Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My Two Copper Pieces: First Impressions of "D&D Next"

As soon as I heard that Wizards was going to crowdsource the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons, I signed up to be a playtester quicker then you can say "anhkheg".  Then, on May 24'th I (and presumably a million other arrested development types) received the following email:

Dear Dungeons & Dragons® Fan,

You are receiving this email because you requested information about the start of the D&D Next Playtest and how to participate. We are pleased to inform you that playtesting for the next iteration of D&D® has begun!

To thank you for your early interest and enthusiasm, we’re giving you a head start on downloading the playtest packet. Later today, we will be making the materials available to all playtesters.

To download your official playtest packet, please click here and follow the instructions provided. You will need to log in with your Wizards account or create one if you do not already have one.

Thank you for your interest in the D&D Next Playtest. We look forward to your participation and feedback.

Happy Adventuring,

The D&D Team

After reading positive feedback from some very trusted sources I spent last night reviewing the playtest materials.  Here are my wholly unsolicited opinions, listed from negative to positive...

Critical Fail:
  • Coup de grâce.  C'mon, you shouldn't have to roll to finish off an unconscious foe! 
  • Characters don't croak until they hit their CON + LEVEL in negative hit points.  Sorry, but this makes characters more resilient then friggin' Rasputin...  
  • Short Rests smack of Type Four Healing Surges.  How 'bout a max of ONE HD back for each Healing Kit usage?        
  • Long Rests smack of being COMPLETELY BATSHIT NUTS.  Inspired by an old Dragon article I've always liked natural healing based on the circumstances of rest.  For example, sleeping on a cold Dungeon Floor?  You only get back your CON modifier (with a minimum of one Hit Point).  Sleeping on a bedroll in a cozy camp or at one-star inn?  10% (+ CON modifier) of Hit Points back.   Two-star inn?  20% (+ CON modifier) of Hit Points back.  Eggcetera.        
  • Why do these pre-gens have so many friggin' Hit Points!?!   
  • I understand the reasoning behind the the Reaper's infallible striking ability, but causing damage on a miss is Peryton poo.  How 'bout giving fighters with this ability a cumulative 25% for every miss and then allow them to roll percentile dice to cause their STR modifier in damage?      
True Neutral:
  • Since I've been falling back on the old "roll under the appropriate Ability Score after modifiers on a d20" lately, I've sorta m'eh on Difficulty Class for Checks.  
  • Saving Throws based around all six Ability Scores.  Although I gotta admit, this does make a lot of sense...
  •  Individual Initiative just doesn't seem as fun as Group Initiative.
  • Turning Undead as a spell.  Despite my immediate opposition, I didn't put this in the "con" category, since the ability to Turn Undead doesn't always make sense with every single clerical template.  But when it's appropriate (like for priests of Pelor) the playtest rules allow you to Turn as a swap-out spell.  Still, for undead-heavy campaigns, I'm thinking that a limited Turning capacity will be sorely by some players.            
Critical Hit:
  • Minis are optional.
  • Contests.
  • Advantage / Disadvantage.  Increasingly so.
  • Simple carrying capacity.
  • Movement in Feet with no reference to "grid spaces".
  • Surprise with an Initiative Penalty!
  • Improvisational combat moves are actually encouraged. 
  • Max damage on a, uh...Critical Hit.  
  • Platinum and Electrum is appropriately rare and exotic.  
  • Armor classified as Light, Medium and Heavy Armor (with a simplified Dexterity effect)
  • Vancian magic.  What can I say, I'm a sucker for the classics.  
  • Backgrounds influence starting skills.  Brilliant!
  • The themes give players an immediate role-playing hook.  
Above all, the rules look simple.  They remind me of the Mentzer Basic Set books, spruced up with some legitimately good ideas cribbed fropm recent editions coupled with some completely new and innovative ideas for good measure.

I firmly believe that this approach is very sound.  Although I still dig Type 3 / 3.5 quite a bit, I always thought that the fusion between Basic and Advanced D&D was a bit of a mistake.  I think that Wizards knew it at the time too, since they ended up releasing no less then three Basic boxed sets after the fact:

Even the supposedly simplified Fourth Edition wasn't the sort of game that you could just jump in and start playing.  Hence this particularly deceptive fake-out:

So, in a way, even the initial approach here is "old school" (right down to the inclusion of "The Caves of Chaos").  Back in the day, after we'd mastered the Basic game, most of us automatically felt compelled to graduate to AD&D and experience all of the expanded possibilities that it offered.  That was a pretty solid formula, so why mess with it? 

After reading through the playtest materials for D&D Whateverthefuckitscalled, I'm left with the distinct impression that, at the very least, the design team is legitimately interested in extending the lifespan of this classic game.  Even if they ended up releasing the playtest rules exactly the way they are right now, I think it would appease the Old School crowd quite a bit and still be approachable enough for newbies to jump right in. 

And ultimately, that should be the goal of any new edition...
P.S. This particular vid sums up my thoughts to a "T"...

Saturday, May 26, 2012

"Intentional Pounding": Blood Bowl Team Manager

So back on the 16'th we were supposed to play Marvel Heroes but no one had an opportunity to properly prep it.  And trust me, that ain't the sort of game that you can just throw down on the table, skim the rules and start playing.  You'll see why soon enough.

After indulging in some Zombie Dice as a preamble, it was time to pick a headliner for the evening.  Andrew had played both Power Grid and Blood Bowl Team Manager recently so he felt pretty confident running either of them.  Eventually we settled on the latter because:
  • I hadn't had a chance to play it yet.
  • Dean had played it recently and liked it so much that he wanted to give it another bash.  
  • Andrew had tabled Power Grid only a few days prior and wanted to try something different.
  • Mike was being his usual easy-going, jovial, non-committal self.   

I'm not going to go into our extensive history with Blood Bowl just yet;  I'll cover that when we play the game proper next week.  Just suffice to say that some of us are completely enamored with the concept and we're automatically predisposed to a quick n' dirty card game set in the same universe.

The awesome thing about Fantasy Flight is that they seem to be in the habit of producing instructional videos for many of their new releases.  So, after watching six clear, concise and wholly entertaining vids we were up and running almost immediately:

Andrew...Athelorn Avengers (Wood Elves)
Me...Reikland Reavers (Humans)
Dean...Grudgebearers (Dwarves)
Mike...Skaven Blight (Skaven)


  • "Endurance Training" gave us two additional cards apiece, extending the round and adding to the back-and-forth mayhem.
  • Andrew won the high roll and dropped a Wood Elf Lineman on the "Bad Snap" headline.
  • Mike played a Skaven Gutter Runner on "Personal Foul".
  • Dean's Dwarf Runner claimed the "Get Yer Head In The Game!" headline.
  • Since "Fumblerooski!" was the only card without a combatant, I placed a Human Blitzer there.
  • Andrew re-enforced "Bad Snap" with a Wood Elf Catcher, claiming the ball.
  • Mike tried to take out my Human Blitzer on the "Fumblerooski!" field but borked a one-die tackle.  
  • Dean challenged Mike on the "Personal Foul" play.  His Dwarf Blocker pasted Mike's Gutter Runner and the ball bounced back mid-field.  
  • I mangled Andrew's Wood Elf on the "Bad Snap" with an Ogre, gaining a Cheat Token and moving the ball back to start.  
  • Instead of responding there, Andrew "Got (His) Head In The Game!" and nabbed the ball from Dean with a Wood Elf Thrower.
  • Mike brought down a Rat Ogre, humbling Dean's Dwarf Blocker in the "Personal Foul" theater.
  • Dean responded with a Troll Slayer, putting Mike's Rat Ogre on his arse!
  • I played a Human Thrower on the "Bad Snap" headline, nabbing the ball from Andrew.     
  • Andrew came at my Human Thrower with a Treeman.  Just before he was smashed into oblivion, he managed to hand the ball off to my Ogre.  
  • Mike threw a Skaven Blitzer into the "Fumblerooski!" scrum, stripping the ball away from my Human Blitzer.
  • Dean's Dwarf Blitzer managed to steal the ball from Andrew's Wood Elf Thrower.  
  • Another Human Blitzer tried to pummel Mike's ball carrier in "Fumblerooski!" but I somehow managed to roll double X's!!!  D'oh!
  • Andrew's Wardancer kicked my downed Thrower right in the cubes, knocking him out of the "Bad Snap" headline.  
  • Mike's Skaven Thrower tried to avenge his Rat Ogre by grabbing the ball in the "Personal Foul" play.
  • Dean countered with a Dwarf Blitzer who proceeded to re-arrange the Skaven Thrower's already-questionable features.
  • My Human Thrower managed to drag the ball back to the "Funblerooski!" 50 yard line.
  • Andrew's Wardancer pilfered the ball from Dean's Dwarf Runner in the "Get Yer Head In The Game!" contest.
  • Mike bolstered up his "Fumblerooski!" defense with two Skaven Lineman.
  • Dean's Troll Slayer took "Get Yer Head In The Game!" literally by decapitating Andrew's Thrower and then playing footie with his melon.  
  • I tried to offset the "Fumblerooski!" war with Mike by recruiting a Human Lineman.
  • Andrew managed to claw the ball back in the "Get Yer Head In The Game!" war with a Wood Elf Catcher.
  • Dean committed no less then two Dwarf Longbeards to the "Get Yer Head In The Game!" meat-grinder.
  • I sent another Human Lineman onto the "Bad Snap" pitch.
  • Mike's sneaky Gutter Runner didn't "Fumblerooski!", expertly making off with the ball instead.
  • Hoping that Mike would be crippled by Cheat Tokens, I added a final Human Lineman to the "Fumblerooski!" play.
Round One Fan Count

Dean...8 Fans
Andrew...6 Fans
Me...2 Fans
Mike...2 Fans

  • Mike kicked things off by entering a Skaven Lineman in the "Spike! Magazine Trophy" Tournament.
  • Dean snapped up the "Rolling Cage" headline with a Dwarf Runner.  
  • I dedicated a Human Lineman to the "Goal Line Plunge".  
  • Andrew sniped the ball in "The Rolling Cage" with his Wood Elf Thrower.
  • Mike's Skaven Blitzer was the first to go "Over The Middle".
  • Dean's Dwarven Longbeard snapped up the "Fleet Footed Flea Flicker" headline (try saying that five time real quick).
  • In quick succession, I entered two Human Lineman to the Spike! Magazine Tournament.
  • Andrew sent his Wood Elf Lineman "Over The Middle" to oppose Mike's Blitzer.
  • Mike's Skaven Thrower burgled the ball from Dean in the "Fleet Footed Flea Flicker" contest.
  • Seeking swift revenge, Dean's Dwarf Blocker immediately hospitalized Mike's Thrower.
  • Andrew played a Wood Elf Lineman in the "Goal Line Plunge".
  • Mike's Skaven Blitzer annihilated one of my Linemen in the Tournament.
  • In "The Rolling Cage", Dean's Dwarf Blocker neutered Andrew's Wood Elf Thrower.
  • Looking to settle the score, my Human Blitzer ganked Mike's counterpart in the Tournament.
  • Andrew sent a Wood Elf Lineman against "The Rolling Cage".
  • Mike's Skaven Gutter Runner Yoinked! the ball in the "Spike!" Tournament.
  • Looking to get in the action, Dean sponsored a Dwarf Longbeard for the Tournament.
  • My Blitzer kicked Mike's ball carrier square in the knutz, taking him out of contention in the Tournament.  
  • Andrew's War Dancer dismantled Dean's Dwarf Runner in "The Rolling Cage".
  • Mike's Rat Ogre charged into the Tournament, taking out my Human Lineman.  And not in a good way...     
  • In "The Rolling Cage" Dean's Troll Slayer branched out, slaying Andrew's Elf Lineman instead.
  • I dropped the equivalent of a Tournament nuclear bomb in the form of Barik Fast...er, Farblast and the ball moved to mid-field. 
  • In an eleventh hour play, Andrew's Wood Elf Catcher stole the ball in "The Rolling Cage" headline.
Round Two Fan Count

Dean...13 Fans
Andrew...10 Fans
Me...9 Fans
Mike...5 Fans

  • With "The Weather Disrupts the Match", each headline was capped at three combatants per side for this round.
  • Dean's Dwarf Runner made a "Heroic Leap".
  • My Human Lineman stopped to "Pose for the Fans".
  • Andrew tried to Pearl Harbor me with a Wardancer on the same headline but rolled a "Blank" and an "X".  WOOT! 
  • Appropriately, Mike's Skaven Thrower went on the "Gutter Run".
  • Dean was first to wade into the "Knuckleduster Smear" with a Dwarf Longbeard.
  • My Freebooter Blitzer ensured that Andrew's Wardancer would be sipping his meals through a straw for the foreseeable future.  
  • Andrew's Wood Elf Thrower picked off the ball in the "Gutter Run".  
  • With his two-space ball movement skill, Mike's Gutter Runner made a "Heroic Leap" and grabbed the ball!
  • Dean pissed on Mike's Big Moot Sandwich® by using the Dwarf Blitzer's Strip Ball ability to move the "pig" skin right back to center field!  
  • I dropped an Ogre on the "Knuckleduster Smear" but after rolling double X's the stupid fuck just stood there and made cow eyes at Dean's Dwarf Longbeard.  "Friend???" 
  • Andrew introduced a Wood Elf Lineman to the "Gutter Run".
  • Mike's Rat Ogre charged up the field in the "Gutter Run", successfully tackling Andrew's Lineman.
  • Dean upped the ante in the "Knuckleduster Smear" with a Troll Slayer.
  • I responded in kind with my own Human Catcher.
  • Thanks to Andrew's Wood Elf Catcher. the ball moved back to mid-field in "Pose for the Fans".   
  • Mike shoved a Skaven Lineman out into "The Gutter Run".  
  • Dean's Troll Slayer wasn't so smitten.  He promptly marched out onto the "Knuckleduster Smear" pitch and knocked my Ogre right the fuck out.
  • I tried to salvage the same headline by adding the star player Slab, who apparently offered the Slayer nothing more threatening then a hand-job after I rolled a "Blank" and an "X".  Fucksticks!!!
  • Andrew sent a Wardancer after Mike's Skaven Lineman in the "Gutter Run".  After rolling double blanks, Andrew used his "Tackling Coach" card to try again but whiffed on the second hit as well!!!  Clearly my team isn't the only one stocked with organ donors.     
  • Mike polished off the round by adding a Skaven Lineman to "Heroic Leap"
Round Two Fan Count

Dean...17 Fans
Andrew...13 Fans
Me...12 Fans
Mike...6 Fans


  • Unfortunately we had to skip a round because it was getting late and it was a school night.  Booooo!!!
  • My Human Lineman eagerly pursued "The Sneaky Weasel".  And, no, that's not code for something... 
  • Andrew's Wood Elf Lineman made like a Rogue on "The Backstab Special".  
  • Mike provided some opposition on "The Sneaky Weasel" in the form of a Skaven Lineman.
  • Dean snatched up "The Moustrap" with a Dwarf Longbeard.
  • I missed my third straight tackle attempt when my Human Blitzer failed to put down Mike's Lineman in "The Sneaky Weasel" headline.  Unreal.  
  • In an "All-Out Blitz", Andrew's Wood Elf Lineman snatched the ball away from Mike's Skaven Lineman.
  • Mike's Skaven Thrower promptly stole the ball back on the very next play!
  • Dean put Cornelius Crisphead...er, Krieg into "The Backstab Special".  Krieg then proceeded to use Andrew's Wood Elf Lineman as a pointy-eared condom.   
  • I added a Human Lineman to "The Mousetrap" in opposition to Dean's Longbeard.
  • Nonplussed, Andrew used a Treeman to knock Krieg down.  He then tapped his "Tackling Coach" card to re-enact a certain scene from Evil Dead.  I'm sure you know what scene I'm referring to...
  • Mike's Rat Ogre made mincemeat out of Andrew's downed Lineman in "The Backstab Special".
  • Dean's Dwarf Blocker failed to take out my Human Lineman in "The Mousetrap" but did succeed in getting ahold of the ball.
  • I brought in a Human Blitzer to try to pop the ball loose.  I finally hit on a two-die block and the ball went back to neutral ground.
  • Andrew waded into the "Blood Bowl" with a Wardancer.
  • Mike immediately flattened him with a Skaven Blitzer!
  • Morg n' Thorg entered the competition on Dean's behalf, mauling Mike's Blitzer and taking the ball for himself!
  • Barik Ass, er...Farblast ventured into "The Mousetrap" for me and snatched up the ball.  
  • Andrew's Wardancer did an "All-Out Blitz", burying Mike's Skaven Thrower.
  • Things get even hairier when Mike dropped a 3-Star Power Blitzer against the 5-Star Power Morg.  The odds on the tackle were against him since he had to roll two die and Dean got to chose the result.  But, since both of Mike's die turned up hits, Morg was soon getting an intimate view of the Astrogranite
  • Dean promptly returned the favor by knocking out Mike's felled Rat Ogre with his Troll Slayer.  
  • I threw a Human Blitzer into the "Blood Bowl" clusterfuck and curb stomped the wounded Morg until he was carried off in a stretcher.  
  • Andrew let the Mighty Zug off of his chain, who immediately ass-raped Dean's Troll Slayer.  This time he telegraphed the potential "Tackling Coach" knock out.              
  • Mike managed to grab the "Blood Bowl" ball...until Dean played spoiler with star player Eldril Sidewinder. 
Final Fan Count 
Mike 14

Honestly, I had a real blast playing this game!  It's a shame that we had to jettison a round in the interest of time.  My ability to garner Fans from the Star Players in my roster would have put some serious heat on Dean's lead.

At first I didn't see the game as particularly "managerial" but this certainly comes into play when choosing what headlines to pursue.  In fact, Star Players, support staff and training facilities are really clutch in determining how many Fans you end up getting.

Individual "matches" are highly abstracted, but this is a moot point since that's what the original Blood Bowl is for.  True to the spirit of its predecessor, there's plenty of tense die rolls and gratuitous bloodshed.  Since the original game isn't always the easiest (or shortest) thing to throw down and play, Team Manager is a great game to break out between League matches!

I heartily give Blood Bowl Team Manager five pips out of six!   


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Wheaton Effect: "Zombie Dice"

I've always had a like / hate relationship with Steve Jackson Games.

On one hand, I dig (in theory) games like Ogre and Illuminati.  On the other hand I find the popularity of such overpriced, nebulous, luck-based, monochromatic dreck like Munchkin to be completely inexplicable.  Hell, I love D&D and dungeon crawl games, but any rule book that says that "disputes should be settled by loud arguments among the players, with the owner of the game having the last word" should be summarily burned.

Speaking of being burned, after paying hard-earned cheddar for both Munchkin and Chez Geek I vowed never to buy another Steve Jackson game ever again.  But then along comes Wesley friggin' Crusher with his high-falutin' board game show Tabletop and suddenly I find myself completely enamored with the press-yer-luck die-chucker Zombie Dice.

Here's the episode in question (with a handy rules overview @ the 10:25 mark):


So, when I saw that cheap-looking $15 plastic cup behind the counter at The Comic Hunter a few weeks ago, I just couldn't resist Wil Wheaton's siren call.  So I bought the friggin' thing.

Cheryl and I immediately played a few games.  In Game One I scored five Brains on my first round and then two Brains on my second and third turns.  Cheryl washed out in her first two throws but got on the board with four Brains during her third go-round.  I gained five more Brains on my final turn and stopped with a total of fourteen.  On her last turn Cheryl managed to score a whopping nine Brains before being Shotgunned.  Despite this, I still managed to hold on to the win with a score of 14 to 13.

Cheryl started off Game Two in style by rolling an inconceivable eight Brains in her first round!  I followed this up by busting on my first two turns.  Cheryl then added incrementally to her lead by scoring two more Brains on her second turn.  Like a classic Romero zombie, I s-l-o-w-l-y managed to claw my way back, picking up a total of eight Brains on my next four turns.  Cheryl had the decency to stall for a bit, going three rounds without adding to her Brain pile.  Eventually she settled down and got four more Brains in two rounds, stopping at fourteen!

Trying to beat her score in one round with only eight Brains was rough.  I rolled three Escapes twice, then two Brains and one Escape (putting me at 10), then two Brains and one Shotgun (taking my score to 12), then one Brain and two Escapes on two separate rolls.  By some miracle, I'd managed to tie her score at 14 Brains apiece!

As per the rules, this resulted in a single "sudden death" bonus round.  I felt good about pulling off a coup as Cheryl rolled one Escape, one Brain and one Shotgun not once but twice!  Confident that I could beat two Brains, my first throw resulted in one of each facing.  But then, rolling one die of each color, I somehow managed to roll one green Escape and two lethal Shotgun results!  


Just like that, it was over and I'd lost with a final score of 16 to 14.              

We then played a Tiebreaker Game.  Mirroring Cheryl's awesome start last time, I managed to bag six Brains right off the bat.  After Cheryl wiped out in her first round I built on my lead with a two Brain performance.  On her next toss, Cheryl took off the kid gloves and scored five big Brains but I quickly countered with five of my own!  With Cheryl lagging behind, I felt safe stopping at exactly thirteen Brains.      

But on her last turn, Cheryl went to work.  Her first throw scored one Shotgun and two Brains (raising her score to 7).  Next she rolled one Brain (taking her to 8), one Escape one Shotgun.  She then diced up two Escapes and one Brain on her next two turns (bringing Brain tally to 10).  She then completed an epic comeback by rolling two Brains and one Escape in two successive turns!  All told she managed to overcome two early Shotgun hits and win with a final score 14 to 13!

I knew I had a winner on my hands when Cheryl wanted to play it during our drive home next day!

"I can roll for you and tell you what you got!" she offered helpfully.

Last Wednesday we were slated to play Marvel Heroes but I really didn't get a chance to properly prep it.   As a result, we defaulted to an alternate game that Andrew had played recently.  However, on the morning of game day, I received the following sheepish email from Andrew (which bore the provocative subject line of "Damn You, Wil Wheaton"):


I have a quick filler that we could start the night off with if you guys are interested.  You guessed it, Wil Wheaton and his stupid video made me temporarily lift my anti-Steve Jackson campaign.  'Zombie Dice' acquired. 

Dave, do you mind if we squeeze it in so I don’t need to add it to my unplayed list?  Should only take 10 minutes tops.

To which I replied:

Yeah, you don’t need to bring your copy.  Wheaton got to me as well.

I really hope the fucker's getting commission from these sales!

So here's the resulting session of Zombie Dice, featuring me, Mike, Andrew and Dean...

Zombie Dice might not be a deep, strategic brain-burner (pun not intended) but it is a fun filler game.  The "press your luck" element isn't just a factor in your individual die rolls; it also comes into play when deciding what Brain count is safe to to stop at!  

So, Steve Jackson, you can thank Wil Wheaton personally for selling at least two copies of Zombie Dice amongst our snobbish gaming group and single-handedly improving our opinion of your company.  At least until the warranty is up on those cheap-ass dice cups.

Zombie Dice gets four pips outta six!

Hmmmmmm....d'ya think we'll ever see Ogre on a future episode of Tabletop?    Naaaaaaaa...

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Child's Play: "Worm Up!"

So you've replicated....

committed meiosis...

produced a sequel...

knocked out a chip...

pushed out a bambino...

hatched a larvae...

spawned a brat.

Made a new fucking person.  

And now yer thinkin' to yourself: "Oh Sweet Jesus, what have I done?  My sole raison d'être now is to take care of this thing that I've created.  I have absolutely no time for anything else.  All of the hobbies that I loved, that made me unique, kept me sane, made life worth living...they're all gone forever."

To which I say:  Stop thinking in the now, you selfish, narrow-minded, sock-monkey.  

It may be difficult to imagine this as you clean explosive diarrhea off the wall, but one of these days your little shit machine is gonna be a potential gamer.  Play yer cards right and you could have a gamin' buddy for life.  Worst case scenario: you trick them into these nerdly pursuits for a few years until they become self aware, resentful and equate playing board games to child abuse.  Then they steal your Prius and knock over a liquor store.

One of the ways to decrease the chances of future 211 / 503 activity is to ensure that your kid can look back on all of their childhood gameyness with fondness instead of spite.  This means playing games that don't suck.  In other words none of this shite:

Or this:

Or this:

One good way to tell if you've got a decent kids game is to play it without any actual kids in the room.  If you can get half way through it without your brain flat-lining then you've got yerself a keeper.

Such is the case with Worm Up, a secret action selection / racing game in which players control their own multi-segmented wriggler.  After secretly picking one of several movement tokens (numbered 4-7 with one "X" option) participants reveal their choices.  Any player who selected the same number as someone else will lose their turn while anyone who made a unique pick gets to move their patron invertebrate.

This is accomplished by taking one segment at a time from the back of said worm and adding it to the front.  In doing so, you can also be a complete dick and try to cut off an opponent, which I'm apparently doing to Chad in this photo...

The "X" is used to co-opt any number that hasn't been selected by another player.  You also get to swivel the finish line by putting your finger on one of the posts and turning it any way you want.  

The first player to get their worm to touch the finish line is the winner.  Although that sounds even more unintentionally pervy then the Mr. Bucket commercial, I assure you that Worm Up! is good, clean, mindless fun.

Listen now as three grown men have a blast playing a game essentially designed for seven year olds...


As I said in the audio, this game is kinda like a low-fi version of the light cycle competition in Tron.  Seriously, even if you don't currently own a mini-me, you still might want to consider getting Worm Up! just to serve as a stupid but fun filler game.  Alternately you can also use it to seriously fuck with people's perception as to what a kid's game is supposed to be like.    

I whole-heartedly give Worm Up! a respectable four pips outta six!  

Thursday, May 17, 2012

"Survive!" + "Pandemic" - BVS (Bossy Veteran Syndrome) = "Forbidden Island"

I'm a really big fan of PandemicMatt Leacock's co-operative disease-thwarting board game, but lately I've noticed that more experienced players have a tendency to direct the actions of newbies in an effort to beat the game.  Once you identify a case of B.V.S. (Bossy Veteran Syndrome) you can take steps to minimize the problem, but the strategic complexities of the game make it very difficult to eliminate.

Two years after the release of Pandemic, Leacock stripped down and re-themed the core mechanics as Forbidden Island.  He removed some of the chrome that occasionally resulted in analysis paralysis and, in doing so, reduced the tendency for more experienced players to play traffic cop.

In Forbidden Island, players become dauntless explorers attempting to recover four ancient artifacts from a sinking island.  In order to win, players have to work in close conjunction with one another, exploiting their special abilities and maximizing turn efficiency.  The goal is to recover all four treasures and then escape the island before it vanishes into the sea!

We had a chance to sit down with the game a few weeks ago after playing Road Kill Rally.  Here's how the game played out...



With its "Andromeda Strain" theme and additional depth and complexity, I still prefer Pandemic but there's plenty of reasons to break out its younger, hipper offspring as an alternative.  Because it is a much simpler game, Forbidden Island seems less prone to the aforementioned B.V.S. and feels more genuinely co-operative as a result.

Boasting excellent components, quick play time and a reasonable sticker price, Forbidden Island is definitely worth exploring.

Four pips outta six!


Friday, May 11, 2012

Mean Streets: "Road Kill Rally"

We were slated to play Blood Bowl back on the 2nd but after our host Dean developed a sore throat (we warned him about blowing that homeless guy) and was forced to cancel we had to scramble to come up with a Plan "B".

After playing a partial game of Road Kill Rally at Davecon, I'd become slightly obsessed with vehicular combat flicks, even going so far as to re-watch Mad Max for the third time.  So, needless to say, I was quite predisposed to Andrew's eleventh hour suggestion to table a full-length rematch.

RE: Road Kill Rally, publishers Z-Man Games seem to harbor absolutely no pretensions about the game's originality: "think Car Wars meets Death Race 2000" they proudly proclaim on their website.      

Road Kill Rally is set in the year 2035 when reality shows are finally starting to get cool.  Vicious vehicular death sports have become insanely popular, drawing ratings in excess of three billion people for the infamous Rally Cup finals.

Players go behind the wheel of weapon-strapped cars and score points by flattening pedestrians, destroying competing drivers and attempting to finish first.  The driver with the most combined points at the end of the race is declared the winner (and apparently a rat bastard).  Basically this game makes Manhunt look like Mannix.

Andrew took the red car ("Blood Drive"), Chad took the green car ("Morbid Envy") and I had "The Black Death".  We then drew random driver Skills Cards.  I pulled "Nerves of Steel" reducing all of my Crash Checks by 1 die.  Andrew's avatar came equipped with a "Driver's Pistol", allowing him to attack any adjacent opponent.  Chad's "Nerves of Steel" gave him -1 damage from all attacks and crashes.

We then got to customize our vehicles with cards from the Accessory Deck.  I tricked out my car with a long-range Vulcan Cannon, anti-flame Asbestos Armor and Armor-Piercing Rounds.  Chad acquired a Flame Thrower, stocked up on ultra-efficient Napalm Ammo and bolted on the incredible versatile Composite Armor.  Andrew also went for a Flame Thrower, augmenting this with a Stereo System (+1 die to score Seniors) and a Psychopathic Driver (giving him an extra die when trying to kill pedestrians).

Andrew won the die roll and opted to hang back in the third slot.  I decided to take the second starting space, putting me neck-and-neck with Chad in the vanguard.    


Since Chad decided to crank his speed up to 120 miles per hour, he got the privilege of moving first.  Barreling into the Protester Barricade he played "Bloodthirsty", allowing him to roll two extra die while attacking the wayward kid.  I tried to counter-balance this with a "Mercy" card, forcing him to score double the amount of hits for a kill!  After missing that particular street urchin, he speeds towards another, dropping two cards to boost his chances.  With no interference this time he rolled three hits, decorating his front bumper with essence de preschooler.   

I kept my speed at 100 mph, intent on running over my first toddler.  I discarded a Rally Card to improve my chances to hit and Chad responded with his own "Mercy", resulting in a near miss.  Hoping that Chad has gotten all of the payback out of his system, I flopped another card to give me a bonus die in shmucking the second kid.  This time no impediments materialized and I successfully smoked L'il Billy just as he tried to cross the yellow line.  

Andrew followed up, attempting to mop up our table scraps.  He rolled two dice (thanks to his "Psycho Killer" trait) and gained a prepubescent hood ornament.  He then pulled in right behind THE CHADINATOR.  

In the combat round, Chad powered up his Flame Thrower in an effort to turn a Senior into a briquette.   Rolling a mitt full of five dice, he succeeded admirably.  

Since Andrew was moving faster then me, he got to go first.  After dropping some ammo he attacked Chad with his Flame Thrower, scoring four hits (and a +10 point Hit Token).  Although Chad's incredibly handy driver skill and armor nullified two points, he still had to lose two Rally Cards to Andrew making him ripe for a Wipe Out.  

I then did my damnedest to facilitate this, powering up my Vulcan Cannon by discarding cards for two Ammo.  Not content to roll only four die I also used Armor Piercing Rounds.   Despite the Axis & Allies amount of dice I chucked, Chad managed to earn himself a reprieve.  That is until Andrew played "Fuzzy Dice", allowing me to re-roll.  On the second roll I scored three hits, just enough to blow Chad off the road.  He immediately dropped down to 20 MPH and scrapped his primary weapon.  

Chad put the pedal to the metal to get back up to 40 klicks, revealing the Death Cult tile.  Wanting to hold onto his cards for insurance, he only rolled one die versus his first pedestrian which ended up being a miss.  His luck was considerably better on the second attack.

Andrew took his speed up one notch to 140 mph.  Now moving an insane seven spaces he had to perform a pretty daunting Crash Check going into a red corner.  With a single discard he reduced the initial five dice check to a four but still came away with four hits!  After turfing a matching amount of cards he then earned the unenviable distinction of being the first driver through the Flaming Barricade.  Unfortunately for Andrew, it was just too much for him to handle.  Since he can't pay the resulting three discards worth of damage he immediately Wipes Out.

I played a "Pass" card to get around Chad just before the Shortcut tile came down.  Completely forgetting my "Nerves of Steel" ability, I threw out two cards to successfully navigate around the red corner.  Despite throwing another Rally Card away I still took a point of damage going through the Flaming Barrier.  Now in the clear, I barreled down the two suicidal cultists, running them over without a twinge of conscience.  Since Andrew somehow thought that he was entitled to these pedestrians he promptly swore an oath on enmity against me.

Unfortunately I had no way to do a preemptive strike against him during the Attack Phase.  Andrew took aim at me with his Driver Pistol, rolling two die ignoring armor.  His one hit forces me to chuck my last card.  Chad also has no capability to attack.


After cranking my speed up to 120 mph I managed to kill the last cultist in my path.  Unfortunately, as my incessantly shitty luck would have it, I somehow managed a one-in-six-chance two pip die facing on my "Human Sacrifice" check.  This resulted in a four Rally Card loss and a fucking Wipe Out.  Incredible.  The resulting damage has me dumping my Armor Piercing Rounds.  One tear.

Andrew slowly recovered his speed, now traveling forty.  Because he's a Psychopath he was completely nonplussed after plastering one of the satanic lemmings.

Chad set his speed at 40 mph.  He rolled two pips while going through the Flaming Barrier, suffering two hits.  He then played "Cheerleaders", allowing him to draw three replacement Rally Cards.          
After missing a wayward pedestrian, Chad lurched into the opposite lane right behind me.

Because of my crash, I was out fir the subsequent Combat Phase.  Andrew went into a Pit Stop and re-arranged his arsenal.   He added "Free Candy" for the kiddies and a "Rocket Launcher", also for the kiddies but in a different way.  Chad pulled in for a Pit Stop as well.      


Andrew cranked it up to 60 mph.  His Psycho allowed him to roll two dice against an errant pedestrian but he drew two blanks!  The Picking Flowers tile went down just seconds later.

I ramped the Black Death of to 40 mph and played "Bloodthirsty" to try and nail the pedestrian that Andrew had missed.  He just had to go and complicate things by playing "Oil Slick" on me.  I finally remembered to start using my "Nerves of Steel", but even on one die a still managed to sustain a hit.  Mercifully, Karma then decided to cut me a break when I managed to overcome Chad's plea for "Mercy" by rolling five hits on my target pedestrian!

After the Euthanasia Day tile came down, Chad was quick to utter the timeless line: "Okay, what do I have to do to get in range of this old lady?"   He punched it like Chewie, discarding a card to go up to 80 mph.

During the Combat Phase, Chad rolled four hits, lighting Nan up like an octogenarian Tiki torch.  Next Andrew asked me point blank if I intended to attack him.  I then proceeded to show him that I really had no cards left to use as ammo.  Apparently he took this as some sort of conspiracy since he proceeded to blow my driver's head off with his Pistol, scoring three hits and sending me off the road.  Again.

I didn't attack him back during the Combat Phase because I HAD NO FUCKING AMMO!   Asshole.


Chad went up to 100 klicks, safely changes lanes on the Picking Flowers tile and then just barely missing a pedestrian.  He then accelerated towards another senior citizen, dropped yet another card to increase his odds and promptly sent granny flying into the ditch, walker and all!  He capped off this stellar run by plowing down yet another senior citizen.  Witnessing this, Andrew quickly advocated that we should "stop fighting each other and concentrate on Chad" which is kinda rich since I hadn't attacked the fucker yet!

The Traffic Jam tile came out.  Andrew spent a card to get back up to 100 mph and then burnt another  one in a vain effort to hit a pedestrian.

I also dumped a card in order to move up three spaces, ending my turn.

During the Combat Phase, Chad made what Andrew characterized as a "dick move" by playing "Crackerjack Pit Crew" to draw three new Accessories.  Andrew fired a rocket at a nearby oldster, blowing her right back into the arms of Sweet Baby Jesus.  Since I had no weapons left I ducked into a Pit Stop but failed to draw a Yellow Accessory.        

After all the retooling was dispensed with, Chad had the burner-riffic Flame Cannon, the terrain-defying Four Wheel Drive and a speed-boosting Supercharger.  Andrew's death wagon was now coming standard with a Rocket Launcher, Psychopathic Driver and Free Candy.  My car was now rocking a Veteran Driver who gave me a bonus Rally Card every round.


Chad "goes to plaid", traveling a whopping 140 mph!  He turfed a card to try and drill a pedestrian but missed.  He then hits the Jump Tile at optimal speed, rolling only one die!  Although he still took a single point of damage on this stunt, it was instantly absorbed by his Composite Armor!  He did get a bit spooked, however, when the following tile turned out to be incredibly twisty Boy Scout Camp!        

Regardless of the rapidly approaching Traffic Jam, Andrew gunned it up to 100 mph.  He moved five paces, flicking on his windshield wipers briefly to clear off the pedestrian gore.  He then had to maneuver through a three-die oil slick.  After reducing the challenge by two with a tandem discard, he managed to skirt any potential damage.

To get back in the race, I tapped into my Nitrous Oxide to take me up to 60 mph.  In order to improve my chances, I then dumped a Rally Card to liquefy a straggling pedestrian.  I then took Andrew's inexplicably helpful lane-changing advice.  His assistance almost made up for him saying "all I can say is that I've got my pistol ready" just seconds before.  

In the Combat Round, both Chad and Andrew tapped their Crackerjack Pit Crews.  I opted for the vanilla version but failed to acquire a yellow Accessory on my second straight attempt.

Staring down the barrel of an insane turn, Chad dropped his speed down to 100 and threw out a card to reduce a 3-die challenge to two.  After clearing the ninety-degree turn he floored it towards the next tile which was revealed as a Pit Stop.  Chad then bagged a rugrat on two die roll.

Knowing that he had to catch up to Chad, Andrew threw caution to the wind and actually accelerated into a turn, moving six spaces.  He optioned the Free Candy but still failed to take down his prepubescent quarry.

I chose to dump a slew of cards, getting up to 140 as a precursor to the impeding Evel Knievel-style jump.  But even before I could get off the Traffic Jam tile, I had to get past a three-die Oil Spill.   After chucking a card and factoring in my Nerves of Steel, I rolled the lone die and still took a point of damage for my troubles.  Despite this minor mishap I managed to clear the jump in high style.

During Combat, Chad took a potshot at the kid in the road ahead but between his craptacular rolling and my plea for "Mercy", the boy was spared.  Andrew took yet another Pit Stop.  I fired at a different kid with my Flame Cannon incinerating the little larvae on a five-die roll.  


Chad adjusted his speed and moved, taking advantage of the Pit Stop tile.

Andrew dropped his speed back one before heading into a red turn.  He discarded a single card to reduce it to a one-die challenge but still took a single hit.  He then followed a similar procedure dealing with a second tight turn.  Unfortunately he rolled a double-pip, which was re-rolled for another double and then re-rolled for a single!  Without enough cards to cover the deficit, Andrew flew off the road like an SUV on an ice-covered freeway.  

Wary of Andrew's fate I dropped my speed to 40 mph, reducing the three die turn challenge to zero with a combination of my Steely Nerves and two discarded Rally Cards.  After clearing the turn, I moved up four more road spaces and was done. 

In the Combat segment, Chad passed.  I squeezed the trigger of my Flame Cannon again, roasting yet another precocious tot.  Andrew, purely driven by his lust for Hit tokens, took another pot shot at me with his Driver's Pistol.  Mercifully he misses.  Ass goblin.    


Chad used his Supercharger to accelerate 40 mph, getting back up to 100.  Initially he was put off by the scary-looking Forest Fire Smoke tile but after we assured him that it was like the Road Kill Rally equivalent of the Mutara Nebula from The Wrath of Khan he seemed to relax a bit.  We had no such kind words, however, for the Rock Slide tile which was next to be revealed.    

I kept my speed even and moved up five spaces.  I still had to contend to a three-die turn so I biffed out a card and deducted another for my Nerves o' Steel.  Once again, I managed to roll a single hit but then decided to treat myself to a stop at the picturesque and relaxing Pit Stop spa.  In doing so I swapped out my Flame Unit for an infinitely cooler Anti-Tank gun!    

Andrew discarded a card to gain two speed increments.  In the process he flattened a youngling, rolling two extra die for being a TOTAL FUCKING PSYCHO armed with Free Candy.  Ewwwww.  He also chose to exploit the Pit Stop tile, strapping on Ram Plates in the process.

Since chad was completely obscured by the Forest Fire Smoke, I couldn't test out my new Anti-Tank Gun on him.  So I played "Spokesmodels" on him instead, which allowed me to rifle through his Accessories Deck and finally score a Yellow tech).  Instead of acting like a mindless Hit Token slut, Andrew finally decided to stay his hand against me.              

With his newly-acquired Spoiler, Chad felt pretty confident going into a red turn while doing 100.  He sacrificed a card to reduce the crash challenge to one die and then luckily rolled a blank face. 

After getting everyone's consensus that Chad would still be in my line of sight after I moved, I decided to keep my speed steady at 100.  

Andrew engaged the Nitrous Oxide and found himself hurtling down the road at 120 mph! 

Chad had no options during the Combat Round.  On the other hand, I decided to lob a shell at him from my roof-mounted rail way gun "just to see how it works".  After expending three ammo (!) I also piled on with "Critical Hit" forcing Chad to ignore armor on a successful hit.  Despite the shit-load of dice, I can only scored five damage!  As for Andrew, apparently his self-control has an expiry date of a single round.  He loaded up his rocket Launcher and fired it at me, scoring three hits!  Mercifully I managed to negate the damage with a long-hoarded "Dashboard Jesus".  


Racing towards the Farm, Chad toyed with the idea of increasing his breakneck speed to try and *quote, unquote* "score the chicken".  Also fearful of another barrage from my BFG, so he decided to hold onto his cards.  He still has to deal with a three-die red corner, which got reduced by one thanks to his Spoiler and a discard.  Although he still took a single point of damage from the roll his incredibly handy Composite Armor came to the rescue.

In order to overcome the same turn I subtracted one die for my Nerves and another for a discard.  Despite my precautions, I still took a single shot to the bollocks.  Nevertheless, Chad was still within my range.  Silently I prayed that Andrew would have the good sense to stop attacking me for one round so I could deliver the coup de grâce to our illustrious leader.

Speak of the devil, Andrew scaled his speed back by two increments in the hope of negotiating that same brutal turn.  The next tile turned out to be a very welcome straight-away.  After moving three spaces, he plowed right through the boulders thanks to his Ram Plates.  With two red turns still to contend with, he managed to cruise through the first and then the second.  He then dropped a well-timed "Bloodthirsty" card to annihilate yet another pedestrian.  

For Combat, Chad had no weapons and was forced to pass.  I loaded a new shell at the ungodly cost of three ammo and threw on "Sure Shot" just to be a prick.  As par for the course, my seven dice proved to be a washout, granting me a stingy seven hits.  Turns out Chad was also harboring a card called "You Miss", which tragically nullified all but two points of damage.  Andrew veered into a Pit Stop, acquiring Seeker Missiles and Thermite Warheads.  

ROUND TWELVE           

Chad hit turbo on his Supercharger, accelerating back up to 140 klicks.  Looking for two bonus Hit Tokens, Chad took a bead on the road chicken.  After failing on this roll he flew down the road with his eye on his consolation prize: yet another defenseless old woman.  Ever the spoiler, I made a case for "Mercy" and his single-die attack roll fails.  After more livestock peril was revealed in the form of a Cow Hazard, Chad tried a two-die hit and run, this time on an adult pedestrian.  Yet again he failed to connect.

Suddenly the Finish Line was revealed!  I blazed up five spaces, putting Chad just within range of my Anti-Tank gun.  But before I could fire at him again, I had to get around a brutal turn without killing myself.  I ditched a card, factored in me Nerves of Steel and still rolled a single hit.  Next I tried to catch the chicken under my front wheel well but failed spectacularly.  I moved up five spaces and got "Bloodthirsty" on an Estelle Getty clone, scoring my first senior on the three-die roll!   

Unfortunately Chad did a real dick move and played a card which caused the old woman to explode for three points of damage upon impact!  It was just enough to threaten yet another Wipe Out!  In an effort to avoid my fate I played "Fuzzy Dice" to re-roll the result.  Just after I cast the bones a spontaneous debate broke out as to whether or not I could have reduced Chad's "exploding granny" dice by discarding cards.  Since it was so close to the end, rather then paralyze the game, we just kept the results of the re-roll.

(If any reader friends intimately familiar with the game are out there and know for sure if I could have done this, please leave a comment below.  I certainly had three cards to throw away but the reason I didn't think to do it was simply because I didn't think it was an option.)  

Regardless if it was a Wipe Out or I was drained of ammo in ducking dice, Chad scored a well-timed reprieve.  I lost my Anti-Tank Gun and collected a third, crippling Wipe Out token.      

Andrew attempted to get around a three-die crash check at 100 mph.  He dumped two cards and got a blank on the die roll, easily pulling off the maneuver.  

Combat!  Again, Chad found himself toothless and decidedly inoffensive.  Andrew fired his Thermite Warhead-augmented Seeker Missiles at Chad and was positively disgusted when he only landed three hits.  Armed with four cards and Composite Armor Chad shrugged off the attack like a mosquito bite.  Meanwhile, I'm just sitting there, a smoking wreck on the side of the road.            


Only six spaces away from the Finish Line, Chad reduced his speed by one.  He tried to play the "Pass" card to avoid the Cows but we quickly ruled that it was only valid on rival vehicles.  Chad did his crash check around the four-die red corner.  Both the "Pass" card and Chad's Spoiler reduced this to two dice.  At first, Andrew and I were thrilled to see Chad roll a two-pip result but the re-roll was only one for a total of three damage.  This was reduced to two thanks to Chad's furshlugginer armor.  He then had to cope with the herd of Cows in the road, but the Spoiler and a single discarded card quickly dispensed with the bovine menace.  Clearing the final hurdle, Chad surged ahead and captured first place!

Andrew was forced to speed up to cross the finish line.  On his second move, he was forced to contend with the final ninety degree turn.  He chucked out a single card to reduce the difficulty but he still had to heave out four more cards in order to stay on the road!  Amidst all the high-speed finagling, he still managed to run over a pedestrian somehow.  He then parted with two cards to earn a reprieve from the Heifers of Doom.  

After my Wipe Out, I could only get back up to a speed of 60.  I chucked a single card to gain a die on a red turn and avoided any mishap.  

Needless to say, combat for Andrew and I was a moot point since I had no weapons and Andrew had no cards.          


Unopposed, Andrew crossed the finish line for Second Place.  I accelerated to 80 and moved three spaces into the final red turn.  My "Nerves of Steel" eliminated one die and a discarding card knocked out the other.  I then said adios to two more cards and beetled my way past the Moo Patrol.  

The rest was clear road so we just assumed that I crossed the finish line on the next round to finish third.  



Despite my third place finish I really dig Road Kill Rally.  Yes, there's a fair amount of luck and some of the rules are a tad "chicken-or-the-egg" but it still evokes the vehicular combat / ethically bankrupt death-race theme very well.   

I give Road Kill Rally four pips outta six!