February 21, 2012

What's the Big Deal?

Deals and discounts. Everyone is looking for a great deal. They want to feel like money was saved, triumph was had, or just that something is worth more than was paid. I don't begrudge anyone these things, because I think they're inherently human drives.

"What's he talking about now?" thinks the reader. Well as much as I love buying a brand new, shiny, shrink-wrapped box of board gaming goodness, I have also made the leap on occasion and picked up used or clearance games as well. The first one the I can recall buying was Age of Conan a little less than a year ago. The box was a little dinged up but when I opened it, I found that all of the contents were still sealed in their original plastic. Triumph indeed! Age of Conan is a spectacular looking game which I've sadly only tabled once, but is noteworthy as my first used game purchase.

Over time I have found other games in a similar fashion...and have yet to be disappointed. Arena Maximus was the second used game I purchased. While not still in its sealed condition, I would certainly have surmised that it had never actually been played by the original owner. And it's a really fun game!

Shortly before Christmas I bought Colossal Arena and was pleased to find it in the same condition as my Conan purchase. Opened box, sealed components, used price. Score another for me! While I would probably mark this as the weakest game I've bought in this fashion, it's still seen some decent table time, so it was certainly worth my money.

Most recently I picked up a trio of games, sealed and brand new, from one of my local gaming shops. These three games are based on the HeroCard system and produced by TableStar Games. The interesting thing about that system is that the heroes for each game can supposedly, and seamlessly, be used in any other game. I picked up Champion of New Olympia, Galaxy and Cyberspace, including all of their various expansions for a substantial discount. I think each game would have cost on the order of $30 to $35 each (including said expansions), but I spent less than that amount all three. Again, quite the coup...at least in my opinion

I had looked these games over a few times, but not having heard of the publisher, and finding the artwork to be of a substantially lower quality than that of Fantasy Flight or Mayfair Games, opted not to purchase them. Would I be as happy with them paying full price? Probably not. But are they good games? Absolutely.

Of course I have to qualify that statement by saying that I've only played two of the three thus far. I was very impressed to find that Galaxy and Champions of New Olympia are substantially different games, even though the central mechanic for conflict resolution in each is the same. Champions is a rather light-hearted super hero romp that can be played in teams or individually and hits a happy place in my soul for its subject matter. Galaxy is a much deeper game built around capturing and defending territory, but without a map as such. I expect Cyberspace to be even more in depth than Galaxy based on reading the rules. However I do think that while the components are very nice, the artwork and colors used in the game are sub-par at best. I hope the game play will outweigh my first impressions based on looks alone.

Having picked up these three games I'm very tempted to seek out the other three games produced by TableStar Games that utilize the HeroCard system. Each looks to be quite varied in terms of game play and subject matter / genre. The biggest problem will be tracking copies of each down. But maybe a brief quest is just what I need!

February 17, 2012

Where's the VS?

It's been a long time since I actually wrote an article about a VS System event, cards, or decks. This month due to scheduling conflicts I'll only be able to attend two of our weekly VS nights. The one I'm missing next week was actually something I was really looking forward to: DC Legend.

Most of the players in our group know, but you might not, that I prefer the DC Comics universe over that of Marvel. While I do have some beloved characters over there (Alpha Flight anyone?), there's just something that appeals more to me about DC's denizens. How that relates to my experience with building legend decks is what I thought I'd talk about today.

Going from memory I can recall four specific Legend builds of my own creation: Batman, Superman Sinestro and Darkseid. I've also tackled a Batman-Superman dual-legend which was a lot of fun to play as well.

Batman lends himself too much to control/negation, which is not my favorite style of play. I enjoyed the effects on his support characters more than those of the Dark Knight himself. Superman has tons of different strategies, and I've tried a few of them. While not a legend deck, the one I had the most fun testing was a Team Superman/New Gods team-up that tried to use the 5-cost Superman Blue with the New Gods soldier character. It didn't prove very successful though, and led me to try something similar with the Teen Titans. Again, not much success, but a fun diversion.

Sinestro is the character that I have spent the least amount of time working with, even though he has great support in the DCU set. I know other players have come up with far better builds than mine. But hands down my favorite of those four legends would have to be Darkseid!

Admittedly Darkseid's effects also lean more towards control, but I find them to be far more fun thematically than those of Batman. There's just something deliciously evil about making your opponents afraid to play plot twists, stun your characters or even flip resources over. Burn, KO, extra stun; Darkseid's everywhere, and if he doesn't get you, his Female Furies will!

I took my Darkseid deck apart a few months ago to try building a deck for a Countdown format and never put it back together. Now I'm wishing I had, because it was what I was hoping to play next week. Yes I know, Hal Jordan is the biggest, most powerful DC character in the game right now...but that's because someone designing the DCU set had a huge construct for him in their tights. I'd rather play something malicious and tricky that leaves my opponent guessing than a straight up, beat down deck.

Of course that's probably why I lose so often. I don't go for the obvious or easy path to victory. I want the fight to be entertaining, and without the danger of losing, where's the fun in the conflict?

I'm off to find my Darkseid Legend deck list. Apokolips awaits...

February 14, 2012

Getting Started All Over Again

Well it seems that in some ways I'm doomed to repeat myself. I don't mean textually, although I'm sure that I repeat myself quite often in my writing as well. However it seems I just can't leave well enough alone. Now that some of the more stressful things have passed (it's been a rocky start to 2012) I'm starting to feel more myself. That of course means that my schedule has settled into some semblance of normality, I'm not laying sick on the couch and I finally feel like a normal human being once again.

Once I get typing I tend to find that I have started mid-thought. That might prove interesting for me, but then I realize I have to go back and try to explain myself, or at least lay out some context in order to provide meaning to the earlier vagueness. Here goes...

By saying I was repeating myself I actually had a two-fold meaning, and neither of them is so dire or desperate as to cause doom of any kind. Yes, an inflammatory statement...I admit my guilt to using overly strong verbiage! I must have seen too many TV commercials recently.

The first thing I was talking about was my health/workout plan. It was frustrating to start missing workouts, and then have to stop altogether, but was necessary. I had to give myself permission in my own head to do so. If I'm not healthy enough to go to work and breathe normally, why berate myself for not being able to do a strenuous workout?! So I've started a new program as of yesterday, which will be accompanied by a much healthier diet. Not too many changes at first, but better food and some exercise should definitely help me avoid getting sick like the last time!

The second thing I was talking about was organizing games; hell just organizing events in general. Less than two weeks after cancelling one thing, I was off planning something else! We had a casual game night at my place on Sunday that I really enjoyed. While waiting for Scott to show up Sebastien, William and I ran a very quick (time and speed-wise) game of Rush 'n Crush. Aside: I won by a mile, which doesn't often happen when I play games, even games I own, so hooray for me! We followed that up by a game of Eaten By Zombies in which we finally figured out the rules correctly. It's a much better game than I had originally thought. Finally we played our first ever game using the Savage Worlds system I was gushing about. We ran short of time, but when we last left our heroes they were wandering through darkened fields after leaving their broken down bus behind. They were lucky to survive an attack by mummified dogs and zombified corpses and decided to make a break for freedom...

I'd be an absolute liar if I said planning games or events was purely altruistic and done with only my friends' happiness in mind. My reasons for organizing game nights, VS events, trips to the theatre, lacrosse games or any other kind of get-together is purely selfish. It's because I want to do those things, and I don't want to do them by myself! So I guess I just have to accept my role in the grander scheme of things and realize that that's part of what makes me...well, ME. The benefit to it, other than providing entertainment and company for myself, is that other folks that decide to join in might *gasp* actually have some fun too.

February 08, 2012

What Good Are Games When There's No One To Play With?

A little over a year ago I tried running an adventure from the Dark Heresy role-playing game. If memory serves me right, we played four sessions. We were using one of the introductory adventures and some of the pre-generated characters. I had spent a fair amount of time prepping the materials for the game and getting familiar enough with the rules to actually run things with some feeling of competency. The players pieced together the clues a little more slowly than I'd intended, but that was more my fault as a first-time game master than their actual detective abilities. Unfortunately, the session in which they would have encountered the final villain of the story never came to pass.

As a brief aside: I love the theme for Dark Heresy, which is set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. The game system seemed pretty good, but it was a little tough to handle for me and the players so that could certainly have contributed to our incomplete adventure.

It seems that arranging gaming sessions with any kind of regularity, or regular attendees is a bit of a problem these days. Now I'm not certain that this is a problem I'm alone in experiencing, or if it's something that other gamers also struggle with. Since almost no one comments on the articles that I post, I may never know the answers to my question. Of course, it being a little after 4am I'm not exactly expecting an answer anyway.

Generally speaking, I have spent far more time with card and board games than I've ever done with role-playing games. That's not to say that I don't like them. I remember the first time I ever played one sometime back in high school. I can't remember the name of the game we played but it was a contemporary horror setting. The adventure was run by a friend of mine and it was a lot of fun. Similarly, we planned another session but never actually played again.

I recall an almost parallel experience while I was living in Japan. One of my friends there was an avid collector of role-playing source books. Of course, living in Japan it was difficult to find English speaking players! We played some sort of cyberpunk adventure with another fellow, which was a little slow on the action, but fun nonetheless. Once again, a follow-up session was planned but never materialized.

So perhaps my four-session experience with Dark Heresy was actually somewhat of an anomaly in that it went beyond session #1? I somehow doubt that's the case, as I've heard rumors, rumblings and whispers in the darkness, all saying that there are regular gaming groups out there somewhere. Some of them play card games. Some of them play board games. Some of them play poker, lose all their money and go home to lie to their wives about it. Maybe even those weird "furries", people that get turned on by other folks in animal costumes, have regular gaming groups, although I am not sure that I want to know about the games they play.

At some point in time I ended up with a hardcover copy of Deadlands Reloaded. This revised version of the game uses an engine called Savage Worlds. So having this sourcebook for a setting, I needed the core rulebook for the engine. Turns out the rulebook for Savage Worlds cost me a grand total of $12, and was the shortest RPG rulebook I'd ever seen. In fact, it was actually something I was able to read, make sense of, and still have time to do something useful before bedtime. (Which as you can tell...I didn't do, nor have I gone to bed.)
In addition to the clarity and brevity of the rulebook...turns out there are (quite literally) hundreds of settings like Deadlands Reloaded available for the engine. Want to play high or dark fantasy with elves, dragons, dwarves, wizards and necromancers? Check. Want to play a swashbuckling pirate adventure? Check. Need to fit someone with cement shoes for betraying the big boss? Check. The latest cult of the great Cthulhu needs infiltrating? Check. Want to save the world from aliens as a super-powered ex-villain. Check. I could go on, but I won't because I think you get my point. Any kind of adventure, ability or character I could ever hope to wish for, Savage Worlds either has, or has the tools for me to create.

Even though I seem to have no one to play with, I still seem to spend a lot of time reading about, researching, or thinking about games. Even role-playing games, which in my middle-length life, I've almost never played. Maybe some day.

February 03, 2012

What Would You Risk to Create a Lasting Legacy?

If you have never visited my blog before, I would wonder how you got here and why. What random link on the interwebs did you (perhaps mistakenly) click to arrive at this point in space-time? I trust you'll find this site of interest; but if not I won't take offence. Besides, how will I ever know you were even here? If you have been here before, well, I'll simply question your taste in reading material. However, it's to you local regulars that I'm really addressing this entry to.

You see, last night I purchased a copy of RISK: Legacy. Now, I have always liked RISK, but the original usually took too long and was no fun to watch once you were eliminated from the game and others were still vying for global domination. So I bought a copy of RISK: 2210 A.D. a few years back, and found it to be a vast improvement. It's a lot of fun and has some innovative changes to the game that I think are all better than the original. Now we have Hasbro releasing RISK: Legacy, and I need volunteers to play it with me.

The basic concept of the new game is something I've never seen in a board game before. You see, as you play a series of games (a campaign really), the game changes. I mean really changes. We'll write on the board, create cities, modify cards and areas on the map, add new rules to the rulebook and *gasp* even destroy components of the game. Yes, we'll actually rip up and throw away cards from the game, never to be restored. What we'll end up with is a fully unique game, shaped by the people playing it.

From what I've read about RISK: Legacy so far, an actual game can take anywhere from 20 to 90 minutes to play. I'd also strongly advise anyone interested in playing NOT to read much very much about the game, as you'll ruin a lot of the fun that will come with opening up the sealed components throughout the campaign. The important thing to understand is that it's still RISK, but with some huge twists thrown in.

So if you want to play, here's what I need to know from you:

1. Can you commit to 10 (maybe more, maybe less) game sessions?
2. Can you play on Sunday evenings, from approximately 6pm to 10pm?

I expect that we would play every other week, or perhaps every third week. In a single session I could see playing two, possibly three games, depending on the length of each. The game can be played with 3 to 5 players. Ideally I'd like to play with a full compliment of 5, which means I need 4 volunteers. If the answers to the questions above are both "yes" submit a comment stating so on this post. Once I've reached a full compliment of players I'll contact everyone with a date for the first game night.

Let the battles begin.

February 01, 2012

Best of 2011

Last year I bought and played a lot of new games, both on my PS3 and board games on the table. I've never bothered to do a best of type of article that I can recall, so I thought it might be fun to do this year. I've also been thinking a lot about games the past few days, since I haven't been able to PLAY any recently, so that might have something to do with it. This article is basically unplanned, unscripted and unnecessary. So strap in and follow along, or click the back button and take off!

Let me start out with the video game side of things. I bought my PS3 near the end of 2010, and it took a few months to find games that I wanted to play. I don't like online games, RPGs or any of the MMO stuff, so my list of likes is pretty narrow. It's also possible that some of these games weren't released in 2011, but that's when I played them...it's my list, so shut up and like it!

My Top Playstation 3 Games for 2011

5. Transformers: War For Cybertron

Great animation and a decent story. I honestly haven't spent as much time as I'd like with this game. I've been meaning to get back to it for the last little while. I do wish that the single-player story was a little deeper because, as I said, I don't care for online play.

4. Infamous

I still haven't finished this game, but it's on this list. Very cool story that makes good use of levelling up your powers. Tons of things to do and a big environment to play in.

3. Assassin's Creed 2

A huge improvement over the first game, which I did like quite a bit. The storyline is really ingenious and I liked having more things to do inside this game. Some of the circle puzzles are a little on the annoying side, but I can live with that if it's the biggest complaint I can come up with.

2. Batman: Arkham Asylum

Absolutely stellar Batman game. Hell, it's probably the best super-hero/comic book based game I've ever played. The storyline was top-notch, the controls were great, the graphics were awesome and it was quite simply an engrossing experience all-round. I think this is one of the first games that I've ever finished and actually WANTED to go back into to play again. There are still secrets to uncover dammit!

1. Rocksmith

Yes, a 'rhythm game'. If any of you read my initial thoughts article on Rocksmith, you'll know that I was impressed with it, despite my general loathing for Rockband and Guitar Hero. This game is fun, makes me enjoy practicing my guitar, and has enough depth that an intermediate player like me can still feel like he's learning something. And now that the online shop actually has some songs available, I can work on tunes I actually want to play (helloooo Megadeth!). I'm still waiting for the bass option, but I've got plenty to practice in guitar mode.

It was a tough call for me on Rocksmith or Arkham Asylum being tops, but in the end I had to go with the one that I've spent the most time with. I don't see my weekly hour investment with Rocksmith going down in the near future, so I had to give it top marks.

My Top Board Games of 2011

This list was a lot harder. Board games are difficult to get on the table more than once or twice over the course of the year, so really getting to know one well is difficult. I had to think quite hard trying to recall the games I'd played throughout the year but also taking into consideration whether or not I want to play them more, and what my gaming group thought of them as well. Games like Age of Conan, Scarab Lords and Call of Cthulhu are all in the 'like' list, but I had to pick 5. Actually it's my list, I could have had 55, but you'd have hated that 11 times more than a top-5, so here goes!

5. Game of Thrones LCG

I've played a lot of collectable and trading card games over the years. I think the living card game model is a vast improvement. This one I stayed away from for quite a long time, but after I finally played it...wow. It's a great game, but is even better if you know the books. It's really deep and can be hindered by aggressive deck builds (like any customizable game), but if all you buy is the base set, you can play a great game with 2 to 4 players.

4. Rush 'n Crush

A surprise entry on my list. I bought this in the fall and have only had a chance to play a few times, but man it's great fun. The racing by itself is excellent and feels good, but adding in the guns and weapons, that's even better. I'd love to try a multi-lap race with 4 or more players...I can smell the burnt rubber and charred metal already!

3. Betrayal at House on the Hill

This game wasn't even on my wishlist for 2011. I was actually planning to buy Mansions of Madness, but right before Halloween I changed my mind and went for this instead. BaHotH is the coolest, funnest B-Movie horror game I've ever played. For a game I've had less than a year to have been played 6 times is testament to how much I like it. It plays very quickly, it's easy to learn and it's a different game EVERY time.

2. The Resistance

I finally bought this little gem of a game after having looked it over at least four times during various trips to the game shops. Even after I bought it, it took another four months to get it on the table. Main complaint about the game is that it requires a minimum of 5 players. That can be a tough quota for some groups to hit. But wow, if you ever get this out on the table watch out! Accusations will be made, lies will be told, missions will be failed, and the spies might win. Social gaming fun at its finest for sure.

1. Sentinels of the Multiverse

Another surprise entry into my collection. I found out about this game online, after seeing rave review about it on Drakes Flames and BGG. The publisher is a start-up, and this is their only game...and it was new. So new that not a single game shop in Canada had heard of the publisher, let alone could get me a copy. So I ordered it directly from them, and paid a pretty penny to do it. That said, I don't regret a single cent I put out for this game. It hits a happy place in my heart: super-hero gaming. Not only that, but it's cooperative super-hero gaming...and it's done fabulously. While it's nigh-impossible to win with the standard rules for 2-players, it's still an excellent game, and I will love this one for a long time to come.

Well that's it for me. For now...

Almost Forgotten in the Cold(s)

Over my extremely brief Christmas break, I actually did play a few games!

While I was out doing my Christmas shopping I stopped in at Revolution Games. They're one of the smaller game stores in Calgary, but I think they have an excellent selection, and their staff are generally pretty nice people. The prices are average, but if you get your name put in their computer, you get a discount for every $100 you spend. That's not so bad, considering most games cost a minimum of $60 nowadays...

I ended up with a used (but never used) copy of a game called Colossal Arena. It's a betting game by the much-loved, much-loathed Reiner Knizia. I've a few other games created by him and have never been disappointed, but I know that a lot of lifelong board gamers have a hate on for him. Anyway, we gave this game a try one evening after our regular VS tournament. It's a pretty odd concept, betting on monsters fighting in a tournament, but was actually a lot of fun! Everyone enjoyed it and there was a lot of back and forth, "Take that!" play going on. I'm looking forward to playing it again.

I brought it along with me to the family Christmas gathering but we didn't end up getting it on the table. My mom quite enjoys playing Settlers of Catan when I bring it, so over Christmas Eve and Christmas day there were a few games of that played. I think I won the first game, but after that, people started to catch on and competition was high.

Finally, after drawing attention to ourselves by asking questions like "has anyone got wood for sheep?", we had more people wanting to play than my 4-player basic Settlers game could accomodate. Luckily I had planned ahead and brought The Resistance.
The Resistance is a social deduction game that requires a minimum of five players, and can go as high as ten. During my Monday night gaming events I had hoped to play it several times, but we only ever had enough once, and ended up playing a long game of Arkham Horror. So this was the first time for me to give the Resistance a try. It was GREAT fun. Within the first few minutes there were fingers pointing and accusations flying. My sister and I were correctly identified as the spies, but played it very cool, allowing the first two missions to proceed successfully. Having allayed some of the suspicions, and after some odd behaviour from a few other players, people started to turn on each other and we were able to bring things crashing down. I highly recommend this game!