Barnes on Games- Wings for the Baron/Hunt: The Unknown Quarry in Review, WHQ Adventure Card Game, Heroes of Normandie

Barnes on Games- Wings for the Baron/Hunt: The Unknown Quarry in Review, WHQ Adventure Card Game, Heroes of Normandie Hot

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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.

 

Barnes on Games- Wings for the Baron/Hunt: The Unknown Quarry in Review, WHQ Adventure Card Game, Heroes of Normandie There Will Be Games
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Posted: 03 Dec 2015 16:08 by Gary Sax #216510
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Quick question---is the WHQ engage/combat system like LOTR LCG you either a) take damage b) deliver damage but can't do both in a turn? I can't deal with that.
Posted: 03 Dec 2015 16:27 by charlest #216511
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You had to go and compare HoN to Earth Reborn? I don't need another game...
Posted: 03 Dec 2015 16:42 by Michael Barnes #216513
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Gary Sax wrote:
Quick question---is the WHQ engage/combat system like LOTR LCG you either a) take damage b) deliver damage but can't do both in a turn? I can't deal with that.

NO. Good god no. It's not like that at all. Enemies are either engaged with a hero or "in shadow". If they are engaged, they may interfere with your actions- basically, If you try to do anything they roll dice that damage you. But the action dice have shields on them too, so the combat is still two-sided. When you choose an attack action, you still roll their dice (one per baddie) but you can deal damage. There are items/gear that convert non-attack results into damage, I think.

Yeah, HoN does remind me somewhat of Earth Reborn...but it's MUCH simpler, don't go into it expecting crazytown. But it does have that kind of detail/narrative, and it has that "Continental" feeling about it. Once you start putting superheroes and werewolves in it, it may feel even closer.

One thing that is way different, largely because of scale, is that combat is SUPER deadly. It is not hard to wipe out a squad. Terrain, initiative, and cardplay are really important.
Posted: 03 Dec 2015 17:22 by stoic #216515
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Heroes of Normandie reminds me of its less than streamlined ancestor, Frontiers.
Posted: 03 Dec 2015 20:57 by San Il Defanso #216521
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Michael Barnes wrote:
One thing that is way different, largely because of scale, is that combat is SUPER deadly. It is not hard to wipe out a squad. Terrain, initiative, and cardplay are really important.

This is my favorite aspect of Death Angel, and it instantly makes WHQ more interesting to me. I was already pretty excited anyway.
Posted: 03 Dec 2015 21:35 by Gary Sax #216524
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San Il Defanso wrote:
Michael Barnes wrote:
One thing that is way different, largely because of scale, is that combat is SUPER deadly. It is not hard to wipe out a squad. Terrain, initiative, and cardplay are really important.

This is my favorite aspect of Death Angel, and it instantly makes WHQ more interesting to me. I was already pretty excited anyway.

Think he's talking about the other game there, Heroes of Normandy.
Posted: 04 Dec 2015 02:21 by Kailes #216529
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WHQ definitely looks interesting. From what I've read so far, it seems like the heroes have quite a few options to directly assist each other, which was one of the weakest aspects of the Pathfinder Card Game and quite a few other cooperative games. Do you think that the quests are varied enough? There are probably quests that focus on defeating enemies, while others focus on exploration, but do the quests differ in enough ways from one another to feel unique?
Posted: 04 Dec 2015 06:33 by San Il Defanso #216533
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Gary Sax wrote:
San Il Defanso wrote:
Michael Barnes wrote:
One thing that is way different, largely because of scale, is that combat is SUPER deadly. It is not hard to wipe out a squad. Terrain, initiative, and cardplay are really important.

This is my favorite aspect of Death Angel, and it instantly makes WHQ more interesting to me. I was already pretty excited anyway.

Think he's talking about the other game there, Heroes of Normandy.

Look at this guy, letting things like facts and reading comprehension get in the way of what I know is right.
Posted: 04 Dec 2015 06:52 by charlest #216535
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Is there a Kelly's Heroes scenario in HoN? I know they have Clint in the game as he's on the box cover or one of the banners or whatever.
Posted: 04 Dec 2015 07:59 by Mezike #216540
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charlest wrote:
Is there a Kelly's Heroes scenario in HoN? I know they have Clint in the game as he's on the box cover or one of the banners or whatever.
Yes there is, but the punchboards for it are only available as an add-on through their Kickstarter campains, currently for 10 Euro. Some of them might end up on eBay but probably with a premium price tag. Otherwise both Clint and Donald Sutherland are in the base game.
Posted: 04 Dec 2015 08:11 by charlest #216541
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Bummer. Want to hit Tigers with paint rounds and yell at my opponent while calling him Moriarty.
Posted: 04 Dec 2015 08:19 by hotseatgames #216542
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I had long thought about snagging Heroes of Normandie but never did it. I was able to realize that I just wouldn't get it to the table. Still looks like a lot of fun. I might grab it on PC some time.
Posted: 04 Dec 2015 08:22 by Michael Barnes #216544
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Kailes wrote:
WHQ definitely looks interesting. From what I've read so far, it seems like the heroes have quite a few options to directly assist each other, which was one of the weakest aspects of the Pathfinder Card Game and quite a few other cooperative games. Do you think that the quests are varied enough? There are probably quests that focus on defeating enemies, while others focus on exploration, but do the quests differ in enough ways from one another to feel unique?

YES, there is an "Aid" action for each hero, which lets you put an auto-success token on another's action card. These are like charges you can store for when you need them, up to two per card. Ranged attacks (like the Waywatcher's bow) also let you shoot enemies engaged with other players.

I've only done the first quest (twice- won both with two sets of heroes but each game was pretty close), but looking over the materials there is some variety in terms of how the narrative unfolds and the hazards it puts in front of you. In the first one, it's really an exploration quest (the goal is to get to the last card, Grump's Sump, and fully explore it) but at three points Grump shows up and harasses you. If you beat him, you get four travel markers at the current location but he runs off to pop up later.

I actually didn't care that much for Death Angel...so it isn't so much "high praise", it's "this is more like it".

Yeah, there is a Kelly's Heroes scenario but like Mezike said....punchboards. There are a shitload of punchboard add-ons. Some of them are literally just one. I think most of the singletons do things like a specific recruitment group or very specialized units. I'd class them all as very optional, from what I've seen so far.

I ran the "Slaughterhouse" scenario solo last night. US starts with a Recon squad hunkered down in a country house. Nazis move in from the north (and let's be clear about it, these are Nazis, not Germans). They are bringing three squads with MG42s. From the southwest, a US Rifle platoon with a .30 cal squad attachment and an M5 Stuart approaches down a road to relieve the Recon. I ran the platoon leader (Lt. Parks) and his squad down the bottom of the map, ducking under the bocage. The other US group went up the west side of the map to try to capture tactical positions (which give you things like extra cards/orders). The Stuart headed up the road, looking to get into a big central clearing. Nazis moved down and put the three MG squads in the hedgerows, deploying their tripods and just waiting. Obfr. Hauser and a fire squad went through the forest north of the house. By turn three, it got live when the US squads were in the house and the Germans were throwing potato mashers to flush them out. They hit one squad, suppressed another, and Hauser busted in through a window and assaulted the support team in there. They would have been killed, but I had a card that just pushed/suppressed them. The M5 moved in and I planned on playing an order that lets it run over infantry, but the Nazis played a communication failure so it lost its order for the turn. They moved in and just POUNDED it with Panzerfausts, destroying the main weapon and immobilizing it. Lt. Parks and another fire squad got into an insane CQB firefight in the farmhouse- nobody was hitting shit even blowing through ammo tokens (+1 to rolls doesn't help on ones and twos) and Hauser blazing away while he had two units closing in on the windows. So it wound up with just Drake and Hauser in the house on turn 6- which means the US wins if they have a unit there. So I guess Hauser just finally ran out of ammo or whatever and threw his hands up. Awesome game.
Posted: 04 Dec 2015 09:08 by Mezike #216548
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Michael Barnes wrote:
There are a shitload of punchboard add-ons. Some of them are literally just one. I think most of the singletons do things like a specific recruitment group or very specialized units. I'd class them all as very optional, from what I've seen so far.

I've had just about every bit of cardboard for this game at one time or another, some of it I've kept and some I've let go. I would say that the boxed scenario packs are nice if you like pre-made scenarios and different terrain (towns, bridges, beaches, and so on), and the Army Boxes are good if you like the idea of free-play (build you own) scenarios as they have tons of units and interesting stuff like commanders, tanks and heavy weapons. There are punchboards for Saving Private Ryan and Cross of Iron that are fun to have as the whole point of the game is this war movie angle, most of the other small packs I'd agree are completionist stuff. Oh yeah, there is this 'Gazette' that they do as well, a quarterly issue of a themed punchboard with some scenarios and a write-up. One of those is Easy Company which is pretty cool to have, the others are all advanced/unique stuff like minefields and rules for morale so of varying interest depending on what you want out of it. This definitely isn't a game you need to go all-in on.
One neat thing about this game is that you can trade out the units in the scenarios with anything else of equal points value, so you can swap in the more interesting units without having to create your own scenarios from scratch, plus you can use the scenarios available online even if you don't have all the things listed in them.

I haven't actually played this for a while, so thank you for writing up about it as it's made me want to go and set up a couple of games for this weekend!
Posted: 04 Dec 2015 10:01 by Michael Barnes #216554
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No, thank you for posting that- I'm trying to sort out "what's next" and that actually helped a lot more than some of the other "what to buy" posts I've seen. Especially the insight about swapping out equal points units. That makes the army boxes and punchboards more sensible.

Still sorting it out though...I'm thinking D-Day and St. Elise would be a good start. Maybe the army boxes. I really would prefer pre-made scenarios, not as interested at this stage in making my own.
Posted: 04 Dec 2015 12:19 by metalface13 #216566
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I was surprised by the lack of chatter around the fort about the WHQ card game. I've been kind of curious about it as I really like the WHQ iPad game and always wanted to play the board game back in the day. I already have Pathfinder, but have never gotten past the introductory scenarios. What's setup like in WHQ vs. Pathfinder? Pathfinder seems so unwieldily, but perhaps that's just the ginormous box. I also liked the Space Hulk card game the two times I played it, for whatever that's worth.
Posted: 04 Dec 2015 16:00 by Michael Barnes #216609
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Let me make it easy for you Casey. WHQ is better than Pathfinder on pretty much every level EXCEPT that the character development is less extensive. But it is also tighter, smaller and more direct