Monday, June 27, 2011

Origins Game Fair Wrapup - It's Aptly Named When You Consider Darwin's Book

Sometimes you wake up with a hangover from drinking too much, but this week, I'm going to be dealing with something far more sinister. It's like a "life hangover" from being drunk with fun; coming down from the last two weeks may prove to be worse than coming down from an ecstasy-and-crack-fuelled adventure at a nudist nymphomaniacs convention. Well, maybe, anyhow.

It all started with a joke from a buddy of mine who does it for a living: An arctic baby seal walks into a bar. The bartender asks "What'll it be?" The seal responds, "Anything but a Canadian Club!" Cue rimshot and commentary about the veal and tipping waitresses. It ended with red eyes, 4 hours of sleep, and a deep sense of dread for the timeframe between this very moment, as I'm writing this, and the first day of GenCon.

Well, I'd better back up and explain what the deal is. I am coming off of one of the best two-week stints ever, and it just ended with my participation in the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, OH. After reading the aforementioned joke on my buddy's Facebook page, I got in the car and headed to the airport at high speed as I had to head to Colorado for a class at the School of Mines in Golden. I was already running late, as usual. I realized five miles into my jaunt that I had forgotten my laptop, so I pulled a 30-MPH E-brake U-turn in the middle of the road, speeding back to the crib at 90 to get my forgotten lifeline to the universe. Kiss the wife again, kiss the babies, and out the door I went. Didn't even get a ticket, and I really should've.

There was a choice parking spot when I got there, but unsurprisingly, I was still pretty late to the ticket desk, and I got there just in time to have the kiosk tell me that I was too late to check in. I spoke to "Bob", a very nice Delta counter guy at the Cincinnati Airport. He asked if I had any heart problems, to which I responed with a quite quizzical "no", and he then replied that I should run my ass to the gate, like NOW.  So I did. I was there just in time to sweat on a large Latin gentleman who really should've had 2 seats and a grandmotherly older lady who had the aisle. 2 hours later I was wheels-down in Denver, having done all the backlogged work I had to get done on the plane. I get to the shuttle, and they headed for the rentals the moment I got there.

There was no line at the rental place, and no traffic on the way to Golden. I showed up in time for a wonderful catered lunch and small talk with collegues and friends. The following presentations in the class were exceptional, and even the hotel room afterward was nice. Things just couldn't go wrong for me. It was the beginning of a charmed life.

After three days in Denver, I was anxiously awaiting the drive home because a really good friend of mine who some of my readers may know, Rychean from Heroscapers (Mark), the God  Emperor of Heroscape Himself, was going to be sitting at my house as he had flown into Cincinnati at 3:30 and caught a cab to the house. I got home wihtout delay, and sure as snow melts in summer, there was my beautiful wife, my wonderful kids, and my dear friend to greet me.  Hugs and kisses ensued (family, not Mark) and the adventure began.

The reason he had flown in, I might note, is that the following day we were going to head to Origins in Columbus. For the uninitiated, it's one of the oldest board game industry trade fairs in the United States. We had planned to be there at 10AM to meet up with the Heroscapers from the area and play some tournaments, but I was there for darker purpose, to be sure. I had to cause some trouble to someone, and I had to score some free stuff. Oh, and I had to see some seriously freaky people.

I spent that night drinking with my amazing wife, Mark, and some good friends who happen to be neighbors, introducing him to playing Epic Duels on Halo terrain, which he is now completely and hopelessly addicted to, and talking about the adventure to come. It was a blast, and so much so that I forgot to pack a Heroscape army or two. So, suffice to say, I thought I would be hosed.

Now it wasn't all fun and games because I had some work to do in Columbus in the morning, so I headed to my appointments while Mark did his thing, and later we'd hook back up at the convention. It's the story of my life: work always gets in the way of fun, just as it did at Trashfest. We entered the center and I was told that a 5$ pass would get me into the dealer hall, but to actually play in any games, I'd need the 35$ deal. What a crock of shit. Anyhow, 35$ later, I was back on the road to go buy some metal waste.

After the sales calls and a conference call around noon, I was back in the center and prepped for epic warfare against the masses. I toured the halls and it was surprisingly well laid out, with really not a lot of people there for a Friday.  I spotted some folks I knew at the Dealer Hall, and hung for a while catching up with friends. Had I not promised my wife I'd not buy a single game while I was there since I just dropped 150$ on Hirst Arts molds, I would've bought Ascending Empires right then and there at the Z-Man booth, which was dead in the front of the hall where you couldn't miss it.

Cruising around the hall I saw all sorts of costumed folks, but not nearly as many as I'd been expecting. The theme of the fair this year was 'Steampunk' and therefore everyone seemed to be dressed as Menonites or something, sans Everett Koop chinstrap, wearing bowler hats and the apparently mandatory set of goggles sitting above the rim. The ladies were all wearing '50s era Victorian dresses and knee high boots and bustiers, for the most part. For something with "punk" in the name, there were a hell of a lot of conformists there because they all seemed to look exactly the same, as if there is only one way to be a steampunk guy/gal. But what the hell do I know, I'm just some writer guy.

Speaking of the gals, there were thankfully few morbidly obese women pouring out of too-small lingerie model outfits. I'm not going to belabor this as my dear friend Matt Loter would call me a "mysogynist cancer who should just die" were I to do so, but I will say that there were more fit, reasonably attractive folks on scene than I ever would've expected. I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least.

The one crime against humanity that was there was a menace to eyesight who was apparently trying to rope people to the Mechwarrior Simulator video game booths by wearing what can only be possibly described as Victorian slut gear. We're talking a bustier that hid only areola, holey fishnets (I can only assume they were runs from being 4 sizes too small) and the worst thing, an incredibly short mini skirt that she must've shaved to wear, and I don't mean her legs. Looking like that, the only ring I can envision a man putting on her finger would be at Burger King, and made of onion, battered, and deep fried. I'll never understand it.

What marketing school did these idiots go to? I'd bet she was really nice, and had she dressed like a person, and not a disgusting object, I'd totally have talked to those guys and got the scoop about their products. But now they get nothing but shame and infamy.

The sad fact is that I had to walk past this ode to absurdity every time I went from the dealer hall to the Miniatures room or Board room, and it produced the opposite result I think they had intended. I didn't look anywhere near that area of the building, nor would I unless there was a person on fire, screaming prayers or venom loud enough to catch my attention. I'm not much on sexualizing women for the purposes of selling something as I think people are, or at least should be, smarter than to buy something because some super model chick is standing around asking you to. All in all, it was a very mellow, conservative place to chill out, and I was quite thankful for that.

Moving on to the stuff you really want to know about, there were SO MANY GAMES in the halls. Not a whole lot of new stuff, but a lot of cool stuff. I tried hard to get out of the mainstream and showcase stuff that you've never seen or heard of before, because any douchebag reporter can tell you about what Z-Man or FFG have going on. I'm the guy who tells you about the supercool stuff you'd otherwise not know about, making you marginally as informed as I am, and able to totally brag to your friends about how in-the-know you are. Well, maybe, anyhow.

The first person I went to see was my buddy Steve Avery, the nicest guy on the planet, who was working the Tom Vasel Dice Tower booth. Apparently Tom is really pushing to get his Podcast subscriptions going, and he was handing out Dice Tower Podcast ribbons like they were going out of style. Tom shook my hand, then recoiled in horror when he saw my name badge. He noted "Ah, I know that name, I know it very well." It was at that point I realized he may not like me, and he never looked me in the eye after that. 

That being said, he had a pile of games donated from various people for his newly founded Jack Vasel Memorial Fund. It's a charity that helps gamers in times of need, and it's a hell of a great way to honor his son. Tom and I may not see eye to eye on things, but I'll tell you straight-up that you're not going to find someone who is as truly good-natured and caring as he appears to be.

 Check out his charity at and donate to the cause. Don't talk about it, don't think about it. Just go there and donate what you can, even if it's a dollar, because there's a lot of people out there who need help these days, and if this is the only kind thing you ever do in your life, when you get to the day of judgement this might be the difference between being judged as a lifelong, unrepentant scoundrel or being someone who maybe actually did care about something, even just once.

Moving on, I went to go check out Small Box Games, where my buddy John Clowdus was selling games like it was the last day on earth. I personally saw him sell maybe 15 copies of Omen, which indicates to me that if you didn't buy it, you're a moron. His lovely wife was working the booth with him, and she proved yet again that behind every successful man is a strong woman telling him what to do. We had tons of laughs and loved every minute of our visit. The short version is that if you haven't met John and his wife, you're totally missing out. Truly the salt of the earth.

Right next door to their booth was the newly founded Chivalry Games booth.  They have a product called Chaostle, which is one of the prettiest games I've ever seen. The plastics and board are amazing, and for the price of $55 bucks they were selling it for, I was a fool to not pick one up. I was just afraid my wife would murder me if I did, so I didn't.  The short version here is that it's a bit of a dungeon crawl but with a racing aspect, sort of, and it's one of the more interesting things I saw during my trip. Coincidentally, this guy used to do pewter work but got out of it, and so I talked to him on a professional note about doing some business! Small world.

Here's another pic of Chaostle:

So, right across the aisle from this gorgeous thing was a booth with another start-up company, and while their game is far less gorgeous, it was interesting nonetheless.  Age of Dinosaurs is a game akin to Settlers, but instead of building a colony, you're essentially trying to become a dominant force in the mid-Jurassic period. The mechanics involve trying to keep the parents alive long enough for your eggs to hatch, and thus you have both egg resources and various types of plant to manage in order to be successful. The game sounded incredibly neat, and the guy who was pitching it, the designer, was truly fun to talk to due to his super energy level and enthusiasm about his game. It takes big, brass balls to do something like this, so at least give the guy some love and take a look when more info is available at

Here's the game on the table:

Now moving onward, I headed to Plaid Hat games to chat with Colby about Dungeon Run and the new Summoner Wars Master Set. After talking for a few minutes, he exclaimed that he'd sold fully half of the games he brought with him on the FIRST DAY. Very excited that he's going to be around for a while in the boardgame biz.  We also chatted about Dungeon Run, where he was doing demos on a prototype board. I sat in and played for 20 minutes and it's exactly my kind of game. Keep your eyes open at for this, because it's got the backstabbery of Cosmic Encounter or Diplomacy, but wrapped up in a co-op dungeon crawl. Great, and I mean GREAT, artwork, models, and everything. It's a fantastic product and I can't wait until Colby sends me one....hint...hint...

Here's the demo game we played of Dungeon Run:

Next stop for me was unplanned, but I simply had to take a look once I saw what Todd Boyce, the owner of Ninja Magic, had sitting before him. These were some of the most stunning little miniature space ships I've ever seen. Had I not promised to spend nothing on product, I would've bought them all for Battleship Galaxies customs. In fact, I asked for his card and I'm sending the info to my buddy at Hasbro so they don't have to reinvent the wheel, potentially, on sculptures. Outstanding stuff! These even have magnetic bases with knurls so they lock in a direction when you shift them in a facing. Check his stuff out at because it's brilliant. It may be the coolest spaceship stuff I've ever seen, and these photos simply do not do justice:
Now after chatting with him for 20 minutes or so, I saw the Battlestations booth next door and decided to chat up the guys over there and learn more about what they had. Turns out that it's a half RPG, half board game hybrid that sounds absolutely outstanding. The concept is that you take on missions, with a GM-style referee running the game and at least one other person playing through a scenario. There's tons of unique races, all with individual ship styles and racial attributes, and the game is played on both a star map for manoeuvering, but on tile-based spaceships. There's the usual shooting at ships in space as well as damage control, repelling boarders via battles inside the ships on the tiles. It's an amazing-sounding game system, and it's apparently been around a while, although nobody seems to cover it anymore. Check them out at

I'd have loved to talk with them all day because they were so incredibly interesting, and so enthusiastic about the game, but I was running late for my first Heroscape event. I tripped over to the Miniatures hall, where they were playing all kinds of games. Wizards didn't have too much of a presence there, with few Star Wars Minis or D&D events going that were immediately apparent, but there were an assload of pirate-themed games, with ship sizes going from the pocket-model little guys all the way up to foot-long galleons sailing felt seas.

One of the most impressive things I saw, being a total Star Wars nut, was some game that a group of guys were playing on what can only be described as the single neatest full-scale Star Wars setup I've ever seen. I have no idea what game it was, and I have no idea how to play, but I was taken aback by the absolute coolness that this game exuded. Suffice to say, by the time I saw this and eyeballed the setup, Endor and its Ewok populace was completely fucked.
I was finally to the Heroscapers table, which had maybe 24 maps all set up. If you have never played Heroscape, first, I pity you, but it takes maybe 20 minutes to set up a map, even with keen instructions. Heroscapers are a selfless lot, by and large, and to go through all this trouble for what amounted to 10 people to play...that's some love right there. 

As noted earlier, I forgot my stuff, but as usual, Mark packed way more than he planned to play with as he is perhaps the single most indecisive human that has ever existed. Luckily, one of the organizers, David Lefton, was kind enough to bring an entire crate of stuff and I chose a mish-mash of figures to use. Some Heroscape champions were there as well, so I figured I'd better just hope for the best.

I played four games and, unlike the norm for me, I only lost once. No, I wasn't playing against the infirm or children.  It wasn't enough, though, and Mark ended up winning something, but since he has more Heroscape product on the shelf than Hasbro at this point, he gave me his prize, a Castle set. This is why Mark is the man.

After this, we headed back to the dealer hall for a minute, then got out of there. It occurred to us that we'd better get a hotel, so I called around. Apparently the area hotels hold rooms for business people that aren't offered to tourists, because the minute I told the Mariott folks I was there on business, the room I was told didn't exist by the receptionist magically became available when the reservations desk lady came on board, and it was twenty bones cheaper. We ended up smuggling the games that we brought up to the room, and proceeded to play X-Bugs and a whole assload of Epic Duels.

We asked Chelsea, the attendant at the desk, where we should eat, and she not only turned us onto "The Elevator", but gave us a 10% off coupon. It was just up the road, and it was a microbrewery, so it was a total win. Thanks, Chelsea.  Anyhow, the Elevator Xtra was absolutely lovely, although the fish I had was far less than satisfying. I had the beer before I ate, so technically, I gave them the benefit of the doubt and they failed.  Mark's tenderloin steak was nice, or so he said, and of the two beers he tried, only one was to his liking.

We ran out of smokes (although when I say "we" I mean "me" since he only smokes when I'm around...bad influence that I am) and then walked for blocks trying to find a convenience store. As is typical, we ran into a state employee who spoke little english to give me directions, which he needed to call headquarters to get. It was at this point we turned around and got my car from the valet, drove 2 miles to a Shell station, and fed my nicotene monster.

Back at the hotel, we were back to Epic Duels. What a hell of a game. Hasbro should be slapped upside its head for not reprinting this one, because it may be the second best game they've ever produced, after Heroscape. As noted, I play this game with Halo Interactive Strategy Boardgame terrain, which totally makes Epic Duels the fun-fest that it was born to be. It also finally repurposes the Halo stuff, since playing that game is nearly as fun as being sodomized by a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire.

The next morning we awoke at about eight in the morning, after about five hours sleep. We got Triple-Essed (Shit, Shower, Shave) and got out of the room, packing all of our games with us. The first Heroscape event was at ten, and there was no way we were going to miss it. Before heading over, though, I went to harass John Clowdus and realized that I had missed the booth of one of the biggest hucksters in the game business, MayDay Games.

Mark had gone on ahead, so I grabbed a badge from an unspecified individual and went over to check out their Crokinole offerings. Not surprisingly, they had the best ones on the tables, but they had a sign with "slightly used" boards for $70.00.  Guess he learned that bait and switching people is not only immoral, it's illegal. Anyhow, the tables were full and it was at this moment I said, rather loudly, "Hey, aren't these the douchebags that were knowingly shipping  bad boards to people? Why would you ever buy anything from these pukes?" All eyes turned to me, then to the booth guys. Laughing, I strolled on without looking back. It was almost time to meet Mark at the Miniatures room, so I went onward to play some Heroscape.

As usual, I got my ass kicked. I dropped out early to go hang out at the booths in the dealer hall and to find a game that my buddy was hunting for: The Dealer McDope Dealing Game. Unfortunately, there were no copies around the entire place, so of course I texted him to tell him that I had found it, but for $100.00, and to drop what he was doing and come over to buy it before someone else did. I let him call about three times before answering to tell him I was just yanking his chain. He was not amused.

I went back and checked on Plaid Hat as well as Small Box, and as expected, their piles of product were greatly diminished. I decided to head over to the Board Game Exchange booth to harrass David Muta, the founder, and his trusty sidekick, Jim O'Brien. They said that they had signed up a ton of people, and that they brokered a bunch of deals with publishers. Suffice to say, if you haven't signed up yet, you just don't understand how much money you will save. Their booth had some of the funniest signage I've ever seen; check out the pic below and look at the sign on the upper right side.

Chatting with David was a blast, and he explained that he couldn't hang the previous night because he was absolutely wasted. He looks like a total drunken frat-boy if you just took him at first glance, but he's actually a really smart, funny guy who loves games and just got sick of buying crap, just like I did. Definitely check them out at

Right next door was an older guy sitting in a wheelchair, wearing a pith hat. As I walked by him I had to laugh because I noticed that he was holding an Obama Tax Poker Game, a game called Prison Bitch, another called Gang War, and finally, Mohammed Old Maid which is made up of a deck of 72 virgins, some of which are transvestites. His company's motto is even "We Intend To Offend - Free Speech Should Be Fun!"  My kind of dude. So, I chatted with him for twenty minutes or so and he explained that he is an absurdist playwright, and had a stroke which put him in his current seating arrangement. Totally great sense of humor, and after he explained Prison Bitch and Gang War, I wished I hadn't promised to not buy anything. They looked like a riot. Check them out at and don't have a drink in your hand when you do. May cost you a keyboard.

Here's my newfound hero and his booth:

The next contestant on "The Booth Is Right" was not on my radar until I saw someone that closely resembled some of the folks down the road from me. The company is called "Gut Bustin' Games" and they have released three games and one expansion so far, the most notable being "The Redneck Life". They have a new game out called "O Gnome You Don't", which is both beautiful and absolutely loaded with screwage, and when I demoed it I wanted to buy it immediately. It's cute outward appearance belies its pure evil heart.

Anyhow, I chatted with the founder, Lisa Steenson, who explained that they're out of Portland, Oregon, and that they're selling tens of thousands of copies of The Redneck Life out of Targets, Wal-Marts and at conventions. It is a linear game where players run through the life of a redneck, with the goal being ending up with the most money, the least in debt to Uncle Clem's payday loan place, have the least litt'luns, and have the most teeth. All of your stats are tracked on a sheet of paper and you get to name each child you have, with slots for about 20 kids on each sheet.

I had to look twice because while the board looked very, very plain, the real magic was in the houses and cars in the game. Each is a photograph of a total hillbilly vehicle or place of residence, and each is funnier than the last. While I know for sure this will never be a hobby gamer's favorite, it's a great game to play with out-of-town relatives. I got a review copy from Lisa, so I'll be reviewing it. I will tell you that after one play, I can say that I've rarely laughed as hard as I have playing this game. It's a total riot. Check it out at, and keep and eye on O Gnome You Don't, because it's really nasty fun.

It was almost time to go, but as I was walking to the front, a guy from Eagle Games started hawking the new Defenders of the Realm miniatures and expansions at me. I hadn't heard squat about this, but after looking at it all, I cannot imagine why you'd not want to get them. At five bones a piece, they're on par with FFG's Arkham Horror Investigators, but at the show I could get both the full game AND all of the painted minis for $60.  What an ass I am for making a promise to the wife not to buy anything. This was, hands down, the deal of the show. Check them out at and they have an online store to get them all!

I decided to stop one last place before I was finished, and it was back near Chivalry Games and Small Box. It was the Fireside Games booth. For those of you who don't know them, they're the folks behind the amazing Castle Panic. They're releasing their first expansion, The Wizard's Tower, and it sounds amazing. I love that game and while I traded it off long ago because I got offered a deal I couldn't refuse I am going to definately buy this one again because it's a household fave, and with the expansion adding spells and other cool mechanics, it's a must have. I even got a bookmark that can be played in-game as a card! Check these fine folks out at, and if you've never played Castle Panic, you're really, really missing out.

The last thing I'm going to note is that at the Board Room, where you can borrow games, there was a bunch of guys playing Battleship Galaxies! They said they loved it, and one of them actually knew who I was. I contemplated offering to sign his boobs, but I decided against. I asked to take a pic, and to the left you can see them battling it out, ISN versus Wretch, right there at Origins.

Now, you're probably looking at the title and wondering what the hell Darwin has to do with Origins. Well, there was a Red Cross blood donation drive there on-site, and there was at one point a substantial line. I can only infer that the reason for this is that gamers have finally figured out that they can't break the stereotype easily, so they've decided to infect the rest of the planet with their blood, therefore making everyone, at least in a small way, a gamer, with gamer's blood raging through their veins. The species of gamer shall live on.

Thanks to all of my readers for totally ignoring me during the show; I was expecting legions of rabid fans tearing my clothes off to sell on Ebay, but instead was met by a bunch of great people, a bunch of great games, and one hell of a long story to tell. See you at GenCon, where I'll be GMing the Heroscape Championship and be doing demos of Battleship Galaxies!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Battleship Galaxies: The Saturn Offensive - Why I've Never Been So Thrilled To Be A Wretch

A week or so ago I received a very advance copy of Battleship Galaxies, one of the most anticipated games of the year, and from the time I opened the box I was mesmerized by the amount of time and detail that the folks up in Pawtucket have put into this game. I have to say that I'm utterly impressed. From the player shields that allow you to hide your reserve forces behind Saturn, to the well illustrated cards, to the great looking ships, everything is absolutely perfect.

I'm not shocked, since these guys are the same ones who developed some of my favorite games such as Battleball and Heroscape, but since there has been very little in the way of press on this game, I wasn't sure what to think. Now that I've played it over ten times, I can tell you without reservation that it was wholly worth the wait.

Battleship Galaxies is nothing like the old Battleship game that every person not living in abject squalor has played at least once in your life. Oh no, this is not that game, not remotely. There is also the conjecture that this is just Heroscape in space, since Craig Van Ness was the principal designer along with two other Heroscape masters, Colby Dauch and Jerry Hawthorne. That, also, is absolute rubbish, and not only does this game not share much kinship with that particular game, it's quite unique when viewed against other space-based tactical games, other than the concepts that have been around since H.G. Wells and the like had first envisioned travel through the aether over a century ago.

The concept of this game is that a race of sociopathic, warmongering space pirates, the Wretcheridians, colloquially known as "The Wretch", have decided to enter the Sol system from their native Eridani system and start taking things that don't belong to them. As usual, the forces of Earth are the only thing stopping them from wiping humanity from the face of the universe. It's a space-based tactical fleet combat game that has managed to build in aspects of deck building, resource management, hand management, and a single ode to the original Battleship game, an alphanumeric set of dice that determining whether you've hit your enemy or not.

As Luke, Dale, and J.P. from the Opinionated Gamers said when they played my copy, no more can you say, "You sunk my battleship!" Saying, "You sunk my F-51 Blue Sparrow Small Fighter" simply doesn't roll off the tongue as easily. Players select a side, choose a fleet size, and then choose their ships and tactics cards in order to prepare for battle. Every decision, from the minute you choose a side, makes a difference in this game, and what truly makes it special is that it's not simply a toe-to-toe blunt force combat game, it's far more about making executive decisions at the right time and utilizing what you have in the most valuable way you can.

Before I get into how this game is played, since I know there's very few souls out there who have seen the rulebook, let alone the game, let's talk about the bits. From the box lid to the blow-molded insert, everything is, in a word, magnificent. The theme is as strong and integral to the entire game as any game I've played, and it even comes with a cool comic book that explains the backstory that you can read while you're sitting on the can. Trust me, after you open the box, you will need it because there's a good chance that some people will soil themselves. I know I nearly did. The art is absolutely outstanding in almost every instance, and as a sci-fi nut who has a small shrine to the Emperor of Mankind in his closet, this is saying quite a lot.

Let's not get off-track yet, though. Let's talk about bits some more. Inside the box are about 30 ships, almost all of which are unique, and they're all very nice models, painted with a basecoat and a nice wash to bring out the details. There's three sizes of ship, and these are supported by three different base sizes that range from seven-hex to one hex, with the medium and small being secured to the base by a very clever and durable ball-in-socket retention method. This allows you to pose ships in all manner of directions, such as a banking maneuver, or having a fighter fly up under a capital ship to deliver a death blow. In other words, there's a bunch of cool little toys in the box. Add to this that the bases hold the bright red and blue shield and damage pegs, helping identify strong or damaged ships easily on sight.

Then there's about 100 tactics cards or so, most having three copies each, with half applying to each faction, as well as two reference cards. These cards are all very nicely illustrated and tie into both the theme and the comic book, so for those who took the time to read it, you'll get a sense of 'caring' about the characters in the context of the overall story. The purpose of these is to recreate events on the battlefield, such as attaching a flag officer to a ship to provide a command bonus, or to equip a ship with extraordinarily devastating ordnance, to send an away team to sabotage or board enemy vessels, and other such things.

To add to the goodness in the box, there's these two really well built cardstock shields that provide you a way to obscure your forces to recreate a skirmish where neither side knows the force strength of the other. There's two large, quad-fold boards that can be played separately or laid together for larger playfields, both of which are nicely illustrated with space scenery such as nebuale and stars, as well as having marked spaces for nicely illustrated, and varied, tiles that are laid face down and provide boons or hazards during gameplay. There's also two energy references that are accompanied by two thematic pegs with which to track your fleet's shared pool of energy. The purpose of this is to limit what a fleet can do on its turn, and the design is such that it's very simple to track.

Some of the last bits are the two dice, one of which is a standard D8 die, and the other is a custom D10 die printed with the letters A through J. When rolled they assemble a value which can be cross referenced to the last bits in the box, the ship cards. Most ship cards are double sided, with varying degrees of strength printed on either side as defined by the ship's level, Standard, Seasoned, or Veteran. Included on these very well designed, easily understandable cards are charts with illustrations of the represented ship. This chart is made up of an alphanumeric grid, and during an attack, if you roll a value that has the ship's outline within, highlighted by a grey background, then you've successfully hit it.

There's also a critical space illustrated on the grid which indicates the ship's weakest point, and if you happen to nail that spot when its shields are down, that ship is immediately eviscerated. Each ship also has its weapons loadouts and special abilities, if any, listed, in very unambiguous and clear text, which clearly is influenced by the Heroscape design experience that these designers all shared.

In this day and age of nearly unfathomable game rules, this is a breath of fresh air. It's about time someone started making rulebooks that don't require sixteen pages of errata on the company website in order to play.

The back of the manual has eight built-in scenarios that are both challenging and interesting, and vary from the simple decisions of your starting fleet all the way through giving both sides a relatively complex objective and leaving it up to the players how to best achieve it. From top to bottom, this is a very well designed game.

Finally, I should note that you can only have one named ship on a side, so not only is this not a collectible game, there is no real draw to go out and buy multiple sets of this in order to enhance the experience. It's completely stand alone, and there's no more you need to buy to make the game better. Well, that's until the almost-certain expansions hit the shelves, but quite honestly, there's enough game in this box as-is that I think it will be a good while before you're clamoring for new units and tactics cards. I'd also be surprised if a crop of Hasbro-created and fan-created scenarios didn't start popping up all over the place.

The background comic underscores how cool a story the game surrounds, if a little cliche in concept yet strong in execution, and I'd really like to see how it plays out. As a total Star Wars nerd and a disciple of the Emperor of Mankind, I was a little unsure of how I'd like the story since Star Wars is one hell of a hard fictional universe to compete with, but the comic, the cards, and the ships all have done an excellent job of keeping me interested.

Now that you know what's in the box and a little about the game, let's talk more about the gameplay itself, because nice bits are nice to look at, but they don't always equate into something I even remotely want to play. Luckily, this game has been like heroin to a junkie for me so far, with no sign of letting up.

To set up the game, either two to four players decide what scenario to play and what the fleet starting size is. This is the combined launch value of each ship's card that indicates how much energy it costs to launch it from your reserve into battle. A typical amount might be around 50 points or so. After this is decided, each player or team will choose to play for the noble humans or evil Eridani invaders, and using the points cap they will select the various ships and strength levels in their fleet. After their fleet has been assembled, the players then choose the tactics cards they wish to build into their deck. The limit on these cards is half of the chosen fleet strength, so if you have a 50 point match, each side will choose 25 cards for their deck.

Regarding fleet and card choices, there are finite limits on what you can do. You can never have two of the same ships on the same team, so if you wanted to have two squadrons of a type of fighter, it's not going to happen. Further, you can only have three of any copy of a card in your deck, and even then there's some limitation on how many of a unique card can be in play at once, so you really have to plan for the strategic options you want to have before the game ever starts. Add to that that some ships have a capacity level and can act to carry smaller ships into battle to launch them into space at the optimum time, and you really have a huge variety of strategies that are viable.

Now that a fleet's been selected, the rubber hits the road. Each team draws five cards from their deck, with the ship cards and models hiding behind their shields, they determine who plays first. The first team or player will move their energy marker to five and the opponent will move theirs to ten. It's at this point that the game begins in earnest, and the bloodletting can now ensue.

Players' turns are in order, and always have three phases to complete before ending their turn. The first phase is the energy phase where players add ten energy points to their counter and draw a single tactic card from their deck. There is a hand limit of ten cards per side, so if you've hit your limit, you aren't allowed to draw a new one.

Going back to the use of tactics cards, these can be played at whatever time is specifically listed on the card, so players need to keep this in mind so they don't forget to play a critical card and lose an opportunity. Another key point is that cards often cost energy to bring into play, so the smart admiral will keep a small reserve of energy to be sure to be able to play a card when they wish.

The second phase of the game is the deployment phase, and this is when ships are launched either from the reserve or from a carrier onto the battlefield. To do this, players simply look at the ship's card that they wish to deploy, reduce their energy amount by that value, and then place it on the board. Ships coming into play from the reserve start on the back starting line of the playfield, which is highlighted white, and ships launched from a carrier are put into play adjacent to that carrier.

A very slick mechanism for launching loaded carriers is that behind your screen, without announcing it, you can place all carried ship cards underneath the launched carrier card, which is placed near the playfield so that all players can see it.

I've effectively used this to launch surprise attacks, drawing in enemies to my capital ship while subtly reserving energy for the planned counterattack. It's devilishly satisfying to have your opponent believe that you've left yourself exposed, drawing them in for the anticipated death blow, just to launch two squadrons of fighters and a frigate, causing the opponent to loudly utter words not actually listed in a Miriam-Webster dictionary. The cards are reasonably thin, and if you line them up to hide the transported ship cards, it's one hell of a way to ruin a buddy's day. On the downside, if your carrier is destroyed before you can launch your fighters, all hands are lost.

Once the deployment phase is done, players can now start the activation phase, and that's where the plaxma (yes, plasxma, not plasma) bolts start to fly. Each ship has an activation cost, which again is noted in energy points, and a player will activate each ship they elect to in turn, moving and attacking with each. Each ship has a move value associated with it, and once it's been moved if the player chose to move it, you can check each weapon's range on board to determine if they have a valid target.

If you can attack, you can use all weapons on board that are within range to attack, and to do this you must spend energy to charge them. The charge amount is listed on the card, and all of the stock weapons have a charge value of zero, so you get free shots if you use only your stock weapons. Tactics cards can be attached, as noted, and some of these act as secondary or tertiary weapons which do require a charge to fire.

Regarding movement, a key strategic aspect is the effects of Electronic Countermeasure damage. If any ship comes in contact with an enemy ship, the player who was approached may roll the D8 die, and on a roll of five or higher, the encroaching ship takes damage. Damage is dealt depending on size, with large ships taking three damage and small ships only taking one. Certain ships are immune to this, and these make fine boarding vessels, provided you have a sabotage card in hand and the energy to activate it.

Some weapons allow for more than one attack, and players can attack any valid target they wish so they're not locked into attacking a target with a weapon that has multiple attacks if you anticipate destroying it on the first shot. Also, some weapons have limitations or bonuses against some targets, such as a point defense cannon array that can only attack small ships or a weapon that passes shields and deals direct damage.

Some ships also have powers that affect targeting, such as the Wretch fighters that can't be attacked by nonadjacent ships when adjacent to an enemy ship. Others have powers that affect range and strength of attacks, so when developing a fleet and tactics deck it's imperative to consider these powers, as well as card powers that can affect targeting and damage.

As noted, for each attack you make you must roll the dice. Your opponent will then refer to the target ship's card and determine if it was a hit or not based on the schematic grid illustration. If a shielded ship takes damage, you simply remove the blue shield markers from that ship's base, but if it's shields are depleted, you place red damage pegs on the base. If a ship has exceeded its hull value, it is utterly destroyed and removed from the playfield. Again, if an unshielded ship takes a critical hit based upon the hit location rolled, that ship is instantly blown into a fine powder, with all hands lost to a vacuumy grave.

Play continues with each side taking turns playing their phases until either the scenario objective is completed, one side is completely devastated, or if both sides have run through all of their tactics cards twice. I should mention that when you run out of cards the first time, you simply shuffle your discard pile, but if you run out again, you're out of luck for the rest of the game and cannot draw any new cards. In the case of a premature end due to running out of cards, the player with the highest combined launch value of all remaining launched ships is declared the victor.

In the final analysis, I can say that I unequivocally, absolutely adore this game. It does almost everything I want a space battle game to do and it has little in the way of worthless chrome rules. I've played everything from Star Wars Miniatures Starship Battles and Hard Vacuum to Battlefleet Gothic and Starmada, and this one is hands-down the most fun to play. I would put this up against its so-called peers any day of the week and I'd bet good money that the opposition would lose that Pepsi Challenge all day long and twice on Sunday.

 The bits, the theme, the rules, the art, and everything about the game screams to the heavens that it was well tested, well balanced, and has been put through the wringer to render off all the fat, leaving it a very lean, very approachable light tactical war game that will stand the test of time.

Why Battleship Galaxies Is Out Of This World:
- The components are absolutely top notch, with huge production value
- The rules are simple enough to learn easily, but allow for tremendous strategic options
- The story is compelling enough to interest you, but not so cumbersome it becomes a liability
- The sheer variety of ships and tactics cards is staggering for the $50.00-ish price point
- There's a friggin comic book in there, man, and it's not an afterthought

Why The Wretch Aren't The Only Ones Retching:
- I would have liked to see more weapons and boarding tactics cards rather than multiples
- As much as I hate to admit it, I'd have liked to be able to have multiple squadrons of like fighters
- I would've liked to have seen a wider variety of vessels such as corvettes, repair ships, destroyers and the like
- The boarding aspect of the game is a hair on the weak side, but effective

If you like space fleet games, and you're sick of spending 10 hours simulating a battle between two fighters, this is totally the way to go. Hell, if you like ANY tactical light war games, this is the way to go. It gets virtually everything right, and everything the design attempts to do it does exceedingly well. If you have money to spend on a game in the near future, this is the one.

4.75/5 Stars

There's a preview on, here, which is run by Colby Dauch, one of the designers:

I'd love to tell you where to read the rules, or learn more, but you're going to have to wait because it's not on the Hasbro site yet! For the time being, check out the Battleship Galaxies game page on!

As soon as this is released, if you want to give it a try without dropping the $50.00, try and rent it, or you can pre-order it right now at!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Conquest of Nerath - Epic Fantasy Warfare On A Schedule...Or Not

As you know by now, Wizards of the Coast has really been hitting the hobby gaming market very hard of late, with Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon coming out and changing the way a lot of people look at dungeon crawls. Well, they've done it again with Conquest of Nerath, which is a light war game which takes place in the realm of Nerath and has two to four people hacking, catapulting, vortexing, and burning one another's armies to death for control of the world. I got this advance copy from Wizards as I'd requested it some time ago due to my interest in their new breed of boardgames, and they were kind enough to oblige me.

I hadn't heard much about it, though, other than in Steve Avery's preview where he likened it to Risk, which is definitely not one of my favorites, but once it came in I realized he missed the mark in his assessment, thankfully.

It's not much like Risk at all, really, but instead is much more closely to related to Conquest of the Empire, but when you add in the large variety of different unit types, each with special abilities and weaknesses, the game really becomes a truly unique blend of proven mechanics and new, exciting concepts that results in a truly interesting game. I'm a big Milton Bradley Gamemaster fan as well as a long time fan of D&D, so this game seemed to be right up my alley when I read the rules, and after playing it, I've found that it is one of the best "Dudes on a Map" games, to steal Ken B's phrase, that I've played.

The concept of this game is that four factions, who may forge permanent alliances with another specific faction, roam the lands looking to start trouble, take lands from their enemies, and explore dungeons for treasures beyond imagination. The factions are made up of the standard fantasy fare you might expect from Dungeons and Dragons: elves, humans and dwarves, goblins and orcs, and the legions of the damned.

In a strange twist, the only alliances allowed are between the human/dwarf faction and the elves and between the goblin and undead factions. Further, there are a variety of ways to play in that you can either go for the long version that requires you to take all enemy capitals, or you can go for the shorter versions that allows for victory points to be used to determine a winner rather than having to play a ten hour slugfest if you just don't have that kind of time.

Now, if you based the game's value based solely on the contents of the box, that alone would be reason enough to set this up as Game of the Year. There's about 250 wee miniatures in four colors and nine types, there's maybe sixty small plastic poker chips in two colors, there's perfectly illustrated cardboard dungeon doors, gold bricks, and conquest markers, and then there's the dice. Oh, so many lovely little dice, and in lots of colors and denominations.

To expand on the figures a little more, since there's so bloody many of them, I should note that every faction contains different models for many of their creatures. Wizards, castles, ships, elementals and siege engines are the same models while fighters, dragons, monsters, and footsolders are unique. Everything is absolutely wonderful, although the miniatures do not have the level of detail you could expect on a larger miniature, especially since these are more like maybe 15MM scale or so. That being said, they're very, very nice, and look great on the table. To underscore this, I thought about painting them because they're so nice, but then I realized that there's over 200 of them. Not going to happen.

The rulebook is very well written, and has ample illustrations and examples to remove any ambiguities. The art is also quite impressive, which is to be expected from Wizards of the Coast, with the large board being detailed and wonderful to play on. Then there's the player reference sheets, which a player lays their treasures, gold, and cards upon, and all are very well designed and nice to look at. Speaking of cards, each faction has its own set of cards, and all are unique to the faction, so when you play with one faction the experience and strategy is completely different. I should also mention the treasure cards, which are what you receive when you've successfully plundered a dungeon after defeating its guard or guards. These are very pretty to look at, and each provides you a special ability or bonus that helps you to conquer your enemies.

The final aspect of the components I should mention is the blow-molded box insert. It's amazingly well designed. There is a spot for each unique component in the game, and it's even inset with a little icon for each item to remind you where each one goes. When you put the game away, it's a total breeze and nothing flops around as the board acts as a perfect lid for the tray, and I have to say that every game on the planet should have something like this. There will be no baggie hunts going on when you get the game, because there is absolutely no reason for you to ever need to find a proper bag to put things in. It all fits perfectly.

Now that you know what is inside the box and how simple it is to put things away, let's move onto setting up. Setting up is a breeze once you've determined the type of game you're playing. Before I get into the nuts and bolts of setup, let's talk for a minute about the game choices. First, there's the type of game. You can play a total war where four players battle for global supremacy, or you can play an alliance game where the two alliances battle on another.

In the case of an alliance game, if you play with less than four players, one or more players have to control an extra faction. In a free for all, you can make handshake agreements, but the normal free-for-all rules apply, but in an alliance game, allied players can enter allied territories without triggering a battle. I've played both ways, and I was surprised how balanced the game is, despite the fact that the event cards play such a huge role in the game.

Speaking of balance, the rulebook gives a short synopsis of what each faction does well, with the demonic Karkoth forces starting with more territory and having weak event cards, the noble Vailin elves having ocean supremacy and some nice mobility-based events cards, the Iron Circle goblins having strong events and large starting armies, and the Nerathian League human forces having very strong event cards that provide many free units above that can be called into play at the right time.

The book notes that the Nerathian heroes are strongest, but there really isn't much in the way of gameplay that would support that claim, since all armies are essentially equal, at least at the unit level. In short, each faction has a unique advantage, but no one faction is overwhelmingly powerful.

Once you've determined what kind of game you want to play, you can then determine how long you want to play. There's three standard lengths, with the short and medium game being determined by victory points at the end of a round. The short game's end comes when a player reaches 13 victory points, the medium game ends at 20, and the long game ends when a player has earned eight treasure cards or has conquered all of the Capitols in the game. In an alliance game, these rules apply to each alliance rather than each faction and the numbers upgrade to 20 and 30 VPS, or 12 treasures, respectively.

To set up the game, each player takes their reference, looks at the map and places their units on the icons printed on the spaces on the board. It should be noted that almost every single land space in the game has a unit placed upon it during setup, so it's not like you start out with just a castle and massive lands to conquer, making the first part of the game about expansion and exploration.

It's bloodlust from jump street and the game is all action, all the time. Anyhow, after that, simply place one Dungeon Door token on each spot marked on the map. Each faction then gets between ten and thirteen gold to start based upon who they are, and two event cards. That's about all there is to setup, and it should take about 5 minutes to get it all sorted out.

Once the game's set up, you're good to start. A very different aspect of the game is that the turn order is predetermined, with the undead going first, then the elves, goblins, and humans. This doesn't really provide any advantage, really, since everyone is basically set to start conquering lands from the moment the game begins, but it does add to the theme as the evil armies of the undead hordes are the main antagonist in the game.

The gameplay is broken up into phases, with each player taking all of their phases and then passing control to the next. The first phase is the draw phase where players take an event card from their deck. There is no hand limit, and when you run out of cards you simply reshuffle the discard pile into a new draw deck, and on top of that, there's no limit to how many cards you can play at any one time. Some cards force you to play it immediately upon drawing it, though, and every single card in your deck is beneficial to you.

Also, each deck is unique and themed with your army. The Karkoth deck is weak because they have a strong starting position, for instance, and the Human deck has a lot of cards that allow you to deploy additional units, representing either the humans' penchant for reproduction or perhaps their ability to band together and raise armies to the cause of humanity, if you prefer. The Iron Circle goblins have cards that predominantly help them in combat, and the Vailin elves have cards that give them mobility and sea power. All in all, the event decks are the real magic to providing a flavor to each faction as each faction's units are identical in function and strength.

The next step after the draw phase is the move phase. This is pretty straightforward as footsoldiers and siege engines move one space, and everything else aside from dragons move two spaces where the dragons move three. Units come in three types as well, being either land, sea or flying units. Land units can be transported on the sole sea units, the warships, and air units can fly through enemy territories, landing safely on friendly lands on the other side. Land and sea units that enter a space occupied by an opposing unit must stop immediately, because a battle ensues after you've declared all your units done moving.

You can use warships to transport up to two units per vessel, and thus you will definitely have large flotillas reminiscent of the landing at Normandy when you make a seaborne assault on an enemy coast, or if you move to a dungeon in order to reap its riches. It should be noted that the dungeon spaces may only be moved onto by Heroes, which are classified as a faction's fighters and wizards. During the battle phase, the player has to 'explore' the dungeon, which entails flipping the dungeon tile over and resolving the battle. I'll get into that later.

Next up is the battle phase, which is where much of the game is played. This game is a bit like Conquest of the Empire in a way because of the combat mechanics. All armies hit opposing units on a roll of six or more, but to give flavor to the units, each unit rolls different dice. The attacking player can choose the order of battles if more than one takes place, which happens often, and it's critical to be sure of the order, lest you end up losing a ship that might have acted as a path of retreat.

Footsoldiers roll a single D6 in combat, siege engines, storm elementals and warships roll a D8, and both hero types roll D10s. Monsters roll D12s and both castles and dragons roll D20s. Both battling sides will roll during a battle, but the attacker always has the option of retreating. There is no cancellation if both sides make successful attacks, meaning that it's possible, and probable, that both sides will take major losses during a battle, especially if better units are in play. That being said, each unit type has its own bonus or attribute that makes it unique and interesting, and plays into the strategy of how you want to deploy units.

Siege engines, while rolling D8s, roll two of them when attacking and only one on defense. Wizards, who are very powerful in this game, get the First Strike ability, allowing them to yell "lightning bolt" while pelting the enemies with marshmallows, forcing the enemies to take any damage before responding, which essentially acts to soften up a defending force. That is, unless they also have wizards on staff, in which case both sides get to take preliminary jabs to soften each other up.

Monsters are a really neat addition to game because while they fight just like anyone else does, if the attacker wins the day, the monsters can immediately move into an unoccupied, adjacent enemy space and immediately conquer it. The game calls this 'Running Amok', which always makes me giggle as I envision hordes of creepy crawlies coming over the horizon, eating brains of the peasants as they charge.

Dragons are not only some of the best attackers in the game, they also have the 'durable' attribute which allows them to take two hits before being killed. To note a hit on a dragon, you simply flip it upside down on the board, like a dead roach. The magic is that if they survive the battle, they get flipped back up and shrug off the arrow to the wing as if it never happened. Storm elementals are just plain nasty because they not only can attack on land and in water as well as fly all over the place, they get to roll two dice against warships. They can also end their turn over friendly land or water, which makes them the most mobile units of all.

Warships can attack other warships or storm elementals, and while they get their own attack die, any heroes on board also get to attack. That being said, no other units on board can attack, so if you're transporting ten troops on five ships, you'd better have some heroes with them or you're setting yourself up for a Titanic moment where all your troops are sunk with the ship if you lose.

Castles are powerful, but only allow you to roll dice when defending, and once a castle is placed, it's permanent. They can be killed, sort of, as when they take damage they are simply laid on their side to indicate they can no longer attack for that battle. I think the one weakness of the whole combat scheme is such that castles can never actually be destroyed, and if it is damaged during a battle, if you end up winning that battle, it just stands right back up without penalty. Since castles are the only places that you can normally place troops during the placement phase, I think that the game would've been better served by allowing the death of castles to penalize players for allowing it to be destroyed.

Now that you know what the units do in combat, I should mention how the battles are resolved. The attacker and defender roll their dice in any order they choose, and tally the hits up. Once that's done, each side chooses which units will take that damage. Having a lot of weak, cheap footsoldiers is a great deal because they can soak up damage, but using dragons to take a hit is another good idea because it's essentially a free hit that they can absorb without any real penalty, provided they don't take another.

The long and short is that the dragons and castles are generally the last to remain alive, while damage is usually taken by the weakest remaining units on the battlefield, unless you have plans that require otherwise, such as letting a monster die in the hope that you can preserve your heroes to pillage a dungeon on a subsequent turn. As noted, the attacker can always retreat to adjacent friendly spaces, and I've used this tactic to get extra movement, although it's cost me a few units to do so.

The final aspect of the battle phase is the exploring of dungeon spaces. If heroes end their turn on a dungeon, they have to resolve the dungeon space before anything else happens. To do this, you simply flip the dungeon door tile and it will tell you who the next contestant on the 'hellish, demonic creature is right' you have to duke it out with. This combat is resolved the same as the aforementioned troop-to-troop combat, but these creatures have bonuses that make them far nastier.

Some have modifiers that allow you to hit them only on a roll of seven or eight or higher, as well as other nasty things. If you defeat them, you get the volume of gold printed on the tile as well as a treasure card, which is the real draw to attacking dungeons. If you don't beat them during a round, you can always retreat, but in doing so you let the opponents know what creature is there as the tile stays face up. Apparently word travels fast in Nerath.

Once all of the combats have been resolved, the next phase begins, which is the repositioning phase. All flying creatures can take what amounts to an additional movement, provided they land somewhere that won't start a battle. Additionally, heroes who have defeated a dungeon must move off of the dungeon space, and if there's nowhere for them to go, they die instantly, yet more victims of the mighty Rabbit of Caerbannog, poor sods.

This can happen if you make the mistake of losing a ship in a previous battle, which I have done, and it's incredibly disappointing to defeat a dungeon guardian against all odds just to realize what an epic failure you've made by not allowing for an escape route afterward. After leaving a dungeon, you place not only one, but two dungeon tiles face down on the space that was beaten, making that dungeon all the more difficult to plunder next time.

The next phase is the reinforcement phase, which has you purchase and deploy new units. Units vary in price from the lowly grunt which costs one gold through the mighty and fearsome dragons which cost five. Almost all units cost two or three gold to buy, though, so there's not a tremendous amount of variance in what things go for in Nerath. Castles may be built in a friendly land space that has no existing castle in it for four gold, but once they're there, they're there forever, even if an enemy takes that territory. I cannot overstate how critical it is to build castles only where you believe you can effectively defend them. That being said, deploying castles effectively is the single most strategically important aspect of the land war in Nerath as they are the only place to deploy units.

Only four units can ever be placed by a castle per turn, and you cannot deploy any units to a castle that was purchased or captured during that turn. This precludes players from building castles and then placing massive amounts of troops there immediately to defend them. The one caveat to that rule is that your capital may have any number of units placed upon it.

In what amounts to a third movement phase, after placing units you may immediately move them using normal movement rules, but again, you cannot initiate new battles. Essentially you get to shore up your existing forces in friendly spaces. Seaborne units may be placed only on sea spaces that are adjacent to a space with a castle, but the limitation is mitigated by the fact that they can load new troops right onto the boat and get them under way. You can't, however, load existing troops into a new boat and move that boat. My Navy veteran buddies would kill me for calling a ship a boat, as I've been told several times that the difference between a boat and a ship is that a ship carries boats...but I digress...

If you've been unlucky enough to lose all of your castles, you can still place units. To do so, you simply place units in the closest space to your capital. In the situation where you have multiple spaces equidistant to your capital, you can spread the love around and place them in any fashion you wish on those spaces. This really acts as a catch-up mechanism to be able to retake your capital, and it's actually pretty effective at doing that unless you're broke, in which case you're pretty much up the creek and should be prepared to sit out the rest of the game in short order.

The final phase of each round is the income phase. This is when you count up the spaces you have control of and take one gold for each one, rounded up. If you have lost your capital, you only collect half that gold because all of the tax collectors are hanging around in the gallows. Sea spaces do not count for this total, so really it's as easy as counting your land spaces to accomplish this. A little trick I've developed to not have to do this every turn is to place a hero figure on the victory point track and simply move it up and down that track to keep a tally of how many spaces each player currently owns.

Speaking of the victory point track, I should mention how this works since it's integral to the short and medium length variants of the game. If you conquer an enemy space, you gain one victory point, and it's never lost, even if you later lose that space. The flipside is that you don't get a victory point if you recapture one of your own lost spaces. If you conquer an enemy capital, you earn an immediate five points, and if you play a treasure card at any point during your turn, you gain the point value that is printed on the treasure card. It's really simple to do, and it's not cumbersome at all.

The end of the game comes, as I noted, when the victory conditions chosen at the start of the game are met at the end of a round. If two players or alliances have met them simultaneously, the game continues until one player or alliance has a one point advantage over the other or others. Of course, in the long game, victory points don't matter, but the same rule applies to the number of treasures played.

The long and short is that this is a very fun game with a tremendous number of ways to play to suit your tastes. As I said, I'm a huge fan of "Dudes on a Map" games, and I love the old Milton Bradley Gamemaster Series games more than most, so this was a total win for me. The theme is outstanding and well adhered to throughout the game, and the art and miniatures are lovely, adding a lot to the feel of the game as well as the overall enjoyment value. If you like Nexus Ops, Risk, or other games of territorial conquest, war, and fantasy themed games, this is a no-brainer.

Why I Want A Summer Castle In Nerath:
- The art is great, and the bits are outstanding and ample, with every piece having been well designed and thought out
- The fact that they made unique army figures for each faction really adds to the look of the game on the table
- The balance of the game is surprisingly good, even with the variable player powers
- Scalability in a conquest game is pretty slick, and it works astonishingly well here
- The rulebook is in the top five most understandable I've ever read, and the reference on the back cover is exceptionally well done
- At $50.00 or so, it's a great value for the dollar due to the quality and the replayability

Why I Want To Run Amok At Wizards' HQ In Washington:
- Ten more cards per faction would've allowed for more replayability
- The pre-set turn order was initially a turn off for me, but it ended up being OK
- I really would've liked to have some faction-specific units to add personality to the armies

While it's not the most original game I've ever played, it's got so much new stuff in it that it feels very fresh and not nearly as derivative as it otherwise might. Just the length scalability alone makes this unique as there's very few games that can provide such a rich conquest game in such a short play time. It's almost as if someone at Wizards decided that there weren't any games that reproduce warfare on this scale that were short enough to play often, so they developed this concept, and it works brilliantly.

The surprising thing about Conquest of Nerath, to me, is that the enjoyment of the game isn't hurt by the shortening of the game from total military victory to a points-based scoring system. I was a little on the fence as I'm not keen on the idea of victory points in a war game, but it really works well. I've chalked it up to the idea that once a player or alliance has damaged the enemy's ability to make war enough, they want to sit down at the jewel-encrusted negotiating table in a magic-dampened room to sue for peace. Peaceful negotiations to end a wargame...that's pretty novel.

4.5/5 Stars

Learn more about Conquest of Nerath at Wizards of the Coast's site:

You can rent this as soon as it comes out at Board Game Exchange!