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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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Eight Minute Empire Review

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Of all the lies that are told in the context of board gaming, the biggest and most odorous are those printed on boxes alongside the legend “playing time”. Yet even amongst this exalted company, Eight-Minute Empire reaches new heights of outrage. Whatever it says on the box, the rules inside freely admit that it’s probably three whole times as much as claimed, and my experience supports that.

Of course, that’s still only twenty to thirty minutes. So I might be over-egging this pudding just a little.

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Rivet Wars Review


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Hot off the back of a successful kickstarter campaign, I really wasn’t sure what to make of Rivet Wars. It channels a first world war theme, yet presents you with a wildly incongruous steampunk theme, rendered in a weird, chunky anime style. It claims to be a board game representation of a real-time strategy game but has no resource control. What is this bizarre oddity?

Well it turns out to be a pretty streamlined two player game of tactical aggression. You pick a scenario, assemble a board out of modular components then use an allowance of resources each turn to purchase from a selection of units and march them up to the front line to contest control of critical objectives with your opponent. To spice things up a bit, both players have secret missions to fulfil for extra points, and action card that allow units to do unexpected things.

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Commands & Colors Greek Expansions (1 and 6) Review

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When you’re ankle-deep in streamlined, strategic board games from the European school of worthy but tedious game design, it’s easy to forget sometimes that part of what makes gaming great is the feeling of being there. C&C:A might be a bunch of cards and wooden blocks, but when it works you’re not sat at a 20th century table any more: you’re Scipio on the dusty plain at Zama, Hannibal on the gore-soaked field of Cannae.

I forgot this whenever I used to talk about the C&C:A expansions. Spoiled by the mechanical contrivances added to their respecting games by the expansion boxes for Memoir 44 and C&C:N, I played them and airily dismissed them as not adding sufficient extra strategy or interest to the game in comparison.

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Wiz-War: Malefic Curses Review

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Wiz-War makes me angry. I get angry when I have the wrong cards, when the dice fall wrong, when the wrong people gang up on me. But that’s good anger. The bad anger is all the years I spent not playing this great game while it was out of print, until Fantasy Flight picked up the license for an eight edition. Now, in true Fantasy Flight style, there’s an expansion: Malefic Curses.

The box contains a board and pieces for a fifth player and three new schools of magic. A lot of people have been waiting for this largely for that fifth participant, but I’m not one of them. Wiz-War is a pretty chaotic game, and works best when clipping along at a premium pace. Five, I think, is too many. The additional interaction is fun, of course, but it’s not enough to compensate for the extra downtime.

Still, the fact that the new board is purple is a bonus since it now means no-one has to play the urine yellow mage from the base game when you’re playing with four. So it’s not all bad.

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Kickstart This: Chaos Reborn

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Those among you who are long-nailed and hoary-bearded enough to remember my initial posts on NHS may recall my fond reminiscences concerning an 8-bit strategy game called Chaos. I’m not sure how well known it was outside the UK, but its pedigree is sufficient that it’s well known among prominent games journalists this side of the pond and is a common target for fan remakes.

But the fan remakes can go stuff themselves, because the real thing is about to be updated. Its designer, Julian Gollop whose name you’ll likely recognise from the XCOM remake is kickstarting a modern sequel, Chaos Reborn.

I want to play this game. I need to play this game. I haven’t desired a game with such fervour since the manic buildup to Half-Life 2. But it looks like I might need your help to get it, since the kickstarter still needs about $65k with 15 days to go. Rarely have I despaired more of the tastes of the modern gamer.

Go back it now. I thank you. And when you get the game, you’ll probably thank yourself.

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