Tag Archives: Eric M. Lang

Cartoon Heroes – Marvel Dice Masters Review, Part 2!

MDM Box

With two of the writers on LMDS having checked out Marvel Dice Masters already – and the opinion not being too hot (or in Michael’s case, pretty negative) we thought it only fair for Stuart to give his Judge-ly view as well. Take it away, champ!

I am conflicted.  So much of the new Board Game Geek hotness – Marvel Dice Masters : Avengers vs X-Men should leave me cold.  Firstly, its based on Quarriors (and designed by the same team), which is OK I suppose, but not exactly anything that excites me.  Secondarily – luck plays a major part in winning or losing, to the point that almost regardless of how carefully and skillfully developed and executed your plan may be, if the dice fail you then you’re probably going to lose.  Thirdly, the game adopts the blind purchase / collectable model – something I have, for many years, been vocally against – particularly in Magic: The Gathering – decrying the system as nothing more than a money-sink for the weak of mind and heavy of pocket.

So tell me (and hopefully this review will aid me in resolving this conflict) why is Marvel Dice Masters the last thing I think of at night, the first thing in the morning, and is currently dominating many of my waking hours struggling with possible teams, combos and strategies?  (Sorry Netty! my long suffering girlfriend – I do think about you too…)

Marvel Dice Masters is an game that combines the deck building with dice from Quarriors (and before that Dominion) with MTG style duels.  Players draw and roll dice from a bag to generate power which they spend to recruit super heroes (represented via other dice) which go into the bag for drawing later.  Those heroes are fielded (or summoned) and can then be sent out to attack, either to be blocked by other super heroes / super villians or do damage directly to the controller.  If that players’ life reaches zero, then they are defeated!  Sounds simple?  Well, frankly it is.  The fun and nuance comes in the details and the theming.

Cards on the table (PUN OF THE DAY!): I’m a modern Marvel fan, triggered by the movies rather than any love of graphic novels.  That said, many of the characters here will be familiar to fans of the last 15 years of Marvel cinema.  Only a few required a bit of wiki-googling to get a grip on their back story and unique powers – and its those powers that are thematically rendered into the different characters’ make up.  For instance, Wolverine (represented by a classy yellow dice with familiar three bladed insignia) has special abilities when attacking alone – a lone wolf indeed.  Mr Fantastic, the stretchy one from the Fantastic Four for the uninitiated, can expand himself to block several attackers at once.  All very nice, clean and (most importantly) thematic.

So, lets explore my biases that should drive me from this game / lifestyle choice like Spiderman from a rolled up newspaper.

* This is just Quarriors?  Well, yes and (perhaps most importantly) no.  In MDM you bring your own set of heroes to the table that only you can purchase – providing a customisation that the original game lacks.  Also, the combat system is much more satisfying and creates a strong sense of commanding your own destiny whereas whether your creatures lived or died in Quarriors seemed almost arbitrary.

* Are you feeling lucky?  Yes, this is a niggle at the back of my mind.  I have been dice screwed before and my perfect plan was foiled by my Green Goblin rolling poorly right at the end, but somehow I’m having enough fun, and the playtime (10-15 minutes once up to speed) is so fast and breezy that the wild swings of luck don’t bother me as much as other, deeper and most importantly, longer games.

* Blind purchase model?  Are you mad?  Well….. perhaps.  The low price of entry to the boosters – just £1 for two cards and two dice – is just at the right level for me not to mind getting the odd duplicate (swapsies anyone?) and instead revels in all the fun that we had as kids opening pack after pack of Panini stickers looking for Bryan Robson…  Damn him and his elusive curly mop-top!  Anyway… I totally understand this being a turn-off for some people, but the fact that you only the cards have a rareness (Common / Uncommon / Rare / Ultra Rare) and you only need 1 card to field that character (and typically up to 4 dice – but those are evenly distributed throughout the boosters) in addition to access to the secondary market to fill out the collections, this feels like it takes the fun of opening a pack and not knowing what you’ll get, without the grind and huge money sink needed to ‘catch ’em all.’

So, I’ve fallen pretty hard, right down this rabbit hole.  I’ve had play mats printed, special dice bags delivered, and several ‘Hobbycraft’ bead boxes to store all my dice.  You don’t need to follow me on this path.  A £13 investment gets you everything you need for two people to play the base game.  Now, it may be the drugs talking, but I ask you to put aside the reservations and biases that you may have formed about this game from the hype and just try it.  So much thematic, fast, dice rolling fun – with enough depth to warrant multiple plays means that MDM has found itself a place on my shelf, in my heart, and throughout my upper cortex…

Now… would Human Torch combo with Hulk?

Never let it be said that Little Metal Dog isn’t fair! That seems to be a whole range of opinions on Marvel Dice Masters, which is meant to be available now – however, it’s VERY hard to find a copy and it’ll be a while until it’s here in the UK in numbers. The base set will cost you around £13 (if you can find it at RRP) while boosters – as mentioned by The Judge – are a single quid.  

 

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Playing with Fire – Game of Thrones: The Card Game review

Like many people, I do love a bit of Game of Thrones. Sure, the books are a bit of a slog sometimes and the TV series seems to randomly add stuff while skipping other areas, but if you’re looking for a story that is steeped in twists and turns, intrigue and sheer insanity, it’s an excellent tale that George RR Martin weaves. Plus, you know… there are DRAGONS in it.

Fantasy Flight have had the license for Game of Thrones for years, releasing a gloriously complicated board game nearly ten years ago as well as a long-running entry in their Living Card Game line. Like all the LCGs that the company have put out, it’s slightly different to the rest of them, but I reckon that it’s one of the best. Continually updated since its initial release back in 2008, it’s an incredibly well supported game that has a huge following that is well deserved.

Cracking open the box, you’re presented with four separate decks of cards, each representing one of the many noble houses of Westeros. This being the base set, you’re getting cards for four of the big ones: Stark, Lannister, Baratheon and Targaryen, each of which is packed out with characters and locations taken from the story. If you’ve only checked out the earlier stories, don’t worry – the base set is low on spoilers, so you won’t have anything ruined for you.

Used in the multiplayer game, there’s a lot of nice extra stuff aside from cards and tokens…

Also included is a board and six plastic statuettes, each one representing a different role in the Small Council. These are used in the multiplayer version of the game where three or four players make and break alliances over a series of turns, but the premise is exactly the same no matter how many people are playing: collect Power. The first player to fifteen Power tokens triggers the game end, and whoever has the most is declared victorious.

Each round is played out through a series of stages. Players initially choose a Plot Card that has an effect on the round, as well as stating how much gold they’ll receive, initiative they have and a “Claim Value” which comes into play later on. Cards are then drawn from your deck, then you get to spend your gold on the Marshalling phase; bringing things into play. Characters, locations, items… all of these will be used to take down your opponents and gain that all important power.

The main meat of the game comes in the next part of the round; the Challenges. Each character generally has one to three icons on their card depicting whether they can get involved in Military, Intrigue and Power challenges. Once characters are committed, they can’t be used again – a very traditional feel in card games, of course – but the twist comes in choosing which cards you’ll use… and when. Winning a Military challenge kills off opposition characters, Intrigue forces opponents to discard cards from their hands, while a Power challenge allows you to steal tokens from other players. The amount is determined by that previously mentioned Claim Value as seen on your Plot Card – forward planning can really cause some destruction if you play it right.

The mighty Ned Stark, a military man who can handle power too. No intrigue symbol means that he won’t stand for any sneakiness.

It’s this part of the game that really shows how you can tap into a theme well. Having a knowledge of the series, be it through the books or the television show, will really pay off as you see how well the characters and locations are represented. Someone like Cersei Lannister, for example, is devious as anything in the stories and is strong when it comes to clutching for power. Spies like Varys the Spider will be most useful for Intrigue challenges. The designers have been thorough when it comes to fitting the characters in the game world; when you read each card you can really see how they made the choices they ended up at. This level of attention really shows the thought put into the Game of Thrones: The Card Game – and this is only the base set.

The rest of each turn plays out in a pretty standard fashion – cards in play are restored to “standing” from “kneeling”, which is a nice touch – and power is handed out, before the whole thing begins again.

When playing with more than two, there’s an additional selection phase where the previously mentioned roles from the Small Council are chosen. These bestow bonuses on players but also introduce a further twist – some roles support others while some are sworn enemies, meaning that another level of strategy is brought in. Alliances live and die in the space of minutes; it’s the very definition of shaking hands with the left while going in with the knife in your right. Only the most devious, manipulative and sneaky player will come through in the end.

As ever, being a Fantasy Flight production, the game is wonderfully presented. Art throughout is of the highest quality, inspired by the series of books rather than the TV show – after all, it’s well over four years old. Gold and Power tokens are good, thick punchboard and the cards themselves are of great quality. The only quibble is have is that the box is a little… airy, but that’s to be expected in a game that now has so much in the way of expansions available.

Thankfully, as it follows the Living Card Game model, you needn’t invest in anything more than this first set of cards. However, with rules in place that allow for building your own decks, you could well be sucked in to picking up the occasional extra box here and there… it’s a slippery slope though, so beware!

My only negative point is regarding the rulebook which feels like it should have had the editors take a harder look at it. It can be a bit tricky to navigate your way around, using a paragraph where a sentence could do. Thankfully, there’s a vibrant community out there who have chopped up the gameplay and created useful player guides that are freely available all over the internet. Particularly useful is Roy Martin’s crib sheet from BGG – checking it out is well recommended, especially for new players.

For a stack of cards and a few bits of punchboard, it’s remarkable quite how much it manages to capture the theme and feel of Game of Thrones. It’s an experience that promotes thinking like the characters at your disposal, that requires you to play as a part of the House you have chosen. Will you be honourable or betray your friends? In Game of Thrones, it’s a very thin line you’ll dance along constantly. It’s not something you’ll want to play with those who take offence easily, but if you have a group who are willing to throw themselves into the experience, Game of Thrones: The Card Game is incredibly rewarding.

Game of Thrones: The Card Game was first released by Fantasy Flight Games in 2008. The base set, available for around £30 (though you can get it at Gameslore for £24.99), was designed by Nate French and Eric M. Lang. A four player game can take around an hour, while a regular two player effort clocks in at around thirty minutes. Now… when you play the game of thrones, will you win or will you die?

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Monsters and Angels – Quarriors review

Deck building! Everyone’s doing it! Deck building in a fantasy-ish environment! Deck building in space! Deck building with maids! If we’re not careful, we’re going to be hitting burnout with the format sooner rather than later, but for now lets add some more to the teetering pile! We don’t care, we just LOVE BUILDING DECKS!

Descent into madness aside, it’s nice when someone takes a different approach to a format and Wizkids have decided to produce a deck builder with a difference – in their new release Quarriors there are NO CARDS. Actually, this is a bit of a lie as there are cards (and plenty of them in fact) but they’re not used by the players – instead they form a de facto board, showing you what’s available to pick up, how much it will cost you, any special powers that may be available and – most importantly – how many points they’re worth. Unlike other games in this style, you’re not building up stacks of cards – in Quarriors you’re collecting dice, but aside from that difference the gameplay will feel pretty familiar to anyone who’s had even the briefest flirtation with this type of game before.

Basic dice at the top (Quiddity, Assistant and Portal), a couple of Creatures and a Spell dice.

The objective is to gain glory points, done by spending Quiddity (the in-game currency) to collect Creatures from the piles in the middle of the table. Keep them alive long enough and they earn you points, earn a set amount before anyone else (dependent on how many are playing) and you’ll win – very simple! The game set-up is a breeze, with a selection of cards placed in the middle of the table to show what’s available in that round – three Basics, three Spells and seven Creatures. Five custom dice representing each of these are stacked upon the cards, each representing a Quarry. Each player begins with eight Quiddity dice and four Assistant dice, throw them in their bag and shake them up – the other Basic die, Portals (which allow you to draw extra dice from your bag) must be bought from the stacks in the middle. The first player pulls out six dice and you’re ready to start.

You roll your dice and see what happens – any Quiddity that comes up can be spent on a single Quarry dice from the selection in the middle. The general rule to follow is that the stronger the dice, the more you’ll need to spend on it – for example, should you wish to acquire a new Assistant, it’ll only cost you 1, while something heftier like a Dragon may cost you 8 or 9. Symbols representing Creatures (including Assistants, the weakest of all) are moved to your ‘Ready Area’, primed to attack anything else held by your opposition. Spells that are rolled can be attached to your monsters or used in more reactive ways, depending on what their respective cards say.

Of course the dice stay the same, but only one version of the monster will appear per game. Different levels have different powers and abilities.

Let’s deal with Creatures first. Each Creature type actually has three different levels of strength, either standard, Strong or Mighty. The dice stay exactly the same, of course – the difference is in their “burst” powers, signified by a small star mark printed on some faces of the dice. Should you roll a burst symbol, you consult the card for that dice and check out the additional power or ability you have at your disposal – Quarriors is a game where knowing what’s potentially on offer will give you a massive advantage. Bursts are relatively rare, however – most of the time you’ll be focusing on the numbers dotted around the corners.

Daenerys Targaryen has NOTHING on me.

Top left is the Creature’s level – some more powerful Quarry are unaffected by lower level beasties. Top right is the Attack level, and bottom right is the defense. Just for good measure, there’s a burst symbol there too, that star in the bottom left. The numbers on the right are – shockingly enough – used for combat which works very simply. The active player, having rolled their dice and moved any Creatures to their Ready Area, totals up ALL Attack values. Going around the table clockwise, defending players choose their own Creatures one at a time to knock the Attack total down bit by bit until finally one has a higher Defence than what’s left over. If one player’s Creatures are all defeated you move on to the next, hopefully destroying as much as possible to keep own dice safe, scoring you points when the turn order rolls round to you once more. As a side note, defeated dice aren’t cast aside, never to be used again – you just put them in a used pile, refill your bag when it’s empty and start all over again.

Spells can be used in many ways, for example augmenting Attacks and Defence or to gain extra points. Really though, the main meat of the Quarriors is to get powerful Creatures, hit some decent dice rolls and take out as many enemies as possible. However, even the mightiest of beasts can be taken down with a good roll by an opponent, and that is what will really divide gamers – Quarriors is a game that, even with the greatest strategic planning, ultimately relies on chance. The amount of times I’ve played it, managed to control more dragons than your average ancient King of Westeros and STILL get whupped is ridiculous – and yet, I find myself returning to the game again and again.

130 custom dice! Plus it comes in an awesome giant tin dice box!

Why? Because Wizkids have thrown everything into making Quarriors incredibly fun. It’s quick to play and easy to get to grips with – give it a couple of rounds and even younger players will understand the basics (though this is to be expected as the game is aimed at a younger gaming audience). Admittedly I have a couple of gripes with it – the backstory is pretty awful (especially the forced attempts to shoehorn Q words into the game – that gets grating fast) and the artwork isn’t particularly fantastic, but then you think about all the good stuff… the joy of snatching a win with an insanely good roll of the dice, the solid gameplay, the fact that there’s 130 dice in that box and they all look like the tastiest candy… Quarriors is pretty much the distillation of why I play games – to have fun, to enjoy the agony of defeat and the thrill of (occasional) victory. Choose to put your serious Euro-loving half to the side and give in to the lure of shiny dice – you honestly will not regret it.

Quarriors was designed by Mike Elliot (Thunderstone) and Eric M. Lang (Call of Cthulhu LCG). Released by Wizkids in Summer 2011, you’ll be able to pick it up here in the UK soon enough. Priced at around £40, it’s certainly a little expensive, but when you consider the amount of dice you get in there you’ll see where the money goes. While I think it’s definitely a good one to try out with younger players to try and get them into slightly heavier gaming, it’s also a great title to play with more experienced gamers. Roll lucky!

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