Skip to main content

Wiz-War: Malefic Curses Review


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.

I was waiting for this mainly for the three new schools of magic: Hexcraft, Chaos and Necromancy. Because what I want most of all in Wiz-War is what every other Wiz-War fan wants. I want creatures. Minions. Foul magical constructs I can summon and send forth to do my bidding. The creatures promised in future expansions by the rules in the base game.

Because seriously, if you’re not going to get minions in Necromancy, where are you going to get them?

Sadly Fantasy Flight didn’t get the memo. Because there are no minions. Not even in Necromancy which is an opportunity so wasted as to be borderline criminal in my opinion.

So if there’s no minions, what is there in the Necromancy school? A surprising amount of attack spells, that’s what. More attack spells is obviously a good thing to keep the game flowing, as well as helping players like me who don’t prefer to use one big card stack to tailor hyper-aggressive decks to their liking.

However these Necromantic attacks, in common with the more defensive cards in the school, tend to also offer the caster a bit of life in return. That offers some quite superb gloating opportunities but it also prolongs proceedings by making it that little bit harder to kill players off. There are some nice flavourful utility cards too, such as the skull servant that acts as a line of sight beacon and the trap-like Boneyard. So it’s a fun school, if a slightly mixed bag.

Speaking of traps, the next new school in the expansion is Hexcraft which, in spite of the fancy-sounding name, is effectively all about traps. On paper, having a bunch of cards that leave dangerous markers all over the board sounds a bit dull. In practice, however, it’s probably the single best thing in this box.

Most hexes have a new range icon that mean they can be cast into any square on the same board as the caster, which makes them very flexible. And given the number of narrow turns and dead ends in Wiz-War, this adaptability makes it incredibly easy to trap enemy wizards into positions where they have to risk crossing the hex and triggering whatever delightfully devious attack it holds for them. It’s like sealing someone behind a wall, only more flexible and more fun. Hexcraft will be going into my decks a lot.

Both the preceding schools bring another new innovation to the game, called Flash Energy. These are in place of normal energy cards and serve an identical function, except they can only be used to power spells and not movement. While this reduces your tactical options, which is bad, it does mean more energy gets used for spells, which is good. Without Flash Energy, most Energy tends to go to movement and the many timer-based spells tend to get neglected. Flash Energy gives them a new lease of life.

The third and final new school is Chaos. As if there wasn’t enough chaos in Wiz-War already. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the cards in the chaos school are dice dependent. The less obvious candidates include things like defence cards that then teleport the caster away in a random direction. At the other end of the spectrum are attack and utility cards where the effect is determined entirely by a dice roll, often including one result that backfires on the caster.

Like the Necromancy cards, this cuts both ways but with an even more evident negative swing. Player interaction and card draw are already quite enough madness and unpredictability without adding more. But on the flip side, madness and unpredictability are half the appeal of Wiz-War.

The problem arises when you cram all these random spells into a relatively small deck. Even the energy cards in the Chaos school are based on the value of a dice roll, so it becomes slightly overwhelming when it’s fully a third of the cards you’re drawing out. Chaos works well when it’s used with the full deck variant, but less so with the original rules as written.

Surprisingly, none of the cards in the expansion are from previous editions of the game, although apparently Tom Joly had an editorial hand in deciding which made the cut. Makes you wonder what else FFG has planned.

And that’s your lot. Nothing game-changing that will win this divisive title new fans, but plenty for the existing fanbase to enjoy. It’s just a shame about the creatures. If I were at once to be cynical yet hopeful, I might suggest FFG is planning a creature-based expansion last, adding monsters to all the schools to try and get players to collect the whole set of expansions. But for now, we’ll have to make do with the dubious joys of Hexcraft.

Cracked LCD- Warhammer: Diskwars in Review


My first reaction to Fantasy Flight Games’ Warhammer: Diskwars was “they’re bringing back Diskwars? What’s next, Vortex?” My second reaction, after reading the advance post of the rules was “hey, this actually looks pretty fun.” My third reaction after playing it was “holy shit, I’ve been waiting for this game my entire gaming life.”

Pause for confessional. Even though I’ve gone through spells over the years, I’m not much of a traditional miniatures gamer these days. I do not like assembling, painting and basing figures. I do not like building terrain. I’m not much of a craftsman. And aside from Warmachine, I’ve never found a miniatures system that had rules that I actually like. Sure- the lore of some of these games is awesome. Games Workshop’s Warhammer lines in particular. And I do generally like the concepts of miniatures wargaming, so it’s always been something of a quandary for me

So I’m usually first in line when an no-paint/no-build “alternative” miniatures game appears on store shelves, and to this end I ordered Warhammer: Diskwars the day it was made available at my favorite online retailer. Cutting to what matters most, this game is one of the best of these kinds of games to date, it blows away the competition because it bridges that gap between the awesome allure of the Games Workshop world and the low commitment demanded by casual tabletoppers such as myself.

But really, I had played Diskwars before it had the taint of Chaos. The original Tom Jolly (that’s Mr. Wiz-War to you) had a generic fantasy theme and I had a couple of packs- it was originally a collectible game. The Star Trek: Red Alert version was much better, an ultra- nerdy game that suspiciously looked like pogs for Trekkers. The high level concept is that Diskwars is a miniatures game but with cardboard discs instead of figures. All stats and abilities are printed right there on the discs- no need to reference a codex or rulebook. Put the tape measure back in the tool box where it belongs. You move these armies by flipping them end over end a number of times equal to a movement rating.

The Warhammer Diskwars core box comes packed with an unusually generous assortment of these discs representing Empire, Ork, Chaos and High Elf units. You get enough to field three regiments for each faction and a two regiment game is a de facto standard for a 45-60 minute, five round game. Adding another core box, of course, drastically increases your ability to customize army lists and gives you much more versatility. With that said, this is one of the most “complete” core sets I’ve ever seen and if the game never saw another expansion I think it would still represent one of the best values in hobby gaming today with a $28 street price. For less than the cost of a Warhammer Fantasy Battles miniatures unit, you also get a couple of 2D terrain pieces, deployment zone cards, dice (used only for ranged attacks), administrative tokens and a small pile of Command cards that drive the flow of the game. All you need other than the box is a $2.99 piece of 3”x3” green felt from the craft store.

Rules are simple but expect to lean on the rulebook for a couple of games. Setup is easy. Once armies are built (a simple point-based process, as expected), players draw a card that provides an overall condition for the battle as well as cards that define goals such as earning VPs for defeating enemy heroes or having units overlapping the other side of the playfield by the end of the game. Troops are deployed in deployment zones, which may provide cover or other special abilities. Terrain is placed for strategic purposes by both sides. It’s your choice rather to place that lake in the middle of the enemy’s deployment lane to slow their advance or to put it where it can provide some defense for your Bolt Thrower.

Then it’s on. Each player selects an Command card which operates on a rock-paper-scissors-dynamite scheme. These define the number of units you can activate that turn and any special advantages. Discs start flipping into place. Ranged units get to take their shots, rolling dice to see if there’s a hit, a critical, a scatter or the dreaded Mark of Chaos. Once every unit has been activated- or is pinned by another unit, initiating melee-all engaged units exchange blows in piles of engaged discs called “scrums”.

The catch is that units need to take enough damage in a single round to receive a wound because all hits come off at the end of it. So coordinating attacks is essential to eliminate units before the reset. Inevitably, an assault turns into a full-on fracas as defending units pile on to protect whoever’s on the bottom of the pile. Melee can be somewhat complicated when several units are involved in a scrum, but a simple top-down resolution order and simple comparatives between attack or counter attack values and defense numbers keeps things from bogging down.

There’s lots of great detail. Firing a Helblaster cannon into a scrum might result in it accidentally hitting your own units if it scatters. Or you might get a result that causes the damn thing to malfunction, flipping over and killing the Talabheim Greatswords unit you have protecting its flank. Some units do damage as soon as they pin another. Others fly, avoiding terrain penalties. Magic users are a great way to get those guaranteed extra two hits or so that you need to put an enemy hero down- provided that they’re not magic resistant. There are units that can scout before the game actually begins and others that can deploy from any side of the playfield to flank the enemy. Every unit plays differently and has unique strengths and weaknesses. And above it all- most importantly- it totally feels like Warhammer even though diehard WHFB players will likely lament the distinct lack of wheeling formations.

Bottom line is that this game is fun. The rules complexity is just right, avoiding the sacrifice of either accessibility or depth. The units are exciting and offer lots of tactical possibilities within regimental builds. It’s an effortless design that has clearly been heavily analyzed, redeveloped and sharply refined not only to smooth out the Diskwars system (no more dropping ranged attack counters from above the table, for example) but also to make it work for Warhammer. This is the best game that Fantasy Flight has released since X-Wing. Go ahead and sign me up for every expansion.


Runewars Review


Fantasy wargames have a sad history of being far too much wargame and not enough fantasy, tired repetitions of stacking limits and zones of control but with dragons in place of Panzers. Adventure board games, in a similar vein, have always struggled with the inherent problems of making a genre that celebrates individual achievement and massive power differentials into an interactive, strategic form. Runewars seems like Fantasy Flight’s attempt to solve both these problems at one stroke.

Players pick a side, build a board and launch into a fast-paced cycle of season-based turns in an attempt to conquer as many dragon runes as possible. There are various routes for doing so. The time honoured method of annexing territory from your neighbours is one, and that’s your fantasy wargame. Slipping hero figures silently through the massed hordes of your opponents to fulfil quests in different territories is another, and there is your adventure game. Finally there are various events and auctions that can occasionally be manipulated to gain a rune and that’s pure Fantasy Flight, an uneasy but often brilliant mish-mash of old-time game theme with modern-style mechanics.

As a synthesis of disparate game styles it works only partially. The fantasy wargame element is compelling, with each commander forced to balance a variety of competing demands in order to succeed. A number of different troop types must be considered, along with the possibility of allying with neutral forces by spending precious influence. There are the mutually exclusive requirements to mass troops for both attack and defence in different areas, and the need to recruit more to replace losses. The whole is tied into an intricate and absorbing dance by the mechanics around the order cards you use to perform these actions and others, a set of eight from which you choose four each turn, but the order in which you chose to resolve them can have many unforeseen knock-on effects.

It’s the adventure game element that doesn’t quite gel. Heroes can, in theory, join battles and gain experience for new powers and abilities, but these feel like rarely used adjuncts to their main function which is scouting enemy territory for runes and fulfilling quests for rewards. To support this relatively minor role requires a comprehensive kitchen sink of rules, cards and tokens in typical Fantasy Flight fashion. It feels like a warhammer to crack a nut. Indeed the whole game is tough to digest, with lots of wordy rules and a badly laid out instruction manual.

But if it feels like the fusion of disparate styles is only semi-successful and supported by an overly bloated set of mechanics, it’s hard to argue that the game as a whole isn’t an impressive thing in its own right. Who knows, I could well be wrong about the synthesis of different genres that went into the game: perhaps that was never the intention, merely how it feels. Perhaps the intention was to create a compelling and epic strategy game that nevertheless managed to retain plenty of excitement and a manageable play time. If so, it was hugely successful.


You see, while there’s the ever-present temptation to get kitted up and dish out the pain to all and sundry, there are a whole lot of other moving parts to consider as well. You can, for instance, consolidate your gains by building strongholds and then improve your situation by developing them for a variety of bonuses. To gain these – and to do more besides, like feed your troops – you’ll need resources, which means controlling sufficient tiles of the right type and possibly executing the “harvest” order at an opportune moment during the round.

It’s in this rich detail that the reason for all those annoying interlocking rules becomes clear. The game might be complex and obtuse, but you get an awful lot in exchange for the effort of learning it. There’s a clever mix of strategy and tactics, an a living, breathing fantasy world over which unravels a dramatic narrative. As you get to grips with the game, it slowly starts to feel like there could have been a whole lot more complexity given the amount of different things that the game succeeds in delivering.

A big part of the appeal is the variety and asymmetry that’s baked into the mix. The board is a jigsaw of variably sized and shaped groups of hexagons, arranged uniquely on each play and offering different strategic challenges. The arrangement of the dragon runes is also varied, and the real ones are mixed with fakes, allowing plenty of opportunity for bluff and misdirection. Each player has a different race with different units and development types, mirroring the behaviour of their fantasy archetype. But the special abilities specific to particular unit types don’t always come into play, helping keep the game tense and the asymmetry well-balanced.

As if all this were insufficient, Runewars also manages to comfortably balance strategy with diplomacy. The craggy land masses that the map tiles create don’t always leave that many shared borders, dragon runes can be gained from methods other than conquest and with effectively just six turns to in which to win, time is always snapping at your heels. It all adds up to an environment in which alliances and peace deals can play only a small part in determining who wins, but are nevertheless fun to indulge in. This in turn means the game scales rather better than others in the grand strategy style: playing with two is perfectly satisfying, and faster to boot.

Runewars is a game I wish I had time to play and explore more. The three to five hour window it needs is small in comparison with most other games on this scale, but it’s still a tough ask for a parent of small children. But to achieve what it achieves, its heady mixture of rich narrative, crunchy strategy and head-on conflict, it could hardly be more approachable than it already is. It’s further proof, if any were needed, that in order to enjoy an epic gaming experience one must invest relatively epic amounts of time and effort.

Android: Netrunner – Creation and Control Review


Android: Netrunner is a Living Card Game and that means lots of little expansion packs. Quite an alarming number of little expansion packs if you’re a relatively casual player of the game like I am. But this latest pack isn’t little: it’s big. It comes in a proper box and contains 165 cards: 3 copies each of 55 different ones. As a casual player I approve mightily.

Like all the expansion before it, the focus is squarely on one faction each for the corporation and runner players, in this case Haas-Bioroid and the Shapers respectively. That’s a bit more odd considering you get a lot more cards in this deck but there you go. The Shapers probably needed it as, despite their name, they’re probably the most shapeless, ill-defined faction so far. And I like Haas because I’m a former genetic engineer myself. So, again, I approve mightily.

So what do we learn about the Shapers? The most amazing thing about Netrunner, in my opinion, isn’t simply that it’s a great game. There are lots of great games. What makes Netrunner special is the emergent theme, the way that if you stripped away the mediocre art and the pseudo-intellectual quotes and the stupid, obtuse jargon the game employs, it would still feel like a game about hackers trying to bypass corporate security and steal digital secrets. And what we learn about the Shapers follows that pattern.

Look at their cards. Self-modifying code which allows you to pick and play a card from your draw deck. Clone Chip which permits you to pick and play a card from your discard pile. Scavenge, which instructs you to discard something in play but replace it with something else from your hand or discard. This is a faction all about flexibility, about freedom, about feeling the code and being one with the machine. And it comes across in the cards.

You see the same playful spirit in their aggressive cards, too. Atman, an icebreaker you can pump up to any strength you like and keep it there, forever, and which can break any subroutine of any kind looks like a game breaker until you realise the strength is fixed, so it’s really only useful against one kind of ice card. But you get to choose that card. Similarly Cypher-Cypher is a super-cheap and powerful icebreaker but it’s tied to one target server. Escher, an event that sees you rearranging corporate ice as you see fit. Destruction by exploration.

So what about the corporation? Haas-Bioroid had a much stronger sense of identity than the Shapers before this set, but they were a little boring to play. Creation and Control adds spice and uncertainty. There’s a new ambush asset which burns the runner for brain damage in exchange for a few creds. Another shock is Howler, a 1-cost ice card that does nothing except install and activate another piece of ice, for free, directly behind it. Tyr’s hand is an upgrade you can trash to stop an ice subroutine being bypassed. Runs on unknown Bioroid servers now have a similar amount of inbuilt tension and danger as the other corporations.


Actions generally are a focus, as befitting the Haas-Bioroid vulnerability of having ice that can be bypassed simply by the runner spending actions. The Efficiency Committee agenda, for instance, which gives you two actions in exchange for one and an advancement token. Or the Arcology asset which does the same thing except it’s not an agenda, even though it’ll look like one to the runner. You can save actions a different way with the Pet Project agenda which effectively gives you a bunch of free installs.

There are a few neutral cards, too, but they’re generally less interesting. The most powerful is the runner card Daily Casts which costs three credits but pays out eight, two a turn. It’s pretty easy for runners to make a lot of money with the current Netrunner card selection, and this set makes it easier. Indeed I’ve seen some complaints from tournament players and real enthusiasts that Creation and Control has made the game too lopsided in favour of the runner.

That might be true, although if it is it’ll probably get re-balanced over the next few data pack releases. I can’t really say because I’m not a tournament player or a real enthusiast but a casual gamer who likes to break out Android occasionally with friends and savour that amazing emergent theme. I don’t have that whole arms-race deckbuilding thing going on, and I tend to construct decks just for their amusement value and give them to new players to teach the game.

Given that, one of the most interesting things for me in this set wasn’t so much the new cards but the suggested preconstructed decks to use them. A Haas-Bioroid deck loaded with ludicrously expensive and powerful ice, but with lots of tricksy ways to mitigate the credit cost, so allowing you to be in a much more powerful place than it may appear to the runner. A shaper deck which is all about installing and recycling stuff on the cheap, saving money to power one or two game-changing cards.

I like these decks a lot. Not because there’s anything inherently amazing about them: the corporation one in particular is quite difficult to play. I like them as a casual gamer because they seem very well matched, designed to set up interesting trade-offs and gradual power creep against one another. I like them because they’re full of cards that can be used creatively, challenging the player and demonstrating to the neophyte how much scope for cleverly synchronizing card effects there is in this game.

I like Creation and Control a lot. You could go a long way with Netrunner just owning this and the base set, especially if you don’t intend to be a frequent player. Although I’m glad I’ve got a few more cards personally, just to flesh out my beloved Jinteki. You won’t really need any more data packs. But be warned: if you’ve got this, you’ll probably want them.

X-Wing Wave 2 Review

X-Wing big ships - firespray and falcon

If an evil genius were to invent a machine to suck money directly from the bank accounts of gamers, it’d look a lot like the X-Wing miniatures game. If he were to go back and tinker with it, seeking to make to terrifyingly irresistible, and add the power to suck in non-gaming Star Wars fans too, it’d look a lot like the wave 2 miniature releases.

There are four new ships to add to your collections. The Empire gets Boba Fett’s Slave-1 and the four-cannon TIE interceptor while the Rebels resist them with the A-Wing fighter and, of course, the one we’ve all been waiting for: the Millenium Falcon.

I have to admit I passed on Slave-1. Ever since I was a small boy, watching Empire Strikes Back on the cinema screen in slack-jawed amazement, I always thought it looked ugly and ungainly. And as a big ship, it’s pretty pricey. I’ll probably pick it up at some point for all the usual, tedious, nerdy reasons: completeness and a cool-sounding scenario. But for now you get reviews of the other three.

X-Wing TIE Interceptor

We’ll start with the lone Imperial ship that remains: the TIE interceptor. It only featured briefly in the original trilogy films so, unsurprisingly, you don’t get any big-name pilots or upgrades. What you do get is an astonishingly flexible ship. It’s a TIE fighter with an extra attack dice, and a new “boost” feature which allows you to make a 1-length straight or banking move after it’s normal move.

Think about that a moment. It’s still got the TIE barrel roll ability, alongside its speed and agility rating. It might be fragile without shields, but It’s a hard ship to pin down into a firing arc, never mind actually hit. And as long as it survives that extra firing dice ensures it can dish it right back to its tormentors. The mere existence of this ship should be warning to Rebel commanders to pack more missiles.

Not being a huge Star Wars nerd, I’m confused as to why the wave 1 TIE ships were pale gray, but the interceptor is dark blue. Otherwise you’ll know what to expect from another figure using the basic TIE chassis.

X-wing A-wing

Oddly, while the Imperial side gets a fighter that’s approaching the terms of an X-Wing in terms of firepower and utility, the Rebels get the equivalent of a TIE fighter in the A-Wing. To my astonishment it’s actually slightly more maneuverable than the Imperial mainstays, having the same dial but with one extra green action. It has shields, but only two, and a paltry hull at the same value.

Continuing with the similarities, it can’t barrel roll but it has the same boost ability as the Interceptor, which is almost as useful, and it has the same agility value. But unlike most imperial ships the A-Wing can carry missiles. Given it’s relatively cheap point cost, loading these things up with warheads and unleashing first-attack hell looks like a viable strategy.

The model for this is so tiny that I actually felt slightly cheated by the price when I first saw it. But of course a few gram of plastic isn’t going to make any meaningful different. And it’s actually a really lovely little thing with an amazingly detailed paint job for a pre-painted figure.

Anyway, these are both valuable additions to the game. At first I was worried that there might be a problem with power creep here: the TIE interceptor is superior to the basic TIE for not a lot more, and the A-Wing isn’t hugely underpowered compared to other Rebel ships for a quite a lot less.

But the costs do seem to work out when they’re actually on the table. What’s rather more dispiriting is that both these ships seemed tailor-made to be used en masse. Interceptors, fragile but packing a powerful punch, are going to draw massive fire if used in ones or twos. A-Wings on the other hand look be used like a skirmish screen or as a swarm, both requiring multiple models. Could get expensive.

X-Wing Millennium Falcon

Speaking of which we have yet, of course, to talk about the big ship. The Millennium Falcon. And it is big. Palm-sized. And hugely detailed to match. It’s a feast for the eyes. And since it packs pretty much every remaining famous name in the genre amongst its pilots: Han, Chewbacca, Lando – Luke Skywalker is even in there as a crew upgrade – it feels utterly essential if you’ve bought into the base game.

There’s a fair amount of brand new stuff to look at in the box for this as well. In addition to the expected slew of upgrades the Falcon brings with it some new concepts. It has crew upgrades, so you can have Han in the cockpit, Luke on the guns and Chewie repairing the engines all at the same time. There are also new title cards which you can apply to specific ships to mimic something from the film: in this case a “Millenium Falcon” title to apply to basic freighter which helps make it more like the fastest hunk of … oh, you know.

So you know you’re going to end up getting one anyway. But what’s a bit unfortunate about the Falcon, and indeed all three of the ships I looked at in this new wave expansion, is that they’re just not that different from what’s already there. I’ve already made an explicit comparison between TIE fighters and the A-Wing. The TIE Interceptor is the Imperial equivalent of an X-Wing. And the Falcon is probably the worst offender of all being very much like a souped-up Y-Wing, even down to the circular firing arc.

It’s sad, but pretty much inevitable given the simple rules framework of the base game which is an essential part of its accessibility and appeal. Instead it feels to me like the real strength in these new Wave 2 additions is actually the cards. The upgrades, missiles, modifications and of course the unique pilot skills on offer. The amount of choice in the system to build you 100 point squad has now reached hugely impressive levels, with enormous amounts of variety you can recombine together to try and get a new tactical edge.

It’s a phenomenon, X-Wing. A buildable miniatures game that’s just sucked in people across the geek spectrum for all sorts of different reasons. And so far there seems little reason to imagine that it’s going to let them go anytime soon.