Into the Cauldron: Pinch of this, splash of that.

Ahhhh, October.  One misconception about the Northern U.S. is that the temperature is always cooler.  While in comparison to the egg-frying on the sidewalk California summers of my youth, that perception holds true for the most part.  However, Minnesota and Wisconsin are damp states full of ponds, lakes and rivers.  Our summers get incredibly steamy. Not as much as the Southern US, but in comparison to our brutal winters the temperature change is quite drastic.  I look forward to October each year when the Northern wind pushes out some of the humidity and provides us with lovely fall days.  It’s the month of 2 of my favorite occurrences, my wedding anniversary and Halloween.

As usual, October has been a busy time for us in an enjoyable way.  I think we get a little squirrely before the snow sets in, our last hurrah before the long dark winter.  I haven’t had an opportunity to prepare an in-depth post, but instead have listed a few of the things we have been up to and a few more things that are in the works.  More in-depth posts will follow later this week.

What we’ve been playing:

We have been playing Lobotomy, a good choice for October. I previously wrote about my first impressions. Tonight night at game club, we will be playing a second time and I should be able to provide a more robust review.

We are having some friends over this weekend for spooky games; So far we have narrowed our options down to Dead of Winter and Gloom.

Our local game store is having a demo for kids and families of the No Thank You, Evil role playing game for kids.  As a dutiful godmother, I will be taking my friend’s children.  I’m looking forward to it, these kids play D&D with their dad and I can’t wait to see them create their own characters and play a lighter RPG.

What we’ve been doing:

We decorated our local game store for Halloween with tea lights, spider and skull light strands, tinsel garland, skeleton garland, spider webs complete with sacs of victim bones, weaponry and spooky portraits.  Of course, I was having so much fun that I forgot to take pictures, they are forthcoming.  It may seem odd that we decorated a shop we do not own or work at, but in a small town it’s not uncommon for everyone to “pitch in”, plus I love decorating for Halloween.

What we’ve been reading:

I have been listening to the Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.  Although the story is not horrifying or scary, Lynch’s writing style is very transporting.

Locke Lamora is the leader of a gang of thieves called the Gentlemen Bastards, and takes place in a city that is somewhat like a fantasy Venice.  Often these Bastards employ costumes and elaborate schemes to dupe their victims.  There is something about the other-wordly tenor and masked work in the dark that feels like Halloween to me.  There’s magicians and alchemy, cutthroats and spies, creepy creatures, strange poisons and all of the other little details that make Lynch’s world vibrant.  Noone is as they seem, and no other night of the year is that more true that on Halloween!

What I’ve been watching

While I love suspense and action films/t.v., I am very particular about the horror that I watch.  I like fantasy horror, but really dislike horror that involves humans being terrible to other humans.  The whole Saw genre is not for me.

I do really like zombie movies though.  I think it has to do with intent; Zombies aren’t attacking for the purpose of pleasure, they are attacking out of a base survival drive. I finally caught up with the Walking Dead on Netflix, and now am watching the fear of the Walking Dead on Hulu.  I watched the majority of the first episode last night, and it looks interesting.  There was a lot more drama than zombies, but that’s how the Walking Dead started too.

Exciting Events

Tomorrow night Jacque and I will be heading to Minneapolis to see the My Favorite Murder podcast live.  Jacque is not a huge true crime fan, but I love these irreverent and hilarious ladies.  They walk a fine line between empathy and comedy, and it is not for everyone (looking at you, mom – you wouldn’t like it).

Well, that’s what has been going on here.  I will be back soon with pics and more info!

 

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October Game First Impression: Lobotomy

Our game club chose Lobotomy, by Titanforge Games as the game we will play for the month of October.  This is a cooperative horror dungeon-delver for 1-6 players.  Last night we spent the club time setting up the game, reading the rules, reading some more rules, attempting to play, realizing we were screwing up the rules and finally sort of, maybe, figuring it all out!  Pretty standard for a complicated game with a lot of things happening at once.  As we didn’t get too far last night, I will just be sharing my initial impression of the game.

Fair warning: The theme of this game is centered around mental illness, and may be upsetting for some readers.

Lobotomy 2

The game is played on a series of game pieces that form the playing board.  Each of these pieces represents wings of a mental hospital, and characters play in-patients trying to retrieve their memories and escape.  An interesting piece of the theme was that it is unclear if the horror elements of the game are real or if they are in the minds of our characters.  Each character has their own unique combination of mental health issues, which give them different powers and effects in the game.

There are several different scenarios, and the group can progress through all of the scenarios as a campaign, or just quick-play one scenario.  In my brief flip-though of the scenarios in the game the themes get creepier and more difficult as the game progresses.  As your group attacks nurses, other mental patients and “monsters” (or are they?), you will also scour various rooms in the hospital for lost memories, files, medication, weapons and other items that will assist you in your mission objectives.

lobotomy 1

The creepy factor in this game is high for me, especially as a personal fear of mine is the fear of losing touch on reality (cause how would you know?).  There are all sorts of icky scenarios and creepy gross-looking monsters making this a perfect game for the month of October for our group.  The artwork is fantastic, and the quality of the minis and game pieces is very high.  The scenarios are well written and although we had a difficult time the first run through with learning the game mechanics, the mechanics work very well, the game-play seemed quite smooth once we figured out what to do!

That said, I do have to say that we are using the re-written rules, and using JD’s game notes from Board Game Geek to set up the board and play through the game.  Apparently there was a slight translation issue from the original game play books and rules.  We didn’t have a problem using the newly translated rules, as far as figuring out the game play.  We did need to use JD’s notes to set up the game pieces though.  It’s a little unclear where items need to go on the dark game board pieces.  The new maps and notes help determine where items need to go.

I think the owner of the game will probably be looking into putting stickers on the game board pieces to help determine where items need to be placed.

Although there was a bit of frustration level with the set-up, once we got moving everyone had a great time running around and smacking monsters, gathering up found items and using player abilities and we are excited to truly begin the campaign next week.

So far I am having fun, and enjoying playing the game.  I will definitely keep an eye out for more Titanforge games, as I was very impressed with the quality of the game play and pieces.  The theme isn’t really my thing – but I could see fans of games like Eldrich Horror being really into this one.  I’ll let you know my final verdict in a few weeks!

Review: Steampark

Being a member of a board game group has given us an opportunity to try games we don’t own, or haven’t heard of.  As we are in between club games right now, one lovely couple has been bringing some of their collection to try out, and we have been having a blast!

One game we tried recently was Steampark, by iello.  In Steampark, players are building tiny little theme parks for Robots.  The winning goal of the game is to make the most money with your little fun park venture.  The buildings must be placed on the player mats in a certain way, and different types of buildings offer different benefits.  As you begin to attract fun-seeking robots, these robots create rubbish which must be dealt with in the maintenance of your park, or you will have to pay hefty pollution fines!  Each turn begins with all players rolling a set of custom die and trying very hard to get the most advantageous dice rolls quickly.  The first player to place their dice on their mat is able to snag the first player card, and so on until the last dice-roller chooses the final player order card.  This mad roll-and grab method of player turn order was hilarious.  After the turn order is decided, a round of play begins and each person uses the symbols available on the custom dice, performing actions to build and maintain their park.  In addition, there are cards that allow players additional points, money or benefits if the goal on the card is reached.  At the end of the game, players count up their stack of little dollars, and determine who has the most entertaining robot theme park.

The theme of this game was fun, and it played out well.  Because the theme was so light and silly, at first the game didn’t appear very “heavy”, but there is a fair amount of strategy required to build an effective park.  My absolute favorite part of the game were the little roller coasters and buildings.  The artwork was so cute and fun.  While I really wanted to place my buildings in the most advantageous way for me, there was also the temptation to place the buildings with aesthetics in mind, and to build the most fun teeny tiny robot park ever!

This game was super fun, and would absolutely be a great family strategy game for players 10 and up.  It’s another one of those great family games that is simple enough for kids to play, but definitely has enough substance that adults would have a great time as well.

 

Review: Venture the Fog, Hydra (In-Dev)

Sorry for the lack of posting this week, I think I have the plague.  This is the weirdest/grossest cold I have ever had.  But, I’m not stuck in Puerto Rico or recovering from some crazy dude opening fire on a concert so I should suck it up and quit my whining.  Right? Right.

Last night I had an awesome opportunity to play a game in development, Venture the Fog: Hydra.  This is the first game developed by Silver Gaming Company, and is currently available on Kickstarter.  I had a really good time, and it was exciting to hear the co-creator Travis talk about the amount of work that has gone into bringing a game to reality.  Just hearing about the math behind ensuring the player-characters and monsters were balanced made my head spin!

Our board game group members test played the game, and we found that aside from a few component suggestions, the game felt very complete and cohesive. Even the prototype pieces looked great!

The artwork is amazing – nothing brings people to the game table faster than a great-looking game.  Not only is the artwork fantastic, but the game uses the player mats in a really unique way.  Travis showed us the plastic trays that are currently being developed that will hold each player-character game board.  Within this player tray/board are slots along the sides, where you physically slide equipment onto your character.  The way each piece of equipment is designed, the stats show through to the player board-face when equipped this way.  I thought this was a really interesting way to address multiple equipment pieces, stats and a good way to avoid having too many cards cluttering up the play space.  There are two tracker wheels embedded in the player board as well, a health and an attack wheel. The game-board is hex based which widens as you explore and venture the fog!

The game-play was interesting as well.  There are 2 modes available for players to engage in; quick play and campaign-style.  We played one quick-play game with 4 people in about 45 minutes.  However, the campaign can be played over a number of sessions, leveling characters up as you advance.  An interesting feature of this RPG was the competitive play.  Most RPG’s that I have played are typically the group vs. the DM’s scenarios.  In Venture the Fog: Hydra, there is no DM.  Each character is in competition with the others to slay the Hydra and be the biggest, baddest hero!  So, not only are you messing with your group with tile placement, racing to keys and treasure, waking the Hydra and forcing a fight, but you are able to bet on the outcome of your opponent’s monster fights.  I was surprised how much I enjoyed the betting aspect of the game.  There was a lot of trash-talk and laughter around the table.  With your ill-gained coin you can purchase herbs that will help boost your stats in your next battle, or unwanted equipment cast-off by other adventurers.

Travis explained the concept behind Venture the Fog: Hydra.  Silver Gaming really wanted to create an RPG that had a quick set-up, with easy rules and could both draw players unfamiliar with an RPG format into that style of gaming but would also be interesting and challenging enough for seasoned players in the genre.  After playing, I would say that they have been successful in their endeavor!  Our group is about 50/50 hard core D&D/Pathfinder players, and half strictly board gamers.  Everyone at our table enjoyed the game equally and many of us will be purchasing this game through Kickstarter, or through our LGS the Gathering Games, which will be carrying the game in a limited amount as a retailer.

Some suggestions we offered were to have a life-tracker of some kind for the monsters to keep track of monster health as we smack away at each little creepy forest creature.  Travis was very open to this suggestion, and spent a lot of time bouncing ideas off of us.  We all loved the minis that had been printed using a high quality 3-d printer.  As of now, there is no plan to include the minis, which was a bummer but when Travis explained the cost of just the materials to produce high-quality resin-printed figures, it became obvious why they were not included in this first product.  I know this is a goal the guys are striving for, either as a separate add-on or as part of an expansion.  Full disclosure – I did receive a rogue mini prototype, and I’m not going to lie, she is awesome and I can’t wait to paint her.  I do hope that they are able to either simplify their design and contract with an injection-molding company or find a more cost-effective way to produce the resin pieces.  But, to be honest, they really aren’t needed for game-play and the standees will be just fine!  I would rather see this Kickstarter be successful.

Overall, I really enjoyed this game, and I would definitely recommend backing and supporting this new company.  I’m very excited to see what else Silver Gaming Company has in store for future expansions/games as well!

 

Kickstarter Campaigns in Progress

I am always looking for new games to fund on Kickstarter.  Crowdsourcing allows me to fund a game by a known designer so I can get all those Kickstarter exclusive preciouses, or to back a relatively unknown independent publisher with a song in their heart and amateur content video.  I won’t lie, I like getting exclusive cool content from CMON and other giants in the game industry.  I get it, it sucks when you don’t have the money to kickstart a project and you lose out on cool minis or a fifth player expansion.  I personally wish that all campaigns would offer the kickstarter exclusive content in their final retail product, or as an expansion kit, but I also understand that baiting the hook with exclusive content makes projects successful in the first place.

My favorite type of games to back are from independent designers.  I absolutely love finding the “diamond in the rough” that others have possibly overlooked.  The game might not be as “shiny” as a game produced by a major game producer, but independent games have that fun quirkiness about them that makes them more endearing.  It’s like going to Starbucks versus the local coffee house.  I like Starbucks.  A lot.  I know when I order a Venti Cold Press with Almond Milk added (don’t judge). I know exactly what I am going to receive through that super clean shiny drive through window.  But the place downtown lets that weird smelly guy come in with his lazy Labrador who sprawls across the worn carpet and pleads with his eyes for belly rubs.  They don’t have almond milk, but they do have a hemp-rice blend and even though they don’t have cold press base pre-made they will make me an iced americano, extra strong.  It’s funky, the barista is most likely high, but I have a really good time when I stop in.  However, I don’t go to The Crazy Goat coffee house, or whatever it’s called when I am on my way to work.  When I want something that I know will meet my specific expectations, I go to Starbucks.  When I want a game with awesome minis, shiny production, perfect rule books, I know which producers to go to.  When I’m looking for an adventure, I go independent.

A game that I have recently backed is the card game Terrorixico, the first game created by Gener Escalante.  Terrorixico is a semi-cooperative card game in which you fight monsters from Mexican folklore.  I love the comic-book style artwork, and I am excited to hear more about Mexican legends.  I can’t wait to review this game when it comes this fall!  The kickstarter for this game is over, but there are plenty of great options out on Kickstarter, whether you are looking to get in on the first production run from a known company, or looking for a game that is a little off the beaten path from a new game designer.

Although you can certainly go broke backing games, there are also plenty of smaller items at a reasonable price.  I have Dice of Pirates on my short list right now because we don’t have very many mini portable games, and at $10 this is a pretty good deal.  Plus, it comes in cute little tins and had a tiny pirate ship and custom dice inside.

Tell me about your Kickstarter experiences.  Do you go for the known entity, or do you support smaller designers as well?  Do you only back tabletop games, or do you venture out into other categories?

Crowd Favorite: Mechs vs. Minions

Mechs vs. Minions is a game that is almost always in our travel game bag.  If plans fall through, as they did this evening when our GM had a dental emergency, this game really draws everyone back to the table.  The game aesthetics are top-notch; the horde of mini minions, very nicely painted game player pieces, heavy crystal pieces, various game-boards, cogs, programming boards, cards, etc are all amazing.

Don’t let the massive component count scare you away.  The game play takes just a few minutes to set up and explain, and after playing the first training mission, players quickly pick up how to maneuver their minions and attempt to create a beneficial strategy.

Mechs vs. Minions is a cooperative game where players maneuver mech minis around the game board to fulfill mech school assignments.  The assignments come in sealed envelopes, and the instructions from the professor will increase as your team progresses.  Each player has a programming board where instructional cards will be placed after a card draft in each round of play.  The programming increases each mech’s abilities as the cards build when combined through each draft.  The cards allow for various attacks, movements and turning ability.  However, each card must be played in the order laid on the programming panel, and card placement requires some strategy.

Although strategy is certainly a component in this game, minion attacks can throw a wrench in your mech’s programming and wreck all the work you have carefully placed.  Minions spawn and advance in each round, causing damage to your program, and may cause you problems such as turning 90 degrees or causing you to swap your card programming order.  Instead of achieving the assigned goal in a few rounds, you may wind up spinning in circles and having to re-think your whole plan until you can fix the error caused by those nasty minions!

Every time we have brought this game to the table, it has been a huge hit.  I must admit, when Jacque told me about the game, I wasn’t really interested.  Meh, programming and robots and mech school.  Just didn’t sound all that interesting.  I am really glad that I gave this game a chance, and it is now one of our stand-bys for casual and advanced gamers alike.  It is one of those games that is simple in mechanics, but complicated enough to keep people engaged. Plus, the effects of chance in the card draft and minion attacks are often hilarious.  It’s common for players to wind up going in exactly the wrong direction or pushing another player across the board.  Because the game has such a fun theme, and there is enough left to chance, the effect of these setbacks is often more funny than frustrating.

I haven’t met a player yet who dislikes this game, and I anticipate that our copy will be in our on-the-go game bag for the foreseeable future.

Review: By Order of the Queen

By Order of the Queen, by JunkSpirit games is the first Kickstarter game that I have ever backed.  This is a cooperative, family game in which Players/guild members are sending crews of heroes out to fight off monsters, attempt to complete a Queen’s order or perform side quests that have the potential to benefit the Kingdom of Tessandor.

The artwork in this game is absolutely fantastic.  I love the little monsters, heroes, and the overall gameboard.  Aesthetically, I really fell in love with Tessandor.  The lore, quest text, special items, etc. all add wonderfully to the flavor of the game.

Cooperative games are my jam, and it really does feel like you are beating back the horde and shoring up resources while attempting to secure the Kingdom.  I really enjoyed the combat aspect of the game as well, rolling dice and taking out the creepy little monsters encroaching on my villagers.

Although I like this game, and am excited to see what else comes out from Junkspirit, there are a few bugs in the system.  First, this is a loooooong game.  A lot of the success of the game lies in the rolls of the dice, so where a player can use strategy, they would certainly want to.  The problem with employing strategy on say and attribute test, is that the playgroup spends a lot of time looking at tiny symbols and determining who has what of which and how many.  Now, some of this in a game with strategy is to be expected.  However, after the first two hours of counting symbols, it gets a little old.

There are a few things that would have made the game a little less long, and feel a bit more exciting I think.  First, reduce the number of successes needed to complete a queen’s order.  8 successes are needed to complete one queen’s order, and only one player can attempt the order every round.  That means, if on average, you have 2 successes a round, that’s 12 rounds.  If the number of successes needed is reduced, the number of consequences could be increased as well, so you would still maintain the threat level in the game.

Another area I think that could have used some improvement was the unnecessary complexity that really didn’t add to the game.  For example, quests in the game have attribute symbols on the back.  These are the most likely attributes your group of four players will need to complete the quest.  However, there may be other attributes that a quest is based on that aren’t listed on the back of the card.  In addition, the quest may instead make you compete in a class test, or combat.  So, you definitely want to have the three symbols on the back of the quest card, but you also want a smattering of other attributes thrown in, just in case, and then in case it is a class or combat test, you had better have at least one of each class.  All four players need to review their card thus and determine who is in the best position to complete the queen’s order, side quests and to fight the horde.  I think maybe instead of class, combat and attribute tests it might have been better to go with 2 of the three for this family game.

There were a lot of complaints at our game table regarding the rule complexity as well.  Not much more to say there, the rules weren’t terrible.  But they weren’t great either.

So, although there are some definite drawbacks to this game, I am still hoping to play it some more.  I think we might make up some house rules.  If that reduces the game time a bit, I think we would be more likely to play.

Would I recommend buying this game?  Although I really enjoyed the overall “feel” of this game, I would have to say no.  HUGE CAVEAT – I would, however consider other games by JunkSpirit.  I think this game may have just needed a couple of tweaks that would have made it perfect.  Ravens is JunkSpirit’s current Kickstarter campaign, and I can tell you that it is definitely saved in my list of wanted games.  My hope is that JunkSpirit continues to be successful and that their games only improve as they continue on their journey, because I do want to explore more of the fantastic Kingdom of Tessandor!!!