Tag Archives: Corey Konieczka

Big Gun – Gears of War: The Board Game review

If you know video games, you know Gears of War. One of the biggest franchises out there, the tale of mankind versus the Locust has spawned three games exclusive to the Xbox 360 that have collectively managed to take in over $1 billion in sales since the recent release of the latest in the series. It’s a hardcore, gritty and occasionally bloody mental third-person shooter and the current go-to title for many gamers.

Perfect for turning into a board game then, yes? Whyever not.

It’s not the first time that a video game has been given the cardboard treatment; look at Milton Bradley’s efforts in the 1980s with delights such as Pac-Man and Zaxxon. It’s not even the first time a shooter has been seen on a tabletop; we’ve already had Frag and the really pretty ace Doom.

Gears of War takes all that and ramps it up tenfold. Where Fantasy Flight could easily have copped out and produced a duffer knowing that it would sell well no matter what, they’ve put some consideration into it and produced a truly great game. It looks good and plays well, invariably down to the involvement of one Corey Konieczka. By bringing together one of the best designers out there and a massive franchise, Fantasy Flight have something big on their hands.

The planet Sera, in which we make our scene.

I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. For folks who’ve never heard of Gears of War, here’s the rundown. Between one and four players are given a mission (all inspired by ones that appear in the video games) and have a simple objective – live long enough to complete it. Generally this involves working your way through a selection of rooms and corridors while wiping out the near endless supply of enemies – the Locust – and throwing grenades into the holes they emerge from. Hopefully this will give you enough time to wipe out the map and emerge victorious.

I say hopefully because, believe me, it doesn’t happen very often. Winning in Gears of War is a rarity not to be expected.

Set-up is pretty simple. The mission you decide to take on is detailed on a series of cards that outline what room tiles you require, what bad guys you’ll be facing and what you need to do to complete it. Each tile has a small card that says how many enemies the game will start with (dependent on how many people are playing – the game scales really well) along with a one-off special ability that each area grants players.

Blokes as wide as they are tall. It can only be the COG forces. All lovely chaps, apparently.

Characters are selected – lifted from the game, of course – each of whom have a special power; the ability to have an extra weapon perhaps, or the boon of an extra card. Holding cards is very important for a couple of reasons: they represent the actions that you can do by playing one card per turn; this is generally moving around the board and performing attacks. A symbol in the top corner of each card also lets you react to enemy actions but that’s no excuse to throw them away at any opportunity. The cards also represent your life, you see… if you’re attacked, you lose cards. Get down to zero cards in your hand and you’re injured, bleeding out all over the floor.

Thankfully if your team mates can get to you to they wrench you back up on your feet but you’ll be weak – and unfortunately you’re only allowed to draw two cards at the start of each turn. Gears of War is all about balancing what’s available to you and sticking with your mates, much like co-op mode in the video game. If you run ahead all guns blazing you’re quickly going to be taken down by a horde of Locust that will take no time at all in picking you off. Once everyone’s on the deck it’s game over but there’s no end screen here, just the disappointed faces of the other players all staring at you, wondering why you ran on in a quest for glory when you should have played safe.

Cards! They help you do cool stuff. Also live.

If you’re going down, you’d best go down fighting. Combat is dice based and dependent on a variety of factors. The weapon you wield is the main thing but you must also consider distance between you and your target, whether you want to use your overkill ability (a more manly name for a ramped up attack) and whether you or your enemy is in cover. Being in cover – hiding behind a wall or piece of scenery – adds to your defence, so if you have a chance to do so, DO IT. You’ll be grateful for that broken down wall when three boomers come charging down a corridor towards you and there’s only three cards in your hand… Throw those dice and pray you’ve sunk enough bullets into the enemy to stop them.

I’ve mentioned that it’s you against the game and it’s got to be said that the AI is handled pretty well. The cards that make up the deck that controls the monsters are all organised during the game set-up; these are shuffled and cycled through as many times as necessary. Once a player has completed a turn, they’re responsible for performing the Locust’s moves by drawing the top card from the deck and following the instructions. Often this will involve movement and counter-attacks but you’ll also see plenty of new creatures spawning as the game goes on – the amount of enemies on the board often gets ridiculous and it can get pretty relentless, but that’s what Gears of War is about, both the video game and this board game conversion.

Along with missions, Gears of War also provides another play mode lifted straight from the 360: Horde Mode. This is probably the best way to get a feel for the game with no missions to complete, just a never-ending army standing in front of you, your colleagues and your guns. If ever a board game felt like something you’d play in an arcade, this is it. Horde mode feels like a score attack, a quick and dirty gaming experience where even adding one or two to your previous best effort feels like an achievement. It’s a great way of getting a feel for how the mechanisms in the game work and when coupled with the training mission”Emergence”, you’ll truly understand how the board game runs.

These practice runs are kind of necessary because the included rulebook isn’t great. It feels somewhat overcomplicated and a few explanations are poorly portrayed, especially when it comes to setting up the game. That isn’t to say that the rulebook is bad; it just comes across as a bit all over the place. Thankfully once you’ve done it a couple of times it’ll all come a bit easier but simple explanations from the off would have been nice to see.

As Gears of War is a Fantasy Flight production you’d expect it to be of high quality and – you guessed it – the whole thing is beautifully put together. If you’ve played Mansions of Madness, it’s equal to that: fantastic sculpts of both heroes and Locusts, thick cut tiles and tokens, high quality cardstock… it’s all quite lovely. The only single poor quality item included is the small sheet that you put the game’s card piles on and around: it’s very flimsy. A good hefty thick display tile would have looked great but as that’s my only complaint, it’s far from a terrible production. In fact, I’d happily say that it’s one of FF’s best.

For gamers who’ve invested time in the series on the 360, Gears of War will be top of their want list. It captures the experience of playing its on-screen counterpart well, never letting up or allowing you a moment to breathe. It’s an all or nothing experience where you’ll either win by the skin of your teeth (and it’s always about just squeaking the victory) or fail in a spectacular fashion.

Those who come fresh to Gears of War, perhaps never even having heard of it, will find a challenging game that may at first seem unfair and unbalanced. Only by embracing how it should be approached – with careful consideration for everything you do – will they get the full experience, hopefully walking away with a smile on their faces even if they’re the last man standing and about to take a grenade to the sternum. Gears of War is brilliantly, utterly ridiculous in the very best possible way.

Gears of War: The Board Game was published in 2011 by Fantasy Flight. Designed by Corey Konieczka, between one and four can play, and it’ll cost you around £45 / US$60. Cheaper than the video game and fewer howling online idiots to deal with when playing! How could you possibly refuse?

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Wide Open Space – Battlestar Galactica review

Licensed games are always a problem. Developers have a problem because they need to fit a game around the constraints of the license, while the fans of the thing – the target audience – have the problem that their beloved Intellecual Property will be ruined with something they deem “unworthy”. In the world of video games, it happens loads – walk into your nearest shop and see the amount of shovelware covering the shelves, poorly made games based on crappy movies, annoying characters in thoroughly generic games. Thankfully, the world of board games is a little more discerning, but bad games based on TV shows and films are obviously still out there. I remember terrible titles from my childhood like The Neighbours Game, a range of MB titles loosely inspired by video games (Zaxxon and Donkey Kong, for example – though I recall Pac-Man was alright) and shudder at later efforts like those scourges of the charity shop: Desperate Housewives and Lost: The Game.

Sometimes though, the planets align and miracles happen. The US version of Buffy The Vampire Slayer for instance – a game with an interesting mechanic and dripping in theme – has many fans. But in recent years, one game has really stood out, adapting the original source material and creating what I believe to be a total masterpiece. That game is Battlestar Galactica.

Designed by Corey Konieczka and published by Fantasy Flight Games in 2008, Battlestar Galactica is based on the remake of the classic 70’s sci-fi series. While it isn’t necessary for you to be conversant in the ways of BSG, having a bit of knowledge about the series will enhance your enjoyement of the game – as it will with any licensed property, of course. However, the game is so well constructed, even people who have never seen the show will be drawn in quickly. Each player takes on the role of one of the characters from the series, all of whom have certain good abilities and one downside; roles of president and admiral are then given to the most qualified characters as listed in the manual. These both give the recipients extra bonuses – special ability cards for the president and nuclear missiles for the admiral.

Now comes the fun part. In the series, the evil Cylons are bent on destroying the very thing that created them: The Humans. Secretly, allegiance cards are handed out saying whether players are Human or Cylon – depending on how many people you have around the table, at least one member of your group will be a nasty Cylon, who must then use their deviousness to undermine the Humans while pretending to be one. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, if you will. The Cylons win the game by destroying areas of Galactica, getting enough Centurions aboard or reducing at least one of the ships’ resources to zero, shown on a set of four dials at the top of the board. Humans win by making a series of Faster Than Light jumps, shown by progressing along the FTL track – after every jump a planet card with a number on it is drawn. Get the total to eight, jump one more time and you’re home free. However, after that total hits four, everyone gets another loyalty card meaning that the person you’re totally sure was on your side could well now be working for the enemy…

The game mechanic is actually rather simple. You draw skill cards according to your character sheet, move to a location, perform an action and then resolve a crisis card. Certain characters may move to differing locations – the President gets use of Colonial One, a separate ship that has a range of locations each offering something different (including use of the powerful Quorum deck – very useful when you’re in a scrape!). An action may involve dealing with enemy ships that constantly seem to be attacking you, shifting civilian ships into safety or activating an area of Galactica in order to use that place’s ability. If people think you’re the bad guy, get used to seeing the inside of the brig. Often. 

The crisis card part of the turn is mean. Crisis, of course, implies bad things – it’s just that in Battlestar Galactica, bad things are a constant companion. Each card has an issue that needs to be dealt with and a numeric value that must be reached in order for the crisis to be averted. Players take skill cards from their hand and place them face down on a pile. Two cards are then added from a premade Destiny Deck, an extra set added in by the game to mess with your head and introduce an element of chaos. The different skills have their own colours and each crisis requires the number to be equalled or bettered to pass the check. The Cylon player can choose to hamper the efforts of the others by adding cards which count against the humans, but here’s the trick. Not everyone has to put cards in. Did the guy on your right add anything to the pile? Was the person opposite you the only one to play some cards? You need to use your detective powers, work out who the traitor is and deal with them before it’s too late.

If the pressure is getting too much for the Cylon player, they can – at any time during their turn – choose to reveal themselves. This doesn’t lose them the game, however. If anything, it makes it even tougher for the good guys because the now revealed Cylon will now delight in choosing from a bunch of areas of their very own that make life even more difficult for the Humans. Super Crisis cards may now be played, each one more awful than the last, sending swathes of toaster-powered laser death at the good ship Galactica – their only hope, hitting that FTL button before they’re wiped out.

Being from Fantasy Flight, production values are high. There’s an awful lot of stuff in that square box, including plenty of plastic ships, although the Cylon Basestars are cardboard – you need to buy the Pegasus expansion for the pretty 3D versions! The artwork and photos are taken from the show, so people who are into the series will recognise elements immediately. People who are unfamiliar with BSG may feel a little lost to begin with, but I reckon that the game will easily drag anyone in quickly – after all, the idea is simple. Survive. Deal with problems. And watch your back, because everyone is a potential threat.

To wrap up, I freely admit that I love to play this game, but there is a caveat. You need to play this with the right bunch of people. Not necessarily fans of the show, but people who are of the right mindset. If you’re going to be picking on one guy all night because you think he’s the Cylon traitor, this game is no fun at all if he whines and moans about people being mean to him. Battlestar Galactica needs to be played with good grace, and the best games I’ve played of it have been the ones where everyone is having a laugh. Sure, it may get a little tense at times, but I firmly believe that this is a game for people who like to play for fun, not those who play to win. Also, it’s great to finally play a licensed game that doesn’t suck!

Battlestar Galactica is published by Fantasy Flight Games and is a Corey Konieczka design. Between three and six players can take part, and it’s available in your Friendly Local Game Store for around £30. I seriously can’t recommend it highly enough. One of my favourites.

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News and stuff – 21st May 2010

Actually managing to post it on time this Friday, it’s another Little Metal Dog news thing!

Another week, another list of nominations for gaming awards! This time it’s for the Graf Ludo awards, which celebrates the beauty of design and general jaw-dropping-ness of a game. Obviously there are many beautiful games out there (one of the nominees is the stunning Fresco, which you can see reviewed here by me!) so competition is fierce. The nods are split between family and children’s games, and the full list is available by clicking on those links  – curiously though, for an award based on how gorgeous a game looks, there’s a distinct lack of images on the site. None, actually, which is a bit poor. Anyway, out of all the suggested games I really hope the prize goes to either Fresco or Mystery Express – they’re both lovely and deserve some recognition.

On the subject of art – and the seeming inevitability of me not being able to do a news post without mentioning Steve Jackson Games – bane of many a ‘serious’ gamer Munchkin is getting a revamp. All versions of the game (as of the next reprinting) will now be in full colour to match more recently released editions. The new versions of the cards are being overseen by artist John Kovalic, and to pay for all this extra work, SJGames will be raising the prices of sets by… four cents. The thieving moneygrabbers! There are also new Munchkin related items coming soon including Boxes of Holding (each of which can store 500 cards), specially made Munchkin d6s with the head logo in place of the 1, along with a fourth brand new set specifically for the Cthulhu variant of the game: Crazed Caverns. More information on their site, as always.

Last one for today, Battlestar Galactica creator and official Little Metal Dog hero Corey Konieczka has revealed his latest creation, due for release through Fantasy Flight this Autumn. Based on the Space Hulk property, Death Angel – The Card Game is (you guessed it) a co-operative game for one to six people. Players take on the roles of Space Marines who must work together to take down wave after wave of marauding Genestealers – something that happens quite regularly in the world of videogames but is a rarer beast when it comes to card games. As it has been Touched By The Hand Of Corey it will invariably be incredible (or at least I hope it will), but there’s not a huge amount of information out there yet. As soon as we know more, it’ll be here on Little Metal Dog.

That’s about it for now. Episode 2 of The Little Metal Dog Show is available on iTunes or is directly downloadable from here – Episode 3 is in production now; I’ve recorded an interview with Lorien Green, who’s producing the upcoming documentary Going Cardboard (more information on the film’s site). A second run at speaking with Matt Leacock will hopefully not be eaten by my computer this time, and both interviews will be available for your listening pleasure in about a week’s time. Cheers for all the support (over 850 subscribers now!), keep spreading the word, and get in touch with anything you want to say: email me on littlemetaldog@gmail.com or message me on Twitter; I’m @idlemichael.

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