"You suddenly regret playing the worst game of 2018. THE END."
Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger
It seemed like a surefire bet. I love storytelling games, I love gamebooks. My kids do too, and my son even has the House of Danger book. It's also one of Target's curated titles, published by Z-Man games. The production is awesome, with the correct CYOA typesetting and graphic design. The cards even have a yellowed paperback page tone. It looks fantastic, and if you have any nostalgia for these classic interactive fiction books, you'll likely find yourself wanting this.
Or, you may wind up like I did realizing that you really didn't have as much nostalgia for the books as you thought. And you may find that the pitiful writing (some will insist that it is "cheesy" and therefore fun- they would be incorrect) insufferable. The disjointed, painfully juvenile story is boring at best, arbitrary at worst. You might push on through the end of the five chapters (which is doable in one session but I certainly don't recommend it) and realize that you've been railroaded all along as successes and failures accrue to steer you to one of the endings...but did you really choose your own adventure? Perhaps choosing to play was the instant fail?
The irony is that this design, executed by "Prospero Hall" (the nom de plume of Forrest-Pruzan Creative), doesn't do anything that the better gamebooks already did before and better. I wasn't particularly impressed by the inclusion of items and the "do you have " branches because that is old fashioned Fighting Fantasy stuff. The basic skill checks are just that, about as basic as it gets and not really all that frequent- at least in my playthroughs. There's a Danger Level mechanic where the challenges get harder if you do things like backtrack or fail key challenges, but I felt more at risk for picking a page that leads me to a land mine and instant death than for failing rolls. There is also a Psychic Level track that serves as kind of an experience system, but it is also a key gameplay element that shifts you toward or away certain resolutions. If you manage to get it up to certain levels you might unlock visions from the deck of clue cards. But you might not. Do you want to replay the game to see what you missed? I sure don't.
I'm not sure how they are getting away with selling this as a multiplayer game. It simply isn't one. It's a solitaire game with a single character. There are no group deduction elements like in Mythos Tales, nor are there personal stories and development like there is in Legacy of Dragonholt. If you insist on playing with a group, it is about like reading a CYOA book and taking turns making the choices. But this time, you occasionally roll dice or triumphantly point out to the group that you do, in fact, have the sandwich. It's worked with my kids where I'm kind of the DM, reading the stupid cards and having them make all of the choices. But then my daughter declared that she "hated" the "stupid" game and checked out. My son's interest has waned as well. Because it's boring.
I get a sense that this is a game coasting on the same kind of grown-ass man-child goodwill that the Big Trouble in Little China, Goonies, and Dark Crystal games enjoy and that the entirety of Ready Player One rests on. However, this game will not recapture the simpler, better times of your youth. It will only remind you that CYOA books actually kind of sucked and that there are much better, more engaging games in this design space. Please, check out Mythos Tales or Legacy of Dragonholt over this game. Or one of the great Fighting Fantasy books you can get on your mobile device. Anything but this game. Don't encourage them to make another.
Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Champions
Unbidden, I got a box in the mail that had all four of the Campaign decks for this new TCG as well as a booster box. I sort of gave it the side eye, especially since there is all this talk about scanning cards in your phone and using them in an online game and all that. And everybody knows that this format is totally sink or swim. But what a nice surprise this has turned out to be- this is a very cool card game with some interesting gameplay that isn't really like Magic or any of the other tentpole designs in this area. Apparently, it's based on PlayForge's previous game Lightseekers, which I've never played, but I would expect that this is likely a revised and improved version of that game with Warhammer livery.
It's lane based, and you put a Champion on top of a face-down blessing in each lane. Each champ has 4 quests, and every time they complete one you rotate them and the corner shows their new goal. It might be to cast a spell, play an ability card, summon a unit, or whatever. Once they make a full rotation, they unlock the blessing- and these tend to be pretty serious effects. Units do not attack each other- you only damage the other player. And the units and spells do this rotation thing where the cards are either on an effective expiration schedule or a power cycle. Cards may need a couple of turns to charge up, or they may have fluctuating abilties.
This is a cool game with some very neat gameplay. I'm really looking forward to the mobile game now, especially since I have a mountain of cards I can scan in and play with there. But the physical game has been really good, and I've not even done any deckbuilding yet. I think this game is- this is what you are wondering- completely playable and satisfying with just the challenge decks.
I just got this in courtesy Leder Games, and I've already bought the expansion. Folks, this is the game. Kind of blown away by it. Not just the gameplay, but the concept, setting, and look of it are just amazing. The full review is a couple of weeks away, but rest assured that this is almost certainly one of the top titles of the year. It kind of sits at a triangulation point between those early 2000s "Weuros", COIN, and Dune. It's heady and innovative, artistic and daring...but also hugely accessible. They really pulled out all of the stops to make sure that it's easy to learn. I posted a tweet about the animal meeples being instantly iconic and more charming than a truckload of CMON stretch goal plastic and I think I got more likes than I ever have. This is the game.
Charlie mentioned this new Van Ness brothers title in the forums, mentioning that it "wouldn't blow your hair back". That's true. But this is a very neat, very unique eurogame that has a Donald X. kind of setup- you pick three realms and those three realms define what you build, what you gather, what the goals are, and everything. It almost seems like playing three light resource management games that sort of bleed into each other. It's an almost disarmingly humble game- it isn't flashy, ostentatious, or fancy. There's an almost comfort food like quality to it, even while it is doing something pretty unique. I've really been enjoying it- it's pleasant and fun to play. No, it probably won't blow your hair back. But it may ruffle it a bit. Review coming on this one too.
Here's one you don't see folks talking about anymore. My kids have really been into this sort of forgotten Knizia classic. Like most of his top designs, it's extremely focused. You lay out a trail of Egyptian artifacts leading to a fun little plastic pyramid. On your turn, you move your pawn forward to what you want to take, but you can never go back. The goal is to collect sets and gain majorities based on shape/suit and color, with each set having a varying number of pieces. It's super light, but it's one of those that has just enough game to keep it engaging. It's not a top tier Knizia, to be sure, but it's a decent family game that has the Master's touch.
I'm so very close to shifting my 40k gaming strictly to Kill Team. It is not that it is "better", and in fact it is a more limited and restrictive system. Especially if you are like me and like to run the Astra Militarum motorpool or an "all models $50+" Tyranid army. However, it is so much more playable. My son and I will throw out one of the playmats- which fit on any kitchen table- and put a couple of pieces of Mechanicus or Imperialis terrain on it. We pick 5 or 6 pre-filled out unit cards, pick a mission, and just play for 30 minutes or so. It's satisfying, cinematic, and exciting. It's not as deep, detailed, or rich and it can feel even more dicey- especially if you have a bad dice rolling strategy and whiff a couple of decisive throws. But it's all here.
I'm really fond of running Orks right now. I love that they have a card that lets them commandeer a Galvanic Servohauler for a joyride- we bust out laughing when that damn thing moves LESS than the Ork's base 5" move on a 2D6 roll. My son is all about AM, but he's struggling with sorting out that you want to have a lot of lasguns pointing at one thing, standing far away. I explained "gunline" to him last night.
I've gotten back into painting my Mechanicus terrain, which I never finished last year after SW:A. I had it all in pieces for maximum modularity, but now I've gone and built large pieces with it. I like it that way much more, the ease of setup is worth not having so much granularity.
And the whole KT collection thing has begun, despite my resistance. I'm doing Thousand Sons.
Next time- three from Tasty Minstrel Games, including Pioneer Days