Thursday 30 June 2016

In the Grim Darkness of the Far Future, there are only Cards... Death Angel Review

A few years back, two good friends got me this, and through one thing or another (as often happens with games) I never got around to playing it, but it was always there waiting for me.  This week, on the fortnightly visit to those friends, I took it with me and John and I worked through it.

For those not familiar, Death Angel is Space Hulk plotted out using cards rather than boards and miniatures, the question for us was whether or not a two dimensional structure showing pictures would have the same feel on it as the aforementioned boards and miniatures.

As it turns out, no...

It was better...

The opening stage of the game is to choose the teams of marines going in, each player chooses a team of two marines with three cards, if you're playing with fewer players, each player may choose more than one team.  Those teams are laid out in a line like this...

Each marine has an arrow pointing the direction they are facing, to this are added the location cards for the area of the hulk that you're in.

These sections govern not only where the Genestealers will emerge from but also from which side, as evidenced above, the marines at the top of the stack are facing in the wrong direction...

Not good...

At the top of the board is placed the location card which indicates where to place the hulk sections and also how many genestealers are on each side.  These are deployed in the Genestealer main phase.

Players take one order card from the three they have for each team of marines and play it, that card cannot be played twice in a row, then the orders are resolved from lowest rating to highest, defensive moves tend to be lower in order than offensive moves, allowing for very tactical play if you work together.

And death if you don't...

Order cards come in three flavours, Attack, Support, and Move and Activate.

When you play Attack, you get to attack in the direction you're facing, up to the number of places in the formation indicated on your marine card.  Two as an average, three for the assault cannon, zero for the assault terminators.  Most attack cards allow special attacks of some sort.  When attacking, you roll the die, any result of a skull kills a Genestealer.

When you play Support, you place a support token on any marine in the formation, and then play the move indicated, usually providing some sort of defensive bulwark towards the onslaught.

When you play Move and Activate, you may move the members of the squad that played the card one space up or down the formation and turn their facing if you choose.  Then there are additional moves that are made per the text on the card.

When you've resolved your actions, it's the genestealers attack phase.  Combat is simple affair, revolving around the single die.  If you roll equal to or under the number of Genestealers at a location, the marine at that location is killed.  Special cards allow certain defenses (more on this later), and support tokens allow rerolls, which are always best to be used.

When the card is drawn, you carry out the action and then place Genestealers equal to the number indicated on the bottom of the card in the places located (one on Red and Orange on the card indicated), then play returns to choosing the next marine action cards.

When all the stealers on either side of the board have been deployed, the marines have met their objective and travel.  Travelling causes all the current board locations to be replaced with new locations (the stealers stay where they were), and new stealers to be deployed at the top of the board.

This can lead to marines being very overwhelmed by an unanticipated travelling move.

When the marines have moved through all the areas in the location deck (four cards in the formation we played), they encounter the Broodlords in the hive.  Broodlords cannot be killed until all the other stealers in their section have been killed, and they lower the dice rolls by one when rolling to kill marines.

By this time, we were down to two marines and prayers...

Sometimes however, the Emporer lends his divine guidance...

Yes, he got that many in a single combat, including one of the Broodlords.

We prevailed, but by the narrowest margin, and while it's not the same as playing with miniatures, it far better captures the feel of the marines being flanked on all sides, a concept difficult to put across when you can see everything on the board.  In this game, when a Genestealer flanks you, you just put it on the opposite side and keep going, rather than trying to figure out how it got there when you had your lines clearly covered.
The hall of heroes unforgotten...
I liked this, took a while to get into and the instructions aren't best clear, but I liked the feel of it, I liked that it played at a very good speed once we got used to it, and I very much liked the feel of things as we started to lose marines towards the end.  Good game, don't think it'll ever replace Space Hulk in it's entirety, but it's a damn good spare to have around if you don't fancy needing a suitcase to to hold the full sized version.

Wednesday 29 June 2016

Fears, and fear in games...


False Expectations Appearing Real...?

Forget Everything And Run...?

Forget Every Acronym Really?

Whatever it is to you, the question is what should it be in our games...?

I have a problem with Dentists...

There, it is said...

I have a problem with dentists because I have no good memories of Dentists from when I was younger, just a bunch of really bad memories, fillings, bloody extractions, and all manner of things that really just put me off going for life.

I went again today and found the experience had changed somewhat, and I have a little hope for my ongoing relationship with the tooth fairy, but it got me thinking.

That's an irrational fear, something that was a result of a few people having a major impact on my life that I couldn't have foreseen in any way, much less try to mitigate the damage caused by what was done back then.  That led me to thinking about how we portray fear in games...

I've only seen fear and the negative effects of fear portrayed well in one game, and it wasn't a tabletop game, but the video game, Darkest Dungeon.

In that game, you play brave heroes going to try and free a small hamlet from the tyranny of an ancient evil lurking below the ground.  You venture into areas and try to succeed at quests, and all along the way, you have two bars, physical and mental, to chart your ongoing stability.  Every time you take a hit from a weapon, you lose physical hit points and gain mental stress.  When you've taken enough mental stress, you are challenged, and this then manifests that you may become afraid or paranoid (amongst other things) for the rest of the level.  While you're afflicted, your mental state puts additional strain on the other people in the party, so that it's possible for a few nutjobs to unbalance things for everyone else.

No Brexit Comments Please...

It got me thinking though, the fear of having one of your party go nuts means that you do your best to keep everyone on the straight and narrow, and because it's a computer game, there's no GM to mitigate sudden and catastrophic player disharmony that might occur.  It also means that the game becomes significantly more difficult when you have one of your people flip, almost impossible when two go, and utterly beyond enjoyable playing when all four are gibbering.  This in turn means that the game is far more tense as a result, and that got me to considering...

How much realism do we want in our games?

I don't have a sanity/fear/delusion mechanic in Quest, it's not that sort of game, but I wonder whether something needs to be put in place for dealing with the things beyond human comprehension, or, like Delirium in Werewolf: The Apocalypse, is it something that shouldn't affect the characters, only those around them?

The other issue I have is that I understand more than I let on that Mental Illnesses are a terrible thing to have to deal with, both for those who suffer them and those who have to care for them.  These things are life changing, and that they often cause massive debilitation for those who suffer from them, which is a thing I cannot imagine anyone wanting to actually play through, even on the more narrative based games, it just doesn't seem like fun to me.

So what's everyone's thoughts on this?

Is it useful to have something that monitors your level of mental stability as well as your physical ability?  It is verging just a little far into the realms of "This is too much like real life..." for most people, or is it something where it's nice to be nuts once in a while...?


And Darkest Dungeon is available on a number of platforms now, really good game, just don't be surprised when you (not the heroes) go nutty when you've played it for too long...

Tuesday 28 June 2016

Onitama – Game Review

I’ve been taking a greater interest in Abstract strategy games of late.  Don’t get me wrong, I still like games where there’s a few handfuls of dice involved, but I’m finding that the game you get when random elements aren’t involved is proving far more interesting.

I like that at the end of the game, no one gets upset because they got robbed by a series of bad dice rolls, and no one argues that they would have won if…

Well, if anything...

So this is a game that I encountered at Expo, found out it was sold out, so picked up a copy afterwards, haven’t stopped playing it yet.

This is Onitama

The first thing to note is the excellent production values, I’m noticing more and more as games not only have to be good to play, but also look good.  The box is about the same size as a bottle of whiskey (and costs less than a good bottle at that), has a magnetic lock to keep it sealed, and is constructed of good solid cardboard.

Inside is a moulded plastic insert with the eight student pawns and two master pawns, the playing board, cards, and instructions.  The board is made of similar material to high grade computer mouse mats, wipes clean without any fuss, and rolls up well to fit in the box.

The pieces aren’t the most complex constructions, but they’re appropriate for the game and capture the feel well.  The cards are almost Tarot sized, laminated front and rear, well designed with clear indications of their purpose.

The game sets up with four student pawns and one master on each side, play begins with five cards, two for each player and one for the top of the board. 

Each turn, a player makes a move from those available to them, each card has a black dot in the centre of the move list that represents their current position, and they can move to any of the greyed squares indicated.  If another piece is on the square moved to, it is removed.  When they have moved their piece, they take the card that corresponds to the move that they made and swap it with the one at the top of the board.  

The next player moves using one of their cards, and then swaps it for the card that was originally the first players, and so on, meaning that everyone at some point will likely use every card.

After a number of moves, the board may well end up looking like this as pieces move back and forth to try and move to a winning position.  

There are two ways to win the game, the first is with the way of the Stone, where a player takes their opponents Master.  The second is with the way of the stream, where the player moves their Master to the opponents Master starting square, the Temple.

There are sixteen cards to choose from, giving a few thousand combinations to work with, and even with the same cards, all it takes is a different starting order of cards for the game to be completely different.

The thing is that you need to keep your mind on what you've got, what they've got, and more importantly, what they're going to get when you make your moves.  Many are the times that cards like Dragon, Tiger, and Crab are held back because of their powerful two-space moves, but then you're limiting your own movements if you don't use them, so it all becomes circular.

It's a two minute teach for a five to fifty minute game (depending on how involved you get in the strategy), and I've played it against everyone from my friends to my mother in law with surprises every time.  

Easily my game of the year thus far. 

Monday 27 June 2016

Platinum Carbon Pen Review

It's not always about the perfect pen...

No, really, it's not...

Alright, who am I kidding...?

The thing about any quest for perfection is the many things you have to try before you manage to attain that lofty perch, and in this case, while in no way perfect, the Platinum Carbon was a significant stepping stone on the way to knowing what I wanted.

This has one of the hardest nibs that I've ever encountered, hardly any give in it at all, which I did think at first was going to be a negative, but it turns out that it suits my style of writing very well.  The nib is also one of the only nibs to withstand Iron Gall ink for any amount of time, as can be seen from the discolouration at the front of the nib.

The length of the pen is both a positive and a negative, it's very light, so moving it around the page is effortless, but because this is so light, you feel more inclined to press harder on the page to make sure you've got the ink flowing, and because the nib is so rigid, you don't do any damage to the nib.

The other interesting part of the design is the top of the pen, it's shaped in the way a desk pen is, meaning that you can't post the cap and you'll always, always, have some of the pen protruding from the back of your hand, no matter the size of your hands.  Also no clip, and no facility for putting a clip on there, so putting it in your pocket is a problem because it's too large for trousers and keeps falling over on shirts.

Construction is solid throughout, it won't stand up to serious abuse (but what pen really does), a little fragile towards the end of the pen where it's very thin, but the base is well constructed and fits together very nicely.  The ink flow is excellent, writes first time every time, and holds a good size reservoir at the back, I haven't seen a convertor for it, but a syringe is good every time and the size of the nib means you won't be refilling it too often.

The writing sample...

I really enjoy writing with this, and if it had more utility to it (the aforementioned clip and perhaps if it wasn't a hundred metres long...), then it would be one of my every day carry.  As it is, I use it in my study often, and it's an interesting addition to anyone's collection.  As noted on the sample, I used up the original carbon ink some time back (and even that didn't gum the nib up), and switched it out for something a little less dark, but refills are easily obtainable.

Sunday 26 June 2016

Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space – Ultimate Edition Game Review

Alien is one of my favourite films.  Despite it being nearly as old as me, it remains a masterclass in the underrated art of suspense.  There have been a number of games made about it over the years, some bearing the official name, some not, but I’ve not encountered one that captured well the feel of the film.

Until now…

With one of the longest names for a game ever, this is Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space – Ultimate Edition.

The first thing to note in this is that the productions values are excellent, heavy duty laminate cards with ring bound playing mats, pens and a solid box to hold them all in.  Upon opening it, there’s a well laid out box with space for the cards, maps, and pens all separate, nicely fitting together.

The players take one of two roles, that of the humans, or that of the aliens.  The humans are just trying to escape, the Aliens…

Well, the Aliens are just after a few good square meals…

The game sets up on one of the predesigned maps that are included with the game, everyone gets a playbook and pen to work with and starts from either the alien or human start point as befits their draw.  Each player records their move in secret and then must determine whether or not they have alerted everyone to their presence.  As can be seen on the image, the maps take the form of a variety of different shaded sectors.    Players are dealt out a human or alien card at random, so no-one knows who is who, or indeed what is what.

Red for Aliens, Blue for Humans
Each player gets one move a turn, the humans can move one square at a time, the aliens can move two, but if they are seen to move two, it gives away the game rather quickly.  After each move, if the player (human or alien) arrives on a white hex, they announce “Silent Sector”.  If they are not on a silent sector, they draw a card, which will give them one of four different rules.

On a red, they must announce that there is a noise in the sector they are in.
On a green, they must announce that there is a noise in any sector on the board.
On a white, they announce “Silence in all sectors”, a slight variance on the “Silent Sector” announcement.

The key here is that at no point does the player have to reveal what the colour of the card that they drew was…

There are people out there thinking “So there’s no way to tell if someone is cheating...”

No, in the middle of the game, there isn’t, but someone doing this would only get one chance at it, because at the end of the game, everyone reveals their playbooks, and it’ll be easy to see from your own note taking if they were lying at any point.


Very simple…

Very atmospheric, because you don’t know who or what the other players are, so when one of them announces a noise in a sector near you, you start to worry either way.  Because the point of the game is for the alien to launch an attack on a hex where they think a human is.  If an Alien makes an attack on a hex where a human (or alien for that matter) is, the player being pounced on is killed and removed from the game.  It is possible for a ship full of aliens to run around and kill each other while the humans make a break for it.

The point for the humans is to get to the escape pods, marked on the map as black hexes in the corners.  When they get to the pod, they draw an escape pod card.  If the pod is green, the human gets away safe, if the pod is red, the pod malfunctions, everyone knows that a human just tried to escape from that pod, and the hunt is on again.

The game ends when all the humans are dead or escaped (and the spread of aliens to humans is even, so people will have a good idea when the game is over), and takes five to fifty minutes to play through depending on the number of players and the maps chosen.

The advanced rules include specific roles for the players, special abilities for them to use, equipment, and mutations for the aliens to work with (including a kill turning the human into an alien…) which all add to the fun of the game.

The thing about this game, and I can’t stress it enough, is the atmosphere it generates. When you’re all sitting around the table, unsure of who is what and where everyone is, you find yourself guessing and second guessing everything on every move.  There are a bunch of resources on the main Osprey website with additional maps and content available, but you don’t need it, you can play the same map on this a thousand times and get a different game and result every time.

Brilliant game of bluff and counter bluff, imaginative gameplay and superb production values, easily one of my favourite games this year.

Saturday 25 June 2016

Dare the Stars - Book Review

I took a look at White Star some time back, and found it very much to my liking, it’s not that it’s anything particularly ground-breaking, it’s just a harkening back to the days of old, when rules were things that you had to figure out for yourself rather than having them all put forwards for you.  That said, I’m a great fan of the science fiction of old, the books I grew up with, and so when I found a game that combined the two, well…

It had to be investigated…

Disclaimer, Luca gave me a copy of this while I was off duty at Expo for review purposes.

Dare the Stars is a new book from Wild Boar Games, using the spirit of the White Star rules and expanding on it to make their own universe.  There are a variety of new equipment, vehicles, starships, and character classes, and it can be used as a stand-alone book without having to make reference to the White Star MRB. 

While it is a full book in its own right, there isn’t much to differentiate it from the White Star Main rules.  There are a few new things, new ships, new weapons, new creatures, but not enough of a universe to show the creators vision of the future. The artwork is basic, and very reminiscent of the days of old (which is always good), which works very well for conveying the feel of the world as it is, but there’s not sufficient of it to convey as much of the universe you want to know about.

That said, I do know something of this book and its history, and I know that Luca had to rush the game to get it out in time for Expo, and that it doesn’t contain his full vision, so while this is an excellent start, I’m holding my full review for when I hold the final product in my hands.

Meantime, this is good stuff, well worth the low price to get into OSR space gaming…

Friday 24 June 2016

Board Game Review - Codinca

And on a day when the world seems to be all about changing places and flipping sides, it’s not on purpose that I review a game that has that as the central premise…

This is Codinca…

I first encountered this game back in 2014 at Expo, but there were a few problems, not least of which was the price point on the game and the use of a back board and wooden/stone pieces rather than the plastic ones used in this particular version.  I backed the kickstarter then but it didn't make it, and when I found that Backspindle had managed to produce a version that was both affordable and available, I had to get it.

Two to four players, the grid that the pieces are set up in remains the same, each player changes the position of two adjacent tiles or flips one piece from gold to white and tries to make the patterns they have been dealt.

Sounds simple?

It is, and that is one of the greatest strengths on this game, it starts out on a completely level playing field, and you can play by just aiming for the formations you’re trying to make, or you can play offensively and ensure that your opponent can’t get the formations they’re after.  When there’s two players, it very often becomes a game of sabotaging the other player, as the other tiles on the board will remain unthreatening to your strategy for most of the game.

Playing the game, there’s a feel reminiscent of playing with a good set of Mah-Jongg, the pieces are of a good size and weight and it makes for a satisfying tactile element as you flip and click them around the table.  As the game goes on and people get more adept at it, it becomes a clicking frenzy as everyone waits for their turn to slap the pieces down.

The board starts like this, and every player is given a random draw of patterns (one from each of the types, Square, Corners, Diagonals, and Line) with a combination of colours for each of them.

As you make each combination, you reveal the card that it matches and then put it face down on your winning pile.  

Green gets the combination
But you have to be aware of what the other players are doing as well...

The very next move, Red gets the pattern

The reason for this is twofold, it gives your opponent the understanding of how many patterns you have left to make, but it also encourages them to remember which ones you already have made so they can try to disrupt that.  Not a game for those with goldfish memories this one.

When it gets to the endgame, the board no longer resembles anything like the orderly pattern that it was at the beginning.

When not playing the basic version of the game, there are spirit cards that affect the entire board at once, changing the colour of every tile on the board and making a massive change to the state of the pieces.  These cards are very powerful, and used properly, can score points with a single move rather than having several turns of flipping tiles over.

The quality of the box is excellent, strong cardboard with a magnetic seal on the front, instructions in six languages, and sixteen pieces of hardened plastic that stand up to a lot of abuse.

More details about this at but this is one of those games that you can use to introduce your non-gaming friends to the hobby, you can learn it in less than a minute, but the combinations are endless and it lends itself to all styles of play.

Well Recommended...

Thursday 23 June 2016

Upcoming UK Game Conventions

So having finished with Expo for the moment (and nearly recovered), it’s time to look at the conventions that are coming up in the near future.  Some new, some old, and some…Digital…

For me, the things about most conventions is making sure that those giving their time for the convention are suitable rewarded for their efforts, and in some cases, the organisers of the conventions don’t see eye to eye with me on that.

So I don’t promote them…

That said, coming up shortly are the following conventions, each one of which is looking for a variety of helpers and the rewards are all agreed.  Those already on my convention notification list will be getting this separately, but if there are any questions, please ask.

Play Expo Margate

I’ve listed the rewards package for each convention under their individual entry below


Online convention running on the 29th of October, there’s hundreds of people interested in it and they’re about to put the announcement on their new website.  As it is, you can find more details about them at  and they’ll be putting joining instructions up shortly.


Now in its third year and getting a very strong following, they’re looking for RPG’s and Demo games and are offering free entrance to the con in return for a single slot of volunteering.  Located in Newport, Wales and running on the 17th of September this year for one day only. They’re distinctive from many conventions in that the entire profits of the convention are sent directly to charity and even with that, they’ve managed to grow the event for each of the years they’ve been running.  Their main website is at and they can be found on the facebook group at


The major gaming convention for London, this year in a brand new venue and running on the 3rd of December 2016 for one day only.  We’re needing RPG GM’s, Tournament umpires, and playtest teams as there’s a lot of things going on in the new place and we need more volunteers than we ever have before.  Running a single slot of games or demos will get you entry and we’re running from early in the morning till late in the evening with a variety of live games, RPG’s, huge board games, and other special events to be announced.  The main website is at and the facebook group is at

Play Expo Margate

In its second year, Play Expo Margate is primarily a retro games convention, but they’re looking to expand their repertoire into RPG’s and board games.  Held on the 23rd and 24th of July in the Winter Gardens at Margate, they’ll be looking for GM’s and Board game teams to assist them bringing the fun to the show.  Free entrance in return for five hours of games being run and they can be found at  Their facebook page is


A new convention backed by MCM comic con, starting with a four day run between 25th August and 28th of August at the International Centre in Telford.  Primarily covering CCG and other collectible games, they’re also looking to expand the number of other games that they can offer, their present schedule of games can be found at  They’re looking for RPGs and Board/Miniature tournaments and are offering free entrance for 24 players hours (4 hours, 6 players) for RPGs and Accommodation with breakfast for 120 player hours (five slots of 4 hours, 6 players), but they are looking for more commercial RPGs (I.e. ones that will sell out) rather than homebrew offerings.  Tournament offerings will be judged on a case by case basis, but they will offer free entrance to anyone volunteering a tournament of 20 or more players.  Their main website is located at and information on upcoming events can be found on


Now in its third year and returning at the earlier date of 1st and 2nd of September this year, Wyntercon is a multi-faceted convention running at the Winter Gardens in Eastbourne.  They’re looking for RPG games and possibly demo teams, although more details on that will be forthcoming.  A very friendly event with a lot to offer to people, very family friendly and varied.  They can be found at and keep live updates at

I do help with some (most) of these conventions, so if there are any queries, please let me know or contact the organisers directly.