Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Ruin of Nimbar: A Dungeons & Dragons Board Game Custom Campaign

"And ever fair the vale of Nimbar, woodlands deep and glades wide, rivers sparkling in the Spring with a music soft and peaceful like unto an awakening, a sweet embrace from a warm sun slumbering deep and restful"
- Thysius, Bard of Dornaeth

Having previously built a custom adventure for Castle Ravenloft and, after playing through both Drizzt and Ashardalon, I decided to try my hand at creating a custom campaign with a story line tying all three games together.  There are 10 separate adventures in the 'Ruin of Nimbar' campaign which will utilise many of the mechanics from all of the individual games and (hopefully) create a more 'grandiose' sense of epicness and battle to the game.

While I am still busy ironing out a few plot points, the first 2 adventures are ready to play and I will be presenting a new custom Adventure every month (or two depending) and perhaps even a play-through video. I wanted a campaign that created that feeling of an epic adventure within a larger storyline. Each of the adventures are thus longer that the average D&D boardgame adventures and make use of many of the components across all three games.

The basic idea is to allow for 'choice-driven gameplay' that has become synonymous with popular 'choose your own adventure' and also legacy-style board games. So, at the end of the 3rd adventure, there is a 'Path to Nimbar' card which you must complete which will drive the outcome of subsequent adventures. For example, in Adventure 1: The Dungeons of Kerath, you can choose to have the Rogue, Kat, join the party after rescuing the wizard Heskan or you can 'Leave her fate to chance' and roll a D20. Whichever choice you make will not affect the outcome of the Adventure (you still win or lose according to the Objective) but your choices will have an impact on the adventures to follow and, again hopefully, tell an engaging story.

Also, for the first adventure below, I wanted a solo playthrough that allowed for multiple characters. So, while it starts off with a lone Rogue looting through an 'abandoned' dungeon, you start to unlock more heroes as the story progresses. You could opt for multiplayer co-op at this point but I really wanted a strong solo experience with multiple heroes. So, after rescuing Heskan, if you choose to keep Kat in your party, you could be playing up to 4 Heroes 'double-handed'. If this bothers you stop playing or find some friends. Else..explore on young Adventurer!

"Many legends ago a prophecy foretold of the coming of a great cataclysm unto the land of Nimbar and of a darkness from the North that would besiege the peaceful vale and lay ruin to its cities and towns. As such the Mages of the Everlast set upon the valley a protective shield, impenetrable and unseen, keeping the darkness at bay and fending off all manner of fell beast and dark creatures from their lands. They called this the Shimmer. The Mages then elected men and women from amongst the bravest of Nimbar and set upon them the task of Wardens, ever watchful of the foreboding shadow from the North. For 37 years the Wardens held to their stations and the vale, protected by the magics of the mages, knew only peace and contentment. But now, beyond the furthest mountains a great evil stirs and the everlasting Shimmer has begun to fade..."

Adventure 1
The Dungeons of Nerath

When You Start the Adventure, Read:
Quinn, the human cleric and Warden of the North has gone missing. He was last seen in the Dragon-born city of Khalyash, along with his travelling companions Heskan and Arjan before venturing out to investigate a rumour of some darkness stirring within the abandoned Dungeons of Nerath. Meanwhile, the cunning Rogue, Kat, stumbles across the dungeons in the hope of acquiring some lost treasures...

Goal 1: (As Kat, the human rogue): Explore the dungeon, reach the locked vault and rescue Heskan.
Goal 2: (As Heskan, the dragon-born wizard): Find and rescue Arjan and Quinn.
Goal 3: (As Arjan and Quinn) Defeat Klak, the Kobold Sorceror before he manages to escape the dungeon!

Number of Heroes: 1-4 Heroes (solo experience)
Healing Surges: 4

Remove these 'vampirish' encounters
Adventure Setup
Dungeon Tiles: 17 non-named tiles from Castle Ravenloft, 5 additional random tiles from Castle Ravenloft, Secret Stairway Tile, Arcane Circle and Workshop Dungeon Tiles, Vault tile from Wrath of Ashardalon.

Special Components in this Adventure:
  • Heskan Dragon-born Wizard figurine, character card and power cards.
  • Arjan Dragon-born Fighter figurine, character card and power cards.
  • Quinn Human Cleric figurine, character card and power cards.
  • Encounter cards from Ravenloft (remove all cards pertaining to vampires/ Strahd - see image below)
  • Monster cards from ALL the adventures (If you like a challenge!)
  • 15 Randomly selected monster tokens (including the 'No Monster' tokens)
  • Closed door tokens
  • Secret Stairway, Vault, Workshop and Arcane Circle dungeon tiles
  • 17 random, non-named dungeon tiles (use Ravenloft and/or Ashardalon)
  • 5 random dungeon tiles (use Ravenloft and/or Ashardalon)
  • Kobold Sorceror Villain figure, token and card
  • Howling Hag Villain figure, 5 tokens and card
  • Rage Drake Villain figure, token and card
  • Dimensional Shackles token and Treasure card
  • 8 time tokens, lever token.
Place a Start Tile on the table. Place Kat on any square of the Start Tile. Select 3 tiles from the bottom of 17 tile dungeon stack and shuffle the Arcane Circle tile into these tiles. Then, without looking at any of the tiles, put the shuffled 4 tiles into the stack back at the bottom of the stack. In this way, the Arcane Circle will appear between the 14th and 18th tile. Now select the top 3 tiles from the stack and shuffle in the Workshop tile into these tiles. Put the shuffled 4 tiles into the stack after the 7th tile. In this way the Workshop will appear between the 8th and 12th tile. Now, again, select the top 3 tiles from the stack and shuffle in the Vault tile. Place the shuffled 4 tiles into the stack after the 3rd tile. In this way the Vault will appear between the 4th and 8th tile. The stack is now ready.

This adventure uses a pre-built dungeon complex. To create it, follow the instructions for pre-built dungeons below.

The Vault and Workshop tiles as I set them up
Special Adventure Rules:
Vault Tile: When setting up the pre-built dungeon complex and the Vault tile is added, place a door marker over the entrance and place the Heskan figurine inside the vault, along with the dimensional shackles token.
Workshop Tile: When setting up the pre-built dungeon complex and the Workshop tile is added, place door markers over the each unexplored edge of the Workshop tile and place the Quinn figurine inside the Workshop, along with the Kobold Sorceror Villain token (see photo alongside). Place the time tokens on/ around each door token. For the purpose of this adventure, these doors remain 'locked' and cannot be unlocked by any abilities apart from the lever.
Arcane Circle Tile: When setting up the pre-built dungeon complex and the Arcane Circle tile is added, place the Rage Drake token and the lever token inside the Arcane Circle. Then, place the Arjan figurine on any tile adjacent to any unexplored edge of the Arcane Circle.
Monster Tokens: Shuffle all tokens including the 5 Howling Hag tokens and place a monster token face down on each unexplored tile except for the start tile, Vault tile, Workshop and Arcane Circle. When exploring a new tile, the monster token is flipped up and the number of indicated monsters are placed on that tile. In the case of 'no monsters', no monsters are placed.
The Arcane Circle setup
Encounters: When exploring a tile with a black arrow, an encounter card is drawn as per normal. Ignore and discard any encounter card that involves drawing and adding a dungeon tile and, instead, draw a new card. Encounters are drawn whenever a hero does not 'explore' a tile (by flipping over a monster token) or a hero did not perform an attack that turn.
Howling Hag: When the Howling Hag token is flipped up, replace the token with her figurine and follow the tactics as per her card but ignore the teleportation step. The Hag may only teleport when another Hag token is revealed. In this case, she immediately teleports to the new location. If the Hag is defeated all other Hag tokens you encounter afterwards counts as 1 Monster instead. The Hag's curse attack does not teleport a hero. Instead, follow the same rules as for her howl.

After every 4th Hero phase (use a D4 or counters to keep track), flip over a time token on the vault. If all of the time tokens are exhausted, you are defeated and have lost the Adventure.

Victory: The Heroes win this adventure by 'unlocking; the Workshop, rescuing Quinn in time and defeating the Kobold Sorceror before Klak is able to escape the dungeon.

Defeat: If the heroes fail to rescue Quinn in time, Klak's torturous devices proves too powerful and the Cleric is driven insane, forever haunting the labyrinthine dungeons! The heroes also lose the game if Klak manages to escape the dungeon by landing on the Secret Stairway tile or if any one hero is killed and no more healing surges remain.

An example of pre-built map for this Adventure
When You Unlock The Vault, Read:
Certain that behind this door lay treasure and loot, Kat is startled to see a reptilian humanoid inside the Vault. "I am Heskan, a Wizard amongst the Dragon born and I have been hiding in here after being separated from my companions. There is some infernal evil in play inside these dungeons and I would be glad of your assistance in locating and rescuing my friends. Quinn, the Cleric and Warden of the North was taken captive by Klak, a Sorceror skilled in the arcane arts. He plans on breaking Quinn's mind in the hope of locating an ancient gem that is said to be tied to the Shimmer. We must not let him succeed! If he does, I fear a greater doom will befall these lands than the few terrors that lie within these walls. He has Quinn sealed within his vile Workshop. I overheard a band of Orcs talking about a lever that will bring down the guarded Workshop doors. Unfortunately it is guarded by a Rage Drake deep within the dungeon. Alas, my brother Arjan went in search of the lever but he has not returned. I fear the worst has befallen him. Will you join me in searching for Arjan and the lever?"

Tactics: After unlocking the Vault, time tokens get flipped after every 3rd Hero phase. Quinn is running out of time!

Note: Heskan's door-opening ability has no effect. Instead, Heskan may explore a tile one tile away from him. If he does, flip over the monster token on the tile.

Choice: Kat joins Heskan in search of Arjan and Quinn:
"It would be wise of we split up. I will go in search of the lever and hopefully find my brother Arjan as well while you try and locate the sealed Workshop. Quinn will need all the help he can find once I bring those doors down. Take these Dimensional Shackles along with you. There is a mad teleporting Hag on the prowl and I daresay these will come in handy."
You will now play the remainder of this adventure solo 'two-handed'. Kat gains +2 hit points, 1 treasure card and activates after Heskan and the normal mode of play resumes.

Choice: 'Leave her fate to chance':
"Quests and fate carry less weight than gold and jewels for me! No, Heskan, I came here not to parley with wizards and mages over good and evil. I'm just here to loot this dungeon and buy myself a lodging far away from war and monsters!"
Roll a D20:
  • 1-5: Kat escapes the dungeon but is ambushed by thieving goblins as she exits. Discard all her treasure cards. Remove Kat from the game.
  • 6-10: Kat escapes the dungeon with 2 treasures. Draw 2 treasure cards and add it to Kat's inventory. Remove Kat from the game.
  • 11-15: Kat is captured by monsters! Place her on the tile that is furthest from the vault with no unexplored edges. Then, place the Howling Hag figure on that tile. The Hag will continuously attack Kat unless a token causes her to teleport (see Hag's rules above). Players can attempt to rescue Kat if he they wish. Kat is 'rescued' if Heskan ends his hero phase on her tile. Remove Kat from the game and gain 2 treasure cards.
  • 16-20: Kat has a change of heart and decides to assist Heskan. Give her +2 HP and 1 treasure card. She then heads off to find Quinn.

The Villains in the Dungeons of Nerath
When You Find Arjan, Read:
"Blast! This dratted Drake refuses to move from its spot. Quickly Brother, cast a diversion to distract this brute so we may get to the lever and rescue our Cleric friend!"
Place Heskan on the Arcane Circle and flip over a treasure card (or a daily or utility power) from Heskan's inventory. The sound of gold coins has distracted the Drake! Move the Drake 2 tiles away from the Arcane Circle in any direction. Then, flip over the lever. (If there are no treasure or power cards to flip over Heskan will need to slay the Drake in order to access the lever).

When You Flip Over The Lever, Read:
Using the dimensional magic from the Arcane Circle Heskan creates a portal that will allow a single Hero to teleport right outside the Workshop entrance."Quickly, Arjan, step into the portal! Quinn will have need of your axe in besting that nefarious sorcerer."

Things got messy fast - a 3 Monster flip-over!
Remove the door and time tokens from the Workshop. Quinn is free but badly injured (his starting HP is 6). Weak and drained from his ordeal, Quinn ONLY has his 2 At-Will powers at his disposal. (Note: The reasoning behind this is somewhat obvious - If we gave Quinn his Blade Barriers, he would make quick work of Klak, thereby rendering the last Act of the adventure pointless)

"Curses! This vile sorcery has taken its toll on me! I fear that should Klak escape, he will pass on what little he could learn from his vile tinkering of my mind. We should stop him, lest he passes on further knowledge of the Shimmer and the Everlast to his dark masters!"

Place the 5 additional dungeon tiles in a stack next to the Workshop. Then place the secret stairway at the bottom of the stack. At the end of the villain phase, draw a tile from the top of the stack and add it to any adjacent edge of the workshop tile or a tile connected to the workshop with an unexplored edge. Then place Klak on this tile.

At the start of the next Hero phase, you take control of Quinn and try to defeat Klak, the Kobold Sorceror before he escapes. Place Arjan just on any tile adjacent to the Workshop tile. Arjan activates immediately after Quinn. If Klak is destroyed the heroes win the game. Note: If you chose to keep Kat and she made it to the Workshop in time, you may play Kat after Arjan and she may assist the Heroes in defeating Klak. If Klak reaches the Secret Stairway tile, the heroes lose the game. Klak has escaped!

Bonus: Heskan may go on to attempt to defeat the Rage Drake. If he does, he gains 2 additional treasure cards.

This Adventure uses all of these D&D Games
Pre-built Dungeons Setup:
(Uses rules similar to the pre-built Cavern Complex in Drizzt)
  1. Start tile as indicated by the adventure.
  2. Dungeon tile stack shuffled and setup as indicated by the adventure,
  3. Cavern Edge Tiles (when indicated).
  4. Place the start tile on the table. Add one new dungeon tile next to each unexplored edge of the start tile.
  5. Then place one new tile next to each unexplored edge of the tiles you previously placed.
  6. Continue to add dungeons tiles to unexplored tile edges. In most of the Ruin Of Nimbar adventures you would have a total of 20 dungeon tiles (excluding the start tile) laid out.
  7. If you encounter long hallway tiles, immediately place a new tile adjacent to its unexplored edge if possible.
  8. If you encounter tiles with doors, shuffle and add a door marker. Tiles with door edges count as unexplored edges. You may place tiles on the 'other' side of the doors.
  9. If you encounter named tiles, place them according to the adventure. For example, Adventure 1: The Dungeons of Nerath uses a pre-built 20 tiled dungeon with the Vault, Arcane Circle and Workshop named tiles. These are shuffled in to the dungeon tile after the 3rd, 8th and 14th tile and are laid out in the same manner as a normal dungeon tile.
  10. If the adventure calls for a pre-built chamber complex, all the chamber tiles (Horrid Chamber, Dire Chamber or Ravenloft crypts) get built into the dungeon. Chambers may only be entered by a single entrance and exit, unless indicated otherwise. Do not place normal dungeons tiles around chamber tiles, apart from the chamber entrance tiles.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Board-Gaming Retrospect: Doom: Horde Mode

The many manuals of Doom 

A few months ago I reviewed Doom: The Board Game, a one vs many shoot-em-up style tactical-minis game, created by Fantasy Flight and in a similar style to Descent and Imperial Assault (sans campaign mode). For the most part, it was a fun game with great components and had that essential first person 'video game' type feel to it. Gone were long-winded and drawn out campaigns, overly complex rules and endless references. Doom was quick, dirty and a blast to play (pun intended) and I absolutely loved the whole glory-kill mechanic and the weapon load-outs on the marines as well as the spawning nature of the demon hordes.

Imp VS Marine dance off!

So, why then has it not really seen much game-time with my avid gaming groups? Since purchasing the game in early October last year, it's only hit the table about 4 times and, despite being a hit from the first play, it has sadly fallen by the wayside and laid on my shelf, the Cyberdemon box art grinning manically at me with almost mocking apprehension.

I suppose the primary reason for the lack of gameplay is that our current group have our hands full battling the demonic entities of Faerun, let alone Mars. Also,our recent slew of Dungeons and Dragons campaigns from Ravenloft to Ashardalon and Drizzt have all been co-operative board games. As a team we have delved into dungeons, cajoled through fiery caverns and perilous pits and battled monster after monster, for after foe. Our victories have been tumultuous, our defeats sombre and contemplative, but through it all, we have gone through the experience as a team. Which makes the idea of a 'One VS Many' style game seem both treacherous and blasphemous, considering all the bonds of fellowship we had forged over the months.

Cyberdemon dance-off
Still, the grinning Cyberdemon ever enticed me until I scoured the interwebs for a co-op version, eventually discovering Mark Thomas' Horde Mode for Doom -  a fully co-operative,unofficial variant for the Doom. I had been looking for something like this for some time now, silently hoping that Fantasy Flight would release an app in the same style as Mansions of Madness 2E and Imperial Assault. Apps aside and after stumbling across Horde Mode, I was rather excited at the prospect of bringing Doom back onto our gaming scene as it would be a refreshingly fast game for nights when we were all too grumpy for dungeon crawling. But first, I needed to solo bash it to see how it ran:

(The official rules and faqs can be found here: Mark Thomas' Horde Mode for Doom)

First off, all you need to play the co-op variant is a copy of Doom and 12 mini cards you need to print out. These cards, along with a set of custom easy-to-follow rules, form the basis of the AI engine that drives the game. As expected, you and 3 other marines will square off against hordes of demons, powered by the game's AI Invader player. The objectives are fairly straightforward: kill or be fragged. And if the Invader manages to frag every marine, its game over. Four-person shoot-em-up. Who said it couldn't be done!

Setup is more or less the same. You still construct a map with a few portal spawning points and it is recommended that you build your map in a circular layout so that demons don't 'bunch-up' at doors and narrow passages. 
I kinda like the whole bunched up demons concept though. It reminded me of those old retro classics where programming glitches would result in several henchmen stuck in a doorway, twitching in and out of sync with the game and all you needed was a grenade or rocket launcher.

Stuck behind closed doors, these demons throw a party!
However, the real core of the game comes from the event-deck (the 12 deck of cards you will need to print). These get drawn during the round status phase to determine which demon groups to spawn at which portal and also what abilities will augment the demon hordes for that round (for example - an extra red dice for when demons attack). The event cards get drawn again during the demon activation phase to randomly determine which demon groups activate that turn. Marine activation is as per normal and the marine action phase proceeds as per the standard rule book.

There are a few bits and bobs to take note of though. Demons with overwatch (such as the Possessed Soldiers) will always use their overwatch ability. Demons with any argent power will always use it and demon movement is such that the demons will only move as close to the marine as it needs to be in order to attack (so for a demon with a range of 5, it would be 5 squares away and within line of site of the marine). Also, the entire demon invader deck is used for defence and whenever a marine would attack a demon, the top card of the invader deck is popped off as defence. The initiative deck is as per normal but you need to keep track of the number of demon groups on the board.

All in all, I found Horde Mode crazy fun to play with a few easily tweaked rules to make the co-op experience all the more entertaining. Some of my earlier gripes with Doom was that the game was frightfully unbalanced in favour of the UAC marine player(s) but with Horde Mode, it's an even and fair fight, leaning slightly more towards the Invader this time. Demons can spawn quickly and each round phase flashes by until you find the board swarmed by demons with the marines having little to no chance of survival, given the single frag win condition. 

All in all, Horde Mode is a quick and easy way to experience a co-op variant for Doom and it works rather well. It could function as an introductory tutorial for players eager to experience Doom without playing as the Invader or being bogged down by asymmetrical gameplay. That said, there are a few minor tweaks and adjustments I included, as I prefer my games being a bit more challenging:

Use doors sparingly to prevent demons from spawning and being stuck in one location. I built a map using all the tiles and had to adjust and re-start the game 5 rounds in when I realised that my demons were all concentrated in a single part of the map. 
Also, each time a demon attacked, I popped the top card off the invader deck to add extra bonuses to the attacking demon (Like I said, challenging). I also upped the special weapons to 4 (2 big guns and 2 explosives) for my 2-player marine hunting party. If you were using all 4 marines, I would up the special weapons to 8. I included 3 teleportation devices (2 including the starting device), scattered randomly across the map. I also included a very basic objective: Activate all teleport devices, kill all hostiles  - just to add some extra flavor to the game.

While I added a few custom tweaks to my liking, Horde Mode for Doom is a fun and lightweight co-op variant that is easy to play. While it might lack the thrill of a human Invader player's unpredictability, it does allow for a fully immersible and easy to follow co-op gaming experience.

My Rating on: Horde Mode for Doom - the board game: 8/10. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Dungeons and Dragons: The Wrath of Ashardalon Board Game Review

The Wrath of Ashardalon continues my lieu of Dungeons and Dragons board game exploration, this time taking 1-5 players on a Co-Op dungeon crawler within the fiery chasms of Firestorm Peak. You will grapple with goblins, oppose orcs, clobber a few kobolds, curse at cultists and blibber at some bizarre aberrations. You will encounter legions of devils, enraged fire drakes and steadfast Duergar guards and, eventually, you will face-off against Ashardalon

Holy smokes, I just crapped a 20-sided doodee!
All hail Ashardalon. 
Whereas Smaug might have been 'Magnificent', Ashardalon is just downright fabulous. Whereas Smaug might have held the title of King under the Mountain, the Red Dragon is the true Queen of Drag (ons). And make no mistake: Ashardalon is THE dragon yo' mama warned you about: Fiery temperament, flaming nostrils, razor sharp teeth and breath that will singe your beard so bad, your offspring will be spawning orange ginger caps until the end of time.


"Beauty is in the eye of..." DIE! DIE!
The Wrath of Ashardalon is yet another instalment in the series of D&D Board games and, in the same vein as both Ravenloft and Drizzt, carries the exact same gaming engine and rules. You're still exploring, hero-ing, and villain-ing, this time deep within the caves and dungeons of Firestorm Peak. However, Ashardalon is a step-above the standard D&D board game and introduces us to some exciting new gaming mechanics that I have now gone on to use in ALL of our gaming group campaigns. 

First off, Ashardalon has the hardiest lot of monsters to contend with. From cave bears to Grells to Gibbering Mouthers to Orc Smashers, the monsters in Ashardalon are tougher than those in previous instalments and almost always tougher to kill. Multiple monster spawns are also common such as the Legion Devils that spawn in threes. And then there are those damned Grells. If you have a fear of tentacles, squid, calamari or Spongebob, then it would be advisable to seek adult supervision before attempting this game.

The Usual Suspects.

On the up side, to contend with the tougher monsters, the heroes in Ashardalon are more than apt to dish out a world of hurt. Quinn, the Cleric has some nifty kung-fu tricks with his blade barrier tokens which allows you to take out multiple monsters in one go (if you can get them all on one tile, that is). Heskan, the dragon-born Wizard has magical flaming spheres which you can send shooting off down the dungeon like a heat-seeker in pursuit of a mig (cue Danger Zone). There are your standard fighters and rogues (and even an Elf Paladin) but where Ashardalon really shines and sparkles, is in it's treasures.
These range from caltrops (similar to the Cleric's blade barriers), to a wand of polymorph to Vorpal swords and scrolls of monster control. Some of the campaigns even allow for 'trading' with some Dwarven merchants which makes it almost feel like an in-game NPC!

More chambers means more dungeon which means more table!

Ashardalon's biggest draw card (no pun intended) is the inclusion of chamber cards and tiles. Before, in both Drizzt and Ravenloft, you were mostly seeking out one particular tile from the dungeon stack which would signify the end-of-game objective, Ashardalon takes this a step further. You are still seeking that 'one tile', only this time that tile corresponds to a particular 'chamber'. Once you have located the chamber entrance tile, you add ALL of the chamber card tiles to the newly discovered entrance and draw a chamber card for the current adventure. This will essentially almost always trigger the end-of-game scenario based on the particular chamber card but creates the effect of an epic boss battle. Instead of a single Big Bad, you now have a Big Bad along with a slew of monsters within a giant chamber to contend with which makes the game harder and more challenging. Which means your victories are more satisfying and your defeats more soul-crushing than in any previous iterations.


Drake's latest album was on fire
As with all the D&D Boardgames, we have a large box filled with minis, cardboard tiles, cards, tokens and little bits and pieces. The hero and monster minis have the same excellent detail as the other two games and the dungeon and chamber tiles are of the same board type as before which makes it useful for creating your own creating your own custom campaigns that span across several games - more on this later ;-) 
Off the bat, Ashardalon has the most impressive hero and monster minis in the series for me thus far. As expected, there's a giant Red Dragon but also a host of other monsters including a Beholder, and Orc Shaman and a Fire Drake that gets more pissed off the more you attack it. Of the heroes, the human cleric and dragon-born wizard are amazingly well sculpted and are now almost always part of my adventuring party.
The human cultist mini would make for an awesome Necromancer and, along with my Druid idea for the Drow Wizard from Drizzt, will soon be joining my campaign as custom characters. All in all, top notch components.

Gameplay & Setup:

As before, check my Castle Ravenloft explanation on game play. The mechanics are exactly the same for Ashardalon. 

Final Thoughts:

And the Three Bears never bothered about porridge again...

Like with the previous two, this is again a perfect game for players wanting an entry into the world of Dungeons and Dragons. The campaign adventures are certainly a lot more fun than both Drizzt and Ravenloft and the chamber cards adds a really excellent mechanic and depth to gameplay. There are now custom cards for Ravenloft available online and I cannot wait to download and print them for future games.

Having played through all three base games individually, my next step will be combining them together to form a heftier campaign and story-line. That said, I have already done the mock-ups and base list of adventures. The culmination of the campaign would be a full out heroes vs demons type war but that mechanic I haven't quite worked out yet. In the meantime, check out all the heroes assembled:

Look, Thorgrim is father to Vistra who is espoused to Athrogate,youngest son of Bruenor...
(I can now start family trees for all these characters)

Avengers, assemble! Oh, wait...

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

Friday, October 27, 2017

Board-Gaming Review: Doom: The Board Game

"Now listen up you no-good, yellow-belly, sodden excuses for recruits!!! This is the UAC MARINE CORP!! Your missions will range from retrieval, to search and rescue, to seek and destroy. If you were expecting an afternoon of fun and games, then you should be booking your honeymoon to Beirut for this ain't it!
The whole gorram planet is crawling with demons so ugly it will make your frackin' mugs look like they could win beauty contests. You will be expected to be proficient in weaponry and multiple load-outs ranging from plasma rifles to shot guns to chain guns and yes, to big fracking guns too. You will be expected to be skilled in tactical combat, stealth manoeuvres and be able to stand your ground while Satan's hell hounds are taking a piss on your boots. So stay alert and stay sharp. From here on out forget the sweet names your mama gave you. Your designations are Alpha, Bravo, Charlie or Delta and you better get used to pain Marine cos you're in for a whole planet of it.
You make a wrong move and you die! You look the wrong way and you die! You so much as fucking blink and you die! This hell-ridden, demon-infested planet is gonna be the playground of your nightmares. Buckle up boys, we're not in Kansas anymore. This is Mars. This is DOOM!" - Marshall B Killjoy  - UAC Drill Sargent.

Fantasy Flight Quality. Sooo good!
I remember the original Doom FPS from the early nineties giving me a lot of insane, shoot-to-kill game-play and a lot more motion sickness. Not that it wasn't a fun game - it was brilliant but alas! I could only stomach about 20 minutes of it before being positively dismal and dizzy. Fast forward a few decades and those fine folks at Fantasy Flight have gone and removed all the stomach queasiness to present Doom: The Board Game - a one versus many dungeon-crawling tactical miniatures game for 2-5 players that looks like an average board game but feels like an arcade game.
Off the bat, let me say that I really like this game. It bears similarities to Descent and Imperial Assault (same designer - Jonathan Ying) but is much more streamlined and focused on quick skirmish-style missions as opposed to drawn out lengthy campaigns. One player assumes the role of the Invader while the remaining four players are the UAC marines, equipped with an arsenal of weapons including chainguns, plasma rifles, grenades, chainsaws and the ever powerful BFG 9000! The Invader has control of a host of demons ranging from Imps to Caco demons to Pinkys and to the all impressive Cyberdemon.

The all-imposing Cyberdemon. Don't piss him off!

But first, let's look inside the box...

The UAC Marines: packing the heat.
As this is Fantasy Flight you could only expect top-notch components and rightfully so. The box contains a lot of cards, mini cards, cardboard tiles, tokens and little chits and bits. Oh and three rule booklets. Yes, three. But don't be daunted by this because each booklet serves a purpose. There is the standard 'Learn to Play' guide which features as a quick set-up-and-go tutorial, an 'Operation Guide' that contains the setup for each of the 12 missions and a 'Rules Reference' guide for when you really need to reference rules. The Minis in the game, as with all Fantasy Flight games, are superbly sculpted and really deserve to be painted. They're just amazing. These minis demand a decent paint job and for guides on how to paint, check out the absolutely awesome work done by fellow game enthusiast Luke Paruman here.

Setup is fairly straightforward. You layout the tiles according to the map setup for the operation you will be playing, along with the doors, portal, objectives, health packs and weapon tokens. As this is a One vs Many game, gameplay is asymmetrical with one player playing the role of the Invader (i.e. 'Overlord' like in Descent/ Imperial Assault) and the remaining (up to 4) players taking the role of one of four UAC Marines. Each marine has a starting deck of 10 cards which enable movement, attack and defence. The marines are all more or less similar with standard issue UAC cards but differ slightly with initial weapon load outs. Each marine also gets to choose a class card granting them unique abilities and then there a squad cards for when you're playing with fewer marines. 
The Invader player has a deck of Event cards which augments demon abilities during the round, a deck of demon cards with all the stats, health and attack values for these and a per-scenario Invasion card which lists which groups of demons will be spawning from portals. 
The Invader also has a scenario-specific Threat card which, much like the marine's Objective card, explains the events which fire for the mission as well as how/ when demons will be spawned from portals. The Invader also controls the Initiative Deck which gets shuffled to determine which player (Marine or Invader) activates next.

The game consists of several mission which are quick to setup and easy to play. Unlike Descent and Imperial, there is no real 'campaign' mechanic here - its a quick and dirty fight and it works brilliantly. Marines have some or other objective to complete in each mission and the invader, well - the invader simply has to gain as many frags (kills) as is needed to win.
The one mechanic which made this game loads of fun was the 'glory kill' - If a demon is staggered (wounded to a certain point), a marine simply has to move into that spot and SQUISH! - the demon is dead and the marine has now earned a glory kill card which grants health and extra bonuses.

Game-play is asymmetric and each round is made up of a status phase and an activation phase. During the status phase the Invader prepares the Initiative deck which is basically a deck of cards consisting of either demons (one for each type of demon on the board) and one card per marine playing (or 2 if it's just one marine).
The Marine player draws his starting hand of 3 cards from his deck of 10 and the Invader 6 cards from the Event deck. Then the top card of the Initiative deck is flipped indicating which player's trun it is to activate. For the activation phase, the marine can play cards from his hand which consists of one action and an unlimited (but limited to cards in hand) of bonus actions. Without delving in to too much details, Cards will grant the marine movement and attack and are themed around the sets of weapons you selected on load-out. 
There is an element of deck-building for the Marine player as you get the full set of 3 cards (or 1 for grenades) each time you 'pick up' a weapon on the map and you can sort-of custom build your deck according to your needs. Attack is line-of-sight based, roll some dice and compare your rolls (plus whatever stats boosting you have) to the health value of the demon you are targeting. If you rolled higher, the demon takes damage. If you roll high enough, congratulations - you just roasted some demon!

The Invader player is no wuss either. He gets to activate ALL demons of a particular type and they can all attack (in sequence of course) so your marines could easily be swarmed/ chomped/ eaten. The Invader also gets to augment demons attacks with the event cards in hand and these can dish out a world of pain on the unsuspecting marines. Once the Initiative deck is depleted, the round is done and the status phase commences again.

This Game is a great one VS many quick-and-dirty shoot-em-upper tactical mins game. It's loads of fun, has the potential to be more complex but minus all the complexity. It's a solid, great adaptation of video to boardgame and plays just as well with 5 players as it does with two.
My only gripes are that the details on the game tiles are very small and every few times we needed to check and double check for line of sight, cover and terrain. I really do wish they printed bigger, clearer tiles.
Also, I did find that the first 3 missions were extremely unbalanced and in favour of the marines and needed to house-rule a bit after consulting the forums on board game geek. I am hoping that FF brings out an app (like with Mansions of Madness 2E) to enable a full on co-op experience. Our gaming group of four would really like a four player-marine-only version. But all in all a very worthy buy. For purchases, check it out on RARU - Doom: The Board Game.

Components: 9
Setup: 7
Gameplay: 8
Replayability: 8
Theme: 8
Overall Score: 8

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons: The Legend of Drizzt Board Game Review

The Legend of Drizzt is 1-5 Co-Op dungeon crawler that plunges players deep into the labyrinthine caverns of the Underdark, the home of the dark elves known as the Drow. Here players will assume the roles of the most legendary Drow of all time Drizzt Do'Urden and his companions Cattie-Brie, Wulfgar, Regis and Bruenor Battlehammer as they journey ever onward towards Menzoberranzan, the City of Spiders, ruled by the terrifying demon queen Lolth. Along the way they will battle goblins and spirits, contend with trolls and spiders and overcome the nasty surprises that lurk within these mysterious caverns.

The Legend of Drizzt: The board game is the essential Dungeons and Dragons experience and hearkens back to my teenage years of rainy days indoors with a lunchbox of snacks and a thick yellow-stained library book. R.A Salvatore is the distinguished creator of the Drizzt series and his books provided me with hours on end exploring the worlds of the Drow and the Forgotten Realms. Salvatore later went on to pen an entire history for my favourite fantasy RPG video game of ALL time: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.


Onward to board games and we have The Legend of Drizzt, a sweet homage to Salvatore, designed by Wizkids and in the same lieu as Castle Ravenloft. It has the same gaming engine and pretty much the same rules. There's still the same sequence of phases: hero phase, exploration phase and villain phase except you're exploring caverns instead of dungeons and there is now a 'cavern' tile stack instead of a dungeon one. You're still fighting monsters that pop up on every new tile that gets placed. There are still encounter cards and boss-type villains to contend with and a book of preset scenario adventures. So yes, it's pretty much Ravenloft  - but in the Drizzt universe and with a few notable and worthy exceptions: Apart from strictly co-op, there are also a few competitive scenarios which has players squaring off against each other to complete some or other objective. Then there is the addition of cavern edge tiles which close off some unexplored edges, adding to the claustrophobia of the tunnel-like Underdark. And lastly, there are a lot more Heroes in this box than in both Ravenloft and Ashardalon. Many of these heroes only make an appearance in later scenarios (i.e.Artemis, Jarlaxle) and while the adventure book is pretty much self contained, there is a strong feel towards a story-driven campaign.


The Heroes of the Underdark!
It's another giant box with 42 neatly sculpted unpainted miniatures,  200 cards and lots of cardboard tiles, tokens, items, chits and bits. Oh and, as per usual, really awesome artwork..Each of the heroes and villains have their own stats card which includes their respective abilities and by thunder, do these heroes have abilities! Drizzt,for example, can do two attacks in his hero phase and the introduction of stance tokens makes for a very interesting dynamic. Drizzt can even summon his ever-faithful panther Guenhwyvar!


Troooool!!! In the Dungeon!
As before, there's usually a special tile that needs be found to trigger the end of scenario events and it's usually placed after the 8th tile in the stack. Some scenarios call for a pre-built cavern complex but apart from these, setup is the same as with Ravenloft.


Check my Castle Ravenloft explanation on game play. The mechanics are exactly the same for Drizzt.

Final Thoughts:

Like with Ravenloft, this is a perfect game for players (and especially younger players) wanting an entry into the world of Dungeons and Dragons but without being boggled down by a dedicated Dungeon Master. It's a fun game, easy to teach and has loads of references to the Drizzt books series which, if you a fan of as I am, will provide you with hours on end of entertainment. The game also features my favourite Clan Battlehammer dwarf : Bruenor and I thoroughly enjoyed playing with him almost as much as I did with the titular dark elf. Drizzt can also be combined with Ashardalon, Ravenloft and the Temple of Elemental Evil to for one hefty campaign.
That said, Drizzt has a few set backs. However, most of these are minor and can be overlooked. I did find the heroes very over-powered compared to other iterations. I also found the adventures and boss-type monsters in CR to be more engaging and challenging that those in Drizzt (albeit with one or two exceptions).
Still, this is D&D, and its Forgotten Realms which makes it one of those games that I will constantly replay. Particularly on a dark winter's day when the gloom of the weather makes for a solid afternoon of exploring caverns deep below the surface of the earth. I look forward to adding both Wrath of Ashardalon and the just released Tomb of Annihilation to my collection soon!

Pest infestation? Call Bruenor!

Bruenor roasting some. Sticky dragon wings anyone?

Bruenor teaching Mr Ugly the proper salsa stance.

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

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:
  2. 2048: Nowhere to Run:
  3. Blackout 2022: