Mole Rats in Space



Second Look—FAITH RPG

Second Look - Boardgame reviews in depth. Check out that cat.About two weeks after Burning Games sent a review copy of FAITH: A Garden in Hell’s starter set, they won runner-up for RPG of the Year at BoardGameGeek’s annual Golden Geek Awards. Skimming through the set, it’s easy to see why: the layout and illustrations are very well done. The 30€ Starter Set contains two full-color books, a 36-page rulebook and a 72-page campaign that should take a gaming group through about ten game sessions; two decks of cards, one a playing deck full of artwork and a gear and NPC deck; four character folios; and a few other playing aids for the GM. For a starter set, FAITH had a lot of production value in that box.

But what’s the game? With a name like “FAITH” and a subtitle “A Garden in Hell”, one might suppose that we’re looking at a religious game, something based on a real-world religion, like maybe we’ve been tricked into playing Scientologists…in spaaaaaace! Well, no.

There are belief systems at work here, but there are gods as well, but these gods were created from the beliefs of people: enough people believe a certain thing is true, such as “it is best to use one’s genius and power for the common good”, and the embodiment of that belief becomes real. The game gives five Gods to play with, each with a list of four commandments. Live by your god’s commandments and you start unlocking special near-magical abilities granted by your belief.

So yeah, not what I was expecting.

FAITH is in the far future with interstellar travel via wormholes. The setting history reads as if it’s a quite complex background that’s distilled into a one page summary (which in the starter kit, it is). To summarize that in a review would be rather tricky, so let’s try a barebones version: In the future, Earth descends into barbarism and an alien race uses us to fight a covert war against another alien race, much in the same way the United States and the Soviet Union used proxy nations to fight each other’s proxies in the 1980s. But then, another alien race shows up and holy crap, the US and CCCP and, um, I guess the Contras and Sandinistas must work together to fight off… China? I’m really stretching the metaphor.

There is a lot of detail – at least a hundred pages for just one of the two major alien races – in the core book, which is currently being Kickstarted. Lots of worldbuilding, including the current internal political structure, criminal organizations, and a rundown of the major and minor movers and shakers are included. Plus, pages and pages of beautiful full-color artwork.

The gameplay is card-based. The players, including the GM, have a deck of poker cards – a player deck with full bleed artwork and numbers in four suits is included in the starter set. Characters have skills and attribute scores. The skill’s value is added to the total on the cards played from a player’s starting hand of seven cards; the attribute is how many cards they may play from their hand. Skills and attributes aren’t linked: if you can find a valid reason to use your Mind stat with your Athletic skill, you do so. Some cards when played (matching a specific suit or a card of a rank of your skill or lower) trigger drawing additional cards into your hand.

You might notice that we’re using a standard poker deck: you’ll go through the entire deck before reshuffling. So that means you know you’re going to be playing that two of hearts (Urban Environment: 2) sometime before you’ll be getting a high-ranked card later.

The basic rule is the entire table uses one deck, which might mean that two of hearts is drawn and played by the GM or another player and you might see that ten of clubs come through again — three or four other people at the table are helping to cycle through the deck. There’s an optional rule where each player has their own deck of cards, which means you’re going to get both that two of hearts and that ten of clubs, but it’s going to take longer to cycle through your deck. I’m not sure I like this – the single deck feels like there’s more randomness inherent in the system. (Although I do like the control you have with a hand of cards. You could hold onto that two of hearts if you never want to play it and it’ll never come out during the game.)

If you’re running the game, it’s a little bit different: your NPCs have only two stats that matter when resolving conflicts, a physical and mental one. Flip over card(s) from the top of the deck and add them to the stat that covers what’s happening. It’s a bit of an asymmetric play that reminds me of Cinematic Unisystem (which is a good thing – there’s less bookkeeping for the GM, more crafting of the minutiae in the player’s characters).

There are also gear and NPC cards for the players and GM to use during the game as quick reference materials. Your character might be holding a relatively small assault rifle and there it is, with artwork, stats, abilities, and some in-world flavor text.

The campaign book.

Oh, this is so nice. I’m used to starter sets that have enough material in them for three, four scenes of action to get you a feel of the game. This has four acts, each with multiple scenes, and suggests that you’ll get somewhere between seven to twelve game sessions out of it.

I’m going to talk very briefly on the illustrations in this book: they are amazing. One of the map artists uses an illustration for the local maps, which really blows me away. That’s all I’m going to mention because the artwork here is phenomenal.

The campaign book itself features a learn-to-play mode. In the first actual encounter, the survivors of a crash on an unsurveyed planet must deal with hostile wildlife. The book breaks down this initial conflict sequence with how to use the system. As the book goes on, the reins are slowly handed over to the GM: “Create a level 3 encounter using a combination of the following…” The plot of the campaign marches towards a definite endpoint, but there are several branches a group could take, including a whole section of recon missions and the like from a central “safe” base. The ending of the campaign has different things and elements based on actions and events that the characters took or didn’t take – again, different from most starter sets that lead a group from encounter A to B to C and done.

So, should you get this thing? Well… there are a few odd things with what we’ve been able to see, so far, although they’re mainly applicable to the setting, like how the book talks about the “universe”, but it seems like there are only five different species of beings intelligent enough to achieve spaceflight in the entire universe (one of which invaded from “outside the known Universe… from far-off stars”, which leads me to think that they’re using that word incorrectly, but then the core rulebook pretty much makes it clear that no, we’re dealing with the entire universe). There’s all this world-building material about the politics and megacorps and the underworld… yet the starter set and the game seem to push characters towards the far fringes of known space to explore strange new worlds. And although the Kickstarter campaign page says there will be a section on combat in space, there really wasn’t anything in what I was able to review that featured it, leaving me to suppose the game’s main focus is on ground pounders making landfall on strange new alien worlds.

But hey, maybe that’s absolutely fine with what you want out of a far futuristic game.

Setting aside, my only major concern with the game’s printed material is the page numbering. Burning Games seems to think that the inside front cover of a book is page 1. It’s not – odd-numbered pages are on the right, even-numbered on the left. Look, I do layout for books when I’m not writing for Purple Pawn. This is a Thing with me.

That’s literally my only major concern with the game.

If the setting grabs you, go for it. If you like your characters to have some control in the outcomes of their actions instead of completely random dice rolls determining what’s up, go for it. If you just want a well-designed rulebook (except for the page numbering) that’s stuffed with some amazing artwork, go for it.

Oh, and the full game is currently being launched on Kickstarter.

A copy of FAITH: A Garden in Hell and a preview version of FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG were provided free for review by Burning Games.

PAX East 2017 – Greenbrier Games

Greenbrier always has an impressive showing in a small space at every PAX I’ve been to. This year they were showing off Z-Pocalypse 2: Defend the Burbs, Grimslingers: The Northern Territory, Of Dreams and Shadows, and Thundergryph Games’ Overseers.

I had a chance to see Z-Pocalypse 2: Defend the Burbs and Of Dreams and Shadows and I’m very excited about both games. Z-Poc 2 has more of a tower defense feel than the previous game and also has a lot more stuff. Mechanics have also been streamlined. You can find the full list of changes here.

Of Dreams and Shadows is a cooperative, narrative RPG board game for up to 6 players. Choices made by the players in the game can greatly affect the outcome for both good or ill. The artwork is amazing, along with the plethora of heroes to choose from and villains to fight against.

The new Grimslingers is currently up on Kickstarter with streamlined rules, a new campaign featuring the Northern Territory of the Forgotten West. Also, a new Fate deck has been introduced for various events, card effects and most importantly, procedurally generated area exploration.

Greenbrier never fails to excite, and this year was no different.

Toy Fair 2017—ThinkFun

At Toy Fair, ThinkFun’s booth was full of puzzles and a few games. We saw the next entry in their Escape the Room line: Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat (available now, $22). Containing four packed envelopes of props, puzzles, and clues, the new case has a higher age range. “Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor was big hit for us,” explained Kacey Templin, “but we had a lot of feedback to make the next one a bit more difficult, a bit more adult.” Thus, the recommended age moved slightly forward from 10 to 13 and up.

Color Cube Sudoku (March, $20) replicates a 6×6 Sudoku puzzle with nine colored cubes. Orient, spin, and swap cubes to solve a Sudoku puzzle using colors instead of numbers.

But I thought the coolest thing there was Spin-A-Roo (in stores in March, $20), a number counting game for the preschooler to second grade set. On your player mat, you have four numbers. You race to grab numbered discs off of the central spin-a-roo piece, either one up or down from the numbers you currently are showing. One neat thing about the game is the spinning element on the central unit: just spin it once and the board is repopulated with tiles — it’s actually fun to set up the next round!

RollerCoaster Challenge (summer, $22) is designed by the person that created Gravity Maze. In this, you’re taking several roller coaster elements, and buildling out tracks. You can try one of the forty challenge cards that come with the game, or — as I suspect I’d do — just use it to build your own coaster set. Currently on Kickstarter — ThinkFun’s first foray using the crowdsourcing platform — backers can receive an exclusive ThinkFun-colored blue car.

Toy Fair 2017—B&B Games

B&B Games had a few items on display at Toy Fair this year, including their recently-Kickstarted miniatures battle game, Destiny Aurora: Renegades. Listed at $80, the core set, containing 24 miniatures, will be available in April. The game has two distinct battlegrounds: while your away team is performing a mission on the ground, your ships participate in dogfights. Set up as a story-driven campaign based off of a book series, the game offers several add-ons and upgrades.

Just released the weekend of Toy Fair, Betabotz ($30) pits robot against robot. Players get a basic bot and bid for upgrades. Team up or hinder others on missions in this card-driven game.

 

On June 1st Three Kingdoms Redux will be available for an MSRP of $59.99 from Capstone Games. The game recreates the historic struggles between the Wei, Wu, and Shu states in the Three Kingdoms period in China’s history. The game is for 3 players only, each taking control of one of the three lords. Each side is asymmetrical and players will have to use their own advantages to run their states and protect their borders while trying to unify China.

Three Kingdoms Redux is for 3 players ages 14+ and is estimated to play in around 2 hours.

Play Library, which started with a popup in the Globe Gallery, Cincinnati, opened last week at a permanent location in Over-the-Rhine. Games can be played on-site for free or they can be checked out and taken home with a paid membership. The cost depends on the number of games a member wishes to check out at the same time. Play Library is also seeking sponsors for low-income memberships.

After hosting a series of Magic: The Gathering tournaments in a local coffee shop, Dice City Games wants to open an all-around geeky shop in Wheaton, Maryland. [Hey, that’s just up the street from my house!] The proprietors are seeking support via Indiegogo and have already built up some inventory tabletop games, videos, video games, vinyl albums, and pop-culture doodads.

Kingmakers of Columbus has opened a second location in Indianapolis. It’s a board game lounge that serves drinks and charges $5 for access to the game library.

Board game cafe Well Played opens this weekend in Asheville, North Carolina. The space fits over 100 people. The fare is updated kid food—house-made hot pockets, fresh-baked cookies, mason-jar puddings, grilled cheese, and charcuterie made to look like Lunchables.

Games Inn, a shop which launched four years ago in Hobart, Indiana, has opened Dark Ground Cafe. The attached dining option will focus on healthy dishes and ramen noodles.

South Hill Games recently opened in South Hill, Washington. Though trying to stay small, the shop still has some play space in the back.

Game Bandit - Scouring the net to find the cheapest discount boardgames and best free boardgame prizesThe latest deal at Bundle of Holding is for Traveller20, the d20 adaptation of Traveller and a fantastic resource for any version of the game. The Player’s Collection is priced at $12.95 and is already a pretty good deal but it’s the Referee’s Collection that really ramps up the value, which starting at $27 includes the full rule set, several setting books, more starship guides, separate adventures, and a campaign book.

For the month of March, Academy Games is bundling Fief, the Fief Expansions Pack, and Fief Buildings Pack for $130.

Dog Might Games is offering free worldwide shipping on all its wood boxes and trays this week only. It’s also giving away a $180 flaming birch Adventure Case on April 1st.

Apps from Asmodee Digital are on-sale at discounts of up to 60% for the next several days. Ticket To Ride, Small World 2, Splendor, Mysterium, Potion Explosion, Pandemic, and Colt Express are all included (Android, iOS, and PC), as are even some in-app purchases. Mysterium on Steam and in-app Ticket to Ride USA 1910 are excluded, however.

Until the launch of Mora Games’ crowdfunding project, the company is collecting email addresses for a giveaway of three copies of Wages of War.

Susan Polgar’s The Polgar Method of video Chess lessons is 60% off.

With Passover approaching, Amazon has a coupon for an additional 15% off TorahLine from 613 Games.

Other Amazon deals:

Savage World Bennies are 15% off direct from Pinnacle Entertainment.

EverythingBoardGames is giving away The Village Crone from Fireside Games and, along with the Crazy Like a Box Board Game Community, is giving away one-year memberships and a copy of Rising Sun (currently on Kickstarter).

Hasbro’s Toilet Trouble and Fantastic Gymnastics are $2 off at Toys “R” Us.

For the game’s 15th anniversary, Spectrum Games has a complete bundle of Cartoon Action Hour ebooks for 80% off.

March Madness means 30% off on basketball products from Strat-O-Matic. And the start of spring training means 25% off on card sets for select baseball seasons.

The prices on printed versions of the Ghastly Affair Player’s Manual and Ghastly Affair Presenter’s Manual have been reduced $5.

Complete ThinkFun’s customer survey to be entered in every future monthly giveaway by the company. And don’t forget to mention Purple Pawn as one of your sources for information.

The latest expansion in the Sun & Moon line of Pokémon TCG products, Guardians Rising, hits shelves on May 5th. The new set contains over 140 new cards including Tapu Koko-GX, Tapu Lele-GX, Kommo-o-GX, Lycanroc-GX, Metagross-GX, Sylveon-GX, Toxapex-GX, Vikavolt-GX, and more. More Alolan variets of original Pokémon will also be tossed into the mix.

The two new theme decks will feature the Legendary Pokémon Solgaleo and Lunala.

Guardians Rising will be available in booster packs, Elite Trainer boxes, and theme decks.

A game convention of a different sort took place this past weekend in Baltimore. Rather than featuring the hottest new releases, this annual event specifically focuses on the rudimentary and undeveloped game concepts that have yet to make their way to store shelves. Though attendance is free, it takes more than a passing interest to put in several hours on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon playing games with half-baked rules and rough pieces instead of nice plastic pawns and printed boards.

Still, around 1,700 people showed up to this year’s Unpub convention and volunteered their time to help inventors and small publishers improve their products. With a sense of adventure, they made their way around 100 or so tables being guinea pigs but also sharing their ideas and perhaps getting an early peek at what could be next year’s hot title.

At these tables, designers floated new ideas, tested untried innovations, and ran their works through the paces. Developing a game from initial concept to final product requires a lot of repeated play. Unpub allows independent and budding designers to take advantage of the crowd of ready playtesters to try different alternatives on the spot.

As explained to me by Jason Kotarski of Green Couch Games, the convention is also a great occasion for publishers. In addition to testing his own games, Jason was there scouting for new projects and even took the opportunity to do some promotion for Ladder 29, a firefighting family card game that his company is currently crowdfunding.

On Friday, before the two days of open playtesting, Unpub hosted a series of professional seminars just for the designers. One was led by Zev Shlasinger, founder of Z-Man Games and currently Director of Board Games for WizKids. Another provided some behind-the-scenes industry insight for those new to the business side of games. A third, by Panda Game Manufacturing, a major sponsor of Unpub, was on the process of game production.

Brent Kinney of Panda told me that the company “feels a strong connection with the independent design community.” It was manufacturing for self-publishers and Kickstarter projects that launched Panda. And the show provides the company not only an opportunity to advise aspiring publishers on manufacturing costs and considerations, but also to learn what types of new components—some of them quite innovative ideas—Panda should consider adding to its capabilities.

Back on Sunday, when I visited Unpub, I had the privilege of playtesting three games. The first was a yet-to-be-named tabletop board game implementation of Japanese-style computer RPGs from designer Luke Peterschmidt. Though this was not the kind of game that I usually go for, I did enjoy learning its combat mechanics and thought they seemed pretty solid. The second was Party Poetry by Sheri Knauth, a game in which the players each secretly contribute one line to a larger poem and then vote on which amalgamation they consider the best. Again, not a game I would usually choose, but I was feeling venturous and was impressed by the poetry that can come out of such a process. The third game, Rain Dance by Matt Loomis and Isaac Shalev, was definitely more my style and seemed nearly ready-to-go. Simple cards allow players to plant, water, and harvest crops, while the choice of replacement cards allows them to flood out the crops of their opponent.

And though I didn’t get a chance to play it, probably the most exciting news out of Unpub for me personally was that Dave Chalker is working on a Midnight at the Well of Souls board game based on the novel series by his father, science fiction author Jack Chalker. During high school, I devoured every one of his books as they came out.

Unpub is a tremendous asset to game designers and a wonderful experience for those interested in seeing some of the process behind their favorite entertainment. Look for it again next year in Baltimore, March 23-25.

Toy Fair 2017—Lion Rampant Imports

Lion Rampant Imports brings several Zoch (Zoch-Verlagg) games to the North American market. The one we were able to demo was Dreams (available now, $46), a game that’s as beautiful as Dixit and plays like A Fake Artist Goes to New York. In Dreams, the players are deities creating constellations in the night sky, based on a common image that is known to all players, save one. While the group places gem-like stars in the night sky, the one who doesn’t know exactly what they’re creating is trying to remain undetected throughout the game. Once all stars are placed, the single player tries to determine which of four images was being recreated while the others try to guess which one of the players didn’t know.

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