Thursday, October 12, 2017

Blade Runner 2049: The movie you need to see NOW


Ask anyone who truly knows me as to what my favourite movie of all time is and they will answer without hesitation: Blade Runner. Ridley Scott's 1982 neo-noir cyberpunk scifi is the one movie I religiously turn to, again and again - for escapism, for deep mental immersion, for suspension of disbelief, for science fiction themes and awareness and for the tropes of cyberpunk. While there are a number of movies that have classified my personal genre of geekdom, there are very few that stand out as 'definitive' movies. The original Alien (another Ridley Scott marvel), Metropolis, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the original Star Wars Trilogy, Akira and a few more all fit into this genre. Movies that I find myself returning to time and again, year after year. Of these, Blade Runner is Number One - The quintessential science fiction masterpiece, a movie that I simply have to watch at least once a year - normally on a rainy winter evening after a drive through the neon-lit, rain drenched urban sprawl.



35 Years later and Director Denis Villeneuve has crafted Blade Runner 2049. Set some 30 years after the events of the original film, the new Blade Runner arrives at a time when a slew of reboots and sequels have hit, overcapitalised by studios ever eager to exploit our nostalgic revelry in favour of that devil of demons: commercialism. So, the question: Does Blade Runner 2049 live up to its predecessor and does it deserve an honourable spot in my list? Or has it fallen by the wayside, and will many just see it 'just like any other machine - neither a benefit nor a hazard.'?

From the outset, Blade Runner 2049 is visually spectacular, a remarkable and fascinating masterpiece of cinematography to behold. It captures all of the elements that made the original such a pleasure to watch. From the gorgeous opening visuals of a futuristic agricultural landscape, to the burnt orange glow of a radioactive wasteland to the dark, grimy, yet synthetically sexy dystopian Los Angeles. The movie manages to not only capture the atmosphere of the original but build onto it in a way that unshackles the visuals from mere nostalgic fan service. I must commend Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins for their spectacular work here. Every scene is perfectly shot, every camera angle superbly rendered. If this is not Oscar-worthy material, then don't bother with the Oscars at all.



While this is the same world of the original Blade Runner, much has changed in the last 30 years. Replicants are still being manufactured, but not by the Tyrell corporation. In 2049 that prestige goes to Jared Leto's Niander Wallace, who's poetically-menacing Ozymandias-like complex inspires a sense of mysticism and fear. The themes from the original are still present and the eternal question as to "What makes us human" still resonates throughout the film but with a deeper, more profound meaning. And while Harrison Ford may have stolen the show as the trench-coat wearing Blade Runner Deckard, it's Ryan Gosling's 'K' who takes centre stage in 2049. While we speculated (and possibly speculate still) as to whether Deckard is a Replicant or not, we know from the very outset that K is indeed a manufactured newer model - created to simply obey.
Gosling simply shines in this role and his progression, from his easy-go, gun-toting Replicant hunter to a deeper, complex and morally challenged  character is the standout performance in the movie. Oh, don't worry, Ford's Deckard is along for the ride too and, true to his character, he is still chugging the whiskey - albeit in a slightly more upmarket post-nuclear wasteland Las Vegas hotel than his old dingy LA apartment.




Without spoiling any of the plot, the 2049 narrative is masterfully written. Even though it uses a plot device to drive the story forward, it is not so much the 'where are we going' as opposed to 'how did we get here?' and in this, I believe, it shines. A few movies have followed similar paths, abandoning the need to exhaust all aspects of the mythology in favour of a better story line (thinking of you Logan :-) For me, this is what makes a movie: a simple, yet solid plot line, that refuses to bow to closure. Because closure in cinema discards all room for mystery, for open-ended discussion and makes the annoying presumption that the audience is stupid and incapable of drawing its own conclusions. Blade Runner 2049, like it's predecessor, does nothing of the sort: It leaves room for interpretation, for pondering and for absorption. This is one movie that you will be thinking about days after and in the end, how you perceive it is your claim to your own 'human-relativity'. The score, while not quite as evocative as Vangelis, is still an audible delight and will be on my track-list for many moons to come.


Apart from Gosling, Ford and Leto, there are a number of excellent performance. In fact, second to Gosling's K, is Ana de Armas's Joi. Her AI holographic character has one of the most complex roles with undertones which border on the philosophical and emotional and manages to capture every scene with powerful beauty. Sylvia Hoeks is poignantly ruthless as the Replicant Luv and Robin Wright's Lieutenant Joshi has some of the best dialogue in the movie. There's even a cameo by Edward James Olmos and yes, he's still folding origami. Dave Bautista's character Sapper Morton is imposing yet gentle and his reference to a miracle is perhaps the underlying reference to the movie as a whole. 

Blade Runner 2049 is indeed a miracle of a sequel. A miracle of a visual and narrative spectacle. Definitely one for the geekdom list. 9.5/10


Be sure to checkout the 3 Blade Runner shorts which prequels the events of 2049, especially the absolutely amazing anime Blackout 2022 by legendary anime filmaker Shinichiro Watanabe (yes, he of Cowboy Bebop fame).

  1. Nexus Dawn: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UgsS3nhRRzQ
  2. 2048: Nowhere to Run: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZ9Os8cP_gg
  3. Blackout 2022: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrZk9sSgRyQ




Thursday, September 14, 2017

Board-Gaming Retrospect: Fifty Shades of Dungeon Crawling


To say that we confined to the norms of society would be blatantly inaccurate. We were normal - as humanly normal as would be possible but not that kind of normal. Not the 'my normality defines me and makes he holier-than-thou' kinda normal. I mean, everyone has a dark side too. Their Sith-loving, axe-wielding psychopathic inner demons that want to lunge, pounce, bite, snarl and burp at the peak hour traffic. But yeah, normal as can be.

So, when the subject of role playing came up a serious discussion between two consenting adults, I had no idea of the beast I was about to unleash on our unsuspecting normal lives...

Be warned. What follows is definitely NSFW.

(Not Suitable For Wizards)



Perhaps it was the weather, all bleak and gloomy and darker that your average day. Perhaps it was the music, all synth and dreamy or perhaps it was beasts and stranger things that eschewed from the TV. Whatever it was, it all culminated into five words. Five glorious words that would define the non-stereotypical genre of our mid-thirties.

"Take me to your dungeon", she said.

It was all innocent at first. Me, dazedly taking her by the hand and leading her to my play room. We paused at the door, my fingers on the polished silver door handle, hesitating. I turned towards her, my eyes staring fixedly into hers, studying the cat-like curiosity that hid beneath her ever-playful demeanour. "Before we go in, there's something you should know. Many have come before you and entered here. They are changed. This will change you. You will not be the same after."
"I'm ready," she half-whispered and I noted the hint of longing in her voice.

I nodded and turned the door handle...

We sat down on the leather chairs at the great wooden table opposite each other, our eyes locked and her breathing rapid, the excitement clearly visible on her face. I could feel her heart beat reverberating across the smooth polished wooden surface as I reached for the box.
She let out an audible gasp. "It's so big!"



"Open it," I ordered and watched as her trembling hands undid the cardboard lid, the sound of the escaping air breaking the ice with a rude box-fart. She gulped then giggled. We unpacked the components and laid out the dungeon tile stack.
There was something different about her that I could not place. Perhaps it was the way she laid out her HP tokens, or the way she playfully ran the D20 die across her palm - it seemed surreal, almost familiar. She bit her lower lip as I placed my muscled Dragon-born fighter on the starting tile. "Been working out?" she asked roguishly as her raven-haired slender Rogue character crept up next to mine. I shuddered as I felt her soft pale hands run over my buff arms. "Been killing things," I replied in voice that echoed through the quietness of the dark corridor ahead.

"I'm going in," I added gruffly as I drew my battle axe and proceeded down the stone stairs.
"Ooh, such a gentleman!" she mocked and with a light leap bounded up ahead of me. I grunted and grudgingly followed. We ran into a pair of skeletons who came running up to meet us, rickety swords and shields clanging against their bones. I swung my axe but before I could land a blow, a flash of steel and my Rogue partner had swiftly dispatched the two bumbling undead creatures into a pile of doggy treats. I gaped as she walked coolly on. "Didn't expect that?" she asked grinning at me, "Well, come on - don't just stand there with the boner." Bone puns. So humerus. I rolled my big red eyes and followed her.

At the next corner we bumped into a gargoyle which seemed less interested in us than it did in staring out into nothingness. "He's stoned," my partner punned on roguishly. The next corridor was a nasty surprise: a pack of howling wolves led by three speared kobolds. Arrows whizzed past my head before I even had time to draw my axe and the kobolds lay dead. I made for the wolves but was stopped by my companion. The wolves had ravenously began to rip apart their former kobold masters. Puke!
"No need to kill them, they're just hungry" she smiled grimly. "Besides, they make for very loyal pets and I always loved me a little doggy." She winked and set off again. Who was this woman?

Next we ran into some zombies, followed by a trio of spiders, a blazing skeleton which hurled giant fireballs and a few more kobolds. Each time my mischievous companion would waltz into the midst of all this danger, daggers barraging through flesh and bone, stealthily evading all manner of attacks and traps while I only managed a few random punches and cleaves. All the while she would throw off a few one-liners and jokes as the blood of our enemies ran down the stone floors.
I shook my head in disbelief. This was not the same woman I had known for the past few years of my life. The dungeon had not changed her at all. It had exposed her, the cloud which held back her true nature had lifted. I was seeing her for the first time: In all her battle-clad, knife-wielding, arrow-shooting glory.
And it was sexy as hell.

I expected some hesitation on her part when the hiss of a zombie dragon came echoing from the fetid den up ahead but no. My companion merely laughed and inclined towards me: "Okay, big boy, let's see what you got". The terrifying beast came hurtling towards us, its eyes blazing fire and fangs dripping blood.
I reached for my axe and rolled. A dismal 5. Damnation! "What's the matter, can't get it up?" she mused but there was no missing the slight look of disappointment in her eyes. This was a woman who would not be satisfied by low rolls.

"Come on!", I thought to myself, "I really need to get this!"
I steadied and used my one re-roll and swung: A glorious natural 20! She let out a sharp ecstatic cry of "Oooohhhhh!" as my character levelled up and my brute strike came crashing down, slicing the unholy beasts neck in a mighty cleave. It heaved, then spluttered, then lay motionless and dead. A few zombies came ambling up to us but my companion was ahead of me again. Shouting madly, her eyes filled with battle-lust and excitement she quickly laid the zombies to waste. There, in the darkest of dungeons, in the wake of the dragon's ruin she turned towards me, her breathing rapid, her chest heaving, a wild look of total abandonment on her face as I felt her body press against mine: "Hmm, seems like your skills are not the only thing levelling up," she whispered. I leaned in closer and as my eyes met hers I saw something else...for the very first time that evening...a look of pure, unabated terror! She backed away, her body swaying slightly.
"So many of them! All grey! Fifty fucking shades of grey!" and she screamed and fled.

I stood momentarily confused and then turned.  Coming down the dungeon hall toward me was a skittering sound of tiny feet. A rat swarm.

"Rats?!!" I yelled after her, "You're afraid of rats??!!"



But my companion was well out of ear shot and on her way out of the dungeon. I stomped on the rats as I followed her, half dismayed and half pleased that something had at least scared her. I found her, rather pale and shaken sitting on the dais in the cool air outside the castle dungeon. She was trembling. I reached for her and held gently her as we walked back into the normality of our lives.

"Never again," she whispered as we shut the box and dungeon door, "Never again. No more Boards, Dice and Some Magic. I prefer the normal BDSM thank you".


Monday, May 1, 2017

Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Custom Campaign

After spending countless hours traversing the dark dungeons of Ravenloft, our party of avid adventurers finally managed to lay waste to Strahd and his evil minions. We cheered, we feasted and celebrated our victory amid the ruins of this once mighty castle and then, sadly, we all went home.

Until one fateful day, when I took pen to scroll and decided to dabble in a bit of custom campaign building. Suddenly the halls of Ravenloft awoke once more, the cheery cries of anguish and torture reverberated in the air like the sounds of birds being mauled by overly large cats. The adventurers came hurrying, eager to put undead neck to blade once more.The Castle had come to life for one final adventure...

So, this being my first custom campaign, it is most likely rife with error and human stupidity. That said, I have played through it a few times and it actually (remarkably) works. I wanted a challenge, so I opted for a semi-pre-built board (explained later on) and almost ALL of the components. Yes. ALL.


Castle Ravenloft Custom Campaign

The Madness of Kavan: A Castle Ravenloft Custom Adventure

Years have passed since the defeat of the defeat of Strahd, the former master of Ravenloft. In Barovia, all is at peace and the fear long forgotten. But the presence of evil still permeates from within the forbidden castle and one villager in particular find himself drawn to the darkness. Kavan, having been tainted by the vampiric curse in the past now finds himself mad with a blood-lust that has him wondering the dark dungeons of Ravenloft. The evil within the abandoned castle has awoken. It senses the presence of a new master. Kavan seeks to reclaim the throne of Ravenloft as his own!

When You Start The Adventure, Read:
Driven by madness & bewitched by sorcery, Kavan plans to unleash the full fury of Ravenloft upon the village of Barovia. To do so he needs to enter into the crypts below the castle and complete the dark ritual to transform himself into the Vampire Lord. The cleric of Barovia, sensing the awakened evil, has magically secured entry to the crypts with an ancient spell by hiding seven ethereal orbs in the darkest corners of the castle.
“His madness has blinded him and he is searching wildly for the orbs. As he is already tainted by darkness, Kavan needs to collect only three of the orbs to break the binding spell and enter the crypts!” the cleric explains. “You must enter the castle and seek a passage to the crypts before he does. Bring five of the orbs to gain an entry to the crypts and then destroy all the crypt tombs to end the dark magic of Ravenloft once and for all. Also, deal with Kavan!”

Objective: Collect 5 ethereal orbs and break the binding spell, allowing you entry to the crypts. Then desecrate all the tombs to end the darkness of Ravenloft for good.
NOTE: A single hero may only carry up to three Orbs at a time. You may however, drop orbs on any tile to collect later on. But note that should Kavan reach that tile, he will claim the orb for himself!

Number of Heroes:
Group play: 2-5 heroes. 4 Healing surge tokens.
Solo play:  2 heroes double handed. 3 Healing surge tokens, Follow a similar setup as in Adventure 7 but with 2 heroes instead of 1. When a hero dies, complete the current villain phase and place a new hero on the start tile. A dead hero’s corpse may be salvaged by visiting the tile where the corpse lays. All items, including ethereal orbs may be picked up and assigned to a new hero.

Adventure Setup:
Crypt-level setup
For this adventure the crypt level is pre-built as per the image above. Remove the following tiles, shuffle them face down and set aside:
The Arcane Circle, Fetid Den, Dark Fountain, Laboratory, Rotting Nook and Workshop.
This pile forms the ethereal deck. (see image alongside)
Dungeon tile stack and Ethereal deck
Shuffle the remaining dungeon tile stack. Then, from the start tile, draw three tiles and build on to two unexplored edges of the starting tile.Then draw one tile from the ethereal deck and add it to any unexplored edge of the third tile. Draw three more tiles, alternating with one tile from the ethereal deck and building up the dungeon lair at random until you join up with the crypts.


Monster tokens: Shuffle all monster (not villain) tokens and place them on each normal (not ethereal) tile after the start tile until you have exhausted all tiles (Be sure to include the crypts as well but omit the start tile and the secret stairway tile).

Villain tokens: Shuffle the Kobold Sorcerer, Young Vampire, Werewolf, Flesh Golem, Howling Hag (use only 1 token - see her special rules under the villains section), Zombie Dragon and Dracholich tokens and place one face down on each of the special ethereal tiles. See the villains section for special monster rules.

Ethereal orbs: Place one of the seven orbs on each of the ethereal tiles.
Item tokens: Shuffle all item tokens and place them on each normal tile after the start tile until you have exhausted all.

Kavan token: Place the Kavan token on the tile just outside the barred crypt entrance. Kavan activates after a full day-night cycle.

Kavan:
Kavan activates at the end of one full day-night cycle and moves one tile in a random direction (see the Kavan villain card for rulings on his movement). Kavan may move through walls. If Kavan lands on an ethereal tile, he gains the orb. If he collects 3 orbs he gains an entry to the crypts.

When you encounter Kavan: (When a hero lands on a tile with the Kavan token) Replace the Kavan token with the Kavan figure* and card. Kavan activates at the start of each hero’s villain phase.

Kavan Villain Card:

The Dungeon-level Kavan villain card

The Crypt-level Kavan villain card
* For the Kavan figure I used a Drow Duelist from the Drizzt Boardgame as my figure


Special Adventure Rules:
This adventure occurs over a day and night cycle. Use the time tokens to keep track of a cycle.
One full cycle = when all heroes go through two full phases (hero, explore, villain etc). One phase being a day phase and the other a night phase.

Adventure Board Layout

Dungeon Tiles:
Whenever a hero lands on a dungeon tile with a monster token, flip the token as part of the hero’s exploration phase action and replace it with the appropriate number of monsters. A hero must either explore if there is a monster token on that tile or draw an encounter card.
Whenever a hero lands on/ explores a tile with a black arrow,an encounter card is drawn.
If a hero ends his hero phase adjacent to an item, he may collect it and take the items’ treasure card for himself.



Special Tokens:
Mirror: Illusion: Use this item when any undead monster/ villain attacks you. The attack misses and you may place the creature within two tiles of the active hero. Discard this item afterwards.
Portrait: Pacify: Use during your hero phase on Villains only. The villain does not activate this turn. Discard the item afterwards.
Skull: Ancient Bones: Use during your hero phase. Each undead monster in play takes one damage. Discard this card afterwards.
Food: Sustenance: Use during your hero phase. Roll 1D6. Your entire party regains hit points to the value of that roll. Discard afterwards.
Animal: Fear of Cats: Whenever you would place a new monster you may instead place the animal token. Any monster that moves onto the tile with Fear of Cats takes 2 damage.


Ethereal tiles with Orbs (we used beads)
Ethereal Tiles:
Ethereal tiles are ‘guarded’ by a villain. Whenever a hero explores an ethereal tile to claim an orb, the villain is awakened. Replace the token with the appropriate villain figure and card and the villain activates at the start of each hero’s villain phase. Kavan does not awaken villains when he explores ethereal tiles. No encounter cards are drawn for exploring ethereal tiles.
A hero may spend 5XP to ‘reveal’ a villain token. The token remains face-down afterwards.

After a hero gains an ethereal orb, you may spend 5XP to use the ethereal magic of the orb:
Freezing cloud (D1-D15): Any Monsters within one tile of that hero do not activate this turn.
Sun token (D16-D20): 2 Damage to undead monsters and vampires (or one damage to other monsters) within two tiles of a hero.
Note: You may only use ethereal magic once per orb.

Special Villain Rules:
The Howling Hag has some custom rules
  • Howling Hag: Because all the crypt tiles are sealed, the Hag's teleporting curse instead pushes a Hero DX tiles in a random direction where X is the number rolled on a normal D6 die.
  • Howling Hag: If the Hag has no path to a hero, she moves one 1 tile in the direction of the closest hero.
  • Gravestorm, Zombie Dragon and Flesh Golem may not occupy a tile with another villain.


When You Enter The Crypts, Read:
The magic of the orbs breaks the ancient binding curse and the passage to the dark crypts opens...behind you the screams of rage and evil howl as Kavan summons his dark horde to attack! Make haste to Strahd’s tomb!

When you enter the Crypts:
Roll a D6 and randomly select that many monsters (minimum of two). Place the monsters and Kavan two tiles from the crypt entrance tile and replace the Kavan token with the Kavan figure. The castle is seeking a new Master! Kavan activates at the start of each hero’s villain phase.

Desecrate the Tombs:
To stop Kavan from completing his final transformation, destroy the coffins by performing an attack action (like with Gravestorm’s phylactery).
Draw an encounter card for each black arrow tile inside the crypts.
If Kavan is on any tile with an undesecrated tomb at the end of the current hero phase, Kavan gains the vampiric undead power of that tomb. Place the coffin on Kavan’s card. If Kavan has 6 or more coffins on his card he transforms into the ultimate Darkness and the heroes lose the game.
Note: Villains may also enter into the crypts to hunt you.

The Heroes win the scenario if all the tombs and Kavan are destroyed.
Things can get dangerous!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game Review


"Dungeon crawling: You have to experience it to realize it!"


Dungeon brawling. That's probably the best way to describe our first play through of Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft the Boardgame. Having played the more traditional D&D way back in my yonder years, the feels and nostalgia of the classes, spells, races and monsters were all present in this immersive co-op board game, coupled with hints of dungeon claustrophobia and sheer awesomeness.

I received this beauty of a game as a birthday gift from my beauty of a wife and after about 11 plays in, is on my list as one of the most re-playable & enjoyable games I own. I enjoy games that a highly thematic and Ravenloft delivers. You actually feel as if you're in Strahd's castle, descending the dark deep dungeons as you and your party of heroes strive to complete your quest. But beware! Evil lurks behind every corner, every door and wall and the Vampire Lord of the Castle stirs in his sleep...


Overview:
The little town of Barovia needs your help in defeating the scourge of the villainous Vampire Strahd Von Zarovich and his hordes of monsters. You are to descend into the depths of Strahd's castle, Ravenloft, defeat his monsters before facing up to the vampire lord himself and finally putting an end to him...once and for all.

Components:
I do suggest some heavy lifting before cranking open this baby because boy is this box huge! Filled to the top with components, cards, cardboard, chits, bits and lots...and I mean LOTS of miniatures which, if you're a fan like me, there are 42 of and they are beautifully sculpted pieces of hardened plastic. The minis are all unpainted so feel free to indulge your artistic selves with whatever palette your deem appropriate. The hero minis are the typical D&D archetypes but still really cool. You have the Rogue, Wizard, Cleric, Warrior & Ranger all with the accompanying stats cards and powers/ skills. The two enclosed booklets are the rules and the scenarios and both are fairly straightforward to follow. There are 13 scenarios to play through (2 solo) with each scenario varying in length and difficulty.
On average, expect a scenario to playthrough in about 40-50 minutes. The cardboard for the dungeon tiles is thick and sturdy and even after a good number of plays, has not diminished in the least. Warning: Be prepared to punch out a lot cardboard for character sheets, dungeon tiles and chits and token which are used to track hit points, movement, damage and for various items in the scenarios being covered. The 200 card deck has cards pertaining to monsters, encounters, hero powers and treasures. If anything, the only disappointing part of the components is that the cards aren't all that aesthetically pleasing as they lack artwork but still hits home in terms of gameplay. And of course there is the essential cornerstone of every D&D game: the D20 die.

Get you one of these for storing all your minis!
Setup:
Since this game is scenario-based, you will basically be playing through each scenario and arranging the dungeon-tile stack accordingly. Essentially, each scenario has you and your band of heroes explore and uncover the dungeon in order to meet a particular objective. This can range from something small such as trying to find the 'chapel' to defeating the harrowing Gravestone, Strahd's monstrous Dracholich. The start of the game has each hero receiving their character cards and starting power/ skill cards which vary from re-usable 'at-will' powers to once per game 'daily' powers. Each scenario has its own particular setup (such as shuffling the dungeon tile stack) and it's own particular set of villains to deal with (in addition to monsters).

Get a bigger table - the dungeon grows!
Gameplay:
Gameplay consists of a series of turns per hero and each turn is broken down into 3 phases:

1. The Hero Phase: Allowing your hero to move and attack/ attack and move/ make two moves. Movement is based on character's range (essentially the number of squares you may progress on any given tile) although some cards and powers to allow you to 'teleport' from one tile to another. Attacking a monster involves using one of your hero's powers to boost your die roll (D20). If your roll + boost is higher than the monster's armour class (AC), that monster is defeated and you gain a treasure card and XP. Gain enough experience points (XP) and you character can progress up a level!

Gargoyles: As long as you're standing in front of 'em you're fine!
2. The Exploration Phase: Allowing your hero to draw a new dungeon tile from the stack if you're on the edge of you current tile (Think of it as you progressing down the depths of the castle, one room at a time). The explored tile is revealed and extended from your current tile and then a monster card is drawn. Now, unless the scenario rules state otherwise, monster cards are ALWAYS drawn when a new tile is added. The monster mini that is attached to that card gets placed on the new tile's bone pile. The monster is controlled by the hero who explored and drew that monster. Defeating any number of monsters during your Hero phase will gain you a treasure card which can be very useful as you progress through the game.

3. The Villain Phase: This is the phase that normally brings all the hurt. If you drew a dungeon tile with a black arrow or did not explore in your previous exploration phase, then you first get to draw an encounter card. Encounter cards generally mean bad things happen. And by bad we mean traps, obstacles or some or other form of hurt. After resolving the encounter cards effects, you activate each villain in turn (villains normally being the boss of that scenario - each with their own special set of rules attached to their respective character cards). Then you activate each monster, in the order you drew them and resolve their attacks on you and your party.

After the villain phase, it's the next hero's turn to delve into the dungeon and so the cycle continues: move, attack, explore, evade possibly and take a few punches as you dig deeper into Strahd's labyrinth.

Final Thoughts:

Castle Ravenloft has certainly grown on me and has become something of a game-night essential for my group. Its highly thematic, challenging and above all - it's fun and has all the makings of an 80s D&D campaign in a boardgame. The solo play is also well structured but I do encourage group-play as it really captures the feel of the dungeon. Like with Ghostbusters, it's also an easy game for kids to pick up on and my 9yo is well on her way to becoming that Level 2 Dracholich-slaying Ranger. Ahh, those proud geek dad moments :-)

Components: 8
Setup: 8
Gameplay: 9
Replayability: 9
Theme: 8
Overall Score: 8


Monday, September 12, 2016

Board-Gaming Retrospect: The 10 Commandments of Board Games Night



Hosting a games night is no menial task. One does not simply 'host games night'. It takes time and preparation, focus and mental planning. In many ways, the host is akin to the legendary Dungeon Masters of yore. Your home becomes the playing field, your guests the adventuring meeples or miniatures and your refrigerator a beacon of ultra-rare loot and a tribute to hordes of hungries. That said, every Games Night Lord need adhere to:

The 10 Commandments of Board Games Night:


1. Thou shalt ensure comfortable seating:

Your players span from all the four corners of the realm and their player seating area needs to take into account their myriads of differences. From hefty dwarven beards to buxom barbarian bosoms, pointy top hats and vibrating tentacles, your seating arrangements are key to a successful night of gaming and need to be tailored towards their comfort. Unless of course you're the particularly narcissistic Dungeon Master who relished in pain and torture. In which case, clamp those mofos down in a bed of nails and an iron maiden or two and toss in a gratuitous amount of flogging.

2. Thou shalt provide ample sustenance: 

Gaming/ questing/ dungeon crawling/ dice brawling is no easy task. Ask any veteran player and they will all agree - Gaming requires stamina, dexterity, stealth, concentration and and a flair for the art of abusive linguistics. That said, you need to ensure that food & drinks are readily available. And keep it simple. As enticing as a themed menu sounds, elvish entrees and fillet of dragon hide are often hard to digest in one sitting. I suggest pizza, cokes, smokes (if any), loads of chips, biscuits and chocolate bars and coffee. Always coffee.

3. Thou shalt elucidate thine objective: 

Just so that everyone's on the same page, it's always a good idea to state your objective. Will you be playing through a set campaign or module? Are you doing a mix-match of several games? Are there time constrains or curfew? (Note: angry wives = Demigorgan level 50).  I find its a good practice to voice your objective and goals beforehand. Like such: "Gentleman and fellowship, we be gathered here for a night of ghost busting, dragon slaying and raucous debauchery. And we sure as hell ain't leaving here until all these gorram ghosts have been thoroughly busted and we be raucously debauched."

4. Thou shalt have played the fucking game foremost:

There is nothing worse that a games master with analysis paralysis for rules. It's like Yoda with the wisdom of a Rancor, Gandalf with the talent of a goblin, Dumbledore with a limp wand...Well, you get the point. Make sure you (and perhaps one other person in your party) are familiar with the rules and have played through or studied the gaming system. While I have blind-played games in a group before, I find it detracts from the actual experience.

5. Thou shalt instruct knowledgeably:

Explain the rules in as much or as little detail as you deem necessary for a single round/ all players turn. On that note, make sure that when the rules are being explained, you have everyone's attention. And be prepared to repeat the rules. particular if there are noobs (new players) in your group. There will always be that guy. That one guy who listens but doesn't really. He's normally the one nodding his head like an undergrad at a science expo. But in actual fact, he's miles away. His brain is off twerking on some imaginary stage and when he gets back to reality he wont have a cooking clue as to whats going on. So be prepared to repeat the rules. Again. And again.

6. Thou shalt advise tactfully:

It's possible that you may only be overseeing the game, playing the role of a DM or the group leader in a co-operative play. In any event, leaving players to their own vices is what allows for an engaging and fun experience but their may be times when you need to cite tactics. Sure, Mr Level 2 Over-Confident Cleric may brashly decide to take on the cave troll all by himself and while it may be wonderfully entertaining watching the little fucker get torn to shreds while you all sit by giggling your asses off, having your players ousted from the game earlier on is the least amount of fun long term. Worst case, he will be out of the game and will go for the next best thing - all of your foods and snacks. So best advise Mr Cocky Cleric to steer clear of the troll for now. Unless, of course, someone in your party has a spell of resurrection. In which case let the troll impale him.

7. Thou shalt not allow thy overconfidence to be your undoing: 


Everything is proceeding as planned. Or so you assume. Chances are, that, like with board gaming, you need to allow for randomness or unforeseen circumstances for your gaming night. Your party of six may end up being three because of life, priorities yada yada. Or players may arrive late due to traffic, bad weather or just cos they're lazy assholes. The important thing to note is that if you were hoping to play a particular 6-player five hour game...that shit ain't gonna happen. So have a backup set of shorter, faster games. Always have a backup.

8. Thou shalt elicit an emotional response:

Board-gaming is supposed to be a full on immersion of the senses. People should be laughing, crying, eating, screaming, venting, fuming, gesticulating, cohabiting, copulating, engaging in song and dance, poetry and praise, political debates, cries of anguish, constructive criticism and having a splendidly dilly old day. Unless of course you're playing anything along the Cthulu mythos. In which case, as you were.

9. Thou shalt not put faith in thy friends: 

When it comes down to actual game-play, particularly in competitive games, those friends of yours who have stuck by your side since kindergarten will turn into two-faced, treacherous, back-stabbing bastards. So you thought it would be a good idea to enter into an allegiance with Elf-lord Level 7 and traverse the dungeon levels together? Well, that futhamucker just shackled you in the room with a particularly hungry Dracolich so that he could press on.

10. Thou shalt draft a peace treaty:

All's fair in war and wargames right? No hard feelings after right? Please don't stalk me or put sand in my socks just because you lost. Sadly, there are gamers who don't take kindly to losing. They will retaliate and they will break into an epiphany of the choicest swear words and physical violence. I should know. I'm one such person. It's best to serve them a hot beverage afterwards. You may find a need to draw up a peace treaty to prevent players from engaging in mortal combat or forfeiting games night. Unless the Games Master is this player. Like I am. In which case...just take the beating. The wounds will heal.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Board-Gaming Review: Lord the Rings - The Card Game

"I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me.
A day may come when the courage of men fails,
when we forsake our friends
and break all bonds of fellowship,
but it is not this day.
An hour of wolves and shattered shields,
when the age of men comes crashing down,
but it is not this day!
This day we fight!!
By all that you hold dear on this good Earth,
I bid you stand, Men of the West!!!"
- Aragorn -The Return of the King



The Lord of the Rings The Living Card Game by Fantasy Flight is a truly immersible, highly epic co-op game that sets your heroic fellowship against hordes of creatures, powerful enemies and fell beasts of Middle Earth. Gather your heroes skilled in the arts of intellect and lore, steadfast with leadership, cunning in tactics and gifted with spirit. Summon powerful allies and artifacts to aid you in your quest as you journey through perilous terrains,encountering all manner of dark beasts and deadly creatures. Overcoming each quest holds its own reward but be wary...The shadow from the East grows stronger and ever the threat of Mordor approaches...

The Eye of Sauron sees all.

Mwhahahahaha!!! 

As a fan of Tolkien's works from the books (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings), the histories and lore (The Silmarillion and the The Book of Lost Tales) to the movies (ALL of them extended of course), the video games and the toys and miniatures, my craving for all things Middle Earth has left me with an aching, restless nights reminiscing over my precious and Tolkien in my sleep...(teehee). As such, my fairly recent foray into board gaming eventually led me to the shores of the Havens, the hills of the Shire and the mountains of Mirkwood as I discovered the joy that is Lord of The Rings The Card Game.



As far as board-gaming dynamics go, I enjoy me a good deck builder but it takes a lot of pull to get me fully committed to a constructive LCG. That's 'Living Card Game' for those not in the know and essentially what makes this form of card-gaming more superior over the more traditional 'Collectible Card Game' (or CCG) is that it does away with the blind-buy purchase model. LCGs have core sets and deluxe expansions and regular expansions all with fixed cards in each. So everyone owning a copy of a game and its expansions share the same card pool. 
No more randomness, you get exactly what you paid for. 
The core set, which is at the heart of every LCG, comes with pre-constructed decks and can almost invariably be played straight out the box as a self-contained game. Of course, the draw card (pun intended) in every LCG enthusiast's stash is deck construction and you will be building and tailoring your deck to suit your particular method of play or, perhaps, for competitive and organized play (OP) events. That's where the expansions packs come in. Expansion packs are released (mostly) monthly and build on the a particular theme or narrative outlined in the core. Hence the term 'Living Card Game'. While owning a core set is sufficient to play the game, to truly immerse yourself in the experience of the LCG, you will want the expansions. You will wants it. You will craves it. It is precious....so very precious...

Now when it comes to LCGs, nobody does it better than the maestros who defined this genre of gaming. Yep, they own the trademark. I'm talking about Fantasy Flight Games. With my pennies already invested in Netrunner: another FFG LCG, albeit of a more dystopian cyberpunk nature (blog post to follow soonest), and with other titles including Warhammer 40000 Conquest, Game of Thrones and (fresh from Gencon 2016), Arkham Horror, the Fantasy Flight LCG industry is in err, full flight. No pun intended this time.




Lord of the Rings The Card Game has been around for about five years now and I admit to being a bit late into the whole mythos of the game but then again, I am a Wizard. And we all know that a Wizard is never late. He arrives precisely when he means to.

Lord of the Rings The Card Game is a co-operative game (the first of its kind) set in the context-rich world of J.R.R Tolkien. In terms of Middle Earth history, the time frame is set between the Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring and all subsequent expansions fall within this period. Except for Saga Expansions. But we'll get to those in a wee minute.

Core Box Components:

Cards. Lots of cards. Over 200 cards in fact. A very detailed rule book and tokens. And two cardboard 'Eye of Sauron' threat dials. As this is Fantasy Flight, the card quality and artwork is top notch and captures the look and feel of Tolkien's Middle Earth perfectly. Just from first inspection, there appears to be two distinctly different decks of cards: Cards which form part of your hero decks and (nasty, filthy) encounter cards. As far as components go, that's it. The core set is designed only for 1-2 players but with a second core you could get up to 4 players. As this is a co-operative game, you and your fellowship will be playing against a game AI to overcome a set of obstacles and complete a particular quest. There are 3 quests in the core (easily distinguishable by the card orientation and layout) and their difficulty range increases as you progress through. But be warned. One does not simply walk into a quest. There are fell beasts and hordes of orcs, spiders and goblins to overcome. These 'enemies' form part of what is known as an 'Encounter Deck' which spells all sorts of trouble for you and your party. However, do not burden your hearts too heavily noble warriors because luckily you have a host of heroes and allies to aid you through your journeys.




Setup:

The core comes with 4 pre-constructed decks tailored to a particular gaming 'sphere'. These spheres are Leadership, Lore, Tactics and Spirit and each has its own very unique style of play. Leadership for example, is known for being a good all round sphere with excellent resource generation (resources being the in-game 'currency'). Tactics is the more offensive sphere focusing on attack and combat. Each of these decks have a particular set of heroes attached - from known heroes such as Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli to a few newer faces such as 'Bereavor'. You start the game by selecting up to three heroes for your party and construct a deck of 50 cards with which to play. You may only play cards belonging to a particular heroes sphere of influence (unless otherwise stated) so the general rule of thumb is having two spheres in your party and then constructing your deck based on this. Tri-sphere decks are definitely possible but will most likely require a bigger card pool (more expansions). The same applies to mono-sphere decks although these are growing in popularity given the latest card meta. Once you have your deck constructed and your three heroes selected, you set up the encounter deck as outlined in the rule book or particular quest you are playing. Quests are numbered (1 - 3) and are played in sequence. You need to complete a quest before your threat level reaches 50 (hence the turning dials). Should your threat level reach 50...Sauron sees you and well...you die, painfully.

Gameplay:

Gameplay consists of a sequence of phases with the first player going first in each progressive phase. The phases are: Resource, Planning, Questing, Travel, Encounter, Combat and Refresh. While understanding the nuances of each phase may seem a bit daunting at first, the rules and gameplay are actually very streamlined. You (as the first player) shuffle your deck and draw a hand of 6 cards. Then the resource phase: you draw an extra card and add one resource token to each hero's resource pool. Resources are used to pay for playing cards, enlisting allies and adding attachments, all of which are done in the Planning Phase. Adding an Axe to Gimli? Or playing a Forest Snare on that nasty troll that hopped out of the encounter deck? The Planning Phase is where decisions are met on which card to play and when.Next is your Questing Phase where you exhaust and commit heroes to a quest in order to progress through and on to the next quest. Now, I'm not going to bog down too much on the terminology and the rules but Questing is an important aspect of the game and fits in with the theme once you have played through a few campaigns or scenarios. 
Then there's the Travel Phase. Who doesn't mind a bit of site-seeing around Middle Earth? Except when these sites are nasty bogs and marshes and try to hinder your quest progress! 
Next is the Encounter Phase which is where all manner of creatures and beasts will hop out of the encounter deck with one intention: to cause you a world of pain. Then there's the Combat Phase and for the most, the bad guys always hit first. Lastly is the all-important Refresh Phase where you wipe away the blood and tears and prepare for the next round of onslaught. Oh and your threat ticker goes up by 1 tick...The ever approaching threat of Mordor draws closer and so too does your doom! <Insane laughter> 
Complete the progress on each part of a quest or meet the quest's objectives before your threat level reaches 50 and you have completed and won that particular scenario. If not, well, you die. And dying in this game is a fairly common occurrence as each scenario and quest varies in difficulty.

Expansions:

Like many other FFG LCGs, the LOTR LCG expansions are released in 'cycles' with each cycle tied to a particular story or part of the main narrative. These expansions come in three flavors: Deluxe Expansions, Adventure Packs and Saga Expansions. Deluxe Expansions (DEs) are stand-alone sets which require only the Core to be played and come with a troll-horde of quests, heroes and cards . The 60 card Adventure Packs (APs) contain (mostly) one quest and one hero and are an addition to a DE and build on the story outlined. DEs and APs form part of a 'cycle' and builds on the bigger LOTR lore  - For example, the 'Dwarrowdelf Cycle' includes the 'Khazad Dhum' DE which sees your company questing through Moria and eventually coming face to face with the dreaded Balrog in the Shadow and Flame AP. APs cannot be played without their relevant DE and while this may seem a bit harsh in terms of purchase costs, you do get your money's worth of gameplay. Saga expansions build on the actual Hobbit and Lord of the Rings storylines and require only the core set to play. 
There are lots of expansions and more to come for the expansion road goes ever on and on...
For an excellent resource on buying guides as well as useful reviews and deck-building options, check out The Tales From The Cards Blog
For new players, the Hall of Beorn is an excellent resource and that search engine is worthy of a Wizard's hat.

Conclusion:

Lord of the Rings is an amazing game. It's immersive,thematic and continually growing. It plays well solo (and two-handed solo), is an excellent deck construction game, great artwork and the storylines and themes for quests are well structured into each scenario.That said, the game can be brutally hard. Do not buy this game if you're not up to a challenge or would prefer not to over-analyze or think too hard about your deck building. You will die in your play through, several times in fact. But the rewards of overcoming the obstacles in each quest is satisfyingly good. You WILL want to progress through the next quest, tweaking your deck ever so slightly or switching spheres or trying combos or crafting custom hero-centric decks for the one deck to rule them all. So, if you're up for an LCG that delivers in theme and is co-op, challenging yet fun then perhaps its time for an adventure through Middle Earth. But be warned: It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might be swept off to.


Components: 8
Setup: 8
Gameplay: 9
Replayability: 8
Theme: 8
Overall Score: 8