Thursday, March 28, 2013

Well, that explains the dust...

I'm working on clearing away all the tumbleweeds and cobwebs here in order to make room for International TableTop Day coverage.  I'm extremely excited for this event (as if I needed another reason to swoon over Felicia Day) and will be working at my Friendly Local Game Store to run demos and organize the chaos.  I think it's going to be a blast!

In the meantime, please check out the first episode of Tabletop Bebop.  I got together with Naki (from All Things Good & Nerdy) and Sean (from An Elegant Weapon) and we broke down the Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game.  This will be a monthly affair and we've got our sights set on Sentinels of the Multiverse for April's episode!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Living Card Games

Several years ago, Fantasy Flight Games introduced a new method for distributing card games.  They acquired the licenses for the Call of Cthulhu and Game of Thrones collectible card games and rebranded them as Living Card Games.  The idea was simple - produce high quality, competitive card games using unique licenses and mechanics without the need for random booster packs.  This is accomplished by releasing smaller, monthly expansions with a fixed variety of cards - every player who buys a chapter/battle/data/asylum pack knows that they're getting the exact same cards as everyone else who bought the same pack.  With a fixed and card pool, deckbuilding and competitive play becomes less about who can afford the rarest, most powerful cards and more about who can use the card pool to create the most powerful deck.

For the most part, the system works incredibly well.  Monthly releases of fixed cards end up being cheaper than their collectible counterparts.  Players can swing by their local game store to get the latest cards and tweak existing decks or use their new options to try something completely new.  Game stores can profit from consistent monthly purchases and new players can start playing any of the LCGs knowing that there is a fixed card pool with little to no secondary market for purchasing single, powerful rare cards at outrageous prices.  With new games like Android: Netrunner and the Star Wars Card Game, players can easily get every card in the set on a regular basis without resorting to buying boxes (or cases) of booster packs

The system isn't perfect, though.  For long running games like Game of Thrones or Call of Cthulhu, the monthly releases over the years have created massive card pools.  New players looking to start these older games have to sift through dozens of packs and expansions to put a deck together.  Without guidance from sites such as Card Game DB, this can be very daunting.  Competitive play is also a challenge.  While there is a vibrant tournament community for LCGs, my own personal experience trying to get regular play days for Game of Thrones at my local game store has been a rocky road.  With games like Magic: the Gathering offering programs like Friday Night Magic, the Organized Play kits that retailers can order from Fantasy Flight pale in comparison.

For my money (in this case, literally), the benefits of the LCG system far outweigh the drawbacks.  I like knowing exactly how much I'm going to be spending on a game and having something that is regularly expanded upon helps satisfy the itch of playing a game that grows and changes as time goes on.  Despite needing players and organizers to put a little more effort into it, the Organized Play system from FFG has some great rewards and is growing more and more each year.  The LCG system is definitely working and I look forward to seeing more releases both from FFG and from other companies that might look to imitate the format.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

First Impressions: Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner Game

I recently had the opportunity to run a few friends through the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner Game by Fantasy Flight Games.  While I'm not quite ready for a full review, I thought I'd discuss what I liked, what I didn't like and what I'm wary on.

For starters, the components are excellent.  The pre-generated character folios have some great full color art right on the front.  It's easy to look at Oskara, the Twi'lek bounty hunter or 41-VEX, the droid colonist and get a good impression of what to expect from the character.

A nice spread of all the Beginner Game's components - look at them folios!
The proprietary dice are very nice, high quality polyhedrons in a set of color blind friendly shapes and colors that make them very easy to distinguish from one another.  The game also comes with a staggering array of cardboard tokens to represent player characters, non-player characters and ships as well as a full-color, double sided map.  Really, the only complaint I have with the components is with the box it all comes in.  I'm not sure if Fantasy Flight was just thinking folks would toss the box and keep all the tokens and dice in bags, but it's probably the flimsiest cardboard I've seen from them outside of their Print on Demand line of mini-expansions.

The adventure itself is a very simple affair.  It's extremely linear and introduces game mechanics slowly from encounter to encounter.  The core mechanic of the game is in building dice pools based on your character's abilities and proficiencies.  Once the pool is complete, players roll and see if they can get more success symbols than failure symbols.  If so, then they've succeeded and whatever task they were attempting.  However, the dice also have symbols such as Threat, Advantage, Despair and Triumph which have no direct affect on whether a roll succeeds, but may change the situation around a given roll.  The adventure slowly integrates new options for interpreting these additional symbols.

The varied results of the dice pool mean that a GM has to be on their toes to react and explain the action based on what is rolled, but the Beginner Game has plenty of tables and charts to easily identify all the options available to players and GMs alike.  The game also has a fantastic initiative system which allows players to decide who goes in which initiative slot during combat - a subtle change from more traditional RPGs that I think will have a positive effect on players all around.

So where do I stand?  Well, I'm definitely excited to play some more.  I haven't had this good of a time roleplaying in the Star Wars universe since Wizards of the Coast's Saga Edition.  I have a good track record with Fantasy Flight's RPGs and this one has potential.  I love the dice system and how it opens up a lot of options for players and GMs to interpret the dice pool.  However, I am anxious to see the rules for character creation and how deep they go.  Additionally, I have no idea how the Force is going to be handled and that can make or break any Star Wars game.

The core rulebook has a nebulous release date of "somewhere in the second quarter of 2013".  I've got one on preorder at my friendly local gaming store, but until then I'll be running a few more sessions with the Beginner Game contents just to put it through its paces and test these core mechanics backwards and forwards.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

I'll choose the purple ships. Blue? Wait... Teal?

If you were to sit down and play a game with me, the odds are pretty good that you'd learn something about my genetics.  If said game had different colored pieces for each player, you'd notice that I tend to go for either black, white or something very prominent like yellow.  The reason for this is because I suffer from deuteranomoly, commonly known as red-green color blindness.   For me, colors like reds & greens or blues & purples have a tendency to blend together, making them tough to distinguish from one another.  This can make some games frustrating to play if hues are too similar or if the lighting in our play area is too dim.

Some facts about color blindness 

Someone who is color blind is often thought of as not being able to distinguish any colors at all - seeing the world in black, white and gray.  In reality, the vast majority of people classified as being "color blind" can see colors, but they are often skewed or tend to blend together.  Red-green color blindness is the most common form.  It occurs in approximately 8% of the male population, 0.5% of the female population and accounts for 99% of all color blindness.  After that is blue-yellow color blindness which is only present in approximately 0.01% of the entire human population.  Total color blindness is a very rare and serious vision condition which inflicts roughly 0.003% of the entire human population.

From Left to Right - Original Image, Deuteranope (red-green) Simulation, Protanope (blue-yellow) Simulation

Now, here's an example.  Most of you should be able to tell the difference in these images.  I, on the other hand, have a hard time distinguishing the left and center images from each other at all and the rightmost image is just slightly different.  As you can imagine, this kind of deficiency can throw a serious wrench in gaming since so many games rely on colorful iconography to relay important information.

Dealing with deficiency

In most cases, my red-green problem is just a minor inconvenience, but color blindness of any type presents a unique challenge for game designers and can become an issue for groups of players who have one or more color blind individuals among them.  One of the best positive examples of this is the Ticket to Ride by Days of Wonder.

I won't go into a huge breakdown of the rules for Ticket to Ride, but there is a fair amount of color matching that needs to be done between the cards and the different train routes.  In addition, each player has a unique set of colored trains that they use to mark who has claimed which route.  It can be a huge mess and, in fact, I have a really hard time playing the mobile app Ticket to Ride Pocket because the greens and oranges tend to blend together.  However, Days of Wonder has made the boardgame itself (and the iPad version of the app) much more color blind friendly by including shapes on the route spaces that correspond to shapes printed on the cards, making it easier for me to match them to each other.

Where shapes are impractical (perhaps your game has too much iconography as it is), then bright primary colors can succeed.  Runewars by Fantasy Flight Games is a great example.  The 4 different factions in this empire-building wargame are light blue, dark purple, red and green.  Having a lighter blue against the darker purple makes them easier to distinguish from one another and the red and green pieces are colored using very stark, bright hues.

A selection of components from the Runewars: Banner of War expansion
Boardgamegeek is also chock-full of resources for various games to make them more color blind friendly.  Usually, these take the form of reference sheets or alternate component lists.  Last but not least, if you have any type of color blindness or know someone who does and it seems like a game company hasn't taken this into consideration, contact them!  Most game companies appreciate any sort of feedback that will help them make future releases more attractive to prospective players.

Some helpful links

This humble article could have easily turned into a discourse on ocular genetics.  The subject is pretty fascinating, so here are just a few links to websites where you can learn more!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Blood on the Pavement: A Warhammer 40K Battle Report

The Introduction

Yesterday, I made a post about an upcoming game of Warhammer 40,000.  My White Scars Space Marines were set to take on a strike force of Grey Knights in small, 500 point skirmish.  Last night, the battle was fought and, well...  It was a very bloody affair.  What follows is a brief battle report with pictures illustrating the final position and casualties of each unit at the bottom of each players turn.

Disclaimer: I apologize in advance if I flub any rules explanations or unit abilities.  I have very little experience with my opponent's army and my notes from last night are very brief.  In addition, I'm still learning the 6th edition of Warhammer 40K and I might just be dead wrong.  Also, these armies are both works-in-progress so please forgive us for incomplete and unpainted miniatures.

The Armies

In my post from yesterday, I laid out my White Scars army list.  I made one slight change before playing and swapped out the Land Speeder Storm for a standard Land Speeder.  This was largely due to the fact that my Storm model wasn't completely built yet, but also because I didn't think my Scouts would need a transport and the regular Land Speeder is slightly more survivable.

My opponent fielded a tiny, yet elite strike force of Grey Knights.  These guys are very expensive (points-wise), but have a lot of tricks up their sleeves and some of the most devastating weaponry in the game.  His total model count was 7 (compared to my 12) and his list looked something like this - 

HQ: Grey Knight Captain 
  • Terminator Armor
  • Master-Crafted Nemesis Force Halberd
  • Master-Crafted Storm Bolter

TROOPS: Grey Knight Strike Squad

  • Psycannon
  • Justicar w/ Nemesis Force Halberd

HEAVY SUPPORT: Dreadknight

  • Heavy Incinerator
  • Heavy Psycannon

My main concern going into the game was the Dreadknight.  I had the melta weapons to pierce his ridiculous armor, but the damn thing isn't a vehicle and has a Toughness value).  That's a tough nut to crack and I deployed my army with the intention to try and drop the Dreadknight as quick as possible.

The Set-Up

Our mission for this game was The Emperor's Will and our Battlefield deployment was Dawn of War.  My Captain secured the Warlord trait of Master of the Vanguard (which unfortunately never came into play) and my opponent's Captain gained the Intimidating Presence Warlord trait (which he did get to use, but was not effective).  We placed objective markers, but I'm going to spoil a bit of the battle and reveal that they never came into play - you can, however, see them at the top and bottom of the right side of the battlefield (represented by servo-skull markers).

My White Scars are lined up on the bottom of each of the pictures below.  As you can see in this first one, I threw my bike squad and captain (he's the biker with no head and all the metal bits on him) dead center to face off against "Legs" McGee, the Dreadknight.  My plan was to have them drive up, pour a TON of bolter and meltagun fire into the thing, slag it and then loop around to charge into the Strike Squad that was being accompanied by the Grey Knight Captain.  My Scouts  set themselves up in a high perch which gave them line of sight to damn near everything on the battlefield (lower right, in the building) and my Land Speeder hid behind that big rock column (lower left) to avoid being blown away on the first turn by the Dreadknight's big guns or massed small-arms fire from the Strike Squad (which you can see in the top left, coming out of the ruined building).

My Captain and 2 other bikers got clipped off the bottom of this pic, but I swear they're there.

The Battle

On his first turn, my opponent marched his Grey Knights forward.  No fancy maneuvers here - he just closed the distance.  Afterwards, shots from the Strike Squad were able to ice one of my bikers.  Not a great start, but I still had my meltaguns!  Thankfully, he was still too far off to attempt to engage me in hand-to-hand combat during his Assault Phase.

For my first turn, I moved my bikes up and set the Land Speeder off to the lower left hand corner of the board.  For the Speeder, my goal was to keep the Strike Squad within range of my heavy bolter, while staying out of their range.  Unfortunately, the Speeder's shots were ineffective.  My bikes, on the other hand, did better (but not great).  Their melta weapons were able to inflict a single wound on the Dreadknight.  My scouts also took a few potshots at the lumbering pair of legs, but their high-tech sniper rifles were unable to find an exploitable chink in its armor.

Moving into the Assault Phase, I realized that my bikes were a little too close.  One of the things I like best about 6th edition is that players are now free to pre-measure distances at any time and had I taken proper advantage of this, I could have brought my melta weapons to bear and given myself enough space to avoid a counter charge during my opponents next Assault Phase.  As it stood, I tried charging into the Dreadknight to at least avoid getting kicked to death.  With it's crazy high Toughness, my bikers would've needed to roll 6's to do any damage on the lumbering behemoth.

This is where the tide of luck started to turn for me as I ended up failing to roll an adequate charge distance and lock the Dreadknight down.  My biker just sat in the middle of the road looking fearsome.

And another case where I couldn't quite capture the whole field.  My Land Speeder is off to the lower left, out of frame.

As you can see, the bad luck didn't stop at my failed charge.  Though the Grey Knights had similar misfortune in their own charge attempts, their ranged weapons reaped a heavy toll on my Captain and his squad.  I lost another biker and my all-important Attack Bike (with it's mounted heavy weapon).  Oh!  And my Land Speeder got plinked and lost one of it's hull points.


At this point, I needed to make a desperate gamble - so I veered off to the left with the bikes and charged the Strike Squad.  Before the melee commenced, I took a few shots with the Land Speeder, the snipers and my bikes, but was unable to cause any casualties.  My Captain challenged the Grey Knight Captain and the two of them ended up locked in combat for the rest of the game.  Unfortunately, the rest of the Strike Squad made short work of the 2 bikes that had bravely charged in alongside their commander.

And this is what the board looked like right before my Captain finally succumbed to the onslaught of the Grey Knights.  Two rounds of concentrated shooting with the Dreadknight's heavy weapons made short work of my Scouts and the Landspeeder proved unequal to the task of mowing the bipedal death machine down with it's heavy bolter.

Though my Captain fought valiantly, he was only able to deal a single wound to his Grey Knight counterpart before his luck finally ran out and he was brought low with a mighty halberd swing.

The Conclusion

They say that defeat is the great teacher and...well, I definitely learned a lot from this game.  Grey Knights?  They're tough.  Like, super tough.  I was not expecting those 6 men to last as long as they did and the Dreadknight is going to haunt my dreams for a while.  If I could change anything up, I'd likely drop the Scouts and the Land Speeder for a regular old squad of Space Marines on foot (or in a Rhino transport, if I had the points) to get more guns (and, like, a missile launcher or something) on the ground and force my opponent to attempt more armor saves.

Despite some awful dice and being all but tabled, I still had a lot of fun with this game and can't wait to start painting my models and building the army up beyond a mere 500 points.  I hope you guys enjoyed this battle report and that you'll leave a comment or drop me a line with some feedback.  I'd love to do more of these (for Warhammer, X-Wing or any other games)!

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Very Special Training Exercise, starring Khajiun Khan

I've never tried my hand at a battle report before, but I've got a game of Warhammer 40K tonight and I think I might give it a spin.  My friend Ken and I will be throwing down with 500pts using the latest 6th edition rules.  He will be playing a small strike force of Grey Knights and I'll be bringing my savage White Scars to bear.

Several of my friends and I have been playing these small games using a modified Force Organization chart (requiring only 1 Troops choice as opposed to 2) in order to acclimate ourselves to 6th edition.  My own experience with 40K is tumultuous (I've only rarely ever had a field-able army), but I've been entrenched in the setting since the game's 3rd edition.  For my money (quite literally), 6th has been a very tight, comprehensive system that captures all the great elements that past versions have waxed and waned on.  Heroes are incredibly heroic and powerful without being armies unto themselves.  Core units of troops are essential for every army to secure and hold objectives.  Vehicles are now neither wafer thin nor mandatory mobile cover.  It all fits together rather well.

When the call went out to start playing again, I had just sold my 5th edition Ork army.  I thought long and hard about picking the Greenskins up again as they are easily my favorite part of any Games Workshop intellectual property, but I didn't want to have to struggle with list building like I did in 5th edition and I certainly wasn't prepared or motivated to build and paint a massive amount of foot-slogging boyz from scratch.  No, for this I wanted something more compact and elite.  As it happens, I'd been pumping out a few characters for Fantasy Flight's Deathwatch rpg and I had really come to love and appreciate the White Scars chapter of Space Marines.  There's a lot I could say about the Scars from a cultural/historical perspective, but that might get a little wordy and stray off topic (cultural appropriation in Space Marine chapters has got to be covered by someone somewhere).  Suffice it to say that I love Genghis Khan as a historical figure and the thought of a massive army of unrestrained Space Marines on bikes appealed to me.

So, I got my hands on a Dark Angels Ravenwing Battleforce (because it is essentially a bike army in a box) and set to work.  I was lucky enough to score some old White Scars bits off eBay and a few friends helped me scrounge up the bitz I wanted to start adding a Mongol horde flavor to the army.  So far, I haven't gone too crazy, but it's a start.  After playing a few games, I've settled on a list that incorporates as many bikes as I can reasonably fit in 500 points.

HQ: Space Marine Captain

  • Space Marine bike
  • Lightning claw
  • Lightning claw

TROOPS: Scout Squad

  • Sniper rifles

TROOPS: Space Marine Bike Squad

  • 2x additional bikers
  • 2x Meltaguns
  • Attack bike
    • Multi-Melta

FAST ATTACK: Land Speeder Stor

I have actually gone ahead and thrown in the mandatory HQ and 2 Troops choices required by the standard Force Organization Chart despite the house rules requiring just 1 Troops choice for this size game.  I used Sniper Scouts in one of my test games and was really impressed with them (and the new plastic models).  They make a nice long range addition to the bike squad that has to get up close and personal to get the most out of their devastating melta weapons.  The Land Speeder Storm isn't really necessary as a transport for the scouts, but it gets me a nice mounted heavy bolter and is very characterful for an army that is highly mobile in the fluff.

Now, I'm not sure what my opponent will be fielding tonight, but last I talked with him he had a list that had a Captain, a 5-man Grey Knight Strike Squad,  and a Dreadknight.  This is a tiny, tiny army and I will have an unusual numerical advantage, but the Grey Knights are tough and the Dreadknight is scary - I mean look at it!  If this is the army I end up facing, then my plan will be to secure any objectives with the scouts and pepper his Strike Squad with sniper rifle fire with support from the Land Speeder Storm.  The bikers, meanwhile, will swing wide to slag the Dreadknight with melta fire before charging into whatever remains of the Strike Squad and/or Captain.

Tonight, I'll be taking pics and notes for a full battle report which should be up on Saturday.  Since the White Scars and Grey Knights are both Imperial forces, this is just a "training exercise" from a fluff standpoint, but I hope I can lock down a victory 

For the Khan and the Emperor!

Monday, December 31, 2012

Ryanuary Begins

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to guest host on the All Things Good & Nerdy podcast where we discussed the upcoming "Ryanuary" extravaganza.  Throughout the course of January, I'll be acting as the 4th chair on the show and delivering hard-hitting tabletop news, reviews and commentary.

I'll probably also go into the ATGN Trademarked "Super Dick Mode" about component quality, box control and Games Workshop's specialist game support.