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A Quick Note from Todd

So, how ya been?

If you’re reading this, you either still have an RSS subscription or you are ridiculously dedicated. Either way, hat tip!

Obviously there done be some tumbleweeds blowing through this here site, along with a couple of rather lengthy outages. If you ventured here and wondered why the site was janky, or flat out missing, I am sorry about that, and about the rather haphazard theme presentation currently in place. (The old one broke with one of the WordPress updates. Brian did his best to provide a quick fix so that at least the old place remains accessible.) I’d say we’re going to get that fixed, but at this point you know as well as I that we’ve largely moved on to Other Things, at least for the time being. That sucks, but this was always an enthusiast endeavor (as opposed to a career), and these things… well, they’re awesome while they last. And damn was this place awesome.

I’ve been poking through the archives this past week and we put up some amazing constant for those few years we were all active and pushing forward. It was a hell of a thing and, while we made our share of mistakes, I’ll never stop missing that time and all that were a part of it. On the bright side of things, all that fantastic content will remain here and in place for the time being. How long, I can’t say. That’s not so much up to me as, at the end of the day, it’s Bill’s domain and he’s the one who gets the bills. I just wouldn’t anticipate a whole lot of new stuff popping in here going forward, occasional podcast roundups notwithstanding. (JtS does continue on with Brandon, Holly, and me.) If any of the gang drops back in and feels differently about their plans for NHS in 2016, I’m sure they’ll post to say so.

In the meantime, I’ve registered a new domain, This isn’t a new venture, or at least it’s not right now. It’s there because I need an online home for all my shit. As I type this, it’s just a re-hash of all my NHS content (with a good chunk of it probably broken in one way or another, given that it’s just a straight import from here), but over the weeks and months ahead I plan to clean that up and build it out as a repository for as much of my written and professional content as I can locate.

Given that all of the pre-NHS outlets I’ve written for through the years have disappeared into the web ether, I need a place I actually own and control and can kinda sorta prove that I’ve been been publishing Things, on and off, for the better part of 20 years. (Not to mention as a way to reference the hundreds of projects I helped publish as an editor for the Pearson Education technology imprint, Que Publishing.) It’s also a place for me to start really mucking around with the nuts and bolts of WordPress, possibly start digging into producing some video, etc. I really don’t know for sure what direction I’ll take it just yet, but as I go forward, if I end up publishing anything new, will either be the home for it or it’ll be a place where I can link to it.

Although this isn’t meant as a goodbye post, I do want to say that I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed reading the content we’ve posted here as much as I think we all enjoyed bringing it to you. This place had the most amazing audience I’ve ever been a part of (and without question the best collaborators I’ll ever know) and being a part of it will always be a point of pride. I don’t have comments enabled at TF, but if you want to get in touch, please do so any time. You can find me on Twitter @toddsfoolery or via email — Todd at the TF dot com domain. (Or comment here. I’ll keep checking in, but probably won’t post much.)



Cracked LCD- Survive! Space Attack in Review

Survive Space Attack

This one is over at Miniature’s Review Corner– a write-up of Stronghold Games’ latest Survive! title. Having rescued the classic Parker Brothers family game from languishing out of print, Stephen Buonocore and his gang are now moving on to applying the Survive! concept to a new setting. Geoff Englestein (who did the excellent Space Cadets as well as the tragically underplayed Ares Project) and his family have turned in a very respectful update to the original game that adds some fun new elements.

I can’t say that I prefer the setting because I like the old “Escape from Atlantis” business. But the new material works and it is totally in the spirit of the original game. My five year old son LOVES it, he asks to play it every day…so I’d say it’s a great choice for a family/kid-friendly title.

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.

Like many of these games, it’s very simple. One player is an agent, who moves around the board in secret trying to sabotage three of four randomly-determined squares. The others are hunters, enhanced humanoids whose mission it to catch and kill the agent.

The hunters move on the board, the agent records theirs on a paper pad so you can check for cheating. Whenever a hunter ends their turn with a straight line of sight to the agent, the agent figure joins them on the board until it can hide again. If the agent moves across a hunter’s vision, they place a marker to show where.

That’s pretty much it. The game has an age rating of eight plus on the side of the box. It’s not lying. It’ll even play to completion in about an hour. You might imagine that such a simple framework couldn’t support anything worthwhile. You’d be very wrong.

Specter Ops manages to nail an aspect of hidden movement that’s too often overlooked: deduction. The hunters have to use an unholy combination of logic, strategy and intuition to pin down the agent. It’s rare they can be certain where the agent is, and equally rare that they have no clue. There’s plenty of opportunity for bluff and counter-bluff. Trying to second guess the agent player’s mind could pin her down or let her escape into the shadows.

“We saw her there, so now she can be here or here, unless this or that in which case …”

Almost every turn both sides feel like they’re inches away from victory or disaster. The agent can be shivering behind a barrel as hunters stalk past. The hunters can get a sudden unexpected flash of their quarry and be away in full cry.

Unlikely as it may seem, the main arbiter of all this wonder and excitement is the board itself. It’s a tricksy, labyrinthine thing with just enough space to rush around and just enough corners to hide behind. That players can move diagonally yet only see in straight lines facilitates a strange sense of open claustrophobia.

The board is aided and abetted by a handful of special abilities. There’s a small selection of hunter and agent characters, each with specific powers. One agent is hard to kill, for instance, while one hunter has psychic powers that can reveal limited information about the agent. The agent also gets a choice of limited-use equipment to help them, like a flash grenade that blinds hunters for a turn.

These extras add a lot of flavour, strategy and replayability to the game without cluttering up the rules. They do also introduce a small problem, though. To play effectively, hunters need to know upfront about what all them can do. It’s an annoying but minor speed bump in the game’s shallow learning curve.


There will be inevitable comparisons with the existing dark prince of hidden movement, Fury of Dracula. The super-simple rules framework of Specter Ops means it can’t compete on grand narrative or replay value. For sheer atmosphere, however, it’s a dead heat. Moving plastic over cardboard feels scarily close to creeping through the shadows, potential danger at every turn.

The game is a chameleon, effortlessly slipping between a hunt, a chase, a little tactical combat. And back again as the agent is lost and found in the wandering alleys of the board.

The hunters are actually faster and more flexible than the agent because they have access to a car. This might seem odd at first but it’s a big part of what makes the game work. To succeed, the agent needs to rely on their information advantage, and little else. Powers and equipment help in case of slip-ups or lucky hunter guesses, but when they’re gone, they’re gone.

The game was clearly designed for three: one agent and two hunters. It works well enough with two, leaving both hunters in the hands of a single player. Adding in a fourth player means three hunters and a bunch of free power upgrades for the agent, which seem to balance out.

A fifth player means that one of the hunters gets to be a traitor, secretly working with the agent. This is either going to be the best or worst variant of the game, depending or your taste. It can lead to a bunch of confusing rule anomalies, which is a bit annoying. On the other hand, it pushes the fear and paranoia in the game through the roof.

I know which I think is the better side of that trade off.

Specter Ops is a clean distillation of everything that makes hidden movement so compelling. Yet it still retains strategy, deduction and excitement. Tense, slippery and with a real sense of emergent theme, it’s a heady brew indeed.

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.

For those unfamiliar, the Adventure System is a series of co-operative dungeon crawl games. The rules are based on a pared-down version of 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons. Players pick a scenario and build a random stack of dungeon tiles. As they explore the turned over tiles will reveal traps, event and monsters. Each creature has a set of simple AI routines to attack and use its special abilities. Easy rules that bring life and colour to the gray flagstones.

It’s a great system. Separate decks of monster, encounter and treasure cards offer a lot of variety from basic mechanics. Yet for all that accessibility, decisions matter. Many hero abilities are one-shot, and timing can be crucial. A particularly neat twist is that monsters often move per dungeon tile. This leaves precise placement to the players, offering the chance of clever strategic combinations.

It also helps to avoid the boss-player problem that’s such an issue in co-operative games. Each player has their own set of powers and controls their own movement and monsters. They can do whatever they like. Yet the standard balance of abilities across D&D character classes encourages true co-operation. Tanks can tank, but it helps if there are Mages for missile fire and Rogues to bust traps.

The first game in this series, Castle Ravenloft, also used scenario setup to add further interest and imagination. The second, and my favourite, Wrath of Ashardalon, had simpler scenarios but chained them together into a campaign. There was some official and some fan-made material to allow owners to use both games together. By the time we got to Legend of Drizzit, there didn’t seem to be much new to offer any more.

So what do we have in Elemental Evil to resurrect this system? Sadly, not much.


There are precisely two major innovations. First, traps are no longer the result of encounter cards but get placed as tokens on certain tiles. This feels like a step back. They do offer players the choice between spending an action disarming the trap or risking it and hoping for a “clear” result. But many trap tiles don’t have monster spaces, so the tension cranks down. And the actual traps are just numeric damage. A far cry from cool stuff like the rolling rock trap in Ashardalon, which saw players fleeing and scattering like fleshy ninepins.

That leaves us with a new campaign. This was the big draw for me: the campaign in Ashardalon was the reason I liked that game best. The series seemed to be crying out for some more detailed rules. Most of all what people wanted was a way to build their characters beyond the arbitrary second level cap on the cards.

They didn’t get that. Although what they did get offers much of the same feel and is an improvement on Ashardalon’s campaign. Now, most of the treasure cards are gold pieces and you use them to purchase upgrades. A thousand gold nets you second level. Then you buy tokens for things like dice bonuses or power re-use. Players carry these between adventures and can use each token once per scenario.

The campaign itself also does a fine job of linking adventures into a narrative. Together with the campaign rules, playing through them one at a time builds a proper sense of camaraderie. It feels very much like a full-blooded role-playing game, with more strategy and less rules arguments.

The flip side, of course, is that the adventures don’t work so well played as one-shot games. The fact they build in difficulty doesn’t help. Neither does a lack of imagination. Most of these lack the spark of originality seen in Castle Ravenloft.

I don’t want to denigrate this game: Elemental Evil is a good game. It’s worth your time and money. Especially so if you’re really up for playing through the campaign, which is obviously the focus of the design. And I would encourage everyone to own and play an Adventure System game. Maybe even two. They’re ace, and they all integrate well together. But you don’t need all four.

So the question becomes one of which is better. And in spite of the new material on offer here, the answer is still Ravenloft or Ashardalon. Unless, that is, you’re looking for a top value way of obtaining some plastic figures for your Princes of the Apocalypse campaign.

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.

The devil is in the fact that whoever wins the wager has to show their own cards first. So if you put down a skull yet placed a bet, others can catch you out with your own cleverness. After that it’s up to you whose cards you want to turn over.

And then the noises begin.

What do they mean? Is that low whistle a warning or an appreciation of a cunning pick? Do you read that intake of breath as one of shock or anticipation? As the tension unspools like razor wire, each sound ramps it up until it becomes unbearable. What can you turn over? What do you need to leave?

No matter how bad it gets, the choice is yours. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from playing Skull, it’s this: it’s amazing how often good people make bad choices.

The reason it’s so scary is because if you find a skull you don’t just lose the round, you lose a card. Lose all four and you’re out of the game. But the stakes are higher than that because if you manage to get all flowers you win that hand. And it only takes two winning hands to take the whole game.

You won’t want to bet. Once someone’s taken a hand, though, you’ll have to bet. Just to keep them one step away from winning the whole thing. Just to make sure you get another chance to bet when you don’t really want to.


The astute will have spotted that Skull has a lot in common with Liar’s Dice and its commercial variants like Perudo. And so it does. Yet there are no dice here, and no card draw. There is no randomness. There is nothing at all but the bluffing and the revealing and the tiny sounds of terror.

Because you choose other people’s cards to reveal rather than just calling them out on a lie, that terror goes on and on. Like a chase sequence from a horror film. Except sometimes there’s a happy ending. Not as often as you might like, though.

A curious thing about Skull is that the opening rounds are the most chaotic yet the most fun. Early on, lots of people lay skulls and bluff just for the hell of it. Early on, lots of people get the crazy notion to make ridiculous bids. It’s like all that power, that power of deception, goes to their heads.

It’s fun, but I’m not convinced how much the results have to do with determining the winner. As people start to drop out the game becomes leaner and meaner. The rules say inexperienced players should not start with just three playing. They say that’s when Skull is at its most difficult. Yet if you play a game, and you’re left with just three after elimination, that’s also when it gets the most interesting.

You remember whether people bid. You remember what they bid. You start wondering what that means about what they’ve got in their hands. You start to pick up little clues and details that suggest who might have nothing but flowers left to play.

And as all the information comes in, things just get worse. Each wager carries behind it a mortal weight of doubt and half-truths. The noises get a bit louder.

Eventually someone will win. And the fear deflates like a balloon, the gust of air blowing away the uncertainty and making room for relief, even smiles.

Then someone who didn’t win will say “let’s do that again!” And everyone will see that barely twenty minutes have passed, even if they felt like a lifetime, and make little noises of agreement. Then you’re hooked.

Unless you’re part of the perfect logic play brigade that is. If you want to game this game, you can. You can deliberately place a skull and then a silly bid to sacrifice one of your cards to stop someone else winning, for instance. Most gamers will rightly recoil from the mere idea of throwing away an advantage to stop another player.

There really isn’t much more to Skull than I have told. A couple of extra rules for people with just one card left. Small but important distinctions, like the fact that if you flip someone else’s skull you lose a random card but if you flip your own you get to choose. Anyone can play this. Almost no-one can play it well.

There’s not much in the box, either. Just four beermat-like tiles bearing the skull and flower symbols for each player and some rules. The “play mat” which allows you to keep “score” by flipping it over the first time you win a hand is almost an insult. It feels overpriced, although the art is lovely. There’s another edition called Skull & Roses, which looks even nicer.

It’s not all roses: some of it is skull, too. The game feels like it sits on an uneasy line between gamer-fodder and mass-market. It’s perhaps a bit too Spartan for the former, a bit too exotic for the latter. Yet people talk about how deep strategy from simple rules is the hallmark of a great game. Skull has deep fun from simple rules, and it’s just as good a benchmark to judge a game.