23 October 2016

Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition review

Mansions of Madness 2nd edition has been out for a while now, and Caroline picked this game up last Friday since we had been talking about it and the new central feature - tablet app taking the role of the game master. It was very expensive, but after some pondering if found its way to our home and we spent most of Friday evening and the whole of Saturday playing it. 

I feel as if I have enough experience to write down a review, which will start with my experience of MoM: 1st edition. I didn't like it. It was a game that was extremely cumbersome and riddled with moments that bogged down the gameplay and adding the insane amount of setup time it just killed any wish to play despite having some good things. One of imo few good things was the feeling that you played a kind of roleplaying game light with a board and miniatures to help you keep track of the action instead of a pure Pen & Paper adventure. Sadly it often devolved into a action/combat oriented game with monsters spawning left and right. 

Another drawback was also the need for one player to take on the role of the game master, some people find this role to be fun and I don't blamed them (I had a pretty good time playing the GM in Descent 2nd edition) but in MoM: 1st ed you had to prepare a lot of stuff and keep things and story details in mind, mistakes could ruin the whole experience. It also made it impossible to solo-play the game, which is bad since all previous Lovecraft inspired boardgames by Fantasy Flight Games allowed you to do so (Arkham Horror, Eldritch Horror and Elder Sign). Finally, if you ask me, the models for the monster and the big bases were the definition of ugly and an unnecessary element, the few times we played it at my house we ran the monster tokens without minis/black plastic bases. 

Moving on to MoM: 2nd ed it looks like FFG cleaned up a LOT of problems and redesigned the game quite heavily while still keeping the framework and most of the models/board pieces intact.

First of all, the game requires an app to act as the game master - you can't play without it. The app runs on both PC, iOS and Android - so players should have a lot of device options to run the heart of the game.

14 October 2016

Blood Eagle rules review

Having a collection of Viking miniatures I looked around for more rules, beside SAGA, that would scratch my "skirmish  game" itch. I also really wanted "Viking fantasy" as it was something that rumbled around in my head for the past couple of weeks.

Browsing the internet, as usual, you always find something that look interesting or promising. This was the case of "Blood Eagle: Skirmish warfare in the legendary Dark Ages". This is a game from the team behind "In her Majesty's Name" published by Osprey a while back. 

Though this module focuses on both historical and mythological aspects of the Dark Ages allowing you to field warbands of pre-generated warriors from a wide variety of historical factions such as Vikings, Picts, Gaels, the warband of Ragnar Lodbrok, Jomsvikings. The book also allows you to field warbands based upon the mythology of the Dark Ages, in particular Norse mythology, fielding Jotun, Draugr, Sidhe and also have encounters with both normal animals as well as legendary creatures such as wyrms, trolls, Valkyries and redcaps.  There are also rules for creating your own warriors, using a point system with weapons, armor, abilities and magic powers (Wyrd for pagans and Miracles for Christian warbands).

As  you can see the book is overflowing with character and unit profiles, and I can say that it was pretty much what I was looking for in that department.

The rules  themselves are not that complicated, and players familiar with Frostgrave, Empire of the Dead, Brink of Battle and other such games should have an easy time getting into the game fairly quickly. You use D10 dice for all rolls, and add fight/shooting values and weapon bonuses to your attack rolls, trying to beat your enemy's armour value. Opponents roll saves in the form of "fate rolls". Some weapons and abilities affect the fate roll either positively or give you a penalty.

The order of play is both players rolling initiative and then taking turns activating one model at a time until all models have been activated, which constitutes a turn.
It is always interesting to see how combat works out in a small scale skirmish game where all models only have a single wound. If put together poorly fighters die too easily. From my playtesting the combat seem to be at the very least as balanced as Frostgrave in that you don't always hit or kill your opponent during your first swing with an axe but actually have to do some dice rolling before someone goes down. For the sake of making it more interesting there are also rules for ganging up on single opponents, rules for shattering shields  and thus lowering the protection of your enemy.

What I found most interesting however is the option to split your attacks between multiple opponents, by dividing your attack value thus lowering the impact  of your swings but increasing the number of attacks your fighter generates. For instance a fighter with a +4 to your fight value, can split it between opponents, either hitting then once with +2 each, or hit one with a +1 and the other with a +3 attack.

I have not seen this in any previous set of rules I've played and think that this is a very interesting option. Combat is also done in a initiative order, with the player who won turn initiative picking which model in a multi-model fight to activate first. Then players take turns activating models in that mass combat until everyone has made their attack.

Models can also get knocked down during fights if the fate roll (your save) is just equal to your fate value. Knocked down models can't activate for the remainder of the turn, and must try to get back on their feet in subsequent turns. Heroes have fate points that can be used to re-roll a limited amount of die rolls during each game to prolong their lifespan, and they are often allowed to make "one last action" before being killed.

Blood Eagle has a some 20 pages of rules, both basic and advanced. Beside movement, shooting and fighting there are also very detailed rules for flying, swimming, lots of rules for boats/ships and fighting on these vessels, attacks with poison and fire, sleds, wagons chariots and horses. You also get a lot of character traits to pick from to make your fighters and heroes unique, lots of magical powers and a very good and very versatile scenario/campaign section.

What's special about the scenarios is that they are made up of 3 parts.

First you have your basic plot such as trying to bring back some captured people alive. Then you add a complication, which could be a specific time of the day (twilight, night etc), weather or some kind of event. Third is adding a landscape, this could be a Viking camp, abandoned ruins, a fortress, forest, moor or even take place during a ship-to-ship action. Mixing and matching the three components that make up a game will give you plenty of variation.

Should you desire a more narrative approach there is always the option to play a "Saga" that has players start with a pool of points that they can spend on warriors during a campaign streching over a predetermined number of scenarios. Lost troops are not replenished automatically, which makes taking losses in combat action have more of an impact.

You can replenish your troops with scenario rewards, though the replenishment rate is not as big as to instantly allowing you to recruit replacements for 10+ dead warriors from your last battle.  I like this idea as it makes the game more narrative, having your warband start as an isolated force on a quest, and rely on their original makeup with little chance of reinforcements.

The rules still have to be properly playtested, but I really like what I read. My only complaint is perhaps that the layout of the book itself is not easy on the eyes. The text would benefit from a two-column per page print instead of the single column layout. Caroline remarked that they looked like "university literature" that was not easy to jump into. There is also a risk that the number of stats you have to keep in mind will slow down games as you have to reference and multiply attack values in your head unless you do some pre-game preparations with printed complete soldier profiles.

And as I said at the start of this review, the game can be played as either a pure historical game or you can add fantasy elements to it.

Publisher: Ministry of Gentlemanly Warfare, distributed by NorthStar
Authors: Charles Murton & Craig Cartmell
Contents:  100 pages in full color, glossy softback rulebook
Format: 2-players, alternate single model activation
Gaming aides: D10 dice
Price: £15

12 October 2016

Strange Aeons 2nd edition review and comparison

I managed to pick up (the last) a copy of the 2nd edition rules for Strange Aeons through a European retailer F-side Games last week (thanks to a tip on the Lead Adventure Forum).

The first edition of Strange Aeons was released some 6 years ago and I played it a lot back in the days. Basically it is a campaign driven small skirmish game set in the world of Lovecraftian horror where you play either as the good guys - (agents of the Threshold) or the baddies (Lurkers).

Strange Aeons fast paced gameplay takes place on a small 2x3' table using D6 dice and just a handful models on each side. The focus is on playing scenarios ranging from stopping evil cult activities, rescuing people, salvaging artifacts, killing monsters and sometimes just trying to escape ambushes. In each scenario one player always controls the Threshold, and the other player controls the Lurkers, players can switch roles during campaign game to allow both players to advance their teams while fighting the Lovecraftian horrors thrown at them which are generated specially for each new game.

The rules remain pretty much unchanged, and you can read more about the game in my REVIEW from 2010 time flies!!). This review will sum up the new product qualities and what you get in the 2nd Edition book.

09 October 2016

Pictures from SAGA and M&T demo games

Demo'd both SAGA and Muskets & Tomahawks for my friend Magnus today down at the club and snapped some more photos of minis in action. I don't have much in the way of a writeup except that we played Anglo-Danes vs Vikings and we had a good time. I really like the fast paced nature of SAGA, it really feels like you could squeeze a game in at around 60 minutes if all rules are in place.

For Muskets & Tomahawks we played a tiny 200point game, with me running British made up of Highlanders and Rangers while Magnus fielded French Regulars backed by indian allies. My mission was to scout the table, while Magnus had to wipe out some innocent civilians living in a small farm at the center of the table. Let's just say that the civilians will be deployed in such a way so that they can make their escape next time :-D

I also spent a couple of hours last night making unit cards with stats for the troops I own for Indians, French and British and they really came in handy today. Magnus and I talked a bit about replacing the activation cards for chips instead and how you could use tokens from warbases with custom artwork to represent the same information that you get on your cards. That way you don't have to worry about damaging your cards and can just draw tokens from a cup or a bag. I will at the very least buy more plastic card sleeves for protection until I come up with a more durable solution since shuffling the fragile M&T cards always slow down the turnover sequence for me.

08 October 2016

SAGA Warlod challenge AAR

Tried out my freshly painted up SAGA miniatures with Caroline today, she got to try her Anglo-Danes and I ran Vikings. A small 4 point fight using the Warlord Challange scenario in which each warlord has 12 wounds and the  game is played over 7 turns or until one warlord is killed.
Should no warlord die before the end of turn 7, the player with the least wounded warlord wins. Should both die simoultanously, then
the game ends a draw.

My 4 point Viking list:

Viking warlord, hand weapon and shield
1x Hearthguard
1x Hearthguard Bersekers
1x Warriors
1x Levy Archers
5 SAGA dice

Caroline's 4 point Anglo-Danish list

Anglo-Danish warlord with dane axe
2x Hearthguard with Dane axes

2x Warrior units
6 SAGA dice

The game starts with both warlords in the center of the battlefiend in short distance from each other, which ensures that they will be locked in combat with each other for most of the game due to the "warlords pride" rule where you always have to attack an enemy warlord within movement range at when using a movement action.

The rest of our warbands are deployed along the table edge, up to a "medium" length onto the table.

My vikings end up as the first player and I'm off to a great start with my SAGA dice - unlocking an ability that gives me 4 extra attack dice which for my warlord when charging the Anglo-Danish warlord. Despite the  hail of blows only 1 wound is inflicted, and in the subsequent enemy turn the Danish warlord hits back scoring 2 wounds. A brief pause takes place as neither warlord wants to advance closer now when enemy warriors and hearthguards start to mass behind their leaders. Instead both warlords rest and remove fatigue before throwing themselves and their soldiers against each other.

Viking and Anglo-Danish hearthguard clash and massacre each other, with the result of a unit of Viking hearthguard being wiped out, and leaving only a single Anglo-Danish hearthguard from the attacking unit standing after the dust settles. The Vikings lose 1 SAGA die due to this defeat. Meanwhile warriors from both sides clash, but this time the Vikings force the enemy to give up some ground and leaving two men dead.

Both warlords clash repeatedly while fighting occurs around them, they are left alone to fight their own duel. Hits are scored on both leaders, blood spilling out of multiple wounds. The Viking warlord tires himself allowing the Anglo-Danish leader to get the upper hand and land more blows.

At this point Viking berserkers attack and wipe out the last member of the enemy hearthguard with Dane axes, reducing the enemy SAGA pool by one. The lone Anglo-Dane managed to slay one berserker with his counterattack however, and as the Berserkers were catching their breath after the brief fight they are attacked by the second Anglo-Danish hearthguard. Crazed berserkers flail their weapons around while the Anglo-Danes swing their two handed axes wide. The number of hits on both sides, increased by the fatigue already slowing down the Berserkers, makes for another bloodbath and both units are reduced nothing. Both sides lose one more SAGA die each.

Viking warriors continue to push their enemy counterpart in yet another melee, killing two more enemy soldiers, losing one member of their own unit. Viking archers take aim and unleash a poorly aimed volley, only managing to kill a single enemy warrior.

Now the Anglo-Danes counterattack, hitting the Viking warriors from two sides in separate assaults pushing the Vikings back leaving a trail of their comrades behind them. The Viking archers do their best but their attacks don't do enough damage to prevent a final blow that destroys the viking warriors leaving the Viking warlord alone with a bunch of very worried levies at his side.

By this point the Anglo-Danish warlord had suffered 8 wounds, and the Viking warlord was down 10 wounds. In a  final suicidal charge the Viking warlord lunged at his opponent, scoring 5 hits, while the Anglo-Danish leader only managed to land a single blow. Ignoring the first wound the Viking warlord triumphed over his enemy who failed 4 saves and got killed by the end of turn five!

A lucky break for the Vikings which were down to only the Warlord and a unit of levies, with a total of 2 SAGA dice. Once more turn and the enemy warriors would swarm the remaining Vikings.

Caroline really loved the game as she both likes the historical period and the fastpaced gameplay where "things actually happen each turn". I also enjoyed the game and look forward to playing more SAGA soon.

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