January 28, 2009

Small World coming this May from Days of Wonder

These days we have two favorite modern American Board Game Publishers vying for control of our gaming attention. On one hand we have Fantasy Flight Games, who make some top notch stuff like Battlestar Galactica (which we promise we won't mention again for at least a week), Tide of Iron, and Twilight Imperium . The problem is that as a whole FFG games have levels of complexities that hit the points of complication, and so epic that they're very tough to squeeze into a weeknight gaming session.

That's where Days of Wonder comes in. Their games are top notch, too, and while they remain deep in the gameplay department, they're often much easier to setup and play in the evening. The Ticket to Ride franchise, for instance, remains one our favorite releases ever. And when Days of Wonder announces something new, we sit up and listen.

Small World looks to be Civilization Light, or Tempus Heavy, where players lead their own civilization out of the caves and into the light of day. The problem is,t he world is just too small to support every tribe. Thefore each must lead their social and technical expansion at the expense of other's resources, and lives (aka: war).

There's a great video sneak peak of the game on the official Days of Wonder Small World website. The full blown Prelease Release can also be read here, but we've included the juicy bits below:

"Designed by Philippe Keyaerts as a fantasy follow-up to his award-winning Vinci, Small World is inhabited by a zany cast of characters such as dwarves, wizards, amazons, giants, orcs and even humans; who use their troops to occupy territory and conquer adjacent lands in order to push the other races off the face of the earth. Picking the right combination from the 14 different fantasy races and 20 unique special powers, players rush to expand their empires - often at the expense of weaker neighbors. Yet they must also know when to push their own over-extended civilization into decline and ride a new one to victory.

"Small World marks the return of the 'classic' Days of Wonder big-box game," said Eric Hautemont, Days of Wonder CEO. "The theme is playful and fun; the rules are simple enough to learn for any family member; but the gameplay can get as cutthroat as anyone might wish. Players will take delight in discovering the best combinations of races and special powers and devising ever more devious new ways to play them; they will also have fun trying to time the decline of their own civilizations just right!"

Small World is currently slated to hit gaming stores in May 2009, and is now available for predorder from Fuangain Games.

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January 26, 2009

Obsidian Portal Seeds a Golden Age of RPG Authoring

WarcraftPortal.jpgHere's a sweet little... actually quite large site that was brought to our attention from two directions at once over the weekend. The Obsidian Portal is a Wikipedia for RPG players, specifically created for a DM and his/her party to keep track of the story so far, the equipment they've gathered, and the maps they've obtained. Pages include all the Wiki perks such as URL and Image embedding, and of course, all the cross referencing you can muster.

So if you've been looking for a way to disseminate your adventure materials for the next session, or to track all of your past progress to keep track of the story so far, then this is this the site that gets it all done for you. The best thing is that the site has an established set of user rated content, so you can browse and borrow material from DMs that may be a bit craftier than you are - if you care to admit it. Everything from factions, to NPCs, to items and custom rules. There's a library already there, and it's growing even as we speak.

But it's not just a repository to shove stuff into. DMs looking for constructive tools will find it easy to create quick cross reference between concepts and NPCs. Refer to an NPC in a few descriptions, and then link them to a character description entry in your group's own customized wiki. Such consistency and organization won't just earn applause from your players - it'll help you sculpt out a complete world from start to finish, too.

Gotta love the Internets.

PS. Everything that Obisidan Portal is was supposed to be a feature of the D&D; Insider and Gleemax, too, but the slothlike progression of that compendium of tools and the cancellation of the social community piece has caused the official D&D; 4th Edition tools to loosen theirgrip on relevance even further.

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January 23, 2009

5 Tips for Cylons in the Battlestar Galactic Board Game

CylonModel5.jpgYesterday we posted 5 Helpful Tips for the Battlestar Galactica Board Game [Amazon, Funagain], which hopefully will help the Human Faction players outlast the Cylon onslaught. But what if you're caught on the other side of the lines, embedded in the Human Fleet as a sleeper agent for the Cylons?

Knowing what to do and when can be tricky for cylon skinjobs. You don't want to be too heavy handed or lest you risk exposing yourself as a double agent, and you certainly don't want to be too laid back or those sweaty humans might make it all the way to Kobol. Balance is key.

Keeping that in mind, here are our 5 Tips for Cylon players who find themsevles on the other side of the fence in the Battlestar Galactica board game we love so much.

1: You're a Traitor, so Give Yourself a Hand
Since you'll have to discard your hand down to three, don't expose yourself until you have three high-value cards that you can take with you into the Cylon fleet. Once you're there you'll be starving for cards and it'll be nice to have some killer tools to mess-up the best laid plans of mice and men. Mostly just the men.

ThreeSixEight.jpg2: Know the Cylon Cards
Go through the entire You Are a Cylon deck before you sit down and start playing. Each card has its own set of specific rules on how you can inflict the most damage upon the Galactica and her mates, so get those things down pat.

Here's the trick: while the "You are a Cylon" cards are chalk full of text, the "You are Not a Cylon" cards, have very little. So if you appear to be reading a lot from the card dealt to you in the loyalty phase, then people will peg you as a toaster. Don't let this happen.

3: Timing is Everything
If an opportunity presents itself to cause maximum chaos at a critical time, then it's worth exposing yourself right then and there. Just pull the trigger, and don't look back. You may not get a better chance to cripple the fleet.

4: Be Nice, But Spread Mistrust
While you will surely be mistrusted, you can go far to create pockets of new mistrust elsewhere, too. Try to setup circumstances where your ship mates would put blame on someone else, while you passively do nothing. You may get lucky and get your target thrown into the brig, too, where they're nigh useless. Don't be too heavy handed though. Dabble, don't gush mistrust.

Conversely, if you're Cylon or Human, its in your best interest to play the good guy at least for a while. You have to build trust in order to backstab properly. But just like spreading the mistrust, don't lay it on too thick. Especially if you're a bad actor.

5: A Resource Wasted is a Resource Gained
If you're in a position of power then try to bleed as many resources as you can. Risk raptors to get goods that your fleet already has an abundance of. Feign despair and send Vipers into horribly dire situations where they're protecting civilian ships but they're completely outnumbered and will certainly die. Use a Nuke because you think "it's time", when you bloodly well know it isn't time yet.

Happy Hunting.

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January 22, 2009

5 Helpful Tips for the Battlestar Galactica Board Game

We love the Battlestar Galactica Board Game [Amazon, Funagain]. We've admitted it before, and now it's currently slugging it out with a few other titles for our favorite game of 2008. We just finished a heated session last night, and while it's still fresh in our memories we thought we'd share some of the lessons we've learned so far. Here are 5 tips for the Human players, but we've also carved out some Tips for Cylon Players, too. Enjoy!

1: Easy Does It
Beginner players tend to overcompensate on the crisis cards, dealing in what they think is 'their share' to ensure the group passes the crisis and moves onto better days. But when you win the crisis 23-6 about five times in a row, then you're just bleeding away valuable cards. Cool it. Save it for when a cylon throws you in a brig.

2: He's not a jerk, He's a Cylon OK, maybe He's Both.
The entire game is filled with sarcastic one liners of "sure thing, cylon" but when someone decides to throw you - an innocent human - in the brig, things get serious. You could be saving the fleet with your cards and actions left and right, and suddenly you're on trial for being a traitor. Chances are, the person calling the vote is a sleeper cylon himself, and he may have friends or humans who question your loyalty. Therefore always carry a nice balance of cards to ward off an arrest, or to spring yourself out when things get tough.

3: The Quorum is a Rabble
Sure the Quorum may get you out of a pinch of resource depleation or expose a Cylon - but only only to you, and that's not proof of anything. In fact, even if you tell people someone is a cylon 'because you know'', the rest of the group might not believe you and think that you're a sleeper cylon falsely accusing other people. Plus the cards seem to repeat themselves a lot. If you already have a few in your hands, then chances are that getting more won't pull you out of desperate times. Instead, avoid this Hail Mary Pass, and use a targeted action to ensure you're actually in a stronger position than you were when your turn started.

4: Save Those Nukes
When a Cylon finally reveals himself, be ready for some hurt. A well timed super crisis and crisis card could land your FTL in sleep mode in a system with multiple base stars, raiders and heavy raiders baring down on you, and more civilian ships than you care to protect. Plus, with the Cylon no longer masquerading as a Human, you'll be shorthanded to deal with it all at once. Even if things are looking slightly dismal before the second loyalty phase, let the Galactica soak up some hits - its easier to repair the galactica than to replace lost civilian resources.

5: Politics are All Talk
Politicians generally hang out on Colonial One managing resources, and stay away from Galactica herself. That means they're not going to be of much use destroying
Cylon ships, repairing locations, and fixing busted Vipers. We'd recommend only one full fledged politician in a 5 player game, and instead make sure you have a support player filling out your ranks.

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January 20, 2009

D&D; 4th Edition Players Handbook 2 Slated for March

DD4thEdPlayersHandbook2.jpgA new layer of source material is slated to ship this spring, just nearly a year after the launch of D&D;'s 4th Edition. Coming down the pipe this year are new focused supplements, a new overarching Monster Manual 2, and a Dungeon Master Guide 2 slated for release this September.

But it's the D&D; 4th Edition Player's Handbook 2 [Amazon, Funagain] that kicks-off things in March. The stand alone release extends the current Players Handbook materials with 224 pages of with new races, new classes, and new abilities that expand upon the already vast suite of slick things to chose from when making your own character from scratch.

Here are some of the details:

Player's Handbook 2 expands the range of options available to D&D; players with new classes, races, powers, and other material.

This 224-page book builds on the array of classes and races presented in the first Player's Handbook, adding both old favorites and new, never-before-seen options to the game. Some of the racial options include the gnome, shifter, and half-orc. The classes featured include old favorites like the barbarian, druid, bard, and sorcerer.

The book adds a new power source for 4th Edition D&D;: classes using the new primal power source include the barbarian and the druid.

It's crazy to think that a second iteration of source materials are preparing for launch, and yet the D&D; Insider Tools we coveted so seem to be on the vaporware horizon. Come on guys, get cracking!

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January 18, 2009

Zontik Games' High End Game Store Relaunches

ZontikGamesChess.jpgWe live in the city - Boston actually - and though we aren't scraping the bottom of the corporate food chain, we're not exactly living in luxurious folds of space either. Many of our apartments are small, and have no storage so we must remain very utilitarian with the space we have.

But if we did live in the suburbs, or maybe in a region of the country that wasn't built on a 19th century landfill, and that actually didn't have basements that flooded when it slightly mists outside, then things would be a lot different. Our living room would sport two nice leather backed chairs and a chess board table with room for scotch on both sides. We're talking about the type of high quality set that abuts an old wooden globe , where the back wall would be stacked with well-bound books we've never read, and where Gentlemen retreat to carve up the world via games and politics.

Zontik Games makes these kinds of things. High-end gaming products of your favorite titles, like high quality chess sets, poker sets, or crafted wood versions of Scrabble, and the best looking Pentanque (Boule) set this side the Bay of Biscay.

We've mentioned Zontik a few years ago, and we're visiting writing again because they just relaunched their website, and they have even more high end gaming products. They also now offer a service called Custom Deluxe. where "people customize games by picking their own materials and designs," including "leathers, rare materials, precious stones, or any other thing a customer's heart desires." We're thinking a set of dice crafted from a handful Tunguska meteorites would add a tasteful edge to our gaming.

Their relaunch is worth checking out. Don't let the sticker shock scare you -- you get what you pay for.

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January 15, 2009

Tannhäuser: Operation Novgorod Previews


For 30 years the alternate reality WWI forces of the Allies and the Reich have been slugging it out against one another in a bloody stalemate. As a last ditch effort to end WWI sometime in 1940 (!), the Reich dipped into the occult in a sinister and desperate attempt to doors into the demony unknown. The goal: secure indestructible forces to finally push the battle in their favor. Such is the tactical hit Wargame / RPG hybrid: Tannhäuser.

But now it's not just a two party system with Tannhäuser: Novgorod [Funagain]. Something has awoken the dormant Russians, and they're surging forth from the expansive steppes to take their own piece of the pie. At their backs are the old Slavic Gods, new mechanical killing machines, and the mad technology derived from Tesla's tinkerings.

Dubbed 'The Matriarchy', they're arriving en force with strong mentalist powers to ensure that only the frozen heads of their enemies will roll. Also in the expansion are new Legendary characters, who are more resilient than the standard lot of heroes and are unaffected by an enemy's special attack abilities activated with the roll of a 10.

We're excited. A game of Tannhäuser is the welcome-change tactical wargame, and it seems like the franchise is expanding nicely. But look for yourself: Fantasy Flight Games has begun publishing official preview articles on the Tannhäuser website. Here's what they have so far:

A look at some of the new features in Operation Novgorod

Tannhäuser: Novgorod is slated to ship in January 2009, and is available to preorder from Funagain Games and the official Fantasy Flight Games store.

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January 12, 2009

Combat Commander: Pacific A Tactical WWII Board Game

CCPacific.jpgThe third volume of the popular Combat Commander WWII tactical wargame franchise has rolled up on shelves. Like most wargame franchises the Combat Commander series first took on simulating the Western Campaign, with the original Combat Commander: Europe, and it's followup Combat Commander: Mediterranean. Now the game heads east for some pacific island Marine invasion fun with the standalone release Combat Commander: Pacific.

Now for those new to the franchise, know this: While the title isn't overly complex, it IS a chit wargame played on a hex map, and thus it has an old school wargame feeling, especially when compared to modern commercial flagship titles like Tide of Iron and Memoir '44.

However, the gameplay itself is pretty fast, and interestingly, driven by card draws. This unique gameplay has made it one of the most popular tactical wargaming franchises around. Combat does sometime consist of dice rolls to add some random elements to the game, but they only occur when specific cards are drawn and played. Players win objectives by marching their troops across the map, killing off enemy units, and securing key locations, with scoring rules differing for each scenario.

Now with Combat Commander: Pacific, three new factions hit the beach: The Imperial Forces of Japan, the United States Marine Corp forces of the Pacific Theater, and the Pacific Commonwealth troops of India, Australia and New Zealand. The standalone rules and pieces include elements like Banzai attacks, BARs and Thompson SMGs, Beach Landings, Caves, Scouts, and last ditch Bayonets charges.

Finally, the box includes 12 prebalanced scenarios, and all the rules and pieces you'll need to generate random scenarios under official guidelines.

The official Combat Commander: Pacific Website at GMT Games have posted the Official Combat Commander: Pacific Rulebook [pdf] if you'd like to check out the nitty gritty details. Here are the official game contents.

Combat Commander: Pacific includes:
  • Six back-printed 17˝ x 22˝ game maps (twelve maps total)
  • 352 large (⅝˝) die-cut counters
  • 280 small (½˝) die-cut counters
  • 220 cards
  • One 32-page Rulebook
  • One 32-page Playbook
  • One Track Display
  • Three 2-sided 8.5" x 11" nationality cards
  • Two single-sided 8.5" x 11" player aid cards

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January 9, 2009

Empire Total War Previews Produce Involuntary Drool

You may be thinking that 'Hey -Empire Total War is no board game.' You're right, and here's your cookie. But here's the thing - while some board games have computer adaptations where everything is a 1:1 translation from dice tossing, to moving pieces, etc, the Total War franchise is a board game evolution. It takes the heart of turn based strategy and flexes the muscles of your PC to breathe life into the game.

We've loved all of the Total War games so far, starting with the now antiquated Japanese Shogun Total War, and then on through history from Rome Total War to the Medieval Period, Now Empire Total War enters the age of muskets and sail, simulating the rule of the great Imperial Powers as they vie for control of Europe, the New World, and India.

Players will build national infrastructure to boost their economy through the production and trade of goods, build forts to protect their resources, increase the quality of living in cities, and most importantly build a military machine. Troops are placed under the control of Generals, who have their own Perks and Quirks be them amazing leaders, masters at night ambushes, or belligerent drunks that sap morale of your units in a fight.

Once enemy forces meet on the turn-based grand strategy map, the camera zooms in to the battlefield, where the units of your army match muskets and cannon fire with your opponent's in real time. You have full control of unit formations here, almost pushing them around like a grand block game. Direct musket volleys, play a game of chess in your tactical positioning of grenadiers (once you discover how to make them), and flank the enemy with a cavalry charge to push them off the map. Or you could chose to remain hands off and let the AI pull the strings if you fear that your dexterity will get in the way.

And for the first time the Total War franchise adds two exciting things: Naval Battles, and a Multiplayer Grand Campaign. Ho baby.

If any of this gets your blood pumping then check out the following official preview movies:

1: Naval Battles
2: Land Battles
3: The Grand Campaign
4: Road to Independence American Revolution Campaign

Empire Total War is slated to ship in March 2009 for the PC (ie: Windows). We'll keep you posted of any new juicy tidbits as we get closer to release.

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January 7, 2009

Steam: Reinvisioned Age of Steam comes March 2009

SteamBoxCover.jpgMartin Wallace - the original designer behind the railroad empire titles Age of Steam (2002) and the board game adaptation of the Railroad Tycoon (2005) - has been hard at work on a two year renovation of the Age of Steam franchise. Simply named Steam [Funagain], the title will include revamped rules, new pieces, and components compatible to the slew of original Age of Steam expansions.

The game will also ship with two different rule sets. The 'basic' rules are designed for groups looking for a quick (45-60min) railroad builder, while the 'Standard' rules are for more advanced sessions, and include auctions, tighter money management, and infrastructure costs.

More details about the rework can be found in an Alex Yeager (Mayfair Games) Steam Production Diary on BGG where he discusses some design decisions they made in the redevelopment, and answers questions and concerns of Age of Steam fans.

Here are the details from Funagain Games:

"Take charge of a railway company. Build track and deliver goods to make your railway the best.
Includes maps of New York and Germany's Ruhr Valley. The game's components are compatible with previous editions
  • Players: 3 - 6
  • Time: 90 - 120 minutes
  • Ages: 10 and up

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January 5, 2009

D&D; 4th Edition Character Builder hits Open Beta

DD4thEditionPlayersHandbook.jpgRemember back in the day when we saw a first glimpse of D&D; Insider, a suite of computer tools for D&D; 4th Edition that included everything you ever wanted: character creators, monster creators, map editors and even a 3D game client to play the slick new edition with your friends across the country? Yeah, well none of that was ready in time for the product's launch.

Now Six Months after release, Wizards of the Coast has posted an Open Beta of the D&D; Insider Character Builder, which will not be free at launch so we highly recommend that you try them out now while they're free.

We're afraid to say that from the get-go we weren't impressed with the level of craftsmanship of this release, even in beta. Most of our beef comes from the installer:

First it defaults to installation on your Desktop, which is probably one of the worst places to install anything by default. Oh wait, it wasn't installing! It was just downloading more files and then automatically installing where it wanted to. Super, and strike 2. Then after a long pause the installer claims to require a reboot..! Are you kidding me? We're shopping for a top notch character generator here, not something that hooks into our Windows System. We're beginning to wonder just what other payloads were attached to the installer that required a system reboot. Ugh. We ignored the request, launched the Character Builder, and started poking at it with a stick anyway.

ArrowContinue reading: "D&D; 4th Edition Character Builder hits Open Beta"

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January 1, 2009

Critical Gamers' December 2008 Gaming Roundup

RoundUp.jpgHappy New Year!

Ok, now exhale. It's ok -- the slew of holiday parties is over, so relax and let the drumstick hangover set in. Don't fight it! There you go. Nope, that wasn't a kick and you're not pregnant, that's just grandma's pecan pie repeating on you. Ok, inhale again.. but slowly.

Thankfully there were tons of games that released in December to ease the burden of these next few digestive winter months. Battlestar Galactica hit table tops in Decmeber, just a month before the final season airs, the cult hit Talisman received a substantial facelift, and with the release of Chicago Express we finally saw the emergence of Eurogame that's once again worth your time. Plus, the WWII tactical slugest "Tide of Iron" expanded once again, and that's always a good thing.

Looking forward to January, we'll be keeping our eye out for more details on the upcoming Age of Conan board game, and keep an eye peeled on what's next for World of Warcraft Minis, have a review of that franchise as well, and start looking toward the significant Empire Total War PC release.

Stay frosty till then.

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