Sunday, September 28, 2014

Chaotic Good - "HAL-CON's Epic 40th Level D&D Birthday Party"

Almost a year ago I had the privilege of asking the organizers of HAL-CON what they had planned for 2014. One of the more exciting tidbits concerned the 40'th anniversary of D&D.

I didn't think much more of it until I started to see these incredibly-alluring posters popping up all over town:

After checking out the event's official Bookface page I was resolved. After all, I'm usually stuck on the business side of a DM screen and rarely get the chance to play.

Since this was going to be my first RPG-specific event I didn't want to go alone. I've had some pretty decent luck in the past, I mean persuading people to wing-man for me at events like this, but I would soon learn that this was no ordinary request.

I tried to be subtle at first, tossing out this off-handed Bookface status update back on August 28'th:

I got a few "Likes" but no encouraging nibbles. This was going to be a bit more challenging than I originally surmised.

Three days prior to the big hoedown, I decided that a more direct approach was in order:

This time: not so much as a peep from my so-called "friends", just a very funny reply from the event's coordinator, Shawn Kehoe:

For the record, Shawn was super-helpful, fielding concerns I had about character level requirements and which DM's had their shit locked down cold. If this was gonna be my first Fifth Edition game I really wanted the experience to be a positive one.     

The day before the big cotillion I attempted to cast a last-minute "Charp Person" spell on my friends in order to guilt someone into going with me. Since there's no less then seven players in my own semi-regular D&D group surely one of them would be the Belle for my ball?

But no dice. Not even a measly four-sider. Here what I got back:

"I'm not confident in my gaming skills."

But that's exactly what this event is for! 

"I have to babysit."

By all accounts Fifth Edition is pretty easy to pick up. Bring the kid along, he can be our cleric! 

"I have to sew some things together!"

Um, okay. I...I got nuthin' for this one

"My other D&D group meets up that day!"  

Wh-a-a-a-a-t?!?!?  You Jezebel!!!

"I'm on my way to a christening for my niece."

Yeah, whatever! That's the oldest excuse in the book! 

Weak, people. Weak.

So, it was to be a good, old-fashioned solo quest, eh? No problem! There was no way on Gord's Green Greyhawk that I was gonna miss a locally-hosted 40'th Anniversary par-tay for one of my favorite games of all time. Undeterred, I made a successful "Persuasion" check to convince my persistently patient wife to drop me off at the Lord Nelson Hotel at 9:30 am the following morning. She even had the decency to slow down to ten klicks this time!

This all started to feel like the first day of school to me. I actually felt a tad nervous. What homeroom class would I randomly end up in? Would they be nice people or jerks?

While waiting to get in I chatted with some of the people in the lineup and immediately felt at ease. For the most part, they seemed to be friendly, affable and mercifully-normal people. By the time we got the all-clear to head inside I was feeling particularly sanguine about the day's potential.

As soon as I crossed over the threshold I made a bee-line right for the registration table. My original plan was to try to take in two separate 5'th Edition D&D games: one in the morning and one in the afternoon / evening. As such, I quickly signed up for Lisa's game, which was starting up in just a few short minutes.
This gave me just enough time to peruse the fine wares proffered by the fine folks at Monster Comic Lounge. Lying resplendent before me was a veritable dragon's horde of fantasy-related boardgames for sale:

Not to mention a metric shit-ton of game manuals for several different RPG's including various permutations of D&D:

Before joining up with my new-found fellowship I bought a fist-sized d20 for me and a sparkly teal n' gold "Borealis" dice set from Chessex for my bestest gurl:

If Arr Pee Gees weren't your thang ("Say wha...?") there was also a huge library of dungeon-crawly boardgames that you could delve into toadly for free:

For me, going to a D&D-related event and not playing D&D makes about as much sense as going to Raging Waters but not getting wet. But, hey, to each his or her own. I won't judge. I'm just saying that you probably missed out, Bucko.

Admittedly there was no shortage of tempting diversions:

And hey, what's a birthday celebration without a cake? Event volunteer Marion used her +3 Spatula of Blending to turn in this amazing D&D-themed slab cake just for this extra-special occasion!

She even went through the bother of making a gluten-free option! How cool is that?

"I swear unto thee, a morsel of this fine lembas shall not be akin to a 'Web' spell in thine bowels."

After browsing around for as long as I could, I rushed over to meet my new ad-hoc adventuring partners. Again, to my relief, everyone seemed super-chill, especially Lisa, who would be our DM for the next few hours.

Here's a role-call (*snarf*) of the players and the characters they portrayed:

Chris as "Razzik" the Human Fighter
Grant as "Nodwick" the Lightfoot Halfling Rogue
Peter as "Dhun'n Stonebiter" the Hill Dwarf Cleric 
Rory as "Leshana Amastacia" the High Elf Wizard
Sandra as "Shara" the Human Fighter

One of the best ways to learn about a new edition of D&D is to create a bunch of characters from scratch. As such, I'd spent the prior evening cooking up a unique and diminutive l'il avatar for myself. 

"Hey, Lisa, would you mind if I played this original character?"

"Sure!" she said cheerily. "Let me just have a quick peek at your character sheet..."

"Absolutely!" I enthused, handing this over to her in response:


Race: Stout Halfling
Class: Ranger
Height: 3'2"
Weight: 32 lbs.
Hair Color: Brown
Eye Color: Dark Brown

Appearance: Braemar is slightly taller then most Halflings and his build is average if not a tad on the slim side, which belies his periodic feats of strength. Atop his head is a mop of thick, disheveled, not-quite-shoulder-length brown hair. Even though Halflings are generally incapable of growing beards, Braemar sports a pair of prodigious sideburns and looks surprisingly scruffy, a silent testament to his life on the road as an adventurer-for-hire.

Origin: A woodworker and casual farmer, Braemar was fiercely proud of the victory garden he cultivated every year in the front yard of his burrow. The only real threat he faced to this seasonal crop was an annual plague of vermin, which he came to despise and combat with a passion. When his Aunt Lavinia’s home became infested with giant earwigs, Braemar took it upon himself to exterminate the threat single-handedly and free of charge. As tales of his insect-fighting prowess began to spread, Braemar was feted as the town’s official “Bugslayer”. Unfortunately, everyone in the village started asking him to deal with their own pest-control problem, for free of course! About three weeks ago, Braemar disappeared from town, the circumstances of which he refuses to talk about.

"Yeah, I think that would be fine!" Lisa concluded, handing the sheet back to me.

And with that she began to guide us through a segment of the awesome "Lost Mines of Phandelver" campaign module included with the new D&D Fifth Edition Starter Set. Needless to say, if you haven't played through it yet then some minor spoilers lie ahead. Thou hast been warned.

The adventure started with the hoariest of D&D adventure hook clichés: some shady, rich one-percenter hires a bunch of poor, rag-tag fortune seekers (I.E. us) to guard a wagon-load of provisions going from Point "A" to Point "B". Naturally about three miles outside of town we find the road blocked by a bunch of dead horses, prelude for a ham-fisted goblinoid trap.

I'd have to describe Braemar's inaugural combat as "inauspicious" at best. Because of my terrible die-rolls, I couldn't have hit a cow in the ass with a shovel during that first fight. I failed to land so much as a single point of damage, even after switching from my short-bow to some hot double-hammer action.

Even worse, I got perforated by a veritable hail of arrows and spears, giving Lisa an opportunity to get Fifth Edition's Death and Dying rules out of the way. At least my Saving Throws in this endeavor were reasonably good. This allowed me to stabalize, get treatment and heal a Hit Die worth of damage thanks to the Short Rest which followed. 

Regardless of my own piss-poor performance, we collectively defeated the goblins, taking two of them prisoner and "Intimidating" some info out of them. Pretty soon our wagon train was back on course to Phandalin.

From left to right: Razzik, Leshana, Nodwick, Dhun'n, Shara and Braemar. The two dice represent our wagon and yes, I'm fully aware that one of those two figures is a kobold, so go fuck yourself, bright boy.

In an effort to make up for my previous whiff-fest, I took up the vanguard and detected a snare trap in the road ahead. After dismantling that (and also avoiding the WORST PIT-TRAP EVAR), we arrived at a river flowing out of a cave mouth. Across the stream, perched atop an embankment, were a pair of goblin guards casting lots, chuckling to one another and generally being oblivious.

 Razzik, Braemar, Nodwick and Shara ponder the best way to murderhobo two innocent goblins. The eraserpen (peneraser?) represents the river between us and our quarry. It's a game of imagination, people, c'mon, use it! Sheesh! 

Our sneak attack didn't go so well and, surprise, surprise, I totally missed with my surprise round bow shot. We dropped one of these schmucks but the other dude shucked and/or jived his way back into the cave to warn his friends. Assuming that the goblins were gonna pour out of there like a swarm of pissed-off wasps, Chris and I quickly laid down a flammable trap and bottle-necked the entrance. Unfortunately the goblins were dug in like a bunch of Alabama ticks.

We'd have to go in and flush 'em out the hard way. 

At that point Shawn came over and told us that the official cake-lighting ceremony was about to start. This was the perfect time to take a quick break and watch the festivities!  

 "AAAARGGH!!! My HeroQuest figures are on fire! OH NOES!!!!"

So, after forty years of failed attempts, some D&D players finally managed to summon one of the Great Old Ones...kidding! Thankfully those days are over, amirite, kids?

"Blood for the Blood God!!!"

After a communal rendition of a certain copyright-protected Birthday-related ditty that will go unmentioned, I walked around the hall for a little bit. Several new tables had sprung up but I was disappointed that the place wasn't teeming with hordes of similarly-minded revelers. This left me wondering if events like this would be better attended during those Alwayswinter Night months from November to March when there was nothing better to do then huddle indoors?  

It's times like this when I wish I could cast a "Mirror Image" spell on myself and see what's going on at every table. I always feel like I'm missing out on something!

Soon it was back to the adventure and we quickly picked up where we'd left off. After tentatively venturing inside the cave we immediately encountered a small pack of tethered wolves. I quickly jumped in and used my "Animal Handling" skill to good effect and pretty soon those precious l'il pups were a-lickin' our rosy cheeks like ice cream cones. 

I think it's safe to say that everyone around the table had a fair amount of gaming experience so what we did next didn't seem quite so nutty at the time. Collectively we decided to commit that most cardinal of D&D sins: we split the party.

Dhun'n and I scampered up a fissure in the ceiling while Razzik, Nodwick, Shara and Leshana took the scenic route along the river. They soon arrived at a larger chamber dominated by two sizable pools of water and guarded by three alert n' angry goblins. Immediately a fracas broke out, prompting Peter and I to expedite our plans.

We'd emerged into a massive storeroom filled with crates and provisions looted from other caravans. Even more dire: the room was presided over by a mangy-looking wolf, two more goblins and a creature that Lisa initially described as a very large goblin. Throwing caution to the wind, Dhun'n and I rushed out of the shadows to try and catch our quarry unawares.

And that's when Lisa told us that the big dude wasn't a hobgoblin as we'd erroneously assumed but a freakin' BUGBEAR. When it came time for the big, hairy bastard to pick a target between Peter and I, Lisa did exactly what I would do: she rolled randomly to see who he'd lash out at. After a six-sider clattered to the table and came to rest behind her screen she looked up at me and smiled evilly.

"He swings at you," she said, pointing my way.

The subsequent brutal hit sent me crashing ass-over-kettle into a crate five feet away, reducing me to exactly zero Hit Points in the process. Audibly I cursed my bad luck. Would I spend this entire fight on the sidelines as well?

"Did anyone get the license plate of that truck? No? Um, okay then. I'm just gonna lie here for a little while..." And yes, I know that's a cougar and not a wolf. Go eat a bowl of kobold dicks, ya Poindexter. 

Even though all you grognards out there might be scoffing at our strategy, splitting up actually worked out pretty well. Peter and I distracted Klarg the Big-Ass Bugbear long enough for Chris, Grant, Sandra and Rory to secure the Twin Pools Cave and then come to our aid. At least that was the plan.

Unfortunately, just before the goblins were routed, their boss, Yeemik, grabbed a nearby human hostage and squeaked:

"Truce or this human dies!"

"I care not. Behold my field of fucks and see that it is barren."

Thinking fast, Rory went all Chris Sabian on the twitchy goblin. Knowing that his minions were defeated and anxious to overthrow Klarg as the cave's overseer, Yeemik agreed to negotiate. But Rory had one more trick up his sleeve:

"As is customary, let us shake hands as a sign that we have entered a formal and binding parley."

Desperate to save his own hide, Yeemik extended a sweaty, shaky goblin paw which Leshana was quick to grasp.

And by "grasp" I mean "Shocking Grasp".   BRRRRR-ZZZZZZAAAAAPPPP!!!!!

"Nice job, Rory!" I enthused. "That's some real three-dimensional thinking right thur!"

And with that, Razzik, Nodwick, Leshana and a re-constituted Shara quickly scrambled up the steps to re-enforce Dhun'n and I. Thanks in part to his stout armor, Peter's wily dwarf was still holding his own against the bugbear chieftain.

Shara joined Dhun'n in an attempt to outflank the creature which led to the only baffling moment of the game. I was perfectly fine when the dice randomly selected me as Klarg's initial target but when Shara joined the melee, Lisa inexplicably included me in yet another random attack roll.

"Ummm, I thought you were five feet away and knocked out?" Grant whispered to me.

"Yeah, so did I," I replied, shrugging my shoulders.

A-a-a-a-a-n-d, of course Lisa rolled my number. So, instead of the wounded bugbear defending himself from a hale and hearty dwarf cleric and a powerful human fighter, Klarg inexplicably decided to lean in and skewer the comatose halfling lying crumpled and unconscious amidst the ruins of a smashed up crate. Ummm, ooookay, whatever.

This put me back into the negatives, so I found myself making Death Saves for the second time in one session! I finally rolled my first (and only) "20", giving me two successes in one throw. Braemar lives!!!

But not for much longer. As the battle wore on, my Death Saves started to go sour. Just before I was about to break a two-for-two tie, Peter finally took pity on me and cast a seven-point Cure Wounds spell.

"Oh, thank God!" I intoned. "So, am I at zero Hit Points or just one?"

"Oh no," Lisa said. "Even though you were in the negatives, you just pop right back up to seven. And, hey, it's your turn!"

I was immediately reminded of that scene in Pulp Fiction when a comatose Uma Thurman jumps up and starts doin' shit like everything's normal after Vincent Vega jammed that adrenaline needle through her sternum. Essentially I went from "one foot in the grave" to a house on fire!

Sick and tired of being every monster's butt-monkey, I sprang up and rushed to Leshana's aid, who'd just been dropped by Klarg's pet wolf.  

"Okay, I'm gonna use my 'Nimble' ability to run underneath Klarg. Then I'm gonna fire an arrow at the wolf."

On my very next turn I swiveled and then dropped the worse-for-wear Klarg with my Twin Mallets of Doom™. OH, SWEET, SWEET NECTAR OF REVENGE!!!

Against all odds we'd managed to overcome our enemies and win the day!

Wily veteran campaigner that he is, Chris immediately started to inventory the stolen trade goods while I looted Klarg's corpse. To set a positive president, I made a point to split all of the coins I found equally amongst all six of us. This ensured that everyone else followed the same protocol for all of the loot we found in that cave. 

And with that, our time had elapsed. We all thanked Lisa for a job well done and prepared to go our separate ways.

I took this opportunity to peruse the schedule again and plan out my next move. Lisa's second session was starting in about an hour but since I was looking for as much variety as possible I was leaning more towards Trevor's game at 4 pm.

At this point I wish I could do a retroactive intervention on myself. At the time Marion, the same person who'd made the awesome birthday cake, was trying to scare up some participants for a Lords of Waterdeep tournament.

"It's not gonna be much of a tournament if we only have four people," she lamented.

I felt kinda sorry for her so I agreed to join in. Hey, it's not like she had to twist my arm or anything since my love of the game isn't exactly a closely-guarded secret.

'No problem,' I thought to myself. 'I'll probably get knocked out in the first round and still have time to jump in on Trevor's game.'

But as soon as I walked over to the table I instantly regretted my decision. Someone already sitting there positively reeked of sweat. Put it this way: their armpits probably hadn't been washed since their mother washed them. Super-seriously, it was gross.

I should have taken this as a sign and just walked away. But no, I'd agreed to help so I decided to suck it up and forge onward. 

Before we got started I was under the distinct impression that someone around the table had never played Lords of Waterdeep before, so, as a common courtesy I tried to explain a few things as I helped to set the game up.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all know how to play," the galloping douchebag to my immediate left suddenly announced.

This caused me to perform the world's most obvious double-take when I noticed that he was actually wearing a "Volunteer" t-shirt.

"Um, okay," I responded. "Well, just to help make the game go a little bit quicker we should probably put the Adventurers and the Gold on the board so we can all reach..."

"Yeah, no, we won't be doing that," he replied.

Immediately I felt like asking: "So, is this your copy of the game? If so, are you afraid that the rest of us are gonna steal stuff? If not, then why are you being such a tool? If you're participating in this game then why do you think you have a monopoly on doling stuff out like a fucking tournament judge? And if you start short-changing us then who do we report your mangy ass to?"

I don't say "mangy ass" lightly; I'm almost 100% sure that this components Nazi was the same dude who was stinking up the joint. Every impulse in my brain told me run, but I didn't. Indeed I failed to heed my own first and foremost commandment: life's too short to game with assholes.

Before we got started, the tournament's real overseer popped by to inform us that the overall winner would be decided by total points tallied up from three games, plus whatever Gold we'd collected. I thought this last caveat to be rather odd, so odd in fact that I promptly forgot about it as of this writing.

"Man, if I lose based on Gold I'm gonna be pissed," someone else observed. These words would prove to be frighteningly prophetic. 

In that first five player game I came in second place. Peter, who'd also carried over from our D&D game, finished first.

Like a heavily-perspiring onion, stank-boy revealed even more layers of annoying during this match. In addition to enjoying his self-appointed exclusive rights to hand out resources to everyone else, he also had a hard time keeping his greasy mitts off of everyone else's Victory Point markers.

To make matters even more intolerable, this clown had no concept of the term "indoor voice". He'd often blurt out loud, sudden exclamations or laugh like a hyena at one of his own hideously unfunny jokes. When the game started to turn sour for him he became petulant and even more obnoxious.

I tried to deal with this by being as polite as humanly possible but inside I was seething. For most of the game I just sat there in stunned silence. I couldn't remember the last time I'd encountered someone in the wild who brought to mind Wheaton's Law, but there he was, sitting right beside me and making my eyes water.

We suddenly had a sixth player throw his hat into the ring for Game Two, forcing us to split into two separate groups. As someone who's run tournaments before I wanted know exactly how that works but I was too preoccupied basking in a moment of sweet relief as low-tide boy and someone else was randomly (and mercifully) assigned to a different table. I breathed a huge sigh of relief, sucked in a lungful of relatively fragrant air and then settled into a peaceful, civil, challenging and enjoyable match against Peter and another fine gentleman who's name might also have been David.

Even though this second game was comparatively tranquil, I got Larissa as my random Lord, who only gets bonus Victory Points rom Buildings. I'd never played with her before so I had absolutely no idea what to do with her. Instead of concentrating on completing Quests and snapping up Buildings only when convenient I went "all Building, all the time" and came in a distant third as a result:

Throughout our game I could hear boisterous shouting coming from the other table. From what I could gather, all three of the players over there were racking up mad points. Apparently someone even managed to roll the score board twice, netting over 200 points. I know that it's possible but I also know that it's pretty fucking rare.

After our sixth player inexplicably vanished from whence he came (presumably in a puff of smoke) all five of us reunited for the third and final game. Before I could ask about our disappeared sixth player, fuck face waltzed back over to our table, sized up the score and then turned to me and said:


I won't lie to you folks, I saw red there for a second. My Irish temper flared up and I had to fight the impulse to push this loathsome cunt to the floor and jam every single one of those colored wooden Agents up his fucking nose.

But I didn't. I just kept quiet and silently vowed to beat him in this final game.

The 20' radius "Stinking Cloud" had returned and I was sorely tempted to ask the Monster Comic Lounge people if they sold the same stuff coroners smear under their noses while performing autopsies. As if the fates took pity on me, I was lucky enough to win a free copy of Hoard of the Dragon Queen as a Door Prize.  WOO-HOO!!!

Winning this definitely made up for the olfactory punishment I was enduring. Cripes, talk about livin' the stereotype.

At the end of the game I was a few Victory Points ahead of Zippy McSweats-a-Lot. He had more Gold but I had more Adventurers and had completed one more Quest then him. Yet by the time this guy moved all of our Victory Point markers around he'd somehow managed to get two fucking points ahead of me.

I'm just gonna go ahead and assume that the stupid "Gold counts for points" tournament house rule resulted in this travesty because the alternative is way beyond maddening. If I could prove that there were some deliberate shenanigans going on then I would have certainly voiced some sort of objection.

But how could I? The two of us were battling for last place, so none of the other players really gave a shit. And who can blame them? The only reason I cared is because of the unwarranted pre-game trash-talk.

Like I said, the alternative is pretty inconceivable. You'd have to be a sad piece of work to cheat against a complete stranger in a fucking board game. This is why I'm so particular about the people I game with: clearly there are some crazed power-gamer types out there who aren't beyond engaging in some chicanery. 

So instead of kicking up a fuss I just stood there, brow furrowed, jaw clenched, with buckets of adrenaline coursing through my body. I'd never been in this awkward position before so I was trying to formulate an appropriate response that didn't involve beating someone to death with a folding chair. In the end I concluded that it wasn't worth it and I just let it slide.

And, man, was that a mistake...

Before I knew it, the Game Three scores had been submitted to our sole judge who's been in absentia several times during the day. I can't really slight them for this since it's boring as shit to pay close attention to other people playing board game for hours on end. But you have to, otherwise some greasy shit can creep in.

So, seconds later I had to stand there while it was announced that chowder head had supposedly beaten me in the overall standings by one fucking point.

While we were all putting the game away ("OooOooo, I can touch the components now? Really?!?!? O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!") I couldn't help but get a quick shot in:

"So," I says to Pancho loud enough for everyone else to hear, "how many Quests did you say you ended up finishing?"

"Um, five," he said sheepishly.

"Huh, really," I shot back. "I finished six. Plus I was two points ahead of you before final scoring and I had more Adventurers in my Tavern. Funny how that added up, huh?"

After he drifted away I took a moment to thank everyone else involved, particularly Peter who'd deservedly won first place.

"I had a pretty awesome day overall. If there's another event like this, I'll definitely go but that's my last tournament."

"Aww, don't say that, man," Peter replied with sincere sympathy.

"No, seriously," I said. "I don't give a damn about winning. If playing games was predicated on me finishing first, I'd never play games. It's just the principal of the thing."    

By then it was around 7 pm or so, far too late to join any of the other D&D sessions in progress. So instead I just went outside and took a seat on the hotel patio to try and cool down while waiting for my pick-up to arrive. This also gave me a chance to mull over the events of the day.

Later that evening I debriefed my own D&D group about the day, which prompted Mark to observe:

"Guessing you met a dick or two?"

To which I replied:

"Just one. Not bad considering all the other fine folks I met today."

Just like any other adventure, that first delve can be pretty rough. But considering I only encountered one Neutral Asshole, I'll certainly be back again to fight another day.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Tasty Libations - "Brew Crafters: The Travel Card Game"

I've worked a lot of Wednesday nights this summer and despite being a founding member of our current gaming group, I've had no luck switching our festivities to a different evening. But then again, maybe this is all for the best. My schedule is so schizophrenic now that even if it was changed there's still no guarantee that I'd be able to make it.

Oh well, at least things came into harmonic convergence a few times this summer as was the case back on June 18'th (!) when Dean, John and I sat down to test drive a few new acquisitions.

John brought in a print-n'-play copy of Brew Crafters: The Travel Card Game and he was pretty keen to show it to us. As one of the six titles included in a wildly successful project funded back on April 7'th, this card-game mega-package received over three times its goal benchmark from supporters.

Here's the Standard Reference Method copied right from Dice Hate Me Games:

"Ben Rosset’s Brew Crafters Travel Card Game is a 54-card game based on the big-box Euro Brew Crafters that was Kickstarted last fall by Dice Hate Me Games.

"Just as in its big-box brother, players in
Brew Crafters TCG are trying to manage their craft breweries by hiring workers, installing equipment or using cards to brew craft beers. For 2 to 4 players, 20-30 minutes."

Um, okay. That's not a lotta info, so you can check out the game's super-simple rules right here or just watch designer Ben Rosset's quick n' easy instructional video:


My ultimate goal was to brew up a Special Reserve so I quickly retained a Brewmaster, who promised a +2 Reputation boost if I could produce said beverage in the future. Dean immediately went to work, mixing up an Ale for three Reputation. John followed suit, cranking out the very same type of beer. Planning for subsequent turns, he also brought on a Night Shift in order to drop some bonus cards down in his Brewery.

Paranoid that I was lagging behind, I switched gears and synthesized a batch of Lambic, boosted up to six Reputation by my Brewmaster. Content with this windfall, I passed the turn on to Dean who produced a stellar Coffee Stout for five points, thanks to his own Brewmaster. John then instructed his Night Shift to install a Hops Infuser before cooking up another keg of Ale, netting him four Reputation points. He successfully managed to duplicate this process on his very next turn.

After miscalculating my ingredients order, I found myself woefully short on Malt. My acquisition of a Mash Tun offset this a little bit but it also cost me some precious momentum and gave John an opportunity to surge ahead. I rebounded rather well, first brewing up a Porter for three points and then nailing the Special Reserve for a whopping seven Reputation. My last-minute decision to offer Brewery Tours to the general public gave me a badly-needed boost, but would it be enough?

Dean kept brewing stuff up like Dr. Jekyll on crack. Even though he'd added a metric shit-tun (hee, hee) of Equipment and Workers (a Hops Infuser, a Hops Expert, a Night Shift, a Malt Expert, an Employee Manager and a Barley Grower) most of this stuff didn't jibe well with his plans. As a result, he only received face value Reputation for his resulting Porter and a measly one-point bonus to his second batch of Coffee Stout.

In his never-ending quest to perfect his Ale recipe, John retained a Hops Expert, netting him five more Reputation Points for his next batch. He finished with a flourish, mixing up a last-minute keg of Porter under the skillful auspices of an Ale and Porter Expert, the results of which he lovingly squirreled away in his Oak Barrelhouse.


John...28 Reputation
Me...27 Reputation
Dean...21 Reputation



  • For something that can fit into your back pocket there a whole lotta game here! 
  • Unlike the prototype featured in the video above, the production version looks great. The iconography is easy to understand and the rules summary cards are very handy. Now, some people might kvetch about the low-fi art or the fact that they used Dice Hate Me Games staffers as models but given the nature of the game I think it's fine. Hey, it's not like when TSR decided to save a few bucks and dressed their employees up in Ren Faire outfits to sub in for famous wizards and warriors
  • TWO...PAGES...OF...RULES...
  • I love how the cards are dual-purpose, serving as either ingredients or Equipment / Workers. This simple design aesthetic keeps the game nicely streamlined.
  • Despite the fact that the game is very rules-light, it actually feels kinda sim-y. You use the ingredients on hand to craft specific types of beer. You hire staff and buy equipment to improve your product and lower your production costs. You do your best to adapt when market limitations force you to get creative. All told, it's surprisingly deep and thematic. 
  • Considering that there's only twelve different cards in the mix, I'm not sure what kind of long-term legs the game will have. But then again, it was just one amongst six different games included with the Kickstarter so it doesn't exactly have to be Agricola now does it?

Given its initial success it's almost inevitable that Brew Crafters: The Travel Card Game will soon be available everywhere. Given its easy access, quick play time and hop-a-licious theme, I'd be hard pressed to resist picking it up on sight as a surprisingly deep little opener.

The game scores four pips out of six with a nice crisp, clean tilt-up finish.

Well, unless you got in on the ground floor of the Kickstarter then you probably won't be able to snag a copy of this in the foreseeable future. But, as I already mentioned, a game's success often brings wide release, so keep watching this space for updates!

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Best of One World - "HAL-CON Game Day"

In 2011 HAL-CON burst back onto the scene as the perfect replacement for my late, lamented Fleet Con. Unfortunately (or most fortunately depending how you look at it), the amazing guests the organizers keep securing has me looking at HAL-CON as an amazing sci-fi / fantasy convention first and a gaming event second. Here were my thoughts at the end of last year's festivities:
"A part of me wishes that HAL-CON could be split into two separate events: one just for workshops, Q&A's, autograph signings and costume contests and another for merchandise, board games and pre-registered RPG's. Maybe then my loyalties wouldn't feel quite so conflicted.

"For the sake of full disclosure, the HAL-CON organizers
do run a few separate, day-long table top gaming events during the year. Odin-willing, I hope to be in attendance for one or both of these things next year."  

I missed HAL-CON's dedicated gaming day in 2013 but I sure as hell wasn't going to miss it this year. Sooooo, way back on June 8'th I popped down to the Lord Nelson Hotel on the corner of Spring Garden and South Park in beautiful and historic downtown Halifax, dropped my ten bones and then proceeded to marinate in gamey goodness for about eight hours or so.

As soon as I walked into the convention hall I could see that the organizers had done things right. First off, the Board Room Game Cafe was on-hand to sell and demo games:

Next up the organizers had gone w-a-a-a-a-y above and beyond the call of duty by providing a massive library of free-to-check-out games:

Not too shabby, huh?

And then, to make the things absolutely perfect, there were plenty of fabric-cloaked gaming tables for folks to spread their gamey bitz out on.

The onset of Spring really puts a dent into the time I have available for my beloved hobby and it only gets worse during the Summer. Just look how long it took for me to write this friggin' entry!

So, prior to that morning, I'd been through a protracted and thoroughly lamentable dry spell for gaming. As a result, I got right down to brass tacks, challenging Andrew to a few games of Marvel Dice Masters: Avengers vs. X-Men.


My Team:

Beast - Big Boy Blue
Colossus - Russian Bear
Cyclops - Slim
Gambit - Ace In The Hole
Professor X - Principal
Rogue - Anna Raven
Storm - 'Ro
Wolverine - Wildboy

Andrew's "Team":

Doctor Doom - Reed Richards' Rival
Doctor Octopus - Megalomaniac
Green Goblin - Goblin Lord
Loki - Trickster
Magneto - Former Comrade
Mystique - Unknown
Punisher - McRook
Venom - Eddie Brock

Basic Action Cards:
Power Bolt
Focus Power
Gearing Up

This was pretty much a Davecon re-match with me fielding an all X-Men team versus Andrew's schizophrenic assortment of random nuts, Villains and weirdos.

Keen to get our heavy hitters out, we both invested heavily in Basic Action Dice. By the end, we'd snapped up all three of the "Gearing Up" Dice as well as two-thirds of the "Focus Power" dice.

Andrew soon parleyed these energy boosters into a pretty daunting army including three Doc Ocks, three Punishers, two Venoms, two Mystiques, two Dooms, two Loki's and one very pissed-off Magneto.

In stark contrast, I invested in low-cost characters early on including several Storms and Gambits. I used my initiative to chip away at Andrew's Life total while patiently waiting for my Basic Action Dice to provide the juice required to pick up a Wolverine, a Rogue and a Professor X.

On more then one occasion Andrew failed to roll a Character level or just couldn't muster the Energy required to Field all of his toughest dudes. On the last turn of the game he was faced with the unenviable choice of Fielding Doc Ock or the Punisher. In the end, Frank Castle was left to stir in Reserve limbo.

Just like our previous battles, the concept of "defense" was fleeting at best. In other words, we spent most of the game just whaling the crap outta one another. Even though Andrew was down to only a few Life points and, by all accounts, should have been on a purely defensive footing, he still attacked with Doc Ock and kept Magneto back as a lone blocker. I was forced to let Otto through, who knocked me down to four Life. 

On my turn I rolled an obscene amount of dice, including a Wolverine, Professor X, a Sidekick and a very timely Focus Power die. On my subsequent attack, Andrew used Magneto and a Sidekick to block Rogue and Storm but Wolverine got through for six points of damage, giving me the win!


My Team:

Nick Fury - Mr. Anger
Captain America - Star-Spangled Avenger
Thor - Odinson
Iron Man - Playboy
Black Widow - Natural
Hulk - Anger Issues
Vibranium Shield - One Of A Kind

Andrew's Group of Misfits:

Gambit - Ace In The Hole
Doctor Doom - Reed Richards' Rival
Ghost Rider - Johnny Blaze
Doctor Strange - Sorcerer Supreme
Deadpool - Assassin
Colossus - Unstoppable
Wolverine - Wildboy
Thing - Ever Lovin' Blue-Eyed
Basic Action Cards:
Power Bolt
Focus Power
Gearing Up

We went downright apeshit on the Basic Action Dice this time out, cleaning out all of the "Power Bolt" and "Gearing Up" dice while leaving only one "Smash!" and "Focus Power" remaining.

This generic energy boost gave Andrew the opportunity to snap up two of his three Colossus dice. Solid move, too, considering that this version of Piotr Nikolaievitch Rasputin receives a free Spin Up at the end of every freakin' turn! Needless to say, this guy was a real pain in my попка for most of the game, eventually pounding me down to seven Life.

But Andrew still had a hard time dicing up what he needed. Even though he used a Yellow "Focus Power" result to Spin Wolverine up a Level everything else was a complete bust. Even after a re-roll, his Blue "Gearing Up" die just produced more useless Energy and, more importantly, he failed to conjure up Dr. Strange as a potential blocker.

In stark contrast my Avengers worked together like a dream team, go figure. First off, my very own "Gearing Up" result provided two more valuable dice. The resulting "Power Bolt" allowed me to blast Andrew right in the mush for two points of direct damage. Then, bolstered by "Mr. Anger's" ability to field Avengers for free, I proceeded to flood the attack zone with the Hulk, Black Widow and Thor. Even though they were all Level-One Characters this was more then enough to overwhelm Andrew's beleaguered defenses.

I'm a huge fan of this game, to the point where I recently hosted a local tournament. Right now I'm anxiously waiting for the new X-men expansion to arrive! 
Just days prior I'd procured Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small so Andrew was kind enough to join me in an inaugural run-through. 

In this tandem game of animal husbandry, participants take turns placing one of three workers on the board during the course of eight rounds. At first, they'll be looking to gather up the construction material required to house a veritable menagerie of creatures. Victory Points are earned from total animals, by reaching certain population benchmarks as well as from upgrading your buildings and expanding your Farm.

There are four simple steps to a game round:

(1) Refill all of the Action Spaces (as indicated by the red arrows).
(2) Players alternate back-and forth placing three Workers apiece.
(3) All of your Workers come back home.
(4) If you have at least a pair of animals of the same type housed together they knock hooves and make a baby.

Wanna ready the full rules almanac? Then feel free to unclickify the link right hur.

Color Selection:


Andrew went nuts and immediately started partitioning off his entire Farm Board. He then invested in a single pet Cow which he insisted on keeping in the bedroom of his Cottage. Hey, I'm not one to judge someone's lifestyle choices. Next up he procured a small herd of Sheep which he promptly set loose in a fenced-off two-segment Farm space to the north. As these guys started breeding like larger, considerably-more-vocal rabbits he was forced to drop three more Fence segments right next to his Cottage in order to house all of these randy, fluffy bastards. Unfortunately, that pretty much tapped out his initial allotment of Fences.

After pointing out that Buildings came with pre-built Fences, Andrew took heed and constructed a Stall which he eventually upgraded to an Open Stables. He added a couple of Horses to this newly-minted structure and almost immediately they started gettin' it on. This was fine for a few rounds but pretty soon Andrew began to run out of space for his horny equine family.

Just in the nick of time he dropped a Worker on the Expand space and scored a small windfall of additional Fence pieces, two of which he immediately used to corral his overflow Sheep population up north. Coupled with the timely erection (?) of a nearly Stables, Andrew created an enclosed one-segment Farm space to house his latest foal. 

The Stables themselves became the default home for a pair of Pigs, but this was more of an eleventh hour afterthought. His addition of a single Trough was another example of too little too late. In a last ditch effort to wring a few more Victory Points out of the game, Andrew snagged a Storage Building for two Wood and a single Reed. Not only did this give him two Veeps for his four leftover Wood but it also filled out the last space of his Farm Expansion board.

As for me, I became totally obsessed with gaining the three Wood, two Stone and one Reed required to upgrade my Cottage to a Half-Timbered House. Even though gave me five Victory Points it did absolutely nothing to improve my ability to house animals. I then proceeded to ignore my own advice by propping up Fences to the north which I used to accommodate some early-game Sheep.

I also acquired some Piggies before properly thinking things through. In order to reconcile their incessant strumping, I was forced to take a quick Expand Action in order to acquire more Fence pieces. Oblivious to the potential power of the Troughs, I ended up taking this same action two more times, resulting in a conspicuously desolate-looking farm.

But at least I now had the Fences required to let my Piggies *ahem* make bacon. I placed a two-segment Fenced-off pasture to the West on my newly-acquired Expansion board. Just when I thought I'd gotten a handle on things my Sheep dropped their fleece and started going at it. Immediately I kicked myself for enclosing a single Farm space with three Fences since this prompted the hasty demarcation of a similarly-claustrophobic single space to the north. Mercifully I had the foresight to close this in with a Stall which only required the use of one additional Fence segment.

Time was running out and I was starting to panic. I didn't even have any Horses or Cows yet! I placed one Horse in the Stall and then added a freebie on my next turn by hastily hammering a Shelter together with two Wood and one Stone. I finally had a pair of Horses, who immediately started using the Stall as their own personal love nest, knockin' out a coupla kids before the end of the game. Unfortunately it wouldn't be enough to net me any positive Victory Points.

My end game was just a mad scramble to try and accommodate a bleating tsunami of newborn Sheep. I fenced off another one-space pasture, finally filling up one of my three Expansion boards. The freakin' wooly bastards kept a-comin', forcing me to use four Fence segments to block off two measly Farm spaces. The end of the game was almost a merciful relief to me.


Total Animals







Open Stables (2) Storage Building (2) Stables (4) 
Half-Timbered House (5) and Shelter (1)




Some strategy tips to consider after that first game:
  1. Cows are rare and Horses even more so. As such you may want to snag one early and then construct an Open Stables or a Shelter. This will pair two of them up early while improving your infrastructure at the same time.
  2. Use the first few turns to collect all the resources needed to start accommodating critters A.S.A.P.
  3. Troughs are ridiculously valuable. Put one in every one of your farm spaces of you can. Like, super-seriously. 
  4. Try to avoid fencing off a single farm space since the max capacity for such a region (even with a Trough) is only four animals. 
  5. If you can manage it, fence off larger pastures consisting of multiple Farm spaces and then seed each spot with a Trough. For example a Fenced-off, two Farm space pasture with one Trough per square doubles the capacity (2 x 2 = 4) and then doubles it again (4 x 2 = 8). In other words, if I'd placed Troughs in each space of my two-Farm segment pastures I could have housed sixteen freakin' animals in each enclosure. Gadzooks!    
I'm always on the hunt for a good two-player game and since I'm already a big fan of Agricola, buying this one was a no-brainer for me. Sometimes dismissively referred to as as "Baby Agricola", this one is perfectly engineered for two. Less punishing and easier to teach then its famous fore-bearer, Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small is a fantastic little worker placement game in its own right.

I loved it and so did Andrew. In fact, I think he rushed right out and bought it that same day or a coupla days later!

Next up Kris joined us for a quick hand of Dead Man's Draw.
Dead Man's Draw is a pirate-themed card game for two to four scurvy dogs. On their turn, players flip cards from the draw deck, hoping to chain together a variety of high-valued suits. In order to do this effectively, players need to leverage the card's special abilities in order to plunder the most booty.

Just like any other press-your-luck game you can keep flopping cards until you want to stop. However, as soon as you turn up a second card that matches a suit you've already drawn then you wash out and score no points. In the immortal words of Kenny Rog-ARRRRS a major part of the strategy is to "know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em". 

The game's enduring appeal comes from the myriad of different powers inherent in the cards. Successful players will be the ones who can chain these together to great effect.

Here's a breakdown of the different cards and their respective abilities: 

Anchor – Even if you bust you get to keep all the cards played prior to the Anchor.

Cannon – Blow the bejesus out of one of your opponent's saved cards.

Chest – Combined with the Key you can raid the Discard Pile for an equal amount of cards, effectively doubling your haul.

Hook – Play one of your saved cards. This is a great set-up for a cool combo.

Key – See the Chest card above.

Kraken – Forces you to draw two more cards.

Map – Draw the top three cards from the Discard Pile and play any one you like

Mermaid – These are just high valued cards, typically marked 4-9. Yowza!

Oracle – Peek at the top card in the Draw Pile then play it or fold.

Sword – Plunder one of your opponent's saved cards and then play it as your own!

The game ends when the deck runs out of cards. Players add up the top value in each suit stack and the highest score wins!

Lookin' to get the full scuttlebutt on this fine game o' chance? Then click on the followin' link to reveal the full treasure map o' knowledge!  


Never one to embody patience, Andrew kept pushing his luck to ridiculous extremes, attempting to collect five or six cards in one turn. Even when he had a string of decent luck he'd often come under fire from Kris and I, losing his top-valued cards at Sword-point or under Cannon-fire.

By game's end he'd managed to represent almost every suit but most of his runs failed to crack the five-point mark. Mercifully a few last-minute Mermaids did salvage his score somewhat.

For some reason this game clicked with me right away. At one point I managed to co-ordinate the all-powerful Key / Chest combo for a healthy little windfall. I also tried to avoid busting by drawing no more then three or four cards.  The only time I'd risk more is if I managed to weigh Anchor, which nicely insulated anything I'd played prior.

I also put Swords to good use, stealing what I needed from both Kris and Andrew while gleefully using Hooks to re-play Oracles for a risk-free peek at my next card. Unfortunately, I ran afoul of some mandatory Kraken draws which resulted in premature bustage. Man, I hate when then happens.

Bringing a practiced eye to the game, Kris used Hooks to play several cards in tandem. Also, unlike Andrew and I, he really exploited the power of the Map, which allowed him to pull pretty much what he needed right from the Discard Pile. As a result, the highly-lucrative Key / Chest lottery he hit not long after felt more like a mike-drop and less like a fluke of luck.

Although he also suffered a Kraken-fueled bust, he typically kept himself insulated with a few strategic Anchor plays. After using a slew of Cannons and Swords to batter both Andrew and I into submission he closed out a solid effort by reeling in some highly-prized Mermaids.



Dead Man's Draw is a buy-on-sight game for me. Whatever retailer gets this on the shelf first is gonna have me shouting this in their faces. 

I loved, loved, loved this game.  From the whimsical art style to the Card Sharks-style game-play, this thing is easy to teach and compulsively playable. But what makes it truly remarkable is that you can use the card's special abilities to make your own luck.

Honestly, there's nothing more satisfying then using a Hook to drop one of your own Swords down to rob a Key from a rival and then use it crack open a Chest to double yer card take!  *Yarrrrr*, 'tis a fine play!

Until the game goes into wide distribution you can pick up a physical copy directly from Mayday Games or try out the fantastic iOS ap right here.   

Lastly we sank quite a bot of time into Café Melange.

Here's what Board Game Geek has to say about this obscure Euro-title:

"Café Melange takes players to Vienna in 1910, with prominent individuals such as Trotzky, Klimt and Freud meeting one another in the coffee bar "Central". The players work in the coffee bar and must use logic and deduction in order to place their guests next to these VIPs."

Confession time: sometimes a game's theme is so dry and dull that my attention span acts like a cross-armed neckless bouncer, refusing to unclip the velvet rope and allow the rules ingress to my oblivious brain. Such was the case with Café Melange.

We also borked up a couple of key rules so I'm not going to count this as an official play. That ain't such a bad thing since I came in dead last. What I will say is that the game's deduction mechanics felt rather unique and, as such, I'd actually be willing to try it again under better circumstances. Ideally while hooked up to a Redbull I.V. drip.

Clearly this was a sign that I was tapped out. I picked up a copy of Click Clack Lumberjack from The Board Room's vendor table and took my leave, feeling as if the day had been well-spent. 


HAL-CON Game Day is tailor-made for me. Granted the $10.00 entrance fee is a bit steep but I don't mind paying it since I know it's going towards a great local event. Once in, I've got plenty of table space, a vast library of games to test drive and a local retailer I patronize if I end up playing something that I really like. 

Honestly it's as if the organizers actually read my mind (or *GASP* my blogs?!?). No more divided loyalties: I'll spend HAL-CON proper checking out all of the panels and autograph session and get all of the card-floppin' and die-chuckin' outta my system on HAL-CON's dedicated Game Day. It's a win-win!


Wanna learn more about Marvel Dice Masters and / or Agricola: All Creatures Great and Small? Then click on the links below to get more info and help support this blog!

Additional photos courtesy of Kat Adams and Shawn Kehoe.