What I Did On My Christmas Holiday

Been a little quiet around here, huh? Christmas does that. Lots of family stuff going on, both for me and my gaming group. But I’m trying to get back to some more regular gaming – and blogging – now. And to start off, I’m going to do a bit of a recap of what I’ve been up to over Christmas.

  • Castle Ravenloft – I demoed this boardgame at C4 this past year, but there’s a real difference between co-ordinating a demo and actually playing. It’s quite a fun game. Three of us played, and we got through two scenarios that evening, with time left over to play something else. The speed of play is a huge bonus, in my opinion, and the randomness of the game means there’s good replay value. In short, it looks like they’ve taken all the cool stuff of Descent and weeded out the things that made Descent ((To be clear, I like Descent, but it is a long game, and doesn’t quite have the cool to justify the length of play.)) take forever – prep time, convoluted combat, adversarial plan, things like that. The downside is that it’s only good for five players, currently, though the forthcoming Wrath of Ashardalon, which is supposed to be compatible with Ravenloft, should address that.
  • Chrononauts – We got in two games of this card game after playing Ravenloft. It was so good that I went to the game store the next day to buy a copy for myself ((I also got the three supplements for the game, and am looking forward to trying them out.)). The rules are very simple, but the strategic play involved in trying to change the right lynchpins in the timeline so that the ripples bring about the future you need is quite deep. Again, fast play and great replay value, as everyone gets two different goal cards each time you play.
  • Battlestar Galactica – I managed to get in two games ((In one of them, I finally got to be a cylon!))of this, finally getting a chance to try out at least part of the Pegasus expansion. In addition, I’m currently involved in a play-by-forum game with some friends. It’s still a fantastic game, but the urgency and tension that you get playing face-to-face is mitigated somewhat by the delay in playing online.
  • Arkham Horror – Lately, whenever we play this, we play without the extra boards. Otherwise, there’s no hope of actually finishing a game with my group. But I have added the figures for the investigators and some nice little accessories from Litko to enhance the experience. We faced off against Ghatanothoa last time, and we kicked his ugly ass back out of reality. And only one investigator was devoured!
  • Shadowlands – After a lengthy hiatus, my friend Clint got us back to his D&D 3.5 campaign, and it felt good to get back.
  • Gammatoba – My Storm Point crew has voted to go with my Gamma World pitch, and we’re running a short game set in the ruined wasteland of Red Valley, where the brave initiates of the Fort LoGray Legion are venturing into Great City One to prove their mettle and achieve full membership. That starts this Sunday.
  • Dread – After hearing a lot about this game, I finally bought it and am about half-way through reading it. It’s got some great ideas, but I’m a little concerned about whether it would fit my game group – specifically, the idea that players are out if the tower falls. In general, I don’t like elimination mechanics in games, and especially in RPGs, and having the chance that a character just dies and is out in the first five minutes of play is not something I’m comfortable with. That said, the recommendations for pulls make it look like one pull per five minutes of play making for things getting tense as you near the four-hour mark. I’d have to see it in action, I think, to judge it fairly, but it makes me uncertain.
  • Leverage – I’m a fan of the TV show, and The Quickstart Job looked cool enough that I bought the main book ((I’ve received the .pdf, but no sign of the printed book yet. I’m anxiously awaiting it.)), and I was completely blown away. I’m putting together a group to run The Quickstart Job, and then I’m going to have much more to say about this game. One thing I’ll mention here is that, while The Quickstart Job seems to do a good job of introducing the style of the game, it leaves out a number of the really cool parts of the game ((In addition, it looks like the fight rules have changed between The Quickstart Job and the release of the main book. I like the new changes – they make things faster and more cinematic.)).
  • Smallville – I picked this up on the strength of Leverage – they both use a tweaked set of the Cortex rules system. I had passed on Smallville earlier because everything I had read about said that it focused more on the teen soap opera dynamic than the superhero facet of the setting. And that’s right, but the way the rules have been tailored to do that is worth the read, even if, like me, you never intend to run the game. If nothing else, the character creation process, which creates the rest of the supporting cast, themes, locations, and basic plotlines as a byproduct of building the characters, is immensely lootable.
  • Fiasco – I didn’t get to play as much Fiasco as I had hoped ((As in, I did not get to play any Fiasco.))over the break. But I did have several people express real interest in giving it a try when things settled down. So, there’ll be some games in the near future ((Yes, Karla and Ryan, that means you.)).
  • Bookhounds of London – Picked up the preorder for this. I’ve only just scratched the surface of it so far, but it looks amazing. But you knew that, right? I mean, it’s written by Ken Hite, fergawdsake!
  • Writing – I set myself a goal of 1000 words per day for the novel I’m trying to write. I didn’t live up to that, but I did manage about 11,000 words in total. That’s not too bad, and gives me a strong foundation for the rest of it. I just need to make working on it a more regular part of my day.

So, that’s the way the Christmas vacation shaped up for me. It’s got me pumped about gaming in the coming year ((Like any more pumping was necessary.)), so expect to see me going on at length about various things in the near future.

No Roles II – More Board and Card Games

Way back here, I said I was going to talk about some other board and card games I enjoyed in my next post.

Well, obviously that didn’t happen.

It’s been more than six months since that post, and I’m finally getting back around to it. Here are some brief discussions of other games I like.

Beowulf the Legend

From the good folks at Fantasy Flight (as usual), this is another very beautiful, high-quality game, with a wonderful set of rules. It’s a lot of fun to play. The concept is that the players (and it works with 2-5, though really you need 3 for it to be really fun) are members of Beowulf’s warband, and travel with him, helping him out in his adventures. The one who earns the most glory for himself by the time Beowulf dies at the end (Ooops! Spoiler!) becomes king of the Geats, and gets to preside over this tribe of folk as they wither and vanish from the earth.

You don’t have to play out that part, though.

It’s a bidding game, essentially. Everyone has a hand of cards with various suits for Fighting, Courage, Wit, Traveling, and Friendship, and you play these in various episodes throughout Beowulf’s story to help him achieve his goals. The person who helps the most gets first pick of the prizes, the next gets second pick, and so on. Some of the prizes aren’t such prizes, if you follow me; they’re things like wounds or misfortune. Other prizes are much better, being glory, treasure, alliances (which can be either glory or treasure), and special cards that help in play.

The thing that really makes this game shine, though, is the risk mechanic. It turns a fairly tame bidding card game with an interesting background into a full-on Viking game of boasting, challenging, and gambling. See, you may not have the suit of card you need to bid in the current round. In that case, you can risk, and draw two cards from the deck. If you draw a card of an appropriate suit, you bid it and hopefully stay in the game. Cards of the wrong suit are discarded. If you don’t get a single card of an appropriate suit, you take a scratch (three scratches make a wound, which can negatively impact your final score).

Strategy-wise, the game is all about risk management. You want to make sure you have the cards you need for the coming challenges, so you need to look ahead and plan accordingly. You want to take risks either for really good prizes or to avoid really bad prizes. You need to be able to judge whether or not taking a given risk is worth it to you at the time. And you need to be able to shrug off all the other Vikings in the game calling you a coward if you don’t take the risk.

It’s a lot of fun.

Now, I have been informed by a female friend of mine that this is very much a “Guy Game.” I don’t know how true that is, but I’m a guy, and I love it. I say give it a try, even if you happen to be a woman.


This is a card game from Atlas Games, created by Keith Baker, the mastermind behind Eberron.

In general, I’m a big fan of the folks at Atlas, not least because the inestimable Dr. Michelle Nephew was very good to me while I was writing for them. And they published one of my favourite RPGs in the whole, wide world: Unknown Armies.

This game has nothing to do with any of that, but I felt it needed to be said, anyway.

In Gloom, you take control of a family of unfortunate people, and try and make them even more unfortunate. The art is very reminiscent of Edward Gorey, and the themes are very Lemony Snicket, as you play misfortune cards (“Pursued by Poodles,” for example; there’s a lot of alliteration in this game) on your family. These cards drop the score of each of the people in your family down into negative numbers. Then you kill them, freezing the score. In the meantime, you try and play fortunate cards on your opponents, raising the scores of their families. Once an entire family has been wiped out, you total all the scores, and low score wins.

The cards use a clear substance (mylar, maybe?), allowing you to stack fortune and misfortune cards on top of your character cards without obscuring the portrait and name. There’s a clever mechanic with the positive and negative scores appearing in different positions on the card, so that sometimes a new card with cover an old score, and sometimes it won’t. Only visible scores are counted, which leads to some strategizing about who gets what card, and the different deaths can also affect scores.

It’s not a complex game, and the strategy isn’t very deep, but it’s quick to learn and quick to play.

The really fun part about the game, though, is the rule that you have to tell a little story about the cards your playing, building on the cards already in play. You can’t just lay down the card “Mocked by Midgets.” You have to explain why they were mocking, and why it had such a negative effect. The absurd downward spiral of the characters really makes the game.

There are also three expansions for this, but I haven’t played with them. They look interesting, though.

Three Dragon Ante

I never expected to like this game, it being a kind of fantasy poker released by Wizards of the Coast a few years back. But you know, it’s a good game. Like poker, the game is fairly simple in principle and rules, but gets increasingly interesting as you learn it and begin to unpack the strategy in it. Play is generally fast, and fairly exciting, with pots shifting and changing fairly quickly. It does a good job of keeping the players in the hands, as opposed to the way poker encourages folding early.

It’s not a terribly deep game, and I could wish for cards that were a little less cartoony and a little more medieval in flavour, but it’s a good game to sit down with a bunch of friends for an hour or so of pretend gambling.

And now that I have my Campaign Coins, it’s probably time to give it a try again.

That’s it for now, though. Give some of the above a try.