Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Wheaton Effect Part Nine - "Star Trek Panic"

When Castle Panic was first featured on an episode of Tabletop waaaay back in 2012 it took every ounce of my willpower (Wilpower?) not to rush out and buy it.

But cooler heads prevailed. Perhaps it was the game's "m'eh" art design. Maybe it was its limited simplicity. Perhaps it was the persistent rumors that a zombie re-theme was shambling down the pipe. Perhaps I was distracted by the metric shit-ton of other amazing titles that Monsieur Wheaton was constantly shoving in my face every week. 

Whatever it was, I managed to resist both Castle Panic as well as the accurately presaged "cabin-in-the-woods" re-theme Dead Panic. But when I heard that this new version was fun but kinda clunky, I let it slide once again.

But then, Warp Speed ahead a few years and I find myself contending with this:

Likely due to the subconscious influence of the recent 50'th anniversary, I've been on a monumental Star Trek kick lately, re-watching the original series and playing an unhealthy amount of Timelines. Still, even after my scanners detected a copy of Star Trek Panic sitting on the Board Room Game Cafe's retail shelf I didn't spring, Mugatu-style, on it right away. However, after digesting a few how-to-play vids and I put acquiring a copy of this one right at the top of my Five Year Mission's things-to-do list.

So what is it about this particular "Panic" that finally forced me to "bite the phaser", so to speak? Well, here's the game's supplemental log entry straight from Starfleet Command, I.E. Fireside Games:

"Star Trek Panic, is a new out-of-this-world ("Groan!") board game that merges the classic tower defense style play of the Panic series with the most iconic elements of the original Star Trek universe. Under license by CBS Consumer Products, Star Trek Panic boldly goes where no one has gone before as players join the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise on a voyage to defend the ship from enemy attacks and carry out five vital galactic missions.

"This cooperative light strategy game introduces new, never before seen,
Panic game mechanics, including Mission Cards, which feature unique challenges based on the original Star Trek series, as well as Character Cards, so players can assume the roles of Star Trek icons like Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. Star Trek Panic comes complete with a maneuverable U.S.S. Enterprise model ship, Shields, Damage and Destroyed Indicators, Mission Cards, Character Cards, Enterprise Cards, and more."

Wanna study every word of Star Trek Panic's Prime Directive? Then head on over to Memory Alpha and mind meld with the game's full set of rules.



As per the rule book's suggestion, what follows is a play through of the suggested first game, which requires the completion of only two missions, namely "Distress Signal" and "Outpost Defense", and then clearing the board of any remaining threats.

Also, in a deliberate effort to thumb my nose at Bill Shatner's inflated ego, I'm only gonna crew the ship with supporting cast members. All apologies to Deforest Kelly and Leonard Nimoy, whom I love dearly. Actually, who's kidding who, I love Shatner too but let's put the spotlight on the criminally under-appreciated minor players for once, m'kay? 

"Take us out, Mr. Sulu. Warp Factor One!"



Lieutenant Commander Montgomery Scott, as played by good Canadian boy James "Jimmy" Doohan, fires the "Multi-Range Front Photon Torpedoes", causing two points of damage to the Orion Raider. He then turns the ship 30° to port and fires the "Long Range Side Phasers" for another point of damage on the same target. The Tholian ship in sector one moves into medium range, as does the Romulan Battle Cruiser in sector three and the Klingon Battle Cruiser in sector five. The Tholian ship damages the starboard side shield, the Romulan Battle Cruiser hits the rear port side shield and the Klingon Battle Cruiser strikes the front port side shield, all for one damage apiece. Next a freakin' "Comet" streaks through sector three, destroying the Romulan Battle Cruiser and annihilating the Enterprise's rear port side shield! Then the ship is rocked by an "Ion Storm"! A "6" is rolled, damaging the front starboard side shield!

"OH MY!" it's George Takei, a.k.a. Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu's, turn! He spends a "Medium Range Front Phasers" card to deal one point of damage to the inbound Klingon Battle Cruiser. He then fires the "Long Range Side Phasers", polishing off the Orion Raider! That officially completes the "Outpost Defense" mission and, as a reward, the Enterprise crew gets to repair two damaged hull and / or shield sections. Sulu ops to repair one damage to the front port side shields and one damage to the starboard side shields. Next up the Tholian ship in sector one moves into short range and immediately snares the Enterprise in its web, immobilizing it! The Klingon Battle Cruiser also moves into point-blank range and fires, hitting the front port side shield for a point of damage! Two new threats appear: including a Romulan Battle Cruiser in sector three and a "Supernova" which blasts the Enterprise four facings clockwise!

Next up it's Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, played by the delightful Nichelle Nichols.


The "Disabled Ship" token appears at long range in sector four. First up, Uhura spends a "Dilithium" card to repair the damaged front port side shield. She then fires the "Short Range Rear Phasers", destroying the Tholian Ship and freeing the Enterprise in the process. Next up she uses her special ability to look at the top two cards of the Enterprise Deck, drawing "Multi-Range Front Photon Torpedo" and a "Security Team". She decides to keep the "Torpedo" and then places the latter back at the bottom of the deck. She then maneuvers the Enterprise straight ahead, which, in turn, moves both the "Disabled Ship" and the Romulan Battle Cruiser into medium range. She then fires the "Medium Range Any Facing Phasers", hitting the Romulan Battle Cruiser and destroying it. Next, the Klingon Battle Cruiser comes up against the Enterprise's shields. It stays put but also deals a point of damage to the starboard side shield. Two new threats then emerge, including a "Temporal Distortion". A roll of "4" would normally move the mission timer up one but since it's already at the maximum time it doesn't go any higher. The next threat is a Klingon Bird of Prey with cloaking technology which appears in sector five.

Next up is the delightful Walter Koenig's scream-tastic Ensign Pavel Chekov. He starts by playing "Tricorder" which allows him to look at the top five cards of the Enterprise Deck. He decides to keep the "Dilithium" card and then puts the rest of them back on top of the deck in order of preference. He then hits the distant Klingon Bird of Prey with a "Multi Range Side Phasers" card, while simultaneously triggering his special ability to inflict an additional point of damage, destroying the inbound threat in one shot! Next up he maneuvers the Enterprise one space ahead, pulling to within short range of the  "Disabled Ship" and then commits one "Dilithium" card to the Mission objective. During the next step, the Klingon Battle Cruiser bumps up against the Enterprise's starboard side shield so it just stays there and inflicts a point of damage. Finally two new threats appear, including a Klingon Battle Cruiser in sector three and another Klingon Battle Cruiser in sector five.


Next we're back to Scotty, who uses his engineering prowess to combine "Tritanium" and "Dilithium" to completely rebuild the starboard side shield! He then fires the "Short Range Any-Facing Phasers" to clobber the Klingon Battle Cruiser at short range. Next up he uses the ship's "Tractor Beam" to move the Klingon Battle Cruiser in sector three to sector four then uses his special ability to repair the front starboard side shield. Finally he commits one Command Credit to the objective. This completes the second Mission, the reward for which is the ability to repair up to two hull or shield sections or rebuild one hull section. Since there are no damaged shield or hull sections, this is ignored.


Now the Enterprise just has to mop up the remaining threats! Speaking of which, the Klingon ships in sectors three and four move one space ahead to medium range while the damaged Klingon Battle Cruiser at short range in sector five comes up against the Enterprise's shields. It can't move forward any closer so it just deals one point of damage to the starboard side shield. The other threats then fire, with the Klingon Battle Cruiser in sector three causing a point of damage to the front port side shield while the Battle Cruiser in sector four deals a point of damage to the front starboard shield.

Sulu begins his turn by maneuvering the Enterprise 30° to starboard. He then lights up the "Short Range Front Phasers", destroying the damaged Klingon vessel in sector five. He then uses his special ability to maneuver the ship once again, this time 30° to port. The Klingon ships in sector three and four both move into short range and fire, dealing a point of damage to the port and starboard side front shields, destroying both of them.

Next up Uhura uses her special ability to draw two additional Enterprise Cards. She keeps the "Short Range Rear Phasers Card" and buries the "Medium Range Side Phasers" card at the bottom of the deck. She then combines "Long Range Rear Phasers" with "Direct Hit" to destroy the Klingon Battle Cruiser in sector three. She then fires the "Short Range Front Phasers" to deal one point of damage to the Klingon Battle Cruiser in sector four, finishing it off with a "Multi-Range Front Facing Photon Torpedo". With that ship destroyed, the Enterprise crew handily wins the day!



  • Of all the Panic games this is the definitely the best-looking one by far. The card quality is amazing and the images are stellar. The star-field board is gorgeous and the designers deserve bonus points for printing some of the more obscure rules right there on the margins. The threat tokens are made of thick cardboard and the character / mission cards are composed of slick-looking high grade card stock. And, hey, kudos to Fireside Games for giving us an actual 3-D Enterprise, replete with high-density clear blue plastic shields. Now, some people have bitched that the components will prematurely wear out and the game is slowed down by putting the damage tokens on and taking them off again but nothing says that you can't just rest them behind the shields and then either pick them up or remove the shield as additional damage is repaired or worsened. What can I say, sometimes people have to stretch to find something to complain about. 
  • The rules are clear and concise with plenty of examples. Even oddball exceptions involving Klingon Command ships and Cloaking technology are relatively straightforward. The intuitive design means that you won't be delving back into the rules constantly.
  • Thematically it's spot on. Sure, it doesn't make sense that McCoy is physically shooting weapons and flying the ship but I just tell myself that Sulu is still at the helm and Chekov is firing the phasers while the good Doctor is puttering around, doing his own thang and complaining constantly. Speaking of flying, the ability to maneuver the freakin' ship adds a ton of theme to the game. Also if the whole thing was just about plowing through the threat bag, it wouldn't be nearly as good. Mercifully, designer Justin De Witt gives us a slew of cool missions to accomplish, all based around classic episodes of the original show. Add in some thematically-appropriate character powers, a nice variety of threats (Klingons and Romulans and Tholians...oh my!) and cool Enterprise Cards such as "Tricorder", "Dilithium" and space geisha "Janice Rand" and you've got yourself a genuinely rich and immersive Star Trek experience!
  • Like any good co-op, the game promotes a lot of spirited, collective table talk centered around maximizing everyone's turn. And you really, really need to work together when you play the standard game which tasks you to complete five missions before you can clear the board of threats. I played a three player standard game a little while ago and we barely survived with one hull left intact!  
  • Given the wide variety of missions, Enterprise Cards and special abilities, there's bound to be some conflicting / fiddly stuff that you just have to make a ruling on and then roll with it. For example, does the "Supernova" card move a Tholian-webbed Enterprise? Does "Temporal Distortion" move the Mission Timer back beyond the starting value? It's by no means a deal breaker but it virtually guarantees that there'll be plenty of active rules threads for Star Trek Panic on Board Game Geek.
  • Because of the game's open nature, "Temporal Distortions", I.E. going back to course correct a previous play will be a constant temptation. To address this you can make a house rule which states that once you take a specific action or series of actions you can't then retroactively go back and correct something you missed.
  • I've already noticed some scratches in the center of my game board. Now, I don't know if that's because someone jammed a shield in too far in and a rough edge caused the damage or if it was just a piece of grit on the board, but constantly pivoting the Enterprise will definitely cause premature wear on the center of the board. My advice: whenever you need to move the pride of the Federation, just physically lift it off the board, rotate it as needed and then set it down in its new orientation.

All told, this is, by far, the best Panic to date. It's fun, interactive, tense and thematically relevant. If you're a Star Trek fan, pick it up and, if not, I still suggest you give it a whirl.

Star Trek Panic rates four pips outta six with a major tilt up towards the Final Frontier!


Wanna fricassee some Tholians? Then click on the image below to learn more about Star Trek Panic and help this blog go where no blog has gone before!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Critical Update...

Guten tag, Game Fans!

Soooo, you might have noticed that posts have become a lot less frequent here. If you actually wanna know the reason why, you can click right hur.

Here's the upshot: between never being indoors during the summer to holding down a part-time night job to finally being paid to write in some capacity, I now have little to no time for recreational blogging. What precious little time I have is being invested in my second novel.

Sometime this winter I'm hoping to start up a website to try and better monetize the massive body of work you see here and create a home for my new reviews and session reports. Until that happens (assuming it ever does), this blog will serve as the default vehicle for anything that might result from the surplus of free time that inevitably comes from being trapped indoors all winter.

In a vaguely related point, if you read this and you have it within your power to pay me to write about game-related things, please feel free to contact me. Sure its great to get paid for writing about innovative companies and medical breakthroughs, but you know me. I'd much rather be talking about board games.

Take care and I'll see you somewhere down the road!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

U.K. Games Expo 2016

Thanks to some inexplicable and completely fortuitous circumstances that still baffle me to this day, Chad and I found ourselves at the U.K. Games Expo at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, England back on June 3'rd.


Look, I've never been to a dedicated gaming convention before. So, as you might imagine, just as soon as I walked into Hall One my head nearly blew off of my shoulders, Scanners-style, yo.

Not knowing any better, Chad and I stumbled off to the far left-hand side of the convention hall. Which is technically south if you actually orient the map. Hey, I was totally overwhelmed at the time so you really can't slight me for getting completely turned around.

Thank Vishnu Chad still had the presence of mind to jump into some quick game demos. As we started down the crowded aisle (designated "Faith Avenue") he noticed that the designers of Push It were play-testing their game for curious onlookers so I followed his lead and we both plunked down to give it a shot.

And I'm glad I did. As someone who's a sucker for dexterity games this was a great first thing to jump into and the designers really enjoyed showing off their baby. One part Crokinole and one part Bocce, this is a fun, portable, well-crafted game that anyone can enjoy. And thanks to a recently successful Kickstarter campaign, we should be seeing this one get wide distribution soon.

After test-driving Push It, we only managed to stumble a few feet down the hall before we ran into Steve Venezia, who was kind enough to demo his super-compact, dungeon crawling card game Side Quest: Pocket Adventures.

Steven mentioned that the game was inspired by his epic play-throughs of Descent: Journeys in the Dark. He wanted something quick, simple and portable that he could just bring along anywhere, throw down and jump into wherever he needed to scratch that lite RPG / dungeon crawlin' itch. And in that sense it does succeed.

Chad and I dutifully made some progress on one of the three scenario cards chosen for us, fighting creatures and grabbing treasures. With eight different heroes, seven locations, twenty-two monsters, twenty pieces of equipment and spells and fourteen weapons to discover, there's certainly no shortage in variables and variety. I also like the fact that there's a time crunch in the game, represented by various "damsels in distress" who are slowly being lowered into a lava pit. Lose her and you lose the game!

Side Quest was good, but that's as far as I'll go. The generic anime-style art is a match for the game's color-by-numbers game play. Don't get me wrong, it's a perfectly serviceable design, but if I'm gonna play a compact dungeon-crawl board game, I want something slightly more innovative and atmospheric. More on that later.

P.S. It's 2016, yo. "Damsels in distress" is so...1980's.

At the end of the row I came across the stuff of legends: the D-Day scenario for one of my all-time favorite games: Memoir '44.

I've always wanted to see this in the flesh. Consisting of six pre-printed battle maps representing the Normandy coastline, seven total Memoir '44 core sets and various expansions, the game was breathtaking to see set up. The guys presiding over the game gave me an offer to play but I knew that if I sat down the entirety of my weekend would immediately be spoken for.

Side note: if you're looking for more information about rules and requirements to run this beast yourself, click right hur.

Even though I resisted the siren call that is two straight days of Memoir '44, I couldn't resist the curb appeal of a revamped Battle of Britain. Designed by several luminaries such as Richard Borg, David "Zeb" Cook, Tom Hoffman and Ken Sommerfield and originally published by TSR back in 1990, the Plastic Soldier Company is planning to bring this one back in the form of a fancy new deluxe edition.

Between the two awesome R.A.F. gals manning the booth and an amazing prototype featuring an over-sized map of the U.K. and some gorgeous aircraft models, I was easily reeled in. I had a chance to demo a German bombing run and my dice proved to be smokin' hot.

Granted, it was only a demo, but the game doesn't feel particularly deep to me. Maybe that's a good thing. Likely there's a lot more to it and the mechanics I was privy to make for a fast and furious experience. I did like it enough to prospect for more info about the game and was told that...
  1. A Kickstarter for the new edition should be going live soon. D'uh.
  2. This will be a new edition of the game, not just a straight-up reprint.
  3. The miniatures won't be as elaborate as the oversized prototype but there will be distinctly different sculpts for all of the aircraft.
  4. They're toying with the idea of including an big-ass board. Smart.

Since I'm an easy mark for lite war games, I'll definitely keep my eye on this sucka down the road. 

Hungry and overwhelmed by all the sensory overload, Chad and I took a brief spell to collect our wits and plan our next move. And therein lies the rub. I'd come into the Expo completely green, unaware of the myriad of different strategies. Did I want to comparison shop for games? Test drive prototypes? Learn how to play games that I was interested in? Scope out pre-releases? Take in the seminars? Check out the cosplayers? The options were endless.

Thumbing our nose at the baffling number of options, Chad and I forged on. As we plowed through the crowd I noticed a familiar face while Chad was distracted.

"Oh, yeah, there goes Sam Healey from The Dice Tower," I mentioned off hand, barely above a whisper.

Well, it was if I'd just blown a dog whistle. Chad perked up, spotted Sam trundling by and then started chasing after him like a Labrador retriever going after after a Buick. Instantly I kicked myself for mentioning this out loud. I cursed under my breath and then fell into hot pursuit.

By the time I caught up to them Chad was running around Sam like Chester in the old Warner Brothers cartoons. Mercifully Sam was super-sweet about the whole thing and even agreed to take a photo with us.

Eventually Chad stopped hyperventilating and I slowly pulled him back to reality. As we passed by the Z-Man Games booth he took one look at Beyond Baker's Street and instantly was smitten. Even though I was exhausted and starving to death by that point, I couldn't pass up learning a new game, especially when our teacher would be the co-designer himself, Steve Mackenzie!

Beyond Baker's Street is a co-operative deduction game for up to four players. Here's the game's case study right from the official webzone:

Another criminal is on the run and Sherlock Holmes has a lead! Of course, he’ll have the culprit behind bars in no time… Unless you beat him at his own game! Holmes isn’t the only capable mind in London and it’s about time someone noticed! With the help of your associates, gather evidence, follow the clues, and use your power of deduction to solve the case before the great Sherlock Holmes! Whatever will remain, however improbable, must be the truth!

At the start of the game, players will select one of the crimes to solve. A number of suspects, motive, and opportunities will be available for the players to convict of the crime. Each player holds a set of five clues, but they won’t be able to see their own clues, only their counterparts. Each turn, a player may either: assist another detective, investigate a crime scene, confirm evidence, eliminate dead leads, or pursue new leads.

Players will either win together if they can gather enough evidence to make a conviction before Holmes does, or crumble under the stress of the case. 

Given the fact that I was borderline delirious from hunger and exhaustion at the time, I fully expected to completely bork this co-op for everyone. But Steve did a bang up job explaining things and except for one forgetful misstep on my part, we still won the day, if just by a hair.

I must confess: as Steve was explaining the game I snobbily thought to myself 'Oh, it's just a Hanabi re-tread.' But as the game progressed, it started to get its claws into me. The subtleties of the five different actions started to impress and I was charmed by the game's gorgeous production values. Most importantly, the Sherlockian theme seemed a helluva lot more in-step with the hidden card mechanic than Hanabi's "fireworks artisan" conceit. In fact, as of this writing, Beyond Baker's Street threatens to put Antoine Bauza's venerable classic on life support for this particular amateur sleuth.

We finally paused for lunch, which is just what what the Doctor (Who) ordered. After that Chad and I tried to weasel our way into the live Dice Tower podcast but by the time everyone ahead of us got seated, there was no more room at the Inn (I.E. the Seminar Room).

But then something super-cool happened. Instead of sending everyone away unhappy, the staff gave everyone still in queue a numbered ticket guaranteeing a seat at the 4 pm show! Man, say what you want about the Brits, but they line up like professionals! I mean, c'mon, how smart is that? Why the fuck don't we do stuff like that here in North America?!? Arrrggghhh!

After a cherished re-union with some wayward friends, Chad and I took in a lecture by Dr. Reiner Knizia about the future of board gaming. How cool it that?!?

If you don't recognize the name "Reiner Knizia" then I have to assume that you must be new to this whole "board gaming" thang. Reiner is one of the most prolific game designers of all time. Since leaving his day job back in 1997, he's has gone on to publish (nor design...PUBLISH) a whopping six-hundred titles, including classics like the co-operative Lord of the Rings as well as the two-player Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation, not to mention Ra, Tigris & Euphrates, Through the Desert, Ingenious, Lost Cities and Pickomino

The presentation topic was "hybrid gaming". Now, to me, hybrid gaming is something that combines an iPad or phone app with a board game, like, say, XCOM: The Board Game or Golem Arcana. This is in direct contrast to games that incorporate electronic elements, such as Reiner's King Arthur, his volcanic island exploration game Die Insel or that kiddie game he designed with the gassy-looking dog on the front cover of the box, I.E. Wer War's? Löst das Rätsel von Schräghausen!.

IMHO, just because a game lights up or talks to you, it doesn't make it a "hybrid". It's just a board game with electronic bells and whistles; not much more advanced than Operation fer fuck's sake. The sort of games that Reiner was pointing out were about as revolutionary to me as an 80's-era electronic game like the Dungeons & Dragons Computer Labyrinth Game or Dark Tower. Which is to say, not very much.

As for true hybrid games that use smart phones and tablets, the jury is still out for me. Don't get me wrong, I love my board game apps (Tigris & Euphrates in particular!) but I like my board games the same way I like my women: analog. Wait, that's doesn't sound right.
Still, it was really cool to hear a super-star in the hobby talk about his designs. Sure, I might not agree with him on the definition of a "hybrid" game is, but what the hell do I know? I'm not the one who's published six-hundred freakin' games!

Chad and I temporarily left the hall to queue up for the next presentation. Armed with our numbered tickets we filed right back into the Seminar Room and settled in for Tom's Dice Tower live podcast. During the set up Chad and I had a brief chat with Tom...and that's when Chad snapped this completely ridiculous pic:

I swear, he was facing in our direction just milliseconds prior to this. Two things can be gathered here:
  1. You should never just arbitrarily snap photos of people. Do this to the wrong person and they're well within their legal right to go all Sean Penn your pushy ass. 
  2. Chad's photos use more Dutch angles than Battlefield Earth.
Even though Sam wasn't there, the podcast was pretty cool. First up, Tom interviewed Dr. Reiner Knizia.

It was really great to hear such a prolific designer talk at length about the design process and our beloved hobby. Some highlights included:
  • Tom comically underestimating the number of designs that Reiner has published.
  • Reiner trying to pin down which game, among hundreds of published designs, that he'd use to impress non-games. His answer inspired me to bring my "36" Pickomino tile with me on Sunday in the vain hope that I'd see him again and get him to sign it.
  • When some kid just flat out asked him: "HOW MUCH MONEY DO YOU MAKE?!?"  
Next up Tom interviewed Tony Boydell, the native designer of Guilds of London, a major smash-hit on the local circuit.

Even at the Expo, with dozens of game retailers present, copies of Guilds of London were scarcer than hen's teeth. Having said that, I saw it being played everywhere!

One of the things I really loved about Tony's segment was the palpable sense of glee he exhibited over the fact that one of his designs had "made it". I can only imagine what a thrill it must be to get one of your games published, receive accolades and then start to see it played all over the place.

Another interesting point he brought up was the inexplicable dearth of U.K. game designers. This was a solid point, I thought. As someone who wrote a fantasy novel, I'd murder me Nan to live in the U.K., if only because I'd find inspiration all around me. Indeed, to Tony's point, given Britain, Ireland and Scotland's rich history, why aren't there more designers cranking out imaginative regional fare?

Next up, fellow Canucklehead Eric M. Lang took the stage and delighted the crowd with his unfettered enthusiasm.

I get the vibe that Eric and I would probably get along quite well together. Based on his sharp design acumen and his commitment to making good games based on preexisting intellectual properties, I'm pretty sure we'd be on the same page about about a lot of things. Plus, I'm a unrepentant fanboy for Blood Rage, Chaos in the Old World and all things Dice Masters.

If it came from anyone else, I would have taken Eric's answer about have no preference between designing original and licensed games with a grain of salt. But in his case I really do get the vibe that he honestly adores Star Wars, Game of Thrones, superheroes and Dungeons & Dragons and, as such, he really wants to see someone do justice to these wonderful worlds.

I have to be honest, though, I visibly flinched when he mentioned that he's currently working on Munchkin: The Trading Card Game. Seriously, I used to own the base set of Munchkin but dumped it after just one play. Maybe Eric and Kevin Wilson they can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear...but this is my skeptical face

So, if you wanna watch the entire Q&A, here she be:

The panel brought us right up to 5 pm. As soon as our asses were elevated staff and security began to root people out of the convention hall with rakes and cattle prods. So ended Day One. Chad and I still hadn't gotten to the other side of the room. Oh well, this would be a noble goal for...


As we attacked the far side of the convention floor on Sunday morning I was delighted to come across Star Trek: Frontiers.

As a fan of space exploration games (and Star Trek-flavored ones in particular), this has been on my radar for quite some time. Even though the players were clearly engrossed in the game, a few of them were kind enough to gave me some insights.
  • First up, since it's a Vlaada Chvátil game it plays out a lot like Mage spaaaaaace! I.E. technological improvements in Frontiers is kinda like the equivalent of magic in Mage Knight.
  • Second up, since it's a Vlaada Chvátil game it's not a "quick throw down and jump right into it" sort of affair. The play testers that day had a bunch of questions that weren't always being addressed by the rules. 
  • There are scenarios, but the one they were playing involved hunting through the galaxy for the Borg Cube. Hmmmm, the phrase "let sleeping dogs lie" kinda comes to mind. 
Nevertheless, as someone who unconditionally loves Fleet Captains, I'm super-stoked to try this game. I'm hoping that Vlaada uses some innovative Euro-style mechanics to bring this potentially rich IP to life in a less clunky and more intuitive fashion.

Next up Chad and I were fished in by the incredibly-alluring Everdark prototype. 

I mean, c'mon...look at this freakin' thing! Essentially it's a semi co-operative / semi-competitive maze game with four concentric tiers of moving circles. The upshot is that the illuminated city of Phos is being besieged by crushing darkness outside. Recently the guardian of the city died leaving a power vacuum. Players must drive back the encroaching darkness together to save the city but also distinguish themselves in the struggle in order to be the sole winner of the game.

Like many other co-ops, you have four actions that you can spend on various tasks for valuable rewards. Players must constantly weigh the cost of re-attempting tasks they've failed since the whole thing is under a huge time crunch. Even more interesting: you can spend actions to rotate a part of the board, constantly changing its configuration to help your partners or screw over your rivals. Fun!

A relative of the designer told us that the game is still a work in progress. Based on a constantly battery of play-testing, the rules are being tweaked to perfection and now they're looking at launching a Kickstarter sometime in August. I, for one, will have my eyes firmly glued on this unique and visually arresting design!

Next up, Chad wanted to test drive the new game by Hive designer John Yianni, Tatsu.

Even though Chad was slightly bummed that one of John's helper monkeys, and not John himself, showed him how to play he still really enjoyed the experience. The game itself looks pretty sweet, kinda like backgammon on steroids.

Next up I went over to the Fantasy Flight booth to drool over the new Star Wars Armada minis.

It might be tough to see but what you're looking at are the Wave III's Flotillas, featuring two ships per base. This includes GR-75 Rebel transports and Imperial Gozanti-class assault carriers which allow you to do super-handy Fleet Support upgrades.

Also present are two Wave IV ships, namely the Interdictor-class Imperial Cruiser which sacrifices raw armament for the ability to impede your opponent's moves during the battle. Also shown is the Mon Calamari Liberty-Class Star Cruiser which gives the Rebels some badly-needed firepower. 

I also spent considerable time smearing up the X-Wing display. "Sanjay to the Fantasy Flight booth with the Windex!"

Given my irrational bounty hunter fetish I'm definitely gonna pick up IG-88's IG-2000, Bossk's ship the Hound's Tooth and Dengar's Punishing One. But I'm also adamant in limiting my X-Wing fleet to ships only shown on-screen in the classic trilogy. I have zero interest in that crappy-looking prequel scow the ARC-170, the Special Forces T.I.E. from The M'eh Awakens, as well as the Protectorate Starfighter and the Shadow Caster from the Rebels cartoon.

Hey, if you're interested, more power to ya. For me, I gotta draw a line in the sand somewhere.

Later in the day I was tickled pink to run into James Raggi, designer of the Olde Skool Renaissance RPG system Lamentations of the Flame Princess. This gave me a chance to pick up a copy of the new, super-slick looking "Rules & Magic" core rule book and find out from James that the Procedures and Inspirations book for Game Referees is coming down the pike via an ambitious IndieGoGo campaign.

Frankly, I think it was stunning just to see that many copies of Zak Smith's A Red and Pleasant Land all in one place together. I would have picked that one up if not for the fact that I already snagged my copy ages ago.

Speaking of lamentations, James had a lot to say about his recent printing woes but he also indicated that the con had gone well for him. That's great to hear. I can only imagine what the investment must be to rent a booth, schlep a bunch of inventory over from Finland and then deal with curious rubber-neckers for three days straight.

Since I already have a great source for game discounts back home I didn't go absolutely nuts and buy a metric crap-ton of games. Instead I concentrated on picking up some unique souvenirs including this massive glass mug:

And some cool-ass fantasy coins:

I did break down and score a copy of the Warhammer Quest: The Adventure Card Game since it seemed like an appropriate purchase!

We had even less time on Sunday and the time flew by. The next thing we knew it was 4 pm and we were being ushered out of the NEC. Boooo!!!

But then something completely ridiculous happened that pretty much put the perfect capper this entire crazy weekend. Chad spied Sam Healey and Tom Vasel in the distance walking back to their hotel and instantly gave chase. So, naturally, we did what any self-respecting owner of a Jack Russell terrier would do when the hyperactive l'il pooch breaks off of his lead: we ran after him!

Thankfully, things turned out great. If it had been just us two sweaty manboys asking for a pic, Sam and Tom probably would have told us to go pound sand. But when they saw the respectable company we were keeping in the form of our gracious hosts Dulseigh, Jon, Kcaz and Issi, they were more than happy to take a snap with us.

Thanks for being such good sports, guys!   

I can't believe a month has already gone by since the the Expo. Time has now given me some perspective on the event, so here are my final thoughts:
  • This whole thing came about because Jon (an ex-pat of our gaming group) and Dulseigh were kind enough to invite us over. Not only did they house us, they also transported our carcasses back and forth to the event, took the time to feed and water us and also played tour guide. For that I will be eternally grateful.
  • If I ever get the chance to go again I'd try to make it for all three days. I'd also be sorely tempted to stay at the hotel affiliated with the event if only because they hosted all kinds of cool gaming events and tournaments in the evening after the NEC shut down. But this would be a tough call on my part because the tourist in me really, really enjoyed staying at the historic Bull's Head Inn. I think I'd be willing to go all in at an Origins or a GenCon, where the tourist in me wouldn't be so much at odds with the gamer.
  • On both days we left the convention hall to have lunch and, personally speaking, I would have been perfectly content to grab some overpriced crap to eat on site, cram it in my mush and then jump right back into the fray.
  • Next time out I'm not going to spend nearly as much time looking at vendors. Sure, I'll buy a few unique things that I can't get at home as well as some out-of-print, early release and / or prototype stuff, but next time out I really wanna demo and play as many games as I possible can.
All told, it was a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime event that I'll cherish forever!


Wanna take a closer look at some of the same things we saw at the Expo? Then click on the following images to learn more and possibly fund another trip across the pond for me next year!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Jurassic Park: The Board Game - "Raptor"

Continuing my series on two-player games that don't suck, Raptor burst onto the scene last year and made a pretty ferocious splash.

Looking for the high-concept premise? Welp, here's some John Hammond-esque exposition to set things up, pilfered directly from Board Game Geek:

"Mama Raptor has escaped from her run and laid her eggs in the park. A team of scientists must neutralize her and capture the baby raptors before they run wild into the forest.

Raptor is a card driven boardgame with tactical play and some double guessing. Players use their cards to move their pawns (scientists on one side, mother and baby raptors on the other) on the board. 
"Every round, the player who played the lowest ranked card can use the corresponding action, while his opponent has movement / attack points equal to the difference between the two cards values. The scientists can use fire, can move by jeep on the tracks, and can even call for reinforcements, while the mamma raptor can hide in the bushes, yell to frighten the scientists, and call for her babies."

Still looking for the full script? Then click on the following link to get Dr. Ian Malcolm's full take on the game chaos theories.


Session Play-Through


Ellie - Raptors
Dennis - Scientists

Ellie kicks things off with a 4-point "Mother's Call" while Dennis lays down a 7-point "Fire". Ellie's special action kicks off first so she moves the Baby Raptor on the lower right-hand tile as well as the one on the lower left-hand tile, placing them adjacent to Mama on the same tile. Dennis now has three action points to spend so he moves the Scientist on the upper left-hand tile three spaces so that he's aiming his tranquilizer gun at mama!

Next up Ellie plays a 9-point "No Effect" while Dennis plays a 5-point "Fire". His action activates first so he puts down two fire tokens, one just to the north of the Scientist near the left-hand side of the board and one in between the two Scientists on the right. Ellie then gets four actions so she moves Mama Raptor one space north, then four spaces in a straight line to the right-hand side of the board and then she uses her third action to shred a Scientist into jerky. Then, with her final remaining action, she moves a Baby Raptor in the upper right hand tile one space north.

In the next round Ellie plays a 3-point "Fear" card and Dennis tables his 3-point "Jeep" card. It's a push!

Ellie then opts to play a 2-point "Disappearance and Observation" while Dennis plays a 9-point "No Effect" card. Ellie's action activates first so Mama vanishes off the board! Now the Scientists have a whopping seven action points to work with! Dennis moves the Scientist on the lower left-hand tile one space east and then uses another action to knock out an adjacent Baby. He then uses his remaining five actions to move the Scientist in the lower left hand L-shaped board just south of the sleeping Baby. Mama then reappears in the lower left-hand tile just a few spaces away from the unwitting Scientists.

Thanks to "Observation", Dennis is forced to plays his 2-point "Reinforcement" card face up. Ellie then responds with an 8-point "Fear" card. Two new Scientists appear, one on the upper left-hand tile next to two Baby Raptors and the second one emerges onto the upper right-hand tile next to another Baby and a pile o' rocks. Ellie now has six actions to spend so she moves Mom one space to the right, then one space north and then uses two separate actions to murder both Scientists. For her last two actions she moves one space north and then uses her final action to rouse her sleeping Baby.

In the next round Dennis plays a 4-point "Sleeping Gas" while Ellie tables the 1-point "Mother's Call and Shuffle" Card. Her effect triggers first so she moves a Baby on the upper right-hand tile and puts it adjacent to her. She then shuffles all of her used Action Cards back into a new deck. Dennis then uses one action point to knock out a Baby Raptor on the upper left-hand tile then moves a Scientist in the lower right-hand tile two spaces west.

Next up Dennis plays a 6-point "Reinforcements" card and Ellie reveals a 5-point "Recovery" card. Her effect wakes up the one sleeping Baby Raptor and she spends the second action point to de-trank Mama.

Dennis then plays a 1-point "Sleeping Gas and Shuffle" card while Ellie plays the one point "Mother's Call and Shuffle". Its another push!

Dennis is forced to drop his last card: the 8-point "Jeep" while Ellie turns up a 4-point "Mother's Call". The two Babies next to the Scientist are moved away and placed next to Mama. Dennis responds by tranking Mama again and then moving the Scientist on the lower left hand tile two spaces west and then putting the adjacent Baby to sleep. Dennis has no cards left so he's forced to re-shuffle and draw three new cards.

Dennis plays his 6-point "Reinforcements" while Ellie plays her 9-pointer. Two new Scientists appear on the edge of the lower left hand tile while Ellie gets three actions to spend. One of her Baby Raptors runs for it, moving three spaces west!

In the next round Dennis plays a 4-point "Sleeping Gas" card while Ellie plays a 3-point "Fear". The latter happens first, spooking a Scientist on the upper left hand tile. Dennis then spends his one action point to capture a sleeping Baby!

Ellie then drops her 8-point "Fear" while Dennis plays his own 9-pointer. The two Scientists who just came onto the board proceed to soil themselves without any further ado. Dennis then uses his lone action point to rouse the fearful Scientist on the upper-left hand tile.

Next up Dennis plays a 3-point "Jeep" card vs. Ellie's 7-point "Recovery". The Scientist on the middle lower tile moves one space west and one space north to put him adjacent to a Baby. Ellie then uses two actions points to run a Baby off the board and then two actions to move another l'il guy towards the exit.

Ellie plays a 2-point "Disappearance & Observation" card while Dennis plays his 8-point "Jeep". Ellie's card effect happens first so Mama disappears ninja-style, yo. Dennis then uses three points to revive his three Scientists. One who's standing next to a Baby immediately tranks it while a cohort standing next to him moves up one space north and then uses the last action to capture it! A pissed-off Mama then reappears right around the corner!

Dennis is forced to reveal his next card first which turns out to be a 1-point "Sleeping Gas & Shuffle" card. Ellie plays her last card, a 6-point "Disappearance and Observe". After the baby on the upper left hand tile is knocked out, Dennis gets all of his cards back. Ellie then spends five actions, but this is reduced by two because of the trank effect. She moves one space south, one space east and then mauls another Scientist! Since that was Ellie's last card she gets them all back again for her next turn.

Ellie then revelas a 5-point "Recovery" while Dennis edges her out just slightly with a 4-point "Reinforcement" card. Dennis's last two Scientists appear on the board, one on the lower left hand tile and one on the middle lower tile. Ellie then gets three actions to spend. With the tranquilizer effect preventing Mama from reaches her sleeping Baby, she decides to spend her single action to ginsu yet another Scientist! Not a bad consolation prize, but time is running short!

Dennis plays his 1-point "Sleeping Gas" while Ellie plays a 4-point "Mother's Call". The Scientist's card effect plays out first, and the Baby on the lower middle tile is knocked out! Mama would normally have three actions to spend but now only has one so she moves adjacent to the closet scientist on the lower left hand tile.

Ellie plays a 7-point "Recovery" card and Dennis surprises her by revealing his powerful 9-pointer! The two Babies wake up and Mama recovers one damage but Dennis responds by immediately re-tranking her again and then moving that same dude one space north!

Next up Ellie plays a 6 point "Disappearance & Observation" card while Dennis plays a 4-point "Double Sleeping Gas". Once again the two Babies are knocked out and unfortunately two actions aren't enough to budge Mama at all!

Dennis plays a 5-point "Fire" card while Ellie turns over an 8-point "Double Fear". The former activates first and the two Scientists on the lower left and lower middle tile create a wall of flame to hem in Mama. Ellie responds by using her actions to stomp out the fire to the north.

Ellie drops her 9-pointer while Dennis plays a 2-point "Jeep". The Scientist to the north moves adjacent to the Baby and the Scientist on the middle tile moves one space north. This leaves Mama with four actions. She moves north one, murderizes a Scientist and then shreds another!

Next round Ellie plays a 3-point "Fear" card and Dennis plays an 8-point "Jeep" card. The Scientist in the upper left hand tile immediately craps himself but then Dennis uses three actions to move the next closest Scientist in to snatch up the last Baby.

Winner: Scientists!


  • The card play mechanic, with the lower revealed number triggering a special ability and the higher number generating action points equal to the difference, is quite clever. A particularly sharp player will keep their eyes on cards played across the table in order to get off a timely special event or rack up some badly-needed actions.
  • Since there's multiple ways to win you'll likely find yourself switching or reacting to some mutable mid-game strategies. It also ensures that most games won't last any longer than thirty minutes. 
  • The rules summary sheets included in Raptor are top-notch. Literally everything you need to know is summarized on these two handy-dandy cards.   
  • As for the rule book itself, it's great. It's clear, jokey, thematic and the inclusion of strategy tips is a major plus. 
  • Both sides play out completely different from one another. The Raptors are fast, clever, vicious and resourceful. The Scientists are all swarmy and have to use their distance-based attacks and card abilities to try and contain things. 
  • It's tense! As the Raptor player your emotionally involved in the plight of your Babies and as the Scientists you're literally in fear of your life the whole time.
  • The game is stunningly beautiful. The art on the Terrain Tiles and Action Cards are first class. The 3-D rock piles don't just look great they virtually eliminate any line of sight screw-ups.      
  • The minis are incredibly cool. And they didn't even cheapen out with the Scientists; all ten figures have a unique sculpt!
  • Not too muckin' futch. Well, mebbe one minor quibble. There can be a bit of confusion concerning  knocking out Baby Raptors and waking them up since both card effects and action points can be used to accomplish this but both are done differently. As a result you may find yourself consulting the manual for clarifications. Thankfully, the answers are easily found and committed to memory.
There's been a fair amount of games with the words "Jurassic" and "Park" printed on them but it took twenty-two years and two Italians to do it right. Raptor is fast-paced, easy-to-learn, thematically engaging and tactically rich.

As such I give this one five pips out of six with a tilt up towards a brachiosaur's neck waddle!

Looking to tear a scientist a new one or help endanger a species? Then click on the image below to learn more about Raptor and ensure that this blog doesn't go extinct!