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Category: Boardgames

Review: Game of Thrones (2nd Edition)

You’ve read the books, you’ve watched the TV series, you’ve read the graphic novels. If you’re Frogdog, you’ve even developed a serious crush on Daenerys Targaryen for her high-fat, low-carb diet.

Now what? Board game, anyone?

I was an enormous fan of the first edition Game of Thrones board game released in… hang on while I go check… 2003. See that, you just don’t get that level of scrupulous research on lesser blogs.

As a self-contained package, the first edition had some glaring flaws, mainly the serious balance issues. The Storm of Swords expansion worked to mitigate this but didn’t fix it entirely. No matter, the entire print run still sold out in short order.

Despite my love of the game, I never got around to buying a copy at the time and when I finally wandered into a nerd shop, found it to be out of print. Balls. But Fantasy Flight have now saved me from the tardiness of my past self by releasing a second edition of the game. It, in theory, combines the best bits of both the original game and the expansion while removing some crappier elements.

The core of the game is a military struggle between the various noble houses to take the lion’s share of the kingdom’s stronghold. Each faction has a deck of characters with various abilities to assist in this. Battles tend to be decisive and short which makes the game one of maneuver and posturing. There’s also a ten turn limit which adds a sense of urgency and strict supply limits prevent any Risk-like steamroller attacks.

The box itself is beautiful. The art is vastly improved, particularly on the faction character cards, and the playing board is nicely detailed. From looking at the game credits, it looks like they picked the most talented artist from the last set and got him to do all of the cards this time around.

Some may miss the old wooden counters. They have been replaced by hard wearing plastic versions with a faux grain. There’s also a new unit in the siege towers (taken from the expansion). This does have a side-effect. It’s quite difficult to distinguish knights from siege towers at a distance. This is bad because when planning a sneak attack, it’s a tad counter-productive to have to ask your victim what the defending force consists of.

The most obvious complaint is that the old box had a storage tray for all the components, this is missing from the new version. With the amount of pieces involved, this is a major lapse, you have to bag the entire set or you will lose pieces.

Major Rules Changes
The major changes are to the universal special orders. The Star Orders have received something of a buff, combining the faction abilities from the expansion with the main game. The House cards have also seen some major adjustments, some of the more powerful cards have been downgraded. But they seem to have been replaced by new powerful cards. All in all, I believe the power level has evened out. Yay. The faction-specific special orders are thankfully also absent.

The other main change are the introduction of battle cards which can provide random strength increases to both sides of a combat. This does make those tight battles a little tense and can result in some upsets. This does make open combat a little more terrifying as even a large advantage might not be enough to offset really awful luck.

What does all that mean for the game? I’ve gotten quite a few games under my belt at this point and honestly, it’s a lot more placid than it’s predecessor. The increase to six players leads to a stable equilibrium forming which can result in calmer (read: more boring) games. The old five player game tended to be a lot bloodier and I feel that this is a flaw in the new edition. It’s an easy fix though, just discuss it amongst yourself and evict the least popular player from the game. It’ll set the right tone for what’s to come.

If he cries, give him this card.

 Lannister Pie (everyone gets a slice) remains an issue. If you don’t assign your most devious player to the Lannisters, they will be taken apart. Generally, keep the experienced players in the centre and south and let the newbies fight it out in the North. Whatever you do, do not spread the inexperienced players out around the board. Clump them for safety and let them fight it out.

The path to victory still rests on the principle of a well-timed knife in the back but it feels as if it’s a lot harder to land a fatal blow. The stable equilibrium mentioned above means that any gain is likely to be limited and games often see little combat until the very last turns.

Can I recommend it? Yes, I can. It’s a solid, fun game and you will not regret owning it. Is it more balanced than its predecessor? Yes, it is. Is it as much fun? Sadly, no.

P.S. Baratheon are still slightly broken. I’m totally okay with that. All hail Stannis, the one true King.

Gears Of War: The Board Game

On the invitation of Newbreed, I’m here to do a bit of guest blogging.
Yes, it is a board game now. A co-operative one to be precise, for up to four players, playing time around 30-90 minutes depending on numbers and difficulty settings. Myself, Aido, John and Padriac were down in Maynooth’s Gamers Hub and decided to give it a go.

You play one of the four eponymous GoW characters. Here’s me, Baird, the “science guy” (he wears goggles in place of nerdy specs). The models are all well designed, especially the Locust, but unpainted, it can be a little hard to tell them apart.
Depending on the character you pick, you’ll get different stuff to start put with in terms of guns and ammo. Along with an individual special rule, as this character card indicates. Grenades are important. Very important.
The maps are arranged with random tiles, a series of rooms and corridors. Missions are randomly selected from a group of seven. This is “Emergence” the beginner mission. Our four intrepid heroes enter on the bottom right tile, and must fought their way to the red dot (an “Emergence” hole) in the furthest one, sealing it up with a grenade, before eliminating the remaining bad guys.
Weapons match those of the game, with the “Lancer” the most common (with a nifty mechanic for using its in-built chainsaw). Using up ammo tokens allows you to add more die to your rolls, but every weapon has a base number of die that you can roll without expending ammo. Grenades though, are gone when they are gone. You can pick up weapons from dead Locust.
That’d be these nasty buggers. The Locust are actually quite weak in the game, their strength coming from swarming numbers.
And here they come. You can rank how dangerous they are by size. Wretches, the smallest, are barely a threat, while the Boomers, the biggest, can mess you up with grenade launchers. A steady stream of Locust will be heading our way all game until the objective is completed.
And it doesn’t take long for them to reach us. As in the video games, the board game operates a “cover” mechanic (the curved arrows) which allows you to add more die to dodge and defence roles.
The turn system operates on a “Player A – Them – Player B – them” system. Everytime a human player is finished a turn, he takes control of the locust, drawing “AI Cards” to determine the general instructions for what they do, which can include attack, advancing or adding more Locust to game board. The player can, sometimes, decide the specifics of what the Locust do though, such as which of the four players they actually attack. This emphasises the co-operative nature of the game, as you work to protect the weakest from Locust assault.
Attacks are made through action cards like this one, of which you are dealt up to seven, depending on the character you picked, receiving an additional two every turn. Aside from letting you do things, the action cards also simulate health as damage is calculated by removing cards from your hand. They also each have individual effects as indicated by the symbol on the top left of the card, which can allow you to dodge an attack, get in an attack on a Locust about to shoot you etc.
The Locust AI cards frequently leave the enemy piled up in front of you in large numbers, in this case, just about every bad guy on the board in one square.
Die rolls are made with black for attack and red for defence. Those red flashes mean hits and damage (of which Locust cannot take much), while skulls are “omens” which activate special rules depending on the weapon used. In this turn, John pitches a grenade at the enemy, and rolls several die.
With bad consequences for them. Grenades are powerful, somewhat over-powered for this game, and are plentiful in this specific scenario. A common game tactic is simply to wait until the Locust are inevitably jammed into one space then pitch a grenade. One of the cowards is actually running away in the top-right.
I start using movement-centric action cards to advance through the map while the coast is clear. Other scenarios might actually be better done with a “Dig-In” mentality, but not this one. Of course, it is easy to get cut off on your own if you don’t collaborate on movement.
It is not long before more Locust are winging their way towards us.
As Aido and John are stuck back in the first square (unable to finish off some Wretches), myself and Padraic take to the high ground, which offers some boosts to attack. But the Locust are not far behind and poor Baird is already down to just two action cards.
And down he goes. Like the video game, I’m not dead, just “bleeding out”. Another player can exhaust an action card to get me up, as Padraic does. The players lose when all four are down. This takes a lot of damage to accomplish, but it is a snowball effect: you can operate easily enough with one player down, but two down means less targets for the Locust to choose from, less offensive options, then suddenly three are down, then you’re all dead.
Another grenade clears the enemies and now we are all advancing down the last straight, the objective firmly in mind. The board game really does capture something of a video game in my opinion, the basic teamwork, the hordes of bad guys falling before you etc. The creators have done a decent job of translating virtual mechanics into board game ones.
We approach the objective. The way seems pretty packed, but you can move past live Locust if you wish. Question marks are ammo points, where you discard action cards to get more food for guns. Pretty important here, to get more grenades.
We make a run for the objective. The first attempt fails, but an ammo point is readily available.
Success! The Emergence hole is sealed. Getting this far was plenty of fun, and the game benefits from such specific objectives, giving it that military feel.
One last thing to do, as a final horde of Locust stream into the map depending on how many players are left. Unfortunately for them, grenades remain really over powered….
Padraic slaughters the lot easily.
Victory! Our team stands united in triumph (except for Aido who was too busy being a glory-hunter).
The game has some minor flaws – hard to distinguish models, over-powered weapons, easy enough enemies – but many of these can be overcome by playing on higher difficulties (we played on “Normal”) which throws greater numbers of more difficult enemies at you, all the way up to Berserkers. But overall it as a good gaming experience. The teamwork, combat, and Locust AI mechanics are all good, the rules avoid unnecessary complexity, and it can all be done in an hour or so. Fully recommended.
David Costelloe is the author of Never Felt Better, the bestest blog on the internet, and personally knows, like, THREE Warheads.

Review: Blood Bowl Team Manager

I know, I know. It’s a wargaming blog but this is vaguely on-topic. Indeed, it’s something of a public service announcement in these times of fiscal responsibility. I bought Space Hulk for the grand sum of eighty quid a few years back. I’ve played it about five times. Blood Bowl Team Manager cost me thirty three quid a month ago and I’ve played it about twenty times.

The Mechanics
The goal of the game is not to be the most successful manager but the most popular. Good managers can get fired, managers who are adored by the fans do not. You secure your popularity by taking your starting team of half-wits and never-do-wells through a season and boosting their fan factor to new heights.

Each week, the players compete in a series of highlights from various matches and cups. The winner takes the lion’s share of the payout on offer but all participants gain something from every match, which ensures that no team stagnates. The rewards on offer include star players, team upgrades, staff upgrades and that all-important fan factor.

The Teams
The box comes with six distinct teams and the internal balance has been solid thus far. The Wood Elves have a strong passing game coupled with off-field effects to negate the impact of enemy tacklers. The Dwarves have a resilient style, players tend to fight on even when downed and their additional abilities reflect their stubborn resistance with effects which activate when hit. The Humans are the all-rounders, which could have be a weakness but allows access to a wide variety of skills. They excel in recruitment and sponsorship deals.

The Chaos have a direct cheating game style, coupled with additional “cheating” abilities from the dug-out. The Skaven share some similarity with the Chaos in making heavy use of cheating but also have a strong passing game. Their off-field abilities allow them to switch players around and benefit from defeats. The Orcs are brutal, violent and occasionally foul their way to victory. Their off-field abilities attempt to leverage their violent acts directly into fan factor. Now these descriptions are merely a basic introduction and I would warn that the teams are not as one-dimensional as is suggested here.

The Tactics

In theory, a successful game is built on careful team development and on-pitch success. But this is Blood Bowl so there are multiple paths to success. The Star Players can be used to bolster your team and change its style. Or they can be used, LA Galaxy style, as big names to drum up supporters. Staff Upgrades can be used to strengthen your squad by granting access to new skills, win matches through direct intervention (hello, Mr. Wizard) or simply increase fan factor quietly. Staff Upgrades are also central to off-pitch bids for fan factor and victory but also required to grant your team the full range of skills. Team Updates generally enhance your specific team’s playstyle by providing race-specific upgrades which tie into their abilities in some way.

No single strategy can be decided upon before the game begins, the successful coach must see how his season unfolds and choose a strategy based on his initial results. Once chosen, he must work to disguise his plans to prevent other players from countering him. This is difficult as the compulsory public display of cards will generally begin to reveal his intentions.

“That was fun. Another game?”

Replayability. I’m not convinced this is a word. But if it was, it would certainly apply here. I have never played a boardgame so often and with such a variety of opponents. The play time is quick, roughly one and a half hours, including set-up. The four player maximum makes full games easy to organise and the teaching time is incredibly quick. We have found that simply playing through the first turn gives all players the required knowledge. My copy now lives in my car so I always have it to hand whenever nerds should gather. So take that as a glowing recommendation.

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