In this week's Next of Ken, I'm all about value as I review Summoner Wars Master Set. I'm also decidedly not about whatever We Didn't Playtest This At All is about, and I talk Captain America and the Avengers movie, plus sneak peeks at Legend of Drizzt and Claustrophobia: De Profundis. How can you resist THAT lineup? Join us, won't you?
ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!?
When It Comes Crashing Down and It Hurts Inside
Skipped off to see Captain America: The First Avenger at the dollar theater last week (nothing like waiting til the last minute, eh?) It was a really enjoyable, old-fashioned adventure movie detailing the Captain's origins, how he was transformed from weakling Steve Rogers into superhero and American icon.
What was really awesome was the special effects they used to make Chris Evans look skinny. I spent most of the early part of the movie looking for CGI seams, distorted shifts, anything to give away the secret. It was pretty flawless. Turns out they used the same technique as they used in Benjamin Button--the only really notable thing about that movie. When you see Chris Evans, that's really him, but with CGI distortion to make him look like a weakling. It's pretty damned amazing, and honestly they deserve an Oscar nom for the special effects here.
Hugo Weaving is great as the Red Skull, and Tommy Lee Jones plays, well, Tommy Lee Jones...fortunately, I can forgive him for that as he's usually awesome, and he is here.
It will be interesting to see if the ambitious Avengers experiment pays off next year; I hope it does, or we may never see a project of that scope again. I really dig the whole mutli-movie continuity, even if it does suck monkey nuts that Ed Norton won't be back as the Hulk. With he and Rhodie being replaced, it takes a little off the luster of the whole "now see these guys TOGETHER!"
So my final ranking of the Avengers films is like this:
1. Iron Man
2. The Incredible Hulk
3. Captain America
5. Iron Man 2
GAMING BITES ARE F'N DELICIOUS
(Did Mario have fatalities...? I can't remember)
Cold, Cold Eyes Upon Me They Stare
I received a copy of The Legend of Drizzt this past week, and while I've only played one adventure yet and I'm still in the honeymoonphase, I thought it was worth talking about since it's brand new.
Legend of Drizzt uses the same co-operative dungeon crawl engine also featured in both Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon. Players form a team of adventures from an available pool, you follow some generally minimal setup instructions, and you begin exploring. Most of the time you have a specific goal that you're trying to accomplish, defined by the scenario. The rules are highly streamlined and simplified Dungeons & Dragons rules. And I don't know why I'm explaining this as much as I am, since Castle Ravenloft was in a three-way tie for third for our Game of the Year voting last year.
The bits in this game are once again gorgeous. The lion's share of the minis are the same sculpts as existing D&D Miniatures, although there are a few new and unique ones in here. You've got all the Companions of the Hall you'd expect--Drizzt, Cattie-brie, Wulfgar, and more. You've got Drow, spider (and Drow-spider!) enemies, and some great named villains from the novels.
I think to me this one is the most exciting of the three because while the other two were settings, Drizzt is a brand, and a pretty major one. I've read both the Dark Elf and Icewind Dale trilogies, and have always been a big fan of the character, so getting to play out adventures with these guys is pretty awesome.
There are some innovations in terms of contents and rules, though it does hew rather closely to the other two games. Cavern's Edge tiles are used for pre-made adventures, where the map is set up in advance, and lets you 'close off' dead ends of the map. (Did Ashardalon have pre-set maps? I can't remember.) Drizzt and Cattie-brie have "Stance" cards and tokens, allowing them to slip into certain combat stances for added benefits. There are lava vent tiles, which are dangerous to be around when certain event cards pop up.
My brother and I played through the first non-solo adventure, he using Drizzt and I Cattie-brie. Hope I'm not spoiling anything, but the quest involved searching for a crown in Bruenor Battlehammer's ancestral home. However, hot on our trail was Artemis Enteri, who was on the hunt for Regis the halfling. Humorously enough, neither character I just mentioned was with us...
I tried exploring quickly but found myself in trouble in a hurry, and before you know it I'd used up a Healing Surge. From that point I let Drizzt do the 'leading with your chin' routine, which went ok until we hit a Feral Troll, who battered us silly. Drizzt then had to use the second surge, and one more death and it would be over.
We were able to work together after that, he exploring and I using my powerful stances and a couple of items to take down our foes. Once Artemis arrived, we made surprisingly short work of him, so that was a bit anti-climactic. Despite that, we both enjoyed itconsiderably.
It's too early to do a full-fledged review as I need to play it more over the coming weeks, but my impressions are very, very favorable. I really liked both Ravenloft and Ashardalon, so unless there's some hidden gotcha in here, the review is going to be a favorable one.
If you liked the other two, you'll stand a heavy chance of liking Legend of Drizzt. If you've been on the fence but are a fan of the character, that might be enough to get you to take the plunge. If you hated either of the other two games, I'm not sure if there's enough here to make you change your mind.
I think it's great that we have three solid DM-less adventure games on the market. They're light, but they're also thematic as hell and extremely accessible. Definitely give Drizzt a look if you get a chance.
Show Me the Path Towards the Black Light
I received a preview copy of Claustrophobia: De Profundis from Asmodee, and like Drizzt, I haven't had the time to put it through its paces for a full-fledged review. It's due in stores within the next few weeks though, so I thought I'd give some preview thoughts on it.
The very first thing you'll notice is that Claustrophobia: De Profundis is in a square box as opposed to the longer box of the base game. Inside, you'll find four new pre-painted minis, a rulebook with multiple new scenarios, a stack of Human and Demon cards including new skills, gifts, and objects, and some new tokens to be used only in certain scenarios.
First up, the biggest additions in my mind are the two Hellhounds. As a Demon player, really the only shortcoming of the base game was that once you'd triggered a few of your one-time abilities, all you had left to do was stockpile events and play Trogs and Demons. And since the Demons were unique, you spent most of your time spawning the little Trogs.
The Hellhounds are especially nice because they have their own stat sheets, and the Demon player has to put dice on them to grant them fight and movement. They can only each be summoned once per game, but they are good, solid fighters. If you've been tired of watching the Redeemer swat away whole hordes of Trogs at once, these Hellhounds are your guys.
The good guys receive two Sicaria minis, powerful sisters who have unique gifts and solid stats. They're only usable in the De Profundis scenarios as the designer hinted at balance issues, so that should tell you right now that these ladies mean business. Between these gals and the Hellhounds, both sides now have access to more varied pieces. Couple that with the large amount of new scenarios, and there is plenty of replayability here.
There are a stack of 10 tiles, several of which have specific benefits for one side or another. These tiles are of the same thick quality as the base game. In fact, the quality level on all of this stuff is just as high as before, and we're talking Asmodee here...high-qualitycardstock, thick tiles and tokens, and gorgeous pre-painted miniatures.
I think the price may be a touch high for this, but I understand the wonky economies of expansions--you're essentially selling smaller print runs to only a certain audience, where a base game could literally sell to anyone. Since everything inside is of high quality, ultimately this is worth it for fans of the original game.
I also kinda wish there was a better storage solution, as Claustrophobia has one of the best inserts around, and there's no room for this stuff without getting rid of BOTH excellent inserts...not gonna happen for me, unfortunately.
Some folks in the forums were talking about the Cyclades expansion coming up (also from Asmodee) and the vibe here is the same; it's not a "patch" expansion, or one to fill in gaps in the base game, but one that adds value and fun to those who really enjoy Claustrophobia. Claustrophobia remains one of the best two-player "Dudes in a Corridor" made in recent years, and is even mentioned in the same breath as the much-vaunted Space Hulk from time to time. I know this--you can get the base game plus the new expansion for less than Space Hulk right now...and I'm hard-pressed to disagree that it isn't very close to SH's equal in a lot of ways.
At any rate, this should be hitting store shelves in a matter of weeks, and if you like the base game then you'd be crazy not to pick this up. More cards, more figs, more tiles, more choices...and more hot Demon-on-Human-on-Demon violence. What more could you ask for?
PAUL HARVEY SAYS, "STAND BY FOR REVIEWS!"
If You Really Wanna Holler Take My Hand and Follow Me
It's been a long time since I've played a game I really didn't enjoy, so the streak had to come to an end sometime. Unfortunately, it's a small game from a smaller publisher that I really like, so I hate teeing off on it. But somebody's got to.
We Didn't Playtest This At All (insert biting, witty joke about how appropriate the name is) is a fast-playing card game where you try to Win, or make everyone else Lose. How do you do that? Well, you do that by playing cards that say you Win, or that other players Lose.
If you're already thinking of Fluxx, it's impossible not to compare this game to Fluxx. Both are quick-playing, highly random games where "fun" comes ahead of gameplay.
Here's my issue with We Didn't Playtest This At All. There are cards in the game like Dragon, which you play in front of someone. If they end their next turn with a Dragon in front of them, then CHOMP! They're out of the game. So you're leafing through these cards, and you start to imagine hilarious sessions where people are bouncing the dragons to each other, or dodging laser rays, or having Ninjas cancel their opponent's best cards, or attacking the deck with kittens. Now, I'm unlike some gamers--I don't mind humor in my games, even if it's cornball and goofy. However, the problem here is that you'll likely imagine a game going like this:
YOU: Ha! I play a Laser in front of you.
STEVE: No way! I dodge the Laser Ray and slap a Dragon down on Lisa.
LISA: Ack! I'll cancel that card with Kittens!
DAN: Hey you, you're about to get hit with an Asteroid.
YOU: GULP! (All laugh.)
Here's what you get instead:
(Dealing out cards)
YOU: I play a card. Your go.
STEVE: I play a card. I'm wearing a blue shirt. I win.
(Take up cards, shuffle them up, deal them out.)
YOU: I play a dragon in front of Steve.
STEVE: Aw, crap. Screw it, I'll play this card. We all Win.
(At this point, Lisa and Dan look at each other and crinkle up their noses. Undaunted, you deal out the cards again.)
YOU: I play a card to draw some cards.
STEVE: I play this card. Hey! I have 8 points. If I get 15, I win!
DAN: Cool, I'll play this card that gives me 90 points...but now it takes 100 to win. (Steve curses audibly.)
LISA: I play this card. I'm a girl. I win.
(Steve, Lisa, and Dan now take turns punching you in the face and/or groin. Game night, and your genitals, are both ruined.)
Sadly, that last example is about as intricate as a game of this is ever going to get. Simply put, there are too many cards that Win, toomany cards that cause a Loss, and too few that cancel cards or allow you to move or dodge them. The odds are, even with everyone starting with a two-card hand, someone just got dealt an "I win!" card.
Even in two-player games where you'd expect maybe better odds, it's still the same. My wife and I played six two-player games in a row. None of them made it past a full turn two. Half of them ended on turn 1.
I will say this about the game--it's more honest about what it is than Fluxx is. I'm pretty sure that the folks who make Fluxx still think of it as a game of skill, and by comparison's sake, Fluxx is 5% skill where this is, oh, 0% skill.
It does solve the issue where Fluxx can overstay it's welcome, that's for sure. But it doesn't go long enough to ever get interesting, either. To me, that's equally a problem.
That's a pity, because I like the game's "generic" aesthetic (white background, plain black text) and I even got a chuckle out of the text of some of the cards. There are plenty of in-jokes and gags, especially in the flavor text.
Ultimately, it's a game that knows how pointless it really is. Unfortunately, that knowledge doesn't make it fun to play. It's like a game about hardcore accounting that is completely self-aware of how boring it is...that sentience won't help matters one bit, I promise.
It's cheap, and a good gag gift for non-gamers. They'll likely eat it up with a spoon, but I am certainly not the target market. It could be fun for a laugh with great friends and good beer, but that can be said for pretty much most games. Strong recommendation to avoid unless you're just morbidly curious.
(Big thanks goes out to Gamesalute.com, who provided the review copy. They also sent others that I promise are way better, including one from the same company, so look for those reviews in upcoming weeks.)
My Past Erased, No More Disgrace, No Foolish Naive Stand
Now let's talk about a game that you will likely see on some lists come "Game of the Year" discussion time, and that's the new Summoner Wars: Master Set.
Summoner Wars was a big hit from a small company, Plaid Hat Games. It took the best elements of Heroscape and a few other CCGs and distilled it into a ridiculously enjoyable two-player skirmish game.
What always enthralled me with Summoner Wars was how much Colby and co. were able to do with such a simple system. Seriously, you read those rules, and you'll be thinking, "that's IT?" And yet somehow, using flavorful abilities and gametext, every army plays differently.
If there were knocks against Summoner Wars, they were two-fold--that fold-up map sucked, and storage was a major, major pain in the ass. Seriously, once I opened my Dwarf/Goblin starter set and took the map out, the map would not ever in a million years go back in there and the lid fit back on properly. I think because of issues like this, and the small frontprint of those starters, caused some people to overlook or underrate how good of a game that Summoner Wars is.
I'll be honest, when I first heard that Summoner Wars was getting a Deluxe Master Set, I assumed that it would likely take the same tact as other boardgaming companies would. That is, print a bigger box and a mounted board, reprint some of the exisiting starter armies and pack them in, and oh, slap a couple of new "starter exclusive" armies just to compel those sitting on the fence to actually sink the coin just for two new armies.
With Plaid Hat Games, I should have known better. The Summoner Wars Master Set is a boxed set made by a gamer, for gamers. Made by a gamer who understands the term "value", a word tossed around far too easily in the modern boardgaming marketplace.
What's inside? Well, you get a swank new box, sure, with a fantastic storage system (checkmark 1.) You also get a high-gloss two-piece mounted board (checkmark 2.) And six armies! Wait, let me restate that...six NEW armies.
That's right, not a single reprint inside. You're getting six brand-spankin' new armies with which to do battle. Folks, I'm at a loss for words to enumerate just how cool this whole package really is.
And these armies aren't tired retreads, either. You've got the brawny brawling Vargath. The Shadow Elves who can lure your opponent into a trap, limiting his movements in the shroud of night at key moments. You've got the Benders, wicked magicians who manipulate your opponent's deck, positioning, and can even "unsummon" enemy units, an extremely strong power and one that will make cheap rush factions whimper. There are the Deep Dwarves, who rely heavily on spending Magic for all sorts of game-altering effects. The Sand Goblins are all about movement tricks, dashing in, dodging ranged attacks, that sort of thing.
My favorite army by far has got to be the Swamp Orcs, who come with a mini-deck of 15 new Vine Walls. There are a couple of ways to get Vine Walls into play, either by using your Summoner's power, or the Vine Growth Event card. Vine Walls cause all sorts of battlefield havoc as they block line-of-sight, though unlike normal walls you can move through them. Moving off of them is another story and requires a die roll--if you fail, your movement ends and you take a wound.
The Swamp Orcs don't play fair of course, and most of them are immune to Vine Walls, and many of them even get more powerful when they're near or on a Vine Wall. Let's just say that armies reliant on a plethora of ranged attacks will be cursing as the battlefield fills up with those brambly, entangling walls.
The six different armies are great and all have an extremely different feel. The gameplay overall is the same dice-chucking tactical game that you've probably grown to love...unless you haven't played it, in which I'd say this is the PERFECT time to get on board! It's a fantastic value for the money whether you're a new player or a long-time Summoner Wars veteran, and there's enough gameplay in this box alone to tide you over for quite some time to come.
But what's that, you say? You think somehow the FOURTEEN armies will get boring for you? Well, never fear, because shipping at the same time are new Reinforcement Packs, one for the Fallen Kingdom/Vanguard, the other for the Jungle Elves/Cloaks. Each contain new common units and champions that you can use to tweak your existing armies and give them a different feel or new gameplay options.
The Jungle Elves were already speedy, fast hitters, and now they get an Elephant that can trample common units along the way, and even a guy who can break the rules and shoot diagonally--this is a pretty big deal from a tactical perspective. The Cavalry Knights are for the Vanguard, and they can charge across the board, moving a whopping seven spaces, before they lay a cost-effective beatdown on someone. They also get a kick-ass Champion in Jacob Eldwyn, who can rain down damage all around him. The Cloaks get The Admiral, a walking bodyguard tank that can help them with some of their glass jaw issues.
I wish that deckbuilding in Summoner Wars wasn't as restrictive as it is, but I understand that enterprising gamers could quickly bust the system by throwing deck ratios out of whack. What's amazing is how a couple of cards change so many options for a given faction, and if you really do play one enough to wear it out, new cards can give that "tired" faction a new breath of life.
Me? I'm not nearly at that phase yet for any of the factions. I don't tweak much, but having these Reinforcement Packs is awesome because the options are there. I love how Summoner Wars has been supported, and although the game system would be just fine if another card for the game was never released, I'm eager for more. Bring 'em on, Colby! Thumbs waaaaay up for the Summoner Wars Master Set especially, one of the best put-together packages I can recall. Again, expect GOTY talk for this one later on. Plaid Hat is really on a roll, and I can't wait to finally try out Dungeon Run. If they can keep up the same quality, Plaid Hat won't be a "small" company for very much longer.
Well folks, that's gonna do it for another edition of Next of Ken. Thanks again for reading, and as always, comments and feedback are eagerly welcomed. Until then, keep your dickflippers dry, and I'll see ya in seven.