Next of Ken, Volume 35: Black Friday, Elder Sign, Dungeon Run, and Omen: Shattered Aegis!

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Come on in for Next of Ken, where today I'm talking Black Friday's madness, impressions of Dungeon Run and Forbidden Island, a second session of Elder Sign ends badly, and I'm reviewing Smallbox Games new expansion Omen: Shattered Aegis.  Join us, won't you?


Tomorrow is Saturday, and Sunday comes after...wards


Black_FridayYes, we actually braved the massive orgy of spending and consumerism known as Black Friday.

Although my wife and I have fought the crowds before, this year was crazier than I think I've ever seen.  They had a few small cardboard pallets with the video games on them at the front of the store, and there were literally a couple of hundred people gathered around just those.

We had a list that we were going to check off as we went, but the mania was too much.  Once the bell rang so to speak, it was a flurry of grabbing, pawing, and mayhem.  Kind of like your first Jr. High school date, actually.

While we loaded up on stuff for the kids, a lot of stuff we purchased was online this year, which was a first.  I did make sure daddy-o got a couple of goodies for his stocking, like Batman: Arkham City for $28 and a few other really cheap games.

Luckily there were no violent incidents, and from reading online such things were extremely rare this year.  Maybe shoppers have mastered the art of controlled chaos.  I'm looking back now and wondering how I survived; it's all kind of hazy now.



Awake the Impious and Abominate

Looks like I spoke too soon last week when I blogged about having such an easy time with Elder Sign...

My brother and I sat down to play over the weekend; it was his first game and my first non-solo game.  We each took two elder_sign_box_frontinvestigators. This time instead of Yig, we got Ithaqua.

You know what else we got?  Freakin' DEMOLISHED.

Seriously, we had made little to no progress when we finally called it, as dinner was ready and we didn't want to delay hot food to suffer any more abuse.  We had complete precious few tasks, we already had two investigators devoured.

What went wrong?  Well, Ithaqua's pinging you for damage when you use unique items and spells was pretty annoying--but most importantly, the dice absolutely positively refused to cooperate.  I lost track of the number of times I said, "I just need a scroll!  A SCROLL!  A SCR...IA! IAK SAKKATH! FHTAGAN~!"

Despite the pwnage, I still enjoy the game.  Though I'm not sure if the easiness factor simply isn't an issue about which Great Old One you're facing.  Yig leaves you alone; Ithaqua most certianly does not.  And sometimes, hey, the dice hate you.

Jeremy thought it was a lot of set-up for a little dice game, but I kind of see it as the opposite; it's Arkham Horror, with dice, and less set-up time.  It's never going to be a replacement for Arkham, but when you're in the mood for some Mythos action and crunched for time, this is a decent substitute.   Its theme may be carrying it a long way, but for now, I'm enjoying it.



Got a Heart Beatin' Fast, Got a Dream, Got No Past

Speaking of ease of play, we also dug in to some Forbidden Island.  Since I'd played Pandemic, and Pandemic Heavy (see also: Defenders of the Realm), it was only fair that I eventually played Forbidden Island.


I was able to get a copy of the game as a kicker in a trade recently.  It's one that I'd toyed buying before since it was so cheap, but as a kicker, it was a no-brainer.

We played three straight sessions this past weekend, and aside for the first game during which I made a stupid rules mistake regarding two revealed flood cards, we were never really in danger of losing.

I think the problem with the game is there seems to be fewer actions to do.  You can move, shore up, give cards, and collect a treasure when you have four of that card on the appropriate tile.  You also have three action points a turn, so it's not too tough to keep the board under control.

At that point, it's just a matter of waiting for the cards to flip up so you can capture the treasure.

When you compare it to all the crazy stuff going on in Defenders of the Realm, including quests, character abilities, taverns and rumors, and so on and so, you just don't feel pressured, like you don't have enough time to do everything you need to.  Quite frankly, there's only so many things you can do.  We had several turns where we didn't even have to use all three actions--unheard of in both Pandemic and Defenders.

To be fair, we played it on Normal (there are harder difficulties), and the game is squarely aimed at more of a casual crowd.  This is a game you can easily play with your children, no questions asked.  It's very light, for certain.  But the kids can ooooh and ahhhh over the cool treasure pieces, and have fun playing a game that's much more like the typical hobby game.

It's cheap, and a solid buy for families.

Now, with this on the light end of the spectrum for that crowd, and Defenders on the Realm on the heavy side, it leaves Pandemic in the lukewarm middle ground.  I still need to play Pandemic with the expansion to see if the bioterrorist stuff adds to the game.



Pain is What I Ordered You, Run is What You Ought to Do

Now, let's talk Dungeon Run.  Only impressions at this point, as we went through it two player to learn the system.DR_box_figs1

Basically, it's a cross between Cutthroat Caverns and Drakon, though it shares little in actual mechanics with either game.  It should also be noted that I like both of those games, so this is a compliment.

It's a move through the dungeon via tiles kind of game where players explore, encounter random monsters, and collect loot, all with the goal of taking down one of four possible end bosses.

Once the end boss goes down though, all gloves are off--it's like Double Dragon, here former brothers at the end of their quest naturally turn on each other.  The one who killed the boss has the Summoner Stone and with it additional powers, and the goal is to either escape the dungeon or be the last man standing.

I dig the mechanics of combat, I think that was the part I was surprised by the most.  Instead of a set of marked dice with attack/block, or "roll to hit", instead you have monsters who have their own values on the dice that they hit on.  So for example a monster may have a 3, 4, and 5 pictured, and that means those results are potential hits on the player.

Monsters also have a defensive rating that you need to exceed to hit.  Once you roll, you not only have the option of using those dice as hits, but you can opt to pair off like values on what's incoming from the creature and block those instead.  The monster above could have rolled a 2, two 3s, and a 6, for two potential hits.  The monster's defense is 3+, so you roll and get a 1, 1, 3, and 3.  You can opt to use your 3s to block the incoming 3s, or just each trade off two hits.  It's kinda cool.

I definitely, absolutely don't recommend it with two players though; it's nearly pointless.  I'm not even sure why it is a suggested player number.  There are solo rules, but I'm also not sure why you'd ever both soloing this.  This is the type of game where players can work together, backstab each other, sabotage someone's escape efforts, gang up on the just don't get much of that in 2-player.  (2-player Drakon is similarly lackluster, and Cutthroat Caverns doesn't even bother to have that as an option.)

It's a really nice production though...Plaid Hat has certainly arrived, if they hadn't already.  Solid quality cards and tiles, and some decent plastic in there.  I need to play this a whole lot more before I can render a final verdict, but so far I think this is a good game that will sing with the right group.  I need to play with a large group before I can form an actual opinion.




Just in time for the holiday season is this viral video that I just saw for the first time today...."How the Sith Stole Christmas."  Enjoy.

On with the show!


I Always Gravitate Towards Comfort, But I'd Kill For My Convictions

Shattered_Aegis_FinalA few months ago I reviewed the excellent Omen: A Reign of War (John Clowdus, Smallbox Games, 2-players, 30 minutes.)  I found it to be an excellent card game full of great card combos and plenty of replay value.

Along comes the expansion Shattered Aegis, and I can gladly say that it continues the awesomeness.

Shattered Aegis has 16 new units--eight new soldiers (4 each), four new beasts (3 each), and four new Oracles (3 each.)  There are also cards included to support one of the new variants, which I'll talk about in a bit.

Instead of overstuffing an expansion with new mechanics, there's only one--the new "Enraged" status that you can give units that will put their strength at 4 and also into Beasts until the end of the turn.  Yes, that's really it--no overload of new terms of mechanics to worry about.

That initially sounds bad, as what then could this set bring to the table?  The answer, of course, is new mixtures of effects that will liven up the game.  You have guys like the "Brazen Slayer", a soldier that when he comes into play lets you discard a Beast card to trigger its one-off effect--very powerful.  And you finally get cards that key more heavily off of other cards in your hand, such as Grim Merchant who will let you discard up to 3 Soldier cards from your hand to gain 2 cards each.

The main game is unchanged.  You have three cities represented by a small stack of 4 reward cards each, and units come into play at one of the three cities.  During the War step, if there are five units total in a city, or your opponent has three units there, then war erupts.  You tally up strength, winner discards down to one unit but gets a powerful reward card, while the loser discards down to two units and gets no other compensation.

With the new set, strategies do shift.  A lot of the Oracles have more varied powers, so it's harder to rely on them as a pure engine, though many of the new Oracle units are quite powerful in their own right.  They're just no longer always self-feeding card drawers.  There are lots of new effects that allow you to move or bounce back to hand units both belonging to you or your opponent.  There's the new "Fortuitous Dryad" which is a powerful new Beast whose one-off effect allows you to either flip a face-down feat face up or vice-versa.  That isCloud_Of_Furiespotentially a massive game changer.

Plus, there are fewer of the massively punishing Beast effects, such as those that rob you of all cards or all coins.  This allows for riskier play and a better chance of building up.  I was able to save up 13 coins for a big reward-filled power turn that would have just been too risky with the slimmer deck and the bigger risk of facing the Mesmerizing Harpy (she eats all your coins...not good.)  In general, there seems to be fewer "All" effects, which allows more build-up.  Although I like Omen's frenzied pace, that's actually a change that I welcome very much.

Shattered Aegis really, really shines in its draft mode.  Prior to this set, you could play draft with the base game, but with only 24 different units, there were only a few in each game that went unselected.  Now with double the card pool, you have a *lot* of options and a very rich card pool to choose from.

The game also includes a Grand Melee variant for four players.  Basically four players take part in a draft, then get matched up based on the drawing of pairing cards.  The winner of each game plays the other, and that winner is the ultimate champion.  The other players can play out the brackets if they'd like, just to determine actual standing once the games are done.

To that end, the game includes another set of coins, reward cards, and feats for use in Grand Melee.  It's kind of a bummer at first to have duplication, but this stuff is needed if you're going to run the four-player variant.  It's cool that you can do this without having to have a second base set.

There are other modes too--a constructed mode that like Roma and Roma II does require each player to have their own sets, but you can construct your decks within the guidelines and do battle that way.  There's also a variant where each player gets one of each card to make a deck from, and you do battle that way.  Other welcome additions are things like an alternate way to decide first player (VERY nice--if you want to go first, it will weaken your hand) and useful rules summary cards that are extremely handy.

Dryad_BeatsThe art on these cards is GORGEOUS.  I love the art style.  That, coupled with the great head-to-head gameplay and focus on card combos and interactions means that this is a game that is totally and completely right up my alley.

I do have a couple of complaints, though they are extremely minor.  First, the storage.  This comes in another small VHS case.  There is simply no way all the cards are going to fit in either of these; it was squeezing before, especially if your cards are sleeved.  While I understand these cases are affordable and are something of an identifier for Smallbox Games, they really and truly do suck for storage.  I've had to put all my Omens stuff in a Nightfall box for the time being.

The other thing is that as cool as draft is, it's a pain in the butt to sort out 48 stacks of cards.  This is the price you pay though; I just wish there was an easier way.  You will probably want to pre-sort them before you sit down to play.  This means you will likely find a variant that suits you and adjust your storage to match.  To be fair though, sorting is an issue with games like Nightfall, though you do get handy dividers to make that much easier.  Depending on which variant I settle on (most likely draft), I'll probably need to make my own dividers as well.

These are really minor things, though, and some of it is just what you need to deal with to have a game that features drafting.   In the end, Omen: Shattered Aegis brings a lot of cool things to the game.  Is it going to convert you if you weren't a fan of the base game?  Probably not.  But if you liked the original, this is more good stuff, with more great ways to enjoy the game.  As a fan already, this is a big thumbs up from me.

As a last note, I should mention that there is at least superficially no reason why you can't buy just this set and play the game as a standalone.  It does after all come with instructions, wooden coins, and everything you need to play the game.  When I asked John Clowdus about it, his response was this:


"You *could* play the expansion by itself, but I think it falls a bit flat without the base game. The reason being is that the new units, for the most part, compliment the base units better than being units by themselves, if that makes sense.

However, if you play it with just the expansion units, and it is enjoyable, go for it!"


So there you go.  If you're at all into two-player confrontational card games, you should give this a go.

(Big thanks to John Clowdus and Smallbox Games, who sent me this review copy.)



And that's gonna do it for another edition of Next of Ken.  Have any Black Friday horror stories?  Thoughts on the games talked about and reviewed today?  Comments and feedback are always welcome.  'Til then, try not to get trampled in a mad stampede for hot bargains, and I'll see ya in seven.



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