Sunday, July 22, 2012

Descent Second Edition - Worth a Crawl

A friend of mine was recently discussing dungeon exploring boardgames. Lacking the time for role playing he asked me what the best dungeon exploring game on the market was.  I replied "Dungeons and Dragons, first edition." The game world is full of dungeon exploring games, all of which try and capture the feeling of Dungeons and Dragons on a board. Ironically the best choice is old fashioned D&D itself, which is designed to be played on a tabletop with miniatures anyway. This doesn't stop the boardgamers from searching for Another option with which to simulate D&D without actually playing it.

Last week Triple Play Games in Lebanon hosted a Descent Second Edition preview event. Descent is an older game with several expansions. It allows players to move miniature adventurers around a board and search for treasure or battle monsters. Successful adventurers grow in ability and return for further adventures fighting even more menacing creatures. I had always been intrigued by Descent. The box is gigantic and the expansions add dozens of cool toy creatures and terrain tiles. The whole package is so full of Stuff it seems almost decadent. And in a sense truly decadent since it would be a big cash outlay just to approximate D&D, which I own and enjoy already.

I jumped at the chance to play second edition Descent and I have to say I had a terrific time. Each player had a character with some strengths and weaknesses. My character was somewhat magical and fast on her feet. Another was immensely strong and another had spells. In our games we had to make our ways across a game board and complete some mission, whether it was to get to a location, fight a creature, or rescue a hostage. Each mission was challenging but not impossible and the opponents and treasure were varied and interesting.

Descent had a few other nice features. The rules were simple, short, straightforward and well written. The game has obviously been playtested extensively and runs very smoothly. The missions are nicely varied. Each character had obvious strengths and over several games you do get the feeling that your hero is evolving and developing. Further, each character type has a chance to really shine. Finally, the components were all top quality.

Given the time and players with an interest I will always choose to play D&D. Barring that, Descent Second Edition is a lot of fun and really ideal for younger or beginner players. It has a steeper price tag but I think it's well worth it for what you get.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Eclipse- less filling, but the taste?

I have an abiding love for Twilight Imperium. This is an epic science fiction boardgame that takes a full day and many players to get through and comes in a box big enough for a small goat to fit in.

Hey, how do you know you live in New Hampshire? Goats and livestock are handy measuring devices.

Of course the awesomeness of Twilight is decreased slightly by the need for a full day of play and many players who can manage lots of rules and esoteric components. For that reason I'm seeing a lot of games appearing that try and capture the Twilight spirit but without the effort and time required. One example is Eclipse. In a game of Eclipse players take turns exploring the galaxy and developing their economies, their military, or their scientific infrastructure. New areas appear as hexagon shaped tiles with random assortments of planets on them. Players can take the roles of alien races and get benefits or drawbacks specific to those races. There's a strong role of alliances between players and knowing when to break an alliance and when not to. All of this has a feel very similar to Twilight.

In its favor you can learn Eclipse quickly and finish in an evening. The components are of nice quality but are far from intimidating. The economic system is challenging but not excessively complex and the technological developments are easy to learn. In our last game we had several players who were very excited by the game and felt it really scratched an itch.

Space Battle in Eclipse
I personally don't like Eclipse very much. For one, I feel like it functions primarily as a war game. There is little chance of winning without a powerful fleet and engaging in lots of battles. Obviously I'm pretty happy with war games but I like Twilight because of the multitude of victory conditions. Eclipse is about building up a fleet and then blasting your neighbors.

Now assuming you're in the mood for a space fleet game you will at least want a somewhat balanced game. This is Eclipse's other major drawback. The map of the galaxy is developed randomly. For this reason players may discover very valuable planets nearby or they may discover junk. Further, some areas may have alien artifacts which give huge ongoing bonuses. In our last game one player discovered vast tracts of empty space while another lucked into one after another system filled with resources. It's very challenging to develop resource-poor areas so your only option is to go on the offensive and at that point you're Space Greenland taking on Space Germany.

Finally, Eclipse retails for around a hundred dollars. In contrast Twilight Imperium sells for ninety. It's hard to justify spending More on a "lighter" version of a game, or to justify spending a hundred dollars on any game that isn't really amazing. But, if you're hankering for space empires and money is no object then certainly Eclipse has its share of fans.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Sardinia Takes the Field

The patriotic citizens of Sardinia have risen up to support their brethren in Fiume and assembled a small expeditionary force.

The Armies in Plastic Iron Brigade figures really serve a million uses and now they look vaguely like mountain troopers. Successful businesswoman and grown adult Lynne A. started these off and I wrapped them up. A basic rifle unit, with realistic colors. I'm not absolutely delighted with them because I think they veer more towards historic and away from eccentric and colorful. There may be a madcap leader on a horse coming just to spruce them up a bit.

"I am not a geek.."
On the other hand, these plastic figures are a real breeze to paint and a million times less stressful that my usual "realistic" projects. The kids end up playing with them, there's no lead, and the paint is cheap. My non-miniatures-gaming friends would never attempt to paint a Napoleonic hussar but have jumped right in to toy soldier painting, and their kids enjoy it as well. Now it just remains to be seen how the game itself plays out. If it's a bust then my children just get an early birthday present of dozens of toy soldiers and my wife sighs as the soldiers spill across the floor and all over the house. Still, it could be worse as fireworks are legal in this state and I've not followed through on threats of beginning home winemaking. A few toy soldiers may be the best of several taxing possibilities.

St. John's need Zouaves

Army Sea Blue needs some more troops and I really couldn't resist a unit of zouaves. What a marvelous historical hiccup they are! As I'm discovering the soldiers look just dreadful until they get their facial hair and gloss coats. Then they look very smart.

We have come for your maple syrup
Next on Sea Blue's agenda are more Rotisuldat and then the Roti themselves. After that I may have to throw in some mercenary hussars for color, or a naval brigade which makes a bit more sense considering the number of horses that St. John can support.