Abstruse here, exhausted but somehow not hung over after spending the weekend at the RoosterTeeth Expo in Austin, TX. “But Abstruse,” I imagine you saying to me, “isn’t that a video game convention? And don’t you just do tabletop games?” Why yes, fictitious reader, that is completely true. Aside from Steve Jackson Games, there was nothing involving tabletop games in the entire convention’s vendors or programing. But anywhere you went in the convention hall, games were being played. People abandoned pool parties to go play CARDS AGAINST HUMANITY, MUNCHKIN and MAGIC: THE GATHERING games littered the hallways as people waited in line to get into panels, conversations went straight to DUNGEONS & DRAGONS and SETTLERS OF CATAN without people even knowing I wrote the column. Just goes to show you that gamers are gamers, and even the most hardcore HALO fans will still break out a deck of cards to have fun.
One very interesting thing during the convention occurred when I first visited the Steve Jackson Games booth. They had all the little “booster pack” style MUNCHKIN expansions I didn’t have, so I picked up the lot. I didn’t even realize until after I tweeted the picture that I apparently became the first person to purchase the new MUNCHKIN DRAGONS expansion. So let’s give that a review, shall we? It’s $4.95 retail, buy the damn thing.
Okay, I’ll do a little better than that. There’s fifteen new cards (twelve Door, three Treasure) using the standard MUNCHKIN backing and a tiny booklet explaining the new rules. The cards are all directly related to dragons in some way. There’s a hireling that gives you bonuses only to dragons (but it’s a +10 bonus), and all three Treasures are equipment rather than potions. As far as monsters, there’s three as level 1 (which are all fucking annoying in that fun MUNCHKIN way), one each for levels 2, 5, 8, 10, and 16, two level 12s, and the Level 20 Smog (Halflings can draw the top Treasure card as soon as he appears). There’s only a couple of new rules, basically stating that any card with the words “Dragon”, Serpent”, or “Wyrm” in their title are considered Dragons. This becomes important because, if you use this expansion, all Dragons are treated as Undead (or Sharks from MUNCHKIN BOOTIE), meaning that as soon as one Dragon enters a fight, anyone can play other Dragon monsters without a Wandering Monster card. Finally, all Dragons are immune to all fire and flame items, but Big items count double against them. As I said before, it’s $4.95 retail, buy the damn thing!
Okay chummers, I’m sure you’ve read my review of SHADOWRUN 5th Edition by now. In fact, I’m pretty sure you’re fucking sick of hearing me talk about Shadowrun in general. I’m head over heels for this version of the game, and I’m not the only one. In its first two hours on sale this past Thursday, SHADOWRUN 5th Edition broke the all-time single day sales record for Catalyst Game Labs, and in six more hours shattered the Drive Thru RPG record as well. And that’s both in revenue AND in units sold (meaning that more people bought SHADOWRUN 5th Edition than downloaded for free INTO THE UNKNOWN when Wizards of the Coast launched their PDF store). Pretty strong accomplishment.
If you’re still on the fence about the game or just want to hit the ground running before trying to digest 480 pages of rules, you can get the QuickStart Rules for free right now. If you want to jump right into the full edition, you can purchase the Core Rulebook for $19.99 right now. If you’re more patient and want the print version available sometime next month, you can contact your Friendly Local Gaming Store to pre-order through them or you can order online. You’ve also got a few options. The standard hardcover version of the rules is $60 or you can get a bundle with the PDF for $70. If you’re a bigger fan of SHADOWRUN, you can jump right in with one of two Limited Edition hardcovers for the game, a $100 version with a faux-dragonscale cover and a $200 version with a Mayan calendar cover, either of which comes with a free copy of the PDF. If that’s not good enough for you, there’s five more bundle options to get the number of books you need for your group or game store. So now that we’re done with that, I promise you this is the last time I’ll talk about Shadowrun for a while. Really. I swear. Why are you still laughing, I’m serious!
Fireside Games announced their newest board game, DEAD PANIC, this past week. The game is zombie-themed tower defense and is based on the gameplay from their successful CASTLE PANIC game. You’re survivors in a cabin trying to outlast a horde of zombies set on breaking through the thin walls. There are several changes from the standard CASTLE PANIC, including new equipment rules, unique characters for each player, and (thank Cthulhu) a draw bag included so you don’t have to run around the coffee shop chasing down an empty mug to draw tokens from.
This seems like the perfect excuse to review one of my favorite tabletop games, CASTLE PANIC. And in order to properly review this game, I have to talk a little bit about my views on game design. For me, the best designed games are ones that take follow a few principles. First, the game must have easy to understand rules. This means I can put the game on the table and have everyone playing in less than five minutes. Second, the game must involve player strategy over pure randomness. This is the reason why I play very VERY few “mainstream” board games (basically Parker Bros. and Milton-Bradley) because they tend to skew heavily to randomness. I want my choices and actions to have impact on the game’s progress rather than relying solely on the roll of a die. Finally, the game must have replay value by including some sort of randomness to keep the game different each time. This means that I can break this game out every single week on game night and have no one get bored. Now, not every awesome game meets all these criteria. ZOMBIE DICE is entirely random but still a blast to play. TWILIGHT IMPERIUM and ECLIPSE both have insanely steep learning curves, but once you get them down they’re a hell of a lot of fun. But games like MAGIC: THE GATHERING, MUNCHKIN, PANDEMIC, SETTLERS OF CATAN, SMALL WORLD...all of these fit all three categories and they’re some of the top selling tabletop games of the modern era.
But the king of them all in my opinion is CASTLE PANIC. This game has the most eloquently designed rules I’ve ever come across. You’re inside a tower that has six sides and six walls protecting it. Goblins, orcs, and trolls march out of the forest to try to destroy your castle. You have to kill them all using archer, knight, and swordsman cards, doing 1HP of damage to any monster within that card’s range in that card’s colored arc. Everyone plays with their hand face-up so you can see what cards the other players have, giving you the ability to make strategies two, three, or even four turns in advance to keep the hordes of monsters at bay. Seriously, that’s pretty much it. I’ve summarized about half the rulebook for you already.
So we’ve knocked out my first and second game design requirements, but the third is where the genius REALLY comes in. At the end of each turn, you randomly draw two monster tokens to place on the board in the forest. They’ll sit there for a turn so you can see them coming before you can act against them. However, there are several “fuck your strategy!” tokens in the bag as well that change the enemy positions on the board. Nothing throws your careful planning out the window like having every monster rotate one space clockwise and not have ANYTHING set up to attack since the monsters moved to a different colored arc. Yes, it’s frustrating when it happens, but it creates a lot of tension and keeps the game fresh. The rapid scrambling to salvage your well-laid plans before the hordes come crashing at your walls are a big part of what keeps me coming back to this game.
The set-up for this game as fast, the rules are easy to learn, and the game is beautiful. It’s also eye-catching when you play in public as the walls and tower for your castle are stand-up cardboard pieces, giving a 3D effect to the game. You can pick up the game fast, becoming an expert in under a single round. Hell, watch the TABLE TOP episode featuring this game and you’ve learned all the rules. Not even the Extended Edition. It’s also one of the few games that has a single-player mode for those times when your friends aren’t available. This should be high on your list for games to pick up and the ONLY reason I will accept for not getting it as soon as possible is if you’re more into zombies than fantasy and are waiting for DEAD PANIC.
PaizoCon was this weekend and of course the big announcement was more PATHFINDER. They announced their entire release schedule for the next year.
BESTIARY 4: More monsters, including playable races and the Great Old Ones (not playable I don’t think...) October 2013, $39.99
BASTARDS OF GOLARION: Mini-book covering half-blood races at 32 pages. January 2014, $12.99
THE MUMMY’S MASK (Adventure Path): The first in a new Egyptian-themed Adventure Path taking place in Osirion. $22.99/month starting in February 2014
INNER SEA GODS (Campaign Setting): A 300 page hardcover which covers the gods and goddesses of the most well-covered area of Golarion, including prestige classes, subdomains, spells, traits, feats, magic items, “and more”. March 2014, $39.99
STRATEGY GUIDE: A book that my players will NEVER EVER SEE (they’re big enough munchkins as it is), this book the one I’m actually looking forward to the most. It’s 128 pages of examples and explanations to help you survive adventuring. I’d actually mark this as invaluable for new DMs rather than players as it will give you a heads-up on the type of shit your players will try to pull on you so you can be prepared. April 2014, $29.99
PATHFINDER BATTLES: LEGENDS OF GOLARION: More minis, and 55 all-new sculpts no less. Gimmegimmegimmegimme!!!! October 2014, pricing varies.
On top of these announcements, Paizo has also overhauled the SINGLE. BEST. FUCKING. GAME. ACCESSORY. ON. THE. PLANET., the Gamemastery Combat Pad. Like the rest of the Gamemastery line, it’s been rebranded with the PATHFINDER logo, but make no mistake that this is the best $20 you will spend on gaming REGARDLESS of what edition you play or even WHAT GAME. The long and short of it is that this is an initiative tracker. The pad and the pieces are magnetic and wet/dry erase, allowing you to write the names of the PCs/NPCs in the combat on small tokens that stick to the board. Someone delays, you can pop their token out and drop them back in at their new score. There’s also areas to write notes, such as who has what conditions, if someone’s currently on fire, or if you’re the more open-style DM, how many HP everyone has. Yes, I will recommend this over ANYTHING else as the best way to speed up your combat. Get it and get it NOW.
Kenzer is doing something really awesome here with the launch of the HACKMASTER GAMEMASTER’S GUIDE. The book isn’t released yet, but they’re taking pre-orders for the print edition at $59.99 (though it currently doesn’t have a release date). However, the second you pre-order, you get access to the current draft of the book in PDF format along with a digital tools package to help run the game. The PDF will be updated as they go through various drafts of the game, effectively making you a playtester for the game. This is a nice alternative to get pre-printing fundraising for a project without going the crowdsourcing route, and a nice treat for HACKMASTER players (who I have found are a rabidly devoted bunch).
Fantasy Flight Games has announced WINTER TALES, a board game “focused on storytelling and imagination” for 3-7 players. The game is very fairy tale based with emphasis on the “fairy”, as the two factions are listed as “Spring” and “Winter”. Players are split between the two Courts – err, “Factions” – as they not only attempt to work together to thwart their enemies for control of Wintertown, but also attempt to advance their own goals. This game feels far more euro-styled than FFG’s normal outings, and I’m highly intrigued to see more. It should be out sometime this winter.
If you dig through Kickstarter on your own, you’ll notice there are two internet meme-tastic genres that are covered all over the place that I rarely mention – Zombies and Mythos. Since there’s such a glut of these products, I tend to only post ones that are incredibly exceptional (the CTHULHU WARS Kickstarter I mentioned a few weeks ago topped $1 million). There is one internet meme that has been horribly under-represented in Kickstarters even though it seems a perfect fit, and that is Ninja.
So here’s SHURIKEN from Awesome Enterprise. Each player takes on a clan of ninja as you compete for victory points during a shadow war before the sun rises. The game comes with 250 ninja miniatures (which look about the same quality as the zombies from ZOMBIES!!!), and you can get the game itself for a $75 pledge or just a Bag ‘O Ninja for $25. If that term sounds familiar because of ZOMBIES!!!, it’s not the only thing. The board is modular and consists of changeable double-sided tiles, and the gameplay feels very similar while still being unique. This Kickstarter just launched last week so it’s still far short of its $95,000 goal, but you’ve got until August 19 if you want to get in on it.
I’ve been wanting to feature DIAL DICE for a while on here, but the timing never seemed to work out. The concept is very simple – create a credit card sized card with spinners for each die in a standard six die set (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and d20) to enable to you play your favorite games anywhere. Honestly, this Kickstarter isn’t for me...solely because I never go anywhere without Frosty (my set of Chessex dice that my PATHFINDER players banned me from using as DM because I never rolled under an 8 over three sessions). But if you’re not the type to wear a t-shirt proclaiming how awesome Bards are but still want to be able to play a game at a moment’s notice, this is for you. The full dice set in acrylic is available at an $18 pledge level, but there are other options for d6 only, FUDGE, and other materials. This Kickstarter is funded and will run until July 22.
INCREDIBRAWL from V3G is a very interesting looking card game about, well, a massive cross-genre fight. The art is cartoony in a good way, very colorful and cheerful to go with the light tone of the game as pirates, superheroes, ninja, dinosaurs, etc. all battle one another. ALL pledge levels (including $1) get you a beta-release print-and-play copy of the game right away, while at $25 or higher, you will get a copy of the final product. The Kickstarter is over halfway to its $15,000 goal and runs until August 10.
Nicholas Taylor has an interesting concept involving chainmail dice bags. These things always look awesome, but they’re a bit impractical due to the fact that it’s, well, chainmail and therefore not very stretchy or soft. This can damage your dice if you overload the bags or if they get jostled around too much in your bag. Basically, Taylor replaced a lot of the metal rings in these dice bags with rubber ones, giving the dice bags increased capacity (he claims 70 dice on the Kickstarter page) as well as offering protection to the dice inside. You can pick up one at the $25 pledge level, and this Kickstarter’s VERY modest goal of $500 has already been reached. You’ve got until August 8 to pick one up.
That’s it for these week, gamers. I’d like to give my complete thanks to everyone at RoosterTeeth, the Austin Convention Center, Spill.com (who hosted the after-parties I hit up), and especially the Guardian volunteers at this year’s RTX and all the attendees. I had a blast and I can’t wait until next year. But like all events, we must look to the future. I’ll be at Space City Con in Houston on August 2-4, where I’ll be spending a lot more time hands-on with games and trying to avoid any Wizards of the Coast staffers taking a restraining order out on me. You can also follow me on Twitter at @Abstruse or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for any gaming news or if you want to tell me how FREAKING AWESOME the new edition of SHADOWRUN is! And no, that isn’t breaking my promise because it’s still the same column.