Wednesday, 13 January 2016

The year that was, in gaming at the Castle...

I've been a touch quiet here the last month or so, but I thought I'd kick 2016 off in the expected way, with a retrospective on the previous year of gaming at the Castle.

Last year was a quiet year by my standards, part of this has been to do with my growing family, and a part of this has been to do with my work as a freelance writer for Spartan Games and Modiphius.

The first of these two things, my family, has been wonderful. My children are a momentous force in my life, and I'm sure any parent would attest the same. The are a constant source of wonder, and the tired adage that they grow too quickly is only sharpening in relevance as the years progress.

The second has been an exciting foray into the world of working a second job. As a freelance writer I have had the opportunity to contribute to many of Spartan Games' products, including writing for the Firestorm Planetfall boxed set (Battle for Proteus Prime), the Firestorm Armada boxed set (Return of the Overseers), the Halo: Fleet Battles boxed set (The Fall of Reach), and continued work on Dystopian Legions. It has been tiring, but highly satisfying at the same time. More recently I have also done some work for Modiphius, but perhaps more on this at a later date. All of this has led me to playing much less than the time I have spent working on various games, but I have thoroughly enjoyed it, and hope to keep it up in the coming year - we shall see.

Each year myself and a few mates I game with (far too little in the last year) have embarked on a challenge of sorts, 2015 was the year we committed to attempt to play a minimum of 50 unique games, and we kept track of them on the boardgamegeek website. This last year I managed to play through some 80 unique games (which you can find at the above link if you are particularly curious). I'm going to run over some of the better ones here in this post.

Best Kids Game:

Nothing new or surprising here for those who have followed my blog for some time (that might just be you Mum ;) ), but my favourite game for kids this year has been Sorry Sliders. A wonderful and silly little game where you slide Sorry pieces (embedded with a ball bearing) down various tracks in the hope of scoring points. The game is simple in the extreme, and mirrors more beautiful games like Crokinole or Carrom, but it is nonetheless highly enjoyable. It is Shuffleboard, but in a box. If you can find a copy pick it up - it is an excellent game, easy to set up and play, but thoroughly and completely fun.

Best New to me Board Game:

A close draw between Roll for the Galaxy and Takenoko.

Roll for the Galaxy is a spin-off of the highly successful Race for the Galaxy card game, it retains all the best flavours of it's older brother, but manages to make the game experience less tiresome. I enjoyed Race for the Galaxy, but enjoyed Roll for the Galaxy much more for some strange reason. I've only played it once, and would love to play again, but this was a meaty and engaging dice game that seemed to last just the right amount of time.

Takenoko is an absurdly adorable game of building a bamboo garden and scoring points. The pieces draw you into the game experience, but there is more to this game than nice bits. With multiple varieties of cards pushing you to score points in multiple ways, it is an engrossing game experience. While it might seem dry from my simplistic description, the gameplay is dynamic and interesting, with a lot of little things to think about that somehow manage not to confuse the play experience. All in all a thoroughly excellent game that is packed with pieces that just demand to be put on the table.

Best New to me Miniature Game:

Yes, yes. I'm biased. I wrote much of the story in the scenario book. But damn. This game is a rollercoaster. Fast and deadly, aggressive and dynamic, Derek (the designer) and his team have done a sterling job with this. The game is brutal and visceral, handfuls of dice clatter onto the table and tanks, aircraft and infantry erupt into destructive fireballs (metaphorically) on a regular basis. A very enjoyable game that manages to play quickly and yet maintain a solid level of tactical play, thoroughly recommended, for all my biased reasons. The full rules and army lists are available for free from Spartan if you are curious...

Best Role Playing Game:

Several years ago, I started to make a move away from board games and into miniatures games. I seem to be moving through my 'life cycle as a gamer' from the beginning. Miniatures games and role playing games dominated my early gaming experiences and I have been drawn back into that seductive and alluring world. Edge of the Empire has been a game I have GMed for multiple groups, and each time it has been a lot of fun. The unique dice mechanics allow for a level of story telling and player agency that I really enjoy, and the game system doesn't seem to interfere with the story as much as many other RPGs I have played over the years. As a sucker for Star Wars (well, the originals), this game really tickles my fancy, and I have thoroughly enjoyed playing it! Here's hoping we can continue our campaigns rolling into 2016!

Best Small Game:

Scopa is a traditional Italian card game that is widely available from many sources. It is an excellent game, each turn you play a numbered card and capture cards from the middle of table (or add to the cards in the middle if you can't claim any), certain mixes of cards and majorities will score you points. After several rounds the player who manages to achieve the required amount of points will be declared victor by all the others and paraded through the streets. Simple though it is, it is also tactical, interesting, easy to explain and play and very enjoyable. It's available very cheaply, and my advice is to get a copy, whether you play with 2 or 3, or in teams with 4, it is a wonderful little game.

Old Favourite:

Fairy Tale, you sweet, sweet beauty. This is, without a doubt, my most played game. A 'go to' game when we can't decide what to play or play next, I have played this literally hundreds of times and am still not tired of it. Able to be played in 10-15 minutes, it is engaging and full of interesting choices, Fairy Tale is an absolutely brilliant game.

Most Played:

As a person working on Dystopian Legions it is obviously going to number in my most played games of 2015. I am completely biased on this game as I am heavily involved with it, but if you like tactical and interesting miniatures games, with a solid layer of narrative play, then I suggest you head to the Spartan Downloads Page and download a free copy of the rules, the FAQ, and whatever army/yies take your fancy!

Dystopian Wars is THE game my brother and I chose to lead us back into miniatures gaming, the 'most played' moniker is no doubt helped by the fact I played in a tournament last year, but this game is an absolute blast. Again, I am heavily biased as I work for the company, but this game has a depth like few others. All the rules, FAQ and army lists are again available for free on the Spartan Site (same link as above), so well worth checking out. Dystopian Wars has a naval theme that might not tick every players fancy, but boy, the rules and gameplay speak for themselves - this is a fascinating game that rewards replay and careful thought and planning. Absolutely brilliant.

Well, that's about that for my reminiscence on 2015, I'll write again shortly and talk about the upcoming year of 2016 - it seems the time to do that sort of thing...

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Zombicide: Black Plague

I am not a fan of zombies. The zombie, to me, is an anathema; a genre that inspires little more than a mildly depressed and torpid disinterest, a faint air of fatuous disgust, and all mingled into a general malaise that will have me rolling my eyes and wishing I were anywhere else. My willingness to play zombie themed games is roughly equivalent with my desire to undergo inessential and painful testicular operations.

Having said that, I was more than willing to give Zombicide: Black Plague a go, newly arrived from the glorious Kickstarter, a friend of mine had recently received his copy and was eager to give it a go. Luckily, I rolled into the club in time to join in. If I can't get excited by zombies, I can get excited about enjoying a game experience with people I like.

Zombicide: Black Plague is a dungeon crawl style of game, with players having characters that move around the game board trying to achieve their quest before they are overwhelmed, or before... well, most of the time it will be overwhelmed.

There are some very clever mechanims in this game, the spawning and movement of the zombie pieces is thoroughly excellent, and goes a long way to building tension and engagement. The general mechanics are fun and simple. The game, in all, has some really good things going for it.

However, the game feels like it runs too long. In the single mission I have played so far (and I have only played one), 40 minutes were absolutely brilliant, and then there was another hour of moving in and out of rooms searching for the 'solve this mission' card (essentially a weapon that would allow us to kill the enemy). This is not good game design in my view. Some turns felt completely wasted, others felt like there was no choice, or at least very little. Any game where a player thinks - well I suppose I should just pass until I get the chance to flip a card and see if it allows us to win - is just not fun.

There will be games where the tension ratchets brilliantly, and the cards come or don't come, and the characters get it just in time or are killed - and they will be a blast. However, there will be games where it drags interminably, with players having little real choice or agency in the game, and they will be like some weird form of dental torture.

I really hope the extra stuff that will come from the Kickstarter will take the game from what it is, toward its potential, we shall only have to wait and see. When I compare it to the experience you get from playing something like Fantasy Flight's Doom or Descent, or Plaid Hat Games' Mice and Mystics, it is, currently at least, just not in the same league.


Serenissima is an old school trading in the Mediterranean game, originally published in 1996, it encompasses a mix of trading and conflict. With superb artwork and pieces, which include plastic galleys as well as the trade good and sailors that fill them up, Serenissima is a game that looks very nice on the table.

Dominique Ehrhard is a favourite game designer of mine, not least for the sublime Condottiere. He is also to be equally appreciated for his artistic abilities (he created the art work for Condottiere and Serenissima). Serenissima is an early design, originally published in 1996, it is both a game that retains a lot of enjoyment, and a game that feels it's age compared to the slick mechanical designs of today.

I should note that the version of Serenissima I am talking about is the older one. A newer version (2nd ed) was published by Ystari and Asmodee, and from everything I have read the newer version brings the old game back with revised game mechanics.

In any case, Serenissima is a highly enjoyable mix of travelling salesman problems mixed with the tension of defensive blockading and attack. It is a highly enjoyable roller coaster, where players are doing their utmost to monopolise trade and get their goods through to the ports that will assure them the most profit.

Clever use of investments is key, as is making sure you appropriate enough varied ports to give you access to a variety of goods. The use of ships loaded with sailors to blockade sea zones and attack the opponent is also something that requires consideration. The game can swing from the mind bending complexity of working out where your ships can move and what they can trade, to an arms race to decide the fate of a port or trade ship.

All in all the game was highly enjoyable, and has made me interested in seeing how the second edition plays.

Friday, 4 December 2015


It has been a little while since my last post, I have been caught up with some freelance work for Spartan Games and Modiphius, which, while very exciting, has left me without the time required to spend on things like updating my blog.

In more recent times I have found my game time dominated by miniatures games and role playing games. I'll come back to writing more about specific games on another day, but we have been playing quite a bit of Fantasy Flight Games Edge of the Empire Star Wars RPG - and enjoying it rather a lot.

Ambling over on Kickstarter I happened to run across a new role playing game that I really love the look of: Wurm. Or rather, an English translation of this French role playing game. The art is gorgeous and evocative, and the setting, Earth some 35,000 years ago, is something I absolutely adore.

This setting seems to me to be rife for wonderful stories that blend history and mythology, a vast expanse of unexplored wilderness and a world of monsters, real, created and imagined.

I have long been fascinated with the history of our species, with the worlds that different people in history lived and experienced. But I have been especially fascinated by our early history: a world filled with a mix of human-like races, monsters and mystery.

In any case - Wurm looks absolutely stunning, well worth checking out.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Bombers and Corvettes...

Since tasting sweet success with my last painting challenge, and rather liking the look of a painted fleet for once, I have continued with my efforts.
This week I have managed to finish off a Squadron of Bombers, and two Squadrons of Thales Corvettes (well, nearly two, I seem to have lost a single Thales somewhere).
In any case - here they are, in all their state of completion...

Monday, 12 October 2015

Fleet completed!

I began last week with the challenge of painting just over half of my fleet for the tournament just finished. After some long hours at the painting desk in the evenings, I’m happy to say that they are all finished! Not to as high a standard as I would have liked… but they are done – and that is fantastic. It’s also given me the inspiration to go back and get a bit more painted – so hopefully I’ll start knocking over some, at least, of my large back-catalog of unpainted Covenant miniatures.
I’ll write something more about the tournament on another day, we played 5 games over the two days, and it was an absolute blast. I came in 5th place out of field of 10, but more importantly I had a lot of fun and got to face off against great people.
In any case… the painted tournament fleet:

Friday, 9 October 2015

Making painting progress...

Some of my unpainted fleet are finally leaving dry-docks with a lick of paint... thank goodness!

They are a touch messy and rushed, but at least they look better than bare resin! I'll hopefully have the rest of the fleet done soon!