Reviews written by HiveGod
tl;dr — A solid storytelling/adventure game that's best with 2 players; the token-casting combat system is better than dice. Can end up feeling more mechanical and rushed than evocative, however.
There's something deeply satisfying about taking a whip and an axe to a necromancer.
Say, friend—are you looking for a game with
- expendable sidekicks
- the "Festival of Scabs"
- and a French-kissing ettin?
Well, this is it! I found these things in the box—and more!—and so can you!*
*DISCLAIMER: Specific instances of absurd fantasy tropes may or may not actually be in box and may instead reside in very specific skulls, one of which may or may not be yours. Horrible Black Void where prohibited.
After 10 plays: (5x 2p, 3x 3p, 2x 4p)
Comparison with 2nd Edition.
I am a HUGE Runebound fan—having burned through 1st Edition and collected a complete set of 2nd—and I really like what 3rd is up to. It's an entirely different game, and doesn't supersede or obsolete 2nd in any way. I will continue to play both, for different reasons: 2nd to bask in a fully-realized fantasy adventure world, 3rd to explore the new thing. Comparisons between the two at this point are useless—remember how thin and spare 2nd was when it first came out? 3rd is just a new beginning...
When it comes to games in general I'm most interested in the stories they tell; when it comes to adventure games it's all I care about. I don't give a fig for the systems, mechanics, or underlying math—I just want a good story. My only questions are "Was it fun?" and "Was it memorable?" 3rd nails both, and so far the stories have been fantastic.
Build the character you want.
Everyone I've played this with really enjoys the fact that you can build pretty much any kind of character you want to play. Though each character starts on a path you are not forced down it—you can change it up based on how skills and gear come out. Lord Hawthorne can become a powerful mage even as Master Thorn deviates into a combat monster, leaping from wall to wall lopping off heads... It's cool to hunt for killer combos of abilities/skills/gear—there's a lot of very powerful synergy hidden in the game.
Count on at least one hour per player; you can knock 30 minutes off the total if everyone's experienced. This means 2p in 90 minutes (!) but you're still looking down the barrel of 3½ hours for 4p.
This is, first and foremost, a story game—and as such it suffers at max player count where there's just too much story to pay attention to. With 2p you have your story and your opponent's story (as well as being engaged in every round of combat, either doing it or running the monster); delightful. With 3p you have two other stories to pay attention to; a stretch, but not unreasonable. With 4p you have three other stories and I find it's just too much story flying around as all the action becomes a mishmash of narrative elements to no good effect. The sweet spot is definitely 2p.
While I could go into more detail about what I've come to love about this, I won't, for the simple reason that it's a game of exploration and adventure—and that means it's best experienced in person over time rather than laid out for you here. You're going to have to figure out for yourself how to become a hero in this world—how best to prepare for that final fight as the clock ticks down; how to interleave movement toward your next goal with mundane pick-up-and-deliver jobs and exploration quests; how best to utilize and sequence your interactions with the three kinds of encounter decks... and so on. You could sit down, read all the cards, and min-max your way into an empty, soulless win bereft of surprise or novelty—or you could just play, explore the world organically and become that hero through trial and error across many raucous sessions with friends. The resulting stories are the real treasure here.
After 20 plays: Utlimately, this ends up as a third-tier adventure game for me—meaning I would rather play Talisman or Runebound 2nd Ed. instead. There are two key issues: 1) the mass of mechanical processes and 2) the countdown timer, both of which actually make it harder to experience a satisfying adventure. The game's various systems—included here to increase the number "meaningful decisions" and ameliorate any feeling of lack of control—end up working at odds with good storytelling, rather than enhancing it. Often I am left with the soulless sensation of moving cardboard levers in service to math, and find myself struggling to keep my head in the glorious mind-movie I originally sat down to experience. This is a personal failing, and one you might not suffer from, but for me it leeches all the gold from the magic circle. And the countdown timer, a great idea on surface, ends up making the game feel rushed—there's no time to luxuriate in the world, or explore its corners, or take side quests "just because"... In other words, there's no time for adventure. The whole thing feels like a bucket of mechanisms to be rushed through as the clock ticks down.*
*"Balanced" has all the letters in "Bland"—and in the right order, even.
Don't get me wrong—I will still gladly play this, it's just that it's much more of a struggle to find and maintain the narrative thread than in other adventure games. And sometimes I don't want to have to put in the extra work this one requires.
NOTE: Rating is for the Runebound system as a whole—the base game, with nothing but the "Rise of the Dragonlords" adventure, pulls a solid 4 stars. It soars to 5 stars when considered with the plethora of expansions, especially the Adventure Variants (each with a different overarching plot).
A fun adventure game system from the "pull a card, read the encounter, roll some dice" family. Can be boring with dull people—it requires a certain amount of storytelling ability to make it interesting:
Q: Why do you get a plus to Diplomacy after you kill the Hill Troll?
A: Because you made a backpack out of his scrotum, that's why.
Be sure to read all the flavor text aloud—dramatically—for best effect. (This isn't really optional; the plot is gradually revealed through the flavor text as the players progress through the adventure decks. On balance it's less "flavor text" than it is "story".)
Plays best with 2, though I might be persuaded to play with 3 if everyone is knowledgeable and peppy and takes their turns with preternatural alacrity. The claim that it plays with 6 is a cruel joke that we fell for exactly once, never to be repeated again—it ate an entire day to no good effect.
UPDATE: We managed 9 plays of 1st Edition, and that was without expansions. As this is a "Saturday afternoon" game (taking several hours) that means we got somewhere around two months' worth of Saturdays out of it. Two months of solid play off a single scenario. With all the scenarios FFG pumped out for this—12 total—the replay value blows through the roof, soars into orbit and then takes a hard left into a magical wormhole. HUGE amount of bang-for-buck!
UP-UPDATE: Tweaks that make for more gaming goodness:
1) Use the "shorter game" rules, making it easier to level up.
2) Use "softer knockouts" to prevent table flippage.*
3) Separate the massive market deck into three piles: the Tavern (allies), the Smithy (weapons & armor), and the Bazaar (a catch-all for familiars, magic items & artifacts). This allows players to really target the holes in their kit/entourage without endless turns of market-stepping loads of junk they don't need.
4) Ignore PvP. We found it just slowed things down and lead to hard feelings.**
*After too many rounds of bad rolls and bad beats I finally manage to scrape together enough gold to buy the magic sword that dovetails neatly with my special abilities—only to get my ass kicked by a wild boar and lose the sword.
**After too many rounds of bad rolls and bad beats I finally manage to scrape together enough gold to buy the magic sword that dovetails neatly with my special abilities—only to get my ass kicked by you and lose the sword.
While these tweaks speed up the game, I'm not necessarily saying the game needs speeding up. For a lazy Saturday afternoon (especially a bad weather one) this game expands to fill the time nicely. We've found that the above tweaks will take an afternoon game and turn it into a evening game—and that just means we get to play more!
The best hobby game ever made. Period.
My favorite thing about Magic is that it is a game with literally thousands of pieces, all capable of interacting with each other in amazing and surprising ways; this fact allows a player to truly "play their personality" like no other game does. Magic does an incredible job of evoking its theme—wizards duelling with magic spells—by having you first craft a library of spells (your deck) and then "remembering" them (drawing cards during a game). There is a big HOWEVER, however: the game is best when played in a controlled environment where all players have access to the same number of cards, e.g., limiting card purchases to a predetermined number of decks and boosters. Magic breaks down horribly when the arms race spirals out of control and then the rich kid wins. The very assets that make the game like no other are also the problems that plague and break it... And yet I've played it constantly since 1994, and will continue to do so.
PS. This is the only Collectible Card Game that actually makes sense as a CCG, that is, the mechanical act of drawing and playing cards is akin to flipping through the pages of a spellbook.
PPS. The hands-down best way to play if you don't want to get into the collecting aspect is to buy a couple of pre-constructed decks.
"Awright—lissen up, fools! The time machine has dead-ended; grab yer package from Time Patrol Costume Division and go smother your respective heads of state—and let the games begin!"
The perfect gateway game for Reformation scholars?
This is one of those games you wouldn't end up playing unless you had a specific woody for the theme (at least one would hope). Me, I get all sweaty for it. The game has two issues that by themselves are no problem, but when combined work to kill it off:
1) It takes all day to play. Our "learning game" took eight hours; and
2) It requires repeat plays to really grok the interlocking systems and possibilities.
This isn't a problem for me, personally—I enjoyed the hell out of that long Saturday spent with friends in the early 1500s. But it will take insane levels of logistics to arrange a day off with a suitable quorum of six ("An all-day game where we LARP the Reformation? Holy crap—now THAT makes my pants fit funny!"). So really we're looking at Die Macher levels of replay... like twice a year, max. And that's a bummer.
If you're here asking, "Is this game for me?" take the Here I Stand Compatibility Quiz:
1) Does the idea of nailing stuff to a church door make you sweat?
2) Do you have five friends who would fight over being the Pope or Martin Luther?
3) Not counting those five friends, are you a social misfit who has no life such that you can spend whole days gaming without pissing any SOs off?
If you said "no" to any of the above, this probably isn't for you.
Provisional rating after one play = 4 stars.
UPDATE: The second play rockets this to a solid 5 stars. The first game was with five n00bs, the second with only three; both were 6p games. Even though it was fraught with error and much page flipping, it was an incredible experience. Can't wait to play it again!
Ideally, the ultimate game would be the seventh one, with the same six people; six games so that everyone gets a chance to play each power (as well as get all the kinks out of the system). That seventh one would be the Real Game, with no n00bs, no one getting hammered through ignorance, and everyone knowing what everyone else is capable of... I know there are at least two of us who are completely smitten with this game, and at least one other we can reliably convince to play, but I fear those other three slots will be forever sat in by n00bs playing for the very first time. Sigh. Time to install some more D-rings in the basement ceiling and break out the chloroform so I can collect some more, uh, dedicated friends.
UP-UPDATE: Fourth play, two n00bs. Rock solid. Also, we now have so many people up for this that we actually had two alternates waiting in the wings for an opening.
Players are low-level wetwork operatives who have only moments to locate and liquidate targets based on nothing more than a single word and a number. Success means the right doors are kicked, the right throats cut, the right cars bombed. Failure usually means two silenced shots into a dude who was just mowing his lawn, and then going back for the wife after a brief argument in the van. But beware—your team is being stalked by a legendary rogue wetboy—and he's got claymores duct-taped to the door of his decoy apartment...
Though the team is supposed to confer, come to a consensus, and then—and only then—reach out to touch the agreed-upon cards to execute the contract, there are a shocking number of unprofessional "Here, hold my corndog—" moments where a single agent will suddenly bolt from the food court, sprint up the escalator, shoot three people on the mezzanine level, and then saunter back to take their corndog out of your stunned hand with an honestly unperturbed "What?"
The winning team will be responsible for their own individual exfils to safehouses of their choice; the losing team will spend the last thirty minutes of their lives jogging down the street with assault rifles and body armor before being "retired" by ex-DEVGRU CIA paramilitary dressed as local SWAT.
After a weak-willed impulse buy at my FLGS and a single play, I'm impressed. The attention to detail on the physical design of the box and bits is breathtaking; the insert, especially, is a work of art. Everything has a perfect place and comes out of that perfect place exactly the way you'd expect it to—in other words, you reach for the thing and touch it and it hops out of its slot and into your hand. This, in itself, is brilliant. Like an amusement park for opposable thumbs.
As for those bits themselves, they are wonderfully tactile and gorgeous, like the gold pieces which, while unusually shaped (squares for singles and larger crescents for fives, all with a hole punched in the middle), are also double-sided with heads and tails having unique, baroque designs. The card art is very good and goes a long way to immerse one in theme.
This is the first worker-placement/trade-crap-for-other-crap "Euro" that fulfilled my need for a li'l somthin' extra, namely to not get stuck thinking in terms of grinding for nibs to trade for nobs and then scoring for dinguses. The "take that" cardplay is fun in a way that anal retentive geniuses cannot countenance; fair enough, but when I played "Free Drinks!" to lure a critical wizard away from another player's tavern and into my own I learned the folly of wizards too fond of the bottle—a return play of "Arcane Mishap" caused him to detonate during a "spirited" demonstration of magical power. I was cleaning innards and singed beard bristles out of the crevices for weeks.
On the mechanical side the game is quick and breezy, with occasional bursts of multi-ply puzzling to keep it engaging. I've only played once, doing very poorly until the endgame where I managed to crawl into second place by paying attention to chaining opportunities while simultaneously dropping tactical turds into various punchbowls. I enjoyed this very much.
There is a huge potential for variety in future plays, with more cards and buildings than opportunities to put them into play, as well as having them come out in a novel order each time. Lucky synergies in one game could well be absent or significantly altered in the next. How it all hangs together remains to be seen, but the obvious care, thought, and detail packed into it makes it an easy 4 stars for now.
UP-UPDATE: The second play had us all over the VP track coming into the final stretch; final score was 95-94-92-90. Love it!
After 11 plays: Still going strong. Yes, the "secret" scoring can be swingy, but really, it's not that secret (if you pay attention to what kind of quests your opponents are completing) and bank on all competent players getting somewhere around +30 points at the end. Playing this with the same people means all our games have been annoyingly close... so much so I am getting sick and tired of LOSING BY ONE POINT.*
*Especially when there's a bunch of table bumping and bag switching going on with the VP markers: "Oh, I'm sorry—you're blue? Where were you again?" And BANG lose by one point.
After 15 plays: Bumping this to a well-deserved 4.5 stars. There is an enormous and non-obvious storytelling element lurking beneath all the mechanical meeple-swapping... Open yourself to it. And then send those poor bastards to their DOOM.
After 21 plays: MANDATORY QUESTS AIN'T A THANG
I have won plenty of games where I was dogpiled with Mandatory Quests... of course, I've lost just as many, too.
The only reason they make your forehead veins stand out as you poop yourself a little is because you didn't plan for them. Always assume Mandatory Questage and prepare for it, whether by salting away materiel or factoring an action/turn cushion into all of your plans—especially the critical ones. Ending up in the embarrassingly pantsless position of only having exactly what you need to pull off that 25-pointer at the very end and getting royally hosed by a single small Mandatory Quest is not a design flaw or a moral failing of the person who played the card—the fault is entirely your own.
Kickstarter underbake rating: Golden-brown sold separately.
tl;dr — Played as an RPG/storytelling game it's a hoot; played as a game game it's pretty thin gruel.
This game requires a bunch of stuff that doesn't come in the box—you're gonna need as many people as you can muster, and those people need to be mean-spirited, funny as hell, and deeply steeped in the 19th Century mindset:
"We rode for days to see the man put up the hot-air balloon. When we got there he said he would not put it up; he said to come back tomorrow and perhaps he would put it up then. So we knocked him down and tore the balloon to pieces."
(Actual 19th Century quote.)
Also, everybody needs to play quick 'n light—the minute you have one min-maxing AP nerd in the mix the game grinds to a halt. Just run around doin' 19th Century shit for the most outrageous story possible. (Note: Shopping is not outrageous. And "grinding for LPs" is pretty much the exact opposite of rootin'-tootin'.)
And while somebody should really do a set of character cards from HBO's Deadwood, let's be honest: I'm gonna play that way regardless.
"Pain or damage don't end the world. Or despair, or fucking beatings. The world ends when you're dead. Until then, you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man... and give some back."
The Ballad of Buster Skruggs
Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness in the West
A mish-mash of mechanics (set collection cardplay, blind bidding, and a teensy bit of Tetris, among others) held together by an engaging theme and over-the-top production values. It really shouldn't work, but when played as a lighter, almost party-style game (i.e., social above all) it works brilliantly.
Corruption is the fastest way to victory points—and into the crocodile's gullet! For me the most engaging part of the game is the balance between greed (racing ahead via corruption) and trying to position yourself just enough to eke out a win. You don't need to be the least corrupt or the richest to win—you just need to be one unit less corrupt than the worst player and a single Talent ahead of everyone who's left. Really feels like walking a tightrope over a croc pit.
I hesitate to recommend it as YMMV, but around here it's worked great as a couples' game.
These guys are clearly making games to please an audience that consists only of themselves and their personal demons—without compromise. If you're not sure it's for you then it straight-up isn't—the velvet ropes are there to save the timid from any further discomfort.
But if you see yourself in this, if the howl from the page calls to something darker beyond the horizon of your eyes... well, then follow it home.
UPDATE: First play told an amazing story even though we botched a bunch of rules. If you think of this as a grindhouse simulator, a set of RPG skirmish rules, it ends up as a kick-ass party game. Can't wait to play again!
Aspiring interstellar overlords commit handpicked citizens to a mind-warping battle school where they are... changed. These agents are then dispatched on desperate missions across the cosmos—leading a surgical strike force of war-painted starships, or skin crawling with invisible tattoos that reconfigure into malware under certain wavelengths of light, or their skulls the vessels for a single dangerous idea.
Tomorrow, tomorrow belongs to the Ascendant—and there is no better way to leap for the brass ring than with a boot in your grasping rival's face.
An unalloyed slam-dunk. As a rabid Race fan I am obviously predisposed to love this, but honestly, Roll has far exceeded even my naturally high expectations. Added to everything that's already fantastic about the Mother Game we have a gorgeous feast for the senses—the spray of color, the sound of the dice in the cups, the shaking and slamming, the digging around in that black bag for deliciously textured tiles.
It's a sci-fi jacuzzi with built-in mind-massage attachment.*
*Pants optional (but not recommended).
After 11 plays: The response from newbs is overwhelming—all of them have found this far more accessible than Race proper. I believe it has to do with the fact that any given Race game is completely hidden inside an opaque deck of cards, meaning that the game doesn't open up until you're familiar with the contents of that deck, and this requires either a bunch of boring study or many—so many—crushing defeats. With Roll, on the other hand, the dice give you a pretty big hint as to what's possible on your turn and so tend to drive play in more obvious directions right out of the gate.
Besides, fiddling around with the dice to "program" your turn feels like you're actually doing something rather than just looking at a bunch of cards and having no real idea of what to do next.
Suspect quote: "Wait—I get to arrange my dice in secret? That's awesome! I tend to do pretty well at games like this."
P$. They're not "dollars", goddammit—it's pronounced "galacticred" and each one respresents the economic output of an entire solar system across 31.5 megaseconds.
After 40 plays: I still feel like I'm just barely getting the hang of this... and it's glorious.
A Very Important Note on Space Marine Recruitment: As the recruitment protocols are a preëxisting component of the drinking water on most civilized worlds, the consumption of them constitutes retroactive consent. This is only important for the recruit's relatives as the recruits themselves are neurologically predisposed to be "just fine" with the sudden change in life-trajectory. Oorah!