15th June 2021
It's a Tuesday evening at The Sovereigns with the Woking Gaming Club. Continuing a theme, the second and concluding game of the night was another cooperative game.
Previously; we'd defended the kingdom from invaders by rolling for adventure. Now, we're going to defend the kingdom from invaders by being tiny... and epic!
What's in a game?
Like all Tiny Epic games, this comes packaged in a small, sturdy box with a bunch of tiny components.
Artwork on the region cards is nice enough and fairly evocative of their respective regions, meanwhile the art style used for the enemies and player characters reminds of art used in various fantasy videogames, which is no bad thing, it's bright and colourful, which I like.
How's it play?
On to play
To some degree, play in Tiny Epic Defenders is determined by the turn deck.
In each turn, reveal a card from the turn deck and activate it's action.
When the epic foe is revealed, the endgame is triggered. The turn deck is still used, but no new cards are added and play continues until one of the following conditions is met.
The players must reduce the epic foe's health to 0 in order to win.
If the threat level of the Capital City reaches maximum at any time during play, then the players lose.
Tiny Epic Defenders is quick to set up, learn and play, with those artefact tokens it also looks pretty cool when your ITEMeeple is tooled up.
It seems to play a little different to most other cooperative games I've encountered. Those other games tend to make players choose between working towards an objective or managing an ongoing problem of some kind. Tiny Epic Defenders' is mostly about the kingdom and characters surviving the attrition the game throws at them until the epic foe appears, then players have to balance their actions between defeating the epic foe and defending the kingdom.
Like other cooperative games, managing bad luck is vital to victory, in this case it from the turn deck.
This means it's a game about mostly adapting and optimising tactics in preparation for when the epic foe appears and I feel it's particularly important to defend against dire enemies as its the only way to earn artefacts, which can prove vital to victory.
How the turn deck works in conjunction with the horde deck seems like a clever mechanic; players will know how often they get to act and generally how many times enemies attack, but not the order. It makes the game feel like the luck mechanic isn't too unpredictable, which is no bad thing.
Adding cards from the horde deck however, introduces two further elements into this. Firstly, escalating the threat by adding more enemies and secondly, by also introducing a new random facet to the turn deck because the added cards are hidden until they're revealed.
All of this works to raise stakes and tension as the game continues.
Having said that, when defending against enemies, it felt a little unsatisfying and futile when they were only sent to the discard pile instead of being defeated outright, but I guess that's necessary for the turn deck to work.
I also found the tactics a little on the lighter side, ultimately, there were only 6 total locations that needed defending and decisions tended to be between lowering threat in a region or sitting a region waiting to defend it when it was inevitably attacked in an enemy action.
It's not a gamebreaker, I'm just not sure how well it holds up to repetitive play.
If you're looking for a fairly quick-to-play introductory cooperative game to try, you could do worse than look at Tiny Epic Defenders. Or if you like cooperative games and want something a bit lighter, it might also be for you.
15th June 2021
It's a Tuesday evening at The Sovereigns in Woking and if memory serves me correctly, the first time that I've met up with the Woking Gaming Club have met Since October last year!
The first game of the night was Roll For Adventure, a cooperative, dice roller where players must unite to foil the machinations of a Dark Lord wannabe and save the kingdom!
What's in a game?
In Roll for Adventure, our heroes must join forces to defeat The Dark Lord Saur-errr Master of Shadows; how is this done? By collecting the power stones to activate the magical artefact; how is this done? By making lots of dice rolls of course!
The dice are of the smaller variety, which is fine by me, they're made of plastic and finished in a 'marble' look, their edges are nicely rounded and their dots are indentations and not printed. Good quality dice overall.
The territory die is a larger size and has rounded edges, it has artwork related to the territory boards printed on 5 of its 6 sides, the printing seems to be good quality and doesn't look like it'd rub off easily.
The game's variety of boards and tiles are all printed on thick card, as are the components.
The enemy cards are pretty standard quality cards.
Finally; special mention goes to the completely unnecessary and therefore cool little 3d plastic skulls used to track damage on the 4 territories.
Artwork used on the territory boards is fairly minimalist and functional by necessity as space is given over to holding dice. The palette used for the 4 territories extends to the enemy cards and some components.
The quality of artwork used on the enemy cards, hero and adventure boards is all reasonably good. The bright colours scheme used to represent the power stone is pleasantly eye catching.
All-in-all, the components in Roll for Adventure are all of a good quality.
How's it play?
On to play
Like a lot of cooperative games, Roll for Adventure alternates between a player's turn and then the board's actions before moving on to the next player's turn.
The basic principle behind a turn in Roll for Adventure is simple: The active player rolls all their available dice and uses one or more of them of the same number, then rolls their remaining dice and so on, until they've used all their dice. What those dice are used for however, is the crux of the game.
If the damage token for any territory reaches its final spot, the players collectively lose the game.
If at anytime all the players collectively have no dice to roll for whatever reason, then the players lose.
If the players manage to collect the last power stone for their adventure board, then the players collectively win.
Roll for Adventure is an interesting combination of cooperative gameplay and some unusual dice rolling mechanics.
A good example is the Vortex of Resurrection: Using the vortex ends a player's turn immediately. Early in their turn, it's possible a player have the double 5 or double 6 which will be high enough to trigger the vortex, but doing so is a waste of a turn (And dice rolls.), however, waiting until a player only has 1 or 2 dice left means that getting a good result for the vortex is tricky.
Roll for Adventure has no 'set aside' rules or mechanics in Roll for Adventure here, after players use dice, the remaining ones are re-rolled and you can kiss those other useful results goodbye. It forces players to make decisive moves about what they have available now and collectively players need to really cooperate in these decisions too as spreading dice too thinly throughout the board can be a costly error, dice stuck on half completed tasks are a problem waiting to happen. Players need to concentrate on a couple of tasks only if possible and maintain the loop of using dice and then getting them back to use in the following turn.
The same is true of enemy cards, if they're not dealt with quickly, they can linger and repeatedly attack the board, particularly lower rank enemy, which will be commanded to attack the most often.
Balancing the need to get power stones and the need to defeat enemies is key, along with mitigating bad luck that tends to accompany cooperative games. The extra wrinkle here is the need to also manage your dwindling resources - dice!
Actions (Or inactions.) will frequently have an impact on the game and that's a good thing.
That's not to say the game is without some criticism.
With 4 double-sided territory boards, Roll for Adventure has 8 subsystems, at least 4 of which must be learned to play the game. In my opinion, this makes the game feel a little overly complex for the experience it delivers, which a shortish, almost abstract experience.
The game's theme doesn't gel entirely well with its mechanics for me. Do the dice represent various actions of the the player's hero? Or are they minions of the hero sent off on different missions? Whatever the answer, it felt a little unengaging, closer to an exercise in comprehending probability than going adventuring.
Having said all that: The game's balancing kept the outcome in the air all the way throughout and the tension high at the end. If you like cooperative games, Roll for Adventure is worth a look. If you've spent a lot of time playing those coop games where you spend action points to run around a map to perform tasks, this could give you a fresh take on the cooperative playstyle.
4th June 2021
It's Friday evening and we're logged into Tabletopia.
This evening we will be playing the first part of Pandemic Legacy: season 0. Time to battle the Soviets to save the world during the height of the 60's cold war.
Caveat: we've only played this game digitally online.
Caveat No. 2: This is a legacy game and we only played the prologue, so I'm not going to blog about it at length.
What's in a game?
Season 0 is a prequel to the other Pandemic Legacy games, none of which I've played.
If you've ever played a Pandemic style game before, then a lot of this will be familiar to you.
There's also a lot of components to deal with the legacy element of the game.
How's it play?
The setup for Pandemic Legacy: season 0 will differ for each scenario as they have their won objectives, but will include the following:
Players of other Pandemic games will recognise most of the play mechanics. There are some other elements, but mostly during their turn, the active player will have 4 actions points to spend and their turn goes as follows:
Each mission will have it's own unique objectives to complete, when they are all either completed or failed, the mission immediately ends.
Missions will also immediately end if the following criteria is met:
Cards cannot be drawn from the player deck.
There are no more agent figures that can be used.
There are no more incident markers that can be used.
If the mission ends and there are any incomplete objectives, they are marked as failed.
Then players will be rated as succeeding, adequate or failing, this will have an affect on later missions.
Incidents that occurred during a mission will impact the board for later missions as well.
There are 12 missions played over a period of 12 months, making it a busy year. There will also be numerous other actions will occur with regard to further missions, this being a legacy game.
I'll start by saying that I know some people gush over legacy games, but I've not really played much of any legacy games and I'm pretty ambivalent towards them.
I understand the appeal of an evolving game where player decisions have an impact on further games over time. At the same time, I'm so sure about a game where you have to play it 12 or 20 times to get the most out of it.
Anyway; since I've not played the legacy components of Season 0, I'm not really going to blog about them, instead I can write my thoughts about the general mechanics of the game.
If you've played a Pandemic style game, then a lot of this will be familiar. It has the same, recognisable gameplay elements of racing against time and having to make difficult meaningful decisions to balance completing objectives with firefighting the spread of in this particular incarnation, Soviet agents.
Like all cooperative games I've played, mitigating bad luck is a key component to succeeding.
Reskinning Pandemic's mechanics for Season 0 could have been lazy and bad, but actually, they work and fit the theme pretty well, the changes introduce interesting concepts, although some of the changes only apply to long term play.
The addition of teams is an inspired change, instead of running around and doing actions myself, I could instruct teams of agents to do it, provided they had the correct aliases of course. Not only did it give players and extra decision to manage, it made me feel more of a spymaster than a spy, which I found quite appealing, it gave the impression that more was going on at any one time, it made the game feel bigger and that's good.
These changes differentiate Season 0 from Pandemic, but is it enough of a change to justify owning both? For me, as an owner of the original Pandemic; I'd say no. Would I play someone else's copy? Probably.
I have to say it would cool to have seen the agent mechanics employed in a standard spy-themed Pandemic game.
If you're a big player of legacy games and can commit to them, it's definitely worth a look. If you're also a fan of Pandemic, it might also be for you.
28th May 2021
It's a Friday night and we've met up at Simon's for some impromptu gaming.
Have you ever had the urge to run around being chased by Dracula? Or The Wolfman, or any other of the Universal movie monsters in a cooperative turn based race against time to defeat them? Then welcome to Horrified.
What's in a game?
Horrified is a cooperative board game in the vein of games such as Pandemic and has some loosely similar rules.
The monster figures seem good quality and stand about 32mm high. All the tiles and tokens are made of suitability thick cardstock, the standees are also fine. The quality of the 2 decks of cards what you'd expect.
The game's art is universally good, I particularly liked the board which is eye-catchingly coloured in blue and yellow.
All the art used on the monster components is also excellent, wisely drawing inspiration from its iconic source material, this includes the monster figures which are reasonably sculpted for game pieces and easily recognisable by anyone who knows their universal monsters.
Art on the other tiles, character and villager standees is also good, the same is true for the monster & perk cards.
Item tokens only feature monochrome illustrations and that's fine since the tokens are quite small and there will generally be a lot of them. Besides, just how exciting can you make a clove of garlic or a pitchfork look?
How's it play?
In Horrified, players are tasked with travelling round the board to collect item tokens and use them to complete tasks to make monsters vulnerable, then they can be defeated. All the while, the players must avoid the monsters and also protect the very hapless villagers.
On to play
When the active player has their turn, it will be split into a character turn and then a monster turn.
Let's start with the character's turn, each character will have 3-5 action points to that the player may spend per turn, they can be spent as follows:
The monster turn is dictated by the monster card which is drawn. Each monster card has 3 elements to it.
Horrified has 2 ways to lose.
If the marker on the terror track reaches 7, then everyone flees the village in errrr, well terror!
If, when it comes to a monster turn and there're no monster card to draw, then time has run out and it's game over! Monster overrun everything.
Players win the game by completing the objective for each monster and then vanquishing all monsters.
Horrified uses some interesting mechanics that set it apart from similar games.
The asymmetrical objectives that need completing for the different monsters is genuinely inspired game design.
Objectives like curing The Wolfman, solving The Mummy's sliding puzzle or proving the existence of The Invisible Man thematically it fits the monsters and mechanically it adds variety and longevity to the game.
The damage mechanic is also an excellent idea; forcing players to choose which item(s) to discard can be a meaningful and painful decision, choosing either to lose an important token that is needed or a high value other token is tough. It also does away with the need to track health or hit points.
Villagers too, are a good addition, keeping them alive can be a burden, but is also vital to keeping the terror track under control. If character manages to escort a villager to safety, then the reward is a perk card. Perk cards can be extremely useful and turn things around when played at the right time, they can be game winners.
Horrified is a little bit less finicky than it's counterparts but that doesn't make it an easy game, whenever we've won, it was only with a couple of actions in hand and when we've lost, it's been by a few actions as well.
Like every other cooperative game I've played, Horrified uses luck - or bad luck more precisely, to provide a challenge to the players, some bad dice rolls or an unfortunate monster card draw can really throw a spanner in the works. Like all those other cooperative games, how players manage the bad luck is important to victory.
Furthermore, every decision has to count, Horrified is a tightly balanced game. Since there are only 30 monster cards, that means that players basically have 30 turns to win, or on average 120 actions to spend. There's scant time to waste.
Horrified is a fairly accessible, fun to play and well presented game. It's one of the best cooperative games I've played and I'm to play it again.
23rd May 2021
Sunday night game rolls on and I'm logged into Skype and Board Game Arena.
The final game of the night was Forbidden Island: A cooperative race against time to escape a mysterious island about to be swallowed by the ocean.
Forbidden Island is the older sibling of Forbidden Desert, you can read my blog about it here.
Caveat: We played the game digitally but in the past have played the physical game.
What's in a game?
Eye-catching, good quality artwork is used on the flood cards & island tiles, they also come with suitably evocative names such as Temple Of The Moon, Cave Of Embers, Breaker's Bridge and so on. Art on the treasure cards is also good and matches the nicely sculpted figurines.
All-in-all, the components are good.
How's it play?
Forbidden Island is a race against time to recover 4 treasures (In the form of the 4 figurines.) and escape the ancient island as it collapses into the ocean waves. Collecting treasures is done by heading to certain locations with a set of cards and acquiring them,
During their turn, the active player will have 3 action points to spend on various actions. Once all players have had a turn, then the game gets to have its turn.
If, during play either of the decks is depleted, simply shuffle the discard pile back into a deck.
As a cooperative game, the players collectively win or lose. Forbidden Island has several ways to lose and 1 way to win!
There are 9 'critical' island tiles on the board.
Each figurine has 2 tiles which are used to acquire the it, if both tiles for a figurine sink before it is acquired, then it's game over as there's now no way to get that figurine.
Similarly, if the Fool's Landing island tile (Which contains the helipad sinks.), then there's no way to escape and it's also game over.
If a tile with a character on it sinks, the character must swim to an adjacent tile, if there are no adjacent tiles, then unless that character is the diver, they will meet their water end! If any character is lost then it's game over for all players!
Finally, if the marker on the water level reaches the skull & crossbones, then well.... you get the idea. Glub!
Winning; easier said than done!
Any single player must collect 4 identical treasure cards, then must reach one of the 2 island tiles associated with that treasure and spend an action to acquire that treasure's figurine. This must be done for all 4 figurines.
That's not the end though, now all the characters must reach the helipad and a Helicopter Lift card must be played by any player to escape to victory.
Like other cooperative games I've played, Forbidden Island injects a dose of luck into the gameplay in order to consistently challenge players and how players manage that luck is key to victory.
Broadly speaking the gameplay is; player shores up island - game tries to sink island - player shores up island and so on. Players have to keep the island a safe as possible long enough to survive and get the cards they need to win the game.
It's not as straightforward as it sounds though, the 3 actions points each player is given to do stuff never seems enough. Players have to choose between working towards objectives or saving the island and the clock is always, always ticking.
The way the flood deck works means that tiles which have already suffered a flood will be more prone to suffering further floods because when a Waters Rise! card appears and refreshes the flood deck, cards that were already revealed are put back on the top of the flood deck, meaning they will be the first to be revealed again.
Obviously protecting the critical island tiles is.... well critical but choosing to protect other tiles is a harder choice. Sure you can allow a unimportant tile at the edge of the board to sink and it won't immediately affect the game, however, when a tile sinks, its flood card is removed from the deck, slimming it down and meaning that flood cards for tiles you are trying to protect will appear more often. Keeping cards in the flood deck can act as a buffer against other parts of the islands sinking, provided you're willing to spend the action points of course....
A hand limit of 5 is also another area of the game which forces players to make decisions, just like action points, the hand limit never seems enough.
It takes 4 cards to gain a figurine, giving player's space for only 1 other card in their hand! Through gritted death, players will frequently have to discard useful cards because they're not useful right now.
To win Forbidden Island, the players will need to cooperate, coordinate and optimise the use of action points, they'll need to make every decisions count and use special cards appropriately and decisively.
Choosing when to let a tile sink or save it, or when and what card to give to another player are all vital decisions and most of the time player's will be forced to make compromises, rarely will their decisions be no-brainers.
I find Forbidden Island to be an enjoyable cooperative game and I'm happy to play it.
Sometimes the luck of the draw can go with and give you a slightly easier time or it screw you over (Nothing like drawing Fool's Landing in the starting 6 flooded tiles, drawing Waters Rise straightaway and watching Fool's Landing immediately sink....).
But if it was always easy or fair, what would be the fun it that?
18th May 2021
Lockdown restrictions are easing and we're meeting at Simon's on a Tuesday IN PERSON for the first time THIS YEAR!
Today's game was Arkham Horror: The Card Game, you too can have fun watching your character's inevitable spiral into madness as they get caught up in unsettling investigations and tangle with unspeakable Lovecraftian horrors through the medium of flipping over cards!
What's in a game?
The first thing to say about Arkham Horror: The Card Game is that it's actually a Living Card Game, what does this mean? It means it's a game that has lots of expansions, extra character decks, add-ons and so on. This is Simon's game and I have no idea what packs were used, but it doesn't really matter for the purposes of this blog post.
Unsurprisingly, most of the game's components consist of various types of cards.
All of the tokens and cards are made to the typical quality that are expected from games nowadays.
From the cards that I did get to see, they contain a lot of high quality artwork. Iconography is generally easy to read.
How's it play?
In Arkham Horror: The Card Game player's take the role of characters investigating into the Cthulhu Mythos through the form of scenarios and campaigns in a RPG-esque experience that shares the same setting as the seminal Call of Cthulhu RPG.
On to play
Broadly speaking, the objective for the investigators is to accumulate clue tokens by moving from location to location and also advancing the act deck. How is this done? Read on.
In Arkham Horror: The Card Game, a round is divided into 4 phases.
Ending conditions will vary from scenario to scenario, generally play continues until the characters are defeated or certain conditions dictated by either the act or agenda deck are met.
There are also various levels or winning or losing, depending on the scenario and what players accomplish during the game, this is especially true during campaign play, where different win or loss conditions will lead to different, branching scenarios as a result.
Arkham Horror: The Card Game has some interesting gameplay dynamics, the exploration and investigation elements blend quite well the unpredictable changes brought about by the changing of the agenda and act decks. Players can't take anything for granted as twists and unexpected events occur. Challenges and enemies provided by the encounter deck are varied and interesting.
Finally, I like how the chaos bag works, I like how it's stacked against the characters and playing skill and event cards is how tests are overcome, it's suitably pessimistic. I also like how the bag's effect on gameplay can be tailored and can evolve over a campaign. It's a nice mechanic.
This brings me to the campaign play, campaign scenarios seem to feature at least 3-4 outcomes that influence the next scenario with interesting changes, which is pretty good.
Characters also earn experience points from scenarios, these points can be used to buy better cards to swap into the player deck, progressively making characters better.
Being a living card game, there are a lot of accessories, expansions and extra campaigns available to purchase, these can extend the game
Rules-wise, there are a lot of rules in Arkham Horror: The Card Game about specific situations and events. Despite this, as a game it's actually in some ways fairly straightforward, player's have three actions to perform per round, that never quite feels like enough, which makes you have to prioritise and try to come up with optimal strategies, which is a good thing.
However, like other games I've played that try to provide GM-less RPG-like gameplay, the game gets fiddly and complex when managing 'GM' elements and this seems to be where the bulk of the rules are applied, especially to enemy behaviour.
It seems like a lot of effort for what somehow ultimately feels a little bit like average gameplay. The rules and glossary run to over 30 pages, in contrast, there're Cthulhu Mythos inspired pen and paper RPGS that have lower page counts.
That's not to say I didn't enjoy playing Arkham Horror: The Card Game because I did, I'm just glad that I played with someone familiar with the game.
14th March 2020
It's a Sunday night, I'm on my PC in my living, logged on to Zoom and the Tabletopia website.
In Paleo each player controls a tribe of cavemen and is a cooperative card about life & times in a prehistoric times. According to Paleo, our caveman ancestors were pretty obsessed with woolly mammoths, either chasing or running away from them!
Caveat: Paleo was played virtually on the Tabletopia website, so I cannot attest to the quality or lack of regarding the components.
What's in a game?
Paleo is a card game with a lot of different types of cards, the majority are encounter cards (Explained Below) but not all cards and tokens are used in every game.
Paleo uses a base set of encounter cards and also employs a module system which determines which other sets of cards are used, each game uses 2 modules from a selection of 10, this will also affect the games difficulty. The rules suggest combinations to use for easier and harder games ranging from 1 to 7 in difficulty. Ultimately you can even choose your own set ups. Modules can add a narrative flavour to the game as most modules are themed.
How's it play?
Paleo is played over any number of rounds, each round has a day phase and a night phase. The vast majority of gameplay occurs during the day phase, the night phase is mostly for managing what happened during the previous phase.
What actions a player can under take will depend on the situation and what encounters they errr.... encounter!
Play continues during the day phase until all player tribes have gone to sleep, the day phase is now over and the night phase commences.
The night phase is much shorter than the day.
All tribes must collectively discard an amount of food equal to the number of people cards in all their tribes. If they cannot manage this, a skull is added to the night board.
Furthermore they must also meet the conditions required on the 2 module specific missions. Each one they fail adds another skull to the night board.
Once the night phase is concluded, all the cards on the discard board are put into a single deck, shuffled and dealt out to the players again, then the next day phase begins.
Play continues until the players have accumulated all 5 victory tokens, in which case they immediately all win.
If 5 skull tokens are placed on to the night board, then the players immediately lose.
Some mystery cards may contain alternate ways to win the game.
First thing I'm going to talk about are 2 interlinked mechanics.
The exploration mechanic of drawing 3 face-down cards and choosing one from the card back is excellent. It feels a bit like exploring, does a player choose to go to the forest or the mountains? They'll have a pretty good idea what to expect but it's not guaranteed. They most likely will get the wood or stone or whatever they're looking for but they might encounter a rockfall or a dangerous animal.
Additionally, players will also get an idea of what's coming in future turns
It's a great mechanic.
The other equally great mechanic is how each player's own deck also represents their tribe's time & energy, completing encounters frequently forces a player to discard 1 or 2 cards from their deck, so when it's depleted - so is the tribe for the day. When the game begins on day 1, players will have 15 cards, so it's possible to burn through a deck very quickly, why is that significant?
Essentially the encounter deck is another resource that needs to be managed. In most games, my instinct would be to gather as much food/wood/stone/resource as possible but in Paleo you sometimes have to fight that urge. You have to ask the question, what resource do I really need?
For example; near the end of a day I had 3 cards left, 2 in my deck and a forest encounter. Turning the card over, I had the option to discard 2 cards for 3 wood, 1 card for one wood or help another tribe. The others didn't need help from me, so I was free to collect wood but collecting 3 wood would send my tribe to bed. Because we knew the top 2 cards on everyone's deck, I knew that another player potentially had a mammoth hunt coming and would probably need help. We didn't need the wood for now so I chose to ignore my card and I also ignored my other 2 encounter cards just so my tribe would be around for 3 more turns to help other tribes if needed. Realising this gave me an appreciation of the game's subtleties.
As well as managing encounters, players will need to ensure they generate enough resources to pass the night as well manage discoveries and crafting.
Creating a few tools gives the game a good sense of progress as it increases the capabilities of a tribe significantly. You can almost feel a the game transition from scrabbling to survive encounters to being able to go on mammoth hunts, it's quite gratifying to complete encounters that had to be ignored earlier in the game.
Like all good games, collectively there were always meaningful decisions to make. Before long we learnt that we needed to communication and coordinate on which encounter cards to keep and when they were then revealed we frequently had to coordinate on which encounters to complete, rarely did all players manage to individually complete their encounters.
For example; if all players for some reason chose mammoth hunt encounters, it would be most likely that all bar one would be ignored. Mammoth hunts generally required a lot of strength thus cooperation but also gave significant rewards, including on occasion victory tokens. Coordination is vital and it feels like players coordinating.
As a result I liked Paleo quite a lot, it's a game I'd happily play again.
15th January 2020
It's a Friday evening, I'm logged into Zoom on my laptop and I'm sitting in the living room.
So it's time to play Forgotten Waters, a co-operative fantastical pirate exploration game that we've only played over video chat.
Caveat: I've only played this game over video chat and never in person, I've also never actually seen the physical components for the game. So this blog will probably be a bit different to the usual.
Before we begin
Forgotten Waters is one of this new breed of boardgames that requires an app to play, not just an app to help, but actually required to play.
Additionally, the game has a Remote Play Assistant app available. This app is what has allowed us to play online and in this time of Covid-19 is a welcome feature.
What's in a game?
Because I've never seen the game physically and because the remote play assistant app replaces the need for some components, it's hard to gauge what exactly, is what?
It's hard to talk about the quality of these physical components though as I've never see them other than briefly over video chat.
But I can talk about the apps.
It's clear that the game's developers have put a lot of thought and effort into insuring the quality of the game app. It's very slick with professional voice acting and production qualities, scripting and dialogue is very well written and often witty. There were frequent chuckles at gags that hit the mark more often than not.
I'm not sure what to think though, like many people; the idea of a game needing an app to play sits uncomfortably with me. We all know the question, what happens to the game a few years down the line, how long will the developer support the app?
However, I doubt this game would even exist in this form without the app. The game seems to have hundreds of differing encounters that can contextually change according to the story mission being played. It would require a fairly elaborate book to manage all of this physically, slowing the game down and no doubt adding to the cost.
The remote helper does it's job well enough to facilitate remote play and is easy to use, apart from the occasional need to refresh the browser and put everything back in sync, it works perfectly well.
I cannot say enough about how useful it is though. We played a game with 7 players and someone commented how how this was the most people they'd talked to in a year. In these times of self-isolation it has proven to be a godsend.
One minor criticism I have is about the character sheet PDF. It is a slight oversight that it is not form-fillable as it could save on the unnecessary use of paper.
How's it play?
First of all, one of the 5 available missions is selected, this will give the players a series of objectives to aim for, then play can begin.
Essentially, the ship travels from hexspace to hexspace dealing with the encounters that are generated by each space.
Each encounter will have 7 pertinent actions. Players take turns placing their standee on the action they want to perform,
Some actions are mandatory, some can only be completed by one player and others can completed by any number of players.
Additionally, some actions become locked when they are completed whilst others can be repeated.
Some actions are specific to certain encounters or mission objectives and others are generic and frequently appear during encounters.
Players place their standees on the encounter spaces in order of the infamy track, Forgotten Waters utilises a real time mechanic during encounters. If players have not placed their standee/worker in the allotted time, they receive a misfortune token as punishment.
Once all workers have been placed, then actions are carried out but in the order shown on the encounter.
There are a great many different action in the game, related to combat, sailing, exploring, trading, objectives etc.
Often players will be given 2 or 3 sub-choices for their chosen action and sometimes they will have 2 actions they actions they can perform.
Many actions will increase one of the player's 6 skills, frequently this will then require a roll using the relevant skill, generally there are 3 different levels of outcome depending on how high the final roll is.
Once all actions have been repeated, the turn ends. Depending on the situation, players may have the choice of staying and repeating the parts of the encounter which are not locked (Like foraging for supplies, burying treasure etc.) or they have be forced to move on to another encounter.
This continues until the endgame.
There are numerous ways to lose.
If the ship's hull, supplies or crew are reduced to zero then it's game over.
If the crew's discontent value increase to or beyond the crew score, then it's also game over.
Finally there's threat rating. Threat can go up and down; the game will on a fairly regular basis call for threat checks, depending on the result this may generate a threat event, this is another type of encounter. The higher the threat rating, the more likely it is that a threat event will be triggered, when one does occur the threat rating is reduced to zero. If four threat events are triggered, then it's also game over.
If all the objectives of a mission are met then the player's collectively win.
Each character also has an individual ending though, depending on how many stars they filled in on their constellations, this may be bad, good or legendary. Bad endings are usually very bad comical demises for the character, explosions, drownings etc.
The good and legendary endings are as comical but obviously better for the character.
Forgotten Waters is a long game to play, a mission can take 4 or even more hours to complete and the developers are aware of this, all missions come with a natural breakpoint, which can be used a temporary stopping point and then picked up again at a later date.
Mostly the game gives players meaningful co-operative decisions to make and the timer forces them to think quickly.
It's also a well produced, smart game that is entertaining to to play, the app does add to the atmosphere and help with booking.
but I do have some quibbles to do with game balancing.
Firstly; when undertaking tasks, some tasks are more attractive to complete than others. One example, during ship combat:
Furthermore it exacerbates and perpetuates the imbalance. Once a character starts firing cannons, thus increasing their aim skill, it makes sense for them to continue doing that action, because they're more likely to get better results. So one player can be stuck loading cannons and earning little to nothing and another firing cannons and getting skill points and treasures.
Sometimes it's not so bad because with some actions, multiple characters can perform it but with single-character actions, it can be irritating.
Maybe its deliberate, it certainly can make the infamy track more important for actions that can only be done by one player.
Forgotten Waters is a mostly co-operative game, but it also a little edge of competitiveness as well, players can steal treasures from other players and so on.
Maybe the game wants to force players to choose between what's good for them and what's good for the mission?
Speaking of which, characters seem out of balance. When they earn bonuses, the usefulness of them seems to vary widely, some characters will get permanent items that confer constant bonuses whilst other characters get one-use-only less useful abilities.
Additionally, it appears that constellations are harder to complete for some characters than others for what appears to be no rhyme or reason why.
Luckily they don't affect the game too much, especially since it's co-operative. Other than that I've found it a fun game to play.
3rd November 2020
It's a Tuesday and I'm not at the Woking Gaming Club, I am however in Woking, in Simon's converted home-office for what would be the last time I play a game with a friend in person before lockdown 2 began.
It was an unusual setup, two us were in Simon's office and Colin was dialling in via Zoom, able to view the game through Simon's phone which was clamped above the table.
Tonight we played Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, the little sibling of Gloomhaven. Like Gloomhaven, it's a cooperative RPG with a legacy element.
Caveat: This blog post may differ a little from the ones I normally write. When we played the game, a number of the components were not used, instead they were replaced with an app, it also allowed Colin to remotely log into the app and see the same information we did. Additionally, both other players were very familiar with the game.
What's in a game?
Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion comes with a lot of components and a lot of cards.
What art there is on the components is good and the components are of a high quality.
How's it play?
The game follows the paradigm of an RPG; there are a series of linked scenarios that form a campaign. As characters progress from scenario to scenario, they accumulate experience points and become stronger. Characters are persistent and they and their progress carry over between scenarios.
There are also legacy elements here, decisions that players make during the game will have some sort of effect later on.
The setup is fairly quick and simple, mostly because the game uses map books instead of tiles.
On to playing
In each round, the players will choose 2 cards from their deck to play. Enemy behaviour is dictated by the game.
A scenario will end when its win/lose conditions are met.
If the players win the scenario they gain experience points, characters gain experience points according to the scenario. Additionally; certain action cards grant characters experience points when played, these are added up as well.
When a character acquires enough experience points, they will level up and gain whatever benefits it confers.
During the game, enemies that are defeated will drop treasure. If characters collect these treasures, they gain gold after the scenario ends.
Gold can then be spent to acquire more or better item cards.
Next, there is an encounter as determined by a randomly drawn city card.
After this, players are given the choice of what scenario to attempt next. This may involve adding a sticker to the map or some other legacy type action.
There's a lot to think about here.
There's a lot of components to the game too and it might be a bit fiddly. But it seems to me that most of this occurs during setup. I can't imagined how much setup the full Gloomhaven requires without the map books?
The character-gameplay is actually pretty straightforward, simple to learn and goes smoothly enough.
Enemy behaviour may be a bit trickier and it probably pays to have some one who is familiar with the rules (As we did.) when playing.
The action card mechanic was pretty well implemented, it not only gives players options and a bit of flexibility, but meaningful decisions to make.
The rest mechanic is also a good addition, it forces players to act, be decisive and deters them from trying to play overly safe and spend too many turns resting to regain hit points.
Since a character deck only has 10 cards, it means that a plaery will empty their deck in 5 rounds. Then they have to decide to discard 1 card and miss a turn, or discard one at random and continue, which can be a hard decision.
Now you have 9 cards and only 4 turns before facing the same dilemma. Additionally, some cards are discarded when use and so on.
All of this serves to create sense of urgency, a need to complete the scenario before player decks become too depleted. Players will want to minimise the time they waste carrying out long rests.
Combat is a bit of a mixed bag.
There are a good number of special moves, conditions and effects that play a role in combat. The four different characters can feel different in combat because of it.
I dislike the cancel result on the combat deck that waste an attack, I imagine that if a player has set up a powerful move using a card that gets discarded - only to have that entire attack negated, it must feel gutting.
I'm not sure how I feel about using individual decks as a randomizer for combat, I can see the appeal of having a customisable individual randomizer for each player, but it seems like having components for the sake of having components. It works well enough, but I'm sure a similar effect could achieved with a single bunch of dice that are collated for individual rolls.
Gloomhaven/Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion are 2 games that are sort of chasing a board game holy grail. These are games that are trying to an give RPG style gameplay and experience, but without a GM.
It's a tricky goal; too simple and it becomes bland and repetitive, too complex and the game gets bogged down in rules, rules exceptions and components.
Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion seems to straddle that line fairly well.
Although as I mentioned above, we did use an app to facilitate play. It did have the advantage of allowing a player to join in a board game where he played over zoom!
Maybe this is the way to go, where an app does the GM heavy lifting, I've seen at least one game that requires an app, no doubt there will be more games that do that.
But this raises the question of legacy, an older game can (And probably will.) be rendered obsolete if the companion app becomes unavailable.
Overall though; I was happy enough to play it and will be continuing with the campaign I joined.
6th October 2020
For the first time in nearly 7 months we're in Woking at 'The Sovereigns'. The last we were here was the 17th March!
The Woking Gaming Club isn't really back up-and-running yet, but a few of us have raised our heads above the parapets to wave the flag and of course; play some games.
The first game of the night was 'Medium', a light word-association card game.
What's in a game?
How's it play?
Before play begins the deck must be created, the number of cards used depends on the number of players. The deck is shuffled and the 3 crystal ball cards are shuffled into the bottom third of this deck.
6 cards are then deal to each player.
Finally, the scoring tokens are laid out with the scores face down and the 1, 2 and 3 numbers displayed.
Play continues until the 3rd crystal ball card is drawn, which triggers the endgame. The game then continues until the current round is completed and all players have had an equal number of turns.
Each player then tallies up the scores from the tokens to their left and right, highest score wins!
There's not much to say. As you can see from above, Medium is a light game that may appeal to casual players, it is a game that can be quickly learnt.
It's not a deep game either, random chance can play a part and sometimes you'll get 2 words that have no obvious commonality. There is some room for strategy in Medium though. The player that goes 2nd will have the opportunity to play a hopefully suitable second word.
We didn't play the game extensively, but it seemed if a common word wasn't guessed first time, the 2nd and 3rd guesses weren't going to be any better.
It's a strangely stressful game, I think it's because your guess will also affect your partner's score.
Conversely; when it's not your time, observing how other people play is fun.
One potential issue was the scoring, each 'level' of scoring has a 1-point variation in its score and some people are not fond of it. We house ruled it and used the other side of the tokens for scoring, a successful first guess would get 3 points, down to 1 for a successful 3rd guess.
If you like somewhat stressful word-association games, then you might like this. Easy to learn and play, it's a reasonable little filler game.
I play, I paint.