Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"The Story So Far" - Part Six - "Reprieves & Rumors"

"The Story So Far" is an ongoing series recanting the details of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign that I've been running since 2002.  Links to the previous entries can be found here:  

Prologue          Part I          Part II          Part III          Part IV          Part V 

I've "fictionalized" the session reports in a likely-vain attempt to make them more "entertaining".   

And now, our story continues...

Solstice 23rd, Earthday, 1492 (supplemental)

"Told you did I," the orc chieftain barked in his harsh native tongue. "They come to free the others! Kill them!!!"

And with that, any chance of parley was over. The orc archers drew back their weapons to fire but suddenly one of them dropped their bow, grasping at an arrow protruding from his neck. The remaining orcs began to spin around, desperately looking for the source of the attack, but could see nothing.

Bria, still confused and angered by the sight of the bloody crescent moon death head insignia on the orc's shields, took advantage of this blessing and perforated another adversary with her crossbow. Her allies seized upon this initiative and surged ahead, dropping their startled enemies like cordwood. Periodically another arrow would fly out from the underbrush to strike an orc stone dead with unerring accuracy.

Spooked by their phantasmal assailant and the subsequent death of their lieutenant, the orcs were quickly routed. As the dust settled, the Fellowship noticed that one of their foes was still alive. Thanks to some "encouragement" by Pol, the wounded creature began to talk about the human who'd tipped them off about the merchant caravan. The human didn't give a name, just implicit instructions to keep at least one hostage alive and help themselves to the spoils of the raid.

"Ev'ry moonrise we wuz to chop one...to shut 'der flappin' yaps!" confessed the creature with a bloody leer.


He was also told that more humans would try to rescue the prisoners and if they were also "dealt with", there would be a significant reward. The orc refused to give up any more information, lapsing into unconsciousness when pressed for details.

After the shock of their stunning victory wore off, the companions searched through the carnage for clues as to the identity of their mysterious benefactor. The darts used to kill the orcs were sheaf arrows, not unlike the ones used by Lorelei. She then remembered something that Uther the armorer told her about one other customer that buys them.

In spite of their stunning coup, the group trudged back to town in silence, wrestling with mixed emotions. At daybreak the rain finally eased up. Completely exhausted and working on no sleep for the past two days, the heroes knew that they were highly vulnerable to another orc ambush. As they finally passed through the south gates of Castebridge, everyone heaved a collective sigh of relief. 

Responding to the adventurer's request to house their orcish prisoner, the recently-liberated William led them to the stockade beneath the barracks. It was here that they met 'Arrold the gaoler, a slimy, decrepit fellow who kept leering incessantly at the female members of the group. In spite of his loathsome bearing, 'Arrold promised to keep the orc locked down until they came back.


William then escorted the Fellowship to the council chambers, which was already in session. Everyone was present including the town guard Lieutenant Duran de Montfort and his retinue of five  soldiers. While waiting to address the council, the group learned that Berowne, the guard Captain, had just left for Footholde to try and find some new recruits to replace those slain during the orc ambush.

They also witnessed a young farmer named Stefan harangue the council about failing to complete the western town wall. During this time he made a passionate plea about orcs and other "mongrels" constantly stealing from him.

Martin, the town Treasurer, quickly shot down the idea of finishing the wall.

"There just isn’t enough money in the town coffers right now to complete it," he blustered.

As soon as Denneth noticed the group loitering at the back of the council chambers he halted the proceedings, ordered all of them to come up front and center and then paid them their reward on the spot, right in front of Stefan. Incensed by the display, the beleaguered farmer blasted the Mayor for giving taxpayer’s hard earned money away to "a pack of self-serving vigilantes that are never around when you need them." He then stormed out in a huff, leaving the heroes standing around feeling awkward.

Still peeved that the group was M.I.A. when the caravan was attacked, Denneth mellowed considerably after hearing about how well the rescue went down. When they brought up the orc’s comments about their human benefactor, he told the group that it was probably the fault of local bandits.

"Trust me," he said, "there are plenty of human mongrels out there as well!" 

When challenged about the details of the orc trap, Denneth seemed unfazed.

"Well, one unfortunate thing about working for the town council is that you’re bound to make a few enemies. I just assumed that you'd know this."

A crabbier-than-usual Baron Gilles de Vrais suddenly swooped in with his trophy bride Rosalind, the strikingly-beautiful daughter of the Mayor of Footholde. As William led the group out of the council chambers, they noticed de Vrais drag Denneth off to the side and berate him about something. Whatever it was, the Baron was none to happy about it.


Pol and Lorelei returned to the Inn, Roman went back to the House of Pelor, Bria headed toward Slayde's Place and Rincewind meandered back to Legacy Tower. Trying to make some sense out of their recent adventures, Pol and Lorelei shared a pleasant dinner at the Rambling Rogue. Otherwise, the rest of the day was spent in comfort, recovery and solitude.

Solstice 24'th, Freeday

Training and recuperation was also the order of the following day.

Emerging late from her room, Lorelei was less then thrilled to find Barant downstairs fawning over his latest obsession Veronique. Barant picked up on her irritation over breakfast and asked a barrage of questions, exhibiting genuine concern for his former charge. He also volunteered to be Pol's sparring partner later on that day, a non-existent "date" that seemed to incense the green-eyed Veronique.

About an hour later, Rincewind showed up and invited Lorelei to Marlak's lecture about  "The Specialization of Sorcery" at Legacy Tower later that afternoon. Weary of human company, the half-elf begged off, choosing to go for a hike out in the woods instead. Knowing that her compatriots would never let her go alone, Lorelei had to fabricate a story about "going shopping" to cover her absence.
Roman, on the other hand, was granted no reprieve whatsoever. Regis woke him up at the crack of dawn to deal with all of his "derelict" duties.

"I don't care if you're the acting bad example for that roaming band of misfits you've been gallivanting around with; you're not going to ignore your responsibilities!"

Roman was forced to divide his time between leading a small group of novice priests in study of scripture and cleaning out the stables. Periodically Regis would re-appear to top his young ward's ear up with endless lectures about duty, wisdom and the honest labors that truly please Pelor.

Keen on sharpening her lock-picking skills, Bria spent the day at Slayde's Place, the local thieves guild. She waited endlessly for the veteran cut-purse Vittorio to show up, but was told by a dark-skinned rogue named K'sama that he was "out of town". K'sama went on to tell Bria that she was eavesdropping on Slayde earlier when he ordered his majordomo to pass a harsh message on to some hermit that lives out in the woods past the logging camp.

With Vittorio indisposed, K’sama offered to teach Bria some tricks of the trade. During this the pair over-heard a con-artist, thief and professional bar-fly named Argenta talk about rumors that were swirling around the Lost Souls tavern. Intrigued, Bria cornered Argenta who told her the following:

"The usual shipment of dwarven ale never arrived at the Lost Souls yesterday!"

"Some rangers claim to have seen a wild light-show near the dwarven fortress of Kiras Toth a few nights ago."

"The dwarves delved too deeply and woke up something nasty from beneath the earth. Or was that just something I heard in an out-of-key bard’s song last weekend?"

Curiosity piqued to the point of distraction, Bria had a hard time focusing on K'sama's instructions. By the time she's absorbed all they was to know, the hour was very late. Anxious to share this scuttlebutt with her companions, Bria dashed off to the Stongholde Inn and discovered to her chagrin that everyone was already asleep. Irritated, went back to the guild house and spent a sleepless night tossing and turning at the prospects of another exciting adventure.  

Solstice 25'th, Starday

By the time the Fellowship reconvened at the Rambling Rogue the following morning to discuss their next move, the place was also rife with gossip.

"The Hall of the Dwarven Lord has fallen to the hobgoblins!"

Sensing that another assignment was imminent, the group wolfed down a hearty breakfast and then dashed off to Sentinel Arms and Armor for supplies. Even though he was under the weather, Urland hauled himself out of bed to tell Lorelei that he makes sheaf arrows for only one other person: a mysterious ranger named Thornmorrow.

He told the companions that Thornmorrow used to be "some great explorer of note once upon a time" but now he lives like a disgraced hermit in a cabin to the north of the lumber camp. He also mentioned that the uncompleted house in the north east quarter of town was supposed to have been his.

Before they left, Urland warned them to stay away from that "lunatic". He then told the story of how  Thorn became obsessed with crossing the Ironwall Mountains to the north. Supposedly his followers rebelled against him and he murdered one of them in a fit of rage. His group disbanded and Thorn became a bitter, strange recluse. Urland confessed that he hates dealing with him on the odd occasion when he ventures into town, which is usually at night.

As the heroes left the armory, they were intercepted by Barant who escorted them to an audience with the Mayor. At the Council Hall, Denneth introduced them to Elster Lorearthen, a chaplain with the dwarven fortress of Kiras Toth to the north.

***

Elster Lorearthen
played by Angela

Age: 67


Elster’s conception was the direct result of the "Thunder Blessing": an honor bestowed upon a few lucky families of the dwarven undercity Deepdelve by the Sonnlinor priests. At the time of his birth, Elster's people were dying out due to mysterious circumstances that even he is hesitant to talk about. His devotion to the forge started young and soon he began crafting armor out of mithril and platinum to tremendous effect.

While bent in inspirational prayer before work one morning the Forge-Father Moradin spoke directly to Elster, which initiated his calling as a Sonnlinor. Not long after, he was appointed acting chaplain for the fortress of Kiras Toth by the dwarven lord Giran Oakenshield.

Even though dire portents are all around, Elster's people remain complacent, refusing to believe that the threat they once defeated has returned. His greatest fear is that his people have been lulled into a false sense of security and unless he can rouse them to action soon the extinction they once narrowly avoided will be inevitable this time.

***

Denneth proceeded with his grim briefing.

"I’m afraid that our guest has some dire news: the dwarven fortress of Kiras Toth has fallen into enemy hands. The levee holding back a wave of vermin to the north has broken, leaving hordes of mongrels free to stream south, destroying everything in their path. To make matters worse, if Elster’s words are correct then an ancient evil, long considered extinct, has been awakened."

Looking exhausted and desperate, Elster began to elaborate:

"Up until recently the only thing we’ve had to worry about is the occasional cave-in, but things have changed. I was acting chaplain for the most efficient mining team in Kiras Toth, dispensing the wisdom of Moradin to my peers. Now we’re all fighting for our lives.

"A swarm of goblins and hobgoblins, lead by a bugbear, attacked and occupied most of the fortress just a few short days ago. Under normal circumstance, they would have been repelled, but this time they had formidable help: a red dragon. The thing razed Sentinel Tower to the ground and killed many of my clansmen.

"After some hard and bloody battles the goblin horde achieved a strategic, if not overwhelming, victory. We killed scores of them during this battle of attrition and there aren't enough of them left to secure their holdings. When I left there was still a small handful of my kinsmen doggedly holding out. They sent me here to try and rally some reinforcements. If I can't get someone to follow me back and shore up their defenses, more goblins will arrive and consolidate their gains."

The group immediately began scrambling around town, gathering up some much-needed supplies before their departure. But then everything came to a halt when the Fellowship discovered that Elster  can speak orcish. They immediately rushed off to the stockade to interrogate their prisoner in greater detail.

Everything seemed to be in order until Elster confessed that he couldn't understand a single word the orc was saying. To their horror they realized that the creature’s tongue had been cut right out of his head!

'Arrold claimed ignorance at first but eventually confessed to the bloody deed.

"Wha' else wuz I s'posed ta do?!?" the gaoler railed. "That l'il bleeda got saucy wif me, so I 'ad to teach 'im sum manners!!"

Faced with this ill-omen and the daunting task ahead of them, a palpable sense of dread began to infect the group like a virus. Roman did what he could to rally their morale but even he knew that to expect survival in an encounter with a red dragon was naive at best.

In silence, the group packed up their gear, strapped on their weapons and ventured out towards the northern hills and the Hall of the Dwarven Lord. In spite of their dire mindset, none of them could  have fathomed that death was waiting patiently for their arrival.

To be continued...

PHOTO CREDITS:

Wounded Orc: http://www.marvelscustoms.com/gardien/igalerie/albums/LOTR/WOUNDED_ORC_WEAT_BUST_20.JPG

'Arrold the Gaoler: http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-images/Film/Pix/gallery/2002/10/23/argusfilch3.jpg

Baron Gilles de Vrais: https://eglima.files.wordpress.com/2008/09/gilles.png

Elster Lorearthen: http://mightymeep.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/dwarf-cleric-770x360.jpg

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Wheaton Effect Part Eight: "Tokaido"

Another season of Tabletop, another showcase of tempting board games:


Tokaido was actually on my "must try" list l-o-o-o-o-o-n-g before Wheaton and company decided to fete this Antoine Bauza-designed set-collector with an episode of Tabletop. And for once it wasn't because of the game's theme, its elaborate toy factor or its innovative mechanics. It was simply because of its ethos.

I've always been amused when people wrack their brains over the meaning of life. Even though I've just scratched the surface of this wacky world of ours I believe that our raison d'être is downright self-evident. We're here to better ourselves and those around us by absorbing knowledge, fostering good karma and having as many cool experiences as possible during our limited time on earth.

And that's exactly what Tokaido is all about. Don't believe me? Well, here's the official overview from the well-worn travellers at Funforge Games:

"Welcome to the Tokaido, the legendary East Sea Road connecting Kyoto to Edo. Here you will begin an extraordinary journey during which you will discover a thousand marvels for the first time.

"Be sure to take the time to contemplate the sumptuous vistas before you: the majestic mountains, peaceful coastland, and vast rice paddies… Let the brushstrokes of nature be an anchor for your memories.

"Appreciate the beneficial stopovers that punctuate your path, the restorative tranquility of the hot springs, and the countless culinary delicacies that will astonish your palate.

"Bundle together with your belongings delightfully unexpected souvenirs, from the most modest to the most sophisticated, that you gather from surprising encounters that may change the course of your travels.

"Time will be your best means to remain clear-sighted, methodical, and patient so that you don’t miss anything on this unique route but instead can fully savor the experience the Tokaido has to offer!"


Looking to read the full travelogue? Then click on the following link to plan out your trip even before you set foot upon your intended the path!

***
After finishing up early with Mysterium I thought that my fellow gamers wouldn't mind test driving the latest piece of Tabletop bait. My assumption proved to be more then correct; when I went to fetch Tokaido out of the cafe's library I discovered that it had already been snapped up by someone else. In an amusing co-incidence, the person who'd picked it out was Matt, a reserve member of our gaming group who just so happened to be there that night with a completely different group of friends.

Cheatin' on us, eh? Well I gots just one thing to say to you, you Jezebel:


Sorry, I've just been informed that my comments are in direct opposition to my previously-espoused "good karma" directive. As such, I officially retract this statement and apologize sincerely to Matt, I.E. the l'il so-and-so who actually had the temerity to show up with people other then us and then bog down our game night by "yoinking" away the one and only title we really wanted to play!

Er, I mean..."Anata no yoru o tanoshimu, Matt-San!"

A-hem

On the glass-is-half-full side of things, he were in a place that had about five-hundred other games sitting on the shelf so it wasn't exactly a major chore to come up with something to do while Matt and his (real) friends finished up. More on that in a future post. Mebbe

Pretty soon Tokaido was back on the shelf. Before any other rogue members of our group appeared I snapped it up, broke 'er open and hauled out the elegant-looking components. We then spent a little while picking out our Travelers and selecting our colors, all the while indulging in some pretty dodgy Japanese accents.

And now I know why Kris squirreled us all away in the "unopened" section of the cafe. It wasn't to "christen" the place it was to make sure that the property values didn't plummet while we were there. 


COLORS AND CHARACTERS

Chad...Mitsukuni - The Old Man (Blue)
Mitsukuni earns 1 additional point for each Hot
Spring card and each achievement card.

Me...Kinko - The Ronin (Gray)
Each Meal card purchased by Kinko costs one
coin less. (Meals that cost 1 are therefore free.)

Jeremy...Hirotada - The Priest (Green)
Each time he stops at the Temple, Hirotada can
take one coin from the bank and donate it to
the Temple, scoring 1 point for this coin. This is in
addition to the 1, 2, or 3 coins he can personally
donate to the Temple.
 
Kris...Hiroshige - The Artist (Pink)
When Hiroshige arrives at each of the 3 intermediate
Inns, before the Meal he takes 1 Panorama
card of his choice, scoring the points for this card
immediately.

Mike...Yoshiyasu - The Functionary (Yellow)
During each Encounter, Yoshiyasu draws 2
Encounter cards, keeps the one he wishes, then
places the other card at the bottom of the pile
(without showing it to the other players).

THE FIRST LEG 
(KYOTO to NAGOYA)

Mike and Chad bombed into the nearest Village, snapping up all of the choice salt-and-pepper shakers and batting practice helmets. Jeremy popped into the closest Temple and made a huge tax-deductible donation. In spite of my vast wealth there was nothing I could do to oust the infestation of commoners out of that Village. What's the point of being filthy stinkin' rich if you can't gentrify someplace? With an abundance of koku burning a hole in my pocket I had an Encounter with a fellow o̶n̶e̶-̶p̶e̶r̶c̶e̶n̶t̶e̶r̶ , er...Kuge, who gave me three more Coins. Meanwhile, Kris got all artsy-fartsy, getting a jump on his hillside Panorama painting.


Chad made a l'il friend while Mike started working on his mountainside masterpiece. Captivated by the scenic coastline, fellow flaky artist types Kris and Jeremy began to work on their own Seascape Panorama. I took advantage of their distraction, shoving everyone out of the way to get to the second Village. Once there I tried to compensate for the gaping chasm in my soul by filling it up with a bunch of useless tchotchkes. Er, "Souvenirs", I meant "Souvenirs". I capped off this orgy of wanton consumerism with a gluttonous, half-digested meal at the nearby Inn, barely managing to choke down the wafer-thin mint at the end. Fetch me a bucket! 


SECOND LEG 
(NAGOYA to SHIZUOKA)

Jeremy and Kris continued to waste their time making macaroni pictures and finger-painting seascapes. Once again I ignored all of that "scenery" crap, made a bee-line for the nearest town and  upon arrival I BOUGHT ALL OF THE THINGZ. Flat-ass broke thanks to some bitchin' Black Friday deals, Chad had to shlep to the Farm and slum with the peasants for some loose change. Devoid of any viable remaining options, Mike sprinted to the Inn and arrived before anyone else, scoring a crème de la crème nosh in the process.


He was then followed by Kris, Jeremy, me and then Chad, the latter of which went hungry when he realize that he still couldn't afford any food. Get (another) job, you hippie! 


This, in turn, dictated the next turn order: Chad, Me, Jeremy, Kris and finally Mike. Which, when you think about it kinda odd. Wouldn't Mike be finishing up his pudding and calculating a 15% tip before everyone else? Oh well, whatevs

THIRD LEG 
(SHIZUOKA TO OFUNA)

A sure sign that I was completely engrossed in this game: I forget to take pictures!

I made sure to take a detour into the last town, acquiring a U-Haul to cart around all of the future landfill I was compiling. Kris joined me there but he was, like, WAY POORER then I was so he only ended up with two trinkets while I got, like, six of them. I believe the appropriate phrase here is "neener, neener, neener". Determined to get something, anything into his sad little shrunken belly this time out, Chad leapfrogged over all of us to claim the first spot at the Inn and the tastiest of victuals. He was then followed by Mike and then Jeremy. I arrived late to the party and had to keep up appearances by eating some mildly-expired Yakitori. No-one seemed to notice, that is until next morning when I nearly soiled my kimono running for the nearest ditch. 


FORTH & FINAL LEG
(OFUNA TO EDO) 

With many of the four-star destinations overcrowded with annoying plebes, I decided to dabble with painting. *Ugh*, seriously, what's the point? That's what smartphone cameras are for! Realizing that his time was almost up, Chad popped into a gift shop at the very last second, buying an "I Survived The Tokaido Death March" t-shirt before rolling into the Big City.

Here's what we'd experienced, eaten and / or collected over the course of our epic journey:

MIKE / YOSHIYASU
  • Mike did really well with food, chowing down on Shashimi and a bunch of other tasty treats for 24 points. 
  • During his travels he collected some Geta wooden sandals, a Ukiyoe woodblock print, and a Uchiwa fan for a total of 9 points. 
  • He indulged in two monkey-infested Hot-Spring dips for 6 points. 
  • He was the first person to finish his Mountain Panorama, giving him 10 points for the work and +3 points for the Panorama Achievement Card. He also started but didn't complete a Seascape and a Paddy for a total of 2 more points. 
  • For Encounters he made nice with a Annaibito Guide and a Shokunin Merchant. 
  • In a token gesture, Mike plopped one Coin into the Temple collection box. Wow, don't hurt yourself there, big spender!
 CHAD / MITSUKUMI
  • Chad scored some decent grub, noshing upon Udon, Donburi and Tofu for an in-game score of 18.
  • He also managed to collect one complete set of Souvenirs including a Haori shirt, a Gofu fan, a Netsuke sculpture and a mini Daifuku cake for a full 16 points. On top of that he picked up a Koma spin-top, some Kamaboko fish jerky and a Furoshiki wrapping cloth for 9 more points. *Humph*, tryin' to show me up as the most superficial Tokaido player, eh? Whatta jerk! 
  • Chad even had the unmitigated gall to be more artistically bankrupt then me: painting only one measly Panorama Mountain segment for 1 sad point. 
  • Unlike me, Chad went skinny dippin' in no less then four Hot Springs, some of which may or may not have involved some hot monkey action. Hey, it got him 11 in-game points so who am I to judge? 
  • Even in the midst of this he still found time to get cozy with a Shokunin Merchant.
ME / KINKO
  • I collected four pieces of choice food on my journey: Dango, Yakitori, Nigirimeshi and Sushi for a grand total of 24 points. 
  • I picked up one full set of junk...er, trinkets, including a beautiful Yunomi bowl, some Sake (*hic*), a Jubako pic-a-nic box and a sassy Yukata robe to show off my girlish figure. I also collected a few loose bits of flotsam and jetsam including a pair of Hashi chopsticks and some Manju cakes for 4 more points for a grand total of 20. 
  • By the end of the game my entourage was bigger then P-Diddy's. With a Samurai (for +3 Points), a Kuge Noble, a Miko Shinto Priest and a Annaibito Guide in tow, I was a walking Akira Kurosawa cliche. Which begs the question: did these guys really like me for me or were they just after my table scraps? *sniff* 
  • As for my artistic expressions they were perfunctory at best. I'd whipped off two (very) loose interpretations of the Mountain and Sea Panoramas for a whopping total of six points for both.
  • I didn't even bother dippin' my bitz in any Hot Springs. I mean, Jeezus, have you seen what those monkeys do?!? They fling their poo like a bunch of little G.G. Allin's! 
  • To try and atone for my overt gluttony and greed I invested in some Spiritual Indulgences by donating 3 Coins to various Temples. Hey, if you can't behave your way into heaven, then why not buy your way in? Amirite? Holla?
JEREMY / HIROTADA
  • Jeremy also ate rather well, picking up some Sushi, Tofu, Nigirimeshi and Misoshiru in his travels for a total of 24 points. 
  • He picked up two strays along the way: a Samurai (for +3 points) and an omnipresent Annaibito Guide. 
  • Jeremy also went all-in with the arts, completing a beautiful Sea Panorama for 15 points and got half-way through a Mountain for 3. 
  • He was also the most pious among us, donating a vastly-superior count of coins to the Temples en route.  Since the Bank matched every single one of his contributions he had about 10 points worth of coins on the Temples by the time the game was over. 
  KRIS / HIROSHIGE
  • Kris tea-bagged no less then three different Hot Springs for a total of 7 aqua-related points. 
  • As the resident starving artist, Kris missed one meal along the way, ending up with some Dango, Misoshiru and the ever-popular Nigirimeshi for a total of 18 points. 
  • He didn't have a lot of funds for pointless bric-à-brac, ending the game with a Shamisen gee-tar (which he learned how to play "Runaway Train" by Soul Asylum on) as well as a rakishly-handsome Sandogasa lid. Even though these two items only provided 4 points, their effect on all those hawt n' willing geishas was immeasurable. As expected, his forte was in painting, completing the Sea Panaroma for 15 Victory points and the Paddy landscape for 6 more. Being the first person to lock these down he also scored the two corresponding Panorama Achievement Cards for 6 more points!

FINAL SCORES

KRIS

Food: 18
Souvenirs: 4
Encounters: 0
Art: 27 (15 for a completed Seascape and 6 for a completed Paddy plus 6 more points for the two corresponding Panorama Achievements)
Hot Springs: 7
Temples: 0

In-Game Victory Points: 56

Bonus Points: Zero. Zilch. Nil. Nada. El zippo.   

Total Points: 56


MIKE

Food: 24
Souvenirs: 9
Encounters: 0
Art: 15 (10 for a Completed Mountain, +2 for one Sea and one Paddy, and +3 for the matching Panorama Achievement)  
Hot Springs: 6
Temples: 1

 In-Game Victory Points: 55

Bonus Points: +3 for goin' all Anthony Bourdain with the Gourmet card. I was actually shooting for this one but I didn't realize that this Achievement Card is rewarded to the player who eats the most expensive meals in total. D'oh!

He also got 4 points for being the third most generous contributor to the Temple. Pretty sneaky, sis!

Total Points: 62


ME

Food:  24
Souvenirs: 20 (16 Points for a full set, +4 for half of a set)
Encounters: 3 for a Samurai
Art: 6 (2 Panorama Cards completed for both the Seascape and the Mountains)
Hot Springs: 0
Temples: 3

In-Game Victory Points: 56

Bonus Points: +3 Points for accumulating the most fairweather friends via the Chatterbox Achievement Card. I also got +7 Points for being the second-most generous Temple donator.

Total Points: 66


JEREMY

Food: 24 
Souvenirs: 0
Encounters: 3 for a Samurai
Art: 19 (15 for a completed Sea Panorama, 3 for a 2-segment Mountain, 1 for a 1-segment Paddy)
Hot Springs: 0
Temple: 10
In-Game Victory Points: 56
Bonus Points: +10 Points for donating the most money to the Temple. 

Total Points:  66


CHAD

Food: 18
Souvenirs: 25 (16 for a set and another 9 for 3/4 of a set) 
Encounters: 0
Art: 1
Hot Springs: 15 (11 and a +1 bonus for each card thanks to the Old Man's Special Ability)
Temples: 0

In-Game Victory Points: 56
Bonus Points: +3 Points for being the OCD-style Bather and +3 points for out-shopping me as the Collector!  He also received a +1 bonus point for each of these Achievement Cards due to Mitsukuni's accursed Special Ability!

Total Points: 67


CHAD WINS!!!

***

REVIEW

PROS 
  • Again, the ethos of the game is a major draw for me. It's all about personal enrichment, creativity and having unique experiences. Or if you're a rich asshole like me, you can just try and buy all of that slap-happy shit wholesale.
  • The components of the game are well in step with the theme. The kaiga-style artwork is perfectly zen and the Meal, Souvenir, Encounter and Hot Springs cards really make you feel as if you're trekking across the Japanese countryside during the Tokugawa shogunate. 
  • The board itself is a perfect example of design elegance. It's clean, bright, and cheerful. The iconography is both clear and charming.
  • I love the movement mechanic. Do you rush ahead to get the first pick of something that dove-tails with your strategy? Or do you linger, chaining several actions together in one turn and then customizing your approach to the game accordingly?
  • At the beginning I was afraid that the richest characters would automatically destroy everyone else. And, I suppose, after seeing how poor artsy Kris fared, some readers may still maintain that this is the case. Just remember: Jeremy also took a mostly-creative route and he acquitted himself rather nicely by saving up for Meals and donating to the Temples. In other words if you add some add some ying to your yang you just might do alright.
  • Although it makes sense to be somewhat flexible, the exponentially alluring points provided by completed Panorama and Souvenir sets shouldn't be ignored. It's something that you'll likely struggle with constantly throughout the game.  
  • Just like a real trip, "you can't do it all". Every turn represents a bunch of interesting possibilities and tough decisions. 
  • To quote Andrew: "I didn't really have that much interest in playing Tokaido until Tabletop showed me just how cut-throat it is." Cut-throat indeed. As much as I blather on about the pleasant ethos of the game, it's also about dropping a deuce in your opponent's Hot Springs, so to speak. When some jack-hole comes along and steals that last Sea Panorama spot, denying you a completed work of art just two spaces shy of the last Inn it might very well result in a real-life honor duel to the death. Everyone's cards are face-up during the game, so it's not hard to tell what people are shooting for. This is especially true in a five-player game.      
  • The guys at Shut Up And Sit Down have expressed concerns about the game's re-playability but I don't know if I agree with them. Yes, you pretty much get the gist of the entire game after one play but next time out you'll likely find yourself inhabiting the body of a new random Traveler, which will likely alter your strategy somewhat. Add to this the three different types of Panoramas, the Temples, all of the different Souvenirs, the Farms, the wealth of Food options, the random Encounters, and the Hot Springs and you have a pretty decent amount of variety. Trust me, when you play this thing with five people, you might as well throw all of your time-honored plans right out the shōji.
 CONS
  • I'm still a tad concerned about the influence of money in the game. I also think that some of the Traveler's Special Abilities are vastly superior to others. Hopefully future plays of the game will sway my mind on this one way or the other.
***
To be perfectly honest, Tokaido probably isn't as good as I think it it.  I just love it because of it's both pretty to look at and perfectly in step with my own romantic and likely antiquated world-view.

After all the games I've played, the quality I'm looking for the most now is originality and I think Tokaido has this in spades. I give it five pips outta six with a tilt up towards the mountain peak in my half-completed watercolor!

***

Wanna find out what happens when you combine a hot tub, some incontinent macaques and a gallon of sake? Click on the picture below to learn more about Takaido and help this blog attain financial enlightenment!

 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Red Hawtness: "Mysterium"

I can't help but think that there's an alternate time-line out there, one in which my book was wildly successful, selling twenty thousand copies and giving me the financial autonomy to spend the rest of my life doing what I want to do. I.E. traveling, writing professionally and, of course, attending board game conventions all around the world. 

I'm still holding out hope that this'll happen one day but until it does I'll just have to live vicariously through Kris. 

Back in the summer of 2013 Kris joined our little gaming enclave. All I knew about him at the time was that he was a trusted friend of charter member Mike and he loved to play games. Like, Loved with a capital L. It wasn't until much later when I realized that Kris was the mastermind behind the city's first wildly successful game cafe.

Every once and awhile he'd show up to game night with some exotic new title in tow, an obscure little gem that he'd just picked up during his latest jaunt to some fabled, far-flung game convention that I'd only ever read about in gaming magazines. Gathering of Friends, Origins, GenCon...whenever one of these events wrapped up, Kris was likely to show up to game night toting along a sneak preview of some yet-to-be-published-in-North-America-classic-in-the-making. Usually something with an incomprehensible title and an all-German rulebook.

This past Wednesday was no exception. Having just gotten back from BBG.Con in Dallas, Texas, he brought along one particular title which was widely regarded as the hit of the convention.

It's called Tajemnicze Domostwo.

 
Er, sorry...I mean it's called Mysterium. How that jumble of consonants translates into "Mysterium" is beyond me, but hey, there it is.

In a nutshell, Mysterium is Clue meets Dixit. If you want a description that's decidedly less flippant then here are the deets courtesy of I ♥ Games:

"Mysterium is a co-operative game for 2-7 players. One player takes the role of a ghost who lives in a mysterious ancient manor. Other players are a group of psychics invited by the manor owner to solve the mystery of the place and bring peace to its residents, as any person who stays in the castle sees strange dreams.

"The ancient legend says the ghost is the soul of the manor's previous resident, who was unjustly executed for a crime he didn't commit, more than 100 years ago. Now he tries to use the mysterious signs to tell people the truth about what really happened then, so that justice would be established and he might rest in peace for ever. The specialists in the supernatural were invited to try to understand what the ghost wants to tell and in case of success be honoured by one more victory and receive a generous reward. They have 7 days and 7 nights to reach their goal. If they succeed in time, they win the game.
"

Looking for the full ghost story? Then click on the following link to read the spooky full account right here

***

Last Wednesday night we had to scramble to find a place to play, what with Dean out of the loop for an indefinite amount of time. Thankfully Kris offered up a unique opportunity to play in an expanded section of the cafe which hadn't been thrown open to the general public just yet. In much the same way that we'd christened the cafe itself before it opened (with a game of Terra Mystica no less!) we'd be the first people in history to play a game in this new space dedicated solely to the pursuit of our beloved hobby!

To try and illustrate the game as best as possible, Kris decided to take on the heady and sometimes thankless role of the Ghost to try to guide the rest of us dim-witted simpletons through our revelations. As soon as he got a load of just how stunned we all were at the game I'm sure he regretted his decision.

PLAYER COLORS/ROLES

Chad...Red
Me...Yellow
Jeremy...White
Kris...The Ghost
Mike...Green


DAY ONE

Kris went to work, laying out a series of image-based clue to try and clear the name of an innocent murder suspect. After a great deal of shuffling, hemming and hawing, Kris finally offered up the following spectrum of dream-like images for our fevered minds to ponder:


Kris's placement for Mike was an atmospheric skyline featuring a mysterious figure precariously balanced on a chimney. For some reason Mike associated this with the young starving artist, perhaps because of the pastel color palette? I dunno. I still don't get where he was comin' from on that one.

My dream had a violet, nightmarish quality which showcased a scarecrow and a haunting, bleak backdrop. Without hesitation I plopped my voting marker down on the suspect with the calipers, a violet-colored inkwell and what looked to me like a mental institution pictured in the upper left hand corner. Read into that what thou wilt.

Chad was given a moody seascape with clouds, apparently painted with the use of a giant push broom. Also in the picture was a sailboat being tossed around at sea and and a wind-ravaged kite on a string and spool in the turbulent sky above. After mulling this over for while, Chad placed his voting marker down on the old watchmaker with the gears, pins and magnifying glass. Perhaps the old man looked like a grizzled sea captain to him?

Jeremy got a pinkish, top-down aerial shot featuring two airships, a floating green whale, clouds and a distant seascape down below. He decided that this image matched up best with the veddy propah lady with the parasol. I think the association here involved the windmill and the dragonfly; two objects which had a loose connections to air power and flight.


So, how did we do? Kris's expression immediately began to darken, leading us to believe that he was less then impressed.

Chad...WRONG!   X
Me...RIGHT!   ✓ 
Jeremy...WRONG!  X
Mike...WRONG!  X

Not good. We only had six days left to narrow down all three criteria and we were already well behind the eight-ball. Not freakin' good.

DAY TWO

While I moved on to Locations, Kris served up a second Character-related Dream Card to give my slow-on-the-uptake fellow mediums a second clue to eliminate some culprits. If we got everything right this turn then we'd be well on our way to bouncing back.

Here are the cards Kris tabled for Day Two:


Mike got the entrance way to a warm-looking home, with the hazy light from a sunset shining down on a family's neatly-aligned shoes and a set of keys hanging on the wall. Given the connotations of home, hearth and family legacy, Mike wagered on the grandfatherly-looking watchmaker.

My card featured a creepy, jaundiced-looking woodsy scene with a large wolf lurking in the background and a tiny sword concealed in the rocks ahead. As such, I immediately voted for the ivy-overgrown outdoor patio.

Chad got some sort of wooden display case with a glass front. Above it: dancing lights. Below it: what appeared to be cozy nest of popcorn. I dunno, whatever. He went with the Egyptian explorer that day, probably because the cabinet reminded him of ancient antiquities.

Finally Jeremy got a downright weird image featuring a narrow series of platforms, bridges and overpasses being traversed by, of all things, a disembodied bike wheel, a gryphon-like silhouette and what appeared to be a white horseman. In the bilious sky overhead: a stab of clarion sunlight and winged creatures flocking all about. He went with the artist this time out, probably because of the Bespin-like clouds on his palette. 


At that stage, Ghost-Kris probably would have started banging his head on the table, if not for the fact that his spectral cranium would have passed right through it.

Chad...WRONG!   X
Me...RIGHT!   ✓ 
Jeremy...WRONG!  X
Mike...WRONG!  X

Wh-a-a-a-a-t?!? Again?!? C'mon guys! Can you say "dead weight"? 

Either Kris and I were on some sort of scary-ass wavelength or he was feeding me the only obvious cards in his possession. Whatever the reason, we were headed into Day Three with a serious deficit.
 
DAY THREE

Clearly stymied by this point, Kris laid out the following spectrum of nebulous clues, hoping against hope that we might finally start to puzzle stuff out:


Mike got the close-up of a jacket pocket containing some cute little characters. This time he voted for the sun-bleached archeologist and her tchotchkeys. Um, o-o-o-kay.

Now that I was on to the Item category, Kris served up a bakers stray spilling sweet treats all over the place. In the dark-blue background there appeared to be a crowd-filled grandstand, impassively watching the desert-related tragedy unfolding right before their horrified eyes. I must have been peckish at the time since I went with the fork, a utensil that one might hypothetically use to gobble up all of those yummy spilled detectibles. The matching blue background also screamed "tip-off" to me.

Speaking of, Chad got a sunny-looking picture featuring a top hat on edge and cutlery raining down all around. In the distant background: a stately mansion and some skeletal trees. He voted for the mustachioed race car driver, perhaps because the hat looked like something the driver would wear when not barreling down the track at Mach Two. 

Jeremy got another air-themed image: two entangled dirigibles in a clear blue sky with seagulls wheeling overhead. This time he opted for image association since the balloons vaguely resembled the ball of yarn which featured prominently in the maid's portrait.

  
Right then and there I half-expected Kris to calmly gather all the cards up, march out to his office and then start shredding everything wholesale.

Chad...WRONG!   X
Me...WRONG!   X
Jeremy...WRONG!  X
Mike...WRONG!  X

Man, we sucked at this game. 
DAY FOUR

Given our shamefully poor performance thus far, we'd just about disqualified ourselves from victory. In order to have just one single shot at completing the game, our power of deduction would have to be perfectly flawless from here on in.

Under tremendous pressure, Kris took a bit more time picking out his spectral clues. Here's what we ended up with:


Mike got sort of a ying / yang image: sky above and what appears to be an autumnal treetop below, both punctuated by a single flying bird. This time Mike voted for the Maid, presumably because the red leaves and the ball of yarn matched their placement in both pictures.

I got an arrangement of well-worn tools hanging on the wall, including a saw, a sickle and a bullwhip. Sticking with the theme of implements and background color schemes I opted for the surgeon's tools.

Chad got a truly bizarre picture involving a suit of armor sealed up inside the top tier of an hourglass. He placed his voting token on the fancy, parasol-wielding socialite, perhaps due to the knight/lady link and the flowers in the Clue Card background.

Jeremy's card immediately evoked the phrase "shoot the moon"; a cannon launching its payload skyward towards a distant city with odd astronomical portents in the heavens above. Jeremy opted for the race car driver, perhaps because of the "wheels" connection?


And here's how that round of voting panned out:

Chad...RIGHT!   ✓
Me...WRONG!   X
Jeremy...RIGHT!   ✓
Mike...RIGHT!   ✓

Success! Finally! Although we enjoyed a momentum of celebration we knew that the odds were firmly stacked against us for the rest of the game. 

DAY FIVE
Mathematically speaking, if everyone guessed their location properly there was still enough time to join me in eliminating the Items. 

So here's what Kris flopped down for us:

Mike got a Dali-esque image of a bathtub floating at sea with a golden ship in the background. Naturally he voted for the only Location that prominently featured a bathtub! 

I received the vision of a heavenly pipe organ and, apparently more obsessed with color schemes then Steven and Chris, I selected the gray-looking bundle of rope.

Chad got an evil-looking dungeon corridor with scary glowing demon eyes, a threatening curtain of blades poised to strike, a lava pit and, incongruously, a pair of caution cones! He picked the dark, stately-looking library with the bardiche pole-arms propped up in the background.

Jeremy was given a lush, green, object-strewn sylvan path leading to a tranquil lake. He selected what looked to me like the Genesis Cave from Wrath of Khan.


Kris grimaced as he started to review our votes. With a heavy heart he announced the following results:

Chad...WRONG!   X
Me...WRONG!   X
Jeremy...WRONG!   X
Mike...RIGHT!   ✓
 
And with that the game became officially out of reach. We kept playing though, keen to resolve the mystery. Even though we technically lost, I felt an odd sense of vindication when Mike and I became the only two players to correctly eliminate Items, Locations and Characters!  


***

REVIEW

PROS
  • All of that gorgeous art can't help but evoke shades of Dixit. Alternately whimsical, surreal and troubling the images really help to establish the dream-like mood of the game.
  • The game is deceptively simple yet elegant and engaging. Just by reading my session report you probably know enough about the game now to play it, and likely much better then we did!
  • The Ghost player has to communicate non-verbally, relying solely on the Dream Cards to try and guide the Psychics. Brilliant!  
  • By altering the number of Character, Location and Item Cards you can easily tweak the difficulty of the game. For the record we played on normal difficulty for five people which required eight cards of each type on the table.
  • Pity we didn't do well enough to get to the endgame, which sounds pretty durned cool. In this final phase the Ghost player looks at all of their remaining Dream Cards and then deliberately picks one Suspect, Location and Item to represent the real guilty party. Naturally the Ghost player should make these picks based on the best tells provided by their remaining Dream Cards. This particular combo (and the two remaining sets) are then laid out for the Psychics and a new guessing, sorry... Oneiromancy phase begins. If the mediums can come to a general consensus as to who the Ghost is fingering (!) and pick correctly, they win! If they don't then they can try again if they have another day left! This final Common Dream / Exposing the Culprit phase adds an interesting little climax to the game; providing a hypothetically-simpler final challenge while rewarding players for doing well in previous rounds.
  • Even though the Ghost must remain silent, table talk is definitely encouraged amongst the Mediums. 
CONS

  • One could argue that Mysterium is, quite literally, a Frankensteinian mash-up between Clue and Dixit but, hey, who cares! Sometimes when two different game mechanics get shmushed together the results are kinda icky, like when Leia frenches Luke at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back. But sometimes, as it is in Mysterium, things blend together perfectly, kinda like the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups of board gaming.*
***
All told I give Mysterium six pips outta six with a tilt up towards that creepy attic where that mute and decidedly-unhelpful ghost always be hangin' out.


***

Wanna conduct your own pretty-as-a-picture seance at your gaming table? Welp, your gonna hafta wait until Mysterium is released en masse in this backwater burgh known as North America!
 

* PLEASE NOTE: The opinion that Reese's Peanut Butter Cups "blend perfectly together" is the sole opinion of millions of Reece's Peanut Butter Cup fans and several friends of the author but not the author himself because the author is, in fact, deathly allergic to the fucking things.
 

 


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ménage à Troi - "Star Trek: Fleet Captains – Romulan Empire"

I absolutely love Star Trek: Fleet Captains. As a kid I always wanted to own a board game that would let me dispatch a flotilla of individually-crewed starships out into the GREAT UNKNOWN, encountering bizarre anomalies, completing missions and eventually skirmishing with alien races over territory and resources. If it was set in the much-beloved Star Trek universe then that would have just been gravy.

It made sense that the Klingons were included in the base game since they were the Federation's main foil throughout the the Original Series as well as the movies up until Star Trek VI. Although I certainly dig the Klingons, I've always found the criminally under-used Romulans to be a lot more interesting.

Since their first appearance in the Original Series episode "Balance of Terror", I've always been intrigued by these Imperial space Romans. I know that their physical similarity to Vulcans was born from budgetary restrictions but it gave the writers a chance to explore the developmental path of racial off-shoots. Instead of being cold and logical like their Vulcan cousins, the Romulans were hot-blooded, opportunistic and decidedly shifty.

At first I was skeptical when the producers of Star Trek: The Next Generation neutered the Klingons but at least this forced the writers to develop new adversaries for the Federation. Finally my beloved Romulans came into their own! In stark contrast to the honorable, nigh-suicidal brute force often exhibited by the Klingons, the Romulans used bluff, bravado, subterfuge, espionage and deceit to try and win the day. What's not to love?

Needless to say, when WizKids released their Romulan expansion for Star Trek: Fleet Captains it was only a matter of time before I picked it up.


Quite a bit of time, as it turned out, 'cuz that fucker's almost as pricey as the base game. But don't let the sticker price deter you; as soon as you crack the seal on this bad boy and get a load of those gloriously-detailed lime green Heroclix starships, any buyers regret will surely melt away like a cloaking warbird!


So what's new here besides the obvious? I'll let the Praetors at Wizkids field that one:

"In Star Trek: Fleet Captains - Romulan Empire, the Romulan Empire expands its influence into the game of Star Trek: Fleet Captains.

"This expansion features twelve new Romulan ships molded in color and ten new Romulan Command Decks. A new game mechanism — Espionage — adds new Missions for your fleet and the new Saboteur crew members allow you to deploy secret agents onto your opponents ships! An updated rulebook includes rules to allow for three-player games.
"

If you wanna go all Tal Shiar, then just click on the following link to wring all of the intelligence out of this awesome expansion.
    
***
As soon as I got a free moment I decided to run of the game solo. This would give me an opportunity to capture all the minutia of an individual turn, hash out any rules questions and hopefully provide a resource for anyone out there who wants to learn how to play the game.

I was also really wanted to see how a three-player game would work so I went whole hog and set up the Federation, the Klingons and the Romulans! And since I'm all about the olde skool I decided to select Command Decks and ships representing the older, wilder, Frontier-era of Star Trek.

Here are the results of this mad experiment...

COMMAND DECKS AND INITIAL SHIP DEPLOYMENT

The Federation Command Deck consisted of "Starfleet Command", "Heavy Security", "Main Engineering" and the "Capt. Kirk" deck. The initial Federation ships included the U.S.S. Enterprise-A, U.S.S. Excelsior, U.S.S. Reliant and the U.S.S. Yeager.

The Klingon Command Deck used "Battleship", "Imperial Expansion", Code of Honor" and "Hidden Enemy". The first compliment of Klingon vessels featured the Gr'Oth, Rotarran, Ch'Tang and the Klothos.

The Romulan Command Deck compiled "Imperial Honor", "Balance of Terror", the "Tal Shiar" and "Pride of  Romulus". The starting Romulan fleet tabled the Vorital, Cadius, Deniath, R'Liria and the Talvath.


TURN ONE

The Reliant used an Action (1) to Scan one of the three sectors closest to their Command Post and discoverd an Inversion Nebula. The Yeager (which clearly fell through some sort of a space / time anomaly to arrive in the distant past) used an Action (2) to scan another adjacent system, discovering a Class Y Planet. With an up-and-coming science officer named Spock on the bridge, the Enterprise moved through this system, making sure to keep their Shields up to avoid any damage. During this operation there was no Encounter! She then used an Action (3) to Scan ahead, revealing a Class-L Planet. Finally the Excelsior began a "Warp Experiment", cranking its Engines up to the maximum setting of nine.

The Ch'Tang passed into Empty Space and then rolled a "5" so there was no Encounter. The ship then took an Influence Action (1) to place a Control Marker there. The Rotarran barreled straight ahead, discovering an O-Type Star and rolling a "4" to avoid any Encounters. She then used a Scan Action (2) to investigate the unrevealed Location next to the Klingon Command Post, revealing more Empty Space. Next the Gr'Oth passed through this sector, rolled a "1" for an Encounter and promptly discovered an "Abandoned Outpost"! She immediately performed an Influence Action (3) and placed a permanent +2 Shield Token on this newly-discovered Installation! This polished off the "Localized Survey" mission for 1 VP! The Klothos then spent one movement point to enter Empty Space and then three more to discover a highly-prized Class M Planet! On a subsequent roll of "2" the ship Encountered an "Iconian Outpost". So far, everything's comin' up Klingon!

After Dr. Telek R'Mor was appointed the Talvath's senior Engineer, the ship spent one point to move into the Nebula. Unfortunately, on a roll of "2", the Nebula prevented her from moving any further. Meanwhile, aboard the R'Liria, a Centurion rose through the ranks to distinguish himself as an Officer. Then the Cadius, Deniath, and the R'Liria all used Cloak Actions (1-3) to fulfill the "Caution" Mission Card for a Victory Point. The Torvath cruised into an adjacent location, discovering a Small Dark Matter Nebula and rolling a "5" to avoid an Encounter. The Vorital then discovered a sector of Empty Space and, thanks to a roll of "1", Encountered a peace-loving "Delegation of Organians". Fortunately, the Romulans weren't concealing any Combat Cards so they passed the Organian's test and scored another Victory Point!


TURN TWO

The Excelsior used an Action (1) to Scan the last unrevealed location next to the Federation Command Post, revealing a Class-J Nebula. She then moved on with Phase II of her "Warp Experiment". Still getting oriented to this new time setting, the Yeager spent a moment point to enter the Nebula and discovered an "Automated Station" when the Encounter roll was "1". This turned out to be a friendly Starbase for the Federation. Although the Encounter ended her movement, the Yeager burnt an Action (2) to scan the Location to the north east which was revealed as a D-Type Star. The Reliant then spent one movement point to enter the Class Y Planet and then used four points to cross through that system. On a roll of "5" she experienced no Encounter. The Enterprise drifted into the exact same system and then used the final Federation Action (3) to beam down an Away Team.

The I.K.S. Gr'Oth veered 315° to port revealing a Stable Wormhole. On a roll of "4" they Encountered a "Dead Colony", which seemed to be de rigueur by that point. Naturally the Klingons immediately seized control of the place! Even though the Encounter ended her movement, the Gr'Oth used an Action (1) to Scan the Location dead ahead which turns out to be Empty Space. The Klothos followed this up by spending a movement point to enter this sector, avoiding any Encounters with a throw of "4". With six adjacent locations now explored, the Klingons spiked the "Expansive Survey" Mission for 2 more Victory Points! The Klothos then burned the last three of her four movement points to explore the location dead ahead, right next door to Romulan territory! This also turned out to be Empty Space but the Encounter roll of "2" brought on a nasty "Plasma Storm". This forced the Klingons to perform an Engines Power Adjustment to 8, the highest possible Engine setting. A die roll of 6 was added to this for a total of 14 and with the challenge met this Encounter was claimed as a Victory Point! Next the Ch'Tang took an Influence Action (2) to place a Colony in the sector of Empty Space adjacent to their Command Post. The Rotarran forged on straight ahead, locating the other end of a Stable Wormhole. On a roll of "4" there was an Encounter in the form of a "Displacement Wave". In reaction to this, the Rotarran's Engines were cranked up to the maximum of six but her escape attempt would have to wait until next turn.

Perturbed by the close proximity of the Klingons, the Romulans dispatched the cloaked R'Liria and the Cadius into the same Empty Space sector to deal with the inbound threat. Upon arrival, both ships de-cloaked and then used two Actions (1-2) to Attack, thus completing the "Aggressive Negotiations" Secret Mission.


The combined Romulan Weapons value was 10 (5 per ship) with a +2 bonus added to Weapons and Shields thanks to "Battle Stations" giving a pre-roll total of 12. In response, the Klingons played "Battle of Honor" forcing the Romulans to discard "Battle Stations".

(Editor's Note: Looking back, I'm not sure if this was played properly. As the Aggressor, technically the Klingon card wasn't the "first" to be played in combat so this might not have been a legal play) 

The Klingon Shields were set at 7. The Romulans rolled a "4" on their attack and the Klingons scored the same, giving a final tally of 16 to 11 which inflicted one point of damage on the Klothos! Next up the Vorital took an Influence Action (3), placing a Control Marker in its spot. The Talvath boldly banked 315° to port, using one movement point to reveal a Class-K Nebula. The subsequent Encounter roll was "6" so nothing happened. She spent her remaining five movement points to forge on dead ahead, locating an M-Type Star. The Encounter roll was "5" so once again all was quiet. Finally the still-cloaked Deniath exhausted her movement to join the Talvath in the M-Type Star system.


TURN THREE

On the third round of her "Warp Experiment" the Excelsior moved into orbit around the Class-Y Planet and then took an Influence Action (1) to place two Control Tokens there thanks to the "Command Support" Ops Card. Thanks to her current Shield value of 4 she took no Location-specific damage during this operation. The Reliant then used a Transporter Action (2) to beam up the Away Team, completing the "Planetary Expedition" Science Mission for one Victory Point. With the Romulans lurking just one sector away Lieut. Cmdr. Spock aboard the Enterprise initiated "Diplomatic Contact" via a Level 15 Sensor Test (3). After conducting a Power Adjustment which gave the ship a base Sensor Level of 10 Spock added his own +3 bonus to the effort. The subsequent roll was "4" for a total of 17...success! The mission was completed and the Federation scored one Victory Point! The Yeager then veered 30° to starboard and entered the D-Type Star system. A "3" was rolled so there was no Encounter of note. 

After General Chang took command of the Gr'Oth, he used one movement point to plow through Empty Space and three more to join the Klothos in battle against the Romulans. After a Power Adjustment gave her a 7 for both Weapons and Shields, the wounded Klothos joined her in a counter-attack against the R'Liria, which spent two Actions (1-2) in the process. Their Combat total was 7 for the Gr'Roth, + 6 for the Klothos, + 3 for "Heavy Armament" and + 2 for Chang's Captain Ability for a whopping total of 18 before rolling! The Romulan ship only received a paltry 4 for her Shields and another +1 for her "Opportunistic" trait. The Klingons then rolled a "6" awhile the Romulans scored a "4". The final totals: Klingons 24 vs. Romulans 9. The R'Liria was rocked for 2 points of damage so she dropped down to setting 11. Meanwhile the Rotarran tried to extricate herself from the "Displacement Wave". She had to roll a 6 but only got a "2" so the ship vanished into oblivion. The Ch'Tang then spent an Influence Action (3) to add another Control Token to the Empty Space sector next to the Klingon Command Post.

After their superficially-peaceful first contact with the Federation, Telek R'Mor initiated a Cloak Action (1) and then ordered the Talvath into the Class-L Planet sector unbeknownst to both the Enterprise and the Reliant. Meanwhile, on the other side of the galaxy, the wounded R'Liria joins the Cadius in yet another salvo against the Klothos, spending two Combat Actions (2-3) to do so. Their total is 4 + 5 (respectively) plus an additional 4 for a "Plasma Torpedo" bolstered by two discarded cards for a grand pre-roll total of 1l. At the time the Klothos Shield setting was still at 7. The Romulans rolled a "4" and the Klingons rolled a "3" so the total were 17 vs. 10. The Klothos took another point of damage, putting her into setting 12 of Red Alert territory. Meanwhile the still-cloaked Deniath moved into a sector of unexplored space adjacent to the Federation's Command Post. Responding to a request for assistance from the R'Liria and the Cadius, the Vorital warped into the fray and then adjusted her Power Dial to setting 3. 


TURN FOUR

While at his science station, Lieut. Cmdr. Spock detected what he thought might be a sensor ghost. Suspecting that it could be the Romulans, he attempted a Scan Action (1) searching for cloaked ships in the same sector. With the Enterprise's Sensor value of 10 and Spock's + 3 bonus the total was 13. With a roll of three the total was 16: a success! The secretly-skulking Talvath was suddenly revealed, initiating a rather tense and awkward stand off!

 
Meanwhile, the Reliant ventured into a Proto Stellar Nebula, becoming "cloaked" in the process. She rolled at "2" so there was no Encounter within the Nebula. The Excelsior completed an Influence Action (2) placing the third Control Token around the Class-Y Planet next to the Federation Command Post. She then finished up her "Warp Experiment", collecting two Victory Points in the process. The Yeager turned hard to port and stumbled upon a Class-K Planet. The resulting Encounter roll was "4" so nothing happened. Oblivious to the presence of the Romulan ship in the same sector, the Yeager crossed through this Location and entered the Class-L Planet sector. Still twitchy from their past (future?) encounter with the Borg, the ship's skipper immediately lashed out at the Talvath, expending a Combat Action (3) to so so. Her weapons were set to 7 and combined with an the attack roll of "2" the grand total was 9. The Talvath's Shields, currently dialed to 8, easily repelled this puny attack. For their final step, the Feds discarded the "Humiliation" Mission Card.

Since the Rotarran vanished without a trace, the Klingons initiated a Reinforcement Action (1). Their current Fleet Size was 7 with a maximum of 11. The Rotarran suddenly returned, re-appearing back at the Klingon Command Post! She then entered the adjacent sector of Empty Space where the Klingons were attempting to place their third Command Token. Still locked in a desperate battle against the Romulans, the Gr'Oth and the Klothos spent one Combat Action apiece (2-3) in an attempt to finish off the damaged R'Liria. Each Klingon ship had their Weapons set to 7 for a total of 14 + 3 for General Chang's Captain Ability for a total of 17. With a current Shield setting of only 4, the R'Liria can't defend herself and is destroyed, killing the Romulan Centurion on board. This allowed the Klingons to complete the "Deathblow" Secret Mission and claim 1 Victory Point plus another 2 for the destruction of their first enemy ship! Meanwhile the Ch'Tang peeled off to starboard and discovered another region of Empty Space. The following Encounter roll was 6 so nothing happens. 

In a bold move, the Deniath drifted into the Class-J Nebula and immediately de-cloaked into the highest Sensor setting of 12. The Romulan Commander onboard then used an Action (1) to make a Sensor Test, adding an "Emergency Power" card to add +2 to the attempt. In reaction, the Federation dropped an "Orion Slave Girl" into the mix which nullified the Romulan's Ops Card effect. The following roll was a mournful "2" for a grand total of 14 which failed by one. Undeterred in their battle against the Klingons, the Vorital and the Cadius both spent Combat Actions (2-3) to gang up on the Klothos. The Vorital's Weapons were at 4 and the Cadius was at 5, totaling 11 with a roll of 2. The Klothos rolled a "5" which was added to their reduced Shield score of is at 4 for a total of 9. As a result, the ship was destroyed and the Romulans scored two Victory Points for their first kill. Meanwhile the revealed Talvath used the new "Emergency Cloaking" rule, adjusting to setting 5 for 6 potential movement points. She then used 5 of these points to Cloak and another one to flee back towards the M-Type Star.


TURN FIVE

The Reliant emerged from the Proto Stellar nebula, "decloaking" in the process. She immediately revealed a Pulsar and due to the system's immense size she couldn't clear the Location on that turn. She also rolled a 2 and Encountered "Sentient Nanites". Mercifully, since the Reliant was undamaged, the Federation scored an easy Victory Point! The Excelsior took an Influence Action (1) to build an Outpost. Still bombing around the galaxy half-cocked, the captain of the Yeager charged back to the Class-J Nebula and used an Action (2) to lash out at the now-revealed Deniath. Her Weapons were set to 7 vs. the Deniath's Shields of 4 (courtesy of an Emergency Interrupt). The Federation Combat Roll was 4 for a total of 11 versus the Romulan roll of 5 for a total of 9. After taking her one level of damage, the Deniath immediately Cloaked for free thanks to the Romulan Commander's Captain Ability. The Enterprise doubled back and discovered a region of Empty Space. On a roll of "2" she had an unpleasant Encounter with "The Nexus" but she avoided a close encounter with this anomaly by rolling a "1". She then used a Scan Action (3) on the nearest unexplored tile and turned up a Class-J Planet. Finally, the Feds chucked out the "Intercept Transmissions" Mission Card, which, in hindsight, was just a dumb oversight.

The Klingons moved "The Nexus" into the same sector as the Excelsior but with a roll of "3" the ship suffered no peril. With the loss of the Klothos, the Klingon's Fleet Size is once again reduced to 7 so they took advantage of another Reinforcement Action (1). At that point their maximum fleet size was 12 so they were quick to introduce the I.K.S. Maht-h'a. This newly minted ship immediately set course for the nearby Type-O Star. With her Sensors currently set to Level 5 she spent another Action (2) to attempt a Sensor Test. Unfortunately she rolled a lame-o "1" for a total of 12 which failed the test. Meanwhile the Gr'oth continued its assault against the Romulans, this time targeting the Vorital. Her attack value included 7 for her Weapons plus 2 for Chang's Captain Ability: a tally of 9 before the roll. This was compared to the Vorital's frighteningly-low Shield total of 3. The Klingons rolled a 2 and the Romulans rolled a 5, so it ended up being 11 vs 8. As a result, the Romulan vessel took one point of damage. The Klingons then played "Hit and Run" and immediately Cloaked. For their last step, the Ch'Tang moved into a new sector and discovered an Emission Nebula but on a roll of 2 there was no Encounter.

The Romulans moved "The Nexus" to the empty Class-K Planet System. After Nanculus was appointed as the ship's Weapons Specialist, the Talvath received a distress call from the Denieth and immediately moved to assist. She came out of warp in the Class-J Nebula and then used a "Cloaked Scan" card to attempt a Sensor Test by using an Action (1). Added to the ship's base Sensors of 8 was + 5 for the ship's special ability plus another 5 for Telek R'Mor's Engineer skill. Since the total was 18 this counted as an automatic success! This, in turn, fulfilled the "Fearless Surveillance" Secret Mission for a whopping 3 Victory Points. At the same time the fleeing Deniath uncloaked to discover a Stable Wormhole in an unexplored sector. Unfortunately on a roll of "4" there was an unexpected Encounter with a Temporal Loop. She's trapped! Since the R'Liria was destroyed, the Romulan Fleet Size had been reduced to 8 with a max of 11. The Romulans then proceeded to take a Reinforce Action (2) to bring out the Apnex, her Engines initialized to 8. This new ship used one Movement Point to enter Empty Space, two more to cross into the Class-K Nebula and another 5 to navigate past that. She arrived at the Stable Wormhole, broke the Deniath out of her Temporal Loop, and scored her tenth and final Victory Point for the victory.

The Romulans win!

Final Victory Point Tally:
 
Romulans...10
Klingons...7
Federation...5

***

While talking to Mike about the Romulan expansion at Cabin Con I started to regret my decision to buy it. It's his stalwart belief that many of the Romulan ships are grossly underpowered and a lot of their Missions are really hard to complete. Although I can certainly see his point here I also know that the Romulans need to be played radically different from both the Klingons and the Federation.

Some tips for the prospective Romulan player:
  • Don't get suckered into an extended toe-to-toe space brawl with someone like the Klingons since they will surely kick the Romulan's asses up around their pointy ears. Use hit-and-run tactics to dissuade rivals from your holdings and don't be too precious about incursions into your own territory. 
  • Stay cloaked. Like all the time. Concentrate on moving your ships into position to complete Missions. Take advantage of the new rule governing Emergency Cloaking.  
  • Don't be afraid to cycle through the tougher Mission cards to cherry pick what you need.  
REVIEW

PROS
  • The game is so fun and thematic that mishaps feel more funny then frustrating. The variable Locations, familiar characters, famous starships, tense Encounters, tactical Combats, Sensor Tests and colorful Missions all evoke feelings of "boldly going where no-one has gone before".
  • Each faction really does play very different from one another. The Feds are all science-y, diplomatic and peaceful, the Klingons are all up in yo' grill and the Romulans are a bunch of sneaky l'il gits.
  • The Romulan expansion adds a lot of new stuff without troweling on a ton of extra complexity. There so many new strategies to explore! Hell, I didn't even draw any Saboteurs! Hopefully the next time I'll be given an opportunity to seed a few of these annoying bastards on my opponent's ships and then just sit back and and giggle as they gum up the works!
  • I discarded the "Intercept Transmissions" card 'cuz I completely forgot about the new "Transmission Interference Sensor Action" rule. Speaking of annoying, I think it would be great to force your opponent to discard a Mission just as they're on the cusp of completing it!
  • The Heroclix system is a perfect fit for Star Trek, simulating ship damage and Power Adjustments with elegance. 
  • The miniatures really make the game pop on the table. The tokens and cards are also top-notch.
CONS
  • The coaster that your Romulan Ale is sitting on is probably ten times more durable and stable then those piss-poor Location "tiles". 
  • Sadly, I found myself referring to the rules very frequently, like once every turn. I have to tilt my hat to designers Ethan Pasternack and Mike Elliott for trying to replicate the vast Star Trek sandbox in board game form. If anything they deserve kudos for taking what could have been an unwieldy mess and delivering something that's quite playable. But due to a lot of nebulous wording and a pretty-but-dumb rule book you'll often find yourself pausing the action to look something up or scratching your head in an effort to puzzle out the designer's intent. Let's just say that a more-detailed second edition rulebook would be worth its weight in gold-pressed latinum. 
***

Overall, Star Trek: Fleet Captains - Romulan Empire scores five pips outta five with a tilt up towards Romulus and Remus!


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Wanna play Commander Tomalak to your opponent's Captain Picard? Then click on the photo below to learn more about this expansion and bring glory to the Blogulan Empire!