Hello, Abstruse here with your weekly update on all the tabletop news of the week. Or a week-ish in this case since I wanted to hit on a few big announcements that are more than a week ago. As Nordling pointed out in his post, International Tabletop Day is this Saturday, March 30.
Wil Wheaton announced Wednesday that select participating stores will have freebies to give away such as exclusive add-on content for several games including Magic: The Gathering, Munchkin, Tsuro, Gloom, Dixit, and more. Even if you can’t make it to your local gaming store, you can spruce up your home Tabletop Day game with these printable cut-outs. If you don’t have a FLGS in your area running an event, check out the locator for private events or you can registering your own event. Or just screw all the official stuff, invite some friends over, and play games! You have no excuses, not even money since Board Game Geek has a list of games that completely free to print out and play, while Drive Thru Games and RPGNow both have bundles of free PDF quick starts and adventures specifically for Tabletop Day. So no excuses! Play games!
And if that’s not enough games to play free, there’s always the new edition of the granddaddy of all tabletop roleplaying games, DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. In a movie that surprised many, Wizards of the Coast pushed for an extensive open playtest to get a variety of feedback from players. The newest version of the playtest dropped on March 21 included rules for the Ranger, Paladin and Druid along with tweaks to the other classes released so far (Fighter, Rogue, Cleric, Wizard, Barbarian, and Monk). If you haven’t signed up yet, now’s the perfect time.
Now here’s something very important to keep in mind. THIS IS A PLAYTEST. There’s no art, the writing is concise and dry, and the layout is a plain white background and two columns of text. Frankly, it looks like complete shit. It’s SUPPOSED to look like that because this is still a work in progress. Layout and graphic design is usually one of the last steps in finishing a game book. The rules themselves are also a little rough and the math doesn’t completely balance yet, an issue that Wizards of the Coast acknowledges and is working on based on player feedback.
And yes, they’re actually paying attention to what we say. Whole game mechanics have changed. Skills and feats have been added and eliminated. The Sorcerer and Warlock classes, first released in the October packet, were pulled from the December release and haven’t shown back up yet. All of this has been done based on feedback from players about balance, utility, and just general “feel”. So whether you loved or hated D&D 4th Edition, you owe it to yourself to look into the playtest and give your honest feedback to make sure that we get the best game possible when it officially releases.
On top of the deluxe print releases of classic game books Nordling gushed over, Wizards of the Coast posted several new classic D&D books available for download: PHBR3: Complete Priest’s Handbook, FOR2: Drow of the Underdark, Dwellers of the Forbidden City, and Complete Psionic. This brings the total number of classic rulebooks, sourcebooks, and modules available for download to over a hundred. I’ve only gotten to check out their scan of B1: In Search of the Unknown (since it was available for free when the site originally launched, currently priced at $4.99). Not only does the scan look great, but Drive Thru has been providing regular updates when they fix the small flaws (I had to have two copies open on two monitors and go page-by-page to find the tiny little image improvements they made). A great alternative to digging through stacks of books at the thrift store or hoping that the seller online is honest with their condition descriptions. Yes, I’m STILL pissed that the asshole who sold me FR1: Waterdeep and the North didn’t mention the poster map wasn’t included!
Wil Wheaton announced that the first episode of TABLETOP’s second season will start streaming on April 4. Confirmed guests so far are Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine from STAR TREK: VOYAGER), Seth Green (Creator of ROBOT CHICKEN and part-time werewolf on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER), Bobak Ferdowsi (NASA Engineer better known as “Mohawk Guy” from the Curiosity landing stream), Ashley Clements (Title character on THE LIZZIE BENNET DIARIES), Patrick Rothfuss (Author of THE KINGKILLER CHRONICLES fantasy novel series), Felicia Day (the gorgeous redheaded goddess in charge of Geek & Sundry and object of all our desires), and Ryan Wheaton (Wil’s son).
If previous experience is any indication, you’ll want to buy these games now due to the Tabletop Effect – for a month following the episode, whatever game is played sells out everywhere and the price skyrockets. One publisher actually thought they adequately prepared for their turn on TABLETOP but ended up having to do two extra print runs to keep pace.
Can’t wait that long for your TABLETOP fix? How about Extended Editions of episodes from the first season to tide you over until the new season starts? So far, Geek & Sundry has released almost two hour long versions of the CASTLE PANIC, SMALL WORLD, and PANDEMIC episodes. The added screen time actually helps the pace of the episodes to me. The normal episodes play at such a breakneck pace as they try to squeeze as many of the funny moments while still showing you the actual game. In the extended editions, they slow down a little in a very welcome way. Each turn is played through and a lot more discussion of strategy goes on, especially in the cooperative games of PANDEMIC and CASTLE PANIC. There’s a deeper understanding of the game mechanics with the slightly slower pace, to the point that you feel like you could open up the game for the first time after watching and play without ever looking at the instruction book. Well, at least CASTLE PANIC is. The other games are a bit more intricate but you still walk away with a good grasp of the rules which will dramatically cut down on the learning curve for the more difficult games. And if you’re worried that all the focus on the game will cut down those hilarious moments, fear not. There are a lot of great jokes that didn’t even make it into the extra deleted scenes videos posted, including a sneak peek at what will most likely be a flash mob video within a week or two as someone takes the idea.
After spending the last two years or so relaunching the classic World of Darkness, White Wolf has released its first new New World of Darkness game system in four years, MUMMY THE CURSE. My inner grognard refuses to allow me to like the New World of Darkness (“They changed it so it sucks!”), but this is a personality flaw I’ve been working on for years. I also was never a fan of the original MUMMY: THE RESURRECTION as the idea just never appealed to me. Don’t get me wrong; when it came out, New World of Darkness fixed major rules issues from the Old World of Darkness. I also believe that the mummy concept has a lot of potential, especially with the interesting twists MUMMY THE CURSE puts on the genre. It’s just not for me, though.
If you are interested in this series or any of the New World of Darkness games released in the future, you should be aware White Wolf announced a switch their release model. Rather than releasing a single “core book” for new systems as they’ve always done in the past, from here out they will release separate rulebooks for players and storytellers. The storyteller version will have all the secrets of the game world, allowing those running the games to keep secrets from their players without withholding necessary rules. It also helps financially as they’ll only be buying the smaller and cheaper players book rather than the entire core rules.
There’s a problem, though. Currently, you only have two ways to purchase the game. First is the complete rulebook as a single PDF or hardcopy, and second is a Virtual Box Set for $3 more which has the rules split into players and storytellers books with a bonus adventure. There is not a way to purchase only the players rulebook. I’m not sure whether this was an idea that fell through at the last minute, there was a simple oversight with the players rulebook release, or it’s an intentional delay since the system just launched. Either way, it was very confusing to read about the new release model in the preview but not have it executed on launch
MUMMY THE CURSE is available as a PDF download for $19.99, a standard edition hardcover for $34.99, a hardcover/PDF bundle for $39.99, and the Virtual Box Set for $22.99. A special edition hardcover book will come out later.
Fantasy Flight Games released a tutorial video for RELIC in advance of the release of their TALISMAN-based Warhammer 40K board game. This should be the model that all game designers take from here out. Most companies provide unboxing videos of their new releases, but this does little other than show the bits of plastic and cardboard you’re buying, leaving you to guess how the game is played. Game mechanics are the single most important aspect of any game. No matter how pretty the game is, it’s not worth a penny if the rules suck. I had to learn this the hard way with the HALO Interactive Strategy Game released in 2008.
I saw the HALO Interactive Strategy Game in the store and it was gorgeous – beautiful packaging with detailed plastic miniatures for every character and well-made 3D modular terrain to create multi-leveled dynamic environments. I paid $59.99 for this game. The rules were unplayable. I don’t think they ever actually playtested the game at all. The rules contradicted themselves left and right, the turn progression made the game move at a snail’s pace, and there was no balance whatsoever between the two sides. The editing was so bad that, of the three map suggestions listed in the instruction book, one of them couldn’t be made with the included pieces. I played the game three times, twice as-written and once after an attempt to pretty much re-write the rules from the ground up. Even my unabashed HALO fanboy roommate refused to touch the game again. I cut my losses, tossed about half the box in the trash, and kept the terrain and tiles for my Shadowrun game.
Ever since that fiasco, I’ve been wary of any newly released game until several reviews popped up several days later. If every company did something similar to what Fantasy Flight did – even without the fancy graphics – this would make me buy a lot more games on release. Aside from just the sheer exposure, this is what the Tabletop Effect does. After watching the video, you know for sure if the game is something that will suit your gaming group. The RELIC video does this as well, thoroughly explaining how gameplay works. I hope that other game designers take note and produce similar videos when they launch a new product, and kudos to Fantasy Flight for taking a lot of the guesswork out of making a purchase decision.
Oh, Shadowrun. I’m into Shadowrun like the guy who wears his Starfleet dress uniform for jury duty is “kinda into Star Trek”. I’ve owned and played pretty much every version of this game that exists in any medium with the sole exception of the Sega MegaCD video game because the damn thing was never released in America. So you know I’ve been in a tizzy the past several months since you can’t seem to go two days without some major announcement from either Catalyst Game Labs (designers of all the tabletop Shadowrun games), Hairbrained Schemes (the crew behind Shadowrun Returns, the mobile game with the huge Kickstarter), or Cliffhanger Productions (producers of Shadowrun Online, the MMO with the more modest Kickstarter). CGL has named this the “Year of Shadowrun” and they’re working damn hard to make it true.
First off, Shadowrun 5th Edition is coming this year. Even though I’m running a 3rd Edition game, I actually do like a lot of the aspects of the 4th Edition of the game. I miss exploding 6s and dice pool management, but the simplicity and universality of the rules more than makes up for it. And if you know what I’m talking about, I’m preaching to the choir here when I talk about some of the rules and setting changes they’ve teased are very exciting for the game.
The last hurrah for 4th Edition is the recently released (in digital format at least) event-based sourcebook STORM FRONT (no relation to the first novel in the DRESDEN FILES series by Jim Butcher, and coincidentally my other huge fanboy love). I’m waiting for the print release so I haven’t seen the book yet, but it looks like a must-have for Shadowrun fans. In the vein SYSTEM FAILURE from the previous edition, STORM FRONT is a sourcebook describing the events that close many of the major plot threads that run the Sixth World through all of 4th Edition – the dragon conflict, the Aztlan-Amazonia war, the Seattle political shake-up, the Denver situation, and probably a lot of others – while at the same time setting up the major themes for 5th Edition. If you’ve played Shadowrun 4th Edition at any point in time and are interested in 5th Edition, this is going to be a must-have book and I plan to give it a full review once I get hold of a copy.
If you’re not that interested in the Shadowrun metaplot but are curious about the rules for 5th Edition, we’re going to get our first look at the rules on June 15 as the Shadowrun 5th Edition Quickstart will be included in Free RPG Day. Jason Hardy, line editor for Shadowrun, spent the last few weeks teasing us with hints about the new rules, especially regarding the Matrix and decking (yes, it’s decking again). The Matrix rules have always been the most confusing part of Shadowrun since the game debuted in 1989. Even with the insanely streamlined 4th Edition rules, many groups just flat out ignore it in favor of having an NPC do all the decking/hacking off-screen. To me, it looks like CGL is aware of the problem and are putting it as a top priority for the new edition, since little has been released about any of the other sections of the game.
As exciting as the new edition of my favorite roleplaying game of all time is, to me the biggest news coming out of CGL is the relaunch of the Shadowrun fiction line. I know a lot of people miss the old FASA licensed novels for both Shadowrun and BattleTech, many of them not even gamers (one customer at the bookstore I worked in as a kid didn’t even know there was a game). The line launches officially this fall with the first of six novels to be released so far. If you miss the original Shadowrun novels, many of those will be gathered into ebook omnibus downloads, including works by Robert Charrette, Nyx Smith, and the amazing Nigel Findley (if you’ve never read any of the Shadowrun novels, I cannot recommend his 2XS highly enough…one of the best novels I’ve ever read in any genre).
With companies as big as Reaper and as small as a 9 year old girl going to Kickstarter to get production capital, it’s impossible to go over every single project out there. So I’m going to go through some of the ones that popped most to me. If you want more, check out the http://www.kickstarter.com/discover/categories/tabletop%20games?ref=sidebar Tabletop Games category.
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dwarvenforge/dwarven-forges-game-tiles-revolutionary-miniature?ref=live Dwarven Forge’s Kickstarter for the new Game Tiles line hit its funding in under three hours and is currently smashing through their stretch goals. The Game Tiles line will be pretty much the same as their normal terrain, but be made of a new PVC-derrived material that will reduce weight and increase durability. In fact, the word “Indestructible” was used, which I’ve always seen as less of a guarantee and more of a challenge. Maybe I’ll hit the lottery and be able to afford a set to test that claim out.
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/shadowlands/the-shadowlands-campaign-setting-guidebook-for-pat The Shadowlands is a Pathfinder campaign setting inspired by the 2nd Edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign worlds of Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, and Planescape from publisher BlackStar Studios. It met its funding goal in under a week, promising a 180 page Player’s Guide with increases in page count and more art as stretch goals.
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1780208966/freeport-the-city-of-adventure-for-the-pathfinder Green Ronin also wants to get into the PATHFINDER campaign setting arena with Freeport: The City of Adventure. A bit more ambitious than The Shadowlands, the project will release as a 512 page full-color hardback. With only a few days left, the Kickstarter is still over $15,000 short of its goal.
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1700755582/myth-0 Myth is a cooperative fantasy board game by MERCS Miniatures which just hit its funding goal. Remember what I said about Fantasy Flight’s gameplay video? MERCS has one on their Kickstarter page, which is good since the current retail price for the finished set will be $89.99.
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/252020431/obsidian-portal-reforged?ref=category Obsidian Portal, the campaign management website of choice, is halfway to its funding goal to overhaul the website. I signed up for an account here, but I haven’t had a chance to use the site since I’m a bit old school in how I track my campaigns. It looks like they’re adding a lot of very useful features to the site, so it’s worth checking out.
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ryanlesser/high-heavens-the-board-game-where-gods-battle-in-t?ref=category High Heavens is the first tabletop game from video game designer Ryan Lesser (who worked on Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Dance Central among others). Norse and Greek gods fight over who really cares since Thor and Zeus are trying to kick the shit out of each other. There’s at least one really cool mechanic in this system where health tracks by using small tokens stacked under the character’s figure, getting removed as the character is damaged. This Kickstarter is about $25,000 shy of its goal but there’s well over a month left.
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/charliebrumfield/artisan-dice-does-handcrafted-polyhedrals?ref=category Badass looking hand-crafted wooden and metal dice, already blown through its funding goal with over a month left. I have two Pounds o’ Dice from Chessex, at least fifteen full matched sets of dice, over 300 matched d6 (I told you, I play Shadowrun), and that’s not counting novelty dice like the light-up-on-a-crit d20 and a Magic d20 Ball. I still have never thought “I have enough dice now”. Especially when they look as cool as these dice do.
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/coolminiornot/zombicide-season-2?ref=category You’ve got a few days left to get in on the Kickstarter for Zombicide Season Two from CoolMiniOrNot. The original Zombicide’s been on my “need to check out” list since it came out, especially due to the single player option and, well, the cool minis. This one’s at $1.5 million of its $25,000 goal, so it’s safe to say this one’s funded.
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1679800548/dungeons-of-the-mountain-king?ref=category Fat Dragon Games put forward a very modest Kickstarter for their line of PDF downloadable 3D terrain, Dungeons of the Mountain King. You print them out on cardstock, cut them out, and glue them together. I’ve had some pretty good success with their previous products, and I suck at crafts.
Unfortunately, I must close out this column with sad news. Todd Breitenstein passed away this past Monday from cancer. He was the owner of Twilight Creations and designer of the miniature survival game Zombies!!! An IndieGoGo fund has been set up accepting donations to help his family pay medical bills. And even if you don't donate, take some time and play this wonderful game this Tabletop weekend.
As always, you can click on the pictures above and be directed to Amazon if you wish to purchase these games. If you have any gaming news tips, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to follow me on Twitter at @Abstruse.