We Are The Royal – King Down review

KD Pieces

I have never been a huge fan of Chess. I dabbled a little at school, occasionally swapped my usual haunt of the library for the Chess Club when I wanted a change of scenery (I was never one to go outside – imagine!). Once I was convinced to attend a local competition where I was knocked out in the first round by a 6-year-old… I was 14. While I’m well aware of the rules and a couple of openings are stuck inside my head to this day, Chess has never really been a go to game for me. My eye, however, has occasionally been caught by some of the variants that make their way into the nerdy world of games – not to say that Chess players aren’t nerds; they’re just an entirely different class of them – as they sometimes offer something more than just the pure game so beloved by many that drives me to tears.

And so when Saar Shai, the mind behind Kickstarter darling The Agents, gave me a shout to see if I’d be interested in checking out King Down… well, who am I to say no? I thought his first big hit had some great ideas and I was intrigued to see how he’d change a centuries-old classic to appeal to the modern gaming audience. If you take a look at the crowdfunding campaign that’s running now and surpassed its $50,000 goal on the first day, you’ll see one of the reasons: a metric crapton of minis. Thankfully, he’s thought that it may be an idea to actually include a game in there as well as a LOT of plastic, and it’s really not bad at all. In fact, I’d say it’s downright entertaining.

King Down is actually being pitched as ‘The Prequel To Chess’ – a rather bold statement considering its creator is a relatively new designer – and while it certainly feels very familiar when playing, there’s enough of a difference to consider it something that can stand on its own. The first major switch is that the game is planned to play with up to four people, though at the moment only the rules for two are available. Rather than use just the board and pieces, each player also has to handle a deck of cards that bestow special abilities upon your side, and there’s no taking the King to win; instead, this is a race to score eight victory points. These can be gained by taking (and keeping) opponents’ pieces and occupying the four central squares of the board, called The Capitol in a very Hunger Games style.

All pieces bar the King have been renamed (though I’ll use the standard names here) and there are also five extra piece types that have been introduced;  Beast only moves around the board when it can Take, while Bow attacks enemy pieces from a distance. Bash is sacrificed when it Takes, Block is invincible and Cog… well… that’s not been revealed yet. The pieces look very lovely indeed, just like the standard ones that can be used for a regular game of Chess.

KD 3D Prints

Players begin with a smaller amount of pieces, none of which are actually on the board. To bring them into play – or indeed do anything in the game – you’ll need to spend Action Points, and each turn sees you start with four. There’s a range of basic actions that you’ll be using most of the time: Call (4AP) brings a piece of your choice into play on your home row, and Move (2AP) allows you to move your piece like you would in a normal game of Chess; Bishops on the diagonals, Pawns one forward, that kind of thing. You can’t take anything using that Action though – that requires a Take action costing 3AP, basically an amped up Move. Finally, you can Draw a card from your deck for 1AP.

Those cards, as mentioned before, give you special powers and abilities that also require the spending of Action Points. They’re split into two types, Calling Cards and Spells. Calling Cards are specifically targeted at certain pieces to either bring them onto the board cheaper than a standard Call or boost their abilities if they’re in play. Spells allow you to do all manner of oddities, from stealing back already taken pieces, moving to any position on the board or even saving a piece from danger and returning it to your stock. No matter they type, each card has a cost printed on it and remains in play until the beginning of your next turn as some have lasting effects.

King Down has proven an interesting little game to play. I think that a lot of the focus in the campaign is going to be on the admittedly lovely miniatures, but the game does deserve time in the spotlight as well. Chess has been boiled in a pan with a shot of Eurogame Sauce and has turned into something that even I can enjoy. Rather than a stilted affair that is dependent on knowing countless openings and how to react to them, learning the rundowns of thousands, perhaps millions, of previously played games, King Down presents the basic rules that pretty much everyone is aware of and puts the choices in your hands. Do you start with your King in the far left corner, then aim to surround it with other, more powerful pieces? Perhaps you’d think it better to race to the Capitol and take over the spaces you’ll find there? Or should you take a super aggressive tack and attempt to steal as many opposition pieces as you can? King Down has given Chess something I’ve always found sorely lacking – choice.

KD Kings

Now, instead of reacting to your enemies’ moves, you have options on your side. Yes, in Chess you may have an optimal move that you should pretty much always do, but with King Down there’s an awful lot of things to do, all of which can be seen as viable. Where many variants have been rather dry, this one is far more appealing to someone like me who has a love of modern board games. Yes, there’s a danger of Analysis Paralysis creeping in with King Down, especially with players who may have forgotten the basics, but this is definitely something that I’d have a part of my collection, whereas I’d happily never have played Chess again for the rest of my days.

King Down was designed by Saar Shai and plays between two and four people, with games taking around 30-60 minutes. Currently on Kickstarter, you can pledge for a set for $80 (which will come with ALL the minis). The campaign ends on october 13 with the game scheduled for delivery in March 2015. Thanks to Saar for the advance look at the cards!

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Showgirl – Mai-Star review

MaiStar

Emma returns once again with a look at Seiji Kanai’s latest addition to AEG’s small box line. Generally these releases have been rather entertaining – does Mai-Star continue the trend?

À propos of nothing, here’s a list of some linked things. Nena. The Mock Turtles. Carl Douglas. Not Seiji Kanai. Now, while most of you are doubtless divining from this group of names that I have slightly questionable taste in music (a fair conclusion), eagle-eyed viewers will have understood the message hidden in the terrible old music references. Namely, that Seiji Kanai, designer of the universally-applauded and endlessly-reprinted Love Letter, has avoided the dread curse of the One-Hit Wonder. I am, of course, referring to the recent international release of Kanai’s Mai-Star by AEG (the game came out last year, but only in Japan, where I continue to not live). So, that’s definitely the ‘One’ bit avoided, now how about ‘Hit’?

I was a little wary coming into Mai-Star, as I thought the Kanai name could be giving it a bit too much hype, but I am happy to report that it is indeed a hit, and, depending on your tastes, possibly even better than his more famous offspring. Blasphemy, I know, but I’ve always thought Love Letter was…good? Like, it’s a disproportionate amount of game for the amount of stuff in the bag, and it’s a good fifteen-minute filler, but I’ve never really been that enamoured of the game in itself. On the other hand, I played something like seven games of Mai-Star within a few days of first discovering it. Anyway, before I keep going on about all the things I like about it, I should probably tell you a bit about the actual game.

MS1

In short, Mai-Star is a card game that plunges you and 2-5 others into the exciting, high-stakes world of competitive geishing. Every player takes on the role of one of six different geisha, and the winner is whoever can geish the best and earn the most money over three rounds, after which they will be proclaimed the geishiest geisha ever to geish. I’ll stop that now. [Thank you - The World] As well as your geisha, you’ll have a hand of visitor cards, representing the crowds thronging to watch you…ply your trade. All of these are worth a certain amount of money, but you’ll need a certain level of skill to attract a high-paying clientele.

Each geisha starts off with varying values for the skills of performance, serving tea and intelligent conversation, and each guest needs a certain skill in one area to be played for points. If your skills aren’t high enough (and by and large they won’t be), you can play guests as advertisers instead, increasing your skills but not providing points. However, if you advertise, you have to draw a new card to replace that one, and this is generally a bad thing – the round ends when one player runs out of cards, and all cards left in other players’ hands are worth negative points, for not meeting your guest quota or something, I guess.

MS2

As you can probably guess from that description, playing Mai-Star is, at its heart, a delicate balancing act of trying to get the right cards, but not too many of them, and this is only made more complex by all the card abilities. As well as each of the six geisha having different abilities, each of which demand different strategies to win, the great majority of guests you play, as well as giving you money, have abilities of their own. Now, a lot of these abilities fall into the vein of destroying other people’s cards/making them draw more/other assorted nastiness, and I’ve heard a lot of criticism of the game from people who don’t like too much ‘take-that’ style interaction in their games. To be honest, if you’re already one of those people, Mai-Star isn’t going to change your mind but I’ve never understood throwing games out wholesale on that basis – especially here. If Mai-Star didn’t have all the dicking-over-your-friends it has, it’d just be irredeemably dry, and as it is, throwing yakuza and sumo wrestlers (along with streams of invective) at your friends is just fun. Also, this element allows the players to inject some of the balance the game is arguably lacking. Don’t get me wrong though, Mai-Star is very much unbalanced in the Cosmic Encounter style, in that every geisha’s abilities are horrendously broken and capable of ludicrous exploitation, creating a kind of meta-balance of equal brokenness. Also, as the game is played out over three rounds, a bad round doesn’t necessarily spell a loss, so players have a bit more time to balance things.

If all that started to get a bit too theoretical and pretentious, just know this – Mai-Star is *a good game*. The cards are beautiful and easy to read, it’s fast, it’s fun, and it features easily the most promiscuous actors I’ve ever seen in a game. Also, I will totally play you at it, and you will probably win. Hey, I said it was a good game, I never said I was good at it.

Mai-Star was designed by Seiji Kanai and was released by AEG in 2014. Between three and six players can woo the beautiful people of feudal Japan with games taking around thirty minutes. Should you desire a copy (and why wouldn’t you?) one can be procured for around £15 – though Gameslore will sort you one out for less than £14. Pick one up then follow Emma on Twitter where she’s @Waruce

…Geish.

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That Golden Rule – King’s Forge review

KF Cover

Royalty, man. They’re a demanding bunch. When they’re not lopping the heads off perfectly talented craftspeople, they’re wanting replacements who can build them… well, pretty much whatever their whims desire. And we’re the fools who are stepping into the shoes of the Middle Ages equivalent of etsy types in King’s Forge, a new game from Nick Sibicky that turns the incredibly hard job of smithing into an hour long session of rolling stacks of dice. Hard work hasn’t been this fun in ages.

[Admission of interest time – King's Forge is published by Game Salute, the company for whom I spend my days toiling away over a hot iMac. However, all games on The Little Metal Dog Show are given an even and fair crack of the whip no matter who they've been made by. I had no real involvement in the creation of the game and, as such, believe that I can check out the game objectively – and when I say that this is a cracking little affair, believe it.]

I am, of course, a sucker for dice games, especially ones that involve rolling fistfuls of them across your tabletop – see Lords of Vegas as a perfect example – and later rounds in King’s Forge can see you needing to cup your hands if you’re to even try to hold the piles of D6’s that you accrue. When you begin though, you have only five to play with, along with your representative Smithy Tile. You’re going to need to build up your collection, and quick.

Each game needs a little time for set-up, but it’s worth it for the fact that you’re working with a lot of replayability. While there are two good sized decks in the Gathering Cards and Craft Cards, you only use a randomly drawn few each time you play – eleven Gathering Cards per game and a different set of Craft Cards depending on how many people are playing. There are four standard dice types that are also laid out – black for Metal, green for Wood, red for Gems and sparkly blue for Enchantments. Once those are all sorted out, it’s time to play; give the HUGE plastic anvil to the first player (one of the best start player markers I’ve ever seen) and away you go.

So many bits! And that anvil is both silly and amazing.

So many bits! And that anvil is both silly and amazing.

Rounds are split into two phases: Gathering, where you’ll spend the dice in your pool to get your hands on more dice, and Crafting where you use the dice you’ve collected to build the items that are desired by the King. The first person to craft four of these items will be declared the winner and the brand new Master of the King’s Forge – until His Majesty gets sword-happy again and someone loses their head.

Gathering is straightforward enough, with each player taking one of the four available cards and activating one of the two abilities on there. Most of them will involve spending dice to add more to your pool, all of which you put on your Smithy Tile for use in the next round (unless a certain symbol tells you to use them immediately). Many of the dice you use will come back to you next round, but should the ability you trigger show a box with a cross in it, they’ll be lost and returned to the stocks. A few of the abilities are used in the Crafting phase and normally involve the manipulation of the dice, but we’ll cover that shortly.

jfpofpj

Gathering Cards are all icon driven. The Shrine’s top ability says that you lose one die of any colour and spend three to claim a red one. At the bottom, spend seven (!) to get a very valuable Magic die. The Mill meanwhile lets you grind two dice of any colour to claim two Wood dice, or lose a red or blue and spend three to claim… well, loads. 

Should you need a certain type of dice and the cards just aren’t coming up with what’s required, you can always pay a visit to the Docks. These are a bunch of tiles that are always open which allow you to buy any of the four different types – however, they’re pretty expensive and you will lose the dice you spend. Sometimes they’re your only option though, and needs must when the King wants an enchanted weapon or jewel encrusted piece of furniture. The Docks also let you trade dice for special tokens that can be spent to screw with the dice rolls, adding 1 to any two dice rolls or making one an automatic six. Oh, choosing to use a space on the Docks also requires that you remove one of the Gathering cards as well – perfect if you fancy screwing over someone else.

During the Gathering phase, you can pass at any time. Why would you do that? Well, you have to save dice to use for Crafting but any committed to Gathering are locked and can’t be used to make stuff for the King. The first person to pass also gets the choice of a free metal die or one of the green +1/+1 tokens, so there’s something of a benefit to ducking out early. Of course, everything is then open for the other players to plunder, so choosing the best time to pass is a good skill to learn.

Now, finally, onto the Crafting Phase! This is where you get to actually make various items for the ever-demanding King, and with three different things available you should be able to make something when you’ve got a handful of dice. Each card has a numerical value and shows the types of dice and the minimum amount you have to roll for you to claim it. Beginning with the first player again, you roll all of your unused dice and – should you hit the necessary values – claim items one by one. When a card is taken by a player it’s immediately replaced with the next one in line; just remember, there should always be three available.

fwf

Make an Anvil with three Metal dice with a minimum of 2 on each – simple. As you get further into the game, you’ll need to get higher rolls and different dice. And did I mention that you can go higher than a 6 with those +1s and other modifications?

However! Just because a player has claimed an item, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s theirs… not until the end of that Crafting Phase, anyway. You see, should someone roll better than you (in other words, higher that you) they get to steal the item from under your nose. In game terms, they’ve managed to make a better thing than you. Take, for example, a Table which requires three wood dice that are all at a minimum 4. Your opponent rolls their dice, gets two 4s and a 5, then claims the Table card and places it in front of them. Crafting then comes around to you, you roll three 5s… and you’ve also got that handy yellow token that turns any die into an automatic 6. You’ve done better, you steal the card away and hoorah! You’re a quarter of the way to winning the game.

And that’s it. Play continues with Gathering and Crafting Phases until someone has four items at the end of a round. The Start Player Anvil moves around each time, meaning that you’re always going to have to change up your strategy. If you’re first, great – you get the pick of the actions when Gathering and the potential to snap up all the good items in Crafting. Unfortunately, it also means that you’re the target when it comes to other folks taking things from you. Being last in the turn order isn’t bad at all – when no-one can steal from you, it makes life a lot easier to get those four items made and seize the title of Forgemaster to the King!

The game may look like a light and airy festival of dice rolling and card grabbing, but there’s a surprising level of strategy once you peel away a few layers. It’s all about timing, taking the opportunity to create items at the perfect moment when you can guarantee no-one else will be able to. A streak of cruelty runs through King’s Forge where you’ll need to cut in front of other players in order to better your chances – if you’re a fan of games where opponents mutter curses at you under their breath during most turns, you’ll want a copy of this for your collection.

King’s Forge is beautifully illustrated throughout and has been produced to a very high standard – the cards are printed on a decent stock, the dice are grand (especially the lovely blue ones) and a special mention should be given to the awesome First Player Anvil, possibly the greatest bit of schmutter ever seen in a board game. If you fork out a little bit extra you can also pick up the Unnecessary but Totally Cool Board (actual name!) which gives you a hand in laying all the cards out and removes the need for the Docks Tiles as they’re printed right there. Again, it looks gorgeous and really adds to the game – while King’s Forge on its own stands up brilliantly, the addition of the board makes things a little more special.

Yeah, that's one pretty board. King's Forge is totally playable without it though - it just makes things a little neater.

Yeah, that’s one pretty board. King’s Forge is totally playable without it though – it just makes things a little neater.

For those who want to enhance the experience even more, the Queen’s Jubilee expansion adds more Gathering and Crafting cards that raise the complexity level a fair bit but still make for a highly entertaining game. Whether you throw in the expansion or just stick with the base game, you’ll often see folks standing up for those big dice rolls that could decide the whole thing – in my eyes, truly the sign of a good time when playing. King’s Forge might present itself as a bright and fun little game of throwing fistfuls of dice around in a bid to create curiosities for a demanding tyrant, but opening the box will reveal that this one has teeth! Filled with replayability, easy to pick up and play, and – most importantly – highly entertaining and lots of fun, this truly deserves your attention next game night.

King’s Forge was designed by Nick Sibicky with art by Jonathan Kirtz and was published by Clever Mojo Games in partnership with Game Salute in 2014. Between two and four people can play with games taking around 45-60 minutes. Copies should set you back $40 from your local game store but these are a rare sight as the First Edition is close to selling out! If you see one, grab it and get forging!

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Little Wonders – Hue, Gem, TKO and Fly reviews

Games

For once, a banner telling the truth!

Innovation isn’t often found in the world of gaming, but sometimes there’s a little thing that really catches my attention. In the case of today’s review, it’s actually four little things that are currently on Kickstarter and have really rather impressed me. Designed by Chris Handy (previously best known for his ace horse racing game, Long Shot), a new series of microgames going under the banner of Pack O Game (like a pack o’ gum, see?) landed on my doorstep while I was over in the US at Gen Con. On getting back earlier this week, I cracked them open with my little group and we played the four of them. 

No-one was really sure what to expect, to be honest. The idea is sweet enough, but the gameplay is what matters, not the size of the package. The selling point behind Pack O Game is that they’re microgames that fit in your pocket but still offer a wide range of gaming options, so in tribute to the teeny size of the boxes – seriously, you can easily fit the four of them in your pocket – I figured it’d be best to put together mini-reviews on each one.

HUE

First up, Hue, a charming and surprisingly brain burning abstract that sees players laying their cards out to create fields of colour across the table. Each card is separated into at least three sections – starter cards have nine – but your aim is simple: make large areas of colour, then score the three colours that are on the final card in your hand. Squares are worth three points, the smaller rectangles one apiece, but there are a couple of twists. First of all, you’re not just laying the cards next to each other as you play each game; you’re also allowed to lay them on top of each other as long as you’re only covering one square, meaning you can cut bigger areas in half and ruin the plans of your opponents.

If you’re feeling particularly vicious, you might even throw out a poison card, a nasty piece of work that sports a skull and crossbones in its middle section. Link that to an area of the same colour and the whole thing is worth nothing when the game is scored, so this adds a rather ruthless element to a game that initially comes across as sweet and lovely with everyone collaborating to make pretty patterns. It’s only when you realise that hey, we’re actually looking at scoring points here that your placements need a little more consideration. Game one is a delight. Games two to infinity are as cut-throat as any other title you’d care to mention – it’s just that Hue only takes ten minutes.

GEM

Next it’s auction time with the sparkling Gem where players collect sets of six different precious stones using very limited resources. Played out over a series of rounds where the options get more and more limited as time progresses, everyone begins with three cards in front of them that represent their funds split into a 3, 2 and 1. All cards in this game are double ended, with the green end showing that the money is available, the red end meaning it’s been spent – for now. Rounds play out quickly with the active player checking out the cards on offer (and the gems they depict, of course) then declaring a bid; note that they don’t have to say which card they have their eye on. Everyone else gets the chance, once around the table, to either up the bid or pass, and as you’d expect the highest claims whichever card they please. To show the money’s been spent, you rotate your cards around to point the red sides into the play area, and the just-purchased card slides into your tableau showing its red end too. Once all cards have been bought – a zero bid is totally fine, by the way – players who have any funds left get to ‘invest’ in the gems they have, spinning the cards to their green side which can be used in future rounds to pick up more gems. Before the next round, your coins refresh so you have something to use, but splashing out may not be the best idea every time…

At the end of the final round, only gems that are active – ie: green side in – will contribute to your set. If you have the majority of a gem type you pull in three points, sharing a majority is worth two, and you get one for each stone in your line up. I’ve made that whole thing sound so much more complicated that it really is – out of the four titles sent over, Gem is undoubtedly the most elegant – but it’s incredibly simple once you get it laid out before you. I can’t get over the feeling that it should be part of a much larger beast, but for a microgame that plays out in fifteen minutes this is a brilliant little thing that I recommend entirely. If you’re only grabbing one, this is the choice for me.

TKO

TKO was the most curious of the bunch, a two player only effort set – surprise! – in the squared circle of the boxing ring. This is a quick playing affair (even when compared to the other games) where you need to win two rounds in order to claim the TKO Belt and a glorious victory. Each of the eight fighter have their own stats, shown by four sliding markers that represent Uppercuts, Head Blocks, Body Shots and Body Blocks. Before the fight these markers are set to the lowest numbers on each fighter’s cards – and then it’s time to rumble!

Think of this one as Rock Paper Scissors with a bit of bluffing, a dash of strategy… oh, and four options instead of three. Each player hides a card under the table that shows the four moves and selects one by pinching the card in the right place – it makes sense when you play, honest! Both players reveal at the same time and we work out the result. Uppercuts are cancelled out by Head Blocks, Body Shots by… you can probably guess for yourself. If you successfully get a hit in or manage to block a punch, you move the markers up the requisite track. If you happen to do that and the other player doesn’t you gain a small advantage as the POWER card comes your way, meaning that you can raise the value of any of the four tracks if you score a hit or block. Get all the way to the end of one of the tracks and you win a round – get to the end of two and the title is yours!

TKO was the only one of the four that we had to house rule as it wasn’t entirely clear if you reset your fighter to their basic stats if you won a round (we did as we felt that made more sense), and it felt like the lightest and most throwaway of the set. With eight fighters in the package, each with their own look and set of stats, there’s plenty of replay in the pack but this would be the last one on my list. Not that it’s a bad game at all, it just wasn’t as great as the other three.

FLY

And with that, the awesome surprise of the bunch, Fly! I thought we’d managed to make the world’s smallest dexterity game with Sprocket Games’ FrogFlip but now I concede and hand the crown to Chris Handy. I do this gracefully and with love, because Fly is frankly bloody hilarious. Twenty-seven cards are laid out (twenty-five with a fly each and two blanks) to make a tabletop, one card representing The Sky is tucked into the box and two swatter cards are kept aside, ready to take those dirty bugs down. One by one, players drop the swatter card from above the sky, hoping to take down a fly or two by covering them up entirely. Manage to do that and you claim the card(s) as you look to make sets of the same colour or shape that are shown on the bugs’ butts. The table shrinks and flies move around as the game continues, points are awarded for sets and no-one cares about the score because you’re too busy shouting at each other for daring to breathe while you’re setting up for a particularly tricky drop. Fly is a party game disguised as a dexterity game disguised as a fight waiting to happen – and it’s fantastic.

To wrap it up, the four titles from the Pack O Games series that I’ve managed to play have been very impressive. Chris has managed to create four very different games using only thirty cards in each pack and, to be honest, that’s a feat in itself. The fact that they’re all fun and entertaining is even more incredible – and he’s got even MORE available on the Kickstarter. Head on over to the page, check out the options available – I particularly like the look of Bus – and throw some money his way. Innovation should be rewarded – particularly if it’s wrapped up in a bunch of really fun games that you can whip out and play at a moment’s notice.

Hue, Gem, TKO and Fly are four of the titles available in the Pack O Game line, all designed by Chris Handy and up now on Kickstarter. A mere $6 will get you one of the games, with $24 grabbing you all four PLUS three other ones as stretch goals – and there could be more! Check them out today – the campaign ends this weekend!

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Episode 80 – Trust in the Realm!

Another Episode of the show rolls off the audio production line, and this time it’s a doozy! First of all, Darwin Kastle from White Wizard Games steps up to chat. Who? Well, just one of the guys behind one of the hottest games around at the moment: Star Realms. After pretty much taking over every square inch of space at Origins, he’s gearing up to do pretty much the same at Gen Con 2014; we talk design, Darwin and co.’s background (which is hardcore) and all the usual rambling you expect from one of my interviews. After that, I’m joined by friends of the show Jason Kotarski and Philip duBarry to discuss their latest game Fidelitas. Currently going down a storm on Kickstarter, it’s the first release from Jason’s new company Green Couch Games, and I heartily recommend it. Check out the review here!

Links:

Direct Download – http://littlemetaldog.podbean.com/mf/web/du4yt5/LMD_Episode80.mp3

Star Realms site – http://starrealms.com/

Fidelitas on Kickstarter- https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2005228768/fidelitas-a-card-game-of-medieval-meddling-for-2-4

Jason’s Site – http://thegreencouch.wordpress.com/my-board-games/

Philip’s Site – http://www.phantasiogames.net/

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