Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Battle For Itharia Begins Now!

After some hemming and hawing, I finally decided to bite the bullet and pick up the Summoner Wars Master Set by Plaid Hat Games.  This game has been out for a couple of years now but honestly it wasn't until I started following Magehammer's Gaming Table that I had really given it a serious look.

All I can say now is "Wow".

Combining elements of a customizable card game with a strategic board game, Summoner Wars does a great job of making these two blend together in a way that is innovative and a ton of fun to play.  But enough praise!  Let's get down to the nitty gritty.

So What's In The Box?

The Summoner Wars Master Set contains six decks representing six very different armies and a very nice looking game board.  This last bit is a vast improvement over the original two player sets which came with a paper board that you had to unfold and flatten out.  I haven't seen one of these first hand but just the thought of it is enough to make me cringe.  This might be a minor point to some but I'm definitely glad they decided to step it up with the Master Set.

As for the cards themselves, they feel like they are a good quality so its not like you have to worry about these getting worn down after a few shuffles and the artwork is superb as well.

Last but definitely not least the box comes with a spacer that gives you enough room for not only the cards that are included in the set but most of the decks that are currently out should fit in there as well!  This is great bit of foresight by Plaid Hat as there's nothing worse than having to dig around for a bunch of additional boxes to be able to play the game.

How Do You Get Started?

Once you have the board set up its time to pick your faction!  The Master Set comes with six pre made decks for you to just grab and go but Plaid Hat also makes a number of additional faction decks as well.  You're not limited there though as most of the factions currently out also have reinforcements that you can swap into your deck as well as mercenaries to let you really add your own flavor to your deck.  Even with these options available, there are very specific rules on deck construction that makes customizing your deck a very quick and painless task.

After you've chosen your faction, deployment is incredibly straightforward as its all laid out on a reference card that comes with the various decks.  Just pull out the cards you need and put them on the board, give your deck a quick shuffle, and you're ready to go!

How Do You Win?

The goal of the game is extremely straightforward in concept; kill the opponent's summoner.  It sounds easy enough but first you have to get past their defenses while keeping yourself safe from your opponents units.  This creates an almost chess like ballet of moves and counter moves as you each vie for position to deliver that killing blow.

How Do You Play?

A regular turn in Summoner Wars consists of six very distinct phases that you play though.

1) Draw your hand up to fives cards.

2) Summon units from your hand by spending magic equal to their summoning cost.  Of course you have to get build up your own magic to do that but that's one of the ingenious things about this game.  One of the two ways that you can build up your magic is by destroying enemy units so right off the bat the game pushes you to be aggressive and rewards you for going for the throat.  This mechanic virtually guarantees that every game is going to be quick and bloody as holding back and turtling will result in you quickly being overrun.

3) In addition to the units cards there are also event cards, most of which are played at this point in the turn.  These cards let you do some kind of special move that fits in with the character of the various summoners.  The militaristic Mountain Vargath have cards that boost their summoner natural command abilities or call common military units to him instantly while the mind altering Benders have cards that let you steal one of your opponents event cards to use on your own troops.

4) Once you've played your events its time to get to grips and let the bloodbath begin!  The catch is that you can't move all of your cards.  Instead you can only move three of them in your turn and even then most units can only move two spaces tops with no diagonal!  This really pushes you to think about you moves in advance as you try to slowly out maneuver your opponent.

5) After you've moved its time to strike down the enemy but just like the movement phase you can only make a total of three attacks.  The combination of these two limits not keeps the game moving quickly but also greatly reduces the down time you experience during your opponents turn which is great.  There's nothing worse than just sitting around waiting for your opponent to move all of the pieces in their army while you just sit there and wait and this game does a great job of keeping your engaged and invested.

As for the combat itself, its quick and simple just like the rest of the game.  Each unit has an attack value printed on their card which is how many you dice you roll when you attack.  For each die that comes up three or more a hit is scored and a wound is inflicted.  In some cases this is enough to take out the unit (most of the common units for example can out take one wound before being destroyed) while others like the champions can take four to six points of damage.

6) At the end of the turn its time to do one of the most important things; build magic.  This is the second way that you can gain magic that you need to summon units or use various special powers of the summoners or your other units.  To build magic all you do is put cards from your hand into your magic pile.  This sounds deceptively simple but sometimes putting those cards down is almost painful.  Do you really want to get rid of that champion to build up your magic?  Or what about those other units or event cards?  Magic is essential to win the game but that usually doesn't make it any easier to take those cards out of your hand.

And that in a nutshell is a turn!  Quick, simple, and right to the point... unless its the first turn.  This is an additional mechanic that I really like.  The player that goes first in the game skips steps 1, 2, and 3 and can only move two units of the first turn.  This ensures that the first player isn't able to get the drop on their opponent and just run them into the ground.

How Does It Measure Up?

This is a great game that I really can't recommend highly enough and with all the expansions out there you have tons of options available to you so its not a game that's going to get stale any time soon.  Each army has its own distinct feel and the folks at Plaid Hat Games have done everything they can to make sure that the factions are balanced against each other so you don't have to worry about somebody getting a hold of the uber deck and just decimating everyone on a regular basis.

The Parting Shot...

I hope you've enjoyed this look at Summoner Wars Master Set.  If you have any comments or questions about the game I'd love to here them so go ahead and post them right in the comments and I'll get back to you as soon as possible.  Until next time...

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Get Your Ass To Mar... Oh, Never Mind

I was listening to the Minions of the Monster Master the other day (an actual play podcast covering several different systems, definitely suggest checking them out) and they happened to mention a new movie coming out that's a remake of an old favorite.  The first quest that came to my mind; Why?

Originally released in 1990, Total Recall starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and was directed by Paul Verhoeven... like anyone didn't know these things.  To me Total Recall is one of the signature Schwarzenegger films along with Terminator and Predator.  Is it a great movie?  In its own way, yes but why remake it?  It just didn't really make any sense to me.

Then I saw the trailer for the new movie.

A lot of things have changed (no more trip to Mars, the addition of flying cars) but the basic story line seems to be pretty much the same.  Even so this looks like it will be one wild ride that I can't wait to check out.  Until next time...

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hey There Cthulhu, Look What My Roommates Did To Me...

Last week I told you about Chez Geek from Steve Jackson Games so it only seems appropriate to let the madness run its course.  How do we do that?  Why with Chez Cthulhu of course!

Mechanically Chez Cthulhu is virtually the same as the other Chez Geek games except for some re-theming to a more Cthulhu feel (meaning cultists, sacrifices, and of course tentacles) and adding in a madness mechanic.  After all, what's Cthulhu without a little bit of insanity?

There are various cards that you can play that make you gain Madness tokens (such as Evil Ritual Nookie and the Disturbing Plush Toy) or loose Madness (like Bird Watching and Sleep, With Sweet Dreams).  Of course going mad has got to be a bad thing, right?

Well sure... up to a point.

As you start gaining Madness token you initially get a slack penalty which increases with up to a -3 to your total slack.  Of course this only lasts to a point because Madness brings clarity of a sort.  One you get over six tokens, the penalty actually starts to decrease until you reach a total of nine tokens.  At that point you are Stark Raving Mad and all of your Madness tokens go away.  What's more, once you go mad you actually gain more slack points for instead of Madness tokens for the rest of the game.

Overall I really like this twist to the regular game as it adds another layer to the game.  Do you try to make yourself go Mad so you can go for the "free" slack points or just try to make your opponent go just crazy enough to get the -3 Slack penalty?  And of course the flavor text on the cards is as hilarious as always.

While this set can be combined with the original Chez Geek set, it is also a stand alone game complete with counters and a die.  From a quality point of view this game is pretty much the norm you'd expect from SJ Games though my set was slightly miscut which makes shuffling a little tricky.  Even so I'd still recommend checking this game out if you're interested in a lighter look at the all comsuming darkness of the mythos.  Until next time...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

It's Just Another Friday Night Here At Chez Geek...

Before there was Munchkin, there was Chez Geek.
This is a picture of the original game, not the current House Party Edition
Released by Steve Jackson Games in 1999 with illustration by John Kovalic, Chez Geek is all about the joys of sharing an apartment.  From inviting friends over to your room, going shopping, and even getting nookie from your live in S. O., you and your roommates are all competing for to be the ultimate slack master of the apartment.  But enough background!  How does it play?

First each player is dealt a Job card.  This tells you how much free time and income you have each turn, how much slack you need to win the game, and any special rules that might come along with your "chosen" occupation.

Next each player is dealt five cards Life cards.  These cards are played during your turn (or sometimes during your opponents turn) as you try to get enough slack to win the game.  Once this is done then its time to play the game!

Each player's turn consists of five phases.

1) First you draw Life cards until you have a total of six in your hand.

2) Next you roll for any random effects (such as your Income or Free time depending on your job) or to get rid of any unwanted people that are in your room.  Is the Hungry Girl eating all of your snacks?  The Choad Warrior drinking all you booze?  Now is the time to try to get rid of them... and maybe even sick them on your roommates!

3) So just how did those unwanted people get in your room in the first place?  During the Call People phase of course!  If the person doesn't provide any slack you can just put them into play (though your opponents can stop this if they have the right cards in their hand) while people that provide slack have to be called.  Roll well and they come over.  Roll poorly and... there's nobody home.

4) Now it's time for some Free Time!  Your Job card tells you just how much Free Time you have available.  For each Free Time you can either do one activity (such as Hang Out At The Cafe or Surfing The Net) or go Shopping.  So how much can you buy?  Well that's what your Income comes into play.  Each item you can buy has a cost listed on it and the total cost that you can buy in a turn cannot exceed your Income.

5)  Last but not least is the Discard phase.  If you somehow have more than five cards after all of this then you have to get rid of some, plus you can also discard all the way down to one card if you want.  Once this is done, your turn is over and its the next players turn.

During your opponents turn there are a few things you can do such as playing Whenever cards (which can be played Whenever... see how they did that?) or canceling their activities with TV cards.  No one can resist the power of the idiot box!!!  Mwah ha ha ha ha!!!

And that covers the basics for the game except for how you win.  The first player to reach or exceed their Slack Goal instantly wins so keep an eye on your opponents and slack off as much as possible.

Personally I really enjoy this game.  No its not some deep masterpiece of strategy but its definitely a fun and fast play.  Originally there were two separate expansions that went with the basic game but Steve Jackson Games has since combined all three together into one package and added counters and even a die (this is SJ Games after all so including a die is kind of a big thing) so make you get the House Party Edition if you pick it up so you have it all in one box.  Until next time...

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Land Of The Lost... Lego Style!

My daughter recently got some new Legos that I just had to share.  Check them out.

These are two different sets.  On the left is the Ambush Attack with its ATV and a Coelephysis while the Tower Takedown with its jet ski and Pteranodon is on the right.  These are some really nice sets and the dinosaurs are really cool.  As an added plus, the minifigs are also equipped with tranquilizer guns complete with darts!

All told there are seven different sets available and I definitely recommend checking them out if you haven't already.  I mean really, Lego Dinosaurs?  What's not to love!  Until next time...

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Finding The Edge And Stepping Over

While stepping off of the edge might not be the safest thing to do at times (such as when you are looking at a skyline from a roof top for example...), it is a great thing to do when it comes to your hobby.  Be it skateboarding, painting, singing, dancing; the only way to get better at any of these things is to keep pushing yourself to get to that next level.

I had painted this figure a few years back and was not unhappy with how she turned out.

Not the greatest but I was satisfied and comfortable with it so I left it like that for years, largely because I just couldn't wrap my head around how to create effective shadows on the white and yellow.  Oddly enough, it was recently while I was working that I realized what I needed to do to add some depth to this figure and bring her to life.

My first step was to repaint her skin and hit it with a flesh wash followed with some highlighting to create some solid contrast and definition.  Next I painted all of her clothing a grey and highlighted it using white to create some shadowing on her clothes.  While I was going this, I also put down a white base coat for some of the yellow bits to really make them pop but the recesses I left grey to darken the yellow and create some depth.  Once this was done, I repainted her hair as well and went for something very bubblegum pop which is much more fitting for the model.

Even as I look at her now I can see more that I can do to improve on the paint job (such as a white highlight on the blades to give them some depth as well) but even with how she is now its a vast improvement over the original.  And all that because I found that edge and pushed myself beyond.  Until next time...