August 28, 2008

Batavia - a Family Friendly East India Company Game o' Trade

Batavia.jpgQueen Games has released Batavia [Funagain], a family friendly board game set during the Imperial age where companies like the East India Trading Company forged trade routes to the 'far east'. Players muscle each other into an economic position to control trade routes for 7 goods capitalized by the Dutch East Indies Trading Company back in the 17th century.

Players move across the board collecting goods while they forge their route. Players then place their goods in attempt to be the most influential trader in that good. Whoever has the most influence in a particular good at the end of the game scores the gold for that good, keeping in mind there are 7 out there to monopolize. Gold can be gained in slightly less installments through other sales mechanics, and the winner is the player with the most gold in the end.

Movement isn't a simple roll of the dice. Instead players collect sets of cards corresponding to Trading companies. These Trading Companies are have a corresponding symbol on specified locales on the board, and a player can only move to a Trading Company Locale if they currently have the largest set of said Trading Company's cards in play. In other words - you have to earn your right to travel to a specific Trading Company's spaces.

Why does this matter? Well for one each locale has a randomly placed Good (from before), so you'll want to seek out your majority of goods by ensuring you land on the best possible spaces. Additionally you can only move in one direction - so you have to plan ahead or you trading exhibition might end up like as barren as Geraldo Rivera's face peering into Al Capone's Vault.

It sounds a lot more complicated than it really is, and the game is actually quite easy to learn and thus is good for the family. It should move along quickly, too ( about 60 minutes), and there's that sweet spot of strategy that lies between too-easy and analysis paralysis, which is just where we like things in our 60 minute titles.

Here's Batavia's official details:

"Beautiful sunsets, a foreign animal- and plant-world, the scent of fine spices is in the air. The Far East has always magically attracted adventurers, soldiers of fortune, and explorers as well as traders and merchants.

For about 400 years merchants in different countries organized themselves into companies in order to send large shipping fleets to the Far East.

They expected rich profits from these trips, because spices such as pepper and nutmeg were worth their weight in gold.

Batavia takes the players to the Golden Age of the East India companies. Whoever can travel to the stations with the most lucrative goods can get the best varieties and rake in the gold by the end of the game."

Batavia is out now and shipping from Funagain Games.

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August 25, 2008

BattleLore Changes Hands, We Hold Our Breath

BattleLore.jpgTwo of our favorite publishers had a shocking announcement late last week. It seems that Days of Wonder, proud makers of Memoir '44 and Ticket to Ride, have had enough of the fantasy wargame system BattleLore [Amazon, Funagain] which launched nearly 2 years ago.

Reasons have been given by Days of Wonder in an extensive FAQ about the BattleLore Migration, which cites a lack of Days Of Wonder resources to continue to produce a game series of BattleLore's scope.

The franchise will thankfully continue to march on, flying under the banner of Fantasy Flight Games. The two companies often complement each other, with Days of Wonder publishing the more approachable and lighter titles like Shadows over Camelot, Colosseum, and the aforementioned Ticket to Ride, while Fantasy Flight Games publishes the beefier and more complicated titles like Warrior Knights, War of the Ring, and Starcraft. This handing-off of such a venerable flashship franchise feels as though Worlds are Colliding for us, and we're not quite sure how we should feel.

Should we be glad that the system is now in competent hands, or should we fear that BattleLore will kick up a notch of complexity to an undesired level? Will the system slowly fade away, or will Fantasy Flight Games instill fresh blood and increase the level of quality of expansions, making them more involved and meatier? Will the light fantasy theme be replaced by the darker Fantasy Flight line of design?

We'll have to sit and ponder this for a while and answer our own questions, since it seems that FFG won't have BattleLore entirely in-house until September. Until then, we've found a home for BatteLore fans to post their constructive thoughts and concerns in the FFG forum.

Here's part of the official announcement, as reported by

"Battlelore is as perfect a fit for FFG as could possibly exist in the marketplace," said Christian T. Petersen, CEO and founder of FFG. "Needless to say we're very excited and proud to include this power title and brand into FFG's family of products. Previous to today, FFG had no fantasy 'battlefield' game, a void which we now can fill with this gorgeous industry leader. We plan to support this game vigorously. Even in the very first discussion with Eric and Richard about this deal, there was a flood of exciting ideas for how FFG can expand this game, serve its community, and move the brand of 'Battlelore' forward under the FFG banner."
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August 22, 2008

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries


Ticket to Ride overload! Well, not really. We've been loving Ticket to Ride on Xbox Live, including the new Ticket to Ride Europe edition, and we've also been playing Ticket to Ride Marklin when we game face to face.

Now we have yet another title to tackle, because Days of Wonder just released the international edition of Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries [Amazon, Funagain]. Previously limited to the Scandinavian markets, Nordic Countries includes a new map of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark, and sports intreguging new Wildcard mechanics.

The map's new route setup is insane, too, with more tunnels and ferry routes than the behind the scenes DVD feature of Santa Clause vs NORAD 2: Electric Boogaloo.

Ah, can you smell the weekend? We sure can.

Here are the official details:

"Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries takes you on a Nordic adventure through Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden as you travel to the great northern cities of Copenhagen, Oslo, Helsinki and Stockholm. Visit Norway's beautiful fjords and the magnificent mountain scenery on the Rauma Railway. Breathe in the salt air of the busy Swedish ports on the Baltic Sea. Ride through the Danish countryside where Vikings once walked. Hop-on the Finnish railway and travel across the Arctic Circle to the land of the Midnight Sun.

Players collect cards of various types of train cars that enable them to claim railway routes and pass through tunnels and onto ferries, as they connect cities throughout the Nordic Countries.

As with previous versions, the game remains elegant, can be learned in 5 minutes and provides hours of fun for families and experienced gamers alike.."

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August 18, 2008

D&D; Forgotten Realms 4th Edition Flashes into Existance


Sometime around nowish your D&D; party should be climbing out of Thunderspire Labyrinth, rubbing their light-adjusting eyes, brushing off the dust, and thirsting for more action. You have two options before you - continue the main story of first series of modules by playing the third release Pyramid of Shadows [Amazon], or clean the slate and set off an entirely new campaign in a new fully flushed out world - The Forgotten Realms.

In our humblest of opinions FR is classic bliss. Its the first campaign setting we were acquainted with when we struck out and played D&D; so many, many moons ago. It also served as the backdrop to some of our favorite Computer RPG adaptions, including Pool of Radiance, Curse of the Azure Bonds, and the Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale series.

And we're darn glad it's back, and in a nice, compact way to boot. Wizards of the Coast has decided to release core campaign materials in a few upfront books, and expand on that with new mythos and monsters in the D&D; Insider. That means there's very little you'll need to fork out cash for to have a solid, core understanding of all the inner workings of Forgotten Realms from the get go.

For DMs there's the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide [Amazon] which lays out everything you need to know to craft your own Forgotten Reams adventures. From cities, to creatures, to social folkways and a knowledge of the Faerun's various factions.

Players can also pickup the Forgotten Realms Players Handbook [Amazon] which has all the information needed to tackle adventures in the world. Included is a new character class the Swordmage who slices and fries his way toward bloody, toasty victory (so long as your DM isn't a punk).

All this comes on the eve of a new series of modules set in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. The first being Scepter Tower of Spellgard [Amazon], which is slated to hit shelves on September 16th. Get ready.

Here's the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide official details:

"Welcome to Faerûn, a land of amazing magic, terrifying monsters, ancient ruins, and hidden wonders. The world has changed since the Spellplague, and from this arcane crucible have emerged shining kingdoms, tyrannical empires, mighty heroes, and monster-infested dungeons. The Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide presents a world of untold adventure; a land of a thousand stories shaped by the deeds of adventurers the likes of which Faerûn has never seen before.

This book includes everything a Dungeon Master needs to run a D&D; campaign in the Forgotten Realms setting, as well as elements that DMs can incorporate into their own D&D; campaigns. The book provides background information on the lands of Faerûn, a fully detailed town in which to start a campaign, adventure seeds, new monsters, ready-to-play non-player characters, and a full-color poster map of Faerûn."

And the Forgotten Realms Players Handbook details:

"The complete guide for building Forgotten Realms characters!

The Forgotten Realms Player's Guide presents this changed world from the point of view of the adventurers exploring it. This product includes everything a player needs to create his character for a D&D; campaign in the Forgotten Realms setting, including new feats, new character powers, new paragon paths and epic destinies, and even a brand-new character class never before seen in D&D;: the swordmage!"

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August 18, 2008

BattleLore: For Troll and Country Announced

BattleLoreForTrollAndCountry.jpgIt seems that the design heads at Days Of Wonder have unanimously decided at a company picnic to make their approachable wargame systems even more approachable. Last week we reported that the WWII tactical wargame system Memoir '44 was to shift its release to include new preprinted battlemaps, where setup is as easy as matching the required figure to a preprinted symbol on the map. Piece o Pie. And now BatteLore will receive a similar ease-of-setup mechanic with new BattleLore Epic Adventure Map, the first of which being the new BattleLore: For Troll and Country [Funagain] expansion slated for release October.

Aside from its streamline setup, Troll and Country will include 2 scenarios, and a new troll figure who plays the starring role in both. The map itself is also quite large, weighing in at 47x34 inches, which should be large enough for the required elbow room of the intended audience of 2-6 players.

Check the official Days of Wonder website for more info For Troll and Country. Here are the official details:

"For Troll and Country is the first release of the Epic Adventure Map series for BattleLore. It includes a large scale Epic map featuring two Epic Adventures -- For Troll and Country and Troll Bridge. The paper map is 47 x 34 inches (120 x 87 cm) and comes ready to play with terrain, obstacles and unit positions pre-printed. Players can just place their BattleLore units and start their adventure. This volume also features the new Troll Creature figure, perfect to use with these or other adventures.
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August 15, 2008

D&D; 4th Edition Gen Con Interview


Its been two months since the release of D&D; 4th edition, and we're still finding the new game both approachable, and very deep, and we're just using a few of the core source materials.

Now, on the eve of the gaming conference GenCon, the website Gamers with Jobs has a fantastic interview with a round table of D&D; 4th Edition designers. They talk about the state of the game releases thus far, the momentum they've provided the design team on where t take things short term, and the long term plan for D&D; 4th Edition releases and their impact on the gameplay and D&D; settings.

If you're a D&D; 4th edition fan then the interview is entirely worth your time, but here are a few key points that really stood out for us:

  1. @13:32: There will be a shift from releasing World Specific content - like Forgotten Realms - in a fleet of books as was done in the past. Instead, Wizards of the Coast will move to a model where a few core books are released and then supporting source material will continually be released in the D&D; Insider online materials (aka Dragon magazine). The goal is to open the key elements of each world in the books, and then fill in the rest in a manner that players can pick and chose their way to customizing their gameplay experience.

  2. @22:41: D&D; Insider pricing model: There will still be a restructuring of the service, where you could get packages of the materials instead of a one-price-brings all pricing model. This will bring the price down for materials, but from what it sounds - you will need to get the whole Enchilada if you want to use the GameTable, and that's a shame, unless you can get a group rate on the table that's not outrageously expensive from month to month.

  3. @29:17: A prelude of campaign releases to come, past this year's Forgotten Realms and next year's Eberron

  4. @30:22: 'The Role Spiel' A length address to a somewhat controversial design decision of 4th edition to limit the number of class powers. This decision was made to make the game approachable and not overwhelm creation choices, and to protect new players from making gimpy characters who aren't fun to play.

Very interesting stuff. Have a good weekend!

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August 13, 2008

Memoir '44 Shifts Gears with Operation Overload and Hedgrow Hill Expansions

Memoir44OperationOverlord.jpgDays of Wonder's World War II board game system Memoir '44 [Amazon, Funagain] has been one of the most approachable and popular tactical war board game system around. The system started with operations surrounding the D-Day invasion of June 1944, and then expanded into the Eastern Front, the Pacific Theater, and even into the air with the Memoir '44 Airpack.

The system has grown a lot over the years, however the gamedesign remained focused on delivering only a two-player experience. There was some effort to break out of this narrow focus when Days of Wonder released a downloadable variant named Overlord in 2004, where players could combine sets of Memoir '44 to create multiplayer battles.

The obvious downside to this free supplement was that players needed numerous copies of the game, which was a pretty expensive proposition for gaming groups.

However, the newly announced Memoir '44 Operation Overlord Expansion [Funagain] ships with all the materials you need to play a 2-8 battle with a single Memoir '44 base set. Sweet.

There is a catch, though. The Operation Overlord Expansion was designed to work with a new series of products called BattleMaps, the first of which being Hedgerow Hell [Funagain] which is scheduled for an October.

The BattleMap expansions are little more than maps and a few pieces to be played with the combination of the Overlord Expansion set and Memoir '44, as a one-two punch to bring the series into a more robust and streamlined mulitplayer experience. And to that end the BattleMaps have been printed with fixed starting location of units to speed up setup time.

We haven't yet heard what the target price is for either of these expansions, but we assume they'll be relatively cheap considering that most of the materials should be contained with the in the Operation Overlord Expansion base set. Here's hoping anyway. And if true, then the relatively pricey Tide of Iron better watch out, 'cause it looks like Days of Wonder has made a nice maneuver to reposition and freshen its established tactical WWII board game franchise, while making it cheap for those consumers to remain up to date in the process.

For more information on Operation Overlord, checkout its official website. Here are details on the first of the BattleMap series, Hedgerow Hell:

"The Hedgerow Hell Memoir '44 Overlord BattleMap expansion includes a large-scale, double-sided map with two new Memoir '44 Overlord Scenarios -- Hedgerow Hell and The Cadets of Saumur, plus 6 new Dodge Truck miniature figures. The oversized map, which is 57 x 27.5 inches in size, is ready-to-play with all terrain, obstacles and unit positions pre-printed -- just add figures! It also features the scenario rules, terrain and unit summary cards, and historical background.

Perfect for group play at home or gaming events with fellow Memoir '44 friends, the Overlord BattleMap series is designed for 2 to 8 players and requires either 1 copy of the original Memoir '44 board game, plus the Operation Overlord Expansion; or 2 copies of the board game."

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August 11, 2008

"Game Night" Will Mage Hand Your Nethers


The novel entitled "Game Night" by Jonny Nexus [Amazon] is one of those top shelf 'now why didn't we think of that?' top shelf book selections that came out of nowhere. Well received by the RPG community, the book is fantasy adventure written as though the group of adventurers where being played by a band of RPG numskulls such as ourselves. How does the author pull this off? By making the characters controlled by a rowdy bunch of backstabbing and bumbling deities. Brilliant.

Here's the book's official description:

"The gods don't play dice with the universe... unless it's game night. A twelve-thousand-year quest is about to be completed, prophecies will be fulfilled, ancient riddles answered, legendary evils bested, and the nature of the universe revealed. All that's needed is a band of mighty heroes to do the completing. Unfortunately for the locals, some of the gods have taken a personal interest in the chronicle of these heroes' adventures. Now they are each guiding one of the characters towards the conclusion of their epic journey. That is, when they're not squabbling, backstabbing each other, blowing things up by accident, refusing to play by the rules, and turning the Allfather's creation into a mess of petty arguments, fantasy cliché, gratuitous combat and unnecessary dice rolls. If you thought your games group couldn't be any worse, Game Night shows just how bad things can get when a bunch of unruly deities decide they want to play. And may the heavens help us all. Jonny Nexus is editor of the acclaimed webzine Critical Miss and author of The Slayers' Guide to Games Masters"

We mentioned that the book is well received, and we're basing this off of some general comments within our social circle, and a review form RPG.Net which we found on Game Night's Amazon Page.

The book is compared to the Legendary novel Hitchiker's Guide from the Galaxy, a novel that help shape many of our quirky senses of humor, and a book that we hold in the highest of regards for inventiveness and quirkiness. From Steve Darlington's Review on

"Most humour books try to be novels-with-jokes, if you will. As such, aren't as funny as say, sketch comedies which are simply a series of great jokes run together. The last novel I read that was devoted to just being a string of comedy sketches was The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (taken of course, from a radio show that was a series of sketches run together). Hitchhikers was, as a result, the funniest novel I've ever read, and the only one that has ever made laugh out-loud. Until, that is, Game Night came along."
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August 8, 2008

Battlestar Galactica the Board Game Website Launches

Fantasy Flight Games, the publisher of other cross media successes as the Starcraft, Lord of the Rings, and World of Warcraft franchises, has launched their website about this Fall's upcoming release of Battlestar Galactica the Board Game [Funagain]. Gauging from Fantasy Flight's pedigree, and the information posted on their website, we expect another solid installment for epic board gaming this fall.

Players will take on the roles of characters from the show, who crew the Battlestar Galactica which takes up a majority of the board. The players will need to venture to various parts of the ship made famous in the show, to put out internal cultural flair ups, scramble to Vipers to ward off Cylon attacks, and to put out real fires and fix areas of the ship that have become damaged. The goal is to keep the Battlestar and its rag tag fleet alive long enough to get to Kobol, and find the way to earth.

But fans of the show know that things are quite so cut and dry. The Cylons have invaded the human population, and you may find that your friend had been a Cylon agent for all along who's been secretly trying to sabotage the group's progress. And in an even more complicated twist, a player might start the game as a Human, but then become secretly 'activated' through events later in the game. How your group socially and mechanically deals with an increasing paranoid group characters will play heavily on the outcome of the game.

There's a first iteration of product literature to read through on the Official Website, which goes far behind the official details announced earlier this year. We suggest giving it a once over.

It seems as though Battlestar Galactica the Board Game might have all of the high quality elements we expect from Fantasy Flight Games, but with more streamlined and easier rules than other installments from the publisher. And thankfully, it should be cheaper, too, with an MSRP of $40.00 when it ships this October.

Here are the official details:

"Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game is an exciting game of mistrust, intrigue, and the struggle for survival which places each player in the role of one of ten of their favorite characters from the show. Each playable character has their own abilities and weaknesses, and all must work together in order for humanity to have any hope of survival. However, one or more players in every game secretly is secretly a Cylon, and wants the humans to perish.

For 3-6 players ages 10 and up, playable in 2-3 hours."

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August 6, 2008

Ticket to Ride Europe for Xbox Live

TicketToRideEurope.jpgTicket to Ride Europe [Amazon, Funagain] hit Xbox Live this morning, a week later than we expected but it's here none the less. And it's awesome.

We've been digging the original Ticket to Ride Xbox Live Arcade game, which we feel is the best Eurogame on Xbox Live hands down. This new downloadable Ticket to Ride Europe pack is equally as enjoyable. It's not just a new map, but a new set of rules including tunnels, ferry routes, and a new placeable station mechanic that lets you utilize an opponent's constructed routes as your own.

We played a few rounds already, and after having played the expansive map of the USA in the original Ticket to Ride Arcade game quite a bit, the 'new' Europe map feels cramped, a bit claustrophobic, and risky (due to the tunnel routes), but all in a very well balanced manner. It is a Days of Wonder game after all.

Our only small complaint is with the icons used to convey the number of stations you have left to place. They appear overlayed on your player portrait, in small lightly outlined boxes rendered the same color as your player color. This isn't so bad on online play, where a player's gamertag image is used as their portrait, as gamertags are all sorts of different colors. However the AI players have themed portraits based on their color, red for instance. And small red station icons overlayed on small red portrait just makes them incredible hard to see.

But if that's our main beef then you know the game is rock solid otherwise. Enough talking, time to play more!

For more information about Ticket to Ride Europe for Xbox Live, please see our story "Ticket to Ride: Europe Comes to Xbox Live". You can grab Ticket to Ride Europe for Xbox Live by selecting Downloadable Content from the main Ticket to Ride menu, which of course means you'll need the original Ticket to Ride Xbox Live game to play.

Trust us - it's worth it.

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August 4, 2008

Cluzzle the Sculpting Party Game

Those of you who don't know Cluzzle [Amazon, Funagain], picture it as 21 Questions meets the sculpting phase of Cranium, and you got it pretty much nailed spot-on in your brain. But then there's a somewhat more intriguing twist, Players win points for sculpting objects that take the most attempts to guess. This means players try to sculpt somewhat close to reality, but not make an artistic masterpiece. For instance, if you're sculpting a turtle that looks just like the spitting image of a turtle, and someone guesses it straight away, then you win but you only win a crusty highly oxidized penny.

And if nobody can determine your abstract mashy lump of clay is supposed to be a water borne reptilian, well then you don't get any points at all.

On the other side of the fence are the guessers. The fun trick here is that players will try to phrase their question in such a way as to not lead-on the rest of the players, so that they might use your guess as a clue of their own. Sure, it's nothing buried crazy-deep in the index of the player's guide to game theory, but it's still fun to try to twist your words in a fast social game like this one.

There is one catch though, and it's why we're writing about this game now instead of say.. in 2007. Due to packaging concerns, or cheap materials, or severe draught , the clay that ships in most editions of Cluzzle is usually hard enough to flog a titanium mule. To alleviate this problem, Funagain Games is shipping copies of Cluzzle with side kits of different colored Playdoh packs, which is always top notch fresh and ready for the sculpting. And at no extra charge to boot!

Here's Cluzzle's official details:

"Cluzzle is a fun-filled game that combines creativity, communication, strategy, and self-expression. In Cluzzle, players outwit their opponents through obscure sculptures, tricky questions, and insightful guessing.

The game has two fun phases: sculpting and guessing. In the first phase, every player creates a Cluzzle, a clay puzzle, from one of the subjects on a random game card. Then comes the guessing. There are three rounds in which players ask yes/no questions to figure out what you have created.

A good Cluzzle is one that cannot be solved until several yes/no questions have been asked. In fact, you get more points the longer it takes others to figure out your sculpture. So why not make a horribly unrecognizable blob? The kicker is that if your Cluzzle is not correctly guessed by the end of the game, then you'll receive zero points for it! A perfect Cluzzle is one that is not immediately recognizable but also not too obscure.

Cluzzle is a fast-paced game filled with laughter and incredulous eye-rolls as players fumble their way to deciphering your clay puzzle!"

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August 1, 2008

Critical Gamers' July 2008 Gaming News Roundup

RoundUp.jpgAnother month of gaming down and five more to go. This month was pretty busy on the release front. The Settlers of Catan 4th Edition expanded with Catan: Traders & Barbarians, the new World of Warcraft Adventure Board Game was released, and the Merlin's Company Expansion finally ratcheted Shadows Over Camelot to eleven.

Meanwhile we're still ga-ga over the release of D&D; 4th Edition last month. The first module was longer than we expected, which is good in many ways but we're lagging a bit behind on our progress through the second module Thunderspire Labyrinth. The third one is just around the corner, too -- the whole thing seems like more D&D; content than we ever imagined, and if they keep on publishing top notch materials liek these, then D&D; 4th edition should have some staying power in our group.

That's the bright side of the issue, now here's the dark: with the Closing of Gleemax, it seems as though Wizards of the Coast's digital department has fallen on hard times, and now the D&D; Insider tools may be in jeopardy, too.

In other dark news we're still awaiting the release of Ticket to Ride Europe for Xbox Live Arcade, that was slated to ship on Wednesday. That's last Wednesday. Here's hoping it comes out sometime this month... though we probably shouldn't cross our fingers.

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