Monday, 23 November 2015

Review - The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth

Betrayal at Calth


The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth
Published by Games Workshop Ltd
Designed by the secret cabal
For 2 players, aged... ahh... whatever. For anyone old enough to use superglue, I guess.


It's not easy being a boardgame blogger.

At least, not the way I do it.

You see, while I love reviewing old and out of production games, shining a light on those once-loved and long-forgotten boxes that everyone has tucked away in the back of the attic, I am also quite partial to something brand new and sparkly, especially when that brand new and sparkly thing happens to be from Games Workshop, a company I grew up loving, and a company that has one of the richest gaming universes to play in.

But here's the problem... I don't get paid for this. Surprisingly enough, nobody wants to give me money to write long, rambling posts about what kind of biscuits I eat while attempting to vanquish an evil dragon.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Review - Space Hulk: Death Angel - Space Marine Pack 1

Space Marine Pack 1


Space Hulk: Death Angel - Space Marine Pack 1
Designed by Corey Konieczka and Andrew Meredith
Published by Fantasy Flight GamesFor 1-6 players (in conjunction with the Death Angel base game)


It's an exciting time to be a boardgamer.

Games Workshop, one of the most inaccurately named companies in existence, has finally put legions of fans and former fans out of their misery.

No, GW hasn't despatched the Execution Forces of the Assassinorum to silence the growing dissent. Instead, someone in the ivory tower actually realised there are loads and loads of people who want to buy Games Workshop board games and specialist games. Necromunda, Epic, Blood Bowl... They're all coming back, and I've been suffering nosebleeds and dizzy spells since the announcement.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Review - Mr. Jack

Mr. Jack


Mr. Jack
Published by Hurrican
Designed by Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc
For 2 players, aged 9 to adult


Everybody has a line.

You know, that line in the sand. The point of no return, when something becomes intolerable.

It's different for every person, and it isn't always rational.

The line is a personal thing, and sometimes people aren't really able to explain why the line is where it is. Some people don't even know they have a line until someone else crosses it. Or maybe even when they cross it themselves.

But, and here's the important bit... Nobody's line is in the right or wrong place. And nobody has the ability to move their line.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Review - Fury of Dracula (Second Edition)

Fury of Dracula


Fury of Dracula (Second Edition)
Designed by Stephen Hand and Kevin Wilson
Published by Fantasy Flight Games
2-5 players, aged 10 to adult


Fury of Dracula box
Dracula looks like he is in a spot of bother.


Ah, Halloween...

I love Halloween.

It's one of those times of the year when I wish I lived in America... The other times being all the other days surrounding Halloween.

Not that I dislike England, you understand. I just feel we don't really put our back into it when it comes to Halloween. Or theme parks. Or customer service.

Or dental care.

But I digress.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Review - Snake Oil: Party Potion

Snake Oil: Party Potion


Snake Oil: Party Potion
Designed by Jeff Ochs
Published by Out of the Box Publishing
For 3-6 players, aged 8 to adult


Snake Oil: Party Potion box
It cures what ails ya! Apparently.


Good grief, is that the time?

Okay, going to have to make this quick...

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Gloom of Kilforth - Inane Ramblings About Kickstarter

To quote a very famous song: "A dream is a wish your heart makes, when you're fast asleep."

True enough. But nobody ever fulfilled their dreams sleeping in on Sunday mornings.

I learned early that in this life, you tend to have to make your own dreams come true while you're wide awake.

I decided I wanted to become a writer when I was 12 years old, and I wrote my first novel (it was terrible) when I was 15 years old.

I don't remember a time when I didn't want to write.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Review - Pandemic

Pandemic



Pandemic
Designed by Matt Leacock
Published by Z-Man Games
For 2-4 players, aged 8 to adult

Pandemic box
Coming soon to petrol station bargain bins - Pandemic: The Movie


If you are a regular visitor at AlwaysBoardNeverBoring (and why wouldn't you be?), or you are that one person who likes my books and follows me on Facebook, you'll know that I haven't been around much recently.

When you spend a lot of time self-promoting on social media sites, or blogging, a few days away from the computer is an eternity. The world moves so quickly, and it has no intention of easing up just for you. After a long weekend, people are already beginning to forget who you are, and after a week you might as well cancel your passport and start digging a hole, because the world is going to pretty much deny your existence completely.

I was away from my computer for over a month.

It has been over two months since I updated this blog.

So, what's my excuse?

Monday, 29 June 2015

Review - Monsuno

Monsuno


Monsuno
Designed by... someone
Published by Topps
For 2 players, aged 6 to adult

Monsuno Cards
The contents of the starter set... Enough cards to start a nice fire.


Hi.

You've been here before, right? You know about my "special" condition.

Course you do, I can see it in your eyes.

It's okay. Don't be afraid. Take a seat.

Go on, take a seat.

TAKE A SEAT!

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Review - Quest: A Time of Heroes - Attack of the Orcs

Quest


Quest: A Time of Heroes - Attack of the Orcs
Published by Z-Man Games
Designed by Alexander Dotor and Andre Wiesler

For 2-5 players, aged 10 to adult

Quest map
Look - it's a big fish.


I'm a theme guy. If you've been to my blog before, you know this.

I love all games, and I am not opposed to abstract games; but as far as I am concerned, a dollop of theme makes anything more palatable. The theme doesn't even have to be totally integrated for it to work for me. Hive, Lost Cities, Dragonheart, Biblios... Not exactly the most thematic gaming experiences, but superb games with just enough theme for me to feel more engaged than I am playing something like Pentago.

But the games I love the most are those where the theme is ladled on thick. Space Hulk, Gears of War, Fury of Dracula, Super Dungeon Explore, Claustrophobia, Winter Tales, Tash-Kalar (yes, Tash-Kalar), and Mage Knight... These are the games that capture my imagination, and transport me into another world.

Considering my predilection for such games, Quest: A Time of Heroes - Attack of the Orcs (hereafter called Quest, to ease the onset of RSI) seemed like an obvious fit, and I jumped at the chance to pick up a copy when I found it on sale at Amazon for less than £10.

Quest is one of those old-fashioned heavily thematic adventure games that pits a group of heroes against a dark overlord (or game master) in an epic quest.

In most games of this sort, the heroes delve into a dungeon, kill some monsters, level up, find treasure, and buy some new equipment. They grow. They evolve. They come to life.

Their story comes to life.

Each dice roll, each new treasure card, each slain monster, becomes a part of the story. You create your own legend.

But in Quest, things work slightly differently. In Quest, the legend is already mapped out. The heroes walk a preordained path, dictated by a thick adventure book, which relates events and occasionally provides opportunities for the heroes to alter the course of events based on decisions, skill tests, and battles.

Anybody who remembers the old Fighting Fantasy "Choose Your Own Adventure" books knows what to expect here. The game master reads a section of text, and at the end there is a decision to make, a skill test to perform, or a fight to win. The results of these events dictate the next passage of text for the game master to read, and so the story progresses.

And it is a story. A proper story, with dramatic moments, exciting climaxes, and tough choices. This is a system that offers the potential for an immersive adventure, where it is a writer, and not random dice rolls and card draws, that crafts the nature of the encounters. The writer is a guiding force, sculpting the world, and making a fulfilling quest that has the potential to be more engrossing than anything other adventure games provide.

But there is a problem.

In fact, there are lots of problems.

You may have noticed my use of the word "potential."

Twice.

That wasn't an accident. Because Quest fails in its attempt to create an immersive storyline.

In fact, I have never seen a game that strives so hard to be a thematic, storytelling experience while at the same time creating quite so many barriers to entry.

A good thematic game draws you into the world. It hooks you at an emotional or intellectual level, and it won't let go.

Not Quest.

Quest pushes you away every chance it gets.

By that, I mean, imagine something that would ruin your immersion in a book, television show, or movie. Imagine that one thing that snaps you back into reality. That continuity error in the film. That spelling mistake in the book. That bit of dodgy acting in the television show.

Quest is an explosion of those "WTF?" moments.

It's a car crash of mistakes.

For a start, it has the most generic and boring fantasy theme possible. Of the four heroes, only the lizardman shaman is remotely interesting. The other options are a human mage, an elven ranger, or (of course) a dwarf warrior.

Quest elf
Generic elf, ready for action.


These utterly bland heroes explore a world where they discover equipment such as swords, shields, crossbows, and the mighty potion of healing. And every now and again they get caught up in a scuffle with thrilling adversaries such as orcs, slightly bigger orcs, really big orcs, and orcs that know magic.

Quest standees
An exciting array of heroes and villains.


I could forgive a generic fantasy theme if the game offered a good storyline, but it doesn't. It's just some twaddle about an evil force lurking behind a gate that wants to break out (probably intending to rule the world from an evil lair beneath an evil volcano).

Worse yet, the translation of the text in the adventure book is appalling. There are spelling mistakes, changes in tense, and poorly constructed sentences.

And that's just in the first paragraph.

Considering reading from the adventure book is such a big part of the game, the publisher really should have spent more time getting this right.

But I could forgive a poor translation if the game looked really nice...

Good grief.

It isn't that the game uses cardboard standees instead of miniatures. I actually don't mind that.

It isn't that the cards lack a linen finish.

It isn't that the game is in such a small box that you can't fit the components back in once you pop them out of the punchboards.

It's the art.

The graphic design.

I honestly don't know what the designers were going for here.

A few of the location cards have nice painted artwork, but these just look jarring compared to the special ability cards, which were thrown together using what looks like clipart.

Quest cards
Seriously? Someone got paid for this artwork?


There is no sense of cohesiveness between the different cards, and most of them look so bad you can't help laughing.

But I could forgive poor artwork if the game played well...

Okay.

Let's wrap this up quick.

The game is a mess.

I wish I could be more positive, but I can't.

The game master reads to the heroes. The heroes make a few decisions. They may have to complete a skill check which involves rolling a dice. This goes on for a while until a fight breaks out.

And then the game grinds to a halt.

The heroes wait while the game master uses some special cards to lay out the perimeter for a battle ground, and then assembles the standees for the monsters, and then finds the tokens that represent trees and other landmarks.

At this stage, the game transforms into a budget skirmish miniatures game. Unfortunately, because fighting is not the main focus of the game (there is only a single battle in the first quest), not a lot of effort was put into making the combat system engaging. It's very simple, with mechanisms that seem designed to "get the job done" quickly and easily with the least amount of fuss possible. In the end, players simply measure distances, move standees around, and roll dice to hit each other. It's incredibly pedestrian, and lacks a lot of the tactical choices and intricate positional play that skirmish games normally offer.

Quest gift cards
I mean, seriously... This art? For real?


Ultimately, Quest attempted to do something new and inventive. It attempted to combine a storytelling roleplaying game with a miniatures game, and in doing so failed to do either one particularly well.

You get very basic roleplaying, clunky storytelling, boring fights, and mediocre components.

No single element of the game is strong enough to stand on its own merits, and when these elements combine the whole is even less than the sum of its parts.

It was a brave experiment.

Admirable, but flawed.

And much like its badly translated adventure book, the game itself ended up being bland, and full of mistakes.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Review - Warball

Warball


Published by Duncan
Designed by Trish Bell, Richard C. Levy, Mike Selinker, Brian Tinsman, and Teeuwynn Woodruff
For 2-4 players, aged 8 to adult

Warball Battle Box
The Battle Box in all its eye-catching glory.


Ah, Poundland...

What would I do without Poundland?*

I go in looking for some craft supplies for my daughter, some Halloween decorations, or some overstock batteries that have about 25% of their charge left, and sometimes... just sometimes... I find something interesting.

By which I mean weird.

The other day (a term I use here to define a specific date I no longer recall), I was strolling past the toys, chuckling at the action figures that look a bit like Power Rangers while being just different enough to avoid a lawsuit, when I saw a small box with an eye-catching design. It had some half-decent fantasy art, and little cutaway sections revealing... revealing?

I moved closer.

No. It couldn't be.

But it was.

Marbles!

It was a game with marbles.

Warball contents
Battle Box contents. What a lot of balls.


I quickly checked the date on my watch.

I had driven to the store quite quickly that day, but I was absolutely certain I hadn't hit 88mph.

Sure enough, the date was correct.

A company called Duncan had actually made a new game using marbles.

A new game that Duncan hilariously (and apparently seriously) called "revolutionary and original."

A new game that Duncan hilariously (and apparently seriously) called a trading card game, even though it is quite clearly a game about marbles.

A new game that Duncan hilariously (and apparently seriously) called Warball.

Now, I don't know if Warball's name is supposed to sound like something certain birds do; but it does. Every time I say it, I feel like I am imitating an avian mating cry.

Warball...

Warball...

It's just awkward. And my friends don't like it.

But I'll forgive the name, because Warball is quite an attractive game, and I'm quite shallow. The marbles... sorry, Warballs... are nicely made. Some even have little monsters trapped inside them like mosquitos in amber, or dreams encapsulated in one of those crystals David Bowie loved pretending to wave around.

Savage Warball
It's a crystal, nothing more...


These Warballs work in conjunction with a set of cards that have some pretty interesting artwork on them (this is supposed to be a trading card game, after all). The problem is, the cards have a thick glaze that has a tendency to chip on the edges. Futhermore, when the cards are brand new, they really stick together, making shuffling a bit of a bear.

Still, the whole package is quite appealing, and there is a cool drawstring bag included for storing your Warballs, which is a nice touch.

Warball marbles
Nice ball bag.


However, despite the good-looking components, and despite the wedge of 60 illustrated cards, and despite the range ruler, this is quite obviously a game of marbles. I mean, Duncan has dressed it up as a trading card game, suggesting that players need to collect different cards to build power decks that allow them to manipulate each battle and maximise the usefulness of the available Warballs. But you can't fool me.

This is just marbles.

Warball rulebook
I don't remember marbles having so many rules...


At the start of the game, players line up their Core Warballs across the centre of an arena, keeping aside any of their larger Master or Savage Warballs, then they shuffle a deck of cards built around the Warballs they have brought to the battle. If you are playing with the contents of the Battle Box starter set, like I was, you don't get any choice in the Warballs and cards you have available; but it is possible to buy expansion packs containing more cards and Warballs, allowing for the possibility of custom decks.

On a turn, you draw four cards, and then you use any that you can to activate Warballs. To use a card to activate a Warball, it has to match the Warball design, and you have to check any special requirements. For example, you can only play cards that activate Savage Warballs if you have at least one of your Master Warballs on the battlefield.

Warball cards
The cards. (The artwork varies from nice to... not nice.)


When you activate a Warball, you simply flick it at enemy Warballs. If you knock any Warballs out of the arena, you capture those Warballs, and you win the game by...

Marbles.

It's bloody marbles.

Okay?

You flick your marble to knock your opponent's marbles, and you win by knocking all of your opponent's marbles out of play.

Warball flicking rules
Instructions on how to shoot marbles. Seriously?


They have added a few gimmicks, of course. This is a "revolutionary" game, after all. Some cards only allow you to activate a Warball with a trick shot, like using your feet or the edge of the range ruler; and your opponent can take control of your Savage Warballs if you don't have a Master in play to keep them under control.

Oh, and some cards don't activate a Warball, and instead "hex" an opponent's Warball. Being hexed is bad, not least because you have to fiddle around trying to slide the hex card under the Warball without displacing any of the Warballs in play, which is something of a dexterity game within a dexterity game.

But for all the gimmicks, this is just marbles.

Fortunately, marbles is a really cool dexterity game.

I grew up playing marbles over manhole covers, and had countless hours of fun. And yes, Warballs is fun too.

Best of all, one Battle Box (which, let us not forget, I bought for £1) contains enough content for two people to play, without having to worry about deck-building.

It isn't revolutionary. It isn't original. It isn't even a trading card game.

It isn't anything Duncan said it is.

But it's fun.

For £1, I can't really ask for more than that, can I?





*"Buy better games" seems like the obvious answer.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Review - HeroClix - TabApp

HeroClix


HeroClix TabApp
Published by WizKids Games
For 2 players, aged 10 to adult


I don't like blind-packaged games.

I like buying a game, and knowing I've got everything I need to have a good time right there in the box. However, once upon a time, back when I was in my 20s, I decided to start collecting one of the popular blind-packaged miniatures games.

I really wanted a skirmish game, and I guess I thought it would be fun to invest in a game where building the collection was part of the hobby.

Drinking too much will do that to you.

After careful consideration, I narrowed my choices to Marvel HeroClix or The Lord of the Rings: Combat Hex Tradeable Miniatures Game. Both games offer themes I love, but ultimately my love for The Lord of the Rings was stronger than my love for Lycra costumes.

Turns out, it was a really good choice. Combat Hex is an excellent skirmish game, with great mechanisms that allow you to field forces of almost any size. It also has really good pre-painted miniatures that put to shame anything WizKids has to offer.

I ended up investing pretty heavily, even purchasing the large special figures such as the Balrog and two Fell Beasts.

Sadly, Combat Hex went out of production, which is a real shame, because I don't think it deserved to. Meanwhile, HeroClix continues to go strong.

And that's why I don't go to Vegas anymore.

I have never regretted my choice, and I would never give up my Combat Hex collection, but sometimes I think what might have happened if I had chosen the blue pill. Would I still be collecting HeroClix today?

Maybe.

Considering my recent experience with TabApp, maybe not.

HeroClix DC
Look at Wonder Woman checking out Superman. Batman isn't happy.


TabApp, which sounds a little bit like something a dinner lady might wear, is WizKids attempt to bridge the gap between the popular miniatures skirmish game and mobile gaming.

It's rubbish.

I'm not going to talk about it.

...

Okay, okay. The theory is, there are certain special HeroClix figures that you can sit on your iPad, and the TabApp game recognises the figures and zaps them into the game. A bit like Disney Infinity, but without the fun and creativity.

The original TabApp game was piss poor, and involved mashing your fingers against your tablet screen in an attempt to kill baddies. WizKids subsequently released TabApp Elite, which involves mashing your fingers against your tablet screen in an attempt to kill baddies.

They're both bad.

Anyway, I happened to be in a Poundland recently, and I discovered the store was selling off TabApp characters. Rather than being blind packaging, these characters were in fixed, thematic sets. There was a DC set featuring Superman, Batman (Adam West style), and Wonder Woman, a The Dark Knight Rises set featuring Batman, Cat Woman, and Bane, and an X-Men set featuring Wolverine, and two characters nobody cares about.

HeroClix X-Men
Wolverine and two Not-Wolverines.


I didn't really know anything about the app at the time, but figured nine HeroClix figures for £3 was probably worth a punt.

Now, we've already established the app is rubbish, but what about those figures?

Well, the good news is, they are completely compatible with HeroClix. They have the patented clicky bases, and they come with stat cards.

Unfortunately, there are problems.

For some reason, the TabApp characters are super-deformed. They are larger than usual HeroClix figures, they have massive heads, and they are on deeper Oreo-style bases. They are like miniature versions of those bobblehead toys you can get. Just without the bobbling.

Don't get me wrong; the figures look great. But if you are going to use these in conjunction with other HeroClix pieces, it is going to look a bit strange on the table-top.

These sets also cause issues for anyone new to the world of clicky bases (like me). WizKids did not include any rules, and there are no maps or tokens. Fortunately, I sourced HeroClix rules online, but it is worth clarifying: These are absolutely not starter sets for getting into the skirmish game. You just get miniatures.

Weird miniatures with bid heads.

And a shitty app.

HeroClix The Dark Knight Rises
Bane says playing the app would be extremely painful... For you.


Personally, I am pretty happy with my purchase. My daughter went nuts for the figures, and we play the basic HeroClix rules with them on a board from another game. She's only four, so isn't up to handling the advanced rules, but she is more than happy to push the figures around the map and roll dice. And that makes me happy.

However, I can't recommend these packs for anyone looking to get into the miniatures game, and I certainly can't recommend them to people who want a fun app to play.

There is a very real chance that the characters are excellent additions to an army for established players. I don't know anything about the game to be able to comment on the abilities each character brings to the table, but they are all varied, and they seem quite interesting. So, if you don't mind big bobbleheads joining your fighting force, these might be worth picking up if you can find them at a good price.

Just don't play the app.

Seriously.

Don't.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Review - Furstenfeld

Furstenfeld


Furstenfeld
Published by Rio Grande Games
Designed by Friedmann Friese
For 2-5 players, aged 13 to adult


Furstenfeld box
A big golden dude with a  beer... every home should have one.


I'm a writer, so creation is important to me, and it is a major part of my life.

As a novelist, I create worlds and I create characters (and if I'm really lucky, sometimes I even create sales).

As a blogger, I create long, rambling reviews.

And enemies, probably.

But as a gamer, I get to create... So many things. It is one of the reasons I love board games so much. Each one is a tool kit, a set of building blocks; and each one lets you build something amazing within the constraints of the rules the designer has provided.

A game like the sublime Winter Tales lets you create a story with your friends, weaving plot threads to seize objectives like spiders weaving a web to catch flies.

A game like Snake Oil lets you create ingenious inventions, countless personas (as buyer or seller), and laughter. So much laughter.

A game like Warhammer Quest lets you create a hero, and an epic tale for that hero to tell while quaffing ale at the tavern.

A game like Battlelore lets you create an army to crush your foes.

And a game like Machi Koro lets you create an economic engine that gradually expands and evolves until it spits out coins like an overly generous fruit machine.

Yes, creation is a wonderful thing, and I am addicted to the feeling you get when you take disparate components and slot them together to make something that is so much more than the sum of its parts.

It's why I love writing. It's why I love LEGO. It's why I love board games.

And it's why I don't really enjoy Furstenfeld.

Now, don't get me wrong. Furstenfeld is a bloody clever game, and it offers players the chance to create an economic engine as they struggle to harvest the ingredients the local brewers need to make their beer.

But it also has an incredibly good mechanism that provides tension and interesting choices by demanding that, at some point, you have to tear down what you have built.

And I don't like it.

But that's no reason why you shouldn't.

Here, let me explain...

Furstenfeld puts players in charge of their own "Furstenfeld," depicted by a board with six spaces on it. Three of the spaces generate resources (one for water, one for hops, and one for barley), and the other three are blank.

Furstenfeld board
My own private Furstenfeld.


Each turn, players draw cards representing new developments they can build onto the spaces on their Furstenfeld, assuming they have the money to do so. Basic options include fields that generate larger quantities of resources, but there are also banks that secure income every turn, town halls that allow you to hold cards back, laboratories that allow you to draw additional cards, and much more.

Of course, you only have six spaces on your Furstenfeld board, so you can only have six developments at any one time. If you build over the top of an existing development, you lose that initial development and any benefits derived from it. That leads to some tricky choices. Sure, building a field that generates three water over the top of your space that only generates one water is an easy choice, but what about building a laboratory over your town hall? One lets you sift through your hand of cards quicker, so you can find the developments you need to advance your strategy, but the other lets you hold on to cards you would otherwise have to discard, so you can keep them until you can afford to pay for them.

Which development fits into your strategy? What kind of Furstenfeld do you want to create?

To be honest, there is nothing particularly new here; but it is all very slick. Each turn, you draw cards, then you harvest your goods, and then you sell them to make the money to build the developments that will make your next turn more efficient. It's a tried and tested idea that has appeared in countless games. However, there are two wrinkles in the rules for Furstenfeld that give players something extra to think about.

First of all, the market for the resources is variable. There are only a few breweries, and they only need a certain amount of each type of resource. When resources are plentiful, the value drops, until breweries start refusing to buy them completely. When resources are scarce, the price starts to climb, and there is a chance to make some big money.


Furstenfeld breweries
I'm not sure five rival breweries would set up in a row like this.

As a result of the fluctuating market, players jostle to be the first to sell their goods, in an attempt to get the best price while saturating the market so other players are left with resources they are unable to sell. This is one of only two ways in which you can mess with your opponents, but it is integral to any strategy.

The market system is all very streamlined, and works nicely, and as earning lots of money in one round means you are forced to act later in the turn order in the following round, it is difficult for one player to steam too far ahead.

Furstenfeld goods
Psst... Hey Man, wanna buy some hops and barley?


The second wrinkle in the rules is the big issue I have with the game: The reason every player is developing a Furstenfeld is because they want to build a palace. You know, so they can show off to the neighbours.

Six of the development cards represent aspects of the palace. They are expensive, they keep getting more expensive as players build them (which is the second way you can screw with your opponents), and they don't actually do anything. They do not generate resources, and they do not grant any special bonuses. They just sit there like a heavy-handed social comment, filling up a space in your Furstenfeld.

A space that used to have something productive in it.

And you need to build all six palace cards to win, stealing victory by choking the life out of the economic engine you have built over the course of the game.

And I don't like it.

I enjoy creating a little system of developments that link together to generate wealth and resources. I like watching my little Furstenfeld bloom, and I like trading in my chunky wooden money tokens to build a marketplace, or a crane, or a warehouse.


Furstenfeld money tokens
No paper money... There was much rejoicing.


But in every game, you eventually reach a point where you have to take one of your productive spaces and clag it up with a palace card. Now you've got a spanner in the works, and your super slick engine starts to sputter.

And then you have to do it again.

And again.

And again.

This isn't like culling cards from your deck in Thunderstone: Advance to make your deck leaner and more efficient.

Here, you are purposefully making your engine inefficient, and you have to balance which spaces you keep active, and which ones you lose forever.

It's agonising.

It's so clever.

And I don't bloody like it.

Towards the end of the game, you are land rich and stoney broke, desperately searching down the back of the sofa for the coins to build your last palace. You don't get to win this game in a blaze of glory, you just limp over the finishing line.

You win by burying the wizened, useless corpse of your economic engine beneath an opulent palace-shaped tombstone.

It just isn't fun anymore.

I don't like creating things just so I can tear them down again.

Things are a bit better in the advanced game rules. The palace cards are numbered and you have to build them in the correct spaces on your board, but you get some new cards that help you to rearrange your deck so you get the cards you want when you need them, and you get a tour bus that converts each palace into a fixed income every turn. The problem there is that getting a fixed income means you don't get to be involved in the marketplace part of the game as much, so you lose that bit of player interaction and decision-making.

And when it comes down to it, there is something about the latter part of the game that I just don't enjoy.

You're paving paradise to put up a (very flashy) parking lot.

Overall, I think this is a very clever game. It runs smoothly. Everything works (in fact, it works almost too mechanically, making it feel a bit dry). Figuring out the exact moment to start building palaces over your farmland is tricky, and the game has plenty of interesting choices. Plus, the rules fit on four pages, and that includes diagrams and the rules for the advanced game, so it is easy to learn and easy to teach.

Furstenfeld rules
Check out Friese... He loves green. He has green hair. Crazy.


I think a lot of people would like it.

But it is a game of two halves. And unfortunately, I only enjoy one of them.

I think I'll stick to building my palaces out of LEGO.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Review - Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends - Legendary Summoner Promo

Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends


Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends - Legendary Summoner Promo
Designed by Vlaada Chvatil
Published by Czech Games Editions
For 2-4 players (used in conjunction with the base game)



Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends Legendary Summoner
Not legendary enough to summon clothes, I see...


Pop quiz...

1. Is a single promotional card worth £5.50 (plus postage)?

2. Is it worth reviewing a single promotional card?

You have 30 seconds to write down your answers. No conferring...

[Cue Countdown music.]

Okay. Pens down.

If your answer to both questions was, "No, it's only a card," you're wrong.

If your answer to both questions was, "Yes, but only if it is a promotional card for the exceptional Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends," then congratulations. You've won yourself a teapot.

You see, here's the thing... I'm not keen on promo items. They are usually only available by visiting conventions in a country where I don't live, by pre-ordering something that might not even be very good, or by paying an obscene amount of money to someone on the Internet.

Furthermore, promos can seem odd or awkward. They may be silly in-jokes that are jarring with the theme of the game, or they may be wildly imbalanced or overpowered. After all, it's only a promo so it doesn't have to be balanced, does it?

I don't like the idea of components that enhance gameplay only being available to a certain few people who are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, or who happen to have a lot of spare cash to throw around.

I really don't like the idea of paying a lot of money for something which turns out to be a bit rubbish.

I really, really don't like the idea of paying a lot of money for what is, essentially, "only a card."

So, I don't really like promos.

But there are always exceptions.

The Legendary Summoner card for Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends is that exception.

For a start, this is a promo that was (and is) readily available through Spielbox magazine. Just purchase Issue 6, 2014, and this little card is snuggled away in the centre pages. Okay, I ended up having to pay £5.50 plus postage for a magazine I wasn't that interested in, just to get the card I was interested in, but at least it was easy.

Spielbox
Spielbox, Issue 6, 2014.


Most importantly for me, it is a promo that integrates seamlessly with the original game. It is simply a new legendary creature that you shuffle into your legend deck at the start of the game. It is the same card quality as all the other cards in the game, it has stunning artwork by David Cochard, who illustrated all of the cards for the base game and the Everfrost expansion, and the only hint of an in-joke or knowing wink is the fact the creature is actually the same one that appears on the back of the legend cards.

However, I do think the card might be slightly overpowered. With a formation of four heroic pieces, it is possible to summon the Legendary Summoner. You then gain an action, and for the next being you summon that turn you get to use any pieces on the board, regardless of colour. This makes it pretty easy to string together some really nasty combos, summon over the top of enemy pieces, blow apart tight formations, drop pieces into the perfect place for even more summoning mayhem, or secure points based on mission cards.

But it's a one off.

And everybody has a chance to draw it from the communal legends deck, so it isn't giving a distinct advantage to any one player.

And there is a chance nobody draws the card throughout the entire game.

And when I think about it, quite a few of the legend cards have the potential to turn the game on its head.

And it's only a promo so it doesn't have to be balanced, does it?

Besides, if you are worried that drawing a certain type of legend gives any one player a distinct advantage you have the option to use the variant version of the rules published in the Spielbox magazine.

Rather than players drawing legends into their own hands, there are three communal legends that any player can summon if they meet the criteria. Whenever a player summons a legend, a new legend is drawn and added to the communal offer.

This variant helps to level the playing field between novice players and advanced players. Seasoned veterans can often tell what legends a player is trying to summon, based on patterns on the board, and this gives them a distinct advantage over novice players who do not know what patterns to watch out for. However, with the new variant, everyone knows what legends are up for grabs, and what patterns are necessary. This makes it easier to screw up an opponent's pattern, to prevent him or her from getting a legend on the table, and it is much more difficult for seasoned players to disguise their moves.

In my experience, the variant makes the game more aggressive. Players tend to spot what opponents are trying to do, and they go to extra lengths to smash up formations. It's very cutthroat, and it makes getting legends onto the field trickier (and more satisfying).

Interestingly, the variant also makes the Legendary Summoner slightly more powerful. This is because all of the players are going for the same legends, so there is a better chance there will be pieces on the board in a formation that you can make use of.

To be honest, I'm not that keen on the variant. I feel it tends to draw the attention of the players away from the objective of the game (killing opponent pieces, or meeting the criteria of mission cards), so they start to focus instead on preventing legends from coming into play. It makes the game drag a little bit, especially as players spend a bit longer trying to figure out if an opponent is about to summon an available legend, and you get less of those "a-ha" moments, where you pull the wool over your opponent's eyes and bring out an unexpected legend.

Still, it's nice to have the option of a different way of playing, and the variant does make the game feel different.

But really, nobody is going to buy Spielbox for the variant rules.

It is all about that card.

Now, here's the thing: I was predisposed to like the Legendary Summoner. Tash-Kalar is one of my favourite games ever. I acquired the original version as soon as it was available in the UK, I jumped at the chance to playtest the Everfrost expansion, and I purchased that expansion and the base game upgrade kit as soon as they hit retail. I had to have this promo card to add to my collection, and would probably have paid even more for it than I did.

It's nice to have more variety, and at a time when I am starting to guess which legends my opponents have based on the formations they are making on the board, even a single card helps to shake things up.

But does this single card really enrich the experience?

Well, no. Not really.

It's only a card, after all.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Assassinorum: Execution Force - Meet the Gang

Assassinorum: Execution Force


I am a huge fan of adventure stories involving a small group of people on a quest or mission. This is probably something ingrained in my personality from my early exposure to The Lord of the Rings (in particular, The Fellowship of the Ring).

There is something about the idea of a small team of specialists, each with a unique skill, that always fires my imagination, and you can see the concept appearing in my own books all the time.

That being the case, Assassinorum: Execution Force was always going to be of interest. It's a game about a group of four assassins infiltrating a chaos base to slay a sorcerer. What makes it really interesting is that each assassin has a different style, and a different load-out of equipment to achieve the kill. Studying the skills and equipment, and planning optimal strategies, is fascinating for me.

So, I thought I would shine a bit of a spotlight on each of the assassins in the game, just to discuss what they can do, and what I find interesting about them.

Note for those who don't know: Each assassin has a basic ranged and close assault attack. two always-on abilities, one Primaris Tactic with three uses, and one Omegon Tactic with a single use. Assassin's get to do two different actions and one Tactic every turn.

Whenever you attack, you roll a number of dice and add modifiers, if any one dice is equal to the target's resistance rating then you inflict a single wound. Normally, one wound is the best you can hope for in a single attack.

Assassins


Vindicare

First up is the Vindicare, who is probably the most traditional of the assassins, and my favourite. He is armed with high-powered long range weaponry, and specialises in killing at a safe distance. His base ranged attack is 1D6+1, and his close combat attack is a pathetic 1D6.

Out of the gate, those low combat values make him the weakest of the assassins, and his skill set does not do a huge amount to improve his lot.

His first "always on" ability is "Deadshot," which significantly boosts his ranged attack. If he has not moved prior to shooting, he has infinite range with his rifle, gets an additional +1 to hit (1D6+2), and causes two wounds instead of one.

The problem is, "Deadshot" is a very situational ability, as you have to be able to take your shot with the first action of your turn. That means you have to always think a turn ahead, positioning your Vindicare now so he can take his shot later. This relies heavily on cultists wandering into your field of fire, and takes careful planning.

Fortunately, the Vindicare's second "always on" ability, "Stealth Suit," helps with positioning, as it means he is hidden in plain sight as long as he is more than six squares from any renegades that would normally be able to see him.

Interesting side note: According to the rules, models cannot see spaces beyond another model and there is no exception for the Vindicare, even with his "Stealth Suit." That means you can actually block line of sight to your allies by standing in front of them, which is a neat little trick if you can pull it off.

If you get the positioning right, you are pretty much guaranteed to kill a cultists (requiring a 2+ to kill), and you can even total a space marine in a single turn thanks to the double damage. In fact, the Vindicare is the only assassin with the ability to kill a space marine with a single action.

It is also worth noting that there is nothing stopping the Vindicare from moving after he has used his "Deadshot" ability.

However, the difficulty in pulling off "Deadshot," and the fact his basic attacks are so poor, means the Vindicare feels significantly weaker than the other assassins, and is not the character to give to a beginner or younger  player.

The Vindicare's Primaris Tactic, "Exitus Ammo," is a basic re-roll when failing to hit at range. This can be used with a basic attack or a "Deadshot" attack, and ideally you want to save the re-rolls for when you absolutely, positively have to take off a space marine's head (or whack double damage on Drask).

His Omegon Tactic is "Blind Grenades," the chance to automatically stun a Renegade within six squares, and all other assassin's adjacent to that target. Stunned Renegades don't get to act on their next turn, but afterwards they immediately go on alert and become a more serious threat. That makes this a kind of last-gasp ability to get you out of a really tricky situation. Not having to roll for success is very powerful though, especially if the Renegades were already on alert, as you can stun them to reduce the number of event cards you have to draw in the Chaos phase (stunned renegades are no longer considered to be on alert).

Verdict: Cool model, cool idea, but difficult to work with. The Vindicare needs to study the patrol routes, and position himself correctly. Stick him at the end of a long corridor, and watch as he takes the heads off renegades every turn. He doesn't get to run around much, and is unlikely to have the speed or kill-power to go it alone on a solo mission. His chances of killing Drask on his own are quite remote unless he still has his "Blind Grenades," which effectively gives him two rounds of shooting before he gets chewed up and spat out. Just remember, you cannot throw the grenades and get a re-roll on your ranged attack in the same turn. Give this assassin to the pro player who likes a challenge, and can think ahead.

Vindicare


Callidus

The Vindicare is all about slow movement, careful positioning, and attacking at range; the Callidus is pretty much the opposite, focusing on swift movement and exploration. Her basic ranged attack is 2D6, and her close assault attack is 1D6+2, making her a good all-round fighter who prefers to get up close and personal if possible, especially since her Primaris Tactic, "Poison Blades," allows her to re-roll failed close combat rolls.

Her always-on abilities are geared around movement, with "Acrobatic" allowing her to move through enemies, and "Hit and Run" allowing her to make a free movement 1D6 squares following a close combat attack. These two abilities mean she can really move when she wants to, getting out of tight situations where other assassins would be pinned, and accessing remote locations rapidly.

"Hit and Run" is excellent, but it should be thought of as an additional free move rather than a safety net for when a combat goes wrong. This is because 1D6 movement does not guarantee her safety following a failed attack. Her target will be on alert, and will shoot at her, or run her down, in the following Chaos phase.

Her Omegon Tactic is "Polymorphine," which at first I thought was overpowered, but is actually rarely very useful. When she activates it, renegades basically start ignoring her, as they just see one of their allies in her place. When I first read this ability, I misread it that the effects last until she fights or shoots, leading me to believe it was a broken ability. She could effectively activate the ability, wander around the map revealing locations without raising the alarm, and then sit back and smoke a cigarette while her allies teleported into Drask's sanctum and kicked the living doodles out of him.

However, the "Polymorphine" actually only lasts until she fights, shoots, or (importantly) makes a normal move. Effectively, all she can do while disguised is Sprint 1D6 squares per turn, and as she cannot do the same action twice, that really limits her usefulness. Basically, she has to dawdle, mimicking the slow, methodical movements of the renegades on patrol, meaning she doesn't have the ability to dash around looking for objectives.

This changes "Polymorphine" from a way of almost guaranteeing a win to a very situational ability that could save you when nearby enemies would raise the alarm during the Chaos turn. It is unlikely you will stay morphed for more than a turn, really.

It is worth noting that there is no restriction on when you can use "Polymorphine," so you could be standing right in front of a renegade and still use it. You could even punch a cultist in the face before activating the "Polymorphine," and the dozy eejit still wouldn't retaliate.

Verdict: Fast, with good close combat capabilities, the Callidus is a bit of a work horse. Her primary goal should be revealing rooms, especially as she has the option to move into line of sight, close assault any renegades she finds, and then skedaddle 1D6 spaces into cover. She is going to prefer being in close, but if she gets caught out, she is very fragile (having the weakest defensive options of the three assassins that favour close quarters combat), so there is a risk she overstretches herself exploring, becoming isolated and vulnerable. She works really well in association with the Eversor - she opens up the room, and he opens up the occupants.

Callidus


Culexus

The Culexus is an odd beast, with abilities that trigger reactively, and crowd control tactics.

His basic attacks are 2D6 at range, and 1D6+1 in close assault, making him a slightly inferior version of the Callidus in terms of combat prowess. However, his abilities significantly improve his chances of winning... if they trigger.

First, he has the always-on ability of "Etherium," which prevents renegades from modifying the values of their attack dice when they attack him. In other words, he only ever gets hit on the roll of a 6. I'm not good at stats, so I'm not sure if this is better or worse than the Eversor's 5+ save. I mean, space marines attack with 2D6, getting +2 modifiers on each roll, and need a 6 to hit. So, is it better to face 2D6+2 with a 5+ chance to save if you get hit, or is it better to face 2D6 with no chance to save?

Answers on a postcard.

His second always-on ability is my least favourite in the game, because it only ever triggers when you pull a "psychic" event card in the Chaos phase. The Culexus gets to ignore the effects of any such cards. Furthermore, on the following turn, he gets to re-roll whiffed attacks made at range. This is actually an ability that penalises you for being stealthy. Less alerted guards means less events, which means less chance of getting that re-roll ability.

That's an odd design choice.

His Primaris Tactic is "Psyk-out Grenades," which allows you to stun a single model within 6 spaces on the roll of 4+. In general, this is pretty weak. It does not automatically work, and only stuns the target (subsequently putting them on alert). However, the grenades are more useful in the end game, as they will inflict a single wound on Drask, allowing the Culexus to inflict two wounds per turn on the Big Bad (TM).

His Omegon Tactic is "Soul Horror," which is fairly similar to the Vindicare's "Blind Grenades." The difference is that the Culexus IS the grenade. He unleashes the "Soul Horror," and every renegade within 6 squares is stunned. This is better than the "Blind Grenades" as it has a further reach, but the downside is that the Culexus has to get into the thick of the action to get the most benefit as it is not a directional attack. It is a potential lifesaver during the endgame, as it is a big enough blast area to fill Drask's ceremonial chamber. If you are fighting Drask, and there are space marines piling in as well, the ability to stun all of them for a turn probably keeps you alive.

Verdict: This is your crowd control unit. He can ignore a lot of bad events, and has the chance to stun enemies when the going gets tough. Unfortunately, one of his always-on abilities... well... it isn't always-on. However, he really comes into his own in the endgame, with the ability to take control of the situation and cause additional wounds with his grenades. Note that his psyk-grenades have a 50% chance of whiffing, so you probably want someone favoured by the Dice Gods to play this character.

Culexus


Eversor

I'll be blunt, the Eversor is easily the best assassin in the game. He's stupidly killy, virtually indestructible, and gets so many actions he is a whirlwind of death. He can kill Drask in a single turn. On his own.

On his own, people!

His basic shoot action is the standard 2D6, but when he gets in close he is rolling 3D6. That is going to make mince meat of a cultist with resistance of 4+, and has a good chance of wounding a marine with a resistance of 5+.

However, what makes the Eversor (dare I say it...) overpowered, is a beastly set of special abilities that also make him the ideal candidate for anyone who wants to achieve the "I work alone" mission, which pits a single assassin against the game.

For a start, he has the always-on ability of "Hypermetabolism," that gives him a free 5+ save every time he takes a wound. That's 5+ for any type of wound, with no modifiers. Bear in mind that the maximum number of wounds an assassin can take from a single attack is one... That's a 33% chance of nullifying every single successful attack against him. Even attacks from Drask.

And let's not forget, the bad guys need to roll a modified 6 to hit him in the first place.

So, Mr Eversor is going to stick around for a while; but where he really shines is when he gets to start stabbing people back. His always-on ability of "Combat drugs" allows him to make the same action twice in a turn. Yup. That means he is the only assassin who can attack twice in a single turn. And that's with three dice per close combat attack, or two dice per ranged attack.

Sure, the Vindicare can take a marine's head off from range with a single shot, but if the Eversor is up close and personal with that same marine, you are guaranteed to redecorate the room in a nifty shade of red.

Two close combat attacks at 3D6 per attack is enough to kill one marine, or two cultists per turn; but the fun doesn't end there, because the Eversor has the Primarus Tactic "Frenzon," (no, not "Friend Zone," it's the opposite of that), which allows him to take a third action on his turn. So folks, why not kill two cultists in close combat, and then blast a third one at range? Or shoot the living beejeezus out of a space marine before slinking into the shadows?

Decisions, decisions.

But, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that, even with three actions, and being able to do the same action twice, it isn't possible to inflict the three wounds necessary to kill Drask.

True dat.

But the Eversor also has the Omegon Tactic,"Bio-meltdown." Basically, he blows himself up, causing a wound on every model within six squares on a 4+. So, it is possible to wound Drask twice with basic actions, and then to blow yourself up. Sure, you die; but if Drask dies too, you win by default.

Verdict: Yup. The Eversor has it all. Use him for solo missions, use him for thinning out groups of enemies, use him for covering ground quickly, use him for killing heavy hitting enemies, use him for killing Drask. You get the picture. He is the ideal assassin for new players, as he is unlikely to die early, he is very forgiving of mistakes, has the ability to do loads of damage so the new player feels all involved and important, and has pretty straightforward tactics that involve running at people and screaming. He is also really, really fun.

Eversor


So, that's the whole gang. They are all very different, but they all have a part to play. The Vindicare feels a bit short-changed, the Eversor feels a bit overpowered; but they are on the same team, so it doesn't really matter. It is possible to get them all to gel together nicely: Callidus searches, Eversor sweeps, Vindicare lends covering fire and watches for patrols, and Culexus stands there looking a bit creepy until things turn ugly, at which point he suddenly springs into action, drawing power from the chaos of the situation.

I'm impressed with how they all work together. The downside, of course, is that once you have formulated winning strategies, the game is going to get significantly easier to win. But it's never going to be a guaranteed win.

The Dice Gods will make sure of that.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Review - Assassinorum: Execution Force

Assassinorum: Execution Force


Assassinorum: Execution Force
Published by Games Workshop
Designed by the office trolls
For 1 - 4 players, aged 12 to adult

Assassinorum: Execution Force Box
You know you guys are supposed to be stealthy, right?


I'm feeling a bit stupid.

A lot stupid, actually.

I quite often feel stupid, but today I'm really feeling stupid.

You see, I just paid £75* for a game that clearly isn't worth £75.

I knew it wasn't worth it, but I bought it anyway.

Sigh.

It's difficult being me, sometimes.

So, the game, of course, is Assassinorum: Execution Force, a game with a title that sounds like a Chuck Norris movie starring the Romans from Monty Python's Life of Brian.

It's a good-looking game.

It's all sexy and slinky, with a glossy black box and...

...
...

Sorry, lost my train of thought.

Yeah. It's a good-looking game. Games Workshop made it, so that's to be expected, but...

Ah, where do I begin?

Okay. I'll talk about the price and stuff, and then it'll all be out of my system and I can talk about the actual game.

Assassinorum: Execution Force Event
A grisly discovery... the £75 price tag.


So... £75.

I have seen people defending that price by picking out the plastic sprues of assassins and chaos warriors, and totting up how much Games Workshop would charge you for those things individually. The problem with that is those people are justifying the cost of an overpriced item by comparing it to other overpriced items from the same company.

But the price was never going to be any lower, because Games Workshop is a slave to its own business model.

That business model is selling plastic soldiers to wargamers.

When the company releases a board game that contains some of those plastic soldiers, it has to price the game in such a way that the game doesn't eat into existing revenue streams. If the game was seen as a cheap way to build an army, everyone would buy multiple copies, and Games Workshop would lose out in the long run. Who would pay £15 for a single assassin figure if they could pay £40 and get four of them, along with a load of other miniatures as well?

As it happens, Assassinorum works out as pretty decent value for anyone who plays Warhammer 40K, because it is a little bit cheaper than buying these miniatures separately (and the assassin's are exclusive, although it is expected that they will eventually go to retail in individual packs). But I don't play Warhammer 40K.

That's why I feel a bit stupid.

I have paid over the odds for a board game, because I had to pay for the right to use the pieces in another game I have no interest in playing. Effectively, I've paid a 40K tax.

But I paid anyway, because it's Games Workshop.


Games Workshop Games
Yes, I bought Dreadfleet.


I kinda love Games Workshop, because when I was a kid, I didn't have very many friends. I spent a lot of time on my own. I was bullied, really. Not physically (not much), but bullied through exclusion. I never got invited to places or parties. I never got picked to be on teams. That sort of thing.

But I didn't really care.

I had a few friends, and we had Games Workshop.

I painted, I played wargames, I lived in fantasy worlds.

Games Workshop made my childhood a magical place, and while the company has veered dramatically from the warm and friendly company I remember from my youth, it will always have a place in my heart.

My rational brain looks at Games Workshop, and its shonky business practices, and it "tuts" disapprovingly.

It doesn't matter. I've already paid my £75**. Better luck next time, Brain.

And yeah, I feel a bit stupid; but I still got a tingle when I peeled the shrink wrap off my new copy of Assassinorum.

For a moment, I was 14 again.

Assassinorum: Execution Force Miniatures
Some assembly required...


So, that's how I'm starting this review: The game is overpriced. Perhaps not as a collection of beautiful miniatures for someone to build and paint, but certainly for a board game. £75 is stupid, and there is no justifying it. If you are not interested in painting and modelling, it's probably best you don't put your money on the table; you're just going to feel short changed even if you like the game.

Assassinorum: Execution Force Instructions
Screw it, I'll use proxies.


Having said that, I almost feel like anything else I say in this review is going to be irrelevant. But I'm here now, so I'll press on...

Like I already said, Assassinorum is a good-looking game. It really does have an incredible amount of swagger. It has stunning artwork, great miniatures (that require assembly, with glue and everything), ridiculously thick game boards, and good quality cards. The game looks so good it's verging on cocky, slyly winking at established co-operative games as it puts its £75 boots up on the table and lights a cigarette.

Games Workshop are not in the habit of making abstract games, and Assassinorum doesn't break the mould. It is a game thick with theme, and gives players a very interesting premise to explore. Basically, a chaos sorcerer is trying to destroy a star system, so four assassins infiltrate the sorcerer's base to take him out before there's a great disturbance in the force.

Assassinorum: Execution Force Board
Must be a GW game, there are skulls everywhere.


Of course, this is all set in Games Workshop's grimdark future dystopia, so everything is suitably bleak. The good guys are as monstrous as the bad guys, with one that looks like Giger's alien and makes people sick just by being in close proximity, one that looks like Freddy Krueger's slightly less pleasant brother, and one with a gun that melts brains. Sure, these guys are trying to save millions of lives, but you also get the impression they just really like sticking pointy things into other people.

Being Games Workshop, everything is over the top. I mean, just look at the box cover. Those guys are supposed to be stealthy assassins: The ninja of the future. But there they are, standing in the open, waving gigantic guns around while the background explodes. One of them has a ponytail that is so long I can't help thinking of Edna from The Incredibles saying "No capes."

Anyway...

Once you get past the chewy theme, you get to the real crunch of the game: The rules. They are incredibly lean and compact, and one of the first things that I noticed was there are several similarities to this game's big brother, Space Hulk.

You have a small group of good guys, moving through very narrow tunnels, facing a large enemy force, and using a D6 + modifiers combat system. There is a fixed objective, and you have fixed assets to achieve that objective. Each assassin has a set number of actions, and set pieces of equipment. There is no chance to change a character's load-out, or find additional items. You live or die based on your use of what you bring to the mission. It's pretty neat, and swings the game away from a dungeon-crawl, looting type of experience and plonks it squarely in the field of the tactical miniatures game.

Assassinorum: Execution Force Boards
The game board really is attractive.


Furthermore, this game is every bit as lethal as Space Hulk. Assassins only have two hit points, and the chaos space marine enemies are strong enough to go toe-to-toe with them. A bad move could see an assassin getting taken down in a single turn, and getting into a prolonged firefight is a very bad idea. The fragility of the assassins makes stealth vital, and makes for a very tense experience that has that Space Hulk flavour.

Something else that adds to the tension is the strict, time-based nature of the mission. From the moment you start, the clock is ticking, as a cute little chaos familiar ambles around a "doom" track. If he gets to the sixteenth spot, it's game over. The time pressure really adds drama, and the whole game exudes a sense of excitement that is cinematic and engrossing.

Completing the mission in the time limit is no walk in the park either, because you have to find a teleporter room, and the teleporter controls, and although the main board is static, rooms are randomly drawn as you explore them.

This interesting exploration mechanism works by instructing players to draw numbered room tiles equal to the number printed on the part of the board they are exploring, and then forcing the players to place the room that has the lowest number. In the first part of the board you draw three rooms, in the second part of the board you draw two rooms, and in the third part of the board you draw one room.

Assassinorum: Execution Force Rooms
The room tiles.


This is pretty slick, and creates an interesting balance. In the early part of the board, you are more likely to find the target rooms, but are less likely to be able to place them, while as you explore deeper, you are drawing less cards, but if you  luck out and get the ones you need, you are more likely to be able to place them.

It's neat.

But what  I really like about the game, is that every assassin has two special abilities that have limited use. They have a minor ability that they can use three times, and they have a single-use game-changing ability. This introduces a level of resource management, expands the options that are available, and encourages the assassins to work together to maximise the benefits of their own particular skill sets to help each other out of tricky situations.

And that moment where you sacrifice one of your assassins by using a self-destruct mechanism to wipe out a horde of enemies is satisfying and thematic.

Assassinorum: Execution Force Characters
Good guys and bad guys, in eight flavours.


A significant difference between this game and Space Hulk is that this game allows players to be very proactive. In Space Hulk, the genestealers make a beeline for the marines, who will only survive if they form strong defensive positions, slowly edging through the tunnels as they lay down suppressing fire and react quickly to new threats. In Assassinorum, the enemies are patrolling the tunnels (following pre-set paths on the board), blissfully unaware of their looming demise. It is the players who instigate the battles, picking and choosing where and when to make a kill.

Only when things go wrong will the tables turn: Enemies go on alert and become aggressive, alarms sound, additional random events occur, and the assassin's are suddenly on the defensive. It's exciting. It really is. And the simple AI and streamlined rule set means there are no fiddly rules to get in the way of that excitement. The game allows you to become immersed in the fantastic, deeply cinematic world it creates.

Assassinorum: Execution Force Rules
Clear, streamlined rules with lots of pictures. Win.


Of course, the most exciting thing about this game is that it is co-operative, with up to four players controlling the assassins, playing against the game itself. Some people forget, but Games Workshop were doing co-op games long before it was the norm. They introduced solo rules for Advanced Heroquest, and Warhammer Quest was primarily intended for co-operative play. Seeing Games Workshop exploring this style of game gives me goose bumps, and I hope that it is a sign they are returning to the realms of board games and embracing this aspect of the hobby.

It is a naïve hope, I fear, because Assassinorum is a very safe move for the company. The game is lean to the point of emaciation, with a very limited selection of enemies, four playable characters with fixed load-outs, a semi-fixed board layout in which only certain rooms are placed at random, and only a single search and destroy scenario. That means the game is tight and slick, but it also means there are significantly fewer moving parts that you might expect. The game is very light, and doesn't drill as deep into the theme as it could. That makes it easier to playtest, less likely to break in weird situations, quick to learn, but ultimately a bit limited.

And that is definitely at odds with that £75 luxury price tag.

Assassinorum: Execution Force marine
I hate these guys.


So, do I recommend it? At that price point, it's hard to. Which is a shame, because I have found it to be a very enjoyable game. There is tension, genuine decisions, actual tactics... You know, good stuff. But your mission is always the same, and the bad guys you meet always behave in the same way. There is replayability, but once you have saved the day two or three times, I am not sure how often you are going to want to revisit this exceptionally rich world.

I think the game is good. It looks amazing. But this isn't the triumphant return of Games Workshop the board game brand. This is a decent gaming experience with an excellent theme, packaged with desirable miniatures as a safety net.

And in the end, it falls short of what it could be.

Not unlike Games Workshop itself, really.


* Actually, I paid £67.50, but never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
** £67.50. Keep up.