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Exclusively Bad for Customers – A Dark Alliance Indeed

Friend of the Chicago Geek Guy, James Nettum returns to offer some thoughts on a recent shift in the game industry.

[OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER: The following is my opinion alone, and doesn’t reflect that of places I work, or the people I work for. I’m writing this on my free time, after all.]

Here’s a thought experiment:

Pretend that the Walt Disney Company makes a deal with AMC Entertainment that gives AMC theaters exclusive screening rights to all future Disney movies and re-screenings shown in the United States. Naturally, this would affect all Disney holdings, like future pictures by Lucasfilm, Marvel, and Pixar. I think that getting tickets to see the next Disney Animation/Star Wars/Avengers/Incredibles entry would get a lot harder. AMC may be the largest theater chain in the USA, but they aren’t everywhere. Wikipedia says that AMC has 7,852 screens, but that won’t nearly be enough to seat everyone who wants to see Episode 8. A deal like this would make Disney’s distribution a lot easier, and would definitely make absolute bank for AMC. And just as definite would be how much worse it would make life for everyone who wanted to go to the movie theater.

Here’s my thought process on that last part: Want to see a non-Disney movie at your local AMC? Too bad

Here’s my thought process on that last part: Want to see a non-Disney movie at your local AMC? Too bad, all screens are currently showing Toy Story 4. Don’t live near an AMC? Looks like you’re going on a road trip. (Hope you got your tickets in advance.) Want to make a complaint against some really bad customer service you got from AMC? They aren’t going to listen, because Disney, Marvel, and Pixar movies sell themselves. Your ticket money won’t be missed. This imaginary arrangement is seriously anti-consumer!

Thankfully, the above is just a thought experiment. (And as side note: I only picked AMC because they’re the largest theater chain in the United States. I don’t actually have anything against them. They’re okay in my book.) Unfortunately, something similar actually happened in the gaming industry today, when Asmodee North America announced an exclusive hobby distribution deal with Alliance Games Distributors. (ICv2 has a good summary here: https://icv2.com/articles/news/view…) Asmodee North America handles all North American distribution for Asmodee, Catan Studio, Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight, Plaid Hat Games, Space Cowboys, and Z-Man Games. Alliance, meanwhile, is the hobby games distribution arm for Diamond Comic Distributors, Incdistributor to that part later.) My initial thoughts on this pairing are fluctuating between “this isn’t good” and something comprised of 90% obscenities that I will not type out.

I feel that both the Friendly Local Game Store, and the end user are going to suffer a lot under this arrangement.

Given how my mind isn’t currently stuck on the obscenities, I’m going to explain why I think this is a bad thing. And I’m speaking both as a lifelong gamer, and a ten plus year employee of a brick-and-mortar game store. Because I feel that both the Friendly Local Game Store, and the end user are going to suffer a lot under this arrangement.

Let me start off by addressing exclusive distribution deals in general (at least in terms of the gaming industry): I don’t like them. Currently brick-and-mortar stores have several distributors available to them. If one distributors is out of an item, a store isn’t out of luck because they have other options. If a high-demand product is going to release soon and shortages are anticipated, a store can put preorders in with multiple distributors who will carry the product, helping to ensure availability. But when one distributor has an exclusive, that flexibility is gone. Every store in the nation now has the same one option, and if that distributor can’t help them, the store is screwed. Which, in turn, means its customers are screwed.

Speaking of highly demanded product, in my experience exclusive deals don’t actually help shortages at all. When multiple distributors are putting in orders for a hot item, more options open for the manufacturer. They have a better idea how much of a product to make; they have multiple warehouse to store the product; they have multiple sources of income to fund the printing, and shipping. If a manufacturer goes though one distributor only, the paperwork probably goes down. But they also lose multiple buyers, multiple warehouses, and multiple sources of revenue. Less product gets made because less product can be stored and distributed effectively. Which, in turn, means customers are screwed.

Of all the distributors I’ve worked with, Alliance has been the biggest source of trouble.

This brings me to Alliance. Of all the distributors I’ve worked with, Alliance has been the biggest source of trouble. In the interest of fairness, will first say everything nice I can about them: All of the sales reps I’ve worked with have been extremely friendly. … That’s it.

As for the troubles, I will attempt to be brief. Rarely have I checked in a shipment that isn’t damaged somehow due to poor packing. Only slightly more rare are the shipments with incorrect quantities or flat-out incorrect items. Fixing all of those problems in a long process. It takes days to get a call tag to ship out the incorrect/damaged goods. It can take weeks to get the credit applied to your account. Hope you have more money to reorder the items you didn’t get, or didn’t get in salable condition. Hope your customers are forgiving and don’t demand refunds.

Now imagine combining the problems with exclusives with the problems with Alliance. Actually, stop imagining it because it’s happening now, has happened before, and will happen again. Alliance has the exclusive deal on Attack Wing, Dice Masters, HeroClix, Mayfair Games, and others. They used to have (and soon will again) the exclusive deal on Days of Wonder, and Z-Man Games. (In a painful twist of coincidence, it was originally Asmodee who broke that exclusivity when they acquired Days of Wonder, and Z-Man.) Now that list is about to grow on August 1st. Supply problems were bad for Star Wars Destiny in the past. I can’t see them getting any better now that every store in North America only has one distribution channel to get it through. Combine this with Alliance’s history of damaged and/or misshaped product… Hello once again, customers getting screwed.

You cannot run a comic shop without dealing with Diamond.

And this leads me straight to Alliance’s parent company, Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc. For those of you who don’t know, for years now Diamond has been the exclusive distributor to the comic book specialty market for Dark Horse, DC, Image and Marvel. You cannot run a comic shop without dealing with Diamond. And if you want to know about Diamond’s customer service, sit down with a roomful of comic store owners and ask about their experiences with them. I can practically guarantee that you’ll far more complaints than praise.

After all, why should Diamond change? Comic stores have no choices besides dealing with them, or going out of business. And now Alliance has just taken a big step into holding that same threat to any hobby gaming store. I cannot imagine running a store without Catan, Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, Splendor, or the myriad of Star Wars games that FFG makes, among other products that have become staples of the industry. Therefore I cannot see Alliance’s customers service to those stores improving any time soon.

And once again I see the end user, the final customer, the gamer, getting screwed the worst. I hope I’m wrong, but my experience doesn’t leave me feeling positive.

And now the obscenities are creeping back into my brain. I’m going to vent them on video games now. Friday the 13th is the likely choice.

 

[REPETITION OF OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER: The following is my personal opinion, and mine alone. It does not reflect that of places I work, or the people I work for.]

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

 

 

 

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Vampire: the Masquerade

And we’re at the end of the line for my 2016 Holiday Gaming Suggestions! I hope people have appreciated these three bonus days of more complicated games, because we’re ending with a seriously complicated one: The newest edition of the Vampire: the Masquerade Live Action RPG, by By Night Studios.

Vampire, and all of the other World of Darkness LARPs, use a ruleset called Mind’s Eye Theatre (or MET). Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of my LARPing experience has been with the MET system, I wasn’t actually a big fan of the previous editions. (For the sake of brevity, I’m not including the nWoD/Chronicles of Darkness MET rules in any of this.) While the original rules were undoubtably revolutionary in the early 1990s when they were first published, by the beginning of the 2000s they had become a hot mess. Too much content had been added without really reexamining the system’s roots, in part because the World of Darkness setting was in a state of rapid expansion across its myriad of titles. Ultimately I felt like MET had too many vague rules, exceptions, and downright contradictions in it. This turned the Rock/Paper/Scissors mechanic into a slog that easily broke the flow of the game when narrative tension should have been getting to its highest. MET had started as a yacht, and through a series of jury-rigs was trying to perform the job of an ocean liner. It really wasn’t working out.

Somehow, By Night Studios has managed to do what I thought was nearly impossible. They have taken that hot mess and turned it into something grand. This is the facelift MET needed. Not only is it relevant again, but it’s a reminder of why, for a long time, it was the industry standard for Live Action rules.

Here’s where this suggestion gets tricky: It would take way too much time to describe all of the differences between the old MET system and this one. So I’m only going to provide the most bare bones description below. If it sounds interesting to you, check out the free quickstart guide. I highly recommend that anyone who’s every tried previous editions of MET give it a once-over, too. (http://pegasus.rpgnow.com/product/132185/Minds-Eye-Theatre-Vampire-The-Masquerade-Quickstart-Guide)

At its core, the MET system has become simpler than ever. Characters have three different attribute sets rated 1-10: Physical, Mental, and Social. They also have a series of skills rated 0-5, and a pool of Willpower that fluctuates from 0-6. When a character attempts to do something, they play Rock/Paper/Scissors (against the game’s Storyteller, or sometimes against another player) rather than rolling dice. If they lose, they fail. If they tie, they compare their relevant attribute + relevant skill against the difficulty. If the character has a higher number, they succeed. If they win the R/P/S check, they succeed. If they win and their relevant attribute + relevant skill is higher than the task’s difficulty, they get an exception success.

Willpower provides an avenue of hope for the loser of a R/P/S check. At the cost of a Willpower point, the loser can force a retest. This can only be done once per challenge. Given that Willpower also provides a defensive bonus against certain attacks, players must use this limited resource very carefully.

You may be wondering why, at the opening of this review, I wrote that this was going to be a seriously complicated suggestion, then I went on to praise how simple the rules had become. That’s because the complexity is in everything else the book provides. This is simultaneously the newest MET rules, tailored for the Vampire game; a history of the various vampire political movements; an update of the state of the world since the start of the new millennium; the player’s guide for Camarilla, Sabbat, and Anarch chronicles; and a write-up of nearly every vampire clan and bloodline that White Wolf has published since 1991. This book has over 20 years of content; revised, updated, and streamlined! While it is a truly Herculean feat, it also means that the book is incredibly intimidating to new players. There’s just so much stuff! And while the above quickstart guide is nice, it’s a really big of leap from it to the full book. An intermediate resource would be a welcome addition.

To be completely clear, I love this 440 plus page book. I’m amazed by the work that went in to updating both the rules and the fiction of the Vampire: the Masquerade world, and I’m very excited to see what By Night Studios does with the other World of Darkness lines, especially with this kind of quality. (Changeling, please!) But there’s no way I would recommend the book to beginners, not unless I knew they had a strong community of LARPers who would guide them through the steep learning curve.

Good thing I live in a city full of great LARPers.

(PS/Shameless plug: If you do find yourself wanting to buy this book, please consider purchasing it from the Pegasus Games sub-store of DriveThruRPG Thank you!) — with By Night Studios.

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Ravingspire

And now the second bonus day of my Holiday Game Suggestions is here, and it’s a doozy! Today’s bonus game is Ravingspire, by Vorpal Chainsword Games. And yes, I know the game designer on this one. No, I’m not getting a whole bunch of money for raving about it. (Hahahaha… sorry.)

Much like Mystic Vale, Ravingspire takes the idea of a deck building game and does something new with it. Actually, it does a few new things with it. The biggest is that it merges deck building with dungeon crawl board games. This game is–by one of the creator’s own admission–Dominion meets Talisman.

The dungeon crawl feel starts at the beginning of the game, when each player picks a their own character. Each character’s starting deck is a different mix of the game’s three currencies: Fight, Skill, and Charm. Additionally, each character gets a unique special ability, and a personalized mix of card types they can hold in between turns. Hello, varied playstyle right out of the gate!

This being a dungeon crawl, of course there are multiple levels to the dungeon and mat. (Three, to be exact.) Each level will have its own group of cards, which are items to be acquired, monsters to be killed, and traps to be overcome. Where your character is on the map affects what they can interact with.

Cards are acquired or defeated by paying their cost in one (or more) of the game’s three currencies. But most cards have an optional cost that’s much higher, but can be paid with a mix of any of the currencies. It’s a great rule that helps speed up the deck building process.

And the dungeon itself is always changing, thanks to a rotating board that the players can fight over control of.

And there are deadly foes that will chase the characters all over the dungeon.

And there are sanity mechanics, which serves not only as each character’s hit points, but also the timer for the game as a whole.

And the end game is determined randomly by drawing one of five possibilities at the start of the game. And for maximum intrigue the endings are sealed. No peeking!

In case it’s not clear enough, Ravingspire is a game with a lot of crunch! This one is for experienced gamers, no two ways about it. But here is no other game quite like it, so if you need to get a game from someone who seemingly has all of them, here’s a great choice.

Special praise must be made for how the game is being sold. It was funded on Kickstarter, and is only available from a few brick-and-mortar stores across the US because it’s not at distributors yet. So it’s also being sold on Amazon… for the same price most FLGSs will be selling it for. It’s a nice gesture that deserves to be called out.

Tomorrow, the last bonus game and the real end to my 12 Days of Holiday Game Suggestions

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Mystic Vale

Hello, first ever bonus day of Holiday Gaming Suggestions! These three days will cover games that are for the more experienced gamer, which is why I didn’t include them in the original 12. But they’re still excellent games that aren’t getting as much fanfare as I think they deserve, so here we are.

We start with Mystic Vale, by Alderac Entertainment Group. (See my post on Lost Legacy about my connections to AEG employees. Nothing’s changed in a week!) Mystic Vale is a much needed upgrade to the deck building game genre for two to four players. Before I heap on the praise I want to be clear that it wasn’t part of my original 12 suggestions because I would never suggest it to people who weren’t familiar with deck building games. I would start people on games like Star Realms, or classic Ascension, and move on to games like Dominion before tackling Mystic Vale.

Now that that’s out of the way, let me explain why Mystic Vale is great. Each player with start with a deck of 20 cards, and each deck is identical. The main marketplace for the rest of cards (called “Advancements”) features three decks of different levels of cost. Three cards from each deck are face up, and available for purchase. So far, this probably reads like your typical deck building game.

So now I should mention that all 20 cards in each of the four starting decks are sleeved. And all of the Advancement are printed on transparent plastic. After Advancements are purchased, they are added to the sleeves of the cards used during a player’s turn, thus modifying the effect of the card itself. Because of this, decks will always be 20 cards. What each of those 20 cards can do is what changes during the course of the game. And this is how Mystic Vale alters the very nature of a deck building game, making it what AEG calls a “Card Crafting Game”.

Cool card mechanics aside, most of Mystic Vale’s rules will seem familiar to most deck building enthusiasts. The number of players determines how many Victory Point tokens are put into the pool at the start of the game. The final round is when the last of the points is gone. There are no cards that hurt another player’s deck. Individual advancements may also be worth points at the end of the game.

But there are some unusual rules aside from the card crafting. Players will never have a hand of cards hidden from each other. Instead available cards are put face up in their play area before their turn begins, using a cool push-your-luck mechanic I haven’t seen before. In addition to Advancements, players can also purchase a type of card called Vales. But Vales don’t go into a players deck, and they aren’t bought with the basic resource every deck starts with. Players can’t buy Vales without having the right Advancements first.

As a nice added bonus, not only does Mystic Vale come with all of the sleeves you’ll need to play (plus 20 extra), it also has a very well designed storage tray right in the box. It’s an important thing, especially considering that all of the cards are tarot sized.

Dominion started a creative boom in card games when it introduced the concept of deck building. I’m excited to see if the same thing happens with Mystic Vale’s system. If you’re a deck building aficionado, make sure you check out Mystic Vale, and see if you share my hopeful eagerness for the future of these types of games.

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – The Guardians Explore

This is it! (Kinda.) This is the last day of my 12 Days of Holiday Gaming Suggestions. (Other than the three bonus days, starting tomorrow.) So, what’s my most overlooked, but highest suggested game this year? … you already know it’s The Guardians: Explore because you saw the picture.

Alright, yet again disclosure time; I know the game designer of this one, too. As was the case in all previous posts, he did not pay me for this, or ask me to write it.

The Guardians: Explore is a delightful mix of various genres, both in its mechanics and flavor. It’s heavy with worker placement mechanics, but with a dungeon-crawl feel. It’s mostly cooperative, but at the advanced levels only one person will be the greatest hero. There are decks for each character class, or you can draft your deck at the beginning of the game. Deck building comes into play as monsters are defeated, and the heroes get stronger. And the setting is a lovely mix of children’s make-believe fantasy in a modern world where the monsters are real. Even the monsters come from a variety of genres, from fantasy orcs to murderous Roomba vacuum cleaners.

It’s this variety that makes The Guardians: Explore such an accessible game for so many people. Children playing in blanket forts, with wooden swords and trash lid shields is a theme that so many younger and older gamers can universally relate to. The option to play a simplified version of the game and slowly introduce the card-drafting and non-cooperative mechanics later means that the entry to the game is lower than the final complexity would suggest. And the sheer variety of mechanics means that The Guardians: Explore is a gateway to different types of games. Like the worker placement rules? Try Lords of Waterdeep next. Best part was the card drafting? Here’s 7 Wonders. Did you like the secret quests, which keep your ultimate end game hidden from the other players until the game is over? Let me tell you about Dead of Winter. The Guardians: Explore is the game that can hook your non-gamer friends into the deeper possibilities of this hobby.

It’s the wonderful mix of mechanics, the artwork that perfectly conveys a world that is both unique and evocative of childhood, and the scaling complexity that makes The Guardians: Explore my top game in my Holiday Game Suggestions.

So what’s tomorrow going to start? Those will be the games that are for a slightly narrower audience than the 12 I’ve discussed here.

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Wizard

I have a few “go to” games when it comes to groups with mixed gaming experience, as often happens over the holidays. The one I’ve had some of the best success with is Wizard, currently punished by US Game Systems, and it’s my second to last (regular) recommendation in my 12 Days of Holiday Suggestions.

Wizard is a trick-taking card game for three to six people. It plays along the lines of Hearts or Spades, but with a few twists. For starters, the deck is 60 cards. There are the standard 52 playing cards, plus a blue suit of 4 wizards, and 4 jesters. The first wizard played on a trick will automatically win it, and the jester will always count as the lowest card of the trick.

The next twist is a variable hand size. Players will be dealt a number of cards equal to which round the game is currently in: 1 on the first round, 2 in the second, etc. The final round of the game is when the entire deck is dealt out, meaning the that more players, the less rounds in the game. In all rounds but the last, after the hands are dealt the top remaining card of the deck is flipped face up to determine which suit is trump.

The final twist on the classic trick-taking formula is the bet. After hands have been dealt and trump is revealed, each player bets how many tricks they will take. (Zero is a perfectly valid answer.) Players must hit that number. If they do, they score 20 points, plus 10 for each trick they took. If they go under or over, they lose 10 points for every trick they were off. This means that you must lose tricks one you’ve reached your bet!

And… that’s it. This is a short entry because Wizard is a simple game to learn. But it’s highly strategic, very inexpensive, and because it’s played with a poker deck with only a few extra bells and whistles, it’s doesn’t intimidate non-gamers. If you grew up playing Hearts with your family, bring Wizard to the next get together.

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Fuse

 

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Fuse

I’m going to wax philosophically (probably not actually philosophically) a bit before I talk about my Day 10 Holiday Game suggestion. Not only do I love the cooperative board game renaissance we’ve been enjoying for roughly the last decade, but I think it’s culturally very important. Because while every game involves winning and losing, I believe cooperative table top games are one of the best ways to teach people how to lose graciously. Because, as Captain Picard famously put it: “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness, that is life.” In a cooperative game, players can make all of the correct decisions but still lose due to factors beyond their control.

So on that note, my 10th Holiday Game Suggestion is Fuse, by Renegade Game Studios. And once again, I do know the game designer on this one. No, I’m not getting any freebies/money out of writing this.

Fuse is fast-paced, fully cooperative dice game where players have 10 minutes to win. There are a series of cards that represent bombs. There’s a bag of 25 multicolored six-sided dice that represent the progress players have made in defusing the bombs. The bombs are defused by fulfilling some kind condition with the dice; such as matching sums between two pairs, or making a small straight with no matching colors. Every turn, the active player draws one die per player from the bag and rolls them. Everyone grabs one die that they can use on the two bombs they’re working on. But for every die that can’t be used, players will lose progress!

One of my favorite parts of Fuse is how customizable the difficulty is. Players choose how many bombs they want to try to defuse in the 10 minute limit. Bomb cards are rated in how complicated they are, so harder ones can be left out. Fuse cards, which automatically cause players to lose dice when they come into play, can be added in any number the players want to increase the chaos of an already frantic game. All of these options make it possible for Fuse to be accessible to a wide audience of players.

To add to bedlam that a typical Fuse games involves, Renegade developed a free app. Among other things, the app servers as your 10 minute timer, and the smart aleck AI that “motivates” the players to work faster. Loud ticking seconds, alarm klaxons, and a voice from GLaDOS’s family tree really complete the experience! Potentially blowing up has rarely been so much fun.

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Attila

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Attila

After yesterday’s detailed entry, the subject of Day 9 of my 12 Days of Holiday Game suggestions is going to be significantly lighter, but my recommendation is just as strong. Today’s game is Attila, by Blue Orange Games.

Attila is a small, simple two-player game that requires very little space to play, making it a perfect stocking stuffer or traveling game. In the tin, there are two trios of horsemen tokens (one for Huns, one for Romans), two boards that are 2×2 grids, two boards that are 2×3 grids, and a bunch of scorched earth tokens.

At the start of the game, each player gets one of the trio of horsemen. They decide on any configuration of the boards they wish to make one play area, and then they take turns placing their horsemen on any empty square. The game is ready to begin.

During play, the horsemen can move exactly like a knight in chess, but can only land on an empty tile. After a player has moved one of their horseman, they place a scorched earth token on any empty tile. The first player who cannot move a horseman on their turn has lost.

And that is Attila. It’s quick to teach, set up, and play. Just like Happy Salmon, I think it deserved far better than the ranking on Board Game Geek. It’s intuitive enough for casual players or non-gamers, but fans of deep strategy games will find themselves plotting out their next three or four moves, reactions, and counters. Give it a shot; it won’t take long at all.

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Iron Kingdoms

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Iron Kingdoms

Day 8 of my Holiday Gaming Suggestions is going to be a bit different, as I’m going to talk about a fictional setting rather than one game. That setting is the Iron Kingdoms, by Privateer Press.

The Iron Kingdoms is probably my favorite fantasy world, because it combines the best elements of different settings while managing to feel wholly unique. There’s a lot of steampunk, but it’s not Victorian. It has dwarves and elves, but it’s not Tolkien. The various nations are in a state of nearly-constant warfare, but it’s not Warhammer Fantasy. And it while it does have its own spin on trolls, ogres and goblins, there are also massive alligator men, bipedal warthogs, shapeshifting humanoids from feral tribes, and humanoid fish. This is a setting where giant robots and equally giant monsters fight alongside their respective armies, where small groups of mercenaries sneak into ancient temples in hopes of finding forgotten artifacts, and where treatise that will change the course of multiple kingdoms are made and broken in everything from wooded longhouses to splendid castles.

So how does a gamer experience the Iron Kingdoms? There are actually three different options I’m going to recommend. The flagship products are the miniature games Warmachine and Hordes. These two cross-compatible games are very easy to get into, thanks to each of the multiple factions having their own $40 starter boxes. These starter boxes include miniatures, dice, a ruler, a unique map, the complete rules for the game, and a very comprehensive learn-to-play guide. Privateer has gone out of their way to make these boxes as beginner-friendly as possible, and in my opinion they’ve succeeded. There are also two different two player starter boxes that are a fantastic deal at $90 considering how many models you get!

For those who don’t want to commit to a miniature war game, there’s the Undercity board game. This fully cooperative dungeon-crawl game plays two to four people. It includes 44 fully-assembled minis that can also be used in the RPGs (more on them below). The game spans seven missions, which may not seem like a lot until you realize that will not succeed without a lot trail and error. Missions play campaign-style; characters earn experience points into a group pool, which can be used to buy a variety of abilities in between sessions. But there are more abilities than can possibly be purchased in one campaign, as well as a unique side-mission mechanic. Add to that one expansion that’s already out, multiple missions published across No Quarter magazines, and an upcoming sister board game called Widower’s Wood. The Undercity is a great adventure board game with a lot of extra content already out for it.

Finally there are the two Iron Kingdom RPGs. Iron Kingdoms: Full-Metal Fantasy focuses on the “civilized” parts of the setting, with emphasis on the giant robots and their controllers, the alchemists, the noblemen, and cutpurses. Iron Kingdoms: Unleashed, meanwhile, focuses on the “untamed” regions, including the monsters and those who hunt or tame them, bandits, chieftains, and explorers. Each setting also has multiple types of magical traditions. And those creatures I mentioned above, starting from the elves, pasted the alligator men, to the humanoid fish? Those are possible player character races! Experienced role players can grab either of the two very hefty core rulebooks. For beginners, Unleashed has a very well-made beginner’s box that includes several miniatures, maps, and a very fun mini-campaign.

If it sounds like I’m gushing, it’s because I am. As I said above, I love the Iron Kingdoms setting. I also admire the effort Privater Press has undergone to make that setting as accessible to as many gamers as possible. This may sound cheesy, but give someone the gift of the Iron Kingdoms this year. Even if it’s yourself.

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Dead Last

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Dead Last

A quick announcement before I get to Day 7 of my Holiday Game Suggestions; there will actually be an extra three days this year. (*Waits for applause. Gets crickets. Sighs.*) When I decided to do this list, the goal was to keep it to 12 accessible games. Not necessarily “gateway” games, but ones that are open to a wide audience. But there are three games I really want to talk about that are a bit crunchier, and for a slightly narrow audience. So after the 12th Day of Gaming Suggestions, we’ll get three more. I hope you enjoy it.

Now on to the seventh suggestion for 2016, it’s… Dead Last, by Smirk&Dagger. Which I could have saved for the last day as a cheap, obvious joke, but I didn’t. You’re welcome.

Dead Last is a fast-paced game of temporary alliances. Each player takes the roll of a criminal named after a color, and everyone’s fighting over four treasure cards. During the course of play, at least one character will get killed by a very simple process. Everyone at the table can use any method of communication to try to come to a consensus, and play a single card out of their had face down. Once everyone has made a choice, all player cards are turned over, and whoever’s color is most represented is the victim of a grizzly death. Additionally, anyone who didn’t vote for the victim is also killed.

But there’s a twist. If a player suspects that they’re going to be victim, they can play their “ambush” card. If it turns out that said player did get the majority of the vote, not only do they avoid their grizzly death, but they also kill one of their would be attackers. This means that all collusion in the game must the subtle. Dead Last rewards being devious, and clever.

The end game of Dead Last is a prisoner’s dilemma mini-game played out between the last two surviving players. Much like my Lost Legacy review, I think it’s best learned during play. Get Dead Last, get together with six to 12 players, and see who the sneakiest killer in the group is. It’s a bloody good time. (Ha ha ha ha I’m leaving now I promise.)

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