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.

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

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

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

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.

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

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"

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

December 30, 2008

Whats Slated for the World or Warcraft TCG in 2009?

WoWTCGDrumsOfWar.jpgIt's hard to believe that we're entering the third year of World of Warcraft Trading Card Game is entering it's third year. Yep, our favorite modern TCG came out in '06 - if you can believe it - and with Drums of War we're already entered the third block of cards heading into the Winter.

The big question is what next? What have the Upper Deck designers concocted in that backroom laboratory of theirs to keep us focused on the TCG, especially when the new WoW Minis are the latest hot franchise that may distract us (WoW Mini's Review coming early in the new year).

Well the official Upper Deck feature article "World of Warcraft TCG 2008 Year in Review" has some answers. While it catalogs the year past, the latter half also lays down some expectations for the first half of 2009, and all the releases slated for this new set.

Some quick backstory: The main theme of the World of Warcraft massively online roleplaying game was centered around groups of players attacking AI controlled monsters through teamwork Later Player versus Player combat was added along with its perks: battlegrounds, honor rewards, and armor and weapon sets gained in the gladiator centric Arena battles.

The recently released WoW TCG Set: The Drums of War expansion began a new cycle, and it's centered on the Player versus Player material of the MMORPG. Continuing that line will be the Blood of Gladiators expansion slated for a March '09 release. It introduces elements from the World of Warcraft close-up and personal 2v2, 3v3 and 5v5 Arena combat. Then in June or July, Fields of Honor will include aspects of the MMORPG Honor System and larger scale PvP battlegrounds. The expansion will also include a new mini-game type modeled after one of the battegrounds: Warsong Gulch.

DeathKnight.jpgThe Wrath of the Lich King expansion that added gobs of new content to the MMORPG in November has introduced the Death Knight class to the game, and 2009 will see its introduction to the WoW TCG as well. The Death Knight Deluxe Starter is scheduled to ship in June '09, and comes with a kick-start to its set of cards to ensure your Death Knight is viable against your current hero collections. It also includes two Death Knights, one for Alliance and one for Horde, so it's a complete Death Knight kit in one. Should be an interesting New Toy to play around with, but of course we're concerned with the balance. Adding a whole new approach to battle with a new class is always a risk proposition.

Finally, a bit of interesting news that should shake things up: A new World of Warcraft TCG Game format will hit tables in May. Here are the details::

May 2009--Arena Grand Melee: A fun new way to use your World of Warcraft TCG cards! Mix in a little MMO humor, some crazy new mechanics, and a few friends--good times are sure to ensue. Tournament players will also get new content in the form of "preparation" cards for each class that can be played for free and two new heroes with a twist. Also included are two new mini pet cards.

Details are light for sure, but coupled with the Warsong Gulch mini game, this maybe just what the franchise needs in order to keep parity with the dynamics of the WoW Minis game, which has some pretty freeform rules that allow for all sorts of easily-created game types from the community base.

In all, the franchise seems strong. We weren't quite a fan of the Traitor Mechanics from the 'Burning Crusade block', but he last few expansions have remained strong, and we really liked the Drums of War release. Considering the pedigree, some team based mechanics and a continuation of top notch gameplay, art, and materials should knock us off our feet this year. iIt better, considering the number of games competing for our dollar these days.

Here's to next year!

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

December 26, 2008

Chicago Express

ChicagoExpress.jpgWe've been covering some of the larger board game releases from Fantasy Flight Games in the modern Ameircan style, well here's one from the Eurogame arm of modern gaming. Chicago Express [Funagain] takes stock holding and profit elements from Imperial and mashes them with a Railroad Tycoon theme, and then deep fries them with the social elements of Diplomacy to make a very engaging rail road builder that's simple to learn, fast to play, and becomes deeper upon iterative plays. Plus it's great with sprinkled sugar.

Players fulfill the role of investors during the early years of the American rail expansion. The setting pits multiple companies as they race to connect the East Coast of the United States to the then effectively 'western American capital' city of Chicago. Each company's rail line have various traits - some have a straight path to Chicago but incur higher risks and may be cut off by other competing rail lines, while other companies have to construct a longer route but are a safer bet to see their way through to Chicago if given enough time.

Players don't control just one company, but buy shares in various companies. Then, each player takes a turn that acts in the name of a specific company. So if a player has invested money into the blue rail line, then they may want to spend their turn furthering their interest with the blue company, for instance.

But putting all your eggs in one basket is a sure fire way to dig yoruself into a whole. Other players could swoop in and buy shares of the blue conpany just before it reaches chicgo, or perhaps control another company's route to cut-off and force the blue line to take a much longer and costly path.

In this way it's a great idea to diversify and then react as the play ensues. And because you're both cooperating with common stock holders given your investments in a set of companies, but are also in direct competition to win the game against the other players, meta games containing numerous layers of Subterfuge a misdirection also develop. This keeps the replayability very high.

While Chicago Express may not be as approachable as Settlers of Catan, or Ticket to Ride, or Carcassonne, it definitely is on our shortlist as one of our favorite Eurogames to come along quite a while. The short playtime (under and hour), the scalability of the title up to 6 players, and the replayability make Chicago Express a great title to add to your game stack.

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

December 21, 2008

Tide of Iron Normandy Campaign Expansion


Oh boy oh boy, our favorite WWII gaming franchise just expanded again and our Hoilday Wishlist just got a bit longer. Tide of Iron is one of those board games where epic battles ensue over the tabletop. The bases that ship with the game allow for configurable squads, the decks include for custom abilities to be used in the ensuing firefight, and the rules balance the German versus American tank and infantry forces nigh perfectly. Epic, close battles are the norm, and fights usually go down to a few clutch moments or ingenious decisions.

Now enter The Tide of Iron Normandy Campaign Expansion [Amazon, Funagain], the second expansion in the Tide of Iron franchise ( last year's Days of the Fox brought the fight to the northern stretches of North Africa). This time FFG is doing something different with their expansion design philospohy. Instead of adding a separate tile set to the mix, Normandy has been designed to bring even more depth to the original tileset of Western Europe. The game ships with more board titles, more terrain pieces ,a nd more scenarios appropriate to that setting.

The expansion also includes numerous new mechanics which produce some added depth to an already engrossing tactical wargame game. Portions of the map will now alter state throughout the fight of the game: artillery will leave craters which can be used as cover for a surge of infantry, tanks can plow through hedgerows to open a new approach for infantry, and buildings can be destroyed, killing the occupants inside while producing rubble for cover in the explosive aftermath.

Fantasy Flight has also added optional gaming elements to use in the new scenarios contained within the Normandy Expansion, or use to outfit the older scenarios. A weather deck can be activated through random mechanics to create certain restrictions on movement and attack types (and will include hot weather cards to fit inside the framework of the Days of the Fox expansion, too.) Also new commander and leadership decks can be added to the game to tie historical figures and their strategtic and logistic perks to the forces of each side. So not only will you be deciding upon the composition of your army at the squad level, but you and your enemy will be able to customize your respective forces from the top down as well, if you chose to do so.

The added depth and the flexibility of having the ability to mix and max most of these elements is great stuff. This franchise only seems to get better with age.

Here are the official details for Tide of Iron Normandy:

"By the summer of 1944, almost every nation in Europe had fallen under Nazi occupation. To stop Hitler's invading forces and to free those countries under his control, Allied forces drew up plans for an assault, code-named Operation Overlord. In the early morning of June 6th, American soldiers landed in two separate areas of the 60-mile coastline of Normandy, France. The D-Day invasion had begun!

Featuring new tanks, troops, and terrain, the Normandy expansion builds upon and enriches the Tide of Iron base game by allowing players to recreate Allied beach landings against fortified German defenses."

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

December 14, 2008

Talisman Revised 4th Edition is Out!


Many of us remember saturday afternoons of childhood hunkered around an epic game of Talisman. It was one of those games that grabbed you by the noggin and smacked your head against the table.. in a good sort of way. Well this week Fantasy Flight Games has sipped a new Talisman Revised 4th Edition [Amazon, Funagain], and if ever you've been interested in this franchise, then this edition of the title is very much worth your while.

A Fantasy Flight revision usually means high quality stock, high quality pieces, new rules, and ongoing support in an online community. But aside from the granted staples, this Revised Edition sports new decisions on how to improve upon Talisman's mechanics to take the franchise to the next level.

For one, the designers wanted to keep the player count high (2-6) but decrease the time ti takes to play (under 2 hours). Considering we rarely have entire afternoons to lose ourselves in a marathon sessions of old school Talisman, this seems like a good thing to us.

They've also introduced new rules that help characters from dying so bloody often; the premier example being the new Fate mechanic. Each character has a pool of fate, each token giving them the ability to reroll one die result when it's needed most dire. But fate is rare, and once it's used the character will have to venture out of their way to get more, like spending a turn at a temple to pray for Fate instead of life, for instance.

Additionally there was a careful look at the major features surrounding the character factions, and they were rebalanced to make playing Evil characters a more viable option.
In a similar fashion, the game's locations have gotten a mechanical face lift to ensure there's always something to do for your character, no matter how remote the location he finds himself in the world.

ArrowContinue reading: "Talisman Revised 4th Edition is Out!"

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

December 10, 2008

World of Warcraft Minis Deluxe Edition Hits Shelves


It's been a month since the release of WoW Minis. As a group this was our first dive into the world of miniature games, and we're absolutely loving this initial release. It's fast, it's fun, each of the nearly 70 characters is very different from the rest - which is saying something - and best of all its expandable enough to add our own inventive custom game modes.

This week Upper Deck has rintroduced the game with new World of Warcraft Miniatures Deluxe Starter Set [Amazon, Funagain] which has good stuff for both the WoW Mini newcomer and veteran alike.

It sports everything you & a friend need to get playing, including six characters (3 from two factions), with two guaranteed rares or epics for both faction. The set also ships with one of three new maps on board stock: Ashenvale, Tanaris, or Winterspring, which is a definite upgrade from the flimsy board of the standard starter set. So much so that we feel slightly ... slighted. This is also the best way to get your hands on the new Monster Faction UBases.

Alternatively if you're short on cash and only looking for new maps, then you can also print the Ashenvale Map yourself, as Upper Deck's publicity department was nice enough to post its map kit on their website. You sacrifice the level of quality of the Deluxe Starer's new board stock, but hey - free is free.

All in all this seems that this new starter set should be the best way to introduce yourself to the game if you haven't already. Fans like us will find enough good things in it to add to both their miniature collection, and the enough UBases and maps to make the Deluxe Set more than worth the while.

The official product information can be found on the Upper Deck Website, here.

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

December 7, 2008

Age of Conan Board Game Rulebook Hits Net


Age of Conan
[Funagain] is the largest blip on our radar for that normally sad time between the Holidays and the Spring releases. One reason - of course - is that it's Conan, and bashing heads in Crom's name is more fun than a barrel of monkeys playing poker. But more importantly, Age of Conan is under development by Nexus Games, and is slated to be published by the Fantasy Flight Games, which is in our shortlist for best publishers of the early 2000s in terms of quality and pieces.

These two companies teamed up before when they brought us the epic Lord of the Rings strategy board game War of the Ring series. We loved those games, but thankfully it appears that Age of Conan will be a bit easier to setup and play. Heck, not that this game is a fluffy bunny, but the rulebook is only around 25 pages long! Sweet.

ArrowContinue reading: "Age of Conan Board Game Rulebook Hits Net"

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

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