Friday, 18 November 2011

Gears of War - The Board Game

This finally arrived last week!  And well worth the wait it was too.  Buying this was a timely reminder that, economic crisis aside, it's always best to pay for your internet shopping with a credit card.  I ordered this in October, from unnammed online retailer (*a**a******,) who prompty did nothing with my cash.

A frustrating experience all told, but, I finally got a refund through the credit card company.  In the end though, I bought this from Maelstrom Games, who sent it out the next day!

I planned to put up a review/game report on Gears of War, but, I've been having real difficulty taking decent photos in the evening since the clocks change (damn energy saving light bulbs!)  Hopefully, I'll get the chance over the weekend during the day. If not, the Mrs is much better with a camera than I, maybe she'll lend a hand.

Instead, here's the best looking unboxing video I could find on Youtube:

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Black Crusade - First Session Report

Thanks to the miracle of modern science (well, actually, just a couple mobile phones and a laptop,)  I was able to finally run a session of Black Crusade, the latest 40K RPG from Fantasy Flight Games.  I roped in a couple of former members of the Granite Gamers (our old University wargaming group) to play as the characters, while I ran the game itself.

Serocil might look like this, but significantly more unholy

It was all a bit short notice, so, to save any hassle, I generated a few characters to choose from and adapted an old Dark Heresy adventure to a suitable evil theme.  This was the first rpg session I've participated in a couple years and the first I've GM'ed in even longer, so it took a little while to get back into the swing of things.  After half an hour or so, we were back rolling dice like veterans!

The session began with Taran, a renegade Imperial commander now in the sevice of the Dark Gods, and Serocil, a Dark Mechanicus Heretek, arriving at Tarsus Hive with the vague aim of spreading corruption and death amongst the Hive population.  We'd decided that Taran looked "normal" enough to still fit into Imperial society, but Serocil's many augmentations looked far too unholy for him to walk around freely, so he disguised himself as Taran's sevitor/bodyguard.  To keep the deception authentic, We also decided that Serocil could only communicate with Taran via the voxlink with one word messages.

The duo decided to pose as Inquisition agents and contact the local Adeptus Arbites to get an idea of the political situation in Tarsus Hive and the various criminal groups in operation. This was the first stage of the adventure and relied on Taran making successful charm, inquiry and deceive skill tests while dealing with Imperial personel.  Meanwhile Serocil made lots of scrutiny, tech and logic tests to covertly access various security systems in the hive. Thanks to the Infamy point mechanic, Taran was able to pass a particularly difficult inquiry test to find out the chief arbitor had apparantly been contacted by Inquisitorial agents some months earlier!

After leaving the Arbites headquarters, the pair had a good knowledge of the key installations in the hive, the amount of and location of the security forces as well as a rough knowledge of the various criminal gangs operating in the area.  They then toured some of the hive, focusing on areas they thought vulnerable to attack, namely the water purification plant, the main generators and the hive's ruling court.  At this point, they also failed to notice they were being tailed.
Hive Tarsus

With a little prompting, Taran and Serocil decided to head to the lower levels of Tarsus Hive and find a secure base to operate from.  Whilst moving through an industrial plant area, they were ambushed by a gang of hivescum.  At this point, they could have talked their way out of things and, indeed, used the gang to help them find a base.  Serocil, however, decided he'd had enough of hiding under his extravagant disguise, so threw it off, pulled out has plasma cannon and started glooping people.

Moving further into the Hive, they caught a different gang preparing an ambush and successfully intimidated the leader into taking them to their lair.  A successful security test revealed the lair was indeed a secure place to fortify and, after making a couple violent examples, the loyalty of the remaining gangers was guaranteed for the time being.

At this point, the climax of the session arrived, as did the mercenary squad trailing the duo, who appeared and attempted to take the heretics into custody.  Apparently, something about Taran and Serocil in the Arbites headquarters had made someone suspicious, and they had then used this team to keep track of them.  Fraternising with criminals was all the evidence needed for the mercs to act.

This last action was actually a bit underwhelming, as I overestimated how strong the merc force would be in combat (I used the bounty hunter and guardsmen profiles from the Black Crusade rulebook.)  Serocil was easily cutting down troopers with his plasma weaponry, while Taran charged forward with his power sword and killed the leader.  In the end, I didn't even use the gangers to support the fight.

Taran venturing into the underhive

With that last action, we finished the session and left Taran and Serocil for the time being. The pair were now reasonable secure in the underhive, with a base to operate from and a gang of thugs under their control.  News of the massacre in the industrial plant would surely be all over the hive by now, spreading fear to the law abiding population.  Taran and Serocil were now well placed to work out the next stage of their insurrection.

However, there are still a number of dangers facing our evil heroes!  It's unclear if any of the merc strike team escaped the encounter in the underhive and however useful a gang of hivescum are, they are unlikely to be of much use if superior security or criminal forces attack.  Lastly, there are the unconfirmed reports of Inquisitorial agents working in Tarsus Hive. If the rumours are true, the two groups will almost certainly come into conflict in the future.

So that was our first RPG session in years!  I'm not sure how regular this will be, as it needed a lot of planning just getting the three of us free on one night (even with us just on phones and computers,) however, as a one-off it was an absolute blast!

I really like a lot of the mechanics in Black Crusade and, even though we set the game on an Imperial world, it felt quite different to any of the other 40K RPGs I've played.  We're going to attempt anothr session in the near future, just to see how we fare against some tougher opponents and try out the Ritual and Minions rules!  Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed reading this report.  Please let me know if there's anything you'd like explained or if you've any suggestions for future sessions! 

Friday, 11 November 2011

Goodbye Cruel World. . .

Hello crueller, but much more exciting and fictional world of Skyrim!  I know lots of you out there will be playing this soon, I just thought I'd mention my first four hours of gaming have been great so far!  For those of you not in the know, check out this trailer:

Swords? Yup. Orcs? Yup. Spells? Yup. Dragons? Yup. Stirring music? Yup. Giants herding Mammoths? Yup.  Sounds like this game has everything (haven't seen any horse armour yet though!)  Oblivion took up about sixty five hours of my life, hopefully this will last even longer!

On the non-computer-game front, I've actually been quite busy this last week, with three different gaming projects going on.  I'd like to talk about each of them in turn and so have decided to give them their own post each.  The first post will go up sometime this weekend!  

Saturday, 5 November 2011

X-Factions! Or how my army breaks the rules!

Last week I had a couple random games of Hordes and Hell Dorado with a couple friends. Cal pointed out, after being on the recieving end of a rather nasty assault by my Everblight, that I always pick armies that, in his words, "break the game's own rules."  This got me thinking...

Many, if not most, game systems out there have at least one faction that breaks the rules set by the game.  A faction that differentiates itself from others in the game, not simply by it's image, back ground and stats, but by the fact that they ignore, or even master, at least one core principle of their game, making them an. . . . . X-Faction.

The most obvious example I can think of would be the Undead in Warhammer Fantasy. They absolutely rock the psychlogy section of the rules; Undead ignore fear, terror and panic, they don't break from combat or flee.  At the same time, they force (most) opponents to test for both fear and terror, risk losing combat, fleeing and causing panic in their ranks. And, back in good old seventh edition, the Undead were even better at this!

Ok, so the Undead don't
ignore the psychology rules, but they do allow the player to ignore fear, panic, terror etc in a defensive way, concentrating on using them offensively.

But why do so many games feel the need to include one of these X-Factions?  What makes a gamer choose to go down this route, rather that pick a more conventional force?  Btw, I'm not about to start arguing that any of these factions are broken or unfair.  I accept that most games do an excellent job of balancing out their various armies, and it's extremely rare that I'll ever complain about something being "broken" (I'm looking at you British Armoured Regiment!)

The main reason I see for including an X-Faction is that it is a very simple way to highlight the "otherness" or isolation of a faction in the game's background.  For instance, any Hordes players out there should easily identify the Legion of Everblight by this description.  In the HoMachine background, the LoE are a faction on the edge of the world's map, being tucked away in the north amongst the mountains.  The LoE is also very secretive, absorbing a tribe of Elves (the Nyss) into their culture, not simply to create an army, but to keep their presence hidden from other powers in the land.  Finally, the Warlocks and Warbeasts of the LoE are all linked to the conciousness of their ruler (the dragon, Everblight) and are continually atuned to his thoughts and commands.

So how best to convey this sense of insularity and strangeness through the rules?  Well, as the faction's Warbeasts are created from each warlock's blood (long story,) the rules portray this by allowing the LoE to ignore apart of the Frenzy rules for the Fury mechanic (this is known as the Blood Creation rule.)  Hordes is a risk management game; force a warbeast to do too much in a game, you run the risk of it turning round and (literally) biting you on the arse.  As the LoE Warlock personally creates each warbeast, should a warbeast freny, it will never attack it's master.  I'm not going to discuss actual game tactics here, suffice to say it can be a royal pain in the arse when this happens.

I've got three heads, six legs, no eyes. . . And I can still fucking see you!

Privateer Press have further refined this by adding new creatures to the LoE army list.  As Everblight has grown more cunning and confident in the background story, he has created new Warbeasts with more intelligence and the capacity for independant though (another long story.)  This is represented in the game by the three Nephilim Warbeasts available; very high Threshold stat, but don't have the Blood Creation rule.
The LoE have another X-Faction talent (see what I did there?) with their Eyeless Sight special rule.  Basically, the models for most LoE Warbeasts don't have eyes, but see through some other alien sense.  I don't know what came first, the design of the minis or the rule itself, but it's another way of seperating the LoE from everyone else.   No other Hordes list makes much use of this rule.
Giant Armoured Samuri Belligerent Insane Robots?  Yes please!

How else might a gamer be interested in an X-Faction.  How about effectiveness in an actual game?  For instance, take the game Eden, by Taban Miniatures.  Eden is a small skirmish game (max 7-8 figures per side) much like Hell Dorado or Dark Age and is set in a post-apocalyptic Earth.  Like most skirmish games of this scale, each miniature has it's own stat card used for tracking damage and describing any special rules or abilities.  Unlike most skirmish games however, a miniature's stats can change during the game depending on how badly injured they become (for instance, hack most of his arm off and a thug won't be swinging it back at you.)

The ISC faction, however, ignores this stat/damage mechanic completely; meaning that each miniature is as effective at the end of the game as it is at the start.  It's thematic to the game as the ISC is a faction comprised of robots from some, presumably, pre-apocalypse corporation and thus, more resilient to damage than the average human.  Is taking an X-Faction such as the ISC a power gaming choice?  After all, if I have six minatures to control, four of which have one damaged stat, it would be very easy to miss the damage and use the original number.  If my opponent had miniatures with damaged stats, you can be sure I would make sure he used the damaged numbers!  Or is it an easier army to play with as "I don't have to bother learning that rule."

The answer to both questions is, of course, no.  The ISC and the other X-Factions here are no easier or powerful to play than any other faction in their respective games.  The LoE are a glass cannon army, if anything survives their first assault (or gets to assault first,) then the LoE are exposed as being horribly frail and fragile.  The Undead in Warhammer may get to ignore psychology , but their average troop choices have woeful stats.  While a Matriarchy or Jokers player in Eden may field 6-8 miniatures in their force, the ISC will be lucky to have 4 minis.

X-Factions seem to be a sci-fi and fantasy phenomenon.  Although each army in, say Flames of War or Field of Glory: Renaissance, has their own special rules and army list, none of them take wholehearted liberties with the core rules.  And plenty of fictional games don't make use of an X-Faction; I can't think of any for 40K, Firestorm Armada, Dystopian Wars or Hell Dorado.

So there we go, not entirely sure what my aim was with that little ramble - just surprised to see such a common theme in the various armies I've chosen (and even then only after it was pointed out to me!)

So, any other X-Factions out there I've missed?  Do you ever pick the odd-army-out?  Do you like armies that break the rules?  Thanks for reading and feel free to let me know your thoughts!