Hello again gamers, I thought it was about time we caught up on the news that’s going on in the gaming industry and not just the big blockbuster stuff squeezed in between interviews and reviews. Especially since Essen is going on right now. If you don’t know what that is, it’s either the largest or second largest gaming convention in the world (GenCon is the other, and the dispute comes over how attendance is counted), and there are a lot of new board games being introduced over in Germany right now. But before we get to that, let’s go over the big roleplaying game news.
Looks like Wizards is putting Dungeons & Dragons into sleep mode at the moment. Sure, they’re still running the Encounters program using a plethora of rules and they’re still releasing PDF versions of their classic back catalogue from all editions of the game, but they don’t have any big print releases on the slate and both DRAGON and DUNGEON magazines are in hiatus. To put icing on the “We’d like to be alone for a while” cake, Trevor Kidd announced via the D&D forums that the 4th Edition DDi tools will not be updated again after March next year.
There’s a silver lining to this cloud, though, as Kidd announced the tools WILL remain online for players of 4th Edition, so you’ll still be able to use the online Character Builder, the Compendium, and access the back-issues of DRAGON and DUNGEON. Any bug fixes or new classes/races/feats/weapons/etc. that don’t get in by March, though, aren’t going in at all. Just to be on the safe side, though, I’d recommend backing up any information you have saved on their servers.
Oh, and just to address it, if you’re one of the people waiting for me to comment on the image that “proves” Wizards of the Coast stole artwork from Paizo’s PATHFINDER BESTIARY for their Facebook page, sorry kids. It was a hoax made in Photoshop. Debate the business blunders WotC has made with D&D all you want, but no one’s that stupid.
Just because Wizards of the Coast is buckling down doesn’t mean their competitors in the d20 fantasy roleplay universe are. Pelgrane Press has released the System Reference Document for the 13TH AGE roleplaying game. I still haven’t had a chance to dig into this one, but the original playtest document intrigued me a lot. If you’ve been curious about what the system has to offer and don’t mind digging through a stripped down, bare-bones version of the rules, you’re now officially set. This is also great news if you’ve been wanting to jump into the burgeoning small digital press industry as they strictly outline what you can and cannot use if you want to make your own content for 13TH AGE.
Oh, but Pelgrane Press didn’t stop there. They also released an SRD for their Gumshoe system. This is the system behind games like THE ESCOTERRORISTS, TRAIL OF CTHULHU, FEAR ITSELF, and others.
Again, I’d like to point out that these rules are going to be even more stripped down than the D&D Next playtest packets were and won’t include any art, formatting, examples of play, or anything else. Unless you’re fairly experienced with roleplaying game rules, it’s going to be tough to learn how to play the games with these SRDs alone. At the very least, though, you can take a look at the underlying mechanics and decide if you want to pick up one of the official products.
Have you noticed that one of the best introductory products to roleplaying has been out of print for a little while, jacking prices up into three figures? A lot of people sure as hell did and we’re now finding out why. The absolutely amazing PATHFINDER BEGINNER’S BOX is back in print with a few tweaks for its second printing. Still retailing for $34.99, the new printing will be released in April 2014 and, while there’s no word yet as to how much of the original components it will include, it WILL add a new 16 page booklet that acts as a guide to transitioning from the Beginner’s Box to a full-fledged PATHFINDER CORE RULES game.
If you don’t know the Beginner’s Box, it’s one of the greatest introductory roleplaying game products I’ve ever seen. Not only does it come with a booklet with pre-made characters, not only does it include stripped-down PATHFINDER rules for levels 1-5, not only does it include the most iconic classes (Fighter, Wizard, Rogue, Cleric) and races (Human, Elf, Dwarf, Halfling), not only does it include an amazing book for gamemasters introducing them to running a roleplaying game, not only does it include a set of dice, but it also goes a step further than even the D&D 4th Edition Red Box and includes a large wet/dry erase battlemat (one side is the dungeon for the introductory adventure while the other is a blank grid) and it includes hundreds of stand-up cardboard tokens to represent the heroes and monsters! I know it’s a little early for a Christmas gift guide (yes, I’ll be doing one of those), but if you have a friend whose never played D&D before and is interested (or if you are that person), this is the best product I’ve ever seen for getting into the hobby at ground level for a very reasonable price.
Before Essen Spiel even started, a major announcement rocked the board game industry. In what may be the biggest corporate acquisition in the industry since Wizards of the Coast bought TSR, Mayfair Games (publishers of SETTLERS OF CATAN, COSMIC ENCOUNTERS, BANG!, and many others) have announced they hold controlling interest in German company Lookout Games (publishers of AGRICOLA, LE HAVRE, and the forthcoming CAVERNA). Mayfair has stated that Lookout will still develop their own games in-house in Germany and their team will remain together, but this acquisition turns Mayfair into an even bigger player in the independent boardgame world.
Okay, I couldn’t possibly get into all the games that released at Essen Spiel due to the vast number released, so I’m going to focus on the biggest ones.
CORNISH SMUGGLER from Grublin Games Publishing got a lot of attention as you play smugglers in Cornwall attempting to bribe officials and find secret stashes to buy and sell illicit goods under the nose of customs. The winner is the person with the most gold at the end of the game, but selling your goods for as much as possible isn’t always the best strategy, as selling at lower prices increases your Reputation which lets you more easily move goods to and fro, and selling at higher prices increases the power that customs has. Everyone’s been raving about this game and I’m anxious to get my hands on it.
PD-Verlag released Mac Gerdt’s CONCORDIA, where you play noble families of the Roman Empire competing to colonize areas outside the Mediterranean. This game prides itself on being highly Euro-style based on the description where they make it clear there’s no randomness in the game. The mechanics seem to be a combination of worker placement and deckbuilding, but I’m not entirely sure as there’s just not a lot of information about this game yet (not even sure if it has an American release yet). Definitely something to keep an eye out for.
UGO! from Playthisone has been getting a lot of buzz as well. Your goal is to build a better kingdom than your opponents, deciding whether you should sacrifice speed of expansion for a well-settled land that is farmed and tended to feed your subjects. This is a very fast playing game from what I’ve seen with little set-up, and it looks like a ton of fun.
Uwe Rosenberg’s CAVERNA is what some might call the game that caused Mayfair to buy Lookout. Lookout contracted Mayfair to distribute the game in the United States and, within a few weeks of that announcement, they also announced the buyout. This game is a worker placement farmer game (sound familiar?), but this time you’re a Dwarven clan looking to gain wealth through mining and sustaining your people through farming. I’ve never played AGRICOLA, but this game sounds very similar but very different and it’s from the original creators as if they’re trying to reimagine the genre of game they cemented in the tabletop community. If you liked AGRICOLA, you should definitely try to get your hands on this as soon as you can.
ORIGIN is an area control game where each player controls a different hominid tribe in Africa at the dawn of the era of Homo Sapiens. As the game goes, you build the board as you try to dominate as much of the map as possible. On your turn, you can lay a tile (thus expanding the map), move into a new unoccupied area, or take an area controlled by another player (displacing their tribe to another tile). There’s more going on as different tiles do different things, and the game looks promising. But it’s one of those games I’d have to get my hands on to really judge how well it works because the combination of theme and mechanics are either going to be amazing or they’re going to be utter shit, no middle ground. Considering the amount of praise this game has gotten online so far, I’m leaning toward the former. Again, one to keep an eye on.
I mentioned TWIN TIN BOTS way back when it was getting Kickstarted, but this game from Phillipe “SMALL WORLD” Kayaerts definitely hits all my nerd buttons. Each player controls a robot they move around the board attempting to collect crystals. The trick is that you have to think multiple moves ahead as the commands you give your robots are as simple as “Move Forward”, “Turn Right”, “Harvest Ore”, etc. and you plan these moves three in advance. You play three command cards for your robots and they’re executed as they’re queued, so if you have “Harvest Ore” in line and your opponent managed to get to that ore first, you’re fucked. I highly praised this game when it was on Kickstarter and I highly praise it now. This needs to come out Stateside pronto so I can get my grubby little mitts on it.
Alderac Entertainment Group released CHEATY MAGES, originally a Japanese game and part of the Big in Japan line of games that Gamer Yoda himself John Goodenough talked about on my podcast. The description sounds like MAGIC: THE GATHERING meets POKEMON but on speed, as each player takes the role of a wizard fighting their monster against the monsters of other wizards, each of you having a “spellbook” deck of cards to help your monster or harm your opponents’. The trick in this game is that there are judges watching the fights and if they think your spells go too far in influencing the match, they can intervene and possibly even disqualify your monster! Another quick, easy to set up, and fun game that seemed to grab a lot of attention this year.
From Funforge and designer Eric Zimmerman, we get QUANTUM, a space based starship combat game. You control a small armada of ships (represented by dice). The board is modular tiles and there’s several scenarios provided to allow for high replay value. As someone who got their start in gaming through a sci-fi combat game, I just have one memetic thing to say: WANT!
Finally, we have CV (sort for “curriculum vitae” and is used overseas and in some professions in the US as we use a resume) from designer Filip Milunski and publisher Granna. This dice-based press your luck game might end up replacing THE GAME OF LIFE for those who loathe mass-market games as the random simulation game of the life of an individual. The dice are used to build a deck of cards which represent your CV, and the person who ends up with the most fulfilling life by accomplishing goals wins. Do you chase after that career as a bestselling novelist, or do you settle for writing a gaming column for a popular media news webside with a podcast on the site? Okay, that was probably a bit too meta...anyway, this game looks like fun and definitely something you should look into if you liked the mechanics behind KING OF TOKYO but wanted something a bit more grounded in reality.
The Reaper Bones II Kickstarter just ended and pulled in $3,169,610 (which falls a little shy of the $3,429,235 from the first Bones Kickstarter, but I’m betting that’s because a few of those backers looked at the shelf full of still unpainted minis and decided to hold off for now). It’s enough, however, to make Reaper the current holders of the #1 and #2 spots for most funded tabletop gaming Kickstarters. Congratulations to Reaper!
If you weren’t able to get in on that Kickstarter in time or if you just prefer the look and feel of metal minis and need something more modern for your horror game, ALL THINGS HORROR might just fill the need. The pledge levels for these 28mm casted metal minis are broken down by the individual miniature you choose, and is $5 for a single mini or $10 for a set of two, with various other levels that offer price breaks on bigger packages (US shipping is included). They’re fully funded with several add-ons already available and run until November 4.
I bought the MADNESS AT GARDMORE ABBY boxed set for 4e D&D for about $30 for one reason and one reason only – I wanted a Deck of Many Things. I haven’t used the damn thing yet, and I wish I’d saved my money for this Kickstarter from Analog Games LLC for a tarot-card sized Deck of Many Things. I can’t comment on the cardstock since I don’t have it, but the art looks pretty interesting (though it may not be to your tastes, so check out the samples first). For $15 (US shipping included), you can get your hands on this pretty awesome prop for your D&D games. This Kickstarter is almost funded and runs through November 21.
Have you ever said to yourself, “Yeah, HEROQUEST and DESCENT are cool games and all, but where’s an Old West meets Lovecraft version? Well, look no further than Flying Frog’s SHADOWS OF BRIMSTONE, a dungeon-delve style board game set in a horror-influenced western setting. I’ve reviewed one of Flying Frog’s other games, FORTUNE & GLORY, previously in the column and their components are always top-notch and worth the hefty price tags attached to them. I still haven’t listened to the CD that came with it though... Anyway, you can get in early on this game at the $75 for one of the two core starter sets they’ll have at launch, $150 for both (as well as an art book and a single 8x10 print), and $225 for both sets, a complete extra set of minis for both games, and an exclusive character class on top of lots of other stuff. Of course this game has blown far past its funding and is unlocking stretch goals at a breakneck pace even though it runs until November 24 because it’s fucking Flying Frog Productions!
That’s all for this week, gamers. Once again, I’d like to direct you to Gamer’s Tavern, my new podcast with game designer Ross Watson where we discuss various aspects of gaming in order to better understand the hobby we all love. Last week, we had artist and writer of the D20 Monkey webcomic and freelance game designer/cartographer Brian Patterson and freelance game designer and author Jason Marker to discuss how to run a horror game, and on Thursday we’ll have a great episode with fantasy author and game designer for White Wolf and Wizards of the Coast, Ari Marmell discussing the classic horror RPG games and settings, World of Darkness (both new and old), Ravenloft, Call of Cthulhu, and many others. If you want more up-to-date gaming news and random bitching about the woman at work at my day job who INSISTS on spraying her fucking perfume on every single fucking day in the fucking ELEVATOR, basically macing everyone who walks into the thing for a fucking hour minimum, you can follow me on Twitter at @Abstruse or email me your gaming tips at email@example.com.