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Thrower’s Tallies: Games of the Year 2014

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Another year, another end of year wrap piece. Time to reflect on the past 365 days as you force down another sweetmeat and another glass of cheap sherry and then to wonder what the future holds.

This has not been the best gaming year for me, personally. Not just in terms of titles released but in terms of finding opportunities to play. For one reason and another, I just haven’t spent the time at the gaming table I’d have liked.

That makes me sad. Real life is important, of course, but you only get one shot at it, a thing I’ve become increasingly aware of as the years slip past. Since gaming is one of my favourite things to do, I ought to be able to find more space for it. Other things just always seem to intervene.

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The Vanishing of Ethan Carter Review

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I’ve never been to rural Wisconsin. But now I feel like I have, thanks to The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.

I’ve walked through gently shaded autumnal woods, watching rags of mist gathering on distant peaks. Wandered across a dam, marvelling at the sun reflected on the lake beneath and pools of recent rainwater on the pavement. Climbed a hill amongst ancient, mossy boulders with grass waving around me, just to see the view at the top.

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Wiz-War: Bestial Forces expansion review

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I noticed long ago that when people who tend to run role-playing games choose to play instead, they always pick wizard characters. Why? It’s all about power. If you’re used to having the ability to dictate reality on a whim, you want a character that can do it too. Power is a key part of wizarding’s appeal.

And there’s no greater demonstration of power than being able to summon fantastic creatures and bend them to your whim. It’s what’s always been missing from Wiz-War, and now it’s here with the Bestial Forces expansion. And while there’s no extra player figure and board in the box, there are an awful lot of other interesting spells and variants too.

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Five Tribes Review

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There are lots of heavy strategy games that make me feel like a bad player. There are even a few that make me feel like a bad person for decieving and manipulating my way to victory. Five Tribes is the first game that made me feel like a bad reviewer. Because, even after many games, I can’t quite make up my mind how I feel about it.

The design itself doesn’t help. It feels like designer Bruno Cathala poured a random assortment of mechanics into a pestle, ground it up, and put the fragments into a box. There’s still identifiable chunks of games like Mancala, Carcassonne and even Cyclades in there. But there’s also a lot of dust that feels familiar, yet annoyingly elusive.

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D&D 5e Player’s Handbook Review

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It’s rare that the first thing to strike you about a book is a noise. But here, it was. After being so excited by the Starter Set, I couldn’t wait to get into this. So I ignored the cover and opened the book to a loud crack as the spine flexed for the first time. It was like the sound of the lock falling away from my teenage memories.

Back then, no-one ever read the Player’s Handbook from cover to cover, and I doubt anyone does now. It’s skimmed, flipped, relished. So first impressions count.

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Five days with Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons

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At age eight I was rummaging through a book stall at an agricultural fair, and I found a book that would change my life. It was “What is Dungeons & Dragons” and it stood out like a monstrous thumb among the worthy tomes on seed rotation. If I hadn’t bought it, it’s unlikely you’d be reading this column right now.

I haven’t played D&D in 20 years. I gave up at the advent of third edition, deciding it wasn’t worth re-learning the rules all over again.

Now, fifth edition is out. And my eldest daughter is eight, the age I was when I discovered the game. The co-incidence felt like a sign: it was time to teach the game to my kids, and rediscover it myself, too.

So I picked up a copy of the Starter Set.

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Hold Fast: Russia 1941-1942 Review

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I’d wager that the Eastern Front of World War 2 is the most common setting for board games, ever. More so than the far future, or a Tolkienesque fantasy or even satisfying the whims of Renaissance nobles. So why do Worthington Games think we need another?

The answer is that there isn’t another Eastern Front game quite like this, at least not in the modern canon. It’s a block game, like Eastfront, but that’s a far less approachable title. It’s low unit density like No Retreat, but that’s a far more complex title. It’s easy for any gamer to pick up like Conflict of Heroes, but that’s a far less realistic title.

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Pathfinder: Adventure Card Game Review

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There have been many, many attempts at blending role-playing games and strategy games. Until recently, almost all fell foul of the fundamental mismatch between playing co-operatively in the imagination and competing on a board.

The latest iteration is Pathfinder: the Adventure Card Game. Based on the famous role-playing game of the same name it may be the purest distillation of the adventure game concept yet. It’s smart, simple and packed with potential variety. But for all the benefits it boasts it trips on perhaps the most basic hurdle in game design: it just isn’t terribly interesting to play.

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X-Wing Huge Ships Review

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We’re used to seeing massively overblown adjectives in game marketing, so much that we probably tune them out automatically. But when Fantasy Flight decided to describe the new big ships for X-Wing as “Huge Ships”, and the play formats that include them “Epic” and “Cinematic”, they weren’t kidding. These things are colossal.

Indeed the Tantive is so enormous that I actually felt embarassed getting it out and putting it on the table, as though I were some rich kid with a box of ridiculously overpriced toys flaunting it in front of his friends.

Which I was, of course, but that just made it worse.

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Ivor the Engine Review

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British people of a certain age tend to regard children’s animators Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate as minor deities, so totally did their wonderful conjurations dominate the world of kids TV in the 70′s. Dizzying edifices of imagination and storytelling, built on Firmin’s instantly recognisable art and Postgate’s incomparable animation, they remain a colossal founding pillar of my childhood.

Now here there is a game, a modern game, based on my most cherished of all their creations: Ivor the Engine. It’s here, in my hands. This is going to go very well, or very badly.

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