March 17, 2008

D&D 4th Edition Previews: Players Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, Monster Manual

The GamerZero team conducted interviews with the editors of the major D&D 4th source books slated for release this year. The interviews took place on the floor of the D&D Experience that went down 2 weeks ago and though they don't include any show stoppers, they definitely add fuel to our exciting fire of the 4th edition release.

Some players seem a bit upset that D&D is getting another installment citing that this redesign might have been hit hard with the dumbed-down World of Warcraft hammer. So far, we're totally optimistic. Reading through the Worlds and Monsters prerelease book - which we highly recommend - our hearts race with how well-thought-out their overhaul of D&D is, smartly redesigning monsters and settings and giving them strong traits and themes. The simplification of rules seems completely wrapped around an interlocking set of mechanics that can be easily extending by gaming groups as they see fit.

Here's what we learned this week from the interviews.

Players Handbook (above)
The Players Handbook is really centered around character classes, instead of having that information up front and then filed somewhere in the back, which is a welcomed origanizational change. The interview also talks about Character development arcs. An intersting example given was that higher level powers will extend lower level versions, replacing them in the character's bag of tricks. Through this new abilities will be unlocked, but the list of options will remain smaller than in past editions, and thus more manageable. Beyond that it's slightly vague due to limiting the amount of prerelease information they're allowed to release to the public.

We hope - we really really hope - that new gameplay mechanics will open up with these new powers, instead of the powers imply adding more damage dice to make them essentially the same exact spell as before. That kind of growth really doesn't seem interesting.

A few nice new tidbits: Players will be able to retrain skills on every level, and will receive Feats ever other level. We hadn't seen this info in print before, so score!


Dungeon Master's Guide: [On YouTube]
The DMG has be redesigned to be easily approachable to new and existin DMs, more so than in past editions. The book will ship with a section called the 'DM Toolbox' which will provide clear, simple rules and steps on how to create customized adventures tailored to your party. The video doesn't get into too many hard examples, but seeing as this guide is quite a ways away, things seem to sound good for this stage of prerelease hype ambiguity.


Monster Manual: [On You Tube]
The interview starts in about the Monster Manual at 1:40 (prior to that it's general 4th Edtion experiences). But what we eventually learn: the guide is going to ship with 500 monsters (wow!). Each monster will have some creative / inventive tactics for each monster, with the goal of each monster feeling quite different. A lot of these monster traits are mysterious, and will only be opened up to players as the encounter them, including monsters that use combined forces tactics in groups, or some monsters explode when they die, etc. The players will have to learn the correct tactics to take down every different monster type, essentially exploring each monster type as they're encountered. It sounds awesome. It really, really does.


Is it June yet?

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

March 11, 2008

Descent: Road to Legend Previews Galore

Descent Road to Legend.jpgPublisher Fantasy Flight Games is getting ready to ship its latest addition to the popular Descent: Journeys into the Dark [Amazon, Funagain] fantasy adventure board game. In all other earlier installments, the adventures have dug deep, down into the earth to explore dangerous dungeons filled with all sorts of baddies, pitting themselves against the evil player-controlled overlord. In Descent: Road to Legend [Funagain], things will go above ground for the first time, interconnecting many dungeons in an epic battle of heroes versus evil.

Games will take weeks. Yes, we're talking epic weeks. Thankfully the game will ship with mechanics and tools that you can use to set aside the state of the game to play later, including boxes for each player to store their cards, character sheets, etc, and a worksheet that should allow groups to easily record and reproduce the state of the game.

In true stellar pre-release news fashion, Fantasy Flight Games has released 7 lengthy preview articles, and recently just published the expansion's instruction booklet (pdf). Here they are with a topical description of each:

  1. The Quest for Adventure: Kicks things off with a descriptoin of the new random dungeon elements, and how players can pursue various kinds of quests across the world.
  2. Talon Man: The Overseer - a player who pulls the strings of the bad guy - now has some new hands in the world: his lieutenants. These guys can chase down the heroes on the overland map, and even lay siege to towns - something the players have to fight against to ensure the Overseer doesn't become too powerful to handle.
  3. Home Sweet Home: Information on what the adventurers can do when they head back to town for refueling, training, and beers.
  4. Lord it Over the Heroes: Introduces the expansion's plot cards, showcased specifically around the Beastman Lord Overlord. It seems his father didn't hug him enough when he was younger. Or maybe too much - it's hard to say.
  5. Mordrog Lord-Smasher, Champion of Terrinoth: Gets into the meat and bones of hero advancement, using an axe-happy Orc as an example. As a special note the designers have decided to keep the starting out heroes weaker than in prior Descent installments, but open the door for more growth than before.
  6. Packing for the Road to Legend: Details packing up the game to play for later sessions. This title can lasts weeks, so getting this right is very important and FFG seems to have put a considerable amount of thought into the process. The game ships with boxes to store player sheets and cards, as well as a sheet that does a quick inventory of the state of the board (which you can then dump back into the main box). Very nice stuff, considering many people don't have a table they can just set aside and leave alone for weeks at a time.
  7. From the Bat-Cave - introduce new monster elements such as monster types and four new level grades. And the monsters have been overvhauled to boot. The article uses the bat-tastic Razorwing as an example for these mechanics that will affect 20 monsters in total. A hint is also made that this expansion will be required for all future expansions, as the new monster mechanics will be used in so far un-announced expansions.
To say the Descent: The Road to Legend is huge doesn't quite put it into perspective. This expansion should not only shake the foundation of the agame, but create an epic adventure that could last weeks at a time, and then beyond that it's replayable! Oh my.

Unfortunatley looking over the rules we fear this game may have hit the 11 on the complexity scale just like the World of Warcraft board game, but if Fantasy Flight Games can pull it off with high fun factor then they could have the first monumental release of 2008.

The Descent: The Road to Legend [Funagain] expansion will require the Descent: Journeys into the Dark base set [Amazon, Funagain] . The Road to Legend is currently slated to ship in March, 2008. We'll let you know as soon as it hits the shelves!

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

March 7, 2008

Horus Board Game Coming Soon from Mayfair Games

Horus.jpgThe publisher Mayfair Games has had some hits on their hands recently. As we've noted The Pillars of the Earth was one of our favorite titles from last year, and the recently released Settlers of Catan 4th Edition seems to have been pretty well-executed reemergence, too. And now the most recent Lascaux card game was applauded by one of the gaming industry's most noteworthy critics.

Soon Mayfair plans to release Horus, another casual (read interesting and family friendly) game set in ancient Egypt. Details so far are light:

Can you seize your destiny and reign supreme over the land of Egypt? Discover your inner Pharaoh with Horus™, designed by H. Jean Vanaise and coming soon from Mayfair Games.

Horus uses a unique combination of tile and card play to create a delightfully casual yet engaging game with surprising strategic and tactical depth. Beautifully designed tiles feature ancient hieroglyphics, and the playing pieces evoke the deities of this fascinating culture. Horus is easy to learn and play, but is full of intrigue and player interaction. Ever changing, always different, you will find mastery of the Nile delightfully elusive.

Be on the lookout for Horus to hit stores soon in March.

Yes - Mayfair says March, but the latest from Funagain Games places this new board game release somewhere in the April timeframe. We'll keep you posted as more details emerge.

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

March 6, 2008

WoW TCG: Official Upper Deck Accessories Released

WoWTCGOfficalDeckSleeves.JPGUpper Deck has released a pretty slick new line of WoW TCG accessories centered around card protection and storage, as well as spicing this up with a little World of Warcraft flavor. The products include deck sleeves stylized with either Horde or Alliance patterns, deck boxes, and card binders for collection storage. There's also a neutral variety for players who vote for Nader.

The deckbox is similar in style to the deckbox that shipped with the Feast of Winter Veil pack last fall - which was a pretty solid and snappy - but has been printed with a more of a generic World of Warcraft pattern. The binders look pretty slick, too for the WoW head, but we have to be honest - black binders at CVS are pretty darn cheap. The card sleeves look like the prize of the group with some bold patterns that should make the decks pretty slick while in play.

All accessories should be available at the Upper Deck Store by the end of today. Until then details about the product can be found in this feature article.

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

WoW TCG: Stephen Colbert Puts the Horde on Notice

WoWTCGColbert.jpgA few weeks ago there were stories about a failed pitch that Upper Deck made to Stephen Colbert, who they wanted to appear in the next set WoW TCG Set Release Servants of the Betrayer. The image went around the web like wildfire, but now, after some copyright scares Upper Deck has let the artist post images of the entire card.

And it's hilarious (click image to make it go big now!) The official story can be found on multichannelnews.com.

We generally don't like when celebrities intrude on well set themes and settings - like when Perry Mason aka Raymond Burr appeared on the Flintstones - but we'd be behind Colbert and Upper Deck 100% in this case. It's a shame Colbert's agent poo-pooed the idea, 'cause Upper Deck would have had one of the most perfectly collectible mix of pop culture and gaming for 2008 on their hands.

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

March 5, 2008

D&D 4th Edition RPG Classes First Look

DD4thEdRangerPreview.jpgWizards of the Coast hosted a D&D Experience last weekend where they took the lid off D&D 4th edition. A few things have spilled out of the exciting weekend. Our favorite so far: these scans of character sheets posted on Picasa. They're so worth your time.

One of the goals of D&D 4th edition is to streamline play and add deeper combat mechanics, and while these sheets cover the stats of all the major classes, they more importantly shed some light on how the class abilities will effect combat positioning and turn order. For instance, the fighter and rogues contain abilities to maneuver opponents into position, and the fighter gets bonuses to strike two adjacent foes in one turn. Additionally, these abilities allow the front line troops to slide foes into a position to shield weaker ranged party members from ranged enemy NPCs.

Combat will be more dynamic than before, with groups jockeying for position. Some people have commented that this requires players to play combat on a hex grid, which takes away the ability to easily play D&D with just a pencil, some paper, and a dice. But honestly - we love the idea of mixing combat strategy into our favorite fantasy RPG of all time.

We also see glimpses of the new Warlock class (photo 1 and 2 of the set) and some Fey and Psychic abilities that toy with the minds of enemies, allowing the warlock to vanish from the minds of opponents for a turn, or to both suppress enemy abilities and damage them for good measure. We assume Shadow abilities will also be part of a potential warlock build when the players handbook launches in a few months.

The Wizards class (photo 11 and 12) has been overhauled considerably too. In an attempt to give Wizards something to do every turn, low level spells like Magic Missile are now "at Will " abilities, which means it can be cast as often as the character wishes. It seems it also packs quite a punch now, too (2d4+5) though if we're reading this right then it no longer scales as the character increases in levels.

But that's one of the great things we like about what we see here about the new rules: in any given round there are now tons of options for every character. No longer will the Fighter simply roll dice in a miserable drab and repetitive "game" of hit or miss. Instead they'll be controlling the front lines of a fight while hacking away. Paladins will be blessing nearby allies with righteous swings and pulling monster focus away from other players. Rogues will be tripping foes and maneuvering through the cracks of the melee as they dance around the fight. And no longer will Wizards become bored when their catalog of tricks empties for the day- instead they'll have a few bags, where some key abilities are ever-present, but the big fireworks have to be used and consumed at clutch times.

You might have notice that the Rogue doesn't make an appearnce in any of the sheets. We figure it's becuase Wizards of the Coast had already covered the juicy details of the class in this Rogue Preview Article.

Aside from the class and racial abilities showcased in these Picassa images, one thing we found noteworthy about thecharacter stats is the massive amount of hit points these characters now have (low 20s to low 30s). Considering the new heal mechanics (photos 13 and 14) we think combat in the early levels might be more of a contact sport than before.

Which sounds absolutely awesome. This all sounds incredible. Color us excited. We can't wait.

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

March 4, 2008

D&D Creator Gary Gygax Dies at Age 69

GaryGygax.jpgNews is going around the web like wildfire that Gary Gygax passed away in his house at 1:00 am this morning

This is definitely sad news. Gary Gygax founded the publishing house TSR, and was a major force behind the original D&D and Advanced D&D in the 1970s. He helped shaped the imaginations of our youth while we grew up in he 1980's. We had so countless days of fun playing within the worlds he created, that this news of his passing hits us like a lead brick to the chest.

After leaving TSR in the mid 80's Gary went on to form a new RPG system named Dangerous Journeys. It wasn't nearly as commercially successful of a system, probably because it sported a thick rulebook and some complicated rules. But this complication lead us down an unexpected path of liking Gary Gygax even more.

Two of us wrote to Gary himself (via his publisher) in the early 1990s asking for a Dangerous Journeys rules clarification. There wasn't an argument to be settled, we just wanted some clarity on a key element with confusing wording. Sure, label us dorks for trying, but one day we sat down bored and thought, "why not ask Gary?"

We honestly didn't think we'd get a reply, but a few months later we received a response from Gary himself - in the form of a Christmas card. Not only were the rules clearly explained, but he offered an apology for being overly verbose in the first place, and offered a hearty Seasons Greetings. Penned by Gygax himself we were floored, and filed that card away for extra long safe keeping.

Thanks Gary, for you gaming genius, creativity, drive, and for being such a stand-up guy.

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

March 3, 2008

February 2008 Round Up for Critical Gamers

Thumbnail image for RoundUp.jpgFebruary has been darn good for us considering its shortest month of the year. We've had some great new announcements, like the Battlestar Galactica board game and new Ticket to Ride card game. Even better are the drool-worthy details of the 4th Edition of D&D which have been coming-out in greater frequency lately. Oh baby, the more we hear the more we like. We'll definitely see more and more information become available as the month moves on, especially since Wizards of the Coast had a D&D 4th Ed. preview just last weekend.

And lets not forget the announcement of World of Warcraft Minis for the fall. Unfortunately, in true Upper Deck fashion, details are sparse.

Aside of day dreaming about future releases, we've also been playing quite a few games this month. Locked inside on snowy days Culdcept Saga has been owning our souls on the 360, and when we've met in person it's been to hack apart some zombie heads in Last Night On Earth. We're looking forward to it's expansion Growing Hunger despite our recent malcontent with the original, which we was just a fluke.

So many games, so little time! Life is good.

Here's a look back at February:

What We're Playing:

Board Games:

Role Play Games

Collectible Card Games:

February 29, 2008

Lascaux Card Game Reviewed By Vasel

Lascaux.jpgLast week we reported that the bidding card game Lascaux [Funagain] with an ancient cave painting theme was released. Though we've heard mixed things, we haven't had a chance to sit down and beat the art of our each other's heads with clubs like civilized stone agers, so we can't tell you straight up if this game is worth your time.

However, Tom Vasel - the general Patton of game reviewers - has had some glowing things to say in his detailed review on The Dice Tower. Here's a bit where he compares Lascaux to
No Thanks! [Funagain, Amazon], a game with similar mechanics:

No Thanks! and Fun Factor: The enjoyment of Lascaux comes from a combination of the bidding and outguessing the other players when picking a color. The speed of the game will make it a highly requested game, as No Thanks is for me now. So will Lascaux replace No Thanks? No Thanks is a cheaper game, slightly easier to understand, and faster to play. Lascaux, however, offers slightly deeper game play and outguessing the opponent - something No Thanks doesn't handle. I really can't recommend one over the other, although I'm leaning towards No Thanks because of its higher portability and cost.

There you have it! Well, sort of. Actually this doesn't resolve anything . But it looks like Lascaux shines brighter than we first thought. That's a good thing because this season seems to be relatively starved good game releases.

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

February 27, 2008

D&D 4th Edition Insider Screenshots

DnD4EInsiderScreenshots.jpgSurfacing this week are screenshots of the D&D Insider - the digital companion piece to the new Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition release this summer. Sporting voice chat, character generation, dungeon generation, and the full functionality to host adventures online, this new component to the D&D arsenal could be ground breaking. Not only should it speed up session preparation, it should also provide some visual depth to player created worlds, allow folks to save sessions in-place when things are getting late, and - best yet - be a place where friends can play D&D with their childhood buddies who've moved to long distant parts of the country.

Unfortunately we have some critiques so far:- these images are pretty dippy looking. Seriously. We love the fact that you roll your character, and post him online, or create a character sheet print out with a character portrait to boot. Good stuff. The problem is this: The character rmodels look like plastic dolls with sloppily added pieces of equipment slapped on there last minute. The screenshot of chap in full-plate has skin showing around the neck. Holy moley folks! It screams lack of polish. Forget about the lack of protection in one of the body's most vulnerable parts, but is he not even wearing a shirt beneat there? Think of the horrible nipple chaffing action.

And then there are the dungeons they show. They look like so bare bones, empty, and uninspiring... considering they've had months to prepare these images. We know they could do better, too. In fact, the editor looks a heckovalot cooler in this video captured back in October - about 4 months ago.

Why does this concern us? Well part of the charm of D&D Insider is its ability to download polished content created by Wizards of the Coast, who will publish modules online on a regular basis. But if this is the example of their handiwork, then maybe that feature has been overstated.

We're still excited about the potential of D&D 4th Edition's Insider tools for all reasons we mentioned in the opening paragraph, but we really hope they do a standup job with the content. These screenshots don't sells us, instead they make us wary.

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

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