Saturday, February 21, 2015

BSG: Betrayal So Great

Battlestar Galactica had just come out. We were huge fans of the series, board gaming and Fantasy Flight, so buying it was a lock. In the first week we played it ten times, getting to grips with all the various rules. But there were a few minor hiccups, and one major, hilarious one.
It was a six player game. Both Boomer and Baltar were in play, so the Loyalty Deck had two extra cards. I was the Admiral, and a Cylon from Turn One. Jp was President Baltar, and after the halfway point, he used Baltar's Once-Per-Game ability to look at someone's Loyalty. He picked me. 

My deception game was over. I was outed before I could do much damage.
Jp looked at my You Are a Cylon card. He handed it back and looked me square in the eye. "It's okay guys, we can trust the Admiral."
Now, I've never had the best poker face, and it took every ounce of my being not to squee in joy. As President and Admiral, Jp and I went on to utterly destroy the humans without ever revealing, taking heat off each other as soon as someone got suspicious. We were on opposite sides of the table, two other players between us on either side, so we were devastatingly effect.
As the final blow was dealt, we stood up to High-5 over the table, and two of the other players whooped in victory as well! Everyone froze. There were four Cylons in the game. The only two humans just starred, their very souls and faith in humanity charred and blackened.
I had screwed up the Loyalty Deck. For Boomer and Baltar, I shuffled all remaining cards and added two randoms, instead of adding two "You Are Not a Cylon" cards, as the rules state. By chance, those two cards were both Cylon cards. 

Yeah, it was against the rules. Maybe it shouldn't be counted as a victory, but it was memorable, and we all still laugh about that game to this day.

Cross posted from Tales of Betrayal on Shut Up & Sit Down.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Sheriff of Nottingham

Now listen. I'm an honest guy. I've never tried to sneak anything past an offical representative of the State in my life. So when I tell you this, you should believe me. I know what you just saw, I saw it too, so I'd never try to do anything funny. Honestly. I really do have four apples in this sack. NO! Don't shake it! You'll shoot someone's eye out... Well... Crap.

In Sheriff of Nottingham, you take turns playing the titular Sheriff, inspecting the other players bags of totally legal goods and judging their honesty as they pass through you gate. The merchant players are trying to move goods through to their stands, staying safe with legal, but low value, goods, or taking risks by trying to get contraband, illegal but higher value items, into town. At the end of the game, the player with the highest value of goods and coin in from of them wins! Easy.

Sheriff of Nottingham is a hilarious bluffing game about bribery and smuggling. The core gameplay comes in the Inspection Phase, after everyone has chosen their goods, loaded their bags, and passed them to the Sheriff. At this point, players can bribe, bluff and cajole the Sheriff to leave their bag alone or open someone else's. If the Sheriff opens a bag with undeclared goods in it, the player who owns that bag must pay a penalty. However, should the Sheriff open a bag containing exactly the declared goods, then the Sheriff pays the owner for the inconvenience. Risk/reward for all involved!

It's great when you have a bag full of apples and you bluff the Sheriff into open your bag by trying a bit too hard to shift attention to someone else. Equally, it's frustrating when you realise that the Sheriff is very likely to hand back your bag, loaded with an honest-to-goodness four bread, a missed opportunity to move those two silk you've been holding for two turns.

The rules in Sheriff of Nottingham are surprisingly light, making it a wonderful starter game for getting new people into the hobby. Set-up is fast, hindered only by the massive number of cards in the deck making it tough to shuffle. Turn sequence is printed on each of the player cards, so once each phase is explained, the turn is easy to follow.

The key to Sheriff is in player interaction. Players can try to convince the Sheriff to open another merchants bag, or bride the Sheriff to leave their bag alone. There are few hard rules to this phase. You use your poker face and wits to bluff and read other players, talking as fast as you can to convince the Sheriff to open a suspect bag, or questioning a shady merchant about the contents of their suspiciously quiet bag of three chickens.

A cunning player can try to get other players to gang up on a merchant, pooling small amounts of coin from each of their purses to pay the Sheriff to open another players bag, knowing that the coin those players spend weakens them more than the coin you sacrifice. A cunning Sheriff could take a bribe from everyone, knowing that the large sum of coins they got individually vastly outweighs any potential income from the meagre contraband any individual merchant got through the gate. Oh the fun you will have!

And that's what this game is, fun! If you're looking for a fast, light game that will have everyone laughing, then Sheriff of Nottingham is the game for you. If you have a group of players that are willing to role-play a bit during the Inspection Phase, then all the better! It's hilarious to watch someone get caught with two crossbows in their bag, and desperately try to explain it away in character! Or listening to characters grow over a few turns, from honest apple-pickers to nefarious mead runners. A highly recommended game that has been hitting my table an awful lot since I purchased it. It's just so easy to get in to and you can happily play two whole games of Sheriff before moving on to other games and not feel worn out.

A few things before I wrap up here. There is a free App available for Android and Apple devices, and it is well worth grabbing and using. It includes a timer for the Inspection Phase, which is helpful, but it is great for totalling the final score. As well as adding up the values of all the goods on each palyers stands, the player with the most and second most of a good gets bonus points, with ties getting divided up among those on matching scores. The App takes care of all that math, including working out the bonus from Royal Goods and any promo cards you might have. You can update players scores each round, or wait until the end and score everything at once, as I like to do. This keeps the game moving during the bulk of play, rather than interrupting each round to add in scores.

Finally, there is one rule that is worth highlighting. During the End of Round Phase, players should draw back up to six cards in hand. Although not explicitly mentioned in the rule book, players should only draw new cards from the face-down pile, not either of the two face-up discard piles. This keeps new cards cycling into play continuously, as well as stopping players from simply drawing a bunch of goods that were confiscated that round. This rule isn't even mentioned in the official FAQ, but is stated as a rule in the excellent Watch It Played How To Play video (Link is to the moment the rule is mentioned). It's arguable then that this isn't an official rule, but having played with and without it, I will always enforce this, as it enhances the gameplay significantly.

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Legendary Encounters

Deck building games were a massively popular genre for a while among my friends. I say "genre", but really, it was just a single example. Dominion was hugely popular for many months, and several of my friends picked up one or both of the base sets, along with keeping up to date with the expansions. But as with many things in life, other interests bloomed as deck building grew stale. The last set I played from Dominion was Prosperity, and despite owning a copy of Dominion and the Seaside expansion, I hadn't played it or any other deck building game in the three and a half years I lived in Canada.

Until the start of November last.

While visiting my friend Karen in California for her wedding, her and her then soon-to-be husband Sean pulled out Dominion while we were hanging out the evening before the wedding. As soon as we opened the box, I was hit with a wash of memories; Sinead destroying us with Cutpurse and Pirate Ships; Aidan running massive, complex, deck-milling combos with Throne Room; that first time Gar brought it over, and I dismissed it because I wasn't in to Magic or that kind of game.

Before the evening was over, I was hooked back into the deck building games, and I wanted something new.

Legendary Encounters is a 1-5 player co-op deck builder from Upper Deck. Players take on the roles of Technician, Marine, Scientist or Synthetic, among others, and recruit characters into their decks to battle the alien xenomorph and complete Objectives.

Yes. You read that correctly. You battle the H.R. Giger designed, bane of Ripley's existence, sleek, silent, terrifying creature with acid blood from the Alien series of movies. And it is awesome!

Let's just get that out of the way right off the bat. This game is fantastic! I've played it twice solo and a bunch of times in multiplayer, and every game was thrilling, terrifying, nail-biting stuff. The theme is put to great use, as you really start to feel like the aliens are everywhere, creeping through the Complex, an unseen, unknown threat that is still right in front of you the whole time! It's in the room, man! It's in the room!!

Players can choose to play with set Objectives and Characters that represent a specific one of the four movies, or mix and match for an unexpected combination, like Dallas and Bishop battling the alien Clone. So far, I've only played the Alien and Aliens presets, so I haven't tried the random mix yet. Presets definintely feel like the movies they're inspired by, with characters, events and threats popping up that are familiar to fans.

A players personal deck starts with some basic cards, and buy, or recruit, new characters into their deck from a shared HQ of five face-up choices out of the Barracks Deck. The Barracks Deck is made up of four smaller decks, each representing a single character from a particular movie, so the Aliens version would have Bishop, Hudson, Hicks and Lieutenant Ripley. There are four Ripleys in the core set, one for each movie; Warrant Officer, Lieutenant, Sister and No. 8. The instructions book even suggests that you might find it fun to play a game with a Barracks full of Ripley's! I'm totally up for that!

The Hive deck represents the aliens in the base. Similar to the Barracks, the Hive is made up of smaller decks, this time each one related to an Objective in the current game. Again, each of the movies has its own set of three Objectives that are built around key scenes or events in the movies. Unlike the Barracks Deck, I'm not going to give an example of what's in the Objectives deck, or the related Hive deck, and I'll explain why in a moment.

Each turn a card from the Hive deck is placed facedown on the rightmost space in The Complex. If there is already a card in that space, it gets moved along the Complex to the left, opening up a space for the new card. All cards in the Complex travel in this fashion. Should five cards already be in the Complex, then the leftmost card drops down into the Combat Zone when a new card is added. If it's still facedown at that point, it now flips to reveal what it is.

Character cards in your hand provide abilities, but also Recruit Points and Attack Points. Recruit Points are spend to purchase new characters from the HQ. Attack Points can be used to scan rooms in The Complex. When you scan a room, you flip the Hive card there, and it can then be attacked on this turn if you have enough remaining Attack, or a future turn.

The players win if they complete all three Objectives and lose if they all get killed.

Legendary Encounters is a great game to play solo or with friends. My first two games were solo, something I rarely do, but I wanted to learn the rules ahead of teaching others. I actually really enjoyed playing it by myself. It works well, though I don't have a lot of solo play experience to compare it too. My other games included three and four player ones, and all those were great! In the first multiplayer game, one of our players got facehugged early on, and ended up with a chestbuster. That promptly killed him, so we broke out the Alien Player deck and let him have a go at that. It was vicious. He destroyed us. He was terrifyingly powerful, and we struggled to stay alive for as long as possible, by it was a futile effort.

Although it plays mostly as a full co-op game, Legendary Encounters also allows for an Ash-inspired hidden traitor mechanic, where one of the players might be working for the Company. Fittingly, when we tried this, the player playing the Synthetic turned out to be a traitor! He won, but just barely. It was an exciting game right up to the last players final action.

The best feature of this game so far is in the Hive Deck. During set-up, aliens from an additional Drone Deck are added to each of the mini Objective Decks, one for each player, so in our 4-player games, we had four extra aliens in each of the three mini decks, for a total of 12 additional threats! The Drone Deck has all sorts of monsters within, and the Hive is already filled with terror. Which brings me back to something I touched on briefly earlier.

DO NOT LOOK THROUGH THE HIVE DECK IN ADVANCE!

Don't read through the cards when you open the game for the first time. Don't look at them while you're setting up the game for play. Don't rob yourself of that thrill. It really is something else, something unlike anything I've ever experienced in a board game before. It's an amazing feeling when you flip a Hive card in the Complex and find something utterly new, or uncover something with no explaination of how you can deal with it, so it just sits there, slowly crawling along The Complex towards the Combat Zone. You have to trust in the game that you're not utterly screwed. Or maybe you are, and that's fine. Maybe you've been playing the game like a board game, where Characters are just resource cards to be used and discarded, and suddenly Legendary Encounters makes you pay for your hubris. Amazing!

Everything about Legendary Encounters is polished. The machanics are clean and clear, while allowing for exciting combos from both players and the Hive. The art is good overall, though noticably shifts from flat, comic book styled cards to something much more detailed and better painted, like a comic book cover piece. Card layouts are clear, apart from the affiliation logos, which I feel could have done with being made just 50-75% larger. The box is huge, leaving loads of space for expansions, and includes foam blocks to fill that space and stop cards from falling around. They also included divider cards for clearly separating all the mini decks that make up the game, which is much appreciated.

And then, finally, there's the play mat. I'm not gonna lie, one of the top reasons I picked this up was for the playmat. I had heard good things about the game, but the play mat pushed me over the edge. It is gorgeous! It's designed to be in the center of the table, laying out all the various decks, discards and locations. More games need to take this path over a board where possible. I do love my playmats.

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It Was All A Dream

I am utterly convinced I wrote a New Year's post for this blog, reviewing the first post from 2014 and looking at how I did during the year. Unfortunately, I can't find that anywhere, which is a bit annoying, as it was a long enough post, and I don't feel like trying to rewrite it.

Was it a dream? Was it something I wrote, but forgot to save? Did someone in the Official Internet Content Supervisation and Authorisation Offices decide it wasn't written well enough?

Whatever happened, it's gone, making this sham of a post my first post of 2015. Whelp! Let's get on with it.

2014 was awesome for us! We went on a very cool holiday in Whistler mere days after discovering Claire was pregnant, so it made the whole thing much more special! We got our Permanent Residence status in July, and we've both been working, playing and creating throughout the year!

Claire took up sword fighting this year as her new passion. She's gotten herself some armour and a big freaking sword! She's gotten super fit, and can do crazy things like handstands at seven months pregnant! She recently did an archery class, and has a new focus for her love of medieval weaponry. I, meanwhile, still go swimming, and recently have been putting in 75 - 100 lengths a week, sometimes hitting 40 lengths, or a kilometer, in a single session. My personal record in a single session in 2014 was 52 lengths! I almost died.

2015 is going to be the start of a whole new era for us. Our Spawnling is due some time in March, so we're super excited for that! Everything has been great so far. Claire didn't have any morning sickness in the early stages, and was still sword fighting up to January. She only really started to show in late January, and now has a wonderful baby bump, one that shifts, moves and kicks outward all the time, waking her, or generally annoying her at work.

I'm still drawing and working on a cool personal project at the moment. I've been collecting a set of impressive markers for my art, and they've been a huge encouragement to draw more, not only because I spent the money on them, but also because they make my art so very cool! I'll be drawing more in 2015, and posting as much as I can. Claire has also been creating, having gotten a sowing machine just before Christmas. She made blankets and bibs for the Spawnling, and has plans for more.

The coming year, or the eleven months that are left in it (Sorry) are going to be awesome, exhausting, terrifying and awesome. I'll try to post more often!