Thursday, December 20, 2012

Strange Aeons - Two Parts Cthulhu + 2 Parts Diablo = The Best Narrative Game You've Never Heard Of

Every once in a while, a moment of clarity will occur in your life where you have to kind of sit back and re-evaluate just what the hell it is that you think you're doing. For some people, it's sitting in a bar, completely tossed and chain-smoking Marlboros, realizing they should quit the lifestyle before they become a sucked-up Iggy Pop look-alike. For others it's sitting, glazed, on the couch in a dope-fuelled stupor, perhaps concluding that you've been watching a TV that's not even on, and that you should put down the bong for a minute. Life tends to kick us in the bollocks from time to time with little gems of wisdom, and about a year ago or so, I got mine.

It came in the form of sitting, playing a quick game of Ave Caesar with my daughter. What, pray tell, was this great epiphany that changed my thinking? Put simply, it's that while I know I'm not really into card games but really like board games, but by and large, I realized that I really, honestly prefer tabletop miniatures games. Really, boiled down, I just really like toys, playing wee war games, and most especially neutralizing the enemy and blowing their shit up. So, as I was sitting there thinking to myself, "Wow, Ave Caesar would be way better if it was more like Circus Imperium, or better yet, if we were just playing that instead". I simply realized, in that moment, that even when playing games that I think are just cracking, I would just about always rather be playing a tabletop miniatures game.

Now, lots of people out there are the believe that mechanics and gameplay are equally as important to a game as an integral narrative is. Euro-game players might pretend that's true, but the proof that they don't actually believe it is that they play Euro games instead of American games. Games like Space Hulk are only great because they imbue upon the player the feel of being a doomed Space Marine plodding through the halls of an abandoned mining vessel, crawling with razor-clawed death. Unfortunately, a truly great game only comes out once or twice per year, if that, so in the interim you're stuck playing games that are merely average if you want something new. My recent revelation has shown me that not only do great games come out quite often, but that there's a huge back catalog of games that people have mostly never even heard of, but that are so tremendously good that it defies reason that people aren't talking about them.

I believe it's because the big-name reviewers of the world primarily concentrate on boxed products because that's the only way they're going to play them. After all, why would someone acquire and prepare terrain and miniatures for a game that they find sucks asshole? Aside from even that very valid point, most people hear "tabletop game" and think that the only ones out there are Games Wankshop style games that amount to spending six months painting and assembling an army for the purposes of throwing handfuls of dice once a week at a stinky game shop. I get that.

But, on the other hand, those same big-name reviewers will review "Living Card Games" which are essentially the same thing as tabletop games are, from the money perspective; you spend inordinate amounts of money on packs or boxes of cards to play what amounts to the exact same game, over and over again. Some even review "Collectible Miniatures Games" which are the worst form of spending too much on the hope of getting something useful. But many of these same folks will never bother to look at RPGs, even though they like board games with RPG elements. So, it's not really the fault of the reviewers, I think, as much as a fault of the hobby for not realizing that there's quite a few games out there that fall in the middle between tabletop games and RPGs, because people simply don't know that they exist.

In writing this, I thought about the fact that there's such a wide gap between the narrative and immersive theme between the realms of the RPG and the board game. For instance, in Runebound, a very thematic adventure game, you can choose one of many characters and their associated miniature, and you fight against cards depicting all manner of beasts. There's a narrative going on, and a fun enough adventure game, but when the game's over, it's done. When you want to play again, it resets and you start over, playing another two hours worth of game. You're not heavily invested, and so you get a fairly shallow experience, although Runebound delivers as much story as any narrative board game.

Crypt Scenery from UMW
On the flipside, you have RPGs, where you may or may not have miniatures, but the experience is really more cumbersome than some people want. I, personally, don't really feel compelled to play a game that rewards talking in a faux British accent (which is weird because Faerun isn't anywhere near the UK) or using antiquated words like "forsooth", "behold", and "hark". I, quite simply, don't need to be balls deep in-character to enjoy a game. That said, I do like the idea of a persistent universe, and I think I'm not alone in that. Maybe that's why so many people embraced the concept of continuity in Risk: Legacy. Some of us simply wanted more out of our games, and it's a shame that few board games deliver that experience.

Then there's the investment factor, the one thing I think that keeps a lot of people from exploring tabletop games. People envision huge outlays of money for "one game" and that's ostensibly true, but only if you still think Warhammer is the only one. The reality is that this new breed of games requires you to have only a few things to share between them all: miniature models and miniature terrain. For 200 dollars you can buy enough terrain and miniatures to have a good time of it, and if you've got a particular period in mind, such as "1920's", or "Victorian", or "Fantasy" in mind, you buy the models and terrain once, and simply change the rule-set to fit the game style you want to play. And honestly, if you own 100 games in your collection, you're lying to yourself if you believe that a $200 investment is even a blip on the radar, since of those 100 games, 40-50 of them have either never been played or have been played maybe once or twice.

Quite frankly, if you're looking for narrative and theme, I've never seen anything on the market that can compete with this new breed of tabletop games that I've discovered. I mean, there's games for every time period, every  genre. To that end, I'm going to be talking about one of the best games I've ever played, Strange Aeons, which is a Lovecraft-themed adventure skirmish game. It has all of the things that American-style gamers want: integral theme, persistent characters, easy to understand rules, and a beautifully crafted campaign system. To top it off, the game uses a persistent universe where the actions you take in one game affect every game you play in the future, but in this game, you don't have to rip up any cards or put pasties on the rule book. It, simply put, delivers more theme than Arkham Horror, takes less than 20 minutes to set up, and takes 30 to 60 minutes to play through a single scenario. You really can't beat it.

Scenario in-progress from Lead Adventures user Mason
The concept of Stange Aeons is that in the 1920's, Woodrow Wilson created a super secret government agency called Threshold, specially trained and loaded with experts on the subject of the occult, to stop the forces of evil. Each skirmish is part of a larger, ongoing campaign complete with character development, persistent items, as well as permanent injuries and death. In short, it is the "Diablo III" or "XCOM: Enemy Unknown" of tabletop games.Suffice it to say that it's a bad ass skirmish game that is wholly unlike anything else I've ever played, and there are simply no words to describe how completely awesome it is.

Strange Aeons can best be described as a tabletop and RPG hybrid. It has all of the elements of action RPGs such as looting, leveling, and buffing your squad. All of this is done in the frame of either random or predetermined scenarios, of which there are 11 of the former and a half dozen of the latter, and that's just in the core rulebook.  When you add in the three expansion modules, we're talking about a tremendous amount of unique scenarios, none of which feel overly similar to one another, leaving you with a wealth of replay options. It's a goldmine of great adventures, and as I noted, it's all persistent, so if you take a week or month off, you can come back right where you left off, with your characters still being set up and ready for action with all of their goodies.

The Strange Aeons core rulebook costs 30 dollars, and is a high quality, wire-bound affair. There are a very few things that I really had to think about in order to understand, mostly regarding close combat, but once I got to their site and, most importantly, found their very short FAQ, it was obvious that I was reading too much into it and that the problem was mostly me. The game is really rather simple to understand, once you get your head wrapped around it, which should take exactly one play-through, and after that, it's all gravy.

But let's say that you have no desire to get into painting, terrain making, and all that bollocks. The great news is that the entire game can be played using a box of Heroscape: Rise of the Valkyrie if you wanted to, because the system doesn't care what miniatures or terrain you use. If you don't want to do that, You can use a plain hex-map and ignore the hexes, or not, or you can set up empty toilet paper rolls on your table as columns if you want. Any minis or terrain will do. It's a hex-less system, although it can be played with hexes, so you can use any terrain you wish. I, personally, loved using Heroscape terrain because the scale was such that it made it very easy to implement. As I got into the game, I decided that I really had to get miniatures and terrain for it, because it's just that damned good and deserved the extra flavor.

Cultists III pack from Strange Aeons
Let's say, though, that you don't own a single miniature, well, then you will need to get some models to play the game. Uncle Mike's Worldwide has a pretty wide selection of them, all in PVC plastic (the same awesome stuff that Reaper's BONES line is using) that takes paint well without the need to prime. Each set is $12.00, although they have a starter kit for $50.00 that has a ton of models and pretty much everything you need to start playing. That's how I got started after playing the demo game with Heroscape stuff several times. 

Anyhow, back to the gameplay itself. The game is generally a one versus one affair, although the game has solo and multi-player rules which are actually really fun and don't feel "tacked on" at all. But in the normal game, it's a team of Threshold agents against a group of "Lurkers", with each game being different due to the layout of the board, the enemies you'll face, and the scenario you'll play. I just got their Shocking Tales #3 supplement, which will has more weapons, more sorcery, more bad ass scenarios, and the new Psychic Powers rules which will totally blow your mind. To give you an example of how truly unique and thematic the game is, if you want to activate a psychic power, your opponent holds up a Zener card, and if you guess the correct symbol, you get to activate it. Who does that? Most games would simply have a player roll a D20, but Uncle Mike doesn't fuck around. If it's in the game, it's soaked to the soul with theme.

Another scene from Lead Adventures user Mason
One of the neatest things in the game is that when any of your agents runs out of hit points, they're not just dead. They might just be incapacitated momentarily, they might just have been knocked down, or they might have been so seriously injured that they're removed from play. Even if they're removed from play, though, it doesn't mean they're dead. Models taken from the table can die, of course, but they could instead have a crippled limb which cripples him for the rest of his virtual existence. Or, you can be so injured that you become "Hideous" which causes any other human model, including friendlies, to flee in fear upon the mere sight of you. To top off the list, you can get a phobia, such as fear of enclosed spaces, which stops you from entering buildings or going too near walls in the future. 

It's simply amazing how much detail went into the game, and more importantly, how well executed it is. All of these things I've listed are seamless because they're put right onto your character's bio. It adds a lot of realism that is not found in any other tabletop game I've ever played, and truly makes you think about your actions because they will have consequences. It's not Warhammer where you basically just trade hockey-punches until the dice favor one side; it's very tactical, incredibly tense, and very, very exciting. Paired with the truly well-designed Lovecraft integration, the game is mind-bendingly good. I mean, I just can't think of enough adjectives to describe it. Flabbergasterously scrumdiddlyumptious, maybe?

To get into just how much content there is, to date, there's more than 40 unique Lurker types, ranging from the lowly, but deadly, Cultist, to the unseemly Tcho-Tchos, Hybrids, Blasphemous Construct, Formless Thing, and all the way up to a mind-bending Godling, all of which are totally unique. There's also maybe 30 skill types, 20 weapon types, three spellbooks, six or so special artifacts which present game-changing powers, eight types of special equipment such as a bullwhip and an lead breastplate, and an almost incalculable level of customization for your Threshold agents.

A Plasticville church - 12$
For each of the aforementioned Lurkers, there's several models you can choose from, and you can check out Uncle Mike's models at his website, which I've linked to at the bottom of this article. I've been a huge fan of Lovecraft pretty much forever, and the game, the theme, the setting...all of it really captures your imagination. I particularly like the fact that the models are made in PVC because the medium is just absolutely perfect for painting with Vallejo, Citadel, or Apple Barrel acrylics so that you can truly make them your own. But let's say that you're not keen on Uncle Mike's models, there's literally HUNDREDS of miniatures companies that produce resin, PVC, and white metal miniatures for whatever you want. I just purchased some Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield models from a couple different companies, in fact, because there's nothing better than fighting the forces of evil with a Bad Mother Fucker and an Amsterdam-loving junkie, right?

Initial Threshold squads generally consist of your main character, two or three supporting Agents, and perhaps a civilian or two. So, games are generally five Threshold models against what may be many or few Lurkers. Regarding the Lurkers, there are many more options available that affect the scenario itself, and are bought before the game begins with build points, such as adding "Scenes of Horror" which cause models to flee for their lives, or become catatonic with stark, raving terror. Lurkers can also add "Plot Points" with build points, which change the underlying rules of a scenario. The team size is symmetrical from the perspective of "force strength" as determined by the build cost of a list, but the teams are most certainly not symmetrical in their makeup, nor are the missions.

One last one from Mason, so, so fucking pretty
I don't have a ton of disposable income, nor do I have a lot of spare time, with a big job and 2 kids. And since I got sick, my gaming time has become a precious, precious resource that I guard jealously. Those of you who've read my articles for years now have a feel for me, for what kind of things I like, and the level of hyperbole that I tend to engage in using. But this time, I'm not being facetious or over-reaching. Strange Aeons is, quite simply, astoundingly good. I have literally sold off more than half of my board games because once I realized how great some games can be,  I don't have time for average any more. I encourage you with every fiber of my being to download the demo rules, play a quick scenario, and at least give it an honest look. It is remarkably good; so good, in fact, that I think it may well prove to be the perfect beer-and-pretzels, action RPG, skirmish game.

If nothing else, what I've learned from the experience of playing Strange Aeons is that there's this huge undercurrent of games that nobody I know is talking about. It's not being put up on BGG, likely because three quarters of the inhabitants there won't even think about a game that has an actual theme, requires more effort than being an expert in statistics and probability, or God forbid, requires a bit of imagination and creativity. But there are so many truly remarkable games, some of which are free but were developed by some of the old-school game designers like Chris Taylor, the kind of guys whose shoulders contemporary game designers are standing upon.

People really should explore these, because if you have a game collection of even 50 games that include Ameritrash, you can probably snatch some bits out of those games and play these tabletop miniatures games, and it costs you absolutely nothing. That said, if I had to spend my money on one, Strange Aeons is the one, and I've put far more than my fair share of money where my great big pie-hole is. Pair that with the fact that once you have a small collection of miniatures and terrain, you can then port them over and play games with similar styles but different themes, such as .45 Adventures, a "pulp crimefighting" game, or Chaos In Carpathia, a gothic horror game that has Victorian heroes fighting the likes of Dracula, Mummies, and Werewolves. That said, for me, Strange Aeons is the cream that rose to the top, and there it shall remain.

In the end, Strange Aeons has everything that an Ameritrash gamer wants: a strong, integral theme, it has a compelling narrative that develops during each mission and extends to every other match you subsequently play, it has truly meaningful decisions, it is soaked with replayability due to the nature of the scenario and campaign system, it has great bits, and new to the list, a persistent game environment. It's only real weakness is that it can require investment of time and money if you choose to get into the world of tabletop miniatures games, but the game itself can be played with things that you already have around the house if you choose to do so. All in all, it may be as close to being the perfect Ameritrash game as I have found thus yet, although I will delight in the continuing hunt.

Why I Never Had A Real Uncle Mike But I Could Certainly Adopt This One:
- The persistent "action RPG" nature of the game is unbelievably good
- Unique narrative tales are the staples of Strange Aeons
- Almost unlimited replay value to start, and ends cleanly with persistent, growing characters
- Incremental purchases and expansions allow you to buy as much, or as little, as you desire
- Constant publisher support, forums, and thousands of miniatures available make this a living game

Why This Tcho-Tcho May Be A No-No:
- If you get balls deep in this game, expect to spend a couple of hundred dollars on terrain and miniatures
- If you don't like to paint, your options for pre-painted pulp miniatures are somewhat limited

This is a hard "product" for me to write about because it's not like board games where it's a one-off purchase. At the end of the day, the review scores and commentary is based upon the core rulebook and the Morbid Adventures expansion. The fact that I bought miniatures and terrain is wholly irrelevant to the fact that the rules are what the game is made of, and since I initially played with Heroscape models and terrain, I think it's a fair assertion.

While the Strange Aeons miniatures are quite nice, and relatively inexpensive, the fact is that there is no requirement to ever purchase anything aside from the aforementioned rulebook to have the full experience, provided you have any miniatures from any of any number of games. Hell, you could really play the game with tokens if you wanted, although it would certainly take away from the cinematic feel of the game.

4.75/5 Stars

Take a look at the Strange Aeons site:

And take a look at the miniatures available from UMW:

And then, if you dare, explore the fora at Lead Adventures, starting with Strange Aeons' child board:

And then, when you're finally ready....I've made up some nice, thematic rosters and a quick reference guide with all of the major charts and rules therein:

All images used for this review are courtesy of Uncle Mike's Worldwide and/or Lead Adventures Forum user Mason, who is simply the best terrain maker I've seen.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Curse of Undeath - Just When I Thought My Interest Was Dead...It Rose From The Grave!

I said before, in my review of the launch packs, that I wasn't a big fan of the game system because it lacked a lot of the "white knuckle" factor because of the efficient model the system has at its core. Well, Curse of Undeath doesn't undo the fact that this game is geared towards being a purely strategic skirmish game without any real random factors. But what it did was rekindle an interest in the game for a variety of reasons, not the least of which are the quite wonderful miniature sculpts that were in this box. I'm actually considering picking up the Goblins pack just to see how it plays out compared to the previous iterations.

Anyhow, this is how it went: my buddy came down this weekend and brought his Dungeon Command sets, hoping to prove me wrong. In what can only be called fate, Wizards sent me a copy of the Undeath pack, which arrived Friday. Thus, I literally had no reason not to go forward and give it a go, especially since at this point, I am not one to tempt fate. It turns out that I stand by my assessment of the original game products, as products, but no longer do I think the system is, in and of itself, a failure. Rather, the system is actually pretty good, but the other packs' lack of interesting things to do when being attacked really turned me off.

See, I never got the Tyranny of Goblin pack and I gave away the previous Dungeon Command packs, so I had pretty much written the game off. It's not a bad game by a long shot, and I can see the draw for some people, but suffice it to say that from my five or so plays, I really just wasn't into the game, despite being a huge miniature skirmish kind of guy. That said, Curse of Undeath really kind of changed my mind on what the game offers, because this particular pack brings a lot of what I believe was missing in the other packs.

You see, the other packs I've played with to this point felt dry, predictable, and served the game's model for the sake of the model. The deterministic approach of the game is such that most of the time, you attack with your critter of choice, it does a predictable amount of damage, and then the other player does the same. There weren't a lot of really good countering options, truly strong ones that did more than simply reduce an amount of damage done. With most skirmish games, and my most, I mean every other one I've ever played, the dice are either your ally or nemesis, and your attacks are not guaranteed. That simple randomness is what made your toes curl as the die is cast while you prayed to whatever God you pray to in order to come up with a favorable result. And so it goes, until one side is crushed. 

Dungeon Command turned skirmishes to date on their head in that respect, because while other games like Star Wars Miniatures, for instance, have predetermined damage amounts, there is always the chance, slim as it might be, that the little battler will whiff. With Dungeon Command, there simply isn't a case where an attack would miss, and therefore much of what gets your heart pumping was missing. While that didn't change with Curse of Undeath, but what did change was the idea that you really couldn't do much about it other than reduce the damage dealt by playing a card against an attack. Even that hasn't changed, but the decisions just feel more meaningful based on the new cards.

With Curse of Undeath, you have a lot of new ideas that evolve from the simple fact that undead shit doesn't generally tend to stay dead once it's been re-animated. Vampires can drain life from their enemies and heal, and some of the critters that are killed get to get back up. There's a mounted critter that once killed doesn't just go away, but rather just has its steed slaughtered and you can put the rider right back into play where the steed was killed. And that's just the beginning of the awesome that they put into this release. I mean, it almost feels like a different game because of what got put into the box.

It starts with the commanders, in fact, because these two have a lot of flavor that is due, in part, to the theme of the box. These are evil bastards who want death to reign, and it shows. The other factions are much more tame as far as theme, and while I'd not say it was painted on, they were more of the fantasy tropes that people have come to expect. Undeath is really built on the idea of undead things doing undead thing shit, starting with the idea that if you kill off an enemy, you can summon them from the grave as skeletal critters. This has been abstracted into allowing one of the leaders to gain a higher leadership level per killed unit, which really adds to the box's theme of hordes of dead things rising up from the abyss to chew up the living. 

Then, the whole feel runs through the units, which is comprised wholly of skeletons, ghosts, and zombies, with a dash of skeletal dragon wizard. The miniatures are easily the best of the bunch, with a nice base coat on each, followed by a highlighting and a wash coat which is better than Heroscape's by leagues and, in fact, better than the other packs that I've seen. The wash on some of these miniatures is a low point, though, because the reddish tones don't really match the figures' ivory base coat, so they just look a little bit off. The dracolich, for instance, looks like he was bathing in black cherry Jell-o, for instance. Still, for a prepainted miniature, they're pretty damned snazzy. The art is also very good, as it was in the other packs, but that's to be expected from Wizards at this point. But that's not really what makes this pack special; it's the powers and abilities of this lot that really made me fancy these more than the others.

As noted, Zombies can rise from the grave, which ensures a nearly limitless supply of cheap, front line cannon fodder. On top of that, you have skeletal warriors, and a mounted skeleton that I spoke of before. Once the mounted skeleton is killed, you can drop a skeletal warrior right on the spot that the critter dropped, which means you lose no table position. Then there's a ghost which ignores walls and can't easily be hit. On top of that, you have a devil dog, a naga-like skeletal tomb guardian with four arms and multiple attacks, a vampire that regenerates, and some sort of death knight who hurts you just by being near him. Finally, you get a lich which can spawn creatures and a dracolich which is, essentially, the King Daddy of the faction, with three attacks and a skeletal paw full of whoopass. All in all, this is easily the coolest faction I've seen, with the most true variety in what they do.

Now, that said, the critters and their innate powers aren't really the draw. It's the order deck that really made this into a bad ass little set, and primarily due to the fact that the cards in this set are very different from the first two. For starters, they've included some cards that really could be used in Dwarf or Drow decks more than this, and it's apparent that this was the idea, since they depict Dwarves and skinned creatures. Two of them are simply magic sword cards that can only be used by humanoids, which are pretty standard fare. The other two, though, are cards that allow one creature to dodge a bunch of damage. The fact that these were included gives me the feeling that future iterations will include cards that are best suited toward building custom decks, which I think could be a real draw if a tournament scene were to emerge for the system.

The faction-specific cards, though, are where it's at, though. I am not in a position to talk about power creep at this point since I'm only three games deep into this faction, but I will say that I beat the living shit out of the Drow and Cormyr factions. The magic of this pack is in the fact that most all of the cards are deeply rooted in avoiding damage and healing as a result of causing damage. Paired with the durability of the characters and their abilities, it makes for a fearsome and potent faction that actually makes you feel as if you have meaningful things to do when being attacked. I still miss the dice, and I'm still staunchly against deterministic attacks in a skirmish game, but this new faction's abilities really got me over the hump to enjoying Dungeon Command.

The final thing to talk about are the cards for the Dungeons and Dragons Adventure System games, and this one is a shoo in for the best, because it gives Castle Ravenloft a delicious new set of baddies to beat upon with great disdain. Now, new doesn't mean better, and if you have Ravenloft, the Zombies are the same model, although these are painted, while the rest are new. The only complaint I have is that the cards are rather bland, with none having any special effects. This is particularly puzzling as there's a baddie called a Hypnotic Ghost, which I would've thought would daze a hero, but in fact doesn't do anything more than most other baddies do. I'm only a tiny bit disappointed in this, though, because when it comes to those games, anything new is a good thing.

Why I Like To Play With Dead Things:
- New mechanics in this pack make it something really different than the others
- The models are really quite nice
- Anything that spices up Ravenloft is awesome
- Nice that they included cards for other factions to include in their warband

Why I Want To Beat Edward And Bella To Death:
- The wash tones on some of the models are really odd looking
- The DDAS cards included in the set are pretty uninspired; nothing new to see here
- In an unrelated matter, any vampire wearing girly sparkle dust should be killed

What this pack did for me was show me what Dungeon Command ~could~ be. I stand by my assertion that the lack of randomization takes a lot of the white-knuckle anticipation away from skirmish games, but what this taught me is that when the cards are interesting enough, they can make up for a lot of the vacuum. It's sort of like reaching in your pocket and grabbing a box cutter when some drunken asshat is talking tough to you at the know something the other guy doesn't, and it's really going to ruin his plans for the night.

I was really pretty much done with this game system, but thanks to my buddy Frank, I think I'll check out the Goblin pack and see what it has to offer. I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed playing with this faction as much as I did, and while I miss the dice, this goes a long way to making me think that maybe the system isn't the problem as much as the initial factions released.

4/5 Stars

Check out the game system at the Wizards site:

And if you have NO IDEA what I was talking about, check out my original review, which goes into more about the game system and my feelings on it:

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Dungeon! - There's Something Disturbing About An Eleven Year Old Noting "Oh, Yes, There Will Be Blood!"

Remember when you were around 8 years old, wearing a blanket as a cape while chasing your friend with a sword made of Christmas wrapper tube or a whiffle ball bat, and wielding an aluminum trash can lid as a +3 Shield of Stench?  No? Well then my childhood was WAY fucking better than yours, because I do. There's nothing more fun than you and your friends beating the piss out one another with a whiffle ball bat. I mean, you wouldn't think it would hurt so much, but damn, it  will teach you to defend yourself after the first forearm strike! That's right, I was a 8 year old LARPer.

Another fond memory regarding fantasy gaming as a "yoot" was sitting around with my best friend's brother playing games like Dark Tower and TSR's "Dungeon!" board game. Lo and behold, Wizards brought it back in a value priced, accessible little romp through Dungeonland, complete with updated graphics and new beasties to get slaughtered by. Now, this update has newer graphics stolen right out of DDM, Heroscape, and other Wizards games, but I think that almost all of the improvements are really smart. 

But you may not be familiar with Dungeon, so let me describe it for you. From a "depth" perspective, it's maybe three steps above blowing bubbles with your daughter. It's not the best game you've ever played, but watching your kid's face light up when it carves the troll-sticles off a foul beast is awesome. I mean, any time you have to spend with your kids is awesome (unless you harbor secret resentment because you know that your best friend fathered them or something...) and if you can get a game that isn't as truly, abysmally mind numbing as Candyland to play with them, count it as a win. It's far more engaging than most kid's games, and it's actually a lot of fun if you accept that you're going to die, a lot, and that there's not much you can do about that. It's like Dungeonquest, but much simpler, and with far less decisions that matter. 

This is a kid's game, no doubt about it, and it's the kind of game where the most important decisions are made at the outset, when you choose which archetype you wish to enter the dungeon with. The weaker archetypes such as the Cleric and Rogue need only get 10,000 gold, which is maybe ten or twelve low-level treasures, while the beefier Warrior needs 20K and the Wizard needs 30K. As there's 6 areas of the board, each with tougher monsters, the beefier guys head out to the higher levels while the weaker players head out to the lower levels, generally. Unless you're playing with a lot of players, and since everyone normally moves the same distance on their turn, you're not going to see a whole lot of crowding in one section. That said, the treasures on any given level are limited by the amount of cards available, so once a level is free of baddies, you're out of luck if you stumble across one in a "named chamber" because he's going to need killing and you get bupkus for doing it.

The whole game boils down to moving 5 spaces, encountering something, killing or being killed, and looting the corpse of the fallen creature if you were successful. Everything is resolved by the roll of a couple dice, and it's all very, very simple to understand for adults and youths alike. There's a bunch of rooms, each with one monster in it, and the object is to kill as many as you can manage to in order to get your loot bogey as fast as possible. It sounds really easy, but in many cases, you are dealing with a one-in-three chance of actually killing the bad guys. If you lose, you roll again on a table with various results that go from nothing at all to instant and excruciating death, resulting in the dead player picking a new character and starting from scratch.

Now that you know, or were reminded, what the game is about, let's move on to what you get for your twenty dollar "investment in your kid's future nerd lifestyle". You get the board, which has been reworked from the ground up, and has a player reference printed right on the face. Then, you get eight of the most ill-conceived pawns in the history of pawns, which I'll get into later. Then, you get what can only be truly described as a metric fuckton of cards. There are three miniature packs of them, and there has to be a hundred or more of the little bastards in there. Many have very similar backs, which makes it hard to separate at a glance, especially so if you're color blind, but the text is the savior since it's clear and in large print for us old codgers who may have decimated our eyesight due to miniature painting. Then, finally, you get a bunch of counters which will absolutely require bagging, all of which look great. All things considered, it's a good deal at twenty smackerels.

Getting back to improvements, let's first talk about what's NOT an improvement, because there are two that made the game really a pain in the ass for me. The first is easily correctable with a drop of PVA glue: the pawns. These standies are of the kind that have intersecting grooves so the piece stands on a plus sign of cardboard. Well, the fit is really loose and the moment you pick the standie up, the second section falls out. The first time I played, I wanted to cockpunch someone. It was infuriating. About halfway through I fired a dot of PVA glue into the loins of the things and within 15 minutes it was sorted out. When my Bones Kickstarter stuff comes in around May, I'm absolutely shit canning them and replacing them with 50 cent miniatures. It's almost worth buying some cheap, clearance 15mm minis because the base size is perfect for the spaces on the board.

My only other bitch is the is the size of the player spaces, which are clearly too small for the standie to fit in. It's not a big deal at all, and if I had some 15MM miniatures sitting around this would've been a non-issue, but I don't, so it was a little bit of a head-scratcher. The good news here is that with the standies being the plus sign type, the intersection is pretty much perfect as a bomb sight to identify a player's precise position. One last thing I'd like to mention is that the cards are a little bit on the thin side. These are not linen-coated ninja cards, they're glossy card stock. I have no problems with this, especially for the $16$ I paid for it. I'm not a "sleever", but if you are a person who thinks that the world will burst into flames if you don't sleeve every card you own, it wouldn't be a bad deal to do so here. This is the first game I've played in a long time that really could benefit from it.

That said, everything else is brilliant, so onto the improvements from the original. No longer do you put the monster and treasure cards in the room, now you put a little number counter and then you place the cards under the edge of the board on a corresponding space, Runebound style. Great implementation there, and it saved a lot of headaches that I remember from playing the old 1975 model. Next, you have little tokens that represent you losing turns by being beaten up on and rolling poorly on the result table. No more arguing about how many turns you lost!

There's also been some other improvements to the game, but the single most welcome is that no more do you have the traps sitting you out for up to six turns as in the old version. Now, the most turns you have to sit out is two. Next, the rule book is cleaned up significantly, and so there's no more "Master Rules" and "Normal Rules", just one unified rule book now. The other major differences stem into layout, such as making it much easier to determine if a magic sword has a +1 or +2 bonus. In all, it's a really nicely modernized version of one of the first (if not THE first) dungeon crawlers in history. Oh, and I guess I should mention that you can play with eight players now!

Now, I've called this game really simple, with few decisions, but maybe that's not entirely fair. The Wizard gets to use Teleport, Fireball and Lightning spells, and there's secret doors that you can opt to try to pass through. There's other decisions, such as which levels to dive into, and whether to go into a room or not. There's arifacts to use such as the ESP Medallion and the Crystal Ball, which can be used to stick rooms with enemies, potentially blocking opponents' paths or at least allowing you to see what's in a room. So, there are decisions. But, in the end, it's about tossing dice and doing a fair bit of praying. It is what it is, it makes no excuses, and it's just plain fun.

So, at the end of the day, it's a hell of a great little game to play with your kids. If you want something like this, but for adults, buy Dungeonquest instead, because this is not going to be the game that makes you convert from Agricola or something. This is a very simple game with very simple rules for kids and young adults, like my 11 year old daughter who absolutely adores it. She even comments on the characters now, such as renaming the Ghoul to "The Mummy Dude" and giggling when I scream "It's like hot lava coming out of me" when I use a Fireball spell.

25 years from now I'm going to still have this game, and her kids are going to play with the dirty old bastard they call Grandpa. And I'm still going to say stupid shit, just like I do now, and the kids are going to giggle. And that's what board games like this are really about, when you cut out all the egotistical elitist gamer horse shit. It's about being an awesome dad, playing fun stuff with your kids, and getting some giggle time in. If this is not your objective, I shit you not, YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.

Why I Dig Dungeon!:
- So simple, a caveman could do it (TM)
- The art is really nice, with really decent production value
- 20$ buys you a pizza night or an AWESOME NIGHT...your call
- Playtime in an hour for four players keeps it from getting too stale

Why It Felt Like Hot Lava Was Coming Out:
- The standies truly pissed me off, but it was easily remedied
- The cards are on the thin side
- The board spaces are too small

This may be the cheapest decent game ever, and it's most certainly one of the best value titles ever. I mean, I'd almost rather be dragged naked, by the dick, across a bed of glass than play Munchkin or Fluxx ever again, and this game absolutely crushes those two from a fun factor perspective. It's great for the kids, it's great for the adults, provided they're not looking down their nose at you for suggesting an Ameritrash classic. $20.00 MSRP, $13.99 at Coolstuff, it's a no-brainer, especially if you have kids or an old school nerd who knows who Nord and Bert are.

4.125/5 Stars

Check out Dungeon! here at the Wizards Of the Coast page:

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tooth And Nail: Factions - Call It A Furry Party If You Want, But It's A Fun Card Game

Well, as usual, Small Box is up to no good. First, they make this killer game called Omen: A Reign of War which took everyone by surprise and turned into the "out of left field" smash card game of 2011. I mean, if ever a game needed an iOS app, it's that one. And then they delivered Hemloch, an odd little card game with an odd little theme that is oddly, pretty fun. So, I was kind of thinking they were due for a stinker. I mean, we've loved most of what came out of the joint for a while, and then came Tempt, one of the most truly awful games I've ever played...with a rulebook so bad that it was incomprehensible. But John Clowdus and Company are, by and large, batting close to 1000. So, here comes Tooth And Nail: Factions (TANF), which has what I think is the best art and theme to date out of the company. "But how does it play?" you ask...well, let's talk about that.
But let's not put the cart before the horse, let's talk about what it is before we talk about what it does. To sum it up, the game's about factions of weaponized, bipedal critters such as an American Bulldog toting a DPSAM (dog-portable surface to air missile) or a lizard dude with a tomahawk. And it's not all guns and whatnot, some of these creatures are magic users (like, I know, right?...Of course there are! How could there NOT be magical, glowing foxes?) and will mess you up with a fusillade of fireballs. Now, these factions are small, 30 critter armies whose sole purpose is to tear the guts out of opposing armies. In short, it's a war game played with cards.
Now, as I said, the art, while a little "artsy" and "dark" really shines for the most part. I love it. I think it really carries the theme well, and there's enough unique creatures in the game that it's not too repetitive, although there are five copies of six critter cards in each of the six decks that come with the base game. As usual with a Small Box game, TANF has nothing but cards. You get seven factions, although one is more or less a mercenary faction that you can add into your own faction, which is made up of regular, full-bleed cards, and one card for your faction that lays out it's special faction power. Then, there's five reference cards which double as action point counters. If there's one thing I have to say about John Clowdus, the man knows how to stretch a buck. I suspect, in fact, that some Clowdus long ago invented copper wire by fighting with his kin over a penny. Every card has multiple uses, per the "Way Of The Small Box", and as usual, it's clever and really adds to the game's strategy.
Now about strategy, TANF really shines in the way it goes about what it does. This game is a duelling game, no more, no less. It's probably had its roots in Magic The Non-Showering the way you tap cards in order to activate them, but it's not like M:TG as far as I can say, although I am the last guy you'd call an expert on M:TG. There's essentially two ways to play cards to your tableau, either as a "Command" card which allows you to use their card powers as actions, or as a "Warrior" card, which you can use to beat up the enemy. Now, the thing that is neat about this game is that it's a bit like the old-school card game War in that you're trying to deplete the enemy's deck. To do this, you can attack, use your command cards, and use special attacks that are straight out of a game like Final Fantasy Tactics or something. Shit, really, this game is more like an old school JRPG's tactical battle sequence than anything else. And it's really fun, especially when you make elephant roars during the slaughter. Perhaps I've said too much...
Anyhow, the idea is that you have these two areas on your side of the battle. You have the war zone, which is where your front lines are. Then you have your command zone, where your hyenas laugh their asses off at your pathetic enemies, or use powers, whichever you prefer. While you get one action for free per turn, the more command cards you have on the table the more action points you can take. Alternatively, you can draw a card from your deck instead of taking an action point for each command card played, but that has its disadvantages since every card you draw is a "life point" gone, in essence. Now, each turn you get a card from your deck in addition to the cards you can optionally take, but the real goal is to have the maximum guys on the line and in the command center so you can deal as much damage per turn as possible without expending your own cards. It's really quite a balancing act, and with so many options, there's a lot of times that there is no obvious "optimal play" to make. Pretty tense, really, especially when your deck is getting thin.
The one thing that I think really stands out about the factions is that they are really, truly unique feeling in how they operate and interact. Even though there's only two troop types, magic and mechanical, Small Box really found a way to make each faction stand apart from the rest. I'm not entirely sure that I'll ever really master how to play each, but after the several games I've been in on thus far it's clear that you can't just use a cookie-cutter strategy and hope to be competitive. I should note that while each faction plays differently, you essentially only have a total of six unique cards per faction, so the strategy isn't found in the wide range of cards that you can play as much as what you can do with the cards you have, and the fact that they can be played multiple ways.
The one thing that's really lacking from the faction decks are responses to actions taken against you. Sort of like what I hated about Dungeon Command, whatever your enemy does to you, it just happens and there's not jack squat you can do about it. You just have to sit there and take it, without any real way to stop it. From that standpoint, it's another "I go, you go" game that doesn't have the variety of defensive options that something like Summoner Wars has. In that regard it's no different than a game like Ascension, but I generally prefer games where you have the option to make a saving throw, or have some mechanism where attacks will not always succeed. I guess I've been in enough fights that I've learned that you simply don't land every single kick and punch. Now, I'm alone in this at my house, since my PETA-mocking friends and family here all liked the game and didn't think it was at all like Dungeon Command. I suspect that it's because a miniatures game has a different feel, but I stand by my estimation regardless.
That said, the other thing that John Clowdus is known for is being the master of variants, which is really just him doing what he always does, stretching that buck 'til poor old George Washington looks like Joan Rivers. That's where the dog faction comes into play. If you want to spice up your game, and really, I think it's the only way to play after you've mastered the concepts of the game, every card in that mercenary set is a reaction card played when it's not your turn. Were it not for the Dogs of War faction, I think the game wouldn't have gone over nearly as well since the rest of the game, while much more strategic than Dungeon Command, would suffer from the same deficit of what I'd call "actual interaction" where players are playing at the same time rather than taking turns shooting arrows while the other watches. In short, for me, I think the Dogs of War are really integral to the game play and really makes the game shine more than it already did although, again, my friends disagree with me on this point.
There's also a three and four player variant in the box, which I haven't tried, but which I'm not keen on trying either because I really like it as a fast, two player game. There's also other variants in the rulebook for alliances, which allow you to pool two decks and then remove ten cards, leaving you with a 40 card deck. That's a neat variation on the game which we did play, and I enjoyed greatly having foxes fight alongside vultures, knowing that under any other circumstances, the foxes would be vulture food. This alliance variant is a lot of fun, and I have to admit that I might even like it more than a single faction because of the neat pairings that end up on the table.
I've talked about using them as commanders and warriors, but I haven't talked about other uses. Some of the other ways to use the cards is as currency to boost attacks or initiate special attacks. In addition, you can sacrifice cards in your hand to "take the hit" if you want to preserve cards already played to the table that would ordinarily be forced to die. At first, I thought that there weren't enough unique guys to go around, but that was before I got to playing the game really, and once I got to the point that I understood the game, I was glad there weren't a bazillion unique cards because it would become unwieldy. I think the mix is really quite perfect when you bring in the Dogs of War deck, and if you really require more dudes, play an Alliance game and use two decks.
Now, as a final thought, I'm going to do what I always do, rip on the rulebook. I love John, but the man needs a proofreader and a blind play test team like I need hair plugs. There are some misspellings, which are no biggie, but the layout is wonky and there are some things that we couldn't really figure out easily, like how many "formation attack" troops you could use in a single attack. Thanks to BGG, we found the answer quickly, but Small Box's penchant for making rulebooks that are sometimes all but indecipherable has reared its ugly head again. It's not that you can't read the book and play it, it's that some of the things are explained in such a way that they're harder than they need to be or not completely explained, I guess. Either way, after a couple of plays and one lookup on BGG, we got it sorted out and were pecking the eyes out of walrus' with giant bipedal vultures.
All in all, it's a great little medium weight duelling game with the only luck factor being in the draw of the cards. I'm not a big card game fan, in general, although John has come a long way towards breaking me of that predilection, and Tooth and Nail: Factions is yet another successful example of how a guy who started out selling 20 copies a pop of card games nobody ever heard of can grow into a powerhouse publisher with a high quality product that is not only a good value for the dollar, but a lot of fun. I think one final thing worth mentioning is that John already has some Print-and-Play expansions you can download, and it's pretty clear that the only thing that will limit the "legs" this game has is John's sick and twisted imagination, which has shown no sign of wearing out anytime soon.
Why The Only Thing Cooler Than Chaingun Toting Elephants Is NOTHING:
- The game play smart and engaging; you will want to keep playing
- It's not as complex as many SBG titles, making it a great for the family
- Lots of truly unique factions make this game infinitely playable
- Expansions, variants, and print and play content keeps the game fresh
- Because gun toting elephants FUCKING ROCK, that's why!
Why I Broke A Tooth And Chipped A Nail Playing This:
- This is the big time, so I expect better rulebooks with no typos
- Without the Dogs of War expansion, it's a little less exciting
- There are no iOS or Android versions, which would make Small Box RICH
Everyone really dug this game, and I really was the one lone dissenter because I felt like the game had too much deterministic effects laid against the defender. Once the Dogs of War were unleashed, the game immediately changed, in my mind, from a fun duelling game into a really dynamic, action packed game of critter gittin'. The pace is fast, the options are all very intriguing and there's very rarely an obvious play, which are all signs of greatness. While the rulebook could use some TLC, don't let my ongoing critique of Small Box's rulebooks deter you; it's worth the hassle, without a doubt.
If you missed out on the Kickstarter, or abstain from Kickstarter in general for personal reasons, the great news is that you can always order it from John at the Small Box website. Personally, if Small Box could Kickstart this game as an iOS app, I'd be first in line to sign up, because this really would be perfect for it and would absolutely get me off the Ascension wagon for good. It's simply a great game, and I honestly hope it does as well as Omen. While it's not going to unseat Bhazum as my all-time favorite, it most certainly is in my top 5 hobby card games.
4/5 Stars

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

World Conquerors - Rome May Not Have Been Built In A Day, But Empires Can Be Built In Under An Hour

My first brush with Jeff Siadek was at Origins 2011, where he was next to the Ninja Magic booth, selling copies of Battlestations. I introduced myself and told him I was a big fan of Battlestations. We chatted, and he was a truly nice, laid back kind of dude. One might not expect him to be a designer of conflict games based on his personality, but trust me, his latest creation under the Gorilla Games brand, World Conquerors (WC), has his trademark flair for carnage. That said, unlike Battlestations which is a very long game, WC is a one hour exploration of how Hitler would interact with Napoleon, had they both lived at the same time. Suffice it to say that it would be a glorious bloodbath, although history tells me to bet against France every time.
WC was sent to me at the same time as was Banditos, and I apologize for taking so long to get this review out, because this game is incredible. Unfortunately, with it's "Riskesque" look I had a lot of trouble finding people who wanted to play it. But, after seven plays at this point, I'm no longer having the same problem. It's nothing like Risk except that you have some territories, some armies, and you kill stuff. And that, in my estimation, is a good thing because I despise all Risk versions but Legacy. In fact, I would have to say that WC is actually unlike any other war game I've played. The only game I can think of that's even close, and by close I mean a distant relation, is Smallworld, and that's primarily due to the ever-changing leaders and the time track.
World Conquerors is not about conquering the entire board, there's not any player elimination, and while you're technically playing against everyone else, there's more of a feeling that you're simply trying to pick off the lowest-lying fruit, which are generally wherever your enemy isn't. "What," say you? That's right, the object of WC isn't to smoosh all of your opponents into little rippy bits, it's to have the maximum amount of territories owned at one time. The catch is that you only have four rounds of battle to do it in. As such, there is no king making, and the game can be played just as well with two, three or four. Obviously, it's harder to get as high a score in four player games as there will be more opposition, but at the end of the day, the whole premise of the game is that you're just trying to build the largest empire you can, measured at the end of each turn, rather than dominate others. It just works remarkably well.
Now, let's talk about the bits for all of you bit whores like myself out there. The game's box, bits, and cards are all of very nice quality, with the box art having great illustrations and the cards have decent depictions of the conquerors you can play to the table during the game. There's a ton of wooden cubes which represent single armies, and there's beads which represent a legion of five armies, all of which are also very nice quality. In essence, I'm not unhappy that there's no expensive plastic soldiers, a sheet of supply tokens or some such other crap, because the game just simply wouldn't benefit from it, and as it rests, the game is really inexpensive due in part to the lack of that crap. Considering that you can get the game at Coolstuff for $26.00, you really can't beat the value. Just as with Banditos, there's a lot more game in the box than the low price would indicate. All in all, it's a steal of a deal, especially after I tell you how it plays.
I think the best part of what comes in the box is the rulebook, though. There's not a lot of things in there that require an FFG-esque 20 page FAQ with highlights and pictures. It's really not that complex of a game, and the rules are all laid out in...wait for it...a total of eight pages, only six of which actually have rules on them. It's definitely one of the easier games to learn and put into play, but that doesn't mean it's a throw away. In a way, the game reminds me of Small World, but with much more direct interaction, with more random, and with a better and more historical flavor. I've included a link to the rules at the bottom, and I invite you to check it out. It's a shame there's not more reference to the cards because the cards really are where the game play kind of melds into the finished product, so to speak.
What makes this game special and different is really in the goal. As I said, instead of conquest based on eliminating enemies, the object is to, by the end of the fourth round, have built the largest one-time empire. What this means is that you don't need to end the game with the most territories owned, you simply need to have, at one time, had the largest empire in history. It's unique and fascinating in its implementation, and I have to admit that it is one of the best empire builders I've played, based primarily on it's terseness and lack of bullshit chrome ornamentation. This doesn't even begin to talk about the fact that it scales well and is one of the only war games I'm aware of that can be played with three players and be a bullshit exercise in king making.
The game play is based on the idea that you start each round with a grand emperor, who are historical nasties and not-so-nasties, all of whom have special abilities. You have a set amount of armies, and you simply start taking territories by a simple roll off. Now, this is where the game really shines: If the territory has an occupying army, the defender gets to roll an extra die for each adjacent territory that is occupied, where you get to roll one for each of your territories bordering the defending territory. So, you really are simply trying to pick off the easiest targets most of the time. Now, while this isn't much different than any other territory conquest game, what IS different is that you have very little in the way of compelling reasons to do so. Similar to Smallworld, the points you score are based solely on the number of territories you hold at the end of your turn, but unlike that game, the points are not cumulative. The highest score you ever had is your score. It's like the song says, "I'm not as good as I once was, but I was as good once as I ever was!"
Another unique thing about the game is that the Conqueror cards are multipurpose, to say the least. One is always played at the beginning of a round as your Ruler, which gives you a bonus and a mission. Their pawn is also placed on the board in their home location, which are treated as Generals, who give you a re-roll in battle. Further, the cards can be played as Generals in and of themselves, which act like rulers in a way, but they only allow re-rolls. The third way to play a card is as an agent, which is used to help or hurt your opponents during battles, or give a bonus in some way. It's very Clowdus-esque in the sense that each card can be played in myriad diabolical ways, and I think that the cards inexorably promote the theme and pair with it well.
As to the cards, there's a wide variety in what they do. Some give bonuses only to one kind of battle such as a naval battle, one allows you to transpose 6's into 9's, one allows you to move your General pawns thus giving you more situational flexibility. The fact that they can be played three ways really makes the game exciting, and there's a lot of cards to choose from. Unfortunately, though, you start with only three cards and during the game you only get one additional card per turn, meaning you will always have a tough decision to make regarding implementation. Do you use them as an agent to cause trouble? Do you use them as a General? Do you make them your Ruler for this turn? Some of the decisions are agonizing, which just further underscores how great the game is. The tension can be truly excruciating, and there's several times in every game I've played that I wished I had one more turn, or one more card, which in my opinion is a sure way to determine whether a game's length and pacing is a match for the game play.
Now at this point I'd normally have a complaint or two. Maybe it's priced too high, maybe the plastic is shitty quality and can't be easily painted, like Flying Frog's minis, maybe the game is just too dull, too long, too short, too silly, too light, too heavy, maybe it has a pasted-on theme....SOMETHING. But honestly, there's just nothing bad to say about this game. Turns are short, there's a good amount of player interaction, the bits and art are all good, and it just seems to do everything right. I Can't even call it soul-less because if there's anything that Jeff Siadek can do to a game, it's give it a soul. So, really, the only negative that I can mete is that perhaps the game is too random in that if you roll poorly you will be destined for failure. To me, though, it's not a negative. Just as the Spanish Armada lost to the English back in 1588, partly due to skill, but in large part due to bad luck, so can you lose the game if you have ruddy luck. In other words, it's a matter of taste.
Why I Love To Conquer The World, Repeatedly:
- Solid game play and unique theme make this a remarkable conquest game
- The mechanics' implementation makes the sum greater than the parts
- A three player war game? Whatchoo Talkin' 'Bout Willis?? Yep, it's true!
- One hour to rule the world!
- The price of Gorilla Games are great, and for $26 bones you're a fool to not get this
Why This Game May Never Even Grow Up To Be A Tin Pot Dictator:
- A lot of random, so if you can't handle that, go back to Waterloo
- AP prone players may take longer than they need to during turns, maybe
- People who like these kinds of games MIGHT find it a bit too light
It's really simple to me - if you're looking to get a conquest "Dudes on a Map" type game with card play and that only runs about an hour, look no further. If you've ever played Risk or Axis and Allies but never get it to the table due to length, look no further. Hell, if you liked Smallworld but wanted more meat, then you should definitely get this. In all cases, if you're a fan of Ameritrash games, you should certainly do your level best to give the game a try, because as far as these kinds of games go, to pack this much game in a $26 box and an hour of play time is just spectacular. Suffice it to say, I will be very sad when this goes off to a reader's home tomorrow, as promised him. Yes, I'm still giving away the last review copies that I got before the July 4th moratorium I imposed on the site...and this is one of the last casualties.
4.375/5 Stars
Buy it direct from Jeff and cut out the middle man: