Asmodée has always been something of a wildcard to me. You never know what to expect; their releases tend to be offbeat, many times original, and often having a very different feel even from other titles that they offer.
They've demonstrated a knack for solid productions and incorporating appealing themes, though. So let's take a look at Asmodée and both their previous and upcoming titles.
The first time I really stood up and took notice of Asmodée was with their release of Mall of Horror. At the time, the consensus was that zombie games were simply not good (without a ton of house rules, often seen with Zombies!!!) My brother is a big zombie/horror fan and he picked it up upon its release, and we were more than pleasantly surprised. It had a great theme, and was a fantastic production--plastic zombies, high quality cards and chits, the works. We've played it several times with widely varying groups and always with similar success. Humorously enough, on their website they have it classified as a "Party Game", but despite its macabre theme that seems to ring true.
I had bought Dungeon Twister before that, and we had thought it okay. It was a little chess/brainburner-style, but was a very nicely priced game and for the price paid was also a nice production. The theme was bizarre (rotating dungeon rooms mixed with what seemed to be fantasy-style rugby?) but in concert with Mall of Horror I began really taking notice of what they were doing.
Only launching in 2004, since that time they've really ramped up the amount and quality of their offerings. They started out releasing things like Werewolf, somewhat similar to how Days of Wonder got started with Gang of Four and other unassuming early offerings.
Other games they've given us include Ca$h 'n' Gun$ (replete with foam pistols) and while the game is fairly shallow, there's no denying the fun of getting involved in the "Mexican Standoff" round after round, talking trash and going down in a hail of bullets. They did a high-quality reprint of Ave Caesar which looks great (I haven't had a chance to play it, but I like racing games.) Then there's Fire & Axe, Mare Nostrum, Age of Gods, and of course Mr. Jack, which makes the murder of prostitutes seem rather "cute."
Like Days of Wonder and Fantasy Flight Games, they've also dipped their toes in the Euro pool, keeping their range of offerings quite broad. Jamaica is a high profile Euro that they're publishing, Mission: Red Planet and Wooly Bully are other titles that are in this same line. The only one I've played of these was Mission: Red Planet which to me was a mildly interesting failure, but still it's clear to see they have their genre bases covered.
That brings us to today, in the form of what they've just released, and what is on tap for the rest of the year.
Senji is the first of two Asian-themed games that have been released by Asmodée recently. I am on tap to receive a copy of this in trade from Mssr. Barnes, and I'm actually pretty excited about trying this one.
Each player takes on the role of a 'family', and during the course of the game you will use Samurai and your armies to battle and gain honor. There is also a heavy negotiation element, complete with timer for the diplomacy phase, in which you can trade cards with opponent's either to help them or to move you closer to victory.
Of all of Asmodée's offerings, this one does seem to be the most derivative. It borrows heavily from A Game of Thrones, using a different combat resolution system but having an almost identical method of placing orders and carrying them out. Instead of the player with "The Iron Throne" being in control of many aspects of the game, the player with the most VP at the start of the turn is considered to be "hosting the Emperor" and can choose in what order that things get carried out.
The battle system is fairly unique in that each die has the faces of the different families on them, and you will receive a strength boost if your icon comes up on any of the dice rolled. Winning battles is a HUGE source of honor gain, pushing you quickly up the VP track.
There's a bit of Euro-style set collection in there...if you can negotiate and trade for the right cards, you can play them as a set to gain an honor boost and knock down your rivals in the standings. Cards can also be played to grant you temporary VPs, boost your strength in battle, and so on and so forth. You really don't want to give away any of your own cards but you'll need to in order to gain the benefits of the cards of others.
On thing that sounds the most interesting is the ability to instantly punish those that backstab you. In most negotiation games, it's a matter of "your word." You give your word you will honor an agreement, and it's up to the other player to decide if they should believe you. The problem with this is once you do a backstab or two, the "meta" takes over and suddenly no one believes you. It's pretty crappy, but that's just how it is.
In Senji, you can give something more tangible than your word in the form of your family cards, that other players will then hold hostage. Should you choose to go back on your word and attack them, they can execute your held family members and you will suffer a big VP penalty. In this way, players can backstab, and still players will be willing to deal with them because they will have something more to use against them than "I'm going to spend the rest of the game attacking you~!!"
Sometimes games can be far less interesting and exciting than their rulebooks make them sound, but despite the knock-off nature of some of Senji's elements I'm pretty eager to give this a try. It's beautifully produced, has a theme that I enjoy, and when all is said and done it is a game about combat, negotiation, backstabbing, and of course those cool variable powered-Samurai. I'll do a blog review of the game once I've had time to put it through it's paces.
Next up is one I hadn't heard too much about until very recently, and that's Okko. Okko is also an Asian-themed game that appears to closely resemble Tannhäuser. It's a skirmish game where one side plays the Demon Hunters and the other plays the demonic Oni.
Just like Tannhäuser, each character has special abilities and stats and each side can use special weapons to help them in battle.
It unfortunately doesn't seem to use the decreasing stat-based system that Tannhäuser does (itself almost directly lifted from Heroclix, which in turn borrowed from games before it) but it does handle things like facing and supporting characters in battle. Also of note is the "inspiration dice" which you roll at the start of the turn, granting you certain icons that you can use to trigger some of your character's abilities. They go into a sort of 'mana pool' and you can seemingly use them over the course of the turn to pump up your characters.
A BIG improvement over Tannhäuser is the use of modular boards. True, you lose Tannhäuser's most interesting feature in the pathfinder system, but instead of being limited to two boards you are given six two-sided boards that you can mix and match to keep gameplay fresh.
I would probably write this one off as I have a decent selection of skirmish games already, but smartly the price on this is MSRP $34.99. They used cardboard standups for the characters instead, which is probably a drawback for ATers but did keep the price down.
The rulebook advertises that you can buy miniatures (unpainted or pre-painted) for the game separately, so if the game is good you can sink a little dough into it to make it more visually appealing. I will say that the painted minis they show in the back of the rulebook look pretty damned good to me. I'm putting this one on the radar, and if I get a chance to play it I'll be sure to do a review on it. If you'd like to check out the official site for this, head on over to http://www.okko-thegame.com/introanglais/index.htm to find out more, where you can check out more pictures and download the rulebook.
First up is the Formula De reprint (now to be titled Formula D.) This is big news as the original has lapsed out of print and is a pretty popular game. I've always liked it but it could use some work--one-lap races miss most of the strategy, but multiple-lap races can drag on and on and on.
It appears that the new game will be streamlined some to increase play speed. Also, it is going to introduce new elements, such as custom drivers with differing skills and there will also be "illegal street racing". Don't know how they'll handle that one, maybe it will be much shorter races that somehow keep the flavor of the longer game. Have to wait and see on this one. If this is a success for them you know they'll follow it up with more tracks, and that will be welcome news for fans of the original as the track packs have become harder to find since the game went out of print.
The only real negative for some will be the obviously anime-inspired art; it reminds me of a cross between the Initial D video game series and something like Speed Racer. I hope they can avoid any of the Fast and Furious feel, the last thing I want to do is sit down to a game and have my avatar be Paul Walker.
Another title on the horizon is one that's been getting some buzz, and that's Ghost Stories. Here's a blurb:
"Wu-Feng, the Lord of the Nine Hells has found where the funeral urn containing his ashes is kept. His hordes are already marching upon the small village of the Middle Kingdom hiding them". Players are taoist priests, who will have to defend the village from the army of shadows preparing to invade it. Each of them has different special powers which will help them in this mission.
The village is represented by nine tiles, each of which illustrates a different area. Around that are placed the tiles for each player, where the ghosts will appear on their starting locations.
The players, as a group, will have to exorcise the specters which will appear as the game goes on, often faster than expected... As at the beginning of his turn, a player brings a ghost into play and places it on a free spot. And more than one can come in at the same time. There are many types of specters which will need to be sent back to hell more or less quickly, as some can haunt the village and "destroy" tiles. If there's too many of them at a given time, the players risk losing some of their life points (Ki points)."
The description goes on to talk about needing to roll a certain amount of colors on your dice to be able to expel the ghosts, with stronger ones requiring more 'successes' to banish. As the game progresses you will gain Tao tokens that you can use to help your characters, or stop in villages to also gain some much needed respite.
In what sounds like an adventure game staple, after wading your way through hordes of ghosts, the "boss" Wu-Feng appears and must be dealt with. Interestingly enough it also mentions that you can play on a harder difficulty level and Wu-Feng will have different 'incarnations' that must be dealt with.
This sounds pretty cool to me, I will definitely be checking this one out. From just reading what's available I can't tell if this is going to be a little more abstract than the description sounds, but it does appear to be the collaborative adventure game that some people have been clamoring for. I'll be keeping an eye on this one.
Other than that, there's going to be another expansion for Dungeon Twister (a game I've lost track of the available expansions for in a worse way than Runebound), and something else called Hero IK. Hero IK looks to draw on the non-collectible card game format as the advertisement shows pictures of different decks. The theme is one of dungeon-exploring and there really isn't enough information about this one yet. From the descriptions and limited info on BGG, it looks to sort of emulate Descent but in card game mode, where heroes work together to beat the 'final boss' but if they run out of Courage tokens (a la Conquest tokens) then the game is over and the evil boss has won.
From what I can tell it's only for 1-2 players, with one player as the heroes and the other managing the monsters and traps in the dungeon. What's interesting is the appearance of a solo option; I wonder if it goes both ways (playing evil against an automated band of heroes.) I highly doubt that as the hero player often has the most decisions to make, but it would be something if they pulled off an evil solo option. This isn't available in the US yet, but when it does I'll probably take a look as I'm a sucker for card games like this.
By the way, if you want to research this more on BGG, use the search "Hero: Immortal King", where you'll find some pictures and a small pool of comments.
Well, that covers a lot of the stuff that Asmodée has got going on that will be of interest to AT fans. I didn't touch on some of their smaller stuff, or things like the Mr. Jack expansion, but if you want to read up on all the latest news or browse all of their game releases, head on over to http://www.asmodee-us.com/index.php and check it out. Between some of this stuff and FFG's bounty of releases, looks like I'm going to remain pretty poor for some time to come.