Tuesday 26 November 2013

Review - Anima Tactics: Akio Kageshima

So, here's the thing: I am currently trying to type this with a mashed up finger, because it turns out that when you are hammering together a shed, a nail and a finger nail are two very different things. Besides that, I am also supposed to be packing for a trip to Disneyland. But if I don't post something now, you won't hear from me for another week at least. So, despite the many obstacles, I thought I would post a short review of one of the characters from Anima Tactics. See how much I love you?

Akio Kageshima
Akio, painted and ready to die horribly in close combat

Anima Tactics is a really rather lovely miniatures game. Unlike many other miniatures games, it is fought at a skirmish level with just a handful of characters. This means it is relatively inexpensive to put together a decent fighting force. I have already reviewed the game, so I am not going to talk about that again now. Suffice to say, I think the game offers a compelling mix of strategy, tactics, army building, and resource management.

I don't really play this game competitively, and I just buy the characters I like the look of, and then figure out what I can do with them afterwards. Akio Kageshima is a slight exception to that rule: I didn't really like the look of the model, and I wouldn't have bought him at all; but I saw him in a sale for less than £3 delivered, and I do love a bargain.

Yeah. That's right. I'm one of those people who will buy something he never really wanted, just because it got cheaper.

Turns out I actually like the model a lot more than I thought I would. It isn't a particularly interesting pose or anything, but there is something about it I like. Akio is a mage character, and he looks completely different to any other mage miniature I have for any game, so that makes a refreshing change.

Anima Tactics: Akio Kageshima
Akio's stat card

In terms of being a usable character, he doesn't seem great. In typical wizardy fashion, he crumples under even the lightest attacks, and his combat prowess leaves a lot to be desired. In his favour, he has two ranged attacks that can strike from 16 inches out. They aren't very powerful, but you should be able to use them to wear down your opponents while your close-combat characters close in for the kill. He has a defensive action that boosts his personal defence by five, which can help to keep him alive for an additional round, and he is also cheap to add to your force, at just 35 points.

One of the nice things about Anima Tactics is that creating your force is done with cards that come with the models. You select the cards for the characters you want (meaning there are no army books). You can then select from a range of tactics cards, which you can secretly attach to your characters to give them boosts during play. This is cool, because it moves the game away from a "what you see is what you get" format, allowing you to spring surprises on your opponent. The card system also negates the need to buy lots of different miniatures.

Akio ships with the Ring of Erebus item card, and this is quite a useful item to give him. It increases the range of all ranged magical attacks by 4 inches. That means Akio can strike from a whopping 20 inches away. However, considering the ring costs 10 points to equip to one of your characters, it takes Akio's total points cost up to 45, which is quite a lot for a character who can only dish out very small quantities of damage.

Ring of Erebus
Ring of Erebus card

I think Akio is a bit boring really. He tends to hang back, poking people with magic blasts. That can be a good strategy, but I tend to be a bit more gung-ho when I play. I would rather have a force composed of characters with big swords. Not that I'm trying to compensate for anything.

That said, I am glad I purchased Akio. At just 35 points, and with a neutral alignment, you can easily slot him into any force if you have some points to kill, or you want to add a bit of ranged firepower to a predominantly close-combat team.

Right. That's it. I've already been writing for too long. I have to get back to packing before my wife notices I'm not helping anymore.

Monday 18 November 2013

Review - World of Warcraft: Miniatures Game

World of Warcraft: Miniatures Game Horde faction

World of Warcraft: Miniatures Games
Published by Upper Deck Entertainment
Designed by a whole bunch of people
For 2 players, aged 14 to adult

It's about 2:30pm here in Merry Olde England. Time to sit down with a cup of tea and a biscuit and review something. Unfortunately, Mrs Never Boring has eaten the last custard cream in the house. Fear not, I am a warrior, and that sort of minor set back isn't going to stop me.

I'm having a Bourbon biscuit instead.


Collectable games... I've probably mentioned this before, but I'm not a fan. I'm not a fan because such games are a money sink. You are constantly spending money, and the stuff is usually blind-packaged, so you aren't even sure what you are spending your money on.

Call me old fashioned ("you're old fashioned!") but when I buy a game, I want to buy a complete game that has everything I need to play right there in the box. And then, if I like the game, I am happy to buy expansions later on.

One of the biggest problems with collectable games are the starter sets. I don't think I've ever seen a starter set done right. You see, the publishers have to walk a fine line: They want you to have enough bits and pieces to play and like the game, but they also want to make sure you aren't satisfied with just the starter set and want to buy more. These two aims are in direct opposition. If the publisher includes enough stuff for a truly engaging and satisfying game experience, you won't immediately feel the need to buy more bits, and the publisher really wants you to buy more bits. However, if you don't have an engaging and satisfying game experience right out of the box, you aren't going to feel compelled to buy more.

So, what you end up with are boring starter sets, that only give you a sample of what the full game experience has to offer.

And that's why many collectable games don't do well.

I honestly have no idea how well World of Warcraft: Miniatures Game did, but it was first released in 2008, and is no longer in production. I think it got through two waves of releases, which seems to be about the average life expectancy of this sort of thing. It's a bit of a shame really, because the game (while being very simple), is actually okay, and the pre-painted miniatures are large and impressive, and painted relatively well.

World of Warcraft Miniatures Game Alliance faction
The Alliance fellas... Seem friendly enough, don't they?

I only recently acquired this game, because I saw a basic starter set in a clearance store and liked the look of the miniatures. I also liked the fact that the box stated "everything 2 players need to play."

This statement is, of course, a lie.

What the starter set gives you is "some of the bits 2 players need to almost play."

Now, I only have the starter set, so I'm pretty much reviewing that starter set on its own merits. There was a deluxe set which had more figures and a proper board, and that probably was a much better way to get involved in this game, but... I can't find one. If I ever get one, I'll review it.

So, this starter set...

You get four miniatures (not a random allocation): Two evil dudes from the Horde team, and two guys that look just as evil, but actually aren't, from the Alliance team. These guys don't like each other. I don't know why, I've never played the computer games. Could be a dispute over who got the last custard cream for all I know.

Each character has an associated card that lists all stats and special powers, and each character also gets two additional power cards that can be used once per turn.

World of Warcraft Alliance cards
Alliance character cards.

Besides the characters, you get a double-sided paper map, (which only has one side you can use), six very groovy custom dice in two colours (which isn't enough to play), and six "U-bases" (which are crap).

Sigh. Where to start?

Okay, first things first. As I've already said, the miniatures are pretty good. The paint quality is average, but definitely better than something like Dungeon Command, but they are a nice size (too big for using in other games unfortunately), and they are sturdy. The problem is, you only get four, and this game is designed for fights between teams of three or six miniatures. As a result, the paper map (and I really hate paper maps) has two sides: A start side, designed for battles between teams of two, and an advanced side, which you can't use until you have purchased some additional miniatures.

World of Warcraft game map
Paper maps are rubbish.

Fighting on a limited map, with a limited force, can give you a solid idea of how the game mechanisms work; but it sucks out most of the fun. Strategy is limited, turns are repetitive. It's all a bit boring. Like Bourbon biscuits.

You can't even customise the characters you get, because you only get two power cards for each character, and they aren't interchangeable.

The custom dice are quite cool, but you only get three in each colour. A lot of the attacks involve rolling five or six dice, so you technically need 12 dice (six in each colour) to avoid constantly re-rolling.

And then there are the "U-bases." Good grief...

The game is played out in rounds, and each round is divided into 10 measures of undefined time which are marked on a chart printed on the map. Of course, there is no token to use with this tracker, so you need to use a penny or something.

Each character also has a personal clock. These come in the form of the "U-bases" which are attached to the bottom of the miniatures. They are kind of like Heroclix bases, but more complicated. And rubbish.

If you rotate the bottom of the "U-base" it advances the character's personal clock by one point. If you rotate the bottom of the miniature, then it adjusts the character's number of hit points instead. This means everything is tracked right there on the character's base. Sounds neat.

I thought it sounded neat.

It's not neat.

The "U-bases" are utter crap. They don't fit onto the miniatures properly, so they keep falling off. And of course, when you go to put them back on, you have to remember how many hit points you had so you can reset the base properly. Constantly picking up the miniatures and fiddling with the bases is also just... well... fiddly. You have to be careful to twist them the right way, and careful not to knock them off, and careful to put the miniature back where it came from, and... you know... just careful.

This is stupid, over-engineered nonsense. The same thing could have been achieved by including a team tracker sheet in the starter set, and then packaging each character with a little token. Every time you activated a character, you could advance its token on the team tracker. Does the same thing as the stupid bases but without all the hassle. There is no need to over-complicate things.

Anyway, the game round marker starts at "1," and characters whose personal clocks are at "1" take it in turns to activate. You can make a free move, and then do one action (normally an attack or a heal spell). Doing an action costs time, so attacking might make your personal clock advance by three clicks. This is clever see. You do a big attack, advance your clock, and then... You have to wait. You can't move that character again until his personal clock matches the round marker. In the meantime, every other character on the board gets to pummel the stuffing out of him.

It's a very clever system. I really like it. It's just a shame it was implemented through the "U-base" concept.

The dice combat is equally clever, and is implemented well. The custom dice have three shaded faces, and one face with a critical hit symbol. When you attack (physically, or with magic), you roll a number of dice equal to your attack value. Each dice that turns up a shaded face is a miss, and everything else is a hit. The critical symbol may invoke a special power specific to the kind of attack you are doing, such as causing an additional damage. Your opponent then rolls dice equal to his defence (for a physical attack) or resistance (for a magic attack). Anything but a shaded face on the dice successfully blocks one hit. Hits minus blocks is the total damage caused.


World of Warcraft custom dice
Custom dice... I love custom dice.

Of course, the point of the game, as with so many other games, is to collect victory points. Oh yes, that nebulous, ephemeral concept that rears its head in so many games. Victory points. Who knows what they really are? An abstract concept? Medals of valour? Custard creams?

You get these victory points by being on or next to a victory point space on the board at the end of the round (when the round marker resets back to step "1"). You also get victory points for killing enemies.

There really is nothing more to the game than that: It's super-streamlined, easy to teach, and hangs off a very clever timing mechanism. But the component issues really hurt the game experience. It makes what should be a very fluid game clunky and cumbersome, and really just not as much fun as it should be. And of course, you absolutely need more than what you get in a starter set to experience the full game.

I think this game really needs a do-over. They need to make a proper base set, with a good board, and two balanced teams, and then release several team factions as expansions, like the new Krosmaster Arena game. They need to replace the "U-bases" with simple tokens and tracker bars. And finally, if they made the miniatures smaller, people could use them in other games including roleplaying games, which could only help to encourage sales.

World of Warcraft: Miniatures Game rules
The rules book.

Man, I should totally be a games designer.

Now, you must excuse me. I have to pop out to the shops. I don't know why, but I have a real craving for custard creams...

Friday 15 November 2013

Review - Harry Potter: Diagon Alley Board Game

Harry Potter: Diagon Alley Board Game

Harry Potter: Diagon Alley Board Game
Published by Mattel
Designed by committee, to ensure all fun was removed
For 3-6 muggles, or something...

I'm going to let you in on a little secret: I don't really like Harry Potter. I don't mean the fictional character (although I don't like him either). I mean the books.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking I'm jealous, because the books are massively successful, and JK Rowling is a billion times more successful as an author than I could ever hope to be. But that's not it.

I mean, don't get me wrong. I think JK Rowling is a fantastic author. She got children (and a lot of adults) to pick up books again, and that makes her an amazing person. I think she created a detailed world, filled with interesting characters (real, three-dimensional characters, with story arcs and everything). I just don't think the story she had to tell was all that interesting, and I think it could have been told using fewer words. The books are a little bloated, and there is a lot of "stuff" that I don't feel adds to the story in a meaningful enough way to be included.

And I'm totally jealous.

No, I'm kidding.

Sort of.

But anyway. Long story short: I can appreciate her achievements and her talent, and I am in awe of what she has done for children's books in general. I just don't actually like the books, and that's entirely down to personal taste.

But while I'm not a big fan of the books, what I really can't stand is the franchise. The insufferable movies, with their wooden acting and lifeless special effects, and the toys... Oh, the toys.

And it's not because I'm jeal... You're not buying this, are you?

So, considering my feelings for the Harry Potter franchise, you can imagine my delight when Mrs Never Boring returned from a day at the shops with a copy of Diagon Alley, which she had found in a charity store.

People have divorced for less.

Diagon Alley wizard hat pawns
Nice hat!

But actually, the game didn't look too bad. It had a nicely illustrated board, groovy plastic coins, and cute little wizard hats for pawns. I was intrigued, and as I have made a habit of reviewing out of production board games, of course I had to give it a whirl.

Let me tell you, my entirely adult gaming group was delighted when I dropped this little box of delights on the table.

My leg casts come off next week...

Anyway, apart from a rather nice-looking set of components, and a name that sounds like something HP Lovecraft wrote about, what do you get with Diagon Alley? Basically, you get Monopoly. And I guess that's the point where most people are going to stop reading.

Diagon alley board
The alley... Not a homeless person in sight.

It is Monopoly with bells and whistles, no trading, and extra screwage, but Monopoly immediately sprang to mind when I started playing, and I was never able to shake that feeling of sinking despair.

The aim of the game is to move around the titular alley, popping into different shops as you go, in order to buy all the wizardy things that a wizard needs for wizarding. The alley is circular, and every time you pass the bank, you collect some extra money for your shopping trip.

Diagon Alley money
If I were a rich man... I'd buy better games.

There aren't enough items for everyone, so you have to race to be the first person to buy them.

That sounds exciting, right? Like going to M&S during a sale. But with wizards.

The screwage comes in the form of cards, which you get for landing on certain spaces, or by rolling a special symbol on the custom dice (the custom dice are made with stickers, folks; don't get too excited). The cards are spells that allow you to steal items from other players, close shops to stop them getting items, or otherwise be a bloody nuisance.

Diagon Alley cards
Pick a card, any card. That's magic.

There is also some nonsense about being banished to a different alleyway, which runs around the outside of the board; but it doesn't happen very often, and it isn't very exciting when it does.

So, on your turn, you roll the dice, maybe pick up a card, maybe play a card, move a few spaces, maybe buy an item or get some extra money, and then gently weep as the next person takes his or her turn.

Eventually, someone will gather a full set of six items, and return to the starting space with them. And there will be much rejoicing.

The game lasts almost forever, and is utterly dreadful.


I've reviewed it.

Diagon Alley rules
Photocopy of the rules. That's the danger of shopping in charity stores.

What? You want to know more?

I'm not sure there's really much more to say. It is a very basic roll-and-move type game. It might be good for teaching young children to count, but that's about it. There is no tactical way to play, and who wins will be entirely determined by luck of the dice, and luck of the cards. It isn't even bad in a "so bad it's good" kind of way.

It's just bad. Really boring. And the amount of screwage from the card play might result in younger children getting upset.

Avoid this game.

If you want a game for younger children, there are many better options. This one is for the die-hard Harry Potter fans only.

And did I mention, I'm not one of them?

And I'm not jealous.