Saturday, March 24, 2012

Lords of Waterdeep - I Wasn't Aware That Berlin Had Coastline

Well, I know it's been overdue, but I've had a relapse with this vertigo thing. I almost was to the point where I could go out of the house, but I got an inner ear infection that apparently did even more damage, so now I'm back on the Valium and puke pills. FML. Anyhow, after much talking with Chris Dupuis, of Risk Legacy fame, I pretty much had to have this game. Wizards sent it, I played it, repeatedly. I think this would've been far cooler and made more sense to me had it been themed with Russkies, East Germans, West Germans, Americans, and Nazis all fighting for control of cold war Berlin, but that said, I think that the theme of fantasy factions vying to be the supreme power within the Forgotten Realms city of Waterdeep works quite well because they've managed to keep a strong, cohesive theme throughout the game. It's just a little bit contrived, that's all.

Anyhow, onto what it's all about. The concept is that five benevolent factions with fancy names all want to mold the city of Waterdeep into their own little version of Utopia, and there's eleven Lords that you can choose from to lead your own little army of spies. One thing that struck me about the game is that there's really no "bad guys", so to speak. I mean, all of the Lords have their own motivations and whatnot, but the factions all seem to be most interested in protecting the fair peoples of the city, if the backstory is to be believed. No liches trying to take over the city and turn it into a dark necropolis, no orc hordes trying to drive out humanity and dine on their giblets. Just five goodie two shoes groups trying to be the bestest, nicestest of all. Except that they're not above screwing over the other guys, or even killing their people, to prove how nice they are. Like I said, an odd bird, but it works because the flavor text and everything supports the idea.

The real departure for me is that this is not what I think of when I think of Dungeons and Dragons, or even Wizards of the Coast. This is an unashamed Euro game, and a tremendously well-designed one. It certainly takes design cues from Puerto Rico and Agricola, sans the slavery, pig farming, and arrogant smart asses chuckling under their breath about how clever their last move was. The whole game boils down to building buildings, completing quests, and sending agents (read: workers) to buildings to the buildings in order to earn money and get wizards, warriors, thieves, and clerics (read: resources) in order to complete more quests and ultimately earn victory points.

The kicker that makes this game stand out from the vast swarms of mostly unclean European invaders is that this whole game is loaded to the point of obscene gluttony with player interaction. You have loads of opportunities to completely castrate your opponents with well timed cardplay, and the cards range from making them lose resources through straight up killing one of their agents. It's possible, I think, to never screw with other players and still score well, but quite honestly, I can't imagine that being nearly as much fun as causing other players pain. The best part about the design is that there's hidden goals for each player's Lord, and these goals give you VPs at the end of the game. One chick gives you six VPs for each building you built, for example, and other ones give you some VPs for every specific type of quest card you've completed. Each is unique, and only the owner knows what his hidden goal is. It's a very neat twist on what is otherwise an "open information" kind of game. Now that you know the overall high points, let's talk about the game's production.

Once you open the box, you're met with a very neat storage tray, which is great only if you plan to set the game on its back or have it continually pinched between two other boxes, and tightly at that. I made the mistake of setting it on its side and was met with a jumble of parts as my reward. Also, the card and box art is not all that shit hot. It's decent, to be sure, but it's very Larry Elmore; it just looks a bit dated. That being said, the bits, board and everything are really well done. There's a bunch of cubes in four colors that represent the wizards and warriors, and there's a bunch of meeples that represent your agents.

There's also some VP counters, control counters, some bad ass coin counters that are center-punched for a yen feel, and finally three special wood bits that represent two freelance spies and the "first player" token. The production value is truly great, as you can see from the photos, and the box itself is a neat, very thematic design. The really high point, besides the money which is really great, is the rulebook. It is as perfect as I can imagine as it's short, linear, easy to understand, and has a huge swarm of building explanations so you really would be hard pressed to screw something up. Short version: the game is definitely worth the 35 bucks that CoolStuff is asking for it. Just get some bags and shitcan the storage tray, because it's too hard to use and doesn't work if you either plan to stand it on its side or have meaty fingers.

Setup is quick, and unless you're playing with a totally AP-prone player, the turns are really taken at a tremendously brisk pace, especially for a Euro. On each player's turn, they will place one of their agents on a building of their choice, and then after you've assigned the agent, you can attempt to complete a quest by spending resources. These quests all have various requirements, and always do something beneficial for you, like granting VPs or resources.  That being said, each Lord card has their own predilection towards certain types of quests, and thus if you perform their preferred quests, at the end of the game, you get extra points for it. As I said before, your Lord is secret, so your opponents never really know what your goals are. Add to that the fact that most of the quest cards are placed face-down when you've completed them, and you have a game that requires players to really pay attention to what's going on in order to be successful.

Incomplete quests are placed face up, though, so players can look to see what others are doing and do everything they can to stymie those players' efforts to complete the quests. This includes such niceties as killing or hindering their agents by using intrigue cards or taking over a building they need in order to get the resources they need. Even more devious, some intrigue cards are actually mandatory quests that force whomever you play them on to complete that quest before all others, effectively screwing up their entire mojo. There really is nothing more satisfying than watching the smug look on an opponent's face melt into anger when you stick him with two mandatory quests, back to back.

Now, the game starts out with very few buildings available, and since there's only one space available in the builder's hall and a maximum of ten spaces to build buildings, you're not going to be doing a hell of a lot of masonry work in any given game. The good news is that at the beginning of the game, you pretty much have what you need to in order to complete quests, as far as being able to get resources, but as the game progresses, more and more options appear. The buildings that are available to build are randomly chosen, and there's maybe 25 or so, so you can play three or four times before seeing them all. I know for a fact that in my plays we never saw a couple of them.

Going back to the quests and the intrigue cards, there's a lot of them, although they're not all unique. The quest cards come in one of five flavors, with each type being completed by one of the types of resources. They're all the same, for the most part; you pay X and complete the quest at the end of your turn. Most get placed face down on your mat, but many give you buffs for the rest of the game. The real star of the game, though, is the intrigue cards. Oh, what fun it is to stab your friends in the scrotum. This alone is what makes the game, in fact.

Were it not for the intrigue aspects of the game, maybe it would be little more than Agricola: Deep Water In San Juan Edition, but the direct interaction really creates something special and unique. If you're the kind of guy who gets off on chortling to yourself when you place a worker unnecessarily simply to be a dick without overtly being a dick, you may not appreciate the fun of just being a dick straight to someone's face, unashamed. Fair warning.

Another really good design point in the game is its scalability. It plays differently with two than five because the amount of agents you have is scaled with the amount of players, but in all cases it plays well. In a two player game, you have a lot more agents running around manipulating things whereas with five players, you have very few, so you really need to make each one count. The game is definitely more challenging with five, but its also more fun because the rewards from the intrigue cards are better since many affect all opponents equally, with you getting benefits from those who are unaffected by the card due to them not meeting the conditions of the card. It most certainly feels like you're doing a lot more with a two player game, but you don't get to screw over nearly as many people, so it's simply not as much to do, and it's not as much fun. I'd say that three to five is great, with four being the sweet spot.

The game has a built-in timer, and only lasts 8 rounds, with the whole shebang lasting around an hour and a quarter or so with two to four non-AP players. In my opinion, the true sign of a good Euro is that when the game ends, you either feel like it was perfect in length (generally believed by the winner) or you'd have liked maybe one or two more turns (generally believed by the second and third placers) and with this game, I feel like the length is just about dead center of where it should be. Sure, I'd like the game to have lasted a little longer, but that's only because I was having fun with each play. It had nothing to do with the fact I lost every single damned time. Well, maybe a little. When the game ends, you simply look at your score track and add extra points based on you meeting your chosen Lord card's bogey, at which time you get extra points.

Anyhow, while I'm not the world's biggest fan of Euro games, this really "did it" for me, and surprisingly so. I certainly like this as much as Agricola, which I've grown to really enjoy after initially despising it, and while I like the blend of a fantasy theme with this kind of game, I think it really would've grabbed me a little more, maybe been a little more compelling for me, if it was a cold-war spycraft game as I described before. It just feels to me like a bit more of a cold war thing than a bunch of faux benevolent factions all trying to be the kindest, gentlest dictators. But if a guy can get into office and spend us into oblivion, take our own citizens and lock them away without trial, and the whole time tell us he's doing it because he loves our country, maybe it's not too far from the mark.

When you look at how backstabbity the game is clearly meant to be, it seems more political rather than fantasy, at least to me. I just never really picture D&D as a game of backstabbing and treachery as much as a dungeon crawl, but maybe that's only because I haven't experienced that aspect of D&D. That's just my perspective, so take it at face value. At the end of the day, I really think that the Knizia-Kramers of the world could take some notes from Wizards when it comes to European style games, because this really is one of the better Euros I've ever played.

Why I Love Diving For Awesome In Waterdeep:
- Great bits and thematic, but dated, art make this a neat game to see on the table
- The design is somewhere between Puerto Rico and Screw Your Neighbor
- Hidden VP conditions via Lord cards really makes this a thinker's game
- A Euro with player interaction? Who'd have thought this existed!

Why Waterdeep May Be Bobbing For Turds:
- The theme and backstory seem really contrived
- The box and insert design, while neat looking, is a failboat if you stand it on its side
- Do not play this with AP-prone players, because there are a lot of decision points

While it's like many a Euro before it, it's way more fun than its predecessors because it embraces something that Ze Germans haven't figured out: fucking over your friends in a passive-aggressive way is not as much fun as looking them in the eye while you're directly fucking them over. The intrigue cards and quest system really make this game shine, and this game should be at the top of every person who likes Euro style games but who thinks that there's not enough interaction in them. I'd call this the perfect "hybrid crowd" game that you can play with Ameritrashers as well as with Europolists. I really liked it, and so much so that even though this game is being given away to a Circus subscriber come Monday, I ordered a copy from Coolstuff because everyone I played with really liked it, along with Drizzt, another game I'm giving away. If that's not a good yardstick to measure my feelings on the game, that I have it and am giving it away, but am re-buying it, I don't know what is.

4.375/5 Stars

Watch the video on how to play here, made by a man with plastic hair:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

It's all over, folks!

Well, another day, another culling of the herd, and this one got the best response yet.  I had a shitload of emails come back, but many were way too late, or worse, some people simply couldn't follow the simple directions. Luckily, it was all over by the time the people that couldn't follow the directions had written in, with the first email coming back literally 70 seconds after I sent out the first email.

Who I am sending stuff to:

Jim McMahon - Lord of Waterdeep
Carmen Musarra - Legend of Drizzt
Hao Yong Kang - Drakon
Drew Scott - Hotel Samoa
Jamal Stripling - Say Anything
"Murdly" - 2 Packs of Feywild Fortune Cards
"Tacollector" - Bellweather
Tommy Rutledge - RA Salvatore Neverwinter
Rob Cannon - Brimstone Novel
Michael Kretz - 2 Packs of Tharizdun Fortune Cards

If you have NOT sent me your physical mail address, it will be difficult for me to send you your stuff. So, make sure you send me the address.

Now, for the fun part (for me)...the lies:

NOTE: I'm sober.
So I've been reading your blog for a damn long time.  I think I was tipped off via Drakes Flames, or Anyway, despite me visiting your site once a week - I didn't realize that I never actually signed up to follow!  So "Andrew" has now signed up.  My handle pic is of me dressed up as a Team Manager for Blood Bowl.  Fantasy Flight Games was so "impressed" they sent me a copy of their game:
I'm off to Origins this year.  And believe it or not, it's going to be my "bachelor party."  Three buddies of mine are joining in the reindeer games and we expect to kill Columbus via Heroscape, Blood Bowl, Poker, and Paintball.  If we cross paths, I'll buy you a drink."


"Signed myself up
Then linked to Facebook, because people I know would love to scroll past something like this.
Then sent real invites. If you want more effort than that start yelling like a constipated Nazi."


"I can't enter anyone to win because I can not tell a lie. Can't even
make up a bad enough lie to have this be a good entry. Nope, can't do


"I would love some free shit!  I goaded my friend Josh, whose email is XXXXX if that helps, to start following your blog.  Moreover, I'm going to claim credit for all subscribers you've gained since Feb. 5th.  Over on the geek somone posted a thread asking who our favorite reviewer was, and I vigorously promoted you because, to quote myself, you're "wicked funny and a great reviewer."  so clearly I can take credit for the massive increase in hits since then.

I enjoy your blog so much, in fact, that I am following it twice... or perhaps that's because I'm an idiot and can't figure out how to log back into my first user account.  My two user ids are XXX and XXX (I suffer from a small degree of name confusion)."

"I cannot recommend friends to join /subscribe, that would dilute my chances of winning, and I am a greedy bastard."


"I signed me up.
I'll go Drizzt over Waterdeep over Drakon over.... else.
Wish me luck. Wait no--wish my children luck. Bless their crippled hearts."

"Do you watch the new BBC Sherlock?
In an early episode, he says " "I'm not a psychopath, I'm ahigh-functioning sociopath; do your research."
So, if you are a sociopath, you are in good company, at least as far as fictional characters go."


"I couldn’t get anyone to sign up.  I am just incredibly busy.  I am working on 3 different side projects besides my day time job.  Hopefully I will have some time for some games when all this is over.  Some cool new game would be really welcome at that time."


I have sent out a link to your site to all my gaming friends, but they are probably too stuck up to sign up. That's why my main gaming partner is my wife, and she probably wouldn't "get" your humor (her loss).
Keep doin' What you are doin'. I loved your SW: ED review. Good to see you posting more."


"I like your rants, but I lost several friends trying to find folks to subscribe to your gamer vitriol.  No one could stand the heat.  My plants died, and my girl left me, all thanks to your reckless journalism.  Isn't that enough? WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?"


"First lie has Mass Effect 3 spoilers. Seriously, don't read that shit if you are playing ME3.
I can't get people to sign up because (Mass Effect 3 SPOILER ALERT) I chose the ending that let the Reapers wipe the galaxy of all organic life.
Alternative NON-SPOILER Lie: I can't get people to sign up because I spend all my free time sleeving the various Dominion expansions."

"Dear Pete,
I'd love to send some subscribers your way, but I don't have any friends cool enough to appreciate your site.
Keep up the good work, and hope you're feeling well."

"Oh, please say it's not too late, Superfly! If the Mayans are gonna tear 2012 a new arsehole, then I wanna commune with the gaming gods before it all goes down. Only YOU can keep 2012 from being just another crap year.

By the way, I have a totally plausible reason I didn't get anybody signed up: Until recently I ran the biocarnology program for the National Zoo in D.C., where I oversaw the regular artificial insemination procedure for Chu Chu, the last female panda in the U.S. In September, after a particularly harsh limoncello bender the night before left my hands with more than an advisable amount of palsy, I accidentally gave ol' Chu Chu a little too much turkey baster, if you know what I mean. I've been in intensive care ever since, only able to type with my tongue and a couple of devices on loan from Stephen Hawking. Games mean everything to my poor existence right now, Pete. Help a brother out."


"I could not get anyone on the ISS to sign up because they refused to
believe someone with an @insightbb address was legit. You need to get
on teh aolz if you want to be taken seriously dude.
Did you note that I am A FRIGGIN ASTRONAUT?!? IN SPACE!?! So give me
shit. And you are paying postage sucka.  I hear the rates are down to
around $8000/lb nowadays. Crafty Russians are real ruble-pinchers."


"So, I was trying to get people to subscribe to your blog, but ran into a little issue - I was spontaneously attacked and captured by Giant Mutant Guerrilla Hamsters.  They're kind of like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but they eat their own young.  With that kind of a culture, you have to expect a lot of unresolved angst and parental anger displacement issues.  Those that do somehow manage to survive infant-hood are put through a counter-culture indoctrination school that includes training in how to upset any established order, daily recitals of Chairman Mao's speeches (the crazy nonsense ones from when he was old), and speed-chanting "Down With the Man" while cleaning rifles.  All of this focuses their raging emotional turmoil against any authority figure in sight.  They would be one of the most vicious fighting forces in the world, were it not for the fact that they regularly turn against and eat anyone that tries to lead or direct them.

I had been walking down the street and talking to my friend Jeff, which they saw as anti-proletariat collaboration with "El Jeffe", precipitating the vicious assault.  I've been held at their camp in a barbed-wire surrounded berry patch for the last few weeks struggling for my life, hence my inability to find subscribers for you.  I only just now escaped by mentioning that their current Glorious Leader has Capitalist leanings, and that he looked like he would taste great with ketchup.
Please do accept my apologies, and send me some free shit."

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The 2 Year Anniversary of the Superfly Circus

It's kind of ridiculous that I haven't had the taste police come and arrest me. But alas, two full years I've been at this, burning your retinas into submission.

And so, as a reward for your steadfast masochism, I'm giving away my stuff. But you knew that. Many of you emailed me. And so, here's the dealio.

IF I GOT AN EMAIL FROM YOU, I will be emailing you back with a list. The list will have several items on it. You are to put them in order of how much you want them, rated 9 as the highest and 1 as the least.

So, for example, your list might look like this:

Sex with a forest animal 5
Captain Crunch, soggy 6
Oral favors from a professional  9
A talking rooster 7
The Situation to read you his poetry 4
A skeleton to come alive so you could relive a D&D fantasy 8

So, according to this list, I'd REALLY like oral favors from a professional. If that wasn't available, I'd like a skeleton to battle. If I'm not getting oral favors from a hooker AND I'm not getting to battle a skeleton, I'd rather have a talking rooster.  The last thing in the world that I want is The Situation to read me his poetry.


So, respond to the email I send you with what you want. FIRST COME, FIRST SERVED.  As I said, this isn't a contest. This is me giving you shit, and I'm essentially yelling into the crowd, "What do you bitches want?" to which you are responding, "I want these games, and I want X more than Y."

If you really want to pay for shipping to you, put that in the note too, because that may sway my opinion. Maybe. Probably not, but if 2 emails came in 30 seconds apart and one said they're paying shipping, well, a brotha gots to eat.

So, there you have it. Keep your inboxes open, keep your hands off your junk and ready to type.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Want Some Free Games? Part II

Someone asked me if this was a contest or something.

No. It's not a contest.

I give games that I get for free away, mostly, because it keeps me honest, and I get to "pay it forward". You read this stuff, I write it, so if I like it and I think you'll like it, I put my money where my mouth is. And if I hated it, well, I don't want to store it, and I'm a bit of a sadist, so if you want it, well, it's all yours.

It's that simple.

Many times, people will just email me and ask if they can have something. And I send it.

But, I've been holding off sending stuff because I've been sick, so I had to come up with a quick way, that would entertain me and all of you, to figure out who wants what.

So, this isn't a contest. You don't actually have to do the shit I mentioned HERE: How To Get Free Shit From Me. That was for fun. I don't advertise (like have people pay me to put ads up on the page to annoy the fuck out of you) and I don't have Google Ads (which are even worse). So, there's no real reason for me to have subscribers, except so I can brag about it to my kids, who already think I'm the coolest motherfucker like EVAR, so I have to keep up appearances.

The reason that the email aspect is important, and really the ONLY thing that's required is because I get a LOT of email. So, I set a filter to dump people who put "Pete, send me some free shit" into the folder that stores people I need to contact.

If you get your name in the hat, I'm going to send out a list of games, which you'll rate on how much you want them.  I don't actually care if you subscribe, which is why I asked you to lie about why you couldn't. That was solely for my amusement, and I'll probably share the best lies. Although only one lie has appeared thus far.

First Come, First Served. I'll send out the emails, and the people who respond to me first will get their preference. So keep your eyes open. I'll be sending the email on the day of the 2nd year anniversary of my blog.

People that respond after everything is gone...well...

A partial list of what I'm giving away:
Lords of Waterdeep
Drizz't's Big Adventure in D&D Adventurelandyplace
Drakon 3rd Edition
Hotel Samoa (Sorry, Tom, I'm sick of looking at this motherfucker on my shelf. I'll buy you a new one when you rotate back to the States)
Say Anything
And some other good stuff. Stuff that's Awesome.

The Management*

*and by Management, I mean the God Emperor For Life of the Superfly Circus.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Want some free games?

Well, the 2-year anniversary of this bottom-feeding den of filth and depravity (and the occasional word or two about board games) is about to roll into the station.

So, we're giving some shit away. What kind of shit, you ask? Good shit. That's the best kind.

Here's the dealio:

To get something, follow this process:

A> Attempt to get someone to subscribe. Lie, cheat, steal, beg to accomplish this. Have them use the button, "Join this side"

The body count right now is at 157, so I'll see the change.

B> Email me at superflytnt ^a t^ insightbb *nickname-for-dorothy* com with "Pete, send me some free shit" as the title. Tell me either WHO you signed up, and their name as illustrated above so I can correlate, OR ALTERNATIVELY, lie to me and tell me WHY you can't get people to sign up. If it's not a really outlandish lie, I may discount your entry.

C> Wait until around the 25th for an email, indicating you've won. If you don't get it by the 25th, you didn't win.  I'll announce the winners after they've been chosen, at random. No cannons this time, just a plain old algorithm.

The list of games that are going out will be provided, in order, to the people that won. The folks will give me a number for each in the order of how many people they'd kill to get it. (Ie: highest is the most wanted, lowest is the least wanted.) The first person chosen by the algorithm will get the free game marked highest, and so on, until all games are gone.

I'm paying shipping, too, so it's totally free.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Flash Point: Fire Rescue - A Flaming Pandemic, Scarring Eyes Yet Overjoying Players

I love Pandemic. Or, loved, I guess I should say. I played it all summer long last year, and my wife and I have a lot of good memories of sitting on the deck, drinking Black and Tans, chainsmoking Camel Blues, and trying to save the planet from viral armageddon. So, when I got this game, I knew I would like it. What I didn't know was HOW MUCH I'd like it. It's superior in virtually every way than Pandemic, but the one thing where it really fails is that for such a theme-heavy game, the boys at Indie Board and Cards absolutely dryhumped a Great Dane until it was bleeding when it comes to the look of the game.

I mean, I feel almost like the guy who bought hair regrowth spray that turned out to be spray paint; this sure feels like a bit of a bait and switch, in a sense. The cover art is outstanding, and whomever illustrated it is expert. The firefighter cards within are awesome, too; truly incredible, lifelike illustrations. But then you get to the board and the tokens themselves and are in for a tremendous disappointment.

They look like a blind art director got in the Wayback Machine, bought a Windows 3.11 icon pack and used those for the tokens. And then nobody said anything because they didn't want to get sued for creating a "hostile work environment." I mean, these things are by and large ugly as a old witch's overgrown bush. In fact, the smoke token may actually be a digital representation of that bush. And while some may like the Zohan's style, I am more than a little disappointed that the art is so incongruous across the entire product.

That said, aside from the fact that the tokens are really ugly and the board is a little odd looking, this game is absolutely outstanding in every other way. It is an incredibly tense co-operative romp that has the players living vicariously through wee wooden buttplugs (that represent firefighters) to save the aforementioned faceless Windows 3.11 icons (that represent fire victims) from little fire icons (that represent fire) and little salt-and-pepper pubic region icons (that represent smoke) that will eventually become fires. The fire outbreaks are totally random, so at any time you may have a victim choking on a witch bush or engulfed wholesale in a burny firestorm of flashovers and explosions. It's a bad pun, I know, but the game is simply a blast.

As I alluded to, the game is about playing with fire. The object is to retrieve seven of ten victims from the building before either the building collapses from too much damage or four victims are killed. Why so many people are in the building, which is a residence is a mystery to me, so we decided that this building is, in fact, the aftermath of the raiding of the Branch Davidian compound down in Waco a little over a decade ago. Talk about theme! I went so far as to put a little beard and aviator glasses on one of the dude tokens for the man himself, David Koresh!

Either way, the as the game progresses, so does the fire, and it's ultimately a race to save as many people as you can as quickly as possible without letting the fire get too out of control. The tight mechanics married to the luck of die-rolling really adds a lot of excitement to the game; one bad roll and ol' Koresh or the lowly house cat can be unexpectedly blown through a wall due to an explosion!

Anyhow, let's get to what you get in the box. First, there's a double-sided board with play surfaces on both sides, which means that it's going to be a different experience each time you change up. Then, there's the cards, of which there's two types. The one cards are simple player color reminders, but they look great, and the others are player character cards. These cards are incredibly well drawn, as I noted. Beyond that is a D6 and D8 die, six wooden "buttplug" style player pawns, several sheets of die-cut chits, and a rulebook, which is really well organized and written.

Finally, there are some player reference cards in various languages that you can literally play the game right off of.  As you can see from the above photo, the cards (lower left) are brilliant, as is the box art, but when you look to the board and chits, it's clear that there were some shortcuts taken. All in all, though, it's forgivable because the design is wonderful. I'm just hoping they sell enough to get a reprint going and will hire Eric Carter or David Ausloos to do the illustrations properly.

There are two distinct versions of the game within, the family game and the advanced game. The advanced game is a lot more complex, and uses all of the wee bits in the box, requiring a lot more upkeep but delivering a much more strategic, rich experience. The family game, though, is no slouch. It is tough to win, and in fact it took me three times with two players to pull of a victory, although with three players the odds seemed to be a little more in our favor for some reason. I'll explain the family game setup, then I'll talk about the differences when the advanced game comes into play, because this game, like Pandemic, is a great fit for both die-hard gamers and as a crossover or entry-level game for the younger crowd.

To set up the basic game, you first need to remove 2 victim tokens and a blank token from the victim pool, then put the rest in an opaque cup or mix them up and place them in a face-down pile. Then you simply need to look at the illustration in the rulebook and place the appropriate fire, "Point of Interest" (POI), and door tokens as shown.  It takes maybe four minutes from start to finish. In the basic game, the players have no special abilities, don't face hazardous materials, don't use the Ambulance or Fire Engine tokens, and don't use many of the other tokens, so they remain in the box. You can certainly play with the character cards if you wish, but I'd think that would make the game far too easy, especially with lower-player games.

Once the preset fire locations are all placed and the three POI tokens are placed, you place your pawns on any location outside that you wish. It's generally helpful to place them near doors, unless you plan to hack your way into the blazing inferno, which is viable. On each player's turn, they have four action points to spend any way they wish. Moving costs one action point, but moving through fire or moving while carrying something costs two.

Chopping a wall costs two as well, and when you do so, you place a little wooden cube on the wall that you've damaged. If two cubes exist on a wall section, that wall is blown out and is thereby treated as a passable opening. Finally, you can open a door for one action, extingish fires by spending two actions, or you can extinguish smoke using one action. The latter is generally a waste of time, but in some instances it can be a life saver.

What I haven't mentioned is that within the house are the POI markers, which may or may not be interesting as their namesake implies. Sometimes you flip it over and determine that the man you thought you heard screaming was simply an echo of the one that burned up last game, indicated by a fat blank spot on the obverse side. Others, though, have a faceless, incredibly bland icon of an androgynous humanoid of some sort. These are the biggies, because they're the ones you're trying to save.

They can't move on their own in the basic game, and must always be carried. In order to save them, you merely need to get them outside in the basic game, whereas you actually need to move them to an Ambulance in the advanced game. Once you're done taking all of your actions, you roll the dice and look to the references on the board. Normally, you'd put a smoke token on that spot. If there's already smoke there, though, you flip the existing token to the fire side. If there's fire in an orthogonally adjacent square, you place a new fire token on the spot.

Now, if you're just so unlucky, as I am, that you roll a spot that has fire there already, you cause an explosion, shockwave, and subsequent flashover. Explosions are resolved by simply following the four cardinal direction paths from the source to the nearest open space, door, or wall. If there's a wall there, you add a damage cube. If there's a door there, the door is blown off of its hinges and removed from the game. Finally, if there's an open space, you simply add a fire token to that position. If, in any case, there was a POI token, an uncovered victim token, or a firefighter there, death ensues. POIs and victims are removed immediately from the game, and Firefighters are "knocked down", thus putting them on the nearest Ambulance space, marked with a red cross.

After all of the explosive goodness and flying bodies are resolved, you then resolve flashovers, which is simply taking all smoke tokens with an adjacent fire token and flipping them to the fire side. This is always done from the ignition source, so you can make sure you've gotten them all. Again, if any POI or victim tokens were just set ablaze, they're removed from the game. Remember, if four people are killed or you run out of damage cubes, you lose. The last thing a player does is replenish the POI tokens on the board by randomly placing them using the dice. If they are placed where a fire token exists, simply remove the fire token because the token art is so bad that hotness is allergic to it, and the fire is miraculously extinguished. After all of those steps are resolved, it's the next player's turn.

The advanced game comes in a variety of "difficulty levels", from Rookie to Heroic, which alter the setup and gameplay considerably. First, everything is random, so you never know what to expect going in. Second, there are now haz-mat tokens in play, which are wee powderkegs that instantly cause explosions when even the slightest waft of smoke hits them.  These can be carried by players just as if they were little explosive, noxious victims, so that they don't pose an imminent threat. Also changed is the fact that you have hotspot tokens, which act like little firestarters when you place smoke on them, yet don't impede your progress or cause explosions like full-sized fire tokens do.

Now, on top of the setup being much nastier, which is bad for players, the players may choose a character to play, which is good. These characters kick ass in that they look great on the card and are well designed in terms of their individual effects on the game. The Fire Captain gets to move players a couple of spaces on his turn where the Generalist gets five actions per turn rather than four. The Paramedic gets to treat victims on-site using one action point, thereby making them walk on their own, provided a player is leading them. So, a player walking with a treated victim in tow only pays one action per turn to move instead of the normal two for a carried victim. There's eight in all, and all are unique and awesome. An added bonus is that in-game, you can swap out one character for another card that's not in play, so unlike Pandemic, if you find you wish you'd chosen differently, you can fix it at any time for two action points.

On top of the characters, you also get to use the Ambulance and Fire Engines in the advanced game. The Fire Engine is bad ass because it can be moved for two actions to the next valid space, and for four actions you can fire the deck gun into the building, which quenches fires in a large area all at once. The rules for squirting the water cannon are a little wonky, but they're not bad. The long and short is that you have to roll to hit a space, and if the space you rolled isn't in the quadrant you're located at with the truck, you literally flip the D6 die to its opposite side in order to find the target area. A downside of the advanced game is that instead of just tossing victims out the back door to safety as you did in the "family", basic game, you actually have to put them in the Ambulance. Luckily the Ambulance can be moved, just like the Fire Engine, but you don't have to be in the Ambulance to move it.

At the end of the day, the game is awesome. It's really tense, and although I've never been a firefighter, it really seems to be as chaotic, yet somewhat predictable, as a real building fire. Fire follows basic laws in the game, and the only real "X factor" is where a new fire will burst out of the floor since it's controlled by a random die roll. I highly recommend the game to anyone who likes Pandemic, but I also highly recommend it to anyone who likes a good co-operative game. It reminds me a lot of anothe favorite game, Red November, in that you are always pressed to get more done that is actually possible. This game is fun with two, and I give a mild recommendation for that number of players, but it really seems to shine with a minimum of three.

Why This Game Is Muy Caliente:
- Great theme that's well executed, and isn't done to death like so many other games
- Incredibly tense gameplay that will keep you excited the whole way through
- Several levels of play to custom tailor the game to your liking
- If all of the art was as nice as the cover, it would have earned another point
- 45 minutes with 2-3 players is the sweet spot for a co-operative game
- Not an orc, alien, mutant, zombie, or spaceman to be found! ORIGINALITY F-T-W!!!

Why Kurt Russell Set Fire To This Game:
- As I showed, Windows 3.11 icons are actually more detailed than the tokens
- The explosion rules were a little hard to grasp at first
- There's room for AP dickweeds to go all Rain Man on you, just as Alpha Male guy might push people around with "suggestions"

Yes, it's definitely built on the back of Pandemic, but it does Pandemic even better than Pandemic did. I'd even rather play this than Defenders of the Realm, the other Pandemic-engine game. Quite simply put, thus far this is one of the best co-ops I've played in a long time. Were it not for the truly bland and underbaked artwork on the tokens, which are a huge aspect of the game, I'd be a lot happier. As it sits, we docked almost a full point for the incongruous artwork in the game, but if you're not a bits whore like we are, well, you may be able to look past it. Indie Board and Cards really nailed it with this one, as they have done in the past. My only suggestion is that they hire a staff artist or line up some able freelance illustrators.

4.375/5 Stars

Learn more about this game at it's site:

Now, one last thing I want to mention about this game. I didn't pay for this, but it wasn't sent to me by the publisher, either. A guy on Fortress: Ameritrash, Nate, contacted me and told me that he had a friend recently pass away, and that to honor his friend, he wanted to send me some games to review. I'm humbled by the opportunity, and I dedicate this review, as well as the upcomoing reviews titled
"Earth Reborn - Why I'm Starting To Rethink This Whole Anti-Torture Position" and
"Olympos - No, Leonidas, We Can't All Just Get Along" to Nate and his recently departed friend.

David thanks you, too...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Epic Duels - Abbreviated As "ED" But Actually Cures That Particular Affliction

Some words in the English language are overused to the point that they are institutionally diluted. "Awesome", "radical", "liberal", and "conservative" are but a few examples of words that are so overused that they simply lack the potency and relevancy they once had. I mean seriously...does an "awesome" picture of a LOLcat peeing truly inspire awe, when in 1945, a giant mushroom cloud would be the standard? Is a video of of a monkey flinging poo at a rude zoo patron really radical, or is an Islamo-terrorist blowing himself up at a park full of toddlers the real radical?  Of late, "epic" is the word that we're all guilty of overusing, but luckily, there are still some things that merit the use. For example, Epic Duels.

Epic Duels may very well be the best light miniatures games ever made. It is the definition of a duel that is epic in nature, especially if you go to Star Wars conventions with wookiee hats on. But even if you're not a fan of yellow lasers, if you like smartly designed, accessible skirmish games, then this should be at the top of your list to buy. There is only one problem with this game, though, and you should be aware of it: it's been out of print a while, so you're going to have to get Tim Norris lucky at a Goodwill, or you're going to have to spend beyond $60.00 US to get a copy that looks like it was used by a touring band. And a rowdy one. All that being said, though, it is absolutely worth the price, and if you don't have a copy in your collection, chances are that you are either dice-averse or wooden cube dependant, which in either case, I pity you.

You see, there may be nothing more satisfying than having Vader Force Choking the shit out of Leia like a tube of toothpaste or giving a colostomy to Boba Fett with Chewbacca's Bowcaster. There are simply very few games out there that provide the tension, excitement, and just straight-up fun as Epic Duels, and I can't think of many that are as memorable. Part card game and part miniatures game, the concept of Epic Duels sounds simple: a bunch of Star Wars icons, and I mean iconic characters, not Windows icons or something, run around a little stadium blowing the crap out of each other.

While it sounds simple, to master it you need to have tactical skill in maneuvering your wee beasties into firing positions, you need to be able to bluff like a poker champion, you need to be able to manage your hand of cards, you need to know when to attack and when to stockpile "ammo", and you need to have a copious amount of Irish luck to get the cards you need or the right roll of the die.

When you look at the box, you are greeted with the standard "I am Jedi, I am invincible" artwork that you've come to expect, and when you crack open the box you're met with a bunch of card decks, a bunch of pre-painted miniatures, a single die, and a bunch of little hit point counters. On top of that, there's two double-sided map boards in the box as well as character sheets for each team of characters.

The artwork on everything is perfect, and the quality of everything is exceptional. The miniatures are the stars of the game, though, because not only are they pre-painted, they're really good. I'd argue that they're actually better than the Star Wars Miniatures game miniatures, although many would disagree with me, I'm sure.

My particular copy, which I got used from a man with a name that only a rock star should have, was "rode hard and sent home wet" as it literally WAS the "road trip" game for a touring rock band. Yet, the game is still in good shape. Some frayed edges on the cards, but that's all the wear and tear this bad boy has had. So, I'd have to say that the game is quite durable!

Anyhow, the game has many teams of duelists, such as Darth Vader and two Stormtroopers, Mace Windu and two Clone Troopers, Emperor Palpatine and a pair of Royal Guards, Boba Fett and Greedo, Han and Chewbacca, and many others. There's 31 figures, with either 2 or 3 per set, so you'll play a long time before you get sick of the combinations. With each set of figures comes a deck of cards. Within the decks are three types of cards, one being normal cards with an attack and defense rating, one being a power attack card that has special powers or circumstances it can be used during, and the last being special cards that generally do something exotic, like a Force power, or allowing extra movement. The cards vary incredibly, which is one of the many charms of the game, since you never know what you're going to get. Further, while the card backs have a picture of the entire team, the faces are keyed to individual figures, and you never know what you're going to draw next, and thus, who will be able to activate.

I'd like to note that you can play this game with as many as six players, and the more, the better. So, to set up the game, choose a map, then each player selects a team, takes their figures, deck, character sheet, and then places their figures on their start zone printed on the map. Each player will shuffle their deck and take four cards from their deck as a starting hand. Finally, the players place their hit point markers on the largest value indicated on each character's hit point tracker. It's that simple, and you're then ready to play.

To play, each player will roll the movement die, which is populated with green and red icons and numerals indicating who, and how far, the player may move one or more of their characters. Some faces have a three, four, or five, and other faces have an "ALL 2", "ALL 3", and "ALL 4", indicating the player may move one figure three, four, or five spaces, or alternatively, all of their figures two, three, or four spaces. So, a player's luck determines how far they may move their figure or figures. Once that's done, they may move their minis orthogonally up to the rolled limit. Once the player is done moving, they have two actions to use, and with those actions they may either play a card, draw a new card, pass, or heal one of their figures if their main character or secondary characters are killed.

In order to attack, in general, you need to have a direct line of sight on the target. This is only in straight lines, either orthogonally or diagonally, and there's an unlimited range for blasters and the like. Saberists, though, have to be adjacent to an enemy, for obvious reason, unless they are playing a special or power attack card that allows for the rules to be bent. Some cards are just vicious, like the Emperor's ability to nuke your hand of cards, or Vader's Force Choke that can smack-a-ho from anywhere on the map: zap, you're wounded.

The target may play a card to defend against the attack, in almost all cases, or at least minimize the damage dealt. If the attacker plays a card with an attack value of four and the defender plays a defense of three, the defender would take only one wound. It's a bit like the skulls and shields combat system in Heroscape. Now, there's one catch about all these cards, which is that you can only play a card that has the picture of the unit you're trying to use. So, if you want to have Vader attack someone, you have to have a Vader card in hand; the Stormtrooper cards can only be used to activate a Stormtrooper. The one exception is that if all of the figures that would use one of those cards are dead, like if Vader is dead and you have nothing but a hand of Vader cards left, you can play one to heal one damage point on a remaining Stormy, or vice-versa.

That's all there is to the game. You run around, you play cards, you draw cards, you kill people. It is so simple, so accessible, yet so damned fun and deceivingly complex. It's part Yomi, in that you have to anticipate what your opponents are holding in their hands, part chess-like vying for position to strike the killing blow upon your enemies, with the balance being loaded with Epichlorians. It's a fast playing, exciting, tense, smart game that absolutely anyone can enjoy, be they Star Wars fanbois or simply fans of miniatures games.

Now, all that being said, the game does have what I see as a huge detriment to it. The single bad thing about the game is that the maps are very small. Luckily, the game is easily enhanced to its full potential using any number of Star Wars Miniatures maps, or what I consider to be the pinnacle way to play, using Halo: Interactive Strategy Board Game terrain.  Remember the review I did of that sucking, gaping wound of a game? Well, I noted in it that the sole redeeming quality was the fact that there was awesome terrain included in the box. Well, now is the time that Halo gets its redemption, because playing Epic Duels on that terrain is the king shit.

If you really want to take the slow train to Fancytown, you can do what Steve Avery, my personal game hero and designer of the upcoming Capo, did: make Hirst Arts terrain. Because of his genius, I was inspired to do the same, and using the Halo terrain as a base, I made a 6-piece Epic Duels modular play field. I mean, there are VERY few games that merit my taking time to customize, and Epic Duels is the one I spent the most time on. And it's worth it.

What Makes Epic Duels So Epic:
- Smart, succinct design makes for a fast playing game
- Bluffing, feinting, and smart cardplay is great for people who don't dig dice but like a little luck
- The production quality is Hasbro-level, meaning truly well done
- You can play with Yoda and have him cut the balls off of Mark Hamill's whiny-ass Luke

Epic Duels' Only Epic Fail:
- The maps are too small for a six player game, and arguably too small for a four player game

Beg, borrow, steal, or buy this game at your first opportunity; this is truly an Ameritrash classic if ever there was one, and may very well be in the top ten board games ever made in my opinion. If you're an AgricoRican, maybe you won't like this, but honestly, I just can't see anyone not liking it. I've never heard anyone NOT like it, and I've played this with dozens of people over the years. It's perfect for any game night, it's perfect to bring to a Con. The only complaint is that if you're playing with more than two players, the boards feel a little cramped, but for 4$ you can get a Star Wars Miniatures map and realize the game's full potential.

4.875/5 Stars

If you want to learn more about this game, there's a huge fan site with hundreds of custom, printable factions here:

And if you want to get some Hirst Arts molds, go here to check them out. In fact, contact me if you want some, I'll sell you half of mine since I bought WAY too many:

Here's what the game looks like when you play it on Halo terrain:

And finally, this is what I made specifically to play Epic Duels, because it totally merits the labor-intensive toxic chemical-laden experience: