• ds_1This is an area control game driven by a worker placement engine. All "workers" ( called Action Pawns, or APs) are placed on a large chart on the board, then resolved from top-to-bottom and left-to-right. The various rows allow you to modify the game in some way, many of which have subtle interactions with each other and require either tactical flexibility, long-term strategic planning, or both:

    1. Initiative (next turn's AP placement order)
    2. Adaptation (modifying your animal to exploit the changing map)
    3. Regression (loosing prior adaptations)
    4. Abundance (seeding the map with new resources)
    5. Wasteland (removing resources from the map where they intersect with the ever-expanding glacier)
    6. Depletion (targeted removal of a resource from anywhere on the map)
    7. Glaciation (expansion of the ice-sheet, turning a targeted map tile into low-scoring, resource-destroying Tundra)
    8. Speciation (increase your population around a targeted resource)
    9. Wanderlust (exploration/placement of a new map tile and placement of a resource on that tile)
    10. Migration (movement of on-map population)
    11. Competition (reduction of co-existing opposing population on targeted terrain tiles)
    12. Domination (scoring VPs on a chosen tile and allowing the best-adapted animal on that tile to execute a powerful Dominance card)

    Finally, populations that find themselves unadapted to their current tile become extinct (removed), Bonus VPs are scored for control of the expanding ice-cap, and everything is reset for the next turn.

    VP scoring is based on population majority, while the right to use a dominance card *when that tile is scored* is based on how many of your animal's adaptations match up to the resources touching that tile (resources are always placed on tile corners, influencing several tiles at once). Animals can have up to six adaptations, and multiple copies of the same resource are allowed, so it's quite possible to specialize. This involves some risk, however, as the map is ever-changing, and adaptations can actually be lost. Each turn 4 resource types become available as adaptations, but there are only three adaptation slots in which to place APs. Any un-selected resources slide down into the regression box at the end of the turn and will cause all players to loose (remove) an adaptation of that type from their animal next turn, unless it is one of their at-start (printed on their animal sheet) adaptations. There's also one space open for a player to place an AP and prevent one resource type from regressing.

    Scoring VPs is crucial, obviously, but being able to execute a dominance card is usually *very* powerful.

    New resources can be placed on the map form the Abundance row (up to 2 per turn), but those that go unplaced slide down into the Wasteland box and, eventually into the Depletion box, so while investing in adaptations to grubs (one of the resource types) might have been a good idea on turn 1, by turn 3 it could be a dead-end. If you end up with your population concentrated on a tile suddenly devoid of resources matching your adaptations, you could be facing a massive extinction. Worse, population eliminated through extinction or competition are gone for good, removed permanently from the game. There is always hope, though. Migration allows you to move your population to better tiles, and Speciation lets you spawn new population regardless of your current geographical concentration.

    On top of all this, each animal has a unique advantage, a built-in adaptation to a different resource, a specific place in the "food chain" (used for breaking ties when scoring VPs), and a specific place in the starting initiative order (the reverse of the food chain order, in fact). This gives each animal a very different feel and goes a long way towards building the theme. The Dominance cards also feature several game-altering effects - from increasing/decreasing the number of APs a player (or players) may place each turn to catastrophic resource depletions and regressive diseases.

    The system is brilliant, fascinating, thematic, and deep. I almost didn't pre-order this game, and what a sad error that would have been. After one play I think I'm in love with this game. The few down-sides I can see are mostly secondary; cost, length, learning curve. The intricate yet smooth gameplay is worth it. The rules themselves are not complex, but there are many interlocking systems and at least one stumbling block for new players, namely the two different types of control players are vying for in any given area. After a turn it becomes clear, as soon as a tile is scored and the first Dominance card is executed.

    I currently rate this game a 9/10 after one play.

    Ways this game is like Age of Empires III:
    - Worker placement engine coupled with area control and direct conflict.
    - Players must make strategic investments in areas of specialization.
    - Exploration mechanism

    Ways this game is like Twilight Imperium 3rd edition:
    - Each faction has a unique feel and special ability
    - Map is different each time via a set of terrain tiles
    - Direct combat is lusty but limited

  • I finally got my hands on a copy of Agricola. I wasn't too happy about paying the $70 for it but it feels pretty hefty so I guess I can't complain too much.

  • At the heart of Remedy’s long-delayed ALAN WAKE, a survival horror game styled and presented as a television series, is a deeply compelling yet subtle opposition between light and darkness. It is literally portrayed in the gameplay as a simple flashlight is the best defense against the dark forces that surround the protagonist, and it’s very telling that the game features the best lighting effects and stylization I have ever seen in a video game. The developers clearly understood that this was the primary theme and it translates into visual metaphor flawlessly.


    But unlike most other video games that have come before, this primitive dichotomy isn’t played out as military-trained hard-asses go rocket launcher to tentacle with hideous mutations nor is it simply a Manichean, good-versus-evil affair. Instead, the game and its extremely well-written scenario literally embodies the struggle of the creative mind (the light of creation, illumination, and clarity) against the strictures of control (the darkness of confusion, repression, and fear). In many ways, the game is about the act of creation, its implications in a psychological context as well as a physical one.  Conceptually, it is about what we bring into the world when we make something out of words, music, code, or art of any kind. To some degree, the game also represents the challenge of commercial art and the demands placed on writers and creators by editors, producers, and other stakeholders to shape their work into products outside of the crafter’s vision.


    I almost can’t believe I just wrote that about a video game, but there it is. I think ALAN WAKE is one of the most sophisticated and compelling narratives I have experienced in my years video gaming, and I believe that this may be the first time I have ever really felt that the quality of writing and concept were actually on par with the best of television or film. It’s very fitting that the game is sectioned into episodes complete with a “previously on ALAN WAKE” recap before each- it deploys narrative tricks and writing techniques that are, to this date, almost unheard of in gaming and as such it stands alongside UNCHARTED 2 and HEAVY RAIN as the current barometers of excellence in video game scripting.


    Discussing the game and the events it describes toes the line of spoiling too much and I think it is one of those things where it’s best to come into it knowing as little as possible. At a bare bones minimum, I’d feel comfortable explaining that the game is about the titular character, a best-selling writer of crime thrillers, and the events that befall him as his wife leave New York City for a cabin retreat in a rural mountain town called Bright Falls.  Events transpire that lead to Alice Wake’s disappearance, and the game chiefly concerns Alan’s attempts to find her. However, nothing is what it appears to be, and the player is going to be kept guessing and speculating almost every step of the way as to what actually happened.


    Along the way, Alan meets several Bright Falls townsfolk and his agent from New York turns up. If there is a weakness in the writing, it is definitely in the supporting cast. In a game where the main character is incredibly well-written, delivering a great first-person narration throughout, it’s all the more obvious when characters revert to video game-quality lines and clumsy characterizations. The agent in particular was grating, and it didn’t help that the voice actor sounds a lot like Regis Philbin. He’s intended for comic relief and frankly, after six or seven hours into such a dark game you’ll actually welcome a couple of well-timed laughs but it was disappointing to see the game go the “goofy sidekick” route, particularly when some of the other humor in the game is subtle and well-framed.


    The gameplay is likely to be a sticking point for many modern gamers because it isn’t as dynamic or stylized as we are seeing in the current crop of popular titles. I actually liked that the control, combat, and level design were fairly simple and unadorned because it turned the focus of the game to the story, stopping well short of a HEAVY RAIN where the gameplay is relegated to quicktime events and branching decisions. Some will likely consider it old fashioned, but I’ll tell you that I sure wish that the team working on RESIDENT EVIL 6 would look at ALAN WAKE’s controls. They’re smooth, easy to use, and they have a fluidity that puts the tank controls of about fifty other survival horror titles to shame.


    Each area in the game is pretty straightforward and fairly narrative, although there is an impetus for exploration of the sort where an alternative path will lead you to supplies or secret items. Much of the game takes place in the woods, in the dark, and I think complaints about repetition are somewhat warranted, but it’s a short game and I think there is a clear thematic reason both for the simple point A to point B progression as well as the uniform look and feel of many of the locations. This is a game about a man’s journey through the darkness to light, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were a deliberate stylistic decision to frame the gameplay in this manner.  It isn’t all walking, there are some simple puzzles and flip-a-switch/find-a-key type goals but the impetus remains on advancing the story rather than providing the player with a smorgasboard of things to do.


    There are couple of silly video game tropes that were probably thrown in to appease less forward-thinking players. The game tracks stats like a Rockstar game generally does, which probably speaks to its former existence as a sandbox game during development. So you can knock over can pyramids if you want to and get an achievement. There are coffee thermos to collect as well if you’re so inclined, but they have zero bearing on what really matters in the game.  More significantly, there are manuscript pages scattered throughout each episode that tell more of the story than what you’ll actually get to see and those are actually worth searching for- I managed to find most of them on a single playthrough, but some aren’t even present until you unlock the “nightmare” difficulty level. I played on the hard level and although the game did put up a fight, I don’t think it was particularly challenging. But I didn’t care, because I was more focused on where the story was heading than the fighting or collection tasks.


    There aren’t a lot of weapons and equipment in the game. A revolver, a shotgun, a hunting rifle, flares, a flare gun, and flashbangs. There are also three different types of flashlights, and Energizer batteries to power them. That’s it. No item upgrades, no modifications, no skill trees or anything like that.  But it’s all that is needed, and the minimalism completely works. Each weapon has a certain utility, like how you can drop flares to cover a retreat or use flashbangs to clear out flocks of darkness-controlled birds. The flashlight is the most important weapon in the game as it burns off the protective darkness controlling the Taken, the game’s gibberish-spouting adversaries. There are also some environmental enemies and some very large-scale effects that I can’t possibly spoil in good conscience. Suffice to say that when the Dark Presence goes big, it goes big.


    Another complaint has been that there isn’t a lot of variety between enemies and that’s mostly true as there’s just a couple of different varieties of Taken, but again this isn’t RESIDENT EVIL and a bunch of silly, comic book monsters would have diminished the higher-minded approach of the game. The Taken are scary although their random vocalizations are a little silly and call to mind the Splicers’ banter in the BIOSHOCK games. They will spring up behind you when you least expect it ready to lay into with sickles, chainsaws, and other nasty implements.  Alan has a dodge maneuver that I think I used more than most of the weapons in the game- evading at the apex of a Taken attack triggers a thrilling slow-motion effect that adds a touch of drama to narrow escapes.


    I found myself running a lot, outnumbered by Taken and in hopeless situations.  The light and darkness theme creates a very unique visual opportunity when Alan is running from the Taken- safe areas that provide healing are brightly lit, almost in an unreal, supernatural fashion and you can often see them from far off in the distance. I found myself under one light and looking at another, knowing that if I went into the dark the Taken would converge on me…and wondering if I could make a break for it. There was one point where a light source went out right as I was fleeing toward it, and I think my heart stopped for a split second.


    It’s a horror game very much in the vein of the first SILENT HILL and I think that would be its best inter-medium comparison . There is a very similar, almost crushing sense of atmospheric dread, but obviously we are a couple of generations on from that game and the use of light, shadow, and detail brings Bright Falls and its rural environs to life. The level of immersion makes ALAN WAKE a very scary game, but it’s scary in an old fashioned kind of way that I really appreciate as a fan of better horror. It isn’t hard to see where its influences are in this respect, with David Lynch, John Carpenter’s IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, and Stephen King being easily identifiable. There’s also a very rare shout-out to August Derleth, a contemporary and acolyte of H.P. Lovecraft.  It’s closer to the kinds of horror those examples describe, and that isn’t something that we usually get in video games. This isn’t DEAD SPACE, with its gibbering space-zombies, bloody walls, and carnival ride flashing lights and histrionics. There is no dogs-through-the-window moment. But that being said, there are “buses” (film nerd talk for a sudden shock), and some of them are incredibly effective. It’s also the kind of game where when you’re told to go to the coal mine your flight-or-fight instinct switches over to flight because at that point it has trained you to be afraid.


    It’s hard not to get wrapped up in the interesting story as it is, but the game is also visually engaging. I think it may be the best-looking Xbox 360 game to date despite some clunky facial modeling and animations- there were times when the trees, the mountains, and even the man-made environments felt almost completely real to me. Such is the level of immersion that this game creates, and I think that open-minded gamers that let the game do what it does without holding it accountable for not being what it is not intended to be will find that once it gets it hooks into you, it’s hard to get them out.  It isn’t a long game, probably about twelve hours for most gamers figuring two hours for each episode, and I think it’s exactly the right length. I wound up completing chapter five around 4am a few nights ago, and knowing that the last chapter would only take about two hours I went right on and rolled straight through it.


    It was totally worth it, the ending is strangely moving, cryptic, and open-ended in a way that invites speculation rather than eye-rolling sequel anticipation. You’re going to want more, particularly because there’s an almost throwaway line that hints at something tremendous. With two additional episodes already planned, the wait won’t be long. I almost wish that the game had been completely segmented and marketed in individual episodes- some of the cliffhangers would have been delicious to mull over while waiting for another “show”. Each episode also ends with a song, some of which are just awesome choices. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “Up Jumped the Devil” in particular, as well as the song that plays over the credits that I wouldn’t dare spoil.


    I think ALAN WAKE is near brilliant, a game that does more than might be apparent at first to innovative given its basic gameplay mechanics and straightforward approach.  The tight focus on character, dialogue, and story progression puts it into sharp contrast with games like RED DEAD REDEMPTION, which released on the same day and represents an entirely different and somewhat scattershot approach to storytelling in games that I think is ultimately a dead end. It also sort of takes a different route than the current crop of games that present the player with binary moral decisions. In a way, ALAN WAKE is much more directorial in terms of guiding the player’s eyes, ears, and hands to an author-defined resolution. Perhaps that forecloses on player choice and the concept of emergent gameplay, but the game is definitely a positive argument that experiencing a good story well told is worth ceding control to the programmers, writers, and other creators working in the video games medium.


  • We left in the first glow of dawn, the docks of Wilhelmshaven fading quickly in the morning mist. Brave and bold we were then, still flush with the immortality of youth. We had much to learn....

    U-Boat Leader is one of a series of solitaire war games produced by DVG games. In it you lead a small group of German submarines through one of four eras of the Battle for the Atlantic. You are attempting to sink as much tonnage as possible while keeping your boats from becoming crumpled bits of metal at the bottom of the ocean. Survive all of your required patrols with enough kills under your belt and you will be heralded as a hero of The Reich.  Fail and you will learn first hand that the ocean is deep and cold. 

    The game comes with four different scenarios which reflect different stages of the German submarine campaign of World War II. You can also choose how long you wish the scenario to be, from one to four patrols. The boats available to you are dependent upon the time period of your chosen scenario. They range from the broke ass Type IIs of 1939 to the super high tech Type XXI "electro boat" of the late war. Further, each crew comes in four levels of experience from "green" to "ace". The boats and crews are purchased using resource points assigned according to which scenario and number of patrols you opted for.


    I chose the early scenario entitled "The Beginning" covering operations from 1939 to May 1940 and planned on completing 4 patrols. I picked four of the better boats available for that time period and I limited myself to the "green" experience level for the crews because I thought that would be thematic. This left me with some excess resource points. This is important because those excess points can be used for buying various things during the scenario itself such as better intel, resupply ships, etc.

    We had patrolled the Western Approaches for several days before we spied them, our first prey. Two lone freighters. They never knew we were there until we were upon them.

    The game is divided into two main segments. The first is the strategic where you equip your boats with any special options that are available using left over resource points and then move them to the hunting ground of choice. Each time you move to a new area you are forced to draw event cards which can help or hurt your sub but almost all add some level of "stress" to the boat reflecting damage to the sub itself or mental strain to the crew. As the stress piles up the crew become first less effective and then eventually "un-fit" for duty and must return to port for refit.

    Once all the subs are in their hunting grounds the game moves to the tactical segment and action moves from the strategic map to the sonar like battle board. Each sub in turn gets a number of "contacts" based on a die roll. For each contact, a "convoy card" is flipped which shows the layout and general type (escort or merchant) of ships in a given convoy but importantly not the exact ships. You can then choose to attack the convoy or let it slip past in the hopes of finding one that might be easier pickings. 

    If you choose to fight you then set up the convoy as illustrated and place your U-boat on the board at long range. The specific ships themselves are determined by a card draw but only once you are within a certain range of them. Is that escort a bumbling converted freighter with little or no skill or is it a deadly destroyer with a well trained crew? Is that merchant ship a fat tanker or a puny trader? You won't know the answer until you get close.

    Combat is pretty straight forward and easy to grasp. Your U-boats maneuver trying to get close to the merchants without being detected by the escorts. The escorts then have a chance at detection and/or attack on known U-boats followed by the U-boats taking a shots at the  ships of their choosing. Getting off a volley of torpedoes before being detected is always a good thing because once those escorts are on to you, things get very dangerous.

    My subs made their way to the waters off the coast of Britain and the first two contacts I drew were for unescorted and unarmed freighters. Without any defense they were as good as dead, the only question being how much ammo would it take to sink them. I approached surfaced and laid into them with my deck gun. Two shots a piece and down they went...this was going to be easy.


    The longer you stay in range of the convoy and the more attacks you make against it, the better the chance of being detected by the escorts. Once they spot you, they waste no time in racing in to destroy you. Each escort has it's own set of attack numbers. If, on it's attack roll, it  equals or exceeds either of the first two numbers it adds more "stress" to your boat but if it rolls equal to or greater than the third number....well does the phrase "explosive decompression" mean anything to you?

    You do have the chance to escape by crash diving or diving deep to avoid the attack and you can try "running silent" to become undetected but the odds are against it especially with an untried crew.

    The captain smiled. A bunch of fat geese sitting on the water between us and the escorts. We'd be able to get off a salvo or two before they could respond or so he hoped. It was too good of a chance to miss...that is until what he thought was a freighter turned out to be a destroyer....

    After all the combat has been resolved, by either all ships being sunk or all U-boats having fled, you either draw a new contact for the current sub or move on to the next one and repeat the process. Then once you've accumulated too much stress or you're out of ammo you sail back to Germany. The refit segment allows you to rearm your sub and also level up your crew providing they've got enough experience from sinking ships. If you enter port during refit, this counts as one "patrol" and you remove some of the stress from your boat, take on some new torpedoes and head back out to sea. Once you've finished your allotted patrols the game is over.

    I didn't get that far because I spotted a crowded convoy and decided to attack. Using one of my unspent resource points I summoned a wolf pack which allowed the other uncommitted U-boats in my area to join me. So with three subs, 8 merchants and only three escorts, we began the dance. I kept my subs surfaced because in a submerged state the convoy can out run them. I wanted to approach from behind on the far side away from the escorts. I closed in and then drew the first "merchant card" which basically said "what you thought was a merchant is actually an escort". Being surfaced and so close, detection was a given and the damned HMS Kite was on me like ugly on an ape. I attempted to crash dive but it was no good. The destroyer blew me out of the water. My other two subs were also quickly detected, one was destroyed and one was able to flee but my flotilla was decimated. I saw no way to victory so called it a total loss.

    In a solo game, there are three things I am looking for. 

    Smoothness of Play:

    This is not to be confused with complexity. Mage Knight is a complex game but it plays very smooth. U-boat Leader is pretty straight forward and does a good job in this regard. The rule book is well done and easily answered any nagging questions I had on my first couple plays. Setting up the convoys can be a bit tedious especially if you keep all your ships in a counter tray. I take them all out when I am setting up and place them on the table in alphabetical order. It's a pain at first but it makes the rest of the game much faster.


    A good solo game has to be hard. Hard to win. It has to make me work for it because I want to feel as if I've accomplished something at the end. It can't be impossible though.  I do need to feel that if I just did better, thought harder, got luckier, I might have pulled it off. Again the game does a good job. I've played four games so far and got my ass kicked each time but never did I feel that the game was being unfair. It was my own inexperience and poor choices that led to my destruction. I get a little better each time.


    This is the biggie. We're talking the story the game tells. This is important in any game but especially so in a solo. Without other players, if the story is weak then the game devolves to just pushing pieces. The gold standard is Fields of Fire which is like living out a drama each time I play it.

    It is here that U-boat Leader stumbles a bit. Maybe it's because that historically U-boats had only numeric designations and not names but I felt it hard to connect with my men. The enemy escorts and naval vessels have more personality than my subs. I can feel for the HMS Kite but the U-44 leaves me cold. Maybe the lack of what war gamers call "chrome" (that is conditional and/or exceptions to rules that increase complexity but add flavor to a game) is what is lacking. Sure it speeds play and enhances the smoothness but there is a certain sameness to the different U-boats even when they have different captains.

    The game is good but I will not call it great. I have enjoyed it so far and look forward to playing it again. I have a lingering fear in the back of my mind that once I figure out the proper tactics I should be using that the game might become repetitive and thus boring. Will I get in enough plays before that happens to justify the purchase of the game? I think the answer is yes.

  •  Pictured is one of the very best games of the year. At least its box, which I don't have because I had to beg Clever Mojo to send me a review copy composed of spare parts wrapped in butcher paper. The tiny little company that had to bankroll their game through wasn't scared of bad press.

  • Thank god. The XMas rush is mostly over.  I'm down to close to normal sales numbers, which is great since it means our taper off was vastly lower than this time last year.  It is also bad because I had planned for a taper off earlier and dropped my re-order rates. Which means I'm out of a LOT of 'classic' and 'bestseller' games well before I should be like Carcassonne.  In fact, even with going down once a week, we were still missing the mark on stock numbers on a regular basis this XMas.

    Unfortunately, that still doesn't affect our 'Boxing Day' sale numbers too much since the games that go on there are generally games that didn't sell anyway. Bah.

    A small blog post on company direction, damaged goods and shipmentsalso went up today. Still have to finish BGN's articles as well. 

  • Scenario 9: Gorlice-Tarnow, May, 1915:

    In the spring of 1915 the German command decided to withdraw strong forces from the west and launch a knock-out blow against Russia. The Eleventh Army along with the Austrian Fourth Army struck the Russian Third Army on May 3, following the most intense artillery preparation on the Eastern Front to date. The Russian soon caved in and the breakthrough was accomplished.

    Let’s see if we can repeat that…


    Officer: Anatolii.
    Armed with sabre and Mauser C96 pistol (drawn)

    Riflemen: Boris, Dimitri, Gregori, Ivan, Mikhail and Nicolai.
    Armed with Winchester M95 lever-action rifles (& bayonet)

    Grenadier: Pyotr.
    Armed with grenades and entrenching tool


    Officer: Anton.
    Armed with Luger P08 pistol and sabre (drawn)

    Riflemen: Bruno, Conrad, Dieter, Emil, Fritz, Günther, Heinrich and Norbert.
    Armed with Mauser M98 bolt-action rifles (& bayonet)

    Grenadier: Oskar.
    Armed with grenades and entrenching tool


    Riflemen: Hans, Ignaz, Josef, Kurt, Leopold and Matthias.
    Armed with Mauser M98 bolt-action rifles (& bayonet)

    The Austrian-German soldier advanced behind a massive creeping barrage, and as soon as the guns silenced a charge towards the trench line was initiated. A high speed of the attack was a crucial, because the Russian forces were armed with fast firing Winchester rifles. The German attack plan was as follows: Emil and Fritz were going to hide in a crater and provide covering fire, while the other Germans would split and try to flank the Russian defenders. Oskar wanted to reach a crater near the trench and lob grenades from that position. Anton, Bruno, Conrad and Dieter were to quickly infiltrate a protruding weapon pit in the south, while Günther, Heinrich and Norbert tried the same with a firing step at the other side of the trench line in the north. Meanwhile Hans, Ignaz, Josef, Kurt, Leopold, Matthias were meant to take the defenders head-on, moving in a line formation to keep the already despairing Austrian privates in order. But it did not help, because only few seconds after the charge was started, four of six soldiers were already lying in the mud. Anton had to stop to rally them, and except for the young Norbert tripping in the dirt the German assault went smoothly.

    In the meantime the Russians also quickly left their dug-outs which sheltered them against the barrage and ran towards the firing steps. Anatolii reached the weapon pit in one fast dash, Boris, Dimitri and Pyotr occupied the southern firing step, and Gregori and Ivan the one in the north. Mikhail and Nicolai had a harder time reaching their firing step in the second trench line, because due to the massive barrage the whole trench was soaked up in water.

    The "southern" firing steps

    The weapon pit

    Water damage in the second trench line

    (Images by courtesy of tac_ope_tokyo)

    After the Austrians were standing again, Anton ordered them to advance slowly and aim at any Russians who would peek out of the trench. Out of the Germans charging the weapon pit, only Bruno succeeds landing inside on his feet, Conrad jumps too short and Dieter gets caught in concertina wire and stumbles. Günther, Heinrich and Norbert are still moving towards the northern firing step, with Norbert although in panic still crawling forward.

    Boris, Dimitri, Gregori and Ivan all fire their Winchesters. Ivan’s shot pierces through Günther’s chest, who drops down dying. Boris and Dimitri also hit their targets which results in Anton being hit in the arm, but Conrad only suffers a graze wound. However the Austrians only waited for this moment and return with accurate fire from their Mauser rifles. Hans hits Boris in the head, and Ignaz hits Dimitri’s neck respectively. Both Russians are instantly dead. Further Leopold damages Ivan’s shoulder and Kurt inflicts a severe wound upon Gregori which causes him to fall from the firing step. Pyotr is able to spot Emil’s and Fritz’ Pickelhauben and lobs a grenade directly into the crater where both are hiding.

    The grenade goes off, but doesn’t meet Pyotr’s expectations while only wounding Fritz. Even though the German is badly injured, he still manages to hit Nicolai’s collarbone with a lucky shot. Seeing that Bruno jumped into his weapon pit, Anatolii points his Mauser pistol towards the Hun and squeezes off a bullet, which goes right through the stomach. Heinrich tries to enter the northern firing step but is too enthusiastic jumping over the trench. All other soldiers handle the repetition mechanisms of their rifles with the Russians having a crucial advantage.

    Oskar prepared a Stielhandgranate and accurately throws it into the northern firing step. Pyotr also quickly pulled the pin on another grenade and manages to place it right in front of three Austrian soldiers. Ivan, who was injured before but still standing, turns around and kills Heinrich with a point blank shot through the back. Meanwhile Dieter, Conrad and Bruno all bolt at Anatolii to beat him down in close combat. However the clever Russians had set up trip wires which are invisible to the eye in the thick of combat and cause Dieter and Conrad, who are still outside of the pit, to stumble. Inside Anatolii beats down Bruno with a quick shot and in the ensuing hand-to-hand combat also knocks him unconscious with a strike to the head from the heavy Mauser pistol.

    The blast and pellets from Pyotr’s grenade tear apart Leopold and Matthias, with Kurt being severely wounded. More blood is spilled by accurate fire from the Russian Winchesters and German Mausers, as Nikolai and Mikhail finally arrive at their firing step. Anatolii, Conrad and Dieter trade shots in grueling close-quarters fighting, which ends with all but Dieter being dead. Conrad first graze wounds Anatolii with a shot, but Nicolai is trying to assist his sergeant by chasing a bullet right through Conrad’s skull. It didn’t help though, since the Russian NCO is killed by Dieter, but only after he first got hit by Anatolii’s pistol. After that Mikhail’s rifle fire hits Oskar, who then drops a grenade which was just about to explode. The mishap completely tears the grenadier to pieces. Norbert’s inexperience marks his fate as he tries to engage the soldiers occupying the northern firing step in melee combat, but Gregori who has recovered from the shock of his injury first knocks him down with a well-placed bullet and then stabs him with his bayonet, leaving the young German dying in the mud. Ignaz and Kurt, fire their weapons at Nikolai, who is pushed back from the firing step by the impact and badly hurt.

    As the soldiers charging the trench are all dead, and all others are rechambering bullets into their rifles a small lull breaks the action. The first soldier to engage in combat again is Mikhail, who is able to kill the unlucky Josef with an accurate shot. But as all other Austrians and Germans have already worked their rifle mechanisms again also, the brave soldier is hit in the chest by three bullets from Emil, Fritz and Kurt. A grenade which Pyotr just launched near Anton explodes in the air and plasters the German Unteroffizier’s back with pellets causing him to die an slow and painful death. Dieter finally makes it into the trench and assaults Pyotr, but stumbles due to the injuries he suffered from the concertina wire and Anatolii’s pistol. This makes it easy for Pyotr to advance the helpless Dieter and end the German’s life with a spade.

    Nikolai didn’t learn from his friend Mikhail, because as he stands up to take aim, he is also killed by Emil’s accurate marksmanship. Ivan has more luck this time as he manages to shoot dead Hans who was going to hide in a crater. But fortune is fickle and as he wants to aim his next shot, a bullet from Fritz’ rifle slides open Ivan’s neck.

    Desperate times call for desperate measures, so Emil and Fritz having each only one bullet left in their Mausers leave their shelter and charge forward to kill the last remaining Russians in close combat. Ignaz joins them in their charge, while Gregori gets to know the disadvantage of his Winchester: he has to reload one bullet at a time. Ignaz first makes it into the weapon pit, but falls down and is bludgeoned by Pyotr whose spade only waited to be put into use again. Emil and Fritz stumble in the mud, which gives Gregori the time to reload three bullets. He reappears from the trench to first snipe down the charging Fritz and after that place another point blank shot on Kurt, who was reloading his rifle while hiding in a crater and was just ready to fire again.

    Pyotr tries to throw another grenade but in the process is spotted by the assaulting Emil, who advances towards the edge of the trench and executes the Russian grenadier from short range.

    Gregori used his last bullet in a similar manner to kill Emil with another accurate shot just a split second after Pyotr died.

    There was no breakthrough.


    All forms of injuries are interpretations of the amount of damage. Most actions are paraphrased. Actions of soldiers who misfired or advanced only slowly are not mentioned.
  • Arkham Horror King in Yellow
    The Story Continues... 

    Just a quick link and run.  This is one of my two preorders and I'm very excited for it.  Good to see the game is playing nice and short.  I already have a solitaire game that plays long (FoF) and the whole Zombie theme fits a short beer and pretzels game.

     Looking like exactly what I was hoping for when I ordered it, a nice wargame/zombie hybrid.  It's coming out from Lock N' Load, hopefully soonish, summer maybe?


  • This isn't going to be such a comprehensive post as the last, but will chronicle what is now going to be a marked shift away from the previous design. I would like to thank everyone for pointing out the finer points of copyright law bfore I got too enveloped in using the Warlords of Mars theme. Although I am forced to redesign much of the game, that doesn't mean that I am not committed to an immersive, fun and interesting theme. It just means that the theme will have to be strong enough to stand on its own without any personal knowledge or nostalgia to drive interest in the game.
  • Last week The Economist Magazine ran a rather bemused article discussing Board Games, and mentioned Ameritrash in print!
  • After weeks of missed gaming, I finally was well enough and free enough to get together with some friends and have an afternoon of gaming.  We played Cosmic Encounter (FFG Version), Once Upon A Time and God Dice and Citadels (not finished).

     Of the four, I had the most fun playing God Dice.  It's a seriously fun game, whose only let down is the number of players.  I can't wait for an expansion to come out to let more players in, because I can easily see us playing this game as a filler quite, quite often.  Set-up time is  minimal, it's incredibly easy to teach and it's fun, fun, fun.  

    Cosmic Encounter continues to underwhelm me.  It's not a bad game, it's just something I crave.  I'll play it but it just doesn't do much for me.  I do like the introduction of tech cards to the game, it does add a bit more strategy but it's still only okay.

    Once  Upon a Time  is definitely an interesting and unique game.  Depending on the players and mood, it can be really good or mediocre.  We weren't in that much of a mood to be silly, so the game was relatively serious for once, with no sudden deaths but lots of plot reversals.

     My biggest disappointment was that we didn't get Warhammer : Chaos in the Old World onto the table.  I so want to try that.

  • After being kicked out of the house by the wife who wanted time alone to study, I went and spent the next 3 hours playing board games.  Specifically, Thunderstone then Warhammer : Invasion.  With random talks about the latest action movies (Iron Man 2 good) and running a game store (one of the players was thinking of doing s0 himself in a few years).

    So, I just traded for Thunderstone and was quite excited at the idea of trying it out.  First impressions - I like.  It's a tad slow; but that might just be because we messed up a few rules that slowed the game down.  The constant calculations is a bit annoying, but you learn it pretty fast.  It'd have preferred better iconography (like say Arctic Scavengers) but the theme was a ton of fun; and the gameplay was quite good.  Rounds went nearly as fast as Dominion - except when you started trying to figure out negatives to light and strength.  Then things slowed down.  It didn't help that we were fighting the Spirits and Undead Knights, forcing us to calculate that in nearly every battle.   I'm definitely looking forward to trying this out again.

    Warhammer : Invasion was another blast.  With one of our players calling it quits, there were just two of us, which made Invasion perfect.  I like it - it fixes a lot of issues that occurs in Magic very well, while adding a ton of strategy.  It was also pretty easy to learn, so we didn't spend much time with that either.

    In fact, the only major hindrance to the game is the fact that you almost need to do deck-building to get the most fun out of it.  And I just don't know if I have the time do it... so that game continues to sit on my 'might buy' pile.

    Now, I just need to get Runewars, Horus Heresy and Age of Conan on the table (i.e. find someone who has those games) and I'll have ticked off most of the Ameritrash games I'd love to try.

  • I wasn’t entirely unhappy when two players jumped ship in the very last moment before a Friday night of StarCraft: the board game. None of them had played the game before, and though having played the computer game helps, it can easily take 45 minutes to explain the rules to new players and maybe do a sample turn. Instead the three of us could just jump right into it.

    We played with the Brood War expansion in the mix and picked random factions. My wife played Tassadar, AFB ended up with Jim Raynor, and I played The Overmind. None of us picked the leadership card that would allow us to win by a special victory. Mostly – I think – because we all wanted to try something new, but since the game ended with a normal victory as soon as we entered phase three, that was probably a good thing.

    One of the most interesting things about the expansion is the new planets. Quite a lot of the areas are now limited to ground or air units only. In our game we ended up with a lot of air only areas which meant we were all forced to go air. And even though I never made it to any of my top tier units, I really like how the layout of the board can nudge you in certain directions. My one gripe about StarCraft (and it’s even worse with Brood War) is the sheer number of possibilities you have unit wise, but I think the new planet areas can help this.

    Into the fray
    The game was intense from the beginning. I figured I had placed my self very well indeed with easy access to a couple of conquest points. And with a leadership card that gave me additional points as long as the overmind token was in play; I figured I was good to go. Not entirely true, as I was soon to find out.

    My wife made a bold move to my second planet, going directly for my second base and the conquest points beneath it. I was certain I could counterattack and keep it, but I was wrong. And though she only kept the area for a turn, the extra points gave her a solid lead. In the meantime I threatened AFB and his Terrans, but wasn’t man (bug?) enough to actually attack, fearing that Tassadar would use his (her?) portal (gained from a leadership card) to transport troops behind my lines. This was another mistake by me, since the sneaky Terrans not only got resources from a leadership card, but also from the rich areas I failed to invade.

    In other words things were looking bleak for your favourite bugs. But by cunningly pitting the other two against each other, I managed to set up my forces for a game winning move. However, it all hinged on whether or not AFB and his Terrans could keep the Protoss from winning and gain us all an extra turn. So while I mounted my attack, he sent his forces on a daring raid deep into Protoss territory. He easily took the area with the all-important conquest points, but the real question was whether or not he could survive the Protoss counter-attack.

    I cannot remember the exact details, but this was one of the most intense gaming moments I’ve had for a very long time. If the Protoss could kill the Terran forces, my wife would win the game. If not, we would all have a shot at winning the next turn – even me, though I’m not sure that was apparent to the others yet. What I do remember is that it came down to the very last man standing, but the Terrans won the day.

    End of Days
    In the next and obviously final turn, I attacked the Terran home world to gain the conquest point that – as far as I could see – would make the game a tie between me and the Protoss with the Terrans close behind. A tie I would win, since I had the most resources in my areas. Everything – from planning to execution – went just as I had hoped, and I could almost feel the sweet taste of victory in my mouth – a taste made so much sweeter by the fact that my poor bugs had taken a severe beating earlier in the game.

    But alas, something cannot be planned. As we entered phase three – just before I would be declared winner – the Terrans played a leadership card that cost me and my wife two conquest points each. And even though I gained four conquest points that turn and she three, that was not enough to beat AFB and his damned Terrans. And just to make matters even worse, he also depleted one of my resources, meaning that I came in last instead of second. It. Was. Epic.

    But next time. Next time I’m gonna read those fucking leadership cards beforeplaying.

  •   Z


    If you're looking for substance you might as well skip this blog.

    I can't tell you what we played.

    I can't tell you the criticisms and ideas about the games.

    I can't tell you what is likely to get published.

    I can however tell you the recipe for a ZevZinger.


    So about two months ago Frank mentions in an off hand sort of way "Oh by the way Zev might be coming down. "Uh-huh sure, I'll pencil that right in." OK Actually I'm thinking, Wow! That would be really cool- but its never going to happen. He's publishing a million games and has all these cons lined up and has young daughter-there is no way this is going to happen.


    Two weeks ago Frank says block in Thursday at the Swamp- Zev's definately coming.  I'm pumped but still have this little voice in my head that says this thing will fall through. No problem, we'll still meet, have some laughs, drink a few beers...maybe I can get a hold of Rob Martin's blackberry and throw it in the pool.


    So suddenly it's ‘the day' and the end of work can't come fast enough. The rain is coming down in a torrent and I have to drive 35 mi/ hr on the express way and time has slowed to a crawl. 


    Turns out Frank is running late though so I have time to grab some fish tacos from my favorite Mexican restaurant. I also grab some drink mixers and bottom shelf peach schnapps to go with the rotgut rumthat  I left at Franks from previous trips past. I have concocted a special drink, the ZevZinger, just for the event.


    I arrive promptly at 4:20 and  Dan Baden has already beaten me to the swamp. Some smiling, stocky guy with black curly hair is chatting in the corner and he obviously can't be Zev. Where is his power armor? Where is the blinding aura of game publishing might?! This must be a trick- OH CRAP! AN INTERVENTION!!!  Right before I bolt, He comes over and introduces himself and indeed seems to be Zev. Additionally, he has brought...Prototypes!


    Senior Zohgby shows up and in short order Zev has got us playing the first (of many, many ) prototypes of the evening. Dan takes an early lead and though is his might is impressive, he is stymied every time he attempts to wield it. I start the metagame early by throwing jabs at Mark "line of Death"Zohgby and lobbying for an all out attack on Frank. The game is entertaining and has a lot of polish. However, we're an hour and a half into the game and there is no end on the horizon. Barnes has showed up and he and Zev are chatting it up about topics ranging from zombies to deli meat. (Hmm?)  Jeff Jarvis and  Aaron Tubb roll in as well. It time for... the ZevZinger!


    Ok, I can understand some people being gun shy about my concoctions. Yes, the last drink the "Mysterio" did have a startling resemblance to bloody spooge- but this time it will be different! Really!  Trust me!

    No Takers.

    "But I have a Kiwi garnish cut into a Z with Dice on top!"

    Still no takers.

    "PUH LEASSSS!!!" 

    "Ok but none of that cheap rum in mine!"  Sandy saves me and I gleefully start whipping it up. I found out a little late that Zev drinks neither liquor or coffee which I find incomprehensible since that is two of my four food groups.  

    Jarvis also takes pity on me and I mix two more. Cheers!


    The next game a sprawling and gorgeous game which the designer has lovingly crafted. We are all anxious to play and who should show up but AaronTubb. He's one of the two people who actually read the rules. I usually get the rules through osmosis or sometimes in a divine sending. It's a co-op and we're off to a rough start. I blame my team mate- Zev. Whose decision was it to go that way last round?! Yeah?! Well why did you listen to me?  Uh-oh we're having to make a lot of house rules. The table talk is building...Difficult to.. continue playing. Play. Breaking. Down. ABORT ABORT ABORT!

    A long discussion ensues. Oh Well, At least Zev has an idea where he wants to go with the game.


    Next up- Ooo! Something with guns. I like guns. And speed. I like fast guns. This next one felt a bit old school (not in a bad way.)  Both Michael and Zev had played it before and Mike's enthusiasm was infectious. This game went almost all the way to the end. I'm pretty sure that we quit only because Jarvis and I were close to victory.  What Haters!  Some ideas were bantered about on how to maximize the fun parts of the game.


    At this point the Parting of Cowards was initiated. Had I any sense I would have gone home too but I was too wired and wanted to keep playing. I had to physically separate Zev, Frank, and Mike from each other as they entered a death spiral of obscure movie trivia. Next time I'm bringing a taser. Really.


    The last game of the evening was something with tactical minis- WOOT! HELL YA! Now're we're talking.  We were down to Zev, me , mike, Frank and AaronTubb. The 5 of us armed to the teeth and ready to kick ass. By far this was my favorite game of the evening. It had all the things I like (boobs, bombs) and none of the things I don't (everything else.) The game immediately caught our attention and set our imagination afire.  Unfortunately, that let to animated discussions on how the game could be made *even better*. It will be criminally irresponsible to not pursue this one further. I'm optimistic that this one will be revisted. Even if I have to resort to blackmail.

    At some point I realized I had only 4 hours before I had to wake up again and tore out of the house like a bat out of hell. I left papers flying in my wake and didn't even stop to grab my martini shaker, work clothes or new Arcane Legions Demo kit. In fact, I don't even think I said good bye so if you guys are reading this sorry for the hasty departure. If it makes you feel any better, I feel like crap and still have 7 hours to go before I get home.


    Steve"so tired"Avery

    P.S.  i'm sure I skipped some stuff. I'll append it when I wake up

  •  Last night at Swamp Castle, we had a very special Guest of Honor- none other than Zev Schlasinger of Z-Man games. He travelled all the way to Atlanta from his home in upstate New York to hear what Atlanta's gaming most incredible game group had to say about a small pile of prototypes he's been considering moving into further development and to see (but not sample) the "Zev Zinger", a honorary drink prepared by Steve "Cocktail" Avery. A great time was had by all- F:ATtie Aaron Tubb was there, as was lurker Jeff Jarvis (where we get the term "Jarvising" from). Dan Baden, designer of THE GREAT CHILI COOK OFF and FIREHOUSE FLOP was on hand to impart his sage wisdom and damning criticism and martial arts expert and Navy SEAL Mark Zoghby ran security to keep out unwanted nerds. 

    I can now truly attest, having met the man, that Zev is in fact awesome and should be sainted in the AT canon. Over the course of the evening, we talked a lot about game design, what works and what does, business matters, and what Z-Man Games is doing and trying to do.  And that something? Make a million dollars with awesome and unique games. I can stand by that.

    Now, the games. Several unpublished prototypes were played, and some of them didn't go over so well as was expected. One of them had dice thrown at it, which in Swamp Castle parlance means "epic fail". One about XXXXXX seemed to be a big hit but I was in another game (XXXXXX) that didn't go over so well.  A couple of possible reprints were also looked at along with some redevelopment ideas, particularly for XXXXXXX.  One of the games we played resulted in a raging gorilla spawning inside a locked bathroom. I'll never forget that.

     But the star of the evening, outside of our heroic Brooklynite, was definitely XXXXX. It is a potential GAME Z. The theme is completely new, original, and one of those "why the hell hasn't somebody done this before" things.  In the game XXXXX XXXXXX  XXXX XXXX XXXXX, XXXX!  It features XXXXXX XXXX XX, XXX, XXXX, XXX, and XXXX. I don't know about you guys, but that's a game I would buy in a heartbeat. I think it would have huge market potential based on the theme and concept. However, it was also very, very rough and needs some serious development work done in order to get it up to speed. Like I told Zev, when I play a game and I'm doing something I've never done before, that's signficant to me.

    Of course, we also rapped about obscure movies a little and alienated everyone who's not ever seen DELLAMORE DELLAMORTE or BIG MAN JAPAN.  We also talked cuisine and I felt like I had to apologize for the pizza all night since Zev grew up in Brooklyn. Come to think of it, I don't think Zev ever wound up actually eating anything. I guess the idea of "Georgia Pizza" was too off-putting.

    So yes, Zev really is a great guy and Z-Man games has some really interesting stuff in the pipeline. There's one in particular coming out next year, XXXXXX, that I think is going to be a smash hit in these parts. Watch this space.



  • Avid Ameritrashers:

    As I told you a few weeks ago, I plan to start a game store.

    Mexico city is a strange place. As someone said: it is a chaotic, big and beautiful city.  In some places you can cut the desperation and the hopelessness with a knife, and in other, the opulence comes to such levels that you would think you're in a street of New York. Starbucks franchises blossom among a swarm of old 70's volkswagens and graffitis appear in walls of the most important gobernment buildings. The city has such contrasts that sometimes I can't explain why there's so much people in it. 20 million people gather everyday in a few miles, either to gather some coins to get tortillas and frijoles (beans)  or to buy a Maserati in the Insurgentes avenue.

    This is my city. So, what about boardgames?

    The boardgame community is composed mostly of active or inactive Magic the Gathering players or of the people interested in (what's considered) underground in Mexico: Anime, Fantasy, Roleplaying, Comics and miniatures, heavy metal and everyday people that gather some information about boardgames... either by internet or because of the rare game store. We don't have a "community" or most of us don't know about it. Small groups of people gather some information like it is the 70's-80's in the US when people knew about new or important information only through another person or a group of other people. Mouth to mouth information is the most important in the boargame "community".

    So, my first plan, a very ambitious plan, is to unite boardgamers in a non-hostile place. Where they can feel they are playing in their living room with their friends. The way I feel when I play boardgames with my friends. This is where the trust enters. All of you know a few geeks (even if you only know yourself, hehe...) and sometimes you get to know the rare übergeek. All of us just need to know there's people like us out there. People that doesn't get shy when they talk about Lord of the Rings or Battlestar Galactica or Clockwork Orange... whatever your geekness is, if you get to know someone that likes the same thing you stick to him/her. At least that's what happens in Mexico. The rareness of the "mexican geek" condition makes you go to inhospitable places to know people like you. I know I have. I know I've been in places where the "noob" word is a compliment. Where people think they're "better" because they like something rare. My plan goes beyond what I can describe here. I search to make a game store that I wish I had known on those awkward ages where I was discovering myself as a geek. I'm searching to make a comfortable place where you can geek out and game without restrictions.  I plan to make it a "gamers heaven"...

    As to when, where and with what money... maybe that's not that important. I know my numbers. And I'm sufficiently aware of what I'm about to go through and the risks and the social/monetary failure.

    At the least, this will be an exercise of trust. I am "putting all the meat in the grill" as they say in Mexico. I'm making my biggest investment in trust in humanity ever made. I trust you, reader... don't dissapoint me.