February 25, 2010

A Song of Ice and Fire Wargaming System Announced!

AGameOfThronesBookCover.jpgIn an unexpected move publisher Fantasy Flight Games has announced that an upcoming themed franchise of the BattleLore streamlined war game system is going to take place in the intriguing fantasy world of the G.R.R. Martin novels A Song of Ice and Fire. Dubbed the Battles of Westeros. The first core set will pit the two major protagonist and antagonist houses against each other on a configurable battle board with multiple scenarios and units lifted straight from the novels.

Here are the first details:

"In this epic board game of battlefield tactics, players control either House Stark, the wards of Winterfell who have called their hearty allies to defend their honor and lands, or House Lannister, an aggressive force funded by Casterly Rock's endless supply of gold.

Featuring over 138 detailed plastic figures and bases, 110 cards, a gorgeous double-sided six-panel board, over 32 map overlays, and much more, Battles of Westeros provides everything players need to relive the excitement and intrigue of the wars for the Iron Throne... and with their favorite Stark and Lannister characters."

Currently there isn't much meat and potatoes behind the details of this release, but that doesn't matter. The mix of the proven, customizable and extendable BattleLore wargame system with theme of G.R.R. Martin's novels had us at "hello."

For more information check out these two feature articles, and the official product description:

  1. A Guide To Westeros
  2. There Is No Middle Ground

We'll keep you apprised of the nitty gritty details as we get closer to release later this year.

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February 24, 2010

Catan Histories: Settlers of America Announced!

Settlers of Catan Box Shot - 4th EditionWell look at that. Just when we thought the Catan Histories series of games that mixed the Settlers of Catan mechanics with historical settings both began and died with Catan Histories: Struggle for Rome, publisher May Fair Games decides to make us look like idiots.

Catan Histories: Settlers of America has just been demoed at the New York Toy Fair, and is detailed as part of a larger fair coverage story by BoardGameNews. The game centers around the production of goods on the east coast of the United States in the 19th century. Players will parlay their goods into building railroad tracks to push further west, for both delivery points and for increasing their production areas. As players push west they will remove production points from the lands to the east and place them on the burgeoning frontier. At this point we're not quite sure if they'll be able to reduce the amount of production from their opponent's lands, or from only their own, but either way it's pretty intriguing mechanic.

For now the details are about that sparse. For all the information that's available today checkout the BoardGameNews article, and the Mayfair Games official story. We'll keep you posted of more details as we get closer to Settlers Of America's launch in June! Sweet!

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February 23, 2010

Napoleon Total War Released - Time to Lose Sleep

Napoleon Total War for PC [Amazon]

Sweet day of days. Last year we fell in love with Empire Total War, an 18th century turn-based board game mixed with real time tactical combat simulation chalk full with musket fire, mortars explosions, cavalry charges and fleet actions. Usually a year late the Creative Assembly produces an expansion pack with new maps and new campaigns, but this time they've taken a much larger step forward.

Today the series tackles the story of Napoleon Total War [Amazon] as the French Emperor marches through early 19th century Europe. The game is told via three new campaigns: Italy, Egypt, and the continental map of Europe. Standing in his way is a coalition of forces with such major players as England, Prussia, Austria and Russia. Play as either Napoleon in his epic military campaign (and try to do him one better) or try to successfully put up a road block bring France down to its knees.

NapoleonTotalWarCannon.jpgThe game also iterates on the already incredible tactical battle engine and campaign engine. For one, and perhaps the most exciting, Campaigns can be played with 2 people over the Internets. You can play either cooperatively or competitively on the campaign map, forging improbable alliances or sticking with this historic stuff - it's up to you. And on your turn, if you strike a battle with an opponent, your friend will control the opposition on the battlefield while you try to carry the day. Nobody sits there with bored eyes waiting for a battle to end; everyone is involved.

Other new features include more smoke effects, better garrisons of buildings during firefights, new troop types, better technology, a narrative campaign, a new suite of 19th century historic battles, unit attrition in enemy territories, and nuanced campaign maps including mountain pass choke points, four seasons to the year, and a higher level of detail.

NapoleonTotalWarEgypt.jpgThe game came out today.. so you might be asking yourself how we could know all this stuff. Well the software team behind the game has published a series of preview movies like the one above. Give them a gander, they're well worth your time:

We'll quickly let you about our initial impressions of this Total War installment near the end of the week. If we're enthralled, then we'll post another series of Empire Total War Tips to go along with it.

Until then, enjoy the viewings!

Critical Gamers Staff Permalink social bookmarking

February 22, 2010

Mayfair Games Announces Forest Fires and Nuns for March

Mayfair Games has been the publisher of some fantastic Eurogames over the years. Unfortunately they haven't pushed a title with enough beef to make our must-purchase list lately, and we're hoping that 2010 is the year they turn things around.

So let's see how the year starts. First up for the end of winter are two new titles: Ablaze and Nuns on the Run.

Let's address Nuns on the Run first. We should note that title has nothing to do with the 1990's Eric Idle and Robbie Coltrane masterpiece. Instead of disguising yourself in drag to hide from fellow bank robbers, players on the board game will take on the roles of novices exploring the nunnery at night. Players will have their own secret agendas to achieve during the game, working together to sneak through the halls while remaining undetected. The trick is that another set of players will be controlling the Abbess and the elders of the nunnery, all of who are trying to catch anyone out of their beds at night. It's an "Us Versus Them" game of sneaking, spying and dark corridors which should be some light, interesting fun.

The other title on the near horizon is the game themed with explosions and wild fire. Ablaze is actually three games in one, two of the games are proven titles under different names, and the third is a yet unseen game. The first variant Volcano! has players controlling air tankers competing to save as much land as they can from the firey embrace of a very active Volcano. The second variant Wildfire! involves players taking on the roles of firefighters on the ground who work from water sources outwards as they attempt to contain fires that spread through a tile flipping mechanic. The final title On the Run! challenges players to save slightly crisp forest critters running from a fire that's spreading by lightning strikes

More information about these two titles can be found at the Mayfair Games website. We'll keep you apprised of the game details when the titles launch in March.

Critical Gamers Staff Permalink social bookmarking

February 19, 2010

Rubik's Next Invention: the Rubik's Slide Coming this Fall

Rubik is at it again. Last year so the premier of the Rubik 360, a sphere puzzle game that rattled our ears more than it rattled our brains. Still, the puzzle aspects of the game showed that Rubik still has his touch.

This next invention looks even more intriguing. An LED driven electronic slide puzzle (you remember slide puzzles, right?) with rotation to boot. And when you finish the first puzzle, the game presents one with more difficult, eventually adding multiple color patterns to slide and shimmy pieces into. In the childhood memories of our day, this later aspect pays some homage to Simon, a game that we truly loved.

Looks like Rubik has a hit on his hands. Look for more details of the Rubik Slide this fall.

Critical Gamers Staff Permalink social bookmarking

February 17, 2010

Settlers of Catan for the iPhone - A Definite Winner

iPhoneCatan.jpgA baby joined our group this last week so I had a lot of time to sink into something handheld and entertaining. I found myself bored pretty quickly after tinkering with some of Reiner Knizia's iPhone & iPod Touch games. In principal the games were fun, but I needed something that I could play, put down on a moment's notice, and quickly pickup where I left off. Also puzzle games require a level of coherency that my sleep deprived brain couldn't embrace.

I suddenly remembered the news of a Settlers of Catan game for the iPhone. I quickly installed it, fired it up, and I was greeted with a clean menu system and a level of familiarity that I wanted. I could easily pick up a numerous series of sessions of the game without a bother in the world, and a variety of game configurations left me with a bunch of cool things to try out. Random maps, victory point and robber options, and a generous amount of AI opponents to chose from were all features that made me satisfied the game would hold up well to repeat plays.

I should note that I haven't played Settlers in years. The game was my gateway game of choice for a long time - and remains to be in some circles - but I've since moved on to newer, more modern things. But something about the iPhone version fit me like a glove.

The immediate first impression starts with a UI that's clean and crisp to the eye. More importantly the level of usability is high -- you can easily offer trades, build roads, towns and cities, or buy and play cards with only a few gestures.. The presentation of the dice rolls and subsequent resource rewards are also both very clear and quick to vvisually process.

CataniPhoneInGame.jpgThe game also does an excellent job of drawing your attention to the specific portions of the island that are being acted upon by other players. Construction projects clearly blink twice while the game quickly and smoothly snap-scrolls the screen to the portion of the map in question. And when it's your turn to build roads or cities, etc, the game visual prompts you with all of the potential positions for where you can spend your resources. Building out your small empire on Catan is as easy as tapping the screen.

Finally a nod to the AI. While tournament players might laugh at this, casual players like myself will find the AI characters quite capable. They're great at finding the best potential placements of their towns, and when you're ahead they do some nice moves to block you out of particular resources on the map, or block you out of trading, The game also has a very good trade offer and counter offer system that seems to work quite well.

I should also note that the game ships with a variety of AI personalities which you can play against, all having different values for things like Expansion, Aggression and Overall Skill. You can even hot seat with more than one human player in case your stuck on a bus or a long flight with a friend.

ThumbsUp.jpgOn the dark side: there haven't many things to complain about. I've noticed only one niggling 'feature' that rubs me the wrong way. Say you run out of settlements to place (the incarnate board game only ships with a certain number of houses after all). The game doesn't present you with an obvious error saying "sorry, no more houses for you! Next in Line!" Instead it greys out the possible construction project in the same way it does when you don't have the adequate resources to pay for it. So you may end up with nine out of ten victory points and yelling at your phone, telling it that you have the gosh darn resources to build a settlement and win the game, only after you've made an ass out of yourself do you notice the small fine print on the building screen "No more settlements available". They could have made this a bit more obvious, especially since you usually run out of settlements on the games with higher than 10 vicotry points.

Overall the Settlers of Catan for the iPhone and iPod Touch is a standup title. It's well produced, bug free, and easy to pickup and play. Most importantly it's a blast.

Our Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

The Settlers of Catan for the iPhone and iPod Touch can be purchased in Apple's App Store, accessed from your iPod or iPhone.

- From the Editor
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February 15, 2010

Lego To Get Into The Board Game Business

LegoLogo.pngWe are all for getting kids into gaming at an early age, but the standard Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley suite of games is .. how should we say.. dated.

Heck one of the things that made board gaming so mundane in our youth was the lack of bridge into more interesting gaming after The Game of Life. Thankfully Eurogames started to fix that in the states in the 90s.

So it's great to hear that one of our favorite toy companies Lego is going to pump new blood into the ground floor with 10 new kid friendly titles in the next coming months. Here's a snippet of the official details via Rueters:

Priced between $9.99 and $34.99, the board games, which include "Ramses Pyramid" and "Minotaurus," will mostly hit store shelves in July. A few will be available online from late March.

The games promise to test memory and logical skills of children as they compete to reach a certain destination.

"We are pretty sure we are sitting on a formula that will be worthwhile for the retailers to support," Laursen said, citing the success of a test launch of the games in Britain and Germany.

We'll keep an eye out for how good these games appear to be when we get closer to their release.

Critical Gamers Staff Permalink social bookmarking

February 10, 2010

Horus Heresy Redux Coming Your Way Shorlty from FFG

HorusHeresyBox.JPGOh boy, yet another giant war board game with over 100 figurines is slated for release this winter. Akin a giant streamlined Tide of Iron battle, the new edition of the Warhammer classic Horus Heresy board game pits the sides of The Imperium and its Traitors in a giant space marine slugfest at pinnacle battle being fought for the control of Terra. The game is made up of 6 different scenarios, but the game itself centers around the single climatic last push from both sides to bring home victory.

HorusHeresyBoard.bmpYou take one look at the board (which pays homage to the original title) and you'll see some 3D fortifications built into the board. First of all: they look pretty slick. We can see massive fort battles play out in our dreams already. But with such a static layout you might wonder how a game could have multiple scenarios?

Well one cool mechanic is this: the Imperial forces setup all hulled-up in the fortresses and generally outnumber the Traitorous invaders who stick out like sore thumb in killing fields. But a select set of Imperial troops will have their loyalty tested at the beginning of the game. Each scenario will have a different initial setup and will vary the number of potential turncoats. Determining loyalty is as easy as pulling up random cards form a deck and checking Imperial or Traitor symbols. Any Traitor symbol revealed will not only make the fight closer to numerical parity, but it'll also pace an enemy troop inside the fort with the rest of the defenders.

Elements like this will surely make the game extremely different on each play through . There also other interesting mechanics already revealed too, like diceless, card-driven combat, or ordering units with drawn cards (like Memoir). Interestingly you will be given the option of delaying your orders for a turn ('till the 'Strategic Phase') which allows you to pay less for the order, but because you've delayed, you won't quite know the state of the battlefield by the time your order goes through.

The Initiative system is also intriguing; where you pay an initiative cost to play cards, and the player with the smallest total initiative takes the next turn. In other words, one player could play some uber powerful cards that push him further down the initiative track, and subsequently the other player could followup with a lot of smaller jab actions.

For more information checkout the Horus Heresy game page at FFG. It includes an index to all of the feature articles thus far.

Currently the game is slated to ship at the end of Winter, which we take to believe sometime in March. We'll keep you apprised of any new cool details as they emerge, and we'll definitely keep you posted on when the game finally ships.

Here are the official details:

In the Horus Heresy board game, this legendary battle unfolds across the razed plains of Terra and in the frozen orbit above. Deadly fighting ranges from the Emperor's golden Inner Palace to Horus's flagship, the Vengeful Spirit. Taking the side of either traitor or loyalist, two players control either fearless Space Marine legions or deviant Chaos Space Marines, mighty Titans, Imperial Armies both loyal and traitorous, and a fearsome array of other units, including the Emperor and Horus themselves.

An innovative order and initiative system forces each side to carefully consider the commands they issue to their troops. A dramatic, card driven combat system incorporates escalating damage, gives players the opportunity to allocate resources between attack and defense, and brings to bear the unique special powers of each unit type, from fortification-destroying Titans to the perverse daemons of Chaos. Brother fights brother, and the universe hangs in the balance!

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February 8, 2010

Some Dominion Alchemy Teasers Hit the Net

DominionAlchemy.jpgBoardGameNews.com has word that the Candian publisher for Dominion has posted a preview about the upcoming Dominion expansion.

Called "Dominion: Alchemy" the new set will contain a smaller set of cards than we're used to (12). Apparently this smaller expansion is a move to appease some of the international publishers who figured their customers would rather purchase a smaller set of cards instead of expansion the size of a standard main set. Why? We haven't the faintest clue.

But don't be too worried, more details were posted to Board Game Geek by the game's designer Donald Vaccarino who quickly stated that the franchise will receive some more large boxed expansions, too. And he even hinted that the franchise has the legs to least a few more years. Excellent.

From the BoardGameGeek Forums:

"We are still doing 300-card sets as well. The expansion after Alchemy is the normal, larger size. If I had to guess I would say we'll alternate sizes for a few years, but nothing is set in stone past the expansion after Alchemy. I think that expansion may be announced at Nuremberg, so we'll leave that one alone for now."

Also based on a translation of the French gaming site Tric Trac, we should see the Alchemy 'small expansion' hit the shelves in the spring. We can't wait. More - and hopefully interesting - Dominion content with new mechanics is something we'd love to have kickoff the new gaming season once things ramp up again after the holiday hangover.

We'll keep you posted of more details as they emerge.

Critical Gamers Staff Permalink social bookmarking

February 5, 2010

The Wings of Naxxramas Revolutionize WoW TCG's Raids

NaxxramasRaidDeck.jpgThe whole notion of a cooperative raid deck to a standard 1v1 Trading Card Game still remains an exciting prospect to us, even after the long series of raids over the years. They have had some drawbacks though. Some raids are long, arduous affairs that you might spend all day on. Others are just plan impossibly broken hard.

Thankfully the latest Naxxramas Raid Deck [Amazon, Troll&Toad;] fixes a lot of the things we find lacking in others, and then some. Here are top 5 reasons why we think its head and shoulders above all of the other raid deck experiences to date:

5. Variety Most of the raid decks have a plethora of bosses all under the umbrella of a specific theme. Well Naxxramas is composed of four different wings of bosses , each falling under the same Undead Bastage theme, but each wing providing a different attitude toward bad guys. The Spider Wing is littered with quick acting bosses that attach multiple times, the construct quarter is full of hard hitting, high health scary behemoths that would make Jack Palance crap twinkies, and so on. Each wing challenges your group in different ways for a spurt of 3-4 bosses, and that makes the whole deck building experience pretty darn interesting.

4. Multiple Climaxes These Wings we spoke of also change the flow of the raid entirely. The standard practice of multiple boss raids like Molten Core or The Black Temple had players run full gamuts of 10+ bosses in a row, and then hopefully the players had enough left in them to take on the final boss in a climactic battle of epicness. Problem is, Upper Deck's cramming of 10 bosses in a row required some of the bosses to be pansies and ultimately forgettable in previous raids.

Not so in Naxx. Whenever your group finishes a wing, everyone reshuffles their deck and starts anew on the next wing. The net result: Upper Deck has scaled up the bosses, each becoming more difficult, lethal and ultimately a more interesting fight. And on top of that, the game is balanced to make the final boss in each wing become a climatic fight of epicness, because why not? -- the game is going to reset after you defeat him anyway. So that's 4 times the climactic, tough battles, condensed into bar form.

3. Treasure Packs Sold Separately
While each raid deck ships with its own treasure pack, you can buy additional treasure packs separately, too. The implications for collectors is obvious, but for gameplay it's even better: You can reward your players phat loots after every wing. While technically you're not supposed to let players alter their decks between wings, traditionally in the MMO that's just what happened: your raid would tackle one wing, grab the loot, and use that loot to help defeat the second wing. And that's truly what raiding is all about - the getting to the next wing, raid, boss, etc.

2. The Raid Leader and Strategery
A new and very welcomed move in this raid deck is the addition of a Raid Leader. Every once in awhile one of the raid events will engaged the Raid Leader and have him make some pretty interest decisions. Things all the way from the Leader choosing to discard multiple cards himself, or have each raid player discard a single card, etc. These events are also sometimes beneficial, so directing the beneficial ability to the correct player at the correct time could mean the difference between success and failure.

But that's just the icing on the cake. Each of the themed wings also provides a buff to the raiders once the wing has been defeated. Some add damage to abilities, others increase the effectiveness of equipment, etc. It's up to the raid leader to decide which wing to tackle and in which order, using bonuses from one to defeat one of the harder wing, or to even bypass some wings all together and push to the final boss fight. The strategy lies within these choices and weighing such variables as what sort of classes you bring to the raid, how many people are in your party and the quality of their decks. Yep, there are definitely some good decisions to game.

1. Multiple Sessions
Raid Decks require a huge block of time - like upwards of four hours per session. Traditionally they were reserved for special weekend game night sessions, or we would hold off to play them on our quarterly dork fest, scheduling them between smaller games. In the weekend gaming sessions WoW TCG Raids landed somewhere on our Saturday mornings (through afternoon) gaming calendar like a giant gorilla dropped from a 747 flying 10,000' over a Saturday brunch in the country.

But this notion of Naxxramas wings, each a complete prepackaged experience, and when complete include a step where players reshuffle their decks to reset the state of .. everything, and start anew, is a mechanic that happens to provide an incredibly perfect breaking point. Now Raid Decks can be on normal game nights without the risk of our players becoming dead beat dads, or lining themselves up for an early 30's divorce.

In other words an already amazing experience has just become more approachable and game night friendly. It's also become an epic experience that occurs over multiple days of fresh, rested layers, instead of dragging in one long, tiring block. And that is an absolutely fantastic win-win for gamers.

Critical Gamers Staff Permalink social bookmarking

February 3, 2010

Thunderstone: The Next Deckbuilding Game After Dominion

Thunderstone.jpgWe had a chance to sit down and play a few rounds of Thunderstone [Amazon, Funagain] this week and we were quite impressed.

While not directly linked this new title bases itself on a foundation of Dominion, where you build your deck by buying cards and then snowball those cards into better cards. There are two major differences however. First: instead of picking 10 random cards to place in the 'store', there are a set number of particular types cards that you must have. For instance, there's always four heroes types in the store when you setup the game. While those four types of heroes are randomly picked, you guaranteed that each game will have at least and at most four. This nicely balances out the card population and avoids defense or attack card overdose that's inherent in Dominion.

But more importantly Thunderstone gives you two different options during your turn . Each card has a gold value and you could visit the store in Dominion fashion, playing your hand to buy more cards that fold into your deck. OR... you can use the offensive capabilities of your cards to delve down into a randomly dealt dungeon to kill monsters and collect booty.

Yeah, that's right. Instead of buying Victory Point cards, you can bypass a store on your turn and use your hand to take on beasties in a randomly drawn dungeon. Each evil minion has a victory point associated with them, and each vanquished foe you have in your deck at the end game pushes adds to your victory point total.

Thunderstone2.jpgOn any given turn the heroes, weapons, and spells that you purchased and folded into your deck could appear in your hand. If you think they've granted you enough strength to take on one of the beasties in the dungeon then you can try your hand in some really quick and simple combat Or, if you think that zombie with the Burt Reynolds moustache might be too much for you to handle, then you instead head to the store and use the coin value of your hand to buy new cards at the store. It's all up to you!

Thunderstone is definitely a step up from Dominion on both the complexity scale and the dork scale. While Dominion remains the new gateway game of choice - highly approachable and downright fun - Thunderstone kicks it up a notch. While the RPG narrative of the game is something our group truly likes, it might not be very interesting to all.

We think it's a sweet move, however. The theme is so much stronger than Dominion and the game hits just the right level of complexity to keep things interesting. Games last longer, are balanced better, and no two games are alike. There are expansions already announced, too, so as we play this where smiling knowing the franchise is going somewhere cool.

For a more in depth review, check out the Thunderstone review by The Dice Tower. Here are the official details:

"For ages the vile Doom Knights have sought to gather the remaining Thunderstones to fulfill a prophecy of corruption over the lands. Now the first Thunderstone has been discovered in the Dungeons of Grimhold and the Doom Knights have sent their minions to claim the relic. The Villagers of Barrowsdale gather brave souls to face the dungeon and keep the Thunderstone out of the hands of the Doom Knights.

Thunderstone is a new and exciting fantasy deck-building game from Alderac Entertainment Group. Fight the evils of the dungeon to prove your worth. Gain powerful weaponry and level into new and mighty hero classes. Claim the best cards and survive to take the Thunderstone. Featuring beautiful art from Jason Engle, Thunderstone is a welcome addition to any fantasy gamer's collection."

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February 1, 2010

Critical Gamers' January 2010 Board Game Roundup

NaxxramasRaidDeck.jpgJanuary was more about playing games than hearing news about upcoming games. It is, after all, the time after Christmas where we all gorge ourselves on the tons of releases that came out last December.

Specifically January was the month of the Naxxramas Raid Deck. The ability to take on one or two wings in a sitting, easily pack up the game, and then resume where we left off is a huge deal with this latest raid deck. Kudos to Upper Deck to making this game far more sustainable without any overhead... it's become a 4 time event at our weekly gaming nights.

Also another shout out to the Warhammer Invasion Living Card Game and Warhammer Chaos in the Old World board game. Theses two remain to be top notch contenders for gaming time no matter where and when we play.

And Fantasy Flight Games is on a roll because they just released the epic emipre building and fantasy adventure game Runewars. This is a beast of a release with more layers of depth than a spanish onion. Could it be true that we already have a strong game of the year contender in January? Wow. Can't say we're sad about that.

Here are our stories for January:

Board Games

Card Games

Collectable Card Games

Gaming Culture

Gaming News

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