Tag Archives: Ascension

State of the Union 2011: Part One – The Digital Bit

It’s already been said a lot this year, but 2011 really has been incredible for games. I’ll write about why I reckon this is so soon, but in this – the first of three end-of-year wrap-ups – I really wanted to focus on the iOS games that seem to have exploded this year. Sure, if you don’t have access to a device capable of playing them (iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch), this may well be no more than a vaguely interesting read (hopefully!) but I felt that these fantastic interpretations deserved a tip of the hat.

Seriously, I love this one. Exactly how a game should be translated to iOS.

Out of all the games I’ve played on my iPhone this year, Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer has taken up a huge amount of my time. A perfect replica of the original release from Gary Games (which you can see a review of here), it’s a brilliant version of the quick-playing deck builder. It’s very easy to explain to new players yet still has enough depth in there to not leave experienced gamers bored. One of the most appealing aspects with Ascension is the fact it runs asynchronous play – a very important addition to any iOS game release! The push notifications that signify it’s your turn are always a welcome sight and turns take mere moments, but if your opposition are online, games can also be played in real time. With the recent addition of the first expansion (“Return of the Fallen”) there’s now a whole raft of new monsters to defeat, heroes to recruit and additional mechanics to try out, plus you can also combine both versions. An excellent game all round and one of my favourites of the year.

The daddy of them all is still going great, especially now it finally has expansions.

A long time favourite that has recently seen a new lease of life thanks to the addition of expansions is the fantastic Carcassonne. It’s been out for some time and is pretty much the poster child for how iOS games should be made: there’s an excellent user interface, the rules are straightforward and – again – there’s that all important asynchronous play facility. This has been a mainstay of my mobile gaming life since it was released back in 2010 and I always have a couple of games on the go, but with the recent additions of The River and Inns and Cathedrals expansions I’ve noticed a rise in the number of players who are getting back into it. One minor downside is the price – at £6.99 / $9.99 you don’t need a laser pointer to realise it is one of the most expensive iOS game releases, but it is well worth handing over the cash.

Not everyone’s cup of tea, sure – but Arkham fans will love it.

The portable version of Fantasy Flight’s dice-rolling extravaganza Elder Sign is an incredibly high quality production. Specifically built for solo play, it’s actually called Elder Sign: Omens and from the moment you boot it up you’ll be impressed. It’s a stunning looking game that sees you choose a group of four investigators looking to save the world from the Great Old One Azathoth. While it’s referred to as casting runes in the game, it’s all about rolling digital dice and matching them to symbols that make up missions. When missions are completed, the player will be rewarded with objects to assist their quest and – with luck – the titular Elder Signs that are required to imprison Azathoth for good. While I really enjoy this game, I’ve seen that it can be a bit marmite with others – the main feeling amongst those who have negative opinions is that it’s too difficult and random despite being a stripped back version of the original. However, if you’ve even got the slightest interest in the Cthulhu mythos, it’s a fun diversion. Now, if we could just get a few different GOOs to take on? Please?

Amazing how well this one works on such a small screen. A fantastic adaptation.

Another simplified version of a larger game next. Ticket to Ride Pocket was released specifically for iPhone and iPod Touch late in the autumn, the little brother to its big iPad sibling. This pocket version focuses on single-player action against a range of AI bots but also offers options for Pass & Play as well as Local Play – fantastic if you’ve got a couple of people armed with their phones! Using the original USA map, the game is incredibly speedy and does everything it can to make your life simple. Destination tickets can be prodded to have them show up on the map and placing tickets by playing cards is a simple matter of dragging your finger across the screen. Anyone who has sat around and tried out the original will take to this immediately, especially as it looks exactly the same as the tabletop game. A minor downside: there’s no compatibility with the iPad release, but to compensate for this Days of Wonder have made it dirt cheap!

There are, of course, hundreds of other games out there that you can play on your various shiny iOS devices, but those four mentioned will keep you happy for a minimum amount of cash. Not everything is a bright and shining piece of brilliance, admittedly: there’s a lot of digital takes on Hasbro titles that really feel like cash-in efforts, for example. However, a little digging about will throw out some little gems… just try typing “Knizia” into the search engine on the App Store and see how much pops up! Just avoid FiTS, OK? Through the Desert is pretty good though… maybe I’ll grab that one again…


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Episode 31 – Essen 2011; Day One

Blimey. Having never been to Essen before, I really had no idea what to expect. I knew it’d be busy, but I didn’t realise quite how busy! I wandered, I played, I chatted away and recorded more interviews than I knew what to do with… so here’s the first of four Essen specials, one for each day! Download directly from here or grab it from iTunes – and why not leave a wee review?

Spiel is the biggest games show in the world with over 100,000 people walking through the doors over the four day event. It’s truly a gaming extravaganza, and even though I was there for the whole thing I honestly reckon I missed loads. Whether it’s board games, card games, RPGs, Live Action Role Play, whatever… Essen is the place to be. Roll on next October and the 2012 event!

This episode has interviews with the following lovely people:

Travis Worthington, head of Indie Boards and Card Games, the makers of Flash Point: Fire Rescue, The Resistance and more – http://www.indieboardsandcards.com/

Kevin Lanzing, designer of Flash Point: Fire Rescue 

Lorenzo Silva, co-designer of Cranio Creations’ Dungeon Fighter – http://www.craniocreations.com/IndexENG.html

Gil d’Orey from Portuguese publisher MESAboardgames, designer of Vintage – http://www.mesaboardgames.pt/

Justin Gary from Gary Games, the fine people behind Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer and the new expansion, Storm of Souls – http://www.ascensiongame.com/

Nate Hayden, creator of Cave Evil – http://www.cave-evil.com/

Michel Baudoin from Wacky Works, designer of Space Mazehttp://wackyworks.nl/

I’m joined throughout the four Essen episodes by the mighty Paco from GMS Magazine. Go listen to his podcast and read his fine site! http://www.gmsmagazine.com/

The episode is sponsored by Eagle Games’ new Kickstarter project Pizza Theory – check them out over at http://www.eaglegames.net


Download the episode straight from here – http://littlemetaldog.podbean.com/mf/web/agvpy2/LMD_Episode31.mp3 




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Tales from the Fireside – Separation Anxiety

Mr Campfire has another Tale, filled with woe. That’s what happens when you’re separated from what you love.


There’s a game I want to play.

But there’s always a game, isn’t there? Right now, the hottest game in gamerland is Quarriors, a deck-builder that comes with 130 custom dice in the box. It’s so coveted, otherwise staid game reviewers with all the flexibility of corrugated card have used flowery similes like ‘jewels in a treasure chest’ to convey their awe of it. I mean, the game has 130 dice in all the colours of the rainbow–how could you not want it? As far as gamers are concerned it’s Christmas come early: a box of baubles removed from the loft, a stocking of sweeties that, okay, present a serious choking hazard, but come on! When was the last time you encountered a game so visually enticing, so wonderfully tactile? To heck with how it plays, don’t you just want to grab those dice and roll them ‘til arthritis kicks in? You’d wear your dice-rolling chicken claw with pride, boasting Quarriors did this to you.

In Europe Quarriors has encountered a couple of distribution issues, meaning it’s rather difficult to get hold of over here. If you pre-ordered it, you’re laughing while you’re rolling. If you didn’t you might be stuck until Christmas or the New Year before you can get your future chicken claws on a copy.

But doesn’t that add to the allure of it? Doesn’t the game being rare–if only temporarily–make it special? How many of you have bought a game simply because it’s gone out of print or was the last copy in the store? Prompted by game boxes holding all manner of treasures gamers are hoarders, and the one thing we hate more than anything else is the thought of the game that got away.

Tell me, what did you do when you heard Fantasy Flight were releasing Descent: Second Edition? Did you wonder if the price would come down for the re-release or how the game would change for its second iteration? Did you put it on your Amazon wish list or did you hurry to your Friendly Local Game Shop to grab the original Descent just in case the second edition didn’t match up to it? All those pieces, all those figures: less of a treasure trove than an unearthed tomb filled with riches. Dare you breach its cardboard chambers to return with magic and gold?

These end of line products are often accompanied by a bit of a kerfuffle: they’re the Harrod’s sales of the gaming world. This week I discovered online retailer IGUK.co.uk was down to its last copy of the discontinued Memoir ‘44 campaign book, and were selling it for a reasonable price. I don’t own Memoir ‘44, but with this rare artifact before me for a moment I felt rather dizzy. Sure, I don’t have Memoir ‘44 now but who’s to say I won’t in the future? Wouldn’t the campaign book come in handy then, at some hypothetical point down the time-stream?

Fortunately common sense prevailed and I pointed a friend who already had a copy of the game in its direction, but for a second I nearly forked over money I can’t afford for a game I couldn’t play. Considering how quickly IGUK’s stock disappeared once they cut its price, I wonder how many people in the same situation thought “To heck with it” and bought the book anyway.

The game I most want to play right now is Warhammer: Invasion–a game for which long-term readers will already know I have a simpering, drooling weak spot. Unlike Memoir ‘44 I already own a copy of Warhammer: Invasion, so you’d think I’d just pull it from my game shelves to play whenever I wish.

I can’t: circumstance has separated me from it.

Board gamers don’t do well with separation, which is why travel editions exist of every popular game from Carcassonne to Hungry Hippos. Last week, briefly threatened with separation from his collection another friend boldly listed the board games he’d be taking with him to Wales, to force his wife to play while trapped in a chalet on holiday; his reading material during this time would be the Lord of the Rings: The Card Game rulebook, downloaded in anticipation of buying the game in weeks to come. iOS and Android devices offer the opportunity to play some of our favourite games while on the move; I can just imagine a hardened gamer climbing hills in the Peak District, trying to get a signal in middle of nowhere so they can send their next move for Ascension.

I’d love to review Warhammer: Invasion here, but I can’t. I’ve only played it once and as much fun as I had with it, once is hardly enough to write a solid, detailed description without bluffing and making stuff up, and I refuse to do so because I take my journalistic duties seriously–that’s why I wear a fedora with a bit of card tucked into the hatband that says ‘Press’ on it. Wearing a press hat isn’t a matter to be taken lightly, you know. It’s not the kind of thing you can remove and forget about.

My wife sums up her feelings about board games with the word ‘Eh’ which is really more of a sound than a word–the kind of sound a disgruntled mother bird would make upon discovering one of her unhatched brood was, in fact, a golf ball. It’s not that she doesn’t like board games; she just doesn’t see what’s so exciting about them.

It’s okay–she’s a physicist and I feel much the same way about gluons. I mean, I’m sure they’re important to the way matter functions or whatever, but you can’t roll them, or punch them from cardboard sheets, Whatever good they might do in the world of particle physics, for board gaming purposes gluons are pretty much useless.

For all her indifference, she’s made the mistake of playing Warhammer: Invasion against me and thrashing me at it. During our first and only time playing she constructed a brilliant scheme in which she built her resources over a number of turns, played a Bloodthirster onto the table, turned my attack damage back upon me, and stomped over my capital like a toddler run amok in Duplo Town. In an exhilarating moment of post-game deconstruction she told me how she’d held onto certain cards just in case while building her own fortifications, and how she’d turned my own headstrong nature against me. She’d played traditional card games with her family years before; all those bluffs and antes were good training for sending Chaos demons into battle and putting her husband into traction.

As much as I was impressed with the game I was far more impressed with my wife, the master tactician.

That’s one of the reasons why I miss Warhammer so, and a reason I’m sure all of us can get behind. When a game comes alive like that, it’s magical: the click of a light-bulb flaring as your opponent–who’d not known the game existed minutes before; who’d thought board games were ‘Eh’–chains a combo or hops a piece or hatches a tactical plan, and wins.

And they don’t have to win: that’s the beauty of these games. Things can get a little cutthroat, and I can’t deny I want a rematch to see if I can even the score but–and please forgive me the tree-hugging sentiment–so long as we’re both having fun, doesn’t that make us both winners?

I do miss the game, though. I scour Fantasy Flight’s website for card previews and send them to her over Google chat. “Look!” I say, like a kid showing a parent an unusually shaped leaf. “This one turns your corrupted units into uber-powerful ass-kicking machines! You’re a Chaos player: what do you think?”

And she, resolutely not geeking out, mutters only “Eh” and goes back to sitting on her oddly shaped egg.

I’ll play it again one day, I know. It shall be mine, as Wayne Campbell once said.

For the moment, all other games have become meaningless: their boxes gather dust and the very thought of playing them disgusts me. Greedy, oh so greedy, I eschew games I can play in favour of the one I want.

There’s a game I want to play, you see.

But there’s always a game, isn’t there?


Speak with Campfire Burning yourself – his email is, of course, campfire@littlemetaldog.com

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Episode 27 – Back to Normality

The Little Metal Dog Show is very much like a London bus – you wait ages for one to show up, then get two within a few days. This one is back to the normal interviews format as I’m joined by the founders of two independent companies who are creating some great games. First of all, from Indie Boards and Cards, I speak to Travis Worthington – currently finishing off their biggest game ever (Flash Point – Fire Rescue), they’re a small company who are responsible for some great titles, especially The Resistance. I also get to talk with Justin Gary, a former Magic: The Gathering pro-tour champion who moved on to designing his own stuff and formed his own company, Gary Games. Makers of Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer and the follow up Return of the Fallen set, we cover card gaming in all its glory…

You can get the episode from iTunes or download it directly from here. As always, if you’d like to get in touch with the show, if couldn’t be easier – you can email me over on michael@littlemetaldog.com and find me on Twitter under the name of @idlemichael. Do get in touch – it’d be a pleasure to hear from you!

Don’t forget, we’re ramping up for the year’s Essen SPIEL show. I’ll be heading over to Germany to interview as many people as possible, finding out what they’re up to at the moment and what games they have planned for the future. Of course, if you fancy helping out and donating to the show that’d be welcomed – it’s a little difficult walking across the English Channel…

Right. Enough talk, more links!

Indie Boards and Cards site – http://www.indieboardsandcards.com/

Flash Point – Fire Rescue’s Kickstarter site – http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2012515236/flash-point-fire-rescue

Gary Games’ / official Ascension site – http://www.ascensiongame.com/

The Story of the GenCon Ascension Championship – http://www.ascensiongame.com/news-archive/item/aaron-sulla-the-godslayer




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Tales from the Fireside – CRAP Rules

Campfire Burning has returned with something on his mind. I think you’re going to agree with what he’s got to say.


I am not a clever man, but I like to think – on the occasions I can think at all – that I am, at least, unlikely to be outwitted by a board game.

Board games are cardboard and plastic and pieces and lumps. They’re inert; they don’t feel pain. I can threaten Magic: The Gathering cards with water, flames and scissors and they’ll never try to remove themselves out of harm’s way.

So why is it that so many of them make so many of us feel utterly, ridiculously stupid?

I’m not talking about playing games here. We all know what it’s like to be beaten so soundly – even at a game we’re pretty good at – it’s as if our opponent’s an advanced extra-terrestrial who’s only come to Earth to teach us how to put together an amazing combo in Dominion. The cards keep on coming. There are buys and plays and plays and buys, and somehow while the rest of the group have hands full of Curses this one visiting ultra-being has scored eight provinces all in a single turn. You feel small. You want to cry. You certainly don’t want to play Dominion again.

“Don’t be a sore loser,” says Zarthrax of Epsilon Sigma Gamma Nine. “Come on, let’s play again. This game is fun!”

Oh, we all know exactly what that’s like, because once in every blue moon we get to be Zarthrax; we get to be condescending and spank our friends at board games like so many naughty vicars in a brothel. We understand both the despair of losing and the thrill of winning – and how wonderful it feels to lose elegantly, when you’ve been so perfectly outmanoeuvred all you can do is put down your pieces, set down your cards and give the winner a well-earned round of applause.

No, I’m not talking about that: I’m talking about rules.

Those inert cards and boards need two further ingredients to be brought to life: players and rules. The players move everything about. They unpack the board and set it up, punch the tokens, shuffle the decks and play the game . . . but they can’t play the game until they’ve read the rules, and it’s here things can get a bit hazy.

And by hazy, I mean the bloody red haze of indignant fury.

There are an awful lot of people who don’t care about rules. They’re not board gamers, of course – they’re not us – but there are lots of people who think of themselves as superior to us rule-abiding idiots. You’ve probably run into a few yourself. Your best mate’s husband comes over and spends the whole game yawning, not caring to understand why he can’t place his pieces wherever he chooses and putting the meeples into sexually compromising positions. He’s the guy who can’t scramble eggs without burning them, who can’t assemble a cabinet without it collapsing whenever the door’s closed. He doesn’t follow rules. He thinks that makes him cool.

You and I know the rules are where the fun is. No matter how nice the game’s components are, it’s the rules you’re paying for. Back before the game was even in prototype the designer played a primitive version of it using pepper pots and Lego men. The rules are the game. You need to understand them in order to play it.

So why – OH GOD WHY – are some rulebooks so difficult to understand?

I have a couple games I haven’t played because every time I try to learn them my brain does a runner. They’ve become so fearsome they’re practically dark fantasy overlords squatting on my game shelves. Every time I approach them I bring with me an army of dwarfs, and together we cower beneath its malignant gaze. I take the box down, open it up and half my warriors – along with half my wits – go AWOL. I’ve gotten as far as setting the game up and taking two tentative turns, but it’s too painful trying to master the number of ways each card can be played, and I look away, casting them back into the box and shutting it tight. It makes a sucking vacuum sound as it closes. I fear it’s devouring my sanity.

Reading poorly written instructions is a horrible experience. In fact you don’t read them: you re-read them, over and over. It’s like when you repeat a word too many times and it starts to sound wrong – not like a word at all but an animalistic noise – only these horrible instructions are nonsensical from the off. The rules talk about three different kinds of points without noting they all have different meanings. Step-by-step walk-throughs skip important phases. More often than not you resort to online guides to try and decipher rules that aren’t clear, whereupon you find forums of players squabbling over what the rule’s supposed to mean – and discover that the rules you thought you understood you misinterpreted as well.

You’d think this would only apply to sprawling monstrosities with a squillion stats to keep track of but no: even simple games miss important rules. Take Ascension: Chronicle of the God-Slayer. It’s a fantastic game. The rulebook is chummy, colourful – and at no point does it explicitly mention that the Cultist card remains in play even after it’s killed. Every other monster in the game can be defeated and placed into the Void but the Cultist stays to one side and is always available. A card so unique should have a section of the rulebook devoted to it so people playing don’t end up on Board Game Geek saying “The Cultist: What’s the deal with that?”

Instead, the only references to it in the instructions are cryptic and throwaway.

It’s a shame, because I otherwise like the Ascension rules. There are lots of pictures – and pictures help. Every rule book should have pictures and session reports illustrating how the game should be played.

Some people claim Monopoly is an easy game: It isn’t, but they’ve grown up playing it and have some idea how it works. They don’t think it’s a difficult game because they already know how to play it and – as with all those wonderful, intimidating games that are so much better than Monopoly – they don’t have to learn it from scratch. Chances are they aren’t playing Monopoly by the original rules, but by house variants passed from generation to generation. If any modern game hopes to compete with that kind of ingrained knowledge, it needs to do it with clear, concise rules that make the game a doddle to play.

The last thing any game needs is for the players to spend half their time flicking through rules saying “Er, I think you do this next.” So let’s put our collective foot down. Let the Campaign for Rules that Actuate Play start here, because if game publishers are content to feed us crap, let us fling our C.R.A.P. back at them.


The campaign starts here. Show your support – email Campfire Burning at campfire@littlemetaldog.com

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