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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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Cracked LCD- Eldritch Horror in (very late) Review

 

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When Fantasy Flight Games announced Eldritch Horror, a new game in its Arkham Horror line that appeared to be a simpler version of what had become a bloated shoggoth of a game after nearly a decade’s worth of expansions (including an expansion for all of the expansions), I was one of those people that scoffed at it. Who needs or wants a redevelopment of a redevelopment? Aside from that, at that point I was pretty much over anything to do with HP Lovecraft and the whole Cthulhu Mythos. I’ve been reading that stuff and playing games either based on or inspired by all of it for practically my entire life. In fact, one of the earliest stories I remember from Kindergarten was a book-on-record adaptation of “The Outsider”. Lovecraft fatigue aside, I’ve been burned out on FFG’s house style of flavor text-as-theme and endless piles of cards with overwrought illustrations on them for a couple of years now. If ever there were a game that I didn’t feel had a place in my collection, it was Eldritch Horror. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Return to Heroscape

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I’ve had an unusual relationship with Heroscape, the Hasbro-produced miniatures battle game with modular, plastic terrain that landed on mass-market shelves way back in 2003. I remember distinctly driving around to Target stores across Atlanta that summer once word was out online that it was available. I never, ever under any circumstance shop at Wal-Mart but I had a moment of weakness after coming up empty at so many stories, and of course that was where I found the last copy in town. I opened it in the car and was kind of blown away by what all you got for $40- remember, this was before pre-painted miniatures were a thing and at this time, $50 at a hobby shop would get you a nice big game, but one that was all cardboard and maybe some wood. Flipping through the rules, I was surprised at how the advanced rules had some tried-and-true hobby gaming concepts- line of sight, special abilities, zones of control and elevation.

 

I played it with a couple of friends, whose opinions ranged from “I’m buying five sets of this tomorrow” to “meh, would rather play 40k”. For my part, I thought the game was revolutionary- a thoroughly accessible miniatures game that deftly absolved the genre of its traditional barriers to entry (modeling/painting, terrain, complexity, financial commitment) while offering a truly innovative, almost proto-Minecraft system for custom playfield construction. It felt like the kind of game that makes kids game players, the kind of game that had that X factor, the kind of game that had the potential to be another Dungeons & Dragons or Magic the Gathering. I wrote a review of the game and posted it to Boardgamegeek.com, and it landed me my first job at a magazine. Continue Reading…

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition: Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual Review

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I’ve always been amused by the way player and dungeon master materials swapped size between the 1st and 2nd editions of D&D. With first edition, it seemed obvious the DMG should be bigger than the PHB. With second, it seemed equally obvious that the opposite should be true since everyone ought to know most of the rules.

That pattern has persisted with 5th edition. The new Dungeon Master’s Guide is a chunky enough tome to make it appear worthy of the asking price, but slimmer than the Player’s Handbook. What have they put inside?

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Cracked LCD- Imperial Assault in Review

 

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Uh oh. It’s the angry mob picture. That means that I’m about to issue forth with an unpopular opinion. Continue Reading…

Dead of Winter Review

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Hidden traitors are an under-used and under-explored game mechanic. This may be because the formula was near-perfected by Battlestar Galactica back in 2008. A slight clumsiness around traitor selection, complex rules and a 3-hour play time were the only significant downsides.

Dead of Winter is a very obvious love letter to BSG, which attempts to fix its shortcomings. Taking on such an acclaimed game and trying to improve on its formula is a tough proposition. Dead of Winter succeeds … most of the time.

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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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Cracked LCD- Sun Tzu in Review

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Almost ten years ago, I got a little game published by Jolly Roger in stock at my brick and mortar store, Atlanta Game Factory. It was called Dynasties, designed by Al Newman, and it was a crackerjack little two player Dudes on a Map game that played in less than 30 minutes plus whatever overage that the inevitable rematches incurred. Among my employees and a few of our regulars, it was very much a go-to game, a pick-up-and-play title that was damn easy to teach and with ample depth- and drama- to maintain interest. It is also possessed of a critical quality that defines a great two player design- the parallel curves of game knowledge and skill. Once players know the cards and understand the importance of bluffing against that knowledge, it becomes very much a tense game of nerves, daring and the occasional surprise round that sweeps the board and makes for an exciting finish.

But I had this game figured as one of those more obscure minor releases that would have its time, fade out and be remembered fondly despite a European release in 2010. I never expected to see a new US edition of it, let alone a very nice new issue out by Matagot (the folks that do Kemet and Cyclades) and published in the US by Asmodee. The new edition is called Sun Tzu, and it maintains the original game’s Imperial China setting. Sun Tzu and King Chu are the rivals in a blue versus red struggle for five provinces in the Chinese empire. Everything about this edition is bigger and bolder. It now feels like a natural fit for the Matagot line and fans of modern, innovative Dudes on a Map games will find much to enjoy here. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Sheriff of Nottingham in Review

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I played Hart an der Grenze some years ago with a friend who has since become something of a mover and a shaker in the games business. He kept raving about this “Mexican suitcase game” that was about smuggling goods across the border in tin suitcases. It was also, effectively, a game about customs declarations. It was cute, definitely one of those one-shot “stunt” productions that winds up going out of print and vanishing into obscurity- while going up in value. I didn’t really like the game all that much. At the time, I felt like it was one of those games that had both too much and too little game onto which it was trying to pin its friction and fiction. But it just didn’t engage me. It was back in 2006, so we hadn’t even gotten to Battlestar Galactica and the countless other games that have followed in its wake where straight-faced lying is an impetus.

And now the game is back in a new edition from Arcane Wonders, the folks that do Mage Wars. It’s part of a “Dice Tower Essentials” line vetted by the most popular pundit of modern hobby gaming, Tom Vasel. The new edition is obviously recast with a new setting, handsomely produced with velvety envelopes (with snap closures and screen-printed game logos, no less) instead of the suitcases and the concept is changed so that players are merchants attempting to get illegal goods past the titular lawman of Robin Hood lore. Apples, chickens, cheese and bread make up the legal sandwich. But crossbows, mead, pepper and silk are the items that the corrupt sheriff is looking to confiscate. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Claustrophobia in Retro-View (including Furor Sanguinis!)

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Over the past decade of writing regular columns and reviews about board games, there are a few games that in retrospect I likely over-rated, games that in time have lost luster or simply receded from my attention. But there are even fewer games that I’ve felt that I under-rated at release and have come to appreciate more over time. Claustrophobia, a dungeon-crawler from the French designer Croc, was released way back in 2009 and it is quite possibly the single game that I have most dramatically missed the mark on as a critic. And with a rather unexpected new expansion, Furor Sanguinus, out from Asmodee it’s a great time to revisit this stunning, singular title while also taking a look at the new addition.

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