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Wednesday, 25 November 2009

A Runebound Ramble

That Disastrous Second Game

Ok, so I’m going to start out by pointing out, I (and by I, I mean my team) won the first game, the fact that I lost the second game is not the reason it was a disaster :P !

Firstly there were five of us with two of us playing on the same team. My littlest brother has a form of Cerebral Palsy called Worster Drought Syndrome, so the mechanics in Runebound are a little beyond him, but the story telling element is something he loves! So while I got to make levelling up decisions he rolled the dice and took credit for killing stuff.

So what went wrong? I feel the problem was three fold:

  1. As I mentioned last week, the erratum for this game is very important. Losing your experience gems is really bad for you. We reached the stage where people could kill enough stuff to get 3 experience points but would die, losing those points and not being strong enough to take on the remaining adventures.
  2. All of the Events came one after the other. Due to poor shuffling after the first game, the events ended up next to each other, somehow, amazingly, they were drawn in quick succession from the green, yellow and blue decks, meaning that the adventure gems were not replenished in an equal fashion throughout the game.
  3. The final reason was that the players were over eager. Having already played the game before, they lost the cautious nature they fostered during the first game. Players moved on up to higher level gems long before they were ready, losing weapons, gold and experience in the process.

The game finally collapsed through player frustration. Unable to level up and unable to defeat the remaining challenges three of us dropped out, leaving only my younger brother (but not youngest as he had to go to bed). He uncovered Margath and reduced the Dragon Lord to a single wound before Margath’s fiery breath spelt out THE END in Mad Carthos’ charred remains.

A Quick Fix

Other than shuffling the events into the decks properly, what else can I do to fix the problems when playing multiplayer Runebound? Here’s what I tried. Please note most of these suggestions come from this document from Board Game Geek.

  1. Faster Levelling Up – Instead of 4 points each level will now cost 3 experience points.
  2. Inexpensive Healing – 1 Gold heals all your wounds in town.
  3. Starting Equipment – Each player starts with one 1 gold item/ally, the remaining 1 gold items/allies are distributed equally to the markets.
  4. Recovered Treasure – After losing a combat, you discard your highest value item/ally as usual, but it is placed with the challenge that defeated you and may be recovered by whoever defeats the challenge.
  5. Pass the Dice – Always let the next player roll their dice and plan their movement while you enjoy your turn.

And?

So, how did that work out for me? Well we got the playing time down to under 3 hours. However over cautiousness returned, which probably lengthened the game, as players tried to avoid fighting harder monsters, fighting and killing greens long after they stopped needing to roll to hit them.

It’s odd, but no one (other than me) seems to opt to take the +1 wound or +2 stamina upgrades, I wondered if this is generally true in most people’s games of Runebound.

I’m hoping as familiarity with the rules increases and decision making becomes second nature that we will shave a further hour off the playing time.

Game 4

Now, two games after changing to the faster ruleset we’ve got the playing time down to just 2 hours. Also the game was much closer too as all the players had dragon runes. My team won with two dragon runes and Margath in a nail biting fight that came down to the wire.

Really good fun! Glad I persisted through the initial problems because now we’re all having fun!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Good News

The Unboxed Reviews button is now up and I’ve finally gotten round to fixing the Rambles button so it’s actually the right size… Ok, probably not very exciting news for you guys, but its a big win for me!

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Runebound

Ok, so earlier this year I started researching games for my Birthday,  mainly using Tom Vasel and The Dice Tower as a resource. After much weighing up of options and switching things around I managed to work out what I felt was the perfect mix of presents for Birthday and Christmas and I was really happy that I managed to squeeze both Seafarers and Runebound into my budget.

However after buying everything and wrapping it up, (I know very sad) I began to read more reviews on Board Game Geek. I could find very few people who enjoy this game with four or more (there are potentially five people in my family who would be playing) and I began to worry. This, coupled with the fact that my family can occasionally suffer from analysis paralysis, left me feeling terrified that this game would be more torturous than our nightly outings in the world of Talisman.

So now we’ve played twice… I’ll tell you how that went a little later on… but first, lets take a look at the concept.

Fantasy Adventure

So I bought Runebound because I love fantasy, in particular D&D, but most of the fantasy boardgames we own are from my own childhood and are now either too dated or too simplistic for me to enjoy. To give you an example we own Dark World, Heroquest and Dungeon. I hoped that Runebound would offer a more strategic fantasy quest that would satisfy my appetite, without excluding the members of my family that cannot comprehend complex rules.

So Runebound is a fantasy adventure where you take control of an ambiguously heroic character and attempt to stop Vorakesh from resurrecting the Dragon Margath. Each turn is like a session in D&D, while the game as a whole is comparable to a campaign.

Gameplay

The game, I think, is pretty simple. In fact I didn’t bother to explain the rules for the first game and just supplied the relevant information as we went through. Each character, monster and ally in the game has the same statistics, so once you can read one card you can read any of them. These statistics are Mind, Body and Spirit, however, as can be a little confusing, these also double up as Ranged, Melee and Magic combat. Each hero and ally also has stamina. As you power abilities or fail skill tests you will take exhaustion, if you have more exhaustion than stamina then you will start to take wound damage instead. All heroes, monsters and allies, have a number of wounds, if they take wounds equal to or exceeding their total they die, or are knocked out in the case of heroes.

The object of the game is to move about the board defeating challenges until you are powerful enough to defeat 3 dragon lords or Margath himself. You move by rolling 5 custom dice with different terrain symbols on them. If you or an ally is wounded you roll only 4 dice. The challenges themselves are colour coded based on how difficult they are. Green is easiest, followed by yellow, blue and then red.

Each deck of adventure cards contains 3 types of cards. Events, these effect everyone. Encounters, these are generally quests your hero can undertake, most give benefits for success, but some give a penalty for failure. And Challenges, these are monsters, sometimes with a skill challenge proceeding them. On your turn, if you end your turn on the same space as an adventure counter, you draw cards from the correct deck and resolve them until you resolve a challenge, then play passes to the next player. 

You also have the option of visiting towns to get healed and buying items.

Combat in the game is pretty straight forward. You begin by resolving any “Before Combat” effects the challenge has, then any “Before Combat” abilities your heroes or allies wish to use. Then combat ensues. There are three phases to each combat round. Each challenge has a mind, body and spirit result. You roll 2 ten sided dice and add your appropriate stat in each phase, if you beat the challenge number for that phase you either defend or inflict damage, depending on whether you were defending or attacking in that phase. You may only attack in one of the three phases, so you must defend in the other two. Once you inflict enough damage you defeat the challenge and take the experience points for it. Experience points can then be exchanged for bonuses to mind, body, spirit, stamina or wounds.

Repeat until you defeat three dragon lords or Margath. 

Important Erratum

So far we’ve played twice and it wasn’t until after the second game that I thought to check the FAQ. Had I done so before the second game, I don’t think it would have been abandoned!

After your hero is knocked out, despite what it says in the rulebook, you do not lose all your unspent experience points.

A Long Trek in the Wilderness

So, what did I think of the game? Well, technically I haven’t actually played it. In both games that were played I acted as a living rulebook, playing on my little brothers team to help him, but I still think I got enough of a feel for the game to pass judgement.

Firstly, it is long… too long! Our first game was over four hours but the second game ran to nearly six before it was abandoned (more on that next week). Depending on what you want from a game, I don't think this is a bad thing, but the way we play games as a family, it was just too long. However, there are ways to fix the length, check back next week to see what I intend to try.

The game itself is enjoyable. I like the way the dice work, how you can opt to not roll to automatically move to the next square or roll fewer dice to recover your stamina. Combat is interesting because, unlike, for example, Talisman you can’t just boost one stat and hope because, in each fight, you have to fight in Ranged, Melee and Magic. I really like the event cards and how they affect the entire kingdom. I also like the encounters and the way they give you quests to make your travelling a little less aimless.

There a couple of things I didn’t like. The spread of monsters seems limited. I think, because there is no difference between which cards you draw in the mountains and the plains and forests I would have preferred a more diverse group of enemies, rather than just ferrox, undead and dragons. I realise that this is why there are so many expansions, but I just wish the core set had more variety. Also the gap in difficulty between the yellow cards and the blue cards seems too big, but that’s a minor gripe.

I have read a lot of complaints about things in Runebound. The characters for one thing. I personally have nothing against them, the art is nice, the cards are a good enough size, all the information is on them and they feel balanced and varied to me. However the major complaint people seem to have about this game is the fact that there is little interaction between players. To me this didn’t seem to be a problem. We play games as a family and there was plenty of chatter as we played and for the first few hours everyone was having fun. The game is certainly affected by having other players involved, as encounter gems disappear quickly and you are forced travel further a field. 

Unboxed

The core game of Runebound contains:

12 Hero Cards
84 Adventure Cards (35 green, 25 yellow, 16 blue, 8 red)
84 Market Cards (29 Allies, 55 Items)
12 Plastic Heroes
60 Wound Counters
54 Exhaustion Counters
58 Adventure Counters (22 green, 16 yellow, 11 blue, 9 red)
60 Experience Counters
6 Undefeated Challenge Counters
50 Gold Counters (28 one-gold, 12 five-gold, 10 ten-gold)
8 Doom Counters
2 Ten-sided Dice
5 Movement Dice
1 Game Board
1 Rulebook

This is a reasonable amount of stuff, although I find it odd that the market deck is the same size as the adventure deck. I feel it could have been smaller with a more varied selection of adventure cards. The tokens are, as always, wonderful, thick, colourful and practical. The heroes are woefully poor when compared with other games, but as a miniature gamer maybe I’m just picky. The dice are great too, really nicely designed, but they are a little big, but that’s nothing major. The board is beautiful and small enough to fit on most tables, with places for all the cards printed on it. The cards, too, are nice and thick, with great art and simple, easy to understand text that tells a great story.

Conclusion

Despite all the bad things and the second game being abandoned, which I will talk about next week, I really like this game and I can see a huge amount of potential in it. The components live up to FFG’s high standard. The amount of support this game has been given, in the form of expansions, is superb. The theme is great and I really enjoyed just watching the game unfold, can’t wait until everyone is comfortable enough with the rules for me to actually join in.

Next week I’ll be Rambling about what rules changes I intend to implement to speed the game up and what it was that went so disastrously wrong to cause the second game to be abandoned. Check back soon and until then, keep on gaming!  

Friday, 13 November 2009

As Promised

I’ve been a busy little bee today, mainly because I have nothing better to do and I’m stuck on the side of stage with an internet connection.

So here are the updates. I’ve added the Christmas List to the sidebar just so you all know what to expect reviews about in the coming year. I’m hoping to have a few games of Runebound before wednesday, so I may have a review by then… maybe…

I have also finally put up the Review List, when I get a free moment I’ll build a flash button for the side bar to link to it, meanwhile there is a text link just below the Christmas List. Obviously I recognise that it’s pretty empty as it stands, but I’ll fill it up, I promise, just bare with me. Also the links in the review list are the only links on the site that don’t link to IGUK’s product pages… because that would be stupid!

If you have any comments about the organisation of this blog or anything you think I should add, feel free to mention it and I’ll see what I can do!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

First Flight of Fantasy

Ok, so the title isn’t exactly accurate. This week I’m going to be “unboxing” my birthday presents, Munchkin 3, Seafarers of Catan and Runebound. Runebound was going to be my first Fantasy Flight Game, however the release of Warhammer: Invasion changed all that… but, for arguments sake, lets just pretend Runebound was my first FFG game…

Runebound

What follows for each of these games is simply my first impressions, as yet, I have not had enough free time to indulge in playing any of them.  

Opening the box for Runebound reminds me of those Christmas mornings as a child. All the components are wrapped in that plastic that children cannot open with adult supervision. Everything needs to be carefully pushed free from those thick sheets of cardstock FFG use for all their games tokens. Once you rip off the plastic you are presented with a beautiful board and some fantastic looking cards.

Already I’m excited about this game and the customisable potential contained within. I can see how you might add an Overlord player to the game to give certain regions more flavour by designing actual adventures. Adding new hexes to the game to bring in new special areas to explore and obviously adding the published expansion card sets FFG has produced itself.

The last few days have been long and boring, stuck at work without much to do, so I’ve been reading every review of this game on BGG and because of this I’m now a little unsure about the game. Most people seem to love it, but as a solo experience. However with my family, there will be at least 4 if not 5 players, which apparently is terrible for down time. However my parents are slow decision makers at the best of times and I worry that this game will become torturous to play with them. However all my reading pointed me towards some exciting looking alterations, particularly the Cities of Adventure variants.

However I’m still excited about it. Some things in the game are a little disappointing. The figures are really quite poor quality in my opinion. The board too, seems smaller than I thought it would be. The rest of the components however are superb. I read a few complaints about the cards not being thick enough, but as I read through them I often had to check two weren’t stuck together because they felt too thick to be singles. I, like a few people, replaced the encounter gems with Elderich Gems, for less than £5 and so the game is now looking really nice. Can’t wait to play it this weekend.

Munchkin 3 – Clerical Errors

I should probably explain before I start that I am not the world’s biggest fan of Munchkin. I find it a drag when played with my family, the mechanics are stiff and boring, except when played with the right people. Luckily, those people come round maybe four times a year and we have a blast and it is for them that I continue to purchase Munchkin expansions. To date I own Munchkin, Unnatural Axe, More Good Cards and Munchkin Dice.

I bought Clerical Errors for £6 including postage from Ebay and I’m really glad I did. The cards are as good, in terms of quality, as any of the Munchkin games, but this set provided me with more laugh out loud moments than any previous set as I read through them.

Many people mention the Auntie Paladin as one of the most memorable cards in the set, which, as she bends you over and spanks you for being bad, I can see why, but there are so many other good cards in this set too! I love the Duck of Many Things, which amongst its other effects has the receiver “sing a little song”. The idea of weapon attachments is great and I’m pretty sure a new concept to the game at this point. Also a card that specifically targets the Knees was a great addition for getting rid of those pesky Knee Pads of Allure!

A new Class and Race were also added to the game. The bard can Enthrall other players into helping him, as well as pick and choose treasures. The Gnomes, however, seems a little over powered for my liking. Their ability to play a monster as an enhancement seems to make them very easy to win with.

The new cards seem to feature quite a few cards that force or disallow co-operation and quite a few new high level monsters. The number of Go Up A Level Cards also increases, although quite a few now have preconditions which is an interesting change.

All in all I can see Munchkin 3 adding a lot of interest to the game, probably wont get much play out the set though until Christmas. Would really like to have a big multiplayer version of this game soon as the more players you add the better the game seems to get!

Seafarers of Catan

I’ll be honest here, Seafarers was the only game I was sure I was going to get for my birthday, the one, unchangeable option. However it was also the least exciting on the actual day. This was mainly because I’ve been playing Seafarers quite a lot on the computer version of Settlers, so it just didn’t feel like a new game when I ripped apart the shiny paper.

Now, as you’ll know from last week’s review, I already own Traders and Barbarians and I talked quite a bit about how much stuff you get with that game. The same cannot really be said for Seafarers (or Cities and Knights, which I’m getting for Christmas.) you get some extra tiles, chits and tokens and a bunch of wooden ships and that is really it. You could argue you are paying for the rules and the scenarios but they are available for free online. Considering this expansion is as expensive as the core game, it just feels a little over priced based on the components alone.

The gameplay however is a different matter. Having played some of the scenarios in the computer game against AI players I know that Seafarers adds a whole new set of challenges. It also makes it more difficult to see who is winning as it is possible to achieve multiple victory points on the same turn and go from losing player to winning player very quickly.

My unadventurous family (who in the last year have only played 3 of the T&B scenarios) will hopefully be willing to give at least the first scenario a go, but still I remain less excited about this game than the other two…

But remember, these are just first impressions and I could be wrong about all three, so keep checking back for reviews on these and plenty of other games over the coming weeks. Also, look out for an update to the sidebar if you want to know what games I’m getting for Christmas and by extension, what I’m most likely to review in the new year! 

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Traders and Barbarians of Catan: Variants

Next week is my birthday, so expect a whole of host of Unboxed reviews on my new games, but for now I’m going to do a part review on one of my Christmas presents from last year, Traders and Barbarians of Catan.

In my opinion Traders and Barbarians is one of the best expansions for Settlers of Catan because the box offers a massive selection of new options, variants and scenarios. In fact there is so much stuff in the box, to try and talk about all of it in a single review would be a mistake. So over the coming year I will post up sporadic reviews of the various elements of the game.

This week I’m going to start with the four Variants included in this box. These are as follows:

The Friendly Robber

Now, I’d just like to say I haven't used this variant. “When a “7” is rolled or a Knight Card is played, the robber may not be moved to a terrain hex that is adjacent to a settlement of a player who only has 2 victory points. If, because of this rule, the robber has no valid terrain hex to move to, the robber moves to (or remains on) the desert hex. In this case, a Resource Card may not be taken from any player who only has 2 victory points. When using this rule, you still lose half of your Resource Cards when a “7” is rolled and you have more than 7 Resource Cards.”

The variant is really designed to be used for families with children, although parents who pick on children who are losing are really playing games for the wrong reason. To be honest this variant would seem to cause more problems than it fixes. Playing the robber on a losing player’s land is usually not beneficial.So as long as all playersimage play tactically soundly the variant should have little effect on game play.

Event Cards

Released (as many parts of T&B were) as a separate add-on for the core game the Event Cards replace the use of dice in the game. I’ve played this variant a few times and I quite enjoy it. Essentially there is a deck of 37 cards, one for each possible dice combination, plus a “New Year” card which causes the deck to be reshuffled. Instead of rolling the dice you draw a card. Some cards just have a number while other cards have a number and an event. Five cards are dealt face down, then the “New Year” card is played face down on top, with the rest of the deck on top of that. You continue to play the game as normal until the “New Year” card is drawn and then the deck is reshuffled and set up exactly as above.

The reason for the Event Cards was really to appease those players who hated the randomness of dice rolls. For example, building on an 8 or a 6 should be really useful, but if the dice don’t fall your way it can be frustrating. For those who like the randomness of dice but want to add something different to their games the Event Cards add some interesting events, like, on a 2, everyone gets a card of their choice. It should also be noted that the Event Cards are compatible with Cities and Knights as they also feature a Red Die depiction.

I certainly wouldn’t play with Event Cards as a default option but they do add a certain level of strategy to the game as well as interesting events. However, be warned, if you play a lot of settlers you will keep looking round for those red and yellow dice and they wont be anywhere to be found, proceed at the risk of your own sanity, you  have been warned.

Harbour Master

This variant makes better use of Harbours. It has always been less advantageous to build along the coast, but now you can earn victory points for doing so. The first player to achieve 3 Harbour points (1 for a settlement, 2 for a city) is awarded the Harbour Master cardimage worth 2 Victory Points. Like with Longest Road and Largest Army another player can take the victory points by surpassing the total number of Harbour Points by the current holder of the title. The box includes a new Harbour Master card that fits perfectly with the existing bonus victory point cards.

I like this Variant, it is played to 11 victory points and in the two games we played with variant the winning player was also the Harbour Master. Coincidence? This is a particularly interesting variant to use in games where player will all try and utilise the coastline, like Fishermen of Catan or even Seafarers.

Two-Player Catan

Ok, so there is a variant 2 player version of Settlers included with T&B, with details on how to adapt the system to work with all the Scenarios and (I think) Seafarers and Cities & Knights. As I talk about the scenarios I will try and include a breakdown of how well they work with this Variant, but for now I’ll just talk about how the game works with the Core Game.

You can download the Traders and Barbarian’s rulebook here (right click “save target as”) to get the full rules for two-player Variant.

image

You will need all four colours for the game, not just two. Set up the game as usual and then place two neutral settlements (see above). As you build your own network of roads and settlements you must also expand the neutral players. For every road you build you must build one for either neutral player. For every settlement you build you must build one for either neutral player. If no legal spot exists to place a settlement you must place a road instead.

You also begin the game with 5 trade tokens. You may spend one of these to force a trade (swap 2 resources with the other player) or to move the robber. If you are winning either of these actions cost 2 tokens. You may gain 1 new token if you build on the coast, or 2 if you build on the desert, or 3 if you build on both.

image

Finally, the only other change is that on your turn you roll twice (discarding duplicate rolls) and take resources from both rolls.

Firstly, the Variant works, however… It has some problems. The double rolling slows the game down and increases the number of times the Robber moves. The five Trade Tokens you start with are rather pointless as you will spend one, then you opponent will spend one, to ping pong the robber back and forth. Also, unlike in standard Catan, once you are losing it can be difficult to get back in the game because the winning player can effectively gang up on you with the two neutral players as well.

All that said, I like being able to play Settlers two-player (although I am getting the card game for Christmas so we’ll see how that changes things.) and this Variant does have some nice elements. I like the way that you build up the neutral players, although in my experience after a few turns one neutral player gets neglected as the other is in a stronger position to cut off the opponent. The Forced Trade option is good, especially if you are losing and being able to move the robber means you don't have to waste resources to get Knights from development cards.

Conclusion?

Overall there are some interesting Variants in Traders and Barbarians, but it is the Scenarios in the box that make this such a fun expansion to the core game. combining the Scenarios and Variants however can lead to some interesting games.

Keep checking back for more Unboxed Reviews on this game and more…

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