Board Game Saturday on Wells 11 February 2012

This past Saturday was filled with the traditional gamery at Wells Street. I was really excited for this game session as it would be the first time we play our Dungeons & Dragons campaign since I left on my stint in Canberra 3 months ago. I was also super keen to get Risk Legacy on the table, and I knew this would be a good time to do it as the more regular participants would be there to get the game going.

Dungeons & Dragons

Last week’s game whet my appetite for the return of our regular D&D campaign. It has been a long time since I’ve seen the members of the Avenging Clowns: the masked swordsman Ahava, half-orc hunter Craig, dragonborn rogue on the run Darhe’el, and twin-souled warforged barbarian TC. I’ve been eagerly awaiting Steven’s return to the table to continue their hijinks. Sadly, Steven contacted me before the game to let me know that due to other commitments, he would not be able to play D&D regularly after this session and would be resigning from the campaign. It’s sad to see his character go, as he gave me many opportunities for neat little plot hooks and interactions with various NPCs and factions in the campaign. Also, Steven’s propensity for terrible rolls always gave us a nice target for some good natured ribbing and cursing of the dice gods.

I had been planning to kick off the first game back from hiatus with the revelation of a major plot point (the party had discovered a powerful magic artifact that could have far reaching effects, gaining the attention of the gods). Steven’s departure allowed me to tie in some of this main plot with his backstory, resolve some of his related plot points, and give him an satisfying send off. I hastened a major character’s planned betrayal to have a suitable exit point for Steven’s character, although I would have loved to let him string the party along for much longer, heh. The look on my player’s faces when he cast Sleep on the party at their moment of triumph was a delight, as well as a great opportunity for an exciting ending when Steven’s character resisted the effects to enact some revenge only to send them both flying through the magical domains. This has a nice side effect of allowing a feasible explanation for his return, if ever Steven feels inclined and is able to join us again for some D&D. All told, I’m quite pleased with how Darhe’el’s story developed and I hope the players enjoyed it too. If anyone’s interested in more of our geekery, we have an Adventure Log (mainly updated by the players) up at Obsidian Portal along with other campaign information.

We were contemplating whether to continue with the campaign with 3 players, and it looks like we may be putting these characters on hiatus as they have lost their main healer/leader. We’re planning on starting new characters but continuing in the same setting and time period for a potentially different perspective on the events in the main plot. This is also a good time to recruit potential new players to join our campaign, and hopefully we can continue to play regularly.

Risk Legacy

The second main event for the evening was Risk Legacy. I’ve been wanting to play this game ever since it was announced. I finally obtained a copy late last year, but have yet to play it until this past Saturday. I am really intrigued by the concept of the game, which simulates the feel of an ongoing campaign by making irreversible (in most cases) changes to the game and its components as you continue playing. You add stickers to cards and the board and even can name continents and cities by writing on the board itself. As you can see above, the board even has a space for players to sign their names before committing to the game. I really love the presentation of the game. The box is shaped kind of like a briefcase, and once you open it, there are several sealed envelopes stuck to the cover and a couple of sealed sections of the insert tray. Each sealed portion contains additional components and rules that you add to the game as you reach their conditions, which are printed on them. There is even a secret envelope under the insert tray that says: “Do Not Open Ever”! The game could have done well enough with just including sealed envelopes in the box, but sticking them to the cover and having that secret last envelope just puts the presentation over the top and makes me palpably excited to open up the envelopes and learn their juicy secrets.

Before that though, we have to start playing the game. Before the first game is even played, you are already tasked with making crucial decisions that will change the way the game is played. Each player will get to play a faction in the game, with each faction having a choice between two powers that they will have throughout the game. However, you must choose one power at the start of the game, and the other power is lost to you forever. I took great pleasure in shredding the unused power on the card.

Next, you also add 12 coin stickers to the territory resource cards, with a maximum of three coins for any card at the start of the game. Initially each territory resource card has only one coin printed on it, and adding coins to it will make that territory worth more for the rest of the game. We decided on how to add the coins by allowing each player to add a coin in turn until all the coins were added. As you can see, I decided to make the Australasia bottleneck that much more valuable by making Indonesia (and Malaysia!) worth 3 coins.

After the preparations were complete, we started our first official game of Risk Legacy! Gameplay is very simple and follows the tried and true Risk formula, with several additions. The victory conditions are now either defeat all other opponents or be the first to gain 4 Red Stars (Victory Points!). In the first game, each player starts with one Red Star and a HQ which also counts as a Red Star. You can also gain a Red Star by exchanging any 4 Resource cards at the start of your turn. Resource cards are obtained by conquering at least one territory on your turn. Thus, you gain victory by conquering enough territories, and/or seizing your opponent’s HQs. There are also Scar cards that can be used during the game to alter the board permanently, such as by adding a bunker to a territory which provides a defensive bonus for all subsequent games. I believe scars are the only changes that are not permanent (as far as the base rules go), as there are blank stickers that can be used to cover up and negate previous scars.

I played Khan Industries, while Jinwei played Imperial Balkania, Daniel played Saharan Republic, Gerald played Die Mechaniker and Steven played Enclave of the Bear. We all tried to choose thematically appropriate starting territories, with the Saharan Republic starting in Africa and Imperial Balkania in Europe. I chose to have Khan Industries start in Mongolia, due to the tenuous link with the great Khans and Die Mechaniker started in the United States even though we thought it probably fit Europe more. Steven was the only one openly metagaming by starting in the turtle paradise – Australia. I think he was thinking of the Enclave of the Koala Bear instead.

Expansion was quick and combats were brutal. Gerald made an early bid for South America and through to Daniel’s HQ in Africa. I took advantage of his weakened rear flank and attacked his HQ through Alaska. I the consolidated my forces around Central America and attempted to push through to Africa for the final HQ. However, my rolls were abysmal and I was stopped short. In retrospect, I could have spent another turn taking an easy territory to get extra resources for my big push, but the table already knew my intentions and I didn’t want to risk Gerald and Daniel getting an extra turn to bolster their defenses. Alas, it was not meant to be. Steven had a troop advantage from holding Australia early and finally crushed us in a large attack on both my and Daniel’s HQs, nabbing him the first victory of Risk Legacy!

The rest of us held on to the end, and the others added coins to the resource cards, while I elected to found the minor city of Greendale in Central America.

For his victory, Steven changed the name of Euroope to Stevetopia! Way cheesy, Steven. We can’t complain though, since it was his victory and winners can name continents in whatever cheesy way they want.

It’s been ages since I last played Risk, and this brought back many great memories of the game. However, Risk Legacy plays much faster, which is probably appreciated as it allows multiple plays in quick succession and more changes to the game! At its heart, it is still Risk and it inherits some of the weaknesses (as well as strengths) of its predecessors. The changes to the board are a cool gimmick so far, but what I am really looking forward to is opening the envelopes and seeing how they will change the game further. I am also quite excited to see if other game systems could implement this concept. I wouldn’t have imagined being this excited about a game of Risk again, after all these years. Hats off to Hasbro for attempting a bold new concept to revitalize their stalwart franchise.

Guards! Guards!

After the excitement of the first two games, it was quite unfortunate (spoiler alert!) that our final game ended on a bit of a down note. We played Guards! Guards! which was the other board game based on Discworld released in 2011. I’ll be up front and say that this game probably isn’t for me. I bought it on the strength of the Discworld franchise alone, but when I read the rules I already suspected that I wouldn’t like it as much. Fortunately, Discworld: Ankh Morpork will be there for me when I need a Discworld gaming fix.

My problem with Guards! Guards! is twofold. The game is cluttered with too many mechanics. I understand that they are thematically appropriate to the setting, but it just feels to me like the game has too many things going on. To be fair, they weren’t overwhelming to the point that we could not keep track of all the different things but it did feel that we were doing some things just for the sake of theme which did not significantly enhance the experience of the main mechanic of the game, which is to move to various spell spots on the board and return spells to your starting gate.

The second problem I had with it was just the sheer amount of luck in the game. Almost every action besides moving required some sort of die roll. I’m fine with some level of randomness in a game, as it adds suspense and possible replayability, but I just felt like the amount of die rolling in this game is just a bit too much for my tastes. You even have to roll when you have more than the required attributes to meet a requirement as there is still a 1/8 chance of failing since a die roll of 1 is always a failure.

I know I said twofold, but I do have some further quibbles with the game. I felt like there were some poor production/design choices which hampered the game experience for me. The colours used on the board and the cards felt too drab and the textures used just made things muddier. I also didn’t like the font they used on the cards and some of the components, but that may just be me being nitpicky.

I really wanted Guards! Guards! to be a good game. I love Discworld, and I did not yet have a game that uses this pick up and deliver mechanic. However, I felt like this just wasn’t a right fit for me or for my regular gaming group. We stopped this game at 3 spells rather than the full 5 required in the full game, and even then there was some slight grumbling for the game to end. I’m sorry Guards! Guards!, we just aren’t right for each other. At least I still have your Martin Wallace designed half-sister to ba- I mean play. Yeah.

Well, at least that’s another two games off my Achievements List. Until next Saturday, happy gaming!

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