July 28, 2011

A Game of Thrones (or "Why I Like LCGs")

Over the past few years, I've introduced several people to the Call of Cthulhu and Warhammer Invasion living card games. Afterwards a few of my friends asked me about A Game of Thrones as well. That game was actually the first one that Fantasy Flight Games transformed from a collectable card game, into a living card game (hence LCG).

Not having read the books, and assuming it was strictly a political game set in a fantasy setting, I hadn't really done much research into the A Game of Thrones LCG. Even when the TV series started showing on HBO, I still didn't really pay it much attention, even though it got good reviews and was mentioned to me by several people as something I might like. Part of the problem was my initial thought that it was a political drama type of thing, something along the lines of Battlestar Galactica. That show had been recommended to me several times as well, and the three or four times I tried to watch it, I sat there watching people talk and argue. "Where was the action, fighting, adventure and space battles that would make this interesting?" I wondered.

Truth be told I still haven't seen the TV show, but that is largely in part due to the fact that I no longer have cable TV. It's been almost a year since I cancelled my cable in favor of DVD sets and a Netflix account. I save a lot of money that way, but I digress. The sheer amount of times that A Game of Thrones had been mentioned to be over the past few months finally converged with my purchase of an e-reader device. Wanting to get a good value for my first purchase, I decided I would give the novels a try and bought a bundle including the first four books. At just over $15, I wouldn't have even been able to buy used copies at a book store for that cheap. I've recently finished the first novel, and it is a good story. Rather light on the fantasy elements, but engaging nonetheless, and I do intend to continue reading the series in the future.

Ok so that's a lot of text that doesn't even really address the game in the title. Before jumping in and simply buying the core set for A Game of Thrones LCG, I was actually able to try the game first! Collin has a core set and brought it by for William and I to test drive.

The game plays very well with multiplayer, and the three (of four) decks provided in the starter box seemed quite well balanced. William had some issues with drawing playable cards early, and Collin got off to a quick lead. Granted, it was his game and he had played a few times before. My deck generated a lot of coins that allowed me to play more cards in the late game...and on the seventh turn I was able to choose a title that protected me from Collin's attacks and push through both opponents for victory.

I think the game would play equally well with 2 or 4 players, and it is one of the few card games that shines in a multiplayer format. I certainly would recommend it to anyone who likes a deep game with lots of options, variation, and difficult choices to make. Do not play this game with casual gamers, or people you are trying to entice into playing more games with you. They will hate it, because it is complex and highly variable. It's simply too much to provide those people with a satisfying experience. For anyone who enjoys other card games and has a little experience with them, this is well suited.

The core set also seems highly playable directly from the box. This is a strength of the Living Card Game format, as both Call of Cthulhu and Warhammer Invasion are also fabulous games that stand on their own with just the core sets. If you are going to be the only one providing cards to your play group, I would actually recommend sticking with the core set, and perhaps adding in a deluxe expansion once in a while. Deck building is not a necessity, and in some cases I think actually makes the LCGs less fun.

As for me, I think I will be picking up a copy of the AGoT LCG core set at some point in my future. Even though one of my friends has a copy and I'm sure would be happy to bring it to our gaming nights, it's a good enough game that I'd like my own copy to have in the house!

July 15, 2011

Dark Avengers Assemble!

As I mentioned last week, we're playing with Marvel Factions this summer. I'd like to formally thank banstylejbo over at vssystem.org for putting this excellent set together. We were looking for a follow-up to the excellent DC Universe set, and this has definitely filled the bill so far!

Back to my original thread of thought...Dark Avengers. Why the hell would I want to try Dark Avengers, out of all the other teams available in Marvel Factions? The reason is actually two-fold. The first part of it is that I've always have a fascination with the mini-teams that most set designers have made appearances throughout years. Fearsome Five, Infinity Watch, Birds of Prey, Doom Patrol, and yes even the Purifiers have all made their way through the VS meat-grinder under my piloting. Some have been team-ups, others mono-team, but almost always fun.

The second part of the appeal about Dark Avengers was the premise itself. While I have not actually read the stories, I find it a pretty intriguing concept: villains taking on the roles, and in some cases even the identities of known heroes! The fact that they have a rather unique texting concept is just added cheese to the plot-twist pizza.

So here's the list I have after a few plays through with the team.

Dark Avengers Assemble!

4x Veronica Hand (1)
4x Marvel Boy <> Captain Marvel (2)
4x Karla Sofen <> Ms. Marvel (2)
4x Daken <> Wolverine (3)
4x Green Goblin <> Iron Patriot (3)
4x Bullseye <> Hawkeye (4)
4x Venom <> Spider-Man (4)
4x Ares (5)
4x Green Goblin <> Iron Patriot (6)
4x The Sentry (7)

2x Quinjet, Dark Ops
4x Heroic Mockery
4x Snack Time
4x The Monster Within
4x Lift Off!
2x In The Maw of Darkness

If you're at all familiar with the set, you may be asking why I didn't include the team-stamped location Stark's Gallery. In my first build I did have it and played a copy of it in my resource row during my second play-test game. However, when I flipped it over and read just exactly how restrictive the text was, I immediately decided to remove it.

The characters double as plot twists while in your resource row, but with the added requirement that they be KO'd when revealed. This means that you will usually be replacing them with cards from your hand, and as such you run the risk of emptying your hand quickly of both plot twists and playable characters. Stark's Armory only allows you one card draw per turn, and it must be triggered during a reveal effect. The added cost of also discarding a card for the effect is just not worth running it.

Seeing that the deck was decently ranged, but light on flight without a Green Goblin on the board, I decided to add in a play set of Lift Offs in place of the Stark's Armory. This card grants flight to a character for the turn and nets me a card without requiring a discard. I also swapped in two copies In The Maw of Madness for two of the Quinjets. The quinjets are good but with the addition of Lift Off, I didn't want to run the risk of making it unplayable. Maw is a nice removal effect that is very difficult to counter, because the card goes into the resource row. Unless they are a reservist, or your opponent has a way of KO-ing and returning it to their hand, it's gone.

In terms of the characters, it is a bit of a shame that they have no working text while on the board except for Victoria. Her text is extremely beneficial, but I did run two games where i didn't recruit her and things played out ok. As she's the only character with concealed, she can prove to be a big liability if you aren't careful about it.

And finally, if I were to really try to take things to another level I would seriously consider adding a different 3-drop in place of Green Goblin, and a much stronger 7-cost character as a finisher. The problem with removing 3-cost Goblin is that you then need a team up, which his text will help you find. Losing Daken for an off-team 3-drop doesn't seem like a great trade off as he is a good attacker. The Sentry's effect is not good enough to want to run a full four copies of in the off-chance you can actually fire it off.

I'd love to see a few more characters printed with the Dark Avengers team affiliation in a future set just to give them a few more options, but they were surprisingly fun to play and I will likely keep this deck around.

July 07, 2011

Iron Fist Legend (Heroes For Hire)

Throughout the month of June my schedule didn't exactly allow me a lot of time to join in the VS events. But of the five Thursdays packed into the month, I was able to attend two of them; and took full advantage of the chance to explore some of the cards in Marvel Factions a little bit deeper.

After playing our two-teams event early in the month I found myself leaning towards the Heroes For Hire over Marvel Defenders. Not that they had poor cards or stats by any means! The 4-cost Hulk and She-Hulk drops they have are very solid and performed very well. There just seemed to be something more in the Iron Fist / Luke Cage cards I had used that first event that needed further attention. So with that in mind I stripped out the Defenders cards and started working around this pair of characters.

First off, the 2-cost Iron Fist with substitute is a great card...just not on turn two. So I decided to make Paladin my first choice, as he ALSO has substitute. The ideal play for turns two and three are Paladin on two, Luke Cage on three, then subbing out Paladin for Iron Fist to give Luke Cage +2/+2 for the turn! My alternate 3-drop is Colleen Wing, but you really don't want to play her unless you have no choice. This could be looked at further, and maybe swapped out for Shang Chi.

Turn 4 is a tough one. There are some options for a 4-drop Iron Fist, and they're good choices, but I don't like the idea of ditching my 2 if it isn't necessary, especially when my 6-drop Iron Fist is the hoped-for finisher. The best choices are also off-team, so I ended up going with Misty Knight for her leadership text.

Turn 5 and 6 are obvious here. Luke Cage and Iron Fist respectively. If you are able to get even initiative and save a handful of your attack-boosting plot twists for here, it should be over in a hurry. Of course I'm a fan of insurance so I do pack a 7-drop for those instances.

The locations available to Heroes For Hire in MFA are very solid and they even have a search card for Iron Fist, so that's a definite must for inclusion. If I were to say anything about weak points there are two of them:

1) Most of the characters have no flight or range. There are a few characters that get bonuses for being in combat with other flightless & rangeless characters but it's tough to do, as they only have one card that can cause this to happen.

2) There are no team-stamped cards for boosting defence WHILE defending. While not a desperate concern based on the higher-than-normal stats, it can be an issue if your opponent is also playing an aggressive combat deck. It also happens that their attack-boosting cards are almost exclusive to "target attacker"...so you do have a point of weakness during each of your opponent's attack steps.

The weaknesses can be addressed with some options. I'd definitely consider a play set of New Mutations to give all of my characters flight and range. Some acrobatic dodges or nasty surprises, or similar effects, might also come in handy while defending. I'll definitely be considering some of these if I revisit the deck in the future.

We still have a few months before getting into the next set so I'm looking forward to digging deeper into the other teams before then. I think my next focus will be Dark Avengers.

Until next time!