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Cracked LCD- Cthulhu Wars in Review

I was very, very skeptical of Cthulhu Wars to say the least. I’m not a big supporter of the current trend toward crowdfunding in the hobby games market and I’m not entirely on board with the concept of these “Cadillac” games with astronomical presale prices. But there were three things that drove me to ask the publishers if they would send me a press copy. One is that I had heard great things about it from folks whose opinions I trust. The second is that I wanted to see what one of these luxury class games- in this case one retailing for $199- had to offer in comparison with more traditionally priced designs on the marketplace. The third is that Mr. Petersen is certainly not some upstart, armchair game designer selling their product with a flashy video and lots of promises. This is the guy that created Call of Cthulhu, still my favorite RPG of all time. And he also had a hand in designing games like Doom, Quake and other seminal, hugely influential computer games.

So “the Great Old One” himself responded, issuing a command to one of his Servitors to send a copy to me. A few days later I got this 11 pound box in the mail and opened it up to find a big, black box with good illustrations and luxurious embossing. It looked deluxe, sure. Opening it up, I was a little underwhelmed at first. It’s hard to not expect to be completely blown away, but the reality of it is that Cthulhu Wars is still a physical product, not a life-changing experience. But then I dug through the layer of punchboards and the map and saw IT. It wasn’t Cthulhu that caught my eye, it was Hastur. A huge, bright yellow monstrosity that put me in mind more of old fashioned plastic dinosaur figures more than gaming miniatures. I picked it up and just kind of laughed at it. Was it the taint of madness? (more…)

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Cracked LCD- Secrets of the Lost Tomb in Review

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Everything Epic’s maiden release, Secret of the Lost Tombs, is a hybrid of the dungeoncrawl and narrative-oriented adventure genres, a combination that isn’t as common as you might think given how overpopulated both types of games are these days. It features a setting in which it totally makes sense that Teddy Roosevelt would lead an expedition into a subterranean Masonic lodge to decipher a code left by Ben Franklin that can be used to awaken and control a giant monster that helped the Colonies to win the Revolutionary War- one that is spoiling for a rematch with the giant monster that fought on Britain’s side. Oh, and you might meet Dracula and Blackbeard along the way. In a Mongolian tomb. (more…)

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yashima

Cracked LCD- Yashima: Legend of the Kami Masters in Review

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Yashima: Legend of The Kami Masters is a pitched battle between two to four combatants wielding the powers of the martial arts, magic and nature spirits. Think of it something like a cross between the arcade classic Yie Ar Kung Fu, a Chinese Wuxia film and the summoning spells from a Final Fantasy game. It is a focused concept rich with background story and setting, but without many contextual frills. There are no scenarios, there are no resources and there are no objectives other than defeating your foes. It is essentially a card game not unlike Yomi or BattleCon, but it uses hex-based terrain tiles and miniatures to express distance, position and the scope of attacks. I really like what I’ve seen from the game so far, but it also leaves me with a feeling that this design- which has great potential- isn’t quite to where it needs to be just yet. (more…)

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Barnes. Weeks. Knizia. The Interview.

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This interview with Reiner Knizia was Steve Weeks’ idea so credit where credit is due. If you don’t know who Steve is, he is likely one of the most divisive and controversial figures in the bizarro world of online board games discussion. He is also a damn fine podcaster and a genuinely funny guy. I’ve known Steve for years and he asked if I wanted to jump in on this talk with the premier game designer quite possibly of all time. How could I resist?

This is one of the high points of my games writing and commentating career. This is a man who has done some tremendously profound work (Tigris and Euphrates, Ra, Modern Art and something like 600 other titles over 30 years) and who has deeply influenced my own views on the games medium. Particularly in terms of theme (as opposed to setting) and reducing subtextual elements and narrative to essential player actions. And he best games are just really damn fun to play too.

I was completely starstruck at first, but once the ice was broken (the “antichrist” moment), I found Dr. Knizia to be very open, very amicable, very assured and very wise. I could listen to this guy talk about making games all day because I think he is one of the very, very few artists or authors working in this field. What he has to say about games is something everyone interested in the hobby or the medium should be listening to, even 30 years into his career and with a churning flood of games on the market sometimes drowning out his finest achievements- games that are still better than anything else out there decades after release.

But of course, the highlight as you’ll here (other than Steve’s hilarious “Dr. Reiner” song) is when he told me that he had read my “Reiner Knizia: Master of Theme” article right here at No High Scores and that he felt like I had completely put into words how he feels when he’s designing games. I was totally blown away to hear someone I deeply respect and admire say, essentially, “you got it right”.

So have a listen right here.

 

 

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Cracked LCD- Seekers of a Hidden Light (Shadows of Malice Expansion) In Review

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seekers

seekers 2Jim Felli’s Shadows of Malice, which I reviewed just a couple of months ago, is one of the best games of 2015. It’s a fresh, almost “outsider” design that pretty much throws away the handful of fantasy board game design templates and does a couple of very unique things. With its random creature generation, a paradoxically vague but concrete sense of narrative worldbuilding and mechanics that support a tangible sense of actual cooperation beyond the usual whack-a-amole style of gameplay, Shadows of Malice is a maverick and even experimental design. If that’s all we ever got from Mr. Felli, we’d already have something of a treasure – even if it is, like fine art, not exactly for all audiences.

But there is more, and Mr. Felli is preparing to release Seekers of a Hidden Light, an expansion to Shadows of Malice. He was kind enough to forward me an early copy of it and I’m glad he did. I would regard Seekers as a must-have expansion for those already converted, but those new to the game may want to come to grips with the base game first.

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evolution

Cracked LCD- Evolution in Review

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Dominic Crapuchettes is best known for his popular party game Wits and Wagers, but that ought to change with the 2nd edition release of Evolution, a design co-credited to two Russians- another game designer and a biologist. This is a two to six player title that ranks among the most thematically resonant card game designs that I’ve ever played. I’ve become quite fascinated with how each session results in the creation of a unique biosphere in which animals defined by one to three characteristics as well as their size and population struggle to adapt and survive. It’s a game clearly in the same lineage as Evo and Dominant Species, maybe even going back to Karl Heinz-Schmiel’s Tyranno Ex while glancing sidelong at American Megafauna. But Evolution is considerably quicker and simpler – and therefore more accessible. Its concepts are clear and logical, the gameplay immediately challenging and competitive.

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Cracked LCD- Fallen in Review

Fallen-Logo

Fallen-Logo

Fallen-LogoFallen, a new title from Watchtower Games designed by Tom W. Green III and Stephen C. Smith is a very, very interesting piece of work. I don’t think it quite gets to where it needs to be going, but it is definitely headed in the right direction. And that destination is something that has really kind of eluded game designers for decades- using the contained structure of board or card games to tell an RPG-style story. But usually, what happens is that you wind up with either something that is too mechanical (Magic Realm), too simplified (Talisman), more of a tactical miniatures game (Descent) or are quite far removed from the concept of telling a story and rolling dice against some statistics to see what happens (Mage Knight). More specifically, they tend to miss that having a sort of referee that also engages in crafting a collusive, living narrative with you is kind of the point of an RPG.

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Cracked LCD- Hearthstone in Review (again)

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OK, so for most folks this is a way, way late review since Hearthstone has been out now for over a year, not including time in Beta. It’s also a review that might stir up an obnoxious debate as to whether the digital CCG should be regarded as a video game instead of a tabletop game. And almost certainly, lamentations about it being free-to-play and supported by IAPs – let alone that it is a collectible card game that requires that you actually pay for it if you want to be competitive- will certainly follow. And this is also the second time I’ve reviewed Hearthstone. Last time was just over a year ago here on No High Scores.

But here’s the deal. Hearthstone recently released its long-awaited iPhone-friendly update and I’ve been playing it almost non-stop since. I had played the IOS edition briefly when it first came out as an iPad-only release, but because that device is almost always covered in the sticky remnants of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and clogged up with countless Lego, Disney and Angry Birds apps for the kids I didn’t really dig in for the long haul. Now that it’s in my pocket, I can play it all day long. So now it’s time for me to issue forth (again) on what I think is one of the most significant games to date that has married the strands of tabletop and video game design.

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super fantasy

Cracked LCD- Super Fantasy: Ugly Snouts Assault in Review @ Review Corner

super fantasy

This week’s review is over at Miniature Market’s Review Corner, and it’s a good one.

“Five years ago, there were barely any dungeon crawl games on the market. Kevin Wilson’s Doom board game from 2004 eventually led to Descent, which sort of put the genre back on the map. Just a half decade and a couple of Space Hulk reprints later, there are tons of these kinds of games out there largely thanks to Kickstarter campaigns for mediocre attempts at recapturing the feeling of playing Heroquest or Warhammer Quest in the 1990s. But there have been a couple of great hall-crawling, hack-and-slash titles to come out of this boom, and Marco Valtriani’s Super Fantasy: Ugly Snouts Assault is most definitely one of them.”

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