection, so to some extent I have a bias towards it, but nevertheless, this game in particular has such a unique feel to it that I can’t help but feel extremely positive towards it! It’s also beautiful – I mean, seriously, if I never played another game, I would be glad to have it in my collection just to look at it. It’s that good-looking.

First of all, it feels very different to any game that I have played before. It took me a while to get round to because I felt a little confused when I first took it out the box, because I expected to be playing as one of the energy colours. The whole business of unraveling sites to allow a different energy to dominate felt strange – it’s set-collecting but in a different way, I suppose!

There is also a very calming feel to the experience. I mean, it sounds like it could be a really bloodthirsty type of game, as you’re trying to remove tiles that other people might want to keep on the table, and such. But this is where I think the theme of the game comes through to give some much-needed peace to these types of games. Yes, it has elements of area control as you need to control specific colours to remove others, and other people might try to remove those colours from under you, but there is an ebb and flow to the game that feels very calm – at least, it does to me!

Unraveling is about as confrontational as the game gets, anyway. Druids co-exist on sites quite peacefully, and can both use the site effect on their turn if they so wish. Druids aren’t killed when the site they occupied is unraveled from beneath them, but go elsewhere in the world as they regroup. It feels like a much more harmonious way of playing a game, which I suppose some people won’t be too thrilled by, but it keeps you focused on the primary goal of determining the energy of Lagoon, and not always just killing people off for no actual game benefit.

Something else I like about the gameplay is how strategic it can be. In my second game, I was attempting to tip the balance to red, while AJ was exploring a lot of yellow (the solo rules instruct you to place tiles that will minimise any points you will get). The final turn saw AJ place a yellow tile, and unraveling a red one, thus tipping the balance to yellow. However, because of the way scoring works, I still won due to having unraveled a lot of the blue tiles. I always love games that can see the balance shift at the end game like this – when that red tile was taken away…oh my goodness!

Lagoon

But anyway, there’s not a lot else I can say except buy it!

Against the Onslaught

Hey folks,
Welcome to another game day! Something exciting for you all today, I’m taking a look at a game that I only had delivered last week, but has really captured my imagination. It’s time to go up against the alien onslaught, in Xenoshyft: Onslaught!

Xenoshyft: Onslaught

This is a kickstarter game from Cool Mini Or Not that has recently come out in retail, the campaign having ended in June last year. I missed the kickstarter, I came across it following the Blood Rage campaign, when I thought I might check out CMON’s website to see what else they’d done. A co-operative base-defense card game sounded interesting, and the rest is history.

Something that initially drew me to the game, besides the co-op thing, is the look it has. There’s almost a Warhammer 40k feel to it, with the human players (Imperial Guard?) going up against big bugs (Tyranids?) in the hope of just outlasting them. When I cracked open the game and was looking through the cards, this came across further in the top-level soldiers you can purchase – a collection of battle suits (Tau?) I actually made a first-impressions video back when I had the game delivered, check that out here:

The game is really a lot of fun, anyway. It belongs to what I’ve previously referred to as the second-generation of deck-building games, distinct from the more ‘pure deckbuilding’ of Dominion, and more akin to stuff like Marvel Legendary or Thunderstone. Actually, Thunderstone is a great comparison, because in terms of mechanics it has a very similar feel to that game.

Xenoshyft: Onslaught

You play a division of NorTec Marines, and at the start you receive a location card that you are tasked with defending. The game is set up with soldier character cards on the left, and nine items on the right – these items are chosen at random, though at least one will be dictated by the location card. They’re in stacks of five, but when a stack runs out, rather than triggering an end-game, you just replace it. You start with chump characters as well as resources – here, ‘xenostathem’, a rare mineral that you’re mining. This mineral attracts the alien fauna of the world, and the more you have, the more rabid that fauna gets.

The object of the game is basically to survive over nine rounds, which are broken into three waves. During wave one, you face comparatively easy monsters, and only have access to some troops; during wave two, you have tougher monsters, but you can now purchase better troops, and the same in wave three. You can also trade in your 1-resource xenostathem for 3-resource in wave two, and 6-resource in wave three, so that it becomes easier to get more resources in one go.

At the beginning of the turn, you draw a hand of six cards, and also one free resource from the bank. You can then buy whatever you like, and it goes into your hand immediately. This is a real game-changer for the deck-building genre, and veterans will realise just how powerful a mechanic it is. But it also makes complete sense, right? You buy stuff, so you get that stuff right now, rather than investing in it for a long-term yield – I’m buying guns and stuff, after all, not stocks and shares! You then place any soldiers you have in a lane, equipping stuff to them as you see fit.

Xenoshyft: Onslaught

The aliens then come out to play, and are dealt face-down into their lane. Combat begins by turning over the right-most alien, and damage is dealt simultaneously:

Xenoshyft: Onslaught

In the picture above, the drone deals two damage (bottom-left, the red bullets), and has two hit-points (the green plus), while the ranger deals four damage because of the card he is equipped with. So the ranger deals more than enough to kill the drone, and the special text on the weapon card allows him to deal the excess damage to another enemy in the lane. This is really useful, as you can potentially kill off enemies before they get to you. However, some enemies have a ‘reveal’ effect that triggers when they’re flipped over, and when you deal damage in this way, that effect would still trigger.

Soldier unit cards stay in place until they are destroyed, when they’re discarded and the soldier to their right moves up to face the onslaught. Aliens move in a similar manner, with the two sides coming together until one is wiped out. If the soldiers outlast the four aliens, they stay in place for the next turn; if the aliens defeat all four soldiers, however, they then deal their damage to the base, which has 15 hit points per player. If the base is reduced to 0hp, then it’s game over, man!

Xenoshyft: Onslaught

Some other things include the ability to level-up your chump cards by ‘burning’ them – which means putting them back into their starting piles. This effect usually reduces the cost of another unit card, which can be very useful! Your location card, in addition to giving you extra cards to your starting hand, also has ongoing abilities it grants, such as lowering the cost to purchase cards, or giving you free cards.

To sum up, this is a great game. I’ve played it a few times now, and have lost every time. But it’s never a bitter loss – I mean, it always feels like I need to try again and I might just actually win if I do. The lane mechanic does feel a little like Thunderstone, but I think that’s more a superficial thing, and the game as a whole definitely feels like its own thing. The buy-it-and-get-it-now mechanic really stands out for me, though, and the theme of fighting off these giant bugs is just fantastic!

This is a kickstarter game, so naturally there are exclusives that you won’t get at retail. Looking at the campaign’s page, these range from Commander cards for your marines, which seem a bit overpowered, three packs of ‘experimental items’ and three of reinforcements, which serve to add some options, and a batch of more aliens. I honestly don’t feel like I’ve missed out on too much from this, I have to say – while some of these things look interesting, like that Lone Wolf ‘heroic militia’ card, I’m not going to lose sleep on the thought that I have ‘an incomplete game’, as I know a lot of completionists often feel about such things. One of the things I love about this game is just how tough it is, how I feel like I’m really slogging it through hell on this planet, and the addition of powerful unit cards like these strikes me as skewing the balance of the game.

The page also shows two mini-expansions, featuring a new location and some new items. Those look interesting – the Grafting Laboratory, in particular! Not ks exclusives, I hope they’ll be released soon for the enjoyment of all!

Buy it from amazon:
Xenoshyft: Onslaught