Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Lord of the Rings Card Game, fun!

Years ago I thought of this blog as a place to describe new games for families. Soon enough it became apparent that younger children can be better entertained by creative play than by a sixty dollar eurogame. Over time my emphasis has also shifted towards subjects that are more interesting to, well, me! I think it's better for me to review games and activities that I like even as that strays into old school role playing and miniature games. It does comfort my conscience, though, to mention a game that is a good choice for families, teens, and even younger children.

The Lord of the Rings Card Game is a cooperative game in which players try and accomplish some mission in Middle Earth. In our game we had to defeat a troll, take a raft onto a river, and then deliver a message. In the basic game each player has a deck of cards and each turn you use the cards in your hand to add allies to your party, defeat creatures, or explore. Each turn also presents the players with new adversaries to defeat or locations to explore and if the players don't act quickly then all the new threats will soon overwhelm them.

The game has several elements that make it a real winner. The first is the cooperative element. I felt like each player had something to offer during the game and each of us got our moment of glory. Not all cooperative games really allow all the players to have their time in the sun but this one succeeds.

Secondly, each player's deck of cards has different strengths. We had one player who was good at fighting, one that was good at exploring, one that was a mix, and one (me) that was there to quest and snipe. I don't like aggressive games so the questing deck was terrifically fun. Now if you have four players who All want to be mighty dragon slayers this will be a problem but we found that each player got to do the things that they enjoy.

The game mechanics themselves are pretty simple and the monster illustrations are spooky in a fairly low key fashion. Unlike Warhammer:Invasion there are no cards that will shock or horrify anyone, and all the good creatures and elves are quite lovely. Thus, the game is really appropriate for younger players and families with an aversion to trendy, crass illustrations of elves with whips.

Finally, the theme of the game seemed appropriate. When I played the Star Trek Deckbuilding Game the litter of Ferengi and Romulons teaming up with Ro Laren and Data just made no sense. For whatever reason the character cards in the Lord of the Rings seemed more compatible. Granted I hate Next Generation anyway so that may have colored my feelings but this game feels less haphazard overall.

The Lord of the Rings Card Game supports two players although you can easily expand to four. There are quite a few expansions already released so you should find lots of replay value and there are drafting rules for the more advanced players. For a family that likes this set of stories this is a terrific game.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Army Painter Saga Part 3

The Army Painter system has two major components. The first is the primer and that was a good success. The second component of the system is the "dip." This is a brownish liquid in a metal tin that you dip the miniature into and then set off to dry. The liquid is designed to seep into details and crevasses and leave shadows. The idea of a wash of some sort isn't new but the Army Painter dip is advertised as new and improved and who can resist that?

I lined up my minis and set about dipping away. Quickly I learned that if you're dipping in a freezing cold house in frozen New Hampshire your dip is likely to be thick and viscous. Granted this information is also found in the instructions if you were prone to read them. Well, experience is my instruction manual, and so the process took about twice as long as it should have as I tried to get excess dip off of each stand of soldiers.

When I finished I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Army Painter dip settles nicely into details and doesn't darken the basic paint of the miniature. In past years I had tried turpentine and oil paint dips and also various washes and each of these darkened the paint they touched. Not Army Painter! The nice light blue coats of the soldiers remains a pretty sky blue. Of course, Napoleon's infantry wore dark blue jackets so this was actually a bit of a disaster.

The manual by the way recommends trying the dip and primer on One miniature before painting up a whole batch. Hmm.

At this point I set about repainting all my trooper's coats with dark blue paint. After some huffing I then added details and the minis were done! In the end the Army Painter system was a moderate success. The primer was easier and faster than hand painting gesso although in the end a bit more expensive as well. But, for painting hundreds of troops, spray primer is the way to go. The dip process is slower than using Games Workshop washes but the dip does respect the base paint colors more. I also suspect the dip will be faster if done at traditional room temperature and not New England farmhouse room temperature. I'll probably use the dip again when painting massive armies, especially in 10mm. And if I choose a primer color better the process should really race along.

I can see a role for the Army Painter system in creating large forces of uniform figures. I'll use it to finish my eastern Imperial Romans and to spruce up my Warmaster orcs. I think I'll stick with gesso and washes for my Infinity and Saga units and for skirmish forces in general but all-in-all it's a nice addition to the toolbox.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Army Painter Saga Part 2

As I mentioned previously I recently picked a gaming project with a pretty excessive painting requirement. In the early stages of the project I did paint a few stands using my typical technique. I laid down a base of white gesso, then painted the miniature, and then used Games Workshop Badab Black wash followed by a matte coat. The results were nice enough but the work really moved at a crawl and I realized after a while that I would never be ready in time.

I went ahead and ordered the bulk of my troops from Warweb and once they arrived I cleaned and laid out my entire French infantry contingent. That was a pretty intimidating sight but also exciting as the premise of fielding a painted army of that size was really appealing. That evening I ventured into my garage and laid down a layer of Army Painter Crystal Blue primer. I had read that one of the keys to using Army Painter successfully is to read the instructions. Now for hobby activities I typically hate to read or follow instructions of any sort but the stakes were high enough that I made an exception. I'm lucky I had the sense to do so. The instructions make it clear that you have to spray from twenty centimeters away or less. It was interesting to see that if I increased the distance the spray would dissipate uselessly. If I sprayed from the suggested range the miniatures were coated well but the paint seemed quite think and obscured the details.

I brought the minis inside and went to look for the paint stripper while they dried. After only a few minutes I was happy and relieved to see that the primer had coated the figures evenly and thinly. The first Army Painter lesson: paint at close range and the coat will look terrific. Paint at longer range and you get no coating at all. I usually have doubts about new products but this one was performing pretty well so far, at least as long as I followed instructions.

In the project's next step I painted all the areas that would not be blue or black. That amounted to pants, inner clothing, belts and backpacks. Cuffs and pompoms would be painted last. This step was as tedious as expected but the primer did leave a nice smooth coat and the paint flowed easily across it. At this stage I had to admit that my time spent priming was cut dramatically and that the painting stage was potentially a little easier as well. For the rest of the project I'd be keeping that question in mind- was the Army Painter system saving me time, improving the results, both or neither. So far the answer was: both! I was looking forward to the next step- the Dip...

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Risk Legacy - New and Fun

Most people of a certain age have a set of games that they played back in the day. On my list would be Monopoly, Life, Stratego, and Risk. These are the games I played with family or friends and enjoyed through college in a few cases. A few weeks ago one of the gaming regulars brought in a copy of Risk Legacy to gaming night. How would an updated classic fare in a room full of trendy eurogamers, deck builders, and wargamers? Pretty darn well!

As many may remember in a game of Risk you try and take over countries and expand your empire of tiny army tokens. Each turn you get more tokens depending on how many countries you control and usually after some time one player gets a gigantic pool of reinforcements and then conquers the board. Risk is fun but I remember that it could take a while to play and that once you start losing there isn't much to do but wait out the hours.

Risk Legacy takes the basic mechanics of Risk and adds some new twists. You play on a map of a parallel earth. You and the other players are colonists who have landed to populate the new world and each players has a faction with some special ability. At first the game is classic- the map is the same, you have tokens which behave in the same way, and one player eventually swamps the others and wins. The main difference at first is just that it's easier and faster to win.

After the first game Risk Legacy begins to really shine. The players get to add cities to the map with stickers. Then they get to add "biohazard" areas, forts, and other special markers. Each is done by applying a permanent sticker to the board. The factions then begin to acquire special abilities. Finally, when certain events occur you open sealed envelopes which contain new rules, stickers, and some wild surprises.

The result of all this is that as the players finish games they get to alter the game board and alter how the game is played. Some regions will get defended cities, some will get wastelands or worse. Each game adds one or two changes and the results end up balancing out well over time. Each continent ends up with some benefits and some hazards. Each faction gets some special abilities but no one faction begins to overshadow the others and because players trade factions there is pressure to make each one effective. From a gamer's point of view you get an evolving board which reflects the past battles but remains balanced and playable.

From a player's point of view you get an earth covered with cities and continents you can name yourself. You can use silly names, your own name, whatever you want. There are spaces on the board and stickers to write things and a log to rack who has won battles. We've settled Boca Raton, Cleveland, and Lameville. How fun is that?!

Finally, a single game of Risk Legacy can be over in less than an hour. We've gotten in two or three plays in a given night. The rules are well written and have answered every issue that a gang of competitive hard core gamers can come up with. We've battled and watched cities sprout up and opened secret envelopes with crazy surprises in them.

I've been very pleased with Risk Legacy. It's fast, fun, well playtested and balanced. It combines great design with good fun and it's simple. For any group of players who might enjoy Risk this game is highly recommended.

Warhammer Invasion- More %$#^ elves!

As winter settles down on the shoulders of New Hampshire like a freezing blanket of freezingness my wife and I have started looking for a fun new two player game. Or rather, I have and my wife has waited patiently to see what I would foist upon her. I thought to give Warhammer: Invasion a try and happily it's been a nice success.

I've been surprised lately that I enjoy so many games set in the Warhammer universe considering how disinterested I am in the Warhammer wargames. I think Chaos in the Old World, Blood Bowl Team Manager, and Death Angel are all nicely designed games. I even like Warhammer Historical Battles set in the Dark Ages. That may be the crux of the matter- the Warhammer system seems best designed for large skirmishes between warbands and once tanks enter the picture the system seems to struggle.

Anyway, Warhammer Invasion is a deck building card game. You start with a stack of cards representing a faction like Elves or Dwarves and then draw cards and use them to engage in battle. WI is a "living card game" and so the publishers release new sets of cards regularly. There are hundreds of possible cards to use so your choices can be as wide as you care to explore. Given that there are many living card games on the market what makes WI worth playing?

For one, we've really enjoyed the warring factions. Each has it's own character and playing style and it's fun to discover what works best with each. Or you can pick a faction that appeals to you and become really good with it. My wife, for example, does love those elves. They're haughty and seem to thrive on stopping attacks in their tracks or sending immortal swordmasters onto the battlefield. In contrast, I like the chaos warriors who specialize in spells and summoning bizarre creatures. The art is top quality and helps with the atmosphere as well.

Secondly, there are a lot of options for game play. You can build defenses in your kingdom, go on "quests," build an aggressive army or cast pesky spells on your opponent. I'm finding this gives the game a lot of replay value and also gives you fun things to try no matter what cards fall your way.

Finally, the cards can be combined in a number of different ways. I like games that allow "combos," series of plays that you can discover or create and that allow devastating moves. WI rewards creative play and attention to your cards.

There is one possible drawback to the game. The rules are simple enough for teens but some of the cards may not be appropriate for all families. The evil elves especially seem to be composed mainly of strippers in g-strings with whips and the evil elf cards have titles like "Whip the Prisoners" or "Bathe in Blood." It's all quite lurid and pulp-y but if you don't have a tolerance for that sort of thing this game is going to prove pretty offensive.

The box set of Warhammer Invasion has enough cards to start playing the major factions. It's a good place to start and you could have a lot of fun without buying any expansions. Of course I ran out and got several expansion packs of cards and each one has been fun to sort through and add to the game. Warhammer Invasion has been a good success and as long as lurid artwork isn't an issue in your household I'd recommend it as a great two player card game.

The Army Painter Project

This May is the yearly Huzzah! game convention. I've enjoyed this convention immensely in the past. The games are typically well designed and beautifully presented and the players are generally friendly a fun. I think it's overall the best gaming convention of the Northeast.

This year I thought it would be fun to run a scenario from Commands and Colors Napoleonics for the event. I enjoy the C&C game system and it's really a miniatures game at heart so adding figures sounded like fun. The game involves unit of soldiers moving on a hexagon map and there's no official figure scale. Now ever since I was introduced to Warmaster I've had a soft spot in my heart for 10mm miniatures so this year's project became building two 10mm armies for use with C&C:N's.

I chose to run a part of the Battle of Salamanca. I decided that each unit of troops would be composed of two stands of figures each with a width of 40mm. This would create some nice sizable masses of troops standing in two rows. It was only later that I started to do the math. There are eight unit of French infantry, each with two stands. Each stand has twenty soldiers. Therefore, solely for the French line infantry, I'd be painting three hundred and twenty figures. The armies also include skirmishers and cavalry and they're comparable sizes so the total figure count comes in at more than seven hundred miniatures. Huzzah! indeed.

At this point I decided to try the Army Painter line of products. This included a set of spray paint primers and a "dip" which brings out detail in figures. I realized that there were still going to be a lot cuffs to paint but maybe the Army Painter gear would prove as good as it claimed to be.