More War

War HUH what is it good for? Thur night games evidently. Three Thursdays in a row to be accurate. 
I spoke about Triumph and Tragedy last week and said I would be revisiting it. I didn’t know I would be so quickly and then again the week after. The gaming gods are fickle. 

It’s still my favorite game played this year. I’m going to talk about some of the bits I didn’t touch on last week. It’s all complimentary so feel free to skip it. 
For such a relatively simple game there is so much gaming goodness effortlessly squeezed in here and a lot of it subtle. This has always been my experience with GMT games. 
Many many (many) years ago I played CIV 2 multiplayer on the PC in work on a super idle Good Friday. It went on for a long time. The one thing I found about the game which was a surprise was how important posturing was. Actually getting stuck in and attacking was the road to ruin but you could achieve so much more and more importantly cheaply with the threat of violence. The first half of this game is all about positioning yourself and threatening as opposed to attacking. Ok that’s not 100% true. It could be about attacking but it’s also all about having the cajones to do it. 

The old adage of making the other guy die for his country rather than dying for yours is important to your victory in T+T. Picking your fights are key. Don’t get involved in a pointless battle. Don’t over commit. The game has a lovely balance governor whereby If you do knock seven bells out of an opponent there’s always the third player waiting patiently for you both to spend yourselves before sweeping in and seizing victory.  
In one game we played I took Russia and mid game I built up a big low tech horde and swept into Poland driving the axis forces before me but the one thing I quickly realized was I was setting the allies up for a handy win so I stopped (or at least I would have if we had played more of the game). It’s a long game it needs more than a Thur night games session to finish or it needs to be started with the later 1940 scenario. 

Another thing I like about this game is the three factions play very differently. The Russians start with expensive factories, relatively small forces but less threats facing off against them. The Axis forces start with a brace of armies both German and Italian, a pile of resource cards and Eastern Europe looking awfully vulnerable. The allies start with a good sized but weedy force in France and England staring down the throat of the Axis. The allies are playing a waiting game, the Americans are coming to help but not for a while. 
It’s surprising how close this plays to the real life events of WW2. Certain counties are easier to sway to your side others are more trouble than they’re worth based on location or how defensible they are. I struggled for the whole game to get Turkey over to my side diplomatically because a military take over would have been too costly. Didn’t happen. 
The economy is an interesting mechanic. In peace time it’s about how far along the factory track you are and also how far along the population track you are. The lowest of these two is how many resources (gold) you generate each turn. To increase factories you spend development cards you had to buy with your resources. Population is based on owning provinces rich in population. As Russia this is difficult. You may own a large chunk of the map but it’s sparsely populated. On top of that factories are expensive to build for Russia compared to other nations. Some targets like Poland and Hungary are too tasty to pass up. 
The game speeds up time. Be careful if you’re quite old with this one. For the three hours or so we played it time slipped by at a rapid pace. There is no down time. Every action is important to either execute or watch. It’s a pleasure from start to finish and it’s always interesting. 

The shorter version is a god send (one of the old gods). You start in 1938 with everything poised to kick off. You start in the same spots but with a huge hand of cards and a big stack of resources to spend. The first turn is a big one with you distributing your largesse. Then is all kicks off. Less time is available to influence. It’s more straight in bare minimum of kissing. I really liked this version. I found the full version excellent but you can get the shorter version done in three hours which is not bad for a GMT game especially one of this scale. 
Ok I’m going to finish this now. It’s sounding all gushy. This is a superb game. It’s only limitation is it’s three player. If you have two players available to you and you like a good solid map based conquest game try this. Try it at Knavecon in September. Chances are I’ll be playing it too


Santorini is a little different. It’s a beautifully presented game with an abstract theme set in sunny Greece. I didn’t read the fluff so I’ll make stuff up. You are trying to get up on the highest building to contact the gods ET phone home style. So are your opponents. First one high up wins. 
The game is played out on a really nice raised five by five grid. Players stick their two workers on the grid (no two can occupy the same square) and take it in turns to move one dude then build next to either dude. The rules are simple you MUST move a piece each turn and you must built on a square. If you can’t for any reason you’re eliminated. 

Building lets you either build on a blank square or build an existing building a level higher (no one owns a building they’re all communal). 
You can move and build diagonally. When you move you can move up onto a building but only if you go up only one level (so buildings become like steps to get you up higher) To win you need to get up on a level three building which at first seems piddly easy but in practice proves not so. Other players as well as trying to complete their own ascension can throw a spanner in yours. Although buildings only go up three levels you can build a forth level in the shape of a domed cap which players can’t stand on thus putting the kibosh on their bold plans. 

All in all it’s pretty simple stuff. It’s purely reactionary and thinking a couple of turns in advance. This is not chess. It is a lot of fun though at least for a while. You wouldn’t play this all night. Games last ten to fifteen minutes. 
Extra complexity is layered on with choosing a god. All of which have special abilities. Hermes allows you to build two rather than one story in one turn. Others (whom I’d know the name of If I looked) grant you different win conditions, the ability to knock players out of the way and so on. There’s around nine basic gods then 20 or so advanced gods so there’s quite a bit of variety. 

Ah ok I’m lying there isn’t that much variety. The game is pretty simple. You move you build. It’s fun. It’s filler. Kids will like it. It’s really only three player. It’s beautifully presented. The cartoony happy graphics are perfect for the game. The pieces are bang on. The game looks lovely. It’s a bit pricey for the game play you get but it’s a nice game to own. I wouldn’t rush out and buy it (I have a copy) but it’s definitely worth a look. I’ll have it at Knavecon 

Fight them on the tables

I like GMT games. They’re meaty. They’re complex. They are super thematic. They’re clever. They’re not for everyone, they’re usually not for beginners. Unlike some games the extra cost in complexity they demand is more than repaid in playability. They may look like a bunch of cubes on a map but then again a good book looks awfully like a bunch of words on a page. 
Triumph and Tragedy has been hanging around for a few months trying to break into our gaming night. It’s a three player game and by chance the three people most interested in playing it found themselves together with it to hand on an idle gaming night. Oh boy is this a good game. 

Triumph and Tragedy is a three player strategic war game where players take the roles of the premiers of Russian, Axis and Allied forces in the years 1936-1945. The three groups start on the map of Europe and parts of Asia, Africa and India with a stack of forces and by exerting influence, discovering technology, economy building and good old fashioned conquest vie to be the greatest power by 1945 or earlier if possible. So it’s WW2 for three players. 
It’s the economy stupid. Each player starts with a certain amount of factories, population and resources. The lowest of the first two is how much production you get at the start of your turn. When war kicks off it’s the lowest of all three so keeping a balance is key. Production can be used to buy and strengthen armies, buy action and economy cards. 

Each year represents a turn which starts with a buy phase (cards and armies), a political phase where you burn cards to influence countries to come over to your side and an action phase where armies are moved. 
Buying is easy you improve armies or raise new ones at home or buy economy or action cards. 

The political phase sees you burning action and economy cards. The catch is you don’t get free each turn all cards you pay for and the cards are multi function. Use them all up improving relations or building your economy and you don’t have them later on for moving troops. 
Now the meat and potatoes. The map is covered in little wooden rectangles with a sticker on one side facing YOU. So only you get to see what your forces are. Likewise you don’t know what you’re facing into apart from the number of little rectangles which could be infantry, armor, planes, fortresses, subs, aircraft carriers or ships. Each unit can be from strength one to three and units have a sort of rock paper lizard Spock advantage depending on what they are attacking or defending from.  
There are three movement phases per turn spring, summer and fall (four if your the Russians) and you get to move between four and nine units according to the card you play. The cards are marked as either spring, summer or fall and can only be used in that phase. cards also have a priority so a knowing when to go first or when to defend then counter attack later in the phase or season will win battles. 

I won’t get into the combat elements they’re pretty straightforward and dice based. More when I talk of this game again. 
This game has so many clever mechanics and the theme is so strong. Attack a neutral country will cause outrage giving your opponents a few bonus action cards, attack another nation and production capacities swap to a war footing (plus some outrage), stay peaceful and you can gain bonus prestige points which count at the end. Best of luck staying peaceful. 
The whole game is beautifully poised from the get go. You need to expand to win (pretty much) but jumping in too soon or too late spells disaster. Messing up people’s plans is so much fun. In the game I played as Russia I spent a fair amount of time trying to subvert Spain and Portugal to my side thus giving me a base behind allied lines. These multiple headaches you have to deal with and can cause reminds me of Twilight Struggle. To a certain extent this is a three player twilight Struggle without the events. 
Even though it’s a long game time will fly by. It’s incredibly engrossing. There is little downtime as every action needs to be watched. 

It’s early days for me with this game. We didn’t get to finish the whole thing but by Cthulhu’s fleshy beard this game is a humdinger. I went to bed thinking about it, wondering about strategies and all the next day. Seeing if it’s available on VASSAL (it is) and wondering if I need to buy my own copy (I don’t). Triumph and Tragedy has already become my favorite game of the year and it was up against the mighty New Angeles (apples and oranges). You’ll hear a lot more about this game in coming posts. You have been warned 

Diplomacy 2017

It’s about that time of year again, the weather is improving, there’s a grand stretch in the evenings, people are planning holidays, the general mood is happier.  Time to stab each other in the back.

Once again Knavecon is going to run an email game of Diplomacy for those who think they’re real gamers.   Seven souls will enter and none will ever be the same again.

Orders will be required once a week, normal terms and conditions apply.  This is open to anyone in the world with email.  your commitment is to send in orders once a week without fail.  if you’re new to the game contact me and I’ll run through it with you

So the question is… who’s game?


Dicing with DEATH

Standing out like a clown at a wake is probably not the cleverest move if you’re trying to assassinate someone. Ninjas didn’t wear black. They blended in. Ninja dice comes in a magnificent little cloth bag that looks like a cartoony ninja head. It’s black. This isn’t meant to be historically accurate 
Ninja dice is like a Zombie Dice plus or maybe Art of War. It’s a simple little Yahtzee style game with neat components and if you got the Kickstarter a number of extra optional layers. 
The theme is lovely. Players take it in turns to burgle a house. To do this another player rolls a set of house dice which provide a challenge in the shape of guards, locks and citizens. The active ninja must now roll their skill dice and get lock picks (overcome locks), shuriken (take out guards or citizens), sneak (slip by guards and citizens in a more honorable way), catch arrows ,wildcard and a multiplier. It’s simple stuff. 

At the same time the other ninjas throw their counter dice which will fire coin stealing arrows (direction is important) and possibly egg timers. 
The active ninja can reroll chosen dice or cut their loses and quit the building taking a minor reward. If the opposing ninjas roll enough egg timers it’s mission over and the ninja gets NOTHING as if he stole fizzing lifting drinks. So it’s a push your luck game. 
If the active ninja beats the house they score some bonus money and the ninja tags out to the next player. Rinse and repeat for each player. Once a full round of this happens an extra dice is added to the house roll making burglary a more daunting prospect. 

Three rounds of this and it’s count your money and richest ninja wins. 
Is it any good? Well it’s not bad. It’s pretty. It’s pure filler and kids will like it. It’s quick. It’s simple. The bag it comes in is magnificent. The extras add a little bit more complexity and diversity. It’s cheap. 
If you haven’t played a game like this it’s definitely one of the better ones. If you have then you may have seen it all before. Except for the bag it comes in which is ninja sweet 

More Conan

Hither can Conan, not very quickly it must be said, he was a right moody bugger. 
I played Conan the strategy game a long time back. I even had my own copy but it never really took with the group I gamed with. A contributor to this in fairness was not figuring out a number of rules at the time and the game dragging on and on. I wanted to like the game and it did tickle the back of my mind to play it again. 

So fresh slate a number of years later and one of the guys buys the base game plus the expansion. It was destiny. 
Conan the strategy game is a fairly complex affair. Preconceived notions of dudes on a map rules long reinforced have to be left at the door when you crank this baby up. 
The first thing to note is this is not really all about Conan it’s about the conquests of the four nations in the land he inhabits. The big guy is in there for sure but in typical Conan fashion he really doesn’t give a damn about your problems he’s off doing his own thing. More precisely stomping around the map kicking ass and taking names (and women). Players bid for “control” of Conan and can nudge him in various directions with the promise of riches, glory and women. If he winds up assisting in a battle on your side he acts like a veritable wrecking ball, massively increasing your offense. Getting control of Conan also gives you influence chits of different types that can be used for scoring later in the game. 

While Conan is off doing his thing you’re trying to gain influence on the map by sending out your emissaries and soldiers. These have the hard task of winning over and conquesting regions of various toughnesses. Every region is like Mordor , one does not simple walk in to it. Each of the 30 or so spots have to be fought for by attrition every time. It’s a slow process. The games tend to be as much a contest between the map and the player as between the players themselves. That’s ok, every conquest game doesn’t need to be Risk. Conquesting lands gives you victory points. Winning them over with emissaries gives you money at the end of the round which can be used to buy more units and cards. 
There’s a stack of cards, some one off advantages, some stay on the table effects that have to be paid for to recharge. Cards are used to kick off region specific events if Conan is nearby, gain advantages in certain region types, aid in combat, influence Conan in the bidding phase. They’re multi functional. Each of the nations has a little bit of variety which will take several games to suss out. Nothing massive it must be noted they’re all still fairly generic. This is not Forbidden Stars. 
One of the complaints of the base game was Conan only played a minor part. I’ll be honest I had no issue with that. The expansion adds a whole leveling up affair with Conan going from young Conan to the more powerful Conan the mercenary to the trouble browed King Conan. Spy’s which allow rerolls make an appearance. New Conan side adventure cards come in to play each round along with a stack of additional rules to an already rule heavy game. 

The game doesn’t need an expansion. It adds a lot of extra rituals per turn that slows down the whole affair. There’s already enough superfluous actions and rules in the base game without heaping more on it. I like Tsuro. I don’t like Tsuro of the sea. The extra effort moving sea monsters doesn’t add enough to the game to make it worth the effort. I feel the same way about the Conan expansion. 
Conan is not a bad game it’s just not a great game. It’s over engineered and the hard slog against the game itself makes it quite a solitaire affair. This is quite the sin for a conquest game. During a game you rarely feel threatened by other players. You know they’re so invested with their own treacle swims they don’t have the resources or inclination to attack you. Truth be told there’s no real advantage to attacking other players really. When a player has armies on your border you should be afraid it’s a convention universally accepted. Not so here. 
And yet. There’s something about the game I like. I can’t put my finger on it. It’s beautifully presented. It’s nicely themed and I find myself cheering for the game which never quite hits the high notes. I’m going to have to play it again. This time without the expansion. A number of games in I still don’t fully know what I think about it. It’s different it’s complex it’s galling. It needs a touch of magic sauce to make it amazing and maybe that sauce is learning the game better. 

Hence came Conan

“Let me live deep while I live; let me know the rich juices of red meat & stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame crimson, and I am content” ….. A-Effin-men!
You HAVE to love Conan. He is everything you could aspire to. When you see motivational posts on Facebook about how few Fs you should give know that Conan gives less. He is the embodiment of Crom. The ayatollah of rock and rolla’s daddy and the one universal constant by which you can calibrate your moral compass. 

His world is brutal. Women get the short straw unless they’re warriors or warrior queens or maybe something with fight or warrior in the title. Certainly not princesses. This ain’t no Super Mario. No one cares about your shit in Conan. Either you’re strong, lucky or dead. 
The Conan Kickstarter is a thing of beauty. The minis in it are a sight to behold as long as you behold the enemies (the kraken is incredible). The hero models are a bit less detailed which is a pity but not a show stopper. I guess there’s only so much detail you can get onto scantily clad heroes. Now having said that I haven’t seen them painted so I’m still expecting great things. 

Conan is Heroquest ver 4 (or Descent v3). A group of 3-4 heroes embark on a quest each with it’s own map board and in a set amount of turns must complete it. The overlord who controls the monsters has to ruin their day. It’s a time honoured game model which is as old as Adam’s rib. Unlike the above games it’s not strictly an RPG. Your characters don’t level up (they’re pretty hardcore to start with). You pick a scenario and have at it. Each scenario takes places on a map board. The boards are set no modular adjustments. They’re a square 3×3 with everything on them. Three double sided boards come with the game along with a dozen or so scenarios. That’s it. Although more are coming and the internet is your friend. 
Each scenario lasts 60-90 minutes and has you doing daring stuff like rescuing a princess, Protecting a ship’s captain, rescuing a cat out of a tree and so on. Now the interesting thing to note is the complete lack of RPG elements. You never level up. You can play any scenario you like there’s no experience /leveled up admission fee. Take any dungeon bash game you have and chances are you gave up on it after a half dozen (if even) levels and moved onto something else. It’s hard to get the same group together around the table. Conan does away with all this and I reckon you’re much more likely to play more games of it in comparison to the Descents and Imperial Assaults of this world as a result. The lack of choice in scenarios of both equipment and characters is wholly refreshing. 

The game uses a very elegant mechanic of allocating a limited amount of crystals to various actions for your character. You start a round with a number of plastic crystals in the action zone of your character sheet. During your turn you can stick them in a number of spots to power certain actions. 
For every crystal you allocate you can roll that many dice (of the appropriate color) and try and get as many successes on the rolls as possible. The amount you can use per action in a turn is limited by your characters ehhhhhh limitations and boosted by weapons and objects in hand. Soo. For example. Conan himself might have ten crystals and uses a few to run up to an enemy then his operator sticks a few in his attack he rolls those and scores a number of hits. The enemy who hopefully has some crystals available to them burns a few up to defend and try’s to cancel the attacks with his defenses and so on.  
At the end of the turn crystals that are used get put in the fatigue box on your characters sheet and when the next turn starts you recover a few back to your action zone. More if you rest for that turn. It’s genius.  
Overexerting yourself in a round will leave you open to attacks from enemies in their turn and more importantly since you only recover a few crystals unless you rest reduce your possible actions next turn. Knowing when to pull out the stops and when to be economic with your actions is key. 
When you get wounded you loose crystals from your fatigue box and these can’t be recovered unless you use a healing potion. Which are few and far between and what’s more only recover a small amount of crystals. So just like real life avoid getting wounded. You can picture a wounded hero still in the fight but not running on all cylinders. 

The overlord has a similar crystal juggling challenge. They start with several crystals (more the more adventurers playing) and allocates these to activate the bad guys. These bad guys appear on cards on a “river” on the overload board which acts like a sushi conveyor the dudes on the left being cheap to activate the ones on the right way more expensive to. Once a unit is activated it’s pulled off the conga line and stuck on the far right of it. The effect of this is clever. If you activate a unit/monster/villain the cost to activate the same dude the following turn is going to be high. Since you can only activate two groups per turn it means you don’t wind up spamming the same guy over and over again. It’s possible but too expensive and it will lose you the game. 
Did I mention the minis? One thing I’m impressed with mightily are the models. We were lucky enough to snag the full Kickstarter and it comes with nearly 200 very nicely sculpted models. Some of the monsters are incredible. The kracken and the giant snake are exceptional. Even without these minis the mechanics are so good in this game it could be played with just cardboard and it would still be amazing. With the models in place it goes from exceptional to legendary. 
I’ve played a lot of dungeon crawlers. Truth be told I’m bored with them. It’s the same old same old every time no matter how well presented but Conan is beyond all of these. It’s credit to the designers for coming up with something both simple and playable that rewards skillful play. I’m eager to play again both as heroes and villains and to be honest it’s a blurred line who’s who in Conan’s world. 

This is an exceptional game. Definitely the best dungeon game I’ve played to date (none of it actually set in a dungeon). It captures the spirit of Conan perfectly. Not the movie one the original 1950s, nasty, gritty no holds barred version. It’s not meant for kids. It’s meant for real men (and women) who like a challenge. Great game. Great presentation. Hear me Crom!

Outta my way! 

You know Through the Ages? There’s another game, lesser known called ROLL through the ages that I’m a big fan. It shares the name of the mighty Through the Ages and is a Civ game without a map but the similarities stop there. It’s a sort of Yahtzee style game but a very good one with a race element and a reasonable amount of cock blockery to make it more than a solo experience. I have a copy of it. I recommend you try it. There’s a few versions of it now, Bronze Age, Iron Age. It a Goody. Which brings me on to Chariot Race. 

Chariot race is SIMILAR to Roll Through the Ages insofar as it’s a Yahtzee style game. The only reason I mention it really is RTTA is a cracker of a game and very overlooked. Anyhoe. Chariot Race does exactly what it says on the tin. Up to six players duke it out in a race to the finish (if you even get that far) of two laps around a Ben Hur style track. Along the way you can knock the shite out of your opponents whilst doing a fair impression of knocking the shite out of yourself by running over caltrops, driving the horses too hard and Corning like a Rally driver. 

The map board is made up of a circular track three spaces wide and around twenty long all you need to do is make if around twice to the finish line to win. First obviously. To facilitate this (great word) you roll a fist of five dice with various symbols for changing speed, gaining favor, changing lanes, flogging the horses and “offensively inconveniencing” your fellow players.  
Each player starts with either a generic chariot or one a bit skewed in one direction. The chariots come with three different stats which are recorded on the side with little plastic paper clips things. They are favor (used to repair the chariot and adjust dice rolls), hit points and current speed which dictates how many dice you can roll. The faster your chariot is thundering along the less dice and therefore less control you have of it. It’s a simple and neat mechanic. The question is how much will you push your luck or more importantly how much will your opponent. In the games I played way too much is the answer. 
The game is an all cardboard affair. It screams out for a deluxe or pimped out copy but for the cost it’s worth the entry fee. 
Games are fast and brutal (or just brutal depending on your viewpoint). It’s pure filler and ten or fifteen mins will see you home and hosed possibly wanting more. The game is cheap and cheerful but it more than fit for purpose. I like it. I’m not aware of a whole lot of filler race games and I like a race game. 

Some of you will love it some not. It’s a real marmite affair. Doesn’t matter it’s short and it’s sweet. Try it out at Knavecon and see what you think


Knavecon 9 late night 

My problem with Knavecon as an organizer has always been getting time to play games. What with all the walking around, talking shite, drinking coffee and eating donuts it leaves very little quality gaming time. As the con has matured I’ve found I can get in a good long game late at night/early in the morning along with a few quick ones during the day. The last two Knaves it’s been one of my favorites. Twilight Struggle. This one it’s been the magnificent (and new) New Angeles. 
I spoke recently about New Angeles. It’s a new one from Fantasy Flight and if you were really pushed for time you COULD call it Battlestar 2017. You’d be wrong of course because it’s nothing like it but some people seem to think it is. It’s not. It’s got a traitor mechanism in there. So has Battlestar. So has werewolf. So has life. 
The reason I’m back banging on about this game is it was the late night game I got to play with the full compliment of six at Knavecon. This is my favorite game so far this year without a doubt
Some games you know you’re going to love before you open the box. New Angeles for me was that game and coupled with the rum selection of gamers that took part on that faithful night, it truly knocked it out of the park. 
A typical game of New Angeles should take you no more than two hours to complete. Three if you’re learning it. This was no typical game of anything. The sheer level and quality of BS meted out during the course of the game was incredible. Not a single person could keep a straight face when players tried to justified they’re blatantly obvious opportunistic proposals. Our game rattled on for over five hours. Five hours that flew by. At the end we were exhausted, talked out and relieved but it was time well spent. We laughed our collective asses off from start to finish of that game and that’s what it’s all about. It just happened we had a really really good game as a host 

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