One Man and His Dog – “Ashcan” Pete

Welcome, to the first in my Investigators Revisited Series, where I’ll be taking a look at the investigators of Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror Files Games. You can read more about the series at the link above, but I’m going to go ahead and dive in to our first investigator.

 

Ashcans Pete Washburne, better known as “Ashcan,” is a drifter. A loner, a hobo, a man who keeps moving, with only one constant companion – Duke his dog.

The earliest versions of Ashcan focused on his ability to make use of things that others had thrown away, the scrapper/scrounger who is always able to find something you need. Later versions have increasingly leant towards Duke as the centre-piece of what Pete likes to do.

 

Pete is generally represented with his health being equal or slightly higher than his sanity (he has bad dreams, so there’s only so much more the mind can take), but broadly he remains a balanced character, not too heavily tipped one way or the other. His actual skills vary quite a bit from game to game, although there’s a definite recurring theme with his Influence being low, whilst his body is fairly tough.

Game-by-Game

Arkham Horror the Card Game

LCG-Pete-and-Duke The Living Card Game is probably where Duke shines the brightest, leading to various comments about whether Pete takes up Duke’s ally slot, or whether Pete is Duke’s signature weakness.

Duke allows Pete to fight at an impressive base skill of 4 (set the dog on them) and to investigate, also starting at 4 skill, with an optional free move thrown in for good measure. (Sniffing out clues).

The fact that Pete can discard a card to ready Duke, and therefore use him twice in a round (potentially more if you draw the Elder Sign) makes for a really strong combination overall, able to do both of the games core actions (fight monsters, find clues) strongly. Without Duke, Pete’s Combat and Intelligence scores are both fairly low, at 2, but that does leave space for a Willpower of 4, which makes him pretty resilient to treacheries.

Your-House
If you’ve played Night of the Zealot, you know why Pete has to be the first investigator, and what you have to choose…

Overall, I’d say that the Card Game is definitely the place where Ashcan/Duke are the most powerful, and offer the biggest incentive to play. I’ve taken them all through one campaign in the past, and have been enjoying running them through a second as I prepared this article.

LCG-Nightmares The back of Pete’s investigator card talks about his nightmares, and how they drive him to seek out the people he has seen, to save them from the horrors that he has witnessed. This is fairly consistent with other stories, but it only gets limited development in the LCG, mostly in the title of his signature weakness.

 

Mansions of Madness (2nd edition)

Mansions2-Pete-and-Duke In Mansions of Madness, Pete is reduced to “starts with Duke.” In this case, Duke being a unique “item” (allies aren’t really a thing in Mansions). Duke’s power definitely isn’t a flashy one, and I’d largely overlooked it in the past, but actually it has the power to be fairly useful, giving you an extra trade action at the start of your turn, a trade that can be conducted with someone in an adjacent space. In a recent game, where I’d made a point of playing Pete in preparation for this article, Duke was actually the difference between Pete winning and losing the scenario, as he went insane whilst fighting the end boss, and now had a sudden need for evidence, currently in the possession of the person in the next space.

Pete-Miniature Stat-wise, Mansions Ashcan is a fairly solid all-rounder, with 4s in Strength, Agility, Observation and Will. His Lore isn’t great (not much time for studying whilst you’re riding the rails) and, as you might expect for someone who is essentially a tramp, his influence is very low.

Pete certainly isn’t a mega-popular character when we play Mansions – he generally only gets picked when someone says “ooh, I’ll be the one with the dog” but he’s a very solid option when he does get onto the team.

 

Eldritch Horror

Eldritch-PeteAshcan’s stats in Eldritch Horror are much what you might expect: a very low 1 for influence, and steady 3s for everything else. His Health and Sanity are fairly balanced, with a 7/5 split in favour of health.

This version of Pete has 2 abilities, one of which focuses on acquiring discarded Item or Trinket assets with a value less than his observation skill – this can be very nice if he successfully improves that stat, but quickly loses its power if the skill becomes impaired.

Ashcan-MissionAnother aspect of Pete’s character that is often referred to in backstory, but isn’t always that prominent in gameplay, is his habit of riding the rails, never staying long in one place. Eldritch specifically gives him additional movement power along railway lines, making him one of the game’s more mobile characters, so long as he takes that train. This is further reinforced by his Personal Mission, introduced by the recent Masks of Nyarlathotep expansion, which forces him to resolve encounters in a set of locations scattered randomly around the world – doing this brings rewards, but leaving the voices unanswered will only fuel his nightmares.

Eldritch-DukeEldritch Horror’s take on Duke isn’t the most thematic, but it is highly useful, allowing a re-roll once per round. Given that most investigators spend many actions over the course of a game taking Focus tokens to allow them to do just that, a repeatable re-roll is always well-worth having. As if that weren’t enough, Duke also allows Pete to recover sanity more quickly, making that horror limit of 5 remarkably solid. Sadly, as an ally, Duke is vulnerable to a lot of Mythos cards, and there’s a strong chance that Pete will eventually find himself with no dog for company.

 

Elder Sign

Elder-Sign-Pete-and-Duke

Elder Sign is probably the game that gives us least information about the Investigators, at least from a narrative standpoint. Here, Pete’s ability to scavenge for things is to the fore, with the ability to gain clues or different types of items from scenario rewards. He is also still very much “the one with the dog” – Duke’s ability in Elder Sign is somewhat sad: you can discard him to avoid the penalty for failing an adventure. Hopefully this is the noble hound sacrificing himself to save his master, rather than Pete using his dog as a meat-shield.

Elder Sign Ashcan has 6 health and 4 Sanity: again, fairly balanced with a slight lean towards the physical.

 

Arkham Horror

Arkham-Horror-PeteAlthough Arkham Horror is the original Arkham Files game, it’s also the one I’ve played least, so I don’t necessarily feel all-that-qualified to offer opinions on it. In this first iteration of Ashcan, his ‘scrapper’ nature was to the fore, allowing him to draw cards from the bottom of the deck instead of the top. Given that cards leaving an investigator’s possession go the bottom of their respective decks, rather than into a discard pile, this allows him to draw items with a good level of foreknowledge, as well as being able to recycle a powerful card.

Arkham-Horror-DukeDuke is also present in Arkham Horror, where he gives Pete +1 Maximum Sanity or, he can be discarded to immediately restore Pete’s sanity to full (although “full” will now be the printed total, as you no longer have the boos).

Character stats in Arkham work a bit differently to the later games, being in a constant state of flux, with an investigator’s Focus being the factor which influences how much they can be altered. Pete has a very high sneak value, with his other stats being fairly rounded, but a very low focus of 1, making it difficult for him to react to changing circumstances.

 

From Games to Fiction

GhoulsAshcan Pete has yet to receive his own novella, but we do still have some information about him from FFG’s tie-in fiction. He first appeared in Ghouls of the Miskatonic, a work that is now (I believe) officially pre-canonical, but definitely still worth a read (and available fairly cheaply on Kindle).

Even in a few short pages, I felt like these old novels did a better job of conveying Pete’s character than many of the various game implementations. In Ghouls, he wakes up, dry mouth tasting of whisky and vomit, noting that “A drunken stupor was preferable to the horrific nightmares that had plagued him over the last few weeks.” This take on Pete places the source of his nightmares very firmly in the Great War – although it’s very strongly implied that he may have observed the misuse of Eldritch magic there, alongside the solely human carnage. Either way, it was “horrific, mind-wrenching stuff that had left him unable to sleep or hold down a job when he got back to the States.”

He returns in the third novel of the same trilogy, Dweller in the Deep, when Finn Edwards, one of the main characters is hitching a ride on a transcontinental train and “an angry-looking black mongrel” and “a sprightly fella” jump into their slow-moving wagon. In this instance, Pete is depicted as a man “affecting hobo mannerisms” but not nearly as drunk as he makes out. He is clearly headed to Arkham, but his motivations are unclear, simply a “you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

Ashcan-Book-Page Moving to the more recent/official era, Ashcan also got his own short story in the Investigators of Arkham Horror book released in early 2017. Unlike many of the stories, it focused not so much on the investigator himself, as an unknown character who happened to meet with him. Pete starts sharing his life story and, with no mention of the War, describes how he came from the Arkham area originally, but was driven to travel the world by his nightmares, finding that if he could help people, the dreams would fall silent for a while.

 

Closing Thoughts

yesthisisdogOverall, I think Ashcan feels like a fairly consistently represented character across the different game-lines. He’s generally solid, rather than flashy, and the only game in which I’d say he really stands out is Arkham Horror the card game. For anyone who is wanting to try him in the LCG, you could do a lot worse than start with “Hello, Yes this is Dog” a deck I found on Arkham DB and have been having good fun with recently.

I think the biggest disappointment with Ashcan is that, even having played him 21 times across the various titles (he’s in my top 10 for most-played investigators), I don’t really feel like I know him that well, he struggles to become more than “Man with Dog.” Hopefully, this is an area which will be a bit better with next month’s* investigator, Jenny Barnes

(* Time limits are not binding, nor, necessarily, probable).

 

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Arkham Horror: Investigators Revisited

Investigators-Book-PhotoWith the arrival early in 2018 of Omens of the Pharaoh for Elder Sign, and Masks of Nyarlathotep for Eldritch Horror, there’s a definite sense of the end of an era for Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Files games.

There are 55 investigators all-told, all of them now playable in Eldritch Horror, and all-but-one in Elder Sign. Arkham Horror, the original board game has a more modest 48, there are 32 in Mansions of Madness (2nd Edition), and a mere 21 for Arkham Horror the card game (25 including promos).

Now that we’re reaching the point where most investigators are available in at least 3 games, I thought it would be good to take a look at the folk, see what we know about them, how they’ve been characterised across the various different games, and how that works out mechanically.

If we include officially announced upcoming releases and promos there are currently (I’ll try to keep this up-to-date, won’t manage it though…):

  • 9 Investigators appearing in all 5 games
  • 33 investigators available in 4 out of 5
  • 12 Investigators available in 3 of the titles
  • And poor old Daniella Reyes in just 1.

 

My aim is to start with the folk who are in all 5 games. I’ll begin with “Ashcan” Pete, Jenny Barnes, and Carolyn Fern, as they are the only 3 I actually own all 5 versions of, but if I can get 1 of these articles out every month or two, hopefully that will give me enough time to pick up some of the missing ones.

I’ll try to keep this post updated with the ones I’ve written so far, for the moment, there’s just the one

Investigators Revisited

“Ashcan” Pete

No Fools Here: April’s Games

April was a pretty good month for gaming all-told.

I spent part of the Easter weekend away at a show, leading to some new games getting played, made another impulse purchase, and got some much-needed run-outs for a few titles that had been gathering dust.

GreenExtrasZombicide remains one of the biggest occupiers of my dining table. We got a bit further through the Green Horde core box in April, although we also died quite a lot – Although the extra damage from Orcs is nasty, it’s been the double-activations that come from running out of Runners that keep doing for us. Those extra 4 runners that come with the second wave suddenly look like they’ll make a much bigger difference than anticipated. We also had a few Black Plague games with friends, after a slight lull in recent months whilst the attention was focused on Green Horde.

The City of Kings was March’s unexpected buy, and early impressions from April were really good – there were definitely some things that took a while to get my head around (1st play-through, I think I got at least half of the rules wrong), but the overall feel is great, and it feels thematically similar to a lot of old favourites, whilst definitely offering something completely new.

EscapeDarkEscape the Dark Castle was a game I hadn’t planned on buying, but picked up on a bit of a whim, following a nail-biting session with the designer of the game. It’s been played a few times since I got back home with it, and it’s definitely fun, although the length/weight are making me start to doubt whether it was really worth the £49 price tag for base game + expansion. Fortunately, it was done with store credit rather than actual money, so not too big a worry.

 

10 of 10

10of10-2018-AprAs I mentioned back in March, 4 of the 10 on the Hardcore list are now all wrapped-up, meaning that I’m only looking at 6 specific title for any further progress on this. (14 sessions altogether for Zombicide, Arkham and Elder Sign, none of them impacting the 10×10 total).

Ned-Haven-May18The big mover for April was Gloomhaven, which got dusted off after too long sitting idle. It turned out that we needed to refresh our memories on a remarkable number of rules, but I really enjoyed our plays of this, getting 4 games in in 2 days (on each occasion we cleared the scenario at the second attempt), and coming back out for another session a week later. I also had single games of Mansions of Madness, Massive Darkness and Marvel Legacy. Currently sitting at 71/100 for the overall challenge, things are definitely moving in the right direction.

DragonfireBoxFor the non-hardcore version of the challenge, Dragonfire was the 6th game of the year to reach 10 plays. Currently I’m at an H-Index of 7 – Arkham LCG, Zombicide, Pandemic Legacy, Hogwarts Battle, Elder Sign, Dragonfire and Marvel Legendary. With 7 more games on 5 or 6 plays, I’m hoping it won’t be too long before this number goes up again. (Of course, if I’d stuck with my original plan of counting Seasons 1 and 2 of Pandemic Legacy as 2 separate games, and Zombicide Black Plague and Zombicide Green Horde as 2 separate games, then I’d be nearly there…)

 

In Review

RisingSunThere were a few review titles that made it to the table in April for the first time. Definite mention needed for Rising Sun – this game looks absolutely fantastic, and I was very tempted to back it on Kickstarter for the miniatures alone, although I eventually decided not to, as I knew it would be a hard game to get played. It’s a 3-player minimum 2-3 hour epic, which involves making and breaking alliances, and battles aplenty. We’re not especially big on (what I now learn are called) “Dudes on a Map” games in our house, and I doubt that I’ll be getting my wife to play this any time soon, but I think this is a really good game, with loads going on, and many layers of subtleties to the gameplay – definitely one which rewards repeat plays. My currently dilemma is “Keep and Paint” or “Sell it now, rather than letting it gather dust.”

Firefly-Adventures-BoxLike many Geeks, I am a die-hard Firefly fan, but have always struggled to find a Firefly game that really hit the spot – Firefly the Board Game is too long, and not especially interactive, whilst Firefly Legendary is painfully ugly, and feels a bit clunky. Would Firefly Adventures: Browncoats and Brigands finally be the game we were looking for? As someone who typically picks up a new game or two to review every month, I like to think that I’m fairly good at grasping how new games work, but the first time I got this out to run-through, I couldn’t even figure out what I was supposed to be doing – the rulebook is some way beyond incoherent, and the scenario set-up/objectives tended to be unclear and contradictory: Further investigation needed, but optimism fading fast. Beyond that, I still have the latest Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective box sitting un-played, and Dungeon Alliance is still only at the components-punched-and-bagged stage.

 

What got played?

Not all that surprisingly, Fantasy was the maintstay of April – well over a third of sessions, and 32% of time. Zombies (25% time, 20% sessions) and Lovecraft (16% time, 13% sessions) were the other big chunks, with nothing else making it into double figures. As tends to be the way, that reflected mechanically, with Completing the Quest and plain-old Survival” our key concerns.

 

Money

The overall Kickstarter landscape is definitely moving in the right direction: There was table-time for Green Horde and Gloomhaven, along with some early pre-order prices for Green Horde, which suggest (as expected) that backing this will be another win money-wise. Kickstarter is never likely to match the standards of games I have in hand, simply because there’s always such a lag between spending the money and being able to play the games, but the current £/Hour rate has dropped below £7, which seems reasonable all things considered. Admittedly, that figure will rise again very quickly if I back any of the number of other project looming into view (see below)

ShadowsPainted
Also been having fun painting these – if I factored in painting time, it’d definitely be classed as good value

For shortfalls more generally, Shadows of Brimstone and Gloomhaven both managed a good few hours of play, bringing the deficits as low as they have been all year. As something brand new, I haven’t started counting The City of Kings yet, but it’s making good progress and will hopefully be nothing worse than a short blip on the Shortfall track.

I spent less than £10 on games in April, which is always nice, but didn’t sell anything either – I’m working up to a moderate-sized cull at some point in the near future, which includes a few ex-review games that are big enough and in good-enough condition to hopefully raise more than a few pennies.

 

Kicks

There were quite a few Kickstarter projects that caught my eye in April.

I had a bit to say here about the Zombicide: Invader Kickstarter, but so much ended up happening (and there are bound to be further twists in the last 48 hours) that I’ve decided to leave this for my next Kickstarter round-up: for now I’ll just say that this is a campaign that’s definitely caught my eye, and which had more than its share of surprises.

City of KingsA campaign that I’ve been more convinced by from day 1, was The City of Kings. It’s a bit of a mish-mash, being simultaneously a re-print of the existing game, offering new expansions / upgrades for the retail edition (which is what I have), and a brand-new game set in the same universe.

Even though I’ve only just started to scratch the surface of this game, I’m really keen to get the mechanical add-ons, and for only £10, having miniatures to paint for the heroes is very tempting. Beyond that, it gets complicated with fancy offerings like plastic “anti-knock” trays (there’s a lot of info in this game to try to recover if you do accidentally clobber the character sheet mid-session) and box organisers (again, lots of bits, although they don’t take up that much space unless you upgrade to wooden resources), all of which push the price for an already sizeable game sky-high. Lastly, the gorgeous art/lore book would add nothing to game-play, but kept looking at me in a beguiling fashion. In a departure from my usual behaviour, I backed this for £1 on day one: it allowed me to get involved with the comments and, with no financial stretch-goals on offer during the campaign, there was no urgency to make a decision before the pledge manager.

The pledge manager for Folklore will be closing soon, so I need to make a final decision and take the plunge. I think that enough other things have caught my interest that I’ve ruled out an all-in pledge for minis and the like (although the ghosts are so pretty…), but I’m still tempted by the base game and possibly the main expansion.

Ultimately, I think that early May will be when I need to finally commit on these games. For now though, there’s plenty to keep me occupied.

 

Final Thoughts

All-in-all, April was pretty good – The City of Kings was a highlight in the “new” column, but it was also good to see Gloomhaven finally making its mark and old favourites continuing to tick along. Mansions of Madness will hopefully be getting a new expansion soon, so that ought to see some table-time in May. Beyond that, check back in a month!

Gaming Mad

Some thoughts on the portrayal of madness in the Arkham Horror Files games

Arkham Horror (both the Board & the Card Game), Elder Sign, Eldritch Horror, and Mansions of Madness – aside from all being games in Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Files series, they are all games in which characters need to worry not just about their health but about their sanity.

All ArkhamsThe premise is quite simple, and the mechanical benefits are many – the monsters and horrors that these investigators are going to face will tax their minds just as much as their bodies. How can you very quickly and easily ensure that the little old lady or the quiet, bookish secretary can offer as much to the party as the big, tough fighter? By making every character’s stats a trade-off between Physical Health (where the Athlete or the Soldier score very highly) and Mental Health (the domain of the Parapsychologist, and the Dreamer).

Arkham Files games tend to be highly atmospheric, full of narrative immersion. You can reduce everything to pure numbers, and strive to burst through everything with maximum efficiency, but a lot of the enjoyment in the games is clearly designed around the idea of playing the game in character: How would this individual react to what goes on around them? – in my opinion, that’s where the immersive, thematic, and enjoyable experience is to be had.

I’m a big fan of these games, and 4 of the 5 are amongst my most-played titles (I only recently picked up Arkham Horror the Board Game). That said, there is definitely something about them with at least the potential to be… Problematic? Somehow not ok?

Today I want to spend a bit of time thinking about the portrayal of madness in board games: what does it add? what are the dangers? and generally is it being done right?

I had wanted to include some thoughts from the designers of the games, but – perhaps tellingly – Mental Health is the sort of topic that’s considered too sensitive for individual employees to speak for the company. Instead, here are a selection of my own musings on the topic.

 

The Unspeakable Oath

Warning: the following section contains narrative spoilers for Arkham LCG’s Path to Carcosa Cycle

King in YellowI think that I was most struck by this whole question of madness, of where we draw the lines between reality and games, whilst playing through the Arkham Horror Card Game. The recently concluded Path to Carcosa cycle takes inspiration from Robert Chambers’ The King in Yellow, and it taps in very deeply to themes of questionable states of reality, unreliable narrators and the constant sense that things may very well not be as they seem.

This really comes to a head in the 4th scenario, which sees your investigators visiting the notorious Arkham Asylum. Not a Joker or a Scarecrow in sight, this place is a prison for the mad, a cold, damp, miserable place full of cold isolation and with brutality just as likely and just as dangerous as the esoteric, experimental “treatments” that inmates might find themselves subject to.

StraitjacketAs you play through the Unspeakable Oath, there is a strange blurring of reality – increasingly you have to ask, are you really here to interview a patient? or simply residents of the asylum harbouring weird delusions about fantastical cults and alien beings? –Without warning, you suddenly find yourself wearing a strait-jacket! And why do you need to start a fire or a riot in order to be able to escape this place by jumping the fence, rather than just going back out of the front door?

The harsh reality really kicks in at the end of the scenario. Up until now, however badly you did, there had been little that could interrupt the ongoing flow of a campaign. Although there were certainly ways to make your life difficult, only once had we seen a way to bring a campaign to a premature end [warning: link contains spoilers for the Dunwich Legacy]. Failure to escape in the Unspeakable Oath, however, sees your investigator immediately driven mad, and confined for the duration to the care of Asylum doctors. The campaign might continue without you, but that individual has lost their mind, and will be playing no further part. All the events of the previous scenarios are now seen as the violent delusions of the criminally insane.

I think it was the shock of that resolution which first started me down the path towards this article.

 

Closer to Home

The Arkham games are set in the 1920s and 1930s, which can hardly be regarded as a golden age for mental health provision. Asylums were as much a convenient dumping-ground for the more inconvenient elements of society as they were places of healing. Things have changed. I’d imagine that most people reading this are like me, and have never set foot in an asylum, as they simply aren’t that common any more.

Even in this day and age though, treating mental health conditions is an inexact science and both the conditions themselves and the ways they are dealt with can be shocking. I remember being amazed during my student days when a friend (who was training to be a doctor) mentioned that electro-shock therapy is still used! She likened it to giving a TV a good whack when the signal was conking out – it won’t fix the long-term problem, but sometimes it will keep things working long enough to get it put right properly. It’s a controversial method, but it’s definitely still out there.

RecruitingAs I can’t presume to speak to anyone else’s state of mind, I’ve been thinking about my own. Whilst I’ve never needed to spend time in any secure mental institutions, I have been under the care of doctors and assorted medical professionals for many years. I take a fairly large amount of daily medication to keep my mental health in a place where I can function day-by-day, with only intermittent periods of despair, and only occasional accusations of being a high-functioning sociopath.

Even as a fairly “normal” person (if you’re reading this, I’ll assume that you don’t consider a board game obsession and “normality” to be mutually incompatible) I’m all-too-aware that Mental Health is not something that we can just assume or dismiss.

Speaking to friends who have worked in Psychiatry, there was a feeling that we still don’t have enough positive portrayals of mental illness in society or culture, so even if it’s on a subliminal level, there is an issue with how these conditions are portrayed.

 

When I get down to it, I think the question I’m really asking is – is it ok to play games that see characters driven mad?

 

Mad.

Right there, there’s something to note. Doctors (at least in the UK) wouldn’t use terms like “madness” or “driven mad” in a clinical context. They are too vague, too loaded, and ultimately don’t mean anything precisely enough to be medically useful.

Another thing I wanted to note quickly is that, obviously, the Arkham titles aren’t the only games that can end in the demise of characters or others. I think, thought, that there’s a qualitative difference.

A historical game, whether it be something abstract like a Commands and Colors title, or something gut-punchingly real like This War of Mine, is steeped in death, but it’s also educational. That’s clearly not a claim we can make for the Arkham Horror line.

In fact, almost the opposite is true: Yes, Mobsters and Flappers, Jazz and Prohibition all provide a thematically rich and quasi-historical background for the Arkham series. However, whilst your character might take physical damage from depression-era historical concepts, true horror comes from encountering those who have interbred with sea creatures, fantastical beings that have no right to exist, and holes in the fabric of reality itself. The very nature of these games is that they run counter to the world as we know it.

 

Looking at the Face of Madness

Elder SignLet’s take that idea and look a bit more closely. What exactly is happening in these games that gets depicted as / causes horror and insanity?

In some games, like Elder Sign, Sanity is just another pool of hit points, a number which will dwindle, causing death if it reaches zero. As this is already a monster article, I won’t talk any more about it here.

Other games attempt to flesh out the concept of sanity, to make it a more developed aspect of your personality, such that the assaults it suffers will do other things to you, have lasting consequences which apply in different ways.

Normally, I’m all in favour of games adding to the theme, making something more than just a set of numbers to represent a mechanic. That said, I think that there’s a danger. Obviously, you can’t represent years of treatment, months of therapy or a long-term course of exercise and medication in a 2-hour board game – Horror has to fit on a small card, and so do the ways of removing it (probably the Psychiatrist using one of her actions to treat you, or a reading from a King James Bible). Is it possible that adding a little detail becomes worse than having none at all?

Let’s zoom in on each of the games that do attempt to flesh out their madness mechanics, and see how it looks in practice.

 

Mansions of Madness

1: Horror

In Mansions of Madness (2Ed) some things will cause you to take Horror. The “standard” Horror card, much like the “standard” Damage card simply says “no additional effect, flip face down.”

Others will have different instant impacts. Perhaps the most impactful of these, are the persistent ones which generally read “keep face up…”

KleptomaniaOne such card is Kleptomania: whenever you end your turn in a space with another investigator, take 1 item at random from another investigator in your space” (I once had an investigator with Kleptomania and a Broken Arm – he stole other people’s stuff, then immediately dropped it…) – it’s a massive over-simplification of kleptomania but, particularly in that ridiculous combination with the broken arm, it generally amuses me more than it annoys. The question found myself asking as I started writing this article is – would I feel the same if I actually knew someone with Kleptomania? Perhaps part of the equation here is the fact it is very unlikely that I would – Kleptomania just isn’t a commonly-diagnosed condition (there’s even a certain amount of controversy around its validity as a diagnosis).

Righteous HorrorSomething I really like about the Horror cards in Mansions of Madness is the fact that sometimes – just now and then, the outcome is positive – you steel yourself in the face of terror, and become Focused or Righteous. It won’t come up in every game, but just often enough to save you from despair. To show that the human spirit is capable of real feats in the face of terror, just as much as it is of despair.

2: Insanity

BenignInsanityAside from the horror cards, your investigator can be driven insane. Mansions of Madness is currently the only Arkham Files game which doesn’t end for an insane investigator – instead they play on, but with a new “Insane” card. Some of these do a reasonable job of depicting obsessive behaviour – you can’t do the same action twice, you need to acquire objects/do something else even if it’s not contributing to the overall investigation. I certainly don’t have any problem with those.

DarkInsanityBut what about the card that says you have Seen Too Much and can only win if the investigation is completed and you die?

Or the card which not-that-subtly implies that your character wins only if they stab a fellow investigator to death?

Should I be more upset by that than I am?because if you stop to think about it, it’s downright disturbing?

Arkham Horror the Card Game

DescentIntoMadnessAnother game which attempts to pad the Horrors and Madness out into something beyond simple numbers is Arkham Horror the Card Game.

Arkham has moments where the idea of madness is handled brilliantly, and other instances where things feel a bit more problematic. Overall, things tend to be relatively abstract, simply due to the way the game’s mechanics work.

Rather than delving too much in the Card Game here, I wrote a separate article on the topic for the Mythos Busters, which you can find here.

 

Eldritch Horror

1: Conditions

EldritchMadness In Eldritch Horror, your sanity is once again just another pool of hit points to manage, but there are still wider implications. Amongst the many Condition cards that investigators may acquire, there are many Madness cards: Hallucinations, Amnesia, Paranoia, Terror, Hunger and Despair. The way that conditions work in Eldritch, each of the 6 types has a shared front, with different effects on the back. Broadly speaking, these will tax your investigator’s resources: losing health, sanity, clues, assets etc, or even gaining further negative conditions.

There were a few I wanted to look at a bit more closely – the first is the version of paranoia which causes each other investigator on your space to lose 2 health, and discards an ally. In essence, what we have here, is the idea of violence causing someone to become physically and dangerously violent to people around them. Obviously there are instances when poor mental health can lead to violence, which is part of the reason we still have secure psychiatric units, and this felt like an obvious point where the game and reality came uncomfortably close.

EldritchDespairSpeaking of uncomfortable, we had a bit of a shock during our first run-in with the “Despair” condition. The art features a man holding a gun to his own head, which is a fairly grim starting point, and the version encountered in our game was probably the darkest of them all – with narrative text describing in macabre fashion how you attempt to perform a lobotomy on yourself and/or gouge your own eyes out. Mechanically this is a penalised Willpower check, where failure leads to permanently impairing your Lore and Observation. I was introducing a new player to Eldritch Horror when her investigator got this card (thankfully she had played Arkham Horror and Mansions 2ed before, so wasn’t wandering in completely unprepared), and was genuinely quite concerned about scaring her off (both from Eldritch, and from coming to our house for gaming more generally) as Calvin repeatedly attacked his own eyes with whichever implement was closest to hand. As I’ll be mentioning in a bit more detail in my LCG article, I think that self-harm is a particularly problematic subject for games, because it’s something that’s so prevalent and so poorly understood in the real world.

2: Defeat

Also, when your investigator is defeated, you need to note whether their end came as a result of a failure in mind or body. You can then encounter that survivor (not necessarily dead, even if they are ‘broken’) or their legacy. Although defeated investigators are a fairly common feature of our games, it’s not all-that-often that we have the chance to encounter them later, so I had to go back through these to look at how they were set out.

fry tinfoil hat
Yes, an actual tin-foil hat

Some of these are fairly tongue-in-cheek, like Agatha Crane who you will find wearing a tin-foil hat and muttering about a government conspiracy. Others are more typical of what you might expect from madness in this setting – Kate Winthrop is obsessive and distracted, Agnes Baker doesn’t know her own name, and Ursula Downs is a Laudanum addict.

Some though are especially dark and grisly. Marie Lambeau bled out after painting the walls with her own blood, Monterey Jack has scratched an arcane symbol into his own flesh with his nails, and Amanda Sharpe simply walked into the sea and drowned herself.

Overall, the spectrum of effects presented is probably about right – the things which are particularly shocking are a level of extremity that we might hope to avoid in daily life, but are probably understandable from those who have gazed into the abyss.

 

Closing Thoughts

I hope that in this slightly meandering discussion I’ve managed to raise some questions for people to consider, even if I haven’t really ‘answered’ anything.

I’m certainly not arguing for censorship of these games – anyone who plays a game called Mansions of Madness or Eldritch Horror, and is shocked by the fact that they depict madness, probably needs to learn to read better.

DriverIndeed, as I said at the outset, the fact that characters can go mad is definitely part of the appeal in these games. Something really simply can add a lot of fun flavour – take the Driver in Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu:

  • Normal characters – 1 space per move
  • Sane driver 1 or 2 spaces per move [he has a car],
  • Insane driver, 2 spaces per move [he has a car and doesn’t know when to brake!]).

This sort of thing appeals to my gallows sense of humour, but is my enjoyment of these mechanics somehow wrong? Some kind of weird schadenfreude in wanting to see madness come crashing down upon these investigators, rather than me? I don’t think so, but it’s a troubling thought to give me pause for a moment.

Rational In Elder Sign, 5 expansions in, there are lots and lots of adventure cards spread amongst the various decks, but one simple quote always makes this one my favourite. “I struggled to keep calm, but given the evidence presented by these artefacts, madness was the only rational response.”

Perhaps that’s it – even with what are pretty minor mental health problems in the grand scheme of things, one of the most wearing things I have to fight day-by-day is the assumption that everyone else is “normal,” and that I’m not. That depression and anxiety are in some way a dysfunctional reaction to the world.

Maybe people are right – and I can certainly see why folk would want to attain to what is generally regarded as “good” mental health. But perhaps there’s part of me that wants to say “No! – the world is a crazy, terrifying, and often dismal place, and some level of dread, misery or concern about it just makes sense.”

Perhaps we won’t see eye-to-eye on the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. But maybe, when an abomination made mostly of eyes and tentacles comes bashing through the wall, or the sky is ripped open, and fell beasts swoop down out of the glare of twin suns to tear at our flesh. Well, maybe then, we can all agree that sometimes it’s just better to be mad.

The Good, the Bad, and the Dead-eye

 

Deadeye-Walkers-Box

Zombicide, as the name might suggest, is a game that contains a lot of Zombies. Pretty-much every monster you’ll face in Zombicide Black Plague will be a zombie form of something or other.

Perhaps the biggest exception to this rule is the Deadeye Walkers, a band of skeletons who will shoot down your survivors with deadly accuracy. The Deadeye Walkers box was originally released alongside Black Plague a few years ago and has been hard to get hold of for a while. With a reprint due in the next few months as part of the Green Horde Wave 2 Kickstarter, I thought this would be a good time to put up a full review of them.

There are 3 sculpts in the Deadeye walker box – an archer firing.

Deadeye-Walkers-Figure-1An archer with his bow pointed diagonally down (just about to draw?)

Deadeye-Walkers-Figure-2

And another with his bow slung on his back and his knife drawn.

Deadeye-Walkers-Figure-3

Personally, I’m a big fan of the first 2 sculpts and slightly less keen on the last one, simply because it doesn’t stand out as clearly as being an archer. That said, all of the miniatures are nicely done, and they make an interesting change from the Zombie mass, with no flesh, exposed bones everywhere, and a slightly better quality of clothing and equipment.

As with all of my Zombicide figures, I painted these up, and was quite pleased with the overall result. Aside from the bows, there isn’t much that makes them stand out from the crowd, but they look nice, and don’t feel too jarring.

Deadeye-Walkers-Box-Interior

Whilst their aesthetic impact isn’t earth-shattering, Gameplay wise, the Deadeye walkers are something completely different. They move a single space per activation, and only require 1 damage to kill, much like a standard walker, but unlike any other zombie, these can attack at range!

When a Deadeye walker activates with line-of-sight to a Survivor at range 1-3 instead of moving, they simply fire their bows. As is generally the way zombies, unlike survivors, don’t need to roll to hit you, and unless you have armour, those hits are going straight onto your party.

Deadeye-Walkers-Building
Indoors is a good place to meet a group of Dead-eyes

Deadeyes challenge a lot of the accepted thinking in Zombicide – whereas backing off, letting zombies come to you, and trying to pick things off at range are all good ideas for most of the standard Zs, to take down a Deadeye you probably want to get up close and personal – quickly!

Deadeye-Walkers-Street
Long streets are more of a problem.

Deadeyes lose a lot of their bite indoors, but can pose serious difficulties in those scenarios where the gaps between buildings span multiple tiles. Deadeyes also add a new element of fear to the Extra Activation for Walkers cards – whereas one clear space to a group of walkers should see you safe, a group of Deadeyes four zones away could pick off a survivor or 2 with the right card!

 

Deadeye-Walkers-Wolfz
Wulfz and Dead-eyes: a combination of Nightmares.

Deadeyes are at their deadliest in combination with the Wulfz of Wolfsburg, simply because the 2 Zombie types encourage such diametrically opposed styles of play. Wulfz are a nightmare in buildings, where they can be well out-of-sight, but still close enough to eat you, but fairly manageable out on a long street where you can shoot once or twice, whilst staying out of the way. Once you have Wulfz and Deadeyes together, you’ll struggle to find a safe place to shoot at the wulfz where the Deadeyes won’t get you back.

As an enemies-only box, Deadeyes are very easy to introduce to Green Horde, but the Hedgerow-heavy environment of the early scenarios takes away a lot of their threat. Where they will thrive is spawning at the top of a waterhole, guaranteeing that your survivors won’t be able to approach and kill them inside a single turn.

 

After Wolfsburg, I think the Deadeyes are the expansion which add the most game-play wise to Black Plague. At the moment they can be a bit hard to track down, but they’re being re-printed as part of to the Green Horde campaign, which should significantly increase the number in circulation. Well worth it if you enjoy Zombicide, especially if you want to up the challenge.

Preview – The Forgotten Age

Forgotten AgeI’ve not done a particularly good job of actually getting reviews done for Arkham stuff lately. I ended up reviewing most of the Dunwich cycle for Games Quest, then Carcosa got a bit messy with lots of stock issues (somehow FFG aren’t printing enough), meaning I ended up getting a lot of stuff late, out of order, or just in a mad rush altogether.

I’ll try to do a Carcosa round-up in a few weeks when the dust has settled on multiple play-throughs, but for today, I thought I’d take a look at an upcoming expansion, something I don’t need to worry about having cards in hand / time to do all the play-throughs for.

The next deluxe expansion for Arkham LCG is The Forgotten Age, a box which takes us adventuring into the jungles of South America. So far we only know a few bits and pieces, but let’s look at those:

Ginny_Weasley_Quidditch_Seeker
New Seeker character?

Ursula Downs, the Explorer, is our new Seeker

Leo Anderson, the Expedition Leader, is our new Keeper. Sorry, Guardian

Finn Edwards, the Bootlegger, is most definitely not a Snitch.

Ok, enough Quidditch jokes…

 

finn-edwardsOf the 3 characters initially revealed, Finn is probably the one I was most interested in. He appeared, alongside Kate Winthrop and a few others in one of the old Arkham Files Novels (officially no longer canon, but still a good read nonetheless) he is – for me at least – the quintessential rogue, and there would have been something wrong if we didn’t eventually see him in this class.

Gameplay wise, it looks like Finn will be very interesting to play – he takes a lot of Rogue characteristics – evasion, action advantage, difficulty with treacheries, likes money – and turns them all up to 11. The biggest talking point is his rather terrifying 1 Willpower!! – if you thought Skids had difficulty with Rotting Remains or Frozen in Fear, then Finn takes that to a whole new level.

Handle ThisAt least in multiplayer, there are a lot more options for dealing with treacheries now: Mystics running level 2 Ward of Protection, and Guardians running Let Me Handle This are already possibilities, but Finn arrives in a box with the highly entertaining You Handle This One – a card which lets him palm off Treacheries onto others.

Willpower aside, Finn looks really strong – high intellect and agility means he can investigate really powerfully with Lockpicks, as well as picking up extra clues with his Elder Sign effect. Combat-wise, he gets an extra action each turn to use on evading, meaning he can deal with most enemies, either by using Sneak Attack without having to worry about the action needed to evade first, or simply running away. If he does need to fight, 3 really isn’t too shabby.

Lastly, his signature card hints at some fun interactions with illicit cards (and hopefully that more illicit cards are coming). Really looking forward to this one. Not looking forward to my wife’s reaction the first time I play You Handle This One.

Expedition

Leo Anderson Leo Anderson is a bit trickier to analyse. For one thing, he seems to have a lot of interaction with Allies, particularly non-uniques, based on his signature asset, an ally who gives him space for 2 additional non-unique allies. Without knowing his deck-building restrictions, it’s hard to know which allies he’ll have access to – Guard Dog and Beat Cop have their merits (especially if he can play them at reduced cost as a fast action), but they’re not especially exciting to build a deck around. If he can access the non-unique seeker allies, or some of the other powerful cards out there, he suddenly gets a lot more interesting. His 3 intellect is nice, and overall his stats feel really solid – agility is probably the least-used skill when you aren’t evading (at least until now), and as a 4-combat guardian, I can’t imagine he’ll be evading that often.

Exploration

UrsulaUrsula Downs was the first investigator announced for this box, but I only had the idea to write this article after the Finn & Leo preview dropped, so had to go back and dig out her information. She has 4 intellect and 1 combat, which is a fairly clear indication that she’s not planning on fighting anything any time soon – fortunately she has 4 agility, so can evade the enemies she won’t be able to fight, and a decent 3 willpower for handling treacheries.

Again, this is a character where I really want to see the deck-construction rules. She gets a free investigation per round, provided she moves, so will want to be tooling up with Shortcuts and Pathfinders (Norman is the only Seeker so far who wouldn’t be able to take Pathfinder, so hopefully Ursula will be fine).

jake-williamsLike Leo, Ursula has a unique ally as her signature asset, and Jake Williams ties into all the themes we’ve seen so far – free(ish) card-draw for revealing new locations, and being able to move or investigate whilst engaged with enemies, without worrying about attacks of opportunity. Generally I prefer lower-cost signature assets (Jake costs 3), but he still looks like he could be well worth playing – again, we’ll need to see those deck construction rules to know how much Ursula will need Charisma to go with him.

As an aside, I do find Jake an odd choice thematically. From what little of Ursula’s back-story I know, he certainly is someone who tends to appear, but it feels a little awkward to present a character who is so explicitly referenced as a woman struggling to be accepted in a “man’s world” then give her a male unique ally to protect her…

 

Encounters

We know that there are 2 scenarios in the Forgotten Age, and that they involve some kind of jungle-adventure, but otherwise the detail is still pretty light.

Exploring
Confused? Hopefully it’ll make more sense once we have the scenarios in hand…

One thing we do know will be included in the box is the new “Explore” ability, which sees you revealing cards from a separate “Exploration Deck.” I’m a little bit wary of this, as it puts me in mind of periods in Lord of the Rings LCG where we had lots of different decks, which often felt quite needless, leading to unnecessarily complicated board states: in my experience excess complexity leads to mistakes, and eliminates any benefit that the mechanic should bring. I’m remaining cautiously optimistic for now, as location and sense of place has been one of the ways in which Arkham has been constantly head-and-shoulders above LotR, both in terms of mechanic and theme, but time will tell how it really pans out.

Obviously there are going to be other things in the new box, besides the explore mechanic. We have seen enemies with the “Alert” keyword, as well as a spoiled location which refers to “checking supplies” (turns out a compass is a useful thing in the jungle), but we don’t have any concrete information on what these things might do/mean. There are also rumours floating around about other mechanics and things that we might see in this box (I heard a frightening whisper of negative XP!), but I don’t think it’s worth speculating too much until we have some confirmation.

 

Next?

MateoI’d imagine we still have at least one preview left before the expansion lands – I’d been hoping for one that confirmed Father Mateo as our new Survivor and Diana Stanley as our new Mystic, followed by an article about the scenarios themselves.

Since then we’ve been given a big Spoiler on our Survivor, not Mateo but Arkham Files’ Man of the Moment, Calvin Wright!

calvin-wright

Calvin breaks the mould somewhat with his very even 0-0-0-0 stat-line and, unlike his 3 companions, is someone I’m not convinced it’s even worth trying to speculate about until I’ve had a chance to try him out. There are definitely some cool avenues to explore, but only time will tell whether they work. For now, my only reaction is that I love the fact that they’re still experimenting and pushing the boundaries.

Still no word on the Mystic. Could it be Diana? Could it be Mateo? We’ll have to see…

 

I enjoy following the narrative of Arkham campaigns, but am generally much more interested in playing new characters than I am in having the new scenarios to run them through. I’ll certainly be looking forward to trying the new scenarios, but I’m the thing I really want to see is the backs of those investigator cards, just so that I can get a sense of their deck-building requirements.

2018: 1st Quarter Kicks

With 2018 already (somehow!?!) ¼ over, I thought it was a good time to check in on the world of Kickstarter.

Coming from Behind

Kickstarter Games
As ever, Gloomhaven just a bit too big to fit in the picture

I started the year with a hefty deficit money-wise on a large number of outstanding Kickstarter projects – lots undelivered, lots without even an RRP available. Part of that was due to ongoing delays, part simply due to where I was in the cycle of backing and receiving.

 

Since then, things have improved quite a bit – about £100 on cost value (i.e. I now know how much some more things would have cost at retail and how much I saved/lost by backing them early) and £130 or so gameplay value (i.e. just over 27 hours’ worth of play on Kickstarter games). In £/Hour terms, that’s pulled the figure down from an eye-watering £12.23 per hour to £9.96 – still a lot, but heading in the right direction.

I’ve actually only had 21 games all-told across any of the Kickstarter titles so far this year. Even allowing for it only being March, that’s still some way down on 62 last year (given that no KS game arrived before August in 2017). I’d struggle to put my finger on a single reason for this, especially as there are still plenty of KS games in my collection that I’m enthusiastic about playing and which have plenty of life left in them.

Apocrypha is still running a deficit, both in terms of play and cost. This has hit the table 1 or 2 times, so should get there eventually, and once the expansions land, that should wipe out the retail shortfall.

 

Lightbringers
Expansion heroes all nicely painted up, but I still need to get the Wandering Monsters done

Massive Darkness remains the healthiest-looking game overall, with figures comfortably in the black in all directions. We recently had this one out for the first time in a little while, making our first foray into some of the extensive expansion content – good fun, and definitely giving a sense of variety.

 

Aeon’s End continues to tick along, slowly and steadily. At the moment, this is still ever-so-slightly in the red for play value, but by less than the “vs retail” saving, meaning that it’s posting a positive total over (and only 1 session short play-wise).

Even now that things have hit retail again, Gloomhaven looks like pretty good value to a Kickstarter backer vs the retail cost. That said, play-time is looking a bit shabbier: it has been played this year, but nowhere near as much as I’d hoped/expected. This is one of the ones that really needs some serious table-time.

 

GreenHordeWave2
From the latest KS update – this picture actually includes a fair few add-ons that I’m not getting but still. Wow, that’s a lot of content!

Zombicide Green Horde arrived at the very end of January. It’s great fun, as expected, but the first few scenarios in particular are brutally hard (I’m sure it will get easier with time, as we adjust to the new style of play). At the moment, I only have the base game, and even that doesn’t have a retail release yet, meaning the numbers look especially shocking (I’m probably still a little way short of the amount of play that would justify the cost of the core box), but I’m confident that things will quickly and quite dramatically leap into the black once we get confirmed retail prices and/or wave 2 lands in the summer.

 

There is still no sign of 9th World, Legends Untold, or the Gloom of Kilforth Expansions (Kilforth wasn’t expected until the summer anyway).

 

New projects?

In terms of new projects, it was a quiet quarter – a few things caught my eye, but none sufficiently to get me to open my wallet.

AE-L Aeon’s End Legacy is the new set for Aeon’s End. It looks like another whopper, with a legacy campaign that allows you to create your own character, and a whole stack of extra marketplace cards that you can use during the campaign or in stand-alone games afterwards.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m a big fan of the gameplay in Aeon’s End, but like everything else, it’s struggling for table time these days, as both my games collection and the baby keep on growing (he can now reach things on the table if they are left too near the edge!) on top of that, the whole way the Legacy campaign was handled rubbed me up the wrong way.

For one thing, lots of play-testers took to the forums to post reviews which basically all said “this is great, but I’m not going to tell you anything about how/why, because of Spoilers.” I understand (up to a point) the reluctance to give spoilers, but the end result was something that felt more like marketing than a review as it couldn’t really offer me anything more concrete than “buy it!”

On top of that, the chance to ‘create my own mage’ – which seems to be the big selling-point of the campaign – felt strange as well. Generally, the coolest characters in the game are the ones who break the standard rules – those with unique breaches being an obvious example. It seems pretty likely that in a pick-and-mix, make a character from these stickers system, options like that simply aren’t going to be available. The designers and their play-test fans were quick to assure us that there were 5000 different possible combinations, but without getting a real sense of how different they were actually going to be, I wasn’t ready to get involved.

AE-L Art
Being an Aeon’s End game, there was some dubious art involved

 

My biggest disappointment in missing out, was the stretch goal to provide dividers from the first edition game in the style of War Eternal. This was especially galling as it felt more like something missing from what I already had (AE+AE:WE) than it did a part of Legacy. I’ve put out a few feelers, and will try to pick up someone else’s un-wanted set on the secondary market for these.

As a final note, I should say that, being Aeon’s End, the art is still pretty awful, and I fully expect the card-stock to be all over the place, and at least some of it so be glossy finish.

If the opportunity to review this comes up, I’ll throw my hat into the ring, and I may even fork out eventually for the new expansion, which is just additional non-legacy market cards, but it’s not something I want to pay $80 for.

 

Folklore

FolkloreThe Pledge Manager for Folklore is still open. Everything I’ve seen suggests that this is a really good game, but I just don’t know that I have the time for it right now. If I did dive in, there’s still the question of which of the many different routes to go down – core box only because it’s cheap, or all-in, to get some of the beautiful miniatures to paint.

I backed Folklore because it looked like they couldn’t guarantee it getting a retail release. Latest forum rumblings suggest that it might get one after all, at which point picking it up from GQ is almost certainly a cheaper option (hooray for store credit!)

Oddly, I think that one of my biggest obstacles with Folklore is the fact that Rahdo never ran through it: there are other gameplay videos out there but as they’re not from vloggers I’m familiar with, it’s hard to get a real sense of the game.

 

Batman

Batman-Gotham-City-Chronicles-1
I’m pretty sure this doesn’t even include the stretch-goals. It’s a LOT of miniatures

Batman: Gotham City Chronicles was one of the big headline games of the first part of 2018. It (apparently) took the Conan engine and re-skinned it for the city of Gotham.

It’s a big game – $140 is the starting point, and it looks like it’s never going to get a non-Kickstarter release, so backing it now (or backing the inevitable reprint in a year or 2) are basically the only options aside from hoping it eventually appears on eBay.

The miniatures look really nice. Lots of iconic characters, generally really nicely sculpted.

The killer (apart from that mega price-tag) is the fact that it seems to be a purely PvP game, and I really can’t see my wife wanting to duke it out head-to-head with me. Part of me is tempted to get this one to play with Ned – assuming it delivers next year, I might even manage to get it painted over the 12 years I’d need to wait for him to reach the recommended age limit. Realistically though, that doesn’t seem sensible. Aside from anything else, I know that as a parent I need to let him make his own decisions, and it’s still too early to tell whether he’ll opt for Marvel or DC.

Harry Potter

HarryPotterHaving been pleasantly surprised by Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, my interest was definitely piqued by the idea of a Harry Potter miniatures game.

Sadly, March saw what can, at best, be described as a debacle on the part of Knight Miniatures. Having announced an upcoming Kickstarter for a Harry Potter Adventure Game, they then released a very drab video depicting a single turn of an incredibly generic-looking skirmish game, cancelled the Kickstarter, and started taking pre-orders (for the US, UK and Spain only) for something that looked suspiciously like it was just some miniatures in a tin box, with the associated “game” rather lacking.

To add to the list of red flags, KM seem to have a pretty shaky reputation in terms of Quality Assurance and Customer Services, the miniatures were resin rather than plastic (too breakable for my liking), and frankly bizarre distribution/omission of key characters (Voldemort appears to be a pre-order bonus only, not available in an actual retail purchase), and like many people I quickly decided to pass.

HarryRonHermioneBefore I stop talking about this game, I do want to take a quick moment to look at some of the miniatures themselves. For the most part, they look straight take-offs of the film characters – Crabbe (or possibly Goyle) comes complete with a cake, and various big-screen poses are re-captured – which is fine. My main complaint though, was with the Hermione miniature. If you were looking for a contemporary female character who is most clearly defined by her brain rather than her looks, and who stands out as someone whose achievements stand up to scrutiny without needing to be bolstered by feminine charms, then Hermione Grainger is surely one of the first names you come to. The sculptor however, clearly felt differently, and decided that she needed to be depicted mid-prance, standing on one leg, with her Gryffindor scarf twirling about her like a streamer from a rhythmic gymnastics display. Compared to Harry, whose pose is dramatic, but looks combat-ready and functional, and Ron, who just looks slightly bored, this felt depressingly patronising, and provided the final nail in the coffin of interest, if another one were needed.

 

Future

I’m not anticipating vast KS expenditure in the coming months, but there is at least one project that’s caught my attention…

City of Kings

City of KingsThe City of Kings (I always seem to forget the “The”) was a game I’d been only vaguely aware of, until discovering that it wouldn’t be available to review (stock issues). Amid a mad panic about stock availability, I splashed out on a copy from an online retailer, setting up a few days of anticipation about whether it would actually arrive, or be cancelled.

The game-play videos for this looked really interesting, and seemed to position it somewhere between Folklore (see above) and Spirit Island, which was the other big co-op I’d been considering (and which is now out of stock everywhere again). That said, the retail edition was definitely missing a few things compared to the original KS edition, so the announcement of an April re-print Kickstarter which should include “just the new stuff” and “bling up my retail edition” pledge levels [not actual titles] has definitely caught my eye. I’ve played the game twice so far and really enjoyed it, but hopefully, the window before the KS closes will be sufficient for get far enough into the game to make an informed decision about whether I actually need/want to get it decked out.

 

Next

Invader
For something that is essentially a re-skin of one of my all-time favourite games, it’s amazing just how much I dislike the look of this

Lots of people have been posting online about how this feels like a mega time for Kickstarter games, but it hasn’t really felt that way to me. This is probably for the best, as my wallet really doesn’t need any more Kickstarter projects.

In terms of the next quarter, I’m not sure what else is coming. There’s a new Zombicide project coming – Zombicide Invader. Whilst outer-space Zombicide is an interesting idea, early figure prototypes look like Space Marines vs demon-creatures from The Others, so unless something major changes during the campaign, I can’t see myself bothering with this one. It’ll be interesting to see whether more Zombicide means no Massive Darkness Season 2 (don’t especially need more minis, but a rules-revision could make a good game a great one).

Arydia: The Paths we Dare to Tread is an open-world Fantasy adventure that should be coming some point this year. At this stage, virtually nothing is known, and it’s probably not going to squeeze into the 2nd quarter, but I’ll keep my eyes open.

That’s about all for today. I’ll be back in 3 months or so with another update.