Zombicide Black Plague: Zombie Bosses Expansion Review

What’s that coming over the hill?

bossboxPreviously here on Fistful of Meeples, I’ve reviewed some additional assistance for the Survivors in Black Plague, through the extra Vault Weapons available via NPC box 1. Now it’s time to even things up by offering reinforcements for the forces of darkness through the Zombie Bosses box. This expansion comes with 3 new unique Abominations, and the cards and tokens needed to use them in a game of Zombicide: Black Plague.

Abominations: The Basics

Abominations are the largest and the toughest of the Zombies in the base game – whereas Walkers and Runners can be killed with any weapon, and Fatties need something that does 2 Damage, Abominations are damage 3 monsters: In the base game, there are no 3-damage weapons, meaning you have 2 possibilities.

  • Get Sampson, wielding a hammer (or some other 2-damage weapon) up to the Red Level where he can choose the “Melee: +1 Damage” skill.
  • Discard a “Dragon Bile” Equipment card and a “Torch” equipment card in the Abomination’s space, to start Dragon Fire.

The first retail expansion for Zombicide: Wulfsburg brought new options. The Vampire Crossbow, a weapon that any Survivor above Blue level can wield is a 3-damage weapon, and kills Abominations straight out. There are also various weapons (Chaos Longbow, Flaming Great-Sword, Dragon-Fire Blade) which make it easier to start a Dragon Fire, and the Earthquake Hammer, a 2-damage Weapon which goes up to 3 damage on a roll of 6.

In return for these extra ways to kill Abominations, Wulfsburg gave you the Wolfbomination. Like a normal abomination, but 3 times as fast.

Now, “Wave 2” has hit. Between the Kickstarter content (much of it available via eBay etc if you weren’t a backer), and the gradual release of retail expansions, there are now any number of ways to get to 3 damage, via character abilities, and new weapons.

That’s where the Zombie Bosses come in: with all these ways to kill their champions, the Zombies need more bosses, and more powerful ones at that. Let’s see what this box has to offer.

 

Unboxing

bosscontentsWhen you open the box, the first thing you see is the 3 Miniatures for the new bosses. Miniatures is a word I use loosely. The Ablobination is only about the height of a normal Abomination (although it does have a very long arm), but the Abominatroll and the Abominatour are both massive, towering over even the Wolfbomination.

My first impressions on the miniatures were fairly mixed: on the one hand, they are clearly good quality figures, the detail is good, the construction looks solid (it’s disappointing, but completely understandable that the Abominatroll needs a support pin), and there was slightly less in the way of excess casting/misalignment than on most of the other packs I’ve bought.

troll-blobThat said, neither the Abominatroll, nor the Ablobination particularly caught my imagination figure-wise. Abominations are supposed to be the results of crazed experiments on the part of evil Necromancers to create bigger and nastier foes, and that was something you could see easily in the standard Abomination and the Wolfbomination. Here by contrast, we’re lacking a frame of reference for what a ‘normal’ troll looks like before you abominate it, and the Ablobination is just plain weird.

minotaurNone of that particularly bothered me, because I think the third miniature in the box is just brilliant.

Whilst we don’t have a non-abomination version of a Minotaur, I think it’s an easy enough concept to imagine, that it’s easy to see what a great job they’ve done with the Abominatour. Where the Ablobination is just sort of sitting there, and the Abominatroll is lunging so wildly he needs propping up, the Abominatour is a perfect combination of a solid pose that still oozes dynamic energy. A definite winner for me.

 

Gameplay

Obviously, in a miniatures game like this, the sculpts are important, but as nice as the components may look, we wouldn’t still be getting bits for it the gameplay wasn’t fun, and the Zombie Bosses need to earn their keep in this regard too.

Abominatour

blackbook
We’re in!

As with the miniatures, so with the gameplay: the Abominatour was the one I was most excited to play. Unlike every other Zombie in the game, which needs to carefully navigate a path around buildings and through doors, the Abominatour works out where the noisiest square is, and he just goes there – destroying any walls which stand in his way (and meaning that any other zombie can now follow in his wake). The expansion comes with little cardboard tokens to mark the destruction he has wrought.

In practice, having an Abominatour on hand certainly changes the gameplay, sometimes dramatically. The fact that he can open up (and spawn) locked buildings, or smash through walls into places that would otherwise be inaccessible without specific objectives can really turn things on their heads. The most extreme example feels like it would be Welcome to Wulfsburg – where an Abominatour who spawns at the top of the map could change things very quickly (and make for a really short quest). We’ve also managed to break in to the central complex in The Black Book Without finding the required objective by using the Minotaur.

 

Troll and Blob

XuxaThe other two bosses definitely felt more like they were just more-powerful versions of the abomination: the troll gets extra activations if he can see you which makes him in to essentially a Wolfbomination will a little bit more strategy involved, whilst the Ablobination can only be destroyed with Dragon-Fire, taking you back to the core-box only days without 3-damage weapons.

The dragon-fire only restriction is particularly relevant if you’re bringing in lots of powerful survivors – In a game with Xuxa, an Abomination is just another big zombie (once she has Quicksilver Sword and +1 to dice roll combat, it’s pretty hard for her to miss), and pegging things back to a point where you need dragon fire felt like a good counterbalance.

 

Overall Thoughts

I’m definitely glad I bought this box. I’m not generally one of these people who find games “too easy” and if you chuck in all 12 spawn cards for the monsters in this box, you could quickly find yourself in trouble (we did that once. We died horribly). Used in moderation though, they have great potential to add variety to the game, and they do allow you to use some of the extra content which benefits survivors, without losing all the tension from the game.

A few months ago, I backed Cool Mini Or Not’s latest big Kickstarter project, Massive Darkness, including a Zombicide Crossover kit which includes card to use various monsters, including these 3 in the new game. I’m sure they’ll have plenty to keep them busy over the intervening 9 or so months, but it’s nice to know that there are fresh victims out there waiting to be eaten…

Painting

I’m slowly painting all my Zombicide figures. A lot of the Walkers and almost all of the Wolves are still awaiting the technicolour treatment, but something as spectacular as these guys went straight to the front of the queue.

bosseswipThat said, they were a challenge. For one thing, I’d never painted anything as big as the Abominataur or the Abominatroll (not with any level of detail, I seem to recall there was an Airfix Lancaster bomber 20 years ago…) beyond that, the colour scheme isn’t immediately obvious. There are images of all 3 of these in the rulesheet, but it’s hard to tell where to draw the line between “natural” colours and the thoroughly outlandish.

paintedIn the end I decided to keep the flesh on the Blob and the Minotaur fairly ‘natural’ – these are sufficiently weirdly shaped that there’s no need to make them lime green or shocking pink to convey their otherness. For the troll a selection of greyish green (based German Fieldgray, highlighted with “Grey Green”) seemed more fitting. I used a brighter metallic colour than normal to pick out the armour on the Minotaur, just because there’s so much otherwise uninterrupted flesh, and used a thin wash of red over all the bits that look like boils/swellings, as well as a few green tints, just to add an unhealthy look.

paintotaur

Overall, I’m fairly pleased with how these turned out. As always, the flagstone effect on the bases really seems to set the miniatures off. I’m under no illusion that these are a particularly high standard, and they’re certainly not about to win any painting awards (I lack the patience/skill for the many-layered highlighting and blending) but they look great for our games, and overall these Zombie bosses are a fun addition to an already brilliant game.

This means (Civil) War

CivilWar As I mentioned a few weeks back, August saw the latest expansion for Marvel Legendary: Civil War. This is a big-box expansion, on a par size-wise with Dark City or Secret Wars (volume 1 or 2). As you’d expect, it offers a whole load of new content for the game, including new Schemes, Masterminds, Heroes, Villains, keywords, and mechanisms.

If you’re not familiar with Legendary already, you should check out my Game Summary, or the review I did for the base game.

A time of turmoil

The Civil War box for Legendary refers to the original comic-book crossover event from 10 years ago, when Nitro accidentally blew up a bus full of schoolchildren, leading to a wave of public concern about powered individuals running around without accountability or oversight. This demand ultimately led to the Superhero registration act. Whilst Tony Stark championed the public identification and state regulation of superheroes, Captain America demanded continued independence and anonymity, leading to a bitter conflict which ended with a public brawl in the middle of New York City. This comic-book arc, rather than the recent Marvel film, or the current “Civil War II” event, seems to be what the guys at Upper Deck have focused their attentions on.

Teams

zemo In the Civil War set for Dice Masters that was released a few months ago, the Thunderbolts and the New Warriors both played a significant role, the Thunderbolts in particular were an interesting departure for that game, as they were the first mixed Villain/non-villain team we had seen.

Legendary keeps things rather simpler. The Thunderbolts, along with Registration Enforcers, CSA Marshalls, and even the Great Lakes Enforcers appears as villain groups, but the playable heroes are far less creative. We have Marvel Knights like a new Daredevil, and one half of Cloak and Dagger. We also get the Young Avengers (Hulkling, Patriot, Stature, Wiccan), but they fall under the “Avengers” affiliation rather than being a new team. There are other Avengers: Captain America (Again!) Falcon, Goliath, Hercules, Tigra, Vision, as well as a few miscellaneous others like Speedball (New Warriors) and Peter Parker (Spider Friends).

speedball In terms of team affiliations, this set feels a bit underwhelming. This far into the game’s life, Avengers are such a well-developed theme that you have to feel there would have been potential to take things in a slightly different direction. That said, we would probably all have got annoyed if we were left with “Young Avengers” characters that had no discernible synergy with their elder companions, so this was probably the “safe” option long-term (so long as the upcoming Deadpool expansion is suitably crazy). There is a certain amount of logic in having Speedball as the only New Warrior after the bus explosion, but they could have given us a version of Firestar or Nova with that team.

 

Divided

lukejess Division and faction are obviously big themes in Civil War, and it was only natural that the game would want to capture something of this. The principal way in which this has been done, is through “Divided” cards.

A divided card is 2 cards in one – when it’s in your hand it counts as 2 different cards then, when you play it, you choose one side or the other, and are only considered to have “played” that one. Some divided cards simply represent another aspect of the character, whilst others will actually contain a different character entirely – for example, Luke Cage’s divided card features Jessica Jones on the other side, and Peter Parker’s features Aunt May.

cloakdaggerDivided cards are a nice idea – thematically it makes a lot of sense, it means that the cards you buy are more flexible, being able to be tailored to different situations, and often introduces a lot more decision-making when you actually get to your turn (often one card will offer the stats you want, but the other will have the class or affiliation you need to trigger an ability). The main problem for me, is how it appears visually – you have to play Divided cards sideways and, because the overall piece of cardboard is only the same size a standard card, that means that the half you play will only be 50% of the size. It just makes everything feel a bit squashed, and looks slightly odd.

Some Heroes are pairs, rather than individual – Cloak & Dagger both feature on all 4 cards in their set, as do Storm & Black Panther on theirs. Obviously, there’s plenty of logic tying these pairs together, but even here, things fall apart somewhat, with the Rare card being a “both-together” card, which inexplicably carries only 1 affiliation and 1 class.

The fact that every hero released in this set has at least one divided card, also leads to some slightly strange combinations – when it’s two versions of a single character, that’s easy enough to follow, but when it’s someone else it gets hard to keep track: I’m sure there is a reason why Hercules finds himself sharing a card with Amadeus Cho, but it was lost on me.

 

Character choices

goliathrag
I can see this ending badly…

Some characters make a lot of sense in Civil War. It was inevitable that we would see Cap and Iron Man. Goliath and Ragnarok play big roles, and having Peter Parker exposed as the identity of Spider-Man is right on the money.

That said, there were still things I wasn’t a massive fan of. There are only so many Hero versions of Captain America that we need (there are currently as many ways to play Steve Rogers as there are to play the entirety of X-Force), and it would have made a lot more sense to me if we’d had a Cap Mastermind/Commander, and/or Iron Man as a hero. Also, whilst it was inevitable, given the ongoing nonsense over rights and royalties, the lack of a new Reed Richards or Sue Storm felt very out-of-place for a set claiming to be based on the original Civil War comics.

hawkeye Other choices I wasn’t a fan of based on personal taste. The fact that Patriot gets the full 14-card treatment, whilst Kate Bishop (or Lady Hawkguy as I like to think of her) is confined to a cameo appearance on Patriot’s divided card, was a bit of a let-down for me. It doesn’t really do justice to someone who I think is a much more interesting character, AND it suggests we’re less likely to get a full version of her any time soon.

 

Keywords

Civil War also features various new Keywords appearing on cards: Fortify, Size-Changing and SHIELD clearance.

unbreakable I think it’s almost inevitable this far in to the game’s life that new keyword affects can get a bit janky, and Civil War is definitely no exception to this.

A nice idea, but awkwardly implemented, is “fortify” – this allows cards to occupy strange spaces on the board (it might be a city square, but it can also be a deck, a card pile, etc), making villains harder to fight, heroes harder to recruit, cards harder to draw, or wounds less likely to be acquired. The main problem, is the throwaway explanation they get in the rules, which strongly implies that only a villain will ever be fortifying a space, and leaves lots of gaps in the concept to be filled in. How do you show that this space is fortified? How can it be “un-fortified”? Thematically, I could see where some of these were going (like the Luke Cage who fortifies the wound stack, so prevents people from taking damage), but overall, it felt hit-and-miss.

thomas-ant
It’s a surprise really that Cassie Lang isn’t more traumatised by her upbringing…

Size-Changing is a keyword which reflects the ability of some characters to grow or shrink. As such, it allows you to recruit people like Stature or Goliath for a reduced cost, if you’ve already played a card of a certain type this turn, or to fight some villains more easily with the same conditions. This one just felt a bit flat and underwhelming. Occasionally it made it slightly easier to buy/defeat a card, or had some slightly altered impact for things based on printed cost/fight, but mostly it didn’t seem like it was doing much.

SHIELD Clearance is simply a requirement to discard a SHIELD hero as an additional cost of fighting that villain. There’s certainly some merit to this – it makes those starter heroes slightly less useless, and gives you something to think about when purging your deck of cards (you don’t want to reach a point where you’ve none left, and can’t fight the Villains / Mastermind), but in practice it mostly just felt frustrating.

 

Extras

wounds Aside from the standard Heroes/Villains/Schemes, Civil War does a lot of tinkering, rather than a whole lot of brand new things. You won’t find a completely new pile here, like when Sidekicks or Ambitions were implemented, but you will find additions to existing piles: the wound stack now has a selection of Grievous Wounds shuffled in – Wounds which have an additional condition to being healed. Likewise, the Sidekick stack has a big group of Animal sidekicks added.

Grievous wounds aren’t supposed to be nice, and there’s a definite sense of frustration when you get one. That said, I’m not sure they really impacted gameplay that much for us: they can still be KO-ed by card effects, and it’s only if you skip the recruit and fight part of your turn to use the “Healing” action that it really becomes relevant.

pets
Lockjaw also clearly the wrong affiliation – not that we have an “Inhuman” team- yet…

The animal sidekicks seem like a fun idea. Unlike normal sidekicks, they have a Class and a Team affiliation, so they can be useful for triggering abilities. However, the random selection that you get makes it hard to deck-build with any consistency, and the affiliation is only useful if you have Avengers (it’s a definite disadvantage if you’re collecting X-Men [or Spider-Friends, Guardians etc] in the Avengers vs X-Men Scheme. The “Benefits” of class and affiliation are offset by generally having reduced powers – only drawing a single card, or rescuing a bystander, rather than that reliable card draw. We played with these a fair few times, but found them more frustrating than helpful, and have now gone back to normal Sidekicks.

As an aside: Lockheed being an Avenger annoyed me, and I would have much preferred if he’d had the X-Men affiliation. This generally served to rub in the fact that we still don’t have a non-parallel-universe Kitty Pryde (I’d take a Guardians affiliation, if we can’t have another X-Men version).

Final Thoughts

Overall, Civil War was a bit of a mixed bag from my perspective. It gave me fresh inspiration to get Legendary off of the shelf (I have played it a lot in the past couple of weeks), and provided some interesting new elements, but overall, it felt a bit underwhelming.

For the most part, I don’t think this expansion is bad: there are various bits and pieces I’ll continue to use, even if others (Animal sidekicks etc) will probably be staying in the box for a while, it’s just not as exciting as others. Still a must-buy for the completist, but if you’re new to Legendary, I’d recommend getting most, if not all of the other available content first.

Modern Classics: Settlers of Catan

CatanWhen I started this series, I decided to call it Modern Classics, and if there’s one game which demands a place on a list like that, it’s Catan.

Settlers of Catan was first released in 1995. It entered a board game world dominated by Monopoloy, Cluedo and Mousetrap. It won the highly prestigious Speil des Jahres award– which two years earlier had gone to Call My Bluff the game. Compared to what came before, Catan was truly ground-breaking.

Catan: The Beginnings

The basic principles of Catan are fairly simple. Players are competing to build the best mini-civilisation as they vie for control of the island of Catan. The island is composed of hexagonal tiles, each of which produce 1 of 5 different resources. On top of those hexes, are counters numbered 1-12.

Catan Example
On a roll of 6, Red gets 2 bricks (1 per settlement) and white gets 1. On a roll of 8, Red gets one wood for its settlement, and blue gets 2 for its city.

On your turn, you roll 2 dice, and the number you roll “activates” the corresponding hex. When it activates, the hexagon produces the corresponding resource, and each player who has settled on that Hex gains resources in keeping with their presence.

The exception to this is on a roll of 7. None of the resource-producing hexes activate on 7s – instead, a “robber” figure comes into play. The player who rolled the dice moves the robber to a hex of their choice, then steals a card at random from the hand of a player who has a settlement on that hex. The robber remains there until the next time a 7 is rolled (or it gets moved by a card affect) and whichever hex the robber stands on doesn’t produce any resources when its number comes up.

QuickRefYou start with two settlements, each with a single road attached to them. By building extensions to your road, you can reach other parts of the island, and build additional settlements (provided no adjacent space contains a settlement already). Existing settlements can also be upgraded to cities, for double the victory points and double the resources.

All building activity, along with the purchase of cards is done using the five resource types. The more resources you get, the more you can build, allowing you get even more resources, even faster.

You can also trade. At its most basic level, any resource cards can be swapped for any other resource cards, provided both players agree. This allows you to turn your excess in one area into a replacement for a shortage in another area.

 

Catan: ThePhenomenon

Meeples

Catan was not content to stay with the original island and the limited set of build and trade actions available to players. Over the years, it spawned countless expansions – tweaking what you did on the island, adding ships to take you to other islands, or bringing in scenario-style play, with factories & glassworks, rivers & bridges, or even tiny wooden camels.

There was a kids’ version, a dice version, a card-game version, along with countless promo cards and promotional add-ons.

Game-BoxFor anyone not interested in the non-specifically medieval / early modern theme, Catan blasted off into outer space in 1999, with the Starfarers of Catan, and intermittent space versions have been a recurring feature, with Star Trek Catan appearing in 2012.

At one point, I understand there was even a spin-off novel. I haven’t read it, but the reviews seem to suggest a fairly non-descript piece of tie-in fiction with little to set it apart from the crowd.

The only one of these that I’ve ever owned was the dice game, which came off of the un-played list a month or so ago. As I said then, it was a tolerable, if fundamentally unexciting experience.

Harbour
As well as wood on 8, and wool on 2, red’s settlement produces fish on a roll of 9, and is worth a Harbour point.

Some expansions /expansion modules for the original Catan game did seem to have more going for them than others. The Harbour was always a personal favourite, which gave you a lake to replace the desert, and offered you fish for building your settlements on the coast. As coastal spaces are generally less valuable (the only border 1 or 2 hexes instead of 3), this helped spread people out a bit more.

With the original game only really designed for 3-4, we also picked up an expansion purely because it offered a 2-player variant. The implementation left something to be desired, but it was nice to have the option. The same box also included a deck of cards to replace the dice, and guarantees that over the course of a game, the distribution of the different numbers should tie-in with what basic probability suggests was also eye-catching.

 

The problems

As I’ve already mentioned, Catan was first released in 1995. That makes it 21 years old. In a lot of respects, it feels very dated, and I’m really not that convinced that it’s a game that’s still worth playing.

Longest Turn
This card is not real, but the fact that someone designed it says a lot about playing Catan

One of the ‘best’ aspects of Catan is supposed to be the lack of downtime and high level of constant interaction that comes from trading. In reality, though, it just makes for a game that goes on, and on. And on.

Because you can trade with anyone on your go, you can spend an age talking about trades – and then not do them.

The fact is, it’s always better to trade on your own turn. You have control of the situation, you can use the resources you get before they are stolen away. You can trade away a particular resource at a high price, then claw it back with Monopoly (that’s a jerk move, don’t do it). Beyond the vaguest sense of being nice to someone in the hope that they’ll be nice later, trading with someone on their turn is always sub-optimal, and the main reason to do it, is so that the game will be over soon.

The resource curve of the game is also skewed. Early on, everyone wants bricks and wood, as you need these to build roads, and you need roads to get places. This often leads to people using the robber in an attempt to steal brick or wood – but in doing so, they block off the hex that produces these things, slowing the game down even further.

How did we get here?

Blocked
White shouldn’t have allowed themself to get stuck in this position – but with bad dice, they might not have had a choice.

It’s also worth noting that the location of your starting settlements in Catan is vital. In fact, it’s probably the most important phase of the game – which means that new players will basically have lost before the start of their turn, and anyone else who got screwed and/or made a bad decision during set-up is all set for a few hours of pointlessness. People tend to have differing but very strong opinions on how you do the set-up: randomised tiles and fixed numbers? Randomise both? Or have everything done as part of a pre-planned scenario. Whichever way you do it, the most important event in the game is (arguably) rolling dice to determine who gets to place their settlement first.

Even if you survive the opening rounds, Catan is a game with a lot of blocking involved – the island isn’t big enough for everyone to go where they want, whether it’s the result of a conscious block, or just someone else wanting to be in the same place as you, it’s easy to get stuck in a corner where you can’t do anything. You can be entirely certain after 15 minutes that you can’t possibly win – yet still have to sit there for a further 2 hours.

Fixes Don’t Fix

EventCards As noted above, there are various things which the expansions seek to add to Catan – the 2-player option, or the less random spread of numbers. Unfortunately though, the reality was never quite as much fun as it suggested it would be. The way that the game was made playable with two was by adding a dummy player, to ensure that island remained crowded and frustrating. As you alternate control of the dummy player, they are likely to end up blocking both of you, without ever achieving anything of their own (the dummy player doesn’t need resources, they just build when you do.

Again, the way of reducing the variance from the dice roll (a card deck with fixed distribution of different numbers) also added in random events, which just complicated the game that bit more, and made it even longer.

 

Gathering Dust

There are 6 games from the 20th century in the top 100 on BGG (well 5, and one from the 19th century). There are a further dozen or so between 100 and 200, before you reach Catan, which has recently slipped out of the top 200.

I don’t remember exactly when I last played Catan – I know it was before Christmas 2014, as that was when I started keeping records – what I do know is that when I think about the prospect of playing it again, it fills me with a sense of weariness and dread.

Catan probably benefits a lot from Nostalgia – for a lot of gamers, it will have been one of the first modern board games they played. In 1995, it was something exciting new, and different, providing a window into a whole new concept of what board games could be. 21 years on though, game design has come a long way, and for all the nostalgia people have for Catan, I don’t feel there’s really any need to keep playing it – if you’ve never tried it before, then it might be worth playing once or twice, just to tick off on a mental list, but that’s about all. In fact, writing this article has been enough to convince me that it’s finally time to move it on.

 

9 of 9 forever

 

9 of 9 Forever

Obviously, that’s not entirely true, but it’s definitely starting to feel a bit that way. Beyond Baker Street, Pandemic and Machi Koro all made it up to 8, 2 other games are sat just behind on 7 plays, and 5 more on 6, but that magic 10 remains elusive.

Most of the games that were already above ten got additional play-throughs, but the chasing pack stayed in single figures.

Mansions With 4 months to go, it can only be a matter of time – I still believe that, even though I’m starting to feel like a broken record saying it. I suspect it will be either Beyond Baker Street or Pandemic that makes the breakthrough.

Of this month’s new arrivals, Mansions of Madness was the clear stand-out: the app-driven gameplay is absolutely brilliant, and although there are definitely issues with the miniatures, the game is good enough to make working around them worthwhile. As I only received this on the 20th, it’s not there yet, but 7 sessions inside a fortnight and a sense of momentum leaves me feeling that this is almost certain to be up to 10 by the time the year ends, possibly even claiming that final slot.

 

3 of 12

The un-played list is tumbling thick and fast though: 3 out of the remaining 12 were toppled this month, and if I can keep that pace up, I’ll have cleared the whole list by year-end.

Scrabble
Our copy of scrabble has seen better days. To be fair though, it’s probably older than I am

The only game to actually be played from the un-played list over August was Scrabble. Catching up with some old friends we hadn’t seen for a while, we discovered that one had developed a scrabble obsession and, after they’d finished laughing at my spreadsheet, I got to cross off a game, and they got to play scrabble, so everyone was happy.

I’m not going to dwell over-long on scrabble. It’s a decent game, as is attested to by its enduring popularity. For me, it’s a bit too involved, and I’ve played too many games where people take forever over their turns, or have memorised all the legal two-letter words, despite not having a clue what they mean (according to our friend the scrabble expert, it’s not only not required to give a definition, but bad form to ask for one, as doing so may give clues as to how the word can be modified! – Of course everyone knows that the definition of “Qi” is “word that uses Q and doesn’t need a U, mostly commonly found in games of Scrabble). Overall, it was a perfectly tolerable way to spend an evening, but at home I’ll probably stick to Bananagrams.

The main way in which the list was reduced in August was via sales: Call of Cthulhu LCG went, (I’ve already talked in this article about why), as did Lord of the Rings Trivial Pursuit. Trivial Pursuit where a Nazgul comes to eat your wedges is an entertaining concept, but a few games of this quickly established that 5 of the categories were much too easy (first game, my wife had 4 of her 6 wedges before I got my first turn), and the film category was just pot luck (one round it would be “who was the assistant producer to the second unit director on The Two Towers?” next round it would be “Who played Gandalf?”) For a long time, the fact that I ran a Lord of the Rings Board Games blog made me feel I had to keep hold of all Middle Earth games, regardless of whether they got played, but as the shelves overflow with review copies (Mansions of Madness currently lives in the middle of the Living Room floor), I’m learning to be ruthless.

 

In Review

Augreview On the subject of Review copies, August was a particularly impressive month, bringing Age of Conan (with expansion), Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, and Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition, to the table. Add in Star Trek Frontiers, Karuba and The Networks (all currently in transit as far as I can tell), and you’re left with one happy reviewer. Some of these will probably get moved along in the long term, (Sherlock is good, but the king of “limited replayability”) but Mansions is definitely a keeper

Final thoughts

That’s about it for August – do check out the piece I did on solo gaming if you haven’t already, as this fills a fairly big August-shaped hole. I’ll be back for another challenge update at the end of September, by which time I’m really hoping I’ll have made it to 10 of 10…

Legendary Experiences

One of the downsides of reviewing games for another company (and it is a pretty small downside when weighed against “free games”), is that it limits what I can write here – it feels both pointless and a bit like cheating to just re-post the review I’ve already written. As a result, some games (like the Civil War Dice Masters set) will miss out on the standard Fistful of Meeples Treatment.

CivilWarA week or two ago, Upper Deck released the latest expansion for Marvel Legendary. As there hadn’t been any call for a review of the last Legendary expansion, I assumed that this wasn’t something that Games Quest were all that interested in, so I bought myself a copy the weekend it came out, for the FLGS’s 10% new release discount.

Of course, in typical fashion, about 2 days later, it appeared on the “Up for Review” sheet. It didn’t really seem like cricket to ask for that copy just to sell on, so I let it slide (someone else picked it up a few days later). What it did mean though, was a renewed determination to make sure I was getting my money’s worth out of Legendary, as well as a new-found freedom to talk about Legendary on here.

I’m going to do a full review of the Civil War box in a week or two (hopefully by then, I’ll have been able to get my hands on enough sleeves to actually use most of the cards). For today though, I thought I’d just offer a few assorted thoughts on the state of Legendary overall. If you’re already familiar with Legendary, then you can dive straight in to the article below. If not, you’ll probably want to check out the Game Summary or the Full Review of the base game that I wrote.

 

Solo

As regular readers will know, I’ve done a fair bit of solo gaming over the summer, and Legendary was one of the games which racked up the most solo sessions.

Twist Ratios
The Ratio of Scheme Twists to “Not Scheme Twists” in a 2-player (top) and solo (bottom) game.

Low player-counts change the opening turns of a game of Legendary significantly. For one thing, when you play your third turn (typically the first chance you get to play cards you’ve purchased) there should only have been 3 cards revealed off the Villain Deck. This means that the early-game disintegration where everything overruns to catastrophic effect is much less likely.

That said, there are difficulties that the solo mode adds. For one thing, you’ve only got a single Villain group (8 villains) and only a partial group of Henchmen (3). Given that the number of Scheme twists tends not to change, they come much more often, making some schemes near-impossible to complete, if they punish players for not ‘clearing up’ one twist before the next hits.

Always Leading?

In a normal game of Legendary, facing a given Mastermind always guarantees the presence of a specific villain-group in the game, who are tied thematically, and often mechanically to the Mastermind (So Loki always leads the Enemies of Asgard, Magneto brings the Brotherhood, and Red Skull brings HYDRA).

SHIELDWhen you play the game Solo, you are told to ignore this “Always leads” text, and simply choose random villains. Being a theme junkie, I brushed over this relaxation of the rules, and swiftly came to regret it. I was facing the comparatively puny Maria Hill (only 7 fight, although you do have to also discard 2 SHIELD-heroes to fight her). Maria “always leads” the SHIELD elite, and cannot be fought whilst there are any SHIELD villains in the city. In a normal 2-player game, where this elite make up 8 of the 26 villains, this isn’t too bad (and the ratios get even better with more players), but in a solo game, where they make up 8 of 11, she becomes nearly invulnerable – you essentially need to muster 7 fight for her, between 1 and 8 fight for the elite, AND have 3 SHIELD heroes left over to discard for “SHIELD clearance”. In the end, it was with more than a little sadness that I started running games where the Mastermind and the Villains were unrelated – but it did allow me to actually win a game or two.

Overall, I like Legendary as a Solo game – it definitely still works, which is not something I felt I could say of all the games I solo-ed this August. Not having to compete with other players for the Heroes you want to recruit allows you to be more precise with deck-building strategy although (as noted above) there are some schemes which just become impossible straightaway.

I had frustrations in the games I played (pesky Maria Hill), last-gasp wins (in one game, I defeated the Mastermind on 3 of the last 4 turns, winning the game at the last possible moment), and crushing defeats. I still think that my overall preference is to play this multi-player, but solo is a perfectly enjoyable alternative.

 

Critical Card-Pool size

BoxesI own all the Marvel Legendary expansions currently available (so everything released so far, minus Fantastic Four, which appears to be terminally out-of-print). This means that Legendary has now fallen in to a category with games like Dominion, some living card games, and to a lesser extent Carcassonne, where it starts to be the victim of its own success.

On a purely logistical level, I now have the Core box holding all the generic cards (SHIELD Agents, Officers, Wounds, Bindings, Sidekicks, Bystanders, Schemes etc), the Dark City box holding the Villains and Henchmen, and both Secret Wars boxes holding heroes. This means it’s no longer a game that leaves the house.

Beyond a little bit of box-lifting, there’s the question of gameplay combinations. I’m already well beyond the point where I’ll ever come close to using all the different possible combinations of Heroes, Villains, Schemes and Masterminds. In fact, it’s probably far more likely that a particular card set misses out on being used at all, than on being used in all combinations.

Eventually, this can cause problems: Carcassonne got (functionally) retired because we’d got so many expansions that the tile-count had more than doubled, and the game-time with it. Beyond a certain point, deck-building in an LCG becomes an activity that leads to analysis paralysis, as there are just too many possibilities to critically evaluate them all.

For the deck-builders, the difficulty is slightly different: once the game has begun, your choices are fairly clear, and no more or less than in any game. However, choosing the right set-up can be problematic.

Personally, I take a varied approach to this. Most of the time, I’ll use a randomiser app to generate a set-up. For Legendary, that increasingly means getting hideously smashed by the Mastermind, as we fail to generate any kind of synergy.

Fortunately though, this provides a good starting point to develop. If we get smashed once or twice by a particular Mastermind/Scheme/Villains combo, then I’ll look at the Heroes, pick the one who seemed to be the least use, and look for someone else to sub in. Sometimes this will be about having a Team affiliation or hero class needed to mitigate an effect coming off of the Villain deck, other times it will be just a case of getting another affiliation or class that a particular hero needs to trigger their ability. Sometimes we’ll get it at the first iteration, other times (I think it was Madeline Pryor, plus a scheme that gave her LOTS of Bystanders), it’ll take many attempts, or even a complete re-building to ensure complete synergy.

Fortunately, I think that Legendary is enough fun when you lose that it’s ok to go through the steps like this. Comparing it with Dominion, it’s easy to get into situations where the set-up is too disparate to be enjoyable, and you need to pre-empt the tweaking.

Strange Customs

Any game that has characters and is popular enough will eventually develop custom content, and given the overwhelming volume of source material available for a game with so broad a theme as “Marvel Superheroes and Villains” it is hardly surprising that Legendary has such a wealth of custom content available.

For those who care to look, there is an incredible amount of content available – entire sets which reapply the game’s basic concepts to Middle Earth, Hogwart’s, the Star Wars universe, or the world of DC Comics are all available on Board Game Geek.

Customs
It’s probably easier to think of a Fandom that DOESN’T have a fan-made Legendary expansion

Personally, I’ve never wanted to take on a project of the scale of printing something like this, but I have added a few cards to my collection that I saw online, and thought offered a better option than what we had from the official publications.

The base game of Legendary comes with an improbably large number of SHIELD Officers, comparatively few of which ever get bought. In an attempt to make them more interesting (and somewhat foreshadowing the changes to the Sidekick pile in the Civil War expansion), one user created unique SHIELD officers, based on the characters from the Agents of SHIELD TV series.

In terms of full-blown heroes, whilst each new set generally finds space for a new version of Captain America, there are other characters whose absence has been lamented for so long that you have to suspect that Upper Deck are just trolling people at this point.

She Hulk and Psylocke have traditionally been amongst the first names on a lot of lists of characters unfairly denied their place in the sun, but you can find a fan-made version of almost any long-standing character you’d care to name (I may have been pushing my luck when I started trying to dig up versions of the Stepford Cuckoos, Eva Bell, Hijack and Goldballs….)

CustomArt
Custom art ranges from the sublime to the fuzzy…

I’ve added print versions of a few of these characters to my collection. Some because the creators had done such a good job, like the She-Hulk set, others because I simply couldn’t square the Legendary character with my vision of the comic-book character (in my head, Hawkeye will always be the battered, bruised scrapper from Brooklyn that Matt Fraction and David Aya brought us, and I wanted a set that reflected that, even if the image quality was poor).

In some cases, I was baffled by the gap in the existing set: we have classic Jean Grey with the silly headdress who rescues Bystanders, and Time-Travelling young Jean Grey, but no Phoenix Jean Grey (if Sansa Stark can become the Phoenix in less than 2 hours, there’s no reason for Legendary fans to still be waiting 4 years later). In some cases, it’s just Nostalgia, pure and simple (I’m probably showing my age when I admit that I want Jubilee [non-vampire] to be a central character, and remain in denial when she continues to be peripheral or useless.)

The fact that this is a cooperative game makes it a lot easier to bring in the Homebrewed folks, and as I’ve sleeved my entire collection (both an expensive and a space-consuming thing to do, but those cards get A LOT of shuffling) makes it that bit easier to include these cards seamlessly in the set.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I think Legendary is a great game – I’d definitely rank it as my discovery of the year for 2015 and, whilst it’s not been quite so prominent this year (down from an average of  nearly 8 games per month last year to just over 5 per month this year), it still remains popular. I think the fact that it can be played solo or with up to five, following randomly generated scenarios, or carefully selected teams (thematic or hand-picked) all help with this, and keep it active.

Check back next time as I do a full review of the latest Legendary Expansion: Civil War

Dice Masters: It Takes Two

I said a little while ago, that Dice Masters is a game which poses quite a few challenges for me.

I’ve never been the world’s most competitive gamer. I don’t set out to win at all costs – obviously it’s nice to have at least a sense of being in the game, but the overall outcome isn’t a big deal.

IronFistHowever, what I do like, are promo cards – there are a lot of promos out there that offer interesting new takes on characters, or make certain builds that bit more viable. Given that WizKids OP kits generally involve a participation card (or 2) and a prize card, I don’t want to do so badly that I miss out on some of the cards.

As I’ve lamented on here in the past, our local Dice Masters community was reduced to near-extinction this spring, and for a while, there was no play happening at all. Right now, we’re back to monthly tournaments, with an average turn-out of 3 or 4, which means I can experiment a bit, and still (hopefully) take home the promos, as the turnout is low enough to finish last and still get the prizes.

The Team

When trying to build a competitive, constructed team, there are a few characters that tend to appear early on, which cost 2. This led me to wonder something: was it possible to build an entire team of 2-cost characters? (obviously, it’s possible, but would it be any good). I’ve been playing the game long enough, and have made it to enough OP events that I had a fairly good set of dice available to me (Civil War is the only Superhero set where I’m missing multiple commons and uncommons), and I eventually went for the following

Beast: Genetic Expert (AvX)
Black Widow: Tsarina (AvX)

Constantine: Hellblazer (JL)

Pepper Potts: Personal Secretary of Tony Stark (AoU)

Guy Gardener: Blinding Rage (WoL)

Iron Fist: (Rainbow Draft 20015)

Mary Jane: MJ (AS)

Rocket Raccoon: Not a Raccoon (CW)

Basic Actions: Big Entrance and Villainous Pact

Team

The opening for this team is fairly straightforward: turn 1, you want 4 energy including a mask: you buy a Big Entrance, stick it straight in the dice-bag, then use the global on Villainous Pact to draw a dice. With any luck, this means 4 character dice going straight into the bag on turn 2.

To get an idea of how fast this team can be, a perfect roll turn 2 (Action for Big Entrance, and Fists or Question Marks on the 4 sidekicks) can put 4 Guy Gardeners in the bag – as 2 of his character faces have a 0 field-cost, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility to be swinging for 20+ damage on turn 3.

Even though the perfect storm of an opening won’t go off very often, this team still covers a lot of bases. Guy Gardener and Tsarina are both really good attacking characters – they hit hard and Tsarina’s spin down/take damage effect can really eat away at your opponent’s life.

MJ adds overcrush, in case your opponent manages to get a wall of sidekicks in the way of Guy, and if you can manage to get a decent lead in the life stakes, Rocket deals a damage to each player when he attacks, which speeds the game up, hopefully in your favour.

On the control side, Beast is still my favourite blocker in the game: gaining life for being KO-ed whilst blocking is always a good start, and being able to damage the opponent as well on the burst level, is even better. Constantine’s protection against “When Fielded” effects can completely nullify some teams, and Iron Fist’s ability to reduce damage from character abilities also neutralises a lot of the death-by-a-thousand-cuts tactics out there.

Pepper Potts is probably the dice that fits here least well: gaining extra defence when blocking is generally a good thing, and certainly helps against bit-hitters with Overcrush, but it runs slightly in the opposite direction to Beast (who wants to be KO-ed), and was a bit tricky to balance.

 The Tournament

DM2I played two matches in the tournament. The first was against a fairly inexperienced player, who was using a Civil War team – Having Iron fist on hand to nullify Black Widow, Venom and Moonstone left him with no really option besides wearing me down with combat damage, and my team was much too fast for that. A fairly comfortable 2-0 victory.

The second match was against a slightly more experienced player, with a more diverse team. He had lots of dice acceleration – I was able to control the Gambit “When Fielded” with Constantine, but the Beast who draws dice when he blocks did help him keep rolling lots of dice turn-by-turn.

The first game in the second match, I got a quick-ish start, and was able to get him down to a lowish life-total. From there, the game bogged down, but I had enough of a lead to grind out a win.

AllDice In the second game, I just couldn’t get going: the main problem was that I completed failed to roll characters with Guy and Tsarina. I let some attacks go through in the hope of having a clearer field to attack into, and when I failed to get the characters to attack with, I found myself a bit behind. Despite having masses of dice acceleration, he didn’t really have a killer character (something like a Hulk or a Thanos would have destroyed me, and done it quickly), and this game got really slow in the middle. Looking back, I should have stocked up on Beasts and a Pepper or two, and I could have ground out a draw. As it was, I stayed fairly aggressive, and was eventually overwhelmed with sheer weight of numbers. 1-1 for the match, and with only a minute left, we called it a draw.

Stargirl The third match finished 0-0 after the hour had elapsed, meaning I won the tournament overall.

We were using the DC Bombshells OP kit which, aside from having art that I really like, contained some cards that look really useful. The Stargirl will definitely find a place in my Justice League team, and the Lois Lane who gives Superman Overcrush could be useful too.

The alt-art version of Mera is unlikely to get much use, as I don’t like the high variance of the global ability, but still a nice card to have in the collection.

 

Aside: Songbird

Songbird One thing which I did find quite surprising on Sunday, was the fact that both my opponents were running Songbird. Obviously having 2-cost characters is useful in teams that aren’t based entirely around low-cost, but I never saw her ability get triggered. The fact that she is a villain meant that I couldn’t use the Villainous Pact action dice to force through attacks, and she’s big enough for a 2 coster, that she was part of what eventually wore me down in the one game I lost. Still, I feel like there are better options out there (if you go up to 3-cost, the Uncommon is a virtually indestructible blocker).

 

Reflections on the team of 2

Ultimately, I was pretty pleased with the performance of this team. It can do a lot, and can be played aggressively (smash with Guy before they get set-up) or defensively, (getting Iron Fist and Constantine out first). With a turnout of 3, we all got the promos, so an overall win was definitely just a bonus. That said, I’ve encountered a lot of stronger builds in the past that this would have struggled against.

Maria In terms of changing this team, there are a few possibilities. The bolt characters seem like the obvious place to make the cuts – Pepper in particular felt surplus much of the time. If I was sticking with the “Everything costs 2” theme, I’d probably go for the Civil War Maria Hill who can block any number of sidekicks, as this makes life easier when an opponent tries to swarm you (I considered her this time, but only have 1 die for her, and everywhere locally is out of Civil War boosters).

If I were to stray a little from the starting concept, I think there are definitely some higher-cost cards that could make this team really sing. The rare Lantern Ring from War of Light would have won me the game I lost, as all those characters I failed to roll would have been converted to direct damage from sitting on the energy.

NataliaFailing that, the sheer number of cheap dice this team accumulates, along with a little draw from the global means that you often have energy you just can’t spend. Possibly, I might consider a really high-cost basic action, although this would limit the early-game rush.
Overall, I think the best bet would be a massive character – Hulk is the obvious option with all those fists, but I’m still itching to actually get Natalya Romanova unleashed in a game situation – I don’t think I’d use both, as I’d have to cut Pepper and Rocket to fit them in, and that would mean no Bolt characters, making it that bit harder to hit 7 AND a Bolt/? On the same turn. Unblockable Thanos would also be a good finisher for this team.

 

Hopefully with play at the FLGS resuming, I’ll be able to post more on Dicemasters in the coming weeks and months. We’re going to be doing a Rainbow draft of Flash/Green Arrow when it comes out, and our FLGS has been confirmed as one of the 4 venues in the UK to get a WizKids Regional (finally some reward for the never-ending string of Heroclix posts on the Facebook group, as I think it’s the success of Heroclix OP that has secured it). Keep checking back here for updates.

Going Solo

 

August was always going to be a slightly unusual month for gaming. On the one hand, the summer holidays offer the potential for more hours free to game, with regular weekday evening distractions taking a break. However, it also means actual “holidays” – in my wife’s case, 10 days (including 2 weekends) in California visiting relatives. This mean a very limited amount of time available for epic 3-hour sessions of multi-player games, but – at least in theory – A LOT of time available for solo games.

Game in Progress
I guess you COULD play all the roles if you wanted…

It’s always difficult to answer the question of just how many games I have that can be played Solo. Essentially, any cooperative game that doesn’t require hidden information can be played two-handed-solo: in a lot of co-op games (Pathfinder, B-Sieged, Zombicide), we regularly have each player controlling multiple characters anyway, which just adds to the confusion (of counting the “soloable” games – not necessarily of actually playing it). In the end, it can be hard to tell which games have a “true” solo variant, which games can enjoyably be played multi-hand-solo, and which games might technically look solo-able, but would be rubbish if you did.

 

 

Real solo

Working through my collection, I was able to count at least 9 games that could be played “true solo” either because the player count just goes that low naturally (100 Swords, Elder Sign, Shadows Over Camelot the Card Game, Yggdrasil) with a single character/team (Lord of the Rings LCG, Marvel Legendary, Pathfinder, Side Quest), or with an official Solo Variant that automates part of the process (Race for the Galaxy, Firefly). Some of these (particularly Pathfinder) probably work better if I control multiple characters, but it isn’t a requirement.

There were also a handful of games which did have a higher minimum-character-count, but which could feasibly be managed by a single player (B-Sieged, Super Dungeon Explore, Zombicide).

However the final count falls, that’s ten or more different games that I could play by myself, which should be more than enough to fill the same number of days, especially considering the amount of other stuff I had to do in that time (work, eat, sleep, paint, tidy, read, write etc…)

 

Why play?

I think solo gaming asks an important question – namely what the point of playing games is? I hope that we only play games that are fun, but that doesn’t mean that every time we sit down to game it will be equally enjoyable. Some sessions will always be better than others: some will be a hard, exhausting slog, (hopefully ending with a sense of accomplishment) others will be a laugh. Some will end too soon, others may feel like they have gone on forever. Much of the time, the enjoyment comes from the group of people you play with, and the “perfect” session, if there is such a thing, comes when the right group are all enjoying the same thing at once.

Obviously, that social aspect isn’t going to be a part of any solo gaming session. Instead you might expect either a sense of victory from defeating a game, or cracking a puzzle. Or, maybe, you can hope for “fun.” But how do you measure fun?

Some of the games listed above I’ve played Solo quite a bit – Lord of the Rings LCG is the clear leader in that regard, but I’ve also played a fair bit of solo Pathfinder (in its digital incarnation). For others, such as Race for the Galaxy and Firefly, solo was going to be an entirely new experience and I was keen to try this different approach to games that are good, but never get large amounts of table-time.

Not surprisingly, I’d already eliminated any solo-able games from the “un-played altogether” (i.e. not at all in 2015 or 2016) list, but thinking about a week or so of solo sessions did allow me to put a dent in the list of games that were played last year, but hadn’t hit the table this year yet.

 

Blow-by-blow

In the end, it worked out at 13 days of playing solo (i.e. no wife in town). This is how the gaming breakdown ended up:

  • Wed 10th –Straight from work to a Dice Masters event. No solo gaming
  • Thu 11th – difficult day at work followed by Suicide Squad at the cinema. No solo gaming
  • Fri 12th – Intro game of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective      (1)
  • Sat 13th – Trial game of Race for the Galaxy          (1)
  • Sun 14th – 2 more games of Race for the Galaxy, 3 of LotR LCG, 2 of Marvel Legendary    (7)
  • Mon 15th – 3 games of Marvel Legendary (lost them all)                 (3)
  • Tue 16th – a decidedly unproductive day, just a single game of Legendary.            (1)
  • Wed 17th – refresher game of Shadows Over Camelot the Card Game.   (1)
  • Thu 18th – another solitary game of Shadows      (1)
  • Fri 19th – Friends over. No solo gaming
  • Sat 20th First 2 attempts at Mansions of Madness (2nd Ed), as well as a solo run-through of Firefly.              (3)
  • Sun 21st – Dice Masters tournament and lots of tidying. No solo gaming
  • Mon 22nd – a final game of Legendary       (1)

As already noted, some of these were games I’d played solo a lot before, others weren’t. Here are a few thoughts on some of the ones which stood out.

Race for the Galaxy

Race has been referred to many times (including on this blog) as “San Juan in space” and in my head that’s exactly what it is – I regularly forget just how much additional complexity there is.

The main difference between San Juan and Race for the Galaxy, comes in what happens to the things you make. In San Juan, as so as you produce stuff, you can profit from it, and the trick is to maximise the amount you can sell, and the money you make.

Race is much more complex – You can sell one good, using the “trade: $” action, but to actually convert into cards and victory points, you need specific Phase IV powers on planets or constructions in your tableau. The end result is a game that takes much longer to properly get up-and-running.

Having not played Race in a while, it took me a while to get going, especially as the Solo rules are an adapted form of the “advanced” 2-player variant of the game, which we have never really used.

RaceRobot

The solo version is definitely more complex than an all-human game: there is a board which represents your actions, and the ways in which the robot responds to them – there are also dice which control the actions that the robot takes.

The system which the designers have put in place to make this game playable solo is certainly a clever one, and it still feels quite a bit like playing Race ‘properly.’ That said, it is impossible to predict what the robot will do, in the way that you sometimes can with a human opponent, and the robot’s ability to trigger benefits in the trade phase earlier than the human player can properly get set-up can give it a real advantage – I got lucky on my first game, and won, but was then soundly beaten on the next two attempts, even at the easiest difficulty. Part of me didn’t want to get into a Vendetta with a cardboard computer controlled by a dice. Another part of me just really wanted to win a game…

Shadows Over Camelot: The Card Game

ShadowDeck
It’s mostly just remembering the numbers for each type of card (“?” is worth X, where X is the number of ? in the pile), but the special cards (left pile) make life more complicated

Shadows Over Camelot is a big co-operative board game from Days of Wonder, in which players act as Arthur and his Knights, trying to stave off the forces of evil, and complete various quests, hindered by the fact that one (or more) of them may secretly be a traitor.

As is so often the way, the successful board game was revamped as a card-game: highly portable, and with a more flexible player-count. At its most basic, on a player’s turn, they can either play the top card of the “rumours” deck, typically revealing a card with a quest logo and a number on it, or they can go on a quest – picking up the pile of rumours that have been played, and counting the totals for each quest: the aim is to get a total of 11, 12, or 13 – if they manage this, they get white swords equal to the quest’s value, if not then black swords will be placed – first side to 7 swords wins.

ShadowLoyal
Can you guess which one the traitor is?

There’s slightly more to it than that – there are cards with variable values, Morgan cards which makes things harder, Merlin cards which are supposed to help, but generally just add to the confusion, but this is what it really boils down to.

Both last year and this, Shadows the Card Game has only made it out for a solo game. I play it a few times, decide that it’s basically just a memory game; generally quite easy, but capable of putting you into an impossible position via dumb luck. Even though this won’t have been on the “un-played” list for 2015 or 2016, it’s actually not that interesting or fun as a solo game, and I really need to either give this a big-group run-out, or move it along.

Legendary

Marvel Legendary is a game which had seen a little bit of solo play in the past, and which got a big boost this past week or two. Given how big this article has got, I’ve decided to split up my thoughts on playing Legendary Solo and put them in a separate article (link to follow once it’s written).

Firefly

FireCrew It’s entirely possible that I had the first copy of Firefly the board game in England – at the time I knew a guy who worked for the distributors, and convinced him to sell me the spare copy they had in the office to give to my wife, whose birthday was a week or two ahead of the official release date.

Firefly is a game that does a great job of capturing the flavour of the cult TV show of the same name, as you fly your Firefly class ship around the ‘verse, taking jobs where you can, avoiding Alliance and Reapers, and generally just trying to keep flying.

On the downside, it has a large footprint, a long play-time (certainly MUCH longer than the various scenarios are advertised at), a less-than-brilliant rulebook, and it slows down a lot with players who aren’t familiar with the game / don’t plan ahead on other people’s turns. There’s also not all that much player interaction, meaning you can often get a strange end-game experience, where it’s clear that someone is going to win, but everyone needs to keep going through the motions for 4 more rounds before you actually get there.

I’m not sure which of those assorted factors are to blame, but this one hadn’t been out since January 2015, and giving it a whirl solo seemed like a good opportunity to refresh on the rules, ahead of encouraging others to play (whilst it’s often sadly necessary, it’s never good for general group enthusiasm when I spend a significant portion of the game leafing through the rulebook).

I played one game of this, towards the end of my week-and-a-half. The solo game changes the set-up, allowing you to pick upto 4 crew, and as well as having Mal captaining the ship, I took Wash, Kayley, Simon and River. Pilot and Mechanic are always useful to have, and the Simon+ River combination is one of the most powerful in the game, as it means that 50% of the time, you can have 3 icons of your choice for any skill test.

Yo-Saf-Bridg
No need to worry about these ladies in solo

Solo play puts a time-limit of twenty turns on the game, with a choice between 3 objectives: “the good” (become solid with 5 contacts), “the bad” (make lots of money) and “the ugly” (misbehave successfully 20 times).

Fairly quickly, I ran in to some obvious issues with solo Firefly. For one thing, the Reavers and the Alliance Cruiser are almost irrelevant – there’s never any compelling reason to have them anywhere near you. Being able to start with a powerful crew really changes the early turns, and I got lucky pulling the “no fuel needed for full burn” drive on about turn 2 or 3 (this does reduce your maximum range by one, but having Wash cancels this out).

FireFinish In the end I won fairly easily – after 10 turns out of 20, with an absolute stack of cash.

I thought about another game the following day. In the end, I ended up doing some tidying, and getting into a losing battle with Photoshop, but even if I had stuck to gaming, I’m not sure I would have been that enthused about playing this again – there just wasn’t that much to drive things.

Interestingly, an issue we have with Firefly in general, is that there isn’t much interaction, so it often feels like everyone is playing a solo game. I’m assured that there are fixes in the expansions, but as it is, the game doesn’t get enough play to justify an expansion…

 

Overall thoughts

On balance, I think I managed to get a fair amount of gaming done during this week-and-a-half. I probably over-estimated the time I had available (I forgot that, although my wife was away, I still had work, and various other commitments), and there were other things I wanted to do that got pushed aside by excess gaming.

Some of the games I played work well solo, whether that’s something like Legendary, which I knew already, or Race for the Galaxy, which was a pleasant surprise. Others were a bit of a let-down. The Shadows card game, and Firefly both felt like they didn’t really repay the time investment as a solo game.

It’s going to be a while (I’d imagine) before I do this much solo gaming in such a short period, but when I do, it’s nice to know that there are games out there worth the effort.