VPG Double Feature
Well, No High Scores is having some kind of issue with the layout or something and these games aren't at Miniature Market so it's an F:AT exclusive. Reviews for VPG's latest, Wings for the Baron and Hunt: The Unknown Quarry follow the regularly scheduled programming here.
Warhammer Quest is the big news for the day. It's really good. How good, I'm not sure yet and I do want to see if it has legs beyond what Pathfinder turned out to have. I think it is probably a better game- both a little simpler and a little more complex at the same time, somehow. I think that those of you that are hoping for a successor to Death Angel or that want something like LOTR LCG but less LCG-ish (and not as punishingly difficult) are going to really get into this one. It's also co-designed by a bona fide F:ATtie (and actual power metal musician, drummer for Lorenguard), Brady Sadler. So do support the home team and check it out. If you can, it looks like it keeps selling out and that's a good thing because it is going to need expansions to keep it current. The full review shouldn't take too long- maybe in two weeks.
I picked up Heroes of Normandie. I was sort of iffy on it because a) I'm tired of WW2 anything and b) it looked like one of those slightly janky European battle games with weird rules that always has a "but" attached to any positive comment. And also c) because there are a TON of extra purchases. The rules weren't weird though, it's sort of a Heroscape activation system with mechanics that are really more miniatures-oriented than wargame-oriented. And then action cards. And virtually zero historicity, which I actually prefer to fussing over if the Germans deployed an SDFkzv.1.4 with the 100mm armor plating or the JU-88 Luftgherkinjager with SS livery in the battle of whatever, whenever. Instead, it's got cartoon "Nazzies" and Americans with giant jaws and probably a lot of earnest patriotism. There's a character named after Lee Marvin and the whole thing feels like WWII is more of a fantasy setting. Which some people will hate, but I love it.
The game is actually pretty easy, but there is a ton of special stuff. Everything is mostly printed on the big counters along with some Euroglyphics, but it's pretty simple to sort out that you flip over the MG42 if you want to deploy the tripod. There's a lot of detail, but it's all "action" detail.
The scenarios are kind of shitty though. They have good setups (I especially like the one where you are trying to catch a dog in the middle of a firefight), but they just don't play out as interestingly as you'd hope. A least the first five, that may change in the back five. And you can make your own, kind of like how you can in Earth Reborn...which also this game also kind of reminds me of.
Definitely interested in more, especially Shadows Over Normandie, which adds horror stuff to it. There's also a small expansion that adds super heroes to it, which sounds really fun.
And I've got a PILE of review stuff on the way. The big one is Blood Rage, so I'll finally get to see what all the hootin' and hollerin' is all about there. I also have the new Pixel Tactics Deluxe inbound, as well as a big assortment of Thames Kosmos products, including Klaus Teuber's new one (Royal Tumult) and the Legends of Andor re-release. Then I've got Dungeon Saga coming from Mantic as well. So that should keep me busy through January.
Now, those reviews I promised you:
You can always count on Victory Point Games to turn out unique games. I was a big supporter of their work back in the early days and over the years they’ve gotten bigger and better, at this point their games now have much better graphic design and production quality and they still ship with a stamped paper napkin. My love affair with Darkest Night put me back in mind of VPG so I thought I’d check out some of their latest titles- Wings for the Baron and The Hunt.
Wings for the Baron is one of those games where I opened it up, looked at the components and had a bad impression. It looked super spreadsheet-y, with flowchart player mats and nothing but a large track for a mutual board. But it had a really cool setting- as its subtitle verbosely states, it’s about “innovation and profiteering among the German aircraft industries during World War I.” Which means to you, the player, that it is an economic game with a technology development angle. During World War I.
Each player represents one of the great, real-world companies that essentially made the first warplanes- I always pick Fokker, but maybe you prefer Pfalz Flugzeugwerke. Each, of course, as a special advantage the others do not to be applied toward the end goal of making the most money by selling aircraft to the German government. To win those valuable contracts, you need to have the most advanced, effective planes in the sky, capable of outperforming the allies’ own. But this is a wartime economy, so the effects of inflation can completely deflate your profits, unless you invest in gold. And since it is World War I, morale is on the downbound train from the get-go- once morale hits rock bottom for either Germany or the Allies, it’s over and the value of each player’s fortune is affected according to who actually won.
This is a simultaneous action design. Each player has a hand of five action cards that are locked in each turn (two in the standard game, three in the campaign version) and resolved in a specific sequence. First up is Build- this is how you create factories, which is also the limit of the number of contracts you can take on each round. Espionage follows, and it is a die roll attempt at stealing someone else’s previously developed airplane tech. Third is Design, wherein you can play a Technology card to add a new feature to your aircraft. That flowchart I mentioned on the player mats is actually a tech tree, and you have to meet specific prerequisites for certain additions. You can also switch from biplane to monoplane or triplane models. Everything you add gives a +X die roll modifier because at the end of the Design phase, you roll and add that DRM to determine the effectiveness of your product. You’ve got to keep pace with the Allies’ effectiveness or the Kaiser doesn’t want your junk planes.
So Design is really the most important part of the action phase, but to execute it you have to have cards. That’s what Research does, and each of the Tech cards also a playable event so you can choose to either to use it to add to your design or to use its event. The fifth and final action is Bank, which is how you spend your fluid and potential worthless Papiermarks to buy gold, which can not be devalued by the end-of-round inflation check. There is also a Focused Effort card which allows players to double an action.
After the action phase, the player with the most effective planes gets to roll on the big board to see how many contracts they win, again limited by their factories. Each turn, the column shifts down. Every contract gives you a Papiermark, and then the Inflation phase hits and you could lose up to 50% of that funny money. Rounding out the turn, the War Status phase gives you a historical event that adjusts morale, sets the contracts for the next turn, and automatically adjusts the Allied aircraft efficiency.
So here’s what’s going on in all of the above. This is essentially a simple economic Eurogame-style design dressed up in GMT-style finery. The language it speaks is Wargame, and the influence of card-driven wargames is definitely present with all of the historicity, dual-use cards with Very Serious photographs on them and a sense of world events impacting things on a more micro scale. But here, it’s all about the economics of a specific industry rather than theaters of war. I really like this approach, and I really like how the game depicts this sort of “arms race” between rival companies against the backdrop of the events of WWI.
It didn’t look fun. But it actually is, because the goals are concrete and there is plenty of player interaction. In fact, there may be too much for some players looking for a more solitary development game. But the event cards add some take-that punch, and the fact that anything you add can be stolen through Espionage is always a consideration- especially if you are looking at adding something crucial to future designs like ailerons. Or if you just can’t research your way into them and find yourself needing to resort to more crooked methods.
I like Wings for the Baron best with three players but it supports five. The standard game is easy and not too heavy, but for those wanting a little more out of it you can flip the player mats over for a Campaign game that adds slightly more abstracted development of Recon and Bomber aircraft and a Political Influence element that affects contract rewards. I prefer the standard game as it keeps things nice and tight, focusing solely on the fighter-making competition. The campaign elements feel somewhat bolted on to the standard core. There is also a solo variant that allows for some automated opposition and it’s quite satisfying in its own regard.
Hunt: The Unknown Quarry is Jeremy Lennert’s latest, and it is nothing at all like his previous success Darkest Night. This is a three to six player social deduction game with a gothic horror theme. I’d be willing to bet that the gameplay was at least in part inspired by Chill: Black Morn Manor, Shadow Hunters, any version of Werewolf, and Clue. The setup is that the players each represent a Van Helsing-esque monster hunter converging on an abandoned mansion where a local monster has made a lair. And of course, one of the hunters is actually the monster. Insert the soundtrack cue announcing the plot twist.
Now, I do not particularly care for social deduction games and I’m frankly pretty worn out of bluffing like I’m not really the cop/bad dwarf/robot dude/zombie sympathizer. I think this mechanic in general has been ground into the dirt. But I like the storyline of this game and I like its approach to the deduction mechanic. It is also, as may not be apparent, kind of a fighting game. You’ll spend most of the game stabbing, netting, hammering, staking, shooting and punching the other players. It’s all in the name of science, of course, because the goal is to sort out not only who is the monster, but what kind of monster they are so that you know what you need to kill him/her/it. And then you’ve got to find the appropriate implement or implements among the cards in players’ hands or strewn about the mansion rooms.
At the beginning of the game, everyone gets a handful of item cards, but one player gets two monster cards that depict the attacks they can use. These also cross-reference to determine if the character is a vampire, werewolf, spirit, golem, fairy or lich. The monster’s goal is to kill or cripple everyone else. But only one hunter can win- this is not a co-op game, and I think that gives it nasty, free-for-all edge that many deduction games do not have.
On your turn, you get up to four actions to move through the mansion, search for items and harass other players. It’s really very simple mechanically, but it gets fairly complicated in keeping track of where everything is so there is kind of a memory element- if you don’t use the scratch sheets provided with the game. It’s very rules-light, which is to be expected with this kind of game as it needs to get out of the way of the suspicions, accusations and lies.
Through the course of the game, you’ll want to take notes because you will need to recall who has what or where that Cold Iron Poker was that you saw was laying around once you determine that your buddy Jim is a Warlock in disguise. Or you might have seen the other monster cards- those not held by the monster player- and need to rule out that Jim is not a Gorgon or Naga so you can plan accordingly. The cards shown to you by other players and the cards you see develop a matrix of possibilities, and the game is ultimately about eliminating possibilities until you arrive at the who, what and how.
But there is something of possible issue, and it is addressed literally on the first page of the rules. This is a very easy game to cheat at because it relies on a very specific kind of secret information. When you attack a player with an item, you have to roll against the item you are using without showing it to the person. Depending on the result, you decide if you want to go through with the attack. This obviously opens up the possibilities of bluffing. The results of the attack are resolved by the aggrieved taking wounds or sometimes showing or giving cards to the assailant.
This is all done between two players, and as it states in the rules any error- intentional or otherwise- may not be revealed until the end of the game when notes are compared. I don’t think the cheating is really an issue so much as someone screwing up is. If you attack a monster player with the correct weapon and they miss that it affects them, your note-taken can get thrown off. And if a player spends a minute looking at the monster/weapon reference chart…well, they are most likely the monster.
So Hunt requires that you play with honest people that completely understand not only the rules, but how they function to obscure and eventually reveal identity and vulnerability. If your group makes a mess of it, this is a game that could get unfair negative results. Because it is a pretty neat, aggressive design that I think certain kinds of groups will completely fall for. Just be willing to have those WTF sessions where someone messed something up on accident…or was it? Reprise that plot twist soundtrack cue here.