Barnes on Games- Nothing in Review, Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth, Cuba Libre, Food Chain Magnate, and More

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Barnes on Games- Nothing in Review, Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth, Cuba Libre, Food Chain Magnate, and More
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Well, nothing "formal" at least...

No big review this week…I’ve got a tremendous pile of review stuff in process but I let the other writers at Miniature Market pick up my slack. We did do a “Summer Boredom Busters” feature focused on games for middle school and high school aged kids. I picked Argent: The Consortium. Read it here if you are interested. Our next feature is about Road to Legend, which is a roundtable discussion.

So, on the table the past week I’ve had some GREAT stuff. First up is Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth. This is another of GW’s Specialist games, and it is somewhat closer to standard 40k than their board games tend to be. It’s almost a hybrid of a hex-to-hex  light wargame like a Command & Colours title and a super-stripped down 40k rules set. The rules are almost shockingly easy to follow but the few “chrome” elements really make it come alive. It’s so economically designed that I think most gamers raised on the FFG/CMON style games won’t appreciate how direct and streamlined it is while also delivering plenty of narrative and drama. There’s just a handful of scenarios, but they play out differently depending on which cards you draw for  your side (Ultramarines or Word Bearers).

I had a friend over to play it- also a long-lapsed 40k guy (Necron player)- and we ran through the first scenario twice and the second one all in about two hours plus about an hour where we built the Terminators for the second. In the first one, both sides are fighting a running battle to get past these closing blast doors.  First game was kind of tentative as we worked out the activations, pinning, using special weapons to try to get specific critical effects (like eliminating tactical/action points), and so forth. The second attempt was much more interesting. He took a unit around to the left and just charged them through the first set, I was looking to engage in a firefight and try to pin his guys in the middle. It wound up 3-3 and with a brutal firefight right in the middle as the last door was shutting and he managed to get a man in for the win. It was awesome.

The second scenario finds a squad of Ultramarine Terminators trying to hit this switch in the middle of the board. They’re split in two groups, confused apparently, and one set doesn’t activate until turn 3. I took the Ultramarines again versus a full 10 man space marine squad with Sergeant, Vexilla, a heavy bolter man and a multi-melta man. Two barricades at bottlenecks give the Word Bearers an advantage, but the Terminators just barreled through using their special ability to move and shoot if they aren’t adjacent. My termie with a lightning claw just crushed the opposing units in assault after tossing a krak grenade and sort of set him to pull his men back to protect the switch. My flamer guy fumbled every single roll so that front was a stalemate at the other border. He set up the heavy bolter to be set for the three late arrival terminators  and managed to hit one before he could do anything. I blasted the heavy bolter, but he had this Dark Pact card that  kept him alive. Effin’ Chaos.

So it turned into a last man standing situation, I had two tactical points left to get the sergeant in place to flip the switch. His last man had a freakin’ rad grenade card, if he got a hit on three dice it would remove a model- my sergeant- and end the game. He whiffed, I won.

LOVE this game. Can’t wait to go for the other scenarios. It is a game that GW should have made 20 years ago. I just got in Deathwatch Overkill so I’m looking forward to that…after building like 50 Genestealer cultists.

I’ve also been playing Cuba Libre, mostly solo both playing all sides and using the flowcharts. This game is just amazing. At first it seems incredibly complex, but when you drill down into it, it’s really just an area control game…but with four sides that all do very different things with very different agendas. In many ways, I think this game (system, really) feels closer to Dune than just about anything else since then. It has the wheels within wheels/alliances of convenience thing in spades, and it more or less requires you to become strange bedfellows with the opposition to get ahead. Tons of potential for dealmaking/agreements, lots of sophisticated decision points…the last game I tried the Government got into this brutal war with the Syndicate- which kind of isn’t a great thing because there are some mutual interests. But the 27 July forces wound up causing a lot of trouble on the map and got close to winning- largely thanks to some cards that kept them from directly fighting the Directario. Government wound up winning in the end, muscling the cities into submission.

Should be looking at Falling Sky sometime this week- it looks a little more complicated than Cuba Libre, but most of the concepts are similar.

Last night I checked out the Descent Forgotten Souls co-op campaign, it was really fun but it made me realize that the Road to Legend app just kind of automates what it does to some extent. My main complaint is that it doesn’t use any of the expansion stuff, which sucks because the expansion monsters are way more interesting. But once again, I realize that my dislike for Descent in the past comes almost completely from the Overlord element.

Playing a lot of Food Chain Magnate online. I tried it face to face with a couple of friends, but we were kind of lost. It’s not an easy game to teach. I don’t know, I think it’s an interesting game, I love the satirical element (you make people want to eat garbage and figure out ways to make them pay more for the same garbage, your corporate structure is constantly changing, skilled/trained employees become a cost center that you have to decide to eliminate, etc.) and the economic supply/demand model is awesome. But the game isn’t really much fun. It’s very much like most of Splotter’s past work, highly logistical and supportive of calculatory/analytical gameplay. I’m definitely glad I didn’t pay $150 for it, regardless of the great graphic design on every element EXCEPT for the tiles, which looks like an indie German game circa 1992. The “milestone” thing is another achievement system and it is interesting, but also somewhat taxing. I dunno. Hard call on it right now, but I think it’s about a three star review from me.

The Doctor Who card game is better than I thought it would be, and it actually does feel like a Martin Wallace design. I still don’t think I’d necessarily recommend it to a non-fan, but if you like drawing a card with Colin Baker on it and talking with your pals about how much he sucks, then there is more value here than you might expect.

And to top off this hodge-podge, obligatory post...Jim Felli (Shadows of Malice) just sent me word that he shipped me a copy of his new game, Zimby Mojo. I played an early version of this game a few months ago and it might be something really cool. I've not seen the finished version yet but I guarantee you that it is not quite like anything else you've played.

Michael BarnesFollow Michael Barnes Follow Michael Barnes Message Michael Barnes


Sometime in the early 1980s, MichaelBarnes’ parents thought it would be a good idea to buy him a board game to keep him busy with some friends during one of those high-pressure, “free” timeshare vacations. It turned out to be a terrible idea, because the game was TSR’s Dungeon! - and the rest, as they say, is history. Michael has been involved with writing professionally about games since 2002, when he busked for store credit writing for Boulder Games’ newsletter. He has written for a number of international hobby gaming periodicals and popular Web sites. From 2004-2008, he was the co-owner of Atlanta Game Factory, a brick-and-mortar retail store. He is currently the co-founder of and as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Miniature Market’s Review Corner feature. He is married with two childen and when he’s not playing some kind of game he enjoys stockpiling trivial information about music, comics and film.

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Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #228802 10 Jun 2016 04:50
I haven't played almost any of it, but I think the achievement bit is the poorest part of Food Chain Magnate. Everything else you could incorporate into your sense of how things work---then they just toss this table of 20 things that give you special powers for no reason? It has like some old school FFG "Add another deck!" layer elements.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #228807 10 Jun 2016 09:28
Yeah, I am really not digging that part of the design. It's like they felt like it needed short-term goals, and since it is a most money thing the only way to really do it with achievements is to grant advantages. But it's like you say, kind of a layer too far. There's plenty of game there without them.

I don't think I would ever play it F2F. The online version softens the blow of it being a 3-4 hour game, at least.

Greed Incorporated and Antiquity are both much better...and more fun.
Columbob's Avatar
Columbob replied the topic: #228813 10 Jun 2016 11:20
They started using expansion monsters in the third coop scenario for Descent - Dark Elements - once they ran out of the base game monsters in the first two, and only incorporated the 2 monster types from Lair of the Wyrm. I haven't tried that one yet, but we found Forgotten Souls a slog while we beat Nature's ire on the first try (and haven't replayed it yet). We'll get back to them maybe after playing RtL.

Road to Legend is the evolution of those coop scenarios into a full-fledged campaign.

Deathwatch sounds good, it's the one 40K game I'm most interested in.
Grudunza's Avatar
Grudunza replied the topic: #228816 10 Jun 2016 12:02
I looked up Zimby Mojo on BGG. Sounds pretty unique and cool. Looking forward to your word on that (and assuming it's good, I call dibs on buying it from you later).
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #228852 11 Jun 2016 22:59

Michael Barnes wrote: Yeah, I am really not digging that part of the design. It's like they felt like it needed short-term goals, and since it is a most money thing the only way to really do it with achievements is to grant advantages. But it's like you say, kind of a layer too far. There's plenty of game there without them.

I don't think I would ever play it F2F. The online version softens the blow of it being a 3-4 hour game, at least.

Greed Incorporated and Antiquity are both much better...and more fun.

For me, the problem is that they are arbitrary. The rest of Food Chain Magnate actually makes sense---the mechanics are consistent. But the random powers you gain when you check certain boxes... they aren't even necessarily consistent or thematic. Why you would gain them... the answer is simply to add a big wrench into the game state.
Colorcrayons's Avatar
Colorcrayons replied the topic: #228864 12 Jun 2016 12:57
I think my main interest in deathwatch overkill, is so I can complete my space hulk collection to bring in the genestealer expansion to 3rd ed aesthetics and design specs.
Not that the genestealer expansion was very good, because psyker stuff makes it a very different game. But its more space hulk, so its another avenue to enjoy if I can find people willing to invest the time.
Sevej's Avatar
Sevej replied the topic: #228871 12 Jun 2016 21:12
I think I've cooled off on the COIN games. The game is very controlling, in that each side have actions that are designed to make things difficult to do and steer the interaction toward a pre-designed mechanism. This isn't always a bad thing though, once you get past the learning curve, you can really play it on a high level.

But man, it's often really hard to pull anything in this game.
JEM's Avatar
JEM replied the topic: #228874 13 Jun 2016 06:33
I should get to play Cuba Libra pretty soon. Someone else at the gaming group now owns it along with Falling Skies. With my Liberty or Death and Fire in the Lake I think we'll have many COIN options. That sense of fighting over the controls of a super tanker is what I enjoy about the games.