Ben and I played the following games. Here’s what I thought:
Nemesis – my rating: 8/10
Very cinematic and dramatic. Just like James Cameron says on the bluray before his Aliens extended edition screens (I paraphrase, of course): ‘I wanted to make two and half hours of bad road’. This game evokes that sentiment and the original two Alien(s) films brilliantly.
1066, Tears to Many Mothers – my rating: 6/10
Face value suggested a deep strategy card game, but I didn’t feel that depth was really there. Hopefully I’ll find it on repeated plays.
Escape the Dark Castle – my rating: 9/10
Gorgeous design and quality. Insanely quick to learn and get going. Very thematic and hearkens back to the good old days of ‘choose your own adventure’.
Terraforming Mars (plus expansions) – my rating 7/10
Mind-boggling goodness – more on that at the end of this article.
A good Friday
After breakfast, my Friday started with a dreary and sodden trudge across the local fields with Monty and Zelda (our wonderful Cockapoos). I got home just in time to complete the usual household chores before my friend and regular gaming companion, Ben arrived. It was a grey, drizzling day, but we didn’t care anymore because we had plans to remain indoors and do battle at the tabletop.
Ben was somewhat hungover due to the frivolities of the night before, being his work’s leaving do and/or Christmas do, so with a lowered voice, I plied him with a pot of strong coffee and eased him into the day. Along with some additional Red Bull and various snacks, he found it in himself to roll up his sleeves and crack on with some board games.
Ben has his own blog over on BGG, called Sneaky Meeples which I encourage you to read and follow. In addition to writing up his gameplay sessions and tabletop thoughts, being an English gentleman, he waxes lyrical on the finer qualities of our little isle, such as narrow-boating along scenic canals, pubs, ale and the lush, green countryside. It’s always an entertaining read. 🙂
In space, Intruders can hear your every move!
First up was a coop game of Nemesis from Awaken Realms. Having only recently received wave one of my Kickstarter pledge for this, it was already on the table, and only took a few mins to reset between the two of us. I’d played two-handed solo the day before with the Mechanic and Soldier, only to get cornered after completing my objectives and go down in a hail of slime and Intruder bites!
Ben and I stuck with the same two characters, me taking the Mechanic (tasked with reaching Earth) and Ben taking the Soldier (tasked with depositing a human corpse in the Surgery) so he could ease out of his hangover by “just shooting stuff”. Ben doesn’t normally go in for miniatures games, but he was keen to give it a go as he’d liked the look of what I’d posted online so far.
This game’s core gameplay mechanic is ‘noise’. Everytime you enter a room without another character in it, you roll for noise. Depending on your result, you’ll usually be required to place a noise token in one of the corridors connecting to the room you just entered. Corridors can only hold one noise token each, so the next time someone has to place a noise token in the same corridor, they encounter an Intruder! With noise tokens being persistent, what this means is that if you follow each other around the ship and are only ever one space away, you can avoid generating additional noise (you’re always entering rooms your companion is in). However, if you need to explore an area of the ship a second time, it can all go horribly, horribly wrong!
Off we go…
My Mechanic set off in the direction of the engines to make sure we could get/had got two working to get back to Earth. Ben set off in the opposite direction to explore rooms in the hope of finding the Surgery. I got the 2 engines we needed working with minimal interference – although we had our fair share of malfunctions and fires break out. Ben made his way to the cockpit, checked the coordinates and changed our destination to Earth. Some time after that it all started to go wrong…
I found the surgery (which Ben needed for his objective), but I got cornered by Intruders. Not only that, but the next room I went into had a malfunctioning door, which closed behind me – blocking off Ben’s shortest route to the Surgery! (see below)
Fortunately (yeah right!), some helpful Intruders spawned soon afterwards and broke down the door, which opened up the route again, but there were about five of the blighters on the board now, clustered around the Surgery, which was only 2 spaces from the Hibernatorium we planned on using to snooze our way to Earth once the surgery objective was complete.
We had mixed results (mostly poor) attacking the Intruders. Ammo was scarce and we only found the armoury when it was too late. Most of the other rooms we explored were malfunctioning meaning we couldn’t search for supplies!
Ben did manage to complete Soldier’s objective in the surgery, but for my Mechanic, it was too late – I succumbed to a case of Intruder-itis and died in the Hibernatorium after fixing a malfunction there.
Ben was left to fend for himself and did a fine job of evading the Intruders until the Hibernatorium was clear and successfully jumped in a hibernation pod. He’d made it… or had he?
Winner winner, chicken dinner?
Checking the win conditions went well, until it got to checking for contamination.
You see, he barely made it into hibernation alive. There was no time to try and get rid of the contamination cards Soldier had acquired from Intruder attacks. When it came to checking his two contamination cards, one was ‘infected’, so he shuffled all his action and contamination cards together and drew… a contamination card… immediately! First damn one out of the newly shuffled deck was insta-death! Boo!
It was a hell of a ride, and this game really makes you work for it towards the end. The amount of evading Ben did in the final rounds was nearing superhuman, but he did manage to get into hibernation. But it was all for nought
1066, Tears to Many Mothers
A tragic and glorious history
Next up was Ben’s copy of the joyously titled historical ‘1066, Tears to Many Mothers‘. This is a two player card game based on the events at the famous Saxon vs Norman conflict. Victory is achieved by either killing your opponent’s leader: William or Harold, or by claiming two of the three battle ‘wedges’ across the middle of the play area. Before you can do this, you have to whittle your way through a series of objectives by overcoming their zeal or might (card stats) in order, until you get to the Battle of Hastings.
The game is similar in ways to Magic the Gathering, but nowhere near as sprawling due to all the cards you’ll ever see being included in the one box. This is a boxed, limited game (unless they make expansions) and everything you need is right there when you make a purchase. There is also a shared playmat, with a total of 9 spaces per army, where you can place your troops – one is reserved for your leader, which is in the front (nearest to the middle) row.
It’s a minor point, but one thing that baffled me a little bit was the design of the playmat. Cards are placed onto the battlefield in a top-down grid – as if you’re looking down upon the battlefield with your enemy at the far side and your troops immediately in front of you. However, the art on the mat is a side-on view of what you’d see if you were at ground level. See what I mean:
To me, it would make more thematic sense to have a top-down, traditional ‘god’ view of the battlefield printed on there. The latter would also have allowed for artwork of different battle units like vanguard, cavalry, infantry etc in each of the nine spaces. Still – I’m no designer, so maybe that just wasn’t what the creators wanted! Moving on…
Good art goes a long way
This game has hands-down some of the best card art I’ve seen in a game. The characters and troops faces on some of the cards have incredibly detailed expressions, and this really compliments the fact that your deck includes real-life movers and shakers from the time. You get a sense of their personalities through this wonderful art, and it really brings it to life. The game mechanics also incorporate familial ties, which bequeath discounted playing costs. So if you have in your hand the brother or cousin of a card you’ve already played, you’ll pay less to play it.
I’d like to play this again, because as with any card game, until you know a) the rules and b) some of the cards, you have no idea what to do! Ben did a good job of teaching me the ropes, and part way through we switched to a partial draft when filling our hands. Instead of just blindly drawing the top two cards from our decks, we drew three and chose which two to keep, discarding the third. This definitely helped as I could start to see more cards and form better strategies even without knowing what was coming out of the deck next.
At the end of the game, I found that the remaining third of my deck, which I didn’t get to use, contained almost entirely different cards to what I had seen and played. There’s definitely more to this game than I’ve seen and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface.
Escape the Dark Castle
Kicking it old school
Next up was Escape the Dark Castle from local games company Themeborne and we had a blast! It took all of 5 mins to learn and we threw ourselves into the theme and role play elements that it invites you to enjoy. We mimed death scenes and screeched creepy voices when reading the cards – the whole nine yards really.
It’s surprising to me that I’ve managed to drag myself away from playing it to write about it!
This was another Kickstarter I backed earlier in the year after Pete, another gaming friend of mine introduced me to the game when he popped round with it one day. I also saw it and its creators, Themeborne at UKGE in June this year. Boy am I glad I backed it! I went all in and got the collector’s box, all expansions and all the other gubbins too. I figured the more variety in a game like this, the better.
This game has a reputation for being old school in the sense of similarities to a choose your own adventure book. I remember reading
Steve Jackson/Ian Livingstone’s ‘Fighting Fantasy’ books growing up in the 80s, so this is definitely a hook for me personally. And I concur that this game really does harness what made those great – just in a more grown-up, sinister and morbid kinda way.
The first thing that struck me when I unboxed the parcel everything was delivered in was that striking, minimalist black and white theme. Check it out:
I love this aesthetic, and I’m sure it’s what sold a lot of people on this game, but it not only looks good, it plays like a dream. You can complete a game in 30 mins or less… and you’ll probably die… horribly.
The dice are some of the best quality dice I have ever seen. The carving and colouring is so well defined, it puts a lot of other products to shame. The dice are also big and hefty, meaning they are very satisfying to role – which is highly appropriate in a game where dice manipulation is fairly minimal – every roll counts!
Ben and I played two games, and we reached the boss both times, but failed within moments of being confronted with them! I won’t write too much about the detail here as it’s very much a game of discovery and I owe it to you not to spoil it. However, if you choose to look closely enough at the photo below, you can see what you can see.
Having gone pretty much all in on the Kickstarter (I didn’t get the cassette tape(!) soundtrack), I can confirm that the death book adds another layer of gruesome immersion. Every card that can kill you has a page in here that described in excruciating detail how you meet your end. Some are truly horrific… and magnificent! 🙂
Highly recommended as a introductory/gateway tabletop game or one for gamers who enjoy RPG, fantasy settings.
What more can be said about this one?
We rounded out the day with a favourite of Ben’s: Terraforming Mars. Now there’s not much I can say about this one that’s not already been said. It’s an excellent game and remains a highly regarded favourite on BGG and other communities (it’s still ranked #4 on BGG today). It’s highly strategic, adaptable, epic, thematic, but yesterday’s game had me flummoxed!
I’ve played this once or twice before, but it was so long ago I pretty much had to relearn it as we played. In contrast, Ben’s played about 80 times, so he’s got an excellent grasp of what to do and how it all works. He reminded me of all the rules (Ben’s an excellent tabletop tutor – even with a hangover), as well as introduced me to several new ones due to incorporating the Venus Next, Colonies and Prelude expansions and we cracked on.
Too much of a good thing
I think I reached maximum TM saturation about 2hrs in (it was a 3hr game), because I just lost focus of what my strategy was/should now be. I’d barely actually terraformed anything until late-game as I kept obsessing over the cards in my hand as well as my starting strategy and corporation/prelude choices of ‘big energy’, and struggled to change gears when I was kinda funnelled into animal farming due to card draw.
Now I loved this game the first time I played, and I still do. I also struggle to concentrate for extended periods of time, so that always contributes, but just bear with me a sec…
- Should I build on Mars?
- Should I play green cards, blue cards, red cards?
- Should I raise the temp of Mars?
- Should I increase my money/steel/titanium/plants/energy/heat production?
- Should I oxygenate the atmosphere?
- Should I terraform Venus?
- Should I send out the ships to the colonies?
- Should I build a colony?
- Should I save my money this round to spend it next round?
- Should I go all in on one strategy or spread across several?
- Should I spend my first actions on the cards I’ve played or on any of the above?
- Should I invest in ‘floaters’ or not bother?
I’m sure anyone could extend this list way beyond what’s above, and the depth of choice this game offers is one of it’s main attractions. However, yesterday’s game just set my head spinning due to the sheer amount of stuff I had to keep track of and contemplate as my next move.
I mentioned this to Ben afterwards and he’s offered to pull the expansion content out of the game next time we play (no small feat because all the cards are just mixed together!) I also need to play it in quicker succession that once a year to help keep the momentum of what I’ve learned before. A lot of it came back to me yesterday, but because I was having to focus on additional content that hadn’t been there when I played before, it felt more like learning from scratch.
I look forward to playing vanilla TM again, sooner rather than later! I might pick up a copy for myself so I can play more often.