Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Which GW-based game to get from FFG before they're gone!

No more GW games from FFG

What has long been suspected by the community has now been confirmed by Fantasy Flight Games; they no longer has the license to produce games based on Games Workshop properties and will stop selling any of their current GW based games on February 28th 2017. So... panic and pandemonium among the (rather large) crowd who really like what FFG has managed to do with the different GW IPs. Still, we have about five months to stock up on what's missing and if we're lucky FFG will run some juicy sales before pulping their remaining stock next year.

There has been a lot of speculation as to why the split happened. Since FFG didn't show any sign of stopping the production of new GW-based games until earlier this year when they released the print on demand character expansions for Warhammer Quest. This seemed like a really odd move to me, as the game was a great success both commercially and critically. After that there were no new anouncements except for the current cycle of Warhammer 40k Conquest that was already set in motion. Then came Gencon and I thought "if there is no GW-based game announced at Gencon the relationship is over" and there wasn't and it is. So what happened?

It will probably be years (if ever) until what actually happens leak out, but my guess is that this was a decision made by GW, not FFG. Maybe because GW have been moving into board gaming themselves the last couple of years, and want to create their own market. Or maybe they took affront to the new Runewars miniatures game that is in direct competition with their own Age of Sigmar (neo-Warhammer). I actually read an interesting rumour that FFG had approached GW about making accessory pieces (markers? Terrain?) for both Age of Sigmar and 40k but got told to pretty much fuck right off, upon which FFG decided to make their own fantasy wargame. Just a rumour though. Or it could have been the other way around of FFG making Runewars and GW taking offence and yanking the license. Either way... no more great Warhammer games from FFT.

Now, there are a few months left so which games are worth getting and how should you prioritize and try and squeeze them into that already too small gaming budget? Fear not... I've made a lists...

Board games

1. Chaos in the Old World
Yep, I put this at number one rather than Forbidden Stars. It's not that CitOW is actually the better game (I'd say they're both equally brilliant!) however, it is quite a bit cheaper, has a more unique theme (you get to play as the actual Chaos Gods!!) and it can be played in 90 minutes easily. Those are going to be some mighty tense 90 minutes as the knife fight in a phone booth-type gameplay really amps up the action from round one. Highly, highly recommended!
What about the expansion? Get it if you can, but it's not essential unless you often find yourself with a group of five players. It does add some cool stuff and it's nice to have a completely alternate way of playing all the gods.

2. Forbidden Stars
Had it been cheaper and more accessible (read, shorter) this might have made the top of the list but it is nonetheless a superb game of space warfare with beautiful sculpts of all my old 40k favourites. I don't think I need to talk much about its merits as Forbidden Stars has received praise from all corners of the community. Get this is you prefer 40k over Fantasy and especially if you have a hard time getting together a group of four players. While you can play less than four in Chaos in the Old World the game really suffers from it, whereas Forbidden Stars work great with two and even three players! Of all the games we're loosing because of this deal, not seeing an expansion (with Tyranids!) for Forbidden Stars might be what I'll miss the most.

3. Fury of Dracula
Another sign that points to GW cutting ties - Fury of Dracula was released around the time of Gencon 2015 to much praise from the community who had longed for a reprint of this classic game. This has nothing to do with Warhammer but is simply a fantastic deduction game of many against one as you race through Europe trying to corner the most elusive and dangerous of prey - Count Dracula. The theme is marvellous and the components and board (as always) beautiful. I've also heard that in this latest edition FFG has fixed the combat system that sometimes felt a little clunky. The only, potentially, negative point is that Fury of Dracula can often run for two, three or sometimes even four hours which might be an issue for some people. I just find it a great way to spend an evening though. Hehe!

4. Blood Bowl: Team Manager
This is a small card game that kind of snuck up on me. I was certainly interested in it but didn't expect it to be as fun as it is! It plays quickly at around 60-90 minutes and it works well with two, three or four players. While naturally abstracted quite a bit from the gritty matches of the original Blood Bowl it nevertheless manages to capture the feel of the game. It's usually quite a bit of back and forth during the tournaments as you use your different players, and often a clever way to use an ability can turn a certain defeat into a win! For this I'd recommend getting both of the expansions as they add not only new teams but new rules as well, which might be needed to keep the game fresh for as long as possible.

5. Space Hulk: Death Angel
I was going to put Warhammer Quest: The Adventure Card Game in spot 5 as I think it is probably a more fun game, it might even be better than Blood Bowl: Team Manager. But, and this is a big but, it was obviously made to have lots and lots of expansions providing more than the measly three included in the base game, and that is the crux of the matter - with no new quests how long will the base game actually last? I've heard people getting kind of bored with it after playing the same quest just two or three times. So even though I think Warhammer Quest is a better game as such, I'm going with Death Angel as it simply has a lot more replay value (and it's cheap!). The game is tense and really difficult (hey, it's Space Hulk!) with difficult tactical choices getting thrown at you every turn.

You'll see your nice big squad of marines systematically and unceremoniously being torn into little bloody pieces by the hordes of genestealers who simply love to camp out in abandonded old spaceships. It can at times run a little long for what is essentially a filler, but that might be down to me agonizing about my (Sophie's) choices each turn! It's an excellent solo game and very good for two players although I'm not sure how well it holds up with more players than that (besides becoming increasingly difficult!). As for expansions, get them if you can but they're certainly not needed to have many hours of fun(?) with this game.

Joker: Warhammer: Diskwars
Yeah... I have no experience with Diskwars, at all, and kind of discounted it when I first read the announcement from FFG - "this looks silly, I bet it is silly". Except, it seems like a lot of people really like it and that it might actually capture a lot of the feel of Warhammer Fantasy Battles without any of the hassles of miniatures painting or headache-inducing rules. Just read this review by Geosphere over at BGG called A Metric Ton of Fun in a Box! It also sits at a comfortable rating o 7.4 which is more than both Death Angel and Team Manager. Since I have no personal experience with it I can't recommend it myself, but do some research and see if it's your kind of thing.

Runners-up (or, left-overs)
There are some more GW-based games that didn't make my top five, namely Talisman (and its endless expansions!), Relic and Chaos Marauders. I really don't like Talisman as I find it just an endless affair with no interesting decisions and even if Relic improved on this slightly, it's simply not my cup of tea. No recommendation from me. Chaos Marauders I haven't actually played but from reading quite a bit about it a few years ago it seems like an ok filler, but not anything unique enough to warrant emergency funds.

Living Card Games

I'll talk briefly about the LCGs as I'm not that well-versed in them. I've played Warhammer Invasion a few times and while I surely enjoyed it it didn't give me that wow-feeling like Netrunner, or even Star Wars the Card Game, did. I guess if you are really into Warhammer Fantasy and LCGs it might be a good fit, but then again if that was the case you probably already own it.
Warhammer 40,000 Conquest is another matter though. Again it's a game I haven't played myself, but I have watched it played and enough people, whose judgement I trust, recommend it that I think it might be worth considering getting before the plug is pulled. Have a look at how it plays (plenty of videos on youtube) and read some reviews to see if it is for you.

Now, there's something to be said about a "dead" living card game. There won't be officially organized events, no new cards released and a much smaller community than, say, Netrunner. But in the same way these issues can be drawbacks for some, they can be boons for others! If you mostly want to play casually with your friends it might be liberating, in a way, to know that there aren't new packs to pick up each month and that the game is, in a way, "complete".

Roleplaying Games

FFG took up the reins after Black Industries were shut down and I think generally they did some good work, even though all of their rpg products are unessecarily wordy and can be a real slog to get through simply because the sheer number of pages and the very meticulous language with lots of repetition. Still, the background material is overall good and it's hard not to get inspired when flipping through the books. All of the core books are meaty beasts, so if you are strapped for cash but want to keep yourself covered, just getting these (and maybe the first sourcebook released for each line) would go a long way! Now, here is my personal list of recommendations:

1. Dark Heresy
Unless you have a very specific interest in Rogue Traders, Space marines, Chaos or the Guard just get Dark Heresy. It gives you the most freedom on both how to run your campaign and how the players can create their characters. You can play trench warfare or courtroom intrigue or anything in between and you rarely feel stuck in a rut with Dark Heresy. The sourcebooks released for the game (1st edition) are overall good, although I think Ascension and Daemon Hunter ups the power level more than I'm comfortable with. Scenarios has also often been a problem area for FFG - as a rule of thumb the first adventure book released for one of their roleplaying games (usually just after the core book, and usually containing three linked scenarios) is quite good, but then the longer, three-part campaign is kind of bad. So go for Purge the Unclean, but hold off on the Haarlock Legacy if you don't want to put in the extra work to get it up to snuff.

I haven't read the new second edition, but from what I've heard it is more of a revised edition than a complete overhaul. I'm not sure I would bother with it if it would make it harder for me to use the material in the old books.

2. Rogue Trader
This is my personal 40k rpg favourite! I love the grand scope of things and the freedom you can give your players to explore and create their own adventures, in a sense. The tricky bit is that it can be hard to get this grand scale across. When you have a ship with a crew in the tens of thousands it just feels silly for the captain to have a shootout in a dingy bar. Don't have a shootout, have a war! This was also a problem that plagued the official scenarios released - while they at times get the scale right it just as often feels off. This is also why I'm not putting it at number one, Rogue Trader does require more work from the GM. Or perhaps not more work, but it requires a flexible GM that can run a kind of semi-sandbox campaign with only a general skeleton framework that the players themselves flesh out. Or that is at least my take on it. I guess you could play it in a way similar to Star Trek, where the captain and the most important officers keep beaming down everywhere personally to take care of stuff even though they have a huge crew! But that would defeat the purpose of the insane scale of Warhammer 40k!

I think the different sourcebooks for Rogue Trader are of high quality and worth getting if you like the setting. The adventures might seem a bit lacklustre if you run them straight from the book, but could make for a good framework for a more player driven campaign, so don't discount them.

3. Deathwatch
For me, Deathwatch was really when the kind of giant-on-clay-feet that is the 40krp system started to show both its age and its cracks. With so many different mechanics layered on top of eachother it made the game... cumbersome to run. And keep in mind, this is coming from a person who likes crunch in his games! If I were to run Deathwatch again I think I would use a different system that fits the heroic, almost superhero, style better. Perhaps FATE. However, I still think it is worth getting the books simply for the lore and the many ideas you can get from them for your own campaigns, if you want to run a space marine game that is.

4. Only War
I was kind of excited for Only War as the Imperial Guard has long been a favourite faction of mine, when it comes to 40k. And although the game is certainly not bad by any means it doesn't really stand out as anything all that special either. Yes, there are tons of info on the imperial guard and the military machine of the Imperium. But so much of it is simply WWI/WWII/Vietnam in space it's rarely anything that actually feels new. If Deathwatch is a superhero game then Only War should be the gritty, down in the mud game about the stories of individual soldiers and how they fought and died. Sure, you can use the 40krp engine for that, but I immediately want to run it with the awesome USCM (Aliens colonial marines) hack for Torchbearer instead! It is also crunchy, but in a completely different way - instead of trying to be a bad simulator it instead goes full on gut punch and gravel in your eye while still having a laser focus on the personal stories. Again though, the FFG books can be good for the lore.

Jokers: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 3rd edition and Black Crusade

WFRP3 is a bit of an odd duck, both brilliant and flawed, and certainly intriguing. You might remember that we played through The Gathering Storm campaign back when the third edition was released in 2010, and while we had a lot of fun with it, toward the end we (or at least I) felt quite a bit of token/card fatigue as it kept growing with each expansion introduced. The system is really quite good, but a little rough around the edges - which FFG now have polished with the Star Wars rpgs. The cards are brilliant in the sense that you have all the rules right in front of you, however the drawback is that the players often sit and stare at their cards to try and figure out their next, most optimal action, rather than just going with the flow and simply describing what they do and asking what to roll. So, at times, it felt more like playing World of Warcraft than a pen and paper rpg. Part of me really like it and want to play it again, but another part of me just want to cut out the core bits and get rid of the cruft (like with Star Wars!). Or... I'll just use the first or second edition, or even Torchbearer for my Warhammer games in the future. Again, if you want to go for it, consider skipping the adventures as they are so-so. Certainly not bad as such, and they can absolutely be salvaged, but I think getting the source boxes (the different chaos god boxes, Hero's Call and Signs of Faith) would bring you more in the long run. Besides, there are so many really good adventures for the first and second editions to use!

Black Crusade gets put as Joker simply because I haven't read any of it and I don't really know if it's good or not. It didn't really interest me when announced, but I could see playing as a band of chaos marauders if you go with the much weirder, old-school chaos from the Rogue Trader era instead of the current spiky skull demon style. Still, check out some reviews and see if it's something for you.

I think that about covers it! Now get going as there is sure to be a rush...

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Monday, 29 August 2016

Star Wars: Imperial Assault Campaign

The Imperial Forces of Star Wars Imperial Assault

Helloooo! Long time, no see and all that! Well... let's get into it, shall we?

About a month ago I got the urge to try the Star Wars: Imperial Assault skirmish game. I've had the core box of SWIA for more than a year but had only got to play it with my nieces which was fun, but didn't really provide the full experience. I don't exactly remember why the inclination to try the skirmish popped into my head (had I watched Episode VII again perhaps?) but there it was so I took the big box and trotted over to Anders.

Vader is advancing
In this game we learned that Vader is just as much of a badass as you think he should be!
We played twice. First the scenario from the core box with the recommended forces and then with the scenario from the IG-88 expansion (cause IG-88 is awesome!). In the first scenario I played as the rebels, four heroes and Luke, against Vader and some of his cronies. In the next I took IG-88 and some bounty hunter scum versus Luke and a more balanced rebel list, including some troopers and saboteurs.

IG-88 and his hired hitmen
What IG-88 brought with him to deal with those pesky rebels.
I had been a bit sceptical about the skirmish game, wondering if the old Descent mechanics would really translate well to a full on competetive game like this, but I'm happy to report that we had a blast! Not only do the mechanics flow naturally after a turn or two, it actually feel really Star Warsy (well, as long as you field reasonably thematic forces I suppose). I would actually say that the Descent mechanics work better when you have mostly ranged combat like this - which is of course entirely natural as they were originally designed for the original Doom boardgame.

So, lots of fun! Both of us were all fired up to play more - both skirmish and campaign. I was excited enough to immediately go home and start painting and Anders was excited enough to run out and buy some Rebel Troopers and last week even investing in the Bespin expansion where he will be the Imperial player in the mini campaign. Awesome!

Jyn, Gideon, Diala and Fenn.
Jyn, Gideon, Diala and Fenn.
We rounded up another couple of players and started the campaign a few days later. For the first session (covering the intro scenario and one side mission) they played with one hero each but for the second onward we decided to add Gideon to the heroes to make it a full party of four as that extra activation can have some weird effects on game balance. Anders chose Fenn the soldier while Claes took Jyn the smuggler and Anna Diala the former jedi padawan.

If you are worried about Imperial Assault spoilers you might want to skip down a bit as I'll be talking a little about the first four missions we played. Not in detail, but still.

Even though I put up stiff resistance and swarmed the terminals with Stormtroopers they still managed to win Aftermath. It was a close fight though and I managed to wound two of them and they only destroyed the last terminal on the final turn. A good sign!

Stormtroopers storming the Troopers!
Yeah, that's right! I painted the real heroes before the rebel scum!
For the next mission they chose Brace for Impact as their side mission as that would allow them to field Trooper allies in future missions. Quite a fun scenario where a number of rebel troopers are being beseiged by Imperial forces and the heroes have to a) protect them and b) interact with a terminal. I had a jolly good time mowing down those troopers with my elite stormtroopers and it looked like the Empire would win. But in the last round Claes made a clever move with Jyn and Diala (who was far away from the exit) could use the double activation to move the 20 spaces needed. Again, a great, very Star Warsy experience that came down to the wire!

That was our first session and for the second I kept painting and we were able to play with all painted miniatures but for two exceptions: General Weiss and Vader.

Probe Droids everywhere!
Fenn ran off while the others kicked probe droid ass!
The next mission was A New Threat, the first proper Story mission, and a fairly big one at that. The heroes needed to split up and interact with three different terminals, all the while being hounded by Imperial forces and having nasty surprises sprung at them when doors opened. Fenn quickly took care of his terminal while Diala and Jyn (with Gideon) stayed around to kill some probe droids before moving on. In the end it came down to a dice roll by Jyn to see if she could slice the terminal she was at, but failed just barely giving the Empire its first victory. Oh, and general Weiss turned up at the last minute with his tricked out walker but he didn't really do anything except shouting for a bit.

General Weiss turns up
A Nexu ended up biting Jynn's face off, while General Weiss tried to stomp on Gideon.
Next up was Diala's attempt at getting her lightsaber! The mission was called Temptation and it has some cool mechanics for handling the dark and light side of the force. Diala can use the force to either get extra attacks (but loose willpower/time) or heal her friends and allow the enemy to attack (but gain willpower/time). The heroes are fighting of force ghosts in the form of past enemies and it culminates with a ghostly version of Vader, very much like in The Empire Strikes Back. While not at full strenght Vader is still a formidable enemy with great defence and strong attacks. The heroes managed to bring him down to one health but at that time he force choked Diala and defeated her, ending the mission with another Imperial victory.

Firing squad!
Even with ther Trooper allies the heroes couldn't prevail agains the Empire.
With two victories for each side we're all looking forward to the next session. Fly Solo is up as the coming Story mission and after that there will be two side missions back to back. Perhaps they can recruit Han Solo as an ally, or get a reward or two to help them out in coming missions.

End spoilers!

As I mentioned I've been a very (unusually!) disciplined while painting, usually putting in a couple of hours every evening at least. Right now there are only three minis left in the first wave to finish - Weiss, Chewbacca and the Royal Guard Champion. Then I have the new Heavy Stormtroopers and Tuskens from Twin Shadows to paint as well as a couple of Hired Guns that will fit right into the current campaign. I also have Boba Fett, R2 and 3PO and Leia, but as they won't be appearing in this campaign they're further down the line.

AT-ST saying hi!
I wanted to weather it a fair bit, but still not too much. It's more or less clean above the chin.
AT-ST back
I used some extra weathering powders for the back machine panel. Just felt right to have it gunky.
I just finished the regular AT-ST the other day and it was great fun to paint. One of the reasons I've been able to paint every day like this is because I've, roughly, been following the excellent painting videos made by Sorastro. While they don't really cover anything new for me, it's really nice to have everything figured out for you. For me most of the hard work of painting is composition and all the tiny decisions about what colour to use and how can be tiring. Now I could just follow his step by step, modifying as I went when I had a better/quicker approach, and it was all very nice and meditative. Also, Sorastro uses washes much more than I do, so I've actually learnt a bit there, as well as how to paint fur more effectively. Good stuff all around, highly recommended!

Anyway, here are the rest of the miniatures painted so far. Oh, and about the bases - right now they're all a beige grey and I haven't quite decided what to do with them. At first I wanted to try acrylic bases, but that might get tricky when you want to tell different units apart. I'm now leaning to regular scenic bases with sand and grass.

Han and Luke
You can see that I don't really bother with mold lines or filling in gaps. This is a board game after all.

Vader was easy and fun to paint. And just adding those small dabs of red here and there really sell the light saber!

Hoping for a proper rematch for these two!

That's it for now! I'll put up another report after our next session.


Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Phil Eklund Interview - 2016 Releases!

Cover of Bios: Genesis by Sierra Madre Games

A little more than a year ago I posted an interview with legendary game designer and rocket scientist Phil Eklund, of Sierra Madre Games. Now it's time for an update to see what we have to look forward to in 2016 and even a bit beyond. Phil has of course designed games like High Frontier, Pax Porfiriana and Neanderthal.

Now, let's get on with it!

Fire Broadside: First off, could you briefly talk about the titles Sierra Madre Games have lined up for release this year?

Phil Eklund: The 2016 line-up is two new games, Bios Genesis and Pax Renaissance, and either one or two expansions.  Bios Genesis covers the origins of life on Earth, beginning shortly after this planet's accretion. Pax Renaissance covers a different sort of origins, that of the western world.

Bios: Genesis. Examples of events in the game's three eons.
FB: Before talking more about the Pax games, and their expansions, I just have to ask some more about Bios: Genesis. I've been following the progress of the game for years, and have always been happily surprised that it was still a semi-active project you were working on intermittently. You've mentioned that it is your most ambitious game to date, could you expand on that and maybe talk about the scope we should expect?

PE: In previous years the design of Bios Genesis foundered on the question of player identity.  What should the players be when the Earth is still partially molten with lava oceans?  And then, what sort of specialty or role can they play that is still recognizable after 4 billion years?  These questions are tough, but they were anticipated.  What was not anticipated or designed for is the seemingly simple refinement that players routinely paracitize each other, so as to be irritating but occasionally useful, as in endosymbiosis.  

Having an organism that is partly composed of another player's essential endosymbiont organism with different victory conditions blurred player identity.  Also providing for both competitive and cooperative victory conditions was much harder than I thought, but my partner and games expert Jon Manker showed me how to do this. Yet another identity crisis was how to maintain player identity before the advent of templated replication, such as immortal or crudely reproducing life. Another bewildering question was how to maintain identity in the quantum leap from micro- to macroorganisms. The question of player identity stalled this project for years.
RNA (single strand) and DNA (double strand) mutations.
FB: That sounds intriguing! The parasite effect makes me think of 18XX games or titles like Panamax, where you have stocks in each others, competing, companies and winning or loosing is not as black and white as simply having your company doing well. Will it be something similar in Bios: Genesis where you might purposefully help your opponent simply because you have so much riding on his or her success?

PE: Yes. Imagine in your own body if your immune system had its own genome and thus its own victory conditions. Usually it would work to keep the body safe in its own interest, yet possibly it may allow the body to get (non-lethally) sick, or attack its own organs, to secure some evolutionary advantage.

FB: How closely related is Bios: Genesis to Greenland and Neanderthal from a mechanical standpoint? Fairly similar in execution but more refined or more of a different beast altogether?

Bios Genesis These placards show refugia where life can begin, also the autocatalytic cycles that the refugia support.PE: Bios Genesis is overall unique, but like Greenland and Neanderthal it has lots of dice, and the number of dice rolled (for Autocatalytic, Darwin, and Cancer rolls) depends on the number of units in the arena.

FB: With the release of Bios: Genesis we will be able to play through the entire history of life on (and off!) Earth through the different Sierra Madre Games titles, however, Bios: Megafauna and Origins: How We Became Human have been out of print for a long time. I know Bios: Megafauna is getting a completely new edition, designed and developed by Jon Manker and Andrew Doull. Could you tell us more about this and what are the chances of seeing something similar done for Origins?

PE: Bios Megafauna 2 will cover twice as much time as the original Bios Megafauna, and will allow for a combined game with Bios Genesis.  This means that the players can no longer be distinguished by dentition, but must be from some other macro characteristic inherited from Bios Genesis.  (Skeletal types is a possibility).  It is envisioned (although not confirmed by the design team) that the players will take roles for all three trophic levels, given that they inherit traits such as weediness, metabolism, and separate growth and reproductive phases from Bios Genesis.  In plain language this means players can be plants, fungi, and bugs, rather than just dinosaurs and mammals.  And yes, if it sells well, the final part of the triad will be Bios Origins.  All three together encompass the entire history of the Earth.

FB: That sounds terrific, very happy to hear we might see a new Origins as well! Is it correct that Bios Megafauna 2 (is that the official title) will be kickstarted and if so, do you have an inkling about when?

PE: I dislike kickstarting and will attempt to fund the Bios Megafauna 2 project on my own.  Therefore it goes into intense playtest soon after Messe Essen in October 2016, for a release in Messe Essen 2017 if it survives playtest. But if my lack of USA distribution hurts me or leaves me with a large amount of unsold 2016 games, then I may have to rethink this.  In particular, I have a lot riding on the success of Pax Renaissance.  Pre-orders are strong, but to my astonishment Bios Genesis (for which I am printing only 2000 games) has garnered the most pre-orders.  Who would have thought that biochemistry would sell?

FB: Alright, so let's talk Pax! There's a new game in the series coming out; Pax Renaissance, that has been in the making for a couple of years now. I remember hearing that it was a tricky game to design and that development had to be rebooted a couple of times. Is it more similar to Pax Porfiriana or Pax Pamir and are there any striking differences that would be immediately apparent for Pax veterans?

Pax Renaissance by Sierra Madre Games
PE: Let's first talk about the philosophy of the Pax series, and its "realism".  History is the study of man by his past actions.  By studying history, one can figure out what "works" and what doesn't.  Figuring out the natural laws regarding economics and politics is what makes History a science.  I am hoping to have these laws as the constants holding the series together.  If these game rules resonate with the actual universal laws, then the game is "realistic".  I mention this because my partner Cole Wehrle, has been fielding questions about the nature of realism in our Pax game, Pax Pamir.

Some of the processes that are the same in the Pax series are the Market, the hand structure, tableau with Prestige, and some sort of victory trigger.

I am excited about this new Pax game, Pax Renaissance, because its theme is how society became "modern".  At first just western society, but now this political liberation is global in extent; even in darkest Afghanistan one cannot entirely avoid it. Design attempts at this game in years past crashed and burned in playtest, simply because the scope (the entirety of Europe and its major religions) was so huge.  Another failure was the integration of the three play areas: map, tableau, and market.  Cole's game helped with this.  Another problem was representing both "The East" and "The West", my son and co-designer Matt worked on this. The problem, stated simply, are these two societies fundamentally similar or different?  We chose different, although both were within a century of a crossroads where they both could have gone different directions.

The final big challenge was coming up with victory conditions that included the various directions that western society could have traveled.  We finally decided on Globalization, Imperialism, Renaissance, and Holy victories.  The result is a lot of wide-scale mayhem, in a manner familiar to Pax players, a typical turn might see a beheading in England, a reformation in France, an invasion of Italy, enslavement in the Crimea, a Jihad in Egypt, a peasant revolt in the Holy Roman Empire.

FB: So it seems to be more sprawling than the earlier two games, that are much more focused both in space and in time. Does this mean more cards (I noticed the box seem to be a little bit larger)? Also, it seems like Karim Chakroun won't be doing the art for this one, is that correct?

PE: The box size for Pax Renaissance is somewhat bigger, about 50% longer while keeping the other dimensions constant.  This is to accommodate card sleeving and expected expansions.  Nevertheless, I am hoping to keep the weight under 500 grams, even with the bigger box.  This goal is uncertain; it will be tight.  If I fail, I will have to increase shipping considerably for those who do not pre-order.  

The artwork is based on the Pax Pamir style and iconography which Cole Wehrle put a lot of effort into perfecting, so I put Karim to work on the Bios Genesis project instead. Hmmm. Something just occurred to me. In the "Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown, the hero is a "symbologist", which is an imaginary profession made up just for the novel.  Yet I have employed both Karim and Cole in just such a capacity.

Pax Renaissance by Sierra Madre Games map
The secular trade map for Pax Renaissance.
FB: Yes, I think Karim's work on Bios Genesis is his best yet. Anyhow, what about the Pax Renaissance expansion that will hopefully be released at the same time. Is it mostly more but similar cards to the main game or does it contain new mechanics and rules?

PE: I am accepting pre-orders for both Pax Renaissance and its expansion now.  But, as I explain on the order page, the expansion may be delayed and may ship later than Renaissance.  The game is designed, but there are unresolved playtest issues.  Some of the new polymath cards are really strong, and the new apostasy is not as relevant as I would have hoped. So I am not guaranteeing co-delivery, and Essen 2016 is uncertain (but likely).

FB: Pax Pamir is getting an expansion as well, and while I know it is not your game as such, could you tell us briefly about it and what it brings to the table?

PE: The Pax Pamir expansion, called Khyber Knives, brings a number of fresh new ideas to the game: new card types (Wazir, Capacity, Headline), a new Nation Building variant, and new procedures such as augmentation.  Most significantly it introduces a solitaire variant designed by Richard Wilkins.
Some new cards in Khyber Knives.
FB: As a fairly new minted father, with less time for meeting friends for board gaming, I certainly appreciate the solo option! Moving on to High Frontier. The third edition is still in the hands of Jon Compton and One Small Step and while fairly late at this stage I'm hopeful it will be with us before winter at least. When we talked last year there was another space game mentioned, namely Robert Zubrin's Space. Has it been held up by the High Frontier kickstarter or is there some other reason we haven't heard much about it?

PE: The former. Bob Zubrin's game "Space" is held up by the KS release of High Frontier third edition.  I hope the 3rd edition will be before winter as well, but I have no inside information, unfortunately. Then I will be working on "Space" again, which is supposed to be integrated with the 3rd edition.  This is difficult because both Bob and I are stubborn curmudgeons, sometimes at loggerheads.

FB: Haha! I see. So you have a hard time agreeing on how certain aspects of space travel should be presented mechanically?

PE: A bit, although the bigger contention is the motivation for entering space to begin with.  I contend that humans should not enter space until it is profitable to do so, whereas Bob sees the colonization of Mars as the end goal.  And I see space as a means to reduce the nuclear threat from ICBMs, whereas Bob sees it as a means for parity in Europe.  We are both influenced by our past experience, Bob as the President of the Mars Society and I as having working in Star Wars for many years.

FB: I asked about a possible reprint or new edition of Origins earlier, but that is of course not the only game of yours that is out of print - for example, I've been looking for a copy of Erosion for years without success. Do you think there are possibilities for reprints of other games in your back catalogue?

PE: A new edition of Origins will surely appear, at least if the Bios Megafauna 2 project is successful.  It would then be something like Bios Origins, and a sequel to Bios Megafauna.  I don't have any plans at the moment for an Erosion reprint.

FB: Nor Insecta I suppose (well, I had to ask)?

PE: I hope for a new edition of Insecta.  It should be possible to have a really simple variant for younger kids.  Someday.

FB: A more general question; your recent games have all been card based which of course is easier and less expensive to produce and ship. Do you see yourself continuing this trend going forward or can we expect more games with mounted boards as well?

PE: Its unfortunate that I was let go by my long-time warehouser PSI, and thus I lost my access to USA distributors.  I am hoping to survive by selling to the USA and Canada from my website and shipping most of the stuff from Europe, which is cheap as long as I stay under a kilo.  The weight of mounted boards are therefore a problem for me.  I have contracted with Funagain Games to warehouse my 2016 line in the USA, so I have some USA presence, but nevertheless persons who are used to getting my games at a discount on-line shop may be disappointed.

If I can move enough games without an USA distribution base, or if I can get a new distribution base, I will go back to bigger games.  I have told Andrew and Jon to include mounted maps (or mounted continental plates) for the design of Bios Megafauna 2 and Bios Origins.

FB: Mounted continental plates - like a puzzle? So you could build and crack your own Pangea?

PE: Yes. Andrew Doull is designing this concept.

FB: Well, if I wasn't way too excited for Bios Megafauna 2 already, I sure would be now! However, I think that is about it this time around. Is there anything else you would like to talk about concerning Sierra Madre Games or otherwise board game related?

PE: In closing I wanted to say that I have taken quite a bit of effort to make these new games as relevant and accessible as possible, despite their esoteric subject matter. The extensive card text, background, footnotes, and rules references make every effort to show how long-ago events are relevant today.  As already mentioned, the universals of science never get outdated. How are the bankers of the Renaissance similar to those of today?  Why are cancer, metabolism, vitamins, viruses the way they are?  What are the politics that lead to artistic freedom of expression? What is the consequence that our mitochondria have their own own genome and thus their own genetic imperative and goals, are they really part of us or are they sometimes friends, sometimes enemies?  What is the effect of combining a state religion and the government in a theocracy?

FB: Well, I can say that from a personal perspective that your games have helped me rediscover my love for science, history (both natural and man-made) and human behaviour. I have also observed that, while your games are not to everyones taste, they always make you think about the subject matter. After playing one of your games we have often had long discussions about how parts played out in the game vs the real world and why they ended up like they did etc, and that happens with people who like the game as much as people who don't. In a way I think of Phil Eklund as the Noam Chomsky (or Ayn Rand - take your pick) of board games - divisive but always interesting and thought provoking.

Your approach of often doing things from a bottom-up rather than a top-down perspective is also very refreshing. For example, is there any other civilization building game, besides Origins, where you play as the people rather than as some demi-god figure leading/controlling the people? None that I can recall anyway. And soon being able to play from the first sparks of life all the way to our times is mind-bogglingly cool!

So please, keep it up and thanks for the many happy hours of play (and discussions!).

PE: Thank you for this opportunity Martin. The renaissance of the boardgame genre is a chance to break out of wargame and party paradigms into a brave new world exploring ourselves and the universe we live in.

That is that, dear readers! I for one am most excited about Bios Genesis as I simply love the subject matter, and the minimalistic art design is absolutely gorgeous! For a deeper look at how a game might play out I recommend this solo play report by Cthulhukid att BGG.

Pax Renaissance is also very high on my to-get list. Especially since I skipped Pax Pamir as a friend of mine got it instead. The much grander and more open nature of PaxRe certainly sounds intriguing and it's more close to home than PaxPo or PaxPa.

I'll check in with Phil again next year for another interview. And of course I will be playing the new releases as soon as I get my hands on them.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Back from Japan - An Update!

YMS-09D Dom Test Type

Hello! Long time no see and all that. It's weird, every time we go to Japan for a few months I think "great, I'll have a lot more free time to blog and read through all those roleplaying books I want to review!" but then it doesn't turn out like that and in a way I actually have less free time than when I'm back home, working. Very weird. So please excuse the long silence. Now we're back in Sweden and I even managed to bring some loot from the land of the rising sun!

First off  here are a couple of quick phone pics of my recently painted fleet scale mecha for Jovian Chronicles and Lightning Strike. Since I've been waiting so long for something like this I was eager to get started and begain painting the same week we got home. They've even seen their first action as we played the second session in our Jovian Chronicles campaign this week. More on that later of course.

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale minis
This is what I've finished so far, and covers pretty much what was needed for the current session.
The Hector standing in as a Retaliator.
Three Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Wyverns
Two standard Wyverns and one Command variant.
Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Pathfinder
Pathfinder Alpha command variant. I drilled four shallow holes in the backpack as thrusters.
As you can see I've re-based them on regular hex flying stands. Mostly as we'll be using them for the roleplaying game quite a bit, but also since I do like the current Lightning Strike rules where each exo armour is an individual unit. I can always re-base them again later if needed. I'm really happy with how they turned out and I think they hold up pretty well to the full 28mm scale exos.

Up next are a flight of Syreens and bunch of CEGA ships. These will be followed by another two Hectors and some Jovian ships which should amount to enough to allow me to start playing Lightning Strike properly. More and better pictures to follow!

While in Japan I took the opportunity to get some Japanese stuff. Two games from Japanse board game maker Oink Games海底探険, aka Deep Sea Adventure, and エセ芸術家ニューヨークへ行く, aka A Fake Artist Goes to New York. One is a quick push-your-luck game where you're trying to gather as much treasure as possible without drowing (which you do. Frequently) and the other is a kind of drawing based Spyfall. A Fake Artist Goes to New York is just... awesome! So much fun can be had with just a few pieces of paper and some pens. Great game! Deep Sea Adventure is also a solid filler, but doesn't quite tap into the same genious as Fake Artist.

Deep Sea Adventure by Oink Games
Trying to get just a few... more... pieces... of... treasure! *Gasp*
A Fake Artist Goes to New York by Oink Games
Some of the weird creations we came up with as we played.
One of the things I love about Oink Games is that all their creations come in tiny, tiny boxes! They're about the size of two regular decks of cards stacked on top of each other and it's so nice to have producers trying to make it as small as possible instead of just pushing more unwanted air into their boxes. Smaller games=more space, more space=more games! :D

Of course, you can't go to Japan and not get some kind of giant robot! This year I finally managed to see the full scale gundam at display in Odaiba and it was spectacular! Actually larger than I had expected and with loads of cool detail. While I was there they projected a Gundam series (Iron-Blooded Orphans I think) on the facade behind the gundam and it lit up in different colours to match the action in the episode. Pretty cool!

I also bought my first proper Gundam kits. Although I was on a tight budget I managed to squeeze in three 1/144 High Grade kits by simply playing smart with the different bonus point cards all the big chain stores have in Japan. For a long while I was thinking that I would get some of the models from the excellent Gundam Thunderbolt series, but in the end I went for three kits from Gundam: The Origin instead as they are newer and better designed. While "only" HG kits they are fairly close to Real Grade kits when it comes to detail and movability.

I've only put one together so far, the YMS-09D Dom Test Type, and it was a lot of fun! Took longer than I expected (even with painting and glue not being required) simply because I did all the panel lines as I built it. It's the first time I've used my Gundam markers and the ones I have are a bit larger than I hoped for, but works fine as long as you wipe away the excess paint. You can see the finished product up top. Well, it needs a top coat, but apart from that it's done. I have Char's Custom Zaku II and Zaku II High-Mobility Type, both from The Origin, to build as well. Here are another couple of pictures.

YMS-09D Dom Test TypeYMS-09D Dom Test Type

There's also another modelling project lying before me. An old friend in Japan, who also loves scifi, was kind enough to give a Maschinen Krieger model out of the blue! It's the 1/20 Raptor power armour and it looks like a lot of fun to build! However, I really want to do it justice, with lots of rust and other weathering effects so I'm not going to rush it. It might sit untouched for a while, but I am determined to get it built before I go back to Japan next time.

For those who don't know, Maschinen Krieger (or Ma.K as it is also known) was originally a science fiction comic in Japan in the early eighties. However, that was only the catalyst and what we know as Ma.K today was the brainchild of Kow Yokoyama and was born out of kitbashing and the love of science fiction, early space exploration and WWII. It has a fairly fun backstory about human space colonists who want to return and take back Earth from a fascist dictatorship that now rules it. It's mostly just an excuse for building amazing looking models though, and for it to be proper Ma.K they should be dirty and grimy and rusty. Haha! I highly recommend checking out the page of Ma.K enthusiast Maschinen Kreuger as it has loads and loads of great picturs of models!

I also picked up some smaller stuff. The 100 yen stores are great for finding all kinds of cheap stuff that can be used for modelling in different ways. Among others I got some pastels (for weathering) and a bunch of sheets of corrucated cardboard (for terrain). Got to love scoring cheap deals! I was going to get sheets of cork as well, but forgot all about it so that'll have to wait till next year.

Well... I think that covers the main events. There is a lot of other stuff that I'm doing or prepping for, but at the moment I'm trying to focus on getting all the Jovian Chronicles minis painted (working on the CEGA fleet now) and then I might get stuck in with MERCS Recon as the wave 2 stuff should be arriving here soon... ? I hope. I really want to do more roleplaying as well. Need to try Ten Candles and Ryuutama for sure and I would love to find the right constellation of people for Torchbearer to really take off! Then there's Mutant: Maskinarium where you play as a robot who has just gained consciousness. And of course our Jovian Chronicles campaign.

Well, expect some more regular updates from now on!
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Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Review - CEGA

Last week I had a look at the first wave of fleet scale JAF releases for Jovian Chronicles and Lightning Strike and this week I'm reviewing the CEGA releases! We have the old school Wraith fighters, the stopgap Syreen exo armor and the new mass produced Wyvern exo armor. I put some more background info in this review, as the game is still an unknown for many readers. I'll be going back and updating the first review as well.

CEGA, short for Central Earth Government and Administration, is the second superpower in the Solar system, balancing the Jovian Confederation, and is desperately struggling to catch up with the technological leaps that happened after The Fall, where Earth descended into war and was cut off from the rest of the Solar nations. While CEGA doesn't represent all the nations on Earth it does wield substantial power and has resources to throw at aggressive R&D to fuel their plan of re-taking their lost colonies. This has not only made the rest of the Solar system really nervous but has garnered critique from CEGA's own citizens as resources are put into the navy rather than trying to rebuild the smashed ecosystem of Earth.

Now let's take a look at the models! Full disclosure, these models were provided to me by Dream Pod 9. Like last time let's start with the fighters!

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Wraith Fighters

Yes, fighters are still around as they can fulfill some roles exos are not suited for, at a fraction of the cost! The Wraith is an old design, dating back to the late twenty-first century. However, fighter designs don't change as quickly as exo designs and CEGA certainly couldn't afford to be choosy when emerging from The Fall to retake the solar system. Here are the models straight out of the pack. As you can see there's almost no mould lines and just a couple of pieces of flash to clean. Nice and quick! For some reason they look a little different from how I've imagined the Wraith. I wasn't all that fond of the original 1/500 scale sculpt as it looked a little too flat and "boring". It's a tricky design though, as it looks great as Ghislain's art but becomes a bit too boxy as a model. Still, let's have a better look at these fighters mounted:

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Wraith Fighters

Either the pictures didn't do the old sculpt justice or these fleet scale fighters have been ever so slightly tweaked to make the wings a little larger and with more of a downward slant. This certainly kicks them up a couple of notches in my view as I like the look of them better now. They look a little larger than the Lancers squadron but that's only because they're flatter and I guess their about the same mass. Just like with the fleet scale Lancer there are a number of small thrust vectoring plates that have turned into those small nubs at the end, but this, of course, can't be helped considering the scale. Overall I'm very happy with the Wraiths and I actually think they're a step up from the older, larger, models!

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Syreen Exo Armor

Next up we have our first CEGA exo armor! Well... it's barely a proper exo armor, is it? A hastily converted orbital transfer vehicle, meant to be used as a stopgap, that turned out to be surprisingly effective. Still, even after a refit the 30 year old machine is showing its age and has a hard time competing with the latest JAF has to offer. Of the models in this first wave the Syreen required the most amount of clean up. The flash attached to the engine bell and propellant tanks are quick to take care of but there were relatively visible mould lines along the side of the main hull, the tanks and on top of the "wings". Not excessive by any means, but enough for me to want to take out the file and get rid of them. Most likely this is because of the rounded shapes of the Syreen compared to the other more angular exos. Here they are mounted:

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Syreen Exo Armor

If you're wondering about the leader, it's the one in the middle. Syreens don't carry flashy close combat weapons like the plasma lance, so it's harder to make the leader stand out. What DP9 sculptor Tony Baltera has done instead is sweep the wings/arms back to give it more of a dynamic look. An alternative would have been to model the ECM pod that is only present on the command model. However the problem with that is that is has never been depicted what it looks like in the art (as far as I know). If I would convert it myself I'd probably put a comms dish vertically on its back. Anyway, when I first saw the renders for the Syreen I was a little worried that it looked too rounded and bulbous, but looking at the finished model in my hand now I can say that it's an almost perfect representation of the Syreen! People might wonder why, when there are such cool exos as the Pathfinder and Cerberus around, but the Syreen is actually my favourite exo design so I'm very happy to see it made the transition to fleet scale so well!

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Wyvern Exo Armor

Ok, so even if my personal favourite is the Syreen most readers will likely be more excited to read about the Wyvern exo armor! Right about when JAF introduced the heavier Retaliator exo armor (which is being prepped for casting as I type this!) CEGA officials realized they needed to up their game and replace the Syreen with something sturdier. Not being able to match the speed of JAF exos they focused on armour and firepower! These guys required only a little bit of clean up, mostly just taking care of fhe pieces of flash underneath the feet and filing one or two areas where you could see some vague mould lines. Overall, great casts. Here they are mounted:

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Wyvern Exo Armor

Another example of Tony doing a great job of catching all the important bits and the essence of what makes a Wyvern a Wyvern. The ins and outs of the armour, the thigh flaps and the thin, monitor-like head (less vision, but more firepower!). The hypergolic bazooka is pretty much just a tube, but that is how it should be. My favourite bit in this pack is the leader though! He of course comes with the comms upgrade visible on the right shoulder and has his bazooka replaced by a massdriver rifle, but the coolest bit is the hummer axe! If you've seen pretty much any Gundam series you know that the iconic Zeon front line Zaku suit, that was the inspiration for the Wyvern, often carry an axe shaped close combat weapon. It just fits so well and was not present in either the old model nor the actual rpg background. Wyverns carry hummer knives, but not axes - however I think this is much cooler from a visual perspective. Lovely models and I think they just nudge themselves past the Pathfinder as my second favourite fleet scale exos, thanks to the axe!

While I really like the JAF releases I think the CEGA models actually win this round. The Syreen and Wyvern are just so well translated into this smaller scale! Again, can't wait to get some paint on these models as I want to see them in their full glory on my space mat. I was out of onigiris so here they are grouped with a reference bottle of Ripobitan D!

Next up is Wave 2 which consists of the Retaliator and Vindicator for JAF and the Cerberus and Fury for CEGA and should be ready for sale in a week or two. DP9 also just revealed Wave 3 which will consiste of Venus units; the Brunhilde fighter, the Ryu exo armor and (sculpted for the first time ever!) the Bonebreaker exo armor! Lots of cool stuff in other words. Hopefully I'll be able to review these as well in during the coming months. I'll round off this review with the preview renders of the next two waves:

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