Thursday, 3 September 2015

Board Game Review - Forbidden Stars

Published by Fantasy Flight Games

“There is no peace amongst the stars, only an eternity of carnage and slaughter and the laughter of thirsting gods.”
   –Warhammer 40,000

"Command your armies and battle for the Herakon Cluster in Forbidden Stars, a Warhammer 40,000 board game of interplanetary conquest for two to four players!

Forbidden Stars puts you in command of massive armies battling to claim the Herakon Cluster at any cost. In every game, you and your opponents build up your forces, expand your strategic options, and clash on the field of glorious battle. You’ll deliver orders to your troops on a strategic level and command your armies through tense tactical battles as you fight to claim your objectives. The first player to capture his objective tokens is the victor, but your opponents will undoubtedly defend them against you. You’ll need all your strategic skill to outwit and outmaneuver your opponents and claim the Herakon Cluster!"

I don't get to play board games that often so I like my sessions to have a certain level of complication; not too confusing that I'll need a degree in Tabletop Gaming Theory to understand it, and not so simple that I can learn it in five minutes, play it in ten, and be home in time for cornflakes. It was with a sense of trepidation, then, that I unwrapped Fantasy Flight Games' (FFG) newest offering 'Forbidden Stars'.

I'm a big fan of the grimdark gothic universe of Warhammer 40,000. I like the setting and atmosphere it invokes, and while I haven't played the wargame for many years I still play the 40K roleplaying products also produced by FFG. I think that's what drew me to Forbidden Stars; the promise of new adventures and experiences in the 40K universe was too much to resist and I set about securing myself a copy.

When it arrived and we unpacked it I was somewhat shocked. It's a hefty box with plenty of weight to it so straight away I could feel it's worth - the RRP is £79.99. Upon emptying the contents I was amazed - and terribly frightened - by what we splayed out on the table - 1 rulebook, 1 rules reference sheet, 112 combat cards, 32 event cards, 20 order upgrade cards, 24 objective tokens, 36 structure control tokens, 32 order tokens, 4 reference cards, 1 round tracker and marker, 1 first player token, 36 asset tokens, 16 custom dice, 12 combat tokens, 4 materiel dials, 12 double-sided system tiles, 4 faction sheets, 4 warp storm tokens, 35 plastic structures and 105 plastic units for Orks, Space Marines, Chaos Space Marines and Eldar. You get these great stands for the ships, as well.

Amazed because there was so much; frightened because there went my hopes for a simple board game.

Lets get two things out of the way - firstly, this is a FFG product so the first thing you expect is quality, and this game succeeds in every level. The box is hardy and strong so it'll last a long while, the tokens and cards are of thick and durable card stock so they're quite hardy, and the figures are well designed and detailed, and will prove a bit of a challenge to the painters of the hobby. I do, however, have a one complaint about the contents and that's the design choice for the units of the different races. We get some lovely structure, starship and war machine miniatures, but the models for the ground troops are like standards and are not actual representations of the races. So, for example, instead of an Ultramarine figurine we get a symbol on a stand; I would have liked to have an actual figure in a combat pose getting ready to get into a fight instead of the symbol as that would have looked great on the board along with everything else, and would have been great for the painters in the room.

The second thing is that the rules are somewhat complicated and I'm loathe to go into any great detail in this review, so I'm going to link to the FFG website where you can download and read the rules for free. That's something I like about the FFG range, the fact that you can have a look at how a game works before making your choice. These detailed and component-rich games can cost a pretty penny so it's great to be able to see what your getting for your hard-earned cash and if the game will suit you or not. Rest assured that I've not yet played a FFG game that I've not considered worth the money, and Forbidden Stars definitely falls into that category. It's definitely worth the price - you can feel that in the box - but it's also a lot of fun.

I'm going to say this again so that it's fully out in the open and you'll understand where I'm coming from for the rest of this review; Forbidden Stars is complicated. You're not only getting plenty of stuff in your box, you're also getting a detailed and comprehensive game that'll take you an hour or two to get into. Once you get that first game out of the way it'll get easier, I promise, but expect a lot of page flipping and exclamations of 'what does that even mean!?!' as you hit the learning curve. Perhaps that's just me and the friend I played with, as one of us had the rulebook and the other had the rules reference, so as we worked through the book and set the game up and learned the rules one of us would read from the rulebook and the other would clarify what the rule meant using the rules reference document.

The rules reference document was a handy tool as it detailed each section of the rules in alphabetical order so that you could find what you needed as you required it, but without the rule book you couldn't understand the full context of those rules. Sounds complicated? Well, it was. Perhaps what we should have done is just follow the rulebook and leave the rules reference for the actual game. It was a bit muddled, and sometimes we had to see the rule in action on the board to fully get the gist of it, but it all made sense in the end. No doubt there are board gamers out there who the rules will click with and they'll sail through the rules and the game itself with a smile and dismissive wave of the hand to us feeble ones who struggled, and well done you. All I can say is that it took us the better part of an hour to get the pieces out of their cardboard holders, set up the board and get through the rules so that we could get on with an actual game. Even then the first round of play took us nearly an hour as we had to check and double check that we were not only doing it right, but that we were doing it in the right order and the pieces on the board were positioned correctly to allow us to do it. That's a long time in my book and starts to bend my rules regarding what makes a board game fun for me.

However, once we got into it the game was, for all the bluster over learning how to play the thing, a lot of fun. We placed out figures and tokens, and set about moving our pieces, building structures, gathering resources and improving our forces. In fact, resource management and building was the order of the day at first and we were tempted to call it 'Logisticshammer', but once we got into grabbing planets from each other and having battles, things got really interesting really fast.

There are objective tokens that players put around the board and these tokens are specifically for one faction to get hold of, so you find yourself fighting for worlds to make your way to the token, fighting for it, and then moving on. The sheer insignificance of entire worlds in the 40K universe, something that makes the grimdark of the 40K galaxy so well defined, shines through in this game as there may be a world you'll fight tooth and nail for, and then in a round or two it will have served it's purpose and you'll pretty much forget about it, even allowing other players to take it.

Also, the order tokens that everyone places in turn are a great way of cranking up the fun as you do not have any idea what is coming next. Players take it in turns to secretly place their tokens face down on a single board section, and the player after puts there's on top so that they stack up. Then you flip the token over from top to bottom, revealing orders. So, your order to build in one area could be ruined by the previous player's order to invade before you have the chance to. It makes you really think about what you really want in a system and what orders you place across the game board. Between us as just a two-player game it was a lot of fun; a full four-player game must be awesome to play.

If it does go into combat that's almost a mini-event in itself and sits apart from the rest of the game. You use the dice and the cards and battle it out, and the rules are a little clunky and this is where we had our more 'what the hell?!?' moments, but once you iron out the problems and go through it a few times you soon get used to it. I'd suggest playing the combat separately a couple of times before getting into the game proper just to make sure that you've got your head around it, or there may be a chance that combat will slow the game, which might be annoying if there's more than two players at the table.

What we got from our first evening's play was a bit of frustration followed by head-nodding as we finally understood what we were supposed to do, followed by some tentative steps. After a couple of hours we were playing with confidence and after three we were going along at a pretty good clip. The following night we were much better prepared and after half an hour we'd set up the game and we were conquering worlds and I was spilling blood for the Blood God with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. All told, between the two of us, I think it took about three hours from unboxing to finally get the game and be comfortable with the rules. Yes, it was a bit of a pain to learn but it was worth it for the hours of fun we've ended up having.

Forbidden Stars is a great game and will appeal to the type of board gamer who likes some complication in their rules, as well as the 40K fans out there. Players will find it a good social game that will have everyone second-guessing seriously strategising, and the uncertainty - thanks to those order tokens - will create not only some tense situations but also some genuinely laugh out loud moments. Who would have thought that a grimdark future of madness and death could be so much fun?


Sunday, 30 August 2015

Wargame Review - Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City

Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen CityBy Joseph A. McCullough

Published by Osprey Games

'Amidst the frozen ruins of an ancient city, wizards battle in the hopes of discovering the treasures of a fallen empire. In this fantasy skirmish wargame, each player takes on the role of a wizard from one of ten schools of magic, and builds his band of followers. The wizard's apprentice will usually accompany his master, and more than a dozen other henchman types are available for hire, from lowly thugs to heavily armoured knights and stealthy thieves. Wizards can expand their magical knowledge by unlocking ancient secrets and may learn up to 80 different spells. While individual games of Frostgrave are quick and can easily be played in an hour or two, it is by connecting them into an ongoing campaign that players will find the most enjoyment. The scenarios given in the book are merely the beginning of the limitless adventures that can be found amidst the ruins of the Frozen City.'

When I step into a new fantasy world I want details; details about the world, it's history, it's deities, it's landscape, people and traditions. In short, I want to know the world. No matter what the game, be it tabletop wargame, roleplaying game or boardgame, I want to know the world so that I can completely immerse myself in the game and the place that I'm playing in. Frostgrave doesn't give you much background, but is somehow still able to give me a compelling and fun game in a world of magic and mystery.

The Frostgrave rules, weighing in at 136 pages and including everything you need to run small 10-a-side skirmishes, is a full-colour hardback book of good quality that isn't small enough to feel thin on material and not large enough to make you balk at what you've got to learn. In fact, one of the first attractive qualities is the design and the size, as it's neat and concise and the book isn't large enough to beat someone to death with. The artwork is excellent and very atmospheric, and the photographs of the miniatures in action are detailed and well designed. At an RRP of £14.99 it's great value.

The game itself uses a 20-sided die and is designed with 28mm miniatures in mind, although you can adjust the scales for different sized miniatures. Of course, using 28mm minis ensures that you don't have to break the bank in figures as you can use miniatures from other well-known fantasy wargames you may have, but even if you need to purchase some there are official Frostgrave miniatures available from North Star Military Figures (

The game itself is based around a party of adventurers, a Warband, heading into the Frozen City to find magic items, treasure and fame. Your primary character, the Wizard, is the figure you're most focused on as these guys deal out the most damage in a variety of ways - you can choose from ten different schools of magic; Chronomancer, Elementalist, Enchanter, Illusionist, Necromancer, Sigilist, Soothsayer, Summoner, Thaumatuge and Witch, and each has eight spells to choose from. Although you can choose spells from other disciplines some schools of magic can be opposed to others which makes casting more difficult or almost impossible.

Your Wizard is supported by nine others including an apprentice who is able to do what the Wizard can do (but not as well) and eight non-magic soldiers ranging from hounds, thugs and archers, to Man-at-Arms, Knights and Templars; there are 15 fighter types to choose from. Each Wizard starts with 500 gold crowns to spend on the extra help and can gain more gold and items as the game progresses. Kills and achievements gain you experience points, and assuming your Wizard survives the game they can progress on to the next game and earn more spells, items, improve their scores and rise in levels up to a maximum of level 20.

Each game has targets to reach and these take the form of treasure chests that characters get to, fight for and then run off with. The chests have random items and gold which you can then use to upgrade your character and team, as well as buy new items and supporting characters, although you can only ever field ten at a time. These sequence of scenarios form a campaign - there are ten scenarios in this book alone and on average each scenario is about a page long but can last anything up to an hour, taking into account the simple bookkeeping required, so campaigns are very easy to design. In between scenarios your Warband can retire to their Base, where they can use resources gathered in previous scenarios and restock and recuperate.

The die mechanic is very quick, easy and intuitive throughout the game. Want to cast a spell? Roll 1D20 and score higher than the spell's target number. Want to hit someone? Both of you roll 1D20, add your Fight or Shoot skill and whoever rolls the highest wins, and the roll also determines damage. This is all controlled by a Stat-Line, a series of numbers that define a single character. Movement (M) determines how far a character can move. Fight (F) and Shoot (S) are an indication of a character's prowess in man-to-man and ranged combat. Armour (A) is what they are wearing and how much damage they can absorb. Will (W) determines how they can resist certain spells and Health (H) is how much damage they can take before incapacitation or death.

Along with a handy bestiary for wandering creatures in the city and some reference pages to make the games easier, you get quite a lot in the book.

Is it any good, though? Did I enjoy the game?

After our first two games, which were easy to play through as the rules were easy to learn and the rulebook easy to refer to as I bookmarked what I thought we'd need on an ongoing basis, I got pretty well attached to my Wizard Brania, a Witch, and his apprentice Mushroom (don't ask). I also named my Warband members, and the hound we had, a vicious warhound with one eye and a muzzle made of iron - we called him Mr Sprinkles - was a favourite. It was a bit of fun at first, so when a character fell in combat we could cry out their names and go 'Nooooooo!' in slow motion.

However, I got to level four with Brania and I was getting attached. He'd got some pretty good kit and the items were stacking up, and the base I had created (an abandoned inn) had a bit of character.

We'd played some of the scenarios in the book but we wanted to try something different, so my opposition suggested that he'd like to raid my base. So, I created a map and the agreement was that if he won then he could choose one of the Resources I had in the base, as well as one magic item. If I won, it was a simple defensive action and I got to keep everything.

The battle raged and about halfway through Mushroom was killed, and I was kind of bummed about it. The fight raged on and I was in a pickle, and it got so bad that I found myself cornered by both the enemy Wizard and his apprentice - double trouble. I got so badly hurt that I found myself surrendering and asking for terms. Terms? This was a wargame, dammit! There are no terms!

And yet my friend went with the flow and we agreed on terms - he got my best soldier and two magic items as well as gold and the resource, and my character lived. It was then that I realised that we'd roleplayed the encounter, and that the characters were more than simple playing pieces you move around the board. I'd become as attached to the Wizard as I sometimes do with my tabletop RPG characters, and I wanted to see him go on.

And there's the single best thing with this game; sure, it's a wargame and wargames are usually about domination and victory at all costs, but this skirmish game feels a lot more personal and will appeal to roleplayers such as myself. Hardcore wargamers don't need to fear this aspect because it's a great game and you don't need to include a roleplaying aspect, but it was refreshing for me to be able to play a wargame and incorporate elements of my favourite hobby into it. In fact, the system could work quite well as a miniatures RPG; I have now added a skill roll, which is simply roll 1D20 and beat a target number; easy 5, average 10, difficult 15, impossible 20. That's it - instant roleplaying game. I can get all the background details I need from the short story collection, also by Osprey. Frostgrave – Tales of the Frozen City is a fiction anthology that collects "eleven stories of wizards and adventurers as they venture into the ruins of the Frozen City".

Although the rulebook has enough details about the world for a decent skirmish game (and bear in mind you don't have to use the game setting; this works well for any setting) it doesn't have enough background to get a full roleplaying experience out of, but that's not what the game was designed for. This is an excellent game that's fast, furious and a hell of a lot of fun. It enables you to bring whatever you want to the table. Just want to have a big fight? Check. Sling some spells? Check. Swing some swords? Check. Create and have fun with characters? Check. Do a bit of roleplaying? Check.

This is a great game that I'm sure I'm going to be playing on a regular basis, and makes for a great introduction for new wargamers wanting to get into the hobby with it's simple, intuitive rules and clear and concise rulebook.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

FFG - Star Wars: Armada Organised Events

I popped into my local gaming store Titan Games recently to have a look at their Star Wars: Armada organised play, as arranged and supported by Fantasy Flight Games.

Star Wars: Armada is an excellent Miniatures game that I had the pleasure of playing at this year's UK Games Expo, and after a few more games with the starter set it's something I can see us spending a bit of time on.

It's not as fast and furious as the X-Wing Miniatures game, as it requires a lot more forward planning as you try to judge the direction and actions of these lumbering hulks well in advance, and while there is some fighter combat in the shape of the squadrons that the ships can deploy it's primarily the great capital ships slugging it out with each other.

The organised play sessions are a great way for new players to experience the game and for experienced players to test their wits against others, and it's not just Armada that gets the attention but also Imperial Assault and X-Wing, as well as other games in the Fantasy Flight Games catalogue.

Organised play is an excellent idea and really helps bring gamers together and also showcases the games to non-gamers.Check with your local gaming store to see if they're up for the challenge.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

FYI - MMORPGs FTW... TL;DR I like online gaming, too

I don't really cover MMORPGs on this blog but they are an important part of the gaming hobby. Tabletop games will always be my first choice when it comes to RPGs, but the MMO is an excellent way to pass the time.

I've played quite a few MMOs; World of Warcraft, Rift, Warhammer Online, Star Trek Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Dungeons & Dragons Online, EVE, Conan, DC Universe, Champions, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Guild Wars 2 and at the moment I'm having a blast on the Dungeons & Dragons MMO Neverwinter. Some of these games I spent months on - Warcraft, Warhammer and Neverwinter in particular - and others a few weeks or even just a few days. I like to think I have broad experience with MMOs and that I've experienced a representative cross section on what MMOs have to offer.

I'll never be able to replace the sheer options of a tabletop RPG with the narrow focus of a MMORPG. The limits of the game limit the enjoyment and I always drift away from one MMO to another after a time (thank the stars for free-to-play!) and in the end I realised the only reason I returned regularly to my subscription games was for that very fact - I was paying to play them and I wanted to get my money's worth. The free-to-play options have changed that somewhat, but you always feel that you're missing out on the full game.

With paid subscriptions I always felt I got my money's worth until I reached the high levels, then it felt like a grind. Warhammer Online, as much fun as the PvP was, was guilty of that and was too slow to expand on the game and offer new content. That, sadly, has now gone forever. World of Warcraft has always been the top dog in this department and offers a full experience that can last you months. My only other subscription game I played was Rift, and that didn't fail on gameplay but on lack of wonder.

Rift was a great game, but I never felt I was exploring or discovering new things. I travelled to nondescript places to fight nondescript foes, and as good as the gameplay was I never had a moment when I was awed by a location, or excited to find a new town or city. Warcraft excelled at that; I'll never forget my first visit to Ironforge and seeing those gates for the first time. It was exciting and exhilarating, and I felt that I really was exploring a whole new world. Warhammer was pretty good at that, too, and Lord of the Rings was exciting because I'm a huge Tolkien fan and the locations were great to interact with and, from a creative point of view, it was interesting to see how the designers had approached the material.

That's what subscriptions games should give us - yes, the gameplay is important, but the visual awesomeness of the location as well as the atmosphere and the sense of exploration is important. If you can't replicate the sheer number of options a tabletop RPG can offer, then offer us something else; wonder. Show us the rich detail of your world and the locations it has to offer.

There are very few games that offer that full experience via free-to-play. Only Neverwinter, in my opinion, feels like I'm playing a full game with some pretty awesome locations as well as regular new content and yet I've never paid anything for it. As a F2P player there is a lot more hard work to do as I'm sure that paying would make the game much easier, but that work really feels worth it when you reach maximum level. Still, the design is great and the atmosphere is really well realised. I'd go as far to say that Neverwinter is probably the best free-to-play game out there at the moment, and other free-to-play companies should follow their example.

But, as much as I enjoy MMORPGs they are certainly no replacement for the tabletop game, not for me for sure. You are limited by the parameters of the computer, even if you're getting into character on a roleplay server, and the majority of the game comes down to is hit this and that until it stops moving and then hand the mission in for booty. That might be me oversimplifying the game, but sometimes that's how it feels.

So, I might be making more of an effort to cover MMORPGs on this blog, especially from a tabletop gamer's point of view. I think the only way an MMO influenced my tabletop is when I used the Art of Warhammer Online, from the collector's boxset, as visual cues for my recent Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay campaign. Still, you never know what else might crop up. Perhaps I'll find an MMO setting that I'll want to run a tabletop RPG campaign in.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

RPG Review - Star Wars: Age of Rebellion – Desperate Allies

By Fantasy Flight Games

‘Use your words to fight for freedom with Desperate Allies, a sourcebook for Diplomats in the Star Wars®: Age of Rebellion™ Roleplaying Game. War is one of the major themes of Age of Rebellion, but without Diplomats to spread hope and convert new systems to the cause, war is just meaningless bloodshed. With this career supplement, you can join in tense negotiations, make last-minute deals, and keep the flame of freedom alight in a galaxy overwhelmed by fear of the Empire.

In this book, you’ll find three new playable species – Caamasi, Neimoidian, and Gossam – as well as three new specializations for Diplomats: Advocate, Analyst, and Propagandist. You’ll also find plenty of items and vehicles to ensure your Diplomats are completely outfitted for whatever dangers they may face in the service of the Alliance to Restore the Republic. Finally, Desperate Allies introduces rules for creating Rebel bases, allowing you to enrich your campaign with any kind of base.’

We’ve spent so long running around the galaxy blasting Imperials, running blockades and defeating the bad guys that we’ve hardly had a chance for any kind of breather. Once, just once, we’d like to put down the weapons and try something a little less violent and confrontational. If only there was only a way to play the game with conversation and negotiation! If only!

Oh. Desperate Allies. Cool.

Now the very nature of Star Wars is pretty much fully described in the name. Star. Wars. Wars in the stars. Great big battles and explosions, as is the driving force behind the franchise. But, there’s always a little room for diversity, and the Desperate Allies book gives you that option. In addition to the Ambassador, Agitator, and Quartermaster from the Age of Rebellion core rulebook, this book gives us the Advocate, Analyst, and Propagandist. These new additions add a lot to the game and allow for new paths to be taken, which adds a lot more depth to the roleplaying experience. Now players have the chance to try and use diplomatic methods and more non-violent skills like computer use and great new talents such as 'Positive Spin', and their skills enable negotiation and NPC-influencing talents. That’s quite a step away from the high-adventure nature of the game.

But it’s not all about sitting around tables and agreeing on the price of space cheese. There's still some room for action adventure types with a selection of weapons and non-lethal grenades. Armour and vehicles, including starships, get a section, but by far the most interesting part of the book are the ideas and seeds for diplomatic missions. There are some great things in here that you could get some lengthy campaigns out of, and diplomatic missions suddenly become quite attractive prospects.

And I think, when all is said and done, that diplomatic missions in a Star wars campaign is going to come down to a group decision. With my group, Star Wars is all about running gunfights and space battles, and the idea of doing more non-action adventures didn't come easy and took a little convincing. Not only that but there were a few moments of PC conflict, when the diplomat of the group wanted to try the negotiation route and the gunbunnies were all about the laser blasts. It made for some great roleplaying scenes but I was concerned that a part of my group was getting a little bored and just wanted to skip the chit-chat and get on with it. That was specific to my group, that's for sure, but it is something I can see cropping up.

The games turned out to be a success but I can't see them being a regular occurrence, but that's fine; the book is there if we need it.

All that aside, this is a great addition to the Star Wars RPG line and adds a whole new dimension to the game. Groups will get a lot of use out of it and the new types of missions give you an entire new angle on the game, and anything that adds to the overall scope of any game is a good thing.


Monday, 17 August 2015

RPG Review - Star Wars: Age of Rebellion Game Master’s Kit

By Fantasy Flight Games

As with all Fantasy Flight Games’ products there is no doubting the quality of the product here; the card stock is hardy and will last a long time, the artwork and layout are all top quality and the content is useful and well designed. Still, it is one of those products that fall into the ‘do I really need it?’ category.

‘Keep your Star Wars roleplaying campaign focused on the action with the Star Wars®: Age of Rebellion™ Game Master’s Kit. The GM Kit includes a GM screen which will keep all the information you’ll need as Game Master at your fingertips during your Age of Rebellion sessions. You’ll also find new rules for running military squads and squadrons. The GM Kit also includes a complete adventure, Dead in the Water, so you and your players can stand strong against the Empire, even after you’ve finished the adventure featured in the Core Rulebook.’

I like my GM kits to be solid and worthwhile, so that I’m safe in the knowledge that I’m getting my money’s worth and the product itself will get a lot of use. If I’m spending money on something I want to make sure it’s an investment worth my while.

First and foremost, the GM Kit gives me something I find invaluable in my games; a sturdy GM’s screen for me to keep my notes and designs hidden behind. I usually use the screen for secret die rolls in other games but I feel the nature of the FFG Star Wars game, and the way the dice help decide the flow and ebb of a story, doesn’t really call for hidden rolls. It’s still handy for keeping your adventure hidden, and as long as the player’s aren’t actively looking over the screen – which, as any GM knows, is punishable by PC death no matter what the game – it’s high enough to hide stuff and there’s room enough to keep plenty of details hidden comfortably. In regards to that function the kit does it’s job well, and the tables are useful in a game (it’s very similar to what we got with the Edge of the Empire screen). With each chart including a page reference so that you can refer to the core rulebook if you have to, it’s really handy.

The adventure, ‘Dead in the Water’, is a decent romp that you should get a couple of  sessions out of; the Rebellion needs droids, and they turn to some ne’er do wells to supply them… and things go wrong. Which isn’t shocking at all. It’s a good solid adventure with action and investigation, and it’s designed to fit in with other adventures already released. That’s a great idea and gives a proper sense of progress to the games, creating an overall campaign. Also in this kit there are also extra rules for military squads and squadrons, which is handy and makes certain elements of the game a bit more dynamic.

It’d be easy to say that if you already have the Edge of the Empire GM Kit then you don’t really need this one, but in terms of the adventure alone I think it’s worth picking it up, and the screen itself is angled more towards the nature of the Age of Rebellion game than Edge of the Empire.

For collector’s it’s a great addition, for completists it is, of course, a must, and for gamers it’s a helpful, if not essential, tool, especially for the adventure. Personally, I’m happy with the whole thing.


Friday, 14 August 2015

RPG Book Review - Designers & Dragons: The ’70s

Designers & Dragons CoverBy Shannon Appelcline
Published by Evil Hat Productions

I've only ever delved into the history of the tabletop roleplaying history a few times, and this was mainly snippets of information gleaned from books and interviews over the years. I’ve always been fascinated by the early days and the way the industry grew and continues to this day, and I’ve always enjoyed learning about the early days of the hobby. However, I’ve never really had the chance to really find out how it began and what happened to the individuals, games and companies involved.

Thank goodness, then, for Designers & Dragons: A History of the Roleplaying Game Industry.

This first volume of the series covers the 1970s, early days of the RPG scene and it's a glorious if depressing read - glorious in that it's amazing to see how these first firms kicked the whole thing off, their attitude and approach to the fledgling hobby and the almost off-handed way they handled new product. Depressing in that I wish I had been around to appreciate that initial burst of energy and passion.

After the hefty entry on the giant of the hobby, TSR, the book then covers Flying Buffalo, Games Workshop, GDW, Judges Guild, Metagaming Concepts, Fantasy Games Unlimited, Chaosium, Gamescience, Heritage Models, Grimoire Games, DayStar West Media and Midkemia Press. This is followed up by some neat little ‘Did you know?’ comments about the nature of roleplaying in the 1970s – which I found fascinating, as the attitude to gaming really has changed over the decades – and then a bibliography and acknowledgements.

There’s a real charm to this first book as it takes you back to the beginning and it’s not always a nice read; disagreements, rivalries and lawsuits rear their ugly heads as well as the stories of people reaching milestones, enjoying successes and pushing the hobby forward. It was great to read about the beginnings of the hobby but it was just as good to read about the approach that most companies had towards this new pastime. It almost comes across as clueless, sometimes, but the hobby was young and directionless and, coming out of the structured worlds of boardgames and wargames, many of the people involved had no true guidelines on how to approach this new and peculiar hobby.

It’s a solid read and while there may be moments when I felt that the book was simply listing facts and figures – which can’t be helped considering that it is trying to be complete and sometimes the detailed information just isn’t available – I honestly felt I learned something about my hobby and it’s origins. The book doesn’t take sides or root for any single person, game or company (although it does refer to some possible evidence or widely-regarded opinion on certain matters) and it gives the facts as cleanly, and as entertainingly, as possible.

As I mentioned earlier, there may have been times when I felt that the book was just calling out statistics or just reeling off product lines for a certain company’s production period, but even though I may have passed over these periods with a lot less interest than other points in the book, at no point did I feel completely bored or dissatisfied. These were fillers, information blurbs that took me through the workings of the company to make the history complete. All the time there’s cross-referencing and notes on what to read next, sidebars on details about certain things that readers might find interesting and notes that add flavour and background.

Well written, well laid out and, apart from the few rare moments where I felt I was reading material just to get to the juicier parts of the history (everyone loves a bit of gossip, don’t they?), I seriously enjoyed this book. I can't wait to get into the next book, the 1980s, which was my era, the decade when I entered the hobby.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Game Review - Dice Masters: Dungeons & Dragons Battle for Faerûn

By Wizkids

Battle For Faerûn brings Dungeons & Dragons to the Dice Masters Collectible Dice Building game. This boxed set contains everything that two players need to start playing, including 44 custom dice, 38 cards, two dice bags and the Dice Masters rulebook.

Two players have the chance to collect and assemble their adventurers to battle with one another. Players roll the dice to see what resources they have, purchase extra dice and then send their characters in. There are cards available for each type of die so players choose which one to use; this allows players to build specialized dice sets to increase their chances of success.

First things first, this is a hefty little box and with the dice, cards and bags you certainly get a bit of bang for your buck (RRP £14.99). The quality is good but not perfect – as a storage medium the box is flimsy and the contents tightly packed, meaning the game will have to be transferred to another way of storing it after a short period. The dice bags, though useful, are thin and a little flimsy. The cards are of very thin stock so you’ll have to take care of them, but the game isn’t a contact sport so anyone with any modicum of care should be able to look after the contents. Just don’t expect the box to last very long, especially if the plastic container that comes with it is lost or damaged.

But that’s a minor gripe with the product as a whole. The game itself is fun and dynamic, and we got a few great games out of it, with the promise of more to come.

That sounds nice and easy, doesn’t it? Well, it is and it isn’t. There is a learning curve to this game that might take a few attempts to get absolutely right. There were a few instances in our first couple of games where we’d look at each other and say ‘Er… is that right?’ and a few minutes of intense rulebook scrutiny would follow. It’s not a fault with the game as every game has to be learned, and this is no different. It’s definitely not for the very young generation and even as an adult I had a little difficulty, but after a few quick practice runs the game flowed quite well. I imagine it’s a game you’ll have to see in action to fully get the gist of, as watching two experienced players would no doubt really help with getting to grips with the mechanics. There’s a handy intro here: You can even download the rules from the WizKids website as a taster, so get over there and have a look.

Once we got into the flow of the game it was good fun and we’re looking into buying the expansion packs of extra dice and cards to increase our collection and get hold of the rare cards that’ll help us in battle (there’s a handy checklist in the box detailing cards and their rarity). Of course, the biggest draw to this game for me was the fact that it was Dungeons & Dragons and we were battling in the lands of the Forgotten Realms, but the game itself is covers other licenses – DC comics, Marvel comics and Yu-Gi-Oh! all get the treatment.

With a RRP of £14.99 and at gaming and hobby stores everywhere, this is a great game that you’ll get a lot of fun out of, and the longevity is in the collecting of new cards and dice. This is now on our gaming night to-play list and we’ll no doubt be cracking the box open on a regular basis.


Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Art Book Review - Women of Wonder: Celebrating Women Creators of Fantastic Art

Edited by Cathy Fenner
Publisher: Underwood Books Inc

Review by Richard Williams

The premise for this book is lovely and simple; female fantasy artists. There are fifty-eight artists included and their work covers everything from cartoons to abstract to just good old fashioned fantasy illustrations and all of them are of a very high standard. The book itself is well produced and is edited by Cathy Fenner, a name well known in art anthologies for her work with the Spectrum series of books (the next instalment of which I'm eagerly awaiting), so you can be assured of a high quality coffee table book that is good to dip into repeatedly.

Because this is a celebration of the artists themselves, not just their work, each entry includes a a few paragraphs from these talented ladies explaining why they paint, what they hope to achieve or anything else they wish to say about their art and what it means to them. For this reason I really like this book and it sets it apart from others on my shelves that are happy to just showcase the work. I like to know more about the artists and it gives me the thrill of the connoisseur to be able to spot a piece and say 'oh, that's so-and-so'. Fine art snobs get to do it but guess what, concept artists and fantasy/sci-fi artists are just as distinctive and I like being able to pick them out based on nothing more than a favourite brush tool or a typical mood to their their work.

Without trying to be unfair to all of the artists I would like to pick out a few favourites whose work I've enjoyed for a while (years, for some of them). Names that are always good to look out for such as Melanie Delon, whose book Elixir is well worth a look, and Laurel D Austin whose fantasy illustrations for big names such as Blizzard Studios is incredibly vibrant.

I can't say that you will look at these works and come away thinking that there is a quality to them that makes them clearly 'female'. I think each artists brings their own thoughts and experiences and preferences to the canvas (be that real or digital) and that there isn't anything between the sexes that means you should go to a male or female artist if you wanted a particular piece creating. And I'm sure that's not what this book is saying either, it's just a nice theme for showing off some great work.

There are a couple of caveats, however. Firstly, as ever, this is an anthology so the odds of you liking every piece contained here-in would be, I should imagine, pretty slim. The styles vary quite considerably in some cases and there are pictures here I'm not fond of, although I can easily appreciate the quality. The second issue I have with this book is that each artist only gets a two page spread, one for their written contribution another for a piece of art. I would have liked to see at least two pages of art for each artist as one piece per entry seems like a wasted opportunity to really show off their stuff. I know that would have made the book twice as large but considering it's quite a slim tomb as it stands I don't see that as a problem.

Definitely one to consider if you're a fan of fantasy art anthologies, just don't expect to open this up and be blown away by feminine qualities and the womanliness of it all. This is just really nice art from really great artists who happen to be women and I think it's great that their work is being celebrated.

Monday, 10 August 2015

RPG Session Report - Iron Kingdoms Roleplay

Once again we join GMorts Chaotica as he regales us with another Iron Kingdoms RPG session. This is the first of two parts, so make sure you check out the second installment.

This is a great series to read - make sure you seek out part one of the session reports on the website - as it not only gives you a good look at the Iron Kingdoms game from Privateer Press, which is still on my to-do list, it gives you a great snapshot of a roleplaying session in general.

Image result for iron kingdoms rpg