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Specter Ops Review


Hidden movement is the most under-used mechanic in all of board gaming. You can count the quality titles that use it on the fingers of one hand. Fury of Dracula, Letters from Whitechapel, Scotland Yard, Nuns on the Run and that’s about your lot.

Specter Ops still does’t take us on to the second hand. But it expands the genre with a style and energy that has to be played to be appreciated.

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Temple of Elemental Evil Review


Innovation in game design seems to be in short supply nowadays. Yet you can find it in unexpected places. Take all those wargames that use the same basic rules but have new units, maps and mechanical tweaks for different battles. Playing through these franchises can reveal an ocean of wonder inside those tiny details, making history come to life.

So, just because Temple of Elemental Evil is the fourth game in a series doesn’t mean it’s not going to feel fresh and clever. However, in honesty, it’s going to need to pull out all the stops to impress. A sense of staleness was already present in the last Adventure System game, Legend of Drizzt, back in 2011.

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Skull Review


It’s often not the rules or the components that make a game. With Skull, it’s the little noises. The tut of tongue against teeth. A soft sigh. A full-throated chuckle. Ambigous sounds uttered before a card gets flipped over and all hell breaks loose.

Skull is a bluffing game. Everyone starts with four cards , three showing flowers and one a skull. You place one face down, maybe more. Then you start wagering with other players to see how many flowers you think you can flip.

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Thrower’s Tallies: Top Eight Designers


All the discussion about “great designers” that we had a couple of weeks ago left me dissatisfied. Rather than just throwing out names that I thought were good or great, I wanted to put some meat on those bones, some rigour to the process. It wasn’t hard to do. And I found the results startling.

We’re talking about my personal opinion here. What I wanted was a way of recognising people who had form for producing stellar games, regardless of how many games they’d actually produced. Now, I rate pretty harshly because I’m of the opinion that games are supposed to be good. Fun is what they’re for, so a game you’ve enjoyed is merely average. To earn a higher rating, it has to show me an impressive time.

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Bolt Thrower: Volko Ruhnke, Family Gaming


A while back I interviewed Volko Ruhnke, the designer of Labyrinth and the COIN games, for a feature about political games. I knew it wasn’t going to be a long feature, so I ask for quick, snappy replies.

He gave me a 4,000 word essay.

I couldn’t use most of it as intended, of course. But from a gamer’s point of view, much of what he said was pure gold. Comments touching on mechanics, emergent theme, the relationship of gamers to gaming and that of gaming to reality. It would have been tragedy to let it go to waste.

So I recycled it for Shut Up & Sit Down. Enjoy

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The “Great” Debate


The excellent Michael Barnes recently conducted an excellent interview with game designer Reiner Knizia. He’s widely regarded as one of the best game designers ever, but his stock has gone up and down around these parts. Currently, it’s up: something I didn’t realise when I waded in to offer a contrary opinion.

The response begs an interesting question: what do we mean when we say “best” in this context? What qualifies a designer for an epithet of “great”?

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Bolt Thrower: XCOM TBG, Steam Sale, Witcher 3

XCOM The Final Team

My Gamerati series is actually running a bit ahead of my columns here, so this week you get another one! This time it’s deconstructing XCOM: The Board Game.

In the sense of looking, sounding and playing like the original video game XCOM is an abysmal failure. And this is a good thing. There’s no way a tabletop game could try and replicate the bizarre blend of strategy, tactics, economics and role-playing that made the original such fun.

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Bolt Thrower: Gears of War, Bloodborne, Witcher 3


Welcome to Bolt Thrower, the gaming column that blows your head off. If you’re new to the format, here’s the deal: I link something I’ve written elsewhere and then pontificate a bit on what I’m playing right now that’s not in the review queue.

My link this time round is the first of a new series I’m doing for Gamerati. The column’s called Bytes and Pieces and it’s about dissecting tabletop versions of video game franchises. First under the knife is Gears of War: The Board Game.

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Cracked LCD- D&DAS: Temple of Elemental Evil in Review


I love the Dungeons & Dragons Adventure System games, so I was very excited to see that they would continue on after a couple of years’ hiatus. Wizkids is doing them in partnership with Wizards of the Coast and there are some new additions to the simple, accessible and fun hack n’ slasher. By and large, it’s the same game as the past three releases but with a MUCH improved campaign system, an iconic (though somewhat underused) D&D module setting, and some “town” adventures that are really kind of dumb. I love this game, I love this system but this release feels like something of a disappointment overall. It’s too easy, the monsters aren’t that great and it just isn’t the D&DAS 2.0 it could have been. But with that said, any fan of this system should check it out. If you’re new to these games, they are not trying to simulate playing Warhammer Quest circa 1995. They’re really closer to Dungeon! in spirit. Review is at this week.

Star Wars Armada Wave 1 Review


The base set of Armada looked to have the makings of an outstanding game. But it was kind of hard to tell for sure. With just three ships and a handful of fighter squadrons to divide between two sides, all you could do was sense the potential rather than experience it for yourself.

A generous first wave of expansions has now arrived. Each contains a variety of upgrades, many of which can, of course, be used on a variety of ships. And all that extra variety does the job. Armada finally plays like the game that it was shaping up to be.

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