Return to Arkham

Last night, some friends and I got together to try out the new Arkham Horror Third Edition boardgame from Fantasy Flight GamesThis new edition dropped about two weeks back, and I was initially pretty reluctant to buy it – I had pretty faithfully bought each of the Second Edition supplements that came out over the years1, so the thought of starting over with a new version that would probably spawn a whole raft of its own supplements was… uninspiring, let’s say.

Add to that the fact that we didn’t play AH much anymore because of the bloat. It seemed to take longer to set up, longer to play, and the rules kept getting more arcane2. There’s also a storage issue: Arkham Horror Second Edition is a huge game with all the supplements, and storing it all in a manner that makes it possible to actually keep the components sorted to minimize set-up times is a hassle.

But.

I love AH2e, even though the thought of setting it up and playing it is daunting. I loved the First Edition when I got it long ago, in the Before Times. So, even though I wasn’t planning to buy it, I was watching the pre-release information coming from FFG, curious to see what they were doing with the new version of the game. And that wore down my resistance3, so I preordered it from my FLGS4, and picked up my copy on release day5.

So. Let’s talk about the game itself.

It comes in the standard FFG-style square box. Stats on the outside say 1-6 players, 2-3 hours play time, and that it’s aimed at ages 14+. Nothing too startling about any of that, though I note that the play time estimate seems a little closer to our actual first-session play time than I expected, so it’s probably a closer time estimate than I’m used to seeing on board games. Also, it’s nice that the game works as solo play, but it’s a pretty elaborate set-up, so keep that in mind if you want to tackle things solo.

The premise of the game is the same as previous editions: your gang of desperate, soon-to-be-dead-or-crazy investigators roam the fictional streets of 1927 Arkham, Massachusetts, trying6 to keep unspeakable evil from wreaking havoc.

AH3e differs from previous editions in game structure by borrowing the scenario idea from Eldritch Horror and Arkham Horror Card Game. Where, in previous versions of AH, you picked the Great Old One you were going up against and that made minor changes to the game changes, in 3e you choose a scenario that changes pretty much everything: board lay-out, types of monsters, types of anomalies, timing mechanisms, objectives, everything. It also frames everything narratively, so it creates a more coherent story of the play experience7. So, for example, after we lost the game last night, we all agreed about the moment things turned against us, and what had happened in the game fiction – not just the mechanics – to do that8.

Set-Up

Like previous editions of the game, set-up is a bit of a fiddly job. There’s lots of cards and tokens, and a fair bit of sorting to get together the specific bits needed for the scenario you’re playing. I had planned to get everything set up before folks showed up to play, but then we changed venue, so I spent about 20 minutes to a pre-sort of the components to make sure the set-up process was a quick and easy as possible. Set-up on the site took around 10-15 minutes, and that included a fair bit of chatting amongst the players, so it can probably be cut down to less than 10 minutes with more deliberate focus. So, including sort time, set-up from box to ready-to-play looks to be about a half-hour. Slightly less than AH2e.

This is the board at the start of The Approach of Azathoth, the recommended first scenario. Note that I’m using the deluxe investigator figures from previous editions of the game, and I’ve got some nice plastic stands off to the side for the anomaly markers. Also, an official RickFest souvenir dice tower, limited edition.

Of particular interest is the modular board. It’s double-sided: you get five tiles with a total of eight different neighbourhoods. Two neighbourhoods – Northside and Easttown – have duplicates in the mix, to allow for a little more variety to the neighbourhoods that can be mixed in play. They’re nice, thick cardboard stock that lock together like puzzle pieces, along with the seven different street segments. The town is different for each scenario, and the board generally has a smaller footprint than the AH2e core game board9.

One really nice touch for this edition is the special cards for investigator starting equipment. In previous editions, if you were playing a character that started play with, for example, a car and a tommy gun, you had to search the appropriate item decks for those cards, pull them out, and put them with the character. Now, there’s a deck of investigator starting equipment cards, with the investigator art on the backs to make it obvious who they belong to. You still have to look through a deck, but it’s just one deck, and the card art makes it really easy to pull out the ones you need.

Note that each scenario has very clear instructions for setting up that mesh into the general set-up instructions. General set-up has you build the board, while the scenario card tells you what neighbourhoods to use and how to connect them. General set-up tells you to build the monster deck, and the scenario card tells you which monsters to put in it. And there’s a scenario-specific deck of cards that look like the neighbourhood encounter cards we’ve seen in previous editions that get put aside in a special holder. That sort of thing.

Game Play

The game is broken into rounds, and each round has four phases:

  • During the Action Phase, each investigator gets to take two actions. There’s a list of eight or so standard actions – Move, Attack, Ward, etc. – and different cards and abilities can provide options beyond those.
  • Then comes the Monster Phase, when the monsters on the board get to move according to their AI rules, and attack. Attacks are nice and simple – they just do the listed damage to the investigator they’re engaged with. No rolling, so it doesn’t slow things down.
  • The Encounter Phase comes next. This has always been pretty much the heart of Arkham Horror games – you draw a card based on where you are in town, and read what happens to you. This is where you most often have to use your skills to prevent bad things and acquire good things.
  • Finally comes the Mythos Phase. In previous editions, this is when you would draw a card for the Great Old One and commit the appropriate atrocities. AH3e borrows the idea of the chaos cup from the Arkham Horror Card Game, putting a mix of tokens into a bag and having each player in turn draw two tokens and resolve them. The tokens are a mix of good and bad things10, and are set aside when drawn. Once the bag is empty, all the tokens are returned to the bag, and it starts again. This is one of the timing mechanisms of the game, charting the descent of the situation into chaos and ruin.

You run through each phase in turn, then go back to the top and do it again. Repeat until the world is safe or destroyed.

One thing of interest is that you don’t know what you need to do to win when you start a game. Goals are laid out by cards in the Archive, which is basically a choose-your-own-adventure-style deck of cards. You add one or two to the Codex11 at the start of the game, and these cards tell you your initial goals, the pass/fail conditions, and any special rules. When you meet the pass or fail condition, you’re instructed to flip cards and read the back, or add other cards to the Codex, showing the next step on the path to victory or destruction. This is the piece of the game that charts the overall narrative of the game.

Advancement of the game, both in good and bad directions, is governed by two factors: clues and doom

Clues

In AH2e, clues were a simple resource that let you reroll dice and seal gates. In AH3e, they are more narratively supported as actual clues: evidence your investigators can gather that’s related to the central mystery of the scenario, and then figure out to find the next goal. Clues are spawned in neigbourhoods when you pull the appropriate token from the bag in the Mythos Phase12. The card with the clue information has a back that matches one of the neighbourhood encounter decks, and you shuffle it into the top two cards of the deck, so the clue sits among the top three cards. Having an encounter in that neighbourhood thus gives you a one in three chance of a scenario-appropriate incident that provides an opportunity to claim the clue.

Clues can be spent to reroll one die on a test. This is not a terribly efficient way to use your clues. Most scenarios only advance in a positive direction when you add clue tokens to the scenario card. This is done with a Research action, which is an Observation test13 that lets you move one clue per success from your character’s card to the scenario card. This means that, to take a Research action, you must already have one or more clue tokens on your investigator. Narratively, gathering a clue means finding evidence, and Researching lets you figure out what that evidence means.

So, yeah, you want to add clues to your scenario card. The Codex will tell you how many you need to advance the plot, but adding more is not a bad thing, because there are some times you’ll have to spend them from the scenario card to advance the plot.

Doom

Doom is the flipside of clues14. It shows how bad things are getting in Arkham. In AH2e, doom was just a track on the Great Old One card that, when it filled up, woke up the terrible ancient evil to eat you all. In AH3e, doom is added to locations in neighbourhoods, and causes bad things to happen as it accumulates there.

In three out of the four scenarios15, getting too much doom in a given location creates an anomaly, which are 3e‘s counterpart to 2e‘s gates. Once an anomaly exists in a neighbourhood, any new doom is added to the scenario card. Doom on the scenario card is similar to clues on the scenario card: get enough of it, and the plot progresses, but not in a direction that will make the investigators’ lives easier. Let this happen too many times16, and you lose the game.

The way to prevent, or at least mitigate, this is the Ward action. If your investigator is in a space with doom, you can use one of your actions to test your Lore skill, removing one doom from that location for each success you roll. Keeping on top of doom is vital for keeping the game going long enough to have a chance of winning.

Our Game

Our game lasted about four hours, which is only an hour longer than the time estimate on the box. For a first run-through, that’s pretty good. I think I’ve already said a couple of times that we lost. Here’s pretty much the moment we really knew it was over.

Okay. We had just pulled a headline card (one of the other timing mechanisms in the game) that cost everyone 1d6 Health and Sanity, split however we wanted between the two stats. Everyone rolled 5 or 6, so we were all pretty beat up. Then, a Reckoning pull put a whole bunch of doom on the board, spawning three anomalies. We hung on for a few more rounds, and got things largely cleaned up, but the time spent cleaning up the current mess meant we couldn’t really work towards the actual goal, and it all fell apart.

And thus, because of our failure, Azathoth arrived and destroyed all life on earth.

Sorry.

Tear-Down

Tear-down of the game took about 20 minutes, mainly because of the fiddliness of sorting all the various components. Most of the scenario-specific stuff auto-sorts itself during play, so there’s not a whole lot of messing around with doing that – just looking through the location decks for the scenario-specific clue encounter cards, which have a different enough face that they’re easy to spot. So, not a trivial clean-up time, but not overwhelming either.

Play Advice

After running through the game once, I have some advice to help it run smoothly and in a timely manner. These are mainly things I learned by not doing them well enough during the game, and regretting it. There’s no real strategy here, because I haven’t developed any beyond, “Clues good. Doom bad. Monsters bite.”

  • There are two-side player markers that you can flip to show that your investigator has acted. USE THEM. The Action Phase lets you choose the order in which your investigators act each round, and there are lots of moving bits to the different actions, so it can be easy to lose track of whether or not someone has acted. Use these markers religiously.
  • Appoint one player to monitor and announce each phase. There are nice reference cards for each player, so use these to keep track. Again, there are lots of moving parts, and there can be digressions in play because of various things triggering other things. Giving one player the responsibility to keep track of what phase you’re in and what comes next can really help avoid having to make timing corrections.
  • Read your whole investigator card. I mean, there’s some flavour text that you can avoid, but I almost missed the fact that the investigator I took randomly17 was essentially permanently cursed, only succeeding on 6s on his tests. Made him a real challenge. So, read the whole card, and all the starting cards you get, and keep track of your various abilities. There are a lot of them.
  • Read all of the cards that affect the entire game out loud. Other people hearing the stuff may be able to help you avoid misinterpretation and mistake. It’s a co-operative game, so use your team.
  • Spend a minute or so at the start of the Action Phase to strategize. You get to decide the order in which the investigators act, so take advantage of that to make sure you’re doing things efficiently and effectively.
  • Clear your schedule. This is a game that takes time and attention to play. Not paying close attention or trying to rush things will really impact your enjoyment of the game.

Conclusions

Four of us played, and we all had a lot of fun. One of the group is generally reluctant to play these longer games18, and even she said that she had fun, and was looking forward to playing it again.

The scenario-based design really works well to build a story out of game play, and to emphasize the mystery and horror aspects of the game, especially on the first play of any given scenario, when you don’t know how the story will unfold. It also provide a strong structure for future expansion releases.

The physical design and structure of the components is typically high-end for FFG games. I sleeved all the19 cards, because I think the game’s going to get a fair bit of play, and the extra sorting and shuffling you do with the scenarios is going to increase wear on the cards. I also use a cheap set of plastic bowls for the various20 counters and tokens used in the game, making it easier to draw them during play, rather than just putting them on the table in the baggies I store them in.

Also, it looks nicer.

Of the 12 starting investigators, 10 have shown up in previous AH family games21, and 2 are new to this game. That meant I had the deluxe, painted investigator figures for all but two of the investigators. I also had some nice plastic stands for the anomaly markers that I threw in the box.

The Broken Token, my favourite creator of deluxe game crates and game organizers, has a product page up for an Arkham Horror organizer, but no organizer product listed on it, yet. I’m watching that space, though22.

This game is, to my mind an improvement over the second edition in a number of ways, including speed of play, replay value, and mechanically supported narrative. It’s still a non-trivial investment of time and money, but if you liked second edition, you’ll probably like this, and probably like it more. And it’s nice to have an AH game that fits in one box again. So, if Lovecraftian board games are of interest, I strongly recommend you check this out.

  1. And there were a lot of them! []
  2. Ba-dum CHING! []
  3. So, congratulations to the FFG marketing department, I suppose. Working as designed. []
  4. Amuse N Games, if you care. You should. They’re pretty great. []
  5. I was surprised to also get the Deluxe Rule Book with my preorder. Thanks, Brian and Scotia! []
  6. Largely unsuccessfully. []
  7. This was implemented in Eldritch Horror specifically, but was a little rough there. The AH3e version of it is nice and smooth. []
  8. ONE stupid headline! Just ONE! []
  9. This may change with the supplements that I assume are coming, and will probably add some more neighbourhood tiles. []
  10. Mostly bad. The only really good one is the one that puts a clue on the board. The other “good” one is blank, so the goodness is just that nothing bad happens. []
  11. The game’s fancy term for an array of cards that charts the narrative status of play and current goals. []
  12. You also start the game with three clues on the board. []
  13. That is, you roll dice equal to your investigator’s Observation skill, and count each 5 or 6 as a success. []
  14. Literally, in this game, because the tokens for doom are the other side of the tokens for clues. []
  15. I haven’t looked carefully at the fourth scenario, yet, so I can’t speak to what doom does in that one. []
  16. As we did, last night. []
  17. Rex Murphy. []
  18. To be fair, the version of AH she’s most familiar with is 2e, which can take 6-8 hours or more to play. []
  19. Many, many. []
  20. Many, many, many. []
  21. AH2e, Eldritch Horror, Elder Sign, Mansions of Madness. []
  22. Now, the page shows the AH2e box and publication date, so I don’t know if they’re making a product for 2e or 3e. Fingers crossed. []

Cards! Cards EVERYWHERE!

I’ve had a few new games for a while that I’ve been wanting to try. They’re card games – well, mainly card games. Race to Adventure is more of a board game that just uses cards to build the board, but if I call that a board game, then how about Infiltration? You build the board in that game with cards, too, but cards feature more prominently as things you play, so is that a card game or not? At least Sentinels of the Multiverse is very clearly a card game. To keep things simple1, I’m calling them all card games, mainly because the main thing you do in setting up each game is shuffling and dealing, whether it’s a nine-card deck or something larger.

Anyway. Onward to a point.

I wanted to try these games, but was having trouble getting folks to play – at the Tabletop Day thing, everyone was into the stuff they’d seen on Tabletop, and my regular gaming schedule meant that getting my friends to commit was problematic at best. So, I finally bit the bullet and invited a bunch of people over, bribing them with dinner and dessert2, on the condition that we play through all three games.

And so, this past Saturday, we did that. Here are some shortish thoughts on each of the games.

Race to Adventure

Race to Adventure

Race to Adventure

I got in on the Kickstarter for this game, and it showed up in my mail several weeks back3. Once I got my friends to commit to the evening, I laid the game out to make sure that I could teach it to folks quickly, and walked through a game. Even playing solo4, it was quite a bit of fun.

The idea behind the game is that each player takes one of the iconic members of the Century Club, the centerpiece of the Spirit of the Century RPG from Evil Hat. Your goal is to travel to nine more-or-less remote places, complete missions, and return to the Empire State Building with all nine of your passport stamps filled in. The main mechanic in the game choosing which of the six items – zeppelin, biplane, magnifying glass, jet pack, map, and lightning gun – your character gets for your turn. Three of the items5 let you move in different ways, while the map and lightning gun let you complete missions at your destination to earn your passport stamps, and the magnifying glass lets you earn clues, which are also needed to complete your missions. The strategy part of the game is about getting the item you need at the right time – you pick your item in turn, and you may find one or more other players hogging an item you badly need.

There are a couple of other little quirks, likes a time limit on getting your rescued Atlantean prisoner to safety or removing the curse you pick up in Egypt, but that’s the game in a nutshell.

The game is pretty simple to learn and play. It took me maybe ten minutes to explain the rules and lay everything out, and we jumped right in. Overall, the game took about a half-hour to play, though I can see it going much more quickly once folks get into the flow of things. The default play method is for everyone to choose their items and then take their moves and actions simultaneously. We took turns, mainly to make sure we understood properly what was going on. In later games, I expect things to move more towards the simultaneous action, which would speed play up.

There are some nice nods to replay value, as well. First, the locations are laid out randomly in an three-by-three grid next to the Empire State Building starting tiles. The different placement of the tiles – especially Atlantis, the United States, and Schweiz – will change your strategy and the flow of the game. Secondly, you can flip the locations over to reveal the shadow locations, which are more difficult versions of the standard locations. By varying the number of shadow locations, and which cards you change to shadow cards, the game difficulty can be scaled up. Thirdly, there are three expansions for the game: Dinocalypse and Hollow Earth expansions, based on the Dinocalypse Now! novel by Chuck Wendig, and Strange Travels, which provides rules for a sixth player, solo play, and alternate board layouts. Between these three expansions, there’s a lot of new stuff to keep the game interesting and exciting for some time.

We had a lot of fun playing this game. It was light and fast, with some interesting strategic choices to be made. I think it was the hit of the evening. And, for those who care, Benjamin Hu was the first to return to headquarters and shout, “I have returned!”

Sentinels of the Multiverse

Sentinels of the Multiverse

Sentinels of the Multiverse

The second game of the evening was Sentinels of the Multiverse, a fixed-deck comic book card game. Each player chooses one of the heroes to play and gets the 45-card deck that represents that hero’s powers and abilities. The players co-operate against a supervillain with a 25-card deck , in a location represented by a 15-card deck. All the decks are predetermined – there is no deck-building aspect to the game6, you just get your deck, shuffle it, and do your best to play it.

We played with five heroes: Ra, Mr. Fixer, Tempest, Fanatic, and Bunker. These weren’t necessarily the simplest heroes to play, but they were the ones that caught the eyes of the players. I ran through the villains for everyone, but got drowned out with the shouts of approval when I got to La Capitan7, and then we chose Rook City – the Gotham City analog – for location.

The game is pretty simple in execution, but elegant in design. The fundamentals of play are straightforward – the villain and environment decks work in a clockwork-like fashion to simulate their challenges, and every turn, heroes can play a card, activate one of their powers, and draw a card. As usual in card games, individual cards can play with the way cards are drawn and played, and the strategy of the game comes in how you play the hero cards in your hand.

Again, as is typical of card games, the interactions between your hero cards can produce synergies and combinations that pay off in big ways. These interactions aren’t always readily apparent, however, so playing an individual hero’s deck is a skill that will develop over repeated plays. While this points to some interesting replay value, there are a lot of heroes in the game that I’d like to try, which means that I’m likely to suck at the game for some time to come.

The game was fun, though. We pulled a bad card from the villain deck right off the bat, which brought in La Capitan’s crew of nasty henchmen, and that was not good. To add insult to injury, two or three of the four crew members had effects that attacked the hero with the lowest HP each villain turn. Poor Tempest was taken out in only two or three rounds.

Most of the rest of us followed. At the end of the game, Mr. Fixer was the last hero standing, and he managed to take down La Capitan with under five HP left of his own. It was tense toward the end, and I’m not a huge fan of player elimination8, but the mechanics that come from flipping a hero card over to the taken-out side are actually pretty cool, reflecting heroic sacrifice, renewed resolve of the surviving heroes, and stuff like that. Very flavourful.

Overall, the game was a lot of fun. The learning curve was sharper than for Race to Adventure, because of the complexity of playing the various hero decks. For players not familiar with hobby card games like this, it can be pretty opaque for the first little while. It also took significantly longer than the first game – about ninety minutes. A lot of that was learning the game, though, so I expect subsequent games will go faster.

And there will be other games – with the expansions, I have 18 different heroes, 12 different villains, and 12 different environments. The combinations available boggle my mind and pretty much guarantee that I’ll be trying another game soon.

Infiltration

Infiltration

Infiltration

The third game had the most complex rules and set-up. There were cards to sort, cards to shuffle, cards to lay out, cards to deal, tokens to sort, tokens to lay out, and characters to pick. The explanation of the rules was not as clear as I might have liked, and I hadn’t had time to do a solo run of the game to make sure I knew what I was doing, so I was less confident in running this one9.

As it turned out, this one ran smoother than Sentinels of the Multiverse. The card interactions, goals, and usage were all very straightforward and well-spelled-out on the cards themselves. Once the first round was done, everyone understood what was going on, what they needed to do, and how to do it.

In the game, you play various criminals in the cyberpunk universe of Android, another board game from Fantasy Flight. The goal is to break into a corporate installation, make your way through the two floors (and secret room) of the building, and loot it of all available data. Of course, just stealing the data is only half the job; you also have to escape before the corporate goons arrive, lock down the building, and arrest everyone still inside.

You have a hand of cards to help you accomplish your mission. Everyone has four cards to advance, retreat, download data, and interface with the technology of the place. In addition, everyone starts with (and can receive more) four item cards that give you special abilities and then are usually discarded.

Every turn, you play one card, and then resolve them in player order, and then check to see how much time you still have left using an alert tracker device. Moving through the building is accomplished primarily by using the advance and retreat cards, and each room you reveal will have some data and probably something else in them. The something else can range from a secret door to a special room, through data that you can’t get at unless you defeat the tech lock on it, to NPCs that might just gut-shoot you when you walk through the door10.

This is not a co-operative game. The winner is the criminal who is both outside the installation when the goons arrive AND has the most data downloaded. If you’re still inside the building (i.e., still on one of the room cards) when the goons show up, you lose. You can leave the building at any time through the room you came in, but you cannot re-enter the building once you leave. Thus, a lot of the game is risk assessment and management: how much longer do you think you can stay in the building, what’s the best use of your time, etc.

We had a lot of fun with this game. The constant-but-irregular increase in the alert counter, counting down to the arrival of the goons, added some very nice urgency to the game, and the rooms that we found all had something interesting going on. I’m not sure if the fact that we didn’t get much past the first floor is typical, but it felt a little frustrating – there were all these other rooms that we just weren’t getting to. Even the player who resigned herself to not escaping, and just pushed higher into the building, hoping for an emergency exit11, didn’t manage to reveal all the rooms.

But play was face, fairly simple12, and entertaining. It’s definitely going on the list for replay.

But What About Dinner?

Dinner was tasty. We all enjoyed it.

The Games in Question

The Games in Question

  1. Well, that ship’s pretty much sailed, huh? Yeah, I get that I’m being obsessive and pointlessly pedantic. Deal with it. []
  2. Pulled pork sandwiches, coleslaw, and potato chips, with home-made blueberry dumplings and home-made vanilla ice cream for dessert. Not a bad bribe, if I do say so myself. []
  3. Yesterday, I got the rest of my Kickstarter goodies, including the very nice messenger bag. []
  4. And not even using the solo rules included in one of the Kickstarter stretch goals, just playing three characters by myself. []
  5. Zeppelin, biplane, and jet pack, of course. []
  6. And I, for one, am immensely grateful. I never got the hang of the deck-building parts of other card games, and never enjoyed it. []
  7. “She’s a TIME PIRATE! How can we not fight her?” []
  8. “You lost the game. Now go sit in a corner while the rest of your friends continue to have fun.” “But I want to have fun, too!” “No. You have proven unworthy of fun. Now go. You’re embarrassing both of us.” []
  9. Especially teaching the game last in the evening, when people were getting more tired. []
  10. This is what happened to me on about the second turn. Being injured in the game sucks, and I was injured right up to the end. Never did get off the first floor. []
  11. There are a couple of other ways you can leave the installation besides the entry room. These all seem to require sacrificing some data, but pop you right out of the building instantly, so sometimes it could be worth it. []
  12. Though some of the choices were hard. []

Another Casualty of the Crown of Command

Today, my friend Chris ran a demo of the Talisman boardgame at Imagine Games and Hobbies here in Winnipeg.

Now, I realize that what I’m about to confess may cost me a whole pile of grognard geek cred, but I’d never played Talisman before, in any of its incarnations. Don’t really know why; I just never owned it, and neither did any of my friends. And there were always other games to buy. So, I never tried Talisman before today.

I’ve really been missing out.

Yeah, I know everyone else out there who’s reading this has probably played the game to death, and are giggling at my naive wonder. Y’know what? I don’t care. I was blown away.

The game is great fun. And the addition of the Dungeon and Reaper expansions make for even more fun. There was a great variety of things going on in game, and we didn’t get even half-way through the stack of adventure cards that provide the encounters and events. I can see that the game has some real replay value.

Downsides? Yeah, a couple. Mainly they’re artifacts of the era the game was created in: as a product of the 80s, there are some game design decisions that I don’t think you’d see if the game was designed today. Lot’s of “miss a turn” mechanics, for example, and a huge random factor in play. The game is very luck-based; if the dice don’t like you, all the deep strategizing in the world won’t help you. You need to get the right cards at the right times, and make the right rolls when you need them. For example, I spent six or seven turns just trying to get to the Warlock’s Cave to get a quest in order to get a Talisman to get to the end of the game.

I didn’t get one, and someone beat me to the Crown of Command, then killed the rest of us off, as you’re supposed to do to win the game.

So, some degree of frustration, but not enough to actually sour the play of the game.

Set-up took under 10 minutes, including the time for us to sort out some of the cards. Chris taught us the rules in another ten. So, with someone who knows the game, under 20 minutes from opening the box to the first turn. This is very nice, and a bit of a change for me: most of my games require much more elaborate set-up.

The individual turns also went very quickly, averaging maybe two to three minutes per turn. Nice, quick pace without feeling rushed. Again, a nice change from the number of games I have that have each person’s turn taking five to ten minutes. And it takes some of the sting out the “miss a turn” stuff.

All in all, we played for about four hours, and finished with a nice win by Tania, who now apparently rules the world with her Crown of Command.

The game is, as one would expect from Fantasy Flight Games, absolutely gorgeous, with nice, high-quality and durable components. It’s a little pricey, but considering what you get in the box, it’s worth it. It’s going on my Christmas list.

So, a fun afternoon. Thanks to Chris for running the game, and to Clint and Tania for coming to play with us.