Heroes of Tenefyr – Board Game Review

Heroes of Tenefyr is a fast-paced, push-your-luck, deck-building, cooperative Dungeon Crawler. It’s extremely quick and easy to pick up, but still a real challenge to beat, and it’s the new favourite game on our table right now.

What’s in the box?

Heroes of Tenefyr comes in a nice box – at the same size as Carcassonne, it’s probably a little bigger than necessary, but it does mean that you can fit the game and its expansion in, fully-sleeved if you want, with a bit of room left for any future releases.

The card-stock is nice, as is the art, and there’s plenty of flavour text to give a spot of character to the setting. 95% of what you get here is cardboard (there’s a wooden skull for tracking time), but everything is solid, and does what you need it to.

In terms of the specifics, there are lots of different cards-types: starting cards for your decks, monsters and bosses to face, heroes, and reward cards for the various dungeons.

There are even a nice set of dividers although – bafflingly – the dividers are taller than the box, so are only really usable if you have all the cards leant back at a jaunty angle.

How does it play?

The premise of Heroes of Tenefyr is simple. You start off with a deck of Basic Cards (6 worth 1, 6 worth 0) and in each fight, the cards played by all players have to equal or exceed the fight value of the current enemy. Eventually (after a limited number of rounds determined by the difficulty setting you choose), you need to face off against the Boss, defeating the entire Boss deck in a single turn. However, beating the boss with your starting deck is going to be straight-up impossible, so you need to venture into the various dungeons arrayed before you, defeating the monsters there in order to power up ready for the final showdown. You’re very unlikely to have the time to clear all the dungeons, so you’ll need to carefully consider which ones to explore in order to maximise the benefits.

How do we fight?

1) In a 2-player game, the Gargoyle has 4 health. 2) the first player draws her opening hand – it only has 1 fight, which would leave the other player needing 3 fight on their turn. 3) She discards her hand and draws a new one. 4) She now has 2 fight in hand, and decides that this is good enough. She plays these cards (and could trigger abilities if there were any). Once she is done, the next player takes their turn, and he will need 2 fight to defeat the Gargoyle.

On your turn, you draw 3 cards from your deck, and decide to either play or discard. If you discard, those cards go straight to your discard pile, and you draw 3 more, then repeat the “play or discard?” decision. Once you start playing cards, your turn is locked in: in the early rounds, there won’t be much to do, but as the game progresses there will be more and complexity to consider as you look to optimise your turn: drawing extra cards, discarding cards, searching and shuffling.

If you have a hand with 3 basic zeroes, then the chances are that you’ll want to discard it and look for a better hand. If you’ve drawn enough cards to 1-shot the enemy, it’s probably an easy decision to keep the hand and play it.

Where things get interesting is the other 80-90% of the time, when you’ve drawn enough to damage the monster, but not enough to defeat it. Once the first player has had their turn, everyone else will try, one-at-a-time. Depending on how much you’ve been able to soften the creature up, they might have an easy time finishing it off, or a near-impossible search for the perfect hand. Like you, they can draw and discard their 3 cards until they get a hand which they like, but your decision to stick with a low hand might force your partner to burn through most of their deck before they get enough attack to finish the job that you started (if you play solo, your deck has double the number of cards, and you take 2 turns per monster). Enemies have health totals that scale by player count, so no matter how many of you there are, there’s still likely to be some uncertainty for the players going later.

Turning Enemies Upside Down

Defeated enemies go into your discard pile, and that brings us to one of the key features of Heroes of Tenefyr, the dual-nature of Dungeon Cards. That enemy that you’ve just fought now gets rotated 180 degrees before entering your discard pile, and it’s now a resource for you to use in future fights.

Dungeons cards will either have higher numbers of raw fight power than your starting cards, or abilities that you can exploit to manipulate decks or discard piles (by the higher levels, it will often be both). I really like this mechanic: it’s so simple, keeps the contents of the game very streamlined, and is executed very well from a thematic standpoint: that Ogre who didn’t have a special ability, just lots of health? – well he’s going to turn into a card that’s got a higher fight power and no special ability. That sneaky goblin who made you draw fewer cards? Well now you can sneakily draw an extra card.

Pushing Through

Some effects will reward or punish you for keeping on going.

After you defeat the enemy, you need to decide what to do next. Do you carry on? Or leave?

If you carry on, you will flip the next Dungeon Card, and attempt to defeat that enemy too – however you won’t be resetting your deck before doing so, so if you’ve already discarded half your deck before you felt comfortable taking down that first enemy, you might quickly find yourself running out of cards.

If you leave, the day is over, and you advance the time marker 1 space – when it reaches the skull space on the track, you will have to fight the boss, whether you’re ready or not, so you simply don’t have the time to leave every time things look like anything less than a 100% cert.

However, if you are defeated – i.e. you don’t manage to get enough attack between you to take down a monster, not only are you kicked out of the dungeon, but the time marker will advance two spaces! It looks like you can’t afford to be too reckless either.

Clearing the Dungeon

The possible Rewards for Dungeon 1. I always take a Remove option if it’s available.

If you empty the Dungeon, then you get a reward for doing so. There are 4 reward cards for each level, and you randomly select 1 for each dungeon at the start of every game. Typically these will let you remove cards from your deck, discard cards for the next fight, search for cards, look ahead, or even grab dungeon cards from elsewhere. The cards will also vary in who they apply to (choose together / each choose 1 etc), so there’s this added dimension of variety each time – the same reward for defeating enemies, or different rewards for fighting a very similar line-up of monsters all add to the variety.

A Touch of Class?

a selection of Dungeon Cards that are good for the Cleric

When setting up the game in heroes of Tenefyr, you will be picking a class – Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Thief. This means that you will add a card to your starting deck which is zero attack, but has a thematic power for that class: the Barbarian draws extra cards (allowing for big hits, but burning through her deck very quickly) the Bard can buff the power of other cards, the Cleric can allow another player to ‘heal’ (shuffle some cards from discard back into their deck), and the Thief can ‘steal’ leftover dungeon cards straight into their discard pile, without going through the hassle of fighting them. The class you take can also impact the utility of other cards that you draw later, as you will find that some of the Dungeon Cards also refer to your class – “draw a card. If you are the Barbarian, draw 3 cards instead.”

Again, these class elements felt like a fun addition that is executed in a fun and simple way – enough to give flavour without slowing the game down too much. The fact that the starting cards have zero fight on them also adds an additional layer of decision-making, as you can only trigger the ability if you actually keep the hand and play the cards, not if you discard it in search of higher numbers: is it worth playing this 1-fight hand, and hoping that your team-mate can pick up the slack whilst you upgrade for a future turn?

If you’re playing solo or 2-player, you get to chose more than 1 card, meaning that you get both classes’ starting cards, and you count as being both classes for any card that says “if you are the X” – this both helps to ensure that you don’t have lots of cards that can’t be trigger and – most importantly – means that my wife can channel her D&D character by playing as the Bard-barian (a much more effective D&D combination than a Wiz-bard…)

Expanding

Given how much we’d enjoyed playing Heroes of Tenefyr, adding in the expansion seemed like a no-brainer. The Second Curse is a small box that packs in a lot of content: six new hero classes, new monsters for each level of dungeon, new bosses, new dungeon rewards, and extra challenge cards to create level 6 dungeons.

By-and-large, the new classes are a bit more complex than the ones in the base game: for example, the Enchanter has a deck of large cards that he can use to “enchant” dungeons, the Ranger has a miniature “wolf” deck, and the Technomage will collect and spend Gears for various effects.

The drawback we found with the expansion, was the way it dilutes the Dungeon cards in the game. When playing the base game with 2, every card that says “If you are the X, do Y” will apply to someone, and it’s an interesting challenge to either make sure that the right player draws it in the first place, or to give it to them once you have it.

If you don’t have an Enchanter or Paladin in the party, then these cards do literally nothing once you get them in hand!

As soon as you have 10 different classes kicking around in the pool, you find yourself in a position where you’re much more likely to meet a monster whose card applies to a character that isn’t even in the game. It’s pretty galling to struggle your way past a monster, only to discover that (because of the hero line-up you’ve selected) the card you get to add to your deck is a zero fight card with no additional effect! On top of that, the fact that you’re adding all these cards for other classes means that it’s much more likely that you get through the 8 cards in the 2 Dungeons of that level without drawing one that provides an extra benefit to you. The main reason that this feels like a shame is that it dilutes the distinctive flavour of each hero.

 Whilst I still think the expansion offers a lot of bang for your buck, it’s definitely tempting to add a bit more work to set-up, to house-rule that the class-specific monsters which are being added to the pool are at least ones which characters in play can actually interact with.

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for a dungeon crawl game that plays in under an hour, then I’d really recommend Heroes of Tenefyr. It’s really easy to understand and start playing, but has good variety and replay value. It’s pretty hard, at least to begin with, and the push-your luck mechanism means that you’ll very rarely be able to just math things out (Although there’s definite value to be had in a bit of light card-counting as you go through your deck). I think my favourite thing about Heroes of Tenefyr, is that there’s almost always a decision to be made – which Dungeon to visit? which one to skip? risk a low-value hand to keep cards for next turn? or make sure that you kill the thing now? Focus on enemies that look easy to defeat? Or enemies/dungeons that give the best rewards? You’re never going to be able to do everything, so corners have to be cut somewhere.

If you’re going to play the game a lot, then the expansion is also worth a look. It definitely ramps up the difficulty, and it pays to give a little thought to how you’ll integrate the cards, but easily rewards your effort, more than doubling the number of available heroes, and ensuring that no two games of Heroes of Tenefyr will be the same.

I was provided with a free copy of this game & expansion to review by TradeQuest. No money changed hands, and I was under no obligation to provide a positive review.

A Surprising Amount to Say – September 2021

September has been and gone – One notable milestone that I hadn’t hit since 2018 was clocking up a 100th unique game in the year – it’s a big total, and something to reflect on when the year is done. Right now, there’s a lot to say about September, so let’s dive straight in!

Getting Organised – in the wild!

I was very lucky (And some other folks were very kind) to come away with both playmats. There were also nice alt-art cards, but those have been filed away, and it felt like too much work to dig them out again

A major highlight for September was doing some gaming that wasn’t in somebody’s house. With the gradual lifting of restrictions, we’re finally at a point where our Friendly semi-Local Games Shop could put on events using the organised play kits from 2020, and we managed to make it along for some Lord of the Rings and some Arkham.

For Lord of the Rings, it was Escape From Khazad-Dum, one of the 2v2 quests, where you build an encounter set from a selection of available modules and hope that it takes the opposing team longer to beat than it takes you to beat the deck that they’ve put together.

The kit comes with some very nice threat dials, card boxes and full-art heroes for everyone taking part, as well as 1 copy per 4 players of the absolutely beautiful Balrog playmat, which has been going for silly money on eBay and the like. Sadly, what it doesn’t come with, is the 2 copies of the quest that you’d need for 4 of you to actually play in 2v2 mode! (This was doubly annoying, as I already have a copy of the quest at home, and could have brought an extra copy with me if I’d thought about it).

4-player Escape from Khazad-Dum

In the end, we just played a 4-player game, which had a bit of an odd rhythm – I’m not convinced that it’s really designed for that high a player-count, and the staging area was very bogged down with locations, up until the point we managed to get a pair of Northern Trackers out, and suddenly surged through the remainder of the quest, practically falling over each other in the race to see how got to thump the Balrog. Still good to be out in the wild, and playing games in a place that sells paintbrushes, card sleeves and doughnuts.

A week later, it was Arkham Horror time, as we took on The Blob That Ate Everything. Where the week before had been mostly about the novelty (as we played entirely with people who we’ve also been gaming with at home), this time we were playing a proper epic multiplayer game, all contributing to a global clue and health pool.

Shortly before the Blob ate EVERYTHING

Sadly, it was not our most successful confrontation with the Blob – for the first hour or so of the evening, it felt like our table was the only one actually doing any damage to The Blob, and that led to some risky decisions, which combined with some really bad luck (an ill-timed weakness and a worse-timed Tentacle) to see my Tommy, our chief fighter, KO-ed and the rest of the team also having to sacrifice themselves in the final round in an attempt to finish off the Blob. By this time, another couple of tables had managed to get into gear (the investigators at the 4th table were all long-dead), and the last big push fell agonisingly short of finishing the creature off.

Even pre-Pandemic, evenings out gaming have been pretty rare, thanks to the small child in the house, but thanks to some visiting grandparents, it was nice to get out and game with other people again.

The Rest of the Life

Aside from those two mammoth Friday nights, September generally was another strong month for the LCGs – Marvel Champions was my most-played game again, with 12 sessions, as I got to grips with the Nebula hero and took another run at some of the Mad Titan’s Shadow villains, although Thanos himself remains undefeated.

Jack will just be sleeping things off in the corner…

Arkham Horror saw the first release in the new format, as the 5 investigators and the many, many player-cards from the Edge of the Earth arrived – I can see it taking quite some time to digest all of these, but we’re doing our best: we started the waking side of our 4-player Dreamlands campaign, using entirely Edge of the Earth investigators [I’m playing Jack, George is playing Lily, and our friends are playing Norman and Bob], and I also started a new Dunwich Legacy campaign where Simon is playing Lily (although I’m playing Winnie, who isn’t new, and only went to the Clover Club to cheat at Blackjack…) the 2-player Return to TFA campaign that George and I have been going through has got a bit side-tracked: on the plus side, Stella & Jim stopped the War of the Outer gods from destroying the world, but we should probably hurry up and actually find our way back to Mexico sometime soon. In Lord of the Rings, I had a few solo runs at some of the Children of Eorl quests for ALEP: I’ve been really enjoying the Last Alliance of Beornings and Rohirrim using the contract from the same box, but haven’t properly explored the new traps/Restricted attachments tech from the box.

Taking Flight

September was – unusually, also the month of GenCon. Normally an early August event, this was a rescheduled and much diminished affair, but it did bring us the annual In-Flight Report, with a few interesting bits of news. With the Arkham Horror revised Core Set only a few weeks away, FFG finally came out with the announcement that we’d all been waiting for for far too long – a New Lord of the Rings core box! Right now the details are a bit sketchy (we don’t know exact card counts or anything like that), but it’s been stated that this will support 4 players right out of the gate, as well as introducing some Boons and Burdens for the kind of campaign-lite experience that was included in the Saga boxes. Where I’ve currently skipped the Arkham reprint, this one is looking a lot more tempting, both in terms of some new content, and for (hopefully) 3-or-more copies of some of those core set staples that FFG inexplicably only ever gave us single copies of.

Whilst the Core Box reprint is great news for the game as a whole, on a personal level, I’m actually more excited about the new scenario pack that was announced. Now, this isn’t strictly, new content, as these two scenarios have been out in the wild for a few years. However, as they were only available as part of a really expensive box that you had to buy direct from FFG (FFG’s international postage rates are truly terrifying), and for a long time was bundled with a load of stuff for the now… dead(?) digital version of the game. None of that was going to get me putting my hand in my wallet, but a straight up “2 scenarios in a blister, available at your FLGS” is a much more enticing prospect, and I’m definitely going to be looking out for that.

For Arkham Horror, there was a new epic-multiplayer scenario announced, “Machinations Through Time.” Early mutterings I’ve heard suggest that is a bit of a step back towards something like Labyrinths of Lunacy – leaning heavily on the big group, multi-table interaction, and requiring fixed numbers of teams, rather than the “as many as you like” option of Blob and War of the Outer gods. That certainly wouldn’t have been my preferred direction (as noted above, getting to play these in their epic form is a rare event), but I should imagine that I’ll be grabbing this anyway (Arkham is still my most-played game this year [by hours]) and hopefully it will still be ok in standalone mode.

The Marvel Champions news was less ground-breaking: Vision officially announced (just a few months after Michael Boggs name-dropped him on an episode of The Card Game Cooperative) and the next deluxe- Sinister Motives.

Whilst there had been no official word on this before now, the box name had leaked via an Asmodee future-stock-order-list-thing that found its way onto various social media sites, and the only real speculation was between those of us hoping for Mister Sinister and those expecting the Sinister Six. It turned out that the Spider-Fans were right, and Miles and Gwen will be joining the game, probably early next year.

After years of feeling like most of my disposable income went to Fantasy Flight, there wasn’t actually that much more in the In-Flight Report for games that I play (although the announcement of official merch and fan-sites for L5R keeps alive my mostly baseless hopes of an L5R co-op LCG) – I have been starting to doubt my decision to not get Descent, as a lot of the early reviews seem really good, but the size of the not-so-miniature not-really-previewed in the update has me relieved for the general state of my storage. As someone who has never played Outer Rim, the “mic drop” moment at the end was strangely underwhelming.

Defeat was… Inevitable

yes, you’re seeing that right – Thanos played 6 cards in a row!

Marvel United kept on going strong – I had a first attempt at the campaign mode, doing (I thought) pretty well against Thanos’ various henchmen, as I defeated Ebony Maw, Proxima Midnight and Black Dwarf with only 2 Infinity Stones captured, before getting utterly crushed by the Mad Titan himself. Partially this was down to a mistake on my part, caused by a lack of familiarity with the mechanics, but the point where he played 6 cards in a row was just brutal: Iron Man down, we rallied briefly with Hulk’s arrival, before Captain Marvel was KOed as well, and the game was lost. Painting-wise, the Black Order (plus the other figures from the Marvel Champions Infinity cycle) were the only new figures to get done this month, but again, I was fairly pleased with how they all came out. Next up, something a little more Sinister…

The Month in Review

ok, so the picture is a bit of a spoiler for what’s coming next…

Sharp-eyed readers will have noticed a slight uptick in the number of reviews that I’ve managed to publish recently, with the somewhat unlikely Dance Card and small-box labyrinth puzzle The Abandons both being added in September. This all came about as a result of a chat with a friend at UK Games Expo who I hadn’t seen in a couple of years thanks to all the cancelled conventions, and the discovery that the distributer he’s now heading up were looking for people to review some of the lower-profile games on their list. Hopefully there will be more of these coming, but in the meantime, I’d encourage folks to check out the links above, and if you do like the sound of what you see, there’s a handy link through to the distributer if you want to bag a copy. There should be another one of these out in the next week or so, which I’ve been particularly enjoying, so keep your eyes peeled.

Geek of the Month

obviously, it would take some kind of diabolical genius to figure out that these 2 were the same person. Or that they had anything to do with this site…

Thanks to an admin mess-up/poor attention to detail on my part, I have 2 separate accounts on Board Game Geek, and RPG Geek (I was a fair way into multiple games on RPGG when I realised that I could have just used the same one…) but for September, on RPGG I got the unexpected chance to be the ‘Geek of the Week’ – this is basically just a rotating community spotlight, where each month someone gets a chance to talk a little about their experiences and future plans in the hobby, as well as asking a few questions.

I think that RPGG is a smaller site than BGG in terms of users, but I do find it interesting the difference in experiences that my 2 accounts have had. I’ve been on BGG years longer than RPGG, but it’s RPGG where I got given a Citizenship Award (it’s just a Star that you put on your profile) and now the nod for Geek of the Week. It’s probably worth a little reflection on my part to consider how much of this is just about it being a smaller pool of people, and how much is about the different ways I use/interact with the site. Board Game Geek is a site I use a lot – I post rules queries, I look for information on upcoming games, I use it to make decisions on whether to buy particular games, and get into discussions (and sometimes arguments) with strangers about general aspects of the industry, or specifics of individual campaigns. Things can get heated at times, and if a discussion ends with someone having a bad taste in their mouth, there’s a high chance that you won’t be interacting with that person again any time soon to replace the bad impression with a good one.

RPG Geek has a very different vibe: at least in terms of the bits I see of it – it doesn’t seem to have nearly as much activity on threads for individual systems or games, and 95% of what I post there is participation in ongoing play-by-forum games. It’s a far more sustained interaction with a much smaller group of people. There are definitely times when people have annoyed me on there – generally in terms of their play/DM-style, but either things keep going long enough that you all just learn to live with each other, or when that game inevitably folds, you make a mental note to avoid future games run by that person, simply because you know that the clash of styles is going to ensure that you aren’t enjoying yourself, and are probably making things less fun for others.

Now, none of this means that I’m suddenly about to completely change how I use either site – they serve different functions, and to an extent it’s just inevitable. Still, interesting food for thought.

Numbers

Yggdrasil Chronicles certainly catches the eye

I spent money on a few games in September – the Nebula pack for Marvel Champions, the final big box expansion for Journeys in Middle Earth (arriving October), and picked up a second-hand copy of Yggdrasil Chronicles, a reinvention of a much older game that has been a perennial feature on our table for as long as I’ve been keeping count (i.e. it definitely got played in December 2014), 34 games in 7 years. The new version has a lot of table presence, but has only been played once so far, so I’ll save further thoughts for later.

In terms of Shortfalls (games that I’ve owned for more than a month or 2, which are averaging worse than £5/hour), Grimslingers and Sword & Sorcery have now both been around long enough to start counting, and with only 3 hours clocked up in 4 months, Sword & Sorcery is a big red blot on the sheet. Grimslingers is much closer to break-even, and should be in the black by the end of October. Journeys in Middle Earth also dipped into the red for 2021, as it hasn’t been played as much as in previous years, but with shipping delays, stock availability issues, and imminent price rises expected across the board, waiting for something that I know I’ll be getting eventually seemed like a mistake.

October is likely to look even worse, with Cloudspire also around long enough to start counting, so the shortfallers need some serious table-time.

Challenges

For the 10×10 Hardcore Challenge, I’m up to 87/100, just 3 more sessions ticked off in September. As mentioned at the start of the year, this is the first time that I’ve limited it to multiplayer-only, which is currently excluding 6 sessions of solo play, and would otherwise have seen 1 more game completed and 2 just a single session short. Hogwarts Battle, Marvel Legendary and Shadows of Brimstone needing a bit more play as we head into the final quarter of the year.

My solo 10×10 is up to 90 sessions, thanks to 3 games apiece for Lord of the Rings LCG and Railroad Ink, plus 1 each for Dominion, Keyforge, and Aeon’s End – Aeon’s End having reached 10. 9 of the 10 games seem pretty-much locked in at this point, with Keyforge on 6 sessions the only real question mark as to whether it will actually get to 10 solo plays, or something else will beat it.

For brand-new games, I’m up to 8×8, thanks to a big surge of Heroes of Tenefyr, a fun Dungeon-Crawling card-game that should be getting its own review sometime very soon. I’m currently only 6 sessions shy of hitting 10×10 here, and should comfortably get this done by the end of the year.

Next?

Given the state of global shipping, I’m not expecting many big arrivals for October, with most outstanding Kickstarters having been pushed to December or beyond. That said, the Journeys in Middle Earth box should be arriving soon, and I’ve recent put in a terrifyingly large MB Print order for the next wave of ALEP products (it’s for 30+ other people, not just me), so Cloudy with a Chance of Hobbits is the October forecast. Aside from that, there’s always a chance of something arriving for Marvel Champions (War Machine or The Hood next, I think) and I’m not 100% sure when the Edge of the Earth campaign for Arkham Horror is due. I also want to get to grips with Yggdrasil Chronicles properly, so there will be plenty to keep me busy.

The Abandons – Card Game Review

The Abandons is a “Game of Labyrinth escape for 1 player” – it comes in a super-small box, and is a very light card-laying game: A race through an underground maze to get out the other side. The game is going to make very few demands on your storage space, and certainly doesn’t have too many taxing decisions to make, but is it any good? Let’s find out.

What’s in the box?

The Abandons: Bigger than a mouse, smaller than a mug!

The box for The Abandons is small – very small. In fact, I think it’s the smallest game that I own, and inside you will find 50 cards and one tiny rulebook.

The cardstock is solid enough, and the art of the location tiles which make up most of the game is nice: moody, and evocative. The other cards in the box are a bit of a mixed bag and the Item cards in particular were a bit disappointing. Still, from a functional standpoint, there’s absolutely nothing to moan about here.

So what am I doing?

The rulebook for The Abandons opens with a tale of a mysterious, haunting voice that calls to you from deep within your own mind, compelling you to enter the labyrinth. There’s no narrative within the game itself, but the premise is established: you start at the entrance to the labyrinth, and you need to make it all the way through and out the other side: You do this by placing tile after tile in a growing map, until you reveal the final card, which is the exit.

Either reveal the top card of the deck to go left, or draw the top 2 to go right, revealing the second (last) card and discarding the other.

As you flip cards in this game, you will often find yourself facing a choice – which exit to take. Every exit in The Abandons is marked with a number of diamonds: Whenever you pick an exit, you will draw a corresponding number of cards, revealing only the last one, with the others discarded face-down. Assuming the next card is a map-tile too, then you repeat the choice and keep going.

That 3-diamond exit looks a bit too close to the path that already exists – maybe the 2 would be better

As the objective of the game is to burn through the whole deck and get out the other side, I’ve generally tended to favour the exit with the most diamonds, just to get cards discarded as quickly as possible. However, sometimes you can’t take that exit, because the path has looped, and run into a brick wall – namely the side of another tile you placed earlier. Even if this doesn’t happen to fully block you off, there will be times where you might turn the other way, just in the hope of getting a bit of space so that you’re less worried by which direction the next tile goes in.

Dead Ends?

Just a whole lot of dead-ends

Sometimes though, no matter how much you tried to plan ahead, you’ll find yourself facing a dead-end: that new map-tile doesn’t have any exits, and you can go no further. That’s fine, up to a point – you can go back and find another way but you can only go back as far as the previous junction – if all the exits from that previous junction are blocked, then you have lost the game, doomed to remain trapped in here forever! Avoiding dead-ends is your key aim when playing the game.

As an aside, it’s worth noting that if you pull a dead-end before reaching your first junction after the entranceway, you get to just discard it and start-again, so at least you shouldn’t have any turn-1 losses that you were completely powerless to stop. (In fact, drawing loads of dead-ends at the start before any branching paths come up will significantly improve your odds later on.)

An Item: 1 Map, 1/2 a Bomb, or 1/3 of a Magic Mirror!

There is a little bit that you can do to mitigate getting stuck down a dead-end, via the item cards that you will find in the labyrinth. Item cards can be used for one of a number of purposes: you can use a single item card as a Map, to peek at the next 3 cards, 2 of them as a Bomb to blast through a dead-end and keep going, or 3 as a Magic Mirror to move back to the start and pick a new path through the already-crafted maze.

For a game as small/light as this, I’m happy to ignore the thematic nonsense of finding something that works as either 1 map, ½ a bomb, or 1/3 of a mirror, and realistically, deciding how to use items is one of the biggest spaces for decision-making in the game. However, I’ve rarely found it worthwhile to scout ahead with the map, and the mirror is a very expensive way to utilise the item cards: I’ve found that it’s almost always best to use the items as a bomb, and just keep going as you are.

The existence of items also brings in the question of whether to rush (go for exits with lots of diamonds) or to go slowly and try to gather all of the items. The designer has mentioned that several of his play-testers favoured this second approach, but I’m not convinced by this, as there are 8 dead-ends and only 6 item cards, so even with a full set of items, you’re relying on luck to not draw the Dead-Ends.

Ups and Downs

Stairs offer the option to reset the map, whilst for a Collapse, it’s compulsory (you are now on the floor below whether you like it or not!)

Aside from items, there are 2 other card-types in the deck which differ from the standard “room with 1 entrance and X exits” – Stairs and Collapse: The Stairs can either be ignored, or can be used to reset and start a new map from the entrance (the cards already played/discarded are still gone) and a Collapse forces you to do the same. Resetting the map is a clean break, and the fact that it wipes the map away means that you can stop worrying about the path going around in circles and running into a wall that you’ve already placed.

The Reduced number of cards left after a Collapse can lead to some very small maps!

The downside is that with the already-placed tiles, you also lose the alternative paths that you could double-back to. If you’ve fallen down through a collapse, then you are effectively restarting the game with a smaller deck, and you still get to discard any dead-end card that you draw before reaching a junction, but the same is not true of the stairs: if you go blundering down the stairs and straight into a dead-end, then that’s your problem, and you won’t be leaving.

Choices?

despite the small box, The Abandons can generate quite a big table footprint

That basically covers the choices that you have when playing The Abandons: Which exit do I pick? How do I use items? Should I take the stairs? There are valid arguments for all of the approaches, and certainly plenty of factors to consider. However, whilst I think that The Abandons actually did a decent job of giving me decisions to make in such a tiny box, I’m not so convinced that it offers much sense of accomplishment based on those decisions. Even if you card-count and run the numbers, it’s purely down to the Random Number Generator as to whether the chosen strategy pays off.

I’ve mostly won the games of The Abandons that I’ve played, tending to favour the “burn as many cards as you can” approach, but I’d hesitate to cite that as evidence of it being a good strategy, just an indication that I’ve had decent luck with cards. It’s not a game that gives you a feeling of feeling clever or accomplished when you win, any more than when you lose you’ll find yourself looking back and seeing places where you made a decision that was clearly foolish at the time (only with hindsight and knowledge of how the RNG fell). Overall I think this is my biggest disappointment with the game: the core system would probably only have needed 1 or 2 tweaks to turn a fairly automatic experience into a much more engaging puzzle, where the randomness felt a bit more subordinate to planning and/or decision-making.

Final Thoughts

The Abandons is a really light game in every sense of the word, and it’s easy to get out for a quick five-minute run-through, as you lay down cards in a nice, relaxing, therapeutic activity – and realistically, anyone who bought a game less than 3 inches square expecting the new Descent was always going to be in for a shock. Provided you don’t go into it expecting loads of complex decision-making, then there’s enough fun in this box for your money.

I was provided with a free copy of this game to review by TradeQuest. No money changed hands, and I was under no obligation to provide a positive review.

Dance Card – Board Game Review

Dance Card does not look like many of the other games on my shelf. In fact, the reaction of most of my friends when they saw the box was one of laughter. It turns out though, that there’s a surprising amount of game inside the box.

In Dance Card, players are High School students on their way to the Freshman dance, and each student has identified 3 other students that they wish to Dance with. The game can be played solo, just controlling a single student, cooperatively as you each try to get your dances in before time runs out, or – for the full bratty teenager experience – competitively as you not only try to get your 3 dances done, but try to thwart others at the same time.

What’s in the box?

Component quality in Dance Card is really good – there’s a large board, numerous standees to represent the staff and students of this particular high school, a few decks of cards, and a selection of cardboard chits and tokens. More-or-less everything is done with bright, bold colours, the graphic design is really nice and clean, and the iconography is pretty simple: it’s hard to find fault with the production here. The cast of students has a fairly broad, diverse spectrum – with plenty of ethnicities and orientations depicted – the biggest complaint I’ve seen levelled at the student body is that they’re all a bit too attractive and mostly pretty slim, but I still think that the overall picture is a pretty good one.

You can currently get the Deluxe version which also includes these extras (will be sold as a separate expansion later)

The large selection of Standees representing students and faculty gives Dance Card a nice table presence – although some players commented that it can be a bit hard to spot where a given student is on the board, and that flat cardboard discs with the character’s face, number and colour would have done the job better. Ultimately, the game has focused on looking good, and I don’t think it detracts too much from the play experience once you get to recognise the various students.

So what am I trying to do?

At its simplest level, to win a game of Dance Card, you need to complete 3 successful “Dance actions” – get your student onto a dance floor with a prospective partner, roll some dice, and hope that you get enough of the required symbols. Each of your 3 partners will have a different requirement for a successful roll – typically just a number for the first one, then higher numbers and additional symbols required as you go along.

Where the meat of the game is in Dance Card, is the manouvering that goes on prior to making the dance roll. Simply turning up will probably only get you one or 2 dice, unlikely to be enough for anything but the easiest roll – you’re going to need to do a bit of preparation.

Friends…

First of all there are your friends – and your partner’s friends. Simply having your friends present is enough to add a dice to the roll (generally 1 or 2 die per friend, of which you have 2). For your partner’s friends, you’ll have to work a little harder – find them on the Bleachers or in the Refreshments, and use an action to “chat” with them, allowing you to place a token on their space on the card – once the token is placed, future attempts to dance with that partner will add an extra dice for each one. Lastly, keep an ear out for the music – if the tunes currently playing match their favoured genre, that will add another dice too (the extra “music rules” cards in the deluxe/expansion content mix this up a bit).

… and enemies

Sadly, it’s not all about friends and bonuses – this is the cliquey world of High School social politics after all, and there are as many folk ready to thwart you as assist you. Each student has a “Rival” and their presence on the dance floor is enough to add a black penalty die to your roll, its numbers and symbols subtracting from the total. Worse, each of your partners has a crush on one of the other students, and having that student present when you ask for the dance will also add a penalty.

Bust some Moves

Sometimes you’ll roll those dice – or be about to roll those dice – and just not be in the position to get all the symbols you need. Smooth Moves cards are your friend here – some are played before the roll to add dice, whereas others can be used after the dice results are visible, to manipulate them – discarding certain dice to gain other results, or simply to re-roll something.

One of the things that I found a little frustrating in the games we played was that it can be a little difficult to get hold of Smooth Moves cards a lot of the name, unless you happen to have selected a student who gets them for free. The expansion/deluxe content certainly helps with this (the alternative music spinners interact a fair bit more with Smooth Moves cards, as well as adding some new cards that offer extra options), but I think it could have added to the game to have seen an option to to go to a particular location and take an action to draw a card, or similar.

Some characters are very simple, whereas Zoe has her own randomised deck of constantly evolving abilities.

Take a breath, try again

With any luck, you’ll have prepared sufficiently well that your dance roll goes off without a hitch, but sometimes – even with the best preparation – the dice just aren’t your friends and, especially on later rolls where you’re looking for specific symbols as well as high numbers, you might find yourself red-faced with the embarrassment that comes with failure.

Once there is a failure token on your board, you can’t ask that student to dance again – at least not until you’ve had a chance to recover and regroup. You’ll need to move your student to the Restrooms or the Janitor’s closet and take a “Nerve” action to clear those tokens before going back round again.

Whose side are you on?

Dance Card can be played solo, cooperatively, or in competitive mode. In solo or co-op mode, all the players win as soon as everyone has completed their dances, whereas in the head-to-head version, the first person to get all their dances done is the winner.

In my experience the co-op/solo version is easy to understand, and relatively easy to win: the only real obstacle that you’ll be facing is the periodic redistribution of students via the Mix It Up cards, and you can usually get yourself into a strong position to make a roll.

In the competitive version of Dance Card, Mix It Up cards will be played far less often, and it’s down to the players to mess with each other’s plans. Sometimes this will just happen organically – the potential partner that you want to dance with happens to be the crush of the person your opponent is trying to dance with, giving them a penalty dice. However, I think that the game gets a lot more interesting (if potentially quite mean) when players embrace the spite, the snark and the general backstabbing of teenage cliques and really lean into the theme, actively taking time on their own turns to foil the plans of others.

Obstacles?

Mix It Up cards will randomly move students around the map.

In solo or co-op mode, Dance Card is purely a Player(s) vs Environment game, but the environment certainly has ways of spoiling your plans. At the start of each turn you will advance the music spinner, and resolve events based on the symbol you uncover. Most commonly, this will be in the form of “Mix it Up” cards, which will move students around – each student standee has a number and a colour, and this will be used to move them between Dance Floors, in and out of the resting areas, and sometimes it will simply bring your rival straight to you.

As well as the fancy watercolour arts, the Mix-it-Up Cards in the expansion add a bit more interaction

There’s a definite element of luck in this part of the game: sometimes an ill-timed Mix It Up card will completely scupper a well-laid plan, and others it will fail to impact you at all. This is all just part of the charm of the game though, something intentionally fairly light and subject to chance, rather than a puzzle that can be completely mathed out.

Extra Challenge?

The Challenges in the base game

If you find the co-op or solo experience a bit on the easy side, Dance Card comes with various challenges that you can add to the game in order to increase the difficulty. The most straightforward are the Chaperones who move around the Dance Floor, impervious to the players’ ability to move students, and automatically adding penalty dice to any Dance Rolls that take place in their presence. There are also some more complex challenges, depending on how far you want to take things.

Final Thoughts

Overall I was pleasantly surprised by Dance Card. It’s definitely a light game, with a fair amount of chance, but there’s actually a reasonable amount of game going on underneath a theme which is quite brash, and definitely not my usual cup of tea. Now, I’m no expert when it comes to American High Schools – my knowledge is mostly derived from 10 Things I Hate About You, Clueless, (yes, I’m showing my age) and possibly Grease (no, I’m not that old) – but it felt like the game did a really good job of matching the theme, and feels pretty immersive with a small number of components.

A few of the extras in the expansion

The co-op and solo modes are definitely on the easier side if you play them in their most basic forms, but the addition of a few challenges soon sorts that out. In competitive modes, the game is as hard as you decide to make it, although you can still throw in a challenge or 2 if you feel like it. Right now, the distributor is still shipping out copies of the Deluxe version which includes extra components (essentially an expansion within the main box) that help add variety to some of the more-limited aspects of the game, (the expansion will be available for sale separately later), but with or without the expansion there’s already a ton of replay value in here.

If you’re a gamer who fancies a change from Fantasy quests, foiling villainous plots, routing hordes of zombies, or trying to become the most successful businessman of the Industrial Revolution, then Dance Card offers something that feels fun and fresh, is likely to be very different to what you’re used to, and is surprisingly solid in terms of the underlying mechanics. Having reached the age, where most of the people I’m gaming with are closer to our children going to school discos than the distant memories of our own teenage years, I can see this being a big hit with kids who find some of the themes above boring, In fact, if you’ve got a fan of Teen High School tv shows in the house, who you’re trying to encourage to get into gaming, then you should probably rush out and buy this right now, as it’s approachable enough to be played by anyone, but has enough options to add difficulty and complexity to keep folks going for a while.

I was provided with a free copy of this game to review by TradeQuest. No money changed hands, and I was under no obligation to provide a positive review.

What a Quacker! – August 2021

August is done, Autumn is here.  We managed to completely redecorate our dining room (which is the primary gaming venue) and had various visits to/from family, so it wasn’t the quietest month. However, between the paint fumes, there were some interesting new arrivals, and plenty of plays of older favourites.

Quacks!

As mentioned in the July run-down, although I’m a couple of years late to the party, I got to try Quacks of Quedlinburg at UKGE, and was an instant fan. I bought my own copy, brought it home, and it’s been a regular feature on my table ever since – I’m already up to 10 plays within the first month (and a day) of owning it.

For anyone who hasn’t played, Quacks is a push-your-luck bag building game. Players are snake oil salesmen, trying to brew potions: the better your potion, the more you can sell it for, giving you more money for better ingredients which will then be used for even better potions. The trouble is that you start with a supply mostly made up of basic ingredients which will cause your potion to explode if you ever have too many of them. As such, you need to balance your brewing decisions: stop too early and you’ll always have less to spend on ingredients, and always be behind – if you don’t stop early enough your potion explodes, making you lose out on bonuses and victory points.

Quacks won the Kennerspiel des Jahres, the “connossieur’s” version of the prestigious award, and a few people criticised it for being a bit too light for such an accolade, but I think it’s a really good game, which has surprising depth for something so bright and superficially light.

The 4 possible versions for the red Mushroom tokens

First up, it has loads of variety: there are 4 different versions of each ingredient – designed to be used as sets, but with the option to custom mix-and-match for veteran players, there are event cards which provide a random effect at the start of each round, and the boards are double-sided, with the reverse essentially offering a whole extra tech tree that you can spend rewards on for future benefits. Depending on how many of the optional elements you include, you can leave a lot of decision space for players, and a huge variety of options to include.

the plastic token-cases are a 3rd party upgrade, and the glass bowls are just an excuse to buy desserts…

At the same time, the game has a lot of randomness to it, and a remarkably simple/subtle catch-up mechanic: whilst for some, that’s a major drawback, for us, it dramatically increases the likelihood of it getting played: this isn’t the game that 1 person can “solve” – even if you make the “optimum” buying decisions every round, you can still draw the 1 token in 10 that sends you bust when the odds say “press on,” or fill your bag with good stuff and only draw the bad – all of that means that there’s still a genuine element of uncertainty about who’s going to win when this one comes out (which means that it is still coming out, rather than being relegated to the pile of games that my wife won’t play as she’s convinced that I’ve already won).

Live a Little

After a relatively lean spell, I got noticeably more Marvel Champions played this month, revisiting some of the older preconstructed decks, as well as playing a bit more Drax. The release schedule for this still feels pretty frenetic, with Mad Titan’s Shadow coming what seems barely a moment after the end of the Guardians Cycle, but I can’t grumble, as players in the US have been told that they’ll hopefully have it by the end of the year so far, I’ve only played a couple of the villains, but more to come no doubt.

We also picked up our Return to The Forgotten Age campaign for Arkham HorrorStella is already starting to feel like a powerhouse, even with the very meagre amount of XP she’s making do with, but Curse Jim has been struggling to see the right cards, and 3 Tentacles when trying to investigate with his upgraded Eye of Chaos really messed us up in Threads of Fate. We made it out, and are going to try a side-scenario or two before confronting the joys of The Boundary Beyond.

Marvel 50

August also saw Marvel United become the second game this year (after Marvel Champions) to hit 50 plays. Given how short a game it is, that’s only about 14.5 hours of play time, but it’s definitely an indication of how much fun this is – easy to teach, easy to learn, and whilst the basic set-up is fairly easy with 2 heroes, the various challenge modes can help it pack a bit more of a punch if that’s what you want (and let’s be honest, when I’m playing this with Ned, “easy enough for a 90% win-rate” is perfect anyway). I’m hoping to start getting some proper images of the painted minis up soon, so keep an eye out for those.

Old Kicks and New

I received a new Kickstarter this month – Intrepid. This is a co-op, dice-rolling game, where you’re trying to build an engine that can keep up with the growing challenges you face. Thematically, your overall challenge is to keep the International Space Station operating. It’s a bit of a weird one that I stumbled across right at the end of funding, backed, then instantly forgot most of the details. It was a few months late, but less than 6 (which seems to be my arbitrary cut-off point for disappointment and annoyance), and mostly looks pretty good – there were a few slightly damaged components (cosmetic rather than functional damage), but for the most part it seems all present and correct, including 2 expansions worth of content that comes bundled into the main box. I’ve already played it 3 times solo, and introduced it to a friend as well, so it looks like this one has a bright future, having hit the ground running.

Not so much a recent arrival, but August was also when I hit break-even on last year’s Aeon’s End Kickstarter – this was a double wave one (Outcasts and The New Age, as I’d skipped the previous 2 campaigns), so it took a bit more time, but with just under 30 hours in the past 12 months (specifically on the new content) it’s now paid for itself. I’ll probably ease back on playing Aeon’s End over the next month or 2, just to make sure that I’m not burned out on the game when the next wave arrives in October/November.

not just thick 2 of the 3 books are also unhelpfully wide…

Right now, I’ve only actually got 3 Kickstarters which are in the red – Marvel United is going to stay that way for a while because, as noted, games tend to be very short. That said I reckon I’ve clocked up well over 30 hours on painting the figures by this point, and if you factor that in, it’s comfortably ok. Sword & Sorcery is still making very slow progress: the multi-year delay robbed a lot of momentum from this one, and it wasn’t until my family went away for the bank holiday weekend that I finally managed a complete read of the SIXTY PAGE rulebook (which is separate from the scenario book and the story book…) Intrepid is still some way in the red, given how new it is, but it’s a much less expensive project than some, so hopefully won’t take too long to even out.

Challenges

August was a slow month for the various challenges – just 2 more sessions in the multiplayer hardcore challenge, taking Hogwarts Battle and Journeys in Middle Earth to 6 and 7 sessions repeatedly. I still need another 16 sessions across 5 of the games in order to complete this one by the end of the year, but nothing needs more than 1 per month, so hopefully that won’t be too difficult.

For the New Games challenge, there was a decent amount of movement as well. Quacks jumping from 1 session to 10 meant that there are 6 new games which have now been played 10 times in the year, and the rise of Railroad Ink (new, roll-and-write, good fun, only played solo so far) and a 5th session of HEXplore it pushed a few other games out of the top 10, leaving me on 86/100 for this challenge.

For the Solo challenge, I definitely did a fair amount of solo gaming, but it was either games that had already been played 10+ times, or games that had been played fewer times than others already in the top 10. This one remains on 82/100, with 5 games needing a bit more play to make it to 10.

With 2021 2/3 gone, I’m starting to cast nervous glances over my shoulder at the un-played pile. There are 10 currently on the Pile of Embarrassment (a term I’ve just made up, distinct from the Pile of Shame, which is games that I haven’t played at all [population 1], rather than games that just haven’t been played this year). As at least one of these is looking to be sold, that’s probably a reminder to hurry up and make a listing, as well as figuring out what to do with the others.

Head in the Clouds

For the most part, I try to regulate my purchases. The ongoing things are for a specific subset of games: the LCGs for the most part. Big Kickstarter projects are generally tied to birthday or Christmas. Impulse buys tend to be small and second hand/low cost, and I try to sell or trade the excess where I can to keep costs down.

The last 18 months being what they have been, things have definitely started to drift: the collection is getting a bit larger than is probably sensible, and the differences between the games that I would happily move along and the ones that my wife has no interest in have meant that without forcing myself to make the hard decisions, it’s looking a little bloated.

I mentioned a little while back that I’d acquired the original Too Many Bones, and we’re still enjoying playing this, but as I browsed the Chip Theory Website looking at the various expansions, I kept finding my eye drawn to the Cloudspire section…

The end result was possibly the most excessive lapse in self-control in quite a while, as I ordered myself a copy of Cloudspire. I’d played this once at a friend’s house, but the fact that we already have a dozen or so games on our list of “next time we meet up we should play this” (it never happens, we play Arkham and D&D 80% of the time, Lord of the Rings or Champions most of the rest), coupled with the fact that the game doesn’t work as a 3-player co-op, meant that introducing it to my wife via him was going to be slow and awkward. With a small amount of unexpected money to spend, and a larger-than-average dose of “I’m fed up with everything” I pulled the trigger.

This game is BIG and heavy. I think it may well take the title of biggest and heaviest in a single box out of anything in my collection (although still a long way behind various ‘collections’ built up over many years). It was also expensive, as all CTG games are – not extortionate for the content included, but a hefty outlay nonetheless. I’ve played it a couple of times, still mostly in tutorial mode, and I think the experience holds up, but I definitely need to keep an eye on this one.

Next?

September means the start of a new Academic Year – a busy couple of months at work for me, a new semester of teaching for my wife, and – the biggest change in our house – Ned starting school. Not quite sure whether this will mean more free time for gaming (/painting /writing /alltheotherprojectsineverquitegetdone) or less, so it will be interesting to see what sort of new rhythm develops. September will mean some organised play events for the LCGs (delayed from last year due to Covid), as well as new campaigns starting up, probably for Arkham LCG as well as Call of Cthulhu.

In terms of new arrivals, I don’t think that any of the various outstanding Kickstarters I’m waiting for are going to arrive in September. I am expecting the Edge of the Earth Investigator box for Arkham LCG, which is going to be a big pile of new cards all at once, and will probably be putting in another order for some ALEP cards for LotR. I’m not convinced that anyone (including Asmodee) really knows when the next Champions pack will be coming, but I’ve got plenty to keep me busy.

The Intrepid Miss Walker – Undimensioned and Unseen

Chance EncountersSeason 1: Episode 6

Undimensioned and Unseen

I felt like my head had barely touched the pillow when the sun through the window and the unsettling calls of the Whippoorwills woke me once again. Emerging into the stark sunlight of Dunwich Village, I was quickly regaled by disturbing tales of invisible beasts roaming the countryside. A month ago I would have thought this too preposterous to credit, but now I knew better. I checked that I had my cached supplies, Dr Christopher’s notes – which would no doubt be of particular use when trying to dissect an invisible creature!, and Armitage’s new Latin version of the Necronomicon, which might offer us some valuable insight into how we could defeat these creatures.

Rather than an invisible monster, the first thing I discovered that morning was a knife-wielding maniac. As she pushed the hair back from her face, I thought I saw a crazed look in her eyes, and that suspicion was not eased by the enormous machete she wielded. She told me that a “Brother Xavier” had directed her this way, and that she was “doing the Lord’s work” in hunting these monsters. I was about to object when I realised that my own story would sound no less ridiculous to the uninitiated. I gave her my name, she introduced herself as “Zoey” and suggested that we work together – I agreed that her plan made sense, taking fresh inspiration to search my bag for something else that might aid us. Unfortunately, I merely found my eyes drawn, irresistibly to my own copy of the Necronomicon and felt an involuntary shiver, before I set out into the countryside.

Given the huge size of the beasts, their tracks were not hard to follow, although I lost my way once as I found myself distracted by the Necronomicon which remained clutched in my hand. I tried to put it aside, and felt my mind straining, but could not quite muster the strength.

Zoey meanwhile had been flapping her arms so furiously that the Whippoorwills had descended to settle on the ground around her. Catching them unawares, she sprang forward with her Machete, but somehow the blow failed to land. A great shaking of the ground announced the arrival of one of the beasts right here in the heart of Dunwich Village. Fortunately, Zoe appeared to have finally dispatched the Whipporwhills, and as she muttered a strange incantation, a green mist descended on the area, momentarily revealing the beast, and binding it, allowing me to point out a shortcut into the woods. I found myself frozen in fear, and it was all I could do to note down a final piece of evidence and flee into 10 Acre wood after her. As I ran, I steeled my mind, and was finally able to release the Necronomicon.

Further Whipporwhills had joined us in the 10-Acre wood, but this time Zoe was better prepared, and dispatched them almost immediately, striding onwards towards the Whatley ruins. I was still trying to search the meadow for clues, and felt my movement slowed by the fear which continued to linger, although the techniques learned from the Pathfinder manual helped to balance this out. As I caught up with Zoey at the ruins, I grabbed a vial of the Strange Solution from my purse, ready in case anything unpleasant was lurking there.

I was right to be afraid – no sooner had we reached that silent and sordid place than a strange, winged beast leapt out at me. Fortunately, I had been studying the area carefully, and had a plan to deal with it. I dispatched the beast, paused briefly to examine some evidence on the ground, then headed back into 10-Acre meadow. I finally felt free of the fear that had been gripping me, and was able to flick through the Latin translation of the Necronomicon, mentally noting a few things that would stand us in good stead. Zoey seemed similarly unsettled by the silence in the ruins and followed me back to the Meadow, whilst attaching a cross around her neck.

As we reached the Meadow, Armitage caught up with us and, wasting no time on introductions, we returned post-haste to the Whatley ruins. There we found a strange formula, and whilst it was no language that I could decipher, Armitage translated it quickly, and seemingly without difficult. Crudely transliterated, he handed us each a sheet of paper, and advised that this formula, if recited correctly, could be used to bind, or even destroy the creatures that roamed, hidden from our site. Now the hunted became the hunters, as we set out to put Armitage’s theory to the test.

Examining the tracks no-doubt left by the creatures, it was clear that there were far more of the beasts roaming the area than I had previously assumed, perhaps as many as 4! Suddenly a great shaking of the earth made me realise that the creatures were upon me, and it took all the composure I had left to calm myself in spite of the fear: carefully observing where the grass bent and flattened, and moving myself to a comparatively safe place. Once there I began to chant from the formula Armitage had written out, and heard a great screech of pain as the beast reared back in anger and surprise. Zoey seemed to sense the creature’s weakness and, leaping forward, fell upon the beast, sending the first one toppling to its doom.

Before I could call to her to stop, Zoey was off again, charging down towards Cold Spring Glen. I found myself once more set-upon by one of the beasts, and it was all I could do to stay out of its grasp. The invisible nightmares seemed now to have been joined by a winged beast of some kind, but that was too far away for me to think about at that moment.

A little way away, I could hear Zoey, almost screaming out the incantation at one of the beasts, and by her triumphant shout, I could tell that the spell was doing its work, although whether the creature was defeated or simply wounded I could not tell from here.

The next few minutes were a blur, and looking back, I struggle to remember clearly what happened. I think that, as I headed down to join Zoe in Cold Spring Glen, one of the invisible monsters must have passed me in the opposite direction, spinning me around, and disorienting me for a moment. The only thing I know with any real certainty is that suddenly there was a winged monstrosity flapping at me, and the sounds of the remaining invisible creatures could be heard nearby, perhaps as many as 3 of them.

The creature seemed to rear back as Zoey struck it with what appeared to be a can of gasoline, although where she had come by such a thing, I had no idea.

“You’re doing The Lord’s work, Daisy” she told me, with a wistful smile, as she began backing away, the winged horror raining its strikes down upon her as she retreated.

I have never been particularly religious, and the unspeakable nightmares that I had seen these past few days made it hard for me to believe in any benevolent higher power.

“Are you sure about that?” I called after her “what if this is all there is? Just us and these monsters?”

She flashed me a smile as she disappeared up the slope towards the sounds of the thrashing creatures

“Well, in that case … I guess I’ll see you in hell.”

Still somewhat dazed by my most recent encounters, it took me a moment to comprehend the finality of her answer. By the time I understood, it was too late, and I barely managed more than a few steps in that direction before there was an almighty BOOM, as the petroleum can and, no doubt, everything else in its vicinity were consumed by an instant inferno. The shockwave knocked me from my feet, and it was a few moments before I could stand. By the time I did, all was quiet – it seemed that Zoey had accomplished her task, but I did not need to crest the rise to know at what cost…

Resolution 2

  • No Brood Escape Into the Wild
  • 4 Victory Points

Zoey Decklist

There are monsters loose in the countryside! Who’s going to be hunting them? Probably knife-wielding chef/zealot Zoey Samaras.

Again, this felt like a fairly easy pick. Thematically, Zoey seems like the person you’d most expect to find charging around the countryside hunting down monstrosities. Mechanically, she’s got the fighty tools of Guardian and a good enough willpower to be able to deal with Broods.

I’m not a huge fan of this scenario. The random movement of the Broods always feels very fiddly, and it’s very random when they actually appear (due to the treachery). On top of all that, it becomes very difficult to keep track of all the different location effects and which ones have been triggered already this scenario.

I wasn’t very happy with my draft deck, so did a non-logged dry run of this scenario. Somehow, we managed to stagger our way to bagging all the broods, but it felt like all Zoey was contributing was her willpower and killing non-Brood enemies that showed up. The tweaked version was a little bit lighter on Willpower boosts, but brought in Mists of R’yleh and Sixth Sense to grab clues, and exhaust Broods (so you can use the powder of Ibn-Ghazi)

Zoey’s accessory slot always feels heavily contested to me. Normally I tend to think that it’s an easy decision to just play the Amulet, as that automatic damage is so useful (kill a Whippoorwill for a single action) but the utility is much-reduced in this scenario where the main enemies are immune to the damage it deals, so I did consider other options, most notably Holy Rosary for that Willpower boost. Of course, you can go Relic-Hunter, but I was keen to keep this at just the 19xp, and to find the space, I would have had to have either cut out things like Stand Together, or go up a weakness. I did this playthrough quite a long time ago now and if Physical Training (4) had been out, then that would probably have been enough to make me go to 29

Of course, the highlight of this scenario – and indeed of the campaign so far was realising that the stars were going to align for Zoey to pull off the I’ll See You in Hell! – she had to tank an opportunity attack from the Avian Thrall, but 3 Broods in 1 location was just too good to resist. Getting up to 4 broods in play at once was a fairly scary place to be, even with 2 high-willpower investigators, but thankfully Zoe’s kamikaze move was enough to see them through to victory.

I did spot one rules mistake here, long after I’d played the scenario – apparently it’s been confirmed that if you move using Pathfinder whilst Frozen in Fear, it doesn’t cost you an action. As I was making the game harder rather than easier for myself, I wasn’t about to go back and re-play, especially after such a perfect resolution.

The Time to Act is Now! – Earthborne Rangers

It’s fairly easy right now to be pessimistic about things – Greece and her neighbours appear to be on fire, just weeks after the actual Gulf of Mexico was ablaze, and recent months have seen the entire western edge of America reach dangerously high temperatures. The news bombards us with tales of climate change emergency and meanwhile the richest people of the world are competing to build the most Freudian rocket ship to blast themselves into space.

That said, there are still people who have hope and, probably the most relevant of those for the gaming world right now, is Andrew Navarro and his company Earthborne Games. I want to talk a little today about their current Kickstarter project and why it’s something that I think everyone should be taking a look at.

The Game

Earthborne Rangers is the first game from Earthborne Games, a brand-new publisher. Whilst the company is a very recent arrival, the people behind it are by no means industry novices. Andrew Navarro is probably best-known as the former Fantasy Flight Games Head of Studio, a role he also held for Chip Theory Games. Alongisde him on this project are Adam and Brady Sadler (Descent, Altar Quest, Street Masters, Warhammer Quest), and Andrew Fischer who created the Fallout boardgame.

Their creation is Earthborne Rangers, a cooperative card game set in the far future (roughly 4400AD by current reckoning), in a world where humanity in our time suddenly got their act together and took the drastic action needed to save the planet. After a millennium or two of healing, the earth has largely been restored to a more idyllic state, and humanity is living a far more harmonious existence. You play the game as a Ranger, a character exploring the wilds of this world, interacting with and assisting those around you.

Mechanically, Earthborne clearly draws a lot from Arkham Horror and Lord of the Rings LCGs – you build a deck to represent your ranger, customising your card choices to reflect their background and interests. Then you set out into the world: there will be tasks to complete, but you can also just explore the area, or go off on side quests, provided you accept the consequences of potentially not getting to your actual objective on time. Unlike Arkham or Lord of the Rings, there is no evil adversary to confront, simply circumstances: you might well have to deal with a natural disaster or a wild beast, but for the most part, any conflicts with other humans will be about competing priorities, disagreements in emphasis on how to do things, rather than someone actively obstructing a clearly “good” intention.

The art is very bright and colourful, and the design team have cited Studio Ghibli as a tonal inspiration. The graphic design is clean, and the text on the cards looks like it strikes a good balance between functionality and immersion. They’ve even posted a whole update on how they strove to ensure that this was a game which actually played well in true solo, rather than having to control 2 characters as a solo player in order to have a decent chance of success.

For people used to Lord of the Rings, Earthborne Rangers looks like it will be a definite relaxation in difficulty – there are optional ways that you can toggle the difficulty up (mostly weather iirc), but being able to take in the setting, and explore the world around you, rather than having to min-max for purely mechanical optimisation seems to be the main goal. For lots more detail on both the mechanics and the backstory, check out the Kickstarter page.

Sustainability

An optimistic tone for a game is refreshing in itself in an industry where increasingly the choice seems to be grimdark or comical, but I think that the real thing which makes Earthborne Rangers stand out, is the way that life is imitating art. As well as setting their game in a world where the people of the 21st Century decided to take decisive action on fixing the mess that humanity has made of earth, Earthborne is also going to be manufactured with similarly lofty ideals. The aim from the outset was stated as using the most environmentally friendly materials and manufacturers – carbon-neutral factories, FSC compliant paper, no single-use chemical-based plastics, rubber for play-mats and bio-plastics for tokens if you need them.

The biggest attention-grabber though, was the prospect of regional production: best-case scenario being 3 separate print-runs, in the US for North America, then another factory in the UK and another in the EU. The idea at this point is to do away with games being shipped half-way around the world and back, instead making things as close to the final point of consumption as possible.

Earthborne have said that they are taking noticeably reduced margins on this game compared with industry standards, and they are pushing out a game with a comparatively high price-point, but they’re doing it to prove to the rest of the industry that these sorts of decisions in production are viable. The aim then, was for this game to blaze a trail that eventually becomes the industry standard for how future games are made.

The Campaign

The campaign launched, fairly quietly at the very end of July 2021. I’ve backed a lot of Kickstarters over the past 5 years or so, and followed a whole host more that I ended up not backing, and over the years I’ve been gradually learning to spot warning signs. Intriguingly, given the amount of industry experience within the team, it doesn’t look like the Earthborne team had done the same. Aside from the dreaded “1st Created, Zero backed” tab in the corner, when the project launched, it was unclear exactly what people needed. The information on gameplay was lacking, there was no FAQ, and lots of crucial things were labelled as “coming soon.” It felt for the first few days like the creators were caught flat-footed, surprised by the sorts of questions and demands that crop up on virtually every Kickstarter. Part of this can be explained away by the contrast between classic “Kickstarter to fund a vision for a project” vs “Kickstarter as a glorified pre-order system for lots of plastic minis” but given that a lot of things were ready a week later, not having them ready at launch felt a lot more like not understanding how to spread appeal beyond their base than simply not being at a particular point in the project.

The vast majority of the information that people would need in order to make an informed decision on whether to back has now appeared, but it’s clear from conversations around the interwebs that it happened a bit too slowly, and that they will have lost a lot of backers, either because they lost interest when there wasn’t more info on gameplay available at launch, or because they drew false conclusions on how complete the cards were going to be before there was a FAQ to set them straight (FYI, a single copy of the game does have a complete play-set of cards for deck-building and the Ranger Card Doubler is only for people who want to build janky parties with multiple characters focusing on the same aspect [imagine a D&D all-wizard party…]).

Earthborne Rangers is going to get made, there’s no doubt about that. It has quickly gathered a fierce core of fans, who are passionate about the game (sometimes a bit too fierce if people are trying to offer constructive criticism…) They’ve comfortably hit their funding goal, and I can’t see them failing to unlock North American manufacturing.

There is a dog to pet. Do you really need to know any more?

However, this game had -and, hopefully, still has – the potential to be so much more. With a solid game, and a frankly visionary plan to change how the industry as a whole operates, I was really hoping that this game would absolutely explode. Regional manufacture has the possibility of not only reducing the overall pressure on a global shipping network that looks about ready to collapse at the seams, but also saving money, time, and generally avoiding the delays that have plagued the last year or so. It also has the potential to start levelling off the import/export balance between Europe/North America and the Far East. The benefits of more sustainably sourced and produced materials are a bit more long-term and abstract, but are no less vital in terms of what the planet needs right now.

Final Thoughts

Earthborne Rangers looks like a really interesting game. If you like cooperative card games, and want something that offers an optimistic theme, an art vibe inspired by Studio Ghibli, a chance for open world adventure without the aimless confusion of 7th Continent, or the narrative-immersed card game/RPG hybrid of Arkham Horror without feeling like being punched in the nuts, then this could well be a game for you.

As plenty of people have pointed out, whilst this doesn’t have the eye-catching discounts that a lot of folk have come to expect from Kickstarter, it actually compares fairly favourably with a cycle of Arkham Horror LCG, which is about where the amount of card content included sits.

Beyond that, if you’re tired of throwing away endless pieces of plastic from your new games, and you want to send a message to the rest of the industry to say “yes, this is the direction we want you to take in the future” then check out the project now. There are 3-4 days left of the campaign, and unlocking a separate European manufacturing hub alongside the American one is a very real possibility – go and look at it now!

Earthborne Rangers on Kickstarter

Marvel Champions – Mad Titan’s Shadow Card Spoiler

As I’ve mentioned a number of times in the past, one of my most-played games over the past few years has been Marvel Champions and, along with 3 friends, it’s one of the main topics for the podcast I run – The Card Game Cooperative. Right now, Champions players are eagerly anticipating the latest release, Mad Titan’s Shadow – a new campaign box which will bring the players face-to-face with Thanos, complete with his infinity gauntlet.

As part of the build-up to the new box, the good people of Fantasy Flight Games have given me a card to share with you all, and that’s what I want to talk about today.

The Card

Without further ado, the card that FFG have given us is a Leadership ally, everyone’s favourite Guardian of the Galaxy… Major Victory?

Major Victory is the alter-ego of Vance Astro, one of the original Guardians of the Galaxy. Without doing an extremely deep dive into the lore of the comics, it’s enough to know that he has some old-school 60s powers that don’t really make any sense, is usually from a Universes and a Time-Period other than the mainstream continuity, and that he carried Cap’s shield for a while.

Lore Deep Cuts aside, let’s look at what we actually get for our ally.

  • 2 cost
  • 2 Health
  • 1 Thwart
  • 1 Attack

That’s a reasonable return for an ally: drop him in for a single point of attack/thwart, then chump block with him, an acceptable if hardly exciting return on your money.

Where Major Victory gets interesting is his response ability – after he is defeated. you get to ready a friendly Guardian character.

That’s right, not only do you get to chump-block with him, but once you have, you get to ready another Guardian character. For the cost, this feels like a really powerful ability – if you’ve defended with your hero, and draw an Assault or a Gang-Up, not only does he block one of those attacks for you, but he’s readying your hero, either to take another attack, or to strike back next round.

The fact that Major Victory’s ability triggers “when defeated” (regardless of how that final damage is dealt) just adds to that flexibility – if you don’t want to defend with him, you can simply attack or thwart a second time on a later round, in order to get double-duty out of your Hero.

Obviously, the fact that Major Victory is a Guardian means that he’ll only be useful in specific decks, but if you’re running a Guardian Hero with Leadership, then he looks like a really strong include. Look out for Mad Titan’s Shadow, coming soon to a game-shop near you.

I Get Locked Down – But I Go Out Again. July 2021

July was a month of Ups and Downs – or perhaps, more accurately, of Ins and Outs. Twice we had Covid scares, one of which turned out to be a false alarm, but the other of which led to my son not being able to leave the house for 10 days, which made for a bit of a pressure-cooker environment. I mentioned at the end of June that my physical health hasn’t been great recently, and whilst this improved slightly, my mental health suffered, presumably just to keep the averages up. All-in-all, it pushed gaming somewhat to the back foot. Incredibly, we still (just about) managed to get away for both our family holiday to Wales and despite some set-backs, I made it to my long-overdue return to UK Games Expo.

Barely Living

I do feel slightly bad about not having played Return to TCU yet, given how many people in the US are still unable to get hold of it…

July was an uncharacteristically quiet month for the LCGs – only a single game of Arkham Horror LCG, 2 of Marvel Champions, and 2 of Lord of the Rings LCG. You’d have to go back to June 2019 – 5 months before Champions even released for the last time things were that quiet!

Arkham was the start of a new 4-player/8 character Dream-Eaters campaign, and we fairly successfully passed Beyond the Gates of Sleep, picking up all the available XP, and none of the available trauma, which is always a win. We won’t start the waking side until September – partly because various players have August full of Decorating and Dissertations, and partly because we’re wanting to use Edge of the Earth Investigators. We do have a 2-player Return to The Forgotten Age campaign that has barely started, and there’s no real reason for not having gone further in that than me lacking the energy to rebuild the decks.

A brutal Nemesis set – let’s just hope we never get a “Symbiote” Villain!

Marvel is even more of a puzzle – I received the Venom pack in July and ran it up against a couple of scenarios, but somehow my plan to revisit original cycle heroes that had missed a few key showdowns never got anywhere. Again, here I’m blaming isolation and illness for not having played much more.

Lord of the Rings finished June very strongly, and carried the momentum over into July as I played a few more games, crossing Mount Gundabad off in my slow progression through the later cycles of the game’s life.

I don’t know whether August will see much more action on the LCG front: delays to Champions and the shift to big-box releases for Arkham have definitely sapped some of the urgency from this and, whilst I’m sure it will get played at some point, none of the games involving people from outside of my house are likely during the holiday. For Champions, I do want to revisit some of the first cycle heroes: Hulk and Dr Strange both feel like they only got skimmed over when I first acquired the packs, so need another run-out.

Escape

If you’re not playing as the Railwayman, you’re playing Pandemic Iberia wrong!

After some confusion and misinformation (Ned’s nursery told us he’d been in contact with a confirmed Covid case on a day he wasn’t even there…) we ended our period of isolation just in time to go away on holiday. Sadly, it was the brutally hot mid-July weekend when it was basically impossible to do anything more energetic or complex than eat ice-cream, so my plans of introducing some new games fell by the wayside. We did, however, play a surprising amount of Pandemic Iberia, failing on 3 consecutive evenings to save the good people of Spain and Portugal from the diseases afflicting them – at least I managed to build some nice railways! We had rather more success in taking down Voldemort and co in a game of Hogwarts Battle. Thanks to a brand-new box insert that I crafted out of foam board, this had already received a bit of attention, and is now up to 5 sessions for the year, having previously been languishing on 1.

Expo!

Although it technically stretched into the first day of August, I’m also going to put my thoughts on UK Games Expo 2021 into this post, if only because I doubt I’ll be able to remember anything by the beginning of September!

It was good to get back to Expo – this was my first face-to-face show since June 2019, thanks to moving house later that summer, and then the ongoing saga of Covid ever since. I nearly didn’t make it – I only got Ned’s negative Covid test back at 4am the day I went, and having not packed a bag the night before, I went without a few crucial bits and pieces (hooray for hotels and the tiny, tiny toothpaste tubes they’ll give out for free). With Covid continuing and Brexit being its own whole thing (making it a fairly bad idea financially for a UK retailer to take lots of stock to Essen), it will probably be my only show until next June, so it was important to make it a good one.

Thanks to our originally-booked hotel being repurposed for Quarantine by the government, we found ourselves staying a bit further away from the NEC than normal, in a place that clearly hadn’t had to deal with large numbers of people in 18 months, and had apparently forgotten how to do so. Getting dinner after 10pm on the first night was definitely not a high-point in the week, and paying over £20 for a round of 3 drinks just felt brutal. Still, it was clean, surprisingly quiet given its proximity to the airport, had decent showers, and the food was generally pretty good, even if the hot drink provision was dismally lacking.

Wardens of Wulvengrad: I played as the Scout, and the game definitely gets extra points for her being fully dressed.

Expo this year felt small – a single hall for exhibitors (retailers and game designs/demos), plus a second one for casual gaming space that felt like a ghost town on Friday. Due to changes in how Games Quest organised their volunteers, I got a lot more time to actually wander the show, and this meant that I was able to try out a lot of games. Some big names that I really should have played long ago (Quacks of Quedlinburg and Everdell were the main headliners here), and some brand new games / prototypes for future Kickstarters: D6 Dungeon I believe is already out, whereas Wardens of Wulvengrad is still in development (the latter was definitely more my cup of tea, although I’m not sure right now if it’s got enough going for it to make it stand out from the crowd. I’ll be keeping an interesting eye on it, but suspect that Oathsworn may scratch the same itch and do it slightly better).

By Saturday the show had really filled up and, sweltering in the heat of doing normal show stuff whilst in a facemask, we definitely earned our keep. Social Distancing was a bit dubious in the main hall on Saturday, as the numbers of people changed the sheer amount of space between shelves, but at least folks were generally following mask regulations and, a week later, I don’t believe I’ve contracted anything (I am double-jabbed now, which probably helps…) For anyone, like me, who has been doing their office job from home the past year, and only needs a face-mask for the Supermarket etc, I’d definitely recommend the lightweight, disposable, medical ones over heavy cloth custom ones for manual labour!

Saturday evening saw a new challenge unleashed upon the staff and volunteers, the first annual Pitch Car championship – I started off remarkably badly in this, finishing last but 1 in my heat, as we strove to outdo each other in proving just how bad we were at dexterity games. However, a slightly bizarre structuring of the draw meant that I then went into a play-off with all the other people who had failed miserably in their first race, and managed to win that heat, thereby qualifying for the final! I was in second place up the back straight, but a couple of late surges from the pack took 1st and 2nd, and I was robbed (robbed I tells you!) of third place by the original leader who – having crashed on the entrance to the final bend – re-entered the track on the exit of said bend, from where it was an easy slide over the finishing line. I’m definitely not bitter, and definitely won’t still be banging on about it this time next year! Overall, 4th out of 20-something entries in a game I had no experience of (and no particular skill at) doesn’t feel too bad.

T-Shirt not pictured, as currently in the wash.

I also came back from the Expo with a very nice haul – I had been thinking of saving my Show Credit for a chunk of the cost of the new Descent game from FFG, but the more I look at it, the harder it feels to justify spending so much on what feels like such a limited game. Instead, I brought home Quacks of Quedlinburg, D-Day Dice, Railroad Ink, Dragomino, Mysterium Park, and a Dog for Flashpoint (plus a cuddly Gollum for Ned, and Hermione’s wand for George) all for less than the price of Descent. In terms of actual money spent on stuff, I picked up a new T-shirt, a couple of solo RPGs and a deck of event cards for D&D – not 100% convinced how much use I’ll get from them, but both seemed like the sort of independent creators that I want to be supporting.

Obviously, it’s a long time until next year’s Expo, and a lot can (and almost certainly will) change between then. I hope that life will be on a continuing trajectory towards normality and that we’ll see a few of the missing faces from this year back in force.

Everything Else

Enjoyed the comic that these came with, but have yet to try out the new gameplay stuff.

Aside from the things already mentioned, there were a few other games which deserve a shout-out for how much play they got in July. Marvel United was the most played by sessions, and Ned has been trying his hand at this, although he needs significant guidance to not just move Hulk (or Cap etc) at random moments, and has been known to try to insist that Paddington take Red Skull’s turn for him. There was also a fair amount of Xenocide, as we properly get our teeth into the Invader base box, and I’m looking forward to starting to mix in the various add-ons. Time-wise D&D was the biggest presence as ever, but we also notched up over 4 hours of Arkham Horror 3rd edition as we tested ourselves against the new expansion (1 scenario beaten, another failed) and had a 3-hour session of Shadows of Brimstone.

Money & Challenges

Pledge Managers for Marvel United: X-Men and Nova Aetas Renaissance made this another expensive month, so it’s a good job that Expo ended up being fairly cheap. My “shortfalls” totals are looking pretty dire, as original Marvel United has now been around long enough to start counting – whilst it makes for some big numbers in the red columns of the spreadsheet, I’m not too worried: I’m really enjoying the game, and also getting plenty of enjoyment out of painting it (in fact, if you factor in gameplay hours by player and the hours spent painting the figures, then it’s already looking good). I also have a little game that I picked up second hand and haven’t gotten to the table yet (it was advertised as co-op/soloable, but the co-op rules are “play it normally, but with these changes,” which has set me back a bit).

In terms of the challenges, things are looking pretty good. Journeys in Middle Earth went from 4 to 6, as we wrapped up our Shadowed Paths campaign, and it’s now time to check out some of the DLC before a large expansion lands later this year. Hogwarts Battle leapt from 1 to 5 plays, getting mostly caught up with the others. Just under 20 more games needed for the Hardcore 10×10, and nothing needs to manage more than one play per month for the rest of the year.

For the Brand New challenge, another game of Keyforge put me up to 7×7, whilst Mutant Insurrection became the fifth game to make 10 plays. Still not sure whether this will necessarily make it to 10, but I’ll keep you posted.

Next?

I won’t really have a Dining Room for 2 weeks of August, so not sure how much gaming will really get done – I also have a massive backlog of reviews and articles, brought on by isolating and being just too exhausted to write, so all-in-all, it wouldn’t surprise me if it ended up being a bit of a quiet one. So long as we don’t spend too much time not allowed out because of Covid, I won’t worry too much. There are supposed to be a few new bits and pieces arriving, so hopefully we’ll get to play them too.

June 2021 – Staggering over the half-way line

Another month has been and gone, Covid restrictions are still here (at least in part) and 2021 is half-way done already!

I spent a noticeable chunk of June ill (several days off work too unwell to work, a separate stint of whole-family-self-isolation are my son coughed his way to a Covid test, and the particularly enjoyable “alive enough to work, but too shattered by evening to continue functioning”) but thanks to a strong start, it was still a solid month for gaming.

Keeping it Marvellous

Love the card titles – it’s the simple things that amuse me

The Card Game Cooperative got to sit down this month with Michael Boggs, one of the developers of Marvel Champions, and the lead on the most recent Galaxy’s Most Wanted box. Knowing that this was coming up (and having just received the Drax the Destroyer hero pack), there was lots of Champions going on – Drax has a really good fun aggro approach (whoever would have guessed that aggro protection would be a thing?) and feels a lot like what Hulk wanted to be/should have been.

I also kept playing a fair amount of Marvel United. I’ve been doing a fair bit of painting of this, getting the various characters who appear as Heroes and/or Villains in Marvel Champions done as a priority, just so that I can add a bit of extra presence and colour to those games.

I’ve also been trying some of the challenges – sticking to the core set for the moment, but removing the Single and/or Double Wild Icon cards certainly ups the difficulty, especially for heroes who don’t have a particularly balanced icon distribution.

There was even time for a bit of Legendary this month – long-gone are the days when this was the undisputed king of the Marvel titles in our house, and a top 5 game in general (in fact this was the month where Champions overtook it in the all-time-most-sessions stakes, pushing it down to 7th), but it’s still fun, even allowing for the rather cumbersome set-up, and the myriad unforeseen awkward interactions caused by so many expansions being combined together. This month it was a mostly Avengers and X-Men team up against Morgan Le Fay and the anonymous “god-Emperor of Battleworld” – a few unsuccessful attempts, but we got there after a little bit of tweaking the hero line-up.

Return of the Rings

Do not let the enemy set foot beyond the patio!

It had been a fair while since I’d gotten Lord of the Rings the Card Game to the table, but that changed in a big way in the final weekend of June. With our son staying at his grandparents for a few nights, we turned our house into Annuminas for a 6-person Epic Multiplayer run-through of Siege of Annuminas, the Fellowship scenario from 2016 that I last played when my son was less than a month old and still lived in hospital. This is definitely a challenging one, and we hadn’t particularly teched for it, leaving some of the stages really struggling for the right kind of answers to the various challenges that the game threw at them. I was in the innermost area, and whilst I had a very strong defender in One-Ring-Inner-Strength-Beregond (deck is shamelessly derived from Electron Jon’s Ain’t No Ash Mountain High Enough build with slight modifications to allow it to function in the wild), 3 attacks of anywhere between 5 and 9 each round tore through our allies faster than we could replace them, seriously undermining our ability to quest. We made it through to Stage 3, thanks to Gandalf Guy killing all 5 of the approaching Hosts, but we’d been late starting, meaning that the Gandalf guy had to go, taking with him our chances of victory.

After a spot of food, our next challenge was the Voyage of the Dreadnaught. Again, this was an “epic multiplayer” game, insofar as one table of 3 and one table of 2 can be considered epic multiplayer, and we played it on Easy mode, somewhat surprised to find that it actually lived up to the name – a relatively comfortable win all-told, thanks to some gigantic dwarf-swarms, and bunch of Hobbits on a pleasure cruise (as far as I could tell from the Dwarf table, they were mostly just doing side-quests and trying to keep their threat in single figures whilst the dwarves did all the real work).

In case Saturday’s pair of epic scenarios weren’t enough, we kept up the theme on Sunday, finally venturing into the ALEP content. Once again, I net-decked, putting together an Ingold Gondor swarm deck for my wife and Beorn’s Last Alliance of Bears and Rohhirrim. Our first attempt was scuppered by a couple of nasty treacheries and shadows, but we beat Ambush at Erelas at the second attempt, with several of the new cards doing sterling work, and then triumphed in Battle for the Beacon a couple of days later. 1 more scenario to go, but I’m feeling a lot more positive about things, having finally taken the first step into this new world of content.

The Right Amount of Bones

Too Many Bones saw a fair amount of table time again, as we made our way through the next couple of Tyrants in the box. We needed a couple of attempts at these, given a slightly higher degree of complexity, and a rules error on my part that had us making life a lot harder for ourselves than it needed to be (just in case anyone else has difficulty reading rulebooks properly, Baddies with the Hardy keyword can only take one damage per turn, not per round!). There’s 2 or 3 still to face in the box, at which point we’ll probably switch up the characters and/or try a harder difficulty setting. (I discovered recently that when teaching the game to a new player, it’s not a great idea to try playing a brand new character that you’ve never looked at before…)

Half-Time Challenges

June was a much better month than May for my various gameplay challenges, particularly the Multiplayer Hardcore 10×10.

Xenocide became the 5th title to hit 10 plays, whilst 3 sessions of Marvel Legendary and 5 of Lord of the Rings brought them to 6 and 8 plays respectively. 75/100 sessions so far, and under previous years’ rules it would be 83, including solo sessions – Journeys in Middle Earth continues to lag a little behind, but it’s still Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle that looks like the real mistake in the games chosen here – still only 1 play in 6 months (and I still haven’t gotten around to making the custom insert that it needs to fit both expansions into the box with the main game), this is going to need some serious table time soon, possibly in July when we go on holiday with my Mother-in-Law.

I’m up to more than a dozen new games for 2021 now – Flash Point and Cartographers were only the 3rd and 4th to make 10 plays, but there are another couple on 9 sessions, plus KeyForge on 6 before I have to start scrabbling around for the final 3.

As noted before, I seem to play a lot of different solo games a little bit, rather than having an obvious 10, but Kingdomino & Cartographers became the 4th and 5th games to reach 10 sessions this month, with Aeon’s End just behind on 9 – 80/100 all told.

Stepping back from the challenges specifically, I’m at over 500 games played in the first half of the year, which feels like a lot when you consider that last year’s 827 games played was already a record. That’s largely down to a shift towards more sessions played, but of shorter games – the first 6 months of 2020 actually saw 10 hours more of gaming, and the second half of 2020 was another 12 on top of that – so this doesn’t necessarily represent a surge in gaming. Still, I’ll be interested to see how the pattern continues in the second half of the year.

Money

I spent a decent amount on games in June, the biggest chunk of which was pre-ordering the new Arkham LCG Cycle – however, as this will be replacing monthly Mythos packs, it probably means a reduced spend in the long-term. I sold a few bits and pieces this month as well: TIME Stories, The 7th Continent, and some Carcassonne Expansions. I’m a big Carcassonne fan, and play loads of the solo version, but I’m increasingly of the opinion that it works best as a fairly streamlined, fairly quick game – I’d rather play it twice than make it a slog with too many tiles, so parting with some hard-to-get expansions whose mechanisms I wasn’t over-fond of, for more than I originally paid for them (probably, it’s been years, so I don’t actually have the figures) seemed like a fairly sensible move.

July will see the closing of a few pledge managers, so more costs to come.

Next

As mentioned, July will (Covid regs permitting) see us go on our family holiday for the summer with my in-laws. My mother-in-law is generally a fairly willing gamer, so hopefully get a fair few sessions in there of family-friendly staples: Hogwarts Battle, probably a Pandemic of some description.

I also want to get Paladins of the West Kingdom and Sword & Sorcery back to the table – both are not-actually-that-new-anymore games that I’ve only managed to play once, and I could definitely do with another opportunity to master the rules before trying to introduce them to others.

If the end of June was anything to go by, the biggest limiting factor for July is likely to be my health – I’ve also got my second Covid jab coming up, and the first one knocked me sideways for a day or two, so hopefully I won’t lose too much time overall to my sickbed.

At least the 2nd jab will come before what will (hopefully) be a long-overdue return to face-to-face game cons with UK Games Expo. With no idea whether Insomnia is even going to be running, and a Delta-shaped cloud hanging over the long-awaited return to Essen this autumn, this could well be my only con of the year, and I’m hoping to try and probably return with a few new games – although it’ll be August before I actually make it home again.

I’m not expecting a great deal in terms of new stuff in July. There’s the Return to the Circle Undone for Arkham LCG which arrived a few days ago and has yet to hit the table, plus probably the Venom hero pack for Marvel Champions, but that’s probably about it.