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F:AT Thursday - Leaping Lemmings, Legends of Andor, GMT and Kickstarter

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There Will Be Games

On the shores of a small inland lake in a sleepy town in the woods of New England, the sun shines and a mild breeze blows. The sounds of children can be heard laughing as they splash in the water by the narrow beach. In a cottage, smelling as all summer getaways do of must and joy, the true believers once again gather. It is as perfect a day as ever there was and it is F:AT Thursday.


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The whole gang was there this week as we met once again by the Lake of Crystal. Engineer Al and Uba had recently returned from their summer vacation down on the Maryland shore. Josh was stressed but pleased with the direction his life is going. A big promotion at work, his superstar artist wife getting professional recognition and work, and the closing on his new house fast approaching. Very awesome for him!  And I, well, as Matt Fantastic once said "It never ends with Jeff Luce."

All too true.

But that is neither here nor there. Let's talk about some games! That's why you clicked that link in the first place....

This week we returned to The Legends of Andor and attempted scenario 4. The game board is double sided with one side being the countryside of Andor and the flip side representing the dark and mysterious caverns that lie below. This was our first foray into the caves so we were pretty excited. 

We were tasked with raiding the abandoned mines and escaping with a certain amount of gems but first we had to make our way through the mist shrouded woods. Al, as the Ranger, wisely purchased a spy glass from a local merchant and with this ability to see impending danger, we traveled to the mine entrance with a minimum of fuss.

Upon entering the cave, I employed my favorite tactic...that is the blind charge of the full on frontal assault. Imagine my surprise when it ended up in the all too usual result of absolute and abject failure. I tried to play it off as being in character (a dwarf sees gems...what's he going to do...run right for 'em of course) but the truth is that in a moment of weakness I was burned to a crisp by erupting lava. 

After heaping a suitable amount of scorn and derision upon me for my flawed strategy, the others attempted to complete the mission however with the mines filling up with monsters they were overwhelmed. Alas.

As I've mentioned in the past, Andor does not come with a standard rule book and if the game has a major flaw, it is this. It has the rules parceled out on cards so that you can learn as you play which is great for learning but is disastrous when you've not played for a while and want to refresh yourself before you set it all up. There is a brief 4 page rules summary but it has omissions and sucks for looking things up.

It is just so inexplicable why if you are going to print the rules summary of 4 pages you don't just print another 4 pages and have a proper 8 page rule book. Sure have the incremental learning on the cards but have the rule book too. Quite frustrating.

That aside, the game is such fun. I really do enjoy it. Especially the first time through a scenario when the surprises are still surprises. They are usually the things that get us killed or lead to our failure the first time through a scenario but they really are delightful and unexpected.

I also had forgotten how great the art is in the game. It may be just a "generic" fantasy setting but the board is just great. The caves have a rope bridge across a bottomless chasm, there is a chamber with the statue of a forgotten dwarven hero. Little things like that. They don't affect the game very much but they sure do make it more fun to play.

I was pretty happy to read that there is an expansion for the game coming out at Essen. "The Quest for the Star Shield" or some such (The current title is in German). I read that you can tame a wolf pack to assist you...A Wolf Pack...how neat. It'll be a while before it's available in the US, I'd wager, so no need to get the hype machine going yet but something to look forward to.

Leaping Lemmings by GMT was next. Josh had picked this up at WBC. This game has been out for a while and it is one of those games that I had heard good things about but every time I looked at the box I felt a certain revulsion and had no desire to play it. Was it the art? The concept? I'm not sure. What I am sure about is that I should have manned up and given it a try because it was a good time AND a good game.

The premise is that you have a clan of lemmings that want nothing more than to be remembered for making the most spectacular dive off a cliff onto the rocks below. The more outstanding the dive, the more points for the clan. However, as your lemmings race towards their doom they must avoid the two eagles that wish to eat them. That's right, you must try not to be killed by the birds before you can commit suicide.

It's essentially a race game with a whole bunch of  "take that" in it. Oh, little Billy the Lemming is about to make his leap and attain glory...nope...your opponent plays a card that sends  him straight to the grave yard of shame! (Screw you, Josh Look).

You can definitely tell this game was designed by war gamers though. The board, for such a lighthearted game is not very inviting. It has hexes, zones of control, and more than one holding box.

Despite it's somewhat gruesome theme, I think it'd be a good game for kids in the 10 and up category to play with mom and dad. But don't get the wrong idea, it's a strong enough game that adults can play it too and have fun with our without the little crumb crunchers.

I lost horribly. I could blame my inherently weak brain power but I think I'll deflect the loss to the others teaming up on me in a metagame exercise of punishment for my failure in Andor. Yeah..that's it...I became their punching bag! I forget which jerk won...it was tough to see from my position in the basement of the score track.

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In our after game discussion of important matters, our conversation revolved around GMT the game company. Specifically, their P500 list.

If you aren't a war gamer, you may not be familiar with the concept. It is simply that the company puts a game they are thinking about making up on their website. Here, potential customers can get information and a basic idea of the game and then, if they are interested, they pre-order it. If the game gets 500 or more pre-orders then GMT will commit to getting it published. (That's the theory but in effect the number of pre-orders usually needs to be  a bit higher).

This is a tried and true method for war games. It mitigates the risk for the small companies that make them by giving them some assurance that a given game will at least break even. And a customer can, at any time before the game actually ships out, cancel his pre-order and he has lost nothing. Unlike Kickstarter where once you make the pledge your money is effectively gone.

GMT, as a company, had the wise and sound idea to try and branch out of the war gaming niche a few years ago and start making games with a wider appeal. They certainly have the experience and knowledge to get a game developed and produced and to do so with great quality. They have had mixed results with the games they have come up with.

The initial success of Dominant Species, I think, was driven more by the name recognition of Chad Jensen, the designer of Combat Commander, than by the game itself. However, once it was out, the game play carried it to the level of success it has enjoyed (they are on the 3rd printing/edition?).

On the other end of the spectrum, we have Leaping Lemmings. With no name recognition and a theme very alien to the war game mind set, it struggled for a long time on the P500. Even with good word of mouth and being a damn fine game it it's own right, it hasn't been a top seller. In fact you can get it dirt cheap..I think it was going for $20 in the vender room at WBC.

I chalk up the disparity to a lack of marketing. The casual gamer is never going to keep tabs on the P500 let alone make a pre-order. They aren't going to visit the GMT website or read the P500 Geeklist on BGG. Without exposure in the places that a casual gamer will frequent, the non-war games produced by GMT are at a huge disadvantage.

Take, for example, the game Thunder Alley, a game about NASCAR racing,  currently on the list. I have seen a demo version of it at ConnCon the year before last and it looked great and certainly everybody who was playing it was having a great time. It seems to have a lot in common with the classic "Daytona 500" game but deeper and more interesting. However, despite being a fully developed and enjoyable game, it languishes on the P500.

Imagine, though, if a game of this nature was put up on Kickstarter. Put up by some no-name with no track record and no experience. In this day and age of Kickstart-mania is it even conceivable that this game would fail to meet it's pledge target? I really don't think so.

I am no fan of kickstarter and certainly no fan of established companies using it as a proxy to offset development and production costs. However, in a case like Thunder Alley, where the game is good to go and has been tested and proven, can anybody really get upset if a company like GMT were to use it for wider exposure?

There Will Be Games
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