Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Warmish Place Has Just Frozen Over

I listen to Meeples and Miniatures each month and usually I end up taking host Neil's advice pretty seriously. He was right about Saga being terrific and his recommendation of Commands and Colors was spot on. So this month the color drained from my cheeks when he and friend Rich Jones announced that they're playing Warhammer 40K again.

"Finish Painting Us Mr. Lazybones!"
Historical gamers love to hate 40K, partly for some good reasons and partly because it's an easy and appealing target. The game requires a fairly gigantic investment to start playing and the manufacturers routinely make certain components obsolete and in need of (expensive) replacement. The battles combine lasers and automatic weapons with cavalry charges and chainsaws as melee weapons which could be considered possibly rather silly, if not completely and insanely unlikely. There are a host of other elements which allows 40K to be charitably classified as a "fantasy game."

That being said, Neil from Meeples is the Anna Wintour of wargaming and so now I'm uneasily eyeing my Dark Eldar and feeling the need to get them on the playing field. At least the models are pretty nicely sculpted. And the odds of getting a game in are a bit better than with the Nemesis game I was recently reviewing.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Kickstarter- Maybe it's time...

I've spent a good deal of time looking over Kickstarter offerings but I haven't bought in yet. For every great Kickstarter game (i.e The Resistance) there seem to be a dozen or so that turn out to be disappointments. Some of the miniatures offerings look promising but turn out to be either ridiculously expensive or (strange but true) paralyzingly cheap. For example, a 100$ investment in Reaper plastic minis yields you so many figures that you'll never paint all or even most of them and you're better off not littering the kitchen with them.Which my wife can attest is something that husbands should not do.

I may have to bite the bullet now, though, and not just once but twice. Since my first "4:30 Movie" as a child on local NY television I've been a fan of rampaging giant monsters. Back in the day there was a different old science fiction or monster film on at 4:30 every day and I watched as many as possible. While it would seem like rampaging monsters would be a great gaming genre I've only really seen it done well twice- Crush, Crumble and Chomp and Privateer Press' Monsterpocalapse. Now prolific designer Martin Wallace is re-releasing Moongha Invaders, which received great reviews but sparse publication.  It looks great and the price is right.

Speaking of right price, Kickstarter is also featuring Boss Monster. This is a dungeon building card game that features some of the most inspired 8 bit artwork I've seen in years. I don't even really know how the game is played or even if there are rules at all. The cards are just so too cute and the designers are like two gaming friends from high school I forgot I had. My brain tells me that Moongha Invaders is a great game, my heart tells me I must buy Boss Monster....

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Fun Surprise- Magical Athlete

I like to believe that there are inexpensive and undiscovered games out there that are awesome and fun. In the past I can't say I've found this to be true. Inexpensive and unknown games all too often demonstrate after one play why they're so obscure. Still, I keep searching. Then last week I discovered Magical Athlete.

What is it about the title of this game that's so off-putting? Maybe it's just the dogged literal mindedness of it. There's exactly not one whit of inspiration in naming a game about magical athletes Magical Athlete. It feels lazy. Was there just a deadline that had to be met? "Quick, name the damn thing, the printers are waiting!" We'll have to wait for the expose on Meeples and Miniatures to learn the truth.

Snark aside, this is a very fun game. The goal of the game is to win a series of footraces held between different magical beings. You may control a druid, a medusa, a centaur or witch. There are many different racers to choose from. In each turn you roll a die and move ahead that many spaces. The first person to get to the end of the track wins. The fun of the game stems from each racer's special power. When centaurs pass someone they "kick" them back one space. After a siren moves she "lures" each other racer one space towards her. If you pass the witch she casts a spell and you stay frozen the next turn. Most of the powers happen automatically. So the siren moves ahead, then she pulls everyone towards her. That may then trigger one or more other powers. Each turn can lead to a string of unexpected events and various characters being kicked forwards and back, frozen, or somehow affected.

While there is a certain element of luck to the game we found that you can also use your powers carefully and thoughtfully. I wouldn't call this a Very strategic game but it certainly rewards some planning. There are also a series of races to be won and players form alliances in order to rack up the most points over all  the races.

I found Magical Athlete to be outrageously fun. It's a game I don't mind losing because of the luck element and it's a game that is fun to win through planning out your special power. If you can count to six you have learned the rules so this is a great game for younger players and older players can start a game without lengthy rules explanations. It's also cheap and easily available. You could even convert it to a miniatures game. Highly recommended!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Liberte- A Good Election Night Game

As the battle of the titans heats up in the presidential election it's perfect timing to talk about a political board game. A game that simulates a time where losers weren't relegated to Fox News or the Harvard University Department of Political Science, but instead swiftly executed before a crowd of garlic eating rustics. The game is Liberte, the game of the French Revolution.

I've found over time that I greatly prefer games with some narrative quality. I think I would rather take part in a good story than win or lose. For that reason Liberte at first did not grab me. In the game you support political candidates in revolutionary France. You may support conservatives, radicals or moderates. Further, you may support one faction in one region and another elsewhere. At the end of each turn the votes are tallied in each region and one faction "wins." Then the player who most successfully supported that faction gets points. Say you support the radicals in four regions. Even if the radicals win the overall election you need to have them win in those four regions to have your support count. The end result is that players may support one faction in a given region just to beat an opponent and keep them from scoring.

I confess I didn't understand the system at all until a turn had been played. It's pretty simple once you see it.

So far the game is a politics game where you allocate resources and try and win points. Liberte begins to shine when you add in factors that bring the period to life. There are rules for grabbing public acclaim as a general. There are rules for sabotaging friend's plans with bread riots, political clubs, emigrating nobles, and finally the Terror and guillotine. In the game we played the conservatives took a strong lead at the beginning. Then radical political clubs began to spring up across the land. My team lagged in last place after a terrible first turn. The other players put their generals out into the field and started gathering fame. By some luck I then unleashed Madame Guillotine on them, heads rolled left and right,  and I ended up in decent shape at the end because my minion was the only surviving general and won all the fame by default.

I was pretty happy with Liberte. It is a game that rewards some calculation but there is enough luck and narrative to make it fun rather than just an exercise in numbers. The system certainly fits the theme and the rules end up being pretty simple.

More Games With Staying Power

Many years ago I stumbled on a computer game called Space Hulk. In the game you led some space marines into a mysterious spacecraft and then tried to survive waves of attacks by hideous space monsters. The sound effects were super effective and my room echoed with shouts, gunfire, and space monster roars for months. Later on I discovered that the game was based on a successful board game. At the time, though, the experience of leading my hapless heroes through one ambush after another made a huge impression.

Fast forward to a few years ago, when I picked up Space Hulk- Death Angel. This is a card game that allows you to play out the same basic experience as Space Hulk. The card game can be played solitaire or with friends and as it was pretty cheap I thought I'd give it a go. Years later it's possibly my most played game.

The essence of the Space Hulk experience for me is that you're commanding a team that only has about a 20% chance of surviving. You're not playing to achieve a wild success, you're playing to maybe eject one grizzled survivor from the spooky space hulk or more likely at least have a dramatic chase through the ship before going down with guns blazing. You know that you're going to need lots of luck and when you finish a game in complete defeat you're already gearing up for another chance to get lucky and survive.

Good Times on the 386
Death Angel captures that experience perfectly. There is a good deal of strategy and tactics involved. Further, there are lots of special units to choose from and the game has huge replay value. I certainly play better now than when I started. Still, the few times I've "won" it's been as much from some lucky breaks as from tactical skill. In other games that might be irritating, in Death Angel it's great fun. Add in several cheap expansion packs and a nice narrative quality and Death Angel has paid off its initial investment ten fold. I wish I could say the same about, say, Thunderstone. Or Dungeon Lords. Warhammer 40K. Or a few others....

Anyway, if you're looking for a great solitaire or group game that's fast paced, exciting, and unpredictable, Death Angel has a lot to recommend it.