Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Shadows of Brimstone – Making a Good Game Great (or close to it, maybe)

Shadows of Brimstone – Making a Good Game Great (or close to it, maybe)    
Shadows of Brimstone is a good game.

Wait.  Let me rephrase that.

Shadows of Brimstone is an OK game that has a lot of really cool stuff in it.

 I love all of the things in this game. SoB has a lot going for it in terms of plastic and cardboard. It’s got tons of loot, treasure, special items, tiles, creatures, monsters, heroes, demons, tokens, and cards. It might possibly have more stuff than a fully expanded Arkham Horror. I can’t say for certain if this is true, but if it’s not its really close (and as a bonus, all of the cards are full size!).

I also love the theme – the weird west is one of my favorite settings, and a great sub-genre of fiction (look for a future article on Weird West Lit). SoB’s theme, along with all the things in all the boxes, goes a long way to getting my imagination all fired up, ready and willing to send my posse of lawmen and outlaws on wild adventures.

Unfortunately, the game itself is only OK. All of this stuff deserves to be in a better game. Now, this isn’t a full review - that will come later. This brief article will detail some of the house rules I use, rules that I think make SoB a much better game, rules that make SoB an almost-great game. I don’t think it’s there yet, but it could be soon, with a little more work.

By the way, I won’t be mentioning the Hexcrawl fan-made campaign system here, at least not in any detail. It goes without saying that the Hexcrawl campaign is a must have for SoB, and I’ll touch more on that at a later time.

Advanced Exploration

Exploration in SoB is pointless. Because of the way the Exploration tokens work, you will always simply be exploring in a straight line. There is never a reason to choose one exit over another. This simple Advanced Exploration system takes the system from Warhammer Quest and applies it here (seeing as how SoB is pretty much a re-themed WHQ, I’m surprised this wasn’t already implemented).

When a branching path is reached:
1. Divide Encounter tokens evenly among the available exits, dealing from the bottom and creating new stacks of tokens, a stack for each exit.

2. Pick which path you want to explore.

3. If the route picked does not complete the quest, Backtracking occurs.

4. Backtracking is different than normal exploration.

5. The party Backtracks towards the first tile with an unexplored exit, moving from tile to tile, not space to space. It’s probably easiest to simply remove all heroes from the board during Backtracking.

6. No rolling for darkness during Backtracking.

7. On each tile moved onto while Backtracking, roll a D6. On a 1, the party is ambushed – draw threat as normal. Set party up as close to the center of the tile as possible.
8. Resume normal rules for movement and Darkness once the tile with an unexplored exit is entered, thus ending the Backtracking.

Advance Hero Actions

This is a way to spice up your turns, add a little more in terms of choice to your game.

      1. Move up to 4 spaces and roll for grit, or roll to move/grit – your choice.

2. Choose from one of the following:

a. Run – move an additional 4 spaces, or up to your agility score

b. Aim – forfeit all movement above (don’t roll for grit) – this allows you to reroll any/all attack dice on your next attack.

c. Throw/pick up an item. You can throw a one-handed item to another hero. That hero can catch the item as long as they have one hand free. Throw using dynamite rules. Range on throwing is STR +3.

d. Search / Scavenge / Look through door – normal rules

e. Attack – normal rules

f. Push / Pull – still working on rules for this option. You should be able to push aka Kick enemies into holes, or physically manhandle enemies. Haven’t fully developed this yet.

g. Capture – I think the rules for this are stated in the Hexcrawl campaign.

These advance actions give you a little more to do in order to help make the turns more dynamic. 

That’s all for now. There will be more SoB stuff in the future, that’s a promise.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Why I Play – Part 2: Escalating Escalation

Why I Play – Part 2: Escalating Escalation

After my introduction to Basic D&D, the next two games to pave my hobby-path were TSR’s Dungeon!, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness. Dungeon! showed me that it was possible to capture a bit of that RPG spark in a more traditional board game setting, and, in 1986, T.M.N.T  proved to me that there was more to RPGs than just wizards, warriors, magic and dragons. 

BUT more importantly, It was also during the mid ‘80s that I discovered Ian Livingstone’s and Steve Jackson’s Fighting Fantasy series and Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf series of RPG books. These two series created a solo gaming experience nearly as good as a cooperative or competitive one; these were RPG-like games that I could experience at any time, even late at night, safely under the covers in bed, armed only with my Lightsaber flashlight! These advance Choose Your Own Adventure books took over my life and imagination for many years. One time I discovered an error in one of the books, one of the choices had a misprint on which section you were supposed to turn to. I wrote to Livingston and Jackson detailing my discovery, and they wrote back, along with a box containing dozens of free books! This is still one of my favorite memories.

HOWEVER an even bigger change came in 1989, when I switched to a new High School, and met a whole new group of people into all kinds of games. This was a watershed year. It was through these new friends that I was introduced to RoboRally, Steve Jackson’s Illuminati (and subsequently Robert Anton Wilson), Awful Green Things from Outer Space, Champions, Ninjas and Superspies, and many others.  We spent hours during lunch at school and at a local community center on the weekends playing all manner of imaginative games, exploring the theater of the mind, rolling dice, and creating adventures.

 AND THEN (this is the final escalation, I swear!) I was introduced to Games Workshop through two incredible board games: Talisman: the Magical Quest Game, and Space Hulk. Next to D&D, these two games stand as the most important in my life.

Talisman: the Magical Quest Game

  I know its super hip and trendy to hate on Talisman now (and Games Workshop in general for that matter). Yes there are better games with better tactics, strategy and difficult choices to be made. But remember, that’s not why I play games! I play games to create stories, and Talisman is nothing but a story-creating machine; everything about the game facilitates an emergent narrative. It’s all about taking your hero and roaming the land, killing monsters, getting loot, and surviving all kinds of (mis)adventure. The game is simply overflowing with beautiful art and fluffy flavor text – there isn’t a game producer around that creates better lore and flavor text than Games Workshop. I played dozens of games of Talisman with my Odyssey of the Mind team in high school, and continue to enjoy the game today (although with a multitude of house rules, which I might touch upon in a later article). 

And finally (not really) there was Space Hulk.

 Being a child of ‘80s meant that the Alien franchise was a pretty huge deal. And here it was – a board game that simulated almost perfectly the best parts of Aliens. But Space Hulk actually made it even better and more evocative, by incorporating the bafflingly-complex and seemingly-ancient lore from Warhammer 40K. GW injected the marines-fight-aliens genre with a backdrop of political intrigue and religious warfare. These weren’t just space marines; they were Inquisitors, exploring the universe to bring the might and power of the great Emperor to the uninitiated! These weren’t just aliens; they were cultists performing all manner of chaotic and inhumane gene-slicing experiments! 

And like all things with GW, once you start it’s hard to stop. Weekends were spent playing Warhammer 40K, Talisman, Space Hulk, Heroquest, and Warhammer Quest. Soon I was spending every dollar I could get on models and armies, paint and tools. This was my foray into what we now call the Lifestyle Game, a hobby that encompasses much more than simply sitting around a table and playing the game; these games require you to reach deep into your soul (bank account) and spend an (unhealthy?) amount of time (to be fair, as far as hobbies go, gaming is actually on the more affordable side, and entirely healthy so long as you ditch the soda and chips)!

And that brings us to this blog, and the first post – an unboxing of an almost-new copy of the original Warhammer Quest I recently purchased. A lot of time passed between my introduction to Games Workshop and now – nearly 30 years. I’ve been in to and out of the hobby a few times in those three or so decades, and only now decided to write about it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Why I Play - Part One: In the Beginning

Typically, the following things are true:

I don’t play board games to win.
I don’t play board games for the challenge.
I don’t play board games to test my intricately designed strategy.
I am not driven by competition.

The main reason I play board games is to create stories in my head, and with my friends. I play for the experience of the emergent narrative. This is why I’ve always been drawn towards the dungeon dive style board games. These lite RPGs in a box give me exactly what I want in a game, with a smaller time and energy commitment than a traditional RPG does. They allow me to live in my imagination, which, even as a 42 year old adult, is something I find important.

My first foray into traditional fantasy gaming came in 1984, when a friend introduced me to red box Dungeons & Dragons. Now, this was during the height of the Satanic Panic era, and both of my parents were ministers. While they were never close minded or fanatical about things, they did have some reservations about D&D, probably based only on things they heard. I always thought this was weird seeing as how it was my mother who introduced me to fantasy via the worlds of Narnia and Middle Earth (although both were "safe" for Christians). All of this is to say, I had to keep my new found hobby a secret.

And somehow this made it better! This might have been the first BIG SECRET I kept from my parents (or maybe it was when I stole a package of Jaws 3D cards from the local Foodland, and then, overcome with guilt, hid the cards under my bed when I got home, only to look at them many years later when we moved to a new house). They will of course be happy to know that now, 30-plus years later, my friend and I were not worshiping Satan, we were not sacrificing animals upon altars to cast spells, and we certainly never contemplated suicide when one of our characters died (thanks for those nasty rumors, Jack Chick!).

But there was something truly magical about those afternoons and evenings spent in my friend’s room, huddled on the floor around a small lamp, with those oddly-shaped dice determining our fates, and all those pencils and erasers being passed back and forth. I know we played the game completely wrong, and there were dozens of rules we overlooked and ignored. But that didn’t matter. We were having fun. We were creating brave warriors, powerful wizards, and conniving thieves, and sending them on adventures in our minds reflected on all that graph paper, carefully plotting our way around tunnels overflowing with traps, secret doors, treasure and monsters.

Those early moments in my life helped to define who I am today as strongly as any other. They were far more important and long lasting than anything I would learn in school, and I am grateful for them. I sometimes think of my old friend, and what he is up to now. I wonder if he is still into games, still into using his imagination, or did he push those things aside in favor of more grown up things? I hope it is the former, but I fear it is the later.

Next up...Part Two: Enter Games Workshop (and how this all relates to board games)

Learning to Love Shadows of Brimstone

The more I play and immerse myself in the world and game of Shadows of Brimstone, the more I love it. We are still playing with a slew o...