Some two years after I finished painting the figures, I got in a play of the Batman Miniatures Game on Saturday night. It was a seven player game, with the following teams/factions: Batman and Robin; Batwoman and Red Mask; Freeze; Joker; Penguin; Riddler and; Two-Face. In the scenario, a meteor with Kryptonite exploded over Gotham and all the factions are out to gather the bits.
I thought the game was a lot of fun (2nd edition). The combat mechanisms are pretty ordinary (roll to hit, roll to damage, target may get a dodge), but the planning phase is really good. In the planning phase, players have a certain amount of “Willpower” to allocate among four abilities: Movement, Attack, Defense and Special. On a character’s activation, he expends those points to carry out actions. The planning is sort of a mini game unto itself, where you must anticipate what actions you may need to do when your turn arrives.
The figures were a delight to paint, but a serious pain to assemble. Knight Models makes multipart figures with seemingly little rhyme or reason for the parts division. Joker, for example, inexplicably had a head separate from the body. There was no reason to do that. Other figures had random hands that needed to be attached; none of these made any sense. The figures are also realistically proportioned, which meant that tiny pieces like hands had little surface area to for glue to adhere. I was forced to pin nearly every part on these models, which was extraordinarily (and unnecessarily) laborious.
I can recommend the 2nd edition of the Batman Miniatures Game rules, but potential players should be prepared for a painstaking and exacting miniatures assembly process.
Pen and Sword books recently sent a review copy of a new set of skirmish rules from veteran gamer John Lambshead: One Hour Skirmish Wargames. We used the rules to play a fun scenario set in the French and Indian War.
One Hour Skirmish is en entirely card driven game. Each player has a deck, and cards are flipped to determine turn order, activation points and combat results.
In shooting, for example, players flip and compare the results of their cards. If the attacker’s weapon has a high rate of fire, he flips two or more cards. A defender in cover will flip two, three or four cards, depending upon the defensive situation. In any case, the high card wins.
The result of all this card flipping is a fast-paced, and dramatic game. In a four player game, with around eight to twelve figures per player, we managed to finish in about an hour and a half. Everyone was satisfied with the results, and there were several moments in the game that left us talking afterwards, such as the stand of a British officer and a lone soldier against a large group of coeur de bois and natives.
One of the reasons that the game plays so quickly is that there are no stat lines to track. Grunts are just grunts, and they are either down or out. It is possible to imbue figures with special capabilities, such as “Bruiser” or “Dead Shot,” but it is not the same as having Guy A hit on a 4+ and Guy B hit on a 5+ in more fiddly systems. The special abilities mostly just let you draw extra cards in specific situations.
At some level, having the vast majority of troops with identical abilities make sense in a historical skirmish. On an individual level, it is unlikely that soldiers in the same time period in the age of gunpowder would have wildly different skill levels.
The two areas where opposing forces could have different qualities in a given scenario are their motivation and leadership. The motivation score in this affects the side’s morale breakpoint. Leadership will affect the number of cards drawn when checking said morale.
The One Hour Skirmish base rules are just ten pages long, and actually feel much shorter than that. The remainder of the hundred page paperback is dedicated to period specific scenarios and rules and a points system.
The four of us who played all agreed that we would use these rules again and thought we might try a Boxer Rebellion game. We also agreed, however, that there are some in our larger gaming group who would likely not enjoy the rules. Those gamers tend to like more complicated systems, where differences in training, equipment and doctrine would be more closely modeled.
I can recommend the One Hour Skirmish rules for players who want a quick game with more emphasis on action and drama over “realism” and “crunchiness.”
In The Cards of Cthulhu, players take on the role of intrepid investigators trying to keep the minions of four (five with the expansion) cults from opening gates for their Elder Gods. It is a threat management game, as each draw from the deck brings new threats to deal with, or help in the form of items and followers. It is intended as a solo game, but there are rules for higher player counts. I have found it to be an enjoyable experience: quick to set up; easy to play; with a decent amount of tension and decision making. Cards of Cthulhu has enough flavor to keep this Lovecraft fan interested.
Cards of Cthulhu is — as the name suggests — an an almost entirely card driven game. The two hundred card deck (with the expansion) consists of: Minions; Minor, Major and Unspeakable Horrors; Gates; Followers; and Items. On each turn the player draws cards from the deck and then resolves them. Minions, Horrors and Gates are played on the appropriate Cults’ Board. Items and followers can be purchased. Dice are used to resolve combat against Minions and Horrors.
If any Cult’s board ever has five minions present, they summon their Elder God and the game ends in failure. Minions may also trigger the awakening of Minor, Major and Unspeakable Horrors. Gates force the drawing of additional cards, which may potentially add to the turn’s difficulty. The key to the game is to manage each Cult’s minions.
The major resource in the game is “Experience,” which is tracked with thematic coins. Experience is gained by closing gates and killing Minions and Horrors. Experience is spent on items, followers, extra actions, extra dice and other things that can help deal with threats and mitigate the luck of the draw and of the dice.
There are three kinds of dice in Cards of Cthulhu: Body (red), Health (green) and Spirit (white). Each is numbered 1 – 6. When attacking minions, such as a Mi-Go or Cultist, you roll one body and two health dice to try to meet or exceed the cards’ value. Roll higher than the value, and the minion is defeated. Dice can be used individually, or in combination. Combining dice values is the only way to defeat a Minion with a value of 7 – 10.
Horrors are defeated by rolling dice combinations. A Minor Horror is defeated with a two-dice combo — for example, a pair or threes, or a run of 2-3. A three dice Major Horror requires three of a kind or a run of three dice. Unspeakable Horrors require four of a kind or a run of four dice.
Spirit Dice can be purchased with Experience. These add to the dice pool and are obviously the only way to defeat an Unspeakable Horror. Players may also want to add to their dice pool when facing a pile of high value minions.
Cards of Cthulhu is not an overly difficult game, but I have found that it creates an enjoyable feeling of tension and suspense. It also has enough flavor to satisfy my Lovecraft itch. Minions pile up on Cult boards, forcing desperate attempts to reduce their number. Opened gates accelerate the dangers. Horrors compound the difficulty by “shielding” their minions (there is a combat priority — horrors, then minions). Followers must be sacrificed. The day can be saved with the right magic item, or a stick of dynamite. Bad luck (and what Lovecraft story doesn’t have its share of bad luck) in the form of bad die rolls and unlucky card draws work against you.
The artwork is well-done and evokes for me the proper Lovecraftian feel. Overall component production is good, but not great. Card quality is adequate. They are slick and glossy and sturdy enough for many, many plays. I have trouble hand shuffling them, though. Because it is important to the game for them to be really well shuffled (so you don’t get a long run of one Cult’s cards that you can’t deal with), I have resorted to several rounds of pile shuffling before a game. Mash shuffling might also be an option.
I am also convinced that the cards from the expansion are of a slightly different thickness than the base set. That doesn’t matter in terms of game play, though. The next card on the deck is the next card on the deck. The Cult boards are sturdy cardboard, but I find I have to counter-bend them to make them lie flat. I also think that there really aren’t enough Experience tokens.
In truth, though, I’m not even sure why there are tokens. You could just as easily keep the cards of the cultists and horrors you kill near you, and return them to the discard pile as you spend experience. Gates, Minions and discarded followers and items are worth one each. Horrors have an experience value equal to their dice combo value, which is printed on the card. You might have to make “change” with a four dice Unspeakable Horror, but that also would be easy enough.
One nice feature of the Beyond The Veil expansion is that it lets you adjust the duration of the game. A short game involves using a quarter of the cards and drawing 7 cards per turn. A mid-sized game uses half the deck and draws five cards. A full game uses all of the cards and draws four cards per turn. I would recommend picking up the expansion.
In Fate of the Elder Gods, players take on the roles of the High Priests of cults trying to summon Elder Gods. Doing so requires the sacrifice of a great many cultists, and your nefarious plans are always threatened by investigators trying to seal your gate with Elder Signs. The winner of the game is the first to successfully summon their Elder God.
Fate of the Elder Gods was a big hit in our group. It has relatively simple rules, but deep strategy. Fate has a nice collection of mechanics, such as action selection, hand management, asymmetrical powers, a bit of area control and some randomness with a few die rolls to resolve actions. It is also an attractive game, with a great looking board and serviceable miniatures. This is a game that I think will appeal to both Euro and Ameri-Treasure gamers.
The core of Fate of The Elder Gods is an “action selection” mechanic. On their turn, players use Spell Cards from their hand to move the Fate Piece (a large Cthulhu model) to the various locations on the circular board. Each of the six locations (the Museum, the Library, The Gathering, The Ceremony, the Streets of Arkham and the Other Worlds) allows the player to perform a specific set of actions to help the Cult advance. The Ceremony, for example, lets a cult activate its’ Elder God power. The Void allows a player to sacrifice cultists to the Void (the center of the board) to advance the Summoning. The Gathering, on the other hand, attracts new Cultists to your lodge. The Library adds Spells to your hand. The Museum is the source of powerful artifacts. The Streets of Arkham initiates a “raid” on another Cultist’s lodge.
Visiting a location has two other effects. First, it lets you add a cultist to the board to try to “control” that area and gain bonus actions. But beware, for each time an area is visited, a new investigator is drawn to the area. If three or more investigators are present when you visit an area, they head to your cult’s lodge, where they may well initiate a raid. That’s bad, because in the course of a raid, the investigators are likely to try to close your gate with one or more Elder Signs. If your gate is completely shut down, the game is over, and you lose. At that point, the player with the fewest Elder Signs wins.
Managing the meddling investigators adds another layer to the game, and opens an avenue for players who are hopelessly behind in the race to open a gate. If the lagging players can pile up Elder Signs on the leader, they have a path to victory if they have the fewest Elder Signs themselves.
The Spell Cards have multiple purposes. The backs have different astral symbols which are used to travel to locations to take actions. Cards used for movement are left on the board at the Fate Piece’s current location (to be used later to prepare spells). We thought of it as expending a particular kind of astral energy at Location A to move to Location B.
The fronts of the cards have spells, which for the most part thwart other players’ plans. This often sets up interesting dilemmas. Do you use the card for its movement, or save it because you’d like to cast that spell later?
Preparing a spell for casting has a “cost” in astral symbols which is indicated on the spell side of the card. A player can prepare a spell for casting (immediately or at a later time) if the pile of astral symbol cards left behind at that location by player movement matches the cost on the card.
It is really very clever. The spell cards can be used for movement, which in turn powers the spell cards.
Each of the Cults in the game is devoted to one of eight Elder Gods, each of which has its own powers. The Beasts From Beyond expansion adds more Gods, as well as monsters which can be summoned with spell cards. The different Elder Gods adds quite a bit of replayability. You could play a very large number of games, indeed, before ever coming back to the same combination of Gods ( I *think* that’s 1, 680 combinations for four players).
Curses are another part of the game. At various points in the game, circumstances may dictate that a particular cult becomes “cursed.” In this case a card is drawn by the player to the right of the cursed cult and silently read. That player then is responsible for monitoring the cursed cult’s actions to see if the curse is triggered. The fun part is that the cursed cult has no idea what will trigger the curse, nor what its effects will be. For the player monitoring the curse, it is not only fun to hit an opponent with a “gotcha,” but it also provides some valuable information. The player monitoring the curse may know that the cursed cult will be unable to perform a certain action, and can perhaps make a plan to take advantage of that. Of course, he may also be under a curse …
Another point in Fate’s favor is its solo player mode. I played two games solo and had quite a bit of fun.
Fate of the Elder Gods has a lot going on in the context of some pretty simple rules. It’s fun.
The good folks at Vis Bellica Online have this review of 15mm ancients wargames figure lines, including Essex Assyrians and Egyptians, Chariot Egyptians, Tin Soldier Greeks, Thracians and Persians, Xyston Greeks, Pass O’ The North, and Pendraken 10mm late Romans.