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A Life On The Ocean Wave – Sails of Glory (P)review

SailsBOX

There seems to be a bit of a rise in the number of tabletop skirmish titles available in recent years. Whether you prefer the science fiction flavours of Star Wars X-Wing or putting together little squads of orcs and dwarves in Dungeon Command, the amount of pre-painted figures and vessels hitting tabletops around the world has been on the up. One of the longest running is Ares Games’ Wings of Glory (previously known as Wings of War) which we’ve already looked at here on The Little Metal Dog Show… and now they’re taking the system back through time and onto the ocean blue with their new title, Sails of Glory.

(A caveat before we launch into the meat of the piece; this is all based around the prototype that Ares were kind enough to send on over to me, and it’s only looking at the basic rule set. The game is on Kickstarter until April 16th, so if you want to get involved, get in quick.)

If you have any experience of games like X-Wing or either of the Wings releases, you’ll already have a headstart on the mechanisms that drive Sails of Glory. Set in heyday of naval warfare, you’ll control some of the finest Napoleonic-era vessels that history has to offer… and all you need to do is wipe out the enemy. Between two and four players can take to sea, and with various scenarios available in both team-based and last-sailor-standing modes, there’s plenty of replayability even in the base set.

So, how does the game work? Well, you’ll choose your ship and corresponding mat and cards that give you all the details you need to know about your fine craft. A stack of Maneuver Cards are the next things you grab, matching the letter shown on your ship card. After separating the bucketful of tokens and damage counters and determining the play area, you’re good to go.

Turns comprise of four phases and players will do each one simultaneously before progressing to the next.

First, it’s Planning. This is all about making your decision on where you’re going to head towards. Unlike something along the lines of X-Wing, it’s not just a matter of saying “Oh, that’s where I’m going”. In Sails of Glory, you must consider the wind direction too. Ships’ bases are segmented into different colour sections and, depending on where they’re facing and which one the wind is hitting, your chosen Maneuver Cards could give you a very different selection of movement options. Once everybody has selected one, it’s time for Movement.

Cards are flipped at the same time and ships are moved along the line corresponding to its ‘attitude’ to the wind. Simply slide along the line and remove the card, putting it back in your deck. Of course, if you’re working with small playing area, there’s a lot of opportunity for collision – you’re not speeding around in three-dimensional space – and in this case the larger ship takes precedence with the smaller coming to a stop when their bases touch.

Oh man, it's so pretty!

Oh man, it’s so pretty!

Next up, combat – everyone gets to Fire! If you’reable to reach an enemy ship (decided by using the included range ruler) you can either shoot with artillery or muskets. Firing arcs are marked on your ship’s base, the best of which are your broadsides. Shooting from the front or rear means a less powerful attack but hey, any offense is a good idea in Sails of Glory. You’ll also have to consider line of sight – no firing through your own vessels, of course – and should you hit, you’ll do some well deserved damage either on the enemy ship, crew or (hopefully) both. Should enough be added to the ship’s mat, it’ll surrender and will be removed from the game.

Finally, Reloading only happens if you fired artillery on the previous turn. Muskets are always available (though are much weaker) but the decision to use your heftier firepower should not be taken lightly… Once all four steps are complete, you’ve either won the game or go back to Planning.

And really, that’s about it. Having had a few plays with the prototype there’s little more that can be said than it’s a very solid ruleset. That’s far from surprising considering the amount of time that Ares Games have had to refine and improve them since the first days of Wings of War, but I’m still pleased to see that the game has been able to transition into a whole new world. As I’ve had previous experience of other games using a similar engine I found Sails of Glory a joy to pick up and play, but any gamer will pick it up in no time. I’m intrigued to see how the rules will be expanded when the final product is released.

Will it appeal to everyone? Well, with the Kickstarter campaign currently at over seven times their funding target and still five days on the clock I’d say that things are looking pretty good. Ares Games have done great when it comes to supporting Wings of Glory so the signs are great for their water-based adventures. I can’t wait to check out the miniatures that they put in the retail pack (as I am a tart for that kind of stuff) but have a lot of faith that they’re going to look great – the game is certainly very entertaining and well worth supporting.

Sails of Glory is an Ares Games project on Kickstarter until  April 16. If you’re interested, a Starter Set pledge will cost you US$80 with copies due to ship to backers by August. Thanks to the guys for letting me check out the prototype!

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Under Attack – Dungeon Command review

DC COVER

It still leaves me gobsmacked that Dungeons & Dragons has been around for so long. I’m even more surprised that this game that I loved to play when I was a kid is now seen as an acceptable pastime – seriously, the amount of times I got beaten up for playing it at lunchtime rather than going outside to play football… life is so much nicer now that geekiness has been deemed cool. I see only one problem with D&D; it can come across as somewhat impenetrable. Look at the RPG shelf in your local game store or bookshop. The sheer amount of different rulebooks, guides and scenarios must appear baffling to someone who hasn’t even rolled a twenty-sided die. Creating your own character and getting thrown into an adventure taking place almost solely in a group’s collective imagination is daunting enough for an experienced player. Consider that some of these could take place over the space of weeks or months in real time… no wonder some people think gamers are crazy.

Thankfully, there are a couple of ways in that are less time consuming as well as a bit lighter on the rules. We’ve previously looked at the Adventure Game series here on littlemetaldog.com (including the excellent Wrath of Ashardalon) but now there’s another route you can use to scratch that D&D itch in under an hour: Dungeon Command.

At the time of writing, there are five different versions on Dungeon Command available. I currently own the Curse of Undeath and Blood of Gruumsh sets which focus on undead and orc characters, but other boxes take influence from all manner of areas of the D&D universe. Rather than taking control of a single character, you act at the commander of a group intent on only one thing: wiping out the enemy. It’s a very different experience to regular adventuring, but one that is really quite enjoyable.

It's an OWLBEAR! There! In the back! YASSSS!

It’s an OWLBEAR! There! In the back! YASSSS!

Each box set comes with twelve pre-painted miniatures which comprise one squad, though there’s also enough in there for two players to get a small taste how Dungeon Command works. Tiles are also included along with cards and various markers – all you need to do is find someone with another set, put together your arena by combining your tilesets, then you’re ready for battle. It’s here that you’ll discover the most notable difference: there’s NO dice in this game. Considering that you’re probably used to rolling all manner of small numbered polyhedrons if you’re even vaguely aware of role-playing games, this is quite the change. Instead you’ll be using Order Cards to determine what your minions will do, meaning that you’ll have be in a very different frame of mind if you want to win. Dungeon Command is all about the big picture – quite surprising considering the small area that your skirmishes will take place in.

As mentioned before, you’re looking to simply wipe out the opposition forces on the board. Doing so will lower their morale and victory will be yours if you get the other player’s down to zero. You can also win by having a higher morale when one player has no minis on the board at the end of a turn – particularly useful when playing games involving three or four people (because yes, the rules account for that too). The Order Cards you have at your disposal will allow for the bending of rules, and bring in a wide variety of strategies – do you go all out and try to beat down the enemy, turtle up and react to their moves or rely on magic over force? Dungeon Command offers you these options and more besides.

As you’d expect, you won’t start off with a whole army, though your small squad will quickly grow as your Leadership increases. Orders played are removed entirely from the game, as are defeated minions, so despite the face that the game plays in a very straightforward manner it’s far from easy to get to grips with. Forward planning is the key to the game; it’s not the kind of thing you can just play a couple of times and think that you have it down pat. Multiple plays will be rewarded as you formulate new plans, constructing strategies that will hopefully crush your enemies. Of course, their skills will be improving too, so be careful!

Here's what you get in the Curse of Undeath set. As you can see... quite a lot.

Here’s what you get in the Curse of Undeath set. As you can see, it’s quite a lot.

Each faction pack really manages to capture the spirit of their theme – the orcs in Blood of Gruumsh are all about face smashing while the Curse of Undeath tends to look more to dark magic. That’s not to say that the various undead minions can’t handle themselves in combat, and you do get a MASSIVE dracolich in the box…

On that subject, the quality of the minis is really rather good. The painting is to a decent standard in both the sets I have, and even the more fragile looking ones are sturdy. It helps that they’re well protected in the custom-designed box that come with each set – no danger of them getting smashed or crushed in transit. It’s amazing how many companies don’t consider this aspect of design when they provide games that come with a bunch of minis, but the Dungeon Command series should be held up as a great example.

So, we have a quick playing skirmish game with a nicely put together set of rules that comes with fantastic components. Whether it’ll be enough to convince the average person in the street to get into the world of D&D… well, I’m not so sure. It’s just so different to what you’d normally expect from Dungeons & Dragons, I don’t think many newbies would be willing to make the leap to its bigger sibling. As a standalone experience though? Well worth checking out, definitely.

The original Dungeon Command sets were released in 2012, with Blood of Gruumsh coming up later in 2013. Designed by a veritable army at Wizards of the Coast, you can pick up copies of all five sets from Gameslore for the comparatively bargain price of £25.99 each. Considering that includes 12 painted miniatures, that really isn’t bad at all…

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Battle of the Heroes – Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game review

Confession time. I never actually watched any of the Star Wars movies until I went to University. On discovering this horrific fact, one day in late 1993, a guy I was sharing a flat with called Ian locked me in a room with Episodes IV, V and VI (you know, the good ones) and refused to let me out until I had watched all three back to back. Which I did. And I was converted, realising the error of my ways.

Now I understand the importance of the (in)actions of one simple stormtrooper who could have changed the course of history in a galaxy far, far away. I know that Han shot first (of course he would, he’s a badass). And most important of all, I have learned to hate that stupid Gungan with a fiery passion.

however, the thing that really grabbed me during that first proper viewing of the Original Trilogy were the battles in space. The howl of a Tie Fighter as it shot across the screen, the mosquito-like X-Wings coming to an end as they attempted to take down the might of the Death Star… it was incredible to see how well realised they were in a bunch of movies that I’d previously completely disregarded. And now we get to live out the experience ourselves in the rather glorious form of the brand new Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game.

Oh my. Never has so much joy come from such a small amount of plastic.

There’s little wonder why this eagerly awaited package has been snapped up quickly by gamers from all around the world. Just looking at the front of the box makes your average nerd salivate like a dog – there are two splendidly realised miniature TIE Fighters and a X-Wing right there! Look at their inherent beauty! Who wouldn’t want them? Then you open up the box, punch out a pile of tokens, grab the quickstart rules and away you go…

Fantasy Flight Games, the creators of X-Wing, have realised that the folks who play it want to get down to business in minutes. They want to be flying around the table making pew-pew noises from the moment they open the box, so you’ll be pleased to know that playing the game is gloriously straightforward. Each player chooses a vessel and a character card, each of which are marked with various stats that will affect how you play. You also grab a movement dial (FFG seem to be loving dials lately, don’t they?), a handful of tokens and then it’s time to fight.

See? Dials! Also, those things with the numbers on them are what you use to do your movements.

The objective is simple – wipe out the opponent. Select how far you’ll travel first by secretly choosing a move on the dial; some may cause stress on your ship meaning you’ll be limited in future actions, so always be aware of what you’re doing! Once you’ve moved, you get to attack as long as you’re in range of an enemy; you can fire off a few shots by rolling the custom dice that come with the starter set and they’ll do the same in a hopeful bid to cancel out your results. Do enough damage and you’ll blow them into the vacuum of space, then go on to rule the galaxy… all in around twenty minutes.

Each vessel’s card also has some special abilities that you may be able to use as well, from using the Force (of course) in order to change a dice roll, pull evasive manoeuvres such and lock on targets. Better pilots will have more abilities but the game strives to retain balance no matter who is facing off against who. Sure, pitching Luke Skywalker against a rookie TIE Fighter straight out of Empire School will generally result in a win for the Rebel Alliance, but you’ll always feel like you’re at least in with a chance.

Have a look through the forums on BGG that focus on X-Wing and you’ll see a lot of people complaining about the price. Now, I know that it’s relatively expensive for what you get and the fact that you only get three vessels does seem a little mean, but consider this; you’re not just buying a self-contained game (despite the fact that it’s perfectly playable just with this starter set). What you’re picking up is a whole new game system, and anyway IT’S STAR WARS. Of course it’s going to cost more than your standard game – is there anything out there that has George Lucas’ paws on that hasn’t gouged the fans? FFG will have paid through the nose for this license so they’ll need to make their cash back somehow.

TAKE ‘IM OUT VADER!

Thankfully, they haven’t just rushed out something to make a quick bit of turnover. The rules in X-Wing, though simple, give the game a real arcade kind of feel. Games are speedy, fun, raucous… everything you want from a battle in the depths of space. If you want something a little deeper, rules are included for larger scale battles because – you’ve guessed it – there are more and more ships due for release over the next few months. Already out there in Wave 1 are Y-Wings and TIE Advanced as well as extra standard TIE Fighters and X-Wings. Wave two promises more iconic vessels including Boba Fett’s Slave 1 and the mighty Millenium Falcon.

I’ve ordered mine already. I am *such* a child.

The X-Wing Starter Set is a pile of fun hewn from cardboard and plastic. Grab a couple of extra ships and the door opens even wider, showing you just how entertaining a tabletop skirmish game like this can be. And then you start thinking about the future, about other ships that could potentially come out, about setting up new missions and adventures to tackle. This starter box comes with a couple of small missions to attempt but imagine what kind of things could happen in the future. Personally I reckon that if FFG don’t release a large scale Death Star Trench Run set at some time in the future they’re missing a trick.

In conclusion, the Star Wars X-Wing beginner set is just that – something that will start you off on a potentially epic experience. It’s not for everyone, sure, and it *will* end up being a pretty expensive game if you insist on picking up every single thing that’s released for the system, but if you’re sensible and pick and choose the odd thing here and there, you’ll have something that offers a massive variety of play with relatively little outlay. Whether it’s a one-on-one dogfight or an epic battle to decide the destiny of the universe, this is a hell of a lot of fun – and it’s going to get even better.

The Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game is available now. Designed by Jason Little and produced by Fantasy Flight Games, a copy will set you back a shade under £30, but you can pick it up from Gameslore for £25

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Shoot You Down – Wings of Glory WWII Starter Set review

The whole story of how Wings of Glory came to be is a bit all over the place. Originally released as Wings of War back in 2004 by Italian company Nexus, Fantasy Flight Games picked up the English language license. Cue loads of editions and expansions based around the fighter planes of World War I and II, lapped up by a loyal fanbase who were more than a little shocked when FFG announced they were dropping the game last year. A killer blow then fell with Nexus closing down, only to see the whole thing relaunched like a phoenix under a new name from a new company. Ares Games are now responsible for the game worldwide… so how does the new Starter Set measure up?

Pretty well actually. If you’ve had any experience of Wings of War you’ll find everything pretty familiar – in fact there’s very little apparent difference between this new version and the old stuff. It’s still the same card-based air combat game that everyone knows and loves; there’s a fair bit in the box and with three sets of rules (plus extra optional ones!) it’s accessible enough to both experienced fliers as well as those new to the game – think of it like beginners playing arcade mode, but you’re also allowed to head all the way up to tactical simulation.

No matter whether you’re playing by basic, standard or advanced rules, the objective is normally the same – destroy the enemy through dogfights! Players take a fighter plane (or sometimes more!) and a deck of movement cards then prepare for battle in the skies. Each turn will see you use a card from your hand that shows a manoeuvre: place it in front of your plane and follow the line, showing where you will end up. Should you be within range of an enemy, you attempt to shoot them out of the sky – they’ll be trying to doing the same to you, of course – and try not to crash and burn.

A very exciting movement card. The blue arrow is for it you're going at full pelt, the white for a more sedate pace.

The simple version of the game can easily be picked up within a couple of minutes – the rules only take up a few pages – and they lead you into the more complex levels beautifully. With the introductory instructions you’ll only be dealing with movement, firing and damage, but when you take the step up there is a lot to keep an eye on. However, it never feels like you’re being swamped with too much information; the way the game holds your hands through the levels is incredibly well thought through, but you’d expect that from a game system that’s been around this long. It’s had the time to be refined over the years and all those potential kinks have been ironed out.

One of the big pulls of Wings of Glory are the frankly awesome little 1/200 scale planes (the WWI planes are 1/144)  that give the game that extra something special. Back in the day, starter sets just came with cards to represent your planes – perfectly fine, the game played in exactly the same way – but having these wee things zipping around your tabletop is brilliant. Again, all the old WoW planes are cross compatible, so if the four fighters that come with the base set don’t get you excited there are plenty of others out there. The level of detail on them is incredible and they really add to play experience. A minor downside – they’re a bloody nightmare to get out of the packaging. One of my planes came a cropper trying to take it out of the box, but that’s nothing a little superglue can’t fix.

Little planes! How could you not think these are AWESOME?

I was always interesting in checking out WoW, but there was something that made me not want to pull the trigger on it. Now that I’ve got to try out Wings of Glory I’m kind of kicking myself that I didn’t take the leap earlier – it’s a fun little game that can be played on so many levels. I’m still feeling my way through the advanced rules, but the great thing about the game is that you can go as complex as you like. Experienced gamers will be overjoyed at the fact they can get into the most intricate details – everything from fuel, different types of damage, various altitudes – but newbies will still find a satisfying game when playing by the basic rules. It’s perfect for a quick blast but also very tempting to throw yourself into the deep end and should you choose to go there, you’ll be rewarded with something surprising.

Why surprising? Well, when I first opened the box and saw the planes, I thought it’d be quite light and fluffy. Then I looked through the instructions and saw that there was so much more to deal with. Rules for two-seater planes. Acrobatics. Hell, there’s even missions to complete that can all be tied together to make a campaign! All in one box! Throw in the fact there’s a thriving community over at wingsofwar.org and you’ll never be short of new material to keep the game fresh. One word of warning: it’s not exactly cheap, but you do get everything you need for up to four players in this one set. Should you choose to go in for expansions, fine, but you don’t have to – however, knowing what most gamers are like it won’t be too long before there’s lots of tiny planes taking up shelf space all through your home. Not that I’ve ordered any. No. Not at all. Ahem.

Wings of Glory was originally released as Wings of War by Nexus back in 2004, but this latest version comes from Ares Games. Designed by Andrea Angiolino and Pier Giorgio Paglia, the new WWII Starter Set plays with between two and four players (though the game does cope with up to eight fliers). An iOS port is also planned for release before the end of 2012. A copy of Wings of Glory will set you back around £45 – now take to the skies!

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Rest in Pieces – HeroScape review

It’s got to be said that games can often come across a little difficult to grasp. Personally, I always found miniatures gaming tricky to get a handle on. Perhaps it’s down to the time I first walked into my local Games Workshop when I was about 12 years old…

I was excited. It had taken me weeks to build up the courage to open that glass door. I’d walked past that place every day on my way to and from school, saved up the meagre pocket money my parents gave me, ready to jump into a world where I knew I’d be accepted. A nerdy kid at the end of the 1980s? Where else would I go?

I opened the door to step into my future, eyes wide with excitement at the huge variety of stuff on offer. All around the store, games were set up that I’d never seen before – space battles, orcs, a weird American Football thing… It was amazing, but all too much. I was overwhelmed, turned on my heel and didn’t set foot in the place for another year. Instead I went to the local comic shop and blew all my cash on back-issues of 2000AD. I regret nothing.

I now know the reason I was freaked out. It was a total sensory overload. All over the place were these huge rulebooks that I just knew I wouldn’t be able to handle. Nowadays I’m fine, give me a couple of hundred pages to work through and it’ll be grand, but back then I would have been so much better with something that could hold my hand all the way through – what we’d now call a gateway game. What I really could have done with was HeroScape.

I’ve been working on this review for a little while, but events have taken place this week that has made me want to finish it off. Sadly Wizards of the Coast, the current publishers of HeroScape, announced on November 3rd that they’ll be discontinuing production of the game. After the stocks run out in the warehouses and stores around the world, that’s it – there’ll be no more. Click on that link before reading on and you’ll notice that the news was broken on the HeroScapers site (an incredible resource) by none other than Plaid Hat Games’ Colby Dauch, designer of the splendid Summoner Wars. Colby used to work on HeroScape before launching his own company and has many good things to say about the game – I only hope that I can be as verbose as him.

What is it about HeroScape that makes it so good? There’s lots to praise in that box, but as usual the main thing to talk about is how entertaining a game it can be. I’m not just talking about the actual playing – the whole HeroScape experience is a thing of pleasure. When you first open the box (and there are several different starter sets – this piece focuses on the one I own, Rise of the Valkyrie) you may well be slightly daunted. You’re presented with a mass of pre-painted figures, both factual and fictional, from all kinds of time periods along with an enormous selection of hexagonal tiles with which to build your scenarios. It’s quite a scary prospect, but you’re also provided with a well written rulebook which guides you step-by-step through the game – none of your GW-style being chucked into the deep-end here – from building the board through to playing the actual game. There’s actually a couple of ways to play: a basic game for those who want to start slowly and build up, along with advanced rules for those who prefer something a little meatier. Both rulesets have the same basic premise, however.

Players build armies up to a certain points value – the pre-painted figures mentioned earlier come either as individuals (called heroes) or groups (known as squads) and are worth different amounts. By spending all your points, you build up an army of random characters that you then set upon your opponents. Scenarios may have a certain objective for you to fulfil in order to win – gain control of an area or destroy all your opponent’s fighters, for example. It’s a very simple introduction to the world of miniatures gaming, with easy to use rules that make for quick play.

Each hero or squad comes complete with a card to represent their stats – having all the information to hand is very useful, so you’ll never have to dive through a weighty book trying to figure out if you’re within range of smashing an enemy’s head in. You each have three rounds per game turn (chosen by putting numbered tokens on the cards, with a fourth dummy token to try and throw people off your plans) to move around the board, attack or pull off special abilities. Combat is resolved swiftly through the use of custom dice with attackers looking to throw skulls and defenders aiming for shields. If you run out of hit points, your piece is removed from the board – there are often modifiers to take care of, but the basic principle is very simple.

Now, an apology of sorts. I’ve referred to the playing area as a board, which is something of a disservice. HeroScape is actually played on a 3D modular landscape which, when set up, looks brilliant. Rise of the Valkyrie comes with enough terrain pieces and buildings to play a wide range of scenarios (plus you can always just make your own up too) but veteran HeroScapers will often say that bigger is better. Take a look at the BGG page to see all the expansions that are available: it’s right here.

Back? Overwhelmed? I’m not surprised. Thankfully, you don’t need any of those expansions to experience HeroScape – a starter set like Rise of the Valkyrie is more than enough, but the options are there. And man, there are a LOT of options. In fact, even with the beginning sets you’ve got choice – there’s another basic one called ‘Swarm of the Marro’, the Marvel branded ‘Conflict Begins‘ and the D&D version called ‘Battle for the Underdark‘. All are completely compatible with each other, as are their expansions – however, many players think that the addition of D&D to the line was a bit of a money grab by Wizards of the Coast and that it sullied the game a little. Having not tried anything past the original Master set, I can’t say whether it did or not, but everyone’s entitled to their opinion – do your research by checking out HeroScapers.com and see what’ll fit best for you.

On the subject of the online HeroScape community, it’s not often you come across a group so vocal in their love of a game. As well as being welcoming, they’re also incredibly creative and innovative in their development of scenarios and battle maps for use by… well, anyone who happens to stop by. The game may well have been discontinued but you get the feeling that these guys will never stop supporting it. Such passion is to be respected.

HeroScape is a fantastic introduction to miniatures games and I’m sad to see that WotC have decided to stop making it. Thankfully there’s enough copies of it out there still that it makes it simple to get your hands on it, but if you’re properly interested in playing I’d try and grab a Master set quickly. It’s not an expensive game to play – I actually got my set brand new for under £10, and you can grab as-new sets online for around the same price if you’re lucky. I’d certainly recommend giving it a go, even just once. The sheer pleasure of taking your time setting up a huge battleground is worth the asking price alone. It’s even better that there’s a solid game in there that’s fun, doesn’t take a massive amount of time to play and won’t leave you with a melted brain. Here’s hoping that an astute games company out there tries to acquire the licence and keeps it up and running.

HeroScape was originally released in 2004 by Milton Bradley / Hasbro. It was co-designed by Stephen Baker, Rob Daviau and Craig Van Ness, with additional work through expansions by countless other individuals. The final expansion, Moltenclaw’s Invasion, will be released on November 16th 2010, then that’s it! However, if you’d like to get involved in the campaign to keep HeroScape going, visit the HeroScapers.com site – who knows what could happen?

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