board games

Game Night Blog Carnival: Cosmic Encounter

Fantasy Flight’s edition is definitive

This post is a part of the Game Night Blog Carnival, dedicated to games you can play when your full RPG group isn’t available.

While Dungeons &  Dragons has always been and will likely always be my favorite game of all time, it is not really what most would consider a traditional board game. While the subject of this month’s Game Night Blog Carnival entry is not what I consider the best board game, or the most balanced, or even the most mechanically interesting, it is undoubtedly my favorite. Cosmic Encounter has been one of the most heavily played games in my collection for almost two decades.

In 1994, Magic: the Gathering was all the rage. I played that game heavily (and still play some today), and probably should write about it someday, but at this time in my life, I was voraciously devouring any and all information about the game. I was reading an interview with Magic’s creator, Richard Garfield, in Dragon Magazine (if memory serves me right). Garfield mentioned two games as being influential on Magic’s design: Wiz-War (another game I should write about) and Cosmic Encounter. As a rabid fan, I promptly sought out copies of both, and grew to love them both, but especially Cosmic Encounter.

Cool 70s box art for the first Eon edition

Cosmic Encounter is a game with a long and varied history. Originally created in 1977, it has been popular enough to remain in print for most of the time since. I purchased the Mayfair edition in 1994, played it voraciously during my college years, then sold it for an outrageous price on Ebay shortly after I got married. In 2002, I obtained the Avalon Hill edition, which had amazing artwork and extremely detailed components, but a shortage of alien races. It was still fun for me and my kids to play, but when Fantasy Flight’s updated version was released a few years ago, with more aliens and cleaner rules, I didn’t delay long in picking up a set. This version hits my game table on a regular basis, but not nearly as often as I’d like.

At its core, Cosmic Encounter is a simple game. Each player takes on the role of an alien race bent on galactic conquest. Each player controls a home system of five planets, and an armada of spaceships. The object is to be the first player with five colonies in other players’ systems.

The Mayfair edition; you never forget your first!

Combat is card driven, with each player playing a card, adding in the number of ships on each side of the fight, and comparing totals. If the offense wins, they gain a colony. If the defense wins, they fight the invaders off. The choice of where to attack each turn is controlled by drawing from the Destiny deck. Other cards, like artifacts and kickers, add to the variety, but the actual mechanics of combat are elementary.

The complexity of the game, and its greatest appeal, is in the alien races. Each race has a special power that allows it to break the rules of the game in some way. The Macron is a good example; each Macron ship counts as a value of four. Thus, they are very difficult to dislodge from their home bases, and lose far fewer ships even on offense. Another good example is the Sorcerer. These tricky aliens can swap their combat cards with the opponent if they choose. Other alien powers are not as obviously strong, like the Parasite, who can choose to ally with a player even when not invited, hoping to snag a low-risk colony or more cards in the process.

The glorious bits of the Avalon Hill edition

The Fantasy Flight edition of Cosmic Encounter includes fifty alien powers, which allows for thousands of potential combinations. Each new game brings a totally different gameplay experience as a result. Often, alien powers that are strong in one context are weakened by the inclusion of other powers. For each alien race, a special flare card is shuffled in the deck, which allows for a one-shot, extremely powerful effect when used by the appropriate alien. The sheer variety in the card selection, alien powers, and number of players (up to eight with all expansions) provides a replayability factor higher than almost any other game in my collection.

Politics and table talk are a huge part of the Cosmic Encounter experience. Both sides of any battle can choose to invite allies, and allied ships count towards each side’s total. Begging for help from your neighbors when the odds are against you often works well. Then again, there’s always the chance your ally will throw the battle on purpose, causing you to lose precious ships to the warp! The inclusion of Negotiate cards allows for deal-making between players, as well. The social elements of the game truly shine, and many epic, memorable situations occur that will be the talk of your gaming group for weeks if not months.

Alien cards from the Fantasy Flight edition

I should also mention an anecdote from my childhood that is tangentially related to Cosmic Encounter. In my early teenage years, I really enjoyed the books of William Sleator, a prolific science fiction author who wrote for young adults. One of my favorite stories of his was Interstellar Pig, in which a teenaged boy was introduced to a unique board game by his mysterious neighbors. In this game, each player took on the role of a different alien race, with varying powers and abilities. When I played Cosmic Encounter for the first time in the early 90s, I was struck by the resemblance to the game in Interstellar Pig. Whether Sleator was familiar with the original version of Cosmic Encounter before Interstellar Pig’s publication in 1984 or not, the similarities are quite uncanny. I suppose the appeal of Cosmic Encounter for me is partially due to this resemblance to a beloved book from my past.

If you enjoy board games in any capacity, you absolutely must give Cosmic Encounter a try. I have played it with Euro gamers, wargamers, Magic players, and even those who only have Monopoly or Scrabble in their gaming closet. There are aspects of the game that appeal to each of these varying groups: the thrill of competition, the social element, and the sheer scope of the replayability. Cosmic Encounter may not be the greatest board game  ever, but it’s not too far from the top of that list.

board games

Game Night Blog Carnival: King of Tokyo

This post is a part of the Game Night Blog Carnival, dedicated to games you can play when your full RPG group isn’t available.

Remember those old commercials for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups? “You got chocolate in my peanut butter!” The takeaway from this goofy series of ads was that sometimes, combining two different things is absolutely delicious. Today, I’m covering a game that blends two of my favorite things: giant monster movies, and the designer of my favorite game of all time, Magic: the Gathering.

King of Tokyo is a very flavorful, light dice game, created by the great Richard Garfield. Though Garfield’s magnum opus is Magic, I’ve also enjoyed many of his other games, especially RoboRally and The Great Dalmuti. King of Tokyo, though it’s relatively new, has become one of my favorites, as well, and I’ve played quite a few games in the short time since I obtained my copy.

As you might expect from the title, King of Tokyo is all about a group of giant monsters, all duking it out in Japan’s oft-attacked capital. The monsters, represented by cardboard stand-ups, are reminiscent, if not blatant copies, of famous film creatures. There is a giant lizard, a mechanical dragon, a squid-faced monstrosity, and my favorite, a rabbit-shaped giant mecha armed with missiles, named Cyber Bunny. The characters are well illustrated in a comic-book style, and are guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of any monster movie fan.

A slick player board, with two wheels for tracking health (hearts) and victory points (stars), is provided for each monster. There are two ways to win: be the first monster to earn twenty stars, or reduce all other monsters to zero hearts. Sounds easy, right? Not so much, with a handful of other giant monsters out to do the same thing.

A set of eight custom dice are included, though only six are needed in most games. On a player’s turn, they roll the dice up to three times, keeping as many as they like after each roll, as in Yahtzee. The faces of the dice are 1,2,3, heart, claw, and energy. Rolling three of a particular number will earn the player stars (three 2s counts as two stars, for example). Hearts heal damage (unless your monster is in Tokyo; more on this later). Claws do damage to other monsters, while rolling energy awards green cubes, which can be used to purchase power up cards.

A small game board, representing Tokyo, has room for one monster in a 3 or 4 player game, or two in a 5 or 6 player game. Entering and leaving Tokyo is where the decision making really comes. If Tokyo is empty, and you roll at least one claw, you must enter Tokyo, scoring one star in the process. You score two more stars each time you begin your turn in Tokyo. However, the monsters on the outside want in, and when they roll claws, any monsters in Tokyo take damage, but can choose to flee, allowing the monster that damaged them to take the spot. It’s not all bad, though, because rolling claws while you are in Tokyo damages all the monsters on the outside. The push and pull of knowing when to stay in Tokyo, and when to leave, make for some great decision making, giving King of Tokyo a unique strategy element that elevates it higher than similar games like Zombie Dice.

Unsurprisingly, for a Richard Garfield game, the included power up cards drastically alter the shape of the game, allowing monsters to break the rules. Three cards are turned up at any given time, and if you have enough energy, you can purchase one at the end of your turn. There is a huge variety in the cards, ranging from simple things like scoring a set amount of stars, or healing a few hearts, to game-changing abilities like an extra reroll, an extra die to use, or, my favorite, a card that scores you nine stars if you roll one of each face. The cards add variety and even more significant decision making to the game.

I am totally enamored of King of Tokyo. It plays very quickly, ranging from 20 to 45 minutes, depending on the number of players. Each game feels very different; sometimes, it’s an all out brawl, others, it’s a less interactive race for stars. The theme is extremely effective, and the component quality is top notch. King of Tokyo is one of the best warm-up or filler type games I own, and I highly recommend it to any gamer.

Thanks to users Mike Hulsebus and Raiko Puust for the pictures. Check out the rest of this month’s Game Night Blog Carnival entries here.

board games

Game Night Blog Carnival: Zombie Dice 2

It’s time once again for the Game Night Blog Carnival. This month, we’re tying in Game Night with May of the Dead, and covering undead-themed games. Looking through my game closet, I didn’t really have many thematically appropriate games. I’ve already covered Ravenloft this month, so the first D&D Adventure System game, based on that classic adventure, was out. This left me Zombie Dice, a fun little “push your luck filler”, as well as it’s small expansion, the unimaginatively named Zombie Dice 2.

Zombies are well known for their insatiable appetite for the brains of the living. In Zombie Dice, players take the role of a hungry zombie, prowling the streets for humans to prey on. These humans are represented by custom dice, and come with three different faces: brains, shotgun blasts, and feet. Three different colors of dice have these faces in different ratios. Green dice have more brains and less shotguns, yellow are balanced, and red have more shotguns than brains.

It’s fun to speculate as to what types of humans you encounter when you roll; a green die might be a little old lady or a toddler, yellows might be soccer moms, and red dice could represent retired soldiers or redneck hunters. There’s no real point to such speculation, other than the fun and often hilarious stories that sometimes develop. Those soccer mom/toddler combos can be dangerous at times!

Players roll three dice at a time, and set aside any shotguns or brains. The object is to eat as many brains as you can, while avoiding a fatal third shotgun blast to your poor zombie head. Any feet that are rolled are added to the next roll, though you never toss more than three dice at a time. You can choose to stop, and add the current round’s number of brains to your running total, or get greedy and press your luck in order to get more. The first lucky zombie to obtain thirteen brains signals the end of the game, giving the rest of the undead only one more round to roll. Whichever zombie has eaten the most brains after this final round is declared the winner.

If all this sounds very simple, it’s because…well, it is. But this is a game with tons of dice and a zombie theme. It doesn’t aspire to be Agricola or anything like that. Zombie Dice is fast, fun, and a great way to open up a game night, or a nice filler in between heavier games.

On to Zombie Dice 2, then. This sequel/expansion to the original just came out in the past few weeks, so I haven’t had too much experience with it yet. Even in such a short time, I have found Zombie Dice 2 to be average at best, arguably making the base game worse, which certainly isn’t what you want from a good expansion.

Three new dice, each with unique colors and faces, are included in the package, along with a brief rules sheet. The three dice include a pair, the Hunk (white ink on black) and the Hottie (pink ink on black), as well as Santa Claus himself, represented by a red die with white ink. These unique dice represent characters you might find in a zombie movie, and swap out for yellow dice from the base game. You can use the pair alone, just Santa, or toss in all three to really mix things up.

The Hunk is a very tough guy, indeed, with a super deadly double shotgun face. This risk is balanced by the fact that he has a two-brain face, which raises questions when you think about it, so better not ponder it too long. The Hottie is not as dangerous, but much harder to capture, with an extra foot face, meaning you’ll reroll her often. A special rule for the pair adds a bit of complexity. If the Hunk has been set aside for brain harvesting already, and you roll the shotgun on the Hottie, the Hunk is freed back into the dice pool to be rolled again. The Hunk can free the Hottie in the same way. It’s certainly cute, but I’m not sure if it really adds much to the fun.

Santa Claus is one tough dude. He has the standard brain, feet, and shotgun faces, but also a double brain, a football helmet, and an energy drink. The double brains are apparently from Santa’s bag, which is creepy. The helmet lets the zombie player survive an extra shotgun blast, and the drink turns feet on green dice to brains. If you play Santa with the Hunk and the Hottie, he can rescue them, and be rescued as well. One odd quirk, though; Santa’s double brain face cannot be rescued, since they aren’t really his brains, they are gifts. Santa is even less fun than the other pair. The helmet is fine, but the odd double brain rescue rule and the energy drink effect don’t come up often enough to be worth the extra complication.

The real draw for Zombie Dice is simplicity. It is easy to teach, to learn, and to play. The new dice add lots of new rules, but not much extra fun. The Hunk and Hottie alone aren’t that bad, with only the rescue rule needed to use them. But Santa Claus, with two brand new faces to teach and learn, and the bizarre rescue rule quirk, isn’t really worth it. The first game included lots of dice and a nice container, all for $13, while Zombie Dice 2 is $8 for just three dice. That is too much money for too little product, in my opinion. Unless you are a diehard Zombie Dice fan, you can probably skip Zombie Dice 2. Like most sequels in the horror genre it parodies, the expansion just doesn’t hold up to the original.

board games

Game Night Blog Carnival: Lords of Waterdeep

This post is a part of the Game Night Blog Carnival, dedicated to games you can play when your full RPG group isn’t available.

I’m a D&D junkie, which should not be a surprise to my readers. I love the game, loove the brand, and am probably too willing to pick up anything, be it a book, video game, or even a movie, if it has Dungeons & Dragons on it. Sometimes, this tendency bites me in the butt, like the recent Xbox Live release Daggerdale, or the Dragonlance animated DVD. Other times, the D&D label is attached to something great, like the old Capcom video games, or the subject of this month’s Game Night entry, Lords of Waterdeep.

Historically, board games released with the D&D label have been very thematic in nature. Many of them have been little more than stripped down versions of the RPG. Even in the past two years, D&D branded games have been heavy on theme. Castle Ravenloft and the other Adventure System Games are dungeon crawling cooperative experiences, and Conquest of Nerath is a large scale clash of fantasy armies. In board game terms, these would fall under the unfortunately named genre of “Ameritrash”, which typically features randomization, thematic mechanics, and direct conflict.

Lords of Waterdeep, on the other hand, is more of a “Euro” style game. In these games, the mechanics come first, and the theme is merely secondary. Random elements like rolling dice are emphasized less. Eurogames are usually lighter on player interaction, and more abstract in nature. Lords of Waterdeep includes worker placement and resource management mechanics, other hallmarks of Euro type board games. It’s quite unusual when compared to its D&D board game peers in this respect.

As the game begins, each player chooses a color, which thematically represents a faction within Waterdeep but doesn’t have a game effect. Secretly, each player draws a Lord of Waterdeep card, which dictates what varieties of quests will score extra points for them at the end of the game. You get two quests to begin the game, and these require the services of a set number of adventurers and/or gold. For example, a quest might need 3 fighters, 2 rogues, and 4 gold. Quests are the primary way to score victory points, which determine the winner at the end of the game. Each player receives an equal number of agent meeples, used to select actions each round, and the game begins.

On the board, several different buildings are presented. Each building is associated with a particular action. Placing an agent on the Blackstaff Tower gives you one purple cube, representing a wizard. There are similar buildings for the other character classes. An agent at Aurora’s Realms Shop gives you four gold. Other buildings allow you to play intrigue cards, collect new quests, or build new buildings. These new buildings, when selected, give resources to both the Lord that places an agent on them, and also to the builder. While the different options available can be confusing at first, after a round or two, it all falls into place.

While the interaction between players isn’t quite as obvious as it is in say, Conquest of Nerath, there are plenty of ways to mess with your opponents. You might be able to steal adventurers from other players, or force them to perform a low-reward mandatory quest, by using an Intrigue card. The selection of actions is also important; if you see an opponent using the build action every round, you might decide to build a few yourself, denying them their possible bonus points. Predicting what your opponents might do is a large part of the fun, in my opinion.

The presentation of the game is incredible. The board shows a map of Waterdeep, with a scoring track around the outside edge. The art on the Intrigue and Quest cards is top notch, and in full color, with flavor text. All of the bits and pieces are sturdy and colorful. It is one of the more visually appealing games in my collection. Of course, for fans of Forgotten Realms lore, many of the factions, Lords, and buildings will be very familiar. The currency is distinctive, giving even more of the flavor of the reknowned city.

It may sound silly, but I am absolutely in love with the box insert for Lords of Waterdeep. Many board games have a cheap cardboard insert that requires baggies or just allows all the pieces to mix together in a mess. Not so with the thoughtful plastic insert here. There is a place for every piece, and everything packs together just so, with little room to scatter around. I particularly like the angled slot for cards, that lets you press down on one end of the stack, popping up the other, for easy removal. There’s even a section in the rule book dedicated to how the bits and such should be stored. The attention to detail is something many other game companies should emulate.

Lords of Waterdeep is a fantastic game. It is easy enough to teach in a few minutes, but deep enough to challenge even experienced gamers. The mechanics are, if you’ll pardon the pun, intriguing, and the pace never slows so much that you are bored. Game length is about an hour, in my experience, so you can get a few plays in in an evening if you like. While it is very different from the other D&D board games, it’s an incredible game and I expect it will be very popular with many different types of gamers.

Check out the rest of this month’s Game Night Blog Carnival entries here.

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Game Night Blog Carnival: Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards Duel at Mt. Skullzfire

This post is a part of the Game Night Blog Carnival, dedicated to games you can play when your full RPG group isn’t available.

There’s a saying that you’ve probably heard a million times throughout your life: “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” The wisdom of this old chestnut applies in the case of novels, people, and certainly for games as well. Many times, I’ve picked up a game because the art is appealing, or the bits are impressive, yet the gameplay is lacking. Sometimes, though, what you see on the box lid gives you an exact representation as to the contents, and this is certainly the case for my choice for Game Night Blog Carnival this month.

Wrap your head around this title: Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards Duel at Mt. Skullzfire. A lesser game might go for a shorter part of this impressive moniker. Epic Spell Wars alone sounds decent, though a bit generic. Battle Wizards could have been a video game you played on your NES back in the 80s. Duel at Mt. Skullzfire? Now that is quite a bit more interesting, particularly with the leet-speak spelling of the titular mountain. Each piece of the title standing on its own is fair enough, but put all three together, and you have a name that transcends the boundaries of awesomeness.

And then there is the art. It is a cross between the Simpsons and something that could have been in the liner notes of your old White Zombie CDs. The art is funny and yet horrific at the same time. You will have a smile on your face, for sure, but might also feel a bit sick to your stomach. Blood and fire are everywhere, as are sliced body parts and a generous helping of innards. The box art alone is intriguing enough, but the depictions on the cards inside are where the unique visual style really shines.

The first thing that catches your eye is the cardboard representation of Mt. Skullzfire itself. Composed of two pieces, it assembles easily and stands perhaps six inches tall. I thought at first that such a glorious game piece had to have a tremendous effect in play, but this is not the case. The entire point of this cardboard Mt. Skullzfire is to look awesome. I find this hilarious, and indeed awesome, but some may not.

There are several wizard cards in the box, each one depicting one of the Battle Wizards. With full sized art on one side, the only game-related information on the other is an area for hit point tracking. The choice of wizards has no effect on play (yet, though this is an easy area for expansion). Thus, you will be arguing over who gets to be what wizard only on the basis of how cool looking they are. While all Battle Wizards are hilarious, a few favorites of mine include Princess Holiday & Her Furicorn, Fey Ticklebottom the Enchanter, Krazztar the Blood-o-mancer, and Pisster the Pissed Wizard, who is truly a sight to behold.

The actual game itself is very simple. Each Battle Wizard is dealt eight cards, most of which represent spell parts. A spell can have up the three parts, including a source (leftmost position), quality (middle), and delivery (rightmost). You can mix and match the different parts of the spell in order to maximize the carnage you wreak on your opponents. Spells are revealed simultaneously, with initiative determined by number of cards played (fewer parts go off faster) and by a number given on each delivery spell card. Spells all resolve in order, then you draw up to eight cards and do it all again, until there is only one Battle Wizard left standing.

There isn’t really a whole lot of strategy or even tactics here. Some spells parts naturally better work with others, but there are no game winning combos to be found. Many spell parts require the use of the included dice for determining effect. Sometimes, you’ll get lucky, sometimes, your spell will backfire on you. If you are one of those people who dislikes randomness and chaos on your table, look elsewhere. These Epic Spell Wars are not for the highly analytical; they are intended for those who enjoy the unique theme and art style.

One caveat, particularly for those with young children who might be interested in playing. There is adult language in the game, though the F-bomb in the manual is far worse than anything in the cards. Some of the more, shall we say, colorful illustrations are definitely PG-13. I am a very conservative fellow, and took out a few of the more extreme cards when playing with my ten year old son. As with most such matters, you’ll need to see the cards and decide for yourself what is appropriate.

If you are considering playing Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards Duel at Mt. Skullzfire, ask yourself this question: does casting a spell called Professor Presto’s Ballsy Cone of Acid on your buddy in between taking swigs of soda and dipping chips and salsa sound like a good way to spend some time? If so, you should definitely give the game a try. Just watch out for that Phister Cannon.

Check out the rest of this month’s Game Night Blog Carnival entries here.

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Game Night Blog Carnival: Warmachine/Hordes

It’s the last Tuesday of the month, which means another Game Night Blog Carnival is underway. I’m joining several other RPG bloggers to discuss board and card games that are fun to play when the D&D group can’t get together, for whatever reason.

For the past month or so, I have become absolutely addicted to a new tabletop game. One of my close gaming friends had encouraged me for more than a year to check it out. It took several other gamers from the area getting started before I relented. I’ve always been leery of “lifestyle” games, those in which there is an entire hobby and culture based around the experience. So far, though, I am having a great time playing Warmachine/Hordes.

You might be wondering which game I am playing; is it Warmachine or Hordes? The two games are different from one another, but fully compatible. Warmachine has a steampunk feel, with mechs, guns, and artillery, while Hordes includes monstrous creatures, and more traditional fantasy elements. From a rules perspective, there are some distinctions between the two games, as well. There’s so much in common between the two systems, though, that they are totally interchangeable, to the point that you can play Warmachine vs. Hordes seamlessly. Thus, most players refer to them interchangeably.

Both games are probably best described as miniatures wargames.  Players can choose from a whole host of models, depending on the faction they choose. Warmachine includes five major factions, including the holy warrior Protectorate of Menoth and the necromanctic Cryx. Hordes has four factions, one of which is the nature-based Circle of Oroboros. I chose another Hordes faction, the Skorne, as the basis for my army. The Skorne are quite creepy, a savage race that enslaves and tortures various creatures into serving their cause.

I was lucky enough to find a fully painted used Skorne battlebox (basically a starter pack) at my friendly local game store. Using this, I was able to learn the basics of the game. You begin by deploying your forces on a 4′ by 4′ table. The first player activates each of his or her models in turn, then the second player, and so on. Each model has a stat card that details the abilities and statistics it has. It’s fun to measure out each unit’s movements, mark status effects with tokens, and of course roll lots of dice to resolve combat.

The overall objective is to defeat the leader of your opponent’s army; in Warmachine, these are called warcasters, in Hordes, warlocks. These units are the backbone of your forces, especially because of the focus and fury mechanics. Focus and fury are basically the currency that moves the game along, similar to mana in Magic. Warcasters generate a set amount of focus each turn, and can cast spells with it, or use it to power mechanical contructs called Warjacks. Warlocks feed their fury off of their warbeasts, in an elegant system that requires foresight and planning. Warmachine’s unit management is more straightforward, while managing Hordes units is more of a balancing act.

Depending on the size of your collection, you can scale the number of units on each side for as epic a fight as you would like. Each unit has a point cost, and as long as all players are within a few points of each other, the game should be balanced. Most battleboxes contain from 12 to 15 points, which usually takes half an hour to 45 minutes. A typical tournament match is 35 or 50 points, and take up to two hours. I really like the scalable nature of the game, which you can custom fit to the time you have available.

While Warmachine and Hordes are both great as far as game systems go, probably what I have enjoyed more are the hobby aspects. While I quickly purchased a few more painted used models, the real fun has been assembling and painting them myself. The few minis I have worked on so far are all metal, but plastic and resin are used for some models, depending on the size. You can assemble the models in lots of ways, and of course no two paint jobs will be the same. Even if you stick to the recommended standard color scheme for each faction, you can do all sorts of cool things, like alternative poses, or unusual bases, that make your models look fantastic on the battlefield.

While I am enjoying my time spent playing Hordes, I realize it’s not for everyone. I was very lucky to find well-painted models for less than half off retail price, but I’ve still spent well over a hundred dollars and can only field a 25 point force at most. If I hadn’t had a fair amount of hobby gear like green stuff, brushes, paints, and other tools, the initial cost would have been even higher. There is also a significant learning curve. There are many different options and decisions to be made, and analysis paralysis can be a big factor. It’s not for a more casual gamer, that’s for sure.

However, if you enjoy the concept of cool painted miniature armies fighting one another across a huge battlefield, Warmachine/Hordes is a fantastic choice. Though there is no role-playing, the game scratches many of the same itches as Dungeons & Dragons does. (Incidentally, Hordes models, especially, would look great on a 4E battlemap, though at 30mm scale they are just a hair big.) If you have a chance, wander over to the check out what the minis wargamers are playing sometime when you are at your local game store. You might just get as addicted as I am!

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Game Night Blog Carnival: Thunderstone Heart of Doom

This post is part of Game Night, a monthly feature where several RPG blogs talk about board and card games. This month, Game Night participants were provided review copies of the game Thunderstone by publisher AEG. As I have already covered the original Thunderstone before, I chose to review Heart of Doom, the most recent expansion.

Thunderstone remains one of my favorite games, and for well over a year, I have played it regularly. I bought each expansion, up to and including Dragonspire, the large eset that doubled as a standalone game. At this point, I had played Thunderstone voraciously many times, and owned a deep pool of cards to draw from. Replayability in my collection was high due to the large number of combinations of heroes, weapons, villagers, and monsters.

Expansion after Dragonspire looked interesting, but I was quite happy with what I already had. Besides, I was running out of space in even the roomy Dragonspire box to store all the cards! However, over time, the luster of the game faded somewhat without a steady influx of new cards. Heart of Doom, as the final expansion for the game (until the upcoming revision, Thunderstone Advance), explores some very interesting design space, with effects that have never been used before. It’s just what I needed to revitalize my love for Thunderstone.

Unlike the previous expansions, the rulebook is very thin, just a few pages long. There aren’t really any new rules, as such; instead, there are some card by card clarifications, scenarios, card lists, and that sort of thing. The rule set in Thunderstone is robust enough that it doesn’t really need to grow any to accommodate a huge variety of new spells, weapons, heroes, and monsters, which Heart of Doom obligingly provides.

Most memorable among the new monsters are the basilisks and dryads. The former are exceptionally tough, with large bonuses to health based on numbers of certain card types in your hand. These creatures can really clog up the board, and often destroy key cards when fought. Dryads have an intriguing ability to add dungeon ranks; when they are revealed, you scoot the dungeon deck over and draw a new monster. You might end up with a half dozen dungeon ranks! This is an excellent design, taking the previous expansions’ guardian concept to the next level.

Thankfully, there are some great new heroes to assist in your quest. Among my favorites are the Nyth archers, who get extra attack power for each rank of the monster they attack. When the Dryads are out, Nyth are the best heroes you can buy, making it much easier to offset the tremendous penalties for attacking monsters deeper in the dungeon.

Bluefire wizards are a nifty addition, too; they are relatively cheap, and provide experience just for visiting the dungeon. Getting experience early is always nice, as Trainer users well know, and these mages provide just that. Highland fighter/thieves allow you to buy new heroes when visiting the dungeon, a valuable ability indeed. Overall, the new heroes are a strong lot, with truly unique, enjoyable effects.

A lucky thirteen new Village cards are included in Heart of Doom. As you’d expect, they range from weapons and items to villagers and spells. The Short Spear is a great new weapon, giving nice bonuses when equipped to a Militia. This encourages players to abandon the normal strategy of removing Militia from the deck as soon as possible. The Chalice Mace is perfect for equipping on a cleric class hero, providing extra light and a lower weight. Favorite items include the Bag of Holding (love the D&D reference!) and the Dredging Net, a very effective means of thinning your deck out and manipulating your hand.

An interesting villager is the Grognard, who provides experience points when purchased, yet has little other effect than providing a minor defense to traps and also a single victory point. Having the Grognard in the village provides an interesting tension; is it worth a couple early experience to have a relatively useless card in your deck for the remainder of the game? The most exciting spell is Soulfire, which converts spare late-game experience into Magic Attack power. All told, the village cards provide a nice variety of effects to enhance your game.

In the final analysis, Heart of Doom provides exactly what a devotee of Thunderstone needs. It is hardly groundbreaking, and doesn’t significantly alter the game as a whole, but that’s not really what I want at this point. What I want is more of the Thunderstone I already love. Coming from this point of view, I would rank Heart of Doom as one of the best expansions. However, for those who aren’t exactly rabid for fantasy deckbuilding games, or casual fans who are satisfied with a smaller selection of cards in their game, you’re not really getting any “must have” new experiences in Heart of Doom. Whether Heart of Doom is worth a purchase for you will depend on where you fall on this spectrum.

Thanks again to AEG for providing a review copy of Thunderstone Heart of Doom.