Tag Archives: Mike Elliot

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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Begin Again – Thunderstone Advance Starter Set review

Thunderstone COVER

If you look back through the LMDS archives, you’ll see that we’ve talked about Thunderstone quite often. From the original version and its expansions through to the rebooted Advance products, we’ve always been rather positive about AEG’s deckbuilder. Having received the recently released Starter Set, I figured I’d see if we could get a fresh voice in to discuss it, so I passed it on to my friend Simon (who is also the guy who does all our laser cut stuff for FrogFlip!). Here’s what he reckoned.

“I have never played Thunderstone by AEG before and its been on my to get list for quite awhile, but for one reason or another it unfortunately stayed on the list. So when a very good friend [Hi! – Michael] gave me a copy of the new starter set I dived straight in with a lot of enthusiasms and excitement. I wished I had swum in the dungeon-y goodness of Thunderstone sooner. So far I have played six separate times with different friends in a little over a week, and at the moment I cannot get rid of the need to play more of it.

This is a new reincarnation of the starter set, but this time it’s the turn of Thunderstone Advance to get the entry level treatment. This starter is not just a recompiled set of old cards, but a mix some old and quite a few new ones that have been finely tuned into one hell of a hero hiring, equipment buying, monster bashing, dungeon adventuring deck building game. Not only have the card decks been finely tuned, the rulebook is now easy to read and understand pages. To go from a Thunderstone virgin to a player that is able to teach the game to other people within one game was so very surprising and simple. The longest bit for the first game was undoing all the wrapping and the initial card setup, basically sorting the cards into their groups and placing them with their dividers into the provided plastic card tidy while trying not to get caught up in reading the text on the cards and ruining the suspense of the first game. I sat with a friend and read the play setup and the rules which took ten minutes maximum and we went straight into our first game; it was that simple. No reading the rules the night before in bed while trying to remember them as your wife asks day to day questions as you’re hoping to remember enough of the rules that you don’t feel a failure when you finally sit down to play.

Let me talk about the components to the Starter Set. You get over 250 cards and dividers of Heroes, Monsters, Equipment, Specials and Randomisers plus the previously mentioned rulebook. The cards are heavy, good quality stock, and feel plastic coated to allow a good amount of wear and tear at a gaming table. Artwork is great and nicely presented, not cartoony at all, and all text is in a large, clear font that is easy to read for us older players! The balance between art and rules on the cards is very good and neither detracts from the other, with the sections for the game mechanics easy to view at a glance. I also noticed that the cards where not so glossy so they’d be to hard to read when they are laid down in the Village or Dungeon locations when playing in a brightly lit room. It’s all stored in a smaller than usual box, and the great surprise inside was the strong and simple card tidy; now my cards can be kept in an easy to access way without them being damaged whilst in transit. AEG also supply two pieces of foam to help hold the cards upright – one comment on the foam (mainly for AEG if they’re reading this) is that a little bit larger piece of foam would have made all the difference, as in the end I added a bit more myself to help keep the cards firmly in place. I wish they’d included some tokens or counters to represent experience in the game and more selection of cards to help with replayability [But remember, it *is* a Starter Set- Michael].

Some of the cards you'll find in the Starter Set. There's plenty of exclusives in there too, so even Thunderstone veterans will find it appealing.

Some of the cards you’ll find in the Starter Set. There’s plenty of exclusives in there too, so even Thunderstone veterans will find it appealing.

The game mechanics are very simple, allowing players to engage one another in friendly banter and conversation whilst enjoying the game. This I found was one of the joys of Thunderstone; conversation did not distract from the game play and the game did not get in the way of being sociable. This may not sound like a big plus to some people, but for me where I am limited on both social time and game time, I feel that the ability to enjoy both makes for a better experience. The game is designed around building a powerful deck of cards from a basic starting selection that will allow you to gain the most victory points. Each time it’s your turn you draw six cards, then decide what you are going to do with your hand by using your hand to do one of the following:

– Going to the Village to buy Equipment or hire some help. You can also level up a Hero if you have enough Experience.

– Enter the Dungeon, fight a monster and possibly gain rewards. You can go and purposely lose the fight too, just to change the monsters line-up!

– Prepare, where you to put any useful cards back on top of your draw deck in a bid to get a better hand next time.

– Rest, which allows you to get rid of cards from your deck by destroying one card from your hand. Useful to get rid of weaker cards that are gumming up your deck.

Then your turn is over and on to the next player. There are many strategies within Thunderstone – do you aim to make a small but powerful deck or go for a build that has a bit of everything where you could possibly cope with any monster you might face. Whatever you choose, just remember that the Victory Points are what you’re looking for in the end, and any strategy is potentially legitimate.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first opened the Thunderstone Advance Starter Set box I was not so sure as nothing is given away with any content shots on the box! I have played a number of other deck building games by different companies that have been around for as long as Thunderstone with a similar number of expansions, but I and many of my gaming friends have suffered with learning the rule systems and getting to grip with correct meaning of a rule in the manual or even on a card. I’ve had to trawl through the rulebook (many, many times), go to a FAQ or even ask a question on the game’s forum. In the end I always feel like I was missing something or more to the point the other games where missing something that stopped me from enjoying the game. The end result is me leaving the other games on the shelf and me reaching now for Thunderstone. This is a game that can be learnt, played and enjoyed so quickly and easily and I wish more companies would learn from AEG and their Thunderstone Advance Starter Set.

So, the positivity continues! The Thunderstone Advance Starter Set can be picked up at most decent game stores, and the good folks at Gameslore have it in for £20.49. The set caters for between two and five players and games will normally take around an hour. Thunderstone Advance is designed by Mike Elliot and published by AEG, who were lovely enough to provide a copy of the Starter Set for this review. Thanks to Simon for the write up!

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Episode 66 – Codes and Keys

In this, the final episode before Essen (because they take a bit of time to organise and I have a lot of writing to catch up on!), I talk to returning guests Leonard Boyd and David Brashaw from Backspindle Games. It’s been some time since they last appeared (episode 20, in fact) with their previous game, the Discworld based Guards! Guards! Now they’re back, a little older and wiser, and armed with two brand new titles: the abstract strategy of Codinca and the glorious dice-rolling mayhem of Luchador! Mexican Wrestling Dice! The guys will be heading to Spiel, so be sure to swing by their booth and check out their fine work. I’m also joined by the splendid Mike Elliot, the mind behind such big names as Thunderstone, Quarriors and (a personal favourite) the Harry Potter TCG. Seriously, it’s really very good. His new game is called Sangoku, an interesting card game based in the Hells and Heavens of Japanese Mythology, and it’s on Kickstarter now!

Links! You want ’em, we got ’em!

Direct Download for this episode – http://littlemetaldog.podbean.com/mf/web/n79ck7/LMD_Episode66.mp3

Codinca on Kickstarter – http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/backspindle/codinca?ref=search

Backspindle Games site (with pre-orders for Luchador!) – http://backspindlegames.com/

Mike Elliot on Twitter – https://twitter.com/Elliott_Games

Sangoku on Kickstarter – http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/gamesalute/sangoku-by-mike-elliott

 

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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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Stormy Weather – Thunderstone review

WARNING: This review will contain instances of the D-word. You have been warned. Seriously.

Every once in a while, a game mechanic just blows up. Perhaps worker placement is your thing or you’re a fan of the rondel but this year? Well, this year, you can’t move for deck-building. Who knows why it’s become so ubiquitous, but there are plenty of games out there that use it – and of course it all started with Dominion. The game that began it all exploded onto the scene, picking up the 2009 Spiel des Jahres (as well as countless other accolades). This, of course, made other designers and publishers sit up and notice – how could they integrate deck building into their new release schedules? There are plenty of other titles out there that use it but the question is… are they any good?

The trick is to make your game different enough so the public can warrant buying it. Will plastering on a new theme be enough, or should new mechanics be introduced at the risk of over-complication? Thankfully, with AEG’s Thunderstone, a bit of thought was put into the game’s development meaning that both can co-exist happily in my collection. Before I explain why though, let’s have a bit of background…

Thunderstone sees between two and five players taking on the role of… well… co-ordinators? Middle managers? Whatever you call yourself, you’re trying to put together a squad of people to enter a dungeon, defeat a whole bunch of beasties and take control of a mystical all-powerful stone. Starting off with a mediocre bunch of cards, you deal yourself a hand and spend the gold marked on them (yes, like in Dominion…). Use the cards, discard them, deal another hand… sound familiar? However, in this game you get to make a few more choices – remember, you’re on the hunt for monsters, so instead of collecting areas of land you need to hire yourself some mercenaries. Thunderstone has a variable set-up, giving you a selection of thugs, brigands and magic users to send against the bad guys. You’ve also got to arm them (with weapons or spells) while considering their strength – no point giving a huge heavy weapon to someone who’s unable to carry the damn thing.

Buying this stuff is all well and good, but eventually you’re going to have to go fight. While setting up the game, you choose the types of monsters you’re going to go up against, shuffling them into what’s called the Dungeon Deck. Take ten cards off the deck, stick the Thunderstone card in there, randomize them and put them at the bottom of the deck – then you’re ready to go. The top three cards are taken off at the start of the game to represent the layers of the dungeon, which introduces another interesting aspect of the game – light. As well as being tooled up enough, you need to be able to see! Some items (and people) give you light bonuses, meaning you can venture further into the dungeon. If you don’t have enough light your warriors will be at a disadvantage, so there’s a lot to think about before you start fighting. Each time a monster is beaten, it goes to your discard pile – the others move closer to the ‘entrance’ and a replacement is flipped into the third position. You also gain XP for beating monsters which can be used to level up your characters – another really interesting touch. You can tell that designer Mike Elliot has played the occasional video game.

The game starts a bit slowly, but as your decks get more and more powerful you’ll find you visit the dungeon regularly, taking down enemies rapidly. When the Thunderstone appears, the game ends (through it being claimed or slipping into position one), victory points are totalled up and whoever has the most is declared the winner. It’s not necessarily going to be the one who gets the stone who always wins – if you’ve wiped enough monsters out, you could well be the victor!

There’s so much going for this game. People comparing it to Dominion are doing it something of a disservice (aside from the obvious link that they both involve building decks) simply because it requires a bit more thinking. You’re not racing for gold and land in Thunderstone, you’re actually putting together a strong enough team to go into battle, giving them the equipment and skills they need that’s effective against a wide range on enemies, and hoping that you get the right bunch of cards each time you draw. Sure, there’s an element of luck involved, but you need to be adaptable enough to deal with whatever you pull off your deck. The theme is strong, the artwork is great and the quality of the cards is high.

Downsides? Well, a couple. First of all, there’s a lot of icons on those cards and it’s not always obvious what they refer to. A crib sheet will invariably be useful for your first few plays until you get used to the layouts. Newbies may find themselves drowning in information, so you’ve got to keep on top of a lot of different things – a few practice games will shake out the cobwebs, but that initial learning curve may prove too much for greener players. There were a few issues with the rules in initial runs of the game, but the current set (version 1.4) are nice and clear – make sure you’re using the correct ones!

Do your best though. Break out that charm! Get them to stick with it, because playing Thunderstone is a rewarding and entertaining experience. If you’re after a quick deck-building fix, bust out Dominion, but if you’re looking for something a little deeper that requires a bit more thought, I’d heartily recommend getting yourself a copy of Thunderstone. All the fun of a dungeon raiding in card form, playable in less than an hour – what’s not to like?

Thunderstone was published in 2009 by AEG, and was designed by Mike Elliot. It handles between two and five players and games take between 30-45 minutes. It’ll cost you between £25 and £30 here in the UK, and if you fancy taking your experience further you can try out the recently released expansion Wrath of the Elements – more monsters, more heroes and, of course, more cards (in a really nicely organised box…). Enjoy!

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