Thursday, March 28, 2013

Blood Of Gruumsh - Better Get A Turd Wig, Because Shit's About To Get Ugly

I started out thinking that Dungeon Command wasn't all that hot, that the system itself lacked tension, and that it simply wasn't much fun. I played with people who liked the same kinds of games I do, and they didn't really like it either. I'm kind of surprised that Wizards keeps sending me these sets, considering that I didn't give an ultra-glowing review initially. But when I played with my one buddy who loves Dungeon Command, I seemed to like it a little more, as illustrated with my Curse of Undeath review. Add to that the new factions that weren't so truly "meh" as the first two, and now you've got yourself a campfire. Now, I got this expansion about a week ago, maybe, as Wizards sent me a review copy as they always do, and on Friday I got to duke it out with my that same buddy. It's been said before, but I'll say it again: Who you play with is equally important as what you play. Luckily, this faction brings some new things to the table that really didn't seem to exist in the first two sets.

What, pray tell, do you ask, does this bring to the table? It brings the power of unstoppable force, that's what. This pack is loaded with creatures and cards that allow you to gain morale, strike back and cause wounds upon destruction, and summon creatures and Elementals. Yes, you heard me right, summon Elementals. What this means is that this is the first pack that really puts any sort of emphasis on cross-pollination of units between sets, at least to the best of my recollection. Sure, there is deck-building to the degree that you can take cards from any of the sets to create your super-deck, but you really had no compelling reason to put other creatures into your warband except on a one-off basis, and they did it in a smart and logical way. I mean, it's not pervasive in the set, but it's something that's new. If there's a downside, it's that you may want to buy several of the Cormyr sets to have access to this particular dynamism.

The models in this one are reprints of Heroscape/DDM as they have been in past iterations, but this particular set has very dark, bleak colors as befits an orc army. The paint jobs are about the same quality as usual, although the colors don't do much to help the look of the set, with the exception of the Ogre, which I think represents the best model yet to be included in a Dungeon Command set. The thing just looks bad ass, to the point that it makes the rest of the set pale a bit in comparison. For all of you old-school D&D nuts, there's even an Owlbear, which seems to garner a disproportionate amount of love for some strange reason. All I know is I hope that the owl was the one pitching in that particular mating session, for the owl's sake, although to a bystander it probably looked like a bear that sat on a feather-duster. No wonder Owlbears are so cranky, their parents obviously didn't get along.

In any event, as far as the quality goes, this is the same as the others with the exception of the Ogre, which as I noted, stands tall above the rest. I'd also like to mention that the artwork in this set is, I believe, a little bit better than in the past sets. I know that it's a matter of taste, but the art just seems a bit more dark, foreboding, and thematic, at least to me. It's most certainly depicting orcs doing orc-trocities, and doing so in style. In a game where the cards are not really the stars of the show, it would've been easy to not go all the way with making them look good, and I applaud Wizards for not taking the easy way out.

The theme in this set is very skewed towards offense, as one might imagine in an orc-laden setting, so when you play this set, you want to be ultra-aggressive. One of the leaders in this set has the ability to spawn a creature next to a treasure marker during setup, and the other allows you to ignore difficult terrain, so this set really favors overrunning the enemy and taking positional control. The Orc Chieftain also allows you to bring a new creature into play next to him while simultaneously allowing you to bump up your leadership value if you can't fit the new creature in, so it's like a double bonus. These are just a few examples of how the set was set up for a no-holds-barred invasion-style warband.

Add to that mentality the fact that there are ample damage sponge type creatures, so you can get up front and start smashing teeth out quickly and hold the line. There's several 90+ Hit Point critters as well as many 50+ Hit Point critters, so there's a lot of beatings they can take before death. These guys are absolutely tough to put down. The icing on the mud pie is that there are several morale boosts so you can stay in the battle even longer, hopefully running your opponent's deck down. All in all, I think this is a big departure from the rest of the boxes as that it rewards both being overly aggressive and risky deployment where the other sets were primarily focused on smart play and timing. 

The final bit of this that I think was the masterstroke are the new Dungeons and Dragons Adventure System cards. As usual, they are simple AI cards designed to allow you to cross these over to the DDAS games, but I'd argue that these are a little more varied than the other sets. The AI on some of these, especially the bigger guys, is such that they pass from player to player, causing an attack every turn. I mean, it's not that huge a change on the surface, but I was lucky enough to play Ravenloft with these creatures injected into the mix, and we got our asses summarily handed to us, which isn't a common occurrence. Deadly and fast, these new creatures are no joke, and when you add in that there's a healer and some archers, this whole set can open a Bloomburg-banned Big Gulp of Whoop-ass on you if you're not careful and clever.

Suffice it to say, I really dig a lot of the stuff in this set, but as usual, I gave it to a reader as I do with virtually every review copy I get. Jim in Massachusetts is one lucky bastard, and I will likely purchase this set based on the DDAS cards and models, which bring a whole lot to the table for that game. I'm not saying that because it's not fun to use them with Dungeon Command, I simply really love the DDAS games to death, and these add an entirely new and painful feel to the game that I've been missing for a long time. Orcs and an Ogre running around in an abandoned vampire's castle? Aw hell yeah, I'm in.

Why I Am Thinking Of Converting To Gruumshism:

- The Ogre is a superb model that I'd love to have played with many miniatures games
- The move from "smart play" to "Hulk Smash" in Dungeon Command tactics is welcome
- The DDAS cards are better than previous sets, which weren't bad at all to begin with
- The art and production values make this a very nice package

Why I Think Gruumsh May Translate From Orcish To "Douchenozzle":
- The paint base-coat was too dark for a dark wash; It was a real missed opportunity
- There's still no dice in the box

As far as Dungeon Command goes, I'm still on the fence whether I really like it or not. I'm veering toward the former, but as a Heroscape aficionado it's very hard to look at a game like this and not miss the dice. That said, I love Dungeon Twister and this game is a lot like that game in a lot of ways, so I'm quite conflicted. This set really shines because it allows you to exert constant pressure upon your opponent with unrelenting buffets of head-smashing blows, and the morale regeneration doesn't hurt a bit. If I could characterize this set in a word, it would be "hydra"; it's unrelenting, and when you kill one guy it seems two more come back, stronger, than the one you killed. Definitely a fun ride and perhaps the best expansion set yet. 

4.25/5 Stars

Check it out at the Wizards site:

Or the gallery:

Monday, March 25, 2013

Todd Brietenstein Of Twilight Creations Succumbs To His Illness

I'm sad to report that Todd Brietenstein, co-founder and President of Twilight Creations Inc., passed away yesterday, after suffering with a very aggressive cancer. Todd was a local boy here in Northern Kentucky, and he will be sorely missed. He is survived by his wife, Kerry, who is the Vice President of Twilight Creations, as well as their three wonderful children.

It's few and far between that you'll find so prolific a game company as Twilight Creations. They've been in business for only 12 years, but have developed and printed 24 core games as well as innumerable expansions. Their first game, "Zombies!!!" has been continuously in print since 2001 and has been supplemented by no less than 11 expansions as well as five more parts kits. It is one of the most easily recognizable games in our entire hobby, being represented in virtually every game store in the United States as well as in stores such as Hot Topic and Barnes and Noble. It was, coincidentally enough, one of the first hobby games I played after re-entering the hobby some ten years ago, and it will always be one of the games that shall persistently sit on my game shelf.

I once reviewed one of their games, Zombie Survival, which has recently released an expansion, and I encourage you to support Kerry in her time of sorrow any way you can, first and foremost by going out and purchasing Zombies!!! or any of Twilight Creations' other fine games, so that you can do just what Todd would've wanted - enjoy his games, and spend time with your friends and family. I'm sure the extra orders will help them with any medical bills they might have, and it would be a perfect tribute to one of the "good guys" in the gaming industry.

Here's the Twilight Creations website, starting with a list of their games:

And a link to my Zombie Survival review:

Via con Dios, Todd, and may you at last have the peace that you so richly deserve.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Press Release: WotC releasing throwback AD&D modules!

Prepare yourselves for the release of Dungeons of Dread, a hardcover collection of four classic, stand-alone Advanced Dungeons & Dragons adventure modules -- S1: Tomb of Horrors, S2: White Plume Mountain, S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, and S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth -- complete with original black-and-white interior art.

Dungeons of Dread  launches today with an MSRP of $39.95, and additional information can be found at

S1: Tomb of Horrors: In the far reaches of the world, under a lost and lonely hill, lies the sinister Tomb of Horrors. This labyrinthine crypt is filled with terrible traps, strange and ferocious monsters, rich and magical treasures, and somewhere within rest the evil Demi-Lich.

S2: White Plume Mountain: It has always been a subject of superstitious awe to the neighboring villagers. People still travel many miles to gaze upon this natural wonder, though few will approach it closely, as it is reputed to be the haunt of various demons and devils. The occasional disappearance of those who stray too close to the Plume reinforces this belief. Now, the former owners of Wave, Whelmand Blackrazor are outfitting a group of intrepid heroes to take up the challenge of recovering these magical weapons from White Plume Mountain.

S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks: From the preface by Gary Gygax: "This module was begun early in 1976 when TSR was contemplating publication of a science fantasy role playing game. Jim Ward had already shown us some rough notes on Metamorphosis Alpha I thought it would be a splendid idea to introduce Jim’s game at Origins II, and introduce the concept to D&DO players by means of the tournament scenario. I laid out the tournament from old “Greyhawk Castle” campaign material involving a spaceship, and Rob Kuntz helped me to populate the ruined vessel."

S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth: In the Yatil Mountains south of Perrenland there is rumored to be a magical hoard of unsurpassed value, a treasure of such fame that scores of adventurers have perished in search of it. Find the perilous Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth and you may gain the hidden wealth of the long-dead arch-mage—if you live!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

X-Wing - Lock $ Foils In Crack Addiction

I'm not sure if it's because I'm cheap or because I'm a natural-born skeptic, but when it comes to gaming, I'm what one might call a "late adopter". I didn't get an Xbox 360 until 2010, I didn't start playing Heroscape until Wave 6, and I didn't get Mage Knight: The Board Game until about 3 weeks ago. This is especially true with anything collectible or "living", because the price for buying into a miniatures game is very high if you make a poor choice.  So, while I played Fantasy Flight's X-Wing Miniatures game some months ago, I wasn't excited enough to jump in with both feet and start building fleets. I have maybe three thousand dollars in miniatures and terrain, books, and whatnot, so a game has to be pretty damned good in order for me to even consider buying it.

Well, I had a buddy over yesterday for an X-Wing game day, and after playing my third game, I was hooked. If you want me to just cut to the chase, here goes: X-Wing is the smartest, most entertaining fighter skirmish game I've ever played. This says a lot, because I've played probably twenty of these games, from Full Thrust to Renegade Legion to Battle Fleet Mars to A Call To Arms; I've got a lot of experience with these games and X-Wing is easily the most approachable and tightest.  The draw, for me, is that the game hits that magical sweet spot where complexity and practicality intersect. Very few games ever hit that spot, generally erring either on the side of simulation or oversimplification. X-Wing, however, gets it absolutely perfect, with enough complexity to make it a game worth playing while having very simple, understandable, and intuitive rules that don't get in the way of the players. It literally blows every other fighter combat game into itty bitty rippy bits.

Now, there's been a lot of praise about the miniatures on popular bloggers' sites, on the dreaded BoardGameGeek site, and in the press. From the perspective of someone who is used to buying Descent, with grey, unpainted miniatures, well, maybe that's true. But from the perspective of someone who has bought and painted hundreds of miniatures, I'm just not all that ultra-impressed. They're quite good, I'll totally grant that, but they're not so good that I'm all bat-shit crazy over them. The attention to detail on the model sculptures is very, very good, but the paint jobs are no better than your average Star Wars Miniatures Game model. That's not to say they're bad, because they're not, they're simply not what I would call a 'gold standard'. 

At ten dollars a pack, which comes with one miniature, a modular flight stand, and some cards, it's a pretty good deal, when you consider everything, but the miniature itself doesn't command that kind of price. They're also very fragile, and I can see some of the Tie Fighters, especially, having their wings broken off, requiring glue. The flight stands are also kind of cheap, with the posts being very thin, maybe a tenth of an inch in diameter, and I can see those snapping off as well if you're not pretty careful, especially since cleanup requires that you break the flight stands into their component bits. Litko makes some replacements that I think surpass the original design from a "monkey-proof" perspective, but I don't think I'd buy them unless I broke a stand.

Now, the core set comes with all the bits you need to play, such as tokens and whatnot, and it comes with two Tie Fighters and an X-Wing. It's about $26.00 US all over the internet, and I think that's a better deal than buying the expansions for ten bucks a piece. There's a bunch of cards in the box as well, and you can spend some of your battle point allotment buffing up your ships with all kinds of upgrades, like cluster munitions (banned by 108 countries, but not the Empire) and mines, crew, and other goodies. Each ship also has several pilots, which define what abilities its associated model has with it. All in all, it's a big bunch of stuff in the box, and quite honestly, if you just wanted to buy the box, I think you'd have plenty of adventure for a while until you realize that getting more stuff means more adventure, more variety, and ultimately, a prolonged experience with the game.

The first wave had the core set, Tie Fighter, X-Wing, Y-Wing, and Tie Advanced expansions, and the new wave that just released has several expansions: Millenium Falcon, Slave One, the A-Wing and a Tie Interceptor. After the three plays I had, playing with everything but the A-Wing and Tie Interceptor, I went online and purchased two core sets, two Tie Advanced, two Y-Wings, one A-Wing, the Falcon and Slave One. I paid $144.00 at Miniature Market for the whole lot of it, if that helps you out, and I spent money set aside for a new shotgun, which if you knew me would make you think I'd lost my mind. It's simply that good. I could play it all day, I suspect, because when my buddy left last night, I was so wound up and itching for another game that it reminded me of how I feel about Heroscape; I could literally play that game for a couple days straight and never get completely worn out on it. Add to that the fact that you can play two to four players, and that it has some interesting scenarios included above and beyond the standard "kill them before they kill you" formula, and it's a total win.

The game's core mechanic, the one that really makes it shine, is how it handles movement and turn reconciliation. At the beginning of your turn, each ship has a little disc which you program it's movement on, and then you put it face down. Each ship then moves and assigns actions from worst pilot to best pilot, and afterward, each ship attacks from best pilot to worst. It's a very clever system that doesn't sound like it's all that novel, but it works so damned well because it provides amazing balance to the asymmetrical forces. You can load up on cheap Tie Fighters, but they're going to be moving first and shooting last, so the more skilled Rebel pilots may blow you out of space before your cheap ties ever get a shot off. It's just brilliant.

The thing that really struck me as the pinnacle of the game's brilliance is that in a game like this, luck can play a huge role, since dice are used for combat resolution, but there are enough options to mitigate bad luck that it makes for an engaging experience. You can expend your ships' single action per turn to allow re-rolls, to automatically block hits, or repair shields. There's also range bonuses so that you can think ahead to where a ship will potentially end its movement, allowing you to roll an extra die if you charge in for the kill, or stay back out of harm's way. In short, it rewards smart play and risk taking proportionally, which is really hard to do in a game that involves dice.

The only thing that I think might turn some people off is the ruler-based movement system. I think it's really well done, and it comes with movement templates, but if you're the kind of person who is really stuck on hex or square movement, it might be a detractor. Luckily, the movement rules are very intuitive and contingencies are built into the rules so that you won't have to guess at what to do when two ships come into contact with one another. It's a smart system, and since I'm used to using tape measures to play miniatures games, I thought it was a refreshing departure from the standard hex-based systems. It allows a lot more flexibility, and when it comes to fighter combat games, flexibility is where the tactics are at. There's nubs built right into the bases, so there's no room for making mistakes or having rules lawyers get all pissy, which is a welcome design feature that's often overlooked.

This is a must-have game, no doubt about it. It has everything I want in a game. It's furious, fun, and matches last about an hour from first move to last dying breath, making it quite fast. It's an amazing game, and with the large variance in game play based on the fact that each model has maybe thirty permutations when you consider the pilot, weapon, and upgrade cards. I think the only thing that will cause this game to flame-out will be about six months after the point that they stop making new ships. I'd bet there's going to be dedicated fan-sites if there's not already, and there's already a big tournament scene, so maybe, like Heroscape, the game will continue on well past its shelf life has expired. In any event, I know that I'll be playing it for a very, very long time and my only complaint is that I'm starting so late that I missed out on a lot of the events such as the recent Kessel Run.

Why X-Wing's Force Is Strong:
-Incredibly approachable game play with simple to understand rules
-Very clean design that's quite smart without being overburdened by complexity
-Very flexible ship design system allows for a lot of variation in squadron builds
-Scaling of the luck factor allows smarter players to win, although luck is a factor
-Nice ship models help immerse you in the game

X-Wing's Failures To Launch:
-It's a bit on the expensive side for a miniatures game
-The models are nice, but the paint jobs are just above average
-The flight stands seem to be on the flimsy side
-Ruler-based measurement can be a turn off to some people.

If you like miniatures games, get this today. It's simply one of the best examples of a mature, well conceived design in recent history. There are a tremendous amount of reasons to buy this game, and the only things I think that might take a bit of the shine off of it for some people is the price, which is a little bit high for a game of this type, and the ruler-based movement, which I love but some people might take exception to. It's simply brilliant in every way, and I cannot recommend this game highly enough. I put my money where my mouth is, too, and I think for a cheap ass like myself, this is the highest honor I can provide a game - its purchase.

5/5 Stars

Learn more about X-Wing at Fantasy Flight's page here and watch the tutorial:

Read the rules, too:

Litko's Flight Stands, which I think are superior:

Friday, March 1, 2013

Bisikle - Nothing To Do With Biking, Everything To Do With Awesome

I love to play with my family, but with the range of kids I have, not to mention a picky wife, it's not always easy to put something in front of them that will work for everyone. Too difficult or complex, my youngest gets the "deer caught in headlights" look, too simple, the rest of us get the same look. So, when a game comes along that everyone can play, and that is a complete blast, it's an epic win. Bisikle just happens to be that very game, in a big, big way.

I got this in the recent "Fortress: Ameritrash Arms Trade" math trade, from a gentleman in Pittsburgh. The box showed some significant wear and the insert was beat up. Anal retentive types might have scoffed, written a nasty note, or gone on an internet nerd rampage, but me, I took one look at it and smiled my ever-loving ass off. I knew that this game has had the hell played out of it, so it must be good. Turns out that it's not merely good, it's not just's something else. Maybe supremaswsomesaucity would be a good word to describe the qualities inherent in the game. In any event, if you don't own this game, there's probably something wrong with you. I know my buddy Mickey might have problems with it since he has MS and his hands have the dexterity of a dead box turtle. But barring some nerve damage, you really should have this game, even if you don't have kids.

Bisikle is a very rules-light racing game involving a little nickel-sized ball that's loaded with small ball bearings. It comes with a bunch of track pieces, a bunch of rails, and some obstacles. It also comes with four little bicyclist pawns and some matching flags. The track bits are basically the same as the old slot car tracks, but without the electric rails. They come in straights and curves alone, with no differentiation between them, so no special track bits like passing sections or anything. That said, the Lego factor is very high, and making crazy tracks is part of the fun.

Now, to play the game, you simply flick the ball down the track faster than the next guy until you do a lap or two, or three, or whatever the duration is set at. It's really that simple. There's maybe three rules to the game regarding knocking over people's pawn and going off the track, but that's it. Simple. That said, it's also incredibly fun, and more so because that little ball is designed in such a way that it stops on its own after a bit, and you can actually produce English on it. I've not mastered it, and my cheating little youngest always beats me, but I don't care. I just like to flick the ball and improve my technique so that I can get the ball to bend around corners or arc through the little mouse-hole obstacle. The fun in this one is really in the playing rather than in the winning.

The track is smooth, but slightly stippled, so the ball does get some traction. To my great surprise and wonderment, the ball doesn't even notice the mating joints in the track, so you really can't blame anyone but yourself if you screw the pooch on a shot. Included in the set are little risers, of which there are far too few, which allow you to do a loop if you desire. I would've preferred a four-way intersection, personally, but it is what it is. The game also comes with a mouse-hole barrier and a jump, both of which have nothing to do with bicycle racing and everything to do with awesome. This circumvents my desire to make loops since I can, instead, just have the track stop at an intersection and force players to jump over it. The upshot is that everything in the box exudes awesome, especially if you like games that can be played by everyone.

Apparently the bicycling theme didn't go over well, because they made another game, RoadZters, which is identical in every way except that instead of bicyclist pawns, there's little car pawns. I mean, completely identical in every way other than that. In a way, I'm glad the game doesn't have 20 expansion packs because if it did, I'd be poor. After owning this game for a relatively short period of time, I can tell you with absolute certainty that I prefer this over Pitchcar, and that I'd have ordered every available expansion already. Luckily, the only expansions are 'more of the same', with the exception of the "high grip Zball", of which I've ordered two already so that my oldest daughter can have an easier time stopping the ball on the track, rather than down the hall by the dog bowl.

All I can tell you is that if you like games like Pitchcar, Catacombs, Ascending Empires, Crokinole, or Sorry Sliders, due to their heavy dexterity aspects, this game may very well be for you. It's bad ass in every way, and while it doesn't have the same amount of variation that Pitchcar has, it's about half the price.  It's simply a game that requires nuance and skill to be good at, but requires nothing but a pulse to really enjoy. Get it while you can still find it, or trade for it if someone will come off of it.

Why I Want To Ride My Bisikle, I Want To Ride My Bike:
- Unique dexterity game using a very unique marble
- So rules light it's ridiculous
- Great quality bits, and I mean truly great
- Has a very high concentration of supremaswsomesaucity
- The "price to value" proposition is very good

Why This Game Needs To Juice Up Like Lance:
- There are not enough unique track styles or risers for loops
- 10-speed bicyclists with $10,000 bikes do not take wicked jumps
- No room in the box to add more track sections, which are sold separately, in bags

If you like dexterity games, or if you want a cheaper alternative to Pitchcar, this is a must-have game. The only downsides are that the theme is not all that important to the game and that there's simply not enough unique track styles. If you want a different theme, go with RoadZters; it's the same game, but with cars.

4.25/5 Stars 

Learn more about Bisikle here: