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Cracked LCD- Secrets of the Lost Tomb in Review


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.

It’s all gonzo pulp, all the time, that wears its influences on its sleeves. And on the back of its jacket. And its pants. All over its socks and shoes as well. References to Indiana Jones and Alan Quatermain are checked off, and the merchant from Resident Evil 4 makes a guest appearance (the “whaddaya buyin’?” dude). The monster-busting secret society/tomb raiding organization that the characters belong to is an lot like the BPRD from Hellboy. But more specifically, this game borrows liberally and almost uncomfortably from Fantasy Flight’s line of Lovecraftian horror games as well as Betrayal at the House on the Hill.

If you’ve played Arkham Horror, Eldritch Horror, and/or Mansions of Madness you have played at least 90% of this game’s design, even though it refocuses the gameplay to a dungeoncrawl format- which is actually pretty cool despite the uncomfortable similarities. Fives and sixes are successes, you roll X dice where X is the stat being checked. There are condition cards that often have knock-on effects later in the game. Monster-fighting involves both actual combat and a psychological element. You get companions/allies. Adventure and Misadventure cards play out almost exactly as they do in the above games and are written in a very similar style. There’s a doom tracker. As for its resemblance to Betrayal at the House on the Hill, the way the dungeon is laid out with multiple floors is almost identical, with some rooms only occurring at certain levels. There’s even the “underground lake” weirdness that players of Betrayal’s first edition will recognize where some features shouldn’t logically be on some floors, like watchtower one floor below the first. And there are also certain conditions and story effects that cause players to switch sides, which was that game’s hallmark.

I have no doubt that designer Chris Batarlis has played and loves all of these games, and I can’t fault the guy for trying to come up with his own, spirited version of these kinds of designs- and with a fairly unique high level concept to boot. There are some qualities about it that it does exceptionally well. I really like how there is no levelling up, instead your character unlocks abilities or actually loses them based on their Courage. It’s a neat way to do the psychological element and tie it to a character’s abilities. There are lots of fun traps and it definitely generates a sense of exploration. The scenario design is quite good and steers well clear of the usual repetitive monster-bashing of many dungeoncrawlers. The included scenario book includes some very novel situations like aforementioned bit with Ben Franklin and some challenging, detailed adventures with several fun surprises.

But this game- which comes packed in a ten pound box packed to the gills with tokens (eight punchboards’ worth), cards and novelty components like these awful stat trackers that are lain over the characters cards- sorely, desperately needs a sense of focus. It’s a sprawling mess. Mechanically, it’s mostly sound and it all works despite some truly WTF design level decisions like using double-faced D12s instead of D6s and a couple of needlessly bothersome elements like this terrible searching thing where you have to turn this token every time you search because it “gets more dangerous” or something. The mess comes in mostly in the content, and specifically the content tied to the setting and storylines.

This means that elements in these scenarios come across as a jumble sale of locations, mythologies and notable characters with random HP Lovecraft stuff thrown in to boot. What could have- and I think should have- been a game more in line with Indiana Jones, Alan Quatermain or Lara Croft turns into this weird mish-mash of moving from battling mummies in one room to fighting Olmecs in another. In Davy Jones’ locker. Where you might encounter a Mi-Go. I guess the secret of these tombs is that they connect all of these disparate things into one distasteful slurry of pulp adventure and historical references that doesn’t hang together at all.

Playing the game, I keep thinking that I would like the game so much more if Mr. Batarlis had picked a time period, a mythology, a location or some other unifier to give the written and visual content consistency. Like if this release, for example, where all about Egyptian sites and stories about how they connect to the larger story he’s trying to tell. And then maybe the next set in product line has all the pirate stuff and the scenarios build on to the larger story. But instead, it feels like everything Japanese, Greek, South American and, uh, pirate got dumped in together. It undermines the otherwise strong sense of story. It’s a kitchen sink approach.

There are other issues with the content as well. Characters are wildly imbalanced, equipment and artifacts become redundant over the course of the game. The stack of room tiles is huge- over 50- which means if you need to find a certain room that isn’t laid out specifically at the outset, it can have a variable effect on the game’s length, which has an effect on its difficulty over time. The one-a-round event cards have just a title and then some plain instructions for monster spawns and so forth, but offer no reason for why they have titles- again, undermining the narrative.

I’m also completely not in any kind of love with the combat. It’s one of those games where you roll a ton of dice and compare successes to various numbers on a monster card. It’s boring and tedious, made even more boring and tedious by those completely unnecessary D12s, of which you need about three times as many as are included. Toss them out into your “random dice” Crown Royal bag and replace them with some regular D6s. There are PVP options that are actually required if someone turns bad due to a condition or story event, and they are just as boring and tedious.

What it comes down to is that the game is simply trying to do too much. It stretches itself thin, and when it could be showing its strengths it instead shows either its influences or its seams far too much. Do we really need the “Soul Merchant” (the RE4 guy) in there? Or is that just a distraction in what should be a game about surviving an expedition into an ancient trap and monster laden tomb? Do we really need all of the companion cards, when what is really essential is that these characters are interesting and fun to play? The game just loses its way and even though it has moments where you can see what Mr. Batarlis was getting close to what I believe he wanted us to experience, too often it collapses in scattershot directions.

I also get that Everything Epic wanted this to be a big, stunning production like the Fantasy Flight games of ten years past. I appreciate that, but here again you can feel the game straining. Material quality is fine, but it is an amateurishly produced game rife with typographical errors, misspellings, outright misprints (including a rulebook misprinted with the wrong cover) and plain old bad grammar. I’m a professional writer and I understand that any large volume of text is going to have errors, but there is no excuse for a finished, gone-to-press consumer product to be so poorly proofread or copyedited. It also doesn’t help that the visual execution is crude at best- it looks like something that fell out of a 1995 Angelfire Web site. The fonts are almost hilariously inconsistent (there are like six different typefaces on the box top alone), character portraits look terrible and the overall graphic design is poor. I don’t expect an indie production to be on par with Games Workshop, but I do expect that a lack of budget is made up for with style or visual panache.

Writing this review has been tough because I do not like to do bad reviews. I don’t think there’s much joy in dismantling something that someone has labored long and hard over and put a lot of love into. Secret of the Lost Tombs is one that I can tell has been labored over and loved, but it also feels inexperienced and na?ve. There’s something almost charming about it that has kept me coming back to it more than I expected after the first couple of outings with it, something almost like seeing an unexpectedly good and enthusiastic covers band at a bar. I can’t tell you that I haven’t had some fun with the game and I can’t tell you that I haven’t waffled back and forth over just how much I do or do not like it, but I would be dishonest if I didn’t come clean with the fact that this is one of those games that is lacking in a number of important areas. It’s not one that most groups would reach for over its more polished, focused and refined antecedents.

Cracked LCD- Xia: Legends of a Drift System in Review

xia ships

At first glance, Xia: Legends of a Drift System sort of looks like another entry in the 4x space empires sweepstakes. But it’s really closer to something like Merchant of Venus or Gale Force 9’s Firefly game. Like those titles, it’s a pick-up-and-deliver game with both mercantile and adventure gaming elements It features a strong “open world”-style emphasis on allowing the player to chart their own course through options that include good honest work as well as criminal enterprise, exploration as well as material advancement. The goal of the game is to set out in a starter spacecraft and earn the most fame points by the end of the game. And how you get them is really up to you.

Far Off Games and designer Cody Miller have already earned a couple of these fame points because Xia is a very nicely produced game with some fun components. The game ships with 21 fully painted (hooray) spaceship miniatures, each one a unique sculpt. They look great on their stands and add a nice touch of character to the game. The money in the game is custom, triangular coins made of metal in two colors. They are certainly a luxury-class addition that has absolutely zero impact on gameplay, but it’s a nice touch. It’s a somewhat expensive title but the quality overall is high, especially for a Kickstarter title.

And she does got it where it counts, because the game is exciting, fun and much more accessible than I expected after reading through the rules. At first I thought it was going to be quite complex, but the reality of it is that the design is pitched at the lower end of rules weight despite the level of detail. There are three tiers of upgradable ships with upgradable components. Concerns include cargo portage, energy management, asteroid/debris fields, nebulas, planetary shields, resource mining opportunities, blind space jumps, multiple types of goods, warp gates and bounties for lawbreakers. There are NPC ships including a pirate, a cop and a travelling merchant. To top it off, there is also plenty of PVP. There’s a lot going on in Xia, and it creates a sense of world-building as the game plays out and the narrative develops through player choices and a few random turns of event.

But it’s a simple, focused design that actually has an admirable degree of restraint despite the open-ended, sandbox approach. It’s definitely not one of those dreadful kitchen sink designs that plague Kickstarter these days. It’s all about piloting a unique ship through this developing environment and looking for opportunity while improving your ability to complete tasks. Each ship, in addition to a couple of special abilities and some variance in capabilities, has a grid depicting its available space. When you buy components, you fit them in Tetris-like. Each component- including engines- corresponds to a polyhedral die. The lowest grade engines let you roll a D6 to move and the upgraded ones a D8 but at the cost of requiring more space. This system runs through all of the ship components- the combat suite of guns, missiles and shields included.

Everything runs on an energy management system. Your ship has a couple of energy cylinders that must be “armed” and then placed on components to activate them. So to make those D6-powered engines go or those low-power peashooter lasers, you have to have the energy to do so. And if you run out of power, you might find yourself running on backup impulse power, limping back to a planet to refuel.

Expect to tool around the modular, hex-based map tiles looking for planets at which you can pick up or drop off cargo (provided you have room) while also taking your chances to navigate hazardous areas or mine them for resources to sell at a profit. If you go to a sort of “quest dispenser” spot on most of the tiles, you can draw from a job deck to take on a task that will yield fame points or credits. You might also find exploration tokens that give a little fame or financial bonus. Maybe you’ll run afoul of that NPC pirate ship that pops out to shoot at you and then runs away. Or maybe you will BE the pirate, taking on a job to steal from another player, and you wind up on the run from the authorities after sacking the merchant ship, looking for somewhere to ditch stolen goods. If another player doesn’t hunt you down first to claim the bounty on your ship!

Most significant actions in the game yield fame points, including destroying or upgrading ships and delivering cargo. I especially like that a player can get a point for “rescuing” an out-of-energy ship by going out to the stranded player and giving some energy. I accepted this charity from a fellow spacefarer in my second game, only to find that he had a job to rob me. Once a player moves his marker up to certain break points on the fame track, Title cards are drawn from a deck and these are achievement-like objectives that anyone can claim when eligible. So the game doles out additional opportunities as it plays out, and it’s up to you to determine if they are worth pursuing.

The game plays out to a sort of customizable length, which is good because if you play to higher fame point values it can drag out beyond its welcome. It, like some of its predecessors, plays best with three and worst with five. There is a sense of repetitiveness that starts to creep in after the 90 minute mark that I’ve found makes a good case for an expansion adding content by way of the job deck, ship components and the available space tiles. It isn’t that the game feels limited; it’s that it feels like it could take on more variety and a broader scope without suffering from bloat.

But even at two hours, I really like Xia a lot and I think among the games in its class, it’s actually more fun to play. Some of this, inevitably, is because it’s just so easy to set up, play and enjoy. It has a very unique sense of featuring a lot of specificity but hewing closer, mechanically, to lighter, more family oriented fare despite its length. I don’t have a fancy, brainy reason for liking this game so much- I don’t think it changes the way we play games and it doesn’t offer a sweeping case for games-as-art, nothing like that. It’s just plain fun to set out in a junky little ship and work out ways both fair and foul to get famous, get rich and get into better craft.

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


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.

I was drawn to Yashima first by the tremendously underused Asian fantasy setting, second by the promise of a simple, direct battle game with minimal setup or investment required. On both counts, the design scores high. Designers Joshua Sprung and Tony Gullotti have provided a cool setting and the notion of the Kami Masters partnering up with a Kami spirit is a neat idea expressed in the game by modular decks. A Master’s cards make up half your deck, the other half are a Kami’s cards. So you might be the furious Samurai-like Kenta, with his strong attacks and his ability to inflict a damage-enhancing Rancor, matched up with the highly defense Tortose Kami. Or you might decide to pair up the terrifying flame attacks of the Dragon with the master Rosamu, who excels in creating devastating chain combinations. There are four each of Masters and Kami included in the initial release, and it isn’t hard to imagine that more are on the way.

Each of these Masters also comes equipped with a deck of Tome cards. These cards are double sided and you flip them over like the pages of an actual book, so that only the Tome abilities you can see are currently usable. This is a fun notion, but it also kind of doesn’t make sense in the setting. Did Hikaru not memorize all her spells before heading out to the fight? Regardless, each character has a host of Karma-activated abilities that serve to distinguish them even further than their mix of cards and attacking capabilities.

Despite the modularity and variety of cards in the mix, the important rules barely take up two front-and-back pages and it’s easy to get players fighting fit in minutes. Once everyone is set up- and I do recommend making sure that all four characters are in every game, even with only two or three players- this is a fast moving, very direct game that is going to take you no more than 45 minutes or so to decide a victor. A round kicks off with a set of Action tokens (Move or Attack) placed on the table, one for each player. Each player then gets to secretly choose a Move or Attack token to add to the pool. Later, you’ll use these to active your Master and you will be limited to what is available for selection. There’s a chance to discard and redraw cards, and then all players draw a card to place in their Karma pile, which is also how the initiative is determined.

Tome actions follow, and the player may choose to Delve, meaning that they flip a page forward or backward to access a different pair of abilities. Strategically, this may be a critical decision as these allow you to equip weapons or other gear, enhance attacks or defense, or perform other special functions. During the Tome phase, you can play one of your visible abilities by paying its cost out of your Karma pile.

Once you’ve had a chance to fiddle around with a book out on the battlefield (at least that’s what it seems like), you pick your action token. Characters move a Speed rating and are limited to some degree by terrain types or by being “locked in combat” with an adjacent enemy. Attacking is more complicated, primarily because of how the targeting works.

Each attack card shows a diagram of your figure’s facing, surrounding hexes, and shaded hexes indicating where an attack hits. Some may hit two or three hexes in front of you in a line, where others might have a wide, sweeping arc and another might hit everything in a three hex frontage. The kicker (literally) is that you hit everything in the attack profile- even if you are playing with teams. This is a neat mechanic, but it sometimes takes a second to parse what exactly you can and can’t hit with- especially if your figures are like mine and are unpainted, because it isn’t clear which way the are facing.

An attacked character can play a defense card to soak up some damage. There is no life tracker or hit point marker in the game. All damage comes from either your hand or your deck, and only through special abilities or rejuvenating terrain can you get cards from discard back into your deck. One interesting mechanic is that attack cards and others that you “Use” go back to the bottom of the deck instead of discard. Once your deck is depleted, you aren’t exactly out of the game- you go into a special mode called “Restoration”. Your character card is flipped over and shows some slightly different stats and you have a chance to continue playing with a refreshed draw deck. Effectively, you have lost but you aren’t truly down and out until you are beaten a second time. In a team game (which is by far the best way to play), the team that has both Masters in restoration is the losing team.

There is some great stuff going on in Yashima. In addition to the excellent combat mechanics, there are status effects such as Blind and Burn that are given to characters, impacting their performance. Akiko, the resident pyromanic, can put Burn markers out on empty spaces- and then use a Tome effect later to explode them, causing damage to anyone standing by them. Rosamu’s chain ability lets him draw cards after attacks and keep going, as long as he keeps drawing cards with over 6 Karma, the chain ability and no duplicates of previously played attacks. There are Ripostes and out-of-nowhere evasive moves. There are throwing axes, magic boots and cards that you put face-up at the bottom of a deck, activating them when they make it to the top.

I love how focused this game is, but by the same token it almost feels limited. Battles tend to play out with a little maneuvering at first, an engagement and then maybe a couple of surprises but not as much maneuvering as you might think- even taking into account the attack template mechanic. So there’s a little more of a “clumping” effect, not uncommon in miniatures games with a strong melee emphasis, than I’d like to see. Some elements of the game just don’t quite seem relevant due to the superiority of attack over movement, such as the terrain types and facing. Facing isn’t even really relevant since you can change it before you play any card. Sure, the action tokens may keep you from attacking when you need to, but the result is often that you wind up with no option other than a Move that you neither need nor want. And a turn that feels wasted because of the limited scope.

It seems, then, that Yashima might work as part of a larger, unrealized game. I get a sense that this is sort of an introduction to the combat mechanics of a system that could grow to include things like specific objectives, capturing territory, some kind of “common” units fighting alongside the Kami Masters and narrative scenario design. The rulebook advertises a couple of upcoming expansions but it appears that they only introduce material similar to what is in this release. Which is good, and I do want them because I’m excited to see what new ice and forest content brings to the battles, but I also feel like the game needs more than “beat those guys up” to be a really good fighting game.

Oddly, the game reminds me quite a lot of the recent WWE Superstar Showdown. The games play and feel differently, but there is a similar impetus on positioning in a relatively small area paired with cardplay and counter-cardplay. This is definitely the more intricate and challenging title and it also has more potential to grow into something more fully developed.

Cracked LCD- Darkest Night Expansions in Review

A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed Victory Point Games’ Darkest Night. Despite the appearance of it being another one of those dime-a-dozen co-op fantasy adventure games, it turns out that this is actually one of the best. It does a couple of things quite differently than its peers, not the least of which is that it creates a bold narrative wherein stealth and avoidance can be as significant to victory as choosing when to “go loud” and attack. Darkest Night is also a very well supported game with multiple expansions available, and since I like playing with all of them it’s only fair to follow-up on that very positive review with a look at the additional content that is available- some of which dramatically changes (and improves) an already great game. The first two expansions, the ones not called From the Abyss and In Tales of Old, are available as part of the “Necromancer Bundle” that Victory Point sells. The last two are, as of this writing, only sold separately.

The first expansion, With an Inner Light, kind of sets the pace for what you can expect from designer Jeremy Lennert fleshing out the system. At first blush, these are definitely “more cards” kinds of expansions but the thing about it is that “more cards” in Darkest Night tends to me “completely new ways to play the game. There are new Blights and more cards for every deck that aren’t so impactful, but you also get four new characters with a loosely religious flavor. There’s a Shaman that specializes in a sort of ritualistic, totemic magic. A Paragon is sort of a paladin that works great as a support character, using auras to buff himself or anyone in his area. A Monk brings a little “Oriental Adventures” flavor (for you D&D veterans) and packs a mighty wallop with some neat chaining abilities. The Crusader promotes a more aggressive approach to dealing with Blights.

But the big value-add is a new questing system. Without this expansion, the game lacks a wider sense of player activity and agendas. These are cards that turn up in the Event deck that place crises in locations that require specific actions to resolve. And these are usually on a timer, so there is a new sense of urgency injected into the game as it creates a more dynamic game world. Some quests even help you get those all-important keys to unlock the Holy Relics you need to beat the Necromancer. I can’t imagine playing this game without the quests at this point, and that makes this expansion essential.

The second expansion released was On Shifting Winds. It isn’t as impactful and to some degree it feels much less important. But with that said, there’s another four characters that are all unique and have virtually no redundancy with those that have come before. The new gang has a sort of nature theme- a Wind Dancer that has some capriciously unreliable abilities, a utilitarian Scout that does pretty much just that, a Wayfarer that specializes in exploration, and a Ranger packed with survival specialties. In addition to these interesting characters, you get even more new Blights and other new cards to increase the variety as well as a couple of new treasure tokens (consumables) to give you a much-needed edge.. I’d give On Shifting Winds a recommendation just on the characters alone since this game excels in distinguishing the differences between classes by literally completely changing everything about how each plays. If you’re getting the Necromancer Bundle, you’re getting it anyway.

Expansion #3 gets you out of the Bundle and into the wild beyond. From the Abyss continues the four-character/more cards/more blights trend with some of the more compelling characters available to date. These folks are in it to win it against the Necromancer by leveraging some really interesting magic and some more in-your face methods. The Channeler and the Mesmer are definitely not your typical fireball/lightning bolt/ice blast spellslingers, focusing on mental control abilities and astral transformations, respectively. The winged Valkyrie has retaliatory abilities and the Exorcist can receive holy boons (blessings) to combat evil.

And they’ll need all the help they can get because another new mechanic comes into play with this set, and it’s not on the good guys’ side of the Manichean equation. From the Abyss dramatically changes the base game’s Darkness track so that predetermined negative effects happen as the land falls under the Necromancer’s sway. Now, when you hit certain Darkness thresholds, you draw a card that you will likely not be too happy about because they’re all pretty ugly. I like the Darkness cards and it’s another mechanic that as far as I’m concerned is now permanently bolted onto the base game, but they also feel like another “event” type of card in a game that already has enough. With that said, one of the strengths of these cards is that you usually won’t see more than a couple in a game so they have a rarity that makes them more interesting from game to game. Flipping the positive back over to the negative, this is already a game that can beat you down so giving it another tool with which to do so feels almost like overkill. That, along with the more complicated (but interesting) characters make this ideal as an “advanced” expansion for players who have done the Necromancer in a few times.

In Tales of Old is expansion #4. It has been recently released and it’s another good one- and it has another “this changes everything” mechanic on board along with the new cards, new blights, new characters, et cetera. I think fans of this game will want to own In Tales of Old, despite the fact that what used to be a fairly compact game is now getting dangerously close to bloat. We’re still a ways out from Arkham Horror “expansion for the expansions” levels of madness, but after five releases –and I’m not counting a couple of promo items – this is getting to be a more cumbersome game.

But fortunately, the additions earn their place in the game but they introduce a looming question about this design, which we’ll get around to shortly. The big update is an all-new Mystery system which completely discards the old key-hunting of the game up to this point. That’s right, forget all of that stuff about finding three keys to open those chests containing the Holy Relics. Now, the players are tasked with resolving Mystery cards that pop up (like quests) in various locations. Solving Mysteries gets you Clue tokens (shades of Arkham) and when you have ten, you can “buy” a Holy Relic. Those that lamented that the original game felt like endless, random searching for keys will be relieved and I think that overall it is an improvement that adds more narrative and strategic options.

The characters are, again, an interesting bunch. Mr. Lennert has let the entertainers in on the battle against the Necromancer. The Bard can activate helpful melodies, making him definitely more of a support character. The Conjurer brings another interesting set of magical abilities to the table with a focus on materializing magical forces. I’m particularly fond of the Tamer, her powers include the ability to tame a boar, a nightingale, a unicorn or a sylph to help her out on the quest. The Alchemist focuses on artifacts and items as well as brewing up special tinctures- consider him the bartender of this motley crew.

Now, the problem that In Tales of Old begins to set up is that it does not feel seamless with the remainder of the product line. Throwing out the keys means that all the cards that reference keys still need to do something and there are still key tokens floating around in the game. It feels almost like the Quests from With an Inner Light are made obsolete by the even better Mysteries, yet you can play with both. It almost feels, to some degree, like the game has sort of developed into a “2nd edition” on the fly with improvements and evolutions sort of applied to it with each release. So it’s hard not to look at some of the material in expansion #4 as second takes at material that was in expansion #1- material that really should have been in the base game to begin with, because it really needed those quests to build out the world and give the gameplay more dimension.

Be that as it may, the game totally works with everything piled in there and there aren’t any side boards, complicated sub-systems, special trackers or other administrative overhead other than managing more active cards on the table at any given time. But I can’t help but feel that this game, at this stage, really needs that official second edition more than it needs a FIFTH expansion, which is apparently on its way. I love this game, I think it’s a top notch example of the genre and I definitely want Mr. Lennert and Victory Point Games to give me more but I’m worried about what a reboot might mean for a product line going on six releases deep.

Cracked LCD- Reviews Catch-up! (Arena of the Planeswalkers, WWE Superstar Showdown, Forbidden Stars)

magic wwe

I’ve got a small pile to hand in this week- been extra busy over at The Review Corner with some of today’s most popular titles:

Magic: Arena of the Planeswalkers is, in fact, Heroscape meets Magic. It is also a great mass-market game that has tons of potential, if Hasbro will let it come to full fruition. It’s also probably the best value in gaming at only $29.99 retail. Five star review is here!

WWE Superstar Showdown is Gale Force 9’s latest, and as is par for course it’s not only really good, it’s really good even for non-fans of the license. It is an officially licensed WWE product (hologram and all) so if you know who Daniel Bryant and Roman Reigns are, have I got a game for you. If you don’t, it’s still a great fighting game that is super easy to pick up and play. I wish it had more wrestlers, especially ones I know from like, WrestleMania III. Four star review is here!

Forbidden Stars is FFG’s latest Warhammer 40k Dudes on a Map game, which fortunately avoids the debacle that was Horus Heresy altogether and is instead inspired by their woefully underappreciated StarCraft board game. But it isn’t as good, and for all of its streamlining and refinement they stuck a tacky, overwrought combat system in there that plays out like a full card battling game crammed into an otherwise smooth-running system. This also makes the game too long. We did a special thing with this, a Head to Head review with myself and my lead writer Charlie Theel. He liked it more than me, so there’s some good debate here in my three star (his four star) review!