random thoughts to oil the mind

Tag: Board Games Page 2 of 4

2015 in Review

Statistics! They’re everywhere… and I seem to have collected a lot of my own. This post isn’t of any interest to anyone, but I just thought I’d write up what media I’ve been consuming over the past twelve months.

Summary

Words translated: 583,472 (plus over 122,017 proofread)

PC games played: lots

Best PC games: This War of Mine, Resonance, Sang-Froid, Heroes of the Storm

Worst PC games: Kane & Lynch 2

Board games played: 92 plays (33 games)

Best board games: Space Alert, Colt Express

Worst board games: 100 Unique Places

Films watched: 38

Best films: There Will Be Blood, The Guard, Up

Worst films: Fantastic Four

Books read: 27

Best books: The Better Angels of Our Nature, The God Delusion, The Inheritors

Worst books: Billard um halb zehn, The Numerati: How They’ll Get My Number and Yours

Countries visited: Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, UK

Photos taken: 2614

A Year in Gaming

This year wasn’t particularly exciting for me in terms of gaming. Though I did get through a few coop titles, I didn’t really play any big games through on my own.

The start of the year saw a few weeks/months of playing through those Christmassy coop bargains, some better than others. ORION: Prelude was a fun little dinosaur survival game, with short waves of increasingly difficult dinos to defend your base against. It was a bit clunky, and the design seemed a bit stupid when you could drive around in a tank pounding the pursuing stegosaurus without any danger unless your driver got lost. Meanwhile God Mode and FORCED kept us busy for a few evenings, the former essentially a standard coop shooter, battling through levels full of random enemies with various boosters and weapons unlocks, the latter an isometric puzzle-driven dungeon crawler. Otherwise Fox and I played through the few remaining coop missions of Company of Heroes 2, really well designed in some cases and definitely one of my favourite RTS titles of recent years, though I can’t bring myself to play it ‘competitively’.

Steffi hasn’t played as much this year, at least not with others, but there were a few games we went through together. One was quite possibly the worst game I’ve ever bothered to complete, being Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days. Terrible plot, terrible characters, terrible gameplay, just multifariously and absolutely horrific, so glad I only paid a few quid for it.

Another coop I played through with Steffi was Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, after enjoying the first one of the series so much. Isometric action adventure with plenty of puzzles, some nice interplay between the characters and some fun achievements to try to unlock meant we spent quite a bit of time on it. I also dug up Torchlight II and went on a mad quest with Steffi to finish all the achievements (including completing the game on hardcore-die-once-and-you-start-again-crying mode). Great fun, if rather grindy! We also started playing Magicka 2 with Fox, but somehow there just isn’t enough enjoyment there to warrant loading it up again. I think we had one session some time in mid-year and haven’t returned to it since.

In terms of solo gaming, as said, I didn’t really play anything that gripped me for long. There were a few smaller titles such as CastleStorm (a fairly enjoyable tower defence game), Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (classic racing title, fast cars and dance music), or the simple does-what-it-says-on-the-tin Tower Wars (definitely one I’d like to try multiplayer). I never really bothered trying to get my teeth into any larger titles. Afterfall InSanity is probably the only FPS I tried to play, but soon got bored. I loaded up Sniper: Ghost Warrior and virtually fell asleep during the tutorial. As for strategy games, I had a few goes at Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth after P bought it for me: fairly solid game, though not as feature complete as Civilization V. I also played a few missions of Supreme Commander 2, and felt like I’d seen enough. Though I did play Planetary Annihilation a fair bit more, I just don’t like the concept of the round planet.

So down to my few nice discoveries of 2015: one came right at the start of the year, probably purchased in the winter sales, called Sang-Froid – Tales of Werewolves. Although I didn’t play it particularly far, I liked the design elements and general storyline, hunting werewolves in mid-nineteenth century Canada, with separate stages in which you buy traps and manage resources, set up a plan of action, and then actually carry it out. Maybe that was also what gripped me about This War of Mine, a game set based on the Yugoslav wars of the 90s and played from the perspective of the survivors rather than the soldiers. Scavenge goods, cook food, defend your survivors, and craft tools to make it all easier. Gripping game that I never actually played through to the end, but which impressed me nonetheless. One other title I should mention is an adventure game I played with Steffi called Resonance. A retro 1980s graphical style, with fairly straightforward point-and-click mechanics and elements, but with an absolutely awesome storyline, decent voice acting and logical puzzles. Definitely a surprise hit for me.

What about the board games? Thirty-three different games this year, 92 plays. Ignoring the smaller card games, the top ranks are occupied by some old stalwart coop titles like Ghost Stories and Space Alert. We bought our friend the expansion to the latter for her birthday right before Christmas, so I guess that’ll be on the menu a fair bit in 2016 as well. A new title to the mix lately was Colt Express, Spiel des Jahres this year, neat game of train robbery in the Wild West with strategy, luck and a fair amount of laughs. Otherwise not too many new ‘big’ games played, apart from Caverna at Ric’s. Except for one other we added to the list just before Christmas: the game’s designer actually lives in Karlsruhe, so when I found out I sent him a random message and he invited us round to play his latest title Neanderthal. Definitely a geek’s game, perhaps more for curiosity/educational purposes than anything, but still funny to play a title with its designer.

Bad titles? Not really any worth mentioning. One small one I bought for Steffi at Christmas looks like it’ll bug me: Seven Dragons. I feel like it stole the victory conditions thing from Fluxx, so you can basically work towards winning and then have the whole game change with one play of a card. Otherwise it’s something of a kids’ filler game with laying tiles. Yawn. Another which I didn’t really expect much of, given as Steffi picked it up for a few quid in some pound shop, was 100 Unique Places. Basically a geography quiz board game on the rough premise of raising awareness about global warming yada yada, it just screwed up some of the basics. One thing was that five of us couldn’t work out the damn one-page rulebook, so we just ignored probably one of the main rules as it was self-contradictory and played a rather friendly race around the board. Other than that, the questions were as so often the case a bit dumb, some of them expecting you to know some really obscure facts without help, others giving you options for something fairly easy, or having statistical questions which essentially meant “choose one of these at random: A, B or C.” Best of all was that some of the questions had times set in the future which were already in the past… sure, the game’s five years old, but that put a weird spin on the questions: "What did scientists in 2010 think would have happened by 2013, irrespective of whether it in fact did or did not happen?" Bah!

A Year in Cinema

Apparently I watched 38 films this year, though a fair number of those were re-watches. Only went to the cinema a few times, so most of the new films were on DVD/TV, but there were a few that stayed in my mind. Up was one which caught me off guard, I’m not generally a fan of those kinda films, but it hit all the right notes and told a magically mental story really well. There Will Be Blood was another tremendous film, perhaps a bit on the long side, but it was the perfect vehicle for Daniel Day-Lewis’s acting skills. Highly recommended.

Best comedy for me was definitely The Guard, a black comedy of drug dealing on the west coast of Ireland, though one notable mention has to be Tropic Thunder. I can’t normally stomach Ben Stiller, but somehow the film had me giggling all the way through.

Another couple of highlights of the year were Inception, which I finally got around to watching despite having had the DVD on the shelf for about 4 years. A very decent film with a cool premise, which in my opinion just failed to be amazing by having an uninteresting and flimsy plot (the sideplot is more important but taking the focus off the main plot left it feeling misdirected). Keeping with DiCrapio, I also saw The Wolf of Wall Street, which was purely entertaining for its sex, drugs and humour. Finally there was Big Fish, a sweet psychedelic voyage of discovery.

At the other end of the scale there were some real stinkers. Olympus Has Fallen, not the title of a news article on the camera company, takes the crown for crappy action film of the year, with an absolutely mental plot and so many holes you could sail the Titanic through it. The final Hobbit film, Battle of the Five Armies, was probably the worst big budget title of my year, such an overinflated snorefest. At least the same couldn’t quite be said of Sucker Punch, which was essentially a film designed around a few cool set-piece scenes which otherwise didn’t have any point to being there. It was like watching someone play a computer game, having to put up with the levels between enjoying a few boss fights. We’ve also been watching the Resident Evil series (only missing the latest one) but they’re much better entertainment value, classic popcorn action horrors.

No, the real mouldy potato at the bottom of this bag of refuse is definitely the new Fantastic Four film which we ended up seeing at an outdoor cinema in late summer. I dislike comic book films anyway, but this one managed to fail hard on so many different levels, it was even dull for one of those. Character development, love triangles, catharsis, even the pure action sequences were just terrible in the extreme, and I expect the witty one-liners would only be found funny by preteens.

A Year in Books

I missed my book target this year, but read about 9,000 pages. A few highlights: The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker, a great study of the decline of violence in society of the past millennia, something that has largely gone ignored or at least hasn’t been given due consideration; The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, which I read expecting would annoy the hell out of me being written by the atheist pope, but ended up making me respect him for at least carrying his thoughts through to their logical conclusions and defending secularism properly.

On the German side of things, Lingua Tertii Imperii was a fascinating read on the language of the Third Reich. I’d been piqued by reading Klemperer’s diaries, and whilst LTI wasn’t a particularly standard arrangement, there were loads of interesting titbits and morsels for thought. Then there was Buddenbrooks, one of those classics that nobody reads. To be honest I found it disappointing, expecting more in the way of historical parallels beyond the family drama, and having said so to a few people, someone lent me Joseph Roth’s Radetzkymarsch which I found that much better for exactly that reason.

Down there with the worst books of the year was one my dad recommended called The Numerati, vaguely about the new tech wizards and their realms of big data. An interesting topic, but it was basically written by a journalistic idiot who doesn’t know the subject and treats anyone who does know something about it as a magician. Basically the very epitome of Clarke’s third law. Not only that, but being written by a journalist it was full of the fluff you expect to find in a newspaper article in every single chapter, so the slim volume mostly consisted of padding. But my absolute worst choice of the year was Billard um halb zehn by Heinrich Böll. It’s not often that I actually stop reading a book, but I gave up after literally losing the plot. Written from 11 different perspectives, after about 100 pages I just got completely confused about who the hell was currently narrating and simply had no interest in muddling through!

Lord of the Rings: The Dead Marshes

Dead Marshes

Dead Marshes

Continuing the Shadows of Mirkwood saga, The Dead Marshes adventure pack is the fifth in the cycle, and finds the heroes trying to corner and capture the creature Gollum in the treacherous mires, before he escapes for good. It has a difficulty rating of 5, putting it roughly in the middle of all of the scenarios thus far in the series.

For this adventure the developers have again devised a new mechanic: the escape test. At the start of the game, the Gollum card is placed in the staging area, and at various times (including the end of each round) the players are required to pass a test, similar to the standard questing: if they pass, nothing happens, should they fail, some tokens get placed on Gollum (and depending on situation, their threat level might rise). Enough tokens on Gollum, and he disappears into the deck.

Whilst this is thematically quite pleasing, the challenge being to prevent Gollum from escaping your clutches, there are enough of these tests in the game to make it fairly likely that Gollum will disappear. Which makes the rest of the game a potentially very long slog to try to find the card again, and doesn’t preclude the card appearing only to be discarded again (for example as a shadow card). In one of our games we managed to cycle through the full deck three or four times, and still didn’t get a chance to complete the mission before losing to a high threat value.

Some players consider this a thematically very fitting mechanic and far more exciting than the variations included in The Hills of Emyn Muil or even A Journey to Rhosgobel. Perhaps I’ve just been unlucky, but I found this scenario simply dull. There is only one new enemy in the set, although some of the larger ones from the core game reappear (Wilderlands encounter set), which at least give your characters something to do once you’ve lost Gollum. The expansion probably gets harder the more players are present, at least in as far as some of the Treachery cards require each player to perform an escape test, although this would also allow the deck to be cycled much quicker and might make losing Gollum less of a fiasco.

The player cards in this pack are similar to what we’ve come to expect from the previous ones. The hero here is Boromir for the Tactics sphere, whose dual abilities allow him to ready himself at any time for an increase in threat, as well as go down in a blaze of glory, dealing damage to all enemies engaging one player before being discarded. Definitely a worthwhile hero, with a second ability that is quite situational, but could at the same time be a life saver. Apart from that, Tactics gains another eagle ally, and their song card; the Spirit sphere gains two more Rohan related cards; Leadership features an ally with a one-off chance to negate shadow card effects, and another stat-enhancing attachment, this time giving a hero the ‘ranged’ attribute; Lore have a Silvan ally useful for questing, and a hobbit attachment, probably the weakest card in this set.

Overall, I found this to be the weakest adventure pack in the series, the solid player cards aside. Whilst I appreciate the new mechanic and enjoy the added variety, I felt that the scenario was very repetitive and potentially unbeatable should Gollum disappear, and this unduly dragging the game out to an eventual fizzle rather than an exciting climax. Of course, it may be possible to have a lucky turn of cards, but then the scenario would also likely finish in a few turns.

Lord of the Rings: The Hills of Emyn Muil

Hills of Emyn Muil

Hills of Emyn Muil

The Hills of Emyn Muil is the fourth adventure in the Shadows of Mirkwood series of adventure packs which expand The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. The story pits the heroes exploring these barren and dangerous hills, avoiding pitfalls, and continuing their quest to track down the creature Gollum.

This expansion is unique in many ways. In terms of the number of players, it is probably more difficult, the more players are present, which is something of a rarity. The quest features only one card, and this requiring only one progress token to complete, with the adventure rather based around exploring locations and collecting a certain number of victory points. It has a difficulty rating of 4, putting it on a par with “Journey Down The Anduin” from the original set, and the first expansion The Hunt for Gollum. However, if players have been playing the adventure packs in sequence, with the extra cards they should much more easily be able to tailor their hands to suit the job in hand, and as such I found this quest much easier than “Journey Down The Anduin”, for example. Nevertheless, that alone can’t be used as criticism, and indeed the lighter difficulty comes as a pleasant refrain from the challenges of the previous adventures.

Still, the most common complaint about this adventure is that it is seemingly monotone. Depending on what sort of player you are, this scenario might feel extremely barren and uninteresting, but on the other hand if you managed to read The Lord of the Rings without skipping over the endless songs and descriptions of walking through the landscape, it might be far more up your alley. Despite being location-heavy, some of the larger enemies from the core set are present, as is a new enemy whose attack strength increases according to the number of locations present, and in particular there are some extremely exasperating Treachery cards to keep you on your toes and prevent this adventure being a walkover. Yet by way of design the adventure throws its ‘big guns’ at you in the opening volley, and if you survive the first few rounds you might find yourself having an army of allies standing around with little to do by the eventual end.

One of my biggest criticisms of the adventure packs thus far has focused on the player cards, which were often released in an entirely pointless order. By this stage, however, if you’ve been buying the packs in order, most of the cards start to come into their own, and the ones in this set offer a pretty good selection, including a few which are obviously useful to this scenario. The hero in this pack is “Brand, son of Bain”, a character similar in stats to Legolas, but whose ability is very coop oriented, a nice addition for people not playing the game solo. The Tactics sphere gets another pair of eagle cards, Spirit continues in a Rohan vein and gets their song card (resource generator), Lore has an extremely powerful ally, whilst Leadership gets… well, arguably the most useless card in the game so far. By and large though, the cards make excellent additions and can prove very useful for this scenario in particular.

As one of the easier expansions, it’s somehow a shame that this adventure wasn’t earlier on the list. Whilst some might find it dull, if it doesn’t bother you that the enemies are very sparse, it offers a nice break and a bit of variety, without being a complete walk in the woods. The design is a little flawed in that it tends to start off hard and gradually get easier, and the lack of any progression in the storyline leaves exploring the locations relatively monotonous, but these factors are arguably made up for by the usefulness of the included player cards.

Lord of the Rings: A Journey to Rhosgobel

A Journey to Rhosgobel

A Journey to Rhosgobel

If you’re playing the Shadows of Mirkwood series of adventure packs in order, A Journey to Rhosgobel is the third stage, coming after the brutal Conflict at the Carrock. The story has our heroes encounter a wounded eagle, which needs taking to see Radagast at Rhosgobel to be treated with the medicinal herb Athelas before it is too late.

The second adventure pack to feature an ally in the enemy deck, A Journey to Rhosgobel revolves around the eagle character Wilyador, who unlike Grimbeorn from Conflict at the Carrock, joins the players immediately and swaps ownership each turn. With 20 hit points he certainly seems a tough cookie, but he also weakens at the end of every round, a nice mechanic which puts pressure on the players and forces them to attempt to complete the quest quickly, rather than hanging back and building up their forces. There are relatively few new enemies in this set, but a handful of dangerous Treachery cards which can have devastating effects.

This scenario is definitely a breath of fresh air, with a very specific mission which thematically fits rather nicely. Nevertheless it is still a bit of a mixed bag. The most common complaint is that this mission is, moreso than normal, extremely dependent on the luck of the draw. Healing Wilyador essentially relies on finding Athelas cards mixed in the enemy deck. Whilst there are a few locations which can help, the proportion of these cards is still very small. I haven’t played it solo, but I can imagine that only drawing one card from the deck would make it even more difficult. The scenario has a difficulty rating of 6, which puts it marginally easier than Dol Guldur and Conflict at the Carrock, but I would argue that the rating depends entirely on how the cards fall. A good shuffle, and you can find all the healing cards you need for Wilyador in the first few rounds; a bad shuffle, and he’ll die long before you find a single one, and there’s virtually nothing you can do about it.

In terms of the player cards, this set offers a fairly decent selection. The hero in this pack is Prince Imharil (Leadership), a character very similar to Aragon both in terms of stats and ability, and overall a useful alternative, if perhaps fairly bland. There’s no song in this pack, rather a neutral ally, Radagast, who collects his own resources which can be spent on bringing creature allies into the game, or healing ones already there. If you’ve been playing these adventures in sequence, there are also a few more cards here which will make some of the earlier inclusions more useful, such as the two cards which allow you to look through the top X cards in your deck for an eagle or Rohan card from The Hunt for Gollum adventure pack.

Overall this is a decent expansion pack, which adds some useful cards to the player decks, and offers a unique adventure with some nice mechanics that add tension, and force the players to consider their moves carefully. Unfortunately, it’s rather more luck-dependent than previous adventures, and could probably have had more playtesting and a little tweaking to hit the note. This is one of those adventures where players will find themselves honing a deck specifically to the case in hand, and may even then still fail because they cannot find an Athelas card, or too many Treachery cards appear in a bunch. If the luck of the draw is one of the things that put you off this Lord of the Rings card game, it might be worth skipping over this particular pack.

Lord of the Rings: Conflict at the Carrock

Conflict at the Carrock

Conflict at the Carrock

Second in the Shadows of Mirkwood series of adventure packs, Conflict at the Carrock packs a serious punch, with a difficulty rating of 7 (the same as the final adventure in the original set). Where The Hunt for Gollum sees players dealing with a very location-heavy deck, this time round the focus is very much on the fighting, culminating in a tense battle, as four trolls challenge the heroes.

Firstly, the scenario itself while certainly hard is by no means impossible, and lends itself to multiple strategies. Given the prominent role fighting the trolls plays, there’s a lot of tension here. Aside from the trolls in the new deck, the hill trolls from the original game can also play an ominous cameo role. This quest can see heroes being captured, very similar to the prisoner in the “Escape from Dol Guldur” adventure in the core set, which only adds to the difficulty should a hero get ‘knocked out’ at a critical stage. An interesting addition, this is also the first adventure to feature a player ally in the enemy deck itself, who whilst very expensive, lends himself to fighting the trolls, and can be all that is needed to draw victory from the jaws of defeat.

In comparison to the quest, the player cards are more of a mixed bag, though are still a better selection than in The Hunt for Gollum. The hero in this pack is Frodo Baggins, who is a decent addition to the game, with a relatively cheap starting cost and an ability that makes him virtually invincible (converting damage to threat). There are then two cards per sphere, usually an ally and an event/attachment, plus a song which generates one lore resource per turn. All but one of the cards here can find their uses even without extra cards from other adventure packs.

Aside from the usual gripes which are inherent to the nature of this card game, there are a couple of minor problems with this adventure. First, it doesn’t scale quite as well as the previous one, which although it doesn’t make it unplayable, shows it was clearly designed with two players in mind. The second issue is simply a question of paying attention, but there are quite a few cards which alter the values of other ones in the game, particularly when the four trolls come into play, and it’s easy to overlook these extras. The first time we defeated this adventure, we’d actually missed the fact that our threat level should have risen and killed us, so it pays to be vigilant when reading the card text!

Ultimately, Conflict at the Carrock is a very worthwhile expansion to the core game, offering a challenging and exciting new adventure, very action packed, with a selection of decent player cards. The hero, Frodo Baggins, adds some versatility to the way you play the game, whilst the addition of a player ally hidden in the enemy deck is an interesting twist, and thematically in keeping. If you like the core game and don’t insist on playing the adventure packs in order, this is one of the better ones in the Shadows of Mirkwood series.

Page 2 of 4

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.

Close