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Tyranny of Dragons and Princes of the Apocalypse Review

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Fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons might be the best ever, but the release schedule is molasses slow. That’s on purpose: fans have said they want it that way to give them time to develop their own campaigns.

What’s out so far, though is epic in scope. There’s the two-volume Tyranny of Dragons comprised of Hoard of the Dragon Queen followed by Rise of Tiamat. Now we’ve got Princes of the Apocalypse. Both are full campaigns, starting at level one and going up to fifteen.

The similarities end there, however. In fact, these two adventures are fine examples of the two main, contrasting, approaches to adventure building.

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Trains and Trains: Rising Sun Review

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The deckbuilding mechanic of Dominion was the most revolutionary thing in the last decade of tabletop gaming. Many other games have build on that creativity. Yet after all that time and all those titles, deckbuilding still feels like a mechanic struggling to find its place in the world.

It’s an inherently insular thing. Demanding significant setup time and forcing players to obsess over their own constructions while ignoring everyone else. Nightfall and Star Realms added more interaction, but it wasn’t enough. A Few Acres of Snow briefly looked like a miraculous saviour but got crushed under the Halifax Hammer.

Enter Trains.

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Star Wars: Armada Review

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It takes about a New York minute between seeing a copy of the X-Wing base game and wondering what a Star Destroyer model might look like at that scale. In that minuscule time frame, Star Wars: Armada became an inevitability.

In truth, the Star Destroyer in any scale is almost bound to ruin the look of the game. Even here it looks enormous, and dwarfs the spindly Rebel ships that oppose it. The quality of the paint jobs seems to have gone down a notch, too. Armada just doesn’t have the same visual appeal as its illustrious predecessor.

So it’s a good job that it’s a much better game.

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Collective Action

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I blame X-Wing for a lot of things. I blame it for making me read more than is decent about the expanding universe of Star Wars. I blame it for the gaping hole in my bank balance. Most of all, though, I blame it for turning me from a player into a collector.

Those of your who’ve been with us for the long haul will remember the amount of words I used to lavish on getting people to play their games. All the dire warnings against acquiring another identikit cube pusher when so many gamers already don’t play the ones they have. Part of me still wants to believe that. In reality, the tottering piles of hardly-touched games and expansions tottering out of shelves and cupboards all over my house say otherwise.

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Forgotten Pleasures

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One of the unexpected effects of regularly reviewing games is how jaded I’ve become. It takes an enormous amount to impress me nowadays. And even for titles that make the grade, it’s rare that they grip me for a long time. Readers demand novelty, so the old makes way for the new.

Sometimes a game still gets its claws in me and demands play time in the face of all competition. The last video game to achieve that was Hearthstone, early last year. The last board games were Wiz-War and X-Wing back in 2012.

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Star Wars X-Wing Scum and Villainy Review

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Recently, I started playing X-Wing against someone who really knew their Star Wars. They knew that Howlrunner was a female pilot, and where the YT-2400 freighter originated from in the expanded universe. They also told me something interesting: that the Hutts and their criminal networks were a faction equal in power to the Rebels of the Empire. What looked like a footnote in the films was actually a major player in the galaxy.

At that moment, I decided I needed Scum and Villainy.

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Cosmic Encounter and expansions review

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Cosmic Encounter was one of the first hobby board games I owned, back when I was a teenager. It was the Games Workshop edition. I can still remember being baffled by the rules. It looked and smelled like a conquest game: there were battles and alliances and units died. But what the hell kind of conquest game made you draw and card to determine your target instead of you picking on the weakest player? Where was the fun in that?

Oh sure, you could still make alliances. The encounter each turn with your random opponent allowed each side to invite people to help out. Sure, there was still excitement, with combat determined by the number of ships on each side plus the play of a numeric card. And the draw of a different alien power for each player was a fascinating idea. But where was the sense of narrative, of slowly building friendships and enmities?

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DungeonQuest Revised Edition Review

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DungeonQuest is one of my all-time favourite titles. A fantasy adventure game in which your hero isn’t heroic, but pathetically grateful to escape the nightmarish dungeon alive with a mere handful of gold coins. There’s nothing else like it, and it’s fast, funny and frantic for all that it lacks much in the way of strategy.

So I was thrilled when Fantasy Flight got the licence for a reprint, and sad when it looked like they’d botched it. The expansions to the original game were full of tiny niggles. Like new characters with mismatched power levels and a tedious catacomb under the main dungeon that was largely empty. They had the opportunity to create a definitive version of a classic, and in most respects, perhaps they did. It’s just that no-one cared because they replaced the simple, speedy combat with a deeper but slower system that felt out of place in such a fast, chaotic game.

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Claustrophobia & expansions Review

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Back in the days before Space Hulk was common as muck, gamers spent a lot of time and energy discussing possible replacements. Claustrophobia was a game that got mentioned a lot in those conversations, and I never understood why. Not because it was a bad title, but because it shares almost nothing with Space Hulk other than asymmetry, a collection of finely sculpted figures and some six-sided dice.

Instead of a pre-set grid, Claustrophobia has a randomly drawn series of dungeon tiles on which the precise positioning of your forces is meaningless. It’s virtually all melee, with ranged combat restricted to the occasional “blunderbuss” card that has a range of precisely one tile. Cards feature heavily in Claustrophobia and not at all in Space Hulk. I could go on.

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This War of Mine Review

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They say that civilization is only three meals away from barbarism, but I managed six. After two days without food, I stabbed an elderly priest in a fight over carrot and then fled in terror from his avenging friends. As if I didn’t feel bad enough after that, This War of Mine informed me that the carrot did nothing to assuage my gnawing hunger.

It’s very much that kind of game, where you’re damned whatever you do. It loses no opportunity to ram home the bleakness of its setting, the trials of three civilians trying to survive in a war-torn city. Sometimes, its solemnity tips over the edge into parody. But mostly it traps you in a vice between compelling gameplay and the tragic consequences of your decisions.

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